Title: Solar Wind
Author: Carol Ann Lee
Genre: Futuristic Romance
Excerpt Heat Level: 1
Book Heat Level: 3
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Privateer Meets Stowaway: In this sequel to Banner's Bonus, Zeke Slater poses as an average cargo pilot, yet in reality he's a privateer for a secret alliance of merchants turned vigilante. He captains a cargo ship that is covertly super-charged, heavily armed and anything but harmless beneath its benign guise. The mission is to seek and destroy pirate ships marauding the trade routes.
Four years have passed since Zeke worked for Kira's father. Zeke has changed, and Kira, knowing no more than he allows, senses he's up to no good.
Despite the fact that Kira too has changed, Zeke refuses to see her as anything other than his past employer's unruly daughter.
While sexual tension smolders on board ship, the bad guys lay in wait at the next port.
"Boss, what do y’ make of this?" Frank asked from across the helm, his eyes fixed on an overhead monitor.
Rising from his seat, Slater moved to stand behind his first officer. "Make of what?"
"Portal Screen B." He hitched his chin toward a pulsing red indicator.
Slater paused, his eyes following Frank’s. "Looks like something’s shifted back there."
"Yep, that’s what I figured too, but check this." Frank’s craggy gray brows drew together in concentration as he tapped in another directive. "Unless I’m mistak'n’, I’d say we picked ourselves up some live freight back at Port Chance."
In silent speculation the captain’s eyes narrowed as he watched the security vid-cam quickly replay the last sixty seconds of activity.
"You want me to run a backup on the sensors, Boss?"
"No, I’ve got a better idea." Descending the short flight of stairs to the corridor, Slater snagged his leather jacket and holstered weapon off a hook, wrenching them on as they made their way toward the ship's hold.
Lights snapped to life, and a host of familiar scents greeted them as they stepped inside the cargo bay. It was a pungent mixture of imported rarities, exotic spices, and the distinctive odor of raw textiles.
"Help!" came a muffled, yet decidedly feminine voice. "I want out!"
"Y’ hear that?" Frank asked, his breath forming in the chilled air.
"Over there." Slater’s eyes were focused on a stack of shipping modules lined along the starboard wall. "That damned Celeste," he muttered.
"Celeste? Y’ don’t think she’d be so foolish as t’--"
"I wouldn’t put anything past her." The sleek blue-black barrel of Slater’s weapon quietly slid from its holster as they wormed their way through the tightly stacked freight. If nothing else, he’d give her the scare of her life.
The muffled sounds came again. Stronger. More urgent. The insistent kicking and thumping coming from the far corner.
Thunk! "Somebody, get me out of here!" Thunk! "Please! I’m freezing." Thunk! Thunk!
"Since when did we start haulin’ talkin’ veggies?" Frank asked, grinning as they drew to a halt before a fresh produce pod.
A muttered curse was Slater’s low-voiced reply as he disengaged the lock on the vented pod. "All right, Celeste! Come on out." And with a swift upward motion that belied the weight of the cumbersome lid, he threw it back on its hinges.
"It’s about time somebo--dee..." Kira Delaney’s voice trailed into quivering silence as bright overhead light spilled into the pod--even as Slater’s lips formed an unspoken curse.
Frank’s long, breathy whistle finally broke the silence. "Y’ want me to check the next crate over for Celeste?" he asked, his gravelly voice dripping with unmasked laughter.