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Authors: Rachel Grace

Geared for Pleasure

BOOK: Geared for Pleasure
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This book is an original publication of The Berkley Publishing Group.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.

Copyright © 2012 by R. G. Alexander.

Cover art by Tony Mauro.

Text design by Laura K. Corless.

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No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission. Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author’s rights. Purchase only authorized editions.

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Heat trade paperback edition / March 2012

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Grace, Rachel, (date)

Geared for pleasure / Rachel Grace.—Heat trade paperback ed.

p.      cm.

ISBN: 978-1-101-56069-3

I. Title.

PS3601.L3545G43   2012




10  9  8  7  6  5  4  3  2  1



For Cookie—Love is the reason. Thank you for moving into Theorrey with me for the duration, and for being my science guy. For Kate and Roberta, who allowed me to play air pirate and believed in me enough to make this happen. And for Robin L. Rotham, who is eternally patient and always there.


Most important, to the Smutketeers: Eden Bradley/Eve Berlin, Crystal Jordan, and Karen Erickson. As well as Lilli Feisty. For more than three years you have been my friends as well as the story in my head. I am lucky to know all of you, and to have been able to create the powerful female characters you inspired during that one fateful phone call—and place them all in my crazy, topsy-turvy clockworky world. All for one and one for all.







Chapter One

Find the Deviant. Trust no one but its captain with your identity and your secret. Everything depends on you.


Dare lifted a hand to her temple and grimaced at the rough and unpleasantly aromatic material of her woven glove. She needed to quell the turmoil in her mind and focus on her mission, but the task was difficult.

She had prepared as much as she could for this leg of the journey. Her borrowed clothing—from mangled cap to worn boots and pungent gloves—ensured she would not stand out, much less be recognized as one of the queen’s elite shield guards. She need only lose herself in the milling crowd, make her way through the outer edges of the city toward the docks, and, fortune willing, find the ship she was searching for. It was a task that had, this morning, seemed as fraught with unknown dangers as a journey through the Avici desert. Yet thus far she’d encountered not a single obstacle.

The ease with which she had concealed her departure stirred her with ire rather than instilling her with confidence. She had believed
the palace—indeed, the entire community of Queen’s Hill—to be impenetrable. Granted, the security detail focused on keeping the unsavory elements out, not in. Nevertheless, the lack of vigilance was unacceptable.

In light of all she had witnessed in recent weeks, she acknowledged that her escape might not be the fault of inattentive guardsmen alone. No. More powerful forces and far more dangerous games seemed to be at play.

was she abandoning her post?

She glanced over her shoulder where, high between the peaks of the Twin Mountains, the Copper Palace’s glimmering domed rooftops beckoned to her. From here, Queen’s Hill was awe-inspiring. Distant. The place that had been her home for most of her life had never seemed farther away. But she could not falter now.

She took a steadying breath and walked slowly into the throng of Trader’s Square, weaving between the long rows of wooden stalls crowded with people and supplies. Though the goods often changed with the seasons, the stalls were stationary. They’d been built long ago to cater to those who worked and traveled on the elevated rail.

Dare looked up. The views of the spectacle from the palace windows had not prepared her for the crisscrossing webs of rails that merged above her. Or for the sheer size of the transport swinging subtly as it waited to be boarded.

The governors and nobles visiting Queen’s Hill often spoke of traveling the vast distances cradled in the comfort of the transports’ grand salons. She could not fathom how the sturdy vehicles, laden with cargo and humanity, did not bend the narrow bars. Instead, they hung as light as fruit from a metallic vine high above. How was it that they flew through the air with such ease and with no apparent regard for the natural laws that kept the rest of humanity grounded?

However the marvel was managed, it succeeded in helping travelers
avoid the dangers of the uninhabitable and forbidding places that lay between Centre City and the rest of the queen’s domain. Only the truly prepared or the incredibly foolish would risk crossing the marshlands or black desert any other way.

Her gaze followed the rickety wooden stairs leading up to the rail’s loading dock, which was held aloft by thick posts of ironwood and steel. There was a small crowd waiting to enter the transport. Above them, she could clearly see two men perched on top of the tram, on either side of the large engine that powered the machine. One man with long braided hair and a beard was armed with a rifle to protect the travelers. The other, stout and bald, methodically filled a furnace with fuel.

The machine bellowed like a great beast. The steam that belched from its smokestack darkened the sky above her and reminded her of winter clouds. It began to move slowly away from the raised platform, scraping along the suspended track as it headed for its unknown destination.

Where was it going? The small but bustling city of Newgarren on the edge of the desert? Two Moon Bay? Or perhaps this tram went all the way to Faro Outpost, on the other edge of the continent alongside the treacherous western sea. Her friend and fellow guardsman Cyrus had been handpicked from Faro and brought to the palace. She imagined it an exotic place, full of adventure and wonders, but he rarely spoke of it and, sensing his reticence, she never pressed him for details.

The idea of travel was fascinating, but no matter how intriguing those destinations sounded, Dare had no desire to book passage on the rail. Solid ground, even on a dangerous path, sounded far more secure than tempting fate in the air… or on the sea.

The sea.
She stiffened her spine. She would do all that loyalty and duty demanded of her. If that meant boarding a sailing ship, so be it.

Though first she had to find her way to the docks through this boisterous crowd.

Dare cringed. The wonder that drew her gaze had not stopped her other senses from intruding. Rich smells of cooking meat lingered thickly in the air, filling her nostrils. She couldn’t see where the scent was coming from, and her rumbling stomach protested. But the aroma was not the only thing upending her equilibrium. A cacophony of human and animal life assaulted her ears. The chatter of men and women of all ages and attitudes, the mournful baying of the prized threehorn cattle sold on the edges of the square, all combined into a din that played an unwelcome melody on her senses. That tune, as well as the grating emotions of the horde of unaware Theorrey citizens, warred for attention inside her.

She had not imagined their feelings would be so darkly complex. Far more distracting than her surroundings.

Avarice, aggression, lust, and desperation… The chaos of it all dizzied her, every inch of her skin aching at the crush of it. Yet again, she was tempted to return to the silent serenity of the Copper Palace. Although she could no longer find peace there, it was still her home.

The vying calls of aggressive sellers refused to be ignored. The sellers of Trader’s Square were of a different ilk from the merchants allowed to peddle their wares inside the stormgate. Louder. Coarser. Lacking in respect and hygiene.

Having spent her life traversing only the levels of the protected Queen’s Hill, a community in itself, Dare felt entirely out of her element. She had studied in the libraries of the scholars. Wandered the lush gardens of the nobles. Trained with the Wode on duty there, shield guards and protectors of Theorrey and its rulers. And on each market day, she would go down to the lowest level, close enough to hear the hum of the charged outer gate, to choose a special trinket from a polite and officially licensed merchant. A trinket she always
hoped would make the queen offer her one of those rare, honest smiles.

That was the world she knew.

She’d often silently agreed with those who insisted that Queen’s Hill held every wonder worth having. That the rest of the city, the rest of the world, could only hold disappointment after such perfection.

Cyrus and the queen did not share that view, and as she continued to wander through the open marketplace, she thought she could better understand their reasoning. It was difficult
to marvel at what she beheld. Not to feel the excitement of a kind rarely encountered on the Hill. So much life.

This place was raw and dirty, yes. Intimidating? Most assuredly. But the ingenuity of these citizens
impressive. They traded in more than necessities. Even in their poverty they were not unlike the artisans on the Hill. They also traded in fancy. Their imaginations seemed to have no limit, and had more experience to draw from.

BOOK: Geared for Pleasure
13.02Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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