Authors: Katherine McIntyre
An Airship Named Desire
(Take to the Skies #1)
Copyright © 2015 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, 2012
To everyone who read and loved Airship when it first came out in 2012, or who shared kind words and support along the way, this is for all of you wonderful people.
Huge, huge thank you to Summer Ross for her careful eye in helping me smooth out the edges of this story, as well as Rob Martin, my ever astute first line of defense when it comes to edits. Also many thanks to Jillian Renee who did such a gorgeous job on the cover—she brought Bea and the Desire to life in a beautiful way!
At least once on every smuggling job, we reached a point where any sane person would have run screaming. We’d passed that point three days ago when we first snuck aboard this British Merchant ship.
Jensen closed the windowless iron door behind us, and we stepped forward into the mausoleum of a room. I inhaled the lusterless air as the door clicked shut. Steel panels surrounded us, from the walls to the ceiling, and footsteps scraped against the metal floors outside the door as the next guard started his shift.
The hanging light swayed back and forth, swirling the shadows around the corners of the room. I ran a hand over my pistol, Matilda, ready to draw at any second. Most people would have dodged this job from the lack of information alone. Captain always gave us every last detail about our employers down to if the man wore slacks or pantaloons, but with this guy? Nothing. The back and forth clank of the guard’s pacing began, echoing like a thousand marching marionettes. I slowly lifted my hand from the gun.
All the bickering, stiff silence, and many hours of waiting—all for this box—Property of the British Merchant Company.
A metal container the size of my jewelry box back home gleamed under the dim light. A clear casing overtop protected it from where it perched on a stand in the center of the room. I wiped my clammy palms on my stained breeches and stepped forward from the door.
“Bea, wait.” Jensen grabbed my shoulder.
My hands balled into fists from surprise, and I resisted the urge to deck him. “Boy-o, if you’re referring to the thermal alarm around the perimeter, I already noticed.” I pulled my leather bag from my shoulder and rummaged around the bottom.
He stepped back and tugged down on the brim of his bowler cap. “Just wanted to make sure. One alarm goes off and we tango with an entire ship of guards and military.”
“It wouldn’t be fun any other way.” I flashed him a quick grin, and my fingers found the corkscrew-sized magnet. “Don’t worry. We’ll get out of here and celebrate with the Captain’s secret stash of absinthe.” On the opposite wall, a rectangle protruded several feet down from the ceiling. I dropped my bag on the floor and approached with careful steps while wielding my sharp-tipped magnet. “If I get this, will you take care of the casing?”
“Deal.” Jensen exposed teeth with his grin.
Opening the latch exposed the perimeter alarm: a convoluted set of cogs with gears that shone brassy under the off-white medical lighting. Pinching the magnet, I faced the tip towards the alarm. A small bearing ball hid behind the largest cog, waiting for the thermal sensor to trip. If we extracted the ball out without triggering anything we had no problem. Like we’d be so lucky.
I inhaled a deep breath of the stale, sepulchral air and pressed the magnet against the largest cog. A subtle tug from the other end told me the magnet found its mark. A droplet of sweat tickled my cheek as it crawled down the side of my face while a severe case of adrenaline threatened to shake my arms. The lone light in this room exaggerated the shadows, and I struggled to follow the outline of the gears. Jensen’s breaths disrupted my focus every time he hissed an exhale. The bearing ball clicked as I brought it to the small entry hole by the top. It teetered there for a moment, and a dry breath caught in my throat.
The ball dropped into my palm, and I exhaled. Around the stand, the slight imprint of the sensor alarm faded.
“This is crap, you know.” Jensen pieced his thermal lance together, screwing the top head on.
“What, you don’t enjoy the spacious views?” I asked, “Playing a three day long game of hide and go seek?” We’d held our tempers so far, and I wouldn’t let the stress best us.
Jensen passed me a glare. “You know—the military on board. The three different sets of alarms just to protect this box. Captain Morris threw us in too deep.”
“If you can’t handle a job, it’s your own inadequacy.” I bristled. “Morris is doing what he’s always done, and he’d never send us somewhere he wouldn’t go himself.”
“Fine, I’ll deliver my salty words straight to the Captain when we get back.” Jensen’s smirk wavered, and I could smell the tension rolling off him—granted, the vinegary scent might’ve just been us. Stress wore at my nerves like the humming of an aether lamp. I glanced toward the doors. Any loud noises and we were screwed.
“Let’s get this job over with. I want to smell like posies, not a dung heap,” I muttered as we approached the covered box. Whatever blackened sludge crept in the corners of this ship fixed itself on our clothing, and I longed for a clean skirt or anything more feminine than these filthy breeches. The strain of hiding on this vessel affected me too, but after the last botched job, our ship ran on fumes. My rumbling stomach cut through the silence of the room.
Jensen smirked. “Want some of that home cooking from back on the ship? Isabella’s jerky with burnt rice?”
“Thanks.” I snorted. “The memory of that food just killed any appetite I built up.”
He turned on the thermal lance, and the tip gradually burned white-hot. The scent of burnt plastics mixed with Jensen’s own musk of rosemary and diesel oil. My fingers tensed. As soon as he finished, I’d have to grab the box. Jensen pushed the lance into the casing like a pastry blender through shortening.
“Ready, Bea?” Jensen grunted. “The alarm sensors should skip for five seconds.”
I braced myself, sucking in a deep breath. Jensen grasped both sides of the case with his gloved hands and lifted it from the base, taking his time. We both exhaled when he extricated the casing and placed it onto the aluminum-plated floor. Even though we’d procured stolen goods more times than I changed boots, one fumble and the operation would break down into uncomfortable odds: two to a ship full of armed guards.
With the casing off, Jensen fixed the thermal lance to the base. Once he bored the hole, his eyes flashed in my direction. Using the second we’d have for the alarm to reset, I reached out and yanked the box towards me. A blue circle glowed from the pressure plate until it turned a bright orange from heat. My brows crinkled in confusion. I’d never seen a base alarm react that way.
A light clicked on at the stand and began flashing, followed by the first screech as the alarms sounded, fast.
Jensen’s eyes met mine.
“Run.” I tucked the box under my sword arm and took off in the direction we entered. Without any further communication, Jensen followed.
I threw myself against the massive iron door, and it slammed into the posted guard with a loud crunch. Jensen seized the opportunity and clocked the man in the temple, knocking him unconscious. Before the body hit the floor, we raced through the first chamber and hurtled through the second.
Behind us, the alarm squawked a constant reminder of how if caught, we’d be screwed six ways to sailing day. When it came to the Brits, they didn’t mess around with handling lawbreakers. Official executions took place in a televised arena, and after days of torture, the weakened victims barely struggled. Yet I’d take that fate over a look of disappointment from Captain Morris. We rounded the corner and entered another empty room, but the sound of footsteps clattered behind us. The guards were catching up.
Their guns fired before we took another two steps.
I ducked for cover behind an old rusty frigate crate right as the sharp scent of gunpowder melded with cheap battered metal. I held two fingers to my eyes before gesturing behind me. Jensen nodded and followed my cue by diving from the crate back towards the door.
Bullets darted past him, each one with a death threat, but if we didn’t keep moving we’d lose the chance to reach higher ground. My booming heartbeat competed with my shallow breaths. He took the lead, and I tagged close behind while they focused their fire on him. The shots ricocheted around the bleach-white boat hull, and the noise recoiled in my ears. Only after we threw ourselves through the door did I peer from behind the frame.
The room spanned before us past the open doorway. Those wooden crates, not surviving the gunfire, splintered out across the long chestnut floorboards. Hazy smoke from the shots drifted through the air like billows from a grill. Some guards hid behind a cluster of the dented metal crates, and more men peeked past the opposing door. I whipped out my pistol, adjusting my stance, since the stolen bundle weighted down my left side. Once several brazen guards cropped up from their cover, I fumbled for the trigger with sweaty fingers and fired. Of course, a good shot would be too much to ask for.
“Straight ahead, Bea,” Jensen stepped behind me and whispered in my ear. His gloved hand brushed by my shoulder.
“Thanks.” I batted my eyelashes at him. “I’ve never shot before in my life, sweet thing.” I drank in his laugh like a shot of whisky because craziness helped us survive smuggling missions like this. The external observer would believe I reveled in this insanity—they’d be right.
Another round of gunfire spat past us. My shoulders twitched with the jarring sound, and several stray bullets studded the floor. One veered by my arm. Luckily, I trained under Captain Morris, and the ex-Marine made sure we didn’t head into a job unprepared. I swerved in time. The firing squad peeked from the opposite door, and one man darted for the cover of a closer crate. Their alarm system blared on faster and louder than we had anticipated, to the point that the ringing reverberated in each and every room.
I reserved some very choice words for our employer. Stealing from a merchant ship, he said. Difficult but rewarding, he said. Newsflash, bucko, they had stationed more guards around this ship than their stupid Buckingham Palace, and I definitely spotted some military on board.
“Too many guards down here,” Jensen said crouching beside me. “We have to reach the top deck or else any chance of escape is shot.”
I gritted my teeth and lifted the bundle. “I’m not moving as fast with this thing.”
Jensen leaned past me and aimed three shots with his revolver. The near-deafening sound boomed in my ear. “Our only real chance is to book it. They’re closing in, but we can pick them off one by one in the hallway.”
Five seconds ago, a mere four men had rushed into the room, but now dozens of heads popped up over their crate cover to fire shots. The unabashed clang of the alarm pounded in from rooms away, marching to the same incessant beat as my racing heart. Another round of gunshots burrowed into the whitewashed wall, which reverberated from the force. My grip on my pistol tightened, and sweat pricked my neck. We wouldn’t last much longer here.
I peeked out again. At least eight guns had their marks on us, so if we moved past the open door, we’d be clear targets. I scanned behind for anything to use as a shield. The corner we wedged into contained more of that caked sludge, a couple old wrenches, and copper shavings. Lovely.
“Swords out,” I whispered back to Jensen. Before the words left my lips, he drew his cutlass. I plunked my pistol into its holster and tried to one-handedly tug out my sword. Since the bundle occupied my sword hand, the sharp edge of the steel sliced into my sleeve. I steadied the blade. “Ready?” A smile broke out on my face, to the teeth.
The mirth in his hazel eyes mirrored my own. He whipped out his pistol with his left hand and fired his round blindly into the encroaching horde. Using the distraction, we lifted our swords in front of us for meager cover over our vitals and darted past the door. Half a second later their rounds emptied into the steel paneling past the doorframe.
“Run,” I commanded. We dashed down the hallway.
I shot one-armed better with my pistol, Matilda, so I tucked my cutlass away. We couldn’t afford to lose our prize after the sweat, rumbling stomachs, and the wealth of knowledge I never wanted to learn about riot wrestling. The guards’ footsteps echoed around the steel-paneled hallways, following our own.
We had several levels to scale before having to think about the crew waiting for us on the main deck, but at least they wore comfortable black-and-white enemy clothing. When the narrow hallway ended at the staircase, Jensen and I stomped up the shaky metal slats to the second floor. The interspersed clip of hurried footsteps against the splintered wooden flooring hadn’t halted, and the sound tangled my nerves to knots. They were coming, and if they caught us, we’d be deader than Jensen’s intellect.
Jensen peered down the hall first. “Clear.”
We threw ourselves down it, keeping pace with each other. Jensen liked to boast he could take me in a fight, but that was also a challenge he’d avoided. Chivalry, my ass—he knew better. The corridor angled to a sharp end, and I nearly collided with Jensen when he stopped. He peeked into the porthole window embedded in the door. The loud clank of footsteps echoed from both ends. My stomach flip-flopped, and I clutched the locked box closer to my chest.
“How many ahead?” I whispered to Jensen, hoping the noise wouldn’t give us away.
“Only a couple,” he murmured, “and they haven’t spotted us yet.” At last we had an advantage. Surprise attacks always helped. Jensen twirled his revolver around his finger.
“Show off,” I said. He aimed one of his trunk-like legs and kicked the door open, straining the hinges. The impetus didn’t stop him, and Jensen emptied three shots into the men inside upon entering the antechamber. All three dropped. Except, there hadn’t been three men. Four more emerged from behind the door, alerted by the sound of gunfire and the thud of bodies hitting the floor.