Today is my turn for an excerpt from one of my books. I’m going with Wicked Woman, which is a romance set in Victorian Boston (and Philadelphia) between a Boston aristocrat (Brahmin) and an English noble woman wanted for murdering her husband. When they get together, however, she thinks he’s a mere sea-captain and he thinks she’s just a woman who is hard up because she is without a husband, family or working skills. They fall in love relatively early in the book before the secrets come out–and the police show up. Here’s the scene when Morgan, the heroine, realises for the first time that her sea-captain may be in love with her. It’s one of my favorite scenes. It takes place in Newburyport, MA, on a dock where they are watching a clipper ship being built. It is the mid 1850’s when the time of clipper ships is almost up, being replaced by faster, but much less beautiful, steamers. Ward, like many Boston Brahmins, was once a sea-captain, and is mourning the loss of both his time at sea and the clipper ship.
Morgan leaned against the dock’s rail, pulling her cloak tightly against the cold ocean breeze as she listened to Ward’s deep, harsh voice explaining the uses of the different sails on the ship being built in front of them. Through breaks in gray and white clouds, the sun’s rays bounced off the gray-green water of Newburyport’s shipyard. “—and I must be boring you half to death,” Ward finished ruefully.
She shook her head. “Not at all. It never before occurred to me how much a captain has to know.”
“The knowledge isn’t the difficult part. It’s directing the men that’s difficult, knowing when to push them hard and when not to. It’s learning the vagaries of the ocean and deciphering the signs of changing weather. Raising and lowering sails is relatively easy.”
She watched his face as he scanned the ship critically. “She’ll be a beauty, that one,” he continued. “Not quite up to McKay’s standards, but close enough.”
He looked, she decided with a pained thump of her heart, like a man in love. Bart had worn a similar expression when talking of the sea, but with him it had been excitement. With Ward the sentiment was more broader, more intense. “Who’s McKay?”
“Donald McKay, out of Charlestown. The best builder of clippers in the world. I tried once to commission him, but the price was too dear and he not available at all events.”
“Have you ever captained a steamer?”
Ward shook his head, his eyes following a huge mast being lifted onto the deck via ropes and pulleys. It took several men to do so, combined with much shouting and cursing. “Never. They’re too noisy, they smell, and they require too little—I don’t know, finesse, I suppose—to captain. For traveling they’re faster, and will continue to become even faster, than any sailing ship. But for beauty, steamers offer no comparison.”
“I hear they’re pretty enough inside, with all manner of luxury.”
“Aye, so has the Sea Gypsy if you recall, and McKay’s vessels. No, it’s a sailing vessel or nothing for me.”
“It must have been,” she said with a tightening in her throat, “very difficult to give up.”With a tiny little prick in her heart, she conceded that she needn’t worry his love for the ocean would take him away. But could being second—
He turned abruptly to her. Her heart skipped a beat, for the regard in his eyes didn’t change. His gaze traveled swiftly and, oh Lord, lovingly over her face, before settling on her eyes. “I thought I should spend my entire life longing for the ocean. But lately,” he said with the slightest catch in his voice, “lately that emptiness has been filled.”
Her heart fairly flew, her face flushing with wild, fearful, emotion. Not true, it couldn’t possibly be true. . . .
“You have the very sea living in your eyes, mistress,” he said softly.