Here’s a (first draft, don’t kill me) sampling of Nighthawk! But first, cover and synopsis to prep you for the scene.
In 1897, treasure hunting is the name of the game, and the Nighthawk travels the world in search of it. The airship has been Nathaniel Redgrave’s home since he was a boy, ever since he stowed away to escape the life he knew, but when he inherited the Nighthawk, there was no reason to look back. Nate’s well known for being able to retrieve what lies hidden in jungles and buried in deserts, skirting danger and his enemies as he travels to remote corners of the world in search of artifacts from ancient myth and legend.
Gemma Sinclair wouldn’t say she’d had it easy. The London brothel that she called her home was long behind her after being sold into slavery after her mother died, slavery of the worst kind, the kind reserved for the young and beautiful. But ever since she claimed her freedom and bought her pleasure ship, she’s traveled the world building clientele and her crew of courtesans, a band of exotic beauties trained in the acts of love and war, smuggling goods in their ship under the veil of the business of companionship.
When Nate and Gemma meet and band together in search of a treasure that would bring both of them unimaginable riches, there’s little that can stop them, though many will try.
Gemma sighed as she pulled off her bolero and hung it on a chair, then unbuttoned her pinstriped shirt as she crossed the room, tossing it onto her bed. Her mind wandered around as she unbuttoned the back of her skirt, finding Nathaniel Redgrave as it had several times through the course of the day. Lotte was right. When they made it to the docks, she found herself looking for him in every face that passed. The portmaster was a long time client and shared the logs with her gladly. She’d found the Nighthawk in the logs almost immediately, as if its name was written in darker ink, in a larger letters, though she could find no distinction between any other names on the list.
Her navy skirt dropped to the ground, and she stepped out, bending to retrieve it, though she was almost too tired to care. She sat at her vanity and pulled up her pettiskirts, beginning the automatic task of unlacing her tall boots, slipping them off and wiggling her toes in her silk stockings, relishing in the cool air against her skin. She turned to the mirror and unpinned her hair, dropping the pins in the porcelain dish that sat among jars of creams, pots of powders and shadows. Her eyes rested on the necklace. She found comfort in the weight of it, and as her hair fell loose around her shoulders and down her back, she wondered again why Lucian had given it to her.
It wasn’t as if he hadn’t given her gifts before, baubles and charms, dresses and shoes. Perfume from Paris that cost per teaspoon what could feed a family for a week. It was ridiculous, really, and often she sold the trinkets and found a more charitable use for the money. But the necklace was different. There was something in Lucian’s words, some urgency that he tried to hide that told her it was important, and she imagined a number of reasons why he would entrust it to her.
She let out a breath and closed her eyes as she reached into her freed waves and scratched her roots, so ready for the comfort of her bed that her limbs grew heavier by the second. She stood again and laid her foot on the seat, pulling her skirts up once more to remove her stockings. The hairs on her neck raised, and all hint of exhaustion left her in a snap as she listened intently. Her hands trailed up her calf, up her thigh and to her holster.
Gemma pulled her knife and spun around in a fluid motion to find a Raven on the other side of her bed, tall and dark, the metal on the tip of his beak shining as he stared at her with his own knife pulled. She’d stopped breathing, ready to move when he did, but he stood there for just an odd moment, mostly still before he fell forward onto her bed, the hilt of the knife in his back arcing as he slid onto the floor.
Nathaniel Redgrave stood in his place.
“You …” she gaped at him. “What in blazes are you doing here?”
He looked quite proud of himself. “How about a ‘Thank you, Nate, for dispatching of the rogue poised to murder me at my bedside.’”
She flashed her knife. “Oh, I believe I had that under control, sir. Might I inquire as to why you are in my bedroom at midnight unannounced? I hardly think our meeting this morning could have been mistaken as an invitation.”
Nate put his hands up. “Should I be concerned for my safety, Madame?”
“You most certainly should. Answer me.”
“I came for the necklace.”
A shock ripped through her, but she kept her composure. “Ah, I thought you spent a bit too long admiring it. And to think, I believed it was strictly my neckline you were interested in.”
“I can’t say your neckline didn’t have something to do with it.”
“Amusing, Mr. Redgrave. Pity I’m not inclined to part with it just yet.”
“Pity, that. I do, however, believe that some sort of compensation is in order, given that I just saved the neck that necklace hangs on.”
“Given that I saved you yesterday, I would call us at scratch. And surely you don’t believe that’s a reason to give you such a treasure willingly?”
He shrugged. “Perhaps not, but that Raven was after it, and I fear more will follow.”
She lowered her knife a hair. “But why? They are employed by Lucian.”
“And you don’t believe they would ever cross him? They follow the sound of clinking gold, and what lies at the end of that necklace could be worth far more than St. Vincent ever promised them.”
“And what, pray tell, does this necklace have to do with anything?”
“Lucian didn’t tell you? That, my dear, is a key that leads to a treasure so rare that its value is unknowable. I will not be the last to come for it.”
“Well, clearly I should just give it to you and save us all the trouble.”
“I knew you’d come around. Might you lower your weapon? And perhaps find your dressing gown? Not that I mind yet another stunning view of your décolletage, and that corset is quite lovely.”
She scowled at him and lowered her knife, though she didn’t put it away or move for her dressing gown. She did, however, move to her bureau to pour them both a glass of scotch. His she left on the surface, but moved back to her vanity chair and sat to face the room, sipping her drink and lazily rolling her knife around her fingers as she watched him cross the room. He was like a cat, lithe and smooth, a slender waist but broad chest and shoulders. His blond hair was just a bit long and curling at the ends, and in the low light of the room, he looked like a golden god.
He picked up the drink and leaned against the bureau to sip it, eyeing her over the edge of his glass.
“Tell me why I shouldn’t bury this knife in your ribs, Mr. Redgrave.”
He considered as he swallowed, narrowing his eyes at the ceiling in thought. “Well, surely you don’t believe the knife in our dead bird’s back is my only weapon. And surely you would realize that I know how to use said weapon, or weapons, as it were. I would prefer not to kill you, as you are quite possibly one of the most beautiful creatures to have ever walked the earth. So perhaps there is some sort of arrangement we could make? What would it take for you to give me the bauble?”
“Giving you this necklace is not an option, unless you would care to take your chances. I would like to mention that my dear sisters are close, very close indeed. A single word at the proper decibel would bring them here, and I do hope that you wouldn’t underestimate any of us. Our skills extend far past the bedroom.” She spun the knife around again.
“Well, darling, it would seem that we are at an impasse. What do you propose?”
“I have something you want, and you have nothing that I require, so first let me ask you to tell me more of this treasure that seems to have everyone whipped into a frenzy.”
He smiled at her with an air of admiration, and she caught herself start to smile back. “The necklace is a key to unlock a treasure that has been hidden in India for several thousand years. Two components are needed to retrieve the treasure, the map, which I have in my possession, and the necklace.”
“And what exactly is the prize?”
“A golden lotus with a ruby in its center named Parvati’s Lotus. I don’t suppose you’ll have heard of her?”
“Wife of Shiva, mother goddess in Hindu culture? The queen of tantra? Yes, we’re well acquainted.”
Nate raised an eyebrow. “Very good, Miss Sinclair. I’m under the impression that your chum Lucian believes this ruby is a weapon of sorts.”
“And you do not?”
“No, I believe it is a very shiny stone encased in solid gold that will bring me riches and fame.”
“Then why has it been hidden away for so long?”
“Superstition. Conservation. I’m not sure, to be honest. I only know that I have half of the required tools needed to acquire it, and you have the other half.”
“Well, then, it would seem there is only one solution.”
“I dare not ask.”
“We will join forces.”
He laughed heartily. “Oh, will we then?”
“I have proven that we can fight. One of my courtesans is from Bombay and holds more knowledge than you or I possess on the subject. And most importantly, I have the necklace.”
“So you propose that we all fly off to India together and traipse through the jungle hunting treasure? Will you bring your parasol and kid gloves?”
“Do not presume that the small surface of what you have seen of me is all there is to see.”
“Oh, I do hope there is more to see.”
She narrowed her eyes. “Do you have another solution wherein we both walk away satisfied?”
“I see several, but I don’t think it’s what you mean. I suspect you will want a cut of the spoils?”
Nate laughed. “Half is not a viable option.”
“It will have to be, Mr. Redgrave, as it is my only offer. Otherwise, you can try to kill me, and I’ll wish you the very best of luck with that.”
He looked at her for a long moment, and she held his gaze as they sized each other up and measured a bit taller than either of them had anticipated.
“It would seem that we will be working together quite closely, then, Miss Sinclair.” He pushed off the bureau and made his way across the room. “I would advise locking your windows, and you will likely want to dispose of this.” He leaned down and pulled his knife from the Raven’s back, then wiped it on the back of the dead man’s duster. Nate touched the tip of his knife to his forehead as he bowed. “Goodnight, Madame. Meet us at the Nighthawk in the Pleiades at six o’clock. I pray that will be enough time for you to get your affairs in order?”
“Ample. I will look forward to it.”
“As will I.” Nate flashed another brilliant smile before climbing out the window and disappearing into the night.
“Charming bastard,” she muttered and drained her drink.
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