Blurb: Compelled to spend Christmas on a private island with her father's future bride and extended family, Jeanine learns that Margo Banet is descended from a pirate queen. Relatives and friends all have their reasons for attending the festivities--including the legendary treasure. But when Margo's nephew winds up dead and a violent storm cuts them off from the mainland, Jeanine has to wonder if they will solve the mystery before someone else dies trying.
I held up the parchment. “This raised brick caused the last carton to spill. We found this under it.”
“Oh my.” Margo’s mouth fell open as she claimed the find.
Christmas decorating was put on hold immediately. All of Banet Island wanted to see the mysterious parchment and what it contained. I heard whispered questions. “Is it the map?” and “How could a visitor find what none of us did?” as well as grateful exultations. They all hoped that I had stumbled upon something, something precious and priceless for the Banet family.
In the grand dining room, we huddled around the ancient paper as Margo used a hot skewer to lift and cut the wax, preserving the seal.
Then William suggested that I, someone with no connections or interest in whatever it was, open the parchment and read it.
Nervously, wearing the white cotton gloves someone loaned me, I unrolled the document. I wasn’t sure what I expected to find, or what they expected me to read, but it seemed to surprise everyone. The ornate script was difficult to decipher at first, but then, as I grew accustomed to it, a mysterious woman came to life upon its page.
The year of our Lord, 1720, December
Mary died. My best friend in all the world burned up by the cruelest of fevers. That was all I could turn my mind to when the cell door opened. They had come for her body.
I had seen the baby kicking within her as Mary thrashed in agony. The poor thing did not realize its mother was dying. Nor did it know it would also, without ever seeing the light of day. I hugged my own belly. Oh dear God in heaven! What hope remained for my own infant?
I felt a pang of another kind. What about my other child? Who had he become? Now that I had no hope of life, I longed for him, the one I had thrust aside for my pleasure and adventure. Fate is cruel and leads us in its merry ways simply, I believe, to see how we will dance.
However, it was not the gaoler who opened the door to my confinement. Much to my surprise, it was my husband. I did suppose, even after my transgressions and flights of fancy that he was still my husband.
“Be still,” he told me in a whisper. “Your father and I have arranged for your escape.”
That my father could and would do such a thing, I could believe. Since the death of my mother, he indulged me far too much. But that he and James would work in concert seemed an incredible thing. Father had never cared for James. He often called him weak-willed and lily-livered. At sixteen, I believed not a word of it. On the other hand, perhaps I did give it credence and wanted to defy my father anyway.
James urged me to silence as he afforded my exit. We had to be quick about it. The guards had been paid for only momentary blindness.
I said a quick word of farewell to my longest, truest friend and put my favorite (and only remaining) shawl across her face. Then I followed James up and out to freedom.
In the harbor, a small frigate with my father’s colors awaited us. After we boarded and set sail, James let me know the plan.
Through his connections with the governor, he found a small, uninhabited island. Using the monies he had earned as informant, he purchased that same island. There, he explained, we would live in blissful anonymity.
When I began to protest, he told me some details about the layout of our new abode and the way the prevalent currents avoided it. Few people, without intending to visit us, would find us. However, we had a ship.
His plan was wise. The years had grown well on James. Father provided that he would leave us be and circulate various rumors about my disappearance: that I had died, that I had remarried and lived as a sedate housewife, and that I vanished as mysteriously as I had been born.
Father only had two conditions for helping us. One, that we make available various items of interest we, shall we say, stumbled upon in our journeys for him to dispose of however he should wish. Some he would sell to profit by, but knowing how Father collects things which please him, others would find a place in his abode. However, the second condition was more personal. Perhaps he felt it made up for him being first an absent and then a permissive father? He required that I keep a journal, a record of my life and days to be available for him to read if ever he should visit us on the island. If I refused to do so, he would turn me back in to the Jamaican authorities.
As Father had never made such a promise of retribution before, I had no reason to doubt it. However, as James explained, with what we planned for our livelihood, it would not do well to have all the pages in the same place.
This, in evidence, is the first of such pages. I attest it to be as real and as truthful as I ever wrote.
Anne, Queen of Banet Island
Beneath her final words, a compass rose was drawn with one arrow pointing north and another southwest. I could only guess what that meant.
Christmas paragraph: Since I have a Swedish heritage, Christmas officially starts on Christmas Eve. (Well, Christmas proper. As a kid there was Advent and all that surrounded it plus the Feast of St. Nicholas and we even did Santa Lucia day sometimes...) We spend the day cooking and baking. Then the family gets together to eat around 4:00. If we're visiting my parents, it used to mean a mega-household of extended relations. As my sisters and I have become older (and our cousins, too) it has changed a bit because not everyone is free on Christmas Eve. Other than the Swedish Christmas dinner, another absolute is Christmas Eve service. My favorite is to go to midnight service to welcome the baby Jesus with my parents, but at home our church doesn't have that and we go around 7:00 PM. Ninety percent of the presents get opened Christmas Eve. We just save immediate family for Christmas morning. Christmas morning is quiet, relaxed and laid back. We have breakfast whenever everyone's up and then open the last presents. Then we just hang out together for the day.
Bio: Susan A. J. Lyttek, author of the Talbott family mystery trilogy by Harbourlight Books, including the recent release, Plundered Christmas, writes near the nation’s capital. She enjoys teaching the next generation of writers through STARS and WriteAtHome. Find out more about her upcoming books and other projects at sajlyttek.com.