Read an Extract
March 16th 1809. Isles of Scilly…
It was a dream, the kind you have when you are almost awake.
She was cold, wet… The cabin window must have opened
in the night… she was so uncomfortable…
“Look ‘ere, Jack, it’s a mermaid.”
“Nah. Got legs ain’t she? No tail. Never got
that: how do you swive a mermaid if she ain’t got legs?”
Not a dream… nightmare. Wake up. Eyes won’t
open. So cold. Hurt. Afraid, so afraid.
“Is she dead, do yer reckon?”
Uncomprehending terror ran through her veins in the dream.
Am I dead? Is this Hell? They sound like demons. Lie still.
“Looks fresh enough. She’ll do, even if she ain’t
too lively. I ‘aven’t had a woman in five weeks.”
“None of us ‘ave, stupid.” The coarse voice
No! Had she screamed it aloud? Averil became fully
conscious and with consciousness came memory and realisation
and true terror: shipwreck and a great wave and then cold
and churning water and the knowledge that she was going to
But she wasn’t dead. Under her was sand; cold, wet
sand, and the wind blew across her skin and wavelets lapped
at her ankles and her eyes were mercifully gummed shut with
salt against this nightmare and everything hurt as though
she’d been rolled in a barrel. Wind… skin…
She was naked and those voices belonged to real men and they
were coming closer and they wanted to… Lie still.
Something nudged her hard in the ribs and she flinched away,
convulsed with fear, her body reacting while her mind screamed
at it to be still.
“She’s alive! Well, there’s a bit of luck.”
It was the first speaker, his voice gloating. She curled into
a shivering ball, like a hedgehog stripped of its prickles.
“You reckon we can get ‘er up behind those rocks
before the others see ‘er? Don’t want to share,
not ‘til we’ve had our fill.”
“No!” She jerked herself upright so she was sitting
on the sand, her arms wrapped around her nakedness. It was
worse now, not to be able to see. She dragged her eyes open
against the sticky sting of the salt.
Her tormentors stood about two yards away regarding her with
identical expressions of lustful greed. Averil’s stomach
churned as her instincts recognised the look. One man was
big, with a gut that spoke of too much beer and muscles that
bulged on his bare arms and calves like tree trunks. The one
who had kicked her must be the skinny runt closer to her.
“You come along with us, darlin’,” the
smaller one said and the wheedling tone had the sodden hairs
on her neck rising. “We’ll get you nice and warm,
won’t we, ‘Arry?”
“I’d rather die,” she managed to say. She
dug her fingers into the wet sand and raked up two handfuls,
but it flowed out of her grasp. There was nothing to use as
a weapon, not even a pebble, and her hands were numb with
“Yer, well, what you want don’t come into it,
darlin’.” That must be Jack. Would it help if
she used their names, tried to get them to see her as a human
being and not just a thing for their use? She struggled to
get her terrified brain to work. Could she run? No, her legs
were numb too, she would never be able to stand up.
“Listen – my name is Averil. Jack, Harry - don’t
you have sisters –”
The big one swore foully and she heard the voices at the
same time. “The others. Damn it, now we’ll ‘ave
to share the bloss.”
Averil focused her stinging eyes along the beach. She sat
on the rim of sand that fringed the sea. Above her a pebble
beach merged into low rock outcrops and beyond that short
turf sloped up to a hill. The voices belonged to a group of
half a dozen men, sailors by the look of them, all in similar
dark working clothes to the two who had found her.
At the sight of her they broke into a run and she found herself
facing a semi-circle of grinning, leering figures. Their laughter,
their voices as they called coarse comments she could barely
understand, their questions to Jack and Harry, beat on her
ears and the scene began to blur as she closed her eyes. She
was going to faint and when she fainted they would –
“What the hell have you got there?” The voice
was educated, authoritative and rock hard. Averil sensed the
men’s attention turn from her like iron filings attracted
to a magnet and hope made her gasp with relief.
“Mermaid, Cap’n.” Harry sniggered. “Lost
“Very nice too,” the voice said, very close now.
“And you were about to bring her to me, I suppose?”
“Why’d we do that, Cap’n?”
“Captain’s prize.” There was no pity in
the dispassionate tone, only the clinical assessment of a
piece of flotsam. The warm flood of hope receded like a retreating
“That’s not fair!”
“Tough. This is not a democracy, Tubbs. She’s
mine and that’s an order.” Boots crunched over
pebbles as the sound of furious muttering rose.
None of this was going to go away. Averil opened her eyes
again and looked up. And up. He was big: rangy, with dark
hair, a dominant nose. The uncompromising grey eyes, like
the sea in winter, looked at her as a man studies a woman,
not as a rescuer looks at a victim. There was straightforward
masculine desire there, and, strangely, anger. “No,”