*This is the excerpt that was read at the release party for The Incorrigible. It contains semi-spoilers, in case you’d rather find everything out as you go along. But it is also different from how it appears in the book, and I’m not going to tell you in what way (though you’ll know when you’ve read the first couple of chapters). So the text in this guise is sort of a bonus, appearing in this form only here. Without further ado, the scene is an evening’s shindig aboard the Incorrigible.*
The fiddle had finished the hectic dance tune with an especially rapid flourish, going into a lingering, mournful note as the preparations on deck were done and the crew found their places, settling down.
Nellie watched Horned Peter’s long strong fingers pressing down strings, holding the bow so delicately it seemed to be moving of its own accord. She heard which song was beginning to rise out of the winding notes, and the young woman did as the musician had taught her: remembered those large hands moving across her skin, playing, teasing, caressing, bringing her close to the feeling of being able to fly. Blood rushed to her face – and to her groin – and she grinned; then she closed her eyes, and leaned back against the wall to keep herself steady. When the music came to the right place she started to sing.
It was Blood red roses, and she sang it all the way through without opening her eyes. The fiddle’s melody and the suggestive lyrics fed her memories of Horned Peter’s hands moving freely over her body, making her skin tingle. Eventually she realised she was even moving as if someone was touching her. And this time she heard it herself, how her feelings, her arousal, carried her voice – making it more emotional, more evocative … in a word, sexier.
The song ended and the fiddle fell silent – to a much larger silence. Nellie felt a pleased smile on her face as she opened her eyes. Everyone was watching her intently. Her smile faltered a little; her cheeks flushed with heat and she wondered how much showed through the make-up.
Then, behind her, Horned Peter began playing the guitar: Port Vert girls. Nellie was still looking round at her audience when she started singing. Her gaze lighted on Captain Crow, and she decided to experiment: calling up memories of his hands on her skin. Oh yes, that worked just as well. She felt a tremor in her voice and the captain’s eyes widened. A grin grew on Nellie’s face as she looked from one lover to another, bringing their most intimate touches into her memories and into her song. Her pulse thundered in her ears and she felt herself growing wet.
When she came to the last verse she glanced across her audience once more and flinched as she got the impression that about half of them were poised to spring at her like predators if the slightest movement encouraged them. She breathed out with the last words and shut her eyes again, realizing she was panting. Horned Peter started playing Ev’rybody’s doing it. Is he crazy? Nellie thought. Well, so be it. If a dozen of ‘em want to fuck me right here, let ‘em. Still with her eyes closed, leaning on the wall and shivering from imagining twenty different hands moving over her skin, she began singing.
Almost at once, Pope Susie’s voice joined hers. Immediately after that, Philippe Kingfisher and then White Betty took up the words, singing along. Nellie peeked up with a cautious smile, hair curling in front of her eyes. More and more joined in until nearly everyone was roaring, bawling or howling the song.
It ended in disharmony and laughter, whistles and applause, the new recruit unable to stop giggling.
Behind her, Horned Peter promptly took up another tune. Call round any old time, it was. Nellie laughed wickedly and sang – this time letting her gaze travel determinedly, openly seductive, from face to face, those she had fucked and those she hadn’t, including the Hawk’s captain. She felt intoxicated with the attention and desire she met and drank it all in: if this level of admiration was only for tonight she wanted to get as much out of it as she could. She swayed her hips to the music, threw out her arms in the chorus, leered, winked, playing it to the full, repeating the last chorus twice – and the song was ended. The pirates began applauding and cheering, and Nellie, still grinning, closed her eyes and bowed her head for a second.
Then she looked up and said, “I think that’ll do for now.”
She turned on quivering legs and climbed the quarterdeck stairs, sitting down on the top step, above Horned Peter, above everyone. Alone, in half-darkness, she rested her back against the wall, looking down on the deck.
The pirates finished their cheering and Horned Peter played on; everyone got up to dance and drink and eat, talk and laugh and flirt with each other. Nellie let her eyes drift closed, trying to get her breathing under control.