When Draco attends a ball held by the Aztec emperor to celebrate his victory over sky pirates, Draco meets the attractive and enigmatic Yolotli.
However, a vindictive act sees Draco forced to captain a unique ship, the Nephele. The first ship designed to sail the oceans of space, and built by the combined forces of the British and Aztec Empires.
Draco is obligated to take Yolotli with him, bound under an oath by the emperor.
Their lives, as well as their burgeoning love, are beset with dangers neither man could imagine.
Even if they survive the mission, their love may not endure when the truth is revealed.
At the shout from his lookout, Draco strode across the deck of his airship, lowered his goggles into place, and twisted the right eyepiece to peer more closely at the dark dot in the distance.
"Is that our prize, Captain?"
The instantly recognisable voice of Draco's first mate came from the vicinity of Draco's left shoulder but he didn't even glance aside.
"That's the pirate ship all right, Alton." Draco nodded. "Go tell the engineer to crank the engines up. This time the brigands will not escape us." Briefly focusing on the blond beside him, Draco returned the smart salute.
"Yes, sir." Alton then hurried away to make the necessary order.
Although Magni, his chief engineer would huff and puff, Draco was always surprised how the man always managed to coax a little more out of the ship whenever necessary. Draco stared out into the distance again.
The pirate ship they pursued had been the scourge of these skies for several months. In a show of military support for their Aztec allies, several British airships--including Draco's own--had been sent to patrol the heavens at the emperor's personal request. That added an edge of pressure Draco didn't like.
The emperor was not a man to suffer fools gladly which made it all the more imperative that Draco didn't fail. This time. He'd come close once before and his nemesis had eluded him. But not this time.
"This time you're mine." Draco watched the dot in the distance get a little closer.
"Magni says he'll see what he can do, but the boilers can only manage so much." Alton grinned at Draco. "That means we should all hang on to something as we're about to break all speed records, knowing Magni."
"This time they will not escape. We'll have them, Alton. I'm not going back to the emperor empty handed."
"Aye, that we will." Alton squinted at the dark dot that steadily grew bigger. "It'll be a fine feather in your cap. The emperor seems to have taken an uncommon interest in your achievements."
At the reminder, Draco frowned. "I cannot for the life of me think why. His notice started a couple of years ago. I accompanied the admiral of the fleet on a diplomatic visit. I'd never seen anything like it, Alton. The colours, costumes, feathers galore, and fantastic jewellery. It was amazing. If all goes well, you'll see for yourself. I'll wangle you in somehow."
"I'd be very pleased to attend one, but first things first. No making assumptions. We need to capture our pirate before you can take me to a celebratory party." Despite his warning, excitement gleamed in Alton's startlingly green eyes.
"No. These blackguards have proven elusive before. But this time...this time they're ours."
"Let's hope they abide by convention. A lot of innocent lives could be lost down below if they try knocking us out of the sky."
"If they do that no mercy will be shown to them or their families. After all, pirating itself isn't a hanging offence any more, so long as no lives are lost other than in combat. Otherwise, the thieving rogues would simply down all cargo ships and take their chances scavenging the wreckages. This pirate captain's been clever enough to steal liberally, but few lives have been lost so far. He's a victim of his own success. The emperor lost patience watching ships come in empty thanks to this man. And we will stop him."
"Aye, Captain." Alton saluted, a bright grin lighting his face. "Let me check how that devious engineer is getting along."
Returning Alton's salute, Draco watched him head belowdeck. They'd been friends a long time, and on occasion, much more than friends. Yet for all that they loved each other, would die to protect one another, they could never commit as true lovers. They weren't in love. There was no passion, no fire.
Sighing, Draco stared at the ship in the distance that was no longer a mere dot. Not that it mattered. While still in active service, neither he nor Alton would be settling down. Perhaps what I have is as good as it gets. Many envy my life and it is a good one. Action, adventure, travel, well paid, and a good friend to share it. Perhaps I should stop pining for something I can't define and just enjoy life as it comes.
Toying with his goggles, Draco smiled when he realised he didn't need to focus so far out to see the ship clearly. They were gaining on the pirates. Alton was right. Magni was indeed crafty. Marching smartly to the bow of his ship he looked at the huge brass harpoon launchers and the men stationed beside them.
"Ready, boys?" Draco stood legs apart, chin up, and hands clasped behind his back.
"Aye, Captain." Jacobus, the head harpooner, gave a swift salute. "You show us their hide and we'll have 'em. That's a promise."
"Good man. That's what I want to hear. They're ours this time."
A cheer rang out from the men and Draco strode swiftly to his next set of men; the gun monkeys. One caught a pirate much like one caught a whale. Draco would harpoon his enemy's vessel and drag it closer to his own. Then his men had to board her, fast, in numbers, and well-armed. Small pistols were used only to repel boarders. The last thing either airship's captain needed was damage to the balloons, sending both ships to crashing to the ground.
The swiftness with which one side boarded the ship of the other could sometimes turn an expected victory into a defeat. Draco had never lost a ship to vessel combat and he wasn't starting today. His men sat ready, cleaning their pistols, checking their grappling irons. These men wouldn't be slow.
"Aye, Captain." Their cry rang out and Draco flushed with pride. They were good men, all of them.
"Good. Then today we stop that scourge so irritating our ally, the Aztec emperor. What say you?"
A rousing chorus of ayes from his men sent Draco's blood coursing through his veins. This was a delicate moment. If he got his men too excited they'd wane too soon. He needed to choose his moments with great care from now.
"That old bilge rat." Alton came up to Draco shaking his head. "I swear he pretends our ship is a rusty bucket of bolts only to turn her into a speeding swan when we need her most."
Draco laughed out loud. "Perhaps we've uncovered his secret, my friend. The men are reaching their peak. We need to catch that ship."
"We will. Magni hasn't let us down yet. I don't believe he's going to today. Then you'll get your fancy ball with the emperor, and you'll sneak me in like some naughty schoolboy, just like you promised." Alton winked.
"Despite your blond curls and big green eyes, I swear there is nothing boyish about you, my friend. But, this time, I promise. If I am invited to another ball by Emperor Heumac, you'll attend it with me."
"It's a deal." Alton laughed aloud. "Let's have this pirate. What say you, men?"
Another rousing cry rang out and Draco smiled. This time, there will be no failure.