Hide from the thief-taker, for if he finds you, he will take you away …
Eighteenth-century Cornwall is crippled by debt and poverty, while the gibbet casts a shadow of fear over the land. Yet, when night falls, free traders swarm onto the beaches and smuggling prospers.
Terrified by a thief-taker’s warning as a child, Jenna has resolved to be good, but when her brother, Silas, asks for her help to pay his creditors, Jenna feels unable to refuse and finds herself entering the dangerous world of the smuggling trade.
Jack Penhale hunts down the smuggling gangs in revenge for his father’s death. Drawn to Jenna at a hiring fayre, they discover their lives are more entangled than they first thought. But as Jenna struggles to decide where her allegiances lie, the worlds of justice and crime collide, leading to danger and heartache for all concerned …
THE THIEF’S DAUGHTER by Victoria Cornwall
As quietly as she could, Jenna slowly released the breath she was holding, instinctively her body sucked in another. Her eyes widened in fear at the sound of her soft gasp. Did he hear her? She prayed he did not.
She could hear the man’s boots pacing the floorboards in the adjoining room. His boots are muddy, she thought, hearing the grit on his soles scoring the wood beneath. Frightened, she remained silent and hidden, not breaking her cover even when she heard her mother and father begin their cursing. It did no good, more boots arrived and her parents were forced away.
Jenna hugged her knees to make herself smaller. She stared at her little toes, as she felt the vibration from his footsteps through her feet. The vibration grew as the boots came into the room and she tried to shrink even smaller. She fought to control her silent, shallow breaths, while the rest of her body froze with fear. She was cocooned in her hiding place, scared of being found, yet inside her heart hammered loudly as if daring to be heard. She hoped she would wake up and discover it was all just a bad dream. And she was safe. And her brothers and parents were too. But it was happening and the fear she felt was real. Her head began to throb and tingle as she listened to the grit scratch the floorboards with each step. Mother will be angry when she finds out he is ruining her floor, thought Jenna. Such a silly thought, considering the circumstances.
The man shouted and more boots entered the room. He had found what he was looking for: her brother, Paul. A scuffle broke out between them, more cursing, more shouting and more mud on mother’s floor. It sounded like Paul was putting up a fight. It did not surprise her; he always said he would if the man came to get him. A valiant attempt, but Jenna knew that his resistance would do no good. Only moments before they had taken David and he was the strongest of all her brothers. This morning everything had been normal, now she had lost two of them and everything had changed. And she might be next.
For a moment there was silence, but even so, Jenna dared not move. She would wait until her mother came to get her, just as her parents had told her to do. The sound of a man’s boots returned to the room again. She strained to listen for the noise of the grit. She could not hear it. Had it worked loose or was it her father?
The footsteps stopped before her. The silence that followed felt heavy and her legs began to tremble, causing the pile of clothes that covered her to shake too. The slight tremor was enough to give her away. A large, thick-fingered hand reached underneath and grabbed her bare foot, pulling her roughly out into the daylight and causing her dress to ride up behind her head and expose her knees. She lay stiff and motionless at his feet, like a submissive dog, waiting to be slayed. ‘Hide from the thief-taker,’ her parents had told her, ‘for if he finds you, he will take you away.’
The man looked down on her. His dirty beard covered his lips and hid any expression of a smile he may have had at finding a four-year-old child at his feet. He reached down and grabbed her clothing. His fist twisted in the cloth of her dress as he lifted her off the floor. Her face came level with his. As her bare, grimy feet dangled in the air, she dared to look into his face and saw there was no smile.
‘Do I scare you, child?’ he asked her menacingly. ‘Do I make you want to weep?’ He gave her a little shake, making her body sway in the air. His breath smelt of rotten eggs and she could see her frightened face reflected in his bloodshot eyes. Struck dumb with fear, she was unable to answer him. ‘Remember what it is like to be caught by a man such as me.’ He looked down at her thin body dressed in rags. ‘Your family has bad blood running through them and you will turn out the same if you don’t mind your ways. If you don’t, we will seek you out and hunt you down.’ He held her closer until she could feel his breath on her face. ‘Remember, child, we will watch you as you grow, and one day a thief-taker will come calling and he will take you away.’
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The story opens with four year old Jenna hiding in a cupboard. Strange men have come to the house and have taken away her parents and two elder brothers. These men are known as thief takers and they track down and apprehend those who rob and steal. Discovering Jenna one of them hauls her from her hiding place and leaves her with a stark warning.
We meet Jenna again twelve years later as her brutal husband is being hung for poaching. Her only remaining brother Silas, with whom she has a close bond, is currently in debtor’s prison. Now free from the horrors of her marriage, Jenna is desperate to find the money to pay off Silas’s creditors and get him out of prison. She sets off for the Hiring Fayre with the hope she will find employment. There she sees Jack Penhale, the man who helped her escape from the crowd at her husband’s hanging. When her first job ends badly she returns to the Fayre where she runs into Jack again. After saving her from the clutches of a lecherous potential employer he hires her for one day, pays her and tells her to go. But Jenna is determined to work for the money she has received and follows him back to his cottage. Against his better judgement Jack relents and soon agrees to take her on indefinitely, unaware she is a member of a local family of disreputable thieves – the Cartwrights.
After his father was brutally murdered by smugglers Jack became a thief taker, working to bring lawbreakers to justice. He is currently living in a rented cottage and working locally with the militia, trying to root out a smuggling ring. When Silas persuades Jenna she can earn more money to free him by joining the smugglers she knows although it places her in great danger she can’t refuse him. Dressed as a boy, she is helping retrieve the goods when the smugglers are attacked by the militia. She escapes capture only because Jack is there to save her. Jack knows having Jenna under his roof is dangerous for both of them. For not only are they on opposite sides of the law, he is beginning to fall in love with her.
I love historical romance and this novel really entertained. Jenna and Jack were both strong individuals. Jenna is a feisty young woman and the only member of her unsavoury family with anything resembling a moral compass. And dark, handsome, enigmatic Jack shows both determination and compassion in his fight against smuggling. Silas, a selfish, lying, manipulative individual proves a worthy antagonist too. Right up until his exit from the story, he endeavours to trick both Jack and Jenna’s and manipulate their lives.
A great debut with a wonderful heroine and a worthy Choc Lit hero. I thoroughly enjoyed it and look forward to reading Victoria’s next novel.
About Victoria Cornwall
Victoria Cornwall grew up on a farm in Cornwall. She can trace her Cornish roots as far back as the 18th century and it is this background and heritage which is the inspiration for her Cornish based novels.
Victoria is married, has two grown up children and a black Labrador, called Alfie. She likes to read and write historical fiction with a strong background story, but at its heart is the unmistakable emotion, even pain, of loving someone.
Following a fulfilling twenty-five year career as a nurse, a change in profession finally allowed her the time to write. She is a member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association and the Historical Novel Society.
The Thief’s Daughter is her debut novel and the first in her series of Cornish based novels published by Choc Lit.
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