City of Ruin - Pre-release Goodies!

Release day is June 14th...

But keep scrolling for early excerpts and chapters!

 

What readers are saying...


“Such a stunning Beauty and the Beast retelling - gripping, gutting, and beautifully gothic. The historical dystopian setting makes it utterly unique. I could NOT put it down!”

- Lindsey Sparks, bestselling author of the Echo Trilogy


"A Beauty and the Beast retelling as rich and compelling as the original. Selene and Greyson's story, and the romantic and gothic elements throughout, will draw you in and keep you hooked."

- Holly Hill Mangin, author of The House on the Lake




About Selene...

"Even as I refuse to dwell too much on possible futures, my drifting thoughts conjure a fiery young woman, whose flaxen hair is as unruly as she is. Who is as pigheaded as she is courageous, and as hard-edged and cynical as she is innocent."

About Blackburn...

"I consider how striking Blackburn is. It’s a cruel, callous sort of beauty, but there’s something about how gruff and unrefined he is that I find alluring, and the sudden notion of the smallest, barely perceptible attraction to him makes me shamefaced, surprised, and wholly disappointed with myself for finding any such beauty in a monster."

You can find all character portraits, receive early ebooks, and more in my $5/month Patreon tier



 

The Collector is coming to claim what he’s owed.


Centuries ago, the skies turned black, and for 300 years, Londoners survived in the dank, underground tunnels of the city. Until one day, a stranger from a faraway land offered to save them. Though it wasn’t without cost . . . and he has come to collect.


When Selene is taken to Master Blackburn’s infamous estate, she fears she and the orphans she’s sworn to protect will meet a gruesome end, like so many others before them. But the beastly landowner is not all there is to fear, and Selene soon learns nothing in Briarwood is as it seems.


Travel beyond the City of Ruin, through the secret passageways and haunted woods, to a land shrouded in secrets in this atmospheric retelling of Jane Eyre and Beauty and the Beast.


 

PROLOGUE

Peering through the cracked open door, I watch my father hovering over my parents’ bed. His eyes are wide and his mouth is pursed as he stares down at my mother. Blood stains her lips, and sweat still dampens her brow, but her chest no longer heaves. And her lungs . . . they no longer wheeze.


While she is the one who is dead, my father looks much the same. He is disheveled, his tawny hair hanging messily in his face, and his gaunt cheeks are pallid from lack of sleep. Limbs hanging at his sides, he simply watches, like he’s suspended in a moment that will never end.


The world is changing, Selene, and you are meant for more than this place,” my mother told me not two nights ago as she struggled for breath. “I’ve seen it in my dreams. There will be darkness. There will be fear. But there is hope and goodness—you must trust in that. You must fight for it. You must fight for all of them.”


I’ve cried countless times, locked in the house during the weeks she’s been sick, and now, with her fair hair turned to sweaty, gray clumps stuck to her face and chapped lips, I know she will never open her eyes again. She will never explain the meaning of her dream, and tears cloud my vision once more. My mother is gone forever.


I wipe the dampness from my cheeks and straighten, just a little, as my chin begins to tremble. She would want me to be strong.


It’s only then I realize my father isn’t crying at all. He doesn’t even look sad so much as he looks afraid.


My father’s servant stands behind him just as emotionless, yet rests his hand on my father’s shoulder. He blinks, staring at my father with concern. “He has come,” James says gently, and my father’s shoulders stiffen. I’m so taken by the tender moment between master and servant, I almost miss the look they exchange. As my father rests his hand on James’s, a flare of anger envelops me.


My father forbade me from being in my parents’ room, yet James is; my father would not think to console his own daughter, but he shows such gentleness to a servant?


“Selene,” my brother whispers in my ear, making me jump. When I peer at him, his eyes are fixed on my father through the cracked door. It’s only then I register the sound of someone pacing in the downstairs entry.


“Come,” William says urgently. “Be silent.” He takes my hand and tugs me along the landing to the servants’ stairs in the back. Panic fills me as I register the tremulous edge in his voice, but I remain quiet.


Ammonia and mint from my mother’s medicines fill my nostrils as we hurry past the kitchen, where I can hear the maid weeping. But William pulls me along without faltering, then stops at the back entrance and hands me a man’s full-length coat from the coatrack. Hastily, he gathers my blonde hair atop my head and situates a cap over the tumbling heap.


“Tuck your hair into the hat,” he demands in an anxious whisper. My brother’s gaze flicks toward the entry of the townhouse, where my father speaks to someone, his voice muffled by a labyrinth of narrow hallways and sitting rooms. Though a stranger’s angry baritone replies, I can barely make out what they are saying as William bustles about, tugging me this way and that.


“—and have come to collect what’s mine.”


“You could not wait a single moment? My wife has only just died.”


“And there was no love lost between you, Sinclair. Don’t trifle with me. I’ve waited long enough. You got what you wanted, and now I want what was promised to me.”


“Selene,” William rasps, and when I look at him, he nods toward the back door.


Though I want to be as strong as my mother, I can’t help my ratcheting panic. “What’s happening, Will?”


“We must go,” he says. “Now.”


“But—” I glance anxiously in the direction of my father’s voice as William cracks the door open, peers outside, then pulls me from our townhome, toward the outskirts of the fallen city. “But Mother—Father—”


“She is gone now, so I must see to you.”


I blink the tears from my eyes and follow my brother blindly into the cold. The day is thick and dreary, seeping into my bones and making me shiver as we hurry away from the only home I’ve ever known.


William leads me through the alleyway, separating our home from another stretch of apartments. He surveys every shadow, ensuring it’s safe, though from whom, I don’t understand. As he pulls me into the street, I chance a look behind me, spotting the blur of my father through the sitting room window, speaking to a looming sort of man with dark hair.


I stumble, and my brother curses. “Be careful,” he gripes, and I’m forced to leave the visage of my father behind.


“I’m not allowed to leave the house,” I remind him, my voice a petulant whine, but William ignores me as we wind through the streets.


Though the city has awakened from years of slumber underground, nearly three centuries of weather ravaging the world have left New London in ruins, and I stumble over a crack in the cobblestone.


“Apologies,” William mutters gruffly as he turns to help me straighten. But within seconds he continues pulling me along the fissured sidewalk toward the center of town. His steps are heavy and determined.


“Where are we going, Will?” It’s more of a command this time than a question. I stumble again in William’s haste. Though the Expansion Movement has rectified parts of the city, there is still much in dangerous disrepair.


“To Master Orson and his wife,” William says as he leads me onto the main street. I nearly run into a man on his horse coming around the corner of a collapsed saloon. My heart stills, and fear prickles over my skin as the horse sidesteps us. The man curses, eyeing me strangely when a strand of blonde hair falls in my face. I try to tuck it into my cap again before my brother herds me along.


“Will—” I yank against him. “Tell me what’s happening!” I demand. “I don’t want to go to the orphanage.”


“You must,” he says. “Just for now—”


“Will!”


He whirls on me. “It is the boom of reemergence, Selene,” he growls. “In a time when heirs and able bodies are more coveted than coin. What do you think that landowner was coming to collect?” William points toward home. “He’s come for you, Selene, to be his breeder. And Father is to blame. He can’t protect you, so it falls on me to do so now.”


Gaping, I search my older brother’s face, looking for a sign he’s lying or mistaken, that my father would protect me, but I only see fear in William’s eyes. “What has Father—”


“He traded you the first chance he got in order to climb the ranks, because he only pretends to be a man of worth. You will be safer with the Orsons. Mother has seen to it.” His blue eyes mirror mine—wide and beseeching. “Selene, you must trust me in this.”


“But—” I whimper, my mind whirling as I peer down the bending, shadowed road with mounting apprehension. “I don’t want to leave you.”


“It’s only for a little while,” he promises, but I know my big brother, and I hear the uncertainty in his voice. “I’m waiting to hear from one of Mother’s contacts—someone who can help us get to the coast. So come, the Orsons are expecting you. And it’s what Mother wanted.” He glances toward our home and his nostrils flair. I can see the sadness behind his eyes, the sorrow and hesitation.


“William,” I whisper, reluctantly accepting my fate, even if it terrifies me. “What if you never hear from them?”


A man rolls a creaking cart of crumbled bricks down the street in our direction, and as my brother pulls me under the eaves of an abandoned building, I nearly trip on the hem of my skirt.


“Please, don’t argue with me about this.” My brother’s gaze shifts over me, full of regret. “You are growing up, Selene, and Father’s acquaintances in the Council are noticing. For now, the orphanage will keep you hidden.”


I understand my brother’s meaning perfectly. We can breed armies and cities, my mother once said. Without us, men are nothing. Having just celebrated my eleventh birthday, I am, by law, of a tradeable age to work until I am sixteen and old enough to produce children.

I straighten, feeling a passing man’s questioning gaze on me keenly.


William leans in, peering into my eyes pleadingly. “These men have no land—no wealth or power—without heirs. Only young women like you can abate their greatest fears. If you don’t stay with the Orsons—if Father finds you—he will sell you to a stranger, just like the slaves they purchase each season.” William licks his lips and his expression softens a little.


“Mother has helped Master Orson in the past. He owes her. And you know I would never leave you—you know I will come for you when it’s safe. For now, I need you to trust me. Trust Mother. She would not want you thrown to the wolves.”


I don’t trust any of it, but I nod because William wants me to, and I don’t have any other choice.


He must register my disbelief, because he squeezes my hand and pulls me into him. “We’ll go to the Screaming Woods, if we have to, but I will not leave you there.”


The thought should terrify me, since the woods are known to be haunted, but I would rather live among ghosts and vengeful spirits with William than be anywhere else without him. “You promise?” I rasp, sobbing into his chest.


“I promise.” He kisses my temple and I inhale him—sweat and clay from the brick factory.

My heart breaks all over again as a sinking sense of dread fills me. My mother is dead. My brother is sending me away, and my father . . . I don’t even know what to think of my father.

William straightens, looking like the strong, work-honed seventeen-year-old that he is, and tucks another escaped tendril back into my cap. “Now,” he says, clearing his throat. “We’ve got to get you different clothes before I take you into the heart of the city.” He exhales, waiting for my acquiescence, and when my chin dips ever so slightly, we continue down the winding streets.


I glance down at my red velvet skirt swishing at my feet. It’s only then that I realize how much I stand out among the men bustling through the city, their clothes soiled and torn and hanging from their sinewy limbs.


As my brother gestures toward the seamstress, I can’t help but ask, “Won’t they come looking for me?”


“They will never think to look in a poorhouse.”


I’m about to ask my brother what will happen when they realize he is the one who has hidden me, when he leads me through the door of The Depot. A rush of dank, moldy air accosts me, and our footsteps cease to echo on the cement floor, muffled by the clothing lines of nondescript work uniforms, some of them freshly laundered, others only partially sewn. Buttonholers and framework knitters all glance up from their machines, their faces drawn and lifeless.


“Isabel is Mother’s friend,” William whispers as he ushers me along.


Tearing my gaze away from the women, I quietly follow.


“She knew this day might come. She’ll be expecting us.”


An older woman, churning a vat of dyed clothes, pauses as we approach, her eyes widening. A brass-colored curl falls in her face, and sympathy, or maybe it’s sorrow, immediately fills her blue eyes. “Oh, dear—”


“It’s time,” my brother says. “We need—” Before he can get another word out, the world roars. The ground trembles, the clothes hanging around us tremble, and I hear the breaking of glass and the cracking of stone.


“Selene!” William wraps his arms around me, covering my body with his as the pitched roof I stare up at buckles, and darkness descends.



Chapter One

Selene


The sun sears relentlessly against my skin. It’s the first day in nearly a month that the cloud cover has dispersed, much to my chagrin. Without the dense fog to hinder our duties outdoors, Mistress Orson has us excavating the graveyard, scouring what little unchurned earth is left for human remains. Because fogless days are so rare, there is much work to be done from dawn until dusk.


I should appreciate the reprieve manual labor provides from the monotonous tasks we’ve grown so used to in the bonehouse; the picking and cleaning of remains, and the stench of the kiln room that permeates my nose, even outside in the breeze. But I don’t.

Wiping my arm over my sweaty brow, I glance quickly at the children, ensuring they aren’t sickening in the heat. All of their faces are red with fatigue, their brows damp with perspiration, but though their chests are heaving, they don’t look close to fainting. Yet.


Nell’s hands leave bloody prints on the shovel as she heaves another spadeful of soil out of the hole she stands in. Roman works tirelessly, lost in his own world; his thirteen-year-old body is already honed from so much toiling. Evie’s eyes are red-rimmed from the crumbled headstone that fell on her foot. And while Beatrice and Jon dig absently, accustomed to their miserable lives, they work without complaint alongside me.


As my charges, the children are the closest I have to family in this dreadful place, and I fear the day they will be taken from me, like everyone else. A familiar spur of resentment burns hotter than the sun under my skin at the mere thought, and rolling my sore shoulders, I get back to work, biting through the sting of my blistered palms.


“If you want your supper, you’ll work faster!” Mistress Orson calls in her shrill voice. Even as she paces near me with long strides, I can barely hear her over the three dozen huffing orphans, our shovels scraping through the rocks, and exhumed bones clattering into the wheelbarrow.


For two decades, the Bedlam Cemetery has been mined for human remains, and though it was once a mass graveyard full of Londoners who’d lost their lives to disease, it’s now an empty boneyard riddled with holes. With such little sunlight in a fog-plighted land, fertilizer is even more important than the men who work endless days in the factories, and the women who work beside them when they aren’t repopulating the great fallen city.


“Stay focused!” Mistress Orson thwacks a child on the back with her crop, and I grit my teeth. She adjusts the spectacles perched on the tip of her pointy nose and continues to pace. Everything about her is wraithlike, from her waspish voice and narrowed teeth to her lean frame and crooked fingers. Had I not seen her bleed before, I’d wonder if she weren’t one of the ghosts haunting this land.


I heave another spadeful of upturned soil out of my way, flexing the blisters on my hand as I curse the Council for their power-hungry ambition.


Sometimes I curse my mother for dying and leaving me to this fate. Sometimes I curse my brother for dying in that earthquake. But mostly I curse myself for not dying beside him.

I wish the Shift had finished what it started centuries ago, and we’d all become bones consumed by the earth. There would be no one left to disentomb those lucky enough to have escaped a fate where both breathing bodies and the dead are traded like currency.




You can preorder City of Ruin for $4.99 on Amazon, Apple, Google Play, and all other retailers.


ALSO - You can preorder a $2.99 copy through my bookshop on my website. What's the difference? You still receive all formats of the book (epub ebook and mobi for Kindle, as well as the book through BookFunnel if you prefer) as well as a Ruined Lands map. But because I don't have to pay such high delivery fees for book sales, I can mark the price down.