Authors: Heather Hiestand
GRAVENOR’S AIRSHIP EQUINOX
Tinkerer extraordinaire Philadelphia Hardcastle is horrified
to learn her late brother sold her animal management inventions to the British
Air Enforcement for nefarious purposes. Distraught, she feels suicide is the only
way to pay for her deadly mistakes.
When Brecon Gravenor, a smuggler and airship builder, saves
a woman teetering at the edge of a cliff, he discovers he has rescued the
infamous and reclusive Dr. Castle. They are imprisoned by the Red Kite free
traders in Wales, who want her human containment devices.
Philadelphia is willing to give the free traders the secrets
of her inventions if it helps liberate enslaved men, but she’s a lady used to
independence. Brecon has no intention of helping her escape. Especially when he
realizes she has a price on her head and he’s the only one who can save her.
What others are saying about the Steampunk Smugglers
"5 Stars! Steampunk adventure
at its finest." — Shoshanna Evers, author of ‘Snowed In With The Tycoon’
“5 Stars! I love how she blended the
recognizable, everyday world with the fantasy of an alternate reality, working
out the wonderfully intricate details of the story and giving us an airship
ride that is believable, enticing and intriguing. — Teagan Oliver, author of
“Captain Andrew's Flying Christmas
was a fabulous read, especially for a short novella. Her characters are sweet,
engaging and brave in a world of darkness and grime.” — Mae Pen on Romancing
“A fun, lovely story with a happy
ending.” — Sheery’s Place
Captain Gravenor’s Airship Equinox
Heather Hiestand 2012
This is a work of fiction. Names,
characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s
imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons
living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales, is entirely
CAPTAIN GRAVENOR’S AIRSHIP EQUINOX
COPYRIGHT 2012 by Heather Hiestand
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Cover Art by Delle Jacobs
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First Amazon Edition, 2012
Published in the United States of
Thank you to Jacquie Rogers, Mary Jo
Hiestand, and Elizabeth Flynn for editing this story. Thank you to David
Hiestand for providing research assistance.
Wales, late August, 1893
She wore unrelieved black. Jacket, skirt, boots. Her yellow
hair streamed out behind her, courtesy of the wind off the cliff’s edge. She
looked tall and thin, like a reverse image of Queen Victoria. Brecon Gravenor
had taken her for an adolescent at first, but when he trained his spyglass on
her face he realized she had to be older by at least a decade.
As his airship flew over the Bristol Channel toward Barry, Brecon’s
gaze had caught a small rock fall sliding down a limestone cliff. But he hadn’t
expected to see the woman balanced near the edge. What was she doing near such
danger? As he came closer, his steam engine sputtering due to the lack of coal,
she lifted her arms straight out from her body. For stability?
His attention was torn between watching the woman and
reloading the burner. Just as he’d decided to put down his spyglass and reload
coal, he watched the woman close her eyes and take a step closer to the edge.
Her movement sent another spray of rocks showering down the cliff face.
Couldn’t she feel or hear the rocks? Curious, he navigated
his sputtering airship closer. He needed coal now, but the bin was ten feet
away, on the other end of his deck. And he couldn’t keep the spyglass trained
on the woman while he worked, because thanks to the British Air Enforcement,
commonly called Blockaders, he only had one hand to work with. It was spyglass
or coal scoop.
What he wouldn’t give for one of the brass automac hands the
Blockaders commissioned for their amputees, but he’d had his hand removed by a cannon
ball when he was on a smuggler’s airship, one built by his own family, in fact,
rather than when he was serving aboard a government airship. So he was left
with only a hook, no longer a full man.
As his airship ran out of fuel, it began to lose altitude.
At this rate, would he hit the cliff or just skim it? Which would it be? He
ran calculations in his head. The balloon would be high enough, but not the
craft, and he wasn’t about to lose the test airship.
His shipbuilding expertise was why the Red Kite free traders
had kept him fed and sheltered for the past four months, not his ability to smuggle.
Thanks to his hook, he was far too memorable to risk battling Blockaders out in
. He dropped the spyglass and ran for the coal
burner, estimating time down to the second necessary to save the airship. Ten
steps, five steps, one. Catch the coal bucket’s handle in his hook and race up
the ladder, dump the coal in the burner. Slide down the ladder. Drop the
bucket. Ten steps, five steps. One.
He spun the wheel, turning the airship away from the cliff,
planning to skim along the side in case he couldn’t achieve lift in time. When
he picked up his spyglass again, he hadn’t even raised it to his eye when the
silver warning band around it began to emit puffs of smoke.
And him, over the Channel, in an illegal airship without
weapons. Not that any airships were legal. Air travel was reserved for Her
Brecon adjusted the rudder, lifting the airship higher,
hoping to run for base and the support of other Red Kite aircrafts. Out in the
open, he had no place to hide.
He did a three-sixty with the spyglass, looking for the
enemy airship, but they were still out of range. His rudder whined as he pushed
it, trying to obtain enough elevation to avoid smashing into the cliff.
. His spyglass caught sight of the crazy woman on
the cliff’s edge again, her wide-eyed look of horror as he sped toward her,
though she kept moving. Was she trying to commit suicide or escape the airship?
He couldn’t murder an innocent woman.
He ran for the edge of the deck, grabbing a tie-up line with
his hand. He flung himself over the rail, hoping the momentum would lead him
back to the airship before it crashed into a tree. The woman was only a couple
feet from the edge of the cliff now. He swung through the air, just as the last
bit of cliff crumbled under her feet. Without thinking, he punched out his free
arm. His hook sliced through her clothing then held.
His shoulder screamed as it took her weight. He could only
hope the leather binders strapping the hook to his body held. Calculations
whirred through his mind. With the additional weight, would they swing back
onto the deck or pull the airship into the Channel?
He started to lose lift, just as he became aware of the
“Stop moving!” he ordered. He glanced down, seeing scudding
gray waves beneath them. At least there weren’t any rocks in view.
Instantly, she went limp. Maybe she wanted to live after
A speck in the distance was coming in from Cardiff. An
airship. But he couldn’t worry about the Blockaders now. Not with the deck only
a few feet away.
He turned his head just in time to avoid breaking his nose
on the railing. With a slam that jarred his entire body, his flesh met the hard
oak, but he managed to bend his arm over the top.
“Put your feet on the ladder!” he yelled, kicking the hull,
where permanent slats were attached.
He felt most of the weight ease off his aching shoulder
socket. With a yank, he ripped through her clothes, hoping he hadn’t inadvertently
torn flesh as well, and slapped his hook to the railing, vaulting himself over.
He couldn’t worry about the woman now. He’d done his best
for her, though the copper scent of blood sifted through the air from his hook,
showing he’d injured her. He ran for the rudder. The airship screeched protest
as the keel scraped the cliff. More rocks crumbled underneath as it sheared off
more of the edge.
Curses and prayers fell from his lips as he threw his body against
the rudder, trying to get the airship away. With a horrible screech, it cut through
the cliff, speed the only thing saving them, and rose a foot above the ground.
He glanced down and saw a head through the rails. The woman
had decided to save herself and climb aboard. He’d thought she’d been smacked
into the cliff, but apparently she’d been just far enough to the side to avoid
that fate. She yelled something, but he couldn’t hear her.
Then he saw a stand of trees coming in fast.
, work with me,” he muttered, massaging
the rudder. The airship obeyed, and he got another six feet of lift, just
enough to avoid the trees.
He heard shouting from the distance, but if he headed for
Barry they’d probably be safe. The Blockaders wouldn’t risk firing on the
docks. The coal barges were too important to England. Still, if he went that
way he’d be heading right at them. He absolutely had to stay land-bound.
The woman’s head popped up above the railing, then she
tumbled to the deck. Her strength impressed him. Most women didn’t have the
upper body strength or lung capacity to climb. At least, not unless they’d been
raised by smugglers.
As he was deciding what to do, she ran toward him and
grabbed the spyglass, putting it to her eye. She saw the puffs of smoke
drifting from the band and dropped it with a cry.
“It isn’t hot,” she said, frowning. He didn’t recognize her
accent, but it was undeniably upper class. “It must be some kind of warning
She picked it up again. Brecon was relieved to see the
device was still functional. Smuggler tools like the spyglass, invented by the
famous Captain Andrew, were hard to come by. Brecon had bartered for it with a
month of repairs to the
, Andrew’s flagship.
“They are almost within cannon range,” she said, once she
got a look through the spyglass.
“Load up the burner. We’re faster than they are.”
“Burner?” She looked at him, confused.
“We don’t have cannons.” With a sigh, he grabbed her arm and
pulled her toward him. She cried out.
“I’m not going to molest you, woman. Take the wheel. Hold
Once he saw she had obeyed, he ran for the coal bucket and
filled it. They’d drawn far too much fuel in their escape from the cliff, and
he wouldn’t be surprised if the hull was badly damaged. In a battle of rock
versus oak, oak was likely to fail. But he couldn’t worry about that now. He refilled
the burner and dashed back to the bridge.
“Where are we going?” she asked, her hands steady on the
“I have no idea. The docks?”
“They’ll force you down. You want to be hanged?”
He stared at her. She must be close to thirty, since her
eyes crinkled in the corners as she glared back. “So you aren’t trying to kill
“I was thinking about it. I hadn’t decided.”
He stepped behind her, and before she could protest, had
wrapped his arms around her slender body and turned the wheel.
She wriggled out from under him, but didn’t go far. “Not the
“We’ll head for camp. Hope other airships can draw the
She stared at him. “You’d give a smuggler stronghold
location to the BAE?”
He’d been swearing far too much today. “Any better ideas?”
“Not I,” she said. “I was just about to jump off a cliff.”