Read the First Chapter of THE BONE ROSES!
We are so thrilled to introduce the first installment of Kathryn Lee Martin's highly-anticipated Western / Steampunk adventure... THE BONE ROSES, first in her SNOW SPARKS SAGA releasing everywhere TOMORROW!!!
In celebration, we're releasing the first chapter one day early for your reading pleasure...
I watch the widow’s gnarled hands count out each copper kik on the weathered market stall’s countertop and finger the switchblade in my left hand. Knives are cheating when it comes to this sort of thing but playing fair is a surefire way to die. Especially now that they put the flyers up and tripled the bounty on me—dead or alive.
The wolfskin satchel’s leather strap pulls across my water-stained buckskin jacket, the dangling fringes tangling and parting in the bitter winter breeze. My arm brushes the coarse brick wall, and my frigid-blue eyes narrow as I dig my deer-hide boot deeper into the filthy slush, easing closer to the building’s corner. A light tremble goes through my wrist as the wind pulls several strands of long mahogany hair against my wind-burned, pale cheek and toys with my untamed bangs.
Farther up the street, the Kingdom Corps patrols; their forest-green jackets, helmets, and olive-green pants making them stick out in the bustling Hydra crowd struggling to collect its weekly rations.
Twenty yards on foot . . . Too close to outrun their carbines in the open. They’re making this a challenge today.
A silk, forest-green banner with the Kingdom’s golden running hare insignia cracks and showers ice on an unsuspecting market stall as a sudden wind gust whips it high into the air and drops it back against the library’s brick wall. A ginger-haired young man in a sorrel jacket and blue jeans with a dark-walnut recurve crossbow slung across his shoulder jumps back as the entire canopy collapses and decides to move on, much to the angry merchant’s swearing.
Damn. Now I have to get what I need from this stall after all.
My back presses against the wall and I struggle to steel my nerves. Just get the rubbing alcohol and get the hell out. A basic rustling mission and just what Tracker feels I need to calm my nerves before we run a near-suicide raid on the largest military base in the Kingdom’s Northeast Territory in a few days.
Rubbing alcohol. I pan the flimsy shelves tucked under the torn canvas roof and watch the widow’s boney hound twitch an ear in its sleep. Just because he’s half dead and mostly blind doesn’t mean his teeth don’t work when he grabs onto something. Last time I raided this stall he got hold of one leg of my buckskin pants and tore half the fringes off the lower leg before I got away.
The widow continues to sort her earnings as I watch a scraggly, soot-covered pack of pickpocketing little boys hit the crowds. A smirk tugs at my chapped lips. Amateurs. Drawing a short breath, my feet prowl over the slush and gravel, eyes fixed on the clear mason jar on the upper shelf before roving to the widow and then back again to the K. C. mingling with the crowd.
The mud-brown hound shifts in his sleep. I pause, shoulder touching the market stall and keeping to the shadows. The switchblade twitches in my grasp as I place my right hand on the uneven wooden half wall and vault over it. Both feet hit the ground with a soft bounce at the same instant the widow raises her head in surprise, turning to look at me with shifting eyes.
Our gaze meets for a split second; her brown eyes widen. I reach up, snatch the rubbing alcohol from the shelf in one fluid motion and bolt for the half wall separating me from the crowded street.
“Rondonian rustler scum.” The widow stands, rattling the countertop with a shriek that sends the drowsy hound into a flurry of barking. “Guards. Someone. It’s her. The child from the flyers.”
“Just because I look like a child doesn’t mean they think of me as one, lady.” I mutter under my breath and grip the jar tighter. There are grown adults who run from me the moment they see my blue eyes looking at them. Both my legs clear the half wall at the same time the K. C. raises its carbines and turns in this direction.
Sorry lady, but we need this more than you do right now. Clutching the jar in one hand and the switchblade in the other, I dart through the row of market stands. Canvas curtains tear from their brass hooks. Merchants howl in rage.
Hydra’s men shout, hurrying to get anything they can to catch me, or stop me in my tracks. Dead or alive. The words flash through my mind a second time. I brace a knee against the slushy street, and reel back as a crude net cuts me off, offering the enraged butcher a forced grin before doubling back and sprinting across the busy market square and for the nearest alleyway.
Tracker’s going to kill me over this.
“Hey, you.” A tall soldier raises his carbine to block my path, but I’m faster, knocking the barrel aside with my forearm and nailing his knee with a swift kick. He shouts and falls, faceless forest-green helmet watching me flee through the crowd.
Pulse pounding, I twist around a woman and her two children and duck under the startled ginger-haired man’s arm, the distance growing as the K. C. knocks everyone and anyone to the ground in the chaos. Up ahead, the alleyway beckons as an old flatbed ration truck from the days before Yellowstone erupted, bars my path.
I chance a look behind me, just in time to see one soldier raise his carbine and take aim.
This is going to hurt. My elbow strikes the truck’s steel bed as both legs propel me upward, rolling across it and plummeting into a frigid puddle on the other side. Keeping low and to the wall, I flinch as the hail of bullets cuts through the shadows and the shouts of angry and determined Kingdom Corps continue the chase.
God they’re persistent. I look ahead to Hydra’s second square where another crowd gathers and aim for it.
Someone’s hand seizes my left arm, wrenching me off my feet. Before I can get the knife up to fight back, their gloved hand covers my mouth, brute strength dragging me into a dark doorway and holding me there while the Kingdom Corps continues its chase.
The second hand pins my wrist across my chest as I strike out with my deer-hide-clad foot, grazing his knee.
“Enough, Rags. Be still and be quiet,” Tracker’s deep voice warns, his grip tightening and drawing me close until I stop struggling, the scent of his ancient leather flight jacket helping calm me down.
Turning my blue eyes up to look at the man who adopted me and calls me his own daughter, I see his brown eyes narrow at something at the alley’s end. White stubble flecks his dark skin. He relaxes his grip on me, but keeps one gloved hand on my shoulder in silent warning.
His leather flight jacket rustles as he shifts his weight, towering over me and listening. When the footfalls fade, he glances back at me.
“When I said strip a bottle of rubbing alcohol, I did not mean cause a riot.” The words are stern. I offer a sheepish look.
“To be fair, I got what I came here to get.” Holding up the precious jar, I see the aging man’s eyes soften as he takes it from me and examines it.
“Good girl. Now we need to go. They’ll swarm all over this place once they realize we’re not in the square.”
“You don’t have to tell me twice. I hate this place.”
“I am aware of that.” He eyes the alleyway and the gathered crowd at its end.
A raucous, collective cheer rings out. “Go, we’ll skirt the crowd and flee through the broken fence out by the tracks. Don’t look at them, and don’t stop for anything. Do you understand?”
“But what—” What is he talking about? “Who . . .” I try to make out the words of the man in the crowd, but the cheers only muffle the sound further.