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Book Jacket

1597893595
Trade Paperback
317 pages
Jul 2006
Barbour Publishing

The Redemption

by M.L. Tyndall

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Excerpt:

Chapter 1

Shipwreck

 

1665—The Caribbean

Charlisse bolted upright in bed, her heart pounding. The ship’s tiny cabin rocked back and forth. She grabbed the bedpost to keep from being tossed onto the floor. Books flew off the shelves. A wooden chair tumbled clumsily across the room, crashing into the far wall. The ship bucked. She jolted off the bed, then plunged back onto the hard mattress, smashing her elbow into the bed frame. Pinching tremors shot up her arm. What was happening?

Charlisse tried to remember where she was. The merchant ship. She had bartered passage aboard from London to the Caribbean in search of her father—a man she had never met. He was the only real family she had left in the world. After spending the afternoon enjoying the fresh ocean breeze up on deck, she had come down to her cabin for a nap. In just a few short hours, the gentle rolling sea had transformed into a raging demon.

From outside the cabin, she heard a deafening roar—like a giant sea serpent—followed by a pounding on her window. She looked up at the round porthole. Fierce tentacles of water clawed to gain entrance.

Her body dove through the air. She landed on the wooden floor, the impact jarring her spine. A spike of pain shot up her back, piercing her head like the thrust of a sword. The cabin door swelled and groaned. Charlisse turned to see a flood of seawater burst through it and crash over her, propelling her toward the back of the room. Her head slammed against the wall. She gulped for breath and flung her arms through the turbulent water, searching for anything solid to cling to.

The ship lunged in the other direction, and the water gushed back out the door, carrying Charlisse with it. She grabbed the door frame. Her muscles strained to maintain a grip on the slippery wood, but the force of the torrent flung her out into the hallway.

She heard muffled screams up on deck. Fighting her way up the companionway stairs, she braced against the blasts of water that engulfed her. She popped her head above deck. A swirling tempest crashed over her, stealing her breath and crushing her against the railing. She opened her eyes, enduring the sting of saltwater, to see a deluge of rain so thick, it obscured everything into twisted, surreal shapes. The ship tilted to the left sending a cascade of water over its side. Broken riggings and sails, still attached to the mast, flung back and forth in the onslaught, threatening to knock overboard anyone who crossed their path. Black angry clouds growled and hurled bolts of lightning toward the ship.

This could not be the end of her life, not when she had finally gotten the courage to flee from the clutches of her depraved uncle. She could not die like this, not all alone, in a foreign sea, never knowing if she was ever loved—by anyone.

She saw the captain ahead of her as he clutched the quarterdeck railing. She wanted to reach him, to hear him say they would survive the storm, but dread of the tempest above gripped all her muscles and held them in place.

Another burst of wind and rain slapped her, stinging her face and shoving her down into the seawater that rose up the stairs. Drenched, she clambered upward again and stepped onto the slippery deck, deciding to brave the storm above rather than drown below in her cabin. A surging wave assaulted her and thrust her against the mainmast. She clung to it as the ship rolled to the right.

Sharp pebbles of rain pounded on her skin from every direction, carried on blasts of wind that pushed her one way and tugged her the other in a frenzied contest to dislodge her.

She made out the blurred shapes of men up in the top riggings, battling with the sails. Each heave of the ship tossed them about like paper dolls. Lightning cracked the stormy sky, illuminating them for a brief second before fading, leaving the disastrous scene imprinted on Charlisse’s mind.

The black ocean swelled in a chaotic rage all around the ship, licking its lips in foamed peaks. An explosion of thunder blasted across the sky, shaking the ship from stem to stern. Each bone in Charlisse’s body shuddered with the jolt.

The ship careened sharply to the right, riding on the swell of a monstrous wave. Her feet left the deck. Clutching the mast, she closed her eyes and clung to it with all her strength. The wood scraped her throbbing fingers as they slipped over the groaning pillar. Shouts echoed through the pounding rain, and she heard the stifled voice of Captain Hathaway in the distance. The ship righted itself, hovering in the air above the tempest, before it landed with a thud on the other side of the wave. Her feet pounded on the deck. The skin on her hands and arms burned raw with splinters from the mast.

She gasped and opened her eyes to see Captain Hathaway beside her. Fear etched the features of his old, weather-beaten face.

“Get below, Miss Bristol!” he shouted. “ ’  Tis not safe!”

No sooner had he spoken than the ship dove to the left. The captain disappeared into a blast of water that plunged over the deck. The flood punched Charlisse with the force of a cannon shot and muffled her scream, filling her mouth with the tangy taste of seawater.

She looked for the captain and was relieved to see him hanging on the side railing, shouting orders to the few crewmen who were still struggling to save the ship. One of the sailors scrambled up the ratlines, following his captain’s orders. A wall of water struck him, tossing his body into the churning sea.

Charlisse closed her eyes. We’re all going to die.

The roar of the storm suddenly dimmed. The tottering ship eased into a heaving roll. Charlisse popped her eyes open to see the waves no longer bursting over the deck. Wiping wet strands of tangled hair from her face, she glanced around the ship. She heard someone throwing up. Captain Hathaway bellowed orders that sent the remaining sailors scrambling across deck. Is the storm over? Did we survive? Charlisse dared not hope. Her eyes met the captain’s. She smiled at him, hoping for reassurance, but he returned only a vacant stare before something drew his attention upward. His face took on a ghostly pallor.

Following his gaze, Charlisse saw a wall of black water towering over the ship. It pulled the sea from underneath them and rose like the wings of a dragon, white foam salivating on its forked tongue as it curled over the tiny vessel, ready to pounce. A fireball of terror stuck in her throat, preventing her from breathing. Trembling, she clutched the mast as tightly as she could.

The crew froze, staring at the monster. A few crossed themselves. The captain yelled, “Hold on!”

Then it hit.

The mountainous surge of water tossed Charlisse overboard and plunged her headfirst into the raging sea. Disoriented, she fought to find her bearings as she flailed in the cold, churning water. The salt stung her eyes, yet she saw nothing but darkness. Underneath the surface of the sea, the deafening sounds of the storm became a muted rhythm of swirling bubbles.

An eerie peacefulness engulfed her. Lured by its deception, she ceased struggling, wondering if it wasn’t better to fade away into this serene underwater world. But then she remembered. She must find her father—to know if he loved her, wanted her. How could she die without ever knowing that at least one person in the world cared for her? A voice inside told her to hold on, not to give up yet. God help me, she prayed.

Her head popped above water. Instantly, chaos assailed her. Her lungs heaved for air between the waves that crashed over her head. The rolling tempest hurled her up and down. She felt nauseated. Her muscles ached. Seawater poured into her stomach. As the energy drained from her body, dread consumed her. She was going to sink to the bottom of the cold sea and die alone and unloved. No one would know what had happened to her, and no one would care.

Something hit her from behind. She turned to find a bulky slab of wood and grabbed it before it could drift away. With her last remaining strength, she crawled onto it and collapsed, breathless.

Lightning flashed, and she caught a glimpse of the ship several yards in the distance. It lay on its side, masts along with sails, sinking fast into the raging ocean. Several heads bobbed in the water. She heard periodic wails of the crew in between the howls of the storm.

She paddled in their direction, not wanting to die alone. But with every inch of progress, the storm tossed her farther away.

Tightening her grip on the wood, she felt helpless against the seething squall. Another large wave hit, carrying her upon its massive swell. From its crest, Charlisse saw the last remnant of the ship’s white sails sink beneath the dark waters.