I don’t know if you’ve seen it yet, but there’s a book that you can get for free when you join my mailing list. It’s called The First Ever Wish, and it’s one of my favourite stories that I’ve written. It’s the origin story for the Dark Carnival series, and it’s set 300 years ago, on a ship in the middle of a storm off the coast of the Americas.
Constance is running from her past, trying to get to America and start a new life in the colonies. But she’s got to survive a night that involves a ship wreck, a terrible storm, and an eclipse of the moon. Not to mention the deadly goddess that she awakens from the sea….
Read on for a short excerpt…
The good ship Winifred
Just off the Virginia coastline, 1715
Constance clung to the ship’s rigging, her hands frozen and bloodied. The wind had long since pulled her hair out of its tight bun; it hung in a long dripping tangle down her back. The rain pounded at her from above, leaving her clothes heavy and wet.
The sea clawed at the ship, trying to drag them into its depths. It was like a great angry beast fighting their every move over its back. She shivered. She couldn’t swim, so she’d go down faster than anyone else, a tasty morsel for the beast’s belly.
Darkness lay heavy over the ship, only the shouts of the crew let her know others were still nearby. Every so often she would catch a glimpse of an eerie glowing circle through the clouds. The lunar eclipse had stolen even the small amount of light they might have expected from the moon during the storm.
Under her feet, the ship rocked over the waves like a bull off to the spring markets. Her foot slipped and she clutched at the ropes, holding on with all her remaining strength. It wasn’t going to be long before her hands slipped completely off the straining ropes. A terrified wail worked its way up her throat, but Constance refused to give in to the weakness. She swallowed it down and glared out at the storm surrounding her.
Lightning flashed through the sky and Constance jerked, her foot sliding out once more. Her heart pounded in her chest and her breath became ragged. She had thought she was too tired to be startled, but the lightning’s burst of power frightened her even now, as she prepared for her death aboard this God-forsaken ship.
A massive wave pelted sea water over the ship, shoving the vessel even further to one side. Constance gasped as the cold water soaked into her long skirts and stole away the last of her body warmth. For a moment it seemed like her legs might give out from under her, and she held herself tight to the ropes. She longed for the relative calm and the reeking stench of the below-decks berth she’d been cursing for the last six weeks.
The crammed ship and lack of good food and water had meant it was an uncertain journey over the sea from England. Death and disease had been their constant companion. But none of them had expected a storm this big—especially so close to America they could actually see land.
A massive tree of lightning flashed again. This time she steeled herself, and was able to catch a glimpse of the rich folk fighting for a place on the last of the three ship’s tenders not far from where she was hiding.
“I demand you let me onto that boat immediately. Do you know who I am?”
She heard the voice even through the storm. In the burst of brightness from the lightning she glimpsed a tall man in what had once been fine garb looking down his nose at a sailor helping people onto the small boat. The gentleman was barely keeping his feet, and he clung to the rail, but he still managed to convey his sense of self-importance.
The burly sailor looked at the man like he was insane.
Darkness descended again, and Constance heard another voice call out.
“Ho there. If he is to be given special treatment, I shall have it also.” The voice was young and pompous. Lightning flashed, and a young man with a gold braided jacket and fancy pantaloons became visible as he poked his trout-face at the crew member. His hair was plastered down onto his face, and he had a wild look in his fishy eyes.
Constance grimaced. The rain made them look ridiculous, but they didn’t seem to see it. This wretched storm had equalized them all.
“Sirs, stay in line. There’s room for everyone.” The sailor barely looked at the men before the darkness returned. He’d been not-so-gently pushing a gently-bred lady into the boat. At least it was women and children first, even if it was the just the gentry.
She huddled further back into her corner. Some of the more fortunate below-decks folk—those with more money and influence than Constance possessed—had made it onto the two earlier tenders along with the toffs. But there was no way she would have that privilege. Not unless she could figure out a way to sneak on the boat.
Rain covered her face, and she wiped the moisture away. Closing her eyes, Constance tried to pretend she was somewhere else. The rocking of the boat was the gentle rocking of her mother’s arms, and she was wet because she’d just stepped out of a warm bath. She tried not to let the tears burning at her throat spill out.
If she hadn’t crossed Larkin, she wouldn’t be here. It was her own stupid fault. Anger stirred in her chest. She’d been soft, helping that kid. It had seemed the only choice at the time, but she should have known better than to piss off the crime lord. Now she was paying for it with her life. She bit at her nail, chewing on the quick. If only she’d stayed to face him. She glanced up at the violent sky overhead. At least she would have had more of a chance against him than this raging beast.
Lightning hit the sky again. It was like the moment a match was lit, that quick flick of heat and power, but on a massive scale. This time thunder followed, rolling over the night sky, rumbling like a set of drums. It drowned out the arguments, and for a moment time held still. Constance paused in her breathing, waiting for something to happen. But the thunder simply ended, and the toffs continued struggling and fighting to get onto the lifeboats.
Just as another fork of lightning spread across the sky, a shaggy head appeared over the top of every else, and Constance’s breath hitched.
She’d thought he would be on one of the other small boats already in the water. He’d been below-decks with the rest of them, but he could charm the elbow off a donkey. She’d seen him at it, convincing a sailor to give him extra dried fruit for the kids, or lend him a game. She wondered if he was as good at getting a pretty girl to give him a kiss.
She frowned into the stormy darkness. Probably.
There was no way Sunrise Jolly could be as generous as he appeared. He must have a fault. Handsome and charming men were always terrible womanisers. She tightened her lips. It was galling to admit she found him so attractive, just like all the other eligble women below-decks. She’d thought she’d long ago learned how to avoid being conned.
Lightning lit up his blond head as he strode across the deck toward her, his eyes searching the shadows. She bit her lip. What was he looking for?
Something about Sunrise Jolly had pulled at her ever since she’d first glimpsed him leading his troupe up the gangplank of the ship, smiling and joking with the sailors as they passed by. He’d had a small carpet bag in his hand, and a lute slung over his broad shoulders. She’d been hiding among the big oak barrels sitting on deck, waiting to be loaded below. She’d paid for her berth, but until the ship sailed, she’d been hiding out from Larkin. His tentacles reached everywhere across London; it was entirely possible he’d find her even after she’d boarded the ship.
It all seemed so long ago now. So unimportant.
Constance clenched her fists. She wished Larkin had come for her. Then she wouldn’t be stuck in this nightmare of wind and rain.
The ship shuddered again and she lost her footing. Her stiff, frozen fingers were ripped from the ropes that had kept her safe. She slammed down onto the wooden boards and the force of it knocked the wind out of her lungs. As she gasped for breath, her body slid wildly along the slippery deck. Desperately, blindly, Constance grabbed for something to halt her fall, but her cold hands couldn’t find purchase.
She was almost to the edge of the ship, certain she was about to meet her fate in the thrashing waters below, when a pair of strong hands grabbed her from behind and pulled her back against a muscled chest.
“Hold tight, Constance. It’s not our turn to die just yet,” a deep voice whispered in her ear.
Constance shuddered, not entirely in reaction to being saved at last minute. Despite everything, his arms around her waist and his warm breath on her neck affected her in ways she didn’t quite understand. “I thought you’d be on one of the first boats, Sunny,” she said, an angry sneer in her voice. Damned if she would be another of his flirts, even now.
“You’re welcome, Constance,” he said grimly. But he kept her crushed tightly against his body, his face warm against her neck, like he knew she didn’t really mean it.
She touched his forearm, lightly, just to make sure he was real. His arms tightened on her fractionally, and then he released her, tucking her back into a spot on the deck that was somewhat sheltered.
“Stay here,” he said gruffly. “I’ll return for you.” Rain dripped down his face, plastering his curly hair to his head.
Constance tried not to whimper when the words registered. He was leaving her again. “Where are you going?” she asked, searching his golden brown eyes for a hint that he really cared what happened to her.
“To arrange our transportation.” He waited a heartbeat. “Will you wait?”
She hesitated, then nodded, her eyes never leaving his face. She would wait for him, no question.
If you want to read more about Constance and Sunrise, click on this link (Story for Free) and sign up to join my readers group. You’ll receive updates from me each week, and you’ll get the full story from The First Ever Wish.