Patricia Hickman The Pirate Queen

ISBN 13: 9781400072002

The Pirate Queen

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Treasure is found in the most unlikely places.

The envy of all her friends, wife and mother Saphora Warren is the model of southern gentility and accomplishment. She lives in a beautiful Lake Norman home, and has raised three capable adult children. Her husband is a successful plastic surgeon--and a philanderer. It is for that reason that, after hosting a garden party for Southern Living magazine, Saphora packs her bags to escape the trappings of the picturesque-but-vacant life. 

Saphora’s departure is interrupted by her husband Bender’s early arrival home, and his words that change her life forever: I’m dying.
 
Against her desires, Saphora agrees to take care of Bender as he fights his illness. They relocate, at his insistance, to their coastal home in Oriental—the same house she had chosen for her private getaway. When her idyllic retreat is overrun by her grown children, grandchildren, townspeople, relatives, and a precocious neighbor child, Saphora’s escape to paradise is anything but the life she had imagined. As she gropes for evidence of God's presence amid the turmoil, can she discover that the richest treasures come in surprising packages?

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About the Author:

PATRICIA HICKMAN, author of acclaimed novel Painted Dresses, is an award-winner, speaker and humorist who has won two Silver Angel Awards for Excellence in Media as well as a Romantic Times Reader’s Choice Gold Award for her novel Katrina’s Wings. Patricia holds a master’s degree in creative writing from Queens University and enjoys biking, hiking, and mapping out the Southern towns where her novels are set.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Chapter One
 
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?
ANNE MORROW LINDBERGH, 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.
 
Bender had not mentioned donating to Erin’s charity.
 
“That husband of yours is generous to a fault,” said Erin.
 
Her tone was affected. She was hiding something, Saphora decided.
 
Erin lobbied for environmental interests along the Outer Banks, like educating homeowners about how lawn fertilizer polluted the ocean. Saphora admired her activism if only because it seemed so daring. She admired anyone unafraid to confront and wished she could have that kind of boldness. But Erin’s subversive tactics were not admirable.
 
Today Erin stood like a centerpiece among the other Peninsula wives. She wore a white strapless dress picked up in New York, not like the other women, who dressed like colorful birds from Charlotte boutiques. She looked away for a millisecond, long enough for Saphora to come to the conclusion that she had slept with Bender. Saphora should not have invited her to the party. Now that she thought about it, women had weakened Bender’s character.
 
Erin turned to face her again. “I love you dearly, Saphora. You’re a treasure.” She said it as if she had found wings and flown between Saphora and Abigail.
 
Saphora let Erin kiss her cheek. But it left an itch.
 
Mark came alongside Saphora as she unthreaded a silk garland out of the trellis. “Thank you for letting us crash in today, Saphora,” he said.
 
“Can you send some of the pictures to me?” she asked Mark. “I can pay you.”
 
Mark’s sleeve brushed her forearm. He packed up the camera but seemed to take his time. Stalling was what a man like Mark did when he wanted to linger around a woman. He awkwardly interjected idle chatter, unlike her husband, who was never without exactly the right thing to say. Saphora was terrible at flirting. She had once filled out one of those personality quizzes that assessed her flirting skills. She was in the one percentile of women who did not know how to flirt. Not knowing how to flirt seemed to make her better, less like Bender.
 
“Sure. Here’s what it’ll cost you. Tell me how you make your barbecue sauce,” Mark said to Saphora. He winked, she was pretty sure. Very charming, an Asian man’s wink. She walked alongside him toward the front gate. The back of his hand brushed the back of her hand. He was not so somber after all.
 
Saphora had not cooked one of the twenty or more dishes for the staged party. Sherry had whipped up the sauce in between cooking two other dishes. “It’s the chili peppers,” she told him, sounding more southern than usual, probably because Mark seemed to expect it from her. “And brown sugar. Sherry can tell you.” She had a terrible memory for the details of what went into a sauce or any combination of ingredients that came together so perfectly as to draw admiration. Memory was not her strong suit. She could go downstairs for a cold cola, and the next thing she knew she’d be staring into the dryer trying to remember why she came downstairs. “Sherry’s around here somewhere,” she told him.
 
“Did I hear my name?” Sherry sidestepped Saphora, flirting above her boss’s missed opportunity. She was African American, tall, leggy. The kind of woman who would turn heads if she could only afford the right clothes. But her voice was still so helium bloated that
Mark turned away.
 
“I’ll e-mail you, Mrs. Warren,” he said. “Just so you know, you’re the nicest hostess I’ve photographed so far.”
 
Saphora hung on Mark’s compliment and his gaze until he broke eye contact and headed through the gate for his car.
 
Sherry finished with the catering company’s associate, who was responsible for packing up the remaining folding chairs. The last of the chairs disappeared into the delivery truck. Soon the lawn was clean again, although trampled.
 
Sherry said, “This is the best party we’ve ever had, Miss Saphora. You impressed the fool out of those ladies from the Peninsula Club. Not a one will ever top this.”
 
“Because of you, Sherry. You should take the rest of the day now,” said Saphora, “for yourself.” That should get her out of the way.
 
“But what about dinner? Dr. Warren, he’s home by dark tonight, he told me.”
 
“We’ll warm up leftovers. You cooked plenty, enough for an emerging country.”
 
“I am beat, for sure. I got to prop up my dogs.”
 
“Go home and rest. As a matter of fact, take tomorrow off too Paid, I mean. You deserve it.”
 
She caught Sherry off guard.
 
Saphora walked her to the back entry where Sherry had parked her Kia. She helped Sherry into her car and told her to check in with Dr. Warren Thursday morning. Sherry continued to resist being brushed out of the house so quickly. “I saw your suitcase lying open on the bed when I was putting up your clean towels, Miss Saphora.
 
You going somewhere?” she asked.
 
“Oriental,” said Saphora, not looking directly at Sherry. The Outer Banks beach house Bender bought five summers back, in the coastal village of Oriental, had stood empty for all that time. “You should have told me. I could have driven up a day ahead and stocked up for summer. You know how cobwebs take over.”
 
“I’m in a stocking mood,” said Saphora. “It’s therapeutic.”
 
“Not for me. It’s just plain old work.”
 
Saphora ran out of excuses. The late afternoon hour was swimming away, and she needed to get her cook and personal assistant out from under foot. “I left that bag of costume jewelry for you in the bathroom. Did you find it?”
 
Sherry was on to her. She kept her eyes on Saphora in a manner showing her unease with leaving her mistress to organize dinner. “I did. That’s some of your good stuff. You all right, Miss Saphora?”
 
“Better than most.” It was only costume jewelry; Sherry liked the junkier accessories. She looked good in bright costumey pieces that cheapened other women’s looks. “This is your bowling night. Jerry is
waiting for you.”
 
“You know me too good, Miss Saphora.” She took her time putting her pocketbook in the backseat, her apron in the passenger seat, folded too neatly for something she was about to put in the wash. She finally climbed into the car. There was a moment when she looked as
if she was still conflicted over leaving.
 
“Have fun bowling,” said Saphora.
 
Sherry closed the door and started her engine.
 
“Bye!” Saphora managed to get her sent off, down the drive and out the gate.
 
A food smell hung in the kitchen. It followed Saphora up the staircase and into the bedroom when she realized it was she who smelled like everything that had been cooked from four this morning on. The steamed clams and chili-soaked shrimp were for the time being a part of the fabric clinging to her skin. She peeled off the blouse and the woven silk skirt and slipped into the shower. The dual shower heads shot the water at her skin like tiny bullets. T...

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