Research about Fortune’s Foe from Michele Stegman
Ever since I visited El Castillo, the fort in St. Augustine, Florida, and saw the small space where 20 English captives were held in 1740, I wondered what happened to those men. Apparently, no one made any effort to rescue or help them during that awful war between the English and the Spanish. I wanted to write a story about one of them. Sometimes, in doing historical research, you just can’t find out what you want to know. I read a lot, I wrote letters, I made phone calls, but I could not find out what happened to those prisoners. Finally, someone told me I might find the information in the collection of papers from that era. That would mean traveling 1,000 miles and spending days and days pouring over old, faded, hand written documents written in Spanish. 1740’s Spanish. And I might not find out even then! I did, however, find out what usually happened to prisoners of war at that time. So I made up my own story about those men. I put the heroine’s twin brother among them and sent her from South Carolina down to St. Augustine to rescue him. And she just happens to meet Alejandro, the Spanish Captain in charge of those prisoners. A man whose life would be forfeit if even one of those captives escaped. So what’s a girl to do? Leave her brother to be shipped off to Spain to die in squalor in some prison? Or help him escape and condemn to death the man she has come to love?
About the Book
Historical romance set in 1740. In the midst of a raging war, Mariette Fortune is torn between saving the life of her brother or the enemy Spaniard she has come to love.
Mariette Fortune knows her brother will die if she doesn’t rescue him–especially if the Spanish discover they hold captive the son of the infamous privateer, Sean Fortune. But she didn’t count on fallin in love with the man whose life depends on keeping the English prisoners from escaping. Now she has to choose between them.
Alejandro de Silva knows there is more to the lovely Mestiza woman he has hired to keep his house…more than she will admit. Regardless, he cannot help that he is falling in love with her. But he never dreams she is an English spy and that her presence in Spanish St. Augustine will put both their lives in deadly peril.
Mariette grasped the seat of the skiff and looked across the choppy water of Matanzas Bay. Ships sailed into and out of St. Augustine, and the gray stone walls of the Spanish fort, El Castillo, loomed over it all. “Matt is in there,” she said, “and he’ll die if we don’t get him out.”
“And we might die trying.”
Mariette turned to her younger brother, Nate, in disguise as she was, in old, faded clothing, a droopy brown felt tricorn on his head. He, too, was looking grimly up at the enemy fort, his hands white knuckled on the tiller of the battered little skiff as they sailed by.
Up close, the fort was more forbidding than Mariette had imagined. There was no way to approach it undetected. Nothing grew near its walls and a moat surrounded the part of it not touched by the waters of the bay. Guards patrolled the top and the black snouts of cannon protruded from its sides.
“You’re the one who sulked for three days because Mama and Papa wouldn’t let you join Oglethorpe’s expedition,” she said. “Well, Little Brother, you’re in this war now.” And so am I, she thought, folding her hands in her lap and drawing her feet close under her, as if she could make herself invisible to the danger she was about to face.
“Yeah,” Nate grumbled, “I get to sail in and out while you go into St. Augustine and face all the danger.” He smiled at her, but his eyes held concern and worry.
She could not help but let a fond smile play over her own face. “That’s because your sailing is a lot better than your Spanish.”
Nate’s chin came up. “I can speak Spanish.”
Mariette turned to the third passenger in the skiff. “Not well enough to pass for a Mestizo though, does he, Soledad?”
Soledad looked Nate up and down in her somewhat cynical fashion, her smooth red scarf a bright contrast to a face more black and wrinkled than a raisin. “Besides which, dem blue eyes of yours give you away pretty damn quick,” the skinny black woman said to Nate, harumphing for emphasis. “Leastways, your sister, she look the part of a half-Spanish, half-Indian with dat black hair and eyes. Long as dat pretty face don’t get too much attention, we be all right.”
Mariette laid a hand on Soledad’s arm, feeling the hard strength in that lean limb. “I want to thank you again for helping us, Soledad.”
Soledad harrumphed again and spat over the side, wiping her toothless mouth with the back of a hand that looked too large and work-roughened for the rest of her skinny frame. “Damn fool notion thinkin’ we’s gonna get them two away from the Spanish dons.”
Mariette looked blank and Soledad continued. “You tol’ me your fiancé is in there with your twin. I’m guessin’ we got to get him out, too.”
“Oh. Yes. Of course!” Mariette sat up straighter, determined to show a confidence that had slipped somewhat at the sight of the impregnable fort. “Somehow we’ll manage to rescue them both.”
“Damn fool notion if you ask me,” Soledad muttered, shaking her head. “Damn fool. Don’t even have no plan. Don’t know nothin’ ’bout that fort.”
“That’s why I have to talk to some soldiers, find out where the prisoners are being held, what the routine is.” Mariette glanced up at the worn sail as Nate smoothly adjusted it, turning them toward the dock.
“Well,” Soledad hedged, “most of dem soldiers ain’t too bad. Just local folk like me. But them officers is all from Spain and they’s sharp. Don’t go talkin’ to none of them.”
“I won’t, Soledad.” She placed her hands demurely in her lap, fingering the well worn butternut brown skirt she had chosen for her disguise. “Not if I can find out what I need to know from the others.”
Soledad sat forward, glaring into Mariette’s eyes. “Not for no reason. You get caught, your daddy’ll come down here and have my hide. And he knows just where to find me since him and this young’un be the ones who brung me down here.”
Mariette gave a noncommittal nod and looked up again at the gray coquina walls of the fort, weather hardened enough that Oglethorpe’s cannon balls had just bounced off.
“So you think a woman and a boy gonna do what all of James Oglethorpe’s fleet and army couldn’t do? You gonna invade dat Spanish stronghold and get them two men out and get all of you home safe?” Soledad sucked her toothless gums and shook her head. “Unh, unh, unh. And here I thought I done something by joining my Cato after he run away to come down here.”
Maybe Soledad was right, Mariette thought. Maybe it was a “damn fool notion”. She had even had a hard time talking adventure hungry Nate into risking his precious sloop to bring her down here. But then she thought of Matt languishing in there, perhaps being tortured, and her resolve hardened.
“We’ll do it, Soledad,” Mariette said. “We have to.”
About the Author
Michele Stegman has loved history all her life. When she was studying history in graduate school, one of her professors quipped that she put too much romance in her research papers. She decided to put in more romance and write historical romances.
Her Fortune series is following the adventures of the Fortune family through piracy and war in the 1700’s.
Conquest of the Heart, her Medieval book, takes place in England in 1067, just after the Norman Conquest. It is quite different from most books that are set during the Conquest. For one thing, her hero is not a big, brash Norman conqueror. He’s a Saxon. It’s the heroine who is the Norman. Her people conquered his country, now she must conquer his heart!
Michele was never interested in writing contemporary novels. But one day she was driving along, thinking of nothing in particular, when the entire plot for Mr. Right’s Baby popped into her head. She couldn’t stop thinking about it and finally decided it was a book that had to be written.
Michele lives her history every day. She lives in an 1840’s log cabin, and sleeps in a 200 year old bed with her very own hero, her husband, Ron. She spins, weaves, makes her own soap, and bakes her own bread and crackers.
Two cats, Chopstix and 5, demand lots of petting, but her two daughters, Kira and Shana, are the delight of her life.
Michele also dabbles in art, and is a member of the Southeastern Indiana Art Guild.