He catches sight of Sirena’s hair in the mirror, scarlet in the corona of candle light around her, as she opens the door to his study.
“Papa?” she says, stepping into the room. Her cotton nightgown is short on her bony shins. She persists in growing up, despite his hopes to the contrary.
“It’s late, Sprite. What is it?” he says, smiling at her in the looking glass while he arranges his cravat.
“Will you tell me at breakfast what the Countess wore?”
“If you confess the whereabouts of Miss Miller’s best hat, of course,” he replies casually, rewarded by an indignant flush on his daughter’s face.
“It’s an awful hat! She should thank me for—“
Sirena realizes her mistake, but not quickly enough. She sets her candle down on his desk.
“The hat is under Hodge’s armoire, Papa,” she offers contritely.
He cannot help but laugh, though it slices at his heart. Her serious expression smells of salt air and sun-baked canvas.
“I will ask Hodge to return it to Miss Miller in the morning, along with a sincere letter of apology from the thief.”
“Yes, Papa,” she says quietly.
He checks himself in the glass to be sure he won’t embarrass his sister at the Countess’s party.
“Now, tell me I look well enough to dine with your Aunt Felicity, and kiss me goodnight before you take yourself back to bed.”
As he leans down, Sirena stretches up to fold his cravat into place. She kisses his cheek and retrieves her candle.
“Sirena?” he calls as she goes, “Be sure to put the candle out.”
He collects his sister from her favorite sitting room. The carriage ride seems extraneous to him, given that the distance is easily walkable, but Felicity rules the household with a fashionably iron-clad fist, and arriving on foot would not be proper.
The Countess, Felicity’s oldest friend and Society’s most notorious hostess, is upon them immediately. She whisks Felicity off to a card table looking for a fourth, but not before greeting him with mischief in her eyes.
“The Earl has a curiosity in his library. After your years in the Indies, Isaac, I’ve no doubt you’ll find it very interesting.”
He dodges the crush. The heat of candles and bodies is overwhelming. In the corridor he can hear the Earl’s baritone like cannon fire from the library.
“Jennings, you’re a scoundrel!”
Standing on the Turkey carpet before the Earl’s merry fire is a filthy young man in sailor’s clothes, shackled and shorn like a traitor at the block. Though the sailor stares at the floor, there is steel in his posture.
“Issac!” the Earl booms at him. “Come in and have a look at what Jennings caught on his last run.”
He crosses the room, his soul crackling, as Jennings forces the young man to raise his face.
The pulse in his ears drowns out every sound but his own unsteady breathing. The close-cropped red hair, the pale skin. The fathoms-deep eyes, dull now and withdrawn, but still the same color as the English Channel. Not a young man at all.
Recognition kindles in those stormy eyes; her face, pink from the fire’s proximity, blanches. A fine sweat breaks out on her brow and her knees buckle.
He lunges forward to catch her. She is slight in his arms, captivity has stripped her of her toned muscles and rude health. She is all bones and sinew and fatigue now.
“What the devil, Jennings?” the Earl demands.
Jennings looks on, baffled into silence. It is he who speaks instead, laying her down on the sofa.
“She is in need of a physician.”
The most frequent advice I come across for amateur writers is, “Write what you know.”
“What you know” doesn’t necessarily always mean “your comfort zone.” For this week, take what you know out of your comfort zone. Try a new genre, a new time period, a geography you’ve only dreamed of, fantasy or historical instead of contemporary fiction, try the male POV if you usually write women. Or vice versa.
Switch it up. See where it takes you.
I am responsible for this week’s prompt. My stretch? London in the Regency. Society with a capital S.