Caribbean JewelBy: Jayla Jasso
Crab Island, Puerto Rico - January, 1734
“You’ve betrayed me, Jolie.” Her guardian’s lips were inches from her forehead, curled back to reveal clenched teeth. “You’re a traitor. And a whore.”
Jolie flinched, her pulse pounding in her ears, her palms sweating. She didn’t dare look up. Her voice came out in a near whisper. “I might be a traitor, sir, but I’m no whore.”
Lord Hauste threw back his head and laughed before fixing his hate-filled eyes on her face, no doubt contemplating her punishment. He opened his mouth to resume the verbal lashing but was interrupted by a knock at the door to his study.
“A problem on the grounds...” Jolie overheard; Hauste stepped into the hallway and closed the door behind him to confer privately with his hired man.
That was her chance. She wrenched open the window and jumped several feet to the bushes below, the fall knocking the air from her chest for a painful moment before she forced herself to get up and run.
Just as she entered the cane field, she heard him bellowing out of the window in rage, “Jolie! I’ll find you! Traitor, faithless wretch! I’ll find you!”
Sweet Christ, help. Jolie tore her way through the thickly planted sugar cane, her hands stretched before her in an attempt to protect her face. The tall, splintery stalks seemed determined to hold her captive, ripping at her dress and flesh, clawing at her struggle toward freedom. At last she broke through the final row and stumbled up the embankment toward the fence, out of breath.
Three of Lord Hauste’s African slaves arrived at the fence seconds behind Jolie. Their strong hands hoisted her high, toward the jutting points of the sharpened stakes. She climbed over the top, snagging her skirt on a spike and hearing it rip as she leapt to the other side. She landed with a grunt, tumbled to her side, then scrambled to her feet. Turning to the fence, she gripped the posts and peered through them at the slaves, fretting about what would happen to them once she was gone.
The shrill barking of Lord Hauste’s hounds sounded in the distance.
“Go!” Nwoye whispered to her as he and the others backed away from the fence.
She continued her flight into the darkness. Soon she plunged into the thicket between Hauste’s plantation and the French House lands and began forcing her way through the broad-leafed trees and twisted vines, her ears filling with the noises of island insects and coquí frogs thriving there. On the other side was a large, open field, and beyond that lay the road to the northern port; if she could make it the seven miles to the docks and stow away aboard a ship, there was a chance for survival.
Don’t lose hope, she told herself, pushing through the branches.
At last she burst into the clearing, panting. Bending over to brace her hands on her knees, she gasped for air for a few seconds, then forced herself to run again, half stumbling across the uneven terrain. She had crossed a good portion of the field when her flight was abruptly cut short.
“Madre de Dios!” came a muffled exclamation from somewhere in the darkness, just before she collided head-on with a firm wall of solid muscle. Jolie tumbled ungracefully into the stranger’s arms. She caught her footing and immediately tried to jerk away from the darkly clad figure who held her in his firm embrace, blocking her flight.
The sound of wildly yelping dogs in the distance pierced the balmy night air.
“The hounds!” Jolie tried to twist away and run past the stranger.
He jerked her back. “¡Cálmate! Why are you fleeing, muchacha?”
She pushed both fists against his chest, again trying to free herself, to no avail. “Either haul me in and collect your reward or let me go! The hounds are coming!”
He tightened his grip. “Reward? You are a fugitive?”
Panic coursed through her body as she envisioned the dogs ripping at her flesh. She’d witnessed the horror of death at their jaws before when Hauste had released them on a slave. She changed tactics, softening her tone. “Please, sir; I don’t want to be eaten alive by dogs. Decide quickly!”
The stranger muttered something harsh in Spanish under his breath, then grasped her hand. “Come with me.”
He took off running, jerking Jolie along behind him. She struggled to keep up with his long-legged pace. He probably hadn’t been hired by her guardian to capture her, she decided—Hauste hated Spaniards and would be unlikely to collaborate with one. According to him, they were untrustworthy, deceitful, arrogant bastards, but allowing the tall stranger to help her escape seemed the only way to avoid being torn apart by the bloodhounds.
They ran across the field for several minutes, the dogs seeming to gain on them every second. Jolie’s panic-constricted chest heaved desperately for air. The muscles in her legs gave way; she tripped on the uneven ground and fell, hearing the skirts of her gown rip further as they snagged on a root. She tried to catch herself with her free hand, angry at her own clumsiness.