Ana's hero and heroine meet Captain Trimble, a minor but colorful character in my WIP.
With a stab of guilt, Stormy realized Blade’s tales of working on the river were true. She’d chosen not to trust him. About this and a lot of other things. Hoping he wouldn’t read her face, she turned her head and peered downriver. “I don’t see the freighter.”
Blade tapped her arm and pointed in the opposite direction.
The freighter rounded a bend. Gray-black smoke and an alarming number of glowing sparks billowed from its single stack. Its whistle shrieked like a berserk ghoul.
Blade sighed like he was disappointed, but she didn’t know why.
“Is it headed toward St. Louis?” she asked.
“Yes. Stay close and don’t say a word.”
Stormy looked around apprehensively. In spite of the late hour, or maybe because of it, dozens of unsavory people milled about on the pier. She shivered and tried again to button her shirt over her corseted breasts.
The steam freighter glided up. It was much smaller and plainer than she expected, having seen hundreds of pictures in Harper’s. And it was missing an upper deck with staterooms and a promenade deck with well-dressed ladies and gentlemen parading about.
In the very front of the freighter, a giant beam rose thirty feet in the air. Tethered to cables at its peak, it was attached to another beam that plunged straight down into the river. In the eerie light, she read the ship’s name, painted on the side of the wheelhouse. Snagger II. She wondered what had happened to Snagger I.
A dark-skinned roustabout jumped off, tied a thick rope to a dock post, and unloaded a small pile of crates and sacks. A tall man emerged from the wheelhouse and wiped his face with a bandanna.
Blade hailed him. “Captain, would you have room for a passenger?”
“Who’s askin’?” The captain wore dark trousers and a ruffled shirt ornamented by a diamond stickpin. His accent was deep South.
“Blade Masters is my name. I need to get to St. Louis as quickly as possible.”
Stormy dug her fingernails into Blade’s forearm. He'd said ‘I,’ and not ‘we.’ She was going along with him, come hell or muddy river water.
“What about this one?” The captain jutted his bearded chin at her. “She goin’ too?”
“Yes!” Her shout overrode Blade’s subdued “No.”
“You related? I don’t take relations. Can’t stand the squabbling.”
“Well, I’m going,” she announced. “Whether he wants me to or not.”
“Stormy, you have to go home,” Blade hissed. “The river is dangerous. I’ll come back as soon as I can.”
“You haven’t explained why you have to go at all.”
He put his hands on her shoulders, pivoted her away from the captain, and leaned close to her ear. “I think Jonathan Vance is threatening my family.”
“That trouble-stirring snake. You need help, and I’m going with you.”
“That’s what fiancées do.”
“You runnin’ away, eh, girlie?” The captain’s voice broke in.
She turned around. “Yes, sir. I’m sick of chores and small towns. I want to live in a big city like St. Louis.”
The captain’s gaze dropped to her chest. His tongue flicked across his lips. “You can ride for free if you service me.”