“So, you’re the one I have heard so much about,” Hyperion raises an eyebrow, dark amusement on his face as he turns his back to me and strides over to his desk. Retrieving a ceramic coffee cup, he leans one hand against his desk and takes a sip. “Rags, was it?”

            I remain silent.

            “You have quite the reputation, young lady,” a faint Midland Territory drawl lingers deep in his words. He turns to face me, reaching over for a small silver spoon before stirring his coffee. “At least that’s what my men in Hydra say—quite the bounty on you as well. What was it? Thirty thousand kiks? Fifty? Quite impressive for a raggedy little rustler from a backwater place like Rondo.”

            I press my back against the double doors. He takes a step closer, his polished leather shoes almost soundless against the carpet. The shackles feel heavier, the air thicker and ripe with burnt coffee and rust. Sweat coats my dirty palms, mixing with the cracking clay and mud.

            A dark look crosses his face, his hazel eyes studying my frigid blue ones. “Of all the places in my Kingdom, it had to be Rondo. Such a pity.”

            I keep my chin up, staring him down as he steps even closer. He’s far taller than he looks up close, towering over me much like Henny does. The thick, sickening odor of rust mixes with ashes and grows stronger.

            “For as much heartache as that settlement has caused me over the years, I expected more from it. It was a glorious little settlement—full of so much promise—the envy of the Kingdom’s other, lesser settlements. Oh yes, I remember Rondo well. But then it turned away from my glorious Kingdom. Tell me, Rags, why that might have been?”

            Because you’re a liar, that’s why. Don’t say anything to him Just keep quiet and don’t give him the time of day. I struggle to keep from shivering under that withering, deceptively calm gaze. He’s the enemy. And rustlers don’t talk to the enemy, especially not the most powerful man in the world. This is an honor no one wants.

            “Not so talkative, are we?” A smirk tugs at his lips. “I find it amusing because you seemed to have plenty to say to my men in both Rondo and during your short stay here. Are you really that scared of me, Rags?”

            “I’m not scared.” I wish I believed those words as they barely crack a whisper.

            “For a rustler, you are a terrible liar.” Hyperion’s smirk broadens like a wolf cornering a rabbit. “So be it—remain silent all you want, little rustler, but you should know that you are in quite a bit of trouble at the moment. You see, Rags, when a prisoner is branded too feral to be broken by conventional means, it is up to me to evaluate their ultimate future and viability as a useful asset to the Kingdom.”

            He steps back and takes another sip of his coffee as if breaking unruly prisoners is no more difficult than horses. I keep my back to the door, daring not move just yet lest he pull out a pistol and put a bullet in my brain. He looks the type to do it, too.

            “So, tell me, Rags, why you think I should spare your life? After all, as a disgraced rustler you have little to offer my Kingdom. I am interested, however, in hearing all about Rondo, though, especially these people you call family.”

            This is not good; Not good at all. The terror renders me frozen in place, too scared to move. I didn’t just walk into a corral and have a gate slam on me, I fell into a razor-toothed leg trap this round.

            “Still not going to talk? You do realize that I have the power to bring them here to join you? That your silence will do little to aid them or change their fates? Let’s see, who were they again?” He pretends to look at the ceiling as if deep in thought for several seconds. “Ah yes, I remember now: My loyal former second-in-command Lionel Tobias Jones, the old senile farmer Julius Addison, the Williams’s family and their little bundle of anticipated joy… Sadie and Frank I think they went by… and then there was that preacher… Jericho Jensen.”

            Shit, he knows them by name. I bite my lip and try not to show that it bothers me. He likely spoke with Henny and Colton—there’s no other way he would know them by name. And yet, the way he says Addison and Jericho’s names aren’t as casual with a snide sense of lethal ‘friendliness’ about it that the others have. This situation just went from dangerous to ‘get out now.’

            “The look in your eyes tells me you know exactly who I am talking about, my dear. So let me make this simple: You tell me what I want to know, and when I purify Lexicon, I will consider letting what remains of your family live.”

            Don’t take the bait. He’s the best of the best when it comes to lying and knows how to use his power to his advantage. He’ll shoot me dead the moment I tell him anything.

            “Still going to make this needlessly difficult?” He steps closer, a bored look on his face. Those sinister hazel eyes call my bluff, roving over me. “Perhaps Lionel has not properly educated you on just what I am capable of, Rags.”

            He reaches a hand forward and flicks a strand of my shoulder-length mahogany hair back as if shooing away a pest. The motion makes me grit my teeth, the temperature around me plunging despite the roaring fire mere feet away. Every instinct warns to run, to hell with the consequences, but I don’t, held in place by a mixture of fear and stubborn pride.

 Excerpt for Garden of Ashes 

Bestselling Author. Dreamer. All-Around Rebel
"Saddling up and corrupting the world one story at a time."
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© 2016-2020 by Kathryn Lee Martin