American Gulf Coast, Revolutionary War 1775-1783
...A way of looking in his eyes and finding the man he wanted to be.Such beautiful prose!!
--The Creole Princess, 105
The Creole Princess divides lines of color, accent, or caste designed to inhibit and separate those so beloved from each other. A story of acceptance and seeing with eyes of reality, surrounded by changing directions, as a stormy day turned to the bright inkling of sunshine reveals what really is. Obscured but for a moment against tempest of control among the shoreline, hidden from view, or supposed so. Don Rafael Maria Gonzales de Rippardá has come to gather information, but instead, has found his own heart in tune with the waves and flowering scents amid the tall buildings overlooking the harboring ships unloading what has survived the plunder at sea. Who does he stand for, and who is behind the privateering? Could it be innocent fishing boats or those interacting political views, in hopes of commanding the vessels to prevent free trade supplies getting into the ports?
The least Don Rafael expected was to be swept up in the humanity of this little fishing village in the form of a young woman, Lyse Lanier. Totally knocked off kilter, his own timing is off as he ventures to see her once more. This is not at all what he expected, an innocence so guided in the middle of war and disparity within a family.
Lyse is refreshing. A hard worker helping her family, she has a sweet spirit and freedom to love those deemed both above and beneath her in society, for she sees them as they are. A peacemaker at peace.
Thinking him a scoundrel in the beginning, I have come to admire him. Rafael Gonzales has endeared himself amid chaos of generations of misunderstandings and pride. Presenting respect and gratitude, his upbringing is honoring.
This is a story all can learn by, coming away with an appreciation of the character and giving hearts so needed in any generation. I like the openness in which Lyse and Rafa are able to talk together. They part not knowing if they will see each other again. You want the best for each of them during the uncertainty of unsettled times.
|Photo Credit: © Wendy Wilson Photography|
***Thank you to Revell Reads Fiction for inviting me on this blog tour for Book 2 in the Gulf Coast Chronicles and sending me a copy of The Creole Princess by Beth White. This review was written in my own words. No other compensation was received.***
Enjoy this excerpt from part of Chapter 1 of Beth White's The Creole Princess ~
Lyse Lanier danced on bare feet along the Water Street wharf with her crab bucket bumping against her leg, face lifted to a welcome early-morning breeze off the bay. The end of a long, hot summer had brought the usual stifling humidity, warm brackish waters, and rising threat of fall storms. Still, she was glad to be outdoors, free to poke about among the shrimpers docked alongside the merchant ships, fishing boats, and ferries. She was sixteen and a woman now, no longer confined to the classroom. In fact, it might be time to put up her hair, lengthen her skirts, maybe think about practicing some of the ladylike skills other girls her age found so important.
Lifting herself to the balls of her feet, she imagined herself in a spangled gown, walking the parapet of a gilded castle, high-heeled slippers pinching her toes, corset so tight she could barely breathe. Head high, back straight, my girl. The duke may ask you to dance tonight.
The sunbaked odors of salt and fish and oil became the smoke of a hundred tallow candles and expensive perfumes wafting from the silken clothing of her ball guests. Landing chains creaked against boats. Ship hulls sawed against their piers. The music of the wharf was an orchestra that flowed through her as she turned, head tipped back to follow a bank of clouds shifting across the hot summer sky.
Swaying, she closed her eyes and envisioned a young man pushing through the crowd with aristocratic authority. A clean-lined French face with serious eyes and . . . and a sword like Grandpére’s—
“Hey, girl, I want a place to spend the night. Help a sailor out!”
The rough voice dissolved her daydream like waves on a sand castle, and she whirled to scan the crowded waterfront to find its source. Market day had brought merchant ships from Havana, Pensacola, Baton Rouge, New Orleans, and ports beyond. Men of all ages, color, and social strata abounded, but few women. Few ladies, anyway, for the eastern edge of the city was home to sailors, slaves, shopkeepers, and travelers. And women of easy virtue.
Her gaze lit upon a swarthy, bearded creature leering at her over a pile of canvas near the closest pier. Dressed in sailor’s garb of ragged sailcloth, with oily curls straggling from beneath a dirty knit cap, he was a signally unprepossessing sight.
“Try Burelle’s,” she said. Pray God the quiver in her voice didn’t betray her fear.
“He’s not as pretty as you.”
She laughed and kept walking.
Simon had warned her this morning to take their young stepmother along. But Justine was due to deliver her fourth child any day and waddled like a cow. “I can take care of myself,” Lyse told Simon, reaching inside her bodice for the scabbard sewn into her shift. She’d jerked her little knife free to wave it under her brother’s disapproving nose, then tucked it away again before he could grab it.
Now, she hoped she could take care of herself.
The odor of old sweat and fish came up fast from behind. An iron grip caught her upper arm, jerking her around to face him. “Think you’re too good for the likes o’ me, little girl? I fancy a little café au lait of a mornin’.”
She stared into the sailor’s twitchy eyes. “Matter of fact, little man—” the wicked point of her knife snicked beneath his chin— “I think you got me mixed up with somebody else. I’m the town barber, specializing in the extra-close shave.” Dropping the bucket, she braced to jab upward.
“Permiso, señorita,” came a deep voice behind her.
She jerked out of the grip of the sailor, barely noticing that he took the opportunity to melt away among the crowd, and turned to look up into a pair of sleepy brown eyes set in a good-looking olive-skinned face.
“What do you want?” She’d been looking forward to drawing a little blood, thus proving to Simon that she could protect herself.
“Eh, pardon.” The young man’s French was just as lazy as his Spanish. “Do you not speak Spanish?”
She switched to English. “You can apologize in any language you choose—just mind your own business.” One by one, she flicked the knife under the three ornate silver buttons adorning his waistcoat and smiled as they bounced onto the boardwalk.
“Lud, what a destructive little mite it is,” he said in English, watching the buttons roll into a crack and disappear. “Ah, well, saves me the trouble of doing them up from now on.” He gave her a lopsided grin.
“Perhaps you’d like me to cut the rest of it off you,” she said, “since dressing is such a—Hey! Give me that!”
He held her knife close to his Castilian nose and examined its beautiful carved ivory handle. “Oh, I shall. In a moment.” He tested the blade against the pad of his thumb, frowning when a thin pink line of blood welled. “My dear,” he said faintly, watching his blood drip onto the boardwalk, “perhaps you could direct me to a doctor. I seem to have injured myself with your little skiver.”
“Do not faint!” she gasped, looking around for help. “You’re too big for me to carry! And give me my knife!”
“Very well, if you promise not to perpetrate further damage to my wardrobe.” Sliding his arm around her shoulders, he slyly tucked the knife into its scabbard—how did he know where it had come from?—and sagged against her. “Would you be so good as to direct me to Master Burelle’s establishment? I believe he is holding a room for me.”
“Make up your mind. Do you want the doctor or the inn?”
“I want to sit down. Anywhere will do.” He closed his eyes, giving her the opportunity to admire eyelashes that would have been the envy of any debutante.
Lyse, however, refused to admire anything about him. Whoever he was. “All right, you big baby. Come along.” Grunting under his solid weight, she wheeled him toward Royal Street. “There’s a barbershop and surgery across the street from the inn.”
“Mademoiselle is too kind . . .” The young man had switched back to French, perhaps sensing it was her native language, but his deep voice maintained its languid, sibilant Spanish cadence. “I regret that we have not been properly introduced. I am Don Rafael Maria Gonzales de Rippardá, merchant of New Orleans, at your service.”
“I would say, rather, that it is I at your service.” She looked up at him and caught a mischievous dimple creasing one lean cheek. “Oh, you are such a faker!” She dipped out from under his arm. “What a fuss for such a little bit of blood.”
He gave her a wounded look. “Mademoiselle, it is not so! Every drop of one’s blood is infinitely precious!”
“How do you know I am mademoiselle and not madame? Hm? You are very forward, for a stranger to our city.”
“Are you indeed madame? Your poor husband must be obliged to beat you daily. Only see the damage you have inflicted.” He held open his mangled waistcoat. “One wonders why anyone would come back, after such a welcome.”
“You are welcome—to go away and never come back!”
He blinked at her sadly. “Are you really not going to tell me your name?”
She regarded him tight-lipped for a moment, arguing with herself. He was too lazy to be dangerous, despite his height and the clever way he had relieved her of her knife. And he had frightened away the nasty sailor. Also he smelled very good, faintly of sandalwood. “I am Mademoiselle Lyse Lanier. Of Bay Minette,” she added, surprising even herself. “I’m not usually rude, and I thank you for sending away that—that miscreant.”
She was treated to the full impact of Rafael Gonzales’s flashing white teeth and sparkling dark eyes as he swept off his tricorn, making its extravagant red plume quiver. He bowed deeply at the waist, twice, a ludicrous exaggeration considering her ragged and barefoot state.
“You are utterly forgiven, beautiful mademoiselle, señorita, miss—and what an enchanting name for an enchanting young lady! If all the women of Mobile are so gracious as you, I am doomed to enslavement! Perhaps I should, like Perseus viewing the Sirens, go about blindfolded in order to maintain my sanity.”
She laughed and took his arm, tugging him in the direction of Burelle’s. “Then you would certainly be in trouble, you ridiculous man! Odysseus is the hero you’re thinking of—and he had his sailors plug their ears and tie him to the mast, for it was the Sirens’ song and not their beauty that was so dangerous.”
He waved a languid hand. “One of those moldy Greek fellows is so much like the other, I can never keep them straight. But I assure you, if you begin to sing to me, I shall run away in terror.”
Lyse had never had a conversation like this with another human being, ever. He spoke with the musical syntax of the classical heroes in her grandfather’s library. She waited for Rafael Gonzales to inquire how a tattered Creole girl came to know the difference between Perseus and Odysseus.
But he continued to saunter alongside her, whistling something that sounded like “Down among the Dead Men,” until she finally said reluctantly, “I can’t sing.”
“That is of no moment. I can sing well enough for both of us.” And, to her astonishment, he burst into a sweet tenor rendition of “De Colores.”
The street was crowded, and people were turning to smile and stare as they passed. Lyse clutched his arm. “Stop! This is not New Orleans. People do not sing on the street.”
He broke off a liquid melisma to give her one of his sleepy stares. “Do they not? How very inconvenient. Next time I shall bring my guitar.”
“We do not play the guitar in the street either.” She couldn’t help giggling. In front of the inn she halted. It was the largest building outside the fort, a two-story with a broad front gallery graced with several large rocking chairs and a swing. “Here is the inn. Would you like to sit down before claiming your room? I can go inside and get someone to bring you a tankard of ale.”
“You are very kind, mademoiselle, but if I could trouble you for one more favor, I should like you to deliver a message to Major Redmond for me.”
“Major Redmond?” What business could Daisy’s gruff father have with this lazy, musical young Spaniard?
“Do you know him?” Gonzales’s black brows came together. “I have not stopped at the wrong fort again, have I?”
She laughed. “His daughter is my dearest friend. What would you have me tell him?”
Gonzales smiled, clearly relieved to be in the correct port. “I have brought a hundred pounds of sugar from Havana, being off-loaded even as we speak. And I would like to entertain him for dinner this evening, if he is free.”
Lyse nodded. “I will tell him.” She privately doubted the busy major would be interested in leaving the fort to share a meal with a young merchant who couldn’t be bothered to deliver his own invitations. But she hadn’t seen Daisy for several days, and she was now provided with an excuse to visit. She backed toward the street. “Are you sure you don’t want me to find a servant to help you in?”
“No. I thank you.” He flapped open the beautiful red brocade waistcoat, sadly lacking in buttons, to display his trim middle. He reminded her strongly of a preening cardinal. “As you see, I am quite restored. No need to worry after all.” Propping one hand on his sword hilt, with the other he caught her fingers and carried them to his smiling lips. “Adieu, mademoiselle. Adios, señorita. Goodbye, milady. We shall meet again, I vow.”
Lyse dipped a curtsey, recovered her hand, and hurried to the street before she could betray the odd flutter in her stomach at the touch of that warm mouth upon her skin.
Jackanapes, she thought as she hurried toward the fort. How Daisy would laugh when she told her about this absurd young Spaniard.
~*~Daisy was not amused. “And why were you at the waterfront by yourself? You know Simon has forbidden it!” She set aside her embroidery and rose, her blue eyes worried. “You could have at least taken along one of your little brothers.”
Lyse snapped her fingers. “That for Simon’s pronouncements! He is neither my father nor my master.” But she couldn’t help smiling at her friend’s idea of protection. “And what possible good would a five-year-old be if I were attacked by brigands?”
“He could run for help!”
“Pooh.” Lyse reached around Daisy to pick up her needlework. She studied the tiny stitches in awe. “I don’t know how you keep from going blind. Justine’s is nowhere near this fine.”
Daisy was not to be distracted. “You are fortunate this Spaniard came along to frighten away the sailor. I will make Papa reward him handsomely.”
“He is quite handsome enough already.” Lyse grinned as Daisy rolled her eyes. “Don Rafael doesn’t need money. He just wants to talk to your papa, which is the least I can do in return for his . . . chivalry.”
“He sounds like a proper fop. Did he really faint at the sight of his own blood?” Daisy drew her lacy shawl from the back of her chair and led the way to the front door.
Incurably honest, Lyse shook her head. “He was only looking for an excuse to put his arm around me.” A laugh bubbled up. “I think you’ll like him, Daisy. At least he smelled good!”
“Which is more than I can say for your brother,” Daisy said with a rueful laugh. “He always smells like fish.”
Lyse smiled as she went down the gallery steps. “He would say that is the smell of bread and butter. He’d better bring in a good catch today, or we’re all going hungry. I sold out of everything we had by midday—which is why I went down to the docks to begin with.” Shading her eyes against the glaring sun, she paused at the bottom of the steps to look up at the looming main gate of the fort. “Is your papa on duty?”
“Yes, he’ll be in his office in the administration building. He told me to have supper ready by seven, as he’s bringing a couple of junior officers with him.” Daisy gave a ladylike snort. “He keeps hoping to take my interest away from Simon.”
“A French Creole fisherman will never be good enough for you, Daisy. Especially one who is the grandson of a slave.” Lyse said it without self-pity. It went without saying that many of the British military and civilian population of Mobile disapproved of the deep friendship between Major Redmond's daughter and Simon Lanier had developed into quite a scandal.
Beth White, The Creole Princess Revell Books, a division of Baker Publishing Group, © 2015. Used by permission.