Initially, I was not going to meet him. Why should I? Jesamiah Acorne – Captain Acorne as he usually called himself with the typical arrogance of many a jumped-up seaman – meant nothing to me beyond he could be an acute pain in the backside. He was also a wonderful lover and I loved him, but then, what has love to do with a man who only looks at you for the assets beneath your chemise?
To my shame, however, I could not resist the wretched man – even though on occasion I could cheerfully kill him. I confess also, he had mentioned something about a reward… How could I resist his charm, those beautiful eyes?
Williamsburg’s Main Street was empty now as business had finished for the day. Shops and stores had closed, and it was still a little early for the taverns to fill with rowdy drunkards. Evening had settled, and I paused to watch a few fireflies wink and twinkle around the roots of a tree. They were pretty little things, sparkling like jewels. I liked jewels, although I had few of them now my husband was dead. God rot him. He had squandered my fortune, small as it was. I was nigh on penniless.
Jesamiah stepped forward to greet me, courteously enough given his penchant for rough manners, although he could play the gentleman when he wanted. Rat that he is.
We exchanged civilised small talk as we walked, until, as he had said when last we met, he repeated; “Your dead husband, Phillipe, was not my brother Alicia.”
I had not believed him then. I still did not. “So you said. I do not believe you.”
“Too bad. It happens to be the truth.”
We crossed Colonial Street – I squealed in terror as a carriage came over close, almost running me down. Jesamiah pulled me back, grabbing my arm and swinging me aside.
“Some people ought to learn to drive” he muttered. “Are you all right?”
Although shaken, I nodded. “I thought for a moment it was Knight, come to finish me off.”
Knight. Ah now, there indeed was a rat! He had been bullying and blackmailing me, and although I would never let on, I was most greatly relieved for Jesamiah’s proximity. He put himself between me and the roadway, said, “I was going to have a word with you about Knight. You know he will want more money if you pay him this time, don’t you?”
Glum, I nodded. Money or payment in kind - of the bedroom nature. Or both.
“It would be better to call his bluff” Jesamiah added.
I glared at him, snapped, “What? Tell him to announce to the world I was a convict and a whore?”
“Well, you could do that if you want, though I would not advise it.”
I scowled at him, saw he was laughing. “This is not a humorous situation Jesamiah. I am in trouble.”
He stopped walking, trundled me around to face him. He really did have the most gorgeous eyes. “Why do you not blackmail him in turn? Buy his silence? Threaten him?”
In exasperation I threw my arms in the air and walked on. “Those are the most unhelpful suggestions I have ever heard. What? Shall I frighten him by saying his hair is turning grey or his wig is unfashionable? Or his belly is becoming too big to button his waistcoat?”
Jesamiah trotted to catch me up, grasped my arm, his fingers pinching hard through the silk of my gown. “No. You tell him unless he leaves you alone you will inform Governor Spotswood about a certain close acquaintance.”
I snorted more derision, shook his grip off. “And that will worry him?”
“For fok sake; button your mouth and listen! Knight will not want Spotswood knowing he and Blackbeard are partners.”
My eyes widened as this first spark of hope in weeks cheered me a little. “Are they? You are sure of this?”
“Yes. I have suspicions about Knight that if true, will send him scuttling like a crab for deep water. If you can get me into the Palace I will be able to confirm what I think.”
I had no need to doubt him. Oh yes, Jesamiah was all the things I have said he was, but he was also canny, clever, no fool, and hated people like Knight and Blackbeard.
I continued walking, considering the implications of what he had said. It would be so good to get the better of that odious man, Knight! If only I could! Then a thought scared me again. “But I will not always be here in Williamsburg. What if he goes to the estate? He is a violent man.”
I knew that to my cost. The bruises he had left on my body had taken weeks to fade.
“I thought you said you don’t want to go back there?”
“I do not. But what choice have I? I am homeless. I am penniless.”
The last place I wanted to be was that desolate tobacco plantation that had belonged to Jesamiah’s pirate father, and where, when first I’d married Phillipe, I'd had so much hope of a respectable and prosperous future. Jesamiah had ruined that when he had appeared in disguise at the party Phillipe and I had held for our son’s Christening.
I could not resist him and Jesamiah had cuckolded Phillipe in one of the upstairs rooms. Of course, Phillipe had suspected that the child I subsequently gave birth to nine months later was not his own, despite me lying about my dates.
I hated that plantation, but where else could I go?
We reached the Palace Green, one or two benches made from fallen logs were set to the side – a way to make people sit and admire the grand building dominating the far end. Jesamiah sat me down, seated himself next to me.
He asked “If you could do what you wanted, what would it be?”
I had no need to ponder a response. “I would buy a plot of land and build a tavern here in Williamsburg: a reputable place for gentlefolk, not a disorderly house – no whores or rag-a-bones with an itch in their breeches. I would run something like the King’s Arms – only even better. Hold balls and entertainments. Cook good meals, have clean rooms with clean linen. My establishment would be known through all the Chesapeake as Virginia’s finest accommodation.”
Jesamiah seemed surprised, but must have realised that I would make a good landlady. “And how much would this buying a plot of land cost? Two, three hundred pounds?”
I pursed my lips, calculating figures in my head. “To buy and build and furnish? Oh, probably at least three hundred pounds of tobacco.” I sighed loudly, resigned, folded my hands in my lap. The Palace at the end of the Green looked pretty, all aglow with light shining from every window.
“So five hundred pounds would set you up nicely?” Jesamiah said.
This was ridiculous. I stood, tiring of the conversation. “Yes, but I have not got one pound of tobacco so there is no point in dwelling on unreachable dreams, is there?”
Jesamiah stayed where he was. “I’m talking pounds sterling, Alicia. Real money, not tobacco barter.”
I laughed outright. Now I knew he was not being serious. “Sterling? No one uses that sort of money here in Williamsburg.”
“I do. Please, Alicia, sit down. I ain’t said all I want to say yet.”
I remained where I was for a few more moments, tapping my foot and sighing impatiently, then I flounced down beside him. “Well?” I grumbled.
From his pocket, Jesamiah pulled two sealed letters. I noticed my name on one and grabbed at it, but Jesamiah held it high, beyond my reach. “Uh uh, hear me out first” he drawled. “This one is for you. It states all the things you are entitled to as a widow.”
I tried to reach it again, but he held it even higher.
“If you do not listen to me, Ma’am, I will destroy it and you will be left with nothing at all.”
Pouting, I folded my arms.
“It also states that unless you are satisfactorily making your own decent income – which does not mean whoring…”
“Huh. What chance have I of an income that does not involve lifting my skirts?” I thrust back at him.
“As I was saying; unless you have an income, you are to receive an annual allowance from the estate, if there is sufficient to support it.”
I sniffed. Did I believe him? Why was he being so suddenly generous?
“You could at least say thank you.”
“Thank you.” I did not sound particularly grateful. I was too suspicious of his motives.
“This other letter is for my lawyer.” He paused, studied the night sky. “I have instructed him to tell you everything if I do not come back. Someone should know the truth about my father and Phillipe. It might as well be you. He was your husband, after all.”
My frown deepened. “What do you mean, you might not come back? Where are you going?”
Jesamiah puffed his cheeks, glanced again at the stars. “Very possibly somewhere far away and not very pleasant, darlin’. Maybe a bit hot and smelly I should think.” He slapped his hands on his thighs, stood. “Come on, see if you can get me in to the Governor without anyone hanging or shooting me.”
I stayed where I was, still suspicious. “You will make sure I get paid for doing this won’t you?”
“I will, darlin’. I will.”
He handed me the two letters, made sure I tucked them safely into my poke bag.
He whistled as we strolled towards the wrought-iron gates, my arm linked through his. I could almost fancy that we would make a fine couple, were he not such a charmer of a rogue, and the fact that he had a wife, although that small fact did not always keep his breeches buttoned.
I knew him well enough to know the whistling was nothing more than bravado. The sound a man makes as he walks to the gallows and does not want the watching crowd to know he is scared to death.
Jesamiah had always been convinced that I could charm the birds down from the trees. When you worked the streets it was an asset any whore needed. Even so, the Palace footman did not recognise my talent, or he was the wrong sort of bird. A turkey not a turtle dove.
“I have told you, Ma’am, Governor Spotswood is at dinner. Go away and come back Monday.”
I persisted. “Sir, I am Mistress Alicia Mereno. I am a personal friend of the Governor’s. I assure you he will be most displeased were he to discover you attempted to turn me away.”
“Then I will take that risk. I know he will be even more displeased to have his dinner disturbed.”
We were at least inside the entrance hall but it seemed we would be going no further.
A woman’s laughter drifted from upstairs, followed by a male voice. The Governor, I assumed. There were a few yards of black-and-white tiles between us and the stairs. So near, yet so far.
His hand thrust into his coat pocket, Jesamiah was thinking up a plan – I well recognised that innocent look on his face. He needed a diversion, something to allow him time to sprint up those stairs before the puffed-up fool of a footman found a pistol and shot him.
What could I do? Pretend to faint? Before I could act, Jesamiah took my arm, started walking back towards the entrance door.
“I think we’re getting nowhere, Alicia. We will do as the man says; come back Monday.”
Leaning close, he said quickly; “I’m going to distract him. What you get, you keep. Savvy?”
He whirled, thrust out his hand as if to strike the footman a blow to the face. The man staggered backwards a pace and raised his arms as Jesamiah threw something at him.
The flickering light from the many candles glittered on a shower of sparkling, twinkling diamonds that sprayed from Jesamiah’s hand and fell like tinkling rain to the floor. I cried out as I fell to my knees, scrabbling to gather up as many of the beautiful gems as I could – the footman, too, was on his knees, shoving my hands aside as he groped for his share. I snarled at him and thumped my fist on to his fingers.
“They are worth a lot, Alicia!” Jesamiah shouted as he sprinted for the stairs. “Better than tobacco for barter, eh? Call your tavern The Acorn!”
The footman realised his mistake. He pocketed a handful of the glittering beauties and shouted for help – but Jesamiah was already gone, hurtling up the stairs.
I ignored the both of them, pulled open my poke bag and sweeping my hands backwards and forwards across the floor, scooped up as many diamonds as I could. Diamonds, beautiful, dazzling diamonds. From where Jesamiah had got them – ill-gotten gain from piracy I assumed – I could not care. They were mine now. I smiled, greedily, delighted, as my fingers clasped the last sparkling stone.
The threat of Knight, blackmail and all other sordid detail I set aside as, clutching the poke bag, I strolled out into the night.
Jesamiah, my ex-lover, the man I still loved beyond any other – the man I hated by turn, who could be irritating, annoying, exasperating – and could bring exquisite delight in bed, had his occasional uses outside the bedroom door as well as within it.