Malachi Covington, sole heir to the Covington Shipping empire and raised sheltered by his uncle, has taken a daring step and departed as a crewman aboard the airship Mockingbird. He’s experiencing new places, new foods, and new cultures, and he’s in love for the first time. Life couldn’t be better.
Of course, his good fortune cannot last. His companion and pilot, Ian Molloy, comes down with Swamp Water Fever, a life-threatening illness. During their desperate attempts to save him, the Mockingbird is set upon by airship pirates. Malachi must take drastic action and strike a bargain with the pirate captain to ensure Ian’s safety.
MALACHI SLID his fingers over the warm skin of Ian’s shoulder and gave him a gentle shake. Ian snuffled in his sleep and buried his head further into the pillow, grumbling before his features went slack again. Malachi huffed fondly and shook a little harder.
“Ian,” he called. “Ian Molloy, it’s time to wake up.”
Ian’s brow furrowed and his eyelids fluttered. “’S early,” he slurred.
“Not really. You stayed up too late.”
Malachi laughed softly. “Come on, sleepyhead. The morning is half-gone.”
“If you’re a chicken, maybe.” He opened his eyes, rolled onto his back, and squinted up as Malachi leaned over him. In the shaft of dawn light filtering into the room through the tiny window, Ian looked relaxed, sleep-soft, and adorable, his eyes heavy-lidded, his skin pinked from snuggling in the warm sheets.
“Why do you look respectable?” he asked, rubbing the back of his hand over his eyes.
Malachi straightened, allowing his fingers to linger over Ian’s smooth, tanned skin before pulling away. He stood, adjusted his vest, and tugged at the cuffs of his shirt. He wore his silk cravat pinned in place and held his expensive tailored jacket draped over one arm.
“Because I am respectable.”
Ian snorted. “Don’t even try that with me. I’ve heard you beg and moan and call out to foreign gods and—”
Malachi reached out and pressed his fingertips against Ian’s mouth, effectively silencing him. His face burned with a blush, and his body thrummed at the sound of Ian’s rasp and the touch of Ian’s soft lips against his skin. Six months into their relationship, and they were both still as affectionate and ravenous for each other as in the beginning. Malachi didn’t know if he’d ever be used to it.
“We’re pulling into port today, and I have business to attend to as soon as we get there. And Captain Bette wants you topside in ten minutes to steer us in.”
Ian stretched out in the rumpled sheets, the fabric slipping down over his body, revealing the muscles Malachi knew so well. Ian’s talisman bearing the Arctic Tern settled in the hollow of his throat, the chain resting along the contours of his collarbones. He smiled lazily, then kissed the tips of Malachi’s fingers.
“I seem to remember someone else wanting me topside last night.”
Malachi’s mouth went dry, and he snatched his hand away. “Cogs, Ian. You and your filthy mouth.”
“You love my filthy mouth.”
Malachi sighed in mock annoyance but smiled down at Ian. “I don’t know why, but I do.”
“But that doesn’t mean you get to sleep in.” Malachi reached under the covers, wrapped his long fingers around Ian’s ankle, and tugged hard enough to pull him from the bed. Ian and his pile of sheets tumbled to the wooden deck in a flurry of limbs and a loud squawk. “You now have about seven minutes,” Malachi called as he playfully danced away from Ian’s graceless attempts to fight his way out of the bundle of sheets.
“That was unfair, Mac!” Ian yelled as he tried to extricate himself. “Really unfair!”
Malachi laughed as he closed the door behind him, leaving their small shared room aboard the Mockingbird, which was afforded to him through pure nepotism. He shrugged into his jacket and climbed the narrow stairs to the top deck, shielding his eyes from the glare of the rising sun.
Even though Malachi had been aboard the Mockingbird as his uncle’s representative for several months, he still wasn’t used to everything quite yet. Watching the sun rise while floating amid the clouds aboard the airship was one of the many experiences that remained as magnificent as the first time he’d watched the pink and purple light flood the sky. Malachi walked to the bow and leaned on the railing. He had done this most every morning, and now the creaks of the taut cables holding the ship to the balloon and the smell of the wild fresh air were as familiar to him as the sound of pages turning in a ledger or the smell of ink. He took in a deep lungful of air and stretched his arms out to the side, feeling the good burn and stretch of his muscles. The wind played havoc with his dark hair, tousling the strands into a windswept mess as he watched the sun’s rays crest the horizon and burst over the landscape, sweeping across the ocean beneath them like fire.
“All these years, and there is still nothing like the sunrise.”
Captain Bette stood next to Malachi, her fiery red hair pulled back away from her face, her wild curls tangling in the breeze. Her shoulder brushed his, the thick heels of her boots boosting her height to rival his own.
“It never gets old?”
She shook her head. “No. And if it does, it’s time for you to furl your sails.”
Malachi smiled slightly. “Good to know.”
“You ready for today? We’re pulling into Fortaleza.”
“Known for its tropical climate, Fortaleza’s main exports are coffee, sugar, iron, fabric, and cocoa. We’re dealing with a Mr. Tomas Martinez and picking up several crates of each. My notes say he won’t try to haggle because he respects my uncle’s business practices.”
Bette smirked and her green eyes narrowed, crinkling at the corners. “You’ve been studying.”
“I’m here for a specific purpose. If I want to stay here, then I need to do my job well.”
Patting his shoulder, Bette’s smirk softened into a genuine smile. “You’re doing fine, Mac. No one questions your usefulness other than you and, well, Zeph. But you shouldn’t listen to him. He’s upset that you were assigned the nicest cabin after mine and he has been relegated to the crew quarters.”
“Well, there have to be some perks to being the heir of the Covington shipping empire.”
She laughed then. “I understand you’re putting the privacy to good use as well.”
Malachi blushed, his grip tightening on the railing. His and Ian’s relationship was no secret among the crew. Despite the occasional lewd remark, they accepted it with a delicate tact that Malachi hadn’t expected among the career airmen. And if there was any grumbling about preferential treatment to the man who shared a Covington’s bed, Bette laid that to rest when she placed Ian on latrine duty for the first two weeks out of port.
“Where is he, by the way? I need my best pilot to actually dock this flying boat.” She turned to look over the deck, hand up at her forehead shielding her eyes.
She raised an eyebrow and pursed her lips, dropping her hand. “He’d better. This habit of sleeping late didn’t start until you came on board.”
As soon as she said it, Ian clambered onto the deck, tripping up the stairs in his haste. His dirty-blond hair was a mess, smashed down onto his forehead by his goggles. His shirttails flapped behind him as he unsuccessfully tried to tuck them in as he walked. His suspenders hung down in maroon loops brushing his thighs. Spying the captain and Malachi, Ian walked over, snapping his suspenders over his broad shoulders, with a wide feisty grin on his face and his eyes catching the sun and sparking molten brown.
“Speak of the devil,” Bette said, crossing her arms and leveling Ian with an unimpressed stare.
“And he will appear. Don’t look so cross, Cap. I made it in time.”
“The currents wait for no man, Molloy. Now go relieve Zeph before he steers us into a cliff.”
“Aye, Cap,” Ian said, finally tucking in his shirttails. He pulled his talisman out from under his shirt and gave it a kiss for luck, and then he cast a longing glance toward Malachi, giving him a suggestive wink and a smile.
Malachi blushed even deeper and returned the gesture with a small nod and a grin. Bette made a gagging noise and turned on her heel, grasping Ian by the back of his neck like an errant child and pulling him along.
Subtlety, boys. It’s something you both should learn.”
Ian sputtered loudly, and Malachi chuckled. He turned back to look over the bow and breathed in deep, happy that this was his life now, happy that he had taken a daring step and lived an adventure. He wouldn’t change a thing.
Therese Woodson is a wife, mother of two, and writer of stories, who lives in the mountains of North Carolina. She is an avid reader of all literature. She holds two degrees—one in Psychology and one in English Literature and hopes to pursue an MFA in Creative Writing in the near future.
She is a fan of watching bad television shows, superhero movies, and anything sci-fi. She loves creating interesting characters, universes, and plots with happy endings.