TITLE: Between the Devil and the Blue Sea
GENRE: Historical Romance
As Eliza Baxter stepped onto the gangway of the convict ship, Nautilus, a September wind brushed over her cropped scalp. The Union Jack snapped high up the jackstaff as the fog snaked beneath the hem of her regulation prison uniform, a serviceable brown serge stamped by a broad arrow. Between the gaps in the planks, the Thames lapped against the mahogany hull, grey waters ripe with the sewage of London.
She had not survived the past four months to be daunted by the jeers of two hatchet-faced guards.
“Ey, would you look at this fine bit o’ muslin?”
“Hullo love, fancy a bit of leg-over once we make the high seas?”
Dodging between their swagger, they pressed close enough for her to smell the stale gin staining their breath.
Eliza stood before a desk, staring at a pen poised in a manicured hand. She lifted her gaze to meet the impatient face of a young lieutenant.
“I beg your pardon?” she said.
“Your name.” He repeated, ogling her bosom.
“Move your bloody arse Duchess.”
Eliza grimaced at the gravelly voice accompanied by guffaws. Her former cellmate, Bertie.
“Enough,” a tall gentleman commanded from up the quarterdeck, tucking a black ledger under his arm. The small cleft in his chin deepened in annoyance as his daunting stare extinguished the trickle of laughter behind her.
“My name’s Eliza Byrd.” She was relieved to hear herself pronounce her alias convincingly. No telltale hesitation.