Authors: Brenda Joyce
"The haunting song of a distant era calls the beautiful graduate student to her subject, the enigmatic Captain Blackwell.
Across the centuries, she is drawn by an inexplicable passion into a realm of mystery and danger--to be imprisioned in an opulent world of harem intrigue and sensuous slavery.
And now Blackwell is with her--patriot, privateer, heroic commander of the U.S. merchantman the
--the dream, the desire made achingly real. Imperiled captives of fate, they are united by a power far greater than time--and by a passion that could destroy them both . . . or forever change the course of history.
HE TOLD HERSELF
that there was no such thing as ghosts. That her imagination was running wild.
Alexandra stood outside of Blackwell House, alone in the dark, staring. She was passing through Boston on her way back to school, and stopping at the closed museum, once the actual home of one of Massachusetts’s founding families, had been an impulse. Until a moment ago, it had seemed like a good idea as she was hardly ready for a solitary meal and bed. Her hotel was just across the Common. It would be a short walk back.
But now she shivered, even though it was a pleasant June evening despite the slight drizzle. Her small overnight bag was at her feet. She hadn’t thought to bring an umbrella, and she was rapidly becoming damp. But that wasn’t the problem. The real problem was that, until a moment ago, she
believed in ghosts, she had just never encountered one before. Now she was wondering if the house she stared at was haunted, or if she was merely imagining being watched.
Yet the eyes seemed to be coming from behind her—not from the unlit colonial house in front of her.
Alex glanced behind her, but saw no one, nothing other than a single passing car, its headlights momentarily blinding her. She stepped back but did not avoid the spray of water coming
from beneath the sedan’s tires. Her tired old penny loafers were probably ruined.
But there was no one behind her. Alex strained to see; the night remained still and silent around her. The sensation of not being alone, of being watched, was only that, a sensation. It was her very vivid historian’s imagination, nothing more.
Alex returned her attention to the house. It was set back from the street on what appeared to be a half-acre plot, on the corner of Beacon Street and Spruce. A wrought-iron fence bordered the property, creeping vines clinging to it, and a broken brick path led to the three front steps of the porch. Faded, uncared-for lawns dotted with thick, old elms surrounded the house. The house was colonial. It was three stories high, completely square, made of white clapboard, the slate roof steeply pitched. The shutters appeared to have been painted a dark green. There were no lights on inside Blackwell House, of course, as the museum was closed for the night.
Alex imagined what it must have been like to live in such a house two hundred years ago. She smiled. She was a graduate student at Columbia University, and her specialty was the naval history of the early-nineteenth-century United States. She loved that entire time period, and she could picture the house lit up with kerosene lights and candle-topped chandeliers, the men in powdered queues and knee breeches, the ladies in empire-waisted silk gowns. She could almost hear the strains of a piano filtering from the salon. Alex continued to smile. She might be a historian, but she was also a romantic fool, secretly consuming romance novels, and she couldn’t help wishing that she had lived in the past when the history she loved so fervently was actually being made.
Alex would have loved to attend an eighteenth-century ball. On the arm of some dashing rake, of course. But she would have been a Jeffersonian Democrat, not some meek Milquetoast, and being as young ladies did not study history, ride mountain bikes, or sail like the wind on the sea, she would have undoubtedly been a schoolteacher as well as a mother and a wife. A schoolteacher and a reformer …
Alex shook herself free of her fantasies with some difficulty, because they were so pleasant, unlike her present reality. She was single and very alone in the world. Alex had no family. Her best friend, her mother Glory, had died last year from a
sudden stroke. Her father had died in a car accident when she was a child. Alex couldn’t really remember him, except for his frequent grins. She wished, selfishly, that her parents had had other children.
Alex felt a puff of air on her nape and she jerked. But it was only the wind and the raindrops, she thought. She glanced around, but the sidewalk remained deserted. The park appeared vacant too, except for several homeless people stretched out on park benches. Still, the hairs on her nape prickled, and she remained uneasy. Shivering, Alex tugged her navy blue blazer closer to her body and reached down for her bag. How had her thoughts become so morbid? She was happy, truly she was, for she was in Boston for the first time in her life, and she had all day tomorrow to explore the city’s glorious history. She would return first thing in the morning when the museum was open, after an early morning jog.
Alex turned away from Blackwell House. And as she did so, she was suddenly certain that she could feel a powerful presence, just behind her.
Alex faltered, glancing around, and saw no one.
She faced forward, her steps quickening. She was suddenly quite certain that she was not alone.
“Everyone here in town knows all about the Blackwells. Although there are no real Blackwells left, so to speak.” The blue-haired lady smiled at Alex, who stood impatiently in the foyer of Blackwell House, pushing her red bangs out of her eyes. Clad in her blue blazer, a white T-shirt, and jeans, Alex was the museum’s first visitor of the day—she had just walked through the front doors.
The little old lady smiled. “They were one of the oldest, most respected and powerful families in Boston, of course. In fact, Blackwell descendants, most of whom are Mathiesons and only related to the family by marriage, still make the society columns. Their money is long since gone, though. Too much lavish living after the war—the Civil War, that is. Their fortune was made in the first days of the China trade at the tum of the century—the nineteenth century, you know.” The museum attendant laughed before sobering. “Blackwell Shipping began to collapse after World War One, if the truth be known. It went bankrupt a half a dozen years ago. The original
shipyard on the harbor still exists. It’s a historical sight now, too. The tour is really quite good.”
“Thank you very much,” Alex said politely. Her palms were clammy. Her gaze kept straying to the stairs, and to the worn blue velvet rope that barred visitors from going up them The museum attendant smiled and said, “Only the ground floor is open to the public. Being as you’re the first to visit us today, would you like me to give you a guided tour?”
Alex was warm, and her pulse had accelerated the moment she had entered the museum. She picked up a pamphlet, glanced at it briefly—and up the carpeted stairs. She had little doubt that the upstairs would be far more fascinating than the ground floor. For that was where the family had lived.
“I think I’ll just wander around by myself,” Alex said, trying to sound nonchalant. “But thanks.”
“Give a holler if you need anything.” The old lady smiled and began to walk away.
Alex walked into what must have once been a very opulent living room. But as in the foyer, the floors were dull and scarred, the furniture badly in need of a good waxing, the furnishings in dire need of restoration. Faded Persian rugs covered most of the oak floors. The draperies were tired, tattered green velvet, tied back with gold tassels whose ends were unraveling. The walls were papered in what Alex recognized as a Victorian cabbage rose pattern, the paper torn in places.
She wondered who had played the dusty grand piano that stood off-center in the faded but still elegant room. The piano somehow disturbed Alex, making her feel almost uneasy—although she could not figure out why. Glancing up, Alex admired the intricately carved moldings on the walls and the sculpted plaster in the center of the ceiling. The room’s furnishings, which included numerous chairs, ottomans, and sofas, as well as delicate side tables and one large secretary, were set around a magnificent green marble mantel. She could almost envison a tall, proud, dark-haired man standing at the hearth, watching the blazing fire, a glass of French brandy in his hand. He looked very much like a romance novel hero, and Alex smiled to herself.
Alex hurried to the fireplace to study the portrait that graced the wall above it. According to the pamphlet she carried, it was of James Blackwell, 1638–1693, the founder of the family.
Alex quickly read that he had been an English immigrant and one of the first Puritans to settle in the Massachusetts Bay Company.
She left the room and wandered down a short hall. The oak door to the library was wide open. Inside she found three walls of bookcases, most of which were empty. In the center of the room there was a large display of model ships, all belonging to the various eras of Blackwell Shipping.
Alex skimmed the next paragraph of the pamphlet. While Blackwell Shipping had been founded by James’s eldest son in the second half of the seventeenth century, the company had begun to amass a fortune from the China trade in the late 1700s, as the museum attendant had said. Blackwell Shipping had reached its zenith in the second half of the nineteenth century during the days of the great clipper ships. But Blackwell Shipping began a slow but steady decline at the end of the century as it refused to modernize, and never recovered from its earlier position of prominence.
Alex rolled up the pamphlet and tucked it in the back pocket of her jeans, wandering closer to the display. She froze. One three-masted brig was remarkably familiar. It was an early-nineteenth-century replica. She began to feel uncomfortably warm—and almost dizzy.