"I found this book to be the most gripping one yet. I think it might've been a little faster-paced, or maybe it had higher stakes and more intensity.Overall, this was another great book in a series that I'm really enjoying with lots of diversity, a motley crew of characters, and a magic-filled Old West setting" Kriste, Goodreads
Published: December 18th, 2018
Hold on to your hats — the Devil’s Revolver series is back with an evil twin, deep magic, zombies, menacing grand balls, a train heist, hand-to-hand high-stakes battles, and two sisters who have grown in their power to face and fight the end of the Weird West.
If Hettie Alabama could do what she was told and stand down . . . she might not anyway. Especially when the letters her sister sends from her place of hiding don’t seem quite right, and Hettie’s posse is tying her hands tighter by the day. She’s itching to take the safety off her cursed mage gun, the Devil’s Revolver, and walk through the fire to end the reign of evil that’s choking the magic out of the West—not to mention save her sister once and for all.
The only problem? Hettie’s name is in the headlines and on every wanted poster in the nation—but she’s not the one robbing banks and killing innocents, even if the pictures look just like her. She’s up to her chin in high-necked gowns and beauty glamors, charged with fulfilling her word to the influential Favreau family of New Orleans, even as it becomes increasingly clear that they want only to consolidate the world’s waning magic in the hands of the rich and powerful. The politics get more personal as the most loyal of Hettie’s gang uncover the threat of an immoderate technology that steals magic from the unwitting innocent and transfers it to the nefarious elite.
Hettie has no choice but to go rogue, and when she drops a black hat over her brow, the Devil’s Revolver’s trigger glows hot. The Devil’s Pact stampedes from San Francisco’s Chinatown tongs through the glittering high society of Chicago to the hidden swamps of the Deep South in its search for truth, genuine justice, and an end to a world that refuses to recognize the power and change wrought by girls.
The train chugged along, and Hettie watched the landscape streak past through the window. A restlessness pervaded her, though everyone else seemed content to pass the time with the clatter and rattle of the tracks and wheels to soothe them. Sophie sat reading a heavy tome about magical ailments. Marcus cleaned his mage guns. Jemma crocheted a lace doily with the speed and dexterity of a spider. Horace was off somewhere on the rest of the train, chatting up strangers. He was uniquely good at that. Hettie wished she could escape, too, but Uncle had said it was too risky to poke around without Sophie’s glamor to disguise her. There was no sense using her talisman, either, not for something as frivolous as a need to stretch her legs.
Puffs of dark engine smoke curled across the window. The fumes nauseated Sophie, so they kept the shutters closed. The car grew stuffy and soon, Hettie was desperate for a breath of fresh air.
She went to the observation deck on the rear of the car. Uncle sat there smoking a cigar, his eyes scanning the landscape. He glanced up.
“Starting to miss the open road?” His gaze stretched over the wavering grasses spread below. They’d ridden through fields like this when they’d traveled south through Wyoming, only then, there’d been little to no civilization for miles and miles. In Texas, the towns were closer together, and it never seemed long before there was a little postmaster’s station or farmhouse along the track. The rails stretched behind the train like a silver-edged wake through the field, while the telegraph poles that’d followed them veered away like a comet tail as the train climbed a slope.
“I miss a lot of things,” she said. “I miss Abby. I miss Jezebel. I miss the ranch and I miss feeling safe.”
“Welcome to my world,” Uncle said gruffly.
Hettie glared. “Do you even care how I feel?” She was moody and spoiling for a fight.
He paused. “Not particularly, no.”
At her look of shocked outrage, he raised his hands. “Now don’t get hysterical about it. That corset’s keeping your good homespun sense from reaching your brain.” He met her eye. “Feelings don’t change the situation. We’re stuck here with each other, doing what we have to do. There’s no use spilling tears or gnashing teeth about Abby or Diablo or Patrice or any of this.”
“We wouldn’t even be here if you and Pa had destroyed Diablo in the first place,” she groused.
Uncle’s lips twitched. “You’ve already thought this one through, girlie, otherwise you would’ve come at me sooner.” He released a puff of cigar smoke and let it join the greasy black trails from the engine. “If we could’ve destroyed Diablo, we would’ve. But no magic or mundane means can unmake that weapon. Maybe I should’ve taken it south to Punta as soon as I had my hands on it. Maybe I should’ve buried it out in the middle of the desert. But that thing is like a bad penny.” He gazed off into the distance. “You blame your ma and pa for keeping this from you, too?”
She sat back, surprised by the question. It was on the tip of her tongue to deny it, but then, so much of what had happened had stemmed directly from the secrets her parents had kept from her about Pa’s outlaw past. “I’m working on forgiving them.”
“That’s sad, Hettie. They never did any wrong by you.”
“They didn’t trust me enough to tell me about Diablo. You didn’t trust me. You still don’t trust me.” She knew he was keeping things from her. He always was. Maybe it was a sorcerer thing, or maybe it was just Uncle.
“Ain’t you I don’t trust.” His gaze slid to her skirt. In her utter frustration at the lack of pockets, Hettie had ripped the seams open and sewn in two pockets on each side large enough to hold the gun. She could conjure it from anywhere, of course, but she preferred to keep Diablo on her. “All the cards I play close to my chest are wild ones. No telling what it thinks of that.”
“You say it as if I don’t have control.” Everyone acted as if the Devil’s Revolver was going to turn on her at any minute. Or were they worried about her? “You think I can’t handle whatever comes at me?”
“I think that six-gun makes you think you can do whatever you want. We haven’t had words about what’s happened to you, how you’ve changed. You were always hard-headed, but now…” His lips flattened into a hard line. “Now I don’t know what to make of you. It’s like all the softness has been beaten out of you.”
She gestured at the fine dress Sophie had made her wear, the corset cinching her guts like sausage casing, the gloves and polished boots and careful coif of her short hair. “This isn’t soft enough?”
“Clothes are just clothes. Skins and shells are meant to be shed. You’ve become hard, Hettie, through and through.”
“You stole my love for my parents,” she bit out. “What did you think would happen?”
His look could cut a diamond. “I’m not apologizing for that, and I’ll be damned if you make me regret my choices. What I did cost us both. Your problem is that you still think that weapon is some kinda pet, and you let it snap at anyone who even looks at you wrong.” He harrumphed and sat back hard in his chair. “The problem with mean dogs is that they’ll turn on their owners if they’re hungry enough.”
She stuck out her lip. Diablo was powerful, but it was still a gun and it couldn’t pull its own trigger. She did that. The revolver was nothing more than a precaution, like her old Winchester. It gave her the power to keep her family and friends safe. There was nothing wrong with wanting that…even if sometimes, it meant killing people.
People who deserve it, she reminded herself sharply. She dug her fingers into her skirt.
The land dipped and rocky hills rose around the train as it chugged toward a tunnel pass. With a roar, it swallowed the Pullman, and the darkness closed around them. The entry point became a shrinking dot of light. Hettie broke out in a sweat; she’d never liked dark, enclosed spaces to start with, but since her journey to hell, even closing her eyes at night brought her back to that terrifying nothingness made of sharp knives and fire.
Movement in the dark caught her eye. Maybe she’d just imagined it, but it looked as if there were people in the tunnel.
She stood and peered hard, but before she could get a bead on the figures, they emerged from the tunnel, the sunlight blinding her briefly.
Her scalp prickled and her heart raced. Something wasn’t right. Diablo jumped into her palm.
Uncle stared at her. “What—”
The train jolted hard. Hettie lost her footing and stumbled backward. The wrought-iron railing caught her below the knees, and she tumbled from the moving train.
She hit the gravel berm and rolled over and over, the jagged rocks biting into her arms and legs. The train whistled long and shrill, and then came the screech of metal as the massive engine threw on the brakes. Hettie looked up through some scruffy weeds growing by the tracks just in time to see the cars buckle and jounce to a standstill. The engine let out a long, exasperated hiss.
Slowly, she pushed up, taking shaky stock of her person. Nothing broken or sprained. Her dress was ruined, and she’d have new bruises to add to her collection, but she’d been lucky.
She brushed herself off and was about to return to the train when something whizzed past her ear. Diablo leaped into her hand automatically, and she dropped to the grass as gunshots erupted around her.
Whoops and hollers echoed against the cliff face and through the trees. The rumble of hooves shook the ground, and the riders came streaking out of the forest.
Bandits! They were going to rob the train!
Hettie needed to get back to the Pullman. She breathed and tried to drop into her time bubble. Nothing happened.
She glared at the revolver in her fist, tried again. Nothing.
This is not the time to be stubborn! She got no response, sensed nothing from the mage gun except silence. Her heart beat hard.
The riders poured from the low hills and forest, their horses foaming at the mouth and glistening with sweat. Five galloped up on the right side of the train, a pistol in each hand, firing into the air and waving their weapons at the passengers staring wide-eyed through the windows. Six more men slid down the slope and boarded the train. Muffled screams came within, followed by more gunshots.
No one had spotted Hettie yet. She raced for the observation deck of the Pullman car, sweating under her too-tight collar. Uncle must have gone inside at the first sign of attack. As soon as the bandits recognized the prize jewel hitched to the end of the train, they would take Sophie for all she had.
She reached for the railing. A force like a giant fist to the face slammed her back ten feet, and she landed hard on the berm. Her arms felt like jelly, and her ears rang. Marcus must have raised a barrier spell.
“Thanks so much for thinking of me,” she muttered. Of course the security man would prioritize his charge’s safety over hers.
She couldn’t do a whole lot out here to help the passengers, but charging in without her time bubble would be foolish. What, then? Hide and hope no one spotted her? Wait out the bandits and hope they didn’t kill anyone?
Diablo’s weight doubled. It wasn’t speaking to her, but it smelled death in the air, knew its purpose needed to be fulfilled. Hettie bit her lip. Despite all the anti-Eye spells Uncle and Marcus had placed on her, she’d promised not to fire the mage gun in case the Pinkertons or the Division of Sorcery got a bead on her. She reconsidered this commitment now: using the mage gun in the past had summoned the Pinks almost instantly via remote Zoom tunnel. If they came to arrest her now, they could dispatch this gang thoroughly.
That didn’t leave her an escape, though. Better to take a page from Uncle’s book and wait. The travelers were rich—they could afford to give up their baubles and wallets if it spared their lives. She had more to risk, including her sister’s safety.
She crept to the next car and ducked under the chassis. There was a tiny shelf of space behind one of the big mechanisms, so she pulled herself into it to keep her feet from showing beneath the car, tucking her skirts between her knees. The undercarriage was hot and dirty and smelled of grease.
Gruff shouts went up and down the length of the train. She could hear muffled cries and heavy boot steps above her. She hated that she was hiding here like a coward—she knew Diablo hated it, too, despite its silence.
When the bandits reached Sophie’s car, the two men who approached flew back on contact with the barrier spell. They cursed and groaned, then yelled, “Mizzay!”
Hettie peeked below the chassis as a huge midnight-black horse walked up alongside the train. Its hooves stamped deep prints as big as her face in the mud. Highly polished black boots with deadly looking spurs landed solidly on the ground next to them as the rider dismounted.
Diablo trembled. She felt the tremor deep down, something between alarm and agitation.
The air shimmered as the barrier repelled another attacker. A woman’s raspy voice cursed, then snapped out the command, “Round up the passengers and bring them outside.”
In a few short minutes, the train was emptied. The outlaws herded the frightened travelers to one side of the tracks, forcing everyone to place their hands on the side of the train.
“Occupants of the Pullman car.” The woman’s voice rang out on an amplification spell. Her thick Southern drawl seemed affected, though, and burnished by years of too much smoke and whiskey. “I am the outlaw Hettie Alabama. My men have the train surrounded.”
Hettie’s chest expanded and clutched tight in one breath. Anger wound through her, strangling her common sense. She wanted to unburden the weighty mage gun and erase the imposter with a burst of hellfire.
She banked her feelings and breathed. Getting herself killed now would serve no one.
No response came from Sophie’s car. The outlaw hitched her thumbs into the waistband of her split riding skirt and said something to one of her men. He shouted at the others, and they started grabbing the women and children out of the lineup, corralling them in a tight circle.
Outlaw Hettie moseyed over to the group and bent to speak to one of the smallest children—a little boy of maybe six years whose big eyes wavered with tears. He nodded bravely as the woman took his hand and led him toward the car.
“The deal is simple,” she called to the car. “You lower your barrier spell and no one gets hurt. All we want is what you already have too much of. Jewels and money and whatever else you have to spare. My men wouldn’t say no to a few bottles of fine whiskey, either.”
The gang members laughed. There was still no response from the car, though. The outlaw rubbed the back of her neck. “Let’s be civil now. I just made a friend in little Gabriel here. He’s turning seven next week, you know.” She pulled her gun from her holster and kept it at her side. Gabriel stared up at the Pullman car, trembling.
The air shimmered, and the door opened. Slowly, Sophie emerged, hands in the air. “Don’t harm the boy.”
Outlaw Hettie smirked and tipped her hat up with the barrel of her gun. “How many in your party?”
Sophie hesitated. “There are four of us in the car.”
“All right. Get your people down here.” She gestured as if she were a schoolmarm directing her students off the car. Sophie climbed down, followed by Jemma, Uncle and Marcus. Two bandits immediately cuffed iron manacles around Uncle and Jeremiah and thrust them against the side of the train. Hettie noticed they left Sophie alone, though she was a master sorcerer.
Outlaw Hettie addressed the passengers. “Rest assured, good people, that once we have what we need, we’ll let you go on your merry way.” She waved the revolver around casually. Gabriel was still standing by the Pullman, and he turned to look at the outlaw leader. He spotted Hettie and his eyes widened. She put a finger to her lips and ducked back beneath the undercarriage.
“There’s no reason for any of you to be frightened,” the gang leader went on amiably as if she were coddling a group of schoolchildren. “Your cooperation and your generous donations are all we need. You’re doing a remarkable job of staying calm. Yes, yes. That’s all I ask for—order and peace.”
“You’ll never get away with this, you whore.”
Outlaw Hettie froze in her tracks. She turned. “Who said that?” Her voice dropped an octave. Feet shuffled restlessly—even the outlaws looked suddenly nervous.
One of the men standing against the train squirmed. Hettie spotted Horace standing next to him, his hands firmly planted, staring straight ahead as if studying the bolts on the panels intently.
“I said, who said that?”
She gave a sharp nod, and the bandits spun the men around, keeping their hands raised high. Outlaw Hettie paced along the line, glaring into the sweating, fearful, downcast faces of the passengers as if she could divine their fates with a look. Perhaps she could—Hettie could sense power wafting off her.
“All I asked for was compliance. All I required was respect.” Her voice rose with her anger. “If there’s one thing I hate more than disrespect, it’s a self-righteous would-be hero.” She panned the men along the train with a gimlet stare. “So, which of you wants to be a hero?”
No response came. The man who’d spoken was trembling.
Outlaw Hettie shook her head and scoffed. “You could have all gotten away with nothing more than empty pockets. But now…” She laughed, almost hysterically. “…now I have to teach you a lesson about respect.”
She drew her gun, pointed it at the first man in the lineup, and shot him in the head.
The women and children screamed as Outlaw Hettie paced down the lineup. “One, two, three…” She shot the fourth man point-blank and continued down the row. “One, two, three…” She pulled the trigger again. More screams.
One man tried to duck out of the lineup, but he was instantly shot by other gang members. The protests and pleas were brief and loud as Outlaw Hettie marched down the line, splattering brains against the side of the car in some perverted waltz. “One, two, three…” BANG. “One, two, three…” BANG.
About the author:
Vicki So, writing as V. S. McGrath, is a published romance author (as Vicki Essex) and has six books with Harlequin Superromance: Her Son’s Hero (July 2011); Back to the Good Fortune Diner (January 2013), which was picked for the Smart Bitches Trashy Books Sizzling Book Club; In Her Corner (March 2014); A Recipe for Reunion (March 2015); Red Carpet Arrangement (January 2016); and Matinees with Miriam (November 2016). She lives in Toronto, Canada.
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