I don’t know about you, but for me, the hero makes the book. At the start of Ravished, we get a first glimpse of Dagr, the clan-lord of the Wolfskins, from the eyes of a secondary character. You can read that first full impression, and all of chapter one, if you click on this link. But I wanted to show you another first impression—the one from our heroine’s point of view with the hero acting the barbarian.
Before the siren finished its first warning peal, Honora Turgay rolled to her feet from her bunk and slammed the comm switch on the wall with her palm. “Turk, tell me what’s happening.”
“Captain, we’ve been boarded by Vikings!”
“Pirates?” Her heart stuttered, then pounded hard against her chest. Norse pirates were a scourge on civilian vessels, but hadn’t dared threaten Consortium ships. Her ship couldn’t be the first. She could already hear the scornful whispers: What more would you expect from the daughter of Ahn Turgay?
“Not sure,” Turk said, his voice tight with excitement. “They entered through the hold. No other ships appear in our quadrant.”
“How many?” she bit out, pulling up her deep-space skin-suit and locking the tab at her neck.
“A dozen, no, two! More coming! They’re huge!”
She ignored the edge of awe in his voice. “Keep them from the controls. I’m on my way.” Touching the comm-patch on her collar to activate it, she decided against the additional seconds needed to don the outer layers of her uniform, opting to add only her boots. Time was of the essence. She had to get to the deck.
She slipped a stunner from its wall-mounted holster, then eased open her cabin door and glanced up and down the small private corridor in the left wing of the ship, leading from the officers’ quarters to the bridge.
Finding it empty, she hurried down the corridor to the end and up a narrow, ringed ladder to the hatch that opened directly onto the command deck.
“This can’t be happening,” she muttered under her breath. First the Viking cargo the bounty hunters had gathered, and now Vikings attacking her ship. Definitely not a coincidence.
A bad, bad feeling sat like a lump of the cook’s oatmeal at the bottom of her stomach. I am not my father. This moment will not define me.
Even before she shoved the door upward, she could hear angry shouts and the dull clang of metal. What the fuck kind of weapons were the pirates using?
Honora gripped her stunner tighter, slammed open the small round door, and climbed quickly through the hatch. All around her a pitched battle raged, and no one noticed her. She crouched behind the metal railing dividing the captain’s dais from the rest of the bridge, and edged toward her chair. If only she could get a message out to her command . . .
But then she got a good look at the invaders, and her stomach dropped to her toes.
What could the Consortium do against warriors like these? The men who’d dared invade a Consortium ship fought like maddened animals with primitive weapons—and they wore animal skins! They bared their teeth in feral smiles. Their shouts and grunts filled the air with an awful noise that had to rattle the composure of even her most seasoned fighters.
She spotted Baraq Ata, her head of security, battling a black-haired giant with blue stripes painted diagonally across his face. Staring at the giant, she couldn’t hide her surprise, and her mouth dropped open. Turk hadn’t been exaggerating. The man was enormous. And Baraq was losing, if the sweat running in rivulets down his face and the whites of his widening eyes were any indication.
More invading Norsemen pushed through the doorway from the direction of the hold. In that moment, Honora conceded they’d have to surrender sooner or later.
She sank nearer the floor and crawled on her hands and knees toward her chair while keeping an eye on the battle around her.
The pirates fought with their fists and swords—heavy weapons needful of strong arms and close contact that should have hampered the invaders.
Her officers’ stunners were the latest technology—non-lethal but effective at dropping a man while preserving life and equipment as well as the ship’s delicate hull. But the crude-looking shields the pirates employed deflected the Proteus crew’s stun charges, bouncing them off their surfaces to crash with sharp pings against the walls. The shields must have been treated to repel the stuns. How had barbarians managed to get the know-how only Consortium labs possessed?
Still, all the technology in the galaxy wasn’t effective in a close fight, especially not when every painted, hairy barbarian on the bridge fought with fevered determination.
She ducked behind the navigator’s console and peeked around. Only the length of her body stood between her and her goal.
Honora’s gaze caught on one warrior more slender than the rest, clean-shaven, who took her first mate, Turk, to the ground, and then proceeded to pummel him to unconsciousness.
The warrior’s beaten metal helmet tumbled to the floor, and a long blond braid spilled down the warrior’s back. A woman?
The black-haired barbarian fighting Baraq caught sight of the woman, cursed, and crashed the pommel of his sword against Baraq’s temple, which sent her lieutenant sliding limply to the floor. Then the barbarian glared daggers at the woman, who had already leapt to the aid of another Viking.
The giant roared.
The guttural sound caused Honora to jump.
“Frakki!” he shouted, catching the attention of the man battling beside him. “Protect her!”
The female barbarian glanced back to the leader. Her eyebrows lowered. Her blue-and-black-painted face settled into a fierce scowl.
Honora wondered at the woman’s courage and sanity to face such a fearsome warrior with irritation rather than terror. A tremor ran through her body. Even the Viking’s fairer sex was a force to be reckoned with.
The giant, blond-haired, and bearded Frakki moved toward the female, shoving her behind him, and then faced outward to block a blow from one of Honora’s crewmen, a young ensign, who crumpled at his feet at the first clout from the warrior’s ham-fist. The woman behind Frakki appeared to chomp at the bit as every time she tried to push past him to enter the fray, he or another of the Vikings battling nearby stepped in to block her.
Honora held her breath, waiting for the right moment to make her move when the leader’s back was turned. She considered shooting him, but knew that as soon as she did she’d lose any advantage because she’d be spotted. Right now, getting a message to high command was first priority.
She ducked her head and crept beside her console. Crouching next to the chair, she reached up and slid her hand into the grooves at the end of the armrest that fit every digit, and depressed the hollow beneath her forefinger to open a hailing frequency.
But a heavy hand closed around the back of her neck and jerked her away. She swung back her elbow, but it bounced off metal, jerky tingles running along her nerves. The man shook her until her teeth rattled before he dropped her. A foot stomped on the stunner, catching her fingers beneath it, and she slipped them free.
She fought her way to her feet, cradling her throbbing hand, and turned to face her attacker, ready to do battle if need be. No Consortium ship’s captain had ever surrendered to a pirate.
Her gaze rose to a broad chest covered in beaten metal, up to shoulders cloaked in thick animal fur. Even before she looked higher, she knew whom she faced and her heart pounded.
So much fur, leather, and facepaint would have looked ridiculous on another man, but made the barbarian look like a demon. Her gaze snagged again on his wide, thickly muscled shoulders.
Had to be all that fur.
Sucking in a deep breath, she shuttered her expression, drawing on her courage and her knowledge that however humiliating this defeat might be, the pirates wouldn’t harm her or her crew. They were too valuable as hostages.
She met his hard-eyed gaze, staring into a face swept clean of all mercy. His features appeared cut from stone. His expression as sharp and lethal as the blade he held.
His glance swept down her body, his mouth crimping at the corners into a thin-lipped smile. When he speared her again with that ice-cold glare, she fought hard not to shiver. The thought of that hard, muscular frame cloaked in the trappings of a barbarian caused her to tremble—but this time not from fear. For the first time in her life, she felt dwarfed by a man. Supremely feminine. Not a reminder she needed at that precise moment. Completely inappropriate.
And still, she couldn’t stop herself from imagining what he looked like nude, wondering if the fur hid a belly but seriously doubting it by the hard edge of the jaw clamping tight as he returned her stare. Arousal stirred deep in her belly. He’d be ripped—arms, abdomen, thighs. Gods, she loved a man with huge, muscled thighs and a hard ass—so perfectly honed to deliver deep, powerful thrusts . . . She gave herself a mental shake and tried to dart away.
His arm shot out, grabbing her arm and turning her quickly to bring her back against his taut chest and belly.
She lifted a foot and stomped on his toes, then dug an elbow into his side. His embrace tightened.
“Barbarian!” she gasped, and wriggled against him, but to no avail. His arm settled beneath her breasts and squeezed until she could barely breathe. Which was helpful. Her unwise attraction waned at the thought of the bruises his fierce grip would leave.
Cold steel tapped her neck, and she strained away from the wicked knife he held.
“Cease fighting!” he bellowed, the sound blasting her eardrums.
One by one, the Vikings quieted and straightened, their gazes still on their opponents, but their weapons easing back. Her own crew heaved deep breaths, turning to face the man who held her trapped against his body.
“I will know who your captain is,” he ground out in a rasping baritone.
Baraq’s black gaze locked with hers, and she gave him a subtle shake of her head. His jaw tightened, but he glanced around to warn the others not to speak.
“Warriors are fools to have women among them,” the giant whispered against her ear. “It makes them weak. Makes them hesitate.”
Although tempted, she didn’t dare ask him why he’d brought a woman along with him. Maybe he didn’t consider her female because she fought with all the skill and ferocity of any other Viking.
He shoved her forward and drew his sword, laid the blade against the side of her neck, and then swung back his arm.
Honora sucked in a deep breath.
“I will know who your captain is,” he shouted, “or she will be the first to die.”
Honora tipped back her head to glare at the odious man, her body growing calm as she breathed slowly, filling herself with rage to stave off a crippling fear. He meant it. He’d kill her. She saw it in his hard, blue gaze.
“So be it.” He drew back his arm and sliced toward her neck.
“She’s the captain!” two of her crew burst out.
The sword stopped an inch from her flesh, and Honora didn’t blink. Wouldn’t give him the satisfaction of showing him her fear—or her soul-deep relief that she’d lived past that moment.
A dark brow rose, and he swept her body again with a ruthless glare. “You will relinquish control of your ship.”
She jutted out her chin, hoping that pretending she wasn’t fearful for her life would lend her more courage. Maybe no one would notice that her knees were knocking together.
He slid his sword into its scabbard and fisted his hands on his hips. “I will have your hand on the controls,” he said slowly, as though she were dim-witted. “You will then transfer command to my man.”
She raised her chin higher, relieved she was finally getting pissed. “Make me.”
He grunted. “Very well.” His gaze cut toward one of his own men and he jerked his head.
The man he signaled grasped the collar of one of her crew and dragged him forward.
The Viking narrowed his gaze, not letting her look away. “Every time you refuse me your hand, one of your men will lose his. Don’t doubt that I will be ruthless.”
Shock at the barbarity of the threat shuddered through her. Her gaze wavered; her cheeks cooled as a sickening image of crewmen cradling bloody stumps flashed through her mind.
“Taking this ship is big mistake. You and every one of your men will be hunted down like dogs. You still have a chance to save yourselves—if you leave now.”
His mouth firmed. “We are wolves, not dogs. Make your choice. Save your pride at the cost of your men’s hands or transfer command to me.”
She couldn’t do it. Couldn’t risk such grievous injuries for her pride’s sake. Her crewmen weren’t warriors; they were merchant marines.
She gave the barbarian a small, almost imperceptible nod, and stepped toward the captain’s seat, settling into the cool leather. Then she slowly lifted her left hand to slide it over the controls. Light burst around the silhouette of her hand as the computer verified her identity.
The Viking came behind her. His large hands clasped her shoulders and squeezed until she winced. “No tricks. My man will know if you try anything.”
She glanced up to see a Heliopolite, one of her own people, dressed in furs, his dark eyes glittering as he stared with ill-concealed excitement.
“I will know if you try to hail another ship,” he said, his voice even, his face lowering to hers. “You know that I will.”
Honora blinked, recognizing him beneath the paint. “Cyrus,” she whispered, shock holding her still for a long moment. “You would ally yourself with these men?”
“What choice was I left with?”
She shook her head, knowing she couldn’t fool him. They’d served as ensigns together on the same ship after graduating the academy before being promoted and separated. He’d been among the best of her class until his fall from grace.
He’s a pirate now—just a pirate. All he wants is ransom. Cyrus knew as she did that her superiors would prefer to pay rather than see one of their precious ships damaged. She had no alternative but to concede.
Her middle finger tapped the release. “Speak your name,” she said, her voice tight. “The ship is yours.”
Cyrus’s gaze lifted to his leader’s. The tall Viking nodded, and Cyrus spoke, “Cyrus Tahir assumes command.” He gripped her hand, lifting it from the control-grid, and placed his own over the indentations. Light flared around the edges of his palm as the computer imprinted his whole hand and DNA into its database.
Then he grabbed her arm and pulled her from the chair. He seated himself, his jaw rippling with tension. “Lord Dagr,” Cyrus said, turning toward his leader. “We have control of the ship’s systems.”
“I would send a message to those who still fight.”
Cyrus nodded and pressed the universal comm switch. “Just speak.”
The black-haired Viking’s gaze settled on Honora.
Her breath hitched, and she acknowledged deep inside that she’d been beaten and was completely at the Viking’s mercy. Her life had changed, veering on an uncharted course.
Satisfaction gleamed in the warrior’s ice-blue eyes as his stare bored into hers. Tension rippled along the edge of his jaw. “This is Dagr, clan-lord of the Wolfskins. We’ve taken your ship. I have your captain. Surrender your arms or die.”