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By Stephanie All Rights Reserved ©

Adventure / Fantasy

Chapter 1

Following seas and a clear sunset. Captain Arama Dzornaea closed her eyes and relished the feel of the wind in her face. It would be a short, easy sail from Maron Palace to Ranarr. She could do the run in under three days, with a good tailwind and skimming in close to The Blades. With Prince Vistaren on board, she had the dubious benefit of a stormwitch to provide those tailwinds, but there was no way she would risk the prince through The Blades. They would swing wide and take a leisurely week to make the trip.

Arama didn't think Prince Vistaren would mind the extra days; after all, they were going to Ranarr to meet his bride.

"Tighten up that topsail," she ordered, and watched her crew leap to obey. "Good. We'll be crossing the sandbar any minute. As soon as we're out, signal the lightkeepers."

Next to her, a man with short, spiky black hair gave a contented grunt. "It's been too long since I've been to sea. I'd thank his highness for this chance, if I didn't know he was so sick over the whole thing."

Arama glanced at him. "You're welcome on my ship any time you want, Lo."

He chuckled. "Aye, I know that. I suspect his majesty wouldn't care."

Arama turned her gaze back to the sea, smiling. "You might be surprised. King Rekel listens to me from time to time."

"He ought to. That last Strid vessel you took outfitted half the army."

She rolled her eyes at Lo's exaggeration, but there was no denying she was the king's top privateer. She'd received her letter of marque twelve years ago, after the Bounder went down off Swordfish Island, and she'd captured more ships than the next two privateers combined. She never had trouble filling her crew of twenty, and though she was a half-Crelin of no particular rank, she had pull most aristocrats could only dream of.

"Are you expecting any trouble?" Lo scratched at the stubble on his chin, not looking at her. His light gray eyes were focused on the sea.

"Nothing from Strid or Tamnen, if that's what you mean," she replied. "And we've that stormwitch to protect us from bad weather." She couldn't quite keep the distaste out of her voice,  so to hide it she shouted, "Get that signal flag up, and sharpish! We've crossed the bar and the lightkeepers need to send word to his majesty."

Lozarr hadn't missed it. "She's a good stormwitch, Arama," he said, his voice low. "I hand-picked her. She's prickly as the seven hells, but she's strong and resilient, and she knows her craft."

Arama cleared her throat. Lozarr saw her too clearly. It threw her off balance, though she had tried for years to settle into it. They'd met on the Bounder. He knew she hated stormwitches--and why. Sometimes his understanding about it made her want to shout and throw things. Other times--not often--that same understanding made her want to lean against his chest and let him wrap strong arms around her. Whenever that particularly disconcerting desire hit her, she went looking for a Strid ship to attack. Blowing things up always made her feel better.

It bothered her that Lo knew her well enough to understand all of that. He straightened and shrugged his shoulders. "Anyway. You'll meet her tomorrow. I'm going to check on Prince Vistaren and make sure everyone's settled. I'll see you in the morning." He leaned in to brush a prickly kiss against her cheek, and she permitted it only because he'd never tried anything more familiar.

"Dream well," she said, hoping her voice wasn't too flinty. She loved Lozarr. As much as she could love anyone, she loved him. She couldn't afford to drive him away. She wouldn't want to. She just couldn't afford to let him too close.

She didn't look as he climbed down the ladder from the quarterdeck. When he'd passed amidships, though, she turned and watched his broad, wool-clad shoulders as he went below deck for the night.

Arama Dzornaea, King Rekel's privateer, infamous Storm Petrel, couldn't afford the luxury of love, but she wasn't so far gone that she didn't lament the sacrifice.

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