Kindle Edition - $3.99 - Soft cover available at Lulu Publishing, Amazon and Barnes & Noble - $23.99
Publisher Lulu Publishing Services
Kindle Edition - $3.99 - Soft cover available at Lulu Publishing, Amazon and Barnes & Noble - $23.99
Catherine never anticipates her marriage to Jonah Dusant would be a death blow to the Dusant business empire. Amid the heat of a brewing war between 19th-century Germany and France, her union with the powerful family exposes deadly secrets that will haunt their descendants.
From the high court of France to the pristine shores of the Virgin Islands, Blood and Parcels crosses five generations and spans a continent to tell the story of the inescapable bonds of ancestral duty. It weaves a riveting tale of love, lust, daunting loss, difficult decisions, betrayal and murder.
Jonah was in a meditative mood as he steered the Louise Catherine through the waves. France had long-ago disappeared into the shadows. Other than the shrouded silhouette of the Ann Louise behind them, they were alone on the vast expanse of sea.
For the most part, his passengers were busy acquainting themselves with the vessel. The earlier melancholy mood had been replaced with the eager task of getting settled. As he guided the vessel through the impending dusk, he looked for Catherine and Marcel among the people moving around on the deck. He spotted them with Marie and Pierre. Marcel was happily sitting on top of Pierre’s shoulders. He was glad Pierre and Marie were onboard. Catherine had her sister, and he had a skilled carpenter. He worried about Marie’s pregnancy too. Catherine would never forgive herself if something happened to Marie and the baby. For that reason, he was thankful Loretta and Philar were part of the group. The two women were the best known midwives in Toulon despite their quirkiness.
He watched as Agnes ran after one of her daughters, brown hair flying in the wind. Jonah smiled when she scooped the little girl into her arms and tickled her. The child’s delighted giggles reverberated through the air. Josiah had confided to him that he thought Agnes was pregnant again. That would make it two pregnant women in his entourage.
“Lord, help me,” he groaned.
“Today was one of the worst days.”
“I know,” Catherine said soothingly.
She was holding Marie’s hair away from her face while she leaned over the Louise Catherine’s railing, wretchedly puking.
“This morning sickness is lasting from morning through night, and the constant motion of this blasted vessel is making it worse. I want Mama. This is all your fault. I should never have agreed to this miserable voyage. I want to go home.”
“Marie, everything will be all right. At least you will never again have to worry about Pierre going to war.”
“No, I am worrying about other things now,” Marie snapped. “You saw the Spanish galleon yesterday. What if they attack us?”
“But they haven’t. It was just another vessel passing us on the sea. There’s nothing to worry about.”
“They might still come back. What will we do then?”
“They won’t come back, I promise. Things will get better.”
“How can you say that, Catherine?” Marie cried, shrugging away Catherine’s hands. “We have been on the sea for months now. It will be Christmas soon. The weather has been bad more days than good, and we still have months to go before we arrive. Oh, I feel like I am losing my mind.” She began to cry in earnest.
Catherine felt helpless to assuage her sister’s misery. She felt a degree of guilt for convincing her to come on the voyage. She was uncertain of what to say or do and was relieved when she heard Pierre’s familiar whistle.
“Are you feeding the fish again?” he playfully asked Marie, nodding to Catherine that he would take over.
Catherine felt like crying herself. She went in search of Jonah and found him in the galley talking to the cook. When he saw her, he immediately excused himself and led her through a side door where they could speak privately.
“What is it?”
“It’s everything, Jonah! It’s this damned voyage. It’s the heat, the cold, the wind, the sea sickness, the boredom.” She paused, taking a deep breath. “And it’s my sister. She hates me. She’s miserably sick, and she said it’s my fault. She said she wants to go home. I can’t blame her. I want to go home too.” Catherine laid her head on Jonah’s shoulder and wept, and he wrapped his arms around her
When she was fully spent, he asked softly, “Do you feel better now?”
“Catherine, it is normal for you to feel overwhelmed. There are days when I am besieged with worry. You can cry on my shoulders anytime, but we must remain strong for all of them. Being pregnant adds an extra burden on Marie. Just continue to be there for her, even when she snaps at you.” He tilted her chin so he could look at her. “I have to get back to work. Are you going to be okay?”
"Yes," she whispered.
Mischievously he grinned, “All day today I have had exciting visions dancing in my head when I think of you. Tire Marcel out. I want him to sleep early tonight.” Then playfully slapping her buttocks, he opened the galley’s door.
In her small quarters, Agnes kept herself occupied by knitting a sweater for Josiah. Zelda, her one-year–old, was asleep on the triple layers of quilt on the floor. At her feet, five-year-old Jenny and three year-old Flora were squabbling over a ball. She watched as Flora grabbed a handful of Jenny’s brown hair and yanked hard, pulling the older girl backward. Somehow Jenny managed to twist herself around enough to grab hold of one of Flora’s braids, and the two girls were now locked into a vicious, pulling circle.
“Stop it!” Agnes yelled.
She put down her knitting, pulled the two girls apart, and sat them in opposite corners of the room. Then she sat back down on the bed and resumed her knitting, but she couldn’t concentrate. The room was too silent. The little girls were pouting sadly in their respective corners.
She sighed heavily. These listless days were wearing on everyone’s nerves, and there were still so many more days to go. She and Josiah had been excited at the prospect of building a house that was entirely theirs. The letters from Paul had all sounded favorable. Still, there were so many frightening aspects to consider that, at times, she thought they had made a terrible mistake. She touched her belly where her fourth child might be forming. She hoped this one would be a boy, a strong son to help Josiah.
Taking pity on her sad little girls, she carefully put aside her knitting and took out their favorite story book, motioning for them to join her on the narrow, hard bed.
As the night dew fell on the decks of the Ann Louise, the sweet melodic sounds of a guitar filled the air. The repetitious thump of a drum and the harmonious tune of a flute joined in to make merry music. The travelers sat around in the moonlight enjoying the respite of a beautiful, clear night. The ocean was calm, and a sweet sea breeze drifted through the air. Most of the preceding days had been dreary and tedious. Many of them had suffered the awful spasms of sea sickness.
Loretta sat next to her younger sister, Philar, enjoying the comforting sounds of the makeshift band. They were strikingly beautiful women with long, thick hair and petite, slim figures. Although Loretta was a brunette, and Philar was blonde, the sisters greatly resembled each other. Having been born two years apart, both women were in their mid-twenties. Alphonse and Yvette were their only living relations.
It wasn’t that they didn’t want families of their own. As little girls, they had often talked long into the night about future husbands and children, but the peculiar trait that existed in the women of their maternal bloodline had molded their fates. Not wanting her daughters to become pariahs like herself, their mother had encouraged them to hide their strange abilities, but it became increasingly difficult.
Oftentimes they found themselves forewarning friends of events to come that inevitably led to the breakup of many friendships, including those of a romantic nature.
“Do you regret your decision to embark on this voyage?” Philar asked.
Loretta chuckled. “You ask as if we had a choice. Alphonse would have knocked us out, tied us up, and brought us along anyway.” She leaned back on her elbows and looked at the night sky.
Philar waited, knowing Loretta had more to say.
Then with her attention still drawn to the sky, Loretta continued, “Do you remember Mama telling us when we were little that the clouds were representations of people who had died? Each one either had a pair of wings to indicate that they were heaven bound or a bundle on their backs which meant they were on their way to purgatory. Look, there is a woman with a lovely pair of wings. It is such a beautiful night.”
Sighing wistfully, Loretta turned and looked at Philar. “What you are really asking me is what I see in our future. It doesn’t take any special ability to know that we’re facing hard days of work in an unknown land with unknown perils. At least we will have an opportunity for a fresh start where fewer people know about us.
“Speaking of which”—Loretta nodded in the direction of Vidal, who was seated on top of a barrel on the far side from them, quietly observing everyone—“I believe you have an admirer. He’s such a confident man, but I noticed whenever he’s around you, he gets jittery. He is always studying you when he thinks you’re not looking.”
“Don’t I wish,” Philar chuckled. “He’s interested now because he doesn’t really know me. It’s just a matter of time before I spook him away."
It was the middle of January, and the ocean remained choppy. The constant rocking and the heavy spray kept most of the passengers inside. Except for a few hearty souls who braved the elements in search of fresh air, the decks on both vessels were deserted.
Raphael and Vidal had noticed a vessel trailing them. They had already alerted Jonah by activating the light signals they had prearranged for emergencies. Both vessels were prepared to react if necessary. By its large three masts and long elongated hull, they knew it was a Spanish galleon.
From the Louise Catherine, Jonah watched the galleon come closer until it paralleled the Ann Louise. Fear gripped him, and his body went cold. He yelled to Josiah as he took the stairs by threes, “They’re in trouble! Spin the rudder. We have to get back to them!”
Catherine and Mare were sitting in the dining area of the galley knitting, and Pierre and some of the men were playing cards a few tables away when Jonah sounded the alarm. The men rose to assist with the crises, and Marie leaped to her feet. Gripping Pierre’s shoulder, she begged, “Please don’t go. Don’t leave me!”
“Marie, everything will be fine. Now stay here where you’re safe with Catherine,” Pierre said soothingly, loosening her grip on his shoulder.
As he headed through the door, she turned on Catherine. “See? I told you they would come back. Now we’re doomed. They’re going to kill our men and commandeer the vessel.”
Catherine’s mouth went dry with fear. She picked up Marcel and reached for her sister’s hand. “Come; let’s go quickly to your quarters. I will stay with you there. Let’s not lose courage.”
Raphael, Vidal, and the men were armed with shotguns and rifles although they knew they were no match for the gun decks of the galleon. As its long beak slowed next to the Ann Louise, a tall, lean Spaniard appeared on the gangplank. Behind him on the many split leveled decks, his crew was watchful.
“Take one step closer and I will blow your head off,” Raphael said crossly. His insides were trembling, but his hands were steady on the rifle. “What business do you have with us?”
The Louise Catherine pulled along the opposite side so that the large galleon was sandwiched between the two smaller vessels. Jonah and the men had their guns poised and ready.
“I mean you no harm. My name is Jaime Colon. I am the captain of the Santa Elena. My son is very sick with the fever. He has been delirious for days. I am hoping that you have medicine to help us. He will not endure until we reach land.”
Raphael felt sweat running down his spine. He was mortally anxious for the safety of his passengers. With his rifle trained on the captain, he replied, “How do we know you’re telling the truth?”
“I swear on my son’s life. I would not lie about something like this.”
“Then bring the boy on deck. Let us see him.”
“I will not bring him out here,” Jaime replied coldly, “You have a choice. It’s either you decide to help me, or I will plunder your vessels and help myself.” Motioning to his crew, he said, “They will attack both your vessels at a mere nod from me. Your puny guns are no match for my arsenal. Now which will it be?”
“He’s telling you the truth,” Philar whispered, coming up behind Raphael.
“Damn it, woman! Didn’t I tell you to remain in your quarters?”
“Yes, but think about it. Is it not best to befriend him than to provoke his anger and create bigger problems for us?”
Raphael’s attention was divided between the Spaniard and Philar. Keeping his rifle aimed at Jaime, he asked Philar, “How do you know he is being truthful?”
“I just know,” she replied simply. “If you allow me to go onboard, I can help the boy. I know what you are thinking, and I don’t agree. It is not a good idea to bring the child onboard the Ann Louise. That will expose us to his illness. Let me go onboard the Santa Elena.”
“Confounded woman, how the hell can you tell what I am thinking?” He stole a quick glance at her. “Do you have any idea what kind of danger you’re putting yourself into by boarding their vessel? I cannot protect you once you cross over there.”
“I assure you, Raphael, they will not harm me.” Locking her eyes with his, she asked, “Do you have a better solution?”
Raphael muttered a series of obscenities. “All right, just be careful.”
Having his permission, Philar turned her attention to the Spanish captain and said calmly, “I can help you. Just let me get my medicine bag.”
Alphonse immediately protested, “No! I forbid you. It’s too dangerous.”
She walked over to where he stood. Touching his face, she looked into his eyes and whispered, “We don’t have a choice. We’re in grave danger here, but I will not be harmed.” Then she walked resolutely back inside the vessel.
She was back quickly with Loretta in tow.
“Now wait a damn minute. I will not allow both of you to go. One of you is enough of a risk. I will send a man to escort you, but not Loretta!” Raphael said adamantly.
Philar touched her sister’s arm. “Stay here.”
“I need a man to go with her,” Raphael interjected. “I cannot allow her to board the galleon alone.”
Vidal quickly stepped forward. “I will go with her.”
“No, she’s my sister. I will go! I don’t trust those bastards,” Alphonse shouted.
“Exactly why you shouldn’t go,” Raphael said. “Your damn hotheadedness might get us all killed.” He nodded at Vidal. “You go.”
“Anyone coming with me stands a risk of catching the virus,” Philar said.
“It’s a risk I will take,” Vidal replied. “Now let’s get this over with.”
With the guns from both the Ann Louise and the Louise Catherine directed at the Spanish galleon, Philar and Vidal stepped toward the long vessel. Captain Jaime reached for her hand to assist her onboard. Vidal followed closely behind.
Without speaking, the captain escorted them through the vessel, past the galley, and up several decks. Philar felt the eyes of the crew ravenously following her. The corridors smelled of rancid food and male sweat. Just as they passed the galley, a huge, gray rat scurried by, its long tail brushing Philar’s feet. She didn’t even flinch.
When they arrived at the door to his cabin, Jaime turned and looked at her sternly, his dark brown eyes searching hers. “How do I know you’re not a scam?”
“You don’t,” she answered simply. “You will have to trust me.”
“I do not trust anyone.
“How sad then your life must be.”
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T.Q. Bernier was born in St. Thomas, USVI. Her first novel, Blood & Parcels, garnered numerous five stars ratings soon after its release in January, 2014. She is a real estate agent, and resides with her husband, James, in Cary, North Carolina. Please visit facebook.com/tqbernier or twitter.com/bloodandparcels to connect with the author.