Captain Kit Brightling is Aligned to the magic of the sea, which makes her an invaluable asset to the Saxon Isles and its monarch, Queen Charlotte. The Isles and its allies will need every advantage they can get: Gerard Rousseau, the former Gallic emperor and scourge of the Continent, has escaped his island prison to renew his quest for control of the Continent.
Gerard has no qualms about using dangerous magic to support his ambitions, so Kit and the crew of her ship, the Diana, are the natural choice to find him—and help stop him. Sparks fly when Kit's path unexpectedly crosses with that of the dashing and handsome Rian Grant, Viscount Queenscliffe, who's working undercover on the Continent in his own efforts to stop Gerard. But he's not the only person Kit is surprised to see. An old enemy has arisen, and the power he'll wield on Gerard's behalf is beautiful and terrible. Sparks will fly and sails will flutter as Kit and crew are cast onto the seas of adventure to fight for queen and country.
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She despised aristocrats, save one: the damned viscount.
Colonel Rian Grant, Viscount Queenscliffe, looked more soldier than member of New London's Beau Monde and was as honorable a man as she'd ever met.
She was no simpering miss herself, of course. Captain Kit Brightling was a member of the Queen's Own Guards and-with Grant-a new inductee into the Order of Saint James. Joining the order was both honor-appreciation for their work on behalf of their home, the Saxon Isles-and obligation-assignment to the council of the queen's closest advisers.
She and Grant had had one adventure together, uncovering a plot by Gerard to employ a magical warship. That adventure had featured one very good, and very dangerous, kiss. She hadn't expected to see him again, which was fine. Kit had no need of a viscount.
But then she'd seen his face across the palace's ballroom-just after they'd been inducted into the order-and her heart had stuttered like she'd put a hand directly into a current of magic. Broad shoulders, immaculate beneath his black tailcoat, and gleaming Hessians. He looked not unlike the roguish heroes in the penny novels she loved-the straight nose, the strong brow over eyes the color of a southern sea.
He'd strode toward her, the crowd parting around him like the sea, and offered his hand. He was taller than her, forcing her to lift her gaze. "Captain."
She thought she'd worn her uniform but, when she glanced down, found she was wearing long white gloves and a dress of pale blue-gray taffeta dotted with ivory, the sleeves capped and waist-high, as was the style. "Are we to dance?"
On cue, the players began their tune, and a waltz streamed through the ballroom.
"Only if you're brave enough," Grant said with a grin.
"I'm no coward," Kit said, and put her hand atop Grant's, even as her heart pounded. His other hand went to her waist, hers to his shoulder, and they began to move. One-two-three. One-two-three. His steps were strong and precise, his body warming the mere whisper of space between them. The fingers that skimmed her hip were hot enough to brand, as if they might sear the memory, or the connection, into her.
They couldn't have been the only ones dancing, but Kit kept her gaze on his face, on the promise in his eyes, the determination in the set of his jaw.
"You waltz tolerably," Grant said, amusement lighting his eyes.
"I waltz magnificently," she said. "A ship at sea has the same rhythm." But the sea's music was different-a thrum she felt in her bones. Kit was Aligned to it, could feel the particular magic that flowed through the waters surrounding the Saxon Isles. The magic that crisscrossed the earth, through soil and stone and underwater, deep and powerful currents that humans were trying to harness, sometimes with disastrous results.
"I wasn't sure you'd agree to a dance," Grant said as they turned a corner, Kit's skirts rustling with the motion.
She shouldn't have. She had no interest in members of the Beau Monde, with their haughtiness and pretentions. But then she'd kissed him, and that kiss had been potent as any current of magic, and it had pulled at her like the tide.
A bell struck, the sound golden and insistent.
"Is that a ship's bell?" Kit asked, as the sound-and what it signified-clawed at her attention.
"I don't hear anything," Grant said, but his voice sounded far away now, and his hands felt less substantial.
"The bell is ringing," she said, raising her voice, but the words barely audible over the din. "I need to check on the crew!"
But the floor undulated beneath her like the deck of a swaying ship. Water had begun to seep beneath the ballroom's closed doors, flowing toward them across the wooden floors.
"I think I should . . ." she began to say, and looked back at Grant. But he'd begun to disappear, his image beside her fading as water lapped at their feet, staining her satin slippers.
"Obligations . . ." he began, but his voice diminished to a whisper. "You must . . ."
Then the trickle was a swell, cold and dark, and covered them both.
She jolted awake, chest heaving and damp with sweat, and braced a hand on the swaying hull of the ship.
She wasn't in New London, nor in the palace. She was on her ship, the Diana. On the water, somewhere in the Narrow Sea.
"Bloody hell," she said, and pushed her short, dark hair from her face.
She actually had seen Grant across the ballroom after the induction ceremony. But she hadn't danced with him. The queen had called them both into her anteroom, where she and her spymaster, Chandler, had delivered the news: Gerard Rousseau, the self-proclaimed emperor who'd waged war against the entire Continent, had escaped his "prison" via fishing schooner. And, they'd come to learn, had rendezvoused with the Gallic flagship the Continental powers had allowed him to keep-the Fidelity.
No one doubted Gerard would return to Gallia, make his way across the country to its capital of Saint-Denis, and attempt to retake his throne. Otherwise, why leave Montgraf, the island to which he'd been exiled, and the comforts he'd been afforded there? It might have been a smaller kingdom than he was accustomed to, but it was still a kingdom.
"Search the waters for him," the queen had ordered Kit, "for the Fidelity and the magic he may be using. Find him before he breaks the world again. We are clever fools, Captain, and Gerard has played us all. The tide is turning, and it will turn swift and savage. We must stand before him and turn back his charge. The world depends on it."
The queen had ordered Grant to the Continent, to resume his prior work as an observation officer, and the Diana had been provisioned. That had been two weeks ago, and she hadn't seen New London-or Grant-since.
At twenty-four, Kit understood the ways of romance, and she wasn't one to pine over a man. Certainly not a viscount. But the fire ignited by seeing him across the ballroom-the unexpected shock of it, the exhilaration of it, and the discovery that she needed to see him again-hadn't diminished in the intervening weeks. It had left her feeling hollow in some deep inner corner of her heart that had never been opened before.
Etchings of Gerard's warship had been shown to the crew as the Diana flew across the Narrow Sea between Gallia and the Saxon Isles, a predator seeking its prey. They'd skimmed the coast within the blockade set by larger Isles ships, searching for Gerard . . . and waiting for war to begin.
The dreams, stark and disturbing, had begun when they'd sailed into the Narrow Sea, which separated the Saxon Isles from the Continent. Its magic-which had once flowed steady and true-now fluctuated, as if the current of power was whipping about in the depths of the water.
Kit thought she knew why: Gerard's loyalists had built a new kind of warship at Forstadt, on the shore of the Northern Sea, and in doing so they'd nearly destroyed the Northern Sea's current. The Diana hadn't sailed so far north this time, so either the Narrow Sea's magic was seeping north to fill the void, or Gerard's people had done more damage to the current in the interim. Kit didn't know. But there was little doubt now that human activity was behind it.
Whatever the reason, the twisted magic-and the dreams wrought by it-had wrapped around her apparent desire for Grant like the tentacles of a kraken. They'd become a leviathan that stalked her sleep.
The bell stopped ringing, but a fist on the door of her cabin replaced the cacophony of noise.
"A moment!" she called out, willing herself awake to face gods knew what awaited her outside.
Kit closed her eyes-shutting out the sight of her cabin and the sea beyond-and reached down for the current. Past dark, cold water, the glimmer of light fading as she felt, deeper yet, for the silver cord of magic that surged through the water.
Some called the currents ley lines; others believed they were remnants of the old gods, spots where they'd touched the earth and left behind the fingerprints of their great and terrible power. Whatever their origin, they were tributaries of power, spread unevenly across the world and ever moving, ever swaying, like anemones in the tide.
The current may have been thin here, less a cord of magic than a shadow of it. But it was, at least, a connection to the sea, to her magic, to whatever in her birth had linked her soul to this place. That comforted her, gave her energy enough to throw her legs over the side of her bunk, pull on her thin night rail, and stride across wooden planks to the door.
She opened it, had to lift her gaze to the dark eyes of the tall, lean man who looked down at her with humor. Jin Takamura was her second-in-command. An officer by commission, but a thief by aptitude. Behind him, sailors scurried through the passageway. The watch bell had signaled the change of shift.
Jin's expression was mild; it wasn't the first time he had woken her. "Captain."
"Commander. What's happened?"
He cocked his head at her, a smile in his eyes. "What will happen if I suggest you look like you've been dragged by sea dragons for a few hundred fathoms?"
That he'd asked the question signaled there was no immediate threat to her crew, so she let herself breathe.
Kit grunted, pulled the thin night rail tighter. The briny air that blew down the companionway from the deck was bracingly chilly. "I will suggest you are perilously close to insubordination."
"Fortunately, I can walk a very narrow line." As if to prove his point, he lifted a foot and balanced on a single plank of decking.
"Hilarity." She paused. "I had another dream."
His brow furrowed. "The rising sea?"
Kit nodded. The plot of the dreams varied, but that was a common theme. "Report, please."
"It pains me to say this," he began, looking slightly mortified, "but we believe we've spotted the Fidelity in port."
"Port?" Kit asked. "Where are we?"
"Four miles offshore from Auevilla, to the west of the Touques and the docks."
Kit lifted her brows at the speed. The Diana didn't stop sailing-and the crew didn't stop working-just because she slept. She was sailed without pause, through changing shifts of sailors and officers. But she hadn't expected them to make such progress along the Gallic coast overnight.
"Steady wind," Jin offered, apparently reading her surprise. "And your very good crew, of course."
"Of course," Kit said, and recalled what she knew of the landscape here. The Touques flowed to the Narrow Sea just east of Auevilla, and the village's docks were located in that conjunction.
"What would Gerard be doing in Auevilla?" she asked. It was a Gallic town of gambling, turf races, fine cuisine, and seaside strolling-not military offices or barracks. The Beau Monde had adored it before the war and had returned when the conflict was over. "I'd enjoy a stroll in Auevilla," she muttered.
"So say we all. And we don't know if he's still there, only that there's a ship."
"Who found it?"
Now Jin paused. "Mr. Wells."
Kit rolled her eyes. "This is the eighth time he's spotted the Fidelity since we left New London. The last two weren't even ships."
"In fairness," Jin said with a smile, "one was a ship-shaped island. And, if I was the type to speak freely, I'd suggest the captain ought not have offered a piece of gold for the sailor who finds it. It tends to encourage . . . hopefulness."
Kit just looked at him. "But you'd never speak freely to your captain without leave."
There was a damned twinkle in his eye. "Of course not. I have a wife and children at home, and they'd prefer I not be forced to walk into the sea."
Kit sighed again. "I'd rather be bothered with an error than miss the ship. I'll dress. Hold us steady."
"Always," Jin said, and she closed the door again.
Kit cleaned and dressed herself as well as she could in the watery light of dawn. Her uniform nearly matched Jin's: fitted navy tailcoat over buff trousers; dark and gleaming boots; and the sabre. But there were epaulets on her shoulders, and the fading bit of ribbon pinned inside her coat. It was a pale blue silk with gold embroidery, and the only physical memento that existed of her foundling past, before Hetta Brightling had brought her into the Brightling House for Foundlings and given her a family.
She'd considered adding the small diamond pin of the Order of Saint James but thought the diamonds a bit much for the Diana.
She pulled a brush through her chin-length hair, pinched her pale cheeks to add color against her gray eyes. She wasn't vain, or no more than an average woman of four-and-twenty, but she had her own role to play. The deck was her stage, and better that she didn't look like she'd been dragged unwillingly from a dream.
When she opened the door again, she nearly ran into Cook-name and occupation-who stood outside it with a delicate cup and saucer and a dour expression.
"To break your fast, sir," he said, and made a very poor curtsy.
"Early in the morning for sass, is it not?" But she was comforted by Cook's reliability-and the tea. Hetta had instilled ten Principles of Self-Sufficiency into her adopted daughters. Number Six was, perhaps, the most important: There is always time for tea. It wasn't really about the tea, of course-although every self-respecting Islesian appreciated a good cup-but the ritual.
So she took the cup and saucer with a smile and climbed the narrow stairs that led to the deck. The remaining wisps of her mental fog were cleared by the crisp breeze and pink glow of sunrise.
Kit looked up into the forest of lines, wood, and rigging that made up the Diana's engines. She was a topsail schooner: 129 feet of oak and tar, with square sails on the foremost of her two masts. Everything looked trim and tidy.
Jin waited at the helm beside the ship's large wheel with the Diana's navigator, Simon Pettigrew. The latter, who had dark brown skin and shorn dark hair, wiped a smudge from his round spectacles with an immaculate handkerchief. They were forever getting spotted by seawater.
"Mr. Pettigrew," Kit said, and sipped her tea. It was perfect, which was one of the primary reasons she allowed Cook, with his expansive use of sass, to continue to feed the Diana. That, and his liberal use of spices and herbs. The food she'd grown up with, while nutritious, hadn't been nearly as flavorful. The Brightlings' housekeeper, Mrs. Eaves, "didn't take with flavor."