The Highest Tide
From the Back Cover:
One touch, and the tide isn’t all that’s rising.
Eden, Book 4
When brothel health inspector Jason Remerley finds a uniformed woman waiting impatiently in the Velvet Court parlor, wanting to hire a man’s services, he’s struck by lightning. His intense, immediate attraction compels him to pretend his way into her arms.
Enough silver, and most men forget about Captain Lera Vanze’s half-burned face. She senses something off about the handsome, ill-dressed prostitute who sells himself so cheaply. But with his first touch, goose bumps turn to shivers of desire—right before the truth drives them in opposite directions.
Her fury is still simmering when they face each other in a more “official” capacity. She’s joined a warship to stop a terrorist only Jason can identify. Though trust is scarce, they’re swept away in a tidal wave of murderous plots and an explosive attraction that could leave them marooned in an emotional—and very real—minefield.
Warning: She knows how to wield her sword, he knows just how, when, and where to apply his…mind. Contains deception in a brothel, sex in a cave, a shark with a bad habit, and one very large wave.
Her clothes were almost as intriguing as her appearance. In stark contrast to the rich colors and glamour of the room, she had on a well-worn white coat and brown breeches, so she looked crisply efficient as well as exotic. He’d never seen a woman in men’s garb before. A foreigner, obviously, but what was she doing there? One arm was bent, knuckles resting on her hip and holding her coat back enough for him to see the saber that hung from her belt.
Lightning, he realized, had just struck.
He had stopped when he saw her, and he didn’t think he was breathing, much less making a sound, but the woman turned from the window as if she sensed someone was there. And he saw the other half of her face.
A burn scar, he knew at once. Dark and thick as armor, except without the smoothness of steel or skin. The injury had missed her eye, thankfully, but it scorched all the way down to her jawline, and while there was nothing at all pretty about the scar, it made her look unusual and real, fiercely alive in the cold, poised surroundings of the Velvet Court. An old quote came to mind: the imperfection that enables perfection.
Her eyes narrowed a little in a way that suggested she was braced for shocked reactions when people saw the right side of her face. “Do you work here?”
Surely she couldn’t be there for that. But he didn’t see any other reason a foreigner might come to a brothel.
“Yes,” he heard himself say.
The woman’s gaze swept down his body, swift and evaluating. Jason had a moment to feel grateful he didn’t have to wear any particular uniform or badge of office as a health inspector, before his startled better sense caught up with him. What in hell did he think he was doing?
“And does this establishment provide services to women?”
That was the kind of question only a foreigner would need to ask. Jason swallowed, pushing doubts and common sense alike away. When lightning struck, one had to react just as swiftly, seize the moment.
“Of course,” he said. “We wouldn’t turn away half our potential customers.”
“Good. How much do you charge?”
Damn. He had no idea, and even if he did, he would have said a lower figure. The woman saw his hesitation, but misinterpreted it.
“I have silver,” she said. “It’s Denalait money, but still silver.”
So she was from Denalay. That explained the slight accent yet the features which—apart from the scar—were indistinguishable from those of a Dagran woman’s. Except for being more beautiful.
“That will do.” He fell back on years of experience in keeping his voice calm and emotionless, his face as bland as if he were playing cards for high stakes—and no stakes could be higher than this. “Please come with me.”
He started up the steps, ears attuned to the soft thuds of her boots behind him, more attuned to any creaks from upstairs that would indicate a door being opened. Benevolent Ones, don’t let anyone come out of their rooms, he thought before he wondered if he had truly gone crazy. The Benevolent Ones were probably looking down at the unfolding spectacle with horrified eyes. He’d be fortunate if they didn’t strike him dead for his iniquity.
Walking as though he was in no hurry at all was an effort, but to his relief no one was in sight when he reached the landing. He went to the nearest open door and glanced in to make sure the room was empty before he stepped aside to let the woman enter.
He breathed in deeply as she walked past him—keeping a careful space between their bodies, he noticed. A crisp, salty scent clung to her clothes, the smell of sun-warmed wood and sea wind.
Of course, her people were seafarers and Sandcliff was a port city. He’d even figured out what she was doing in a foreign land, because he had heard of a recent race between Denalait ships and a Dagran vessel, a race which had ended at an island off the coast and had, naturally, been won by the Dagran ship. A thread of disappointment wove itself through an attraction stronger than anything he had felt before, because she wouldn’t be here for long, would she? Soon she would sail back to her homeland.
Brisk footsteps hurried up the stairs. Jason was inside the room in the next instant, closing the door behind him with a soft click, and to his relief there was a key in the lock. He turned it. If the worst came to the worst and Mary or the house guards started hammering on the door, he might try climbing out of the window. In all his life he had never done anything so unhinged, had never dreamed of putting his career at such risk.
But in all his life he had never met a woman like her, a woman he wanted so much.
It was almost a surprise to realize he still didn’t know her name.
Lera Vanze had heard the Velvet Court spoken of as high class, as brothels went. The common room had certainly lived up to that, but the man didn’t strike her as particularly well dressed, let alone decked out in such a way as to display his wares. He wore a suede jacket the color of doeskin, and dark trousers that weren’t exactly formfitting.
Then again, it was the middle of the day, so she couldn’t expect the merchandise to get all prettied up yet. Besides, he didn’t really need it. He was lean but tall, with brown eyes only slightly creased at the corners to indicate his age. Everything about him seemed neat—the thick black hair, the clean-shaven jaw, the clothes that had clearly been laundered and pressed. Yes, he would do.
She looked around the small but comfortably furnished room and sat on the bedspread. Time to get down to business.
“How much?” she said.
He hesitated again, and she lifted the coin pouch at her belt, clinking it to show she wasn’t poor. Not that she had any intention of letting the purse out of her sight.
“A silver,” he said.
That was it? She wondered if there was something about the exchange rate she wasn’t aware of, because she would have expected to pay three shrikes or more in Denalay. Oh well, nothing like a bargain. She extracted a single silver coin stamped with the likeness of a bird of prey perched on a long thorn. On its other side was the circle of Denalay and the words In Unity Is Strength. With one flick of her fingers, it flew across the room.
The man caught it and set it on the chest of drawers beside him. He leaned a hip against the piece of furniture and stared at her, his lips parted as though he was caught between speaking and thinking better of it.
Was her nationality a problem? Surely not; it wasn’t as though she was from Lunacy. Then it had to be her scar. That probably looked worse in the sunlight from the open window than it had in the cool shadows of the common room.
“How much time does that buy me?” she said.
“Oh. As much time as we need.”
Lera blinked. That was unexpected, but perhaps due to the earliness of the hour; the house was sure to become busier during the evening. “I’ll start by telling you what I want, then.”
She had been an officer for years, so giving orders and knowing they would be obeyed came naturally. “Nothing fancy or acrobatic,” she said. “Nothing where I’ll have to make an effort. Use your mouth and your hands. I’d like to come at least twice, and whether you do or not is your own concern, but if you please me, there’ll be another silver for you. Do you understand?”
The man had listened without a muscle moving in his face, but when she finished he nodded slowly, as if it was the first time he was hearing such instructions. She frowned. Surely he wasn’t a new hire.
“I understand,” he said. “My name is Jason Remerley. What’s yours?”
Lera could hardly believe she had heard right. Her mouth opened involuntarily before she shut it and gave him the kind of look that would have put any of her subordinates back in their place. “I don’t believe that’s any of your concern.”Instead of being intimidated, he smiled, as if he thought a complaint from a foreigner wasn’t likely to threaten his continued livelihood. Or perhaps he had enough regulars who were charmed by his presumptuous manner, not to mention the way his smile reached to his eyes, making them warm and candid at once. The look in them made her skin feel strange, as though a light wind had stolen tickling beneath her clothes, raising goose bumps across her flesh.
About the Author:
Marian started reading fantasy at six when she found a huge hardcover copy of The Lord of the Rings. Parental units took that away but replaced it with a more age-appropriate paperback of The Hobbit, which she could also carry around easily. Soon afterwards she found another book with an adorable bunny rabbit on the cover. Yes, that was Watership Down. She had to wait almost ten years for romance novels, but once she discovered those she never looked back, and now combines the two for maximum fun.
Marian was born in Sri Lanka, grew up in the United Arab Emirates, studied in the United States (Georgia and Texas), worked in Nunavut and lives in Toronto. For now. Her apartment contains: nearly a thousand books, no television set, two dancing bear sculptures, and a replica of Sting.