Stormbringer: A Weather Witch Novel

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9781250018656: Stormbringer: A Weather Witch Novel

In the intrigue-filled follow up to Weather Witch, Jordan Astraea, once a young Philadelphia lady of good social standing, is now in the final stages of her brutal training to become a Conductor―the Weather Witch who serves as a living battery to keep the massive airliner Artemesia aloft. Meanwhile, Rowen, determined to rescue her after losing his only other true friend and being wanted for murder, has found himself forced aboard a much different air vessel, this one manned by a dangerous crew and carrying a cargo so treasonous, that, if finding its destination, will herald a storm of revolution for the still young United States.

With a spirit for adventure, romance, fantastic world building and cunning imagination, Shannon Delany delivers the sensational follow up to Weather Witch in Stormbringer, the second book of the trilogy.

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About the Author:

Since she was a child SHANNON DELANY has written stories, beginning writing in earnest when her grandmother fell unexpectedly ill. Previously a teacher and now a farmer raising heritage livestock, Delany lives and writes in Upstate New York and enjoys traveling to talk to people about most anything. She is the author of the 13 to Life and Weather Witch series.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Chapter One
 
 
Being human signifies, for each one of us, belonging to a class, a society, a country, a continent and a civilization …
—CLAUDE LEVI-STRAUSS
Aboard the Tempest
Rowen Burchette stood in the belly of the airship Tempest, his hands pressed flat to the glass of a window as cables hissed and zipped free of the bulbous boat, falling slack against Holgate’s Western Tower and slapping as loud as cannon fire. The airship drifted slowly up and away from its place at the docks, carrying Rowen farther from his goal of rescuing Jordan Astraea.
He balled his hands into fists and slammed them against the window’s wooden framing. It did him no good and it definitely smarted, so, thinking better of the action, he stopped.
He needed a strategy to get from this ship to the other. He needed a strategy to get to Jordan (whom he most certainly was not in love with, no matter what people suggested). He had a mission: he would rescue her and set things right in Philadelphia for both their families.
He needed a strategy that would give them all their happily ever afters.
But strategy was not his strong suit. His brother Sebastian was far superior in all things strategic. Sebastian could have outwitted the chess-playing automaton the Turk itself if he’d had the opportunity to play it! Rowen would have more likely sat across the chessboard from the mechanical man wondering who his tailor was.
Rowen’s fists opened and closed again and he leaned forward, resting his forehead on one. He needed a plan. But planning was also Sebastian’s strength.
Blood pounded in his ears.
He needed … to gather his thoughts.
He needed an achievable goal.
His focus at the window changed and he caught a glimpse of himself in the reflection. He backed up, swatting at his beard, trying to lessen the unkempt way it taunted him. No use, it still stuck out from his face like his jaw was covered in the ends of frayed ropes. He tugged a hand through his hair and got most of the blond mess to go in the general direction he hoped.
Most of it.
Dammit. The things he was known most for—his dashing good looks and ability to dress for any occasion—were also beyond his grasp.
How did one dress for abduction via pirate ship, anyhow?
He’d been forced into the hold of the Tempest by a group of large (and powerfully-smelling) men. Not that he couldn’t have taken at least a few of them down in a brawl, but he submitted when watchmen appeared on the Western Tower’s dock.
The watchmen had been, after all, looking for him.
So he let himself be jostled inside the rocking airship, because sometimes what seemed like losing was only a quiet way to win.
The men searched him without even a “by your leave, good sir,” found little of interest upon him (having neatly disarmed him in the dark room beyond the Tower’s base), and then they disappeared, locking him inside.
Piles of wooden boxes, crates, and trunks, most of them rough-hewn and similar in dimension, nearly surrounded him. The ceiling here was not much beyond Rowen’s own height and the interior was spartan with only wood beams, floors, and walls held together by metal strips and broad flat-headed nails. Copper pipes ran overhead, snaking across the ceiling, crawling down the walls to the floor, and disappearing into each.
This was not a place one kept people, but things. Here the only noises were the creaks, groans, burbles, and hisses of a ship rising slowly into the atmosphere.
He peered out the window again, marking well the name of the opposing ship. The Artemesia.
It was a liner—larger than the ship he rode within, and far more fashionable with its sleek finishes and elegant trim. A generously endowed figurehead embraced part of its balloon, her wooden arms permanently thrown back as if against an oncoming wind, her skirt and hair flowing out and around the front of the balloon, its shape looking to him a bit like an egg tipped on its side. His stomach growled at the thought of food but he focused to scrutinize the Artemesia, wanting to be able to identify her easily again. Behind the figurehead’s wooden shoulders hinged the great ship’s folded wings, and in their current upright position he noticed wings painted onto the balloon’s fabric as well—a stunning blend of technology and art. Cabins were integrated into the design of her long skirt, their windows flashing in the waning light.
At the Artemesia’s back sat her rudder and at the balloon’s very top … Rowen squinted.
A door whined open and someone snapped, “You!”
Rowen whipped around, giving the approaching redheaded woman a wary look as he spread his feet and crossed his arms to better appear imposing.
It did nothing to slow her progress.
He doubted much could.
But she suddenly paused, saying, “Ugh. I cannot stand the parading about of supposedly modern women dressed in these—these…” She grabbed the wide flounces of her skirts and pulled at them as if making war with her outfit. “—skirts so broad, so cumbersome…” She reached for the belt buckle that bit into her clothes just above her hips and Rowen stepped back as she gave the buckle a twist and with a pop her skirts fell in a puddle of fabric about her feet.
Beneath the skirting she wore tight leather leggings— indecently tight for a woman—and a pair of tall black boots. She wiggled the belt down across the broadest bit of her hips, declaring, “That is a great relief!” Kicking the skirts to the side, she stared at the newest addition to her crew.
Rowen swallowed.
The woman, a few years older than him if the lines edging her eyes and curving by her upper lip were any measure, pulled an etched flask free of her belt and took a long swallow of its contents. Her eyes lost focus a moment and the ship bucked slightly upward. She reattached the flask to her hip, licked her lips, and her eyes, a startling green, snared him again, brighter and fiercer.
She wore a strange necklace of slender rope that wove in and out making a knotted pendant with three loops. Removing an old-fashioned tricorne leather hat, its sides pinned up with gadgetry, she leaned over at her waist, shaking out the longest mane of coppery hair Rowen had ever seen. Sighing, she swept it back up with her hands and knotted it at the nape of her neck, its ends fanning out at one side like a golden pheasant’s feather caught in the knot.
Straightening, she donned the hat once more, and loosened the front of something that was at once as form-fitting as a corset and as masculine as a waistcoat. Again she sighed.
Unsettled by her unseemly display, Rowen (with his vast quantities of time running wild with the lads and his adventures into Philadelphia’s Below to explore a world beneath his rank) slapped a hand over his eyes, knowing there were things one did not get involved with.
Certainly not when sober.
He groaned. This had been a disaster from the start. The loss of Jordan, the trouble with Catrina, the drunken argument that led to the duel in which he surprised himself (and many others) by not being the participant lying dead on the field.
He slid his hands back down to his sides, keeping his eyes closed. Perhaps the biggest disaster had been letting his family servant and dear friend, Jonathan, be his second at the duel. They were both made criminals the moment Rowen had fired his gun.
But Jonathan believed Rowen had the stuff of heroes—the stuff of legends—hidden somewhere within him. He believed Rowen’s true worth would be shown, but only when tested.
Jonathan had never been wrong before.
Evidently it only took being wrong once to wind up dead alongside some anonymous river, the victim of a Merrow attack.
Rowen knew little beyond what was expected of him. He never bothered with anything other than meeting everyone’s expectations: use your strengths (he was handsome), marry up if possible (he had Jordan as a viable option until recently), be loyal to your rank and enter military service (his enlistment date approached too soon for his liking). But that was all.
Meeting the basic expectations meant one born of a good household prospered.
The irony was being born Sixth of the Nine, a military rank, he knew he was no hero, no fighter, no leader of men. He’d heard it said by men who were all those amazing things. He could keep the troops laughing, they claimed, but he’d never lead them.
He was as good as cannon fodder.
The woman tapped her foot and, opening his eyes, he saw her lips twitch in his direction, pointing up into a smile. “Elizabeth,” she said by way of introduction. “And, you, what was it?”
“My name matters not one whit, as I shall not be staying aboard.”
The smile fell from her face and her lips tightened. “You will stay aboard until I see fit to release you. This is my world, my kingdom, my realm, and you—”
“—are your serf?” he asked with a snort.
Changing the sound of only one letter, and only slightly, she replied with a smirk, “You may certainly serve me.”
Rowen snorted and scratched at his beard.
“Give up your name, lad, or I’ll have the naming of you myself,” she warned. “And you might be a pretty thing beneath that mangled mess of facial hair, but if I name you something less than flattering, I guarantee it will stick whilst you’re aboard the Tempest. Perhaps even after you leave. Ask Wee Willy Winky if you doubt me.”
She touched the tip of her index finger to her lips and rolled her eyes up, beginning the process of assigning him a new name.
Wee Willy Winky? Well, at least that name was taken … But she seemed the inventive type and he did not like that at all.
He groaned, admitting, “Rowen.”
“Aye, Rowen…” A grin split her face. “See there, lad, how difficult is it to go along rather than be headstrong? There is a time stubbornness serves, that I guarantee. But stubbornness best serves man—and by man, I mean mankind, which of course includes the fairer sex,” she added as disclaimer, “but, as I was saying: stubbornness best serves man in matters of either love or war.”
Rowen grunted.
“Now be a dear, will you? I need all of these crates—” She strode across the narrow space not occupied by the boxes filling the bay, and rested a hand on a substantial stack of them. “—moved over to…” She paced a few feet and tapped her foot. “… here.” She widened her stance and tapped her right foot definitively. “Not here,” then slid it back, tapping once more, “but here. And the sooner the better, of course.”
He looked at her blankly, rubbed his ragged mess of a beard, blinked once, and turned back to the window.
She tapped her foot again, resting one fist on an outthrust hip. “Darling,” she cooed, “you appear absolutely stunned!”
“It isn’t every day I get kidnapped by a crazy bitch to work on a pirate ship.”
“Such language,” she said, scowling. “You will certainly need to mind us better than that. I shall not suffer to hear any aboard referred to by that term.” She shook her head. “We are most certainly not a pirate ship, nor a pirate vessel … nor a brigand’s boat … none of those things. We are a trading vessel,” she specified. “We are traders (the latter sound being a ‘d,’ not a ‘t,’ mind the distinction well). We are purveyors of fine goods and the occasional provider of unique services.” She paused, fanning out her fingers to examine her nails. “We operate under strict guidelines and within the boundaries of important legal codes and laws. Just not all of the legal codes and laws the government might like us to observe…”
He blinked at her again. “I did not fathom pirate being the most offensive term in my sentence.”
She shrugged. “What is it I’ve heard said: when I see a bird that walks like a duck and swims like a duck and quacks like a duck, I call that bird a duck…?”
Rowen pawed at one ear, and, raising his chin, tried once more. “It is even less often, I daresay, that I find myself kidnapped by traders.
“More appropriately, you were shanghaied by traders. Or crimped by a captain. Or impressed.”
Rowen snorted, “And yet I am not impressed by being impressed.”
Elizabeth clucked her tongue and said, “Darling, you must go adventuring more frequently.”
His brow lowered, combining with his already prominent jaw in what he hoped was an intimidating mix.
She winked at him and sprang forward, grabbing his arm to tow him away from the window. He stood still as granite. “Whatever is wrong with you?” she laughed. “I saved you from the Holgate watchmen—”
“—you kidnapped me,” he reminded her.
“Technically, we call it something else … Remember? Shanghaied.
“And you expect what— gratitude?”
“Perhaps rather than gratitude you should simply give me less attitude than the watchmen hunting you deserved, eh?” She cocked her head, eyes sharp as flint. “Exactly what were they hunting you for? They seemed quite determined pounding on that door.” She pursed her lips, watching him. “What is your crime, Rowen?”
He turned away to watch Jordan’s ship slip into a haze that grew, thickening on the other side of the window.
“There are crimes not even I will tolerate aboard ship…” She dropped his arm. “Have you hurt a child?” she asked, her voice thin. “I’ll gut a man for that.” Her hand dropped to a spot on her belt behind the flask.
Rowen Albertus Burchette, unarmed, recognized the threat as it went from words to potential action.
“Tell it true, lad,” she said, squinting. “I’ll know in my heart if you’re lying.”
“No,” he replied. “I would never hurt a child.”
Her eyes roved over each feature of his face, making his heart hammer beneath her scrutiny. Her hand fell back to her side, her shoulders dropped, and her lips slid back into something just shy of a smile. “Good. Not that at least.” She nodded, urging, “Come, come. This,” she waved at the crates, “can all wait a bit longer.”
“That was the only crime you wanted to ask about? What about stealing, cheating at cards…” He swallowed, avoiding the one crime that damned him.
Murder.
“No,” she said. “Little else matters. But harming a child is like cutting off a rose’s bloom before a bud’s yet sprouted. Other crimes are too frequently understandable. We all run from something whether we’re in the air or one of the Grounded population.” She shrugged. “Besides, the truth will out. Now come. I would not be a proper hostess if I did not show you more of the ship on your first day.”
“So you are a hostess. On a fine trading vessel.” He rolled his eyes, taking in the room. His tone proved him to be less than impressed.
“I’ve brought you aboard the most talked-about ship in our fleet and I am ready to make you privy to many of her secrets out of courtesy—and the fact I could gut you in a heartbeat should you prove less than amiable.” The smile never left her lips even as she threatened him. “And yet…”
He shook his head.
“You care not—”
“—not one whit,” he agreed. “I was supposed to be on that ship.” He jabbed a finger in the direction the Artemesia had disappeared in.
“No, you were not,” she returned, her tone flat. “You are precisely where you are supposed to be at this moment in time. Everything happens for a reason, and for some reason you were not fated to be aboard that ship—at least not now.” She crossed her...

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