Wasteland king, p.25
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       Wasteland King, p.25

           Lilith Saintcrow
 
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  She expected the stick to break against his shirt like the time she’d seen a buggy bash apart against the general store during a twister. But the twig sunk right in like a hot knife in butter. The stranger shuddered and fell on her, his mouth working as gloppy red-black liquid bubbled out. She didn’t trust blood anymore, not after the first splat had burned her, and she wasn’t much for being found under a corpse, so Nettie shoved him off hard and shot to her feet, blowing air as hard as a galloping horse.

  The stranger was rolling around on the ground, plucking at his chest. Thick clouds blotted out the meager starlight, and she had nothing like the view she’d have tomorrow under the white-hot, unrelenting sun. But even a girl who’d never killed a man before knew when something was wrong. She kicked him over with the toe of her boot, tit for tat, and he was light as a tumbleweed when he landed on his back.

  The twig jutted up out of a black splotch in his shirt, and the slice in his neck had curled over like gone meat. His bad eye was a swamp of black, but then, everything was black at midnight. His mouth was open, the lips drawing back over too-white teeth, several of which looked like they’d come out of a panther. He wasn’t breathing, and Pap wasn’t coming, and Nettie’s finger reached out as if it had a mind of its own and flicked one big, shiny, curved tooth.

  The goddamn thing fell back into the dead man’s gaping throat. Nettie jumped away, skitty as the black filly, and her boot toe brushed the dead man’s shoulder, and his entire body collapsed in on itself like a puffball, thousands of sparkly motes piling up in the place he’d occupied and spilling out through his empty clothes. Utterly bewildered, she knelt and brushed the pile with trembling fingers. It was sand. Nothing but sand. A soft wind came up just then and blew some of the stranger away, revealing one of those big, curved teeth where his head had been. It didn’t make a goddamn lick of sense, but it could’ve gone far worse.

  Still wary, she stood and shook out his clothes, noting that everything was in better than fine condition, except for his white shirt, which had a twig-sized hole in the breast, surrounded by a smear of black. She knew enough of laundering and sewing to make it nice enough, and the black blood on his pants looked, to her eye, manly and tough. Even the stranger’s boots were of better quality than any that had ever set foot on Pap’s land, snakeskin with fancy chasing. With her own, too-big boots, she smeared the sand back into the hard, dry ground as if the stranger had never existed. All that was left was the four big panther teeth, and she put those in her pocket and tried to forget about them.

  After checking the yard for anything livelier than a scorpion, she rolled up the clothes around the boots and hid them in the old rig in the barn. Knowing Pap would pester her if she left signs of a scuffle, she wiped the black glop off the sickle and hung it up, along with the whip, out of Pap’s drunken reach. She didn’t need any more whip scars on her back than she already had.

  Out by the round pen, the sand that had once been a devil of a stranger had all blown away. There was no sign of what had almost happened, just a few more deadwood twigs pulled from the lopsided fence. On good days, Nettie spent a fair bit of time doing the dangerous work of breaking colts or doctoring cattle in here for Pap, then picking up the twigs that got knocked off and roping them back in with whatever twine she could scavenge from the town. Wood wasn’t cheap, and there wasn’t much of it. But Nettie’s hands were twitchy still, and so she picked up the black-splattered stick and wove it back into the fence, wishing she lived in a world where her life was worth more than a mule, more than boots, more than a stranger’s cold smile in the barn. She’d had her first victory, but no one would ever believe her, and if they did, she wouldn’t be cheered. She’d be hanged.

  That stranger—he had been all kinds of wrong. And the way that he’d wanted to touch her—that felt wrong, too. Nettie couldn’t recall being touched in kindness, not in all her years with Pap and Mam. Maybe that was why she understood horses. Mustangs were wild things captured by thoughtless men, roped and branded and beaten until their heads hung low, until it took spurs and whips to move them in rage and fear. But Nettie could feel the wildness inside their hearts, beating under skin that quivered under the flat of her palm. She didn’t break a horse, she gentled it. And until someone touched her with that same kindness, she would continue to shy away, to bare her teeth and lower her head.

  Someone, surely, had been kind to her once, long ago. She could feel it in her bones. But Pap said she’d been tossed out like trash, left on the prairie to die. Which she almost had, tonight. Again.

  Pap and Mam were asleep on the porch, snoring loud as thunder. When Nettie crept past them and into the house, she had four shiny teeth in one fist, a wad of cash from the stranger’s pocket, and more questions than there were stars.

  BY LILITH SAINTCROW

  Blood Call

  GALLOW AND RAGGED

  Trailer Park Fae

  Roadside Magic

  Wasteland King

  BANNON & CLARE

  The Iron Wyrm Affair

  The Red Plague Affair

  The Ripper Affair

  DANTE VALENTINE NOVELS

  Working for the Devil

  Dead Man Rising

  The Devil’s Right Hand

  Saint City Sinners

  To Hell and Back

  Dante Valentine (omnibus)

  JILL KISMET NOVELS

  Night Shift

  Hunter’s Prayer

  Redemption Alley

  Flesh Circus

  Heaven’s Spite

  Angel Town

  Jill Kismet (omnibus)

  A ROMANCE OF ARQUITAINE NOVELS

  The Hedgewitch Queen

  The Bandit King

  AS LILI ST. CROW

  THE STRANGE ANGELS SERIES

  Strange Angels

  Betrayals

  Jealousy

  Defiance

  Reckoning

  PRAISE FOR THE WORKS OF LILITH SAINTCROW:

  Dante Valentine

  “She’s a brave, charismatic protagonist with a smart mouth and a suicidal streak. What’s not to love? Fans of Laurell K. Hamilton should warm to Saintcrow’s dark evocative debut.”

  —Publishers Weekly

  “Saintcrow’s amazing protagonist is gutsy, stubborn to a fault and vaguely suicidal, meaning there’s never a dull moment.… This is the ultimate in urban fantasy!”

  —RT Book Reviews (Top Pick!)

  “Dark, gritty urban fantasy at its best.”

  —blogcritics.org

  Jill Kismet

  “Nonstop rough-and-tumble action combined with compelling characterization and a plot that twists and turns all over the place. Saintcrow… never fails to deliver excitement.”

  —RT Book Reviews

  “Loaded with action and starring a kick-butt heroine who from the opening scene until the final climax is donkey-kicking seemingly every character in sight.”

  —Harriet Klausner

  “Lilith has again created a vibrant, strong female heroine who keeps you running behind her in a breathless charge against forces you just know you would never be able to walk away from completely unscathed.”

  —myfavouritebooks.blogspot.com

  “This mind-blowing series remains a must-read for all urban fantasy lovers.”

  —Bitten by Books

  Bannon & Clare

  “Saintcrow scores a hit with this terrific steampunk series that rockets through a Britain-that-wasn’t with magic and industrial mayhem with a firm nod to Holmes. Genius and a rocking good time.”

  —Patricia Briggs

  “Saintcrow melds a complex magic system with a subtle but effective steampunk society, adds fully fleshed and complicated characters, and delivers a clever and highly engaging mystery that kept me turning pages, fascinated to the very end.”

  —Laura Anne Gilman

  “Innovative world-building, powerful steampunk, master storyteller at her best. Don’t miss this one.… She’s fabulous.”
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  —Christine Feehan

  “Lilith Saintcrow spins a world of deadly magic, grand adventure, and fast-paced intrigue through the clattering streets of a maze-like mechanized Londonium. The Iron Wyrm Affair is a fantastic mix of action, steam, and mystery dredged in dark magic with a hint of romance. Loved it! Do not miss this wonderful addition to the steampunk genre.”

  —Devon Monk

  “Lilith Saintcrow’s foray into steampunk plunges the reader into a Victorian England rife with magic and menace, where clockwork horses pace the cobbled streets, dragons rule the ironworks, and it will take a sorceress’s discipline and a logician’s powers of deduction to unravel a bloody conspiracy.”

  —Jacqueline Carey

  GLOSSARY

  Barrow-wight: Fullblood Unseelie wights whose homes are long “barrows.” Gold loses its luster in their presence.

  Brughnies: House-sidhe; they delight in cooking and cleaning. A well-ordered kitchen is their joy.

  The Fatherless: Robin Goodfellow, also called Puck, the nominal leader of the free sidhe.

  Folk: Sidhe, or clan within the sidhe, or generally a group, race, or species.

  Ghilliedhu: “Birch-girl”; dryads of the birch clan, held to be great beauties.

  Grentooth: A jack-wight, often amphibious, with mossy teeth and a septic bite.

  Kelpie: A river sidhe, capable of appearing as a black horse and luring its victims to drowning.

  Kobolding: A crafty race of sidhe, often amassing great wealth, living underground. Related to goblins, distantly related to the dwarven clans.

  Quirpiece: A silver coin, used to hold a particular chantment.

  Realmaker: A sidhe whose chantments do not fade at dawn. Very rare.

  Seelie: Sidhe of Summer’s Court, or holding fealty to Summer.

  Selkie: A sealskin sidhe.

  Sidhe: The Fair Folk, the Little People, the Children of Danu.

  Sluagh: The ravening horde of the unforgiven dead.

  Tainted: Possessing mortal blood.

  Twisted: A sidhe altered and mutated, often by proximity to cold iron, unable to use sidhe chantments or glamour.

  Unseelie: Sidhe of Unwinter’s Court, or holding fealty to Unwinter.

  Wight: “Being,” or “creature”; used to refer to certain classes of sidhe.

  Woodwight: A wight whose home or form is a tree, whose blood is resinous.

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  Contents

  Cover

  Title Page

  Welcome

  Dedication

  Truth

  Move and Think

  Part One Chapter 1: Some Faint Comfort

  Chapter 2: Pixies

  Chapter 3: Mislaid

  Chapter 4: Not Yet

  Chapter 5: One Before Dawn

  Chapter 6: The Driver

  Chapter 7: Heartsblood

  Chapter 8: Fairy Girl

  Chapter 9: Ride Forth

  Chapter 10: Knife

  Chapter 11: Robin’s Road

  Chapter 12: Philosophical Thoughts

  Chapter 13: The Sluagh

  Chapter 14: In Mortal Darkness

  Part Two Chapter 15: Vengeance Mine

  Chapter 16: A Man She Could

  Chapter 17: A Cower, A Song

  Chapter 18: Better than to Touch

  Chapter 19: Love-Tokens

  Chapter 20: Protect and Serve

  Chapter 21: Other Measures

  Chapter 22: Once a Serving-Maid

  Chapter 23: Horns

  Chapter 24: An Idea

  Chapter 25: Air and Dream

  Chapter 26: Strange Weather

  Chapter 27: Merry Chase

  Chapter 28: Nicely Jacketed

  Chapter 29: To Ride for Break

  Chapter 30: Mortal Pain

  Chapter 31: Damn’d Spot

  Chapter 32: Mute by Default

  Chapter 33: Too Long Anyway

  Chapter 34: No Cockcrow

  Part Three Chapter 35: Unwinter’s Dawn

  Chapter 36: Summer’s Dusk

  Chapter 37: Vanishing Girl

  Chapter 38: From Myself

  Chapter 39: Most Do Not

  Chapter 40: Mad Purpose

  Chapter 41: Thrice False

  Chapter 42: Twin Movements

  Chapter 43: The Dusken Ride

  Chapter 44: A Well-Made Cur

  Chapter 45: Treacherous Too

  Chapter 46: A Single Crack

  Chapter 47: Not Yours to Mete

  Chapter 48: Suicide by Half

  Chapter 49: Daisy, Come Back

  Chapter 50: Did Danu…

  Chapter 51: Last Owed

  Chapter 52: Ever and Always

  Chapter 53: Last of the Wild Boys

  Chapter 54: Almost Indirect

  Chapter 55: Perhaps, Surety

  Acknowledgments

  Extras

  Meet the Author

  A Preview of Wake of Vultures

  By Lilith Saintcrow

  Praise for the Works of Lilith Saintcrow

  Glossary

  Orbit Newsletter

  Copyright

  Copyright

  This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.

  Copyright © 2016 by Lilith Saintcrow

  Excerpt from Lilith Saintcrow #1 copyright © 2016 by Lilith Saintcrow

  Excerpt from Wake of Vultures copyright © 2015 by D. S. Dawson

  Cover design by Lauren Panepinto

  Cover illustration by David Seidman

  Cover copyright © 2016 by Hachette Book Group, Inc.

  Hachette Book Group supports the right to free expression and the value of copyright. The purpose of copyright is to encourage writers and artists to produce the creative works that enrich our culture.

  The scanning, uploading, and distribution of this book without permission is a theft of the author’s intellectual property. If you would like permission to use material from the book (other than for review purposes), please contact [email protected] Thank you for your support of the author’s rights.

  Orbit

  Hachette Book Group

  1290 Avenue of the Americas

  New York, NY 10104

  orbitbooks.net

  First Edition: July 2016

  Orbit is an imprint of Hachette Book Group.

  The Orbit name and logo are trademarks of Little, Brown Book Group Limited.

  The publisher is not responsible for websites (or their content) that are not owned by the publisher.

  The Hachette Speakers Bureau provides a wide range of authors for speaking events. To find out more, go to www.hachettespeakersbureau.com or call (866) 376-6591.

  Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

  Names: Saintcrow, Lilith, author.

  Title: Wasteland king / Lilith Saintcrow.

  Description: First edition. | New York, NY : Orbit, 2016. | Series: Gallow and Ragged ; book 3

  Identifiers: LCCN 2016015118| ISBN 9780316277914 (softcover) | ISBN 9781478964384 (audio book downloadable) | ISBN 9780316277907 (ebook)

  Subjects: LCSH: Fairies—Fiction. | Kings and rulers—Fiction. | BISAC: FICTION / Fantasy / Urban Life. | FICTION / Romance / Fantasy. | FICTION / Fantasy / Paranormal. | FICTION / Fantasy / Contemporary. | GSAFD: Fantasy fiction.

  Classification: LCC PS3619.A3984 W37 2016 | DDC 813/.6—dc23 LC record available at https://lccn.loc.gov/2016015118

  ISBNs: 978-0-316-27791-4 (trade paperba
ck), 978-0-316-27790-7 (ebook)

  E3-20160603-JV-PC

 


 

  Lilith Saintcrow, Wasteland King

 


 

 
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