Author: Karen Bovenmyer
Release Date: March 27, 2017
Benjamin Lector imagines himself a smuggler, a gun runner, and an all-around scoundrel. A preacher’s son turned criminal, first and foremost, he is a survivor.
When Benjamin is shipwrecked on Dread Island, fortune sends an unlikely savior—a blond savage who is everything Benjamin didn’t know he needed. Falling in love with Sun is easy. But pirates have come looking for the remains of Benjamin’s cargo, and they find their former slave, Sun, instead.
Held captive by the pirates, Benjamin learns the depths of Sun’s past and the horrors he endured and was forced to perpetrate. Together, they must not only escape, but prevent a shipment of weapons from making its way to rebellious colonists. Benjamin is determined to save the man he loves and ensure that a peaceful future together is never threatened again. To succeed might require the unthinkable—an altruistic sacrifice.
The storm billowed across the evening sky, a dark bank of clouds coming fast from the southeast, as if God were drawing a curtain between us and Brazil.
The Sea Swift jumped forward under an enormous press of sail, and I held tight to the gunnel to keep my feet on deck. The deep blue Caribbean waters rose quickly and swelled, tinged with the gray rage of a tempest sea.
When I didn’t answer, the first mate, Black Miguel, repeated himself sharply. I abruptly remembered I was, in fact, his captain—a manthe crew thought was Benjamin Swift, infamous smuggler and gunrunner—and no longer the boy I’d been when I left New Orleans.
“Furl the sails,” I said, hoping that sounded wise as I studied the full-bellied canvas. I’d been captain of the Sea Swift for three weeks, and apart from sharing a first name, mulatto coloring, and general good looks with the real Captain Benji, I still barely knew a halyard from ahawsehole.
“Clap on, both of you! You heard Captain Benji. Close-reef the topsails and furl the rest,” Black Miguel shouted my modified order at thejolly lads amidships. The two sailors, Carlos the Whistler and Joaquim One-Leg, brothers, both as skilled with rope and tackle as they were with song and jest, hauled hard on the lines to raise the mainsail.
“Um, dois, três,” Carlos sang out the rope, Joaquim echoing him, and I was delighted when they followed with the opening lines of“Marujo Português,” a sea song about the joy a Portuguese sailor has for his profession. Yards of canvas folded up, neat as bed linens, and more men climbed high in the rigging to fold back a corner of the topsails—a precaution that nevertheless kept some wind in thecanvas as we ran before the gale.
There was no sign of the Sea Fury, our sister ship, but she’d put in for repairs and was a few days behind us. Black sheets of rain fell across the horizon behind the roiling cloud bank. It was easily the largest storm I’d seen during this, my first, short voyage at sea.
“Is there anywhere nearby we can safely berth and take shelter from the storm?” I asked, the last line of Carlos’s song—ameaça de carinhosas marés, the threat of loving seas—echoing across the deck.
Black Miguel shook his head. “We’re too far south of Barbados and too far north of Trinidad….” He pinched his chin in the way I recognized from many nights of cards together in the captain’s—my—cabin that meant he was considering a risky wager.
“Go on,” I urged him.
He ran both hands through his close-clipped curly, black hair. All the men wore their hair short aboard ship to discourage lice—nogentleman’s ribboned queue on either of us, not that I was any more of a true gentleman than I was a smuggler. Miguel pulled me aside and lowered his voice. “We’re not far from Dread Island, but… well, you asked for a safe port. There’s nothing safe about that skull-and-bones stretch of sand.”
I laughed. “Skull and bones? As in a Jolly Roger? Miguel, we’re gunrunners. What do we have to fear from a pirate island? Likely we’d meet fellows in arms.” Some of the associates I’d met before we left port I was certain were other gunrunners and malefactors—as wasthe chief smuggler I met over a game of billiards, a Scotsman named Edwin James, who swore he’d make me a rich man for my investment.
“No, in a literal sense. Dread Island is a place where men die. No man who sets foot on her sands returns to his ship. Dark spirits haunt that place.”
“This is the age of reason, s—Miguel.” I had to stop myself from adding his gentleman’s honorific. Aboard ship he was first mate, and no gentleman, and even though we were having a private conversation, it was best not to fall out of the habit. “Superstition does not become lettered men.”
Miguel gestured to include the seamen climbing through the rigging, hauling ropes, binding the sails tight against the storm. Sailors were as famous for their superstitions as they were for whoring and gambling.
“Well, yes. But we don’t have to tell them where we are mooring,” I said.
“Because they are not learned, do not take them for fools. Every man who sails the Caribbean knows to steer clear of Dread Island. And,moreover, even I have heard the stories. Pirates, merchants, and navy men alike avoid the place, even when in need of freshwater and food. Cursed or not, all die who set foot there.”
I stared at the forbidding storm, and my instincts, what few I had, urged me to make for the island with haste. “Miguel, look at how fastthose clouds are moving. We need to make berth.”
Miguel shook his head, loosed a juicy curse in his native Portuguese, and then dashed off for the sextant to take our latitude using the last of the setting sun. We argued fiercely about it under our breaths so the men wouldn’t notice dissention between us, nor where we were making a heading. I felt something pulling me to Dread Island, the strains of Cowper’s hymn sounding in my head:
God moves in a mysterious way
His wonders to perform;
He plants His footsteps in the sea
And rides upon the storm.
“Look here.” Miguel pointed to a small arc on the chart, northeast of a speck of an island in the Lesser Antilles. Here be shoals. “We’d need gentle or no winds on a clear day to navigate those. Our best hope now is out to sea.”
I looked again at the clouds, which had thickened into a solid wall of wisp and fury.
“So be it,” I relented as thick drops of rain slapped against my face and shoulders. “Sail on.” Yet I could not help but feel the island waswhere the Swift needed to go.
“Yessir.” Miguel hopped to, shouting orders to furl the close-reefed topsails to ride out the storm.
The wind had been blowing us south by southeast, away from the Lesser Antilles and out into heavy seas in the wide Atlantic, which would make dodging the powerful and fast French marines easier. Considering the devastating shipwreck of the Medusa and Napoleon recently in his grave, the capitaines had something to prove about France as a naval power and were particularly vicious to anyone they suspected of illegal activity. With a southeastern wind, we’d reach the coast of South America in two days, but the storm threatened to push us back the way we’d come, amid the volcanic once-islands the sea was slowly grinding down into shoals. Only luck and a skilled hand would keep us safe, so I left the command of our crew chiefly in Black Miguel’s capable hands, lest I reveal myself as a lubber.
“Get below, Captain,” Miguel said as rain started to drum the planks. Men were still in the rigging, struggling to let out the reef and furlthe too-full topsail. The sea had slowly become more violent, but, much to my surprise, my uneasy stomach made no answering rumble. It seemed I’d finally adapted to the rolling of the ship. I watched the frantic activity around me and realized for the first time in my life, I was part of something bigger than myself. I had always wanted to be a sailor, and now, in truth, I was. I was a man of the Sea Swift and, ultimately, as captain, she and every rough, unlettered, jolly soul aboard was my responsibility.
“No. The men need their captain. I’ll stay above decks.”
Black Miguel rose one elegant black eyebrow—his hair was the only thing dark about him. In every way, he had looked and spoken like a well-bred, if well-tanned, Portuguese gentleman in New Orleans, and Edwin James, the handsome Scotsman who had brought me into this adventure, had failed to explain the reason behind the nickname when he introduced us. It really wasn’t fair; from the moment Miguel Maria’s feet touched the deck of the Swift and he introduced me to the crew, he’d moved through rigging and hauled ropes like a man born to it. Miguel did everything like a man born to it—dancing jig, sawing the fiddle, playing a brilliant hand of cards, fixing thebungled orders during my first few weeks and preserving my identity for the men. He was my right hand, and I knew well I would not long have managed this farce without him.
Miguel nodded, his lips twitching upward in a habit I’d come to associate not only with amusement but approval. “As you say, Captain. Hold fast, and keep your wits ready.”
A shout drew our attention. The mizzenmast topsail had broken free of the reef and flapped wildly in the gale. Rain came down in sheets,and I held tight to the mainstay to keep my feet as the deck pitched on an angry sea. Miguel shouted, and more men climbed the rigging, Carlos among them, to wrestle the sail back under control and furl all the reefed sails, which even I could see were now taking on far too much wind. The storm grew fiercer, and I was needed to retie lines for the bowsprit—a feat I accomplished with a line wound around one arm to keep me aboard despite the waves crashing over the gunnel and washing across the deck. I lost track of time in the work, and then a resounding crack drew every eye to the mizzenmast. The still-flapping topsail pitched overboard with twelve foot of spar, and Carlos, holding tight to the lines, disappeared under the heaving waves.
“Man overboard!” Miguel’s commands thundered through the racket of storm and sea, and the crew dashed to stations, but then the ropes ran out of give.
The ship groaned alarmingly and yawed hard to starboard, pulling against the broken topsail, which was now acting as a massive rudder,and I slammed hard into another man assigned to the bowsprit, Big Swede Erik, who knew even less English than Portuguese, every word of it a viler curse than the last. He held fast to me with one thick arm. Then Miguel was on hand with an ax, chopping at the ropes that attached us to Carlos’s doom, Joaquim screaming for his brother.
The storm and the wreckage pulled against each other, near capsizing the ship, and another man fell past me to splash into the sea. Shouts and thrown ropes followed him. The Swift gave another mighty pull against the fallen topsail, and the deck tilted so sharply I thought we were done for certain. Then, with a splintering crack, another topsail tore free, this time from the mainmast, sweeping men and wood overboard as it fell. A line snapped tight, caught Miguel in the chest, and slammed him hard against the mainmast. Blood ran red from his mouth and over his chin.
I picked up Miguel’s ax. There was nothing to do except chop the lines that anchored us to the wreckage spinning the Swift in churningseas. I am not ashamed to admit I cried as I cut the lines, pervaded by a bone-deep feeling that Miguel and all hands were doomed regardless. I had delayed too long in making the decision to ride out the storm rather than make for Dread Island. Every dead man was my fault. When I cut the line holding him against the mainmast, Miguel slumped to the deck and slid into me.
“What do we do?” I screamed at him over the storm and splintering wood, the shouts of drowning men and a loud grinding coming fromthe hold beneath us.
“Pray, preacher’s son.” He coughed a splash of red into his fist and looped a rope around my waist, then tied it fast to a barrel on thedeck. “You were never much of a sailor, even if you are the spitting image of Captain Benji,” Miguel said, snugging a bowling knot under my arms, “but I damn well hope you can at least swim.” Then he cut the barrel free, as a scream of splintering wood growled up from below decks, a jolting crash that even I knew meant we had run up on shoals, and then I was overboard and falling through a chaos of rain and sea and splinters.
About the Author:
Karen Bovenmyer earned an MFA in Creative Writing: Popular Fiction from the University of Southern Maine. She teaches and mentors students at Iowa State University and serves as the Nonfiction Assistant Editor of Escape Artists’ Mothership Zeta Magazine. She is the 2016 recipient of the Horror Writers Association Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley Scholarship. Her poems, short stories and novellas appear in more than 40 publications and her first novel, SWIFT FOR THE SUN, an LGBT romantic adventure in 1820s Caribbean, will be available from Dreamspinner Press on March 27, 2017.
Find her online: