Angels, Sinners and Madmen, my historical romance set in 1850s Key West, Florida, is available from Freya’s Bower.
Do you know the history of the wreckers? Neither did I till I visited Key West. I hope you'll find yourself as swept away as I was!
What happens in Key West, stays in Key West. Especially in 1856, when men outnumber women by ten to one. Wrecker Sam Langhorne came to Key West eight years earlier to forget his ruined engagement. When he rescues Livvie Collins from a watery grave, he’s swept away by her beauty and spirit. He’s sworn off love, but is soon captivated by Livvie’s wit–and her determination to remain single.
The death of Livvie’s father leaves her no other option than to sail to New Orleans to live with her brother Wendell. Though she hopes to support herself by writing novels, she’s sure Wendell will try to soon marry her off, and is determined to experience life to its fullest before reaching New Orleans.
Sam is handsome and attentive, constantly surprising her with his intelligence and his interest in current literature and happenings. She gives herself to him in a night of passion so she can know the true emotion at least once in her life. But can she save herself after she arrives in New Orleans?
Inside the tall windows of Whelan’s Dry Goods Store hung sail cloth and rope. Anchors and other nautical necessities unfamiliar to Livvie occupied one side of the store. After wandering several aisles, she found the sewing items. One spool of white thread appeared thick enough to sew stitches in horse hide. While she examined it, a movement caught her eye and the back of her neck prickled.
She glanced up to see Sam Langhorne stroll in. Walking toward her, his smile widened and his gaze wandered freely across her, sending heated pinpricks across her skin.
He sauntered closer, his movements panther-like in their grace. “Good morning.”
The prickles traveled down her neck down her spine, deepening along their inward path. She held the mending tape across her chest to hide her quickening breath. “Hello, Mr. Langhorne. What brings you here?”
He stepped closer, his eyes bright. “Our schooner suffered a battering during the storm and is in need of repair. I’m charged with mending the sails and am in need of some strong thread.” His fingers closed around hers. “I see you have what I need.”
Her voice failed her. “Pardon?” she whispered.
“The thread.” His lips parted in a smile. “Are you mending sails today also?”
Disappointment surprised her. “Mrs. Crowell sent me here for sewing thread.”
He slipped the spool from her hand. From the table, he selected a smaller one and held it up. “I suspect she meant this type.”
Warmth crawled up her neck. “I’m not much of a seamstress, Mr. Langhorne.”
“You aren’t joining Mrs. Crowell’s sewing circle?” He clucked his tongue. “I thought women enjoyed passing the time that way.” His brown eyes sparkled. Stubble shadowed his jaw and chin, framing his mouth.
She forced her gaze away when she found herself staring too long, wondering how his rough face would feel against hers. She pretended renewed interest in the threads. “I’ve little experience in that area.”
He leaned an elbow on the table and looked up at her. “Ah. Your passels of servants took care of your sewing for you, eh? And here I was hoping you might come lend a hand.” Grinning in a teasing way, he searched her face with intense scrutiny, as if trying to divine the truth.
She lifted her chin. “After my mother’s death, my father hired a housekeeper. I’m afraid I wasn’t an ideal charge. I spent more time with Sir Galahad than at home.” Never had she wanted to be one of the primping girls who practiced domestic skills in hopes of enticing a husband, or took more interest in their appearance than anything else. Now she felt deficient in womanly skills. Sam Langhorne made her feel moreso. Since their last encounter, she’d dreamed of practicing womanly skills on him.
He pressed his lips tight. “Your own knight in shining armor?”
So he knew of King Arthur. How, she wondered?
“My horse, Mr. Langhorne.” Something tightened in her chest while he held her gaze, so she scanned the mending tapes and selected one, hoping he wouldn’t correct her.
He straightened and stood closer than propriety allowed. “I see. You’re full of surprises.”
His nearness warmed her skin. She stepped away and forced a light tone. “And you, as well. You’re a man of many talents, apparently–sewing, salvaging, sailing. Is there anything you can’t do?”
“I’m sure there is. Nothing comes to mind.” His low voice rumbled like an approaching storm, one of searing lightning and drenching rains.
Livvie had always been fascinated by such storms, and the thought of Sam tearing at her clothes like a gale made her shiver.
She snorted. “A typical male affliction.” The newspaper tucked beneath his arm caught her eye. She tilted her head to read the banner. “Is that a Philadelphia newspaper?”
He held it out for her to see. “Yes, my brother sends it to me now and again, thinking he’ll taunt me into coming home. His letter said this edition had an interesting article on the wrecking industry.”
“You’re from Philadelphia?” She’d imagined him a farm boy, perhaps, from some obscure place providing no outlet for his energy. What else would propel a man to travel far from home and become a wrecker?
His tone fell flat. “Born and raised there.” He inserted the newspaper in its resting place beneath his arm.
“What made you come here?” Surely Philadelphia had entertainments similar to those in New York. Perhaps his occupation–maybe a blacksmith–didn’t allow time for social events. Judging by the abundant muscles on his lean frame, he’d worked hard all his life.
He leaned in dangerously close. “Why don’t you let me walk you home, and we’ll continue our conversation?” His lips parted invitingly.
No ready excuse came to mind to refuse him. Nor did she want to.
Barking erupted outside.
Straightening, he muttered, “Can’t stay out of trouble for one minute. Excuse me.” He strode to the entrance, yelling, “Barnaby!”
The ruckus ceased. She waited for him to walk in again and aim his warm smile at her, but waited in vain. Feeling conspicuous, she pretended to examine other goods and moved toward the window. A few passersby walked the streets. Sam was not among them.
Frustration coiled within her. Men were so easily led astray. Sam Langhorne appeared no exception. Perhaps she’d best not spend any more time with him. Seeing him only inspired more thoughts of him. Such unbidden thoughts confused her. He would only bring trouble, of that she felt certain.
At the counter, she asked for stamps and paper. The man tallied the items and waited. After a moment, she realized she’d forgotten to inform him of the charge to the Crowell account and produced the signed list. He wrote in a ledger book and gave a curt nod. After noting the amount, she thanked him, put the items into her basket and moved to an empty space at the counter to affix the stamp to her letter.
A hot breeze wafted through the open door. Reluctantly, she walked toward it. Another boring day at the Crowell home lay ahead. She stepped outside to take in the breeze.
Sam leaned against the wall, his brow knit in reading. He glanced up, and the lines of care on his face erased. The glint of the sun gave his dark hair a sheen. At his feet, Barnaby lifted his head and wagged his tail, his open-mouthed pant a canine smile.
“I thought you’d left.” Something effervesced deep inside her and bubbled up to entwine in her breath.
Barnaby jumped to his feet and nuzzled against her. She crouched to scratch his face.
“I said I’d walk you home. Did you forget so soon?” The breeze ruffled his white shirt and pressed it against his well-defined chest.
“No, I….” Words escaped her, though his warm smile indicated they were unnecessary.
Ducking his head, he pushed away from the wall and stood in front of her. “Shall we?”
She rose. “Yes.” Uttering the sole word opened up a wild array of possibilities. She would have to use it more carefully in the future. He held her gaze in such a way, not looking away could imply yes without speaking the word. Yet she did not wish to look away.
Thanks for reading!