Thursday, March 17, 2016

On a Lee Shore by Elin Gregory

“Give me a reason to let you live…”

Beached after losing his ship and crew, and with England finally at peace, Lt Christopher Penrose will take whatever work he can get. A valet? Why not? Escorting an elderly diplomat to the Leeward Islands seems like an easy job, but when their ship is boarded by pirates, Kit’s world is turned upside down. Forced aboard the pirate ship, Kit finds himself juggling his honor with his desire to stay alive among the crew, not to mention the alarming—yet enticing—captain, known as La Griffe.

Kit has always obeyed the rules, but as the pirates plunder their way across the Caribbean, he finds much to admire in their freedom. He deplores their lawlessness but is drawn to their way of life, and begins to think he might just have found a purpose. Dare he dream of finding love too? Or would loving a pirate take him too far down the road to ruin?

Who doesn't love a good pirate story, especially after the likes of Captains Jack Sparrow, John Flint, and Charles Vane have made them popular again?  On a Lee Shore is chock full of interesting characters, edge of your seat suspense, all wrapped up in an intriguing story that I just couldn't put down.  Watching Kit and Captain La Griffe navigate their situation and new found camaraderie filled me with both hope and dread.  But, what would a story be without obstacles, deception, and all the drama that surrounds them? Pretty boring and boring is not a word that belongs anywhere near On a Lee Shore.  This is my first Elin Gregory story but it will most definitely not be my last.


Chapter One
It was later than he would have liked when Kit Penrose stepped from the doors of the coffee house. His good friend Tristan had paused to bow to a gentleman in a full-bottomed wig, and Kit could have gone on alone, but Tristan had insisted he needed to take Kit’s arm. He had said it was due to the love he bore him, but Kit believed it was because he was having problems with those absurd shoes. Kit stepped aside from the door to wait for his friend and adjusted the set of his hat, his reflection rippling in the uneven glass of the windowpanes. A gentleman inside rapped on the window and gestured to the pamphlet that, his angry flapping indicated, he had been attempting to read until Kit had wantonly stolen his light. Kit made an apologetic leg and took a stance on the other side of the door. The sky was clear, which was a boon, but the March wind cut to the bone.

“Ah, there you are!” Tristan set his three-cornered hat on his glossy curls and tucked his hand into Kit’s elbow. “Good man, good man. Dear Lord, as you love me, Kit, smaller strides.”

“If the shoes hurt why are you wearing them?” Kit asked, moderating his pace. “They make you walk like an old duchess with corns.”

Tristan snorted. “Fashion, dear boy. If one wants to do well at work it’s best to look as though one has no financial worries. As long as they all think I’m being very good at what I do on a whim, they’ll keep promoting me to try to pique my interest.”

“Bloody silly reason for promotion,” Kit growled, and Tristan gave his arm an affectionate squeeze.

“Maybe you should try it?” he suggested. “You look like a Quaker. That’s not going to give them any faith in your fighting spirit, now is it?”

Kit glanced at Tristan’s tightly curled wig, his exquisitely fitted coat, the riot of embroidery on his waistcoat, those ridiculous shoes whose heels brought Tristan up to equal Kit’s height. Kit own attire, mostly shades of sensible hard-wearing brown, including his own naturally curly hair, did look penny-pinched in comparison.

“Perhaps not,” he said, “but I don’t look like someone who might wage war over a hole in my stocking. Since when have curls down to the waist and cuffs up to the elbows been a fighting man’s costume?”

“Lieutenant Penrose!” Tristan feigned offence and slapped the hilt of his small sword. They had been good friends since childhood and today, Kit saw with a grin, Tristan decided to let Kit live.

“What time is your appointment?” Tristan asked.

“Eleven o’clock,” Kit said, his grin fading.

Tristan nodded. “Then we must hurry. So—what plans have you made if they won’t give you a berth? East India Company? Muscovy Company? You could marry my sister.”

The last had been added because, Kit supposed, too much of what he was feeling showed on his face. At present, with England at peace, even naval officers with no whiff of scandal attached to their names were having a time of it to find a ship to take them. Kit, with a big question mark over his fitness to command, his health, and an unpleasantly sensational court martial in his recent past, knew he would be pressed to find a place in a rowboat. It was an unhappy thought, so he put it from his mind and gave a bark of laughter.

“Your sister is married, you fool, and you’d best get used to the idea, even if he is a bit of a stick.”

“My brother?” Tristan suggested. When Kit didn’t reply, he gave his arm another squeeze and added, “I’m sorry, that was uncalled for.”

“Under the circumstances, yes it was.” Kit scowled as he stepped over a particularly large pile of horse turds. Maybe it was symbolic. There was something very turd-like about his situation.

The silence lengthened until it seemed more embarrassing to break it than to let it continue. They didn’t speak again until they reached the entrance of the Navy Office and had to take their leave.

“Tonight, Dog Tavern, by Billingsgate,” Tristan said. “We’ll celebrate or drown our sorrows.”

Kit nodded. “Wish me luck?”

“With all my heart,” Tristan said then turned to go to his office, which Kit supposed would be as well turned out and carefree as he was. Kit, on the other hand, went to wait on a hard bench in a draughty corridor.

It was a busy place. Kit normally enjoyed the spectacle of the thronged corridors. The whole of the Navy would be represented if he stayed there for long enough. Tiny Letter boys in overlarge uniform coats, so new that the folds had not yet dropped out of the cloth, would draw aside and stare in awe as the admirals, glittering with orders, strode past. And the officers—tall, short, willowy, or broad, some handsome, some merely healthy and hearty—would nod a greeting. Some would smile, ask for news of friends or ships, or suggest a meeting at this alehouse or that to continue conversation.

That had been before Malvern and disgrace. Now Kit sat with his hat on his knees, his feet drawn in, and reviewed as dispassionately as possible all the jobs for which he might be qualified and how likely he would be to get one.

“Penrose, isn’t it?”

Kit looked up, wondering if it was his turn. The young man was smartly dressed, but without Tristan’s extravagance, and his smile was broad and cheerful. There was something familiar about him, so Kit returned the smile as he stood. “Yes. Lieutenant Christopher Penrose at your service.”

The other man raised an eyebrow. “Penrose—of the Malvern? I thought as much.”

Aware that he was being baited, Kit gritted his teeth. “I do not believe I have your name, sir,” he said.

“Captain Thomas Wells.”

“Wells?” Kit’s heart sank. He remembered Wells from the Windsor—a Letter boy a year or two older always ready with a scathing remark or his fists if words didn’t seem to have hurt enough. They had served together for a month and that had been long enough. However, bad memories of the past did not excuse bad manners in the present. “Congratulations on your promotion,” Kit added with a little bow.

“Virtue rewarded,” Wells said. “The Navy recognizes true talent when it sees it. Was it as bad on the Malvern as rumor has it?”

He paused to allow a clerk to scurry past before taking half a step closer to look down at Kit. He was tall, obviously well versed in intimidating underlings, and his smirk was an insult in itself.

“If you would be so good as to answer my question, Penrose. I have never served under such a captain and would be pleased to benefit from your experience and learn how to avoid it.”

There had been an emphasis there that Kit couldn’t ignore, and he drew breath to reply—probably in a regrettable way—but another voice cut through the hubbub in the corridor.

“Penrose! What are you about, sir? Eleven of the clock I said and eleven of the clock I meant. It is now two minutes past, sir.”

The door to an office stood open and there was the clerk, partially eclipsed by the familiar bulk of Sir William Tregarne. “Get yourself inside, Penrose,” Sir William said, cutting off Kit’s apology. “Wells—I have no time to see you today. Same time tomorrow.”

Kit and Captain Wells exchanged looks that promised a further, less friendly meeting. Kit nodded a curt farewell and marched along to the admiral’s office. As the door closed behind him, the clock struck eleven. Admiral Tregarne snorted and pointed to a chair then lurched toward his own, cane and peg leg clicking on the polished wooden floor.

Kit seated himself, his anger fading. Sir William was getting stocky now he was sailing a desk, but his sharp blue eyes set in creases under bristling brows hadn’t changed. He was Kit’s godfather and had been his hero ever since Kit could remember. Sir William had been Kit’s father’s commanding officer at the time of Captain Penrose’s death, and due to the proximity of their houses, Kit’s mother and Sir William’s wife had become as firm friends as the disparity in their status could allow. Sir William’s brief and infrequent visits home had been things of wonder for Kit. It was on Sir William’s account as well as family tradition that there had never been any question about what Kit would do with his life. He would spend it at sea and still hoped to do so if the Malvern and what had occurred upon her could be forgotten.

“Fully recovered?” Sir William demanded.

“Fully, sir,” Kit replied. “I understand that the fever may return, but it is unlikely to be as severe. I am fit for service.”

Sir William grunted and gestured to the clerk who placed a tray on the table and began to pour the port. Once both were provided and the tray removed, Sir William sat back in his seat and fixed Kit with a not unkindly glare.

“Fit for service is one thing. Finding you a ship is another,” he said. “Have you given any thought about what to do should it prove to be impossible?”

“My options are limited,” Kit said. “This is the only life I’ve known. I have neither the ability nor the desire to be anything other than a seaman.”

Sir William set his glass down with a click. “Fact is,” he said, “one of our ships was lost and you, my boy, were the only officer left for us to hold accountable. Now, if I’d known what was happening on the Malvern, I’d have sunk the damn ship myself. I know that you were exonerated on account of your health at the time of the wreck but people talk. They are saying that as an officer you must have known what the captain was getting up to?”

The barely there question couldn’t be ignored.

“I did,” Kit said, shamefaced. “Eventually. But there was nobody to report it to. Lieutenant Alford was a foolish, weak man who drank, whored, and gambled beyond his limits. He could not stand up to the captain. Captain Gasson, frankly sir, was a monster and a bully as well as—his other crimes.”

“Did Gasson bother you much, Kit?” Sir William demanded and flapped a hand as Kit started in his chair. “Sit down, boy! I’m only voicing the question that a lot of people have been asking themselves. Gasson was well known to hand pick his crew, for looks as well as ability, and he did not have to choose you. I would like an honest answer, if you please.”

“No, sir,” Kit said, his voice cold. “He did not!”

“Not once you’d shown him the error of his ways, one suspects,” Sir William said and raised the glass to Kit. “I talked to the Malvern’s carpenter after the court martial—he’d served with me on the Great Anne, was there when I got this peg—he told me some of what happened. I believe you behaved creditably under the circumstances, and it’s unfair that Captain Gasson’s behavior should cast a shadow on your career, but even so I have no power to get you a ship.”

Kit looked down at his hands, linked again, knuckles pale. “I understand, sir,” he said. “I expected as much. I’ve made some enquiries and believe it would be possible to get a master’s berth on a trading vessel. Now the war is over, there is a demand for experienced men in the merchant fleet.”

“Rubbish,” Sir William said. “You’re what—twenty six? Master’s mate is the best you could hope for, and before the mast is no place for a Penrose. That name still counts for something in some circles.”

“In a radius about five miles around Helston,” Kit said bitterly, adding an apologetic, “Sorry, sir,” when Sir William snorted.

“Damn well should be. You, my boy, need to be away from England for a while. Some other fool will cause a scandal soon enough and you’ll be forgotten. But in the meantime, you may as well make yourself useful in a quiet way.”

“The prospect delights me, sir,” Kit said.

“Impertinence!” Sir William crowed. “At least you haven’t lost your sense of humor. That may be of considerable help to you in the months ahead.”

“Thank you, sir,” Kit said and watched with mingled excitement and apprehension as the clerk placed a sheaf of papers in front of Sir William.

Author Bio:
Elin Gregory lives in South Wales and works in a museum in a castle built on the edge of a Roman fort! She reckons that's a pretty cool job. It certainly provides more than enough inspiration for her writing. "The button from a military jacket found in an orchard, a 16th century Venetian coin found between the cobbles of a Welsh street, a carnelian from a Roman signet ring - one can't handle them without wondering who lost them, how much they regretted it and what kind of disaster was sparked off by the loss."

Elin always has new works on the go and she is currently finishing a novel set in 6th century AD England and contemplating one about the British Secret Service between the two World Wars. Any excuse to buy more books!



No comments:

Post a Comment