Today, a teaser from The Duke & The Pirate Queen.

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Captain Imena Leung did her best to appear bored. The royal cutter’s first officer examined the papers she had handed over to the inspecting officer.

Chetri stood at her side, chewing mastic, hands clasped behind his back. He looked casual but was ready, she knew, to draw his knife at a moment’s notice. Several of her crew handled inconsequential tasks within easy distance; she’d been careful to order most of the younger sailors to stay below on the lower cargo deck. At the first sign of trouble, the cutter’s first officer and his boat crew would become hostages. If worst came to worst, she might also claim diplomatic immunity; anything to gain time.

She might also accidentally knock the officer down, for looking at her as if he’d like to pay for her services. A knife pressed to his genitals might give him more respect for women.

The officer peeled off the second sheet and returned it to her. Imena slid the page into its case. “As you can see, we’re in the employ of the Duke Maxime.”

“You were scheduled to remain in port for another week. Why did you depart early? Without a full cargo?”

He wasn’t looking at her face, but at her bosom, despite its being bound into a bodice and concealed beneath a loose shirt. She was careful to show no hint of emotion as she said, “Personal matters.”

“Personal matters that caused you to recall your crew from shore leave and vanish from the docks in the wee hours of the morning?”

“I wanted to catch the tide,” she said blandly. “Are we finished here?”

“I’m curious as to the nature of these personal matters.” He glanced up at her face, now, and smiled. He was a young man with bright teeth, symmetrical features, and glossy hair. He wouldn’t be used to being refused.

“You will remain curious, then,” she said. “Chetri, will you escort the officer to his boat? I need to speak with Bonnevie.” She turned toward the wheelhouse.

“Oh, come now,” the officer said, looking annoyed. “You could at least offer me a drink.”

Imena frowned. “That’s not required by law.”

The officer’s back stiffened. “I wasn’t aware you particularly cared for laws, Captain Leung.”

“I have no idea what you mean.” She felt Chetri ease closer to her.

“Everyone knows why His Grace hired you. You’re a pirate.”

Chetri’s blade whistled from its sheath, and he spat the mastic gum at the man’s feet. Imena blocked his arm without breaking the officer’s gaze. She heard movement, then settling, as the sailors realized there would be no fighting. “I was a privateer, in the service of my government.”

“It’s all the same to us. We’ve been keeping an eye on you.”

“Have you.” She pushed on Chetri’s arm until it lowered and he stepped back to sheathe his blade. “Unless you are accusing me of piracy now, you will leave my ship.”

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