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Authors: Patricia Hickman

The Pirate Queen

BOOK: The Pirate Queen
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To Jordan M., who reminds me how easy it is to love
.

And to our friends Judy and Del Arrendale. Judy, you wanted another beach book. Hope you like this one.
Your friendship is a treasure; your prayers kept us afloat
.

Contents

Cover

Title Page

Dedication

Epigraph

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Acknowledgments

Readers Guide

Copyright

 

Well something’s lost, but something’s gained
In living every day

    J
ONI
M
ITCHELL
, “Both Sides Now”

1

My shell is not like this, I think. How untidy it has become! Blurred with moss, knobby with barnacles, its shape is hardly recognizable any more. Surely, it had a shape once. It has a shape still in my mind. What is the shape of my life?

A
NNE
M
ORROW
L
INDBERGH
,
Gift from the Sea

One might have observed that all of the right people had been invited to the Warren estate for the
Southern Living
shoot. The certainty of the Warrens’ happy existence on Lake Norman was firmly set in the minds of the departing guests. Undoubtedly, through the women present, the affair’s success spread off the estate and into the notable neighborhoods. The party had ended, leaving the catering help to stow away the perfectly selected china settings.

Saphora Warren pulled down the balloons, plucking them out of the air and then inserting a straight pin into the latex. As quickly as she dropped the dead latex remains, a teen boy she had hired to clean up after the lawn party picked them off the ground. He had trolled past her dock on his Jet Ski yesterday and, when he saw her sunning on her boat’s deck, had asked in vain for a cold beer.

Lake Norman’s shoreline lapped at the Warrens’ family boat in the distance, the mast a cross against a pale pink manse located transversely
on the opposite harbor. One house sat like a relic on the Warrens’ end of the Peninsula, a reminder of the older ranch houses standing before the year the lake was put in. It was unseasonably hot for late June. The warm brown water turned red along the clay-brimmed lawns.

Several of the guests had driven family boats across the lake, arriving early for the
Southern Living
lawn party. Had not Saphora’s housekeeper, Tabitha, just led the women docking their motorboats and sailboats along the Warrens’ dock into the guest room near the swimming pool to slip into garden dresses and brush out their hair, matted down after a morning of tennis? But here the afternoon had been spilled like sweet tea poured out, the ladies already gathering in clusters to kiss good-bye and float back to their pretty houses across the lake.

Saphora noticed she had forgotten to shave her legs. She pulled down the hem of her skirt as if she were straightening it at the same second Abigail Weed, the journalist from
Southern Living
, noted a few more descriptive details about Saphora’s gardens, the patio containers holding gold black-eyed Susans that turned open faced to the sun. Saphora was popping the balloons so methodically that Sherry, her cook and personal assistant, ran from the kitchen out onto the paved patio yelling, “What in the world?”

“It’s nothing,” said Abigail, taking over, speaking for Saphora, and familiar enough with running
Southern Living
lawn parties like productions that she said to Sherry, “Sherry, can you help Mrs. Warren?”

Sherry took the straight pin from her boss like she would a child who might hurt herself. “Miss Saphora, aren’t you the one to be doing that?” Sherry said, implying that Saphora should not do menial tasks like deflating balloons. But Saphora was not herself today, and that accounted for her giddiness.

Abigail put down her laptop that held the contents of Saphora’s “life on the lake” and joined Sherry in killing the remaining balloons.

“This is some place, Saphora. You live in your own fairy tale,” said Abigail.

“Bender planned it this way from the beginning.” Saphora had not noticed before how the high hedged wall surrounding the estate and the trees of a similar height enclosed the house like an evergreen compound. Bender had commandeered the landscaping crew using words like “picturesque” and “palatial.”

“Bender’s your husband, Dr. Warren?”

“The plastic surgeon. Yes. He invented a procedure.” She did not know why she told Abigail that without her asking. But it was the surgical procedure and its ensuing fame in the medical community that gave Bender the things he needed to order his life. He dressed like a prince, closet arranged like a Manhattan department store. He was tall and good-looking.

When Saphora had gotten around to telling Bender the call had come from
Southern Living
, he was dressing in a golf shirt for his Sunday morning game. He patted her as he sprinted out the door, telling her she was using up the magic from her lucky star. He spread envy, she was pretty sure, as he putted over the third hole. She imagined him mentioning the
SL
lawn party in a casual way, like doctors do.

This morning he had taken one final turn around the rear lawn, proud the house was selected for the
Southern Living
magazine spread. Practically speaking, a write-up about them could affect home value in a sagging economy.

Not showing up for the lawn party was his way of making himself elusive so that he would become the subject of the party’s talk. Saphora knew her lines just as she knew Abigail would have fished
around the subject of Bender’s illustrious career until she acquiesced. So Saphora helped her cut to the point she was after. One last time. It was not that she owed him anything. Promoting Bender was a fulltime habit.

“I heard about that award,” said Abigail. “Back in the nineties, right? It’s all over the Internet. You must be the envy of all your friends.”

Saphora looked at the four remaining women still mingling on the patio. “I don’t know.” She smiled. A faint laugh fluttered out of her throat. She was not as fast as Bender with words. She would lie awake, and the right thing to say would come to mind. But too late. Her brain was about to explode from storing so many unsaid things. Thinking deeply rather than broadly presented so many lost opportunities.

Saphora was curious about Abigail’s life in Florida. She imagined Abigail writing clever descriptive phrases about the photographs of the places where she had traveled. She made fast friends, probably had to with her schedule. Abigail was a woman who did not care whether her clothes were designer made or factory overruns. There was an attitude about her that Saphora defined as gypsy. A woman who lived to cull out the far-flung corners of the universe.

Sherry joined Abigail, and the two of them set to reopening the still-inflated balloons, sucking the helium out of them. Sherry sang, “La la la la.” Abigail laughed. Then Sherry laughed until Mark Ng, the photographer, walked up on them.

“I’ve got to head back to Tampa,” he said to Abigail.

“You’re always the spoilsport, Mark,” said Abigail. The helium was still constricting her vocal chords.

Mark hefted his camera bag and walked away from them. Saphora had never met a more somber young man. He did not like
or want to keep any of the photographs using the lake as a backdrop, calling the lake “too brown to photograph.” Saphora overheard him ask Abigail if it would be improper to colorize the lake photographs blue, but Abigail was a purist. “It’s a lake, Mark, not the ocean.” As soon as he walked away, she said to Saphora, “He’s a coast dweller. He doesn’t get lake life.”

Saphora liked Abigail right from the start because of her secret admiration for cynical women. Abigail whispered sharp criticisms into her ear; she was good at assessing people on sight. That was evident as each Peninsula wife had arrived browned from playing tennis on clay courts. “There’s one with plenty of time on her hands,” she would say.

Abigail was good, however, at bringing people she liked into her circle. She took Saphora into her confidence at the outset, making Saphora feel elevated, as if she and Abigail were circling overhead, their communal laughter falling down on the mortals below.

The few remaining guests lined up along the courtyard quad to offer polite farewells to Saphora, but mostly to ogle Abigail, hoping against hope she would use her magical influence to pick their house for a photo shoot. But today was reserved: Pick Saphora Day.

One of the women was a naturalist named Erin Guff. She thanked Saphora for Bender’s donation to her pet ecological fund.

BOOK: The Pirate Queen
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