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Skyborn

Less Than Three Press LLC

Heat Rating: SENSUAL
Word Count: 21,000
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Wealthy, wrathful Silvergarde has fallen, but one of its conquerors isn't celebrating. Jailed for betraying the rebellion that brought the floating city to its knees, Joslin is ready to hang up her ideals—until she overhears the confession of an enemy officer.

Her cellmate Gavia may despise the rebels, but she is Silvergarde's youngest airship pilot, a formidable fighter, and an invaluable ally. While their methods clash and their goals may not align, the two are pushed together by necessity and undeniable attraction. With time running out, a dishonored rebel and a prisoner of war may be all that stands between a successful coup and Silvergarde's complete annihilation.

Excerpt

“Look lively, inmate,” barked the jailer. “You’ve got company.”

A hard shove drove Joslin forward. She stumbled as the chains around her ankles pulled taut, yanking her off her feet before she hit the ground. Her hands and knees absorbed the brunt of the impact, narrowly sparing her the indignity of losing a tooth to Silvergardian concrete. Pain pierced the back of her skull.

From the depths of the cell rose a girlish giggle.

The guard didn’t laugh. Nor was he gentle as he unlocked the ankle cuffs and freed Joslin from her restraints. His brisk indifference was welcome after the abuse his fellow revolutionaries had dished out.

Behind her, the cell door clanged shut. The jailer stalked off, a jaunty whistle and the jangle of keys accompanying his heavy tread.

Already acquainted with the cold, hard ground beneath her, Joslin blew a slice of chestnut hair from her eyes and took in her surroundings. The walls were bare stone, the ceiling low and vaulted. A small window set high in the far wall let light spill through thick iron bars. The foot or so of reinforced outer wall was best displayed around the cobwebbed frame. Digging out, even if she’d had time or tools, was impossible.

As she sat up further and put her back to the iron grille, Joslin counted a battered pail in the corner—presumably meant to serve as latrine—and two shabby cots close to ground, one bare and one occupied.

When her cellmate grinned, straight white teeth gleamed like fangs in the shadows. “Well, well, well… They sure brought me a treat.”

The slums had a way of stamping out innocence, and Joslin had lived her whole life surrounded by the crumbling social order of the city below. A few hours in Silvergarde weren’t enough to soften her sharper edges. “Who’re you supposed to be, then?” she shot back. “Some secretary?” Unlikely, in those boots.

The grin became a snarl. Shadows peeled back to reveal dark skin and darker hair pleated into hundreds of little braids. A flight suit bearing the insignia of the Silvergardian aviation stretched on the woman’s shoulders as she unfolded her long limbs and leaned in.

“What did you call me, little bird?”

Joslin narrowed her eyes. “I know your face.”

It was particularly recognizable, the eyes hooded and dark, the nose slim and elegant. Her lower lip had split, presumably in the arrest. It didn’t stop the brunette from smirking. “Damn right. Captain Gavia Marsyas,” she introduced herself with a mocking salute, “at your bloody service.”

Ah, that’s it. Recruitment posters all over the Silvergarde lightened Gavia’s skin and smoothed her harsh, angular features. According to the artist’s brush, her lips were not as plump, her eyelashes longer. Minute alterations had turned a scarecrow of a woman into a symbol responsible for tricking hundreds into joining the Silvergardian military.

Gavia’s pretty face was just another facet of the boot bearing down on the shantytown of Joslin’s youth. It was nothing to smile about. “I see you recognize me, little bird. That’s all right. I have fans all over—”

“My name is Joslin.” Pet names were for seedy dance halls and getting paid.

Gavia quirked an eyebrow. “No last name?”

None that would mean anything to Gavia. “Think of me as one of the people who made your title irrelevant, Captain.”

Pure, unbridled loathing flashed in Gavia’s eyes. “I did say we should have locked up the rogue trash when we had the chance… What happened? Have a change of heart halfway through the slaughter?”

“If that’s what you want to call your soldiers using innocent civilians as shields,” Joslin spat. She’d thought her ire spent after she had emptied her dartgun. She was wrong.

Gavia propped her elbows on her knees, the jut of her shoulders sticking out beneath the tassels of her epaulets. “Funny, according to your propaganda there are no innocents in Silvergarde. Certainly didn’t seem like you were overly concerned with their safety when you invaded the city and laid waste to all we hold dear.”

Lies and exaggeration. Joslin had been among the first to breach the barricades surrounding the gondola ports. The damage they’d caused was minimal: a few enemy soldiers downed but not killed and property damage kept to a minimum. Yes, there had been some civilian casualties, but nothing that even began to approach the lives cut down day after day in the slums below.

“We’ve toiled to keep your city airborne long enough,” she growled. “I’d say we’ve earned a visit.”

Gavia rolled her eyes. “My dear, what you’re doing is called squatting.”

“Keep telling yourself that. The city is ours. You’ve lost.”

“Is that why you’re here? To crow about your victory?” Gavia turned her palms toward the ceiling. “My, if I’d known I merited the attention, I would’ve gussied up.”

“I’m here for the same reason you are.”

Gavia dropped her hands. “Don’t tell me you defected when the tide of battle turned. We all know slum rats aren’t the smartest, but that’s idiotic even for the likes of you.”

Hoisting herself up with a fist around the bars, Joslin glared down at her. “I killed a man I wasn’t supposed to.” And I’ll kill you, too, if you cross me. The threat didn’t—couldn’t—pass her lips.

Seeing bewilderment kindle in Gavia’s eyes was absurdly gratifying. That’s right. You don’t want to mess with me. Joslin shoved the sentiment aside and made herself comfortable on the unoccupied cot. The blows she’d withstood from her comrades smarted. She was almost certain they’d failed to leave lasting damage, but the beating had been perfunctory, more of a hint of what was to come than just desserts.

“Who was he, then?” Gavia asked. “One of those noisy street preachers? If it’s any consolation, I never could stand them, either.”

Joslin dug her fingernails into her palms. “Why would being anything like you console me?”

“Haven’t you seen the posters? ‘The youngest airship pilot in the history of Silvergarde’!” Gavia leaned back on her hands, smirking. “I’m a fucking legend, mate.”

A dry chuckle caught in Joslin’s throat. “Your ship may be a legend. You’re little more than a puppet.” Everyone in Sink City was familiar with the black wings of the Stormlight. Not so long ago, it had been part of a squadron of airships used to bring the last rebellion into line. Thousands had died when their homes came apart upon their heads. Thousands more had been gunned down in the streets as they had fled.

Justice, served in the Silvergardian fashion. Their response to insurgency had been merciless and swift, and it had all taken place before Gavia was old enough to reach the flyer’s pedals. Like her, there had been other young, loyal soldiers eager to fulfill their duty.

“If you didn’t look so thrashed,” Gavia mused, her voice dropping an octave, “I’d have you answer for that insult. Cur.”

Joslin had been beaten, cursed and thrown in jail like a common criminal. There was little Gavia could say to hit a nerve. Joslin chuckled mirthlessly. “Tough talk, coming from a woman too scared to put up a fight.”

Gavia bared her teeth. “You don’t know what you’re talking about, mate.”

“Maybe not,” Joslin acknowledged, shrugging a shoulder, “but I know what I see… just another stuck-up little tart pretending she’s got guts.” Adding fuel to Gavia’s fire was only too easy. Soldierly types had notoriously short fuses. Joslin flicked up two fingers in a universally vulgar gesture. “Here I heard you never run from a scrap. Reports of your courage have been greatly exaggerated, have they?”

Gavia lunged for her, braids flying every which way. Her fist connected with Joslin’s jaw, but not before Joslin snuck in a punch to Gavia’s kidneys. After hours of cheap shots and callous manhandling, hitting back felt good.