Jessie Kwak is an author and business book ghostwriter living in Portland, Oregon. When she's not writing, she can be found sewing, mountain biking, or out exploring new worlds both at home and abroad. She is the author of a supernatural thriller, two series of space scoundrel sci-fi crime novels, and a handful of productivity books including From Chaos to Creativity and From Big Idea to Book.

Ghost Pirate Gambit by Jessie Kwak

Lasadi doesn't like strangers on her ship, but she'll need a bigger crew if she's going to steal a mysterious artifact from a dead pirate's long-lost space station. She takes a chance on a charming grifter named Raj, along with a skilled hacker and her genius little brother. Turns out Raj has a secret: he fought on the wrong side of the war that nearly killed Lasadi, three years earlier. She can live with that, she thinks—but Raj isn't the only one with secrets, and Auburn Station holds more than rumors of long-dead ghosts. Amid booby traps, pirate attacks, and mounting danger one thing becomes clear. This fledgling crew needs to learn to trust each other if they want to make it off this station alive.


As an avid reader of space opera, I fell in love with Jessie's team of rogues. She masterfully weaves tales with so much detail (without ever feeling like too much!) that I could close my eyes after reading a passage and play it out in my mind's eye like a movie. -John Wilker



  • "Definitely a perfect read for Firefly fans, with a strong dose of Leverage (in space, of course). One of my favorite reads so far this year."

    – Kate S
  • "If you're in the mood for a fast-paced space caper/romance, grab this book and be prepared to get drawn into the Nanshe Chronicles."

    – Karen E
  • "I found this tale wildly entertaining, and I loved getting to know each of these complex, flawed, and vulnerable characters."

    – Regina D



The woman with the blond braid has dropped the service industry facade, but she doesn't seem worried at being caught red-handed in theft. There's a sort of feral grace in the way she tensed at his voice; she holds herself like a fighter. Something tells him she'll struggle almost to the death before accepting captivity — and that she's done it before.

Her gaze rakes down his body, evaluating; the calculating glint in her smoky brown eyes tells Raj she's no stranger to getting herself out of a tricky situation.

Oh. And that she'll write him off as collateral damage in a heartbeat.

She definitely isn't a member of the catering team. Raj likes being right more when it doesn't mean a major kink in his plans.

"Stay back," she hisses. Her fingertips are on the plinth's control panel, her hand clad in one of those shimmering silver antimicrobial gloves all the catering staff are wearing. "You'll get us both killed."

Raj freezes.

"Lasers," the woman says in explanation. She waves her free hand at the base of the plinth. "They'll kneecap us both if I screw this up."

"I knew you weren't a caterer," Raj says.

"And I knew you weren't an investor," she answers. The bioscanner under her fingertips shifts from threatening red to a soothing green, pulses green a second time, then stays that way. A faint click sounds from the control panel and the forcefield around the obsidian totem dissolves with a sigh. The woman's shoulders loosen imperceptibly. "But you didn't turn me in to Sumilang."

"It wouldn't have been polite."

"Polite? It'd fit perfect with the asshole Arquellian act." She tilts her chin to study him. "Unless it's not an act."

And at that he places her accent: Corusca.

Ah. Could be another problem.

Indira's moon is the newest member of the Indiran Alliance, which includes Arquelle. Only Arquelle is a founding member — and perhaps a touch aggressive when it comes to bringing new countries into the fold. Corusca's citizens had been split on joining, and Arquelle had pushed, coercing an unpopular decision through the Senate. Frustrations in Corusca led to an Alliance occupation, which led to a viciously effective insurgency, which led to a retaliatory "peace" effort. Which led to Raj's first command post.

Tensions had spread on both sides, until the deaths of seven hundred and twelve souls aboard a neutral New Manilan medical transport poured fuel on the flames. The resulting Battle of Tannis had been disastrous for everyone involved — but far, far worse for Coruscans.

"Let's talk this through," Raj says.

"Nothing to talk about," the Coruscan woman says. "You walk back out of this room and I won't tell Sumilang about your grift. We both get what we want."

"One problem," says Raj. He may feel bad about the war, but he's got a job to do. He lifts his chin to the obsidian totem behind her. "I'm here for that."

She blinks in surprise, but her hesitation doesn't last long. A flash of decision in her eyes; he tries to move before she does, but she's too quick. She ducks his arm, snatching the totem as she pivots, an elbow to his ribs as she whirls past.

Raj muffles a groan at the burst of pain in his side, bites back a curse as he lunges after her, acutely aware of the slightest sounds of their scuffle. The party outside the museum hall is loud, but not loud enough.

He catches her arm and spins her off her footing; she nearly drops the totem, but as he lunges for it, she tightens her grip once more and swings it at his head. He ducks, just in time. The breeze it makes passing over his head sets his hair on end.

She wasn't expecting to miss, and she put a touch too much force into the swing. Just enough that Raj can use her momentum to push her off her footing. She pivots at the last second to avoid hitting another golden plinth — this one topped with a saint's altar — and Raj tackles her before she can take off running again.

They roll to the floor, barely missing the tray of puff pastries she'd left on the table against the wall, Raj cushioning their fall to keep from making too much noise. She's wiry, but he's stronger, and he's gaining the upper hand. He catches her wrist above her head when she tries to swing the totem at him again, frees the electric barb from his belt with his other hand, and jams it against her temple.

She goes still, chest heaving with breath. Every muscle in her body is tense; he can feel her taut strength pressed against his own. She smells like vetiver, with heady undertones of sweet caramel and brush fire.

Focus, Raj.

"I think I win," Raj says.

In response, the woman ghosts him a smile and glances down. When he tries to follow her gaze, the cold point of a blade pricks below his chin. The corner of her mouth curls up.

"Try it," she says.

The electric barb won't kill her, but if he discharges it into her temple it could do some gnarly things to her wiring. Course, he won't get far at all if she bites that blade into his jugular. He's not interested in leaving any bodies behind on this job, but he's pretty sure she doesn't have that same hang-up — especially about an Arquellian. Either way, she's faster than him. Even if he was willing to pull the trigger, she could slit his throat before the jolt knocked her cold.

She's watching him make his decision, a hint of amusement on her lips. Like she's already solved this particular puzzle and she's waiting for him to catch on.

Her lips part as though she's about to speak, then she glances up, eyelashes sweeping wide.

He hears it, too: voices heading towards them.

Raj acts before he can second-guess himself, rolling them both out of sight under the hem of the tablecloth. He keeps his grip on her wrist, the electric barb against her temple. He can still feel the edge of her blade against his throat — only now their positions are reversed and she's straddling his chest.

The woman gives a startled laugh, then presses her lips shut tight and holds as still as he, waiting for the scuffing heels and muttered complaints of the caterers to pass by. Her professional mask has melted into something more playful, and he revises her age downwards. She can't be any older than him, despite the experienced way she carries herself.

"What's your name?" Raj whispers when the caterers have passed. One of the woman's eyebrows lift, but she doesn't move the knife from his throat. "I'm Raj."

"Hi, Raj. I know you're not going to pull that trigger."

"And you're not going to slit my throat."

"I'm not?"

"You've got a buyer for this thing?"

"None of your business."

"Mine pays top dollar. Tell you what. We work together to get out of this and I'll make sure you get your share. Fifty-fifty."

"I kill you, I get one hundred percent."

"You don't know how good my buyer's rates can be. What's your name?"

The woman snorts a laugh and moves without warning, rolling off him and out from under the table, disappearing in a rustle of tablecloth.

Raj hisses out a curse and scrambles out after her, but the woman's halfway across the hall by the time he gets to his feet. And — how the hell? — she stole his electric barb.

She glances back to gauge her lead, and that's why she doesn't notice him: the burly wall of a security guard stepping around the corner. She runs smack into the guard's chest and the big man's hands close around her shoulders like vise grips.

And there's that animal desperation flashing over her face once more — the wild fear of the trap, the feral instinct to fight her way out even if it kills her.

"Hey, I'm so sorry," Raj calls. He lets his voice slur, lets his asshole Arquellian drawl lengthen, puts a wobble in his step as he catches up to the woman and the guard. "I wasn't trying to upset you, I completely misread the sitsh — the situation." He straightens his tie and shines chagrin at the security guard before turning back to the woman. "I'm an idiot. I'm sorry."

The fear in her eyes drains away as she realizes his charade; a mask of faux fury slips into its place. She shrugs her arm free from the security guard and slaps Raj across the face.

"Shit, woman." Raj massages his jaw and stares at her in unfeigned surprise.

"I have to get back to work," she announces haughtily. She jabs a finger at Raj's chest. "And you're cut off." She pins the security guard with her glare; he flinches back out of reflex. "He's cut off."

"Yes, ma'am," the security guard says, stepping out of her way.

"Wait," Raj calls to her retreating back. The security guard's subtle shift in stance says the big man isn't going to let Raj go after her. "What's your name?"

She's not going to tell him, he knows that. But it's one last reminder he's the reason neither of them got caught, and all she's leaving him with is a stinging cheek and empty pockets. The woman glances over her shoulder. Her face is angled away from the security guard, her hand is not — even so, the wink and the rude gesture are a perfectly matched set.

"Looks like your party's over, sir," the security guard tells him.

Raj clenches his jaw in frustration. He has to get that totem. He has to get outside and figure out where she'll go — maybe he can go back to the hacker he bought tonight's identity from, ask for help with the security footage, track her down before she disappears for good.

He keeps his shoulders loose and grins sheepishly at the guard. "Sorry about that, man," he says.

"I'll call you a ride," the security guard says. "What's your name?"

Raj opens his mouth to spit out his alias, but he's too slow. "Silv— "

"Raj Demetriou," says a voice behind him.

Ice pours down Raj's spine and he turns slowly to come face-to-face with Parr Sumilang and three of the biggest guards he's ever seen. Sumilang's cheeks are still flushed, but now the heat of the vodxx is joined by fury. He lifts a finger, jabbing it at Raj's chest.

"Artemis City security is on their way," he says to Raj. "And it seems you've developed a reputation. I think they'll be very happy to get their hands on you."