JIMMY Books already had us at “genre-bending Western set in the future,” so finally laying our eyes on this gorgeous girl-boss cover was everything.

In GUNSLINGER GIRL, when Serendipity “Pity” Jones runs away from home, she lands in a lawless city at the edge of civilization. There, she joins the decadent Theatre Vespertine as a trick sharpshooter, but there’s a dark cost for her freedom. Need more? Of course you do! Scroll down for an exclusive excerpt from Chapter One! Once you’re addicted—and you will be—you can look forward to getting your hands on it January 2, 2018.

Gunslinger Girl by Lyndsay Ely

CHAPTER ONE

They dragged in the dead scrounger in the fade of the afternoon, tied to the last truck in the convoy. Dust clouds billowed after the vehicles like a fog, blanketing the compound’s entrance in ochre twilight.

Pity squinted and pulled her bandanna over her nose. She wandered into the commotion, eyes half-scanning the jumble of vehicles and riders for her father, but mostly letting her feet carry her over to where the scrounger lay. Flies alighted on him and on the trail of wet muck he had left behind. The body was face down, though when one of the convoy guards kicked him over, Pity reckoned that was no longer an apt description, as there wasn’t much face left to speak of. She swallowed the sourness that rose in the back of her throat.

The guard, dressed in a weathered Transcontinental Railway uniform, sniffed and spat. “Shoulda left the trash outside for the crows.”

“What’d he do?” Pity toed the scrounger’s mangled hand. There wasn’t a lot to be made of the body. Male, certainly. Maybe young. Maybe not.

“Thief. Found ’im sneaking around camp this morning.  Nearly made off with an armful of solar cells.”

Brave, she thought, but dumb. It was one thing to pick through the abandoned landscape, another to steal from a TransRail convoy.

A hand clamped around her arm. “Get yer ass away from that!”

She grimaced beneath the bandana, careful not to let the emotion touch her eyes as she turned to her father. Three days’ worth of  dust and grime from riding motorcycle escort to the convoy did nothing to diminish his chill air of authority. The guard mumbled a quiet “Sir” and hurried off, but her father’s slate-hard gaze never left her. Pity took an involuntary step back and spotted the commune mayor, Lester Kim, standing behind him, along with a sharp-featured man she didn’t recognize.

The stranger’s eyes slithered over her. “This her, Scupps?”

Her father nodded. Pity flinched when he reached out again, but he only yanked the bandana down. Strands of acorn brown hair fell across her cheeks. She pushed them back.

“She don’t look much like you.”

“Serendipity favors her mother.” Lester’s head bobbed up and down on his scrawny chicken’s neck. “In the good ways, mind you.”

“You mean like my aim?” Pity stifled a smirk as Lester stiffened. She also pretended not to notice the narrowing of her father’s eyes, a sign that she should be silent.

He shoved his pack at her, sending a fresh cloud of dust into her  face. “Get home and clean my gear. We’re back on the road tomorrow morning.”

She hesitated, eyeing the stranger still considering her like a piece of livestock.

“You gone deaf while I was away? Go!”

Pity obeyed, plunging into the mess of workers unloading crates, each one etched with the Confederacy of North America seal and destination marks for Pity’s Commune, the 87th Agricultural. The smell of exhaust tinged the air, clamorous with labor and barked orders. It was a familiar enough scene, save for an aberrant oasis of order at the center of it all. Set away from the rest, a pair of sleek black trucks idled, gold logos emblazoned on their sides. Pity slowed.

Drakos-Pryce. Corporate cargo.

She wandered closer, curious. In matching black uniforms—none of which looked like they’d seen six months on the road—the Drakos- Pryce team moved with precision order, stacking their delivery in neat piles. The Commune and TransRail workers gave them a wide berth, tossing only the occasional awe-tinged look their way.

Except for one.

Hale looked up as she spotted him, waving her over to where he stood before an open case. “Pity! Take a look at these.”

“What—” Her breath caught as she spotted the rifle. It was a model that couldn’t even generously be called recent, but still better than anything she had seen in person. “Those are for the Commune?”

He nodded. The settlement’s head firearms instructor, Hale was also responsible for everything that came and went from the armory. “Security upgrades.”

Pity’s hands itched as he lifted the gun out of its container. She longed to feel the exquisite balance, to look through its scope and gently wrap her finger around the trigger.

Inhale, aim. Exhale, shoot.

The memory of the words came scented with home-still, as well as the vague sensation of her mother’s touch as she made some small adjustment to Pity’s form. She could still feel the warmth of the sun bleeding into her skin, see round after round of target as she cut them down. Never quite as well as her mother, not yet, but creeping closer and closer with every—

No. Pity’s hands tightened around her father’s pack, an anchor to reality. Her mother was gone and her daddy would sooner grow feathers and lay an egg before he’d allow her anywhere near a weapon like that. Not that he’d get one either. They’d be issued to the wall-walkers, the men and women who patrolled the Commune ramparts and crop field fences. Her mother had been one of them once—the very best, sober or not.

The old ache rose within her, the anger and frustration at her exclusion from the Commune’s defensive forces. She’d inherited her mother’s eye and skill with a gun. But as mayor, Lester Kim made the labor appointments, and Lester listened to her father so much that people joked about who really ran the Commune.

At least riding escort keeps him gone half the time.

Hale caught wind of her thoughts. “Come down to the range when he’s gone. It’d be irresponsible not to test these out before distributing them, right?”

A smile found her lips. Hale had been her mother’s friend once, and had no qualms about letting her practice shooting when her father was gone. At least she’d been able to keep her ability from withering away.

“Don’t look around,” Hale said abruptly, keeping his voice conversational. “Your father is coming this way. Go on, before he gets any closer. If he asks why we were chatting, tell him I was passing along your brothers’ range scores.”

She couldn’t resist. “Are they any better?”

“Well, they can hit a barn . . . provided it don’t move too quick.”

Pity swallowed a chuckle and ran off, leaving the fuss of the convoy behind for a cluster of squat administration buildings. Beyond them lay the commissary shops, and finally the neat grids of worker homes. The identical rust-colored structures were mostly deserted,  their  residents still at work in the fields or barns, but a lanky arm waved from the porch of one.

“Pity! Thank goodness, save me!”

As she angled over, arguing voices drifted out from within the house. “What’s going on?”

Finn glanced over a slumped shoulder. “Well, so far as I can tell, Rena Harrow is pregnant.” Pity’s best friend ran a hand through her cropped, wheat-hued hair—an untidy nest of dirt, oil, and whatever else had been dripping on her that day. “And her mother is none too happy about losing her first grandchild, so she’s trying to get Rena to fess up and marry its daddy before she’s whisked away to a mother’s home for nine months of luxury incubation.”

Pity winced as, somewhere inside the house, a door slammed so hard that the windows shook. Despite the values preached, CONA didn’t try to stop people from doing what they were going to do—not with birth rates still so low, a lingering remnant of the bioterrorism years that had preceded the Second Civil War. But children born out of wedlock were considered wards of the government, adopted to the couples who couldn’t conceive in the natural way.

“I’m guessing Rena isn’t too happy about planning a wedding?”

Finn shook her head. “Which is no business of mine,” she nudged the bag of tools beside her, “’cept that the block’s generator is belly up again, and I need check each house to see if they’re over-drawing power. I’ve been sitting out here for an hour waiting for those two to cool down.”

“The generator’s down again?” Pity grimaced. “This is the third time this month!”

“Well, all I can do is keep patching it up until I get the right parts.

Oh geez, you just got that look.” “What look?”

“The one where your face scrunches up and your cheeks go so red I can barely see all those freckles.”

Pity tried to smile but her mouth turned down instead. “I can make do with cold water to wash, but he’s not going to be too happy about bathing in it.”

Finn’s expression curdled as she spotted the pack, only to brighten an instant later. “Wait, the convoy’s back?” She jumped up.  “C’mon!”

“Where? I need to get home before—”

“Pity, the belts I ordered come in with this convoy! I can finish the Ranger!”

Excitement flickered within Pity. The Ranger was Finn’s baby, her mechanical firstborn. It had started as an old frame for a plains buggy, scavenged out of the junk pile, but since finding it, Finn had begged, traded, and scrounged for every wheel, clamp, hose, and gear. It would never win a prize for looks, but her friend swore it would be faster than a jackrabbit when she was done with it.

“And with the Ranger ready to go,” Finn leaned in closer, whispering, “we can finally start making real plans to—”

“Where’re you headed, squirt?”

They started at the new voice. Two long shadows approached, attached to Pity’s brothers.

“Yeah, squirt,” Billy parroted. “Dinner ready yet?” Pity frowned. “You’re early.”

“Outgoing crop shipment needed to be loaded up by tomorrow, so they called all the crews in.” Henry adjusted the rifle slung over his shoulder and eyed the pack. “You seen Daddy?”

She nodded.

“Then don’t you think you should be cooking?”

“Generator’s down again, boys,” Finn said. “Dinner’s gonna be late.” Henry and Billy frowned in tandem, looking almost like twins with their dusty brown hair and field tans. At eighteen and sixteen, Pity knew they hated being called “boys.” Finn knew it too.

“Again?” said Billy. “I thought you were supposed to be good at fixing those things, Josephina!

Finn bristled. “I ain’t a miracle worker.”

“I’ll manage something,” Pity interjected. “You go on, Finn. I’ll stop by the workshop later if I can.”

“A busted generator ain’t Pity’s fault, y’all remember that.” Finn shot Billy and Henry an acid look as she headed off, tool kit slapping against her thigh.

Pity stared after her, tight with impatience. Six more months, she  told herself. In six months she’d be a legal adult.

And as soon as that day came . . .

Not giving her brothers a chance to make more demands, Pity turned on her heel and headed to the last house in the line. Inside, stale silence met her as she threw her father’s pack in a corner of the kitchen and began knitting together a meal. Billy and Henry entered a few minutes later, clomping up the stairs to clean up before dinner. Pity had just grabbed a wet rag and started work on her father’s gear when he, too, arrived home. He leaned his rifle beside the door and sat at the table. When Henry and Billy joined him a moment later, all three folded hands.

“Thank you, Lord,” her father intoned, “for your blessings on our fields and our stock so that we may feed the mouths that depend on us back east. And may they continue so, amen.”

For a while, the only sounds were chewing and the clink of utensils against plates. As Pity rinsed out a canteen, Henry and Billy traded furtive glances.

“Heard y’all got a scrounger,” Henry ventured finally.

Their father chewed a mouthful of cold chicken. “We did. Caught and dealt with. Nothing to speak of.” Her brothers’ disappointment at the brevity of the story was tangible, but they knew better than to press. “Pity, bring me some water.”

She grabbed a glass from the shelf. “I made some lemonade if you—” “I said water.”

He stared at her as she brought the glass over. She kept her own gaze carefully downcast.

“My gear gonna be ready by morning?” “Yes, sir.”

“Good. I’ll only be gone a day or two. While I’m away, get your own things packed.”

Halfway back across the kitchen, she faltered. “What?”

“You best learn to hear better than you been, girl. That nonsense isn’t going to be tolerated where you’re headed.” He took a sip of water. “The man who was with me at the convoy is from the 34th Mining. You’re going back with him when I return.”

“But—” Her guts twisted into a sick knot.  “Why?”

“Why do you think?” Billy smirked. “There’s only one thing a place like that would want from you and it’s between your—”

“You shut your goddamn mouth!” The retort snapped out before she could stop it.

“Pity!” Her father’s face turned rosy. “You will not blaspheme in this house!”

“Sorry!” She took a step backward, reflexively conscious of possible retreats—the stairs, the back door—but he remained at the table. “I . . . I just don’t understand.”

“What’s unclear? You’re headed to the 34th. Lester’s already  approved the transfer.”

“But that’s not . . . I can’t . . .” A shiver of realization raced through her. She should have seen it coming. Six months and she’d be lawfully released from his control. But he couldn’t let that happen easy, not him. Her jaw tightened. “You sold me off, didn’t you? You and Lester.”

Bridal bribes, they called them. CONA rewarded Communes that met their birth quotas, so it hadn’t taken long for an underground market to arise between those which had an excess of fertile young women, and those that didn’t. Her transfer might come under the guise of a worker exchange, but Pity knew exactly what it was. Was the stranger intending to try and force her into marriage, Pity wondered, or was he only her ferryman?

“How much did you get for me?”

Her father didn’t answer. He stood, slowly, fingertips pressed to the table so hard that they were white. “You will do your duty to the Confederacy, and you will obey me.”

Pity tensed with anger. And though her heart pumped cold fright, it didn’t stop the words that came out next. “Mama never would have let you sell me off.”

“Your mother,” her father went from pink to red as he said the word, “was an insurgent and a drunk. And if she hadn’t gotten herself killed, she’d have sent you wherever she’d been told to send you!”

“No, she wouldn’t!” Pity took three shaky steps toward her father. He gave a derisive sniff. “Lord knows she had no trouble selling herself now, did she?”

“And look what kind of heartless, godforsaken son of a bitch she got stuck with!”

She didn’t register the pain until she was on her knees, staring at the wood slats of the floor. She lifted one trembling hand to the side of her face. It came back slick with red.

“The 34th is more than you deserve.” Her father’s voice fell on her like a rain of gravel. “You will be ready to leave when I return. And if I hear one more word of dissent, I will go to Lester and make sure you’re sent to the very farthest edge of the settlements. And you don’t even want to know what brand of sons of bitches they send out there. You hear me?”

Cheek throbbing, Pity raised her head. A few feet away, within easy reach, was her father’s rifle.

He followed her gaze. “Go ahead,” he said. “Try. They’ll all say how ironic it was that your mother bargained her way out of the noose only  to have you end up in it.”

She swallowed hard, the coppery taste of blood coating the inside of her mouth. Trembling with fear and adrenaline, she got to her feet and met her father’s eyes.

Glacial indifference stared back.

Pity inhaled sharply, then turned and bolted out the back door, not slowing a moment for the cacophony of shouts that trailed after her.

 

 

GUNSLINGER GIRL by Lyndsay Ely. Copyright © 2018 by Lyndsay Ely. Reprinted with permission of Little, Brown and Company.