Riveted (A Novel of the Iron Seas)

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9780425256046: Riveted (A Novel of the Iron Seas)

The New York Times bestselling author of The Iron Duke and Heart of Steel returns to the Iron Seas with a riveting new adventure of steamy romance. 
A century after a devastating volcanic eruption forced Iceland's inhabitants to abandon its shores, the island has become enshrouded in legend. But the truth behind the legends is mechanical, not magical--and the mystery of the island a matter of life and death for a community of women who once spilled noble blood to secure their freedom.
 
Five years ago, Annika unwittingly endangered that secret, but her sister Källa took the blame and was exiled. Now Annika serves on an airship, searching for her sister and longing to return home. But that home is threatened when scientific expedition leader David Kentewess comes aboard, looking to expose Annika's secrets. Then disaster strikes, leaving David and Annika stranded on a glacier and pursued by a madman, with their very survival depending on keeping the heat rising between them--and generating lots of steam...

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About the Author:

Meljean Brook is the author of the Guardian paranormal romance series and Iron Seas steampunk series.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Chapter 1

Before Annika had begun her journey, her mother had assured her that the people in the New World weren’t all that different from the women in their village of Hannasvik. Annika’s mother reminded her of how the peoples of Africa and Europe had sailed across the Atlantic four hundred years ago, fleeing from the Mongol Horde that had ridden from the east on the backs of their conquering war machines—just as Hanna and the Englishwomen had escaped the New World slavers and had made their home in Iceland a century before. She’d spoken of the enormous mechanical warriors that the New Worlders had built on their coastlines, sentinels that served a warning to the Horde, should that great empire ever develop a navy and follow them across the sea—just as Hannasvik’s trolls protected their village and intimidated any enemies who might attempt to drive them from their home.

The Horde never followed the New Worlders, however. The sentinels stood for centuries, staring out over the open sea while wars over territory and trade routes were fought behind their backs, and they were slowly stripped of their armaments and engines.

And they were slowly falling apart. Annika glanced up through the drizzling rain and eyed the immense Castilian warrior guarding the gates to the port city of Navarra. In the four years since she’d left Hannasvik and joined Phatéon’s crew, Annika had come to accept the truth of her mother’s words: Individually, the people of the New World weren’t that different from those in her village.

The governments and rulers, however, must have been.

No elder in Hannasvik would have allowed Annika or any of the other engineers to neglect their trolls, not when lives depended upon their maintenance. The same obviously wasn’t true in the New World, and Castile’s sentinel was the worst. Aboard Phatéon, Annika had seen every machine still standing along the Atlantic coastline—from Johannesland’s colossus in the north to the Far Maghreb’s twin warriors, three thousand miles south of the equator—and the warrior in Navarra was by far the most decrepit. Rust ate away at its plate armor and crested helmet; corrosion pitted the iron around every bolt and rivet. Sand had drifted into the crevices, forming a solid mass at every joint, topped by grassy nests. Gray seagull dung crusted the spiked shoulders and gauntlets.

Once a marvelous and deadly machine, now it was simply dangerous. Even if the sentinel had still possessed the engines to walk, the great hinged knees would have buckled after a single step. Struts buttressed its lower half now, a framework of steel supporting the towering legs that served as Navarra’s port gates.

What a horrible waste. If the Horde had come to the New World, they likely wouldn’t have been intimidated by such useless machines . . . unless the New Worlders’ defensive strategy was to crush any invaders beneath a rusted ruin. More likely, however, visitors to the city would be killed by falling pieces.

Visitors like Annika. Only an hour earlier, she had walked the north port road through the gate and into the Castilian city without being crushed—but while she’d been at the printer’s office purchasing another season of personal advertisements, an icy breeze had begun to blow in from the ocean, stinging her cheeks with rain and sand. A strong gust might rip away the sentinel’s giant hand or armored shoulder and throw it to the ground, squashing Annika in the street.

If a steamcoach didn’t squash her first.

A horn blasted near her right ear. Two tons of rolling iron sped by, the front wheel whipping her skirts forward. With a yelp, Annika yanked the red silk tight to her leg before the rear wheel could catch the fabric and rip it away—or drag her along the sandy road behind it. That damned idiot driver. Only a blind man wouldn’t have seen her walking along in a brilliant crimson skirt and canary yellow coat.

Though the coach was already lost from her sight beyond its dense trail of smoke and steam, she yelled after him, “You rotting rabbitchaser!”

Pointless, but satisfying—until she sucked in a lungful of the acrid smoke. Coughing, she pounded her fist over her chest, then glanced over her shoulder just in time to avoid the three-wheeled cart that rattled around a horse-drawn wagon and attempted to squeeze between the plodding beast and her leg. Her fierce scowl went unnoticed by the driver.

Well, hang them all. It was true that the row of shops that separated the north and south roads made narrow corridors of each street, leaving little room to maneuver—but they were headed in the same direction, and the port gates were only a hundred yards away. Was running her down to gain a few seconds truly necessary? Given the manner that some of them handled their vehicles, she suspected they were aiming for her.

Perhaps they were. Perhaps she’d broken some unspoken Castilian rule that no one aboard Phatéon had thought to warn her about. Perhaps she was unintentionally giving a message: Please crush me to a bleating pulp alongside this road.

And now that the thought had entered her mind, it wouldn’t leave. She looked over her shoulder again. No vehicles were bearing down on her . . . yet.

Oh, and her mother would have been shaking her head now, telling Annika that her dread was a product of her imagination. That might have been true, once. Growing up, Annika’s tendency to woolgather had been a source of consternation and amusement for the women in the village. Her imagination had continually gotten the best of her—and was precisely why she currently served as second engineer aboard an airship, flying from port to port, rather than eating supper every night in her mother’s cozy earthen home. She’d often fancied dangers that weren’t there and daydreamed when she should have been wary.

No longer, though. Within a few months of joining Phatéon’s crew, Annika had discovered that port cities in the New World each came with a unique set of dangers, and she’d learned to be wary until she was familiar with them. Manhattan City’s entry inspectors didn’t just examine the documents proving her origin and certifying that she wasn’t infected by the Horde’s nanoagents. They groped her legs and arms to make certain she wasn’t hiding a mechanical apparatus beneath her clothing—and swinging a fist at an officer who groped too fervently would land her in a cell until her airship’s captain bailed her out. Inside the city, a curse spoken within hearing distance of a constable resulted in a hefty fine; exposing a bare ankle or elbow earned a rebuke and a trip in a paddy wagon back to the port’s gates, where her salacious behavior was reported to Captain Vashon and the airship threatened with docking sanctions.

In Oyapock, however, Annika could have walked naked down the paved streets without garnering a second look—and given the number of light-fingered war orphans who swarmed visitors entering Liberé’s capital city, it was only by virtue of her trouser buckles that her pants weren’t stolen off her bottom while she wore them. On her first visit to Oyapock, Annika might have considered nudity a blessing, however. The city sat at the mouth of the Orinoco River; accustomed to colder climes, even Annika’s lightest clothing had seemed to suffocate her. But the urchins hadn’t left her nude on that trip—they’d taken her money and her hair instead. She hadn’t felt them lift the purse from her waist. A slight tug at the back of her head had been the only warning before her thick braid had disappeared and her curls sprang into a dark halo. With her hand in her newly shorn hair, she’d stared in open-mouthed shock as they’d scampered away. She’d learned, though. Now she kept her hair short and only carried as much money as she needed into Oyapock, leaving the bulk on the airship.

Annika took her valuables with her in Port-au-Prince. Though a Vashon airship was welcome at any of the French islands in the Caribbean, Phatéon wasn’t exempt from arbitrary searches by the king’s men looking for treasonous nobles or cargo left unaccounted for on the tariff sheets. When Annika had reported her money missing from her berth after a search, Phatéon’s old goat of a quartermaster had laughed before informing Annika that she’d paid “le fou de l’impôt.” She hadn’t known enough French to understand him then, but his meaning had been clear: Only a fool left her money on-board when the king’s men came. Annika preferred to take it with her, anyway. Though many of the French cities seemed to be sinking into an elegant ruin, all trading routes led through the Caribbean, and the islands were ripe with spices and fruits unlike any she’d ever had in Iceland. The fish seemed flakier and the mutton lighter when eaten in a French market, and the stalls were filled with lustrous fabrics that she couldn’t resist purchasing. King’s men or no, Annika always left the islands with an empty purse.

Now, Annika knew each city’s quirks well enough that she rarely felt trepidation passing through the port gates. Navarra was no exception—and in many ways, was pleasant to visit. Entering the city was painless, the inspection process consisting of a glance at her papers and a wave through the gates. No orphans waited to steal her money. The drapers sold cloth that matched the French markets in quality, if not quantity; the food was bold and tangy, and the people she spoke with no more rude or friendly than in any other city, even when she stammered along in her butchered Spanish.

But she knew not to enter the city if any part of it was burning. She knew that if a crowd began forming in the streets, she needed to return to Phatéon as quickly as possible. The queen’s guard wouldn’t care whether she was actually participating in the bread riots—simply being in the area was enough to justify arrest, and Annika had never heard of any crew member of any airship returning from a Castilian gaol.

Since leaving home, she’d been as wary as her sense and instincts dictated. And if her imagination suggested a danger that didn’t exist, no harm was done . . . except to her nerves.

A shout came from another vehicle, the words barely audible over the huffing engine—but she didn’t understand much Spanish, anyway. Shoulders stiff in expectation of being run down, she glanced around. A cab driver gestured and shouted from two feet away, probably telling her to use the wooden walkway that ran along the front of the shops.

She would have used it, if there’d been room. But a church must have been distributing food nearby—men, women, and children with sunken cheeks and tired eyes stood in lines on the weathered boards, shuffling forward now and again, everyone quiet and orderly.

The fried sweetbread Annika had purchased near the printer’s office suddenly weighed like a rock in her stomach. In many ways, the New World was nothinglike Hannasvik. There was hunger in her village—oh, she’d known it many times, when the winters had been long and the nets empty, when the flocks had been thinned by the wild dogs, when even the rabbits seemed scarce—but if one person lacked food, then everyone in the village did. Here, she dared not even give any of the people the few coins left in her purse. If seen, she’d be arrested for inciting disorder.

And though she could imagine many ways to secretly pass the money to someone, she could also imagine the gaol too well if she were caught.

What a strange land, where giving a small bit of help might put a noose around her neck.

Oh, but she missed home. Longing gripped her chest—to see her mother, to feel the heat of a troll’s belly as she stoked its furnace, to smell the sea and the smoking fish and the sheep. But she couldn’t return, not yet. Not until she found her sister, Källa.

Until then, she was fortunate that Phatéon had become something of a home, too—and it was not far away now. She was almost to the port gates. Prudently, she opened her canvas umbrella to shield herself from the seagulls’ rain that fell from the buttresses. Ahead, directly beneath the center of the sentinel, port officers watched the south road from a wooden guardhouse, making certain that no one attempted to avoid the inspections on the north road and enter Navarra via the southern gate. Beyond the guardhouse, the sand-strewn cobblestone road widened to accommodate the shops and pubhouses serving the aviators and passengers who weren’t allowed into the city. Steamcoaches idled in front of the inns, the liveried porters loading and unloading luggage.

A strong gust blew more sand into her face. Around her, above her, the sentinel and the supporting framework seemed to shudder. With the sound of droppings splattering against the taut canvas, Annika didn’t dare look up—and she resisted the urge to break into a run. Sense reminded her that the sentinel had weathered the hurricanes that roared up the coast every summer; surely it could survive a bit more wind.

On the other hand, how many times had she heard the story of the shepherdess who killed a giant with a single stone . . . ?

Annika quickened her step. Over the docks, the airships swayed and bobbed in the wind, pulling against their tethers like fat haddock fighting on fishing lines. A large cargo carrier, Phatéon didn’t appear to move as much as the smaller airships, but Annika knew the mooring anchors groaned under the strain and the cables vibrated with tension.

Far ahead, dark clouds crowded the eastern horizon. If that storm moved in before Phatéon had been fully loaded, the night promised to be a rough one. They’d be jostled in their bunks and stumbling around the decks until the tether was unhooked.

Not so terrible, except that the second mate—who slept in the bunk above Annika’s—tended to become portsick on such nights.

Another shout, this one from her left. Annika paid it no mind. If the person wasn’t set to run her down, their business was none of hers, and the noise simply added to the cacophony on the road. Someone was always shouting near port gates; only the language changed. She thought it had been either Spanish or Portuguese, but was only certain the voice had been male.

Even that had become familiar. Since leaving Iceland to search for Källa, she’d become accustomed to new cities, a new life—and to seeing men everywhere. They were exactly as Annika’s mother had described them: much like women, but hairier. And, when part of a group, stupider.

The shout came again. Closer, louder. Annika slowed. A uniformed port officer had left the guardhouse and strode in her direction, his thick mustache shadowing his frown. Annika glanced to the side. No one stood nearby. The guard’s gaze had fixed on . . . her.

Her heart clenched, then began racing. Oh, no. But he was only one man, and not in a group. Whatever it was, surely she’d be able to reason with him.

A gray dropping splattered against his hat brim. The officer didn’t seem to notice. He spoke again and she felt stupid. She didn’t understand a single word. Most likely it was Spanish, but so quickly said that she couldn’t make it out. Stopping a short distance away, he held out his hand, impatiently flicking his fingers.

He wanted something from her. But what?

Annika glanced down at herself, looking for the answer. She didn’t carry anything but her umbrella, and didn’t know how to ask him what the problem was. Her knowledge of the language didn’t extend far beyond No estoy infectadaand ¿Cuánto cuesta?

Her fingers tightened on the umbrella stem. Her imagination d...

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