Authors: Katherine McIntyre
A Tale of Two Airships
(Take to the Skies #2)
Copyright © 2016 by Katherine McIntyre
All rights reserved.
This book or any portion thereof
may not be reproduced or used in
any manner whatsoever without the
express written permission of the publisher
except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
Printed in the United States of America
Cover Art by Jillian Renee A.
Edited by Summer Ross
First Printing, 2016
To everyone who reached out to me with their love of An Airship Named Desire and asked for a sequel—I hadn’t planned on writing one until your enthusiasm infected me.
So first and foremost, I have to thank Rob, not only for his astute critiques that helped whip this thing into shape but also for being the first to say ‘I want more!’ Tons of thanks to Jillian Renee who did a smashing job on the cover—I’m always impressed by her talent. Huge thank you to Summer Ross for her sharp editing eye and commitment to detail.
To Seregon and George, not only was your beta-reading helpful, but your support means the world to me. A thank you to Warren, who created a model inspired by the Desire and called it the Fireswamp—now she sails via text as well! To Matt, for the help coining the perfect pirate name with Morgan Blackwind. And to Tesrin, whose excitement over Stolen Petals encouraged me to integrate Edward and Viola into this story. Last but not least, thank you again to everyone who loved the first book. You all are the reason I wrote this sequel, and why I’m determined to finish Bea’s story with a series.
There’s a sacred rite all Captains go through, whether of sea or sky, that turns any fledgling into the thick-blooded, heartless bastard they need to be.
Every Captain, at some point in their career will reach the same precipice.
The day when you want to murder every last member aboard your ship. For me? I’d reached the precipice and was ready to dive to the depths.
Voices rose, coming from the end of the hallway. The splintered floorboards creaked under my heavy leather boots as I made my way down. Most of the crew had congregated in the mess hall, since instead of eating their damn breakfast, they’d rather run their mouths. With the door wide open, the scents of Adele’s biscuits and gravy caused my stomach to rumble. I cracked my knuckles upon approach, trying to rein in my temper. To be fair, the week long stretch in the air and the low paying, shitty jobs were partially culprit.
However, the main reason everyone took to shouting like the end of days was nigh had to do with a certain letter delivered by sparrow and addressed to our favorite ex-gypsy, Isabella.
One thing you don’t do is threaten one of ours. I learned that from a wise old wardog, once upon a time. And ever since the letter arrived, Isabella had taken to pacing around below decks, keeping out of sight, or leaning on railings lost in troubled thought. For the woman who never got ruffled to turn as neurotic as Edwin? The letter was one hundred percent to blame.
I paused by the door, listening to the deep, raised voices before peeking past the frame. In the past, I might’ve marched in and started shouting louder, but Morris had taught me better. Instead, my fingers threatened to burrow into the wood grain—I might have some restraint, but I never claimed perfection.
“Those are ties that can’t be debated. Gypsies are roamers, but when called upon, blood unites.” Mordecai’s voice rang loud and clear.
“What about loyalty to the ship?” Jack argued. Ever since our big tumble against the Brits and Morlocks, he’d been growing stronger—bolder. Exactly the sort of spirit I wanted to see from my crew, although not what I needed to deal with now.
Once a lookout, he had long since graduated and had become a promising recon man. Where before he’d been all knees and elbows, now he’d started filling out with muscle from training drill after drill. He’d collected a couple scars from his first mission out as well, though compared to vets like Isabella or Geoff he was untested. His face had reddened during their argument, the color reaching all the way up to his crew cut. Those dark eyes flashed in challenge, the pure opposite of Mordecai’s unruffled calm.
Our resident man of enigma leaned against the wall, pinning Jack with his gaze and keeping the same vice grip of his emotions I’d expect from a pro like him. His normal trench coat had been shed from all the blasted heat and backed-up ventilation on board, so he wore a pair of loose black pants and kept the sleeves of his red shirt rolled to the elbow. He’d even taken to pulling his long blonde hair into a ponytail that put mine to shame—though with my poor grooming as of late, it wouldn’t be hard.
Of course, the two of them were jawing off in a room full of the other crewmembers, most of who were trying to eat. So on top of disrupting their meals, they were also airing out Isabella’s business to everyone and their mother. A couple glances swung their way apart from Edwin who sat in the corner table tinkering with some number of colored liquids, each probably holding the ability to blow up our ship.
I heaved a weary sigh. Diplomacy. Right.
“You guys,” I said as I stepped in, trying to keep my voice as sweet as possible. They stopped dead in their argument. Jack blinked at me like a startled lamb, and Mordecai raised one brow. So maybe I didn’t do sweet well. I rolled my eyes and crossed my arms over my chest. Screw diplomacy.
“Are either of you Isabella?” I asked. Some of my irritation must’ve been leaking through, because both of them fell silent. “Didn’t think so. Look, I get it, you’re concerned. But part of trusting your crew is also trusting them to make the right call. She knows we’d back her whatever the outcome, so it’s time to stop arguing about her personal affairs and start worrying about where we’re getting our next paycheck from.”
A slow clap came from behind me. Before I even turned around, his long shadow and the scent of cedar gave him away. Geoff had a crooked smile on his face as he approached. “Words of wisdom from our captain.”
As always, Geoff was a fresh drink of water no matter the circumstance, the rope tying my errant sails down against the crazy winds threatening to pull me apart at the seams. Like most of the crew, he’d shed a couple layers, rolling up the sleeves of his button-downs and wearing lighter slacks. Granted, the place I preferred his clothes best were on the floor of my chambers—or his, we weren’t too discriminating.
I leaned against the wall eyeing Jack and Mordecai. “Less wisdom and more a very short temper on full boil. Next person to bring up Isabella’s business who’s not the curvy ex-gypsy herself will have an entire deck to scrub down.”
A wan smile appeared on Mordecai’s face. “All good here.”
Jack scratched the back of his head, sheepish. “No problem, Cap’n.”
I softened, my anger fading as fast as it thundered in. “Look guys, we’ll be landing in a day, and we’ll have a meeting with our contact for the job I lined up. Even though we don’t get Morlock jobs anymore, they’re not the only sharks on the black market.”
Geoff tapped the doorframe. “Which is what I came to discuss.” I picked up the cue and nodded towards Jack and Mordecai as the tension from the room fizzled out.
“Good news, I hope?” I slunk into the hallway, and he followed close behind.
“Sunny as a stormy day.” Geoff sighed. We walked down the corridor to my chambers where he’d been spending more time as of late.
I groaned. “Can we pretend it’s good news?”
“Sure.” Geoff’s mouth quirked with his wry smile. “You know your favorite people, the gypsies? Turns out, they’re the ones we’ll be delivering to. Sounds like Isabella’s old clan requested us for this job. Fun, right?”
I kicked my door open, the knob making a resounding clang as it hit the wall. By some miracle the hinges were intact, even with my temper. Geoff didn’t bat an eye—the boy expected my response. He knew me too well.
Taking a seat on the bed, I grabbed one of the cigars sitting in the brass clamshell ashtray by the dresser. Not for the first time, I understood why Captain Morris smoked so much. After fumbling with the light and letting out a loose stream of smoke to filter through the air, my nerves calmed enough to address the situation. I leaned against the wall, digging my heels into the patchwork blankets which had seen better years.
“So, it looks like the gypsy problem isn’t going away any time soon,” I said, facing Geoff. The smoke filtered around the room, tendrils grasping for the aether lamps. The gears in my mind, although rusty, began to creak into motion. “Probably for the best. They’re partially to blame for the crew being so riled up—what better outlet for all our pent up rage?”
“What about Isabella though? Are they doing all this to drag her back home?” Geoff asked, sinking next to me on the bed.
I let out a hiss, a trail of smoke following out. This, I didn’t want to broach. As a friend, I respected her privacy, and she wouldn’t withhold anything harmful from us. The bitch about becoming Captain though meant privacy classified as a luxury when it came to the safety of my crew. Now that Isabella’s old clan meddled in ship business, not just sent her annoying letters, this situation skated close to dangerous territory.
“I think it’s about time her and I had a little chat.” I ran a hand through my tangled curls, my blonde hair turning ashy under the cabin’s light. “For them to come calling with us? She must know something we don’t.”
“So what’s going to happen when half the crew says ‘told ya so’?” Geoff raised an eyebrow, the barest hint of a smile on his face.
“Let them try. See how that goes for them.” I flopped back and stared at the ceiling. Unfortunately, the uniform rows of tan squares above didn’t offer any answers.
“We’re still going through with the job?” His voice sounded about as weary as I felt, and we hadn’t even left the ship.
“You betcha. Just because the gypsies want to bring it to their home turf doesn’t mean I’m skipping a payday.” I let out one last puff of the cigar before rolling to my feet and snuffing it out in the ash tray. Geoff’s hand pressed against my back. When I turned to face him, he planted a kiss on my lips, both exhilarating and steadying at the same time. His tender gaze and the lingering scent of cedar in the air settled my nerves.
“Go give ‘em hell, Captain.” He pressed one more kiss on my lips before making his way to the door. “I’m going to go finish the course. We’ll be hitting port quicker than any of us realize.”
“Thanks.” I gave him a small smile before he disappeared down the corridor. With a weary sigh, I stood and strode to the corridor myself. Evidence of the crew aboard hung all along the hallway—Geoff’s old maps, Isabella’s paintings, and all the sentimental junk we’d found on jobs. Everything that made the Desire ours and made this ship our home. I didn’t bother searching for Isabella in her room or anywhere else below deck. She’d taken to a certain nook when she thought no one watched her.
I strode onto the deck, the wind rippling through my hair and the strong breezes bringing the scent of lilac and ozone along with. Spade stood by the helm, Adelle at his side. Ever since the girl came aboard, I’d seen a different side to our silent helmsman. He actually said two words rather than one now. Granted, the tech talk they babbled made my head spin. I knew the basics, but those were all I could commit to. After all, a temper took a good portion of headspace, and mine was a fierce and furious one.
On the stern side, there was a certain lookout over by the rail. Minimal space, usually neglected, and the very place I spotted Isabella upon approach. I rubbed a finger over my lucky cameo. Despite the bluster with which I handled the crew, most of them had also known me as first mate or captain. Isabella knew me back when I was a belligerent kid with no experience and a tendency to stir the pot. Not like I couldn’t command, but the woman had an uncanny way of hitting all your vulnerable points when she wanted to.
“Hey there, Sulky,” I called out as I strolled to her perch. She glanced up, a weird air of sobriety hanging around her, one that arrived the same day the sparrow did. Serious wasn’t a look Isabella did—at least not regularly.
She attempted a smile, those red petal lips in a curve. “Paying a visit to little ol’ me? What did I do to warrant such attention?”
I clapped a hand on her shoulder. “Wish I could say I’ve got a grand heist planned and need your help clearing a casino. Which, I know you could swing.”
Understanding dawned in her dark eyes. “They’ve done something, haven’t they?”
“Pain in the ass are the kindest words I have for your gypsy clan right now. Don’t press me for more.” I leaned against the wooden slats lining the side of the bench. “Look, doll. Any other time, you know I’d let you keep your secrets, but they crossed my demarcation line. The delivery job we took? You’ll never guess who wants to hire us.”
She paled a couple shades, brushing back a couple strands of hair from her face as if to distract. Too late, I’d already noticed.
“So level with me. What do these people want?” The question hung out there, as direct as I could make it. The one that had been burning in so many minds aboard the ship for some time, and the one I’d let slide, until now.
“They say they want me.” Isabella paced back and forth in front of me. The shadows darkened her eyes and exaggerated the growing worry lines on her face. “They’re going on about paying for my crimes and all. However, as they might forget, I grew up there. I know the sorts of games they play, and this couldn’t be anything else. I’m bait for something bigger, but the problem is—I don’t know what.”
“Well come on, doll, who doesn’t want you?” I winked to break the tension as I tapped the heel of my boot against the wall behind me. “However, I still haven’t heard what you want to do.”
Isabella arched a brow, but underneath her swagger, I caught the fear and vulnerability there. The girl might hide it from some but not from me. The boards of the Desire creaked—the natural shift of the ship as we sailed towards our destination, closer to what guaranteed to be a shit situation. Isabella bit her lip. She didn’t want to make the choice.
Instead of waiting for her to respond, I barreled on through. “You know what? Screw what you want to do. You’re ours. They can’t have you, and if they try to take you, I’ll throw a full on tantrum, right in front of them.”
Isabella tilted her head to the side before a slow smile rolled onto her face—genuine this time. “Your sort of tantrums involve bullets, death, and more enemies than we started with.”
“You’d think people would’ve learned by now not to provoke me.” I grinned and clapped a hand on her shoulder. “We’ll face the gypsies, Isabella. You’ll get your resolution, but if I have anything to say about it, they’ll wish they never tried to mess with the crew of the Desire.”
She peered out at the horizon, her hand shading her eyes. “Looks like we’ll be hitting port sooner rather than later.” Isabella flashed a bitter smile as we began walking out to the side of the ship. “As long as I don’t have to see Julian.”