Chapter no 3

Daughter of the Siren Queen

ONLY ONE CELL IN the brig has cushions: my cell.

Fluffy red plush covers the floor and props against the wooden wall. I remove my boots and leave them far out of reach of the bars. Then I unlace my corset and set it atop my boots. I step inside the cell, wearing naught but leggings and a simple long-sleeved blouse. I can’t wear buttons or laces or hairpins. Not in here.

I shut myself in and lock the door. With the tightest grip I can make, I yank at the bars. I know they haven’t grown any less sturdy, but I always fear I might break out. I have to check each time, just to reassure myself the metal won’t bend under my fingers.

Mandsy comes down with a bucket of water. She places it just on the other side of the cell, so I can reach it through the bars. Then she collects my boots and corset. I hand her the key.

“All the men have their ears covered, Captain,” she says. “They know the drill.”

“What about the new recruits?”

“Well, Kearan is probably too drunk to be roused even by your abilities, but Sorinda made sure his ears were properly covered anyway. Enwen took enough wax for three men’s ears, saying you could never be too careful.” She laughs. “I like that one especially. He’s a funny sort of fellow.”

“And Riden?”

“He took it calmly, no questions asked.” “You explained to him what I was doing?”

“Yes, Captain.”

I want to ask more. What expression did he have on his face? Did he seem disgusted?

He made a point of telling me I was never to use my abilities on him. Is he sickened by what I am? But then I remember I shouldn’t care. I don’t care.

My fingers tingle as my gaze flits to the bucket of water. Though I dread what it does to my mind, my body revels in being so close. Without another thought, I plunge my fingers into the bucket and pull the water into me.

Everything becomes heightened instantly. The creaking of the wood, the sloshing water outside the ship, a woman’s whistling from up top, boots on the deck, coughing, laughing. I can sense the breaths of all the people around me—puppets for me to play with.

Like plucking a string on an instrument, my voice tugs at the string of a human’s consciousness. Come to me.

The human before me smiles. “Won’t be following that order, Captain.

I’ll just take this stuff up top, then.”

A human girl. I hiss at her. She’s incapable of joining in the fun. Her back turns to me, and my blood boils inside me. How dare she dismiss me! I lunge at the bars, banging and tugging, but they will not move. They’ve trapped me. The disgusting humans. I can sense them moving above. I sing out to one after another, trying to find an ear to free me, but none answer my call.

Some of the power leaves me. My body itches with need. I look around quickly, and my eyes land on a bucket of water. My fingers sink in, gathering it to me, and I sigh from the pleasure of it. Far below me, I can sense the sea life. Water rushes across gills, curls over tentacles, bubbles up from the sandy bottom. A startled fish changes direction at the approach of the ship. A dolphin prepares to breach the surface. A whale hums far in the distance.

And I am queen over them all.

This cage will not hold me long, and when I’m free, I will have the men on this ship dance for me until their feet bleed.

There’s a quiet groaning of hinges, a whisper of feet. A face peeks around the corner.

It’s one of the men. I smile at him coyly, showing just a hint of teeth. Not enough to show him the predator I am. With one curled finger, I beckon him forward. He listens, but takes no more than a couple of steps, distancing us by several feet.

He’s a handsome fellow with silky-looking brown hair. I can picture perfectly how it would look submerged underwater, the strands being brushed by the waves as his corpse bumps onto the shore.

There is a spark of fear in those rich brown eyes. They’re dotted with gold. Fascinating. If I could just reach one with the tip of my nail, I could pluck it out and …

Those eyes firm up with determination. Is he resolved to be unafraid? Well, let me help the poor fool. I round out my mouth and let a few low notes drop from my lips. It’s a slow, sensual rhythm that should bring him to me faster than he can blink.

But the man doesn’t move. He points to his ears. Ah, yes. The humans think they’re safe if they cannot hear me. Doesn’t he know I can do more than sing?

Very carefully, I roll my sleeves up past my elbows, showing off more skin. I run my fingers slowly through my hair, letting the strands fall around my shoulders. The man is riveted, watching my every move.

At last I lean back on the cushions, arching my breasts upward, and stroke the cushions next to me lovingly in invitation.

He turns right around and walks away from me, never giving me a second look. I half scream, half sing at him to return, but of course he cannot hear a thing. All it does is force me to take in more of the water.

* * *

I stretch and yawn after waking the next morning. Niridia is waiting for me outside the cell with breakfast and boots.

“Sleep well?” “Like the dead.”

Satisfied that I’m my usual self, she opens the cell and thrusts the tray of food at me. While I busy myself with bread and eggs, Niridia reaches for the bucket.

“Had a rough night, did we?”

“What do you mean?” I ask, wiping crumbs from my face. “There’s not a drop left.”

The siren in me will eventually give up calling on my crew with her song. There’s usually plenty of water left in the bucket. But last night was different.

It comes back to me quickly. “Riden,” I growl.


“The fool came down here last night.” I stuff the rest of my breakfast in my mouth and shove my feet into the boots as I walk.

“Stars help him,” Niridia mutters from behind me.

I’m up top in an instant, scanning the faces around me. I spot Mandsy in a corner, folding some clothing she’s likely just finished mending.

“Where is he?” I snap.

Riden was her charge until he finished healing. She knows exactly who I mean by he.

She points near the stowed rowboats, where Lotiya and Deshel have cornered Riden. That only makes my temper flare further.

“Allemos!” I shout. I don’t think I’ve ever called him by his surname before, but I’m so furious I can’t stand to let his first name come out of my mouth.

He looks up from the sisters, relief spreading across his features. Until he sees my face.

“Get your arse over here now!”

The girls giggle as he passes, staring at that arse as he moves.

When he finally reaches me, it’s impossible to keep my voice calm. “Draxen may have been lenient with you not following orders, but do not tolerate it.”

He doesn’t look worried as he stands there. The wind blows across his hair, pressing the strands against his neck. I’m far too furious to become

distracted by the slope of his neck.

“Have I done something?” he asks. The rest of the crew pretend to be focused on their chores, but I can tell they’re all listening.

“You were told to stay above deck last night, yet you deliberately disobeyed and ventured to the brig.”

He looks around at the others. “And just who claims to have seen me disobeying orders?”

saw you.” Idiot.

His eyes widen momentarily. “I didn’t realize you remembered things from when you’re all … different.”

“Whether you thought you’d be caught or not is irrelevant. You’re my prisoner. Disobeying orders isn’t an option for you. Need I remind you that your brother’s head does not need to remain attached to his neck?”

His nostrils flare, but he reins in his own temper and steps closer, speaking low so only I can hear. “I was only curious. I wanted to see you when you’re all wild. I didn’t take the wax out. I was careful.”

I speak just as loudly as before so everyone can hear. “I don’t care. You put everyone on this ship at risk with your curiosity.”

“Everyone was perfectly safe.”

I think of the lewd way in which I held myself, how I tried to beckon him closer by using my body as an incentive. I hate the siren.

“Do you know what would have happened if you had taken just three more steps? Let me tell you, since you excel at underestimating me. I would have been able to reach you through the bars. I’d have pulled your arm through. I’d have snapped it clean out of its socket. Then I’d have whittled at your finger bones until I’d fashioned them into lockpicks. Do you want to know what would have happened to you once I was out of the cell?”

His face has frozen. He manages a single shake of his head.

“I cannot control the siren. She is a monster, which is why we take precautions.”

“I didn’t realize—” He cuts off, and his voice turns firm, as if he can salvage this. “I wouldn’t have gone any closer. Your siren self does not interest me.”

“Niridia,” I practically shout, “lock him down in the brig. Riden needs some time to think. Have the lads put Vordan down there as well. Separate cells.” Riden hates Vordan as much as I do. He might try something.

“Aye, Captain,” she says.

I turn from them both and head for my quarters. I need to change.

* * *

When I reemerge, I’m no less furious with Riden. This ship is too small, I decide. I could have ordered him put back in the infirmary, but that’s less of a punishment. It’s only comfy living quarters. No, it’s the brig for the cocky bastard.

I am making a beeline for the hatch leading belowdecks, when I have to pause to let Enwen exit first. He’s so tall, he has some difficulty angling himself out of the hatch. With small eyes, hollow cheeks, and a perfect nose, he resembles a tree trunk.

“Enwen, where have you been?”

“Helping Teniri in the treasury, Captain. There was a lot of gold to count through.”

I narrow my eyes at him. “Turn out your pockets.”

“No need. Teniri already searched me before I left. You can ask her yourself. I wouldn’t steal from my new crew. Unlike back on Draxen’s ship, I actually enjoy living on the Ava-lee.”

“Then why did you stay with Draxen?”

“Who else is going to keep an eye on Kearan?”

“Some job you’re doing. Why don’t you keep him out of my cellar? I’m sick of seeing him throwing up over the side of my ship.”

“I was meaning his emotional well-being, Captain.”

“You can’t be serious. Kearan has the emotional depth of a clam.”

“Well, a man can try, can’t he? I wouldn’t be doing my job as his friend if I didn’t try.”

“How many times do I have to tell you?” Kearan shouts from the other end of the ship. “We are not friends!”

“Yes, we are!” Enwen shouts back.

“Stop yelling,” I tell Enwen. “Sort it out yourselves. I have work to do.”

“Captain, wait!” A different voice this time. Little Roslyn’s. She intercepts me before I get a foot through the hatch. “I need to talk to you about having a celebration.”

“A celebration?”

“For getting the map and stealing the pirate lord’s treasure! Niridia said we couldn’t last night because you had to lock yourself in the brig for the night to let the siren out.”

“That’s true. And right now I have a prisoner to interrogate. How about tonight?”

“That works for me,” she says. As though she might have had an important appointment scheduled. “Can I help with the prisoner?”


She crosses her arms, ready to argue. “Have you practiced your letters today?” She throws her head back and sighs angrily.

“No interrogating prisoners when you haven’t performed your own chores.” Not that I’d let her help anyway. She doesn’t need to witness me torturing a man. “And no celebrating if you haven’t practiced.”

“Oh, all right,” she says, stomping off.

Wallov and Deros are playing cards in the brig when I get down there. Vordan has finally been let out of the cage, only to be placed into one of the brig cells instead. He’s unbound and ungagged, his back to us. Riden is two cells over, seated on the floor with his arms atop his knees. He doesn’t look at me.


“Your daughter is getting awfully cheeky, Wallov,” I say. “Can’t imagine where she gets it from, Captain,” he says. “I hope you’re not suggesting she’s getting it from me.”

“Wouldn’t dream of it,” he says. But his tone is too light to be sincere. I smile at him.

“You two are relieved for now,” I say. “I’ll keep an eye on the brig rats.” They both scoot out of their chairs, starting for the stairs. “And see to it,

Wallov, that Roslyn is actually practicing her writing and not threatening people with that dagger.”

“Isn’t it a beautiful piece of work, Captain? Won it off Deros in one of our games.”

Deros folds his massive arms. “I lost on purpose so the lass would have a way to protect herself.”

“Take it up top, lads,” I say.

I wait a few beats until the hatch slams closed behind them.

Vordan has risen, standing on one leg—the one that didn’t break during his fall at the inn—and turned to face me already. He jerks his head toward the cell on the opposite side of the brig from him and Riden, the one filled with plush cushions. “I’d have preferred that one, but I take it that one is yours.” He smiles at his own cleverness. “What is it like having to be locked up on your own ship?” he continues. “I can’t imagine it—”

I cut him off with a deep, low note. Vordan holds a knife in his hand. He glances at it in fear before thrusting it down into his own leg, the one that isn’t broken. He screams before changing the sound into an angry grunt. It’s a rather pathetic attempt at maintaining his composure.

I halt the song, and Vordan comes out of the hallucination. He looks down at his leg, sees that it is whole, that his hand holds no knife, and fixes me with a filthy stare. His breathing has quickened. Even though his mind now knows he’s not injured, it takes time to recover from the echo of pain.

“This is a dream come true for you,” I say. “Looks like you’ll get to experience the full brunt of my abilities after all.”

His face pales, and the satisfaction I get from it is a soothing balm to my senses.

“Now, then,” I say, “I want to know all of the spies you have in my father’s fleet. I want their names and which vessels they sail on.”

“I don’t—”

Another note flows out of my mouth. A puddle of water appears at Vordan’s feet, and I make him stick his face right into the water and hold it there for half a minute. I let him pull his head up for a few seconds to breathe and then stick him under the imaginary puddle for a full minute. Though his mind is fully alert as to what’s happening, I have taken his control over his own limbs. They obey me now.

When he comes up for air this time, I release him from the song.

He flops over onto his back, feeling the dry ground. No water. He hasn’t the strength to stand as he sucks down as much air as his lungs will allow and coughs it back out.

I dare a glance in Riden’s direction. He is watching everything, his face carefully blank. I’m not about to go back on our bargain to sense what he’s feeling, though I’d desperately like to.

“I could, of course, force you to be truthful with me,” I say, returning my attention to Vordan, “but I want nothing more than for you to suffer before you die. So by all means, Vordan, continue refusing me the information I want.”

Once he’s breathing a bit more easily, he stands, hopping pitifully as he finds a balance with the broken leg.

“On the Deadman’s Blade, you’ll find a pirate going by the name of Honsero. He’s my man. Klain sails with the Black Rage.” He pauses to catch his breath before listing several more ships and pirates, and even giving me the names of some who are stationed within my father’s keep.

When he finishes talking, I utter a higher note, something piercing and throttling. I ask him if he’s spoken the truth and if he’s omitted any names. While under my influence, he confirms his earlier testimony.

My power slips away the more I sing. It feels similar to the way hunger creeps up on a person between meals, leaving them small and empty. It’s infuriating how fleeting my abilities are.

When he returns once more to his senses, Vordan says, “You killed every man I had at the inn with me. For all I know, you killed the little boy who gave you up, too.”

I didn’t. I don’t slaughter children. Especially when they have no fault save choosing the wrong man to accept food from. But I remain silent. Let Vordan think I’m so cruel.

“And now you know about all of the rest. You’ve taken everything.

When you and I could have been so great together.”

“No, Vordan. I could have made you great. You are not the sort of man who could ever achieve greatness on his own. You are ordinary, and you’ve accomplished nothing.”

He laughs, a quiet sound meant for himself as he rakes his fingers through his hair.

“You’re right,” he says at last. “I have only one card left to play, Alosa.

A bit of information to exchange for my life.” “There is nothing you know that I want.”

“Not even if it’s a secret your father keeps from you?”

I keep my face still, refusing to react to anything he says. He has nothing left but lies now.

“I overheard many conversations between you and Riden back on the Night Farer,” he continues, smirking in Riden’s direction. “Do you remember the talk the two of you had about secrets? You were trying so desperately to learn where Jeskor had hidden the map, preying on Riden for any information he might have. You even told him some lie about hidden floorboards in your father’s rooms where he keeps secret information. As if by telling him something of your father, he might tell you something of his.”

Vordan smiles at the memory, and I can’t believe I hadn’t noticed him sneaking about more.

“But you and I both know,” Vordan says, “that your father has a secret study in his keep.”

Yes, I do know. It’s my father’s private room. The one place in the keep where only he is permitted to enter. I spent much of my childhood trying to find a way in, curiosity getting the better of me, and suffered dearly for it.

Vordan says, “I sent my best spy at the keep inside, Alosa. Would you like to know what he found?”

I open my mouth to tell him no. Lies will not get him anywhere. He cannot manipulate me. Not anymore. I am not his prisoner. He has not won this time.

But none of that comes out. Instead, I ask, “What?”

A grin takes over his face, and I get the urge to punch him. That physical manifestation of him thinking he’s gotten the upper hand on me.

“Will you free me if I tell you?”

“I can get it out of you with my powers or without them, Vordan. Your choice.”

He grits his teeth. “Fine, but don’t you forget it was I who found out for you.”

I’m about to open my mouth and start singing, but he cuts me off.

“Have you not always found it odd that your father is unaffected by your abilities? Do you know why?”

“Because his blood runs through my veins. That connection protects him.”

“Is that what he told you?”

“It’s the truth,” I bite out through clenched teeth.

“Wrong.” Vordan seems to savor the word as it leaves his lips. “He found something on that island where he met your mother. A weapon. A device that protects him from the sirens. A device that lets him control them, should he find them again. A device that lets him control you. He’s been manipulating you since you were born.”

His words are ludicrous. I’ve been defying my father since I learned to control my own limbs. I don’t always listen. That’s why my whole body is covered in scars.

As if sensing my doubt, Vordan adds, “Think about it. Think about all he’s done to you. The way he’s beaten you. Tortured you. The way he hurt you just to prove a point. He’s been crueler to you than any other person alive, and yet you still serve him. You always go back to him. You always, ultimately, carry out his orders. Does that sound like something you would willingly do? You may try to rationalize it, Alosa. He’s your father. He’s only ever tried to make you strong. To make you a survivor. But do those sound like your own thoughts in your head? Or his thoughts bringing you back to him yet again?”

My blood turns cold. Air vanishes, and my vision blurs. No. It can’t be. “You’re lying,” I snap once I find my voice.

“Am I?” he asks. “See for yourself.”

I do. I call forth a song so swept up in emotion, I can hardly breathe out the notes. But even as I listen to Vordan’s truthful response, his story doesn’t change. He’s telling the truth. Or at least what he believes is the truth.

His spy is deceiving him.

He has to be wrong.

I flee from the brig, needing space from the two men within more than I’ve needed anything.

* * *

I wish I had simply killed Vordan and not bothered to question him. His words follow me wherever I go.

He’s been manipulating you since you were born.

I cannot doubt my father over one sentence spoken by his enemy. I


And yet I cannot forget the words. Because they did not change even when I used the power of my voice to demand the truth from him. There is an uncomfortable tightness in my gut that I must ignore. Because if I were to examine it, to admit what the name of that feeling is—it could ruin everything I know. Everything I’ve worked for my whole life.

So I suffer silently, not daring to pull out that doubt and investigate it.

Journeying back to the keep will take a month. That should be plenty of time for the sensation to be extinguished. For me to remember exactly where my loyalties lie.

I tamp down those needling thoughts as I push myself through the rest of the day. I’d forgotten entirely about the promise I made to Roslyn about having a celebration, but it would seem Roslyn took matters into her own hands, because the revelry starts without my having to say so.

Out on the main deck, Haeli, one of my riggers, pulls out a lute and begins playing a jaunty tune. Lotiya and Deshel dance together, arm in arm. Other girls clap along or join in the dancing. Wallov and Deros take turns twirling the girls about. Enwen soon joins the fun, but Kearan sits alone in the corner with his drink.

Roslyn, noticing this, takes a break from the dancing and tiptoes over to him.

“What do you want?” Kearan asks.

I can tell by the way she tips her head that she’s surprised he heard her. “I watch you from above sometimes. You pull out that flask a lot. Does rum really taste so good?”

Kearan turns to her then with strangely sober eyes. “Doesn’t need to taste good. Only needs to be strong.”

“Can I try some?”

Kearan shrugs and offers the flask. Before I can step forward, Sorinda is there, yanking the flask from his grasp. She upends it on his head.

Kearan sputters, “Damn it, woman! Do you delight in anything other than soaking me?”

“Idiot,” she says. “You don’t give drink to a child.”

“I wasn’t going to! As soon as it was near her nose she would have handed it back.”

“You couldn’t have known that.”

“You can’t stand to come within five feet of me because the drink is so strong.”

“I can’t stand to be near you for many reasons.”

They go on like that, lashing out at each other. If Kearan could manage to keep up with her, I’m sure it would come to blows. Roslyn wisely shrinks back from the two of them and returns to the dancing.

“Quite a pair those two,” Niridia says, stepping up beside me. “I’ve never seen anyone get under her skin like that,” I say.

“It’s probably a first for her. I wonder how long it will be before she realizes she fancies him back.”

I let out a guffaw. “Sorinda? Fancy Kearan? I don’t think so.”

Niridia shrugs. “He wouldn’t be so bad if he cleaned himself up a bit.” “And stopped drinking.”

“And shaved.” “Worked out a bit.”

“And had someone right his nose.”

We both laugh. I hadn’t realized how much I needed it.

“All right,” she concedes. “I suppose he doesn’t have a chance.” We turn to observe the dancers together, and Niridia adds, “You know, it wouldn’t hurt to have one more man out here to share among the girls.”

And just like that my thoughts return to the brig. To what Vordan said. “Has Riden suffered enough?” she asks.

I want to say no. To leave him in there until we reach the keep. But that would be me being selfish because he overheard what Vordan said and not me punishing him for what he’d done. I was only going to leave him in there for the day anyway.

“You may let him out,” I say, “but warn him that if he disobeys orders again, he’ll stay in there until we reach the keep.”


She watches my face for a beat longer. “Is something wrong?”

I force a smile onto my face. “It’s nothing.” And then, because I know she won’t leave it alone without an explanation, I add, “Seeing Vordan again reminded me of what he did to me on that island. That’s all. I’ll be fine.”

Her eyes fill with understanding. “Try to enjoy the celebration. Dancing always cheers you up. We could talk about it later, if you’d like.”

I nod encouragingly, and as soon as she disappears I let the smile fall from my face. I debate going straight to bed, but I don’t want to be alone with my thoughts. I’d much rather watch the crew having fun.

I tuck myself into a corner, crossing my legs under me while I sit atop a crate, letting the music replace the uneasiness inside me. Niridia returns with Riden in tow. Lotiya and Deshel are thankfully busy with Wallov and Deros. It’s Philoria and Bayla, two of my gunwomen, who reach him and pull him into a twirling dance.

Riden doesn’t miss a beat. You’d think he wasn’t just thrown in the brig for the day after being severely chastened in front of the whole crew. Not to mention the fact he’s only recently recovered from two bullets to the leg. Does nothing get to him? Nothing save his brother, anyway? I stare at him openly from my hiding spot, watch the way his limbs move to the music, the way he interacts with each of the crew as though they’ve been lifelong friends. It’s almost as if he has enchanting powers of his own.

Golden-brown eyes flit to me, as though he knew I was sitting here the whole time watching. At the next break in between songs, Riden saunters over. I tense, hoping Lotiya and Deshel will spot him leaving and capture him for once.

But no, he reaches me without anyone getting in his way and sits on the crate beside me.

I wait for him to say something. To try to convince me of Vordan’s words. Has Riden not attempted to tell me since we first met that my father is corrupt and controlling? I’ll bet he smiled at all of Vordan’s words, pleased to have someone else confirming them. What had he called me when I told him he was ridiculous for being loyal to his despicable brother?

A hypocrite.

“You keep interesting company,” he says.

My mind scrambles as it tries to tie the words to what happened down in the brig with Vordan. “What?” I ask.

“Those sisters.”

I follow his line of sight to where Lotiya and Deshel are eyeing him. They take a break from their clapping hands and stomping feet so Lotiya can blow him a kiss while Deshel waves her fingers at him.

Riden shudders uncomfortably.

They’re both very beautiful girls. I’m surprised at his reaction. “They act like a couple of…” He trails off.

“Whores?” I finish for him. “That’s because they were. At far too young an age, they were forced into that life. I broke them out when I witnessed them fighting off a couple of men who tried to take their services for free after hours. They’re good with knives,” I add in warning.

“I wasn’t going to say whores.”

“No?” I ask, relieved to be talking about a neutral topic. “What were you going to say?”

“I honestly don’t have words to describe them.”

That prompts a little defensiveness in me. I’m glad to feel something different from the uneasiness that hasn’t left me all day. “If this arrangement is going to work, you’re going to need to remember that we’re not only women, we’re pirates.”

I remember the comments the sisters made earlier about wanting to see Riden naked. I add, “You wouldn’t give a second thought to a couple of men aboard your ship behaving in such a way or talking such talk. You do not get to judge us more harshly for being women. It’s not fair, and it

doesn’t make sense. Not to mention I’ll throw your arse overboard if I catch you doing it again.”

Amusement lights up his face, but I push on as determined as ever. “I have twenty-eight excellent girls aboard this ship, and their pasts have shaped them. Just as yours has shaped you. And every single one of them, down to little Roslyn, deserves your respect.”

Riden watches me for a few more moments before looking on at the dancers. “I admire your love for your crew, Alosa, but you don’t need to defend them to me. I make no judgments because they’re women rather than men. I was surprised, is all. I apologize.”

I ignore his apology, yet also warm at it. I’m accustomed to defending my girls. To my father. To the men on his council. To other pirates. Women don’t belong on the sea in their eyes.

But Riden is apologizing.

I don’t know how to handle that.

“And I apologize for disobeying orders before,” he says. “I won’t go below again when you’re replenishing your abilities.”


“They’re … kind of terrifying.”

I’m not sure whether to bristle or be amused by that. “Alosa?” Riden asks.

I brace again for the mention of what Vordan said.

“I never did thank you for giving me and Draxen a chance. We would have been dead if you hadn’t stepped in with your father. Thank you.”

When I don’t answer, he asks, “Why did you do it?”

And there’s the other thing I’m not thinking about. Why I bother sticking my neck out for Riden and his worthless brother.

I dare to look at him. “I don’t know.”

He smiles then, a beautiful stretch of his lips—as though he has his own thoughts on why I might have done it.

I turn away to avoid staring at his mouth and listen to Haeli strike up a new song.

“Dance with me.”

My neck turns so quickly in Riden’s direction that I actually hear it crack. “What?”

“Come on. It’ll be fun.”

He grabs my arm and hauls me to my feet before I can refuse, which of course I was intending to do.

I’m sure of it.

It’s too late now because he’s already moving me in circles. To refuse him now would only cause a scene. Besides, the crew is cheering. Wallov, Deros, and Enwen grab new partners and join us. My movements are stiff, hesitant. I can feel my mind and body warring for dominance. There are so many reasons why this is a bad idea. Not to mention I have too many things to worry about to even attempt to enjoy myself.

“Come now, princess,” Riden says. “Surely you can do better than that.”

I shouldn’t let him goad me, but I often can’t help responding when I’ve been issued a challenge. And I do love dancing. My mother is a siren, after all. Music is in my blood.

I feel the music waft over my skin and move to help it along. I caress it with my hands, sashay around it with my hips, tread lightly over it with my feet. I make Riden follow me and my steps, but occasionally he forgets himself, stopping completely and watching me, caught up in my movements. He catches himself and starts to dance again. He’s not bad at all. He stomps his feet in time. His twists and turns are sure and even graceful. Each time we come into contact—our hands, our arms, the brush of our knees—the dance grows more exciting, more electric. I am charged like storm clouds—it’s ten times stronger than what I feel when I use my siren abilities. And different. Something decidedly human.

I see the way Riden behaves around me: the focus and heat in his eyes, the way his hands linger, the way he positions his body next to mine. Normally, I would know exactly what it means. But then I remember yet again that he is my prisoner. He will say and do anything if he thinks it will help his cause.

The song finishes. Haeli starts up another, but I take my leave. “Go on, then!” I shout to the crew. “Continue into the night, but I’m off to bed.” I

smile at the happy faces. They’re reddened with the joy that comes from a successful plunder.

I head for the stairs, certain I won’t actually be able to sleep with all the weight burdening me, but needing to get away nonetheless. I remind myself as I go, Riden is my captive, Riden is my captive, Riden is my captive.

Someone grabs my hand and pulls me under the companionway. Out of sight and into shadow.

An equal surge of excitement and dread hits me before I even see his face.

“Alosa,” Riden says as he takes my hands in his and presses me gently against the wall.

He leans in, and I ask, “What?” As though he were about to ask me a question instead of saying my name aloud simply for the pleasure of hearing it roll off his tongue.

“You dance beautifully,” he says, and I feel his nose sidle up next to mine. My eyes have already closed.

Damn, but he smells good. Like the coconut soap we have on the ship mixed with an earthy musk that belongs solely to him.

It would be easy to let him kiss me. Maddeningly easy.

But he wants his brother freed. He wants his own freedom. Any intimacy between us is deliberate on Riden’s part.

It has to be.

“Good night, Riden,” I say, dropping his hands. But as I pass him by, I kiss his cheek.

Once I get to my room, I chide myself for such a childish move. But what scares me most is that I almost could not help it.

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