Carry Me Away ~ Book 2 in the Blue Wren Shallows Series.
Release Day – November 5
Today is one of those giddy days in the life of an author. I’m delighted to finally share with you the gorgeous Carry Me Away cover, (featuring my beautiful daughter Sophie) as well as a few other reader goodies.
But first…behold… the stunning cover and story blurb.
(All promo images courtesy of the super-talented Rel Mollet)
Inspired by the incredible true story of an Australian shipwreck
and those who survived to tell the tale.
When the Black Swallow sinks off the Australian coast in 1877, Australian midshipman Tom Darley rescues English passenger Ada Carmichael from the disaster that claims her entire family. News of the only two survivors enchants the world, but Ada needs to hide before secrets and old foes find her. Tom is chasing big dreams of a crumbling house he will convert into a small hotel ~ but the promising start he’s acquired now sits at the bottom of the sea.
Inexplicably entangled, Ada and Tom lean upon each other to make sense of the tragedy that’s displaced them. But when scheming journalists observe their affection they drag Tom into life-altering riches and a news-worthy romance he cannot resist. So he arranges for Ada’s protection where only he might find her ~ the quiet Phillip Island farm of his friends Shadrach and Finella Jones.
And that’s where real trouble finds them. When heroic promises fail to shelter, and love refuses to be silenced, only surrender will pluck Ada and Tom from where life has wrecked them.
I’m really excited to share Carry Me Away. A story premise I fell in love with the first time I heard about the Australian shipwreck disaster that saw two young survivors emerge from the sea… forever changed. (More about the real shipwreck and its amazing location in my next post.)
If you’d like to pre-order your digital copy of Carry Me Away, the link is now live on Amazon for immediate delivery to you on RELEASE DAY, NOVEMBER 5. This special price is limited to the pre-order period and will revert to the full price when that ends.
Soon, the Amazon link will also include print options to purchase, as well as a look into the first chapter.
But I don’t want you to wait.
So I am including chapter 1 here. Because your encouragement and support sustained me during the writing of this book, and I want you to sneak into the opening scenes with me, TODAY.
So grab the drink of your choice, get comfy, and let the story begin…
Carry Me Away
September 15, 1877
Aboard the Black Swallow
En route to Melbourne, Australia
They say there is a place where bottles thrown into the sea sink and never reappear. A crevice so deep, not even the ocean can churn that far, and that is where they wish for me to send this letter. Ruby insists we are almost there.
I am not so quick to believe. I have seen the past return, no matter how far it has been flung. It haunts from the gutter and throws stones at the window. It follows fast like a vengeful admirer.
Of all my sisters, Ruby is the one most taken by the Black Swallow sailors. From them she has heard we are to pass that very depth before sunrise. She has begged me to write this foolishness for weeks, and I have denied her. But the days have fast run out, and even before a hint of dawn, Ruby has delivered to our cabin an empty cobalt bitters bottle, procured from Father’s medicine bag, along with paper and ink pot.
Like all children, Charlotte and Jane sleep. But Ruby paces and hovers, determined to see me throw the bottle while we are still in open seas. “Any shallower and it may not sink deep enough,” she says. She watches while I write. Holds the candle high for light to spill over my page. Etched in mischief, she wears the secret of stories we once wrote together. Only now, the tale has overtaken our pen and writes itself on pages we dare not read.
But in her eyes, I see the sisterly quest for my wholeness. It, too, borrows from our innocent days. Perhaps it may return us there. And so I race the sun, with words I pray will claim our new start with the force of every wave that ripples the fathoms between here and Boxford.
If you, Harris Dobey, were to ever read them, here’s what you would find.
I am headed to a place of peace and freedom.
For I am Ada Carmichael now. And you will never find me.
Hours Later, Aboard the Black Swallow
Estimated Arrival Day
The guts of the Black Swallow rumbled.
An underwater roll of thunder banged and bickered from the seabed. Ada threw off her blanket and cracked the cabin door open to the sound of awakenings. Muffled voices. Doors slamming. The distant call of those in command and the fast reply of those who executed orders.
Hours before sunrise, the thick of night churned with ruin.
“Ada, Ruby!” Father stumbled from the shadows. His greying hair stood on end, and the flesh on Ada’s neck prickled in a sick mix of obedience and fear. Still in his nightclothes, Father held a lamp high and bathed the corridor in ghoulish flickers.
“We’ve drifted in the fog. Struck rock. Tie these on. And hurry to the deck.” He threw a mess of cork belts at Ada. “Four. One each.”
The belts hit her belly with the force of a full-fisted punch. Drifted? Rock? An iron ship like the Black Swallow?
“And don’t bother dressing. There’s no time.” Father left as he’d arrived, breathless and splintering the night with words of haste. He opened doors without knocking. “Get out. Now.”
Ada reached for Ruby’s hand and clenched hard. Commands to drop anchors boomed from above. To not go there, to stay in groups. Panic rose in the wail of babies plucked from their beds and cries for help broke the predawn with a cacophony usually reserved for Ada’s nightmares. Behind her, the sleepy questions of her younger sisters reminded Ada whom she must serve first.
Her fingers trembled to loop ugly cork-belt laces around their silk embroidered nightdresses. Feeble threads meant to bind them to life. First Jane, then Charlotte. Slumber warm, the girls blinked in unbearable dreamlike slowness.
“Wake up, dearest. Properly.” Ada shook Jane by the shoulders. Together, she and Ruby secured their sisters, then worked on their own belts.
“Struck rock? As in hit something?” Ruby’s voice trembled.
Set the tone. Keep them calm. “Perhaps we’re only stuck.”
Mother burst in. White-faced, she beckoned with both arms. The end of her thick, plaited hair swung like a corn-silk rope. “This isn’t good, girls,” she whispered. “Hurry.”
Charlotte and Jane went first. They stumbled from their sleep to where Father waited, cork belts fastened around their middles, dismay and disbelief fixed over them like oilskin mantles.
“My belt’s tangled.” Ruby shook the life preserver as if she might frighten the rope to life.
Ada snatched the mess of cords and exchanged it with her own. “Take mine.” She knotted the loops around her sister’s waist. “Now, help Mother with the girls. I am right behind you.” She pushed Ruby out and worked to unwrap the tangled device left for her. “Go!”
The ship rumbled with another scrape, then a sickening jolt. It knocked Ada off her feet, swung the cabin door on its hinge, and slammed it shut. The candle blew out and darkness locked her in.
“Oh no…no!” She scrunched the cork belt into a ball, crawled to the door, but the ship canted and she fumbled for the latch.
“Ada!” Ruby screamed from the corridor.
“I’m coming.” Ada yanked the door open and tried to swallow, but her throat refused to obey.
Father’s lantern flickered. Held high for his wife, his daughters, and whoever hitched themselves to his care. “They’re lowering the boats. Come…”
Other lanterns dotted the deck. Shrill orders to follow, to stay close, and to hurry stole all reality from the cold night air. Ada tried to keep up with her family, but her chest felt like it would cave in.
Don’t leave me.
A sick tilt carried the ship to where ships should never go. Higher and off-kilter and taken by the pull of ancient tides beneath its belly, it slammed into the reef below. A long strike of fire shot into the dark. Iron on iron. Sparks from the sea.
She glimpsed Father up ahead. As always, courage planted firmly in his posture. Firm and decisive, even in the face of calamity, he looked for the best remedy. “Ada, hasten!”
He reached for her and she pushed forward, but calamity had its own devices. And in the shift of time when the sun found its footing on the horizon and Ada lost hers, the Black Swallow began her final list.
The sea charged over the ship in vicious waves. Bodies slammed into one another. They slid and fought for something, anything, to hold them up. All semblance of what she knew to be true and upright fell around her like a dollhouse upended by a petulant child.
Ada toppled against a wall of crates and landed on her shoulder. A row of empty chicken coops, where the cooks had housed their hens before slaughter, tumbled upon her. They crushed her back and met with her knees in such a surge of pain it spun her head.
Her fists uncurled to ward off the obstacles, but nothing worked. Not her fingers, not her voice, not even her sense of direction.
The life-ending shrieks of her sisters meshed with her own.
Wait for me, please…Ruby…please…God.
Crewmen sent orders too late to be followed. A disbelieving mother screamed for her child at the end of her fingertips, too soon lost from her grip. And the sea replied in ugly voice from icy depths, greedy and greedier still, swallowing all that slipped into its watery threshold in waves that lashed the decks of the Black Swallow.
“Ada!” Ruby cried through the chaos that divided them. “Let the cork belt hold you afloat.”
Ada sought her sister and their eyes locked. Separated by fresh terror, they reverted to the unspoken language they’d used in the thick of night when other terrors engulfed them. When only the cradle of Ruby’s hand erased the ugly emptiness left by all that had been snatched.
Ruby held on to the ship’s rail with one hand and clasped her cheek with her palm. Be brave, Sister.
Ada replied in kind, her fingers hard against her own cheek, her jaw wet with tears. I love you, dear one.
As if they knew in the next moment another wave would widen over them in a crash and scoop all onboard into the sea.
She braced herself, but nothing prepared her for the gnarled knuckles of the sea. They tipped and took, and only when they tossed her into the inky foam did Ada discover she no longer clung to her cork belt.
Tom Darley sank onto the sand. He doubled over onto his knees and a stream of water ran off his hair and seeped through his ripped uniform. Black Swallow midshipman ashore at last. But not to the homecoming he’d dreamed. On either side of the quiet beach, the limestone cliffs of a gorge hemmed him in. Any other sunlit morning the refuge would have resembled paradise. But not today.
Today the sun shone over salty graves.
Surely he had not been the only one left to wrestle with God.
“If I am to live, why not deliver me?” His desperate plea had echoed off the upturned lifeboat he’d clung to all night. “After all I have endured, what good am I half dead? Spare me. Or send me to the crowded depths. I cannot hold on any longer.”
But even with a sinking ship at his heels, the memory of his mother’s will for him to embrace all that life offered rose into his weakening spirit. “Hold on.”
The Egerton Family Hotel had welcomed him in at age fifteen with a guaranteed income. Now, more than a decade later, was this sun-drenched morning to be his last working day?
“Hold on, Tom, no matter what.” He let the memory of her words float closer. Her attention transfixed by a tiny seed pearl he’d stumbled upon that fateful first workday, many years before he sought to swap the horrors of home and the death of his parents for the therapy of open seas.
“Life is stolen from poor folks like us every day, Tom-Tom, and justice rarely pays a visit when you live in Melbourne’s slums. When you do what’s right, as you have done, and something good lands in your lap you hold on.” Mum had crushed his dirty hands with her own, the seed pearl held within like a promise. “And you don’t ever give it back. Because this is God making a way where there is no way.”
Pulled by visions of lost seed pearls and hotel dreams, Tom had held on until his knees dragged along the sand where gulls called overhead. The smashing surf did nothing to mask the death cries that rattled his sea-warped mind.
Pain ripped from his joints, so he must be alive. Fatigued beyond exhaustion, his lungs flamed. Was this mercy? Because it didn’t look like justice.
He crawled to the mouth of a wide cave. Maybe if he slept, he’d wake to the sound of Benny playing the trumpet. Maybe.
Benny! If you’re gone too, mate, then I’ve lost everything.
Putting the cave wall between him and the wreck, he gave in to the longing to wake up in heaven, or something close to it. Anything but the hell he knew would torment his mind.
Sleep came in bursts. Hot and deep and then brittle, like fragile bones broken by his own breath. He brushed sand from his sweaty cheek. Water ran from his ear. It muddled his hearing.
He shook his head to dampen the imagined cries he knew would haunt the rest of his days. Clear as the ones he’d heard all night. Clearer than the ones he’d battled in the agonies of sleep. He blinked at the blue-green sparkle of sea that ran in and out of the gorge like a teasing pup.
“Help.” A voice called again from beyond the shallows. “Please…help me.”
Terror cinched inside him. It was not a dream. The voice was real.
He stood, stumbled, and fell. Back up, back to the water’s edge. How was someone left after all these hours?
There. Someone bobbed in deeper water. A girl? Her head rested on a mash of wood and wire. Her long hair floated like seaweed stuck to the pillars of a pier, tangled and taken by the waves in whichever direction they fancied.
A man of the sea, Tom had learned to face a storm on his feet. But the sight of her buckled his stride at the knees. Ada Carmichael? One of Dr. Carmichael’s daughters? He knew them all. Had watched them from behind his violin during Vespers.
She never missed twilight prayers. Even when her younger sisters fought seasickness, she would slip in for Vespers, which marked the end of another day. Unlike most passengers who journeyed with unbridled delight, Miss Ada carried with her a different kind of awareness. An awakening he’d never seen in a young woman before. A breathing, crying hunger for freedom he knew only too well. It billowed for him too in the sails above them, thick with promise, charging her and the promenade saloon with a current of expectancy he did not want to miss. So he made sure the master added violin playing to his duties. Every evening.
Another wave nudged her closer. Through a veil of wet hair, some plastered over her mouth and brow, she opened her eyes. “Tom?”
God in heaven! It was Ada Carmichael. He willed himself back into the water. Thigh deep, then in two long steps, past his hips, into a wave that pounded his chest and threw him under. He succumbed to the cold depths once more.
Every muscle aflame, they plumbed for energy he didn’t know a battered body could hold in reserve. But like him, she’d found the courage to fight the night sea, and he’d do whatever it took to save her.
“Reach for me.” He swam closer and held out his hand.
“I’m caught.” A small wave slapped her face. “This coop…” she spluttered, “…is keeping me afloat but it’s…twisted in my nightdress.”
Tom tried to push the cage away. It held fast. He felt around it for where a barb must have snagged her garment. He’d have to rip her free.
She watched him. Shivering. Blue lipped and wide eyed at his efforts. How many hours had it been since he’d made it ashore? Four, five? Had Ada Carmichael bobbed in the sea that whole time?
He held the twist of wire and distressed girl as if his own life depended on it.
“Help me. Please,” she cried. “Please…come get me.” She looked right at him and grabbed the ripped V of his sailor collar.
Had the freezing waters pushed her to delirium? Tom dragged her arm over his shoulder. “Hold on to me, no matter what.”
One arm for the girl and the other arm for treading water, he wrapped one of his legs around her body and prayed his other foot had enough paddle left in it to propel them to shore.
With his teeth he grabbed whatever material he could and pulled, hard. Hard enough to rip the gown and just enough to start the unraveling of Miss Ada.
She cried out with fresh pain and her elbow jabbed him in the shoulder.
“Ow, easy now. Don’t fight me.” Seawater filled his mouth. He spat it out, but her hair clung to his face. A tangle of girl and gown filled his blurry vision. Almost there.
A second tug at the nightdress with his teeth and the coop gave way. It floated off, with a chunk of her hair for a tail, torn clear from her head. He’d added to her agony and the realization, like a blade to the lung, almost sank him.
She closed her eyes. But she did not let go. So he carved a way for them with slow, impossible reaches through waves that had toyed with and won bodies that now lay beneath them. They hit sand and her legs refused to walk, so he dragged her out and deposited her with care in the same cave where she’d roused him from sleep.
“Help me, Tom. Help me.” Blood ran from behind her ear, from a gash on her thigh, and from two more cuts on her shoulders. The torn, wet scraps of material clinging to her battered body hid little of her injuries. But her slipping hold on reality concerned Tom more than her flesh wounds.
“Miss Carmichael, we’re safe now. I promise. Look.” He grabbed a fist of sand and let it trickle into her palm. “Dry land. We’re not in the water anymore.”
She peered at her fingers, as if they were as foreign to her as the ground she’d stepped on.
“Land?” She shivered and rubbed her one exposed shoulder. Her hair dripped in slick ends and stabbed the sand at her bleeding feet.
Her gaze drifted to the sea. “There’s no one left, is there?” Desolation poured from her voice. It ran over them in thin streams of blood from lacerations exchanged for life, and he knew the horror that closed in on her.
There was no one left for him now, either.
He pressed her to sit in the cave hollow. “Wait here.”
The iron hull cradled most of her cargo, but fragments had already washed up in mangled puddles of furniture, barrels, and twisted timbers. He raced back to the beach, toppled crates over until he found what he needed, and kicked open the slats for the slender bottle necks within. In the absence of anything a doctor might prescribe, Gulliver’s Brandy would have to do.
But when he returned, she had slipped into a whimpering surge of shivers and sightless panic.
He knelt beside her, swiped the matted hair from her cheeks, and grabbed her ice-cold face. “Miss Ada?”
Bafflement shook her head. Irregular breaths rose and plummeted. A searching, a drowning that would drag her back over and over.
This was one. But there would be more. Sudden loss trampled the soul into bleak abandonment. His own childhood had taught him that cold lesson more than once.
She needed heat.
They both did.
He pulled her close and held her tight. Her heartbeat rang in the screaming cavity of his chest. Both of them raw, almost stripped bare, he had no other layer with which to protect her. No blanket. No fire.
How would she go on from here with no one beside her?
How would he?
Instinct bent his frozen frame and he pressed his trembling lips to hers for the kiss of life. The desperate grab to kindle or be kindled? He could not tell, so intimate, so hasty the collision. And while her bruised lips did not move, their desperate breaths mingled in a fiery gasp. It sliced through his defenses and climbed under his skin.
She looked at him. “Tom?”
“Ada. I’m right here. Stay with me, now.”
She touched his jaw. “You’re…bleeding, too.”
Even in her distress, she offered warmth that collected him in with a hot jolt. He stared back. “I’ll…be fine. We’ll tend to you first.” He tapped the scavenged amber bottle on the side of the cave mouth and knocked the top off. Ragged rocks had done enough damage, as had his grab for her from the coop wire. Lord help him, he’d not risk one glass shard falling where it might cut her.
“Why we survived when no one else did is beyond me, but I know this much. The real fight is ahead of us. Here…” He poured a measure into his cupped palm and held out the offering. “Drink this.” Before it slipped through his fingers.
She lapped it up as if it had no burn.
Ripped at the seams, his sailor’s shirt hardly held together. He yanked off what remained and used it to wipe her knees and feet. If he faced her, he’d keep the scar on his back hidden. There was no use tending to her terror while exposing her to more.
He rubbed another brandy scoop over her shoulders and along her collarbone without reaching below the neckline of what remained of her shredded nightdress. Another splash and he worked on her elbows all the way to her fingertips. Her knees received the same warming treatment before he massaged her calves and mangled feet.
She didn’t even flinch. And the terror that kept her from feeling clawed at him, too.
The last dregs of brandy he saved for himself, still shaking and parched. Still fighting to save the girl who slipped in and out of the unthinkable they’d survived together.
Think of her. Nothing else. Don’t let the desperate voices in.
He set the bottle aside and burrowed behind her, knees up, his disfigured back against the cave wall, her back to his naked chest. He gathered her close, wrapped his arms around her, and made a cleft for her to hold.
She melded into him and shivered one more time, but her chin rested on his arm and sleep soon took hold.
Her breathing slowed and her grip softened. But the nightmare remained in her mind as sure as it did in his, for in less than a minute she cried out and tightened her grasp. “Tom?”
“I’m here.” He pulled her closer and stroked her temple. “I’ve got you. Break loose, now. Carry away.” He spoke nautical words over her, reserved for saner days. For frayed ropes and spars that broke free and washed from their mooring. “Carry away…to me.”
And only when he warmed her cheek with his palm, did Ada fall asleep again in his arms. He kept his hand there, on the pulse of life that ran under her skin, not only to secure her peace, but because in reaching for her and in holding her safe, she had wrestled some of the rusty memories that had followed him through the night and run aground with him into the new day.
And no other girl had ever done that for Tom Darley.
Heat engulfed her. Sweat slid down her leg. Her skin and bones ached all over, like they’d been pelted with rocks and doused in flames.
Ada licked her dry lips and tasted blood. She touched her face with the back of her hand and sand fell from her fingers. Sand?
She sat up to the sight of a beach so God-breathed, it sparkled as if every shade of heaven’s emeralds had fallen from the sky. Only there, on the shore, lay fragments of the Black Swallow. The washed-up collision of everyone she cared for in this life with the sea that had claimed them all. Mother, Father, Ruby, Charlotte, and Jane.
A tide of gall filled her mouth and she vomited onto the sand. She remembered now. The sound of those with nothing to hold on to had raged around her. The terrified beatings of bodies who fought the raging deep.
And then the silence of surrender.
Oh, how much worse to her ears than the screams. All of them…gone?
She knelt again and pressed her forehead into the cool sand. Her breath wasn’t enough. Not how she needed it. Shallow. Oh, how she needed to breathe…
How long had she floated on that coop? The Black Swallow had gone down before the sun had found them, but now… She peered into the sky. It hung noon-high. She rubbed her swollen eyes. She had not given up. Held on to hope until…
Her eyes snapped open. She’d held on to Tom Darley. The Australian midshipman. The one who played the violin. He’d carried her out of the water and then…a warm shadow? A spark of something? His bleeding jaw. Her mind refused to tell it all.
This much she knew for sure, she’d fallen asleep in his…
“Tom?” She tried to scream but a husky sound echoed off the cave wall. The voice of one who’d screamed until no voice remained. She had called him Tom. And he had wiped her feet with his shirt and called her Ada and let her sleep in his arms.
She gathered the ripped nightdress. It hardly reached her knees. And her mind snagged on the memory of Tom’s skin. No more than a glimpse. Had she dreamt it? A brutal scar that sliced across his lower back in a deep pink furrow she’d spied when he’d tended to the cuts on her bare legs.
Laced behind her neck, her fingers fought for a hold on reality. But broken fingernails caught on her hair, and under her left ear, a tender patch on her scalp left no doubt—the hen coop had kept her alive, at a price.
The cackle of bird laughter warbled across the beach, mocking her bare feet, her ripped scalp, her rent heart. It roared and rolled, half music, half temper, but faded on the wings of the wind.
A voice. And then another one. The commotion of people walking in hurried, slipping steps reached the place where she sat. This landing place in a new homeland Father had chosen. Oh, if only the voices belonged to one of her own. Please God…
“Ada.” Tom crouched before her. “I’ve found help. There’s a sheep station up the cliff. They’ve sent word about the wreck, and they’ll help us up to the homestead.”
He wore his tattered navy-blue shirt. More a nod to decency than proper attire, it looked as mangled as her nightdress. He filled it well, with muscles she knew turned violin strings to songs. Harnessed the wind. Battled the sea for her, and won. Because of him, she now knew the solid warmth of a man’s naked chest. His soft breath on her neck. His calming hand on her face.
Dizziness swept over her in waves.
She grabbed him by the forearms. “They’re all gone, aren’t they? There’s…no one…”
He shook his head in wordless confirmation, and her heart told her it must be true. Her hands slipped to his palms. In sailor fashion, a barn-swallow tattoo graced his right wrist, and a tiny pulse flickered the wing tip, only just visible to the naked eye.
An older man and young boy stood behind Tom.
“Listen.” He squeezed her hands. “The cliff isn’t easy to climb, but I’ll be right beside you. Once we get up, they’ll attend to our injuries and then…”
Ada waited but he didn’t finish. What then awaited them?
“I won’t leave you. I promise. Ready?”
She nodded, stood, and gathered as much of the nightgown to cover her exposed shoulder. The older man tore off his jacket and draped it over her.
“This way, miss.”
He assured them there was a safer path than the one Tom had taken. But the cliffside track of spindly bushes was no warm welcome. She tripped on a shallow root, even before they’d made a proper start.
“You’ll never make it up barefoot like that. Here.” The younger boy unlaced his boots and handed them to Ada. “Me bare feet are used to this slope.”
Ada held the shoes against her belly like the knot of cork vests her father had thrown at her. Heat prickled her temples and grew into the whack of a headache. God had not only wiped the slate clean, He’d thrown it against the rocks and broken it to pieces. Had her family known the golden promises they sailed into looked this grim, they’d have begged for a different punishment.
A cake of dry mud fell from the bottom of one of the boots and showered her naked feet in dust. If this was God’s charity, then she’d never call on Him again. She’d make her own way from here. Even if it meant walking in someone else’s shoes.
“Let me help.” Tom made her sit. “They’re big but they’ll do.” He slipped one foot in, then the other, and tugged the laces tight.
She watched him bind the good lad’s boots to a bad girl’s feet. A girl who thought she’d outrun trouble at last and who’d only now woken to find it tethered to her. As promised.
Thank you for reading this far!
You’re awesome and you’re already up to chapter 2. I hope you enjoyed this peek into Carry Me Away and that you will head on to the pre-order link now and make it ALL YOURS.