Carried Away releases on Februaray 7, 2016.
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As a special treat, in true Swept Away Saga style, here are the first three chapters of Carried Away, the sequel to the international bestseller Swept Away.
The Swept Away Saga, Swept Away, and Carried Away ©Kamery Solomon Books
Mark Bell, Present Day
The old Mission building at Los Olvidados had been one of the lucky ones, escaping destruction from the Native Americans. While most of the others had been abandoned, burned down, or torn apart by attackers, the priests here had somehow managed to keep the peace. We weren’t exactly sure how, or why, for that matter. The Spanish conquest of the New World had been a brutal one for all involved, resulting in the almost complete annihilation of several peoples. For whatever reason, though, the warring nations had managed to coexist here at the southernmost tip of modern day Texas, helping to begin the Spanish colonization of North America.
Missionaries didn’t excite me, to be honest. Indian wars kind of did, but I was here for another reason entirely.
It had been a little less than a year since Samantha Greene had followed in her father’s footsteps and was claimed by the Treasure Pit in Maine. Understandably, I knew why she had snuck onto the land owned by Duke McCrery, awarded to him after their legal battle. I’d felt the thirst to discover the treasure at the bottom of the Pit as much, if not more, than she did—we both owed it to her father. But something always went wrong on Oak Isle, and, with Sam’s accidental drowning, the state declared the area protected land. Not a soul was allowed to dig for anything, whether they possessed the island or not.
I’d spent years studying and searching for answers on Oak Isle, earning the title of Pirate Historian Extraordinaire. In my mind, I was still plain old Mark Bell, the man who knew (or at least thought he knew) all the answers to the island. Now, all I had to show for it were two dead friends and an empty bank account.
When October break arrived six weeks after Sammy’s death, I caught the first plane out of town and headed south, meeting up with some of my buddies in Florida. The university I taught at hadn’t been very happy to hear I was leaving mid-semester, but there was nothing they could do.
Everyone knew what had happened on the island; it was no secret what I’d lost and never found.
With its fresh, humid air, Florida turned out to be just what the doctor ordered, the Caribbean only a short distance away. It made a man knowledgeable about pirates a good thing to have around, especially when your friends owned a dive and salvage company and wanted to look for lost ships.
So, we set to work, combing the ocean for anything and everything. Business wasn’t bad—we took tourists out on dives every now and then—and I finally started to feel like maybe I could find a new passion besides Oak Isle. Life was simple there. It was a welcome respite from the endless imaginings and failed attempts at trying to solve the Treasure Pit.
Maybe it was my lot in life to always have some mystery that couldn’t be solved hanging over my head, though.
It was hot. Of all the things I could have remembered about the night that set all of this in motion, that seems the clearest. Tangled in sweaty sheets, I tossed and turned, shrouded in the blackness that filled the little shack we called home, the wood walls barely held together enough to keep mosquitoes out. The house wasn’t bad, not really, but it felt much more like a fishing hut at times. Every penny the business earned was spent on equipment or food and, as a result, the living quarters suffered. Sometimes, I wondered why we didn’t ditch the hovel all together and live on the boat. It would have been slightly more cramped, but at least then I would have had the breeze off the ocean to brush against me, while the rocking motion of the waves lulled me to sleep.
Nine months. Two hundred and seventy days, give or take. That was how long it had been since Michael’s funeral. Only a month less than that since Sam had been caught on tape, climbing into the hole that would flood a short time later.
They never found her body.
Somewhere in my thoughts, I finally drifted off to sleep, dreaming of the young woman. Her body floated eerily in the ocean, arms spread out, eyes wide and locked on me, brown hair fanning out around her head like a halo of darkness.
“Mark,” she whispered, her face somehow still unmoving. “Mark!”
Jerking awake, I tumbled off the small mattress, taking the sheets with me as I rolled across the wooden floor. "Good gods, Joe!” I yelled. “Are you trying to give me a heart attack?” Glaring up at the man who’d actually been saying my name, I began trying to untangle myself from the cotton mess I’d gotten into.
“Sorry.” The beefy, bald man didn’t seem all that regretful of his actions. In fact, he appeared to be the most excited I’d ever seen him. His hands shook some as he licked his lips, his feet doing a slight dance of anticipation.
“What is going on?” Frowning, I paused in my Houdini-like actions, letting the covers stay as they were for the time being.
“Stephens, the guy I told you about, who you replaced—he just called.” He was worked up about something, that much was certain. It didn’t seem to be anger, like the last time he’d talked to me about the man who had up and left with only a day’s notice.
“About what?” I asked grumpily, rubbing the spot on my elbow that had connected with the floor in a very unfortunate fashion.
“He’s at the Mission they asked him to come help with.” Joe’s thick, brown mustache twitched as he smiled and licked his lips again.
By this point, I was almost dying with anticipation—or annoyance—at what he would say. Eyes narrowing, I watched the way he bounced up and down, his tan skin even darker in the night. “Would you get to the point?” It was as polite as I could muster at three in the morning.
“They found a ship sunk in the bay! They thought there had been mostly fishermen in the area, but he said this is a big one—a galleon. Their equipment suggests that it was either sunk on purpose or taken down in a battle. Some of the hull shows signs of fire damage.”
“Really?” My interest spiked, but the thought of returning to bed was sounding more and more promising. Only if Sam stays in her grave, I thought suddenly, my skin prickling uncomfortably at the memory of her in my dreams. Trying to shake the feeling of the ghost, I focused on the man in front of me. “What’s the ship’s name?”
“That’s the best part,” he answered almost giddily, staring at me with renewed fervor. “It doesn’t have one.”
“What?” I stood up straight as a board, tripping until the sheets lay forgotten on the ground. It didn’t even matter that I was only in my boxers, my body super exposed in the cramped space. All I cared about was the seemingly nameless vessel. “You mean they don’t know the name because their equipment isn’t good enough, or it actually doesn’t have one?”
“Their equipment isn’t good enough, but they were able to get preliminary sights with a diver. She checked the stern. There’s no name painted there.” Joe grinned, the hair above his lip twitching as his eyes nearly bugged out of his head. “Of course, there is a chance that the name could have been burned or rotted away, but still.”
Could it be? An unknown pirate ship, sunk right where we could get to it? If that were the case, it would be extremely lucky for us. Those vessels were the hardest to find, with only two or three ever being loosely confirmed. Unless the ship had been stolen from someone and already had a name, pirates didn’t give their boats one. The anonymity of attacking with an unnamed craft aided them greatly in their escape, since no one could say who had confronted them specifically. Of course, no name was a dead giveaway to the Navy, but the buccaneers didn’t seem to care.
“Mark,” Joe said happily. “They want all of us to come. They want the equipment—and they want you. Stephens told them that you’re the best Golden Era expert he’s ever heard of.”
“That was nice of him.” I chuckled, not caring that I’d never even seen Stephens, let alone met him. Joe had made him sound like a level one prick, but I was sure we’d be singing his praises from now on.
A small voice in the back of my mind whispered to slow down, to forget the excitement. Remember what happened to Michael and Sam? it whispered. Their treasure hunt killed them. You left to get away from that. What if you’re next?
Steadying myself with a deep breath, I looked Joe in the eye and smiled as wide as I could. This was no mystery pit waiting to be solved, but something sitting in the plain light of day. Swallowing hard, I grabbed his hand and shook it firmly. “When do we leave?”
Bursting into enthusiastic laughter that could’ve woken anyone within three miles, Joe clapped me on the shoulder, pulling me into a hug that made me feel like I finally had a team again, after months of running away from the ghosts of the ones I’d left behind.
Brown eyes stared back at me now from the front window of the boat. We were sailing Joe’s Explorer, the one and only ship in our “fleet.” In the two days we’d spent making our way to our final destination, I’d had a lot of time to plan what our newest job would entail. Yet, all I could think of was Michael and Sam. It was as if signing up to help find this treasure had triggered everything from the last one. Half the time I looked at my reflection, I saw theirs staring back.
Blinking hard, I checked myself in the window again. It was my own eyes I saw, though, and my short, black hair, spiked up like usual. The face was my own, tan from working at sea for so many months. It wouldn’t have been so bad to see Sam’s smile in the place of my own goofy one—she’d always had the type of grin that could make anyone feel happy—but I was relieved to look like myself all around.
Glancing down at my hands, the tattoo of the skull and crossbones on my wrist appearing in the corner of my gaze left me needing to banish the thoughts of Sam once again. It wasn’t the memory of her that made me uncomfortable; she was a good friend, always willing to listen and help out. In the short months I’d known her, she’d become like a little sister to me. The brotherly love I’d acquired for her was what made me wish she was gone from my mind. How many times could I think about her in the bottom of that pit, dead, before I went crazy?
“You doing all right, Bell?”
Sighing, I looked over at Joe. He was steering, his large hands wrapped around the tiny helm of the boat, large, black aviators covering his eyes as a slightly smoking cigar hung from his lips.
“Yeah. Just thinking about some stuff. Trying to decide what all we’re going to need for our first surveillance of this boat.” Taking my own sunglasses off the collar of my shirt, I slid them on and shoved my hands in my pockets. “I imagine it’s going to be pretty fragile. It’s a miracle that it even survived at all.”
“I was thinking the same thing,” he replied, nodding. “The salt count in the water is just barely low enough. Anywhere else and the wood would have dissolved within a hundred years.”
“And it’s just cold and deep enough. If it hadn’t buried itself in the ground, there probably still wouldn’t be anything left.”
“What are you thinking? Will you want to raise it if we can?” He glanced away from the ocean stretching out in front of us, taking the cigar from his mouth and blowing out a puff of smoke.
“There might be wood worms in anything that’s left,” I answered, shaking my head. “I don’t know if we can bring it back up at all. It could be that everything under the sand is charred and fallen apart anyway. I’ve never dealt with a ship that was burning when it went down.”
“Either way, we’re in for the find of our lives.” Grinning, he placed the cigar back in his mouth and turned his attention to driving, leaving me with my thoughts once more.
The shore was visible in front of us at this point. We’d decided to leave the coast and travel in open water to save time. The sight of land made me feel comfortable, even though I didn’t mind being on the ship.
“Stephens is going to meet us at the dock a few miles from the site,” Joe continued, smoke curling out around his cheeks. “They don’t want us sailing right in just yet. Don’t want to tip off other treasure hunters, you know.” He laughed slightly at that, shaking his head. However, it was a real threat, and one we constantly had to be on the lookout for. If someone else came in and tried to claim the find, they could seriously damage the ship and even steal any artifacts that might be on board.
We sailed up to the harbor as the sun was setting, the lights of civilization twinkling around us. As Joe had said, we had a welcome committee, with a tall, gangly looking man at its head.
“Joe!” The man raised his hand in greeting, his suit looking extremely too formal for the dingy dock he was standing on. A gold ring graced one of his fingers, shining almost as brightly as his slicked down, white blond hair. Joe had said Stephens was only a few years older than me and in his early forties, but he looked ancient, like he’d spent every day in a tanning booth, purposely making his skin appear the same consistency as a crocodile’s.
“Hey, Stephens.” Joe smiled and waved back, leaving the captain’s cabin and hopping onto the wooden planks beside him. The other member of our team—Hal—was already on deck, waiting to toss a rope out so we could tie the Explorer down.
Hal, by contrast, really was in his early sixties, with light blond hair that was blowing all over the top of his head, but looked to be about my age next to Stephens. I half expected the latter to open his mouth and suddenly reveal that he had fangs and drank blood to survive, he looked so out of place.
Following Joe out, I hesitated on deck, waiting to see if Hal would need help tying off. My presence was immediately noticed, though.
“And this must be the famous Mark Bell,” Stephens said, beckoning me toward him. “We’re very happy you could join us, sir.”
“Thank you for the opportunity,” I replied warmly. “When will we get to see this ship of yours?”
“He doesn’t beat around the bush, does he?” The group laughed at my expense, friendly smiles greeting me from the men and women behind him.
“Mark is serious about his work. It’s what makes him so good.” Joe winked at me as he passed, heading down the dock. Stephens, who apparently hadn’t been ready to leave the spot just yet, hurried to catch up with him, the rest of the group doing so as well.
“He’s a mystery, Stephens is,” Hal said as we watched them all go on without us. “There was always something about him. I can’t quite describe it. He’s a nice man, though, despite his appearance.”
“You’re talking like you’re my dad again, Hal.” Laughing, I looked back at the man, comforted by his remarks nonetheless.
“And you better listen up, sonny!” he teased, finally hopping over the rail and onto the dock himself. “We’ll see the wreck tomorrow. Stephens may have some theatricality to him, but he’s as anxious as any for a good find.”
It was decided we would send the cameras down first, after scanning the entire bay with a special machine that would create a map of the wreck for us. Ashley, one of the archeologists helping sort through the items at the Mission, had been the diver who found the ship to begin with. She looked more like a super model than a scientist, but it was instantly clear she knew what she was talking about.
“It was my day off,” she explained, tucking her long black hair behind her ears. “I hadn’t been for a dive in a while and the water looked calm enough. The site is about one hundred feet under water, just inside the opening to the bay. The only reason I found it was because of the metal detector I’d brought with me; I’d been hoping to find some artifacts linked to the missionaries that lived here, maybe uncover how they interacted with the water.”
“What pinged the monitor?” I asked, watching as the printer slowly pushed out a sheet detailing the area. “A cannon?”
“I’m not exactly sure.” Her tone was apologetic and she shrugged. “It might have been. Once I saw all the stones laying in a row, though, I knew it must have been a boat. There’s not much left on the surface. Not of the actual craft, anyway.”
Nodding, I continued to watch the map forming before us. “Just things that were on board.” We’d driven over the location five times with our equipment, hopeful that we’d get a good enough scan to really see what was there. So far, it looked like we were stumbling into the find of a lifetime. “Good catch with the stones, by the way. Most people would have thought they were just rocks sitting funny.”
“I am an archeologist,” she said, laughing. “I know ships had big stones like that in the hold to help keep balance. Nature doesn’t really make perfect lines, either.”
“I guess you wouldn’t be most people, then.” Looking over at her, I smiled warmly. She was very pretty, intellectual, and didn’t seem to shy away from the fact that she knew those things about herself. Confidence was very appealing to me; maybe I’d ask her to dinner one night.
The printer made a final ding and the large map slid the rest of the way out, onto the table, a mess of lines and numbers. In the middle of it, though, plain as day, was a vessel lying on its side.
“It looks like there’s quite a bit left under the sand, if these readings are correct.” Gingerly, I picked up the map, holding it so we could both examine it better. “This is where you tried to look for a name, right?”
“Yeah.” Moving closer, she pointed to a spot on the ship at one end. “I didn’t dig very far, though. It’s pretty stuck in there. There was no sign of extreme decay, but I didn’t want to risk it. Based off what I was seeing, it looked to be a good size site, as well. There wasn’t exactly enough oxygen for me to stay down there all day and search through everything.”
“Do you want to? I mean, when we send divers down. You can help me catalog everything, if you’d like.” Blushing slightly, I cleared my throat, aware that I’d phrased it like I would have if I were asking her on a date. I hadn’t meant it that way, but I could tell from the expression on her face that she had heard the proposal.
“We’ll have to see how the work on shore goes. There’s a lot of books here. Maybe I’ll just keep an eye out for something about your mystery ship.” Grinning, her hand brushed across mine as she leaned in to study the sketch I held again.
Turning, I waved at Joe, who was waiting to deploy the camera that would give me my first glimpse at the site below. “I have to go.” Focusing back to Ashley, I smiled, feeling a few butterflies at her presence.
“I can see that.” Gracefully, she left the cabin, moving to get on the jet ski she’d rode out on. “Let me know if you have any more questions.”
“Thanks, Ashley,” Joe said, beaming like an idiot as he watched her climb over the side and zoom away. After she was gone, he glanced at me knowingly. “Who knew they made the smart ones so pretty now, eh?”
“Everyone, Joe.” Chuckling, I carried the map over to him, discussing a few key points of interest. “I can’t wait to get down there myself,” I added eagerly as I rolled the sheet up.
“Me either. But we need to see what is down there first before we go running off like school kids. There’s no telling how old this thing is. I’ve seen them pull things up that were down there for almost five hundred years. Granted, there wasn’t as much salt, but who knows, right?” Falling silent, he helped position the expensive lens over the side of the boat, waving when he was ready for it to go under.
Nodding, I watched as the high tech camera was carefully lowered, Hal working a small crane mechanism above us. Once everything was set, he’d join us in the cabin to steer the craft and see what showed up on our screen.
As I went back inside and took my seat, I silently marveled at Ashley. Normally, it wasn’t recommended for divers to go below one hundred and thirty feet. It was surprising that she’d even gone as deep as she had, especially for a simple, unplanned dive. We were partly using the camera now because we wanted to make sure it was worth risking going down there. If there were a large amount of the ship buried, we’d be taking an even bigger chance on our lives to uncover it.
“Is there a picture in there yet?” Hal called from above, still working the controls of the crane to drop the equipment while Joe watched.
Shaking the anticipation and wonderment off, I leaned over and turned the television on, a vision of water filling the screen. “Yeah!” I yelled, scooting the metal seat I was on over so there would be room for all of us.
The two men joined me, settling back as Hal took the remote control in his hands. “And they said video games weren’t worth the time,” he muttered, laughing. This elicited snickers from me, which I quickly masked as a cough. Hal had probably played three video games his entire life, and yet he still cracked the joke every time he used the deep sea camera.
Silence fell over the room as the descent to the ocean floor began, nothing on the screen but some white flecks and lots of water. The deeper we got, the darker it became, until the overhead lights on the machine were triggered and lit up the space around the tiny craft. Along with the sunlight that still managed to penetrate the distance, the illumination gave us almost perfect vision.
“Look, there,” Joe murmured pointing to a small object as the lens drifted over it. “That look like a bottle to you?”
“Kinda,” I agreed softly, leaning forward. It was dirty and half buried, with organisms growing on it, but there was a faint outline that looked like a regular, glass bottle.
“We’re coming up on the bow now, according to our last scan,” Hal stated, slowing down some.
“Look, boots!” In awe, I watched the leather items as they lay on the ground, undisturbed for who knew how long. The sand around them swirled gently as the motion from the camera’s propellers moved over it. Suddenly, it occurred to me that there could be more than just artifacts here. What if there were human remains buried in the sand as well?
“There’s the first stone from the hull,” Joe replied, already moving on to the next thing he saw. “And look at that bit poking up right there. Looks like a box to me. See the metal corner, coming up out of the mud? The rest of the chest could be buried in the sand.”
Everything was covered in growth from the ocean, as was expected, and only a small portion of the actual ship was visible above the silt. After three hours of careful exploration with the camera, it was clear that we would need to dive to the wreck ourselves.
“Pistols, cannons, dishes—I can’t believe how much stuff is down there!” Popping some candy into my mouth, I smiled happily, leaning back in my chair. The ship was definitely from the same era as the Golden Age of Piracy, based on the outlines of the weapons we’d seen. Once we’d raised a few things and studied them, I was positive we could give the vessel a date.
“It does look like she was taken down in battle,” Joe said, continuing the conversation. “If they’d burned her to the deck and sank her on purpose, don’t you think they would have taken those things with them? Why destroy all of the stuff as well?”
“I think the greater question is what were they doing here to begin with?” Hal interjected from the doorway, having just hoisted the camera out of the water and set it back on deck. “This isn’t a good place to careen. If it came in the time frame we think it did, all that was here were the missionaries. What would pirates want with them?”
“I suppose the battle that sunk the ship could have been with the Mission.” Joe looked doubtful even as he said it.
“Because missionaries are the burning and sinking type.” Hal barked out a laugh, shaking his head. “No. I’d bet good money that there was another ship here, one that would have been a fair fight for No Name. Not some dinky fishing raft ran by religious types.”
“But that leaves an even bigger problem, doesn’t it?” I interjected, standing. “One ship could be a coincidence. But two? There’s no way. A fight suggests they were enemies, or a reluctant partnership that went bad. What were they looking for that brought them both here?”
No one had an answer for that. As we all stood there, contemplating what could have happened in this place so many years ago, I suddenly felt as if the ghosts of my friends were nearby. The notion sent a chill through me and I could practically feel the color draining from my face.
“You all right, Bell?” Joe asked suddenly, lurching forward to grab me as if I were tumbling over.
“Yeah.” The reply was stronger than I meant it to be, but it stopped him from saving me like some fainting woman. “My, uh, stomach suddenly doesn’t feel so well.”
“There’s a storm blowing in.” Hal covered for me, changing the conversation as he looked out at the clear horizon. “I can smell it. The waves are picking up some, too. We’d best get back in to shore. The visibility below will be gone before we could get down there.”
“A touch of seasickness?” Joe was joking, knowing that I had fine sea legs as he looked at me with slight concern, but I nodded all the same.
It’s happening again, the tiny voice in the back of my mind whispered. You’re getting yourself into another mystery that could kill you.
Pursing my lips, I tried to steady myself, banishing the voice and ghosts from my head. It was ridiculous that I kept feeling like I was on the brink of death. How many dives had I been on since I’d come to Florida? I’d never felt danger through any of them, besides the occasional things that all divers experienced. Sure, Michael and Sam weighed on my thoughts a lot, but this was . . . different.
Why did I feel so terrified?
The radio on the dash beeped in, saving me from the complexities of my own brain.
“This is Explorer,” Joe answered, talking into the mouthpiece and steering the boat at the same time.
“Are you guys planning on coming in soon?” It was Stephens, his high voice as smooth as silk. For some reason, whenever I heard it, I had to fight the urge to frown.
“We’re on our way back now. Why?”
“We’ve been going through some of the manuscripts here,” Stephens answered offhandedly. “Records, journals, that kind of stuff. It looks like we’ve found a couple entries about your ship.”
“What year?” I immediately asked, holding my breath as Joe repeated the question.
“These entries are dated sixteen ninety-seven. Once in a log book, another in a personal journal.”
Shocked silence fell between us. There it was—the boat, if it was the same one, was indeed from the period we wanted.
“Well, I’ll be damned,” Joe said softly. He looked at Hal and I, thinking over something before he turned back to the window and pressed the button to reply. “We’re going to need to call someone about this, right, Stephens?”
“I’ve already contacted the local authorities and informed them of the historic value of the site. Hopefully, they’ll get back to me soon and send some help to keep it secure.”
“Can we see the documents?” I pressed again, impatient as the message was relayed.
“We’ve got them in a holding room for you. Ashley is looking at them right now to see if there’s anything we could possibly match to the wreck.”