File this under totally random! I recently discovered that Pleasuring the Pirate (one of my vintage reads written as Emily Bryan) is on display at the Museum of London Docklands. It’s part of an exhibit on pirates in popular culture and shares the space with Errol Flynn and Johnny Depp/Jack Sparrow memorabilia.
This tickles me to pieces because this cover has not been without its problems. First, one of my writing buddies, Jacqueline George from Australia, pointed out that my hero is wearing his sword with the hilt backward. I thanked her, but as usual, I had little say in how how the cover was created. Frankly, his sword is not the first thing I noticed about this hunky hero, but the world is filled with people who are more observant than I.
Then I learned the Pleasuring the Pirate cover was on a lampooning site where visitors were encouraged to write snarky captions (As in: “My neck is too long to be a proper heroine. Damn my ostrich blood!)
So the fact that my prodigal pirate is getting a little highbrow attention for a change is a treat. And it’s really pretty appropriate that it is on display in Docklands because my hero does end up at Wapping where he faces the hangman’s noose. Here’s a brief excerpt from that scene in Pleasuring the Pirate:
Her skin was satin and fire at once, smooth to his touch and flame to his senses. He took her rosy peak in his mouth and tasted a bit of heaven. Oh, that little sound she made as he pleasured her. He’d give anything to hear it again.
A bell tolled in the distance.
She arched into him and he gathered her close. She spread herself to receive him, making those helpless little noises of urgency that threatened to shred his control.
Someone was still ringing that damn bell.
He dove into her, home at last. He—
Opened his eyes. The bell was real. Slow and measured, it tongued a relentless message.
“They always ring the bell on hanging days. Gives folks cause to reflect and repent if they’ve considered taking up evil ways,” Pinckney had told him. “And time enough to nip down to Execution Dock. The good spots go fast.”
Gabriel sighed and rose from his bed. He’d slept remarkably well for someone who knew it was his last night on earth. And his dreams . . . well, Lyn had been with him all night, alternately passionate and tender. His body still throbbed. It was a pity he hadn’t been able to finish the last dream.
He scraped the dark stubble from his chin and dressed carefully in the new suit of clothing Isabella Wren had thoughtfully ordered for him. A condemned man was expected to appear in his finery and thanks to Jacquelyn’s mother, Gabriel would be turned out well enough to appear before King George himself. He ignored the full-bottomed wig she’d sent over, clubbing his own dark hair back into a queue. He never liked wearing a wig in life. He doubted death would improve the experience.
Gabriel waved off Pinckney’s offer of breakfast. Not only was the gruel unpalatable, Gabriel didn’t want to burden his belly with something it would only purge later. To this end, he’d shunned food since Lyn left him for the last time. If he was bound to die, he’d make it a good death. The thought of his own shite streaming down his kicking legs was almost worse than hanging itself.
As he was led out into the autumn sunshine, he experienced a strange sense of well-being, a lightness of spirit that he surprised him. He stepped up into the ox cart that would bear him to Execution Dock, feeling oddly thankful that it wasn’t raining. If a man had to die, why not die on one of those rare bright days when the world was fresh and bright and full of promise?
The cart rattled away from Newgate, squeezing through the twisting lanes and past the Tower. It must have rained in the night. Puddles collected in the sunken cobbles shimmering on the old streets like pools of liquid silver. Why had he never noticed before how astonishingly beautiful everything was?
Crowds were beginning to follow him. A few jeered. One or two bowed their heads in prayer for his immortal soul. A little boy hurled a rotten cabbage at him. It struck him squarely on the chest, leaving a patch of muck on Gabe’s brocade waistcoat. Gabriel smiled at the lad.
“Well thrown,” he called.
“Thanks, mate,” the urchin replied, hefting a second cabbage and then deciding against it.
Gabriel had faced death before, in countless skirmishes and battles and hadn’t flinched. But when the pirates fished him from the deep and gave him a choice, he’d been afraid to choose death. Now that the choice was made for him, he felt only calm resignation.
And more than a little curiosity. If, as Shakespeare said, death was the “undiscovered country,” he would look upon this day as the start of a new adventure. Despite what he’d told Lyn, he did talk with the priest and was assured that his sins, though they were many, were forgiven. Gabriel wondered if his father would be there to greet him when he stepped through death’s portal.
The oxcart turned a sharp corner and the gallows of Execution Dock came into view.
Please, God, he prayed for the first time in years, let me not arrive in that strange new land with shite on my breeches.
There were hundreds of people jostling on the wharf. He could hear dozens of conversations going on around him, all sharp and distinct. He grasped the rough wood of the oxcart’s rails and felt each splintered indentation in the grain. All his senses were on high alert as he looked out over the crowd who’d come to see him hang. He almost expected to smell the color of the harlot’s red dress as she shoved her way to the front for a better view or the muddy brown smock and apron of the tanner’s apprentice who’d enterprisingly climbed a light pole.
The gallows at Wapping’s Execution Dock were built low on the bank of the Thames, so that once a prisoner was hung at low tide, his body might be covered over by the prescribed three tides as a warning to others. Gabriel descended the stairs to the dock and mounted the scaffold without assistance. To please the crowd, he turned to the hangman and made a leg to him, as elegantly as possible for one whose hands were bound. The executioner nodded a silent acknowledgment behind his bizarre leather mask. The gathering cheered Gabriel’s bravado.
He gave the same obeisance to the stoop-shouldered official who regarded him through a raised lorgnette. When Gabriel passed the hooded priest, he was surprised to hear the man whisper, “Courage,” instead of intoning a blessing.
The official wheezed through a lengthy recitation of Gabriel’s crimes. Flashes of his life scrolled past his vision, the blue-green water of the Caribbean as vivid and fresh as if he were actually there again. The official droned on and the crowd began shifting restlessly, emitting a low growl of warning not to try its patience indefinitely.
Wind whipped up a whiff of the Thames, a brackish stink of dying shellfish laced with tar. Gabriel shut out the vision of that sludgy water washing over his corpse. Instead, he conjured Lyn in his mind.
He had no regrets, save her. He should have married her in Cornwall, taken her against her will if necessary and Devil take the rest. But he’d never have made her happy that way and with a start, he realized that making her happy was more important to him than anything. Even his life. So he couldn’t have done anything differently and the thought gave him a certain amount of peace.
Suddenly, the official and the crowd fell silent and he realized he was expected to speak.
“Of the crimes listed, I am guilty,” Gabriel said, his voice ringing against the row of buildings that hugged the waterfront. Onlookers even leaned from the second story windows. “And of sins unlisted, I am also guilty. So I go to a just punishment without resentment. Of my life, I will say only that I was blessed to have loved once and loved well. My one regret is that I was unable to love long.”
The crowd chuckled at his gallows humor. He noticed one wag scribbling furiously on a portable writing desk. Gabriel’s death speech would find its way into one of London’s ubiquitous tabloids.
He didn’t have time to wonder if the speech would be judged good or not, for his attention was riveted to the hangman. The noose was slipped around Gabe’s neck and the knot by his left ear cinched tight. Gabriel took a deep breath.
That’s the end of the excerpt. Yeah, I know. I’m a terrible tease. ;-)
Any pirate-type questions out there? You know me. If I don’t know the answer I’ll be happy to make something up. (Just kidding. I’ll ask someone smarter than me!)