My first novel, "Indian Summer", is an historical adventure/ romance. The main character, Gabriella Deza, tells her own story in her own voice. Though I experimented with other approaches, first person won out. Gabriella insisted upon being heard. The following is the first few pages of "Indian Summer"
The first rays of sun rose above the ocean, setting the waves afire. I gazed out my window, watching the town of St. Augustine awake. Sounds from the kitchen below blended with the calling of the men on the docks and the soldiers at the fort.
Tradesmen opened shops as women called to one another from their houses. Carpenters and stonecutters continued repairing the walls and buildings after the latest British attack. Seagulls called raucously along the shore waiting for whatever scraps got thrown to them, fighting over the merest, insignificant crumb. All these were comfortable sounds, mingling together into a familiar morning melody.
As my bedroom faces the ocean and hence the rising sun, I wake early, before any of my family, enjoying these last quiet moments. Yawning and stretching deliciously, I dressed and sat at my desk to compose a letter to my grandmother in England. I had not written anything but the date, 15 February, 1739, when the door to my room flew back connecting sharply with the wall, thus announcing the arrival of my little brother, the pest.
"Gabriella, play with me!" Marcos stood in the doorway of my room, play swords in hand, a look of petulant defiance on his face.
"Not now, Marcos," I replied, looking up from my desk. "I'm writing a letter. Swords are a boy's game. Go ask Tomas to play."
"No! I demand you play with me!" He yelled, stamping his little foot. "You will! Mamá!"
"All right, you spiteful, little wretch! I'll play with you for five minutes."
I played swords with him. The five minutes turned into thirty. The thirty turned into five and forty. I tried to be patient until he smacked me once too often with his sword because I wouldn't die every time he stabbed me. He set up a howling and wailing, bringing his nurse, his mother and finally Papa!
I knew I would be on dreadfully thin ice with Papa, but I found tears generally to be effective against him. My Grandmama Griffin always said, "When you need the upper hand over a man, cry. He'll give you anything if only you will cease!"
I burst into sudden, vehement tears. "Oh, Papa!" I cried before Marcos could speak. "Marcos hit me with his sword and he hurt me!"
This actually was the truth. I had a lump or two and bruises all over to prove it. I never lied outright to Papa. As a result, my father always believed me.
"Let me see, Bella."
He used his pet name for me, a good sign. I showed him the scarlet welt on my arm and the bruise growing on my shin.
Papa pressed gently on my arm. Although it didn't hurt badly, it was tender, so I cried bitterly, fresh tears splashing on his hands. He wore his concerned face. Raising his spectacles from his nose, he ruffled his thinning dark hair with his free hand. Sighing deeply, he straightened slowly.
"Marcos, come here." My brother hung back, afraid of Papa's tone of voice. "Marcos, come forward when I speak!"
Marcos looked at his mother, finding no help, he stepped forward, terrified.
"A gentleman doesn't hurt a lady. Do you understand?"
Marcos nodded, his lip trembling with suppressed tears. He bit his lip to keep from crying.
"You've hurt your sister, and she's a lady. You will apologize to her. If you want to play hard, you call Tomas or one of the other boys."
Marcos nodded again. Papa hugged him until he
stopped crying and spoke softly to him.
"Now, my son, you tell Bella how sorry you are that you hurt her and you promise it won't happen again."
Marcos snuffled twice, wiped his little, cherry red nose on Papa's proffered handkerchief and came over to me. He put his chubby little arms around my neck giving me a damp kiss.
"I'm ever so sorry I hurt you, Bella. I won't ever do it again, I promise!"
I hugged him close to me. Sometimes the insufferable little beast can be sweet. "I forgive you, Marcos. I know you will be more careful."
He went off for breakfast with his mother and nurse. Papa lingered as I went back to my desk.
"To whom are you writing, Bella?" He asked almost too casually.
"To Grandmama in London, Papa. I received a letter a few days ago."
He spoke in a casual way, which he often used to convey his deep concern. "What have you told her?"
I replied in all honesty. "I'm telling her about the picnic I had with Rosa and Melina."
I was bursting into an animated account when my father's preoccupied silence stopped me. The lack of my prattling roused him.
"I apologize, Bella."
A long pause followed. When he spoke again, he seemed tired and worried.
"It's hard for your stepmother here, Bella. She isn't strong, much as your little mother, God rest her. She suffers much from the climate. I'm taking her to her father's home in Jamaica for a few weeks. Perhaps she'll find it more suitable. At any rate, a sea voyage will do her good." He turned from me slightly. "I need to know that Marcos won't come to any harm while we are away." He paused again, awaiting a reply.
"Yes, Papa." I spoke with hesitation, not yet able to read my father's intentions.
"I know you girls don't like him very much, and perhaps that's my fault. An old man having a son after so many years, I indulge him. I'm asking you to care for him while we are away. Can you do that for me, Bella?" He turned worried, red rimmed eyes to me, his look imploring.
"I'll take great care of Marcos for you." How could I refuse?
"That's my angel!" His smile was broad, but tears crowded his eyes. "Bella, I'm almost afraid your stepmother will die in Jamaica. You may have found her difficult the last few years. But I know you've never wished nor treated her ill." He took a deep, shuddering breath. "I do love her so, Bella. The idea of losing her is just too much for me!" He began to cry.
"Oh, Papa!" I rushed to him, my arms around his neck. "You mustn't worry over anything, Papa. I'll take care of Marcos for you. But please, don't believe that Clara will die! Each day you must pray to our Blessed Mother for her son Jesus to heal Clara and make her well. Marcos and I will say a Rosary for her every day. I promise."
His tears subsided and I felt him relax. He even smiled slightly, ruffling my hair.
"You know, Bella, after my mother and yours died so close together, I lost faith in God and I didn't know why He punished me. When I met Clara, I knew I had been blessed with a second chance. I know now the Father wouldn't give me a second chance, only to steal it away. Thank you, Bella."
My father and stepmother left on the early tide the next morning. We stood on the dock, waving to them until their ship was out of sight. As it was a beautiful morning, Marcos and I went for a walk along the river, admiring the boats in the harbor and counting seagulls. That game lasted until Marcos tired of it and ran at the gulls, startling them into flight. Laughing and roaring, he ran after the frightened birds. They performed amazing antics trying to get away from the child. I watched with glee, holding my sides as the stays of my corset bit into my ribs.
Tempted beyond my ability to resist, I joined Marcos in his little game. I'm sure the townsfolk thought Governor Deza's two youngest children had completely lost their minds, but they ignored us. Giggling and breathless, we went back to the house, crossing the plaza by the market. The time with Marcos suddenly did not look quite so bleak.
I awoke one morning some weeks later, to find the house in a flurry of activity. The servants busily prepared for guests. Before leaving, Papa gave my sisters permission to have a party. I was too young to attend, but I always managed to stay up late and watch the ladies in their beautiful dresses and the young officers from the fort dancing. Soon I would be allowed to join them as my fifteenth birthday was in May.
That night, I watched the guests arrive. Among them, I saw Manuel Enriques, our father's aide-du-camp. Always a favorite with the ladies, he cut a rakish figure in his snug britches and close fitting jacket. His dark eyes were rimmed with black lashes. They smoldered like embers in his disarmingly handsome face. His long, wavy, dark hair was tied back with a ribbon that matched his coat. He danced with many ladies, favoring none and always seemed to be aware of the eyes upon him, for he moved with a grace few other men could muster.
I found myself watching him closely, not wanting to take my eyes from him. I think he sensed my perusal, because from time to time he glanced around as if looking for someone. Once or twice I thought he might have spotted me, but I ducked below the level of the window before he looked directly at me.
I noticed Irena was taking nearly every dance with
the same gentleman. He limped slightly when he walked, otherwise performed admirably on the dance floor. Irena had eyes only for him and he for her. I wondered who he was and determined to ask her the next day.
I remained in my hiding place until Ana, our housekeeper, bustled me off to bed, scolding dreadfully. Ana loves to fuss. I often think she isn't happy unless she's catching Marcos or me doing something she can scold us over.
The music and chatter kept me awake for some time as I imagined myself in a beautiful dress, on the arm of a handsome man. Closing my eyes, I could see Manuel's sharply chiseled profile. With this image in my mind, I fell into a happy slumber.