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Steam-Driven Seduction by Corinne Davies

Steam-Driven Seduction

Steampunked Lust, Book 3
by Corinne Davies

Siren-Bookstrand

eBook ISBN: Unknown

Kassandra fled from Julian but the time has come to face her fears. Miguel’s passion still burns for Kassandra and Julien, and he hopes to build a future with them. Can the dominant trio set aside their natures to find a love that will span the skies and seas?

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Chapter One

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Steam Powered Passion
by Corinne Davies

Siren-Bookstrand

eBook ISBN: 1-61034-014-0

Tori is given to a couple of pirates as insurance to save a ship. Malcolm and Sean deliberately attacked the ship in order to get their hands on her. Can each of them see past their personal expectations and accept a relationship steam-built for three?

Chapter One

“Under normal circumstances, I would relieve you of all your possessions, but I’m feeling generous today. I’ll allow you to retain one item.”
The wind gusted across the bow of the ship, whipping Viktorya Trenton’s hair across her eyes. A seagull sitting on the ship’s railing gave an indignant squawk, as if it couldn’t wait to hear the next move in such tense negotiations between her husband and the pirate that attacked the ship.
“Your wife or your frigate? Choose one.”
A small measure of relief flooded Viktorya. She might have a knife held to her throat, but at least she wouldn’t die this way.
“My ship.”
Betrayal radiated through Viktorya’s breast, stealing her breath. Her sense of relief died an icy death with her husband’s choice. She felt as though the pirate holding her captive had slid the knife across her skin, before plunging it into her chest. Why would her husband betray her like this? Their marriage hadn’t been for love, but she thought they had grown to respect each other’s positions, in a way.
He couldn’t know what she’d truly done during their marriage. As far as he knew, she was a perfect wife. What she realized now is that she allowed herself to be lulled into a false sense of security.
“Alexander?” This had to be some sort of misunderstanding. He wouldn’t truly choose his bloody frigate over her. “What are you saying?”
“I don’t want her to suffer. Would you be so kind as to make it quick?” Her husband glanced at her and gave a slight shrug of his shoulders, as if the situation raged out of his control. “Nothing personal, love. You know that in times like these the business will support the family. You wouldn’t want them to go hungry because you selfishly put your life before theirs.”
She wanted to respond, but the acute hurt radiating in her chest froze the air in her lungs. Breathing continued to be a conscious effort at the moment. Speaking seemed impossible. What had she done to deserve this? For the five years they were married, she’d worked hard to be exactly the wife he wanted. She worked harder to make certain he never knew she hated every moment.
“Ya married a cold-blooded bastard, didn’ ya?” Words spoken by her captor brushed her ear. At least he held a knife to her throat and had enough honor not to plunge it in her back. The lock on her chest eased enough for her to pull in a thin thread of air.
Her second breath felt easier as cold calm washed over her emotions. So, her husband thought her disposable? “Alexander Trenton, you are truly an evil bastard, and if you think my death will stop me from gaining revenge, you really don’t know me.”
“Sweetheart,” his voice carried the same condescending tone it always had when he corrected her for some insignificant error, “it’s you who doesn’t know me. Don’t worry. I’ll console your little sister, as I’m sure she will be devastated.”
Yzabeau might be younger than her, but she was Viktorya’s best friend and confidant. Insane fury burned away the icy calm that held her captive. She lunged against her captor’s arms, intent on tearing that bastard’s evil heart out with her nails. The man behind her cursed, his arms tightening around her chest as she wrestled against the restraint, and a sting prickled against her neck. She would smack Trenton right in his pretty face, even if it ended up being the last thing she ever did.
“Enough!” The pirate captain stepped in front of her, and she caught the first glimpse of the man who now held her life. Tori’s height allowed her to look most men in the eye. Until this moment, she had never felt like a short woman. This pirate towered over her, his wide shoulders blocking the view of her deceitful husband. Dark trousers tucked in to perfectly polished Hessians. He wore a long black coat made from a type of buckskin and a pristine white shirt with a wide swath of tartan crossed over his chest. He didn’t look anything like the pirates she had heard of in stories. The bright sun behind him kept his features shadowed. The rays glinted off a pair of brass goggles that sat against the thick, dark hair spiked wildly about his head.
The glare blinded her for the moment, and she blinked rapidly to try to clear her sight. He gripped her chin between his thumb and fingers, tilting her head up a tad and exposing her neck. Her chin hadn’t moved up too far when she felt a hot, burning pain on her skin.
Instinctively, she jerked her chin back out of his grip. He tisked at her and pulled a pristine white handkerchief from his pocket. “That was a stupid decision on your part. Unless you were hoping to end your life before I make the decision for you.”
Closing her eyes, she allowed him to think her terrified. Fear would come later. Right now, white-hot rage pumped adrenaline through her system. How the hell would she get out of this predicament? Despite his harsh words, his movements were gentle as he pressed the fabric against her skin. She had a moment’s alarm when he anchored the pad by tying something around her neck. Unsure of her future, she stayed completely still, unused to having so many hands on her. “You do know it’s a thin line between bravery and stupidity?”
“As thin as the line between pirate and privateer.” Tori opened her eyes to see what kind of response that might have triggered. Clenching her teeth together prevented her jaw from dropping at her first good look at him.
“Aren’t you a brave one?” He looked her over as if judging her character by her appearance. Nothing angered her more than someone who judged worth based on exterior appearance.
“You know nothing about me, sir.”
“You would be surprised what I know, Lady Trenton.”
She didn’t understand why he practically sneered her name. Not that she disagreed with him at the moment. These men should abhor her. As far as they knew, she lived life in accordance with the New World beliefs. Many considered her husband to be the best of examples of a life to live by. For the longest time, she convinced herself they were right. And yet, he was quick to betray her. What kind of character judge did that make her? She should have listened to Yzzi. Her sister had long tried to convince her to stay on guard more with Trenton.
“Get her out of here.” The captain turned away, dismissing her. The sharp snapping of several pistols cocking echoed around her. She opened her eyes, a kernel of hope flickering in her heart, expecting it to be her husband and his men refusing to allow her removal from the ship. Her husband stood there with his hands up, obviously unwilling to bother fighting for her.
Unwilling to be led like a sheep to slaughter, Viktorya struggled against her captor’s arms until another man appeared and pointed a gun at her forehead. He stood much taller than her and was dark as the night sky as well. She narrowed her eyes at him and stopped fighting. He didn’t say a thing, only stared at her and held up the harness in his other hand. She had one choice, and death was not an option she would entertain. As long as she lived, she could fight back. She needed to get to her sister. More importantly, she needed to get the papers tucked into her bodice delivered to the proper recipient. Apparently, her future residence as a prisoner on a pirate ship would make her mission doubly hard.
She dropped her arms and stopped pulling away from the man who held her. As soon as the rope dropped in front of them, the man in front of her lowered his weapon and tucked it into his waistband. No need to resist further because she was headed in only one direction.
Up.
“Now, don’t struggle, or I’ll make a mistake putting this on you, and you’ll end up splattered on the deck.” His low voice sounded strangely melodic and beautiful, a striking contrast to the harshness of his features.
I can do this. Be brave like Yzzi would be. Tramping down the fear that wanted to claw to the surface, she woodenly allowed herself buckled into the harness. Once secured, she felt her harness attached to the pirate behind her. Everything felt so surreal. This couldn’t truly be happening. Their travel papers would have reported this as an uneventful trip to gather supplies from New York. What would have drawn the attention of pirates? During the beginning of the voyage, she carefully searched the ship and didn’t find anything illegal on board, for once. Any moment, she was going to wake from this nightmare. Please let me wake up.
She watched in fascinated horror as the excess rope on the deck spiraled upwards. Following its path up, she saw the pirate ship for the first time as it hung in the air above them. Its underbelly had been whitewashed and somewhat resembled a very solid cloud hanging in the sky. She had heard of such incredible ships but never had the opportunity to board one. Of course, this was not how she hoped her maiden voyage would evolve.
The pirate behind her grabbed her wrists and crossed them over her chest, as if she was about to be laid in a coffin. For all she knew, that exactly was what her immediate future held.
His tanned arms wrapped around her and gave a slight reassuring squeeze. “Deep breath, Mrs. Trenton. Dinna look down.”
She felt a jerk, and then the world dropped away from her as they lifted up into the air. Fear clawed at her throat but for a moment. Despite his warning not to, she looked down at the smug face of her husband. So he’d thought he won? She arched her neck and spat at him. A useless act as the droplets blew away in the sea wind.
“Good girl.” The man who held her sounded proud of her defiance.
The captain looked up, and her chest tightened, robbing her of breath again. She had never seen a more intense looking man before. He didn’t have perfect features like Trenton. His features were stronger. A tanned face made of harsh angles, and yet he looked amused at the same time. It confused her until she realized that he looked directly at her legs and, therefore, directly up her skirt. Embarrassment surged through her as well as a feeling she had not experienced in a very long time. There was a distinct possibility she would not live long, and the short time she had left promised horrors she wasn’t willing to comprehend. Why in the name of god did she feel such excitement at the prospect of a man…a pirate looking at her bare legs?
Life on a ship being so different than on land, she often disregarded proper undergarments for a preference to comfort. Never did she think her unconventionality would be put on display for all and sundry.
“Sir, you will lower your eyes.” If he heard her, he didn’t acknowledge it, nor did he obey her demand.
The man holding her laughed, the low vibrations felt as they rumbled against her back. She looked up and watched the planking of the ship pass her eyes. Crustaceans and shells dotted the pitched wood as if his ship sailed both the water and air currents.
Renegade bits of hair blew against her face, tickling her nose. Her heart pounded a wild tempo in her chest as she watched the ship’s rail come into view. A deckhand waited for them and reached over, grabbing a hold of her harness.
“Watch your shins.” He pulled them over a narrow deck, which she stepped on as soon as they were lifted clear of the railing.
The anger and pain of Trenton’s betrayal dimmed now that she stood as a prisoner on a pirate ship. There were no guns pointed at her this time. Logical, since her only means of escape was a suicide jump to the seas below. Not a choice she would entertain at this point.
“What’s to become of me?”
“That’s for the captain to decide.” The man behind her shed his harness as the deckhand unbuckled hers with practiced ease. She couldn’t be the first woman they had claimed. The pirate gripped her upper arm and walked quickly across the deck. She tried to keep up, but her legs wouldn’t work properly. She was used to the constant motion of the sea, but this ship remained curiously stable. His grip stopped her from falling, but it also stopped her from looking around too much. She looked up and caught a glimpse of what looked like a couple large, shiny balloons above their heads. Pots of flame shot up beneath them, but she didn’t have time to see anything else.
She did notice that there were only a couple of men on the deck. Many had boarded her ship, but shouldn’t there be more? Perhaps they were below? “Sir, please slow down.”
“Jacko, my name is Jacko, and I have my orders. You will bunk with the women, and the captain will decide your fate later.”
“Women? You have women on board already?”
“Aye. A lovely pair Coraline and Tabitha are. They know how to treat a man right. You had better learn quickly if you’re going to be part of the crew.” He opened a door, led her down a flight of stairs, and pushed her through an open door.
Just as she spun to ask another question, the door slammed in her face, and she heard the click of a lock.
“I do hate it when he locks us in.”
Viktorya turned and saw two half-dressed women curled up together in the middle of a large nest of pillows and luxurious blankets. One looked up and pushed a tangle of blonde hair out of her face. “Oh, look! Jacko brought us a new friend. Wake up, Tabby, we have a new play toy.”
Viktorya pulled herself up and tried to look as confident as possible. “I’m no toy, and certainly not yours.” It was obvious what these women did to earn their keep on a ship such as this, although their cabin looked much more sumptuous then she had ever experienced. Their clothing was made to enhance, not conceal, their assets, on display for anyone who cared to look.
“Oh, he’s caught himself a lady this time. I can tell by your tone. This is interesting. Are ya cert’n ya’ren’t for me and Tabby?”
Since she had called the other Tabby, Viktorya assumed this one must be Coraline. If she were to get out of here, she would need as much information as possible. “No, I’m not. Exactly how many women have been ripped from their ships in such a manner?”
Tabby raised her head and peered through a cloud of fluffy blonde curls. “What did they do to your neck?” She sat up, crawled over Coraline, and moved closer.
Viktorya touched her fingers against the fabric pad on her throat, the reminder causing her to feel its sting. “The man who brought me here had a knife to my throat. It cut me during a particularly intense moment.”
“Jacko? Jacko did that? I’ll kill him myself, that ass. Him and his pointy things.” Tabby came over and took her by the hand, leading her to a nearby chair. Viktorya tried to disengage her fingers from the other woman’s hand but was unsuccessful.
“That’s why he bolted out of here so quickly.” Coraline opened a nearby chest and pulled out a small box.
“You cannot be that surprised.” Viktorya tried to tug her fingers free from Tabitha’s again. “They’re pirates. I’m surprised they let me live at all.” Her heart beat wildly, and yet a part of her wanted to feel Tabby wrap her arms around her. A silly notion and completely inappropriate, but right about now, she really wanted a hug.
Tabby’s voice snapped like a whip. “We might not be as superior as you, but you don’t have to tug on my hands as if you will catch a disease from touching me.”
Viktorya stopped trying to free her hand from Tabby’s grip. “Oh, it’s not that. My apologies if I made you feel inferior. I’m not used to being touched. It’s unsettling.”
Tabby tilted her head and gave her a quizzical look. “You’re married, yes? You’re pretty, too. I bet your mister would’ve been at you all the time.” She waved a hand towards a chair for Viktorya to sit in.
“I’m afraid you are mistaken.” She swallowed the bitter tang in the back of her throat. “Thankfully, I was not afflicted with his attentions after our wedding night.” Viktorya sank back against the padded chair, feeling the sting of tears in her eyes. Her hands shook as she tried to wave off Tabby’s ministrations. “I’ll be fine. You can leave me here to think.”
“Oh, poor thing, you’re not used to this type of treatment, are you?” Tabby carefully untied the fabric around her neck, and Viktorya could feel the pad lifted off her skin. She hissed as it stung and felt a warm trickle down her neck. She thought it was blood, but Coraline brushed some dampness from her cheek.
“It’s a’right. We ken help. It don’t looks bad to me. Tabby?”
“No, not at all. Bet it stings like a bugger, but it’s just a scratch. You won’t even have a scar when it’s healed, I’m certain.”
“Why are you being so nice to me?” Here, complete strangers helped her with her neck, when her own husband offered it to them on a silver platter. Was this some sort of trick? Were they trying to lull her into a false sense of security?
Coraline exchanged a look with Tabitha that Viktorya couldn’t decipher. “Not used to it? I’ve ’eard the upper crust is cold. Tabby ‘n’ me, we’d rather hobnob with the salt of the earth. Good people, they are.”
“What’s your name, honey?” Tabby asked as she dabbed a cloth against Viktorya’s skin. It smelled clear with a faint hint of flowers.
“Viktorya Trenton.”
“Cory, Tabby, and Viki! Oh, you’ll fit in just perfect!”
Viktorya hated that particular nickname, but Coraline looked so pleased with it she didn’t have the heart to correct her. She sat there quietly and contemplated how much her life had changed since she’d woken. She couldn’t stop the shaking to her hands and body. Cory laid a heavy, soft blanket over her shoulders. It smelled faintly of fresh air and salt air, nothing like the musty, damp blankets on her husband’s ship.
“Thank you.”
Coraline patted her shoulders. “Don’t worry, Viki, we’ll take care of ya.”
She flinched at both the name and the touch, but Coraline didn’t seem to notice. Tori straightened her back and tried not to look as if she’d been beaten. “Do you think he plans to sell me at a market?” A dangerous prospect, but at least it would be on land and she might be able to plot a rough idea of an escape.
“Who, the captain?” Tabby’s eyes grew round, and her eyebrows raised up as if she couldn’t believe Viktorya asked such a thing. “Blessed Brand, no! The captain hates slavers. I’ve seen him attack ships before simply to free those trapped inside.”
A loud explosion reverberated in the air around her. “What is that?” In her panic, she almost launched herself out onto the floor. Her heart slammed against her chest, and she fought the tears that sprang to her eyes.
“It’s ok. It was the cannons. Captain must’ve ’ad a good reason to use them. No return fire, so isn’t anything to worry about.” Cory patted her shoulder and gave it a soft squeeze.
Viktorya pulled the blanket tighter around her shoulders and tried to hide her trembling. They must have sunk the ship. Did they kill Trenton before, or did they allow him to escape? Either way, it didn’t change her situation, and she couldn’t deny the feeling of relief at being free of Trenton.
She remembered the day she decided to marry him. Almost four months to the day after she heard that Sean’s ship had succumbed to pirates, no survivors reported. Her heart felt as empty as a washed-up seashell. When Yzzi came to her with the crazy idea that they could help the rebels by gathering information from the inside, it gave her a sense of purpose. The lies gave her life meaning. So she endured what she had to and dreamed that perhaps she would find some kind of love in the lonely existence her marriage offered. Such naïve dreams.
Tabby gently washed her neck and then wiped some sort of cooling salve on it. It took the sting out of the cut, for which Viktorya was eternally grateful. “There, that should do the trick. Now, why don’t you have a bit of a rest?”
Viktorya eyed the makeshift bed warily. “No, thank you. I’m fine here in the chair.”
“Oh, nonsense.” Coraline wrapped an arm around her shoulders and tugged her to her feet.
She moved, simply to try to get out from under Coraline’s arm, but then changed her mind. The weight brought her a sense of comfort. If she closed her eyes, she could almost imagine her sister was here.
“I made up the hammock for you.”
A hammock Viktorya could handle. In fact, she often used one when traveling on ship. The gentle rocking motion always calmed her. This one looked much bigger than anything she had slept in. Coraline had used several blankets and pillows to create a nest-like feel about it.
A low grumble echoed around them, and the room shivered, sending the hammock rocking. A low thump, thump vibrated in the air, as if someone struck the ship with a large hammer. Were they about to fall out of the sky? “What was that?”
“Captain must be back on board. That’s the engines starting the propellers.” Coraline herded her to the hammock and held it as Viktorya slid into it.
“Propellers?”
“Yes, if there is a need to leave quickly, he’ll engage them to get the ship going, and then the wind will take us where it wants.”
Viktorya allowed Cory to push her back against the pillow-filled hammock. Tabby came over and laid another fresh-smelling blanket over her. “What you need is some rest. Don’t worry about anything. We’ll keep you safe while you sleep.”
“I appreciate your kindness. Thank you, but I’m certain that sleep will not come easily to me.” Viktorya curled up in the bed, thankful for her habit of leaving off her corset while on board. The two women drifted away from her, leaving her to her thoughts. They weren’t anything like the ship doxies she had met before. Those woman who habited the ports earned coin from desperate sailors coming in from a long term at sea.
Today was a day of continuous revelations about the world around her. She had always thought herself to be worldly, but in a matter of hours, she’d come to realize how the opposite appeared to be true. She was nothing better than a country mouse. She must keep her wits about her if she wanted to escape. Her reputation was in tatters, but that didn’t bother her as much as the idea of Trenton getting within arm’s length of Yzabeau.
She thought for a moment that her father might protect her sister, but then, he had been trying to marry Yzabeau off for years. It was her intervention on Yzzi’s behalf that had prevented it. She helped convince her father that her sister would benefit from trips to the continent with their aunt, a clever cover for all the information her sister passed back and forth from the New World and the Rebels. What would happen to them all now?
* * * *
Captain Malcolm Dygannon had heard tales of Lord Alexander Trenton’s cold-blooded attitude and perversely enjoyed the ease in exploiting it in front of his wife. There was the distinct possibility that, despite that he had heard otherwise, she deserved it. The higher echelons of New World society didn’t have patience or interest in those they deemed below them. Seamen and pirates fell far below her station. Still, while she stood there with a knife to her throat, not once did she say anything concerning the proximity of any rabble. A true blue blood would not have hesitated in voicing her opinion of the situation long before she realized the danger she was in.
Mal knew he held a long-standing grudge and didn’t have a high opinion of their type, but he did know how to read body language. It was a talent that had saved his hide more than once. In this case, Mrs. Trenton never expected her husband to toss her aside like that. The pain of that betrayal echoed in her eyes when he looked at her. She cared for the shallow idiot, and he didn’t think she truly had any clue as to this side of her husband. The involuntarily jerk of her body and the slight drooping of her shoulders at his decision proved she expected a more chivalrous response from him. What did surprise him was the venom behind her words.
Her reaction impressed him. So the gentle Mrs. Trenton had a bit of a temper? Interesting. This crazy plan he’d come up with long ago finally drew to a close. Sean had better appreciate all the hard work it took. Although some details weren’t that hard to organize, capturing her was incredibly easy. Especially since Trenton obviously planned to have his wife killed. If he hadn’t attacked the ship and stolen her, how many days did she have left in her husband’s care?
Under his supervision, Gareth and Jacko harnessed her. Mrs. Trenton’s figure made Mal’s mouth water. She didn’t look like most of the women in her station. Women who tied their corsets so tight Mal feared he might snap them in half. He’d heard recently that the newest goal in New York was to have a waist no thicker then the span of a man’s hands. What kind of idiot wanted a woman like that? He liked to know that a woman could handle being brought to a screaming orgasm and not pass out from lack of air.
Gareth finished securing the rigging and gave the signal. Moments later, he watched her being lifted from the deck. She knew they were taking her but didn’t beg or even ask to be left behind. For a woman to willingly be taken prisoner by a pirate instead of staying with her husband spoke volumes to his way of thinking. This meek mouse couldn’t be the same woman he had heard so much about. Shock could be a possible cause of her silence. With her looks and meek attitude, she would garner a fortune on a slaver’s block. She might be better off in a sultan’s harem if she was this accepting of anything that happened to her. Not that he could ever bring himself to actually do that.
A slim ankle peeked out from beneath her skirt, and as she rose higher, the long line of her leg came into view. Mal could feel his body reacting to this illicit show. No doubt she would be horrified at the exposure. What was truly amazing was that, as she rose higher, he gained a new respect for the woman. She eschewed the normal layers most women flounced around in. At this moment, he respected that choice immensely. Now, if only he’d had the forethought to stand directly under her. He’d glanced up at her face and saw, to his amusement, a rebellious look in her face. At last, the volatile temper he had heard stories of made an appearance.
Her attempt to spit was a useless but amusing show of defiance, and it did impress him. Good thing, too, because humble, timid, little women left his blood cold and other body parts limp. Well, not that limp. He slid his gaze to her bared legs as she rose high enough to present him with a luscious peek at what hid at the apex of her legs. Her limbs snapped together, legs twisting together in an attempt to cover herself and deny him the view.
He couldn’t hear the words she’d spoken to him, but the look on her face spoke more than her words ever could. He couldn’t help but grin up at her. If he wanted to have a peek, there wasn’t a damn thing she could do about it. A lesson he felt would be very enjoyable to deliver. He returned his gaze to the woman’s husband. Where he had enjoyed the view of her womanly assets, her husband’s gaze was on his ship. Did the man even realize that she had attempted to spit on him? Still on his knees, Lord Trenton had looked over The Seahawk as if he planned to own her one day. There would be more chance of the sun falling from the sky. The man couldn’t see much from his angle, certainly not the secret that kept The Seahawk in the air.
From his vantage point, all he would be able to make out were the ropes that dangled down and hauled up crates and chests from the hold. The winds had begun to pick up, and the cargo swung gently as it made its way upwards. The chests obviously were not as full as he expected. The information he received listed this ship as carrying a vast treasure for delivery to an unknown warehouse in New York. His man had come up from the under deck not long ago shaking his head. Apparently, they had the wrong ship. An impossibility or their lead was wrong. Unless Trenton had deliberately leaked false information, but why would he do that?
Malcolm had long ago turned his back on the world of nobility, unwelcome in their midst any longer. He did understand how a criminal’s mind worked and began to wonder what benefit spreading such a rumor would be. Why did Trenton want his ship attacked? It couldn’t be personal because anyone could have caught up to The Rosemary sooner or later. Mal happened to be the first one to cripple her defenses and board her.
“You can ease your concerns. I have no intention of killing her. She’s worth more to me alive.” He deliberately allowed Trenton to believe he would treat her in the same manner the New World nobles treated everyone of lower class.
Trenton swung his gaze back down to where Mal wanted it. His face reflected a flash of horror, quickly masked by arrogance, then false sadness. “Whatever you decide, of course. She’s a good girl. I don’t want to see her suffer any, show mercy on her. She has a sharp enough tongue that she may drive you to want to gut her. I would understand if you felt the need to cut it from her throat.”
Mal clenched his teeth together and took slow breaths in and then out again in an attempt to cool his own temper. He knew that the nobles rarely married for love, but to show such a lack of respect for another human being disgusted him. “What I intend to do to her is none of your business. You have exactly one minute to gather what is left of your men and get off this ship.”
Lord Trenton’s eyes widened, his neck flushing beet red. “But, but you said…” Spittle sprayed from his lips as he sputtered.
“I lied.”
“Sir, you lack the honor I would expect from any free man. To go back on your word is as disgusting as the acts of savages.”
Mal placed his hands on his hips and laughed aloud. “Honor? You lecture me about something you lack? You chose a lifeless vehicle over your wife.”
“I made the hardest decision of my life in order to save the rest of the family. Her life is sacrificed in order to be certain that the rest of the family has food on the table.”
“And jewels in your pockets,” Mal finished for him.
Trenton blustered, more spittle flying from his lips as he tried to argue. Any blessings of looks were lost in the ugliness of his anger. “You know nothing of my finances. I have given everything for this family. Everything!”
“One ship would not have caused you enough loss to destroy your family, even if this one had been filled as rumored.” Malcolm turned on his heel and strode away from him.
He nodded to one of his men. “See that Mr. Trenton and his men are loaded into the shallops and set afloat.”
While his men strong-armed the noble and his surviving crew off the ship, Malcolm made his way through the ship. The conditions in which Trenton expected his men to live were atrocious. The lower decks were disgusting, a filthy hovel of human filth and rot. The smell alone brought back memories from Mal’s early years on the sea. He forced himself to breathe through his mouth and think of his own ship.
Trenton’s cabin was nothing like the lower levels, of course. He made his way quickly through the storerooms, confirming what he had already suspected. This frigate carried nothing close to what the ship’s manifest stated she should. Which meant that someone had already boarded her and emptied the contents, Trenton threw everything overboard, or somebody set Malcolm up.
According to the official records, they were carrying flour and sugar to trade in the city. There were also a number of reports that he carried a fortune in jewels and artwork on board. According to Mal’s sources, Trenton was trading human lives. The slave trade was alive and well, despite his and others’ ongoing attempts to destroy it. Still, there was no proof to be found on board of his activities. Unless he planned to be boarded and the entire trip was nothing but an elaborate way to end his wife’s life.
A shrill whistle pierced the air in three short bursts. The alarm. Mal ran above board and looked up at the lookout perched in the crow’s nest. The boy there waved his arms and pointed to the east. Snapping open his looking glass, he saw the faint shadow of a ship headed in their direction.
“Dammit, I want everyone in the air immediately!”
Mal compressed his spyglass back into itself and tucked it away on his belt. He pulled his goggles back down over his eyes and reached for the harness that continued to dangle from his ship. With practiced ease, he buckled himself in and anchored the rope around his boot. A moment later, the rope snapped taut, whisking him off the deck.
Ropes withdrew almost as quickly as they dropped, and Mal ascertained that all his men were on their way to being back in the air. From his vantage point, he could see the four shallops floating a good distance away from the ship. In one, Trenton’s large frame waved wildly. Mal could just imagine the curses shouted at him, lost in the sea’s winds, not unlike Mrs. Trenton’s spittle.
The railing appeared in front of him, and he grabbed it, pulling himself over it. Unhooking himself, he snapped his spyglass open again and looked at the horizon. The ship was close enough now to see The Rosemary, but the sun and clouds should still camouflage his ship, The Seahawk. He strode down the deck and slapped his first mate on the shoulder. “Gareth, any concerns while I was off ship?”
“No, sir. All cargo is below and stowed away. Jacko took the woman to Tabby and Cory’s room.”
“Excellent. Good work, Gareth. Now, as soon as everyone is aboard, sink that bitch, and then get us the hell out of here before we’re identified.”
“Aye, aye, sir.”
Leaving Gareth to follow his orders, Mal headed to the door where his quarters were located. He heard the hiss and groan of the engines rumbling to life. A slight shimmy to the boards below his feet told him that the steam pressure in the engines rose. It would only be a few moments before it reached the level where the engines could be engaged and they would be underway. He pulled the goggles from his face and stripped off his gloves as he walked. Today’s incident marked the possibility of a large change in his life, and he hoped he had made the correct decisions.

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Haunted Hearts
by Corinne Davies

Siren-Bookstrand

eBook ISBN: 1-60601-967-8

Gwen lived through a horrific accident that left her with the ability to see spirits. One ghost isn’t willing to leave her alone, and she knows she may never truly be safe again. Mac is hiding away from life, until a beautiful woman appears in his path and forces him to live up to his own personal code. She needs a hero and he needs to be one.

Chapter One

I had no idea the destructive capability of four year olds. Gwendolyn scrubbed at the sticky crimson spill before wiping the worn linoleum clean. She imagined these old tables had seen a lot of birthday parties, but all this red icing from the Nelson twins’ birthday cake made the place look a bit more like a scene from a horror movie. Streamers and balloons hung haphazardly around the room while bits of ribbon and wrapping paper littered the floor.
She straightened the napkin holder and condiments before flipping the silver chairs, resting their worn green vinyl-padded seats on the tables. The room almost echoed with the high-pitched squeals when she brought out the red heart-shaped cake their mother had made for them. Gwen made quick work on the tables and then began to sweep up the crumbs and sprinkles coating the floor.
A small shimmer glimmered in the corner of her eye, but she ignored it. Old diners like this attracted spirits like a moth to a warm flame. Thankfully, the ones who tended to appear around here were gentle and inquisitive. So far, they were happy to revisit their own fond memories of the place and then move on. By ignoring them, Gwen could keep up the illusion of being nothing but a small town girl working to take care of her brother.
Her little brother Joey kept busy doing dishes in the kitchen by hand because earlier in the week he’d decided to take apart the kitchen’s dishwasher. Gwen was terrified she would have to pay for it or, worse, lose her job. Mrs. Brown simply laughed and said she expected something like this to happen. Kids like Joey had a natural curiosity that had to be sated, and they learned best when they could dig into the middle of something themselves. Of course, he wasn’t getting off scot-free. Washing up by hand was his punishment until he put the machine back together.
Joey slipped into the room and quietly eased the swinging doors closed, contrary to his habit of slamming things. He ran to her and wrapped his arms around her waist.
“Wendy, you have to be quiet, Ma Brown says.” Joey started calling her Wendy after she read Peter Pan to him.  
“Why? Joey, what exactly happened?”
“So, I’m washing dishes for–e–ver, and I start thinking about the dishwasher. There is a spring in there I don’t recognize, and I think that must be the problem. I bet if I put in a new one and clean out all the spouts and replace a couple tubes it will work better now than it did before. Do you know how old it is?” Joey took a deep breath, and Gwen knew he was on the verge of a long explanation on the inner workings of the antique washer.
She constantly worried about her brother. His natural abilities seemed to be stunted by his lack of social skills and immaturity. After the dishwasher incident, Mrs. Brown tried to assure Gwen. She thought one day all the parts of Joey’s brain would catch up with each other and he would end up being a great surgeon or lawyer or president. While Gwen wanted to believe her, she knew it wouldn’t happen without some specialized help
Cupping Joey’s face with her hands she, made him look up at her, and made eye contact. “No, Joey. Listen to me. What did Mrs. Brown say?”
“Oh, yeah. Ma Brown came in and whispered to me. She said to hide back here and to tell you to be silent. If we hear her yell, we are to go out the back door and go hide in the woods out back until we hear her ring the bell.”
The party room had its own entrance so the diner’s customers wouldn’t be too disturbed by large groups of people coming and going. Gwen clutched Joey closer to her and moved toward the door. Twitching aside the teahouse curtains, she looked out into the parking lot. Parked to the side of the building sat a brand new Mercedes. The amount of dust covering it made her think it must have been driving a long while on back roads.
A metallic taste flooded her mouth, and she realized she had bitten her lip. She had tried so hard to stay hidden. She stopped straightening her hair, dyed it black, changed her name, and tried to hide in a small town.
“Joey, you stay here by the door. Don’t make a sound.”
He nodded, his eyes reflecting the fear she tried to hide. “Do we have to run?”
“Not yet, stay here while I look.”
Gwen moved over to the swinging doors. Staying beneath the circular window, she pressed her ear to the small crack between them. She could hear the normal sounds of the diner. Jack rattled dishware as he cooked up something in the kitchen, and Mrs. Brown laughed while she served someone. Nothing sounded amiss until she heard a couple of men’s voices. She couldn’t make out the words, but their rich Latino accent stuck out among the Southern drawl she’d grown accustomed to. Her heart thudded hard in her chest. Memories of why she ran away flooded her system like adrenaline. Her instinct to run vibrated along her limbs. God, if these men were whom she suspected and they had arrived an hour ago? All those precious children would have been in danger, along with their moms and family. She slowly tiptoed back to where Joey stood by the door.
“I’m not going to get to go to school here, am I?”
His whispered voice wrapped around her heart like a vice. She knew he loved it here and looked forward to going to school in a few weeks with the locals.
“Let’s not worry about that yet.”
How did they keep finding them? If they knew about all the bank accounts, then they knew she never used a penny. Gwen had taken great lengths to make sure she didn’t use anything traceable. They left with the clothes on their backs and a few packed essentials. If one thing set them out from the crowd, it was her Shelby. She earned the money for it, and it saved her and Joey from traveling on buses and trains. Could they have found out about it? She loved that car, but it had to go now. She would have to move on.
Joey moved restlessly against her side. “Wendy, I’m bored.”
“I know, kiddo. Not too long now.” They sat on the floor with their backs to the wall under the window. If anyone walked by, he wouldn’t see them. She heard the deep purr of an expensive car and fought the urge to look through the window and watch them leave. Instead, they sat there and waited.
Finally, Mrs. Brown opened the door to the room and stuck her head in. “You two okay?”
“Yes, ma’am.” Gwen nodded and hugged her brother closer to her. She fought the urge to cry with relief. The illusion of safety she deluded herself into believing for the past few months dissipated.
“My mister wasn’t a good boy all the time. I learned fast to notice that type. Those boys were trouble through and through. They’re flashing an old picture of you. I think they believed me when I said I’d never seen ya. They’re passing through and sound like they’re in the habit of asking.”
Gwen opened her mouth to offer an explanation but shut it when Mrs. Brown held up her hand. “No, I don’t want to know. You’re a good girl, and I know you and Joey are in some trouble. It’s good to know when you’re hiding how you stand. Now you know. Whoever they are, they’re still looking for you.”
Mrs. Brown flipped one of the chairs back to the floor and sat down. “Don’t you worry. No one around here is going to tell them anything. We keep to ourselves and don’t like strangers like that poking around.
Gwen hoped life might be different here, that she and Joey could live a normal life. They got lucky today, but what if next time someone else caught her out front?
“The dinner rush will be starting in an hour or two. Becky should be feeling a bit better by then. Poor thing is suffering terribly with morning sickness.”
“I’ll be finished up here in a second, and then I’ll come help you get ready out front. I don’t mind staying if she doesn’t feel like coming in.” The extra tips would come in handy now.
“You’re a kind girl, Gwen. Why don’t you have a bit of a rest and something to eat. Go in and tell Jack what you’re in the mood for. He’s sweet on you. I’m certain he’ll happily make whatever you want.”
Mrs. Brown ruffled her brother’s hair. “Young Joey, you still have some pots to finish up.”
Joey rolled his eyes dramatically. “Can’t I have something to eat, too?”
“I happen to know Jack has been making you snacks all day, young man. I told you, until my dishwasher is fixed, you will be helping out with the dishes.”
“What if I delay doing more dishes and work on getting all the pieces back into the dishwashing machine?”
“Will you put them in the proper spots?”
Joey looked at her as if she was insane. “Of course I will. It would fail to work properly if I didn’t.”
Gwen tried to smile at such simple logic but even that failed her. It felt as though the entire universe sat on her shoulders, perhaps because she had placed so many innocent people in danger. Joey slipped out from under her arm and dashed toward the kitchen. Mrs. Brown didn’t leave but instead stood there. Gwen could feel her gaze on her but couldn’t meet her eyes.
“I’m going to have to quit.”
“Now don’t be doing anything rash.” The older woman placed her hands on Gwen’s shoulders, and Gwen’s gaze met hers. She expected to see pity or anger but not understanding in the expression on Mrs. Brown’s face. “Honey, how long have you been hiding?”
“Five years.”
“Now, I’d say that’s a very long time for someone to be looking for you.”
“They’ll never stop looking. I’m going to have to make sure I have nothing they have interest in. Until then, I will never be free.”
“Is the solution really that simple?”
“No but I can’t live like this. I can’t expect Joey to live like this. He will never get the help he needs if I have to worry about our past hunting us down.”
“You have a good idea, but I don’t want you to rush off anytime soon. Mistakes are made that way. If you’re certain this is what needs to be done, then do what you need to, but plan it out. Without a plan you’ll make a mistake, and they’ll be waiting to catch you.
“I’m so sorry I brought this here.”
“You didn’t bring anything here, little girl. Some good force out there is reminding you not to let down your guard. You’re obviously still in danger.”
Gwen knew she had to go home and put them both in danger in hopes of making it go away. It wasn’t much of a plan, but sometimes the simple solutions worked better than complex ones. All she knew is someone must have taken up the reins of her father’s organization. An organization she often compared to a Hydra..She once tried to cut off its head. Like the mythical beast, it grew another. Only the one that grew back had it out for her.

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