Famine Page 1


Chapter 1


Year 24 of the Horsemen


Laguna, Brazil


I always knew I would see Famine again. Call it intuition, but I knew that fucker would come back.

The coastal breeze blows against my skirt and ruffles my dark hair. Nearby, a woman gives me a dirty look.

I stand with what’s left of my town, our bodies lining the road. I don’t know why the rest of Laguna is still here; they don’t have the same excuse that I do.

I glance at Elvita. The aging madam’s face is resolute. If she’s frightened, she doesn’t show it. She should be frightened, but I don’t tell her that.

I follow her gaze to the empty road that curves out of sight around one of the hills Laguna is nestled against.

It’s ominously silent.

Most of the seaside town where I spent the last five years is abandoned. Our neighbors have locked up their homes, packed up whatever valuable possessions they own, and retreated. Even most of the bordello’s inhabitants have slipped out when no one was looking. I don’t know if they’ll come back. I don’t know if anything will go back to the way it once was.

I’m not entirely sure how I feel about that.

An older woman bumps my shoulder as she passes by.

“Slut,” she says under her breath.

I turn, catching her icy gaze.

“Last night your son called me something a little different,” I say, giving her a wink.

The woman gasps, looking thoroughly scandalized, but bustles on.

“Stop picking fights,” Elvita chastises me.

“What?” I say, giving her an innocent look. “I’m defending my honor.”

She huffs out a laugh, but her eyes are back on the road, the weathered skin around them pinched.

Alongside me, people hold jugs of wine, sacks of coffee beans, buckets of freshly caught fish, baskets of flower petals to shower the ground with, purses filled with jewelry, stacks of the finest fabrics—and everything in between. All of it tribute fit for a ruler.

I’m not sure the horseman is going to give a shit.

In fact, I’m pretty sure sticking around was a supremely bad idea, and this is coming from the queen of bad ideas.

At least I have my own excuse. Elvita and the rest of these people have none.

The minutes turn to hours, all of us silent and somber.

Maybe he’s not coming after all. Laguna is a slip of a town, hardly worth a horseman’s notice.

Anitápolis was hardly worth his notice either, but that didn’t stop him from wiping it clear away.

A murmur rises through the line of people, interrupting my thoughts. My pulse quickens.

He’s here.

Even if the crowd hadn’t reacted, I’d sense the change in the air itself.

At the thought of Famine, I feel a cocktail of emotions. Curiosity, old pain—anticipation most of all.

And then I see him, the Reaper.

He sits astride his coal black horse, his bronze armor shining so bright that it nearly obscures the huge scythe strapped to his back. He comes to a stop in the middle of the battered highway that bridges the two sides of my city.

Even this far away, my breath catches, and my eyes actually sting. I can’t say what I’m feeling, only that my professional façade is slipping away at the sight of Famine.

He’s more otherworldly than I remembered. Even after revisiting the memory of him over and over again, the sight of him in the flesh is startling.

Next to me, Elvita sucks in a shocked breath.

The Reaper—so named for the scythe he carries—and his horse are still as statues. He’s too far away for me to make out those piercing green eyes of his or his curling hair. But I can tell he’s taking us all in. I can’t imagine he’s much impressed.

After several long minutes, Famine nudges his steed into action, and his horse begins to trot down the bridge. People toss flowers into the road, littering the path with brightly colored blooms.

Ever so slowly he gets closer and closer to me.

My heart is thundering.

And then he’s passing me by, looking like a god. His hair is the color of melted caramel, his sun-kissed skin only a shade or two lighter. There’s the sharp, chiseled line of his jaw, the high brow and cheekbones, and the haughty curve of his lips. Most striking of all are those moss green eyes of his. Devilish eyes.

His shoulders are broad, and that bronze armor, embossed with spiraling floral designs, fits snugly against his powerful, sculpted physique.

Up close, his beauty is a shock to my system.

Far, far more otherworldly than I remembered.

Despite Famine’s handsome features and my own breathless excitement, the first true tendrils of fear take root.

Should’ve left with the others, reunion be damned.

Famine doesn’t see me as he passes; his gaze never wavers from the street ahead of him. I feel a wave of relief, followed, quizzically, by a hint of disappointment.

I stare after him and his horse as the rest of my town cheers, acting like this isn’t the end of our world when it so obviously is.

I stare until he’s far out of sight.

Elvita grabs my arm. “Time to go, Ana.”

 

 

Chapter 2


Long before Famine and his black steed ever set foot in Laguna, we knew he was coming. It would’ve been impossible not to.

In the weeks prior to his arrival, dozens—then hundreds, then thousands—of people made their way up the highway and through our city. The women I worked with at The Painted Angel joked about walking bow-legged for weeks after the influx of new clients. At the time.

But then some of these newcomers began to talk. They mentioned fruit withering on the vine and strange plants that could crush full grown men, and the very air itself seeming to change.

“Fucking crazy-ass bastards,” Izabel, one of my closest friends, had muttered after hearing the rumors.

But I knew better.

And then Famine had sent an envoy ahead of himself to make demands of our town. The horseman wanted casks of rum. Jugs of oil. Garments and gold and food and a grand house to stay in.

I shouldn’t even know this much. I probably wouldn’t either, had Antonio Oliveira, the town’s mayor, not been a regular customer of mine.

Elvita and I walk in silence. I’m not sure what’s running through her head, but the closer we get to the mayor’s house—the home Famine will be staying in during his visit—the more unease settles low into my belly.

I should be packing up and fleeing, just like I made my friends at the bordello vow to do.

Elvita finally breaks the silence. She clears her throat. “I hadn’t expected him to be so …”

“Fuckable?” I finish for her.

“I was going to say well-fed,” she says drily, “but fuckable works too.”

I raise my eyebrows at her. “You were hoping to throw me at some emaciated bag of bones?” I say. “I’m offended.”

She snorts, daintily. Everything she does is dainty and feminine, all of it meant to lure men in, even though these days, she rarely beds clients herself. That, she saves for the rest of her girls.

Like me.

“You screwed Joao,” she says, “and he was the closest thing to a skeleton I’ve ever seen.”

An unbidden memory of the old man comes to mind. He was little more than a bag of bones, and his plumbing was next to useless.

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