Here's a taste of another of this week's Steampunk Week books:
Alchemy of Desire
by Christa McHugh
Blurb:After winning the Civil War against the Confederate Wielders, the Union Machinists have outlawed magic to usher in a new age of steam-powered technology. Diah, an alchemist and the only non-wielder in his family, owes his brother for saving his life in the war; so when Cager is blackmailed into procuring the magical hide of the White Buffalo, Diah accompanies him to the Dakota territory.
Their guide is Oni, a half-Lakota woman with plenty of secrets to hide. She's a magic wielder with an illegal wand concealed in her knife—and she's a coyote shifter. To her people, killing the White Buffalo is not only sacrilege, it's dangerous. Oni has no intention of helping them actually achieve their mission—until she falls in love with Diah...
Diah pressed his hand against her shoulder and turned her away from the fire. “I’m going to teach Oni how to shoot a gun before it gets too dark. I don’t want her being out here without knowing how to handle one.”
Oni opened her mouth to tell him she was more than familiar with a rifle, but surely he’d know that. After all, she’d been roaming these plains alone for over a decade. Just because she didn’t own a gun now didn’t mean she couldn’t handle one. On the other hand, she wouldn’t mind some alone time with Diah. Maybe she could change his mind about what he should and shouldn’t do with her.
He led her to a spot far enough away from the camp that the fire became a distant flicker. “Hold this.” He gave her the rifle and placed a rock on a prairie dog hill about a hundred paces away.
“Let’s see if you can hit that. Or at least get close to it.”
Her lips twitched in silent laughter. She’d done this drill hundreds of time, but never with an instructor like him. “Sounds good to me.”
Diah stood behind her. “Let me show you how to hold the rifle.”
Oni kept silent as he wrapped his arms around hers and guided the rifle up to her right shoulder. If he got much closer, she might forget where she was and accidentally fire the gun before she was supposed to.
“The first thing to do is make sure the butt of the rifle sits squarely in the pocket of your shoulder.”
His breath tickled her ear, and her trousers grew damp. “I thought I would want to make sure the rifle was loaded.” She looked back to him with a teasing smile.
“Good point. Just to let you know, I always keep my rifle loaded.”
“I bet you do.”
Diah drew in a sharp breath after he caught the innuendo. Then he chuckled softly. “Let’s finish the lesson before it gets too dark to see the target.”
“If you insist.” She faced forward and waited for his next set of instructions.
“Put your right hand here near the trigger.” His hand guided hers there and covered it. “Your left hand needs to be on the barrel, like this.”
She barely listened to him. The way his broad shoulders completely encircled her distracted her from his lesson.
“Lean your cheek against the stock so you can see down the gun at your target.”
Her forehead brushed against his jaw as she followed his instructions. Her heart raced. It was torture to be this close to him and not feel his lips on hers.
“Once you have your target in sight, control your breathing. You want to be totally relaxed before you pull the trigger, or the recoil will hurt. Inhale and slowly exhale.”
She tried to breathe in and out like he suggested, but the air refused to flow properly. With him nearby, she could only manage shallow breaths.
“Oni, why aren’t you relaxing? Are you scared of the gun?”
“No, I…” She lifted her cheek off the stock and turned to him. His lips were inches from hers and she couldn’t resist them anymore.
His muscles tensed as she kissed him, and she wondered if she had made a mistake. When she tried to back away, he cupped her cheek and steered her face back to his. Now it was his turn to kiss her. The heat of it almost caused her to drop the rifle. His tongue filled her mouth, teasing the recesses and pulling back to trace the edge of her lips.
She sighed as his other hand slid along her back and cradled her buttocks, pulling her closer. There was no hiding the evidence of his desire. She rubbed against the growing bulge in his pants and he moaned. His kiss became more urgent, more needful, more selfish.
Then someone cleared his throat behind them.
Diah broke away, and Oni whirled around to see Cager standing a few feet away with his arms crossed and a very amused expression on his face. “Were you teaching her how to shoot a rifle or how to handle another type of loaded weapon?”
Her gaze fell on the erection that strained against the buttons of Diah’s trousers. What she wouldn’t give to have that inside her right now. Instead, Cager’s interruption had ruined the moment. Homicidal thoughts flittered through her mind. Her grip tightened on the rifle.
Diah ran his hand through his hair. “I was—I mean, we were—”
“It was quite obvious what you were doing, little brother.” His grin grew less playful as he came closer. “Perhaps you should go back, tend to the cooking and leave the shooting lessons to a more skilled marksman.” His gaze focused on her lips.
She’d rather kiss a buffalo than Cager.
The heat of Diah’s temper rolled off him in waves. His hand balled up into a fist and he took a step toward him. “That won’t be necessary.”
Stars above, was there anything they didn’t want to come to blows over? “I think I understand how to shoot a rifle now.” Two sets of blue eyes turned to her and she lifted the rifle to her shoulder. As she exhaled, she squeezed the trigger. The rock on the prairie dog hill flew up into the air.
When Oni looked back, they both wore matching expression of shock. Perhaps there was some sort of family resemblance, after all. She giggled as she returned Diah’s rifle and walked back to the camp. He probably wouldn’t offer her any more shooting lessons in the future, but maybe she could find another reason to get Diah alone.