Edge of Ruin: The Edge Novella Boxed Set (Viking Dystopian Romance)
From USA Today bestselling author Megan Crane comes three original, never-before-published standalone novellas: Danger's Edge, Need’s Edge and Raider’s Edge. Vikings meet outlaw bikers in these scorching dystopian romances.
*Features dominating heroes, graphic, steamy sex, and an HEA.
Also don't miss these full-length novels:
Edge of Obsession
Edge of Temptation
Edge of Control
Edge of Power
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
At first, Elenthea thought he was a log.
The latest winter storm had thrown all kinds of debris at the Raft, the way it always did. Bits of old, waterlogged machines. Ripped-up hulls of ancient ships from the time way back in myth, before the Storms wrecked the old cities — when people supposedly took to the sea for fun.
Elenthea thought that was an obvious lie, made up to soothe the children in the winter when it seemed certain the Raft would sink beneath the battering onslaught of waves like walls. Because there was nothing fun about the vicious, impossible, brooding bitch of a sea.
The old people in the pontoons muttered direly about how this January was worse than the Januarys they'd known back when they were young and new and lived either harder or easier according the story they were telling. But they'd say anything just to make themselves sound important. The strict, harsh laws of the floating city called the Raft hung overhead, always. There were no freeloaders on the Raft. All citizens were called upon do their part. And the current Council liked to make that clear at every opportunity, along with dark threats about who might be tossed overboard next.
No dead weight, the council members barked, at anyone who might possibly be intimidated.
On frigid winter mornings like this one, with summer little more than a faded dream from long ago, overboard didn't sound like the worst threat Elenthea had ever heard. January sounded a whole lot worse.
The Council didn't just trot out their threats when everyone was gathered together during the summer rituals beneath the sun, chanting all the rules and laws of the floating city as was customary while dividing the women into their winter houses on the lashed-together pontoons. This winter, the Council had carried on sharing their harsh messages throughout the cold, stormy months, too, instead of hunkering down in their cushy, center pontoons, blocked from the wind and surrounded on all sides to keep them warm and pampered. All citizens must contribute or be set adrift, they shouted through their obnoxious horns as they climbed from one pontoon to the next at all hours, interrupting work and meals and life, forcing everyone to pay rapt attention or be called out as a potential Problem. We sink when we are many, we float as one.
Blah blah blah.
The only place the Council didn't seem to go was out on the slippery, treacherous barrier pontoons. Elenthea had tested that theory repeatedly throughout the fall when the weather wasn't outright deadly, and today was no different. On clear, cold winter days, the Council and their minions were everywhere, shouting about work and consequences and spying on everyone they passed. Everywhere except out here.
Elenthea took a deep breath from behind the scrap of fabric that protected her mouth and jaw from the elements, letting it fill her lungs as cold and sharp as the ceremonial blades the House Mistresses carried, then let it go.
No one came out this far from the center of the Raft, where you could climb from pontoon to pontoon for at least a half hour in every direction before you hit open sea. In the center, things were complicated. The city was divided into houses, supposedly run by a male head referred to as the House itself, though it was the House Mistresses who ruled from behind their figurehead masters. Everybody knew that. Just as they knew the Council was made up of a selection of the most powerful Houses and House Mistresses — but the definition of what most powerful meant changed by the season. And everyone else who didn't happen to be ranked high and infused with power of one kind or another either schemed to move themselves up the ladder or fell in line. Because the more in favor a citizen was with the Council or its individual members, the higher-ranked they were likely to be in a house, and the warmer and drier they could expect to be throughout the long, dark, depressing winters while the sea raged.
Out here, things got simple. The sea didn't play games. It just sucked. At the best of times, but especially in the dark months when the winter swells loomed so large and battered at the Raft from all sides. If you happened to be out on the barrier pontoons when one of those waves hit, or the weather changed the way it always did, the evil bitch, forget it. You'd be swept away, your name nothing but a memory to be sung around the fires on the darkest and stormiest nights, assuming anyone actually noticed you were missing.
Elenthea was well aware that she wasn't the sort of person anyone was likely to remember. She'd been ranked well enough her first winter, or at least not badly, but she hadn't distinguished herself in the House of Tharlss. Or any subsequent house, for that matter, which meant she remained low-ranked, and low-ranked women came last in all things. Food, shelter, jobs. The women in her birth house had dutifully taught her the strategies a woman needed to employ to make a name for herself with the Houses, but Elenthea lacked ambition. That was what her current House Mistress had told her with something like pity in her gaze only this morning, when she'd finally gotten around to calling Elenthea in for a post-December solstice chat.
I thought you might have taken the solstice as an opportunity, Mistress Annet had said, reclining on the finest of her couches as her ladies buffed her nails, sponged down her skin with the lavender water she preferred, and pretended they weren't listening avidly. The gossipy, scheming bitches. You must have known it was your chance to stand out. But you didn't even try. Why not?
Elenthea had not said, Because I'm not interested in the supposed prize, thanks. That would be asking for a slap if she was lucky, and a dropkick over the side of the Raft if she wasn't. The city ran on the assumption that every female's dearest dream was to gain the attention of the Houses, one way or another. Questioning that assumption was begging to get thrown overboard as a dissident, no questions asked.
She hadn't launched into her thoughts on the December solstice, either. Like how it was a condescending throwback to some imagined former time when a girl really could distinguish herself and come to the notice of a House who'd spent the whole of the fall ignoring her. What a laugh. But saying such things was unwise at best, and pure suicide at worst. The December solstice was a cherished tradition on the Raft. It allowed everyone to imagine that their world wasn't built entirely on the machinations of the House Mistresses, who ran not only the summer rituals but the Houses themselves — those few males on the Raft who hoarded all the women and children through the wet, stormy months like some kind of personal bounty.
Elenthea still had a faint scar on her temple from the time she'd shared her thoughts on the Raft's ranking system with her own mother. She knew better than to test the patience of steely Mistress Annet.
I don't know, Mistress, she'd murmured, keeping her gaze low in a show of respect.
That was what mattered on the Raft. She'd learned the hard way. The show was what mattered — not what she actually felt.
You can't survive without ambition, girl, the Mistress had said, sounding something like frustrated. The mild, somewhat bored version, anyway. You've been Ranked for years now, and you have nothing to show for it. No sons. Not even a daughter. You've never captured the House's interest here, and I must assume it's the same all over the Raft. She'd lifted one plump, smooth dark shoulder, a shade or two lighter than Elenthea's own red-brown skin, then lowered it. Do you want to spend the rest of your life as a drudge?
Again, Elenthea had kept her true thoughts on that to herself. She'd murmured something self-effacing and properly thankful and then escaped as soon as possible. It was a bright and blustery day, worth the breathtaking slap of the cold to get away from the piles of sewing she was expected to complete this week if she wanted to stay in good favor with the Mistress, lecture or no lecture.
But that was the trouble. That was always the trouble. Elenthea hated sewing and the Mistress already despaired of her. And it was only January. A long, slow slog toward summer, when she would be traded away from her current house only to find herself a low-ranked scull yet again in the next. She certainly wouldn't be ranked high enough to merit being kept. Elenthea wasn't an idiot. She knew how the world worked. Mistress Annet was hardly the first to tell her she should have been trying to better herself. There were far worse jobs than sewing and mending. Scrubbing the slimy bottoms of the fishing boats, for example. Gutting fish. The places women ended up when they'd run out of domestic scullwork and had no babies to raise. She shuddered at the notion.
The real trouble was that Elenthea just didn't want to do the things she knew she should. Her mother had called her lazy. Last year's House Mistress had called her sullen and defiant. It didn't matter which she was. All roads led to getting kicked over the side of the Raft if she didn't get her act together and do the bare minimum required. No questions, no reprieve. Elenthea supposed it was a good thing that she didn't particularly fancy sinking to her death in the frigid fist of the sea, either.
At least you're merely disgruntled, she told herself. Instead of straight up suicidal. Which means you can still shape the hell up before it's too late.
She blew out another deep breath at that. She'd wandered far away from the center of the Raft and all the fancy pontooned houses clustered together there. She'd made her way through the craftsmen's pontoons, way out on the perimeter. It took a good half hour to climb over the various hulls to make to the outer reaches of the Raft, and when she looked back toward the center, it looked as drab and pointless as it had always felt inside her own chest.
One more observation she didn't dare share with anyone.
She shoved her hands down deep into the pockets of her winter wrap and tucked her chin into her scarf to fend off the chill, and that was when she saw him.
First she thought it was a long, thick log, which caught her interest because wood was scarce out here. She could bring back a log and gain the notice of the House that way, surely. It was an appealing prospect, since she was reasonably certain she could remain entirely clothed that way and not have to claw her way through the ranks in the usual manner — scheming against the other women and trying to wow the House in his furs at night.
Griggs, the head of the House of Griggs, was a barrel-chested older man with very little hair on his head, a silver pelt on his chest, and a crown of grey fur around his bright red cock. He was an improvement over last year's much fatter and wetter-mouthed House, but it was all a matter of degrees. Elenthea did not particularly enjoy her bi-monthly visits to the House's furs to earn her keep. Not that it was wholly unpleasant or worse, brutal, the way the women whispered some Houses were. Griggs was always heavily oiled to ease his way and it never took him as long as it had taken Burney the previous year. Burney had taken forever, thrusting and grunting and thrusting harder until Elenthea's thighs had ached from the strain of keeping them wide open to accommodate his girth. It was the same with all the women, she knew, thanks to the gatherings in the women's pontoons where everyone shared tips and secrets on how to take control without seeming to do so. Speed a House up, slow him down. One girl bragged that she could clench down on Burney's fat dick and make him come in moments. Others claimed they could make him feel like a god without having to just lie there and take whatever he felt like giving — but there were always girls in every house who made the same claims, no matter how the House liked to fuck. Elenthea had learned similar secrets at her mother's knee.
She just couldn't bring herself to do it.
Elenthea couldn't imagine behaving the way the other women did, with all those tricks and the theatrical screaming and the labored begging, all designed to curry favor with the House and gain his protection on a more permanent basis — because it was that or leave themselves open to the indifferent mercies of the Mistresses. Her problem was, she couldn't seem to force herself to act right. Not even when she knew she was rapidly running out of good options.
A son would do the trick, of course. It would give her permanent status in a house and save her from herself, but pregnancies were rare and risky. More often than not, a woman would go to all that trouble to bear a child and it would only be another girl. That meant months of lost opportunity in the House's bed for no return. And his disappointment in the lack of a son after the excitement of a pregnancy, to boot.
Do you enjoy the House's bed? Elenthea had asked her mother when she was young and silly and had imagined herself safe in her birth house forever, because that was all she'd known.
What does enjoyment have to do with anything? her mother had retorted. Her belly had been swollen with her second attempt to give the House a son, and they'd both known that if she failed, she'd be back in the ranks come summer and starting over with a new House. Those were the rules. What you can't do in the birthing pool, you do on your back. Have I taught you nothing?
"An excellent question, Mother," Elenthea muttered now, though the cutting winter wind stole her words away. And she frowned at the log as it drew closer, on one swell, then the next.
Maybe she should let someone else find it, as they would inevitably if she walked away. Maybe she should go further than that and just ... refuse to do what she knew she should altogether. No sewing. No fake shows of lukewarm respect. No taking her turns in the House's furs. How long would it take before the Council was summoned? Would they weight her and throw her over the side of the Raft at once or would there be a probationary period?
Did she really want to find out?
Then the log slammed hard against the side of the Raft, and Elenthea's heart seemed to rebound off the pontoon beneath her feet, because it wasn't a log. It was a man.
A dead man, if his stillness was any guide.
A dead man inside something that looked like a log, to be precise — hollowed out and with high sides, as if it was meant to be seaworthy.
But it couldn't be, of course, because nothing was. Not really. The sea was cruel and harsh, and the Raft only floated at its mercurial whim. Everyone knew that. Just as everyone knew that the land — what was left of it, these days — was worse. The Raft floated near land sometimes, or so the stories went. From the Adirondacks to the Alps and back, according to the songs. And sometimes the poor, cursed landbound souls swam out to join the Houses, but no one who could float would ever choose to walk on the poisoned, terrible earth. No one in any house had ever heard of such a thing.
Elenthea knew instantly that the dead man inside the log was from the land. For one thing, he looked like no man she'd ever seen before in her life. He wasn't smooth and round, his jaw plucked clean by his women and scented all over with oils and herbs to declare his status. He looked ... wild. Lethal. She crouched down as the log jostled the side of the pontoon and grabbed onto its heaving side, reaching in to take hold of one of the lines attached to the log's bow, as if there had once been a mast and sails attached to it. The line was wet and half-frozen and so cold it hurt her hands, but she didn't let go of it. She sank down on her butt so she could sit on the slippery edge of the pontoon and hang her legs down into the main cavity of the log, holding it against the side of the pontoon as the waves slapped and surged up between the two.
But she didn't care if she got wet, despite the cold. She was too busy staring at the strange, dead man.
Excerpted from "Edge of Ruin"
Copyright © 2017 Megan Crane.
Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
She is deep inside each of her characters and proceeds to write her way out. You can wrap yourself in the story like the wools people wear. Great stuff and entertaining on so many levels.