How can they save their lives and protect the abandoned animals before the …
Noah Sharpleton, a secretive former sailor, is living on the brink of poverty in Liverpool in 1776, until notorious smuggler Captain Benjamin Frodsham makes him an offer he can’t refuse – protect a Lady no matter what.
Rachel Faulks is aboard The Emerald of the Empire seeking passage to the Americas with Noah serving as her new guardian. Upon their first meeting, it becomes apparent she is exactly the type of high society woman that Noah despises – spoiled, rude, and entitled.
But, Rachel’s gentler personality is exposed when she’s caught rescuing injured and abandoned animals at almost every port. Yet, the real reason for her compassion is still a mystery.
Soon, Rachel and Noah will find themselves at the mercy of a myriad of challenges while crossing the stormy Atlantic, not only from the changeable weather and tumultuous ocean but from inside the hull of their very own ship.
How will Noah and Rachel manage to find their way safely to the Americas? What secret forced Noah to become a sailor?
Noah stood at the edge of the wharf and watched the merchant vessels drift in and out of the docks, the sleek wooden ships cutting through the water like a hot knife through butter. Sails billowed and rigging snapped against the tall masts while the voices of sailors echoed across the morning tide. The men on-board scurried like bilge rats across the decks, scampering up the ropes and darting to action with enviable agility. It required every hand to bring the ships safely into port. Noah knew the strain of it intimately.
He turned to glance up the endless dockland. Liverpool bustled with early morning trade. Fishermen hoisted their catch into barrels whilst waiting buyers loaded them onto carts. Whatever remained sat out in crates, scales glinting in the bright morning sun. Ruddy-cheeked women crouched beside the crates and made quick work of scaling and gutting, selling the dull-eyed fish to the grafters and sailors who strolled by. Noah knew they were fresh enough for now. Come the afternoon, it would be a very different story—the stench of rotting fish would drift over the dock-front in a rancid miasma bringing out all the hiding creatures who sought a taste. He could already see the black glint of rodents eyes peering from under the debris that lay scattered on the wharf.
Beyond the screeching cries of the wharf-side traders, hawking their wares, Noah’s eyes fell upon a warship at the farthest end of the docks. It had come into port a few days ago with the intention of setting off again by the week’s end. Since then, he’d watched sailors in their Navy uniforms and soldiers in their Infantry colors ambling up the gangway and into the belly of the beast. Part of him envied them whilst the other half felt a pinch of shame.
Not too long ago, he had been the one dressed in military garb. He might have found himself on that very ship had he not left the British Navy in a hail of derision. A ship’s carpenter and boat-builder by trade, he had spent several years sailing the world with the merchant side of the British fleet. Usually tucked away below decks, he had never expected to be asked to fight in any capacity. But then war broke out with America and everything changed. Without warning, he was handed two options—join the war effort or find somewhere else to go. The subtext had been clear: Was he a coward or a hero?
Whilst most chose to fight or ship goods to the soldiers over in America, he was part of the minority that chose to stay. A pacifist at heart, he had not been able to muster the validation to set sail for a foreign country with the sole purpose of waging war, nor did he know how to fight. He knew how to build and repair and how to sail a vessel into a safe port, but he didn’t know how to kill a man. At the time, some asked him why he had joined the Navy in the first place if he had never planned to fight. They could not understand that there was more to the Navy than cannons and musket-fire on treacherous seas. Being on the water was his life and the Navy had provided him with means for a time… but he would not be a pawn between the squabbling countries. He refused.
Even so, that refusal continued to plague him. A knot of guilt twisted in his stomach every time he saw a warship on its way to the former colonies, making him wonder if he ought to change his mind. They would accept him, he had no doubt about that. Able-bodied men were wanted up and down the country—anyone willing to fight for Britain’s honor. Still, the thought of breaking his moral code stuck like a fishbone in his throat.
He still worked out on the open sea as a sailor and a general jack-of-all-trades, but it was not quite as fulfilling as his former life had been. He missed the excitement of sailing toward unknown lands and arriving at exotic ports, rich with vibrant culture and strange sights. India had been his favorite. Truly, he had loved India more than any place he had ever been, but he knew it was unlikely that he would ever return. A few trade-ships still left for distant horizons, but he could not win a place on one. His name was tarnished.
“Well, well, if it isn’t Noah Sharpleton,” came a which voice disturbed Noah’s tormented reverie. “Here I was thinking you would be halfway across the world by now.”
He turned to see an old friend striding toward him. Benjamin Frodsham stood less than five-foot-two with a barrel chest and a neck as thick as his head. A shock of gray hair stood up in seemingly random tufts while piercing blue eyes took in every detail of their surroundings. He was a curious sight indeed but a welcome one for Noah.
“Benjamin, my good man, I might have thought the same thing about you,” he remarked. “Sadly, I have parted ways with the Navy, but, surely, the admiralty has called upon your services?”
Benjamin snorted. “They do not wish to tar themselves with my brush or so it would seem. I have appealed to their sense and their purse, but they will not hear of using my ships in their fleet. And so, you find me here, selling my vessels to the lowest bidder.” A bitter smile turned up the corners of his thin lips.
Benjamin was infamous in certain circles for bringing in contraband and spiriting stolen goods away from English shores. Nobody had ever caught him and nobody had any proof to pin to him. Still, it appeared that his reputation had preceded him, as far as attaining a military contract was concerned.
“Indeed, I had heard that you were no longer sailing with the British fleet,” Benjamin went on thoughtfully. “You never were one for a fight, dear boy. I remember how you used to throw water over the sailors brawling when you sailed with me.”
“Heard from whom?”
“You know I have my little avenues of information, Noah. I do not ask of your secrets, you should not ask of mine.”
“A fair point,” Noah conceded. “Surely, you have found trade-deals to take you back to India?” The first ship Noah had sailed on had been one of Benjamin’s. Indeed, those first journeys had been the ones to hone his craft and give him a taste of the world. He owed the rotund old man a great deal for that.
“The East India lot have seen to it that my nose has firmly been pushed out of that group,” he replied sourly. “I could not get a proper trade-deal if I sank to my knees and groveled for one.”
“So, what brings you here? Domestic trade?”
“Not quite.” A small glint of mischief flickered across his blue eyes. “A far more exciting endeavor, which is sure to end this dry spell of unemployment.”
“Yes, it would seem that things are looking up somewhat. You see, dear boy, my services have been acquired by a rather wealthy gentleman in America, who wishes to have some secret cargo smuggled into the country,” he began, keeping his voice low. “I find myself in Liverpool with the intention of gathering a trustworthy crew, to take this package across the ocean where it may be reunited with the old man.”
Noah felt suddenly uneasy. “Is that so?”
“Indeed, it is fortunate I happened to bump into you here.” Benjamin flashed a sly grin. “For I am in need of a carpenter and a sprightly fellow who can climb his way to a crow’s nest in five seconds flat.”
Noah pictured himself as a young boy, barely older than thirteen. The lads below had set to counting out the seconds as he had raced up the rigging of Benjamin’s flagship, the Silver Scythe. They’d erupted into cheers and chants as he’d touched the trapdoor of the crow’s nest a moment after they’d shouted out the number five. Back then, it had been one of the proudest moments of his life. A few of his crewmates still spoke about it whenever he happened to cross paths with one. It didn’t happen often, but it was always a nice reminder.
“What are you asking, Benjamin?” Noah said pointedly.
“I’m asking if you’ll join my crew of fellas,” he replied. “What do you say? Decent-sized ship, decent pouch of money in your pocket, easy sailing all the way to America?”
“Are you forgetting that we are at war?”
Benjamin shrugged. “A war that has naught to do with us or the task at hand. All we’re doing is sailing precious cargo to one particular spot. If we give the fleets a wide berth, we’ll be there and back before the year is out. Besides, I have it on good authority that the location is, as yet, untouched by the fighting. Nobody will even notice us.”
Noah narrowed his eyes at his old friend. “Sounds like a dangerous game to me.”
“What else do you have planned? I heard you were struggling.”
“Not struggling, per se. I get enough jobs to pay my way.”
“Come now, Noah, we both know you need more than a couple of days on a tiny wee fishing boat to satisfy your adventurous spirit,” he coaxed. “I’m offering good pay and a proper ship. Carpentry duties aside, you can even be first-mate if you fancy? I know you’ve the talent for it. Always had a knack for the ocean and her ways, you have.”
Noah glanced back up the wharf towards the warship that bobbed on the still water. “Can I have a day to think it over?”
Benjamin grinned. “You can have half of one. I’ll meet you in the Red Lion at four. If you don’t show, I’ll assume you aren’t interested.”
“Well then, I guess I’ll see you there,” Noah murmured. “Or not as the case may be.”
Benjamin laughed heartily and clapped Noah on the back. “I think we both know you’ll be there, lad. You’d be out of your mind not to snap up an opportunity like this.” He gestured towards a gaggle of fishing boats that were clustered nearby. “Well, unless you’ve decided you like the scent of rotting fish, that is. I leave it in your hands, Noah. Fish guts or foreign shores—your choice.”
Noah watched his old friend leave before turning back to the water. He shoved his hands into his pockets and stared at a sleek merchant vessel sailing away towards the horizon. He closed his eyes and imagined the sound of it cutting through the waves, the burst of spray against the bowsprit. He heard the flap of sails and the shouts of the crew, everyone looking toward their destination. Surely, he had to take this chance? Another one might not come around again for a long time. Saltwater ran in his veins and he was tired of the same old ports and coastlines. He was ready to see the world again. After all, it was like Benjamin had said—he’d be out of his mind not to say yes.
“Your luggage has all been stowed away in the carriage, Miss Faulks. The driver has asked when you plan to depart?” the maid, Beth, said shyly. She lingered in the doorway to Rachel’s bedchamber awaiting a response that took its time in coming.
“Why must everyone be so intent on rushing me?” she snapped in reply. “I shall depart when I am good and ready and thus far, I am not.”
“Shall I tell the driver that, Miss Faulks?”
Rachel shot the maid a curt glance. “Well, I am not going to do it, am I?”
“No, Miss Faulks, of course not.” Beth hurried away without another word.
Huffing out a sigh of discomfort, Rachel stared at her reflection in the vanity mirror. Her dark hair was curled and had been wrangled into a fashionable style that sat at the back of her head. A black ribbon had also been tied across the flat of her scalp, but she remained unconvinced about the color choice. Black seemed much too gloomy and she knew it would only dampen her spirits. Still, the rest of her ribbons had been packed away in her luggage. It would have to be black or nothing, though she supposed her bonnet would cover most of it.
“You should not speak so harshly to the staff, dear Rachel,” her dearest friend, Emily, chided from the window-seat. She was a pretty, blond thing with a tendency toward blunt honesty. It was a refreshing attribute that Rachel admired. “I fear you may have half the household quaking in terror by the time you actually depart.”
Rachel held her head in her hands. “I know, Emily. I did not mean to be so sharp with the poor girl. It is my wracked nerves—I rather think they are getting the better of me.” She straightened up and tucked a loose strand of hair behind her ear. “When she returns, I shall apologize for my behavior toward her and ask her to pass on the message to those under my employ.”
“Your father’s employ,” Emily corrected.
Rachel chuckled tightly. “Either way, they shall undoubtedly be glad to see me gone from this house.”
“You must not be so dismissive of their affections, Rachel. They have grown fond of you over the years, I am sure. Not to mention the fact that your departure shall signal the termination of their employ. I very much doubt they wish you to go.”
“Perhaps you are right,” Rachel murmured. “It’s just that… nobody seems to understand the strain that I am under in preparing for this voyage. I feel so very alone in all of this.” Emily herself had been particularly unsympathetic about the whole thing. From the blank expression she wore on her face, at that very moment, Rachel supposed that ambivalence was not about to change.
“You are not alone, dear Rachel. You have countless people assisting you in your preparations and a chaperone has been arranged for the voyage itself. Your father said as much in his last letter,” Emily remarked. “The ship’s crew might prove to be somewhat uncouth, being sailors without the pride of a uniform, but your father would not associate you with unsavory company. I am certain he will have put every possible safeguard in place to keep you secure.”
“That is not what I mean, Emily.” Rachel took one last look at her reflection, pinching a flush of rose into her cheeks. Sleepless circles of dark purple lingered beneath her brown eyes, but there was little she could do about those. In truth, she doubted she would sleep well ever again.
Reluctantly, she rose and smoothed down the front of her ruby-hued gown. The vanity would have to be packed away and shipped over with the rest of her things, but she had insisted it be kept out until she was quite ready to depart. The journey to Liverpool would take several days and she did not feel she ought to rush for anyone. They did not seem to realize that she was being forced to abandon her home and everything she knew for the sake of her father. She adored him with all her heart, but she did not understand why she had to be the one to uproot. She was not the one who had disappeared off to foreign climes shouting about progress and opportunity. Now, there was a war to deal with. It hardly seemed like the time to be arriving in America and yet he had insisted. Being her father, she could not disagree.
“It is your anxiety speaking, making you feel a sudden detachment from reality,” Emily mused. “You are sailing toward an unknown horizon. It is natural that you should find yourself in a state of turmoil. However, you must not allow it to reign victorious over your mind.”
“Perhaps I am nervous and perhaps it is only in my mind, but there is nothing I can do to remedy that. I cannot simply clap my hands and have it resolved,” she shot back miserably. “If it were you who was being made to leave everything behind, you would feel just as I do.”
“It cannot be easy,” Emily conceded.
“It is not, you may believe that.” Rachel wandered over to the window and looked out on the public gardens opposite. All her life, she had lived in this house. All her life, she had glanced out of the window and looked upon that same scene, come rain, snow, or shine. This house held the memory of those she had loved and lost. When she left, she knew she would have to leave behind their ghosts as well.
For, aside from her father, Rachel had no-one else in the world to call family. Her mother had died when Rachel was but three years old giving birth to her brother, George. The memories she had of her mother were sparse but precious and all had taken place within these walls. She feared she might lose them if she strayed too far from the halls and rooms where they had originated.
Meanwhile, her brother had disappeared without a trace several years ago. There had been some trouble after a public brawl which had seen another man killed. George had been suspected of landing the blow which had killed the man. Unwilling to risk imprisonment or worse, he had vanished from the face of the Earth. There had been no word from him ever since to the point where Rachel and her father no longer knew if he was even living. Not a soul had heard a whisper of his whereabouts and he seemed content to keep it that way.
And so, Rachel had ended up more-or-less alone in the Bath townhouse she adored. She had not seen her father for five years after he had departed for America in search of further wealth. They had written when possible, but there had often been months in between each one. Prior to his suggestion that she travel to be with him, she had hoped some suitable gentleman might make an offer of marriage to her. With a husband, she knew she would have some security. A few had shown interest, but their enthusiasm had waned after discovering that her family were not as wealthy as they seemed. It was part of the reason her father had gone to America in the first place, to speculate in new business ventures and accumulate a greater fortune. Much of their own wealth had been lost by Rachel’s grandfather, and they had been scrabbling to recover their former glory ever since.
“Come now, this is all for the best,” Emily urged.
“Of course, it is, my dear,” Emily rose to stand beside her friend. “You will have your father and a whole country filled with opportunity at your disposal. This tedious war will soon be over and you shall be all the better for it. What else can you do? You cannot stay here, all alone.”
Rachel pulled a face. “Why-ever not?”
“If something were to happen to your father out there, your fate would be… uncertain,” she explained carefully. “With your brother gone, there might be all sorts of trouble with the inheritance. At least in America, you would be safe in the knowledge that everything he has accumulated would be yours. That, in itself, seems like an impossibility to me, being here. You must understand, there is a freedom there that we do not possess.”
“There is more to a daughter’s love than seeking an inheritance, Emily,” Rachel replied sharply. “I should hardly care for wealth if my father were dead, for then I would truly have nobody. What would I care about money if he were no longer here?”
“A noble sentiment,” Emily said, somewhat chastened.
“My concern lies solely in how I may reach America safely.” Rachel clasped her hands as her pulse began to race. “Surely, it would be more prudent for me to remain here until Papa is finished with his business endeavors over there? He can come back and all will be well.”
“I do not think he ever intends to return, Rachel. That is why he has chosen now to ask that you join him.”
Rachel’s heart sank. “So, we are to start a new life…”
“I believe you are, my dear.”
“Well, I shall be having several choice words with my Papa when I see him again,” she muttered. “I do not even know these sailors who have offered to take me there. Whilst it may be true that Papa has arranged for a chaperone, and he has spoken with the captain himself, that does nothing to ease my fears. I have not met them. I do not know them. Who is to say if I shall like them?”
“You do not need to like them, Rachel, you need only trust them.”
Rachel shook her head. “Well, that is no mean feat either. How may I trust them if I do not know them?”
“Simply trust your father and you will see yourself safely delivered to the shores of the New World. Indeed, it is probably best if you keep to your chambers on the ship until you have arrived, for then no harm can come to you.”
“Anyone would think you were not even sad to see me go.” She offered a tight laugh.
Emily smiled and took her friend’s hand. “I am not sad, dear Rachel, I am envious. I have barely traveled farther than Somerset my entire life. You are fortunate to be granted such a rare opportunity to travel so far, though I know it does not feel as such at this very moment in time. Once the fear has gone, you will see that this is a gift and not a curse.”
Rachel sighed. “And if it still feels like a curse?”
“You must not think that way,” Emily urged.
Rachel could not help it. Her heart already ached for the home she would leave behind and she had not even set foot outside the front door. Below the window of her near-bare bedchamber, she could hear the driver muttering. The horses’ hooves clipped against the cobbles, showing their impatience. It would not be long before she could not delay any further. A few moments, maybe.
“And you will write?” Rachel pleaded.
“As often as I may.”
“And you might visit, one day?”
Emily chuckled softly. “Nothing in this world could prevent me.”
“Then… I suppose I must go.” Rachel looked to her bedchamber door. Footsteps echoed on the landing beyond. Before Beth even appeared, Rachel knew it would be the willowy, nervous girl, begging her to make haste. A flicker of panic bristled through her. “I am on my way, child. How many times must I say it—I will not be rushed!”
“Yes, Miss Faulks. Sorry, Miss Faulks.” Beth dipped into an awkward curtsey, though she did not move from her post. Evidently, the carriage driver had told her not to leave until Rachel relented.
“No, sweet Beth, it is I who ought to be sorry,” Rachel replied solemnly. “I do not mean to be so curt toward you. Please, accept my apologies for this terse demeanor and please do pass the message of apology on to the others. I believe they may currently be hiding from me for fear of inciting my wrath.” A soft laugh rippled from her throat, though the cheerful sound rang empty. In truth, she did not feel remotely joyful.
Beth smiled. “No need to apologize, Miss Faulks. All of us know you’re stressed about this here voyage. Can’t blame you, miss. I reckon we’d all be the same in your shoes.”
“Thank you, Beth.”
“My pleasure, Miss Faulks.”
Letting out a heavy breath, Rachel gathered her ermine stole from where it lay on the bed and draped it over one shoulder. Her bonnet came next, giving her some difficulty as she attempted to fix it in place. Ordinarily, she would have asked her lady’s maid, Ruth, to help her, but she had already taken up another position at a residence down the street. Everything was changing and Rachel did not like it one bit.
After wrangling the bonnet into submission, she retrieved one or two forgotten items from the vanity surface – an emerald choker and a small bottle of perfume – and slipped them into her bag, closing the clasp with a satisfying click. There was nothing left to be done. She could not put her departure off any longer.
Casting one last look around the much-loved bedchamber where she had grown from girlhood to womanhood, she turned on her heel and strode out onto the landing. In the end, she figured there was no use in sentimental farewells. If her father planned to keep her in America, then she would never see this place again. Her memories would have to suffice.
The driver perked up as Rachel stepped out of the house with Emily in tow. He tipped his hat at her from the driver’s box and tightened his grip on the reins. Rachel’s heart beat that little bit faster knowing they would soon leave. She offered a smile of apology to the impatient man and clambered into the velvet interior of the carriage, settling on the banquette within. Emily walked up to the small window and reached for Rachel’s hand.
“Be brave, my dear friend, for wonders await you.”
“I pray you are right, Emily.”
“Have faith. The Lord will not guide you astray.”
Rachel nodded. She fervently agreed with her friend and yet, she could not stop the onslaught of anxiety that began to force its way through her veins. Her cheeks flushed hot and her hands started to shake. Determined not to let anyone see the full extent of her terror, not even her dearest friend, she clasped her palms together.
“You see, you have only to pray and He will keep your spirits up,” Emily encouraged, catching sight of Rachel’s clasped hands.
“I must take comfort where I can,” she admitted.
“Farewell, my dearest Emily. I hope the future may hold something wonderful for you, too and that providence sees you through life with good health and good fortune, until we meet again.”
“Until we meet again,” Emily promised.
With that, the driver snapped the reins and the carriage jolted forward. A bright, spring sun shone down upon Rachel as the wheels rumbled down the cobbled road. She could feel its warmth on her face, as she leaned out of the small window. With her hand raised, she waved to her beloved friend until the carriage turned the corner, taking her out of sight of everything and everyone she had ever known.
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