After talking with my beta readers and a friend who an international bestselling author turned publisher, I decided it best to start James' (Jas) story with what was chapter 2.
So, for your reading pleasure: The original beginning of Becoming Hook.
Edward strokes his beard and grunts, “You’ll never pass as a lad.” Dark brown eyes scrutinize me from across the table. He and Mother have the same eyes. I wish mine were like theirs. Instead, I have my father’s. I loath them and the portrait hanging at school which watches me with cold blue eyes. A chill sweeps over at the memory and I shudder. They’re as icy as the wind and snow pressing on the windowpane behind me. Snaps and crackles pop in the red brick hearth as the logs burn. It does nothing to chase away the cold in my heart.
I raise my chin, defiant. "I've done exactly that at Eton, for years."
"Bet it’s getting harder since those came in," he snorts, pointing awkwardly to my chest.
Gritting my teeth, I fold my arms over the green waistcoat pulling tight across my breasts. I hunch my shoulders. “They don’t need to be bound here. It’s just us.”
A baritone laugh rolls up and fills the small cottage. With it, his sun weathered skin crinkles at his eyes. Life and the sun have worn him, making him look older than thirty – seven. At my glare, he stifles the chuckle. With a quick clearing of his throat, he resumes his usual serious demeanor.
“Thought you get seasick.”
“You know I don’t.”
He shrugs. “’Tis been a while since we sailed the blue together.”
"Edward, please," Mother scolds as she sets down our bowls of stew on the old worn and chipped tabletop. Steam rises from the hunks of venison in the firelight.
"What?" he asks, picking up his spoon and shoving in mouthfuls. I take the time to blow on mine, a far too feminine gesture for what I asked. Or perhaps – too civilized.
Heading back to the stove, over her shoulder mother says, "Don't encourage James."
“I be doing nothing of the sort, woman.”
"It's bad enough she's come up with insane idea.” She ladles herself a serving and continues, “I don't need you helping to ruin her life.” Suddenly, Mother spins around and scowls. “Or worse, to get her hanged!"
"Now see here, Hannah. You're the one who has her running around pretending to be something she aint." Tiny bits of food fall into his beard. I know I’ll have to get used to it fast if he said yes. “That’s what’s ruining it.”
I groan. Here we go again. I hate being their only cause for argument.
Mother’s jaw drops as she plops into her chair. She points her spoon in his face. "And you damn well know why. As if being the bastard of a Duke isn't hard enough. But a girl! What was I to do?"
Edward jumps up from the table, his hip bumping it. Broth sloshes over the edge of the bowl, taking some peas with it. "You expect her to play the bachelor her whole life, alone forever? Not to mention they’ll be calling her – him – a molly!”
Mother faces him head on. "Ha!" she hoots and jumps back to her feet. "And I suppose you think being the niece of the notorious Bla..?"
“Don’t you say it!” he cuts her off. The shouting match escalates. “I changed my name for that very reason! Even then, at least she wouldn’t have…”
I stand. “Enough!”
They turn to face me, wide eye.
“By – blow or not, we all know he’s paying for Eaton is because he thinks I’m a boy.” It comes out harsher than intended, but I’ve had enough of their bickering. “I’ll do what I can with that education, but I can’t stay there any longer.” The older I get, the more the other boys are becoming suspicious of my behavior. Our lies are about to be discovered. I turn my attention to Mother. “I know you want the best for me, but I can’t live like this for the rest of my life.”
Edward grins and puffs his chest.
“And you, Uncle Edward.” His smile vanishes as I focus on him. “You’re not right, either. You know the only life ahead of me as his bastard daughter is a life of spreading my legs for Lords just like him.” They reddened at the thought. But it’s time we all face reality.
“I’d never let that happen,” he growls.
“You won’t be around forever to help support us.” Having thoroughly chastised Mother and Uncle Edward, I take a deep breath and sit back down. Calm on the outside, I lace my fingers and rest my forearms on the table. “I’ll join your crew, earn as much as I can and move to the Americas. There, I can start over with a new name and live as I was meant to.”
Mist overcomes Mother’s eyes. She smiles sadly while Edward grunts in resignation.
“Now, when do I join your crew?” I hold my breath and wait.
"I do need a boatswain for my new ship – Queen Anne’s Revenge,” he says, proudly.
The chair topples over and falls the floor with a bang as I jump to my feet. I run around the table and throw my arms around him, squeezing. “Thank you, thank you, thank you, Uncle Edward!”
With a pat on my back – the most affection he’s probably ever given a woman who isn’t a whore – the giant burly man he reminds me, “You can’t go around calling me Uncle Edward from here on out.”
I beam at him. “Absolutely! I’ll remember.” I glance to Mother who is now crying outright. I reach for her. “I’m sorry, but I…”
“No,” she sniffles and pulls me into a fierce hug. “I understand. Just don’t forget about your old mum.”
Wiggling out of her grasp, I shake my head. “I’ll send for you when I’m settled.” I tuck loose strands of brown hair behind her ears and rest my hands on her shoulders. “I promise.”
“I know you will, my poppet.” In turn, she runs her fingers through mine. “It would be nice to do something with this mop of curls.” Uncle Edward, Blackbeard, hands her a ragged lace handkerchief. She takes it and dabs her eyes. With a final sniff, Mother holds her head high and addresses Edward. “If I’m to let my only child run off with a pirate, the least you can do is tell me where James is to be sailing.”
He grins wickedly and settles into his seat. “I’ve been told there’s an invisible island not far off shore.”
A thrill of excitement races through me as he weaves a tale of a cloaked island beset with stars and inhabited by mystical creatures. I’ve heard and read sailors’ stories of creatures from all over the world. There are far too many to discount them all as fiction.
Mother rolls her eyes and snorts, “And just, exactly, how did you hear about this ‘invisible’ island?”
“I happened to be about Kensington Palace one evening, taking in some exercise – minding my own business, of course – when I saw a light darting about in the garden, possessed with unearthly speed.”
Mother scrunchs her face. “Really? You were just going for a stroll by the palace, in the middle of the night, for your health?” she laughs. “I don’t suppose it was the firefly who told you about the island, too?”
“Not a firefly bug, ‘twas a fairy.” With a pause he looks to each of us. “That’s who told me about the island.”
“You’ve been too many years at sea, Edward ‘Teach.’”
He looks her dead in the eyes and leans in close. “I’ll prove it.”
With that, he stands and make for the guest room. His footsteps fall heavy, his boots falling with a dull thud on the wooden floor.
Mother turns, worry besetting her face. “I’m not so sure about his mind. You should reconsider, James. There are other ways, we just have to look for them.”
As my lips part to answer, footsteps resume. Edward rounds the corner, jar in hand. He stomps over, chin held high, and places it in the center of the table. “There!”
I gasps. Contains within is what a fist appears to be a glowing butterfly – with legs. It turns around, revealing a tiny human body. Reaching across the table, I run my finger over the glass, causing it flutter. A glitter of dust falls from its wings. “Impossible!”
“I’ll admit, I’ve never seen a glowing butterfly sort of thing in winter,” Mother says gently, “but that doesn’t make it a fairy.”
How can she not see this fairy who is clearly scowling? While I stare at her in shock, Edward’s reaction is much different. “Hump, thought as much. Only those who believe can see. Typical land – lover.”
“The stories, about mermaids, they’re real too. Aren’t they?” I ask an already nodding Edward who’s watching the fairy with narrow eyes, as if he was waiting for her to do something.
Mother throw her hands in the air. “I’m going to bed and I suggest you two do the same. Maybe a good night’s rest will clear your heads… and your eyes.”
As soon we hear her bedroom door close, I ask, “What did she say? Will she tell me?”
“After she stopped screaming at me, I had to withhold food for two days before she’d speak again. How about if I tell you instead? Quicker that way, you see.”
Eagerly I nod. He weaves descriptions so vivid, I find myself imagining the tropical island impossibly close to England. “What is it called?”
The pirate Blackbeard leans in and whispers, “The natives call it, Never Never Land.”
The pirate Blackbeard leans in and whispers, “The natives call it, Never Never Land.”