by : Kitt Masters (@kitt_masters)
Editor: Tera Cuskaden (@TeraCus)
Adult Paranormal Romance
Acting captain of the Verdigris Captain Ailani Tao has two weeks to sail through dangerous enemy waters and find a legendary artifact or their fleet will be punished by the sea goddess, Salacia. If Ailani succeeds, she’ll win the promotion to captain. The last thing she needs is a distraction—especially not from a sexy, smart-mouthed landlubber.
All mechanical engineer Lex Wyatt wanted was to enjoy all-you-can-drink piña coladas on her company cruise. Instead, she’s shipwrecked in the Ocean Empire—an alternate timeline where dinosaurs never went extinct and female pirates rule the seas.
When Lex is captured by Ailani, she’s determined to escape and figure out just how the hell to get home. Fortunately, Lex has a secret weapon: she’s seen every episode of McGyver. Nothing can stop a determined engineer with a roll of fantasy duct tape—not even the pirates’ icily ruthless leader, a total babe whose straight laces are begging to be untied.
When Ailani and Lex are stranded on a dinosaur-infested island, the pair is forced work together to escape in time. If they fail, Ailani’s loyal crew will perish—along with Lex’s last hope of returning to her own world.
Complete at 85,000 words, HUNTRESS OF THE DEEP is an adult paranormal romance which I have pitched as an f/f PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN meets JURASSIC PARK. This is my second completed manuscript, and I am currently an unpublished RWA PRO member. Though I am not a pirate, I identify as bisexual, and I believe that love stories—and super-evolved electric dinosaurs with sonic stun capabilities—are for everyone.
First Five Pages
Commander Ailani Tao, the pirate better known across the Ocean Empire as Huntress of the Deep, scanned the wreckage of her foe’s ship with a discerning eye. The air still hung heavy with the smell of gunpowder and burning wood, though most of the flames had been quenched by the light spattering of rain that began falling soon after the battle’s end. From her vantage point on the bow of the Verdigris, Ailani could see her soldiers efficiently looting the fallen bodies on the top deck. Near the hatch to below decks, a pile of junk had begun to accumulate as her women ruthlessly scoured the ship from end to end for valuables.
“Commander,” spoke a gravelly voice behind her.
Ailani executed a sharp turn, her salute already in place. “Captain.”
Captain Selah Quay, the pirate known as the Blue Widow, nodded for Ailani to assume a more relaxed stance. Her hazel eyes glittered in the sunlight against her dark skin, and she wore her brass-buttoned, blue velvet coat. The one for formal occasions.
Not a good sign.
The captain barely glanced at the still-smoking Jonquil. “How much longer?”
“Nearly done, sir.” Ailani inwardly winced before continuing. “The Fox has outwitted us again. The Jonquil appears to be little more than a decoy ship.”
Captain Quay’s expression was flat, but Ailani had served by her side for years and could read beneath the surface. Selah was pissed. “I see.”
“Captain, if I may, Jonquil’s survivors report rumors of an anomaly two days’ sail from Landmass Three. Give me leave to investigate. I’ll take the Indigo and our best women, and we’ll be back by sundown on Windday.” It was a gamble. Ailani rarely believed the ravings of captured pirates, but all their other leads had dried up. With Tribute only two weeks away, gambling was her only recourse.
If they failed to present their sea goddess, Salacia, with the artifact they’d promised her, the Blue Widow’s entire fleet would be punished. Ailani had never failed to find an artifact before.
She wouldn’t fail now.
The Blue Widow crossed her arms. “Very well. You may take a ship, but it’ll be this one. Not Indigo.”
The ship upon which they stood, the Verdigris, was the fleet’s newest ship—a ship so new it wasn’t even properly crewed yet, and far slower than Indigo, their cutter—but Ailani only hesitated a fraction of a second before nodding. “Thank you, Captain.”
“And I’m assigning Lieutenant Ra to your retinue.”
Ailani’s cheeks tingled as all the blood drained from them. “Lady Death?”
“Is there a problem?”
She cleared her throat. “No, sir.”
“Good.” The captain paused. “Lieutenant Ra is in line for promotion to First Mate, should such a position become available. And Verdigris will need a captain once Tribute is through. Consider this hunt…an opportunity.”
A perfectly baited lure for a pirate who hungered to stand at the helm of her own ship.
Though she could feel the breath catching in her throat, Ailani executed another salute, clicking her booted heels for good measure. “We will not fail you, Captain.”
“Of course, you won’t.” The taller woman’s lips bowed up on both sides like an ancient longboat. “Failure isn’t an option.”
Ailani’s mentor stalked away with perfunctory strides, making her way back to the small vessel that would return her to their fleet’s flagship, the Mazarine. Captain Quay would then set sail for Island Seven, where Tribute was to be held.
It was only at Tribute that all alliances and vendettas were set aside, with the entire island declared a neutral zone of parlay. Pirates from across the Empire gathered to pay tribute to the goddesses of the ocean, doing so by returning the goddess’ magical relics that had long ago been scattered across the ocean by their collective nemesis: Djinn, the patron God of Death, who reigned over the ocean’s darkest trenches. Admirals and captains who had served their goddesses well would be honored with priceless boons.
Pirates who arrived empty-handed, however, faced dire consequences.
Ailani took a deep breath of salty air. She’d been born at sea. This was where she belonged. The familiar smells should have soothed her, as they always had, but as Ailani turned back to the ship’s portside rail, her lungs felt tighter than usual. As if a heavy weight pressed against her chest. She flexed her fingers against the well-worn balustrade in front of her, fighting the urge to dig her nails into the oil-smoothed wood.
Someone in the crew was always watching; it was imperative she present an image of calm. Of confidence. Strength under pressure. That’s what these women wanted to see in their leader.
Not this unfamiliar uncertainty.
How had it come to this? Ailani should have captured her prey months ago, just as she always had in prior years. At this moment, she should be sailing to Tribute along with Captain Quay and the rest of the Blue Widow’s fleet, laden with chests of treasure and tales of glory from her exploits.
She’d earned her moniker—Huntress of the Deep—through her relentless efforts in service of the Blue Widow. Over a decade’s worth of devotion solely to hunting arcane treasure, allowing the rest of the fleet to focus on doing what pirates loved best, like pillaging trade routes and battling with rival fleets for ships and territory. Everyone in the Blue Widow’s crew knew Ailani was next in line to be given her formal captain’s colors. At twenty-six, Ailani would become the youngest captain in their fleet.
Or rather, she should have been. If only her hunts had gone as planned this year.
Instead, they’d failed at every turn. Their arch-rival, Admiral Lin Xiu—a powerful pirate known as the Callous Fox, sailing beneath golden sails—had sent her ships to foil Captain Quay’s plans. Every time Ailani had come close to finding one of the goddess’s lost artifacts, it was swiped from beneath her nose. Now, with only weeks left until Tribute, they had nothing to present their goddess. Competition for the artifacts was always fierce, but there was a sense of deliberate vengeance to the Fox’s actions.
Why? Why would the Ocean Empire’s wealthiest pirate bother with sabotaging the Blue Widow’s fleet? The question nagged at Ailani, having gone unanswered even when she’d dared broach the matter with Captain Quay. Her query had been met with a dressing-down so chilling that mere memory of it brought forth cold sweat between Ailani’s shoulder blades—and Captain Quay hadn’t even uttered a word.
Unfair, whispered a petulant voice in Ailani’s mind. But that voice had to be stifled. In the old days, a pirate might have questioned her captain, but times were changing. The old pirate ways were giving way to new, chaos yielding to order. If Ailani wanted her own ship, she would need to set aside her feelings and devote her single-minded focus to her mission.
According to the rare map their goddess Salacia had given them, Ao Run’s Lost Cameo was the only unclaimed artifact within two weeks’ sail. Though it appeared to be located nearby a dangerous rift-pool, the Cameo was marked as a powerful—and thus highly sought-after—treasure. Perhaps one great enough to make Captain Quay forget how long it had taken to capture it.
But their altercation with the Jonquil had been a trap, set to distract Ailani and the rest of the Blue Widow’s crew from their quest. That meant the Fox’s crew was also hunting the Cameo. And they had a head start.
Every second Ailani wasted could be the one that cost her everything.
She turned, intending to retire to her cabin and chart out their next course, when a shot rang out from the Verdigris’s gangplank.
At the sound, every last pirate across both ships stopped and turned to look at the woman who had just come aboard, smoking pistol held high above her gleaming red locks.
“Avast, ye salty sea pups, and listen well! It be a long time since Lady Death rode the seas with the fine bitches of Verdigris, so mayhap it be time for a reminder.”
Aboard Jonquil, there was a tinny crash as loot fell from a pirate’s hands, but not a soul turned to look. Every eye was fixed upon Verdigris’s new second-in-command, Lieutenant Kestrel Ra, who spoke in the exaggerated dialect of their foremothers. Such brass and swagger had fallen out of fashion in the past few years, but not for Kestrel.
Kestrel lived for swagger.
“For too long, ye sun-baked slags have languished, dutifully goin’ ’bout your business like good soldiers. But no longer!” Kestrel pointed her pistol at the pirates before her, sweeping its barrel wide over her rapt audience. “Nay, lassies. From this day forth, we are not soldiers. We are pirates. Aye! The very seas will tremble in our wake! Bosoms in every harbor town will tremble as we draw near! By the sun, we be razing the globe with our might, and by night…” The lieutenant paused for effect, baring her teeth like a night-fin before a kill, “By night we revel!”