I've found the perfect book for you to read while you're waiting on The Handmaid's Tale Season 4 and Westworld Season 3. Charlotte Nicole Davis' debut YA novel, The Good Luck Girls, is a high-stakes thriller set in the Weird West, and I've got an exclusive excerpt from the book's early chapters for you to check out below. The Good Luck Girls is out on Oct. 1, but you can read the two chapters Bustle has for you below to get your excitement up in advance of the novel's release.
Set in a western world in which ghosts and dark magic are normal phenomena, The Good Luck Girls centers on a tight-knit cluster of "sundown girls" — Aster, Clementine, Mallow, Tansy, and Violet — who must escape the bordello to which they were sold as children, after one of them kills a patron in self-defense. On their own and on the run, the girls set out across the desert in search of a myth that all sundown girls know. But dangerous, deadly things lurk in the wilderness, and the humans in pursuit of them may be the worst of them all.
Read an excerpt from Charlotte Nicole Davis' The Good Luck Girls below, and pick up your copy when the book lands in stores on Oct. 1.
The dining room was one of the finest rooms in the welcome house, from its gleaming marble floors to its gold tile ceiling. Every plate had been piled high with food: corncakes topped with whipped cream and jam, spiced hog sausage, scrambled eggs and skillet potatoes, fresh fruit carved into flowers. While daybreak girls ate yesterday’s leftovers in the kitchen, sundown girls, along with any brags who stayed for breakfast, enjoyed a meal fit for a timberman. Idle chatter flowed between the tables like the murmuring of a creek.
Aster sat with Clementine and four other sundown girls, none of them older than twenty. Lily, Marigold, and Sage were all acquaintances Clem would remember from growing up together — Good Luck Girls tended to stick with people near their own age. To Aster’s great annoyance, this meant that their group also included Violet, Mother Fleur’s apprentice and favorite little pet. Unlike the rest of them, Violet had been born in the welcome house to one of its former sundown girls, which she seemed to think made her a damn princess. Even now, somehow, she had managed to make herself the head of the table, despite the fact that it was a circle.
“The brags have until noon to clear out of here,” she was saying to Clementine. Violet was the only fairblood girl in the welcome house, her shadow trailing out behind her like the train of a dress. She always spoke with a superior tone that grated against Aster’s ears. “Most men can’t afford much more than an hour or two with us,” she went on, “but if you get an overnighter, it’s your duty to keep him company in the morning. Then, from noon to four, you’ll be expected to bathe, groom yourself, tidy your room, and so on. I have a list of the expected duties, and while they’re certainly more of a treat than the maid work, they’re no less important: Green Creek represents the height of polish and professionalism. Then, at four, we open house again for the next round of guests —”
Aster curled her lip. “By the dead, Violet, will you let Clem enjoy her corncakes?”
Violet turned to her, narrowing her cold blue eyes and tucking a stray lock of black hair behind her ear. Her favor, with its elegant, teardrop-shaped petals, had the dark iridescence of a raven’s wing. “I just want your sister to be successful, Aster,” she said. “Don’t you?”
“I just want her to finish her ripping food before it gets too cold.”
“Foul language is strictly forbidden during work hours,” Violet added to Clementine.
Aster gritted her teeth. Usually she was better at holding her tongue, but she didn’t know how long she could take this celebration of what would happen tonight. It reminded her of how she always felt on Reckoning Day, the Arkettan holiday when dustbloods were supposed to celebrate their “good fortune” and landmasters were celebrated for their supposed beneficence. The holiday always made Aster sick. Today was even worse.
Next to her, Clementine had begun busily drinking down her milk to avoid talking to either of them.
Aster gritted her teeth. Usually she was better at holding her tongue, but she didn’t know how long she could take this celebration of what would happen tonight.
Lily laughed. “Come on, Violet. Aster’s right. It’s a lot to take in at once. What questions do you have for us, Clementine?”
Clementine finally set her glass down and licked the milk moustache off her lip. She glanced at Aster. “Well, um — I guess — what’s the auction like? Do I really only stand there for a few seconds?”
Aster’s grip tightened around her fork.
“Oh, don’t worry yourself over that,” Marigold jumped in. “It’s quick, quiet. The brags aren’t allowed to talk. Like Violet said, Green Creek’s a nice place. None of the nastiness they get at some welcome houses.”
“You’ll be blindfolded, too,” Lily explained. “It’s tradition. Bad luck to see the brag before sundown. So you just stand there and look pretty, really. Nothing to it.”
Aster didn’t trust herself to look at Clementine, afraid her sister would see the truth in her eyes. Green Creek was not a “nice place.” Its “traditions” existed to keep them all under control. But she knew Lily and Marigold were acting sunny for her sister’s sake, as a kindness, and Aster let them. The auction would be the least of Clem’s worries, anyway.
Clementine asked a few more questions, but they were all met with the same vague answers and false glamor. It was, Aster realized dryly, a perfect introduction to the sundown girl’s world. Shining on the outside with the promise of sweetness while the inside went soft with rot.
Aster picked at her food. Even after seven years at the welcome house, she never took a meal for granted, but this morning she had no appetite.
At last, some of the daybreak girls came by and cleared their dishes away. One of them let a glass slip from her hand. It shattered crisply on the floor.
“Beg your pardon,” the girl said quickly, eyes lowered as she hurried to clean up the mess. But Violet caught her by the wrist before she could get started.
“You fool. Leave it for now,” she ordered, showing teeth. “You’ll only make more of a mess. Rest assured Mother Fleur will hear about this.”
Violet’s brow arched. “Talking back, too, are we?”
The girl scampered off before she could make more trouble for herself. Violet turned back to Clementine, all smiles once more.
“Now, Clementine, it is your birthday, after all, so the girls and I each got you a little something. Aster, why don’t you go first?” she said, businesslike.
Aster dragged her gaze up from the broken glass at her feet. This was the one part of the morning she actually had been looking forward to. She’d spent the past week working on a bracelet for her sister. She’d used spare thread from her sewing kit and a hairpin for the clasp. The bracelet had the same brown-black-white pattern of a diamondback rattletail.
“Look familiar?” Aster asked, pulling the bracelet out of her pocket. For the first time that day, her smile felt real.
Clementine’s eyes lit up with recognition. “You know it does! I’ll never forget those colors as long as I live.”
“Wait...” Sage began uncertainly. “I remember you telling us once that you got bit by a snake when you were little, Clementine, right? Is that what this is about?”
Aster nodded. It was ten years ago, long before they’d come to the welcome house. When they’d still lived in the tenant miners’ camp. Death had prowled from house to house like a coyote on the hunt, and some nights Aster’s hunger had been so vicious she’d chewed on the collar of her nightgown for relief. But at least, then, she and Clementine had been free.
One evening they’d been sitting outside while their mother swept the porch, and Clementine, who’d wandered into the grass to play, had disturbed a rattletail in the brush. It sank its fangs into her ankle — but, somehow, thank the dead, she had survived.
“You weren’t supposed to survive that,” Aster said. “But you did, and you’re here —” She swallowed. She hadn’t planned this. “And that means everything to me.” She clasped the bracelet around Clementine’s wrist, hands shaking, then kissed her forehead. “You survive something like that, you can survive anything, hear?”
Violet cleared her throat. Probably she was upset that Aster hadn’t kept to the script.
Too damn bad, Aster thought. Someone had to be honest with Clementine. This work wasn’t to be enjoyed. It was to be endured.
But at least, then, she and Clementine had been free.
Sage shifted uncomfortably in her seat. “Well, I got one of my friends on the kitchen crew to bake up a batch of sweet potato cookies,” she said. “I know they’re your favorite, so...” She handed over a lumpy bundle wrapped in old newspaper. Marigold and Lily went next, Marigold offering a sketch of Clementine with Aster, while Lily gave her a broken pocket watch a brag had once left behind. Clementine thanked them all, her face split with a grin. It was the most she’d ever gotten for any birthday. Every so often she glanced down at her bracelet, though, her smile slipping, and Aster wondered if it hadn’t been a mistake not to play along like the others.
Then it was Violet’s turn.
“My present comes on behalf of Mother Fleur,” she said, and she handed Clementine a small brown bottle. “Sweet Thistle.”
Now all the girls were smiling. “That’s the real gift,” Marigold murmured.
“Liquid gold,” Lily said, nodding along with her.
Aster said nothing, though her neck burned.
“I’m sure you’ve heard us all talk about Sweet Thistle before, Clementine,” Violet continued, “but words don’t really do justice to the feeling it gives you. It’s like letting your mind sink into a warm bath. Outside the welcome house there’re people clawing at each other for just a taste, but now that you’re a sundown girl you’ll get it every night. The cap is an eyedropper, see? One drop under the tongue will do. Mother Fleur will refill it for you every week.”
Aster had only ever used her Sweet Thistle once, on her Lucky Night. She could understand why some girls liked it, but it left her limbs sluggish and her mind foggy in a way that had only made her feel more helpless, and the crushing hollowness it left the next morning had been worse than any natural hunger. Another dose would have sated it, but Aster knew that if she gave in, she’d be lost to Sweet Thistle for good. Even girls like Violet, who had only been taking it for a year, became fatigued and forgetful from its influence, and many of the older girls’ minds had melted away completely.
Aster hated the thought of Clementine ending up like that.
“Thank you, Violet,” Clementine said quietly. “Really — thank you all. This has been my best day at Green Creek, and if every day as a sundown girl goes something like this... lucky really is the right word.”
She unscrewed the top of the bottle, running it under her nose.
“Oh, not yet,” Violet said. “Save it for tonight.”
“Oh — sorry.”
“Don’t apologize. We’re all happy for you. Aren’t we, Aster?” Violet asked.
Aster let out a breath through her teeth. “Delighted.”
After breakfast Aster and Clementine took the presents up to Clementine’s bedroom. Clem carefully laid the cookies and sketch on the bureau, and put the pocket watch in her jewelry box alongside all the glinting necklaces and earrings Mother Fleur had given her. Now that they were alone, it was as if Clementine let a mask slip away. Her smile was genuine, but it was tired. She ran her finger over the bracelet Aster had given her.
“Thanks again,” she said. “You know, it means everything to me to have you here, too.” Then she paused. “What should I expect tonight? Really? I know you’re not allowed to talk about it, and you don’t have to now, but I just — I want to know.”
Aster looked over her shoulder, making sure the door was closed behind them. But still she hesitated. She’d never seen the good in planting fear in the Clementine’s mind. Not when she could do nothing to help her. Aster wondered, again, if Violet had the right of it.
But Violet lied. Mother Fleur lied.
Everyone lied. That was how girls ended up in welcome houses to begin with, sent there by parents who’d been desperate enough to believe it would be better than the life they could provide.
Aster finally met Clementine’s eye. “None of us can really know what to expect on any given night,” she said. “That’s just as true for me now as it was when I turned sixteen. But listen, I meant what I said, Clem. You’ve always been stronger than anything they’ve thrown at us. Stronger than me, too, because you still find a way to be your same sunny self no matter what.” Aster managed a smile, even though she felt dangerously close to tears. “So if you feel yourself getting scared... just think of a song, hear? It doesn’t have to be your favorite song. In fact, it’s better if it isn’t. Just pick one you know in your bones, and think of nothing else. That’s what I do.”
Clementine nodded. “Okay. Right, okay.” She exhaled and wrapped Aster in a hug. “Thanks.”
Aster squeezed her tightly. “I’ll be just downstairs the whole time.”
Clementine let go, laughing a little self-consciously. “Anyway, I better get down to the reception room for the auction. Wander well.”
"You’ve always been stronger than anything they’ve thrown at us. Stronger than me, too, because you still find a way to be your same sunny self no matter what.”
“Wander well,” Aster replied solemnly. She followed her sister out of the bedroom and into the hallway, where they would part ways. Aster had to head back to her own bedroom to prepare it for the next brag. The next time she saw Clementine, the worst of this night would be behind them.
And then we’ll be on the same side of things again, Aster thought.
She wouldn’t have to keep secrets from Clementine anymore, wouldn’t be separated from her. They could talk like they used to. Find things to laugh about. Steal their happiness where they could. That was how they won.
Aster spun around. “Clem?” she called, cold at the sudden image of Clementine as empty-eyed as the oldest Good Luck Girls, the girls whose only remaining happiness came in a little brown bottle.
Clementine turned. “Yeah?”
“Don’t — don’t take the Sweet Thistle, okay?” Aster pleaded. “Lie to Mother Fleur if she asks you about it. Your body may belong to them, but your mind doesn’t have to. We can keep each other brave. Same as always.”
Clementine’s brows furrowed in confusion. “But, Violet...”
“Promise me, Clem.”
She swallowed and nodded. “I promise.”