Sunday, April 16, 2006
Excerpt from DANGEROUS WATERS
Phoebe is leaving her home for a new life in Jamaica and marriage to a man she's never met. But first she has to cross the Atlantic, and she's terrified of the sea.
A knock on the cabin door made her jump violently.
“Yes?” Shock had tightened her throat so that the word emerged as a strangled hiss.
“Is everything all right?”
No. Phoebe swallowed hard. Rising from the bunk to her feet she steadied herself with one hand, used the other to make sure her face was free from tearstains, and spoke through the wood. “Yes, thank you.”
“Miss Dymond, I have no wish to intrude on your privacy but nor do I have unlimited time.” His obvious impatience made Phoebe flinch. “I have just learned that I am to act as your guardian for the duration of the voyage. That being the case would our conversation not be more easily conducted – and more private - without a door between us?”
Phoebe grasped the handle. The door remained shut. She was trapped. Terror seared her nerves. But as she opened her mouth to scream she was pulled forward, the handle wrenched from her hand as the door flew open outwards.
Letting out a cry she stumbled against a tall figure, gasping as she felt warm breath on her face. Gripped by her upper arms she was set down on the bench seat with the table at her back and immediately released.
Dizzy with relief and shock, deafened by her drumming heartbeat, Phoebe pressed both hands to her temples feeling utterly foolish. “How stupid of me. I’m sorry. I forgot about the door opening out - ” As she glanced up the words dried on her tongue. This wasn’t the man she had seen on deck. “Wh – who are you?”
His thick hair was the colour of clover honey and sprang back from his forehead in tousled waves. Beneath it his brows were drawn together in a frown. Without taking his eyes from hers he lowered himself onto the bench, deliberately putting distance between them.
“Crossley. Jowan Crossley.”
Phoebe’s thoughts tumbled in confusion. This was the man her uncle had asked – ? No, he hadn’t. Her uncle had asked the packet agent to inform the captain. Only the captain wasn’t aboard. And either the agent had been too busy to mention it or had simply forgotten. “You’re the surgeon?” At his brief frowning nod she moistened her lips. Clearly he was as unwilling a party to the agreement as she was.
“I’m sorry you have been put to such unnecessary inconvenience, Mr Crossley. My uncle made the arrangement with my best interests at heart. However, as you see I am not a child. I have been used to going about the town quite independently. With only three other passengers aboard I cannot think I shall require protection. As you pointed out, you have too little time already. And I do not need, nor do I want, anyone feeling responsible for me.”
As the silence stretched and she waited for his reply she could feel her cheeks burning. “I intend no offence, Mr Crossley.”
“None is taken, Miss Dymond.” He stood up, his head almost touching the great crossbeams that supported the deck. “May I escort you up on deck? It is a fine sunny day and – “
“No!” Phoebe blurted. Then collecting herself she forced a smile. “No, thank you. I will stay here.”
But instead of taking his leave as she had expected, he sat down again resting one elbow on the table and briefly inspecting his fingers.
“You have not made a sea voyage before?” He made it a question but Phoebe guessed he was just being polite.
She shook her head. Then darted him a glance. “Is it so obvious?”
He smiled and raised one shoulder in a shrug. “I wouldn’t know. This is my first trip too.”
Phoebe searched his face warily. Would he say such a thing if it were not true? What would he gain? “Are you humouring me, Mr Crossley?”
“No, Miss Dymond. I am stating a fact. I did not mean to be impertinent. I asked only because I wondered if perhaps the ship’s motion is affecting you. I understand it can sometimes take a day or two to get used to it.”
For the first time she was able to smile naturally. “No, the motion has not disturbed me at all, at least not so far. But should it do so I have several remedies in my case.”
“Then why,” he quizzed gently, “on such a beautiful sunny day do you choose to remain down here? Heaven knows there will be rain enough before - ” He stopped, rising to his feet as Phoebe jumped up grabbing the table edge to steady herself.
“Because – because I have things to do. Excuse me.” Wrenching open the door to her cabin she whirled inside and pulled it shut. Leaning against the partition she pressed her palms to her fiery cheeks. He had no right to question her. She held her breath, waiting, counting the seconds as she willed him to go. She had reached six before she heard him move away, then the sound of his boots on the brass stairs.
Trembling she took off her long cloak and hung it on the hook on the back of the door. Having claimed she had things to do she had better find something. Keeping occupied would pass the time. And there was so much time to pass. Kneeling she pulled her trunk forward, opened the lid and lifted out two sheets, two blankets and a pillowcase. As she shook out the folds and began to make up the bed she breathed in the sweet fragrance of lavender. A flood of memories made her eyes burn. Blinking away tears before they could fall she concentrated on tucking the sheet neatly over the grubby mattress.
DANGEROUS WATERS by Jane Jackson. Pub. Robert Hale 2006.