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Authors: Kaitlin R. Branch

Valeria

BOOK: Valeria
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Cover Copy

 

Sometimes, ya just gotta let your hair down.

 

Mache Harcming is an airfoil pilot having a bad day.
 
Forced to make an emergency landing on an unmarked dirigible, he discovers a genius inventor, Valeria.
 
She is beautiful, fascinating, and unlike any woman he has ever known before.
 
She’s also dangerous.
 
Mache is certain if the CEO of her company, Elthgo Inc., discovers his presence aboard her aircraft, he will die.

But Valeria begs him to stay. And stay he does, hiding in the vents of the airship whenever the CEO visits.
 
How can he refuse such a beautiful woman?
 
More importantly, how long will the ruse last before he’s found out?

 

WARNING: Brief torture scene.

 

 

Highlight

 

It was somewhat mesmerizing to watch her scrutinize the movements of the plane’s wings and tail. Her good eye was scrunched, the skin puckered around her eye patch. Her cheeks were flushed and she looked in her element.

“It’s like a bird’s,” she said.

Mache blinked. Instead of studying the dash he’d been studying her. Whoops. “Uh, what is? The plane?”

“Yes. The wings move like a bird’s. The tail too.”

“Yeah. Albatrosses and seagulls. They’re the best gliders and the airfoils were made to mimic them.”

“Albatross?” She asked. “I’ve never heard of it.”

“It’s a huge bird, with a wing span of something like two or three meters. It can go for miles without ever once flapping its wings.”

“Some of the birds of prey do it too,” she said. “The eagles.”

“Right. Most flying schools are named for one or the other.” He quirked a lip. “Then again, who would ever go to the Sparrow Flying School?”

“I would,” she said, grinning. “I like sparrows.” Mache blinked, feeling caught. Valeria giggled. “I get it,” she offered, leaning her head on his shoulder. “I’m joking.”

“Oh.” Mache said, blinking at her. “Right.”

 

 

 

Valeria

Kaitlin R. Branch

 

 

Dedication

 

To my mother, my first reader, and my father, my first editor.

 

Forward

 

To adapt fairy tales is a long and varied tradition.
 
The best part is that it never really gets old.
 
We tell these stories over and over again for a reason.
 
They are familiar, comforting, even when given a fresh face.
 
Valeria
is a part of this tradition, as an adaption of the classic fairy tale
Rapunzel
into the world of Steampunk
.
 
I hope that you enjoy this adaption of the Grimm’s tale about love as much as I enjoyed writing it.

 

 

Acknowledgements

 

This being my first published book, there’s a lot of people that I need to thank, but I’ll try to only ramble on a little while.

Mom and Dad, I know that sometimes you wonder where in the world I got this whole obsession with writing from, but I think it’s pretty obvious, myself.
 
After all, you’re the ones who read me
Lord of the Rings
and
Jurassic Park
before bed time, took me dancing, singing, and generally stuffed about as much creativity into me as any kid could wish for.
 
Thanks.

Sarah, despite all that Mom and Dad did, this is still all your fault.
 
You know how much I love you for it.

Julie, thank you for introducing me to Steampunk, and letting me play sandbox in the world of your books.
 
Let’s try not to kill these two characters, ok?

Michael, my husband, the milk to my cookies, the peas to my carrots, and the Damien to my Eritta, thanks.
 
I love you.

 

Chapter 1

 

Mache Harcming decided that the land was God’s greatest creation. More varied than the sea, more colored than the sky, it was a patchwork culmination of everything beautiful about the world.

Unfortunately, it was going to kill him.

“No! No, no, no. Not that sound.” The bell continued alerting him with polite rings that his airfoil had gained critical momentum. He would soon be making good, squishy friends with the ground.

“The boss’s gonna kill me,” he moaned, refusing to acknowledge that unless he quickly came up with some way to fix the issue, he would not have a boss or a body to kill. The sleek silver craft didn’t reply other than dinging at him some more and Mache finally found the problem. One of the turning foils was jammed, shoving the nose down and refusing to budge.

Mache jiggled the controls. Nothing. He tried waggling the airfoil. Sometimes it was a bit of sand in the gears and the wind’s direction change would jimmy it out. He only gained downward momentum and Mache’s inner ears buzzed with the special sort of panic when one’s life flashed before his eyes.

Who the hell checked this thing out before he’d taken off, anyway?

Oh. Right. He had.

“Goddamn glider,” he grumbled and reached out, struggling to lay his hand on the device and budge it a little, just enough for it to respond to the controls again. The air began to whistle around him as his movements jiggled the craft into a steeper dive. He gulped, pressed on his flying goggles and leaned forward.

His finger barely brushed the edge. He grasped it briefly, then lost it. Growling, he ripped off his glove and tried again, gaining purchase this time.

With a whoop of triumph Mache pulled, let go and pulled again. If he could get it out of the dive he could probably use some creative flying to get himself to the ground safely without jamming it again. Maybe?

The offending edge of the airfoil cracked off. Mache stared at the piece of layered aluminum in his hand.

“Shit.”

They’d always told him the airfoil gliders were brittle, but to be broken by hand? What kind of operation was this? Maybe he needed a new job. Clearly, delivery services were going to get him killed.

Miraculously, the foil came out of its dive, leveling off. The pressure bell stopped ringing and Mache gulped as he saw how much closer the ground was now than when he’d started. He leaned back, smoothed his kid leather jacket, readjusted his goggles and took the controls.
 

“Hell,” he sighed. “I guess I’ve had my brush with death for the day.”

Still, how was he going to get anywhere? He had a chance of getting to the ground. It would be a better bet to do an air landing, though. Less clattering around, less scaring folks, less embarrassment. He looked up, scanning the skyline and the ground below.

Under him was the great, sprawling city of Stuttgart. At least he’d avoided crashing some rich lady’s tea party. He’d take blessings where he could find them. Around were the various short range gliders with less insulation than his cross-country one, and their base point dirigibles, complete with drop points and hang lines.

I’d rather you crash the damn thing in a river than make me pay the fees an emergency landing would cost.
The boss’ verbatim response to a trainee’s question boomed through Mache’s mind and he winced. Okay, not one of those. The boss was right. The fees were exorbitant but people stuck in situations requiring an emergency landing, such as the one he was in at the moment, didn’t have a whole lot of choices.

Mache chewed his lip. Flying on would get him to the destination but he needed to land eventually and Stuttgart was close. There
had
to be something independently owned. Even a private craft that would let him land long enough to jerry-rig a fix so he could get to the ground would do. His gaze swept the surroundings again.

Delivery company. Military. Military. Another delivery company. Post. Travel agency. All churning through the air in lazy circles around their designated air space. Mache huffed. “Come on,” he muttered. “Come on, somebody’s gotta have an unmarked one.”

He looked ahead again and nearly jumped out of his seat. Dead ahead and coming up fast loomed a dirigible. Where the hell had it come from? He wrenched the controls, thanking every lucky star he could think of that his right-left maneuverability was fine, and the airfoil lofted past the slow-moving giant. Mache stared in mute awe. The dirigible was
huge!
He counted at least four floors to the main area, and the engine took up half of it.

Who the hell owned it? Mache turned back to look.

Blank. Nothing.

Mache wrenched the controls again to circle back, whooping. Problem solved. Even if they weren’t particularly nice, all he needed was a space. If he was lucky it would be abandoned right now–he could get in, fix the issue, and get out.

“Ah, my dear friend and comrade,” he addressed the ship as the airfoil wheeled around, making a beeline for the dirigible’s landing deck. “Your timing is impeccable.”

It was a rather nice-looking landing deck, though it seemed to be open on all sides. How strange. Even the best pilots could zip through instead of landing properly. It was best to have a wall, just in case. No matter, it must be the landing deck. Where else would someone put it?

He continued to think it was the landing deck until he saw the tell-tale glitter of glass between him and the expanse of flat space. And then he saw the inside, hung with velvet and a chandelier. Nice and a chandelier were two different things.

Mache wasted a lot of breath swearing as he shoved the controls to put the airfoil’s nose to the ground. Of course, he’d broken that particular air-fin in an effort not to die. More cursing.

He didn’t have time to think. Turning away at this point would only put him in danger of smashing in sideways, landing upside-down or worse, not getting in. Mache threw his hands over his head, pressed his head to his knees and tried not to think how much money this was going to cost, to say nothing of his life.

The glass shattered. Mache’s head slammed into the controls and he grunted, staying in a tight ball as his airfoil shuddered to a stop. He felt the teeter as the massive dirigible righted itself from the crash again. No explosions–that was a good thing, right?

The dirigible teetered again. Mache frowned. The thing was huge. Why was it swinging from his tiny impact? The glass hadn’t even put up a fight. He sat up, peeking over the lip of his airfoil. Dead silence, except the wind hissing against the broken glass shards like an angry snake. He sat up. The airfoil shifted.

He was in a large room. It looked like a ballroom, where he imagined ladies sweeping across the floor in their voluminous skirts and corsets. The floors were diamond grill in some places and smooth bronze in others. The interior walls were lined with rich-looking woods, fit perfectly and hung with velvet curtains in deep red. The curtains were chained with golden links leading to the chandelier. It was a work of art. Copper and gold wire cradled delicate glass drops, rods and gears. It was lovely even when in shadow. He wondered if it lit. There were no candles. The ceiling was riddled with vents and pipes, adding to the majesty of the room.

In his reverie he almost didn’t notice when the airfoil shifted again. Mache sucked in his breath, eyes widening as he realized what was going on. Slowly, he turned his head. “Please be wrong,” he pleaded with himself. “Please, please, oh shit.”

The window was reinforced with heavy steel straights which had been invisible against the floor. The airfoil’s wings were crumpled like paper, but the iron rods giving them structure and shape were only folded in. The front half of Mache’s airfoil was in the dirigible and the back half hung over the city of Stuttgart.

The wind buffeted the tail. Mache felt the airfoil shift again. “Oh shit, oh shit, oh shit,” he groaned, and slowly pawed at his feet. Out came his satchel, out the small packet of food and the extra clothes. He grabbed his pocket watch from the control dash. The airfoil stayed still, half in, half out. Maybe there was still time to plan this out, he thought, slightly delirious. Maybe he could step out, keep his hand on the nose, and it would be enough?

BOOK: Valeria
7.87Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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