A Swift and Savage Tide (Captain Kit Brightling #2) by Chloe Neill




Prologue




            War was a nasty business, but a necessary one. Or so believed the man who would much prefer to rule an empire than an island.

            Gerard Rousseau had had an empire once. After nearly a decade of war against the Continent, after he’d led his armies through their villages and cities, their mountain respites and waterlogged ports, most countries had offered him obeisance.

            His offer was a simple one: fealty or death.

            Some chose fealty immediately; some needed to see death first. All eventually succumbed . . . until that interminable winter in Kievan Rus. If hell was real, it was not built of eternal fire, of basalt and brimstone. Hell was cold—a world frozen solid from endless gray sky to aching bone. Every breath a splinter, every small task made impossibly difficult.

            And add that to damnable incompetence. He’d been refused the supplies he needed, his commanders refused to provide the necessary discipline, and the troops provided him had been too weak—or simply not clever enough—to deal with cold. He’d lost ground, men, and time.

            Magic should have been his weapon and his prize—used by his Aligned soldiers to ensure victory, and gained as each victory brought more territory within his control. Magic was power, and weren’t humans on the cusp of learning to command it? But his soldiers had failed him, disappointed him. He was the better commander, the better strategist, than any other on the Continent or in the Saxon Isles. But even he couldn’t win a war alone.

            Then it was treaties and submission and exile to the island, that insulting speck of rock and stone—and no current to speak of. For nearly a year he’d been denied what he was owed, and what any man of his will would demand.

            Power. Fealty. Tribute.

            A smile thinned his lips, broadened his round face. He’d made his escape right under their noses. A year of planning, of patience, of persistence, so he now stood on the deck of a ship that would carry him home. He understood his previous mistake—allowing others to get in the way of his ambition. But there would be no more hesitation, no more solicitude. The old ways of warfare would be tossed away. He would take what he wished, regardless of the cost, and rebuild a world beneath his benefaction.

            Magic would be his weapon. The current—whether aetheric, ley line, or remnant of old worlds and old gods—would be his fife, his drum, his rifle, his cannon.

            He closed his eyes and tipped his face to the sun, smiled at its responding warmth, which felt like sanctification.

            He was emperor. And before the moon had turned, they would know it, too.





One




            She despised aristocrats, save one: the damned viscount.

            Colonel Rian Grant, Viscount Queenscliffe, looked more soldier than member of New London’s Beau Monde and was as honorable a man as she’d ever met.

            She was no simpering miss herself, of course. Captain Kit Brightling was a member of the Queen’s Own Guards and—with Grant—a new inductee into the Order of Saint James. Joining the order was both honor—appreciation for their work on behalf of their home, the Saxon Isles—and obligation—assignment to the council of the queen’s closest advisers.

            She and Grant had had one adventure together, uncovering a plot by Gerard to employ a magical warship. That adventure had featured one very good, and very dangerous, kiss. She hadn’t expected to see him again, which was fine. Kit had no need of a viscount.

            But then she’d seen his face across the palace’s ballroom—just after they’d been inducted into the order—and her heart had stuttered like she’d put a hand directly into a current of magic. Broad shoulders, immaculate beneath his black tailcoat, and gleaming Hessians. He looked not unlike the roguish heroes in the penny novels she loved—the straight nose, the strong brow over eyes the color of a southern sea.