Today I’m fine tuning my upcoming prequel to Audacious that is entitled The She-Merchant which will be released this June. I have attached Chapter One for your reading enjoyment.
(Yes, I know this is Keira Knightley. It’s here for fun. I hope you enjoy meeting Catharyna… 🙂
Manhattan, English Province of New York
Death never comes at a convenient time.
Catharyna Van Broeck stood in silence, staring at a golden sunbeam that filtered through the window panes and settled on the lifeless form cradled upon the featherbed. The familiar noise of blood and oxygen filled Catharyna’s ears like every other moment of loss. The purpose of her life had begun and it ached down to the tips of her toes.
Always diligent, Catharyna had prepared long ago by accumulating the largest set of monkey spoons in the colony. Today the precious silver trinkets would be presented as a gift to each visitor. Broeckwyck’s vast cellar would be unlocked to the mourners. No expense would be forbidden to commemorate the greatest man of her life: Dirck Van Broeck the Elder, Patroon of Broeckwyck, her teacher and dearest friend.
The grace of God alone would give her the strength to live without him. Catharyna prayed for such a miracle along the way to Papa, sprawled across the alcove bed that was built into the bedchamber’s walls. The smell of his favorite tobacco, tucked safely away in the pocket of his finest beaver coat along with his pipe, drifted across her nostrils, softening her face with a smile. She sat beside him and kissed his wrinkled forehead, frigid and achingly still but Catharyna didn’t flinch. The touch of a dead body no longer frightened her.
“You have proven worthy of my instruction,” Papa had proclaimed on her sixteenth birthday. “My daughter, you have battled your fears until there are none. Remain ever alert. Thieves never rest. They will sneak up on you. They will make clever attempts to swindle your trade and Broeckwyck. But I promise ‘twill be your fearlessness that binds them in shackles before they even suspect it, and in thus, you shall always control them.”
Everyone feared Papa except Dirck the Younger, who had his own plans and took off with no warning. That was when Papa’s expectations of Catharyna had grown fierce. “Failure is forbidden,” became the Van Broeck family motto. One day Catharyna found it chiseled in the fireplace mantel and on the front door stoop. Papa then ordered her to master every language in the seaport. When Catharyna’s investigation uncovered eighteen different languages, he did not relent.
The knowledge brought to light her precarious position. The colony’s small seaport was so diverse that the Dutch barely held the majority, and not one of the eight thousand residents had raised a sword to defend it eight years ago when five English vessels entered their harbor and claimed it for the British monarchy – and they wouldn’t today. The townspeople didn’t care that the Netherlands was once again at war with England. Even Papa had left Holland as a young man and crossed the treacherous Atlantic Ocean solely for opportunity. As long as English rule made money for the hard and fast fortune hunters, adventurers, and traders, everyone was amply satisfied – except Catharyna.
All such thoughts were tucked away as she leaned forward one last time, foolishly hoping that Papa’s eyes would open and they would laugh at his laziness. For months he had slept in, making them late for their daily rounds. Finally, Catharyna accepted this was his forever sleep. “My dearest Papa, all you have toiled for shall be protected. My duty shall never waver to the Patroonship of Broeckwyck.” She memorized his facial features, chiseling them into her memory. The stubborn jawline and chin, rigid lips, the perpetual scowl on his forehead. She kissed each endearing feature. “Rest in peace, my beloved.”
A knock ricocheted off the thick oak door and around the room. The pretty face of her cousin Maria van Hoesen shyly peeked in from the threshold. “May I enter, Ryna?”
Maria closed the door and walked upon the floorboards as though they would dissolve any moment beneath her feet. “My father awaits to speak with you.”
Uncle Pieter’s desires should matter, being Papa’s only living sibling, but Catharyna didn’t care.
“You needn’t be strong. Cry and release your pain. Our family and friends are here to ease your sorrow. They await to do just so.”
Her cousin and dearest friend, the only person alive that she now trusted, rarely spoke so foolishly. Catharyna breathed deeply to control the tempestuous lioness that raged within her soul that would have devoured the gentle Maria at their first meeting. “My papa deserves respect, I shall not cry and weaken now that I am alone.”
“But that is not true! Your papa’s passing will at last bring Dirck the Younger home to us,” Maria said far too brightly, a telltale sign of her personal agony with her betrothed’s continued absence.
Denial, anger, and sorrow battled within Catharyna. Miracles had happened when Papa was alive. When the English had claimed New Netherlands years earlier, and renamed it New York, the English Governor Nicolls had promptly placed Papa in the highest position on his council as chief justice. The English were smart enough to know that they needed Papa to succeed. The only man who had ever defied Dirck the Elder was Dirck the Younger. “I hope my brother returns for you, Maria, and that you marry as is your desire, but I cannot depend upon him.” Catharyna stepped away from the alcove bed, stoically leaving her father’s side without a trace of the sorrow storming the walls of her heart.
Maria gently squeezed her shoulder. “You must marry.”
Papa’s expectations spoken aloud seemed to have the bedchamber close in around Catharyna. Could Maria understand? She had four loyal brothers, but Maria had yet to greet the ugly face of cold, hard greed. No. Catharyna alone knew what had to be done. “I need an heir.”
Maria’s face brightened with a smile. “This is what my father seeks to discuss with you.”
“Aye, I need an heir. How it will be acquired is yet to be determined.” She ignored the look of confusion on Maria’s face. In that moment, the freedom in finally being her own master settled over Catharyna’s grief, making it bearable. “In my travels, I have learned great things from the native men. They take their wife’s name upon marriage. They join the wife’s clan, live in her longhouse with a few meager personal belongings. Until their wife births a child, the man is not fully accepted into the tribe. You see, the natives believe women bring life to the tribe, that without them, there is no tribe. So I ask you, Maria: is this savage or truth?”
Maria stood in silence, digesting the startling information, and finally leered up at her. “This is your intention?! A babe out of wedlock?! Oh, Ryna, your hatred of the English goes too far. Marriage is ordained by God!”
The rebuke made Catharyna straighten her shoulders. The plan had started the day her brother sailed away and the English arrived, trapping Catharyna in an impossible situation.
“You are the finest she-merchant in our colony, trained by Dirck the Elder. All respect you, Ryna; just as everyone respected him.”
“Bah! I am a rich purse much sought after by soulless fortune hunters—”
“You will choose your husband wisely. He will be a God-fearing man, commanded by God to love you as his own body. This is the marital arrangement, ordained by God…”
Catharyna no longer listened. Her cousin was too soft-hearted, a dreamer who believed in a world that never existed.
Maria took hold of her by the shoulders, glaring up at her. “‘Tis time to open your cynical heart and allow faith to take root. Our Heavenly Father’s purpose for us is to love and to be loved.”
Catharyna hated to be the destroyer of Maria’s imaginary world that had been built the day Dirck the Younger abandoned them, but the time had come for them both to accept the truth. “Pray do tell me where these men live who love their wives as their own bodies? Mayhap they could instruct the other husbands, so countless wives wouldn’t have to privately come to Broeckwyck, seeking from me protection and shelter, after being beat and tossed outside with their children on a cold, rainy night?”
Maria stood silent, looking confused.
“Aye, after Mama died Papa sent these women and children to me when I was but twelve years old. They became one of my many new duties as the Patrooness of Broeckwyck. After months, when I acknowledged it was a common occurrence, I went to our minister, pleading for him to instruct the husbands on their ungodly conduct, and he chastised me for defending lazy wives and children, who needed discipline.”
Unshed tears grew steadily in Maria’s eyes, twin black ponds merging into a lake of sorrow.
Catharyna relented. “‘Tis not all the men’s fault. Truth be told, I can no longer count how many brides and grooms knelt before the altar of God, swearing fidelity, while whispers raced across our church pew that the bride was already pregnant and uncertain about the identity of the babe’s father.”
Maria’s face transformed. A sweet, innocent smile lit her face. “Captain DeVries, still proclaims his love for you. He would give you complete freedom in managing Broeckwyck as his wife in the Dutch custom.”
“Give me?” Catharyna’s heart quickened at hearing the handsome man’s name. “Love me? DeVries’s bastards litter our seaport. The man has no self control. He’s disloyal, completely untrustworthy…”
Maria walked around her, inspecting Catharyna like a horse to be purchased. “You possess several admirable traits.”
Catharyna grew wary. Compliments always ended in a backlash.
“You are uncommonly tall for a woman, taller than most of the men at Broeckwyck. This is good; it makes them cower in your presence. Your voice is strong and firm in the management of your patroonship with no trace of weakness in your incessant orders. Any evidence of womanly curves is well concealed behind oversized, threadbare sackcloth gowns, much like the beauty of your face that is kept masked behind unyielding harsh and rigid lines. Your lips are your finest feature. They are full and quiet pretty, if only they weren’t more frugal than your tightfisted purse strings in bestowing the tiniest smile.” Maria glared up at her. “Aye, you are far too grand a prize for Captain DeVries!”
Catharyna laughed at the appraisal. “A woman need not have curves in our seaport to entice a man. Look no farther than the whorehouses that host toothless female vermin, riddled with ungodly diseases. Aye, you need not despair, Maria, for when I have need of a man, he comes to me.”
Crimson blossomed up her cousin’s neck and across her face. “Why do you speak such worldly things in my presence when you know I shall never believe you would share yourself so cheaply when you barter for weeks over your supply of needles, kettles and prunes for a beaver’s skin?”
Maria knew her well, but Catharyna could not stop. “For fur, aye, but there is another appetite you have yet to know that men appease in me and I for them – freely.”
“Dear God, forgive her lies!” Maria shouted up at the ceiling and then glared back at her. “Oh, no Ryna, you shall not deceive me for I have witnessed the lustiest sailors flee from the sight of your detestable straw hat—”
“What’s wrong with my hat?” Catharyna went to the looking glass. She made the straw hats herself, making sure they fit her skull tight to capture her ample supply of “wild hair” that Papa detested.
“Everything,” Maria heaved with indignation. “Heed me well, Ryna, for you will be alone if you pursue this stubborn course. You shall get your heir but never again experience the joy of working beside a strong man. Is that not what you loved most about your papa?”
That hit too close to the bone. Catharyna turned away, pretending to fuss with her straw hat. “God will not judge me a sinner when our mother country failed us.”
“No.” Maria shook her head. “We will not discuss this again—”
“Instead of building a viable colony with money that stayed here, the States-General allowed merchants of the West India Company to plunder our colony’s resources to deepen their coffers in Amsterdam. How could we survive being squeezed on both sides from the English with New England at the north and Virginia to the south of us? The bloodsucking English barnacles outnumber us four to one—”
“It is done,” Maria said with her face tight with anger. “There was no battle, simply an amicable peace treaty exchanging our colony for the English sugar trade. Our mother country prized sugar more than us. We all accept it. ‘Tis time you do so as well.”
“Amicable, Maria? If we marry under English law, everything, including ourselves, becomes the property of our husbands. They offer no alternative for a married woman to retain her own property in her own name, and legally manage it before the courts of the land! You expect me to bend in submission and handover all of Broeckwyck to a husband under such barbaric laws?! Bloodsucking barnacles are never satisfied—”
“We agreed never to speak of this again.” Maria grabbed her face and kissed her cheeks. “I abhor being cruel to you, Ryna. Forgive me for speaking of such things the day of your papa’s burial.”
Her sincerity stripped away Catharyna’s armor, exposing the soft underbelly of her vulnerabilities, and it effectively ended the argument. English law would not change, regardless of how loudly she protested against it. Working beside Papa had been the greatest thing in her life. Could she remain alone? Adam had been unhappy in paradise until God created Eve to compliment him, to complete him. Catharyna ignored the dreaded question and hugged Maria tightly, smelling her unique salty-sweet fragrance – an inviting summer beach. “You said what needed to be spoken.”
They drew apart, smiling at each other. “Your uncle has treated my brothers and I as his own blood since our papa died. Indeed, we call him Papa to honor him for it. Please be kind, Ryna. Listen to him.”
With one final glance at Papa, Catharyna left the cozy bedchamber with her cousin and walked through an inner room that was windowless, used for her trade business. A large bartering table covered with piles of beaver skins dominated the room. The desk in a corner of the room had several quills spread across it and an ink pot. Stacked on a bookcase was a series of thick leather bound ledgers. “Ten Broeck” was embossed in gold along their spines.
Catharyna withdrew the key hidden beneath her grown and locked the door. In the hallway, she checked the brass lock on the mahogany armoire, confirming it was secured. The Dutch kaz contained an enviable supply of crisp white linens from Holland. Satisfied all was in order, Catharyna entered the common room with Maria. The savory aroma of warm butter and roasted corn made her mouth water. Papa’s favorite treat, samp, was a native recipe of corn porridge. She intended to eat it at the feast in his honor. The sight of her relatives gathered around the punch bowl, slurping loudly on the spiced rum with their monkey spoons. The scene brought a smile to her face. Papa always criticized their gluttony with free punch.
The women rushed to Catharyna, offering prayers and hugs, along with homemade handkerchiefs. Uncle Pieter approached, looking too much like Papa, tall and thin with brilliant ice-blue eyes. They kissed each other’s cheek in welcome. “Let us speak outside, Ryna.”
* * *
Plump, furry goats roamed freely on the lawns. They followed Catharyna and Uncle Pieter along their journey to the windmill, perched on a knoll that overlooked New York Harbor and Brooklyn. The windmill’s round stone base lay half buried in the earth, an observation deck skirted its belly. Catharyna impatiently led the way upstairs and stood on the balcony, proudly surveying Broeckwyck’s manor house, simply called Manor Hall. Settled on the eastern banks of Manhattan Island, it had an enviable view of the harbor and Brooklyn. Papa had built their home in the style of northern European elegance, distinguished by parapet gables rising from its steeply pitched roof. Its exterior had decorative iron wall anchors that secured the heavy interior framing to the red brick and fieldstone. Broeckwyck’s tenant farmers and vast fields of wheat resided north of Hell Gate with a ferry service managed by the overseer, who lived onsite at the mills.
Catharyna stood a little taller, proudly surveying her property. Yellow-green buds dotted the bushes and tree branches. The apple, pear, and peach blossoms had erupted days ago, mingling the sweet nectar of their blossoms with the salty sea air. Nature’s power and glory to resuscitate itself after a deathlike winter bolstered her hope. “Papa and I would meet here each morning to discuss the day’s activities.”
Uncle Pieter faced her, blocking everything else out. “I have arranged a marriage for you with Johannes Bleecker. His patroonship of 15,000 acres is fertile. He is a good man. Johannes thinks as your father. You will operate Broeckwyck and work beside him at Wildwyck to bring it the same success.”
Catharyna tried to recall Mama’s face but the memory of her had long since faded, whereas Papa roared inside of her, shouting to be heard; and she listened, as always. “What Bleecker has is a troublesome patroonship that begs for tenant farmers to cultivate it. The beaver are long gone. Marriage to me would benefit him greatly, but Broeckwyck?” Catharyna laughed, hearing it float across the valley. “I think not.”
Uncle Pieter’s left eye witched, a sign his anger was growing. The Van Broeck family trait had taken Catharyna years to control. “He is the last Dutchman this side of the Atlantic who will consider being shackled to your biting tongue.”
Catharyna glared right back at him.
“So…” Uncle Pieter resumed, “we will look to Amsterdam for a match. There are several prominent merchants who have expressed great interest, knowing of your father’s personal tutelage of you. Such a marriage would secure Broeckwyck. Imagine the trade you will deal with? Think of the life you will provide to your children? They will live in the greatest port in the world and receive the best education, see the finest paintings, sculptures…”
Catharyna stopped listening. The man was delusional. “You wish me to live abroad? Even the English understand how to settle our land here.”
Uncle Pieter removed an oversized beaver hat from his head and raked away an abundance of salt and pepper curls from his face before repositioning it back in place. With no warning, he reached out and grabbed her arm. “You will not woo me into your web, Ryna! I have heard the tales of horror you have done to good Christian men who now fear you more than eternal hellfire.”
She broke free of his hold, laughing as she put distance between them. The naked fury on his face softened Catharyna’s argument. “Bah! I treated them no differently than Papa had to me during my apprenticeship. Why would I not expect my husband to be equally skilled? Papa and I were greatly disappointed at finding such intolerable weakness—”
Uncle Pieter advanced upon her, snorting loudly. “What man has ever met my brother’s mammoth expectations? This is his greatest legacy to you – a brazen, sharp-tongued shrew! How could you slander our minister, a holy man of the cloth?”
Catharyna’s chin lifted. “Slander? Your holy Domine labeled me the child of the Devil for giving a cup of rum to a Mohican sachem, a visitor in my home. What was I to do? I spoke truthfully, stating what my eyes witnessed: the minister drinks at times.”
“You do not have the authority to speak such a thing—”
“I do have the authority. I was charged and paid the high fee of a beaver’s skin to the Reform Church simply because I do not revel and feast with the minister as you and your friends do—”
He reached out for her throat, but Catharyna swiftly sidestepped to the right and watched with great merriment as Uncle Pieter stumbled to the floor of the observation deck. She offered him a hand of assistance, but he slapped it away.
Slowly, Uncle Pieter stood up. The whites of his eyes now matched the dangerous shade of crimson on his face and neck. He heaved, standing still before her. “Bleecher is the last suitable Dutchman who is willing to marry you. If you reject him, you will marry and live abroad.”
Catharyna focused on standing upright while balancing the weight of Papa’s legacy on her slim shoulders. The inability to fail crushed her chest. Suffocation tightened her throat in a deathlike grip until a piercing whistle ricocheted through the valley and brought her attention to three men departing from a single-masted sloop that was docked in the East River. Two of the men were strangers to her. The shorter man was well known – the English Governor Francis Lovelace.
Uncle Pieter stood in front of her as a shield, a protector. “Ryna, return and prepare for the burial service. I shall join you directly.”
The loyal gesture made their argument fade. She drew closer. “My invitation to Governor Lovelace stated no guests to the burial ceremony. Who are the other men with him?”
Uncle Pieter adjusted his side sword. The helm was encrusted with precious gem stones, a display weapon, nothing more. “The tall fellow is William Hawkins, known as Hawk. He’s the Albany Indian Commissioner since this winter, making him the most important Englishmen in the colony. He has risen quickly. Several years ago, he was my secretary for Hoesenwyck.”
“You hired an Englishman?”
“Hawk has unique talents. They were needed at the time I was travelling. He’s fluent in Dutch, French, and the native dialects.”
“What of his past?” she asked.
“Rumors are abundant. A pirate, a knight of the court, the bastard son of the Duke of York… Regardless if any are true, we must tread prudently with him.”
“And the other man?”
“Fairfax. He follows Hawk in everything.”
The respect in his voice for the man called Hawk made Catharyna concede. “Hail them up. Let us see what news they bring on this solemn day.”
Uncle Peter nodded and raised his hand.
The two Englishman swiftly made their way to the windmill. The sound of their boots running up the staircase to the observation deck attested they took two steps at a time. As they approached, Catharyna gave Hawk a thorough inspection. This man was no ordinary visitor with his great height, dressed in a justacorps. The rich coffee colored knee length jacket was fitted to his waist and flared out below with wide turn-back cuffs. Only the high collar and cuffs of his white shirt were visible under a luscious mohair waistcoat. Aristocrats in Europe wore this level of quality. They were impossible items to obtain in the colony, even to her. His baggy petticoat breeches were ordinary, but not the quality of the flint lock pistols strapped around his waist, and the mahogany musket slung behind his back. The man was loaded down in iron. His side sword alone must have weighed twenty pounds, convincing Catharyna that knives were hidden in his above-the-knees boots. A wide brim beaver hat concealed his hair that was tied tightly behind his neck. A full beard, reddish-brown in color, hid his facial features. The weight of Hawk’s gaze held the mark of a leader, a man accustomed to having his way. He was very good at hiding himself from people, but his ambition was naked to Catharyna’s knowing eye.
The man called Fairfax demanded a slow and steady examination. Dressed in similar garb as his partner, this was a handsome man of rare caliber in the colony. Captain Hendrik DeVries came close in looks, but Fairfax possessed no scars and had a full set of white teeth. Rare, indeed.
Uncle Pieter bowed when the Englishmen stood before them. “Gentlemen, welcome to Broeckwyck. Governor Lovelace, you are well acquainted with my niece, Miss Catharyna Van Broeck, Patrooness of Broeckwyck.”
Governor Lovelace was a cavalier, the English definition of a gentleman. Beneath his beaver hat was loose and wavy hair, falling to his shoulders. His mustache was neatly trimmed. While the man appeared outwardly perfect, Lovelace had no executive abilities and tried far too much to overcompensate, an irritating nuisance. “Miss Van Broeck, I am deeply honored by your invitation to attend your father’s funeral ceremony, knowing you have limited it to family and friends.”
“Welcome to Broeckwyck, Governor Lovelace,” she said, curtsying.
Lovelace bowed. “Dirck the Elder’s death is a great misfortune for our colony, and personal loss to me. He was a dear confidante of mine.”
Catharyna smiled politely, extending a hand for his kiss. She could do no less after the great lengths Lovelace had taken to socialize with Papa, first at the horse races on Long Island, and then instituting a social club for his councilmen to meet at each other’s houses. Papa’s political mastery over Lovelace had been so swift that it had angered the English settlers, who threatened the governor with rebellion, refusing to pay taxes to fortify Fort James, knowing the Dutch would not pay the tax or lift a weapon to defend the English colony.
Uncle Pieter spoke in fluent English, “Ryna, this is Mr. Hawkins and …”
“Fairfax,” the handsome man said, bowing low before her skirts.
Catharyna’s lips spread into a smile. “Welcome to Broeckwyck, gentlemen.”
Hawk bowed swiftly. “Miss Van Broeck, please accept my condolences over the loss of your father. I had the privilege of meeting him this winter. We battled for days against each other in a game of chess.”
The deep rich timber of his voice resonated through Catharyna; sincerity, clear and true, threatening to release the dam of grief brewing within her.
Fairfax’s smile lightened her mood. “I wish we met under more favorable circumstances, Miss Van Broeck. I greatly enjoyed your father’s company. He spoke of you often to us, especially when Hawk refused to utter stalemate. Dirck the Elder said you suffer the same malady.”
Uncle Peter and Governor Lovelace laughed along with Fairfax. Catharyna’s smile tightened. “What news do you bring us, Mr. Hawkins?”
A blush rose steadily from Lovelace’s neck to his face. “This is a time of grieving not of business, gentlemen. Miss Van Broeck, please excuse me while I greet your guests.”
The governor’s words sounded sincere, his actions proved otherwise. Catharyna watched how he left the observation deck far too quickly and hastened his steps to Manor Hall, eager to distance himself from the discussion. When she turned to the other Englishmen, the wall of Hawk’s back now separated her from Uncle Pieter. The hushed undertones of their discussion prickled her ears. No man had ever stood on Broeckwyck soil and blatantly shut her out of a conversation. Anger burned through her skin, causing Catharyna’s hand to tremble when she tapped Hawk’s shoulder. Slowly, his head turned, and there, deep in his blue-gray eyes, she saw the rude gesture had been deliberate. Was it a test? Men had so many.
“Pardon, Miss Van Broeck,” Hawk said far too smoothly and stepped aside to allow her back into their inner circle. “I come on behalf of Chief Aepjin. He has made a claim to the commission that Pieter Van Broeck never made payment to him for a 10,000 acre parcel along the Vis Kill.”
Uncle Pieter looked uncertain. He travelled frequently to Amsterdam to handle the family business, though disinterest prevented him from meeting with the natives and learning their language. “We settled that long ago,” Uncle Pieter said.
Hawk drew closer, casting a shadow over them. “He claims otherwise. The Mohicans are no longer peaceful when defrauded of their land. They trade furs for guns and ammunition to retaliate in such cases.”
Sweat beaded across Uncle Pieter’s forehead. “You were my secretary at that time. You handled the arrangements for me.”
Hawk scowled, a fearsome sight, and said, “I was not permitted to negotiate with the Mohicans on your behalf. Your brother handled this with the Chief.”
Uncle Pieter’s smile faltered. A droplet of perspiration slid down his face. “What am I to do? Dirck the Elder is dead. These agreements are seldom in writing.”
Hawk’s cold stare conveyed his belief that Uncle Pieter had never paid for the land.
Uncle Pieter took an indignant step forward. “I paid Chief Aepjin his due. I will not pay him twice for the land!”
Hawk turned to Catharyna. “Chief Aepjin has given this matter to his son, Minichque, to handle. Minichque trusts Ten Broeck. He will only deal with Ten Broeck.”
Uncle Pieter continued to ramble. “My brother is dead—”
Catharyna saw the challenge in Hawk’s eyes. The man enjoyed testing people, as had Papa who was the finest trainer, and she his finest pupil.
Bong, bong, bong, bong. The church bell rang, again and again, to summon the family for the burial service. Uncle Pieter raised a hand. “I will not discuss this today. My brother is to be placed henceforth in the Van Broeck crypt—”
“I am Ten Broeck,” Catharyna said, speaking it aloud for the first time to white men. The truth released a rush of adrenaline through her veins. The sound of Papa’s funeral bells made her smile widen that it was out of the shadows at last. Papa had adored the misconception that he was Ten Broeck, viewing it as one of his signature pranks, his personal favorite.
Uncle Pieter wasn’t amused. The anger in his eyes was naked, and it shouted at her. “No. Ryna, we must see to your papa now.”
Hawk smiled as though it could erase monumental obstacles. His white teeth glistened beneath his thick auburn beard.
Titan. That was the name Papa had christened their newborn foal who bore the same color, claiming it was the hair color of the Titan Gods of Greek Mythology.
Hawk blocked Pieter from the only exit off the observation deck. “Innocent settlers on your lands are at risk.” He then turned to Catharyna with the appearance of respect, but who ever really knew if it was real? “Miss Van Broeck, I shall escort you to Minichque, and together, we shall resolve this matter.”
Uncle Pieter eyeballed her. His silence elegantly conveyed all his concerns, that this Englishman could not be ignored.
Somehow Hawk had discovered her true identity as Ten Broeck, and she’d never find the rat without going with Hawk, who knew it. The arrogant man stood there with his hand extended in anticipation of her agreement. Unable to inspect his face that was well hidden behind the beard, Catharyna scrutinized his hands, looking for dirt underneath bitten fingernails like most of her clientele. Hawk’s hands were clean as a gentleman’s yet strong, well used and accustom to work. They had to be in order to lift the great sword at his side.
A tingling sensation spread through her body, igniting excitement that plowed through every obstacle. She wanted to go, and that alone made her pause. “First, I must attend to my father. You are welcome to remain as my guests until I give you my answer.”
Hawk bowed as though the invitation was inevitable. Only Fairfax showed the surprise of the grand gesture, struggling visibly to find the appropriate reply until giving up to follow Hawk, who left Broeckwyck’s windmill with purposeful strides toward Manor Hall as though he owned the place.
I’m delighted and soooo excited to introduce you to Catharyna Van Broeck, who is drawn from a real-life, fearless she-merchant who helped build the foundation of New York: Margaret Hardenbroeck DeVries Philipse. Margaret was #22 on my 2015 Celebrating Women’s History list https://ellengullo.wordpress.com/2015/04/14/celebrating-womens-history-22/