Sky Rat by Angelia Sparrow
M/M erotic steampunk romance novella
Cover Art by Christine Griffin
Henry Toben needs the sky like his ancestors needed the sea. He works as a certified master boilerman aboard a luxury airship, taking wealthy folks from Kansas City to San Francisco, until the day his ship crosses the path of Captain Meriwether Volentine and he is taken aboard as the Captain's personal prisoner.
Henry discovers that he needs his new lover as much as he needs the sky, but a maelstrom of plots and alliances threaten to separate them forever.
Cowboy stroked the gun along the other side of Henry's face, slow and gentle as a woman's hand. “Now, I don't know what kind of rat we trapped, so let's just go see Captain Volentine, nice and easy. Butter won't melt in your mouth, will it, boy?” He jabbed the gun into Henry's belly and cocked it for emphasis.
“It won't,” Henry said, barely breathing with fear, and not just from the gun. He'd heard the name of Volentine. Every aeronaut had. Volentine was notorious for taking ships and sometimes leaving nothing but a burning hulk to crash on the desert floor. He'd escaped the Sky Marshals, it was said, not once but many times over. Henry mentally halved the number any time he heard such a tale, but the tally remained impressive.
Henry let the breath out when Cowboy turned him around and steered him out of the passageway. He walked quietly onto the deck, the sharp barrel of the revolver in the small of his back keeping him very well behaved.
He felt very exposed, wearing only his shirtsleeves, and those rolled up to show his arms, without a coat or even a vest. The lady passengers averted their eyes while some of the less-mannerly crew-women stared frankly. His arms ached from being up and spread and the pressure they exerted on his head made his neck and shoulders ache.
They brought him before the man in the chair, and one of his captors shoved him so he crashed to his knees in front of the pirate captain. Henry set his jaw and scowled, determined not to look up. His granddaddy hadn't bowed to the local lord so he'd had to flee the Old Country. His Da wouldn't bow and wouldn't let his boys scrape to the gangs that ran Boston, so he and his brothers had grown up fighting. Now, by Mary and all the saints, this arrogant cocksucker, with his boots up to his thigh and the lace jabot and velvet coat, had made him, Henry Toben, kneel. He didn't kneel before anyone but God.
“Look what we found, skulking around, Captain. A ship's rat.” Henry could almost hear the smirk on Cowboy's face.
“Indeed. He doesn't look rich enough to be a passenger, and he's too clean to be below-decks crew. Tell me, rat,” Captain Volentine lifted Henry's face to look at it. Henry flinched as one thumb, sporting a silver and sapphire ring, traced along his bottom lip. He resisted the urge to bite it. “Tell me, who and what are you? A stowaway, maybe? An out of uniform crewman? A passenger's servant?”
Henry just glared. “A cat eat you and the devil eat the cat!” he snarled, holding back on some of the rougher language he knew, because of the presence of ladies. He swallowed, horrified that he had just back talked one of the most dangerous men in the country. But he couldn't let the fear show on his face, so he set his jaw and scowled.
The pirate captain laughed and stroked his lip again. Henry decided that the third time paid for all, and if Volentine did it again, he would bite.
“Spirited. I think I'll take you along to make me laugh.” Volentine stood up and laid a hand on Henry's head. Henry tried shaking it off and rising himself, but Volentine stood on one of his ankles, putting just enough weight on it that Henry knew he'd better stay still. Henry felt the long, ringed fingers bury themselves in his short hair.
“Captain Richardson, I thank you and your passengers for your generosity and my deepest apologies for your losses. My men have disabled your engines. You should be able to make repairs, but they will take time, and we will be long gone. You should make San Francisco the day after tomorrow. This saucy chap is coming with me.” He yanked Henry's head up.