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Currently viewing the category: "steampunk"

The Vril Codex by Ben Manning

The Vril Codex

Vril Chronicles, Book 1

by Ben Manning

Double Dragon

Print ISBN: 978-1771151436

[ Steampunk Romantic Suspense, MF ]

For famous journalist Jane Wilkinson, a peaceful architectural assignment in Berlin is a chance for some much needed relaxation. Until she is touched by an occult evil, the ancient legend of the VRIL CODEX…

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Conquistadors In Outer Space by Maeve Alpin

Conquistadors In Outer Space

by Maeve Alpin

Eternal Press

eBook ISBN:978-1-61572-879-4
Print ISBN: 978-1-61572-880-0

Forbidden love…so strong…it spans the universe.

Sparks fly when Ana she finds Ramon—the only man she ever loved—is flying to Planet X as well. Will his conquest of her heart succeed or will Ana make a life for herself alone amid the wonders and dangers of Planet X.

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Chapter One

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Steam-Driven Seduction by Corinne Davies

Steam-Driven Seduction

Steampunked Lust, Book 3
by Corinne Davies


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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Humanotica, Book 2
by Darcy Abriel

Samhain Publishing

eBook ISBN: 978-1-60928-863-1

Amid ever-tangling emotions and a brutal plot to take over the city, the three lovers walk a tightrope that could be cut at any moment. Fighting for justice, bound by duty…and a love that could alter the foundations of their world.

Chapter One

For Haevyn Breina, excitement didn’t just send her heart pounding, every sense on high alert; it also possessed an extraordinarily arousing scent. The anticipation brought to mind an impending sea storm, the taste of salt spatter clinging to her lips, the bruising sting of hail beating ice-sharp upon her skin. Danger always magnified the experience.
In Quentopolis, to be identified at Cockrage could lead to internment at the despised government-funded incarceration and experimental research facility, the Factorium. For females, the danger was greater since Cockrages were man games.
Officially, the regulatory Compliance Subministry of the Politico did not acknowledge the existence of the Rage tournaments. Unofficially, on the nights the games ran, the docks were the only place to be. Especially for someone diagnosed with manic risqexcerinia. Haevyn could feel it—the blood roaring through her veins, sexual excitement flooding her loins, a craving for the taboo, the thing she hated most, desired best, mounting like the most dangerous delirium intoxicant. Her fear of the humanotic condition, a love-hate polarity, fueled her actions—that and the challenge thrown to her by her lover.
Haevyn risked a great deal to attend the games, and if she were exposed, things could go badly for her—very badly. The mingled aromas of fish scraps, dying seaweed, salt water, human sweat, and stale sex saturated the dock-down district’s illicit atmosphere. She tried not to inhale too deeply of the close, cloying air. And yet…it titillated her passions in a decidedly earthy fashion.
“Keep your mask on and your hood pulled low, Wildcat,” Grisha, her companion, murmured in her ear. “Match your stride to mine. Nobody’ll even look at you twice. Not uncommon for Ellies from the Elite District to slumdown on a night like tonight. Especially when they get wind that Ballador is caging up.”
She glanced at him, rather envious of his ability to fit in with this crowd. Wearing a fisherman’s knitted gray cap pulled down over his longish brown hair and walking with the easy confidence of a man who’d grown up on these docks, he blended seamlessly with the boardwalk environment.
Haevyn drew the voluminous, thick, dark blue wool cloak closer around her shoulders and tugged the hood farther forward to shield her face, further disguising her true sex. The mask itched. It was something Grisha had dug up, goddess knew where, in order for Haevyn to attend the festivities tonight. Poor Grisha. He was so unlucky at cards. He’d lost a bet with her, and now he’d offered her the chance to settle it by getting her into one of the Cockrage events. It was an intriguing offer she couldn’t turn down.
In truth, at a very basic level, these events terrified her. The combatants were humanotic, and her meetings with them thus far had not proven pleasant. She’d actually had to force herself to follow through and come here tonight. And yet her very terror, her aberrant fascination with all things humanotic, had her heart hammering with a certain level of triumphant excitement, not dread. She hated being afraid and so was determined to face her terrors, again and again. She’d been labeled manic risqexcerinia by the Regulate psychiatrist. Risk-taker extreme.
Surprisingly, once identified, she had embraced her twisted fascination, her challenge, her personal power that seemed to increase with every dangerous encounter. She almost reveled in it. Hence, Grisha’s nickname for her—Wildcat. He still bore some of the scars that had earned her that nickname.
Haevyn glanced sideways and determined the information she’d been given about females not attending the pre-games needed qualification. Ladies did not attend these bouts. Females of good name did not even consider breaking the boundaries of earthy, illegal encounters such as this. But there were some. Mostly those who made their living off the dockers and manufactors. Some, she knew, had grown up as wharf rats—orphans who refused to enter the workhouses and jumped the orphans’ house as quickly as a feral studcat atop a steam ventilation quit its crouch. And here, in the tunnels just beneath Canal Lane, was a prime location for doxies to bring their johnimen. But for other choices she’d made, Haevyn might have become one of them. Fortunately, that very label of risk-taker extreme had made her journey different from most, and she’d made decisions others of her sex would have quaked to even consider.
The pungent odoriferousness of bawdy sex and body stench threatened to overwhelm her. The strike of her scarred leather boots against the decaying, wet, cobbled street echoed loudly to her ears, especially at this late hour. Midnight didn’t bring the best sorts down to the wharves.
Haevyn narrowed her gaze as she and Grisha advanced, closing in on a couple on a wooden bench. The woman’s tangled cloud of black hair blended with the night, shadowing her naked, paste-white shoulders. Her red satin dress hung limply about her generous hips as she rode the scruffy-whiskered dockman sprawled beneath her. Their low moans split the silence of the pale-moon night. The dim-toned light of a flickering, dirt-encrusted street lamp glimmered dully over their undulating bodies, casting long shadows that twisted diabolically.
The woman arched back, her voluptuous breasts bobbing with the cadence of her swaying as she bounced faster and faster over the man. He grunted, eyes wide and unfocused; then he cried out as he climaxed.
“Come on, Wildcat,” Grisha whispered urgently, “or we’ll miss the match. And I want to check out the auctions beforehand. Might find something useful for the pub or my fishing boat.”
Haevyn turned away from the post-coital, loose-limbed liquidity of the tableau, just catching a glimpse of the woman as she awkwardly dismounted the docker and turned to straighten her wrinkled dress. As Haevyn and Grisha passed by, Haevyn caught a closer look at the woman, whom she had at first thought quite young. But, no, the woman was far past her prime, by the look of lines etched deeply into her face. The doxy scooped up a bottle and gulped long and deep before offering it to the man on the bench.
Haevyn shuddered inwardly at the thought of how thin the veil was between the doxy and her. It could have been Haevyn trying to make ends meet as a common streetwalker. And there were some days when she didn’t feel much better than that. She shoved the thought away and straightened her shoulders. No regrets. The knowledge that her fate could have been that of the doxy rode her harder on some days than others. She made no apologies for her choices, even if they had been more difficult than she could ever have imagined. She was a survivor. Her brother, Bhrett, counted on her to be strong. She’d promised her parents at their grave she would take care of everything, just as they would have.
She and Grisha rounded a turn, taking the steps up to the main thoroughfare and moving toward the noisy hub of activity. Not much reason for her tromping this far down the docks in the regular course of conducting business. Neither had it been a regular destination when, as a child, she’d accompanied her father before his death.
Gamebrokers, arms waving furiously, bet-bits fluttering, urged higher odds. Fortunes turned on the outcome of the humanotic games. Especially for the Elite, who masked themselves in order to attend the games right alongside the dockers and factory workers who lived and breathed for cage matches—particularly the illegal ones. A fine night for “downing it”, as those from the Elite District called a night partying in the Moondown Water District. Bastard pirate liquor from Zamboza would flow like water. Cheap and easy, just like the women who offered their services at the pre-game midnight market.
Here and there along the boardwalk and inside the warehouse, the wily tebitcheckers operated their nasty little contulaters. Green metal mechanisms with pearl-numbered buttons that went ka-ching, ka-ching in a steady rhythm through the night, tallying up the intake for the Green’s split of profits. They spit out cheap green punch cards, already stacked high, marking a profitable take for the game-governing gang. The tebitchecker’s apprentice, wearing a brass magnifying monocle, inspected each tiny punch hole before transferring the card to the brass strongbox to be delivered to the Green’s headquarters at the end of the games.
The Greens owned the night, as they controlled most everything else that was illegal in the Downers. Under the boards, they split the lucrative cream with the shifty Regulates who patrolled the area. Greased palms, secret agreements and ruthless enforcement kept everyone involved obscenely bloated with their greedy gains.
Grisha dragged her forward.
“You wanted this,” he hissed.
“Yes, but I never thought you’d actually let me come with you. You never have before.” He grinned. “You know me better than that. How long have we been…friends? Since the lower forms. When have I ever filched on a bet?”
“Point made. Can’t say you’ve ever done less than rise to all expectations in our friendship.”
“You’ve never been able to say no to me, have you, Wildcat? Now, come on.” The leer he turned on her, the slanted gaze, the intensity of the look, only made her heartbeat quicken. Damn the man!
The door on her memories slipped open—slices of the past always reared up at the worst moments. Unpleasant thoughts filled her mind. They often did concerning certain choices she’d made. Grisha should have been her first lover. That he hadn’t would always be a thorn in her sporiti. With him, losing her virginity might have been easier, better, meant more. But the man who had taken her sexual innocence hadn’t been him. By the time she and Grisha finally did share intimacy, the wounds of the brutal deflowering were etched deep and everlasting. She’d learned a hard lesson, but the ugly liaison had kept a roof over her and Bhrett’s heads. So maybe that was just the way life was meant to be. Maybe the experience had helped to make her the risk-taker who could survive anything. Bhrett and Grisha were the two most important people in her life. She’d give her life for either of them.
Torches burned brightly along the boardwalk that led them to the otherwise deserted warehouse at the end of Coal Lane. The Greens had seen to the construction of a bigger and better warehouse some years back. Rumor had it that this end of the wharf was now used strictly for illegal games like the event they attended tonight.
The atmosphere felt more like a street fair, except ninety-nine percent of the attendees were men, with the odd streetwalker thrown in. Fucking in this corner, gambling in that. A fiddler here, a singer there. She heard a guffawed eruption from one corner and turned, her curiosity piqued. Three men stripped a woman of her stained, canary-yellow dress. She seemed to be enjoying the attention. When she was finally bare, one of the men tossed her onto a spice barrel, where she commenced a slow, grinding dance to the spritely tune of a lone fiddle player, twisting and turning, her tattooed breasts bouncing. It wasn’t long before one of the burly men in the audience, a crusty sailor by the look of him, launched himself forward, threw her across his shoulder and strode away toward a shadowy, unoccupied nook in the yawning warehouse. The remaining men turned to one of the other women and began the bawdy ritual again.
Grisha dragged Haevyn deeper into the warehouse, where auctioneers offered up sea chests that had once belonged to sailors now dead. Another niche took them to the sad sight of profiteers auctioning off the contracts of servitude of people desperate for food and willing to bargain years of their lives in exchange for a roof over their heads, a warm bed and full belly.
In the legitimate business world of Quentopolis, contracts like this had been outlawed, but little stopped the desperate from negotiating on the black market. The insensitive Politico ever turned a blind eye to such negotiations.
Grisha pulled her toward a wooden ladder, and they climbed upward, away from the noise on the first floor. On the second floor, a large group of men mingled, engaged in lower-toned conversations; gamebrokers took bets, no females to be seen. The nasty atmosphere stank of sweat and beer and cheap tobacco, lit only by several small dirty tin lanterns that stood in a broad, arcing circle. Dented brass spittoons dotted the corners. By the look of the stains on the planks, few had the talent to hit their mark.
And then she saw them. Six men—no, not men. Humanotics, surgically modified humans. Naked, with the beefiest bodies she’d ever seen in her life. So huge—and she couldn’t help noticing cocks of a proportion to match.
“That’s them?”
“Fighters. That’s what we’re here for—to watch them.”
“Yes, I know. You told me that. But I thought—I don’t know what I thought.” The war of emotions had begun to build inside her. Love-hate. The twisted curiosity for the thing she despised most. Her instant arousal, tinged with that sharp sting of fear, sickened her—drew her—as it always did.
“They aren’t all like Trader,” Grisha said. “Just like us. You should know that. Bhrett’s more humanotic than not, and you don’t fear him.”
“Don’t say that. He’s my little brother.” Haevyn still kept some things from Grisha, including her polaric emotions regarding humanotics. Sometimes she didn’t understand her own feelings. She loved her brother dearly and would do anything for him. She also had a horrific fascination for his metamorphosis from her sweet, fully human younger brother to glamorous and seductive humanotic. Yet doom hovered dangerously close when she considered the consequences if he went too far.
“That’s my point. You can’t tar them all with the same brush, dammit. Some are actually pretty nice people. A lot of them had no choice in what they are—you know that too.”
On one level, he was right. Routinely, the Regulates seized citizens off the street to be used for Factorium experimentation, and then, when the doctors finished with them, they were tossed back out on the street to make their own way, forever changed. The Politico had little concern for their welfare. On the other hand, her feelings on the subject of humanotics came from personal experience. Very personal. She’d lost her virginity to a humanotic—the brutal supervisor at the mill where she’d worked. She refused to dwell on that at the moment. The memory of that first, savage, humanotic sexual encounter still filled her with loathing and fear, but as for her feelings about other humanotics, she wasn’t quite sure.
She adjusted her green mask. The color of the mask marked her as affiliated with the Green Gang—not the Blue. The two gangs ran the Moondown Water District, and everything that happened on the wharves fell within their purview. They got a cut of all activity that went down here and paid their tribute to the Politicos that governed Quentopolis, which left little for anyone else, especially the hungry citizens of the Moondowns.
Her gaze widened when she spotted one of the fighters. A coppery half-mask hid his face to some extent. Good goddess, what a specimen he was.
“Who is he?” she asked as she found herself drawn toward his corner.
Grisha chuckled. “Not all humanotics are quite so revolting, eh, Haevyn?”
“Shut up, Grisha. Who is he?”
“That, my darling, is the fighter known as Ballador.”
“But who is he? He’s not Quentopian. He can’t be.” Fire twisted her gut as she studied the masked fighter. The heat in her stomach simmered and then slowly began to spread. She felt the sharp barb of lust hook into her and twist.
Grisha shrugged. “No one knows his real identity. He always fights masked.”
“I can’t believe the Factorium produced something like him and then set him free.”
“As I said, no one knows his story.”
Haevyn pushed through the crowd of men and took a position at the outer fringes of the circle around the fighter. She couldn’t take her eyes off him. Something about him struck a chord in her. At that moment, he turned and seemed to pick her out from the crowd surrounding him. He fused her to him with a steady, molten stare that took her breath away. She needed to know more about him. He was similar in build to the other naked fighters, but there was something more, something different about this one.
Other than the copper mask, that was. Her palms itched, and she curled her fingers into fists. It was the only thing that stopped her from breaking from the pack and propositioning him right there and then—from running her hands over all that tantalizing skinmetal gleaming beneath the flickering lamplight.
She’d never seen such a chest. Fashioned by and for battle. Yes, this man was a warrior. No dock worker here. Heavy and muscled, gleaming abs like mountainous rock. A physique that reminded her of a deeply textured landscape of rugged terrain and dark crevices of unyielding muscle, thoroughly enticing to an adventurer such as herself.
As he stood silently, his demeanor exuded mixed messages—one of a barbarian warrior ready to fight, yet also an intelligent, noble statesman who always weighed his options before engaging in battle. And that cock. Human, not humanotic, rising powerfully from between those thickly toned thighs to bob against his tight, flat abdomen. Reddened and stiff, knob bulbous, almost twinned by the deeply creviced slit. He’d been shaved to expose every facet of his marvelous body. Yes, that was it. He spoke to her most primal nature.
She spotted the scars at his temples, almost lifted a hand to her own jewel-covered temple. Who was he? What position had he once held that had led to those scars?
“Turn,” she whispered beneath her breath. “Let me see all of you.” Her attention traveled back to his face, to those dark, penetrating eyes that peered out from behind the mask. He nodded, almost as though he read her mind, and slowly began to turn. Arms bowed, hands clenched, he broke that gaze and pivoted away. Light glanced off gold-colored metal plates just behind his ears. He intrigued her. Oh, yes, he intrigued her very much.
Ahhh. A perfect ass, bronzed mountains with a deep valley notched between. Broad shoulders that could easily bear the weight of several heavy crates. A god among men. A humanotic who could easily break her in two if he so desired. Her thighs quivered with need. Desire and anxiety intertwined seamlessly. Her breaths turned shallow as she fought not to press the heel of her palm against her pussy. How would it feel to have those big hands on her body? Possessing her, molding her, his cock filling her.
No wonder he had such a reputation. Suddenly, Haevyn couldn’t wait to watch him in the arena. Her blood warmed, hot now and almost singeing her from inside. Need creamed her pussy. Desire to feel his hands on her breasts tightened her nipples painfully beneath the bindings she wore to mask her sex. She needed to fuck, and she needed it now. Goddess, how she needed it, in a way she’d never wanted it before. Not even with Grisha.
“I want to meet him,” she said.
“Not your type, I thought.”
“Fuck you,” she snapped back.
“I’m thinking I’m not who you want between your thighs right now. Could it be you actually want to fuck a humanotic? My, my, how times have changed.”
She jabbed him in the ribs.
“Umph!” He wrapped his arms around his midriff. “That hurt. Been working out, huh? I should get you to come down to the docks and spar some. It’ll help to keep you fit and toned for that other job you do.”
She didn’t bother to answer him. She ignored his dig about her job. He was her closest friend. He understood her best, but there were still things Grisha would never know about her. Things she kept secret.
“Fine. After the fight, I’ll introduce you,” he finally muttered.
“You know him that well?”
He shrugged, and immediately Haevyn became suspicious. “He comes to the pub now and then.”
“So you’ve seen his face?” Instinct told her Grisha knew the fighter more than strictly as an acquaintance.
“Maybe. But I’m not telling you who he is. I made a promise, and I always keep my word. You should know that better than anyone.” Yes, Grisha had his own secrets to keep. And he could be trusted.
“Fine. I’ll find out for myself.” They’d been friends a long time, and they’d shared a great many secrets. It was Grisha who’d held her when she’d cried after that first time with Trader. It was Grisha who had kissed each bruise left by that encounter and taught her there was more to sex than the savageness of forced penetration, or the whipping she’d received when she’d vomited after performing fellatio for the first time on a man she despised. It was Grisha who had listened as she’d worked out the pros and cons of joining the newly formed Compsociate branch of the military.
Grisha grinned, and her heart twisted. “You do that, sweetheart.” She loved Grisha as much as she was able to love any man besides her brother.
“Fuck you,” she said and then couldn’t help cracking a smile. He always was one to double-dare her, and there were few times when she didn’t take up the challenge.
So, that was her. Haevyn Breina. His interest was piqued.
By the time sixth night came around, Entreus tended to be wound far tighter than was safe for an Orictan warrior. The games were illegal; to engage in them was dangerous but offered as much satisfaction as an Orictan warrior might find in a city like Quentopolis, so far from his own kind. Each day, his restlessness seemed to increase, and up until recently, there’d been no way for him to assuage his thirst for battle. A battle—some battle—any battle. It served no purpose to try to engage Jericah Ledavian, his sorcerer lover, in physical combat. Malefici carnaliad did not resort to that sort of physical confrontation. Besides, Jericah was no match for Entreus’s warrior training. But this sort of confrontation—this Cockrage—had nothing to do with personal honor or serving his Primatur Absolute in Oricta. This was about Entreus keeping his sanity. Warrior honor had no place in a Cockrage event.
A solution to his dilemma had finally presented itself on a day when he’d been on the docks helping load crates onto a ship, needing the physical activity. Grisha Lukamon had told him about the outlawed Cockrage games.
And so here he was, in his third fight. In each one before, he’d been victorious. He looked around at the testosterone-packed warehouse located at the edge of the Moondown Water District, an obviously forsaken area of town. He fought under the name Ballador, given to him by his mother when he was born. He hadn’t used the name in Quentopolis. But then, no one in this dimension knew his full and complete name. They’d known him as Ambassador-General Entreus of the Orictan Dimension, and, more recently, just as Entreus. They didn’t know his heritage. They knew nothing of battle honor, blood courage, or the relationship of brothers in arms.
He’d been well oiled for this match, his body honed and prepared for tonight’s confrontation. His cock was already fully erect in anticipation of the outcome of this crude conflict. Bare and primed, he was now ready for inspection so these men could choose and place their bets on which humanotic would dominate the other. The combatants were dubbed cockbeasts because, once inside the cage, that was all they were—primitive animals, where only one would prevail—as in any confrontation between two male alpha creatures.
Entreus would fight last, as he had been the victor of the previous two engagements. The smell of smoke—cigars and pipes—assaulted his senses. The stench permeated the air. Smoking oil lanterns didn’t help.
“Make yer last bets, boys. Five minutes until the games begin, so make it good,” the announcer said through the amplivocerator—a collar-like contraption with a special disk placed at the front of the throat. Attached to it by a coiled wire was a black metal horn. It allowed a man to be heard above an unruly crowd such as this. “Ante up and git yerselves to the cage. You don’t want to miss a minute of these fights.”
The all-male, unruly crowd closed in on the cage—ravaging spectators who thrived on the animal battles. They lusted for blood and broken bones and death. This arena provided an outlet for their own anger at whatever life had thrown them.
For the anonymous Ellies, the Elites slumming in the Downs for a night’s entertainment, it could prove lucrative. Entreus knew that some of the fighters were trained chattel owned by the Elite. Some were modified solely for the purpose of engaging in the illegal games.
Yes, it had become quite a profitable underworld business. Some said the speculation on these fighters could make or break a wealthy Elite. One or two had tried to buy Entreus, to get him to join their stables. He had laughed. How little they knew of his nature. Tonight he expected some of the Dominatae class in attendance were there to inspect and document the engagements—both in the cage as well as among the spectators. It was part of the Dominatae mission to document and study all sexual encounters.
There were several ways to dominate in this particular kind of fight. The final act of penetration reigned supreme as the crowd favorite.
As the crowd slowly began to disperse and head for the fight cage, Entreus turned to meditation, as defined by his typical pre-game routine. Jericah had taught him several new techniques which seemed to work better than those he’d learned in Oricta. Entreus had little interest in watching the other bouts before his own engagement. He had no interest in spectator titillation. Some of the fighters involved themselves in the games not for the sport of one-on-one combat. More than a few eagerly sought the sexual side of the games, the domination and submission displayed in a public arena.
He’d already sized up each of his possible opponents for tonight. Likely, from the looks of them, sex players. Calling “yield” would end a match without penetration. Few of those he conquered tended to call “yield,” most preferring that ultimate act of forced sexual submission. In truth, the only reason they fought was to be compelled to surrender. That was why the combatants were oiled so very well. Entreus’s body was slick and well prepared both outside and in, even though thus far he’d not been bested in the cage.
He inhaled, then released a breath slowly. Took more air in and exhaled. Just as he was about to begin his limbering routine to warm his muscles, he spotted the woman once again. Rather than following the crowd toward the cage area, she stood watching him. He knew she had accompanied Grisha. She might try to disguise herself as a male Ellie, but he could smell her. She was wholly female. And he scented her interest. She’d watched him and no other through the inspection phase. And now she moved toward him. He straightened.
She didn’t carry herself like most females. There was a regimented cadence to her strut. She thrust back her shoulders; her movements were controlled. Even with her body fully enveloped by the long cloak, her bearing suggested military training. The seductive rhythm of her gait provided an intriguing meld of structure and liquidity. Her eyes, her long, pale lashes, the fullness of her lips beneath the green demi-mask she wore, identified her true sex.
She might live in the Moondown Water District, her allegiances obviously to the Green Gang, but her carriage did not speak of factory or workhouse. She was a station above, but he’d not have mistaken her for an Ellie.
Damn Grisha. Entreus might be interested in the woman, but now was not the time. Now he must prepare for the engagement he’d come to fight. He turned his back on her and began his preparations, though he could still feel her eyes upon him. He forced her from his thoughts.
It wasn’t long before the organizer came for him. Primed, oiled and scenting the hot, pungent aroma of men, Entreus headed toward the cage, masculine excitement coiling tightly inside his stomach. This wasn’t just a match of male power—this was a game of dominant sex. Who would fuck, and who would submit. His nostrils flared as he took in the smell of man-sex, the heat of sweating bodies, the pungency of spilled seed. His gut twisted tighter.
The cheering, the grunts, the roars reminded him of the Cerexian Festival games on Oricta. Maybe that was why he always returned to the arena. And yet Orictan breeding games were a celebration of procreation. These…exhibitions had nothing to do with the celebration of any goddess. These were purely might matching might, humanotic to humanotic, money changing hands. Base, primitive, lusty. A pale imitation of everything Entreus had lost. And he funneled all his rage and frustration into each and every confrontation in the cage.
He needed this like addicts needed opiates. It was all that kept him sane in this alien world in which he’d been forced to remain.
The squeal of the gate being lifted caught his attention, and Entreus stepped into the arena. He blotted out the shouts of the crowds; his focus turned to the man who entered from the other side. He had only seconds to size him up.
A match in build to Entreus, the man had more height, maybe six foot seven to Entreus’s more compact six foot four. Mountainous chest, stone-rippled abs, with a squared-up, blocked run of chest and torso down to solid, lean hips. Enhanced humanotic strength translated into reinforced forearms, thighs, and a thick-muscled neck sheathed in copper skinmetal. His twin-pronged cock swayed thick and semi-hard between his thighs. Entreus figured he was newly fashioned, newly released from the Factorium. The twinheadeds seemed to be the latest craze from the Factorium doctors. Who knew what they were doing to the females? He didn’t want to find out.
Entreus stood at ease, waiting and watching as the cocky young fighter quickly moved to the center of the arena, eager to gain favor with the crowd. Thick fingers balled into fists, he raised his arms above his head and turned to the bloodthirsty spectators, his answering roar well-met by the men eager for the engagement to begin. Tight ass cheeks clenched, glossed with oil, high and muscled, cleft dark and inviting. Globes that gleamed with the film of oil massaged into his skinmetal. The muscles of his ass flexed each time he gestured to the crowd. His back lengthened, spine sharply defined. He appeared to possess reinforced trinespine, giving added dimension and strength to his back. Interesting.
Finally, he spun around to face Entreus. He gripped the root of his cock even as he grinned at Entreus, showing a full mouth of brass, metal-guarded teeth.
“Come on, bitch. Let’s get this started.” He stroked his cock, bringing it to full attention. “I can’t wait to shove this prick up your ass. Then you’re gonna know who’s the biggest and the best around here.”
Young and scared and totally full of himself. Entreus’s blood stirred. Oh, yes, the young braggart had his attention. He liked the look of this wild young stud, and he was more than ready to be the first to put the bit between his teeth and bring the young fighter to heel.
But Entreus waited, biding his time, knowing it wouldn’t be long. Slow to start, he never failed to give this crowd what they wanted—eventually. And he was right. Too eager to strut his stuff, the fighter launched himself at Entreus. Entreus neatly sidestepped and whirled around almost delicately. Even as his opponent lunged forward, Entreus caught the young buck’s legs, spun him, dropped him facedown. When he hit the tarp, connecting headfirst with the ground, Entreus heard the grunt of pain.
But he was fast, spinning in midair before he fully landed, back on his feet, in Entreus’s space. The twist of rage on his face kept Entreus alert to every move, even as he admired the grace of his opponent’s recovery.
They danced around the cage, fist to face, foot to chest, grunts of acknowledgment, spins and lunges, a blur of motion providing wonder and entertainment to the spectators, but enhanced humanotic vision made tracking the action simply another maneuver for the men in the cage. Skin and sweat, the aroma of spicy oil and musk-laden lust permeated the atmosphere of the room as the fight moved closer and closer to its ultimate conclusion.
The heightened odor of blood, the crimson splash of a nosebleed. Entreus’s blood burned for completion. He caught the young fighter up, lifting him, scenting his sex, almost tasting the twin-pronged cock as it brushed against his face. Then he slammed him down to the mat, winding his opponent. The young fighter struggled to come back this time, already tiring. He pushed too fast, too hard, and he lost the opportunity to gain the dominant position.
Entreus saw in his eyes that he understood his predicament. Staring back at the young warrior, Entreus yanked open the fighter’s thighs and slid up between them. Their cocks brushed together, only making Entreus eager to end this foreplay faster, wanting to feel this man’s ass sheathed snug around his prick. He’d be tight and slick with oil and sweat.
Young, new to the games.
The man still fought, refused to submit, would fight Entreus to the end.
“Yield,” Entreus said, offering reprieve. If the vanquished fighter said the word, gave over to Entreus as victor, he could walk out of this cage uncoupled.
“Fuck you,” he growled back.
All the better. Entreus saw the response in his eyes. Make me. Make me submit. He wanted it. And would have it. Anyone who had watched Entreus fight before understood there would be no half measures. Cockrage didn’t promise mediocre entertainment. The victor always claimed his prize.
The fighter suddenly got his second wind and shot up from the mat, unseating Entreus, actually taking him by surprise. He rose over Entreus, but Entreus was far from finished. He hooked a leg around one of his opponent’s, yanked and brought him down. The man lifted his legs against his chest. Perfect. Entreus shoved him over onto his knees into a turtled position. Exactly where he wanted him.
He surged over the young humanotic, fastening him to the mat. Entreus positioned the head of his cock at his opponent’s now unguarded and well-lubed hole.
“Yield,” he offered one last time.
“Never.” There was no question the humanotic didn’t know what came next.
“Then submit,” Entreus said, even as he thrust forward and buried his cock inside the vanquished fighter’s rectum. The fighter clamped his muscles tight, attempting to vise-grip Entreus’s cock. Entreus was no pale-faced youngling to be played, and pain was his friend, not his enemy. A good ride required an experienced hand. He slapped the fighter first on one hard cheek and then the other, fast hits, strong and open-handed. He drummed against the defeated fighter’s ass and kept it up until the flesh flamed red and the vise-grip diminished. Entreus clamped on to the man’s hips and rode him, then spent his seed. Lifting up, still deeply entrenched in the fighter, he slowly rode him again. Long, deep thrusts, dragging it out, playing to the crowd, making certain the man beneath him understood exactly what it meant to be vanquished by the champion Ballador.
Entreus rolled his hips, ground against the routed fighter. Pulled back and then buried deep again and again. He felt the strength go out of his fallen opponent, felt his acquiescence, his acknowledgment of Ballador’s supremacy, giving over to an Orictan’s vanquishment. And then the ultimate victory as the young warrior began to move against him, groaning not from pain but from pleasure, even in the throes of his ultimate defeat.
Entreus looked to the faces of the crowd, who chanted “claim him” with each of his thrusts. He rubbed his hands over the reddened cheeks, playfully slapped him again. He knew the man was now caught up in his own answering lust as he pushed back against Entreus.
“Another tamed!” he shouted to the crowd as he buried his cock and shot his seed into the defeated fighter once more. The spectators roared. It was then, at his moment of ultimate victory, that he saw her, standing there, watching. He couldn’t see her eyes, but he saw her mouth, those voluptuous lips, full and reddened, a drop of blood at the corner from where she’d apparently bitten through the skin. Grisha stood just slightly behind her.
And then they were lost in the frenzied cheering of the crowd. Cockrage was no place for women. He pulled his now softening prick from inside his submissive opponent. Cockrage was a game for men.

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Samhain Publishing

by Seleste deLaney

Carina Press

eBook ISBN: 978-1-42689-125-0

In some places, everything has a price–even life and love. Following the queen’s murder, Ever, the Badlands’ Border Guard commander, enlists Captain Spencer Pierce’s aid to rescue and return the heir to the throne. But even aboard his ship, Ever isn’t safe, especially not from her attraction to Spencer.

Chapter One

The tent flap swished open and Ever shielded her eyes from the glare. Her second-in-command eased inside. “We’re behind schedule, Catherine. Where have you been?”
Stripping out of the simple tunic and pants the border guards wore in the desert, the curvy brunette shrugged. “Jaye announced her engagement. It was all I could do to get the other women back to their tents to change.” She raised a brow as she looked at Ever. “I’m surprised she gave the news without you there.”
“Jaye knows I do not approve.” “Of men or marriage?” Ever’s fingers deftly slid buttons through the decorative loops on her jacket. “I have never discouraged the pursuit of sex. Without some release, we’d all go mad.” She twisted her long hair up and pinned it. “Marriage is another matter entirely. A distraction.”
Catherine’s hand fell on her shoulder. “Queen Lavinia has brought us the closest thing to peace the Badlands has seen since the Union first began sending prisoners into exile. If any of us are to find happiness, now is the time.”
“That you equate men with happiness proves you don’t understand anything.” She shrugged off Catherine’s grip.
“Not all men who live here are criminals.”
With one hand on the flap, Ever paused. “That is only because we do not provide them the opportunity.”
She stepped outside, hoping the brutal desert air would scour away some of her irritation.
For seven years, she’d patrolled the borders, capturing the men sent across the Mississippi—or killing them if necessary. She’d seen the true heart of evil. It made what Queen Lavinia and her predecessors created out of the harsh mountains and deserts all the more precious. Even the natives respected the Badlands and all it stood for: honor, loyalty, obedience, and above all the power of women. Ever would proudly give her life to protect the fragile peace of her homeland.
Divided loyalties had no place along the borders.
Ever paced outside the tents, waiting for her troops to gather. With a grimace, she tugged at her snug formal jacket. The uniform was ridiculous. She could barely move; this wasn’t the attire of a Badlands warrior. Even with nothing beneath, it was too tight. At least these state dinners only came around once or twice a year.
Minutes ticked away as sweat began to dampen the fabric. She refused to give the women under her command any longer. It was time to go.
Ever opened her mouth to bellow the order when a shrill noise pierced the still air of the Painted Desert.
The siren.
Eyes wide, Ever yelled, “Weapons! Now!”
She ducked back into the tent. Catherine had already slid her knives into their sheaths and slung a rifle over her shoulder. “Drill?”
Ever shook her head. Queen Lavinia might have a strange sense of humor, but she would never sound a drill without announcing it to the senior officers.
“The prisoners then?”
Ever hated to consider the implications. The queen’s southern fortress housed the worst of the criminals the United States sent over the border. If they’d truly escaped…
She could only hope some overzealous steward sounded the alarm due to an uprising inside the cells.
But she had to assume otherwise.
She tore off the jacket and strapped on her weapons belt. Instinct told her not to waste time with anything else—with her tight, high breasts, she could fight naked if she had to. Crossbow flung over her shoulder, she dashed from the tent.
The rest of the women waited in various stages of undress but all were loaded with weapons. Ever nodded at them and they raced toward the fortress, their feet pounding out a rhythm on the packed sand. Spooked by the siren, horses would take longer than traveling on foot.
They reached the outskirts of the protected field in minutes, but it was too late. Men with weapons swarmed the area. For every one her women cut down, Ever counted two more taking their place. Some wore uniforms—clearly soldiers—but others were in the rough cotton supplied to prisoners.
A woman—a cook by her dress—dashed through the field. A man in faded indigo prison garb raised a rifle and shot her in the back. The woman’s fingers brushed Ever’s outstretched arm as she fell, her eyes wide. Ever lifted her crossbow and sent a bolt flying into the man’s skull. She reloaded with one hand and picked off a soldier with her pistol.
“There are too many,” Catherine yelled.
Through the gun smoke, the bulk of a dirigible revealed itself. Even if Ever knew how many prisoners the fortress housed, she couldn’t guess the number of soldiers carried by a ship that size.
“Just continue fighting. We need to know who survived.” Ever pushed forward and downed another prisoner, even as her sheer skirts caught on a fallen weapon and tore.
A hand clamped down on her shoulder and she spun, her pistol raised. Catherine blocked the weapon’s progress, her eyes downcast. “A stable hand made it out. He says the queen is dead.”
Ever froze, refusing to accept the words. “That is not possible.”
“You have to go. It’s your duty.”
Order in the Badlands depended on a ruler. Once word of the queen’s demise spread, those outside the military would scatter and hide. It was only a matter of time before the escaped prisoners began taking over. Snapping out of her reverie, Ever met Catherine’s eyes. “You are in charge here. Kill them all.”
As much as she hated to turn her back on the fight, Catherine was right. Ever raced from the smoke and death, hoping her women would make it out alive.
Wind-blown sand scoured her bare arms and torso, making her curse the decision to discard the too-tight jacket. Though her skirts were torn and streaked with the blood of both friends and enemies, at least they offered her legs some protection. After tucking what she could of the fabric out of the way, she yanked the goggles from her belt and strapped them over her eyes.
The mountains towered before her. She needed to lose herself in their crags and shadows. After a furtive glance behind, she tucked her pistol back in its holster, secured her crossbow, and began the ascent. Ever had climbed these rocks since she was six years old—far too young to understand how dangerous the ascent was, but already far too stubborn to care. Even knowing the mountain, though, the jagged rocks threatened to slice her hands with every hold.
Sweat leaked through a weak spot in the seal against her skin and slipped into her eye. She blinked fiercely, fighting for sight against the burning. The toes of one foot on a narrow hold, she practically dangled from her right hand as she jerked the goggles down and wiped her face.
There, three inches higher, was a hold for her left foot. The soft leather covering her toes caught the new ledge as the one beneath her right shattered with the echoing refrain of a gunshot.
“Stop right there, ma’am. No need for more killing.” The voice was young—some soldier just following orders.
Ever’s arm strained to hold on as she glanced back to judge his location. “If I do not move, I will fall. Whether you pull the trigger or not, it will still mean my death.” Her biceps quivered and sweat poured down her back, dripping under her belt. He must’ve seen her weapons, known she was a warrior.
“All right, ma’am, find your footing and climb back down.”
A slow smile curved onto her face. “Thank you.” As she pretended to look for a handhold, Ever let her foot slip from the rock. She screamed and threw her body to the left, twisting as she fell. Her left hand snagged on the hold as her right pulled the pistol from its holster and fired.
Through the smoke and dust, the soldier—barely out of his teens from the look of his unlined face— raised a hand to his throat. Blood poured from the hole there, collecting in his cupped palm. Shock was writ large across his features, mouth gaping, eyes wide as he fell to the ground.
Ever’s shoulder burned, and a sharp protrusion sliced against her arm. Sticky redness oozed from the cut, dripping down her biceps. Feeling around with her feet, she eventually managed to take the pressure off her strained joint. She tilted her gaze skyward. The flat that had been only five feet away now taunted her from more than twice that. She bit her lip and shoved the pain deep. Someone would come looking for the soldier soon. Only distance and height offered her protection. She re-holstered the gun and renewed her search for a handhold.
Two hours later, with storm clouds rolling in and painting the sky in yellow-tinged shades of gray, Ever reached an outcropping and settled onto a boulder, a stone arch at her back. As a child, she’d called this her throne and dyed patches of the rock in the pattern of warrior tattoos. Now, fifteen years later, her body sported many of the same designs. Her eyes welled up remembering how her mother had beamed with pride when she received her first mark.
Ever dashed the tears away with the back of her hand, pulled out her oculars and pushed a spring. The machine came to life, ratcheting from a flat brass oval to a pair of dual lenses. Ever shuddered. She’d heard tales about what the clockwork technology of the United States was capable of and it terrified her. Even this outdated contraption made her skin crawl. With care, she focused them on the fortress. Soon, the storm would destroy all visibility, and she had to be sure.
The airship was there, tethered outside the walls. They had executed the attack flawlessly, landing outside, just as the supply ship would have. The gates would have opened wide, expecting traders. Instead, the gatekeepers had been met with death.
She searched the dirigible for identifying marks. Her eyes watered, but Ever was certain she’d seen blue. Not Texas then. She blinked and looked again, squinting to make out the symbols. Not the Confederates either. The ship bore the stars and stripes of the United States.
Her teeth ground together, sealing her mouth against the curse she wanted to voice. Ever wished she could kill them all.
She shifted her oculars to the left. There. In front of the gates, for all who remained to see, stood a pike topped by Queen Lavinia’s head. Dried blood coated the rough edges around her neck and gore stained the ground. Yet, even in death, the queen’s face was a mask of serenity. As though she knew Ever survived and had already begun the quest to bring Princess Laurette back to take the throne. The curse that she’d bitten back died as her throat constricted painfully.
No. There would be time to mourn later. Duty came first.
Because one thing was certain—whoever attacked the fortress wouldn’t stop with Queen Lavinia’s death. The release of the prisoners attested to that. If someone wanted to destroy the tenuous peace in the Badlands, the first step would be destruction of the royal line. All of it. If Ever didn’t find the princess first, she’d be as dead as Lavinia, and the Badlands would never be the same.
Activity near the airship caught her attention. Men ran to and fro, slicing through tethers, making her wonder what had them spooked. None of the desert beasts could withstand firepower of the sort they’d brought. Something else then. Something…
Soft thunder had covered the sound, but there, the higher pitched rumble of steam engines. Ever stood and twisted around. A second dirigible crested the craggy peaks. Its markings were familiar; it was one of their usual cargo ships. Dark Hawk. Yes, this ship had brought supplies many times.
Her mind shuffled pieces around. Clearly, the ship on the ground knew the Dark Hawk was approaching. She’d intended on waiting until night to rappel down and take a horse. But that way would take her days to reach Texas, much less find transport to the north. Her new plan had risks to both the Dark Hawk and herself, yet there was no question regarding the fate of the dirigible’s crew if they landed. A handful more deaths wouldn’t stop the men who had slaughtered their way through the fortress.
Ever grabbed her knife, cut a swath of fabric from her skirt and secured it to a bolt. Dehydration and exhaustion made her fingers clumsy. It took three tries before she managed to tie it properly. As soon as she had the bolt loaded into her crossbow, she took aim and let fly. The first signal flew low and she swallowed a cry of frustration. Her hands shook as she tore off another strip. By the time her traitorous fingers attached it to a new bolt, the cargo ship hung in the air above her. There was time for one final shot. After that, any warning would come too late.
She took aim, inhaled deeply then let the breath whoosh from her lungs. The crossbow fired; the bolt arched up and sailed right across the bridge windows, trailing its ribbon of white.
If they didn’t see that, it was back to the original plan.
Ever’s arm fell heavily to her side. She’d never felt so tired. The rocky throne looked more comfortable than she’d thought possible, the sun setting behind the clouds bathing the base in strange red-hued shadows. Ever tilted her head to the side, staring, then gave it a fierce shake. The world swam around her and she staggered backward, her heels teetering on the edge of the outcropping, a three-hundred-foot drop the only thing waiting to greet her. She glanced at her bow, wondering why it was so much harder to lift now. Her left arm ran slick with blood from where she’d cut it on the climb up.
Ever blinked. How could she forget something so basic as binding the wound? She shook her head again, bringing on a fresh wave of dizziness. Intent on staunching the flow of blood, she lifted a foot to step toward her throne, but the bow threw her off balance. She tried to catch herself…and stepped backward. The world tipped beneath her then disappeared as she fell into the abyss.
Just this one last trip and she’s finally mine. Captain Spencer Pierce stared out the window of the bridge, lost in his thoughts. Ten years ago, he’d signed himself over to a life of indentured servitude in order to earn ownership of the Dark Hawk. Almost a third of his lifetime spent locked into a contract with a bastard who barely paid a living wage and argued over even the most basic repairs needed to keep his crews safe.
Deliveries to the Badlands included hazard pay, and Spencer signed up for every one he could, knowing true safety would only come when he finally owned the ship. Besides, since they’d never had to make a forced landing, they’d never run into any of the prisoners on the plains. The biggest hazards his crew had faced were the ones they created for themselves.
He squeezed his eyes shut against the image of Elsbeth’s dying moments. One more run and she’s ours, El. Just like we planned. When he opened his eyes, he caught an unexpected glimpse of something far ahead.
“What in the blazes?” He directed the Dark Hawk’s telescopic viewer toward their destination, the southernmost Badlands fortification. There, in front of the gates rested another ship, men already preparing her for departure. He snapped the viewer shut.
“Something amiss, Cap?” Mahala asked, striding onto the bridge.
He raked a hand through his hair then waved toward the fortress. “Some danged mess up. There’s another ship here already.”
Mahala slithered her spare frame into the pilot’s seat. “That don’ seem right. This been your run for a couple-a years now, ain’ it?”
Spencer hated it when Mahala got nervous. Afraid of some sort of reprimand, she would slip back into her slave speech patterns, reminding him of her past. He’d found her just north of the Confederate border at the same time the bounty hunter had. A little cash— and staring down the barrel of Spencer’s pistol—had convinced the other man to give up the search for the escaped slave. Mahala had been with his crew in one form or another since then, but he wanted both of them to be able to forget how she came to be there. “It has been. This is probably that dag-blamed senator messing with me so I can’t pay off the damn contract.” Spencer clenched his jaw. “I don’t care. I’m making the run. They can figure it out on the other end—after I own my ship.”
He fussed around the bridge, pulling levers to tilt the Dark Hawk’s massive sails.
“Cap? I think I saw something.”
After setting the new sail angles, Spencer pulled on the brass locking mechanism, grunting as it refused to budge. Again. “What kind of something?” He hissed and pulled harder.
Mahala caught his eye. “The kind you might want to see if it happens again.”
Spencer whacked the lever with the flat of his hand and marched over to the window. “What am I looking for?”
“I only caught a quick look. Might’ve been a bird.”
“I don’t have time for birds.” He turned back to the lock.
“Ain’ never seen a big white flying critter in the Badlands, though.”
The words made him return to the window. When he’d started making runs this way, he’d taken time to study the region. Mahala was right, there shouldn’t have been anything like that in these skies. After several seconds of staring into the dusk, he was ready to chalk it up to her imagination. Then he saw it. An arrow with some sort of tail attached.
He flipped open the viewer and twisted it in the direction the projectile came from. An injured and bloodied woman stood atop one of the jagged peaks, a cache of weapons strapped to her naked torso. Spencer turned to Mahala. “Get Zeke. Now! Tell Henri we’ve got wounded coming aboard.”
As Mahala dashed off, Spencer returned to the levers, readjusting them to a slow vertical decline. He hung from the lock, battered it with his fist and prepared to kick it when Zeke walked in.
The taller, broader man elbowed him out of the way, hit the lever on one side, then the other, and pulled it down. “Is that what you needed?”
Spencer shook his head. “There’s a woman down there. She’s hurt. You’re going to need to haul her up.”
“Will do, Cap’n. Just hold her as steady as you can.” Zeke handed his hat to Mahala as she reentered the bridge. “Take care of that for me, little lady.” He winked at her and strode off the bridge.
“Is this smart?” Mahala asked with a raised eyebrow as she tossed Zeke’s hat into the corner.
As they descended, the peaks closed in. “Probably not, but I can’t think of any good reason for her to be there bleeding, except trouble.” He angled the viewer. They were coming down on course. Just a bit lower
and they could—
A squeaky rubbing pulled him away from the viewer and back to the controls. He twisted the levers to maintain their altitude. They couldn’t go any lower, rocks were already pressing into the sides of the dirigible. Too big a tear couldn’t be fixed in the air, and they’d hit the ground too fast for repairs to be helpful.
“That’s the best we’ve got, Zeke,” Spencer yelled, racing for the hatch.
Zeke nodded and started to lower himself through the opening. His brow furrowed for a moment and he glanced at Spencer. “Change of plan, Cap’n.” Zeke twisted and pushed off from the opening, the rope around his body pulling at the coil on the deck.
Spencer rushed for the hatch. Below him, the woman teetered on the edge of the cliff. As he watched, she lost her footing and fell backward. Only Zeke’s dive allowed him to fall fast enough to catch her. The rope continued to slide through the hatch. As soon as Zeke had the woman, Spencer grabbed the reel brake, slowing their descent until he had to stop it entirely before the rope ran out.
“Noah!” He couldn’t manage the reel and pull them inside on his own.
In seconds, the lanky repairman was at his side, face covered in soot. He grabbed the reel and took over rolling the rope up. Spencer returned to the edge. The rope scraped against the opening, tiny bits fraying before his eyes. He risked a glance down. Though Noah had been winding the reel as fast as he could, Zeke was still more than twenty yards below the deck.
Spencer grabbed a brass rod and held its smooth surface between the rope and the sharp lip of the hatch. The metal bucked against his hands, but he held fast, the lip slicing into his fingers as he gripped. At last they were close enough. Spencer threw aside the bar and strapped onto the deck, his torso dropping through the hatch.
“Woman after my own heart,” Zeke yelled. “Even dying, she wouldn’t let go of her toys.”
With an angry growl, Spencer snatched the crossbow from the woman, beautiful even through the layer of dirt and the black markings of her tattoos, and threw it behind him. When he reached to take her from Zeke’s grasp, she refused to take his hand.
“Easy,” Zeke said, his voice almost lost on the wind, “I can’t get you up like this. Let him help.”
Her disdainful expression didn’t change, but she grasped Spencer’s wrists at last. He struggled to hold on, her grip weak and one arm slick with blood. More hands reached down, Noah having left the reel, and helped pull the woman up and over Spencer’s head. He eased his chest back onto the deck.
The rope inched its way up. Zeke’s fingers could almost grab the rim of the hatch when the fiber snapped. Spencer plunged through the opening and grabbed the bigger man by the wrist. Zeke’s weight pulled on his arm; tendons fought not to tear. Finally, Zeke caught his other hand. Noah dragged them up by Spencer’s ankles.
With everyone safely on the rough wooden deck, Spencer turned over and faced the woman, wincing as he landed on his aching arm. “Now, what the hell were you running from that you almost got yourself killed up there?”
Her green eyes rolled, eventually focusing on him. In that moment, the rest of Spencer’s world disappeared, the dying woman all that remained. Her tongue seemed to twist around the words, “Our fortress was attacked. The queen is dead. Tell your captain to flee before they pursue.”
Spencer locked gazes with her. “I am the captain.”
She stared at him and sputtered, laughing. “Then we are doomed.”

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Carina Press
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All Romance eBooks

Steam Powered Passion
by Corinne Davies


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.
“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.
“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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