BY: LESLIE HACHTEL
What if the man who made love to you last night does not recognize you in the morning? True, you had been in disguise, but still…and what if this happened when you were fleeing for your life?
Marilee Booth masquerades as an old woman and hires on as a cook aboard a ship headed to the colonies. She seeks to evade her stepmother, who has attempted to kill her. She is smitten by the handsome captain, who sees her merely as a part of the crew. On the last night at sea, when she doffs her disguise and decides to say goodbye to him while he sleeps, her life is forever altered. And now she may not survive…
TAYLOR JONES SAYS: In Captain’s Captive by Leslie Hachtel, Marilee is running for her life. In 1723, about the only way to leave England is by ship. So, disguised as an old woman, she hires on as a cook for a ship headed for the colonies. However, she doesn’t expect to fall in love with the handsome and dashing captain. Their last night on board, she removes her disguise and slips into his cabin while he sleeps. They make such passionate love that she is convinced he loves her as much as she loves him. The next morning when he not only doesn’t recognize her, he asks her if she has seen the lovely young woman he spent the night with. Heartbroken, she doesn’t reveal herself and disappears once she leaves the ship, while another woman claims to be the one the captain made love to, demanding that he marry her.
Hachtel’s characters are charming and I really like Marilee’s spunk. The plot is strong and well thought out. And, of course, as this is a steamy romance, it is just my cup of tea.
REGAN MURPHY SAYS: Captain’s Captive by Leslie Hachtel is a historical steamy romance. Our heroine, Marilee, is forced to flee her home in England in 1723 when her father dies, leaving her in the clutches of her stepmother who wants to kill her and take her fortune. Disguising herself as an old woman, Marilee begs a first mate for a job on his ship as a cook. The man takes pity on her and hires her and she sails with the ship to the new world. On the way, she falls in love with the handsome young captain, who may be dashing and courageous but who must also be blind as a bat. He never sees through her disguise. Not even after she slips into his cabin just before they reach the new world and he makes love to her. When he doesn’t recognize her the next morning, but instead questions her about the young woman he made love to the night before, she is heartbroken and angry. He offers her a job in his home as a cook, which at first she accepts, but realizing that she could not stand seeing him every day and him thinking she is an old woman, she slips out the back and disappears.
Hachtel tells a thrilling tale of intrigue, betrayal, greed, and true love in a time and setting that only add excitement to an already exciting story. The sexual tension is high, as well as the murder and intrigue, and the sex scenes are hot. It’s a very well-written story for a debut author, one you can read over and over just for the enjoyment of it.
England, Port of London, March, 1723:
Marilee Booth crouched between the tall, formidable shipping containers. The mingled odors of sea and fish, oil and sweat in the dark assailed her senses and she tried not to inhale through her nose. The mocking clouds obscured the moonlight and the damp cold crept through to her very bones. Her fingers were numb. She rubbed them briskly to regain some circulation. The biting tang of the salt air was so much sharper here on the docks after the beloved soft, damp earth scent surrounding her home, which had only been freshened by hints of the encroaching sea. A wave of nausea threatened, but she forced it down.
Marilee reached back to massage the tightness in her neck. The touch of her icy hand did nothing to aid the cramping. How long had she been squeezed into this small space? Hours? It felt more like days. She dropped her hand and inadvertently brushed against her left shoulder. The persistent ache was a reminder of why she was here in the dark like some terrified creature. Yes, that was what she had been reduced to, a frightened little mouse. It was sickening. Now, with her patience wearing thin, she tapped her fingers against the huge, looming crate. The wood was so rough. She ran her hand along the surface and was rewarded with a sliver of wood embedding into the skin. She wanted to scream as she dug out the hateful thing with her teeth.
The dock was still bustling with seamen. Some men dressed in suits passed by, some alone, some in groups of two and three, without a break. Would there never be an opportunity to move forward?
Some of the vessels were preparing to cast off and the sounds of their ropes unwinding increased the feeling of frustration and urgency. Marilee was ready to take her chances at discovery when a single set of footsteps approached. An errant shaft of moonlight lit the man’s face as he passed. Breath caught in her throat as his features were illuminated. Moving with the air of one ever in charge, he was the most handsome man she’d ever beheld. This was a man who would have stood out among any suitors. It took a moment to recover. By then he was nearly out of sight. Unwittingly, she had leaned forward to get a better view then tucked herself back in place. Suddenly, he stopped. Had he seen her? She made herself small and controlled her breathing. A man’s voice echoed across the docks. The word captain. Marilee could not hear the remainder of the exchange, but the handsome man nodded then walked away. Which ship was his? Miraculously, all seemed quiet now and Marilee inched forward, squinting in the darkness to try and discern the answer.
“Get out of the way, old woman,” a man fairly screamed.
She nearly jumped out of her skin and skittered back into the shadows, stubbing her toes on a crate. She was beginning to hate these boxes. A parade of filthy, barefoot men marched by, the steady rhythm of their movements interlaced with the clatter of chains echoing in the dark. A shiver came unbidden, and she wondered as to the offenses that brought them here, their futures controlled by others. Not so different from her own circumstances. It was so wrong to be here instead of home, dressing for the evening, primping after a scented bath. There should be suitors’ praises instead of strange men yelling at her, though this disguise was a far cry from her usual fancy gowns. Marilee shifted her weight, bumping her left side against an unyielding surface. Again she felt the pain in her shoulder, a constant reminder that Amanda wanted her dead. Marilee should have sought her out and slapped her stepmother, or worse. But that Marilee existed no more. The missile coming out of nowhere had shattered the glass in the library window. It had sunk into her flesh, but also into her soul. It had made her afraid. She slammed her right fist into her left, the pain taking her mind off her bruised foot and sore shoulder.
Now, shaking with dread, anticipation, and excitement, she only wanted to be on his ship. The voice had come from the left, narrowing her options.
The initial thought of sneaking aboard as a stowaway had been foolish, at best. Spending an entire voyage, maybe months, scrambling for food and other necessities would be impossible. As would time spent in a dark, secreted place without light or fresh air. She might no longer be brave, but she would not add insult to injury. The newest idea–to use the skills learned since childhood–now definitely seemed a much better prospect. She simply had to remain calm and be confident in her disguise and abilities. She had all those tutors when she was growing up, and it was the family cook’s knowledge that would serve her now.
The foggy mists wrapped around her skirts like tendrils, breathing with the wind. Its touch was like a living thing, pushing here and there and offering no answers. The lapping of the water against the ships was a siren song, soothing and whispering promise of things to come. She closed her eyes and let the melody ease her frayed nerves. Marilee opened her eyes again to study the ships in the harbor, tall and imposing. Some looked like ancient dragons, born to slay the sea. Others squatted across the water, their holds so much larger they looked like fat hens spreading out to protect what was theirs, their masts keeping watch. The line of ships all swayed together with the rhythm of a heartbeat, mindful that it was always the ocean in control. The men who sailed these ships knew that. To forget that the sea was mistress was to die.
She slipped from one shadow to another, trying not to inhale the pungent air, desperate to quell her rising fears. She chided herself for the nerves. She had fled the prospect of her demise, but almost anywhere would be more welcoming than home. The bullet to the shoulder had ended naiveté quickly. Marilee would never forgive her stepmother for taking away her feeling of immortality.
Still enveloped in the pools of darkness, she raised the hood of the dark cloak to conceal most of her face. The hours had progressed slowly and, finally, the activity on the docks began to diminish. She scratched her stomach and rubbed her arms under the rough muslin garment she wore. The thing had been found in the attic and seemed a perfect choice at the time, but she was now wondering. Perhaps she was not alone in the clothing and myriad tiny creatures populated it, too. Shuddering at the thought, she put it out of mind. There were enough worries at the moment and simply no room for more.
The old gown made her think of other dresses, other times. Times when life was full of parties and she was the center of attention. That life seemed so long ago.
The tars were moving from the streets now, laughing loudly from too much ale and bawdy jokes, holding tightly to the doxies they had chosen to warm their beds this night. Another garish waterfront whore appeared. This one grabbed hold of a sailor already occupied. She fondled his chest but the man’s original companion took offense and pushed her back. There was a small scuffle and the three came to terms. All then moved off together as they half-walked, half-swayed down the street, the sailor grabbing first one by the breast and then another.
The area was very quiet. It was now or never, before her courage totally abandoned her. Many ships caught her attention as her uncovered eye swept the left side of the harbor. Her other eye was concealed by the black patch, which irritated her skin. One vessel, though, stood out. It sat otherworldly in the soft, pre-dawn light, its huge masts kissing the sky. It did not matter what it was about this particular vessel that was intriguing. This ship was brazen and sleek and built for speed. Marilee convinced herself it was her captain’s. Surely, it was the one.
With newly acquired, though limited, knowledge, it appeared to be a cargo ship carrying goods rather than human bounty. No dark hold full of misery and waste. It would transport some passengers as well as be an agent for goods.
Based on the size of her, Marilee judged the crew should number about eighty. Windstar it declared boldly in white letters, the fading moonlight pausing long enough to highlight the proud name emblazoned in white on her side.
Sliding along the slick surface of the wooden quay, she looked about for any sign of life on the deck. Certainly it would be not be completely deserted, even at this time of night. Someone would most definitely be standing guard.
“Who goes there?” a voice demanded and she nearly jumped out of her skin.
She had expected to be challenged, but was unprepared all the same. Marilee nearly fell on the drenched slats. She gasped, but was thrilled to recognize the same voice that had called for ‘her’ captain. On the deck, a man stepped into the ray of light. He was tall, with very broad shoulders and a jagged, nasty scar that made a crisscross pattern on his left cheek. It gave him the air of danger.
He looked to be two score, but strong, and she instinctively, despite his appearance, felt this was a man who would listen to reason. He peered directly at her and visibly relaxed, leaning forward on the rail and crossing his arms at the wrists.
“Well, good evening, old woman, what are you doing about at this hour? ’Tis not safe, you know.”
“Is this your ship?” she asked, sure the answer would be no.
“Why is it your business? Do you require something?”
“I–I need work. I was hoping you could use a cook. I am an excellent one. I have a liking for the sea and require a job. Please?”
The man looked down at her. Marilee knew what her appearance conveyed–an almost pitiful vision in a patched and dirty gown. The dark cotton dress hung overlarge on her small frame. The black patch over her left eye must have given her a strange look–like the shadow of a very old pirate come back from the dead to haunt the waterfront.
“Sorry, old woman.” The man started away.
He stopped and turned back. “Well?”
“Sir, it is not a concern that I would tempt your men.” She indicated her appearance. “I can do more with your meager rations than anyone. You shall feast like kings and I will wager the men will give you more work with their bellies happily full.” She had heard that sailors rarely had enough to eat on the journey across the sea and what they did have was barely palatable.
“I see. You found yourself in trouble, I suppose. Is the law after ya? Is that it? Did you steal? Or worse, kill someone?”
She winced, but recovered. “Do I appear to be a dangerous criminal to you, sir?”
He laughed. “No. I think not. But you must have a reason to want to go to sea. So, if you want to tell me the truth…”
She looked up at him pleadingly. “Would you believe I seek adventure in my old age?”
The light from the dying moon suddenly grew bright and she could see his features more clearly. He seemed to find her compelling, or perhaps he could not resist a damsel in distress, even if she appeared older than his mother.
“How did ya know our last cook died?”
“I–did not know. Did you kill him?” she asked innocently.
He laughed out loud. “It is possible the crew might have. He could not tell a piece of meat from leather or a biscuit from a bit of rope.”
She was hoping the man would be assured that the old superstition of bad luck associated with having a woman aboard would not apply here. One could probably ignore the fact that she was a female at all in this guise. And it was pure luck this ship was in need of a cook.
“Well,” he grumbled, after what seemed an interminable wait, “I will have to check with the captain, a’ course. Maybe later than sooner, though. He might not like the idea of a woman on the crew, but then again…” He chuckled softly. “There would be no privacy for you.”
“I could sleep in the galley and see to my own needs without troubling anyone,” she responded with bravado. “Please, sir. I need the work.”
He was quiet for a moment. “Well, it seems I am in a generous mood this night. I will seriously consider your proposal, but only under certain conditions.”
“Done,” she responded, trying to contain her excitement, as their dealings were not yet concluded.
“You have yet to hear my terms.”
“I am certain they will be acceptable.” She smiled broadly, hoping to show a willingness to cooperate. “Whatever they are, I shall abide by them gladly.”
“Ah, to hear those words from a wench. No matter. Come closer.”
She obeyed and he squinted at her, giving her a moment of concern. “My name is Tate.”
“Well, Mary, I am the captain’s man. I have spent most of my life on the sea. The last eight have been with this captain. I can tell you he is a fine man. I know he would be happy if you prove yourself and none have lost weight on this trip. To say nothing of keeping the passengers appeased. Most manage to do no more than complain. Without a cook, it was to be a problem. So, I am taking you at your word, now, that you know your way around a galley and are experienced at feeding so many.”
“Yes, Mr. Tate, I can indeed cook. I took the liberty of bringing a sample or two.” She took a few quick steps toward the hiding place on the dock, then slowed, remembering her age. She would have to be more careful. Marilee retrieved a basket covered with a cloth and a small bundle.
Stretching her arms as high as they would reach allowed him access to the hamper. He leaned over and scooped up the thing. The bundle she kicked between her feet.
“I spent the last few days helping out at the local inn and baked these this morning, using only bit of flour, sugar, butter and cinnamon. Tell me what you think.” She smiled. Planning so carefully had been wise.
Tate chose a scone from the basket. He bit into it and licked his lips. “Even without cream or butter or jam–it is good.” He finished the last bite and grinned. “You have convinced me. Listen well, then, to the details of our agreement. First, you must remain unseen by the captain until he has tested your fare. If you have deceived me, it will stir his ire and I will bear the brunt. That man has a temper to behold. Or better, not to behold.” Tate clearly enjoyed his own humor. Marilee held her tongue. “So, if that is the case, I will personally see you thrown overboard.”
She wondered for a moment if he would consider making good on that threat, and decided he could not. He was watching her closely and she smiled, trying to convince him of her skills and her sincerity.
“I warn you now, there will be no special privileges for ya.” He clearly tried to sound gruff, but he was melting like butter on a hot summer afternoon.
“I do appreciate what you are doing for me, Mr. Tate. I shall not require any special treatment and I assure you I will more than prove my worth. I promise, you shall not be sorry for this.”
“Fine, Mary. Now, where are your things? I take it you have some belongings with you?”
“Just what I have in this.” Marilee pointed to the small bundle at her feet.
“Get yourself aboard then and I will give you a quick tour. We sail at first light.” Tate hesitated then turned back to her. “You did not ask what port we sailed for. Care you not?”
Mary smiled at him. “Nay. Just to sea and whatever fate has in store.”
“You are a brave and foolhardy woman. Or perhaps, more desperate than anyone of your years has a right to be. Come along, then. Oh, and we sail for the colonies. Williamsburg, Virginia to be exact.”
Mary was thrilled. The colonies. A punishment for some, a boon to others. A new world. Smiling, she grabbed the sack and scrambled up the ramp to the deck. Now was not the time to give in to any form of feminine weakness or inner disputes. She followed him below decks to the galley.
The dark walls smelled of salt and sea and Marilee’s heart pumped with excitement. She pressed her lips together lest she appear too overeager. They walked down a very narrow, dark corridor to a door that opened onto a large space.
The galley was well designed, compact, the main feature being the cast iron hearth, attached to the chimney that led up through the smoke sail. There was space to work and sufficient utensils in evidence to make the job easier.
Suddenly, she was seized with panic. What if she could not perform her duties? What if she broke down and huddled in a heap in the corner, drowning in tears? The reality of seeing the galley presented a vision into the next weeks and it was terrifying. Her stomach knotted like a too-tight spring. She clenched her fists at her sides, then pulled determination up from her very toes and scolded herself to stop whining. Marilee raised her eyes to the galley and it was suddenly a manageable thing, a challenge to overcome, and she promised herself she would be up to the task.
To the right was a large storage area lined with shelves. Tucked into a corner was a small cot. There was barely enough room to turn around in there. It was crammed with supplies, and seemed terribly close and stuffy. Cooking smells had permeated the wooden slats in the walls and years of grease had left its marks in splotchy designs, unappetizing at best. But, Marilee thought, it will have to do.
He had waited, perhaps, for complaint and, when none was forthcoming, a slight smile lifted his mouth. She knew then she had convinced him. That she was willing to pay her way with hard work. Now, all that remained to do was deliver on her promise. Yes, only that.
“Thank you, Mr. Tate. I am truly grateful and I will not disappoint.”
“We carry eighty, including passengers. No human cargo. Captain does not believe in that. Breakfast had best be ready by sunrise or you will be swimming back to the shore.” Then, he was gone.
Mary smiled and tossed her bundle into the corner. She nearly laughed out loud at the thought of its contents. Tate had seen a poor, old, beggar lady. If only he knew she had enough money and jewels on her person to buy this ship several times over. There were other secrets, as well, but revealing those could get her killed.
She did a quick inventory of the supplies and was impressed by the stores at hand. The pantry shelves were filled. There was butter and rice, dried vegetables, flour, and sugar. There were dried herbs and coffee and tea. And she was sure the hold contained live chickens and hogs. That would mean eggs as well as fresh meat. She prayed another would see to the slaughtering. For tomorrow, there was salt beef already soaking to remove the brine and some hard tack biscuits. Hopefully, this would be easier than she had anticipated. Cassie had taught her to cook for the household. How much more difficult could it be to expand the amount to serve more? Then Marilee reached into the folds of her old cotton dress and withdrew several small sacks filled with coins. In the lining of her heavy cloak there were necklaces, bracelets, and rings worth a small fortune, along with more tightly packed coins. In the sack, she carried a velvet dress, a chemise, and a few toiletries. Tucking her bundles under the cot, she covered herself with her cloak. The creaking of the boards matching her breathing, she fell into an exhausted sleep. There was perhaps only an hour or two to rest, but it would have to suffice.
© 2015 by Leslie Hachtel