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Prize of My Heart



Captain Brogan Talvis was rounding the stern of his newly constructed square-rigged ship when, from across the shipyard, the sight of a young woman took him aback.

He’d ventured out for an early private inspection—his first sight of the 880-ton merchantman—and what a beauty she was! Soon she would be christened the Yankee Heart. Until then, she rested complete and ready to be launched on a pair of stocks that sloped down the bank into the Bluefish River.

All he’d wanted was a few solitary moments alone with his precious ship. An opportunity to reflect on all that had brought him to this seaside town on the south shore of Massachusetts and the mission that still lay ahead.

Brogan had fully expected the yard to be deserted at this early hour—only moments ago he’d caught his first glimmer of the sun behind a horizon of bay inlets and calm waters—but there, in the flat stretch of marshland beyond, among the tall, gently swaying grass, sat the girl on a broad, flat rock.

He found it odd that she should be alone in such a place. Her legs were drawn up, spine curved in a long, slim arc with her forehead resting on her knees, her face concealed from view. Lengthy whorls of ginger-brown hair escaped a white cotton kerchief knotted atop her head. She wore a checked gingham dress the color of mustard seed relish and Boston brown bread. From beneath its ruffled hem, the toes of a pair of serviceable shoes pointed toward the river.

Brogan stepped forward, the soles of his black leather Hessians crackling over a clutter of wood chips—golden new chips scattered and heaped over faded aged ones. A summer breeze stirred the air, hinting of salt and carrying the fragrances of fresh lumber and pine tar.

As he looked more closely, he noticed the girl’s muslin apron stained with spots of a deep berry red. A kitchen maid, no doubt, but what business had she idling about a shipyard at this hour of the morning? Her presence annoyed him.

Why should he feel so drawn, so curious about her, when a matter of far weightier import occupied his head and heart?
For this was a pivotal day in the life of Captain Brogan Talvis. It marked the inception of his plan to reclaim the son who’d been lost to him three years ago, when his wife abandoned their child to strangers and refused to reveal where she had disposed of the boy.

What could have caused Abigail to do such a horrible thing?

The question tortured him. Brogan would not rest until he learned the mystery behind her cruel deceit and uncovered anyone else’s involvement, for surely, Abigail could not have acted alone. But oh! He had since discovered the whereabouts of his son. It was Nathaniel Huntley, one of New England’s most notable shipbuilders, who had possession of Ben.

Thoughts of Benjamin had haunted him the entire three years he’d captained a privateer in the War of 1812. Never a day passed when Brogan didn’t miss him, when his heart didn’t break and pine with love for his lost son. At the most inopportune times, he’d felt torn between a desire to return and search for Ben and a duty to defend America against England’s oppression.
At last, both his search and the war were over.

Ben’s name had been changed. He lived under a new identity, residing in a home of wealth and comfort, but in the end, who could be trusted to love and care for the lad, strangers or Ben’s own flesh-and-blood father? Why would a prominent shipbuilder secretly accept another’s child as his own? To raise as a servant? During his own youth, Brogan had suffered firsthand the exploitation of innocents.

He turned his attention to the Yankee Heart, admiring her full apple-round hull, supported by live oak, twenty-two inches thick. He raked his gaze upward to the rise of her stern. Her beautifully carved arch board with its graceful moldings and pilasters surrounded her quarter gallery like a framed picture. She would play a vital role in rescuing his son.

Even so, it was another woman altogether who called to him now. Brogan found he could not walk away from the maid without inquiry, could not ignore her no matter how much he’d prefer to. She had intruded upon his privacy, and he would have turned without a backward glance to return to his lodgings on Washington Street for a hearty breakfast and a hot bath, but something about her intrigued him.

Her stillness. She remained frozen in place, so much so that he wondered after her welfare. Could this young miss be in distress? Was her head bowed in tears or perhaps in mourning? Did she suffer some malady?

He would inquire. Perhaps he could be of assistance. And if the maid worked for the Huntley estate, as reason would suggest she did, perhaps she could be of assistance to him.

Dawn arrived in timid rays of soft pewter light. It rose off the horizon like an aura, while the rolling echo of the surf washed over the sandy shoreline of the Bluefish River with a sound as rhythmic as a man’s breathing. Each wave returned to the briny blue with a deep, satisfied sigh.

In quiet, solitary moments such as these, the still, small voice of the Lord spoke to her heart. Resting her head on her bent knees, Lorena Huntley closed her eyes. She needed to hear.

Why this foreboding, this uneasiness of late? She understood it to be God’s way of alerting her spirit, but as to what she seemed unable to discern. Had it to do with Drew? With Papa? Perhaps even George?

No, this warning was more immediate to family than the unfortunate business of George. She’d come out to her favorite spot to pray, but hours of baking in the summer kitchen had left her sleepy, and she fell into a doze only to be awakened by an unnatural stillness in the air.

She flashed open her eyes, a gasp of surprise escaping her even before she lifted her head to glance up.

Above her stood a goliath of a man.

Shoulders as broad and square as a doorframe, he towered above her, his boots planted in a wide stance that looked for all the world like even the strongest northeaster couldn’t shake his timbers.

He grinned, and were he not already intimidating in stature and bearing, Lorena might have been stricken speechless at his handsomeness alone.

He wore no hat, no coat; no neckerchief adorned the collar of his white linen shirt. Simply a pair of suspenders looped over the shirt’s full, dropped shoulders, its sleeves rolled up to reveal forearms corded with sinew and as tight as yarn hemp. His bisque trousers were tucked into a pair of shiny black knee boots, and at his side hung fists the size of a plow horse’s hoof.
He had a hawkish nose with chiseled features, a squared jaw, and longish sandy-blond hair, parted slightly to one side. A lush stray lock spilled onto his forehead. Long side whiskers grew down in front of his ears. His was not the milky complexion of gentlefolk, but the bronzed, healthy glow of a man who obviously spent his days out-of-doors. His masculinity unnerved her, and gazing up at him, Lorena grew irritated for the ease with which she had allowed this giant to take her unawares.

She considered making a dash for home, but surmised him more than capable of outrunning her. She could scream, but no one would hear. Her father’s shipwrights and yard workers would shortly be arriving for work, but until then, there was nothing she could do but stand her ground and refuse to show fear.

She met his gaze boldly, and as they regarded each other, he tipped his head in greeting. “Good morning to you, miss.”

Disarmed, Lorena scrambled to her feet on top of the rock and, shaking out her skirts, straightened to her full height of five and six, until they stood face-to-face. She eyed him warily and gave a nod.

“My apologies for awakening you, but I wondered why you were so still.”

She narrowed her eyes suspiciously. “You’ve been watching me?”

He took thorough inspection of her, from kerchief to leather shoelaces. “Aye, and a more fetching sight I’ve yet to see in all Duxborotown. What are you doing out here? All alone.”

What was she doing here? Whatever was he doing here? And how dare he trespass on her father’s property? Who was he anyway? she wanted to ask. But this man had the most arresting, melancholy eyes of china blue. They pinned her with a stare that sealed her lips as tightly as a caulker’s mallet drove oakum in the seam between two planks.

“N . . . nothing.” And then Lorena thought better of her answer and added, “Nothing of your concern, anyway.”

“Oh?” His brows lifted in mock surprise. “Nothing to do, eh? And what, pray, would your employer think, not only of your idle hands but to find you asleep on the job?”

She could tell by the grin on his handsome face that he was toying with her, purposely trying to make her feel vulnerable. She would have none of it, however.

“I find you unmannerly, sir,” she spat.

“Unmannerly?” He chuckled at that. “As though I had committed an offense in wishing you good morning.”

Lorena waved an arm to indicate the surrounding area with its strewn timbers and storage sheds. “This land is the property of Nathaniel Huntley. These are his yards. What business have you to stroll through uninvited?”

“Bold words for a kitchen maid. But I see. I’ve disturbed you, haven’t I?”

“Disturbing me is the least of your offenses.” She jumped from her rock, bringing them into closer proximity, which was not her intent. “Now please step aside to let me pass.”

Even with her own generous height, this man stood head and shoulders taller than she. When he did not move, it was like facing an impenetrable wall of fieldstone and granite. Only this stone wall had a pulse. She watched a vein throb in his neck.
She sidestepped to walk around him. He moved into her path. “In due time, girl. All in due time. Now, what did you say your name was?”

“I did not say.” Lorena swallowed despite the lump of trepidation wedged in her throat.

As she glanced about the lonely, deserted shipyard, her gaze traveled straight through the exposed ribs of a small sloop to an enormous completed ship in the distance. Between them, no smoke emitted from the brick boiler’s chimney, no steam from the long wooden steam box. The area she was accustomed to seeing ablaze with activity lay quiet in the gray light of dawn.

Her heart raced. She was alone with this stranger.

“I wish to return home,” she repeated, this time more forcefully. “My family will be expecting me. I must insist again that you remove yourself from my path.”

Andrew Benjamin Huntley crouched low in the marsh grass. He was quiet. Quiet as a mouse. It was easy to be a mouse when you were only five years old and too small to reach the cranberry tarts cooling on the summer kitchen’s breadboard table without standing on tiptoe.

Lorena liked to bake him tarts and he liked to eat them. She said he was every mother’s dream with his angel’s halo of fat buttercream curls and two glowing cherub cheeks, the pearly pink of a seashell. He didn’t have a real mama, but Lorena was as real as a mama could be, when she scolded in a loud voice that his behavior did not match his angelic appearance.

Drew—everyone called him Drew, because it had the same d-d-d sound as David, like in King David—was glad for the times he did not behave as an angel. Sometimes a man needed to be a man. He viewed the world shrewdly through eyes the peacock blue of cloudless August skies, and what they saw this morning made him angry.

He must save Lorena from the giant.

He could see she was frightened and clenched a pudgy fist around the smooth stone in his right hand. He thought about what he would do and slowly unclenched the fist. His palm was sweaty.

He looked at the stone. It was his finest, saved for an occasion such as this. He set it in his sling. Lorena had gifted him with the sling and taught him how to use it. Drew had learned well.

When Lorena was nowhere to be found this morning, Drew made certain to carry them with him when he went looking for her. He knew, of course, where to find her, but he never expected a giant.

He recalled again King David, who also carried a sling. If David could slay a giant when he was just a boy, then so could Drew. Drew twirled the sling round and round, forcing the weapon to gather speed and force. He took aim and let the stone fly, watching as it sailed through the air, waiting for it to hit its target, for the giant to fall upon his face to the earth.

The man began to chuckle softly. “All of a sudden you’re anxious to return to your duties, are you? My apologies, for it seems I’ve frightened you.”

When Lorena refused to share in his amusement, he presented her with an exaggerated frown. “What? Not even a smile will you grant me? Ah, very well then, girl, since you won’t tell me your name, and you’re obviously not in any sort of distress, I suppose I shall have to let you pass, but first it is my desire—”

The squared jaw dropped. Those sharp blue eyes lost their focus as they rolled back in his head. He swayed on his feet, and Lorena shrieked, sprinting from his path as he staggered, then fell facedown in the grass with a force that shook the ground beneath her feet.

Stunned, she leaned forward to inquire, “Sir? Sir, are you all right?”

He seemed not.

“Yeeooowee, I got him. Are you hurt, Lorena?”

Drew leapt out from the grasses, his rugged child’s body clothed in knee breeches dyed an emerald green to hide the grass stains, shoes but no stockings, and a striped red-and-white waistcoat as gay as the grin on his round, pink face.

As Lorena watched him advance, she struggled to understand what had just happened.

At her feet lay a mountain of a man, unconscious.

“Drew, what have you done?”

Hands planted squarely on hips, the child squinted up at her as though she were a simpleton. “I slew the giant, Lorena. Like David. Just as you showed me. I saved you.” Losing all patience with her, he turned away to search the tall grass. “I must find my stone. I might need it again someday.”

“You naughty, naughty boy. I gave you that sling so you’d take more interest in your Sunday school lessons. How many times must I explain, it is only to be used when we pretend Goliath is a tree. We do not aim stones at living creatures. And what is that red smudge on your cheek? Oh, tell me you haven’t been eating my cranberry tarts. Papa’s client is dining with us this evening, and now what shall I serve him? Listen to me, prattling on about cranberry tarts, while this poor fellow lies . . .”

Lorena knelt beside the body. Grass stuck up around the stranger’s form like the staves of an unfinished basket. Warily, she leaned closer to listen for his breathing. Her hand trembled, suspended over his rugged face with its darker blond side whiskers. She was tempted to reach out and touch him as a sense of destiny moved fleetingly through her spirit.

Drew pulled a dirt-stained finger from his mouth. “We should get away, Lorena. Before he wakes. He is a dangerous giant. I can tell by the looks of him.”

Lorena snatched back her hand. The clever mite did have a point. He was an exceptionally astute child, she was proud to admit, although she felt none too proud of this latest show of his abilities.

Straightening, she released the breath she’d been holding. “Yes, we should be gone. He is not seriously injured, only stunned, thank goodness. He’ll fare well enough, although I do despise the thought of leaving an unconscious man unattended,” she went on, as much to herself as to Drew, “but Papa’s workmen shall be arriving any moment now. They’ll find him and revive him, if he hasn’t already done so himself.”

Then, hopefully, this man, whoever he was, would continue on his way, go back to wherever it was he’d come from and forget the whole incident.

Or perhaps his employer would happen by and find him asleep on the job.

Oh, Lorena, how can you jest? She was a Christian woman, but she wasn’t stupid enough to wait around until he woke and face a possible wrathful confrontation between this colossus and a small boy, who had clobbered him with a well-aimed stone.

And then it occurred to her that Drew indeed had saved her, for this man’s last words were “But first it is my desire . . .” What had been his desire? she wondered. A kiss?

She glanced at the unshaven face and blushed to the roots of her heavy cloud of curls.

“When we get home, Lorena, will you read to me again of David?”
Lorena smiled down at the precious golden child God had placed in her care to love and protect. She’d deal with Drew’s misconduct later, but right now her heart couldn’t help but fill to bursting at her little misguided hero. She leaned forward, hands on knees, and addressed him sweetly. “If you wish to hear more of King David, we shall read his psalms. You need to learn David’s wisdom before you mimic his actions, or the next thing I know you’ll be trotting off to slay a bear. Tonight we’ll start with—”
A loud groan erupted from the stranger sprawled on the thick carpet of marsh turf. For a moment they both froze as the man stirred.

Lorena grabbed Drew’s hand, and they ran like Elisha fleeing the wrath of Queen Jezebel.

Prize of My Heart
by by Lisa Norato