Well, after years and years of hoping that I’d someday write a steampunk romance, the day is here: BURNING UP is out, and the novella “Here There Be Monsters” launches my new series, The Iron Seas. I hope you all love it!
Here are the winners of the quickie contest yesterday, as picked by random.org:
#70 Hailey Edwards
#61 Meljean Brook (didn’t follow rules; posted repeatedly)
#23 Donna S.
#33 Nicole M.
#13 Megan (disqualified for being my sister)
#32 Meljean Brook (already owns a copy, the greedy wench)
I’ll e-mail each of you by tomorrow morning. If you don’t receive an e-mail, check your spam folder, or contact me with your address.
And because I’m almost sick with anxiety, now I think I’m going into hiding — or at least sticking my head in the sand. I’ll be lurking on my blog here, but … uh, oh god. How about an excerpt? This is from Chapter 2:
The jokes began as soon as Ivy ducked her head beneath the pianist’s lacy pink skirts. Rolling over onto her back, she lay on the musician’s raised wooden platform and looked up into the gears that formed the automaton’s guts. Luckily, this wouldn’t take long—just a broken tooth on the deadbeat escapement that timed the motion of the feet, and a worm gear out of alignment. She worked, trying to ignore the men doing their best to make the little town of Fool’s Cove earn its name. By the time she’d repaired the escapement, every Hans, Stefan, and Jozef with two brain cells and a drink in his hand had joined in, offering tips for oiling a woman up—including Klaas, the tavern’s owner.
She should have quoted him a higher price.
But they tired of it quickly enough. After a couple of minutes of tuning them out, she realized the tavern had gone quiet. Silent, even.
She paused. With her fingers wrapped around a pendulum rod, she listened to the approaching tread of a single pair of boots, painfully aware of her legs sticking out from beneath pink lace. The skirts lifted, and Ivy found herself staring into cat-green eyes under a ruby kerchief.
Lady Corsair said, “I’ve come to collect what you owe me, Ivy Blacksmith.”
The woman’s smile sent a tremor through Ivy’s legs. Run. But she only came up on her elbows and asked, “Wasn’t repairing every piece of equipment on your airship payment enough?”
The narrowing of Lady Corsair’s eyes was her only answer.
Alright. Lady Corsair’s captain had never asked her to work; Ivy had simply needed to keep herself busy. “So I owe you the price of a passage from London to Port Fallow. I’ll pay it now.”
It’d take every bit of Ivy’s savings, but she’d rather settle this debt with coin. She sat up, aware of the grease on her fingers, her cheek.
“I don’t want your coin. We need you to build something for us.”
Ivy’s stomach dropped. Building didn’t worry her as much as the other part. “Us?”
Lady Corsair straightened and stepped back, revealing the man behind her. Mad Machen—his face dark, eyes wild.
By the fucking stars, no.
Blood surged to her legs. Scuttling back, Ivy turned, got her boots under her and sprinted for the tavern kitchen. Past the stoves, she burst through the door and stumbled into a muddy yard full of white chickens. Feathers flew as they scrambled out of her path, squawking their alarm. She leapt over a gate, made it into the street.
Lady Corsair came out of nowhere. Catching Ivy by the hair with both hands, the aviator whipped her around to a stop, then yanked Ivy back against her.
Her voice was a terrifying purr in Ivy’s ear. “You’re fortunate I don’t toss you to my men for that, blacksmith.”
Almost blinded by tears of frustration and pain, Ivy spat, “You’re tossing me to him.”
“Two years ago, you cheated him out of a fare. As his friend, I’m only helping him claim what is rightfully his.” Strong fingers tightened in Ivy’s hair. “Look up.”
Ivy blinked away the tears, fighting whatever was working up from her chest—a scream or a sob, she didn’t know. Half concealed by the low clouds, Lady Corsair floated above Ivy’s shop, a long and shallow wooden ship tethered beneath an enormous white balloon. They’d come in under silent sail; her engines were off, the tail propellers still. A rope ladder had been lowered to Ivy’s front door. They’d known exactly where to find her.
“I see,” she choked out.
“Good. Now understand this: my aviators haven’t had a good raid in months. You can keep fighting, and I’ll let my crew run through this town instead of Port Fallow, which can handle them. So what say you, blacksmith?”
Ivy closed her eyes, clenched her fists. She had arms powerful enough to rip this woman apart. Instinct warned her not to try. There was strong, and there was deadly—and she feared Lady Corsair had the edge on the latter.
Her chest aching, she looked toward her shop again. “I have to gather my things.”
Without a word, Lady Corsair let her go. Ivy trudged forward, avoiding the curious eyes of the townspeople coming out to look. Several sped back into the safety of their homes the moment they glimpsed the woman following her.
When they glimpsed the man, too. Though she couldn’t make out the words, Ivy heard the rough anger in Mad Machen’s voice as he questioned Lady Corsair. Felt his gaze boring into her back.
How stupid to hope she might have been safe here on the Norwegian coast, in one of the settlements populated by the descendants of families from eastern Europe who’d fled from the Horde centuries ago—and more recently, from England—but she’d never thought Mad Machen would sail into Fool’s Cove. He couldn’t sail into Fool’s Cove. The shallow water hid jagged towers of stone that ripped out the wooden bottoms of every deep-keeled boat. Ice locked the town in winter. In the spring, giant eels seethed in an electric, twisted mating dance, and in the fall, the herring spawned in the fjord that drained into the cove drew young megalodons who churned the waters in a season-long feeding frenzy. The only route into the town was by airship or the fjord; only a fool would sail in by ship.
But he hadn’t sailed. And the woman Ivy had assumed was his rival was his friend, instead.
She stepped around the rope ladder, resisting the urge to grab each rail and rip it down. When she opened the door, the bell’s jingle welcomed her into the shop. A blue curtain split the ground level room in half. The small window in front showcased the automata she’d built—the practical egg-crackers and handwashers, the fanciful singing birds and jumping frogs—and the dresses sewed by her shopmate, Netta. Seamstress and blacksmith, they both pulled in more coin with repairs than with sales off the shelf . . . but even the repair money was barely enough to keep food in their bellies.
No thanks to bloody Mad Machen.
Only last month, she’d treated an emaciated man who still bore the marks of a whip. She’d made him a new foot, and listened to how Mad Machen had attacked his merchant ship, forced the man onto his crew, used him until he couldn’t walk anymore, then left him to die in a dinghy. Mad Machen . . . who’d been tearing up the coast of the North Sea, searching for the redheaded blacksmith from London who’d cheated him.
The man had given her hair and guild tattoo a significant look. Though the work she’d done on his foot could have fed her for a year, she hadn’t asked him to pay.
It wasn’t the first time she’d heard the story, received that look, and hadn’t been paid in return. Mad Machen had a habit of dropping men into dinghies near the cove. For months now, Ivy had suspected he knew she was there, and his revenge had been keeping her frightened and waiting. She should have run then—but she simply hadn’t wanted to run again.
Black hair pulled into a bun at her nape, Netta came up to the front, and the friendly smile of greeting she wore warmed when she saw Ivy. “Back so early, and without a pint to show for it. That Klaas has a tighter fist than a sailor a year out to sea.” She tsked, shaking her head, then moved over to the window. “We have a fish pie today, thanks from the widow Aughton. Now, look at all the busybodies standing about. What’re they sticking their noses into today?”
“Me.” Ivy ran her hand through her hair, trying to think. “I don’t know when I’ll return, Netta.”
If she returned.
“What are you going on about? I—” Netta froze, staring out the window. “That man, is he . . . ? Oh, Ivy—run. Run!”
“I tried that,” Ivy said, starting for the stairs. Every step was like twisting a screw through her chest. Downstairs, the bell chimed merrily as the door opened again. She didn’t look back.
Full of light, with a window overlooking the cove, her room appeared larger than it was. She crouched in front of the chest at the foot of her narrow bed, retrieving a small steel box locked with a rotating combination. She dialed in the sequence, and the box unfolded, clicking as it reshaped into a fat squatting man, his left and right eyes reading a one and a six. Sixteen coins. She pressed his hand down, and thin electrum deniers spit from the smiling mouth into her palm one at a time. When the eyes showed a zero and an eight, she flicked the hand up—leaving half for Netta to pay their rent, so that she might have a shop to return to.
Someone began to climb the stairs—a heavy, uneven tread.
Ivy hurried to her wardrobe. She had a real satchel this time, made by Netta from mismatched pieces of fabric. Ivy filled it with her few changes of clothing, then looked around. Two tattered books lay on the nightstand—children’s primers that Netta had taught Ivy to read. Taking those was like admitting she wasn’t coming back. She left them where they were.
“Bring that with you.”
Mad Machen’s gruff voice came from behind her. Slowly, Ivy turned, her gaze sweeping up from the floor—stopping at his legs. From just above the right knee on down, he no longer filled out his trouser leg and boot. A prosthetic. One he’d had long enough that he didn’t need a stabilizing cane, but he wouldn’t be running after her soon, if ever.
She met his eyes. Dark and somber, they watched her face. His hair was longer, shaggier, and lightened by the summer sun. His cheeks were leaner, browner, and a new white scar cut cleanly through his flesh from his temple to his jaw.
Sometime in the past two years, he’d been through hell. And because she couldn’t take pleasure in it, she turned away so that she wouldn’t feel compassion.
By some miracle, her voice was steady. “Bring what with me?”
It hung on the wardrobe door. Of pale blue satin, designed to gather beneath her breasts and cascade to the floor, the gown was a New Year’s gift from Netta. A month ago, Ivy had attended one of the widow Aughton’s socials wearing it with borrowed slippers, gloves over her gray arms, and ribbons in her hair. Only a few men had been brave enough to dance with her. They’d heard the stories about Mad Machen, too.
Her hands shook as she lifted the dress from the hook. That terrified her. The one thing she’d always been able to depend on was the steadiness of her hands.
When she turned, he was beside her bed, bending to slide his fingers over the rough woolen blanket. Anger suddenly rose up, stripping the thread of her fear.
The gown crumpled in her fists. “Why not here?”
His gaze flew to hers.
“Use me on the bed,” she told him. “Take what you feel you’re owed. Then leave me here, and let me continue as I was.”
His brows lowered, and he slowly straightened. After an endless second in which he seemed to be holding on to his control, he said, “Our agreement was that you’d be in my bed.”
“For passage. I didn’t board your ship. I owe you nothing.”
“But to pay your debt to Yasmeen, you have to board Vesuvius.” He took a step toward her. “Bring the dress, Ivy.”
She’d have ripped it. But Netta had spent hours sewing in secret . . . and Ivy loved the blasted thing. She shoved the gown into her satchel and turned for the stairs. She marched down and threw her arms around a weeping Netta.
“I left money. It’s not much.”
“I’ll get by.” Netta’s strong arms squeezed her tight. “Take care, Ivy. And come back. Please.”
Nodding, Ivy drew away. She heard Mad Machen on the stairs—slow, careful. With her chin high, Ivy swept past Lady Corsair, through the door, and to the rope ladder.
And because it was the last time she could put distance between her and Mad Machen, Ivy climbed to her fate as fast as she could.