Share our Exciting Steampunk Revelry!
Beginning: 16 July, 2013
Ending: 20 July, 2013
Hello and welcome! We are delighted to see you here at our Steampunk Revelry! Come in, pour a glass of wine and join us in a dance as we celebrate the re-release of ANGEL OF THE ABYSS by Stella Drexler published by DC Press.
About ANGEL OF THE ABYSS:
When the Duke of a neighbouring country orders her assassination, Queen Jila enlists the assistance of Kai Vale, a mercenary whose peculiar abilities come from the mysterious, toxic blue rock, Abyssium.
When the dancing is done and the guests have turned in, pull down the shutters, turn up the gaslight and enjoy this excerpt from ANGEL OF THE ABYSS. Then enter the Raffle for a chance to win this charming Steampunk gear and clockwork art ring or a $10 Gift Card from the Coffee Time Romance eBook Store. Enjoy this exquisite preview of the prizes!
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Without further ado, a preview of ANGEL OF THE ABYSS by Stella Drexler
She pressed the tip of the wand against the base of his spine. He dropped to the floor in mid-spin. She crouched down beside his prone form. She gently turned him onto his back. She brushed his long, black hair from his face. “I truly am sorry. I had hoped to enjoy you before. There just wasn’t time, I’m afraid.”
The clock chimed again, ominously. She flew to her feet. She hurried to Silas’ desk. She rifled swiftly through the papers. Her eyes darted frequently towards the prone soldier several feet away, lest he require another jolt to pacify him. King Silas’ papers were in far better order than had been the Duke’s. It took her only the briefest moment to discover her object.
My esteemed Brother
I, too, agree that Queen Jila’s methods are heavy-handed and counter to our brokered peace treaties. Your concerns are of great consequence to me, and I shall endeavour to assist you in any way I am able, per our agreement. Our country has always enjoyed a unique partnership with yours, and I have no wish to see that partnership fail now, in your darkest hour. Please call upon me in the event that I can be of service to you in your struggle against the Queen…
Kai’s gaze snapped unconsciously towards Draven. She sighed deeply. Her heart thumped heavily in her chest. She tucked the missive swiftly into her corset. Jila would be beside herself when she received the news. There was little time to spare in delivering it. The clock chimed again. She stepped over Draven’s body. She avoided gazing down upon him, as if seeing him would somehow shake her resolve. Her resolve had never once been shaken before, she reminded herself sternly. Now was hardly the time to change that.
The guard did not spare her a glance as she hurried from the room, as if an unaccompanied woman emerging, dishevelled, from the King’s chambers was unworthy of his notice. She did not spare a moment to consider the grim implications of this. When she was out of the guard’s line of sight, she broke into a run. She avoided the ballroom and the main entrance. She hoped this time to remain out of sight of the crowd. One narrow escape from an unfamiliar palace was enough for a lifetime.
Several moments of searching and running into dead stops at the ends of corridors, however, offered no convenient egress from her eminent capture. Still, if she merely wound her way through the ballroom, avoiding the gazes of Colonel and Mrs Grimes, perhaps she could use the crowd to obscure her escape.
She was brought up short in the entrance hall at the sight of an enormous, perfectly motionless sentinel in the livery of a Tyran guard. He blocked the path outside. Damn. She wove into a crowd of handsomely adorned ladies. She turned her head to avoid his gaze. She knew instantly upon passing him that he had recognised his query, for he snapped to attention at once. His brilliant eyes glittered with sudden, terrible life.
His eyes did not leave her. They grew distant, as if he were looking far away. She was certain he was communicating in that strange, silent way with the other guards. They were likely stationed all around the palace. How had she not anticipated the guards’ presence? Julian was, after all, a tenacious man. Her transgression had been most egregious. She should not have allowed herself to become unvigilant, particularly in the superficial security of Draven Lockley’s arms.
She did not pause to concern herself with how many more of them were waiting outside and around the palace for her. She broke through the crowd. She raced out of the entrance hall into the cool, night air. Behind her, there were cries of surprise. She ignored them. Her heart thumped excitedly in her chest.
Her fortune must have been dreadful. There were two Tyran guards outside, patrolling the courtyard grounds. They did not speak. They had already been alerted to her. They converged upon her instantly. She spun in mid-step and raced in the opposite direction. She drew up short at a wall of tall, green bushes. She had reached the King’s widely revered courtyard labyrinth spread out across the acres of forestland behind the palace. Tossing a glance over her shoulder, she raced along the labyrinth wall. She groped for the opening. When she found it, she dashed inside.
The night was glittering with stars. The labyrinth was dark. A scant few glowing blue Abyssal torches lit the pathways. She melted into the shadows. She slid along the walls with her back against the foliage. She felt her dress tear. For a brief, amused moment, she pictured Jila’s horror at the tattered state of yet another lovely borrowed gown. She heard the pounding of the guard’s feet as they plodding through the maze after her. They quickly lost themselves in dead ends and false turns.
She prayed she would emerge outside near the footpath upon which she could find her way to the circus grounds outside the palace walls. Her Abyssal senses were heightened. They were still no match for the Abyssal guards. Their superior hearing picked up her breath and the rustle of her skirts against the brush. Why had she not spent more time studying them and determining how to deactivate them? Her stunner was little use against them. How had she not anticipated her own danger?
It was highly out of character, failing to foresee jeopardy, to protect, above all things, herself. She cursed. She burst through an opening in the labyrinth and came out in the centre. It was a wide, open space, paved with smooth, shining bronze. A large fountain spurted streams of water into a shallow pool. Her eyes darted quickly around her. There were three gaps in the wall around the fountain identical to the one from which she had emerged. She wasn’t sure which one had been hers.
The openings filled suddenly with three Tyran guards. They materialized out of the night and the trees in the same moment, as if the move had been carefully choreographed. It probably had. They were of one mind. That mind was turned towards her capture. She glanced wildly over her shoulder. She could return the way she came. They would follow. She could not conceal herself in shadow and silence. They would catch her up. There was nothing for it but to fight.
She brandished her stunner, poised for an attack. When they converged upon her, she launched into motion, stunning them in quick succession. It was little use against them. As quickly as she had stunned the third, the first had regained himself. She had no sufficient weapons to use against creatures such as these. She had only her fists and her legs, with which she struck out at them, and a length of copper wire twined round her ankle. It probably wouldn’t be enough.
She crouched low. She swiftly unwound the wire as she danced out of the way of their grasping hands. She snapped the wire out at them like a whip. Though it would have brought a normal man to his knees, it barely startled the indomitable guards. She might keep this up all night. She would tire sooner than they. It was only a matter of time before she fell to them.
She whipped the wire through the air. It lanced a guard’s exposed cheek and drew blood. He merely grunted and moved towards her again. Her eyes darted wildly about for an escape. In her desperation to evade them, she had placed them between her and the labyrinth’s openings. Perhaps she could confuse them, duck under their enormous, flailing arms to reach the exit…
A figure in black emerged from the shadows behind the guards. Her eyes widened in shock. The guards had not noticed him, despite their superior senses. They were focussed on she alone. She dropped to her knees to cover her head. The figure drew a large gun from a holster on his belt. His movement and his bearing were eerily familiar. She did not waste time to distinguish his face behind the barrel of his gun.
Beams of blue light arced through the air. The guards fell heavily around her before they were able to register the absence of their brothers’ consciousnesses beside them. Then all was silent around her. The air crackled with energy and the metallic scent of blood. She lifted her arms from her face. She looked up with shock into the cold, black eyes of Commander Draven Lockley.
He strode towards her. He holstered his gun in the same movement. She looked around at the guards. “They’re dead,” she said dumbly. “You killed them.”
“Yes, of course,” he replied shortly. He dropped into a crouch beside her. He caught her shoulders. His brow was furrowed in concern. “What happened, Kaia? Did they hurt you?”
She shrugged off his hands. She pushed herself to her feet. He did not leave off. He rose to his feet in a swift movement and gripped her arms. “What’s going on?” he demanded. “Did they attack me to capture you? How did you get down here?” Kai took a step back. She attempted to break free of him. His hands clenched around her elbows. He yanked her back towards him. “All I remember was walking towards the door in the King’s office.”
“Let me go, Draven.”
“I’m sorry.” His words startled her. She stilled and peered up into his eyes. He smoothed her dishevelled hair back from her face. “I did not know they were here. I did not know they would present a danger to you.”
“Let me go!”
His expression changed. He seemed to look at her for the first time. Her eyes were wild and angry as she struggled against his grip. He loosened his hold. He looked bemused and sheepish. “Are you all right?” he asked again in a low, anxious voice. “Did they hurt you?”
“Don’t touch me–” But he was examining her closely, checking her arms, her clothes and her body for signs of damage. “Stop it–”
“What is this?” His face was stony as he held the missive up between two fingers.
“It’s mine. Give it to me.”
But his eyes were scanning it rapidly. When he looked up at her again, his eyebrows were knitted together in an expression of surprise. “This is the King’s handwriting. He wrote this. Why do you have it? Where did you get it?”
She lifted her chin, ignoring the gnawing, guilty feeling in her belly. It was not the time for guilt. It was not the time to respond to the wounded look in his deep, dark eyes. He had, after all, led her right to it. “Let go of me, Draven,” she ordered through gritted teeth.
“Not until you tell me what the bloody hell is going on!” He spun her around abruptly. He trapped her against his chest. He ignored her struggles and her outraged sputtering. He slid his hands over her, over her arms, her legs, around her waist and under her corset. She was mystified for a moment. She wondered how his thoughts could shift so rapidly. But, no, there was no sensuality in his embrace or his touch. He was frisking her for weapons. And he’d found them.
He held out her arm to examine the stunner strapped to her wrist. He had seen it before. He knew exactly what it was. “What is going on, Kaia? Why did you bring this here? Who are you really?”
She said nothing. Her breath came out in angry, ragged huffs.
“You’re the one who stunned me.” Her silence was all the confirmation he required. He hugged her tightly against his chest with one arm. He groped in his back pocket with the other. “Stop struggling, Kaia.”
When the shackles snapped onto her wrists, she reacted as if he’d shot her. She dropped out of his arms to the ground. He was faster than she, tired as she was from her scuffle with the Tyran guards. He pinned her to the ground. He leaned over her with burning, furious eyes. “What are you doing?” she hissed.
“Stop struggling! I’m sorry; you’ll have to come with me. If you won’t walk, I will shackle your ankles and drag you.”
She hissed at him like an angry cat. He lifted her to her feet. He guided her silently through the labyrinth as if the path were engrained in his memory. She could feel the anger radiating off of him in waves of heat. His fingers bit into her upper arms. She considered attempting to escape him. She could, after all, likely outrun him, given the chance to regain her energy. She did not.
He led her out of the labyrinth, around the back of the palace, which had seen less attention than the obverse and the courtyards. A rusted metal door shrieked when Draven pulled it open. Darkness swallowed them. There were stairs beneath her feet. She stumbled. Draven tightened his grip. He caught her around the waist to carry her bodily down the remaining stairs.
He had led her to the dungeon. It was scantly lit with glowing orange torches, which feebly combated the dank, chilly air around them. The cells around them were empty. Kai wondered what was done with the prisoners here. A faint, sickly sweet scent hung in the air. Were they left for dead, carried out and burned? Was that Draven’s intention for her, now that her treachery had been exposed?
He spun her to face him. He did not meet her gaze as he removed the shackles from her wrists. Curious, she did not speak or move. She waited, watching the tight line of his mouth as he leaned towards her. He reached behind her. He pushed open the cell door. With a gentle shove, he locked her inside.
The walls of her cell were stone. The bars were cold, hard steel, which she gripped in her hands as she leaned against them. He did not move. He merely stood in silence for a long moment. He peered at her through the metal grate that separated them. Finally he ordered, “Tell me who you are. Tell me why you have this. Why did you stun me?”
She tilted her head slightly. She stared back at his closed, expressionless face in interest. Instead of replying, she asked, “How did you manage to wake up from that so quickly?”
He scowled. “I am a soldier. I’m trained to withstand many weapons of this sort. It only caught me out for a moment. That is not the point! Who are you, Kaia?” He sighed deeply then. He lowered his head for a brief moment. He looked back up at her. “Is that even your name?”
Kai stared at him blankly.
“Damnit!” He pushed his hands through his hair in agitation. He spun to pace restlessly for a moment before returning to face her. “What are you doing here? Why do you have this letter?”
“Let me out of here.”
“No! Not until you tell me what’s going on!” For a moment, they stared at each other. Draven’s chest rose and fell rapidly. Kai’s expression was perfectly calm. “You were just using me to get to the King’s chambers to steal this letter?”
She considered this question a moment. “Yes.”
His eyes flashed. Then his expression grew glacial. It was so much worse than the heat of his anger. “And I led you right into them. I never even suspected. I should have known you weren’t real.” She studied him. She did not offer a response. “Is anything about you real?” He sighed. He looked away from her. He did not wait for a reply. “Of course it isn’t.”
“Some of it.” Her voice was peculiarly gentle. It was almost kind. His head snapped back up.
“Let me out, and maybe I will tell you.”
He scowled. “I’m not letting you out! You’re not going anywhere until I figure out what the hell you’re doing here! Why would you want this letter, anyway? What does this have to do with you?”
She lifted her chin. Her expression was blank.
“Are you a terrorist?”
She considered. “Sometimes. But not right now.”
“What does that mean?”
“It means I am whatever I need to be when I need to be it.”
He frowned. Then comprehension dawned on his face. His eyes narrowed. “Who do you work for?”
There was nothing in her eyes, not a hint of warmth or guilt or fear.
“If you don’t tell me something, Kaia, I will have to turn you over to the King.” When she merely looked at him with that empty expression, he stepped up to her. He seized her wrists through the bars. His voice was fierce. “He will probably have you executed for espionage!”
She met him halfway. She pressed closer so only the thick, metal bars separated them. “Will you be the one to hang me, Draven?”
He reeled back as if she had struck out at him. “No! I would never…” He trailed off. He spun his back on her.
She held out her hands to him. “Go ahead, Draven. You have already disarmed me. Take me to your King.”
He glanced over his shoulder at her incredulously. For a long moment, he seemed to have nothing to say. “No.” His voice was barely audible.
“No? You must. Is there any other choice?”
He looked at her without comprehension. “I will not.”
She raised her eyebrows. “Why not?”
They stared at each other for an endless, silent moment. Suddenly Kai understood. She felt a terrible, unfamiliar swooping sensation in her belly. She stepped back from the bars, away from him. Pity. Draven had cared for her–for the woman she had pretended to be, anyway. She was sorry that that woman didn’t exist. She regretted that he would suffer over her loss.
“Tell me what was true.” His voice was low and morose. She turned her face from him. She could not meet his gaze. “Did you feel anything when I touched you?”
She sighed. She turned her back on him. “I work for Queen Jila.”
He paused. “Jila?” She turned back to face him. She inclined her head. “She sent you to steal from Silas?”
“No. She sent me to discover evidence that your king intends to betray her and align with the Duke in war against Varuna.”
Draven looked utterly flummoxed. “War? What? Why would the Queen suspect Silas is intending to go to war against her? They have no quarrel.”
She hesitated, eyeing him narrowly. She wondered briefly how much was prudent to divulge to him, the Commander of Silas’ guard. She was completely certain that Draven Lockley would not harm her. He would not let her come to harm. She answered him honestly. “There have been attempts on my Queen’s life. We are endeavouring to discover who is behind them.”
She watched the struggle in his eyes. The desire to forgive her, to believe her, warred with his sense of duty. Pity coursed through her again. Comprehension dawned on his face. Did he think her noble? He was loyal to his monarch, to his King. He valued loyalty. She did not share his values. She did not share much of any of his tender and noble sentiments. She wished he would not look at her as though he was persuaded that she did. “You are protecting your Queen?”
“In a manner of speaking.”
“Leza has no interest in war against Varuna.”
She was caught out by his conviction. “Then what is that missive?”
“The Duke has appealed to the King for a loan to pay his debts to Varuna.”
“How can you know for sure he is not in league with Julian against my Queen?”
“I am his second! I know what he is planning. If war is to be declared, I would be the first to know.” She was not convinced. He stepped forward. His was voice resolute. “You misunderstood. You intended to bring this to your Queen as evidence of the King’s treachery.”
“As evidence he may intend treachery in the future or be persuaded by the Duke.”
“It is not so.”
She lifted her chin. She exhaled heavily in relief. “My Queen will be most pleased to learn of this.”
“If you had simply asked, I would have told you what you wanted to know.”
She was not persuaded by this assertion. “I did not believe I had a choice in resorting to subterfuge.”
“You didn’t have to lie to me! You could have told me! I would have understood.” He sighed. “You could have trusted me.”
“How could I have done, Draven? I don’t know you at all.”
His expression was openly wounded. “You know me rather better now.” She looked away. “Is that what you do? How you get close to people?”
She considered shouting at him. She considered insisting that it was not. She was not sure why she had allowed herself to become so entangled with him. She had lost herself completely in the intensity of his regard. She did not tell him any of those things. Her reply was flat. “Sometimes.”
He exhaled heavily. He pushed his hands through his hair. He turned his back to her.
“What will you do with me? Will you take me to your King to await my execution?”
He glanced askance at her. His eyes were inexplicably sympathetic. “You used me.”
“Yes. I did.”
He sighed again. He turned and strode forward to unlock the door to her cell. He threw it open. He stepped aside. “Were I in your position, I might have done the same.”
This time, the pity shown on her face. “No, Draven. You wouldn’t have done.”
He frowned. “You’re right. I wouldn’t have used you. I wouldn’t have hurt you.” She lifted her chin defiantly. “Just go. You can report to your Queen that Leza has no intent to go to war.”
Kai did not move. She stared at him. “You killed three of the Duke’s men, Draven. If you let me go, how will you explain it? You may face retribution. The Duke has likely placed a handsome price on my head; he will not take to this continuing encumbrance lightly.”
He narrowed his eyes at her. “What do you care?”
She hesitated. “I would not wish for you to suffer unnecessarily.”
He laughed bitterly. “Would you not?” When she did not reply, he squared his shoulders. “The Duke’s guards were attempting to harm the King’s guest at his own palace. They were acting on our land without the permission of the King or his guard. If Duke Julian attempts to seek retribution against the guard who interfered with their unlawful acts, it would be grounds for war. It would be a grave diplomatic error. On balance, Julian will not be so foolish.”
He gave her an austere look. She did not consider lying to him again. “Why is the Duke really after your head, Kaia? You aren’t who you say you are….was your story true then, or had your lies already begun?”
She looked away again. She did not answer him.
“What crime did you commit?”
“You would not wish to have that knowledge, Draven. It is safer for you not to know.”
He strode forwards abruptly into the cell. He caught her shoulders. “If I am to cover this up for you, I will know why!”
“I did not ask for you to cover anything up! I can take care of myself.”
They glared at each other. He gave her shoulders a gentle shake. “You can trust me, Kaia. I will not see you come to harm.”
She sighed. “I came into possession of some of the Duke’s private papers. Papers that would suggest he is contemplating treachery.”
Draven lifted an eyebrow. “As you did the King’s?”
She smirked. “Very like.”
He did not seem to want to contemplate this very closely. He released her and tucked the King’s letter into his jacket. “I never saw this. You’d better go before the Duke realises what’s happened and sends more men to seek you. The quicker you are in your own land, under the protection of your Queen, the better. I cannot ensure that I can keep you safe for long.”
She nodded curtly. She strode past him towards the dark stairs that offered freedom.
Behind her, Draven spoke. “I won’t clean up for you again.”
She paused on the bottom of the stairs. She did not turn back to him. “I did not ask you to the first time.”
She looked over her shoulder then. She saw a flash of hurt in his eyes. She sighed.
“Fine,” he said gruffly. “Just go.”
END OF PREVIEW
Find ANGEL OF THE ABYSS:
About the Author:
Stella Drexler is the author of ANGEL OF THE ABYSS, the amusing Steampunk series LITTLE AGNES, which can be enjoyed at www.stelladrexler.wordpress.com, as well as the urban fantasies HEX BREAK, CHANT and REBEL GREY. Her paranormal teen mystery series, NIGHTMARE ISLAND is available from Writers-Exchange. She cordially invites you to share her fantasies.