HISTORY, ROMANCE AND...CATS!
Grace Elliot leads a double life as a vet by day and author of intelligent historical fiction by night. Grace is an avid reader and believes that smart people need to read romance - as an antidote to the modern world!
Grace is also obsessed by all things feline.
What’s a ship without a ship’s cat,
right? So, of course, my latest Regency WIND
RAVEN, a pirate adventure set on a schooner (and other places) in 1817, had
to have a cat. And it had to be a special cat.
It probably seems fundamental that a
cat could be, and was, a valued member of the crew, particularly for ridding a ship
of mice and rats. In addition to cats, sailors in the 18th and 19th centuries kept a plethora of animals
as pets, anything they took a fancy to and could buy in any foreign port they
happened to visit. No doubt such pets offered the seamen who were away from
their homes for long periods a companionship the longed for. Of course,
some of these pets ended up dying from lack of their normal diets, but that
didn't stop the sailors from bringing them aboard. And there were other
problems. Back then, no one spayed or neutered cats so a female cat might
produce a litter from a shore leave liaison. Then, too, a shipboard tomcat
would be inclined to spray urine, which probably added to the general scent belowdecks.
That is one reason the cat in my story is a female!
cats, there were probably ship's cats that were aloof and half-feral, and then there
were other ship's cats that were social lap-cats. The cat in WIND RAVEN is somewhere in between. Named
“Dutch Sam’ for the English boxer Samuel
Elias, who died the year before my story begins, and who was known as having
the deadliest fists of any boxer in London, my ship’s cat has two huge white
paws (with extra toes, don’t you know!). The crew of the Wind Raven thought it a fitting tribute to name their unusual after
the boxer they revered.
you know that sailors believed that cats had an influence on the weather? Some
believed these cats could start storms through magic stored in their tails. If
a ship's cat fell or was thrown overboard, it was thought that it would summon
a terrible storm to sink the ship and that if the ship was able to survive, it
would be cursed with nine years of bad luck. Other beliefs included: if a cat
licked its fur against the grain, it meant a hailstorm was coming; if it
sneezed it meant rain; and if it was frisky it meant wind. Some of these
beliefs are rooted in reality. Cats are able to detect slight changes in the
weather as a result of their very sensitive inner ears, the same characteristic
that allows them to land upright when falling. Low atmospheric pressure, a
common precursor of stormy weather, often makes cats nervous and restless.
the ship's cat was allowed to come and go at will when the ship was in port. If
the cat was not aboard when the ship sailed, it might be there the next time the
ship was back in port. After all, there are always plenty of rodents and
garbage along the waterfront for the cats to survive in between ships. For an
independent cat like Dutch Sam, the arrangement was perfect, and she promptly
attached herself to the Captain Nicholas Powell, the hero in my story, following
him back to his ship when it was in port in St. Thomas. Of course, during the
story, her attachment to the heroine grows and she begins to take naps in the
many famous ship’s cats, but perhaps my favorite is Blackie and that’s because
of the man he impressed enough to set aside the cares of a world war to greet
him. A man who impressed me enough to name my son after him. Blackie
was the ship’s cat on the HMS Prince of Wales during the Second World War when the ship carried Prime
Minister Winston Churchill across the Atlantic to Newfoundland in 1941, where
he secretly met with the American President. As Churchill prepared to step off
the Prince of Wales, Blackie (obviously recognizing a man worthy of his
attention) approached Churchill. And, Churchill (obviously recognizing a
discerning cat) stooped to bid the cat farewell. The moment was captured on
camera and reported around the world.
In honor of the encounter, Blackie’s
name was changed to “Churchill.’ Churchill was known to love cats and kept a
succession of them at Chartwell, his home. His best-known cat during the war
years was a big gray cat named “Nelson’ after England’s famous admiral. How
wonderful is that?
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Ordered by the Prince Regent into the
Caribbean, English sea captain and former privateer Jean Nicholas Powell has no
time for women onboard the Wind Raven, especially not Tara
McConnell. The impudent American forced herself aboard, and so she’ll get more
than she bargained for: Instead of a direct sail to Baltimore, she’ll join
their quest to investigate a rampaging pirate, the infamous Roberto Cofresi.
But the hoyden thinks she can crew with his men,
and though he bans her from the rigging, Nick is captivated watching her lithe,
luscious movements on deck. Facing high seas, storms, cutthroats and the
endless unknown, he must protect his ship, his passenger, his crew. But on this
voyage, with this woman, there is a greater danger: to his heart.
– WIND RAVEN – The Storm begins
“You wished to speak to me, Captain?”
Tara tried to remain calm, but being alone with the man who had kissed her
twice was, to say the least, disconcerting. She tried not to look at his bed.
He leaned against his desk, crossing one booted foot over the other. The sight
of his black hair tousled by the wind and his golden eyes framed by his dark
eyebrows scattered her thoughts.
“I want you below decks and in your
cabin when the storm hits, Miss McConnell. You might even want to tie yourself
to the bed so you’re not tossed to the deck. It’s going to be rough.”
“This isn’t my first storm, Captain.”
Surely the man must know by now that she could pull her own weight with the
“Perhaps not, but it’s your first storm
aboard my ship, and I’ll not be taking any chances with your safety. Is that
“Perfectly.” He was staring at her as if
he wanted to say something more but then shrugged and pushed away from his
desk. A sudden lurch of the ship brought her careening into his chest. He
steadied her with his hands on her upper arms and, for a moment, stared into
her eyes, then at her lips.
Instead of letting her go, he drew her
more tightly against his chest, his golden eyes boring into hers. “I don’t seem
to be able to resist you this close, Miss McConnell.” She felt the heat between
them as he bent his head and kissed her, a kiss as fierce as the storm she knew
was fast approaching. Her body seemed to come alive as his arms held her. His
lips lifted from hers.
“I wish I had time to show you more, but
right now my ship requires my attention.” He set her away from him and,
reaching for a chart from his desk, swept up the rolled document and strode
from the cabin as if the ship wasn’t rolling beneath his feet.
Tara gripped the edge of his desk to
steady herself, and not just because of the swells that had the ship constantly
dipping and lunging. Damn the unmitigated gall of the man! What made him think
he could kiss her whenever he wanted? More troublesome still, why had she let