Chapter 2- Exclusive Excerpt
Logan Kaine was puffing hard by the time he arrived at the port. A flurry of sound greeted him as he stumbled to a stop. Sailors shouted from the docks and wooden wheels rumbled across the bricked streets, loud enough to drown out the thundering of his heart in his ears.
Bending in two, he struggled to recover his breath, and choked as the unpleasant combination of rotting fish and tar assailed his senses. Eyes watering from the stench and the morning chill, he forced himself to straighten. Thankfully, the passersby had not noticed his destress, concealed as he was in the shadows of an alleyway. Even so, Loganâs father had taught him to be better composed.
A gentleman must always maintain his poise, the oft-repeated words were a mantra to him by now.
Doubly so for those of us of new bloodlines.
Logan straightened and puffed out his chest. He took a moment to straighten his woollen overcoat before allowing his hand to fall to the cavalry sabre he wore on his belt. His fatherâs weapon, the same one heâd used in the Battle for the North, when the kingâs forces had quilled an uprising amongst the rebel clans. For his fatherâs heroics that day, their family had been awarded land and invited into ranks of the gentry class.
Logan could only hope to one day live up to that legacy.
Stealing the blade from his fatherâs mantle probably wasnât the best of starts, but at least it was a start. As his father was so fond of saying, true men seized their own opportunities in life. And the Old Gods knew, Logan had waited long enough for an opportunity to prove himself.
The tall buildings that lined the harbour cast long shadows across the street, the winter sun still hidden behind their bricked exteriors. Studying the wagons and occasional motorcoach parked along the docks, he finally spotted the one belonging to the Kaine family. A man in an overcoat that fit far more comfortably than Loganâs own stepped from the vehicle.
Logan ducked back into the alley as his brotherâs gaze swept the street. Had Dustin noticed his pursuit? Surely notâLogan hadnât even been following most of the way. Heâd lost the motorcoach in the busy streets of Leith and been forced to cut through the back alleys to arrive here in time. Unlessâ¦
Reaching into his pocket, Logan toyed with the brass token heâd taken from the packet of documents in Dustinâs desk. Had his brother noticed its absence? According to the papers that had accompanied the token, it would grant its holder passage on an expedition set to depart today. Unless Logan was mistaken, that meant Dustin would be turned away from the ship sitting at the docks below.
And Logan would be able to board in his brotherâs stead.
His heart quickened at the thought. Dustin would be angry at the subterfuge. But Logan hoped he might also earn his brotherâs respect with this escapade.
Afterall, whether he was fighting off pirates in the
Northern Sea or winning commendations for his work with the highland clans, Dustin Kaine was as much a hero as their father.
And Logan was tired of living in their shadow.
Glancing out from the alley, he saw his brother leave the coach and head down the steps to the docks. A line had already formed beside the giant steamboat with âThe Rising Tideâ painted on its side, the other voyagers obviously eager to set off. Two muscled sailors stood beside the steamer, checking each passengerâs token before waving them past; Dustin would be in for a shock when he discovered his own missing.
Logan slipped from the shadows as his brother joined the queue. He strode across the street, doing his best to blend with the crowd as he searched for a better vantage point.
Finding a dock that neighboured the steamer, Logan settled on a half-sunken fishing ship. Like many of the vessels in port when the great storm had struck, its hull was cracked open like an egg and half its deck was submerged in the waters of the harbour. Even three months later, the clean-up continued across much of the kingdom. Those vessels deemed irredeemable had been left to rot while efforts were focused on better prospects.
Clambering onto the section of boat still above the waterline, Logan looked across at Dustinâs vessel. The steamer dwarfed the fishing ship, its twin smokestacks stretching to the height of the terraced townhouses lining the shore. Black smoke was already puffing from both chimneys as the crew stoked the engines. The great wheels powered by those engines were still, but even these loomed over the other ships in port.
A shout carried across the waters, drawing Loganâs attention back to the passengers waiting to board the ocean liner. A woman stood before the pair of sailors, gesturing wildly in their faces. Logan couldnât pick out her words on the wind, but the reaction of the guards was all the interpretation he needed. While one remained at his post, the second caught the woman around the waist and hoisted her onto his shoulder.
A high-pitched shriek echoed from the nearby buildings as the woman was sent flying, followed by a splash as her unexpected dunk disturbed the calm waters. There was a momentâs silence as all eyes in the harbour turned to where the woman had disappeared, before she finally surfaced, coughing and spluttering.
âGuess she didnât have her ticket,â Logan murmured, a smile tugging at his lips as he saw Dustin approaching the front of the line. He reached into his pocket and drew out the token, running it between his fingers in anticipation.
At twenty years of age, he should have had the chance to prove himself long ago.
The line of passengers kept their eyes carefully averted from the woman as she dragged herself onto a neighbouring dock. Closer now to where Logan hid, he could see this was not a woman of class. Far from than the lavish gowns of the aristocracyâor even landed gentry such as his familyâshe wore a pair of menâs pants and tunic, with a dagger on her hip.
Logan frowned as she stalked past his hiding place. Those on the docks with his brother looked to be a rougher crowd as well, their clothing tattered and hair unkempt. Most carried knives or sabres, even the odd pistol, but they certainly werenât soldiers. Doubt touched Logan then. The papers on his brotherâs desk had said little about the expedition itself. Heâd assumed it was another voyage into the highlands, where Dustin had spent much of the past few years.
It must be, he reassured himself. Theyâre probably highlanders themselves, returning north with his brother.
He rested a hand on the pommel of his fatherâs sabre, but it did little to calm his nerves.
On the other dock, Dustin finally reached the front of the queue. The guards barred his path while he searched the satchel hanging over his shoulder, presumably for his papers and token. Even from a dozen yards away, Logan could read the confusion on his brotherâs face. Despite his doubts, he found himself grinning again. Surely if he could outmanoeuvre his famed brother, he could survive a little expedition in the north.
Finally, Dustin looked up from the satchel and spread his hands. The guards exchanged a look before advancing on him. Dustin didnât even try to avoid them. His voice rang out as they grabbed him.
The name froze the pair of guards in place. After a momentâs hesitation, they released Dustin and stepped back, doubt now etched across their meaty faces. The elder of the Kaine brothers only folded his arms, one finger tapping at his elbow.
No, no, noâ¦
Loganâs heart was suddenly thundering. Surely Dustin couldnât sweet-talk his way out of this one.
A woman appeared at the railings of the steamship. Dressed in a woollen trench coat with a sabre on one hip, revolver on the other, she looked more the part of pirate than sailor. The tricorn hat holding her greying locks in place only served to enhance the image.
Her gaze lingered on Dustin. He stared back, the hint of a smile tugging at his lips, before finally she waved a hand in a curt gesture. Immediately, the guards snapped to attention and stepped aside. Nodding his thanks, Dustin strode up the ramp onto the steamship.
Logan slumped to the wooden boards of the broken fishing ship. So much for outsmarting his brother. Just as he always had, Dustin was one step ahead. Cordelia was obviously the captain of the vessel; he must have arranged passage with her personally. Typical.
The token rang like a bell as it slipped from Loganâs fingers and struck the deck. He watched it spin, before finally settling against the wooden boards. He wanted to hurl it into the harbour, but he hesitated, glancing back at the ship. Dustin was just disappearing down a stairwell beneath the deck.
The guards didnât appear to have a list of passengers, only the tokens. If Logan boarded while his brother was below, no one would be the wiser that he didnât belong. And if he avoided his brotherâs notice until they were out to seaâ¦well, by then it would be too late to turn back.
His heart thrummed to the beat of the distant steam engine as he plucked the token off the deck. Leaping back to the docks, Logan set off at a run. The passengers waiting on the opposite berth had dwindled to a trickle now, the last of them moving quickly to present their tokens and board. Pounding up the steps to the street, Logan darted along to the next set of stairs.
Only there did he slow, taking the chance to compose himself again. Straightening his overcoat, he squared his shoulders and set his jaw. He would need to be convincing if he wanted to pull this off. Ahead, the twin chimneys of The Rising Tide puffed black smoke as the great paddle wheel began to turn.
You can do this.
He lifted a foot, only for a dark cloaked man to push past him.
âSorry, kid,â a voice called back as the stranger thumped down the wooden steps. âIn a bit of a rush!â
Thrown off-balance, Logan scowled after the man, before the sounding of a horn snapped him back to his more pressing concern. Men and women dressed in the tatty clothing of sailors raced about the steamship, readying ropes and raising the mainsail that would complement the power of the steam wheel.
It looked as though the ship would be departing any second. Cursing, Logan abandoned all pretence of dignity and raced down the dock. Ahead, the dark-cloaked man produced his token with a flourish. The guards paused only long enough to inspect the metal disk before waving the stranger aboard. They were about to follow, when the sound of Loganâs approach must have caught the attention of one.
He turned back as Logan stumbled up.
âGot aâ¦tokenâ¦for one.â His chest was heaving and he barely managed to get out the words.
The guard whoâd lingered raised an eyebrow as Logan presented his token.
âLittle young arenât you lad?â Even so, he reached out and took the coin.
Logan noticed two of the fingers from his right hand were missing.
Logan nodded his thanks but did not respond to the question. He was used to people questioning his age. Unlike his father and elder brother, he didnât have the muscular physique of a born warrior. Seven hells, he barely had a beard. He was relieved when the man waved him aboard.
Only as he stepped onto the metal ramp and felt the harsh vibrations of the steam engine beneath his feet did Loganâs earlier reservations come rushing back.
Suddenly his heart was racing and needles were prickling his scalp. What was he doing? He wasnât a hero like his brother or father. He didnât even know how to use the blade he wore at his waist. He had no place on this expedition, not with dubious sailors who threw women into the harbour, nor the passengers and their knives and swords and guns.
âYou coming aboard, kid? Donât know about you, but Iâm fairly eager to see the back of this city.â
The voice had come from above. Loganâs head jerked up and found the dark-cloaked man from earlier leaning against the iron railings. He wore a condescending smile on his lips as he waved for Logan to hurry up.
Loganâs stomach twisted itself into a knot. Three times in as many minutes now heâd been called a kid, or worse. That was how everyone had viewed him his entire life. Dustin, his father, even this stranger, they all saw him as a child.
It rankled. Logan might lack the natural charm of his brother, might not possess the strength of their father, but he was a man grown. Flashing the man a glare, he continued the rest of the way up the ramp and boarded The Rising Tide.
It was past time Logan chose his own path.