Loving Sarah

CHAPTER ONE

     Liverpool, June 1835
     
       What about her? She looks fast, doesn't she?"
      “Hmmm . . . Aurelia,” Ian Alexander Ross-Mackeever, grandson of the Earl Mackeever, mused as he strolled alongside his friend Lucky Gualtiero, brother of the Duchess of Caversham. “She may look fast, but she’s not built the way I like. Something about her shape . . . too curvy if you ask me. It looks like she might fall apart before the ordeal is over.”
      “What about that one? Evangeline,” his dark, olive-skinned friend asked.
      Ian turned his gaze to where Lucky motioned. “Too top-heavy, and her bottom’s too narrow to support her. She’ll tip over in a stiff wind.”
      “What about that one?”
      “Her bottom’s too broad. She’ll be too slow to tack.”
      “Well, you can’t say the same about that one over there. She has a nice, well-proportioned hull. At least what I can see of it.”
      Ian didn’t need to consider the vessel in question, for he knew her design well. He should, it was very similar to, if not exactly like, a design of his father’s. “Yes. Nice curves, sturdily built, and I think I know her owner. If it is who I think, he has a load of money, but no skill at the wheel.” He gazed at Ann McKim longingly. “She was launched five years ago from the very yard my father helped found and has already broken records for the fastest crossing times for the Atlantic and Pacific in both directions. But a ship like that could do far better with the right man at the wheel.” Sighing, he turned to Lucky. “What that lady needs is a man with a knowledgeable, soft hand and the experience to coax her on when she wants to give up.”
      “So, do you think we stand a chance?” Lucky stopped and turned toward him.
      Ian looked over the competition once more, and nodded. “Oh, I’d say the odds are very good. Next to McKim’s lady out there, we’ve definitely got the best boats in this race. A little smaller, a little aged, but well broken in. More importantly, both of them are lovingly maintained and handled.” They walked away from the dock and the preparations for the next day’s ceremony. “I believe everything is ready for the morning. God willing, we’ll have good wind.”
      “The weather will hold until we’re well out,” Lucky said as he scanned the sky and horizon around them. Ian didn’t question him. He knew better. Like an old sailor, Lucky had an instinct for forecasting weather just by looking at the clouds. “Remember, my sister’s throwing us a dinner party to see us off. Be at the house around seven.”
      “I’ll be there. You know I wouldn’t miss an opportunity for real food. Anything is better than the grub Old Will throws into a kettle,” Ian said as they neared a waiting hackney.
      “You need to find a better cook,” Lucky replied. “So you stop trying to take mine.”
      The driver tipped his hat and opened the door for the gentlemen. “You go on without me. I’m just going to get cleaned up and make sure the watch is in place. I’ll be right behind you.”
      “Fine.” Lucky gave a quick nod to the man holding the door, then asked Ian if he needed the address again. Ian shook his head and simply asked the hackney driver to return for him after dropping off Lucky. “Then I’ll see you soon.”
      The hackney door closed on Lucky. After the driver cued the horse to move on, Ian turned back to the dinghy tied below and rowed out to the Revenge, his best hope for victory in this race. Their supplies had been loaded earlier in the day, so he’d moved his boat away from the hustle and bustle of the dock. And any potential sabotage. Not that he suspected his fellow competitors of such underhanded behavior, but one could never be too careful when the stakes were this high. Tying off the dinghy, he climbed onto the deck and double-checked to make sure all was in readiness for the start of the race. Normally, he wouldn’t have considered wasting their time entering a race, but the twenty-five-thousand-pound purse was far too large to ignore. More importantly, if he and Lucky were serious about succeeding in their joint venture, the newly chartered Empire Tea Importers, they needed more ships. Two retrofit Baltimore schooners, though a respectable beginning, wouldn’t turn the kind of profits necessary to expand their business in the manner they wanted. The tea run they’d made last year left him with barely enough to live on after paying the note and their crew’s salaries. Lucky might not need the money as much as Ian did, but he’d be damned if he’d let his partner pay their way until they could turn a profit. Lucky had done enough already by paying the shipyard bill for the retrofit of the two boats over the past winter.
      His dream, and Lucky’s too, was to have a fleet of at least a dozen clippers, preferably designed and built to their specifications. After carefully studying Colonel Beaufoy’s publication, Nautical and Hydraulic Experiments, where Beaufoy tested and found Newton’s hydraulics theory unlikely, Ian had begun drawing his own hull designs. To maximize hull space for valuable cargo, Ian’s idea was first to streamline the design of the hull; next to make her longer and deeper in the keel; then, to eliminate the complete dependence on ballast and use lead plate on the keel in conjunction with minimal internal ballast for stabilization. He was excited and anxious to test his theory. If it worked, he knew it would forever change the way hulls were designed and built. And his father, wherever his soul rested, would be proud.
      Having grown up with a university-educated naval architect for a father, a man who designed and built clipper hulls, Ian knew that shipyards in New York and Baltimore were willing to build experimental designs; whereas in Aberdeen and Halifax, they were more likely to insist the time-tested and proven designs they had been successfully building for the last twenty years were better. Ian knew his design held promise and so did his partner. So he would amuse Lucky and have the Aberdeen yards look at the designs, but Ian knew they would likely have to go back to America to have them built the way they wanted.
      Ian made his way down to his small cabin, stopping to take a bucket of fresh water from the barrel near the companionway. He ladled some into the metal basin, set the bucket down near the washstand, then stripped. He dunked his head into the bowl and began washing. One day, he’d like to have a house with a proper bathing chamber. There would be no more tossing water out of portholes or over the railing and refilling wash basins. No more bathing with cold water, except when at sea. Worst of all were the times he had to bathe with salt water, because it always left him feeling sticky and itchy. For that reason, he understood why some of the crew went without baths during those times.
      Life at sea wasn’t the romantic, adventurous dream he’d imagined. But this had been his reality for the past five years since leaving university. He supposed he could have lived on credit and taken rooms somewhere, as did others in his financial situation. But Ian was too American for that, as Lucky reminded him on those rare occasions when Ian complained out loud. He might be the grandson of the Earl Mackeever, former commander in the King’s Navy and a hero who was severely injured in the Siege of Charleston saving the lives of his sailors as his ship sank. But, he was still the American-born son of a Baltimore naval architect who’d designed ships for the Americans in their second war for independence—one of the two reasons his grandfather hated him and the old sod reminded him of it each time Ian had seen him. Of course, since the incident, Ian hadn’t seen him at all.
      Yes, the man with whom he shared blood despised him because of it. He never failed to remind Ian that his mother was a servant in his home and his father was a traitor to Great Britain and responsible for the deaths of many fine British sailors, perhaps even his uncle.
      But there was another reason the old man hated him. One so dark and so foul that Ian had never told a soul, not even his best friend. The secret existed only between him and his grandfather, and when the old bastard died, Ian would be free to live a normal life. Or, as normal as an American-born heir of a Scottish earl could live.
      Coming to Britain as a child hadn’t been easy. Some people, he’d learned over the years, had long memories, especially when they’d lost loved ones. And when your father was instrumental in expediting their dispatch to the next life, it was even more difficult to find a friendly face at school, and later university. Ian often felt he was the only unwelcome foreigner at school. It wasn’t until Oxford, where he met Luchino Antonio Francesco Gualtiero, the Conte di Loretto, Lucky to all who knew him, that he’d found a kindred spirit. His new friend was just as much an outsider because of his swarthy, Mediterranean appearance as Ian was for his American blood. It was in that atmosphere, that he and Lucky had become fast friends and immediately after university, business partners.
      Now, at age twenty-five, Ian had the entire world before him. And no place to call home except this ship. He wasn’t British because he was born in America, but no longer American because nothing remained there for him, hadn’t since his father died twelve years earlier, when Ian was thirteen. The last time Ian saw his father, Ian had been twelve years old and forced to board a ship to England to live with the grandfather and two aunts who would see to his proper education and preparation for him to take his place in society as his grandfather’s heir. It had been something he’d fought against with all of his little boy might, to no avail.
      Opening the cabinet, he remembered the cedar lining still needed replacing as he took out his good clothing. Repairs inside his cabin had been low in priority during the renovations, but now as he looked over his best trousers to make sure they weren’t moth-eaten or torn, he decided it needed to get moved up on the list. He checked the coat and linen shirt for tiny holes, saw none, and smiled. Lifting the only waistcoat he owned, he noticed the stitching at the edge of the wool where it met the satin was coming apart, but knew it would remain hidden by the coat.
      If he ever did take his place in society, he would need to pay more attention to his dress. Ian owed it to his father’s sisters not to be an embarrassment to them when he did, especially after all they’d done for him over the years, from taking him in when his father sent him over for his formal education to sponsoring his entrée into society. Events like this dinner with Lucky’s family were sure to become more common as they became more successful. He had to think of tonight as an opportunity to polish his manners and become more accustomed with the world he’d not been born to but now found himself a reluctant part of.
      Success would make his aunts, two dear old ladies he adored, proud. Until then, he had to stop wasting time worrying over his grandfather’s hatred.
       
      Lady Sarah Eileen Halden dropped her gaze as her brothers discussed the upcoming race, lest they see the delight in her eyes while her final plan started to form. The rented home in Liverpool the family had taken for the next several months was nowhere near as large or opulent as Caversham House or Haldenwood, but it had something that would serve her well this night. She’d spied it right after arriving and looking over her temporary bedroom. She had a balcony that was a mere ten or twelve feet above ground. Sarah could quite easily climb over the railing and ease herself down. The drop, after lowering herself as much as possible, wouldn’t be much more than the jump from her favorite tree at home.
      She saw it as a sign that she was meant to go with Lucky on this race.
      “Ian and I have gone over the charts several times and already plotted our course.” Lucky pointed to something on the map Sarah’s brother Ren, the Duke of Caversham, had spread across the table in the drawing room where they’d all gathered while waiting for the last of their dinner guests to arrive. “Both crews have been with us at least a full year. They made the tea run with us, and they’re all veteran sailors. Most have crossed the Atlantic at least once, some several times. So we’re very confident in everyone’s abilities.”
      “Good,” Ren said, “I know this is an exciting challenge for you, but remember do not push your boat any harder than she can handle. Even if you don’t win this race, you know I’ll finance you.”
      “And I as well, Lucky,” said Elise’s husband Michael, the Earl Camden, and Sarah’s brother-in-law.
      “I appreciate your offer, Ren, truly. And yours too, Michael. But this is something I want to do on my own, and Ian feels the same.”
      The butler announced the arrival of Mr. Ian Ross-Mackeever, Lucky’s business partner and long-time friend. When Sarah looked up and met his eyes, she could have sworn her heart skipped several beats and her mouth went dry. The man was far more handsome than she’d remembered. His greenish-brown gaze met hers, and she quickly turned away and took a sip of her sweet wine.
      It had been almost a year since she’d last seen him, the night he’d come for dinner at Caversham House before leaving on their trip to China. It was just as the Little Season was getting underway, and she’d thought it was a shame he wouldn’t be around to amuse her and her friends. After all, he was certainly good-looking enough then, but now he was a sun-kissed Adonis come to life. The time seemed to have made him even more ruggedly handsome. He’d become broader in the shoulders, and his face bore a healthy glow. His dark blond hair was liberally streaked with gold in a manner that could only have come from working in the sunshine on the open sea, like hers had when she was a girl sailing her little sloop around the pond at Haldenwood, pretending she was a great explorer.
      Rugged and handsome. Those were the only words she could think of as she glanced at him again. Without a doubt, his Viking god-like looks were the cause of the tiny tremors that coursed through her body each time she looked at him. She felt perhaps, if given more time together, a plethora of emotions and feelings might have a chance to develop.
      Sarah had to stop thinking of him this way. As attractive as the man was, she had no time for romance right now. She had a race to sail with Lucky. When it was over, she might indulge and see where a flirtation would lead.
      From her position, half-turned from him, she covertly watched Ian greet some of the other guests as he made his way toward where she stood with her brother, Ren, her brother-in-law, Michael, and her brother-by-marriage, Lucky. As he did, she noticed his evening wear was somewhat outdated, but it did nothing to detract from his intense vitality. Before she embarrassed herself, she took her leave from Ren, Michael, and Lucky and sought her sister-in-law’s company where she sat with a group of ladies.
      Talk among the women soon turned to the goings-on in town now that the season was almost over. “My girls are still in town with their aunt,” Lady Vance said, “and they were loathe to leave. Now that my two nieces are married, my sister is relishing taking my elder daughter through the season’s events.”
      Sarah traveled in a different set than Miss Vance, the younger girl’s friends being more the intellectual blue-stocking type. Just the same, she smiled politely, remembering how exciting her first season had been as well. She’d truly enjoyed her first and even her second season. Then her friends began to marry, leaving to start their own families. And with each season Sarah’s tolerance for the superficiality that was the season grew thinner. In her head and heart, she was always elsewhere. Her friends knew it and the men she’d met sensed it, which was why she was twenty-one and still unwed, with no prospects on the horizon.
      Sarah had long grown bored with her lot in life. She craved adventure. Longed to see the world. Growing up, she’d always questioned why men were respected when they successfully ventured outside the boundaries set for them by society, but never women. Why was a woman’s reputation in tatters when she did something bold and adventurous, and not a man’s?
      The year before, she’d thought to stowaway with Lucky to China, but had been afraid to actually dare it. That fear had been the only thing keeping her inside her comfy, gilded cage—the fear of not being accepted after returning from her grand adventure. But not this year.
      With only a few weeks until the end of her third season, Sarah was beginning to feel her fate might lie in spinsterhood because of these desperate longings. She knew she was choosy, but wasn’t about to compromise in her requirements for a husband. Not only did he have to desire adventure as much as she, but his kiss should leave her weak in the knees and curl her toes—something her sister and sister-in-law told her was how they knew their husbands were the ones for them.
      So, unless and until she found that man, she wouldn’t consider marriage. She’d rather remain the eccentric relative to her family. Because she would never compromise those two requirements.
      Her decision made, she would turn her back on caution and grasp this opportunity.
      “You’re quiet little sister,” Elise said as she sidled up to Sarah where she stood on the fringe of the group of ladies. “You have a wistful look about you. What are you thinking of?”
      “Wondering why I couldn’t have been born a male. I envy Lucky.”
      Lia stifled a giggle. “You would have made a very effeminate male and not very attractive to the ladies I dare say.”
      Sarah shrugged. “You both know what I mean. I have to return to London and finish out the season. And I’ll do so wishing the entire time I was racing with them.”
      “As ladies our rewards are in the home—in caring for our families, friends, and neighbors,” Lia said. “Our legacy is the children we raise to carry on after we’re gone. I never thought of it that way until after I had Isabel and needed to be a role model for her.” Her sister-in-law turned her gaze on Sarah and studied her face. “I think next year we should concentrate more intently on finding you a match. We should talk to Ren about it after Lucky leaves. I think you’re ready for that husband now that the social season holds no more charm for you.”
      Elise nodded. “Lia’s right. And from my own experience, just as with a high-strung filly, a babe will settle that restless spirit of yours.”
      Sarah wanted to protest and remind her sisters of the stories she’d heard about Elise’s own youth, but the dinner bell rang and all of the guests proceeded into the dining room, taking their seats. She discovered her dinner companion to her right was Lucky’s partner, Mr. Ross-Mackeever. At first, having the handsome seafaring adventurer beside her caused her pulse to race. But it wasn’t long before she knew it wasn’t the fact that he’d sailed around the globe, but the man himself, that stirred her senses. The faint scent of cedar and citrus wafted from his direction, and she inhaled a shaky breath before looking his way.
      She smiled. “So Mr. Ross-Mackeever, you must be excited. Lucky was when we spoke just before your arrival. And it must feel good to return to your home. Even if it is for only a day.”
      “The race is to New York. I wish I had time to visit Baltimore, but in all honesty, there is no reason for me to return there yet.”
      “Oh. Then you plan to eventually?”
      “If we win this race, I will likely return to have my father’s friend build our two new clippers. There is no finer shipyard on the eastern seaboard.”
      “You could have your ships built here. I’m sure His Grace can make the necessary introductions in Aberdeen. It’s where his import company was based before he bought out his cousins and moved operations to London. I’m certain we have relatives who know a shipbuilder or two.”
      “That was one of the places we intended to query about building custom clippers.”
      Footmen began serving the soup, and Sarah listened as the men continued their pre-dinner discourse on the opportunities for trade and import now that the East India Company had lost its monopoly as sole importers of tea to Britain. Talk of finance, trade, and the importance of diversification floated about the table.
      But not Sarah. Her entire being quivered in the presence of Lucky’s partner. Or was it the excitement of the race? She was unsure. She pushed her fork around the plate as she listened to their conversation, trying to hide her anticipation. Sarah didn’t know if her excitement came from her plan to stow aboard Lucky’s clipper or her close proximity to this man who had a strange effect on her senses. She tried to make certain not to bump her arm into his, especially when she noted he was left-handed. But when she dropped her napkin she did, and he spilled soup on his cravat and waistcoat. Mortified, she met his gaze, wanting to disappear but at the same time to drown in his gold-flecked brown eyes. Or lick the warm and creamy onion soup from his chest.
      Where had that thought come from?
      “I’m so sorry. I. . . .” Her face burned at the images racing through her head, and the entirety of the table staring their way. She immediately took her napkin and began to dab at his waistcoat until the footman hurried over to take care of it for her with a clean, damp linen. Mr. Ross-Mackeever waved the man away, blotting what little remained of the soup on his waistcoat himself.
      “There wasn’t much soup left, as I was nearly done.” He showed her the bowl. “See? All is well, my lady,” he said through a smile. “No harm done.”
      “Thank goodness,” she whispered, “I’m not normally so clumsy, and I sincerely apologize.”
      Conversation resumed around them, and Mr. Ross-Mackeever spoke again. “Were you going to come out to the dockyards in the morning and watch the ships jockey for position at the starting line?”
      Sarah kept her eyes cast downward, unwilling to have him see her excitement as she spooned up her soup. She took a deep breath to collect her emotions. “Yes, Mr. Ross-Mackeever. I wouldn’t miss that for the world.”
      Her dinner partner was turning out to be very charming for an American. At first she’d thought him cocksure and a bit self-absorbed, she was fast coming to realize she was wrong. The man was gracious to everyone with whom he spoke.
      “Your brother once said you and he are very much alike in that you are as adventuresome as he.”
      Sarah sighed, again regretting her gender. “Lucky is right. One would think we were true brother and sister, rather than joined by the marriage of our siblings.”
      “I’m fortunate to have your brother as a friend and partner. I’ve never met a more honest, intelligent, and unprejudiced man. I consider myself honored to call him friend.”
      Sarah smiled as she held another spoonful of the onion soup. “He can also be annoying and stubborn, but that’s coming from a sisterly perspective.”
      “I never had a sibling to annoy, or I’m sure I would have been the same.”
      “Don’t say so! It would ruin my image of you,” she teased.
      “Oh?” Mr. Ross-Mackeever laughed, the sound warm and pleasing. “What image is that?”
      “One of a kind gentleman who is understanding and not as rigid and straight-laced as my older brother and Lucky.”
      They laughed and compared upbringings, and soon the next course was served and the topic changed to the two schooners, Revenge and Avenger. Mr. Ross-Mackeever described the remodeling done to the sister ships. It reaffirmed to Sarah that he and Lucky were obviously proud of the modifications made to their boats and felt they stood a solid chance of winning the race after sizing up most of their competition earlier that afternoon.
      “On first glance,” Lucky said, “the Ann McKim looks to be the best boat in the race, but looks can be deceiving. She’s long and sleek all right. But without knowing how she carries her ballast, or the type of keel she has, there’s really no knowing how well she’ll do. She’s a brand new design, built in Baltimore, at the very shipyard Ian’s father helped found, and while the American owner will captain her, my opinion is he doesn’t have half the experience necessary for an undertaking such as this.”
      An uneasy quiet came over the table as everyone realized that in such an endeavor as this not everyone survived. “Unfortunately,” Ren said, “lives will be lost during this race. But I have every confidence in the two of you. In fact, were I twenty years younger, I might have entered myself. Not for the purse so much as the thrill of the adventure.”
      Sarah pushed the vegetables around on her plate and kept her eyes downcast, for that was the very reason she planned to stow away aboard Lucky’s boat.
       
      Sarah shoved the packed canvas bag she’d brought with her from London under her bed. She was going to be on that boat when it sailed in the morning. There was no way she was going to allow Lucky to have this adventure without her. She was tired of reading about everyone else’s voyages and missing out on ones right before her.
      She’d spent the last five years as the embodiment of a well-mannered young lady because that was what was expected of the sister of a duke. And for the past three seasons, she’d smiled and swallowed her envy as Lucky lived the adventures of which she could only dream. First he and his partner sailed to America to buy the two American-made schooners they required for their newly chartered import company. Then last year she forced herself to feign interest in the social season while Lucky prepared to sail to China on their tea run. And late last summer, she smiled and wished him well as he sailed away again, all the while wishing she were with them.
      Well, the balls, musicales, dinner parties, morning calls, and rides through Hyde Park would still be there when she returned. She was not going to sit in her room and cry as he sailed away. Not this time. This was the chance of a lifetime, and she wasn’t letting it pass her by.
      By tomorrow night, she would feel the salty spray of the ocean on her face and the motion of the vessel under her feet. For some inexplicable reason she just knew her heart would soar as she heard the snapping of the sailcloth in the wind and the shouts of the men as they performed the tasks ordered by their captain. It would be just as Ren described when he’d told her of the adventures he had when she was a girl. Sarah smiled as she remembered forcing her brother to repeat each voyage every evening he was home.
      When she was older, she read the journals and ship logs that lined the shelves of her brother’s office, finding these far more stimulating reading than the historical or scientific tomes or romantic novels in the library. These were log books with descriptions written in the hand of her relatives, who had seen and witnessed each act and event she’d read.
      It was those tales of adventure and the uncertainty of success that sparked this desire within her to travel and see the world. They were food to her adventurer’s mind and soul.
      Yes, without a doubt, Lucky would be angry with her when he discovered she’d stowed away, but he’d soon get over his anger when he realized he couldn’t very well return her to dry land. Her older brother would be furious as well once he realized what she’d done. But by the time anyone noticed her missing, she’d already be somewhere in the Atlantic and there’d be nothing they could do. She’d write a note to Ren explaining what she’d done and leave it on the secretaire. They’d find it when they looked through her room for clues, though they should know she’d seize the opportunity to sail the Atlantic and see New York City when it presented itself. After all, she’d talked about her desire to see the Americas her entire life.
      The devil take her, but she’d happily face Ren’s anger upon her return for an adventure such as this!
      A soft knock on her door preceded her maid, who’d come to help her undress for bed. While Trudy braided her thick mass of unruly waves, Sarah contemplated the timing of her escape. She had to leave well before breakfast and do so without calling attention to herself or setting up an alarm. Darkness was her ally.
      With the mound of pillows on the bed, she would fashion a suitable form under the covers that hopefully upon first glance would appear human, thus indicating to her maid she still slept. Then once at the docks, she’d need someone to take her out to the boat. That was why she’d filled her coin purse and tossed it in the satchel. She didn’t doubt that she’d find someone to take her. In her experience, when you offered someone enough money, they’d willingly do just about anything.
      The summer she was ten years old, she’d mapped the entire estate over a period of five weeks while the rest of the family enjoyed their season in London. She had been studying geography at the time, and Ren had joked about her mapping the American continents one too many times. Sarah had wanted to prove her map-drawing skill to her brother and set out alone to accomplish the task.
      Of course she was found out before she’d gone one hundred yards from the stables. Theo, the stable lad, had discovered what she was up to as she led her pony, loaded with all of her supplies, plus a rolled napkin with some pilfered crusty bread, fruit, and cheese from the kitchens. At first, he refused to keep quiet about her expedition, until she offered him her collection of Roman coins she’d dug up near the old church ruins.
      And on her brother’s birthday, she proudly presented him with a rolled, charted map of Haldenwood, current up to that date, with boundaries and crude elevation changes. When asked how she’d accomplished the task, much to their appalled dismay, she proudly regaled to the entire family, her solo adventures in mapping.
      She spent the next week writing a different essay each day on her irresponsible actions that could have led to her injury with no one knowing for hours that she was missing and the search for her that could have taken weeks on an estate the size of Haldenwood. Each essay had to be new and different. No duplicating what she’d written the day before.
      Sarah waited until her maid had gone and smiled as she then opened the drawer to her desk and took out a sheet of vellum, quill, and ink.
       
      My dearest family,
       
      First, please do not be upset. Rest assured, I am safe with Lucky. And please, for pity’s sake, do NOT interrupt the race because of my desire not to allow another adventure to pass me by!
      I have decided that because it is highly doubtful that I shall ever marry, there are a few things I would like to do before I settle into my spinsterhood. One is seeing if the ocean really is as clear and blue as I’ve always heard; another is to see America.
      Also, please do not fault Lucky in this. He knew nothing of my plans.
       
      Love, and etc.,
      Your Sister,
      Sarah
       
      With the note written, she placed it inside the old ship’s journal she’d been reading, leaving it prominently placed on top of the secretaire. The only thing she waited for now was the house to go quiet for the night.
       
      Slipping past the fire boy as he slept in the kitchen proved easier than she’d expected, and once outside, she made her way to the street, keeping to the shadows alongside the house as much as possible. She walked briskly and with intent toward the port a short distance away. She entered the area cordoned off for the morning ceremonies and began to look for someone to ferry her out to Avenger. Pulling the gray coarse-knit cap down lower over her brow, she took on a stooped posture and with the bag slung over her shoulder she looked very much like any other young sailor. She raised the collar of her coat, hiding her face and any trace of the waist-length braid tucked inside.
      A scrawny lad sat with his feet dangling over the side of the dock. Glancing over the edge, she saw a dinghy tied below. Sarah dropped her voice, hoping she sounded masculine. “Can ye ferry me out to me boat, lad? I shoulda been on it hours ago and th’ cap’n will be missin’ me come sun-up.”
      The lad shook his head. “Can’t do it. I’m waitin’ on me own cap’n.”
      “There’ll be coin in it for ye.”
      The boy looked more interested now that money was mentioned. “’Ow much ye got?”
      Sarah fished two half sovereigns from her pocket and showed him. The boy looked at the money in her hand, then around the darkened pier.
      “Fine. But I gotta be quick, don’t know when me cap’n’s comin’ back.” Sarah tossed the bag into the dinghy and stepped down into it. Once the boy shoved away from the pier with the oar, he asked, “Which un’s yer boat?”
      “Avenger.”
      “Aye. I knows where it is.”
      They rowed out about a hundred yards into the darkness with only the light of a cloud-covered sliver of moon. Gentle waves lapped the side of the tiny craft.
      This was it. There was no turning back now. She was on her way to see the ocean and America. Well, at least one city in America. She told herself that she would return to see more of the country later. Perhaps once she found a traveling companion.
      She trembled with anticipation when the lad brought the dinghy along-side Lucky’s boat, near the rope ladder. “Are ye sure ye got the right boat?” she asked. “Don’t want me cap’n lashin’ me back.”
      “Aye, she’s the right un. I’m right alongside ye on Evangeline.”
      She handed the lad the two coins, tossed her satchel over her shoulder, and grabbed hold of the Jacob’s ladder.
      “Good luck to ye.”
      “Aye. And to you too,” she replied as she began to climb up the port side.
      She peered over the rail and saw no one about. Silently climbing onto the deck, Sarah wound her way toward the bow and prayed the hatch to the forward hold would be open. If so, she’d climb down and hide there. If it wasn’t, she knew she couldn’t lift it easily or quietly. In that case, she’d have to find the lazarette, or dry goods storeroom, if there was one, and hide there.
      Seeing the open hatch, she thanked God and knelt to look inside. It was dark out and even darker below in the hold. She’d just have to take her chances. She lowered her bag in and dropped it. It didn’t make a sound so she assumed her landing, too, would be soft and silent. She sat in front of the hold, grabbing the lip of the hatch opposite, and scooted her bottom forward, then dropped herself feet first into the abyss.
      As she’d suspected, she landed on folded canvas duck cloth. Yards and yards of the stuff. Spare sails, she thought. Wonderful. Moving to the far corner of the cavernous dark hold, she lay on the folded material and using her satchel as a pillow, forced her racing heart to calm and tried to sleep.
       
      Grayish-pink light filtered into the forward hold from overhead. Day was breaking. Footsteps alerted her to at least one crewman awake above deck. The man drew closer to the bow, and her hideout. Sarah quickly lifted a fold of sailcloth and ducked under it, then remembered her bag and covered herself and it thoroughly. The hatch overhead slammed shut, echoing in the hold and reverberating through her body. Trapped. Truly shut-in. The time to cry off—if she were going to do such a thing—was now past.
      She threw the stifling sail off her and thought about the adventure ahead. Soon, the race would be underway and Lucky wouldn’t be able to send her ashore. That’s when she would come out of hiding. There was no way she’d spend the entire voyage down here. She wanted to see the ocean teeming with fishes and feel the salty wind and sea spray as it whipped over her face and through her hair. She wanted to see no land, because she’d never sailed anywhere before where you couldn’t see or swim to land nearby. She wanted to experience that sense of vulnerability that comes with being at the complete mercy of a force greater than any she’d ever known, that supreme force of nature described by her relatives and the other sea captains of whom she’d read. They were men who’d established trade with countries around the globe, men whose bravery and skills brought almost every boat and man home.
      The darkened hold became stifling, the smell of pitch burning her lungs now that no air entered from the hatchway. Removing her coat, she clung to it, coughing into it for several minutes before tossing it to the side along with her hat and satchel. Sounds coming from above told her the crew was weighing anchor. The boat began to move, now free from its mooring. Sarah heard the excitement of the crew as the sails were raised and felt the vessel surge forward. The boat pitched hard to port as it turned, throwing Sarah into the bulkhead, where she struck her shoulder on a beam. After a muted scream of agony, she quickly scrambled under the folded sailcloth to keep from getting tossed about while she was down here. And even though it was more than a bit warm, the additional weight kept her relatively padded and safe from any abrupt movements.
      She tried to get situated once again and settled in with the comforting rocking and rolling motion of a ship at full sail. Smiling in the inky blackness, she wondered if her maid had noticed her gone yet and if her brother had read her letter.
      He was sure to be angry, but hopefully not so angry that he’d delay the start of the race to search Lucky’s boat and haul her back home.
      No, he wouldn’t do that. That would cause a scandal. And if there was one thing the Duke of Caversham detested, it was the mere thought of the family name tangled up in a scandal.