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Sample Chapter: Sebastian of King's Ransom

Sebastian of King's Ransom~ Chapter 1 ~

As the pilot began the descent, Danielle Beaumont closed her eyes, thinking of the crumpled letters on her desk, the delicate, spidery writing. Maybe she should have brought them with her instead of leaving them at home. What if her grandmother was senile and denied sending her the one way plane ticket and begging her to come with such urgency?

The Gulf of Fortuna lay below, a brilliant turquoise, calmly translucent all the way to the bottom. Boats of all sizes and shapes cluttered the seaport as far as she could see along the shoreline. Oh, Lordy, what was she doing here?

Pardoneme. Is this your first visit to LaCieba?” A woman in the next seat tried a halting English. They hadn’t spoken since the passenger boarded at the last stop. Danielle assumed she didn’t speak English and the woman probably was put off by the irritation in Danielle’s expression. She was ashamed of herself for feeling so anxious. Howard and her grandmother weren’t worth it. She was finished with letting people manipulate her. “Yes, I’ve never been out of the United States before. Can I practice my rusty Spanish on you a little? I may have need of it where I’m heading.”

Por supuesto. But of course. May I see your ticket?”

Danielle pulled it out of the bag at her feet.

“Ah, you will have to take another plane to go there,” the woman said. “After that it is not far to Kings Ransom. I have heard of it, a big plantation in a little country.”


Sebastian of King's Ransom

Great, another plane. The closer she came to meeting her grandmother, the more she wished she had never left New York. “Do they have ah—political problems in LaCeiba?” She pictured guerrilla soldiers sneaking through jungles.

“No, no, Senorita. I have heard my husband call LaCeiba the Central American Switzerland. It is—how do you say—neutral.”

That was a big relief, but still she couldn’t be sure. There was the Sierra de San Pablo, a chain of rugged mountains, just like she’d read about, pushing its way almost to the coastline. When she stepped down from the plane, she watched the passing shorts-clad people, their arms sleeveless. Only a few days ago she wore a heavy coat and still felt the New York cold.

She didn’t have long to wait in the airport before a small plane taxied up and the customs directed her to board. She was the only customer and in spite of her interest in the tropical terrain below, her thoughts kept turning inward. What was she getting into? Danielle rubbed her tired eyes. The old woman had no right pulling her strings after all these years. The only recollection Danielle had of her grandmother was the years of pain and heartbreak she had caused her mother.

At the second airport, she waited hours for someone from the plantation to claim her. No one approached the rickety old building except a few workers who nodded politely, but didn’t try to speak to her. She ran her fingers through her unruly hair. She hated the curls, but unless she let it grow long, it insisted on curling and she didn’t like the way long hair looked on small women like herself. She smoothed down her beige knit skirt and suddenly thought of Howard. He liked her in beige, said it matched the gold of her eyes. Howard. She wrinkled her nose and shook her head in denial of the pain and anger. He had wanted to live with her, sort of a trial marriage. To her way of thinking, it was all or nothing.

Senorita Danielle?”

She almost jumped out of her chair and turned to look at a short, swarthy man with a wide mustache and grin to match. In a charming mixture of English and Spanish, he introduced himself as the gardener from Kings Ransom.

“Is this a Land Rover?” She asked about the vehicle when they started on their way. How odd to ride in such a car. It would be hard to imagine it on the streets of New York.


Sebastian of King's Ransom

Si, Senorita. We have heavy rains here and very few roads. Sebastian, he brought this from England.” Ramon spoke proudly.

As they drove, annoyance settled upon her along with the light coating of dust from the road. Sebastian. Every other word coming from the gardener’s mouth was Sebastian, spoken with respect bordering on reverence. Already she was tired of the name and she hadn’t even met the man When she could stand it no longer, she interrupted his loquacious monologue. “Who is this Sebastian person?”

Ramon’s dark eyes showed surprise, and he nearly landed them in a ditch. He pulled the car back on the roadway or what passed for one “La Chaparrita never told you about Sebastian?”

“Who is La Chaparrita?”

“Oh, it is a name we have given—with much respect—to Dona Mercedes, your grandmother. It means—let me think in English—it means short little woman.”

“Short? Little woman?” Odd to think of her grandmother in that regard. She always pictured her as very tall and formidable.

Si.” He nodded happily. “About like you, I think.”

Danielle frowned. Everyone she knew politely overlooked her short height. Howard joked about her being vertically challenged which she never saw the humor in. When she first started in the designing end of the garment industry, she had become accustomed to 6 feet tall models looking down at her, and she’d tried to rise above that embarrassment with the sheer force of her personality. It didn’t always work.

“And this marvelous Sebastian of yours?”

Ramon grinned in innocent acknowledgement of her description. “Oh, si, he is marvelous. Very good word. If not for Sebastian, La Chaparrita would have lost the plantation many times. We have big huracan come to this place.” His arm swung wide to indicate the surrounding area while she held tightly to her seat in an effort to stay inside the car.


Sebastian of King's Ransom

  “Sebastian, he work beside us, harder than anyone, to save crops. Day and night he work so Tesoro del Rey can again make money.” He interrupted his speech long enough to point a finger at some flying parrots, at risk of their life and limb and continued as if he’d never interrupted himself. “Once we have terrible union trouble. Big, ugly men come from far away, tell workers must all join union. Burn many plantations, hurt many people but Sebastian keep them away from here. They afraid, know Sebastian mean as they are.” He laughed loudly at his joke.

Danielle couldn’t help but join him, relieved that this Sebastian character had a major flaw. So he was mean. For a while she thought he must be the Paul Bunyan of the banana belt. “Is your Sebastian married with a big family?” She asked, not really caring but wanting to keep Ramon talking. His speech sounded quaint, his accent charming and his cheerfulness helped keep her worries at a manageable distance.

He turned and for a moment looked grim. “Senorita Contreras has him like this.” He held up a tight fist in front of his nose. “He make promise with Dona Mercedes to not marry until she die.” He crossed himself and she grabbed for the wheel just in time to miss a large rock. “Poor Chaparrita, not feel very good now. Ah, Senorita, you will meet them both soon.”

 She grimaced. Between a grandmother she detested and a man who was beginning to irritate her before she even met him, doubts piled upon doubts. To take her mind away from her problems she tried to concentrate on the scenery passing by so quickly. It was difficult to focus, with the Land Rover bumping in the air all the time. Ramon paid no attention to either pot holes or small boulders. He would have made an excellent New York taxi driver. She held on for dear life and suddenly felt an unfamiliar zing of pleasure course through her body. Never a worrier, she began to enjoy the lush jungle along the road, the flash of bright birds, the cacophony of sounds and the smell of loamy soil and vegetation. No wonder my mother found New York a cold and strange place, she thought. But the verdant richness of the landscape flashing by made her edgy and uneasy. It seemed unnatural, somehow surrealistic like a Gauguin painting.

She tilted her chin and straightened her shoulders, determined to treat this as an adventure. No more, no less. Before she could change her mind again and regret her impulsiveness, the vehicle screeched to a halt in front of double iron gates. Once inside the gates, Danielle stared in wonder at the house before her. The house looked as if it chose to ramble off horizontally as well as vertically, all on its own. The haphazard additions were charming in a way, if overwhelming. The edges of the east and west wing vanished into a maze of greenery.

Ramon had been chattering on as usual, but suddenly broke off in mid-sentence. “Ah, Sebastian,” he breathed.


Sebastian of King's Ransom

Danielle became conscious of her rumpled, dusty appearance. The man striding toward them was well-groomed from his shiny boots up to the white shirt open at his tanned throat. She stood watching while he ignored her, speaking in Spanish to Ramon.

With a courteous bow, Ramon hurried away and she was left to face Sebastian alone.

From the looks of him, he was a man who worked outdoors all his life. She leaned back to look up into his face and was startled to see greenish hazel eyes fringed in thick, black lashes staring back at her. His hair was dark as a raven’s wing, his nose straight with just the slightest hawk-like curve. His lips…

When her gaze reached his sensuous mouth Danielle turned her head away and felt a blush coming on as if she were a silly schoolgirl. Suddenly conscious of the silence, she spoke with as much dignity as she could muster. “I am Danielle Beaumont. Of course you’re Sebastian.” She almost said the great Sebastian and stopped just in time. He looked intimidating enough without any help from her absurd sense of humor.

One black eyebrow shot up and he smiled, although the smile did not reach his eyes. She began to wonder if he spoke English when he replied without a trace of accent. “Welcome to Tesoro del Rey, Dona Mercedes is expecting you. Did you have a comfortable journey?”

His words were polite, but she felt the coldness beneath them. Why would this stranger be cool to her? “This is so different.” From her limited Spanish she knew Tesoro del Rey translated to King’s Ransom. She gestured toward the house and surrounding gardens. How awful to feel like a complete idiot and even worse have him tower above her so. She moved away to give herself more space.

“You don’t feel comfortable here?” He sounded hopeful.

“No—I didn’t exactly say that. My home is in New York. Have you ever been there?” That ought to take him down a peg or two.

He shrugged and the material of his shirt stretched over his wide shoulders and a grin edged across his lips. “No. I don’t have any desire to go there either. This is my home.” He leaned toward her and brushed his big hand across the back of her neck. She jumped away, startled. “A small spider, Miss Beaumont. I did not think you would care for his company.”


Sebastian of King's Ransom

 “Thank you.” Her voice sounded stiff to her own ears. She wasn’t afraid of bugs, but then neither did she like them, especially the idea of wearing one.

“New York is filled with crime and graffiti on every wall, I have heard.”

“Maybe. However we do not have soldiers skulking through the jungles blowing up innocent villagers.”

He looked pained. “If you had bothered to get your facts straight you would know that LaCeiba is….”

She held up her hand. “I know, it’s neutral territory. Why?”

He smiled, some of the edge gone from his voice. “We are a small country, tucked away in the middle of Central America. In the past we have been overpowered by more ambitious countries, but now we have a stable government and we are respected as neutral. There have been no political problems here since I was born.”

“I apologize for my pre-judgment of your country, but you shouldn’t try to fit mine into a convenient pigeonhole either. New York is many things, not only the negative.”

He bowed low with a graceful sweep of his arm. “Then I owe you two apologies, Senorita Beaumont. For maligning your country of origin and for my lack of manners as a host. You must be exhausted. The maid will take you to your room and when you have rested, Dona Mercedes will see you.”

It was like a dismissal and irritated her, but she had no way of coming back at him without sounding petty. When they entered the house, a small man came rushing forward. He looked to be in his seventies, but well preserved in a cherubic, yet nervous fashion. “Ah, Miss Beaumont, what a delightful surprise. We didn’t think you would really come.”

“This is Peter, he’s been here from the start. Dona Mercedes wanted to retire him, with a piece of the property for his home, but he wouldn’t hear of it.”

“My goodness, no, Don Sebastian. What would I do all day?”

“That is very true. He rules this house.” Sebastian and the little man smiled at one another like old friends.

So, the big guy could unbend if he wanted to, only not toward her. Why was that?


Sebastian of King's Ransom

Sebastian handed her over to Peter as if glad to be rid of her company. Before he could leave, a maid came from upstairs and whispered something to Sebastian. They argued for a moment and then he turned to Danielle. “Dona Mercedes is aware of your arrival and wishes to see you immediately.” His lips tightened with barely repressed anger.

“I shall escort her,” Peter offered. “You go about your business.”

What was wrong with the man? The long, exciting day began to catch up with her. She thought longingly of a hot bath and a cool bed. But first her grandmother’s summons. Danielle walked through the spacious rooms, captivated by the high ceilings and the overhead fans moving slowly, even in winter. Or what had been winter in New York. Here and there maids worked silently, dusting, polishing, everyone busy. How many people worked here? Did they live on the plantation or come from a village nearby? So many questions. In spite of her exhaustion, the exotic spell of all she had seen and felt and imagined coursed through her body, invigorating and renewing her. Instead of dread, she started to look forward to meeting her grandmother, if only to get the long-harbored grudge off her chest once and for all.

 Danielle heard the imperative ring of a bell, the querulous voice that rolled off Spanish spoken like a native. She took a deep breath and pushed into the room. Her grandmother had written that she must see her granddaughter once before she died. If Danielle expected to see a frail, delicate old lady, she was wrong on several counts. Dona Mercedes held court from the middle of her bed like a dowager queen. Her tiny body barely raised the covers under which she lay, but her presence filled the room. She was tanned and wrinkled from the sun with skin resembling brown parchment paper and her eyes shone out of the deep sockets like two golden marbles. Her voice was strong as she called out across the room.

 “Come, come child. Let me look at you. God knows I’ve waited long enough.”

 A woman, probably her nurse, stood in the shadows at the back of the room. Peter had backed out and closed the door behind him, as if he hadn’t wanted to intrude. Danielle could feel the vitality, the strength emanating from the old woman even though a dry cough racked her tiny frame from time to time. The two regarded one another in silence for a long moment. No endearments expressed between them, no pretended familial sentiment. Danielle felt relieved with only a small twinge of disappointment. In spite of not wanting to like her, a smile tugged at the corners of Danielle’s lips when she moved closer.

“Ah! You have his hair. But you have the Beaumont eyes.” She leaned back on the pillows to study her granddaughter. “Thank you for coming.”


Sebastian of King's Ransom

Danielle swallowed against the tightness. “I didn’t want to,” she said truthfully. “My mother finally forgave you for your cruelty, but I never did.”

Dona Mercedes nodded. “It took me years to realize that I should not have sent her away like that. But we had such plans for your mother! She was the apple of your grandfather’s eye. I’m quite certain he loved her even more than he loved me. He wanted to send her to the best schools in Europe, to marry from the cream of society.”

“I guess she had other ideas,” Danielle managed. Her grandmother brushed her words away as if she hadn’t noticed anyone speak.

“It wasn’t as if we asked her to marry without love. If she had waited, she would have found someone suitable.”

“My father….”

Your father was a scoundrel and a ne’er-do-well. Henry and I knew it from the first moment we saw him. He wanted to get his hands on Kings Ransom and I couldn’t let that happen.”

“I have to agree with you there, he wasn’t much. He took off and left my mother pregnant with me in a strange city. She never saw him again.”

The old woman put her hands to her cheek in obvious dismay. “Oh no! I feared that, but by the time I regained my senses, it was too late.”

“To this day I’ll never know how she managed to survive. Still, that doesn’t excuse your part in it, does it? You could have asked her to come back.”

“If only she had written after I realized my mistake. I would have sent for her, even if I was bitter. The shock of her leaving gradually killed your grandfather.”

Danielle hadn’t known. Her mother never spoke of him. Not ever. Toward the end, all she wanted to remember was Kings Ransom. She had missed her home so much. She stared at the woman she wanted so badly to hate. “Do you expect me to believe you’d have sent for her? I read her diary after she died and saw the returned letters that you never opened.”


Sebastian of King's Ransom

“But of course. I admit that. Did you also notice the dates? Before you were born, am I not correct? She only wrote to me once after that, to tell me of your birth and left no forwarding address. Over the years I became frantic with worry. I had no idea if your father was with you, but I was ready to accept him—even allow him share in Kings Ransom, if that was what they wanted.”

Her grandmother sounded sincere but Danielle was wary. “How did you find me?”

“I cannot take full credit for that,” Dona Mercedes admitted. “Several years ago, my old friend and advisor, Paul LeFarge, thought of hiring a private detective.”

“Several years ago? What happened to that notion in the meantime?”

“I didn’t want to have anyone know. It might have gone badly and—more has happened lately that made me feel the necessity to find you.”

“You couldn’t admit to failure, if you hadn’t found me,” Danielle finished for her.

The old woman nodded. “Something like that. Peter contacted a private detective for me. We wanted to find you so much.”

We. Did that include Sebastian? Never one to skirt around edges, she asked the question. Her grandmother’s eyes lit for a brief moment at the mention of Sebastian, displaced by a pained surprise.

“No. I have not confided in Sebastian, which is a pity. I wanted time to smooth things out a bit.”

“Smooth things out! He’s only. . . .” She started to say ‘an employee’, but stopped. He was more than that here.

“Sebastian is like a son to me. My husband adopted him and gave him our name.”

“Like a son? Is he the reason you didn’t need my mother or me?” Danielle didn’t try to keep the bitterness from creeping into her words.


Sebastian of King's Ransom

“Oh never!” Her grandmother sounded shocked. “It had nothing to do with you. We brought him to Kings Ransom as a boy of nine or ten. His mother disappeared, he never knew his father.”

That made two of us, never knowing a father. “He isn’t from here, is he?”

“No. We found him in the city, near the beach. He is of mixed parentage and the people were not kind to him then. He took care of himself for years—barely staying alive, I suppose.” Her voice registered pride.

It must have seemed like a God-send, gaining a son after losing a daughter. In spite of her bitterness, she could understand what had to be their extreme sorrow and guilt. Sebastian must be in his mid-thirties, Danielle calculated. This was his home now. He told her that in no uncertain words.

“We sent him to Oxford. I wanted him to have the chance your mother refused.”

No wonder he wasn’t impressed by her New York background. He had taken full advantage of her grandmother’s generosity, but how could she blame the man for accepting all that was offered to him? The old woman lavished her attention on a stranger and ignored her own flesh and blood all these years. Danielle thought of the many privations her mother had endured. The blurred ink from her tears on many of the diary pages was silent testimony to her mother’s grief. All that sorrow and pain—just because she’d done the unpardonable by falling in love with a handsome soldier of fortune who stopped awhile at Kings Ransom.

“If it were not for Sebastian, I would have lost Kings Ransom several times over,” Dona Mercedes was saying. “The year of the big hurricane, he worked harder and longer than any one. When union organizers came here from the city to cause trouble, he kept them away. They burned several plantations but not ours.”

The more she extolled the virtues of Sebastian, the more Danielle disliked him. He sounded like an opportunist, taking advantage of a lonely old woman. A woman with a fixation for this place, who would sacrifice her own family to keep it from harm.

“Why did you send for me as if it was a matter of life and death? You seem to have all the family you need.” She didn’t bother to hide her resentment.

“Oh, never say such a thing!” Her grandmother leaned forward, holding her arms across her chest in a protective gesture. “Just because I loved and cared for him took nothing away from your mother. I did try to find her.”


Sebastian of King's Ransom

“I believe you,” Danielle conceded, alarmed at the old woman’s sudden agitation. “But I still don’t see why you want me here now.”

“Of course you would wonder, child. It seemed like something I had to do, but now I am not so certain. That is not to say I am ungrateful to have found you.” She took a deep breath and leaned back, regarding Danielle with close scrutiny. “You look delicate. I doubt you would flourish here,” she murmured as if to herself, changing the subject abruptly

“Nobody has ever accused me of being delicate before. Besides, what has size to do with ability? You are smaller than I. Anyway, I have no intention of flourishing here.” Danielle felt her temper rise at the old lady’s calculating scrutiny.

Dona Mercedes smiled, the worry disappearing from her eyes. “You sound just like your great grandmother. A more cantankerous, obstinate woman never existed. I was afraid you would be soft like your mother.”

“What’s wrong with that?” Danielle bristled. “It would make me proud to be like her.”

 Her grandmother’s expression softened. “Perhaps. Your mother was sweet and gentle, but had no backbone. The only time she ever stood up to anyone was when she ran away with your worthless father.”

“Who do you think raised me alone in a strange city without anyone’s help? She never married again. She was too busy taking care of me and staying alive.” Danielle’s cheeks flushed, her body quivered with unexpressed anger.

“What did she do? How did you both live?”

“She cleaned offices first and then started sewing for different people. Someone who admired her work found her a job in the garment district. It was hard work, but I think she liked it.”

“But she must have put you through school.”

“Of course. She brought work home sometimes and I learned to help her. I never went beyond two years of college. She died then and there was no time or money.”

“Ah, if I had only known to look for you then.”


Sebastian of King's Ransom

“We survived. She taught me her craft, and from that I went on to designing.” Made a good name for herself, too. She was in much demand as a freelancer.

Dona Mercedes closed her eyes wearily and patted the bed for Danielle to sit down. “I’m saying everything wrong, my dear child. Forgive an old lady for her rudeness. I’ve always said exactly what I thought and sometimes—no, often—I’ve regretted the impulse. But I can hardly change now, can I?”

When her grandmother smiled, Danielle saw traces of the beauty she must have been in her youth. She also saw her own impulsive nature mirrored in that tiny person.

“The detective told me you are very successful in your work. I suppose you young people call it a career. It must be a great satisfaction to do something well. That is all we wanted for your mother. To do something with her life.”

The nurse reached hurriedly for a carafe of water near the bed and placed two white pills into Dona Mercedes’ shaking palm. After she took the pills, she leaned back, face beaded with perspiration.

“Senora, you have talked long enough.” The nurse spoke in Spanish, yet Danielle was able to understand. “Perhaps it would be better to continue tomorrow?”

“Nonsense. Stop bossing me.” She waved the nurse away and turned back to Danielle. “Tell me about yourself while I collect my poor old body together,” she commanded.

Danielle carefully skirted away from her life with her mother and instead told her grandmother about her work. Naturally Howard’s name came up a time or two. She listened to herself and wondered why she tried so hard to make her life sound rich and full. Hadn’t it been? She had always believed so until lately.

“You mention Howard. Who is this man?”

“A very nice person, really. We had plans to marry eventually—when things were right for us.”

“Nice?” The old woman shook her head. “Did you say nice? What a pitiful way to describe a fiancé! And why plans to marry? You either marry or you don’t. ”

Danielle flushed. “What’s wrong with a nice man? Do you prefer a man like my father?”


Sebastian of King's Ransom

“Nonsense. I loathe his kind of vain uselessness, but I can’t abide nice men either.”

“It seems we can’t talk without biting each other’s ears off. Were you like that with my mother too?”

“No. She would never argue with me. I wish she had. We might have understood each other better.”

Her grandmother reached over to touch her arm. Without thinking about it, Danielle held the tiny hand inside hers. She felt a stab of pity for the wasted years of not knowing her grandmother. They would have argued plenty, but it never would have been dull.

“I must rest now, my dear. Please stay at Kings Ransom. Give us a chance. Try to get to know us. Later, when I have more strength, there is something I want to tell you.

Something important. There was that us again. “If us includes Sebastian, I don’t think he likes me.”

The old woman made a face. “That is my own fault. I did not confide in him and he did not know until yesterday that I had sent for you.”

“Why should it matter to him?” For once her grandmother did not seem so sure of herself.

She looked away. “I—I do not wish to speak of that now, perhaps later. But as a favor, please do not mention that I sent for you. Not until I explain it all to him. You see, I never expected to be successful in finding you, much less bringing you here. I was going to tell him—but it all happened so quickly. If the matter comes up, will you wait until I speak to him?”

Danielle nodded reluctantly. She always hated subterfuge, but her grandmother was very adamant about it and it meant nothing to her one way or another so might as well humor her. Much later, as Danielle was halfway through her bath, she realized the question of why she was here had not been answered.