Crosswind sneak peek: Wings in combat

Got a week and change left until the book giveaway of Crosswind is over — stop by Goodreads and enter. Here’s the second excerpt from the novel, this one focusing on Cope’s skill as a daredevil pilot:

——

Cope angled his wings and zipped across the sky over Fort DeSmet. There were dirigibles. His eyes went wide. Free fliers of Sternabend? In eight dirigibles? Great blues skies above. That was one tarnal aero force sitting down there.

Suddenly Daisy’s engine increased its pitch. Cope snapped his head left. Uh-oh. More than eight, apparently.

Four more dirigibles loomed farther down the valley, on their way up from Pearly’s Bend. They came from around a bend in the mountain range. And they were dropping fighters like a teratorn shedding feathers. Five, by Cope’s count.

He grinned rapaciously. Five? Might just be even odds against his three.

His orders were to observe and report back to Colonel Cuthbert. But Cope was not going to let an opportunity such as this pass. No one would expect a reconnaissance flight to attack. It would be lunacy.

Cope accelerated into a dive. Gunshots rang out from the town below. Carbines, probably. Not that they had near the range to hit him this high up. He pulled out of the dive. Good. Daisy and Tread were right there on his wings.

He angled his biplane up and gunned the engine.

The five approaching fighters dipped their wings and dropped down at the Perch aeroplanes. Three of them were two-seater TAB IVs, definitely painted in plain old Trestleway livery. But they were accompanied by a pair of Rhoads 33 triplanes, both painted a gaudy green and gold. That had to be the free fliers.

“Bandit scum,” Cope hissed. “Wait ’til they see what I’ve got. Come in closer, dogs.”

He bore up at them, his hand poised on the lever for his Hinohama rockets. He grinned broadly, but his face froze up in a mask of confusion as the planes broke off into a trio and a deuce. They zoomed right around Cope.

“What?” He was utterly baffled. They acted like they knew. He cursed. Of course. That cussed second councilor and his goons were all at the aerodrome in Perch when he blasted the bandits from the air raid earlier in the week. Maybe they knew he had rockets, because his fighter was still painted the same garish blue and adorned with his squadron leader markings.

So they were staying off his nose.

“Fine by me!” Cope put his plane into a renversement, banking hard up, nose in toward the clouds, engine straining, then rolling over onto one side and racing back down an invisible loop until he was right on their tails.

Daisy and Tread were both dodging the gunfire the planes hailed upon them. The rear gunners of the TAB fighters sprayed bullets from their rotating Keach guns. Cope gritted his teeth and ducked his wings as a burst of gunfire ripped through the air above him. Barely missed the canvas. He pressed down in the trigger for his own gun, but he had his Vigilante jerking about so badly he was sure he’d not hit a thing.

An explosion tore a TAB fighter apart. Cope’s jaw dropped. A line of smoke and fire leap out from Tread’s aeroplane, spinning off in a lopsided spiral. Another explosion burst just feet from another fighter. At first Cope thought Tread’s shot missed, but then something, shrapnel likely, ripped the upper left wing of the TAB to shreds. It limped away from the fight.

Cope laughed out loud. “Rebekah Hawes, you fiend!” he shouted to the air. So she’d finally seen his wisdom and added Hinohamas to other aeroplanes.

The last TAB fighter wheeled around and blazed a trail back toward the dirigibles. The bandit fighters split apart. One ran away, headed toward the mountains, while the second unleashed a furious volley of gunfire at Daisy.

Cope tsked. “Not polite to pick on a lady.” He banked hard to the left. Within moments the fighter’s tail was square in his sights. The rear gunner fired a salvo. Cope slackened his grip on the controls. The wind pushed his plane from the path of the bullets. He pressed the trigger.

Flashes left glowing blobs before his eyes. The tail of the enemy fighter shredded with the force of a smilodon tearing into a bull moose. Bullets traced their way up the fuselage as Cope overflew the fighter, all the way into the cockpit and the engine beyond. Fire and smoke erupted. The fighter dove in a death spin. Cope figured it was best the men were dead already. Being trapped in a burning aerocraft was no way for a flier to go.

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