Read an Excerpt From Foul Lady Fortune

Four years ago, Rosalind Lang was brought back from the brink of death, but the strange experiment that saved her also stopped her from sleeping and aging—and allows her to heal from any wound.

We’re thrilled to share an excerpt from Foul Lady Fortune, the first book in a new duology by Chloe Gong, publishing with Margaret K. McElderry Books on September 27th.

It’s 1931 in Shanghai, and the stage is set for a new decade of intrigue.

Four years ago, Rosalind Lang was brought back from the brink of death, but the strange experiment that saved her also stopped her from sleeping and aging—and allows her to heal from any wound. In short, Rosalind cannot die. Now, desperate for redemption for her traitorous past, she uses her abilities as an assassin for her country.

Code name: Fortune.

But when the Japanese Imperial Army begins its invasion march, Rosalind’s mission pivots. A series of murders is causing unrest in Shanghai, and the Japanese are under suspicion. Rosalind’s new orders are to infiltrate foreign society and identify the culprits behind the terror plot before more of her people are killed.

To reduce suspicion, however, she must pose as the wife of another Nationalist spy, Orion Hong, and though Rosalind finds Orion’s cavalier attitude and playboy demeanor infuriating, she is willing to work with him for the greater good. But Orion has an agenda of his own, and Rosalind has secrets that she wants to keep buried. As they both attempt to unravel the conspiracy, the two spies soon find that there are deeper and more horrifying layers to this mystery than they ever imagined.


 

 

The rest of the workday passed without incident.

Ten minutes before six, Rosalind shuffled her papers into a pile, and Jiemin told her that she could clock out. The rest of the production department was upstairs in a meeting with Ambassador Deoka. Orion was meeting him first, then, though Rosalind did not have high hopes that he could garner much information from the interaction, what with the rest of their department being present in discussion about type fonts.

Rosalind hitched her bag higher over her shoulder as she exited the department, taking the stairs down. All afternoon, while mindlessly sorting the papers Jiemin handed to her, she had been thinking about the file the Communists were after. One short-term goal, one long-term goal. The former was far easier. The latter required trust, building connections, getting the office colleagues to think of her as one of them, and she hated that because there was always the possibility that she would let something slip. Perhaps the Nationalists would not mind if she let Orion do all the investigating. She could just keep an eye on him to make sure he did not defect to the Japanese.

“You walk so fast, darling.”

Rosalind turned around, surprised that Orion had been let out already. She hadn’t even heard him come up behind her. “All in my attempt to get away from you faster.”

Orion laughed as if she had been telling a funny joke. The moment his stride caught up with hers, he looked over his shoulder, inspecting the steps of the office building behind them. Then he said, very seriously: “Kiss me.”

Rosalind blinked. “I beg your pardon?”

“Are we in love or not, Janie?”

Before Rosalind could rip into him for being a degenerate, she looped an arm through his and turned her head too, angling to see what he had been looking at. By the building, a clump of their colleagues was still gathered in conversation, but it was quite clear that half of them had their attention on Rosalind and Orion, watching the two as they took their leave.

“Are they onto us?” Rosalind asked.

“One asked me today if we were an arranged match who had never met before, so you tell me.”

“We could have been.”

“That wasn’t our cover story, Janie Mead.”

Rosalind stopped in her step and faked a sudden, delighted shriek. It took Orion entirely by surprise, but before he could jerk back, she had grabbed him by both sides of his face and captured his lips with hers.

It lasted no more than a second before she was pulling away, the smile on her face holding as she caught his arm again and pulled him forward. The colleagues watching them could come to their own conclusions.

“Beloved,” Orion said, as they passed the gates. “What a performance. If I didn’t know better, I would think you wanted to tear my clothes off.”

“Oh, please.” It was impossible not to acknowledge that Orion had all the physical beauty one might need to incite such a reaction. Perhaps he was used to it, the fawning and flattery in every which direction. But he wouldn’t get any of it from Rosalind. “I have no desire to tear your clothes off.”

“Not even a little?” he teased.

It wasn’t that Rosalind didn’t know what people were talking about when they whispered about such urges. Rosalind understood romance. She used to want it so badly that she sought it out wherever she looked. She would have been happy to pluck out her burning heart and wait patiently for someone to come along and take it. What she didn’t understand was the immediacy. How others sighted a stranger and felt the sweaty palms and the dry throat, felt the gravitational pull to be close, close, closer. She was half-convinced that the whole world was colluding to play a big prank on her, trying to convince her that she was the unusual one. How could someone feel any of that for a person they didn’t know? How could her stomach dip with desire unless she already recognized the shape of their smile? How could her fingers ache to reach out unless she had already memorized the lines in their palms?

Yet it had still been so easy to trick her. To pretend. She almost wished she could be like everyone else. How freeing must it be to grow attached in the blink of an eye and detach oneself just as fast. But Rosalind either loved or she did not. There was no middle ground.

“I am a good actress,” she said faintly.

Orion dropped his taunting demeanor. Perhaps he heard the strangeness in her voice. Perhaps he felt the dread and the heartache that trailed after her like a dirty bridal veil. Her hand remained at the crook of his elbow, and she felt his arm tense, as if he were trying to hold her in place.

“What’s the story there?”

Rosalind shook her head quickly. “No story.” She forced herself to loosen the strain in her shoulders, to lift her chin and shake the strands of hair out of her face. “It is merely who I am. Falser than vows made in wine.”

The tension had passed. The grin on Orion’s face was back, and he reached forward to tug a curl of her hair.

Rosalind pulled away with a huff. “Don’t do that. Some of my hairpins are poisoned,” she warned. “What did you learn today?”

“Forget what I learned.” They were on a main road now, walking parallel to the tram lines. As soon as Rosalind strode ahead, putting a few paces of distance between herself and Orion, he hurried to catch up, swinging an arm around her shoulders. “I went out with some of them for lunch and got you and me an extra assignment next week—the writing department will be short on staff for an upcoming fundraiser, so we’re filling in. We’ll know the whole company like the back of our hands before long, especially if we start with our own production department first.” Orion ducked to avoid the awning of a stall with his tall head, barely breaking in his stride even with the near collision. “Here’s my thought. First we do a little chatting at work. Then we see what their nighttime leisure activities are. Soon after, we happen to run into them while they are out and about. A perfect squeeze into their social circles.”

It did not sound like a perfect plan. This was a big city. “Have you learned their names yet?” Rosalind asked, not bothering to soften the scorn in her tone.

“Yes,” Orion replied in an instant. “I might need a few of them to repeat it once or twice and perfect my pronunciation, but just about. Most of the office staff in production or writing are either Chinese or Japanese with the occasional Western foreigner. Some gate guards are Sikhs. Miscellaneous Indians and Russians and Ashkenazi Jews scattered throughout. You met one of them too, didn’t you? Liza Ivanova.”

Rosalind felt a flutter of panic. Was that suspicion? Did his glance last an extra beat as he turned to address the question? Did he tense the arm he had over her shoulder?

“Very briefly,” she answered. “We did not discuss anything of substance.”

“Oh? It didn’t sound like it.”

They had arrived at her apartment. Rosalind didn’t want to keep spinning lies about what she and Alisa had been talking about, so she used the natural interruption to push his arm off her and rush ahead, making for the steps up.

A familiar aroma was wafting along the exterior staircase, and Rosalind sniffed as she passed the papered windows of her apartment, coming to the front door. She didn’t wait for Orion to catch up; she swung the door open and found Lao Lao by the dining table, setting down the last bowl.

“I’ve been waiting all day to meet your fake husband. Where is he?”

Rosalind pushed the door wider and ushered Orion in. “Say it a bit louder, Lao Lao. I don’t think the spies in the bushes outside quite heard you.”

“Oh, so handsome.” Lao Lao rushed forward, taking Orion by the hands and getting a closer look at him. His face brightened immediately, soaking in the attention. “You like bamboo soup? Slow-cooked pork hock? Cumin lamb?”

“I like all those things,” Orion replied. He cast a glance back at Rosalind as she set her bag on the sofa. “Janie ought to be scared that I’ll divorce her and marry you instead.”

Please do.” Rosalind pulled a pin out of her hair, letting the curls at the base of her neck tumble down her back. Quicker than Lao Lao could protest, she picked up one of the tomato dishes and walked into her bedroom. “Then I wouldn’t have to put up with you.” Rosalind slid the door closed with her foot.

“So finicky,” she heard Lao Lao complain after her. “You come eat, then, and we’ll save the rest for her when she wanders out to get a late-night snack.”

Rosalind stiffened. She pressed her ear to the door.

“Does she wander out to get late-night snacks often?”

“You better be careful what you say, Lao Lao,” Rosalind muttered beneath her breath. “Ah, you know how girls are. So cautious about their work that they forget to eat and scarf down a zòngzi right before they go to sleep. It is what it is.”

Rosalind stepped away from the door, breathing a sigh of relief that Lao Lao had backtracked. She stuck her spoon into the tomato with one hand and started to page through her books with the other, eyeing the notes and drawings that its authors had left behind. Dao Feng had given her these journals as guides to her poison-making. She had to admit that they were useful, but some of their findings were written in the most convoluted way, as if the Kuomintang’s previous assassins had been aspiring poets instead.

“Two whistles of black tea leaves,” Rosalind grumbled. “Who let one whistle become a unit of measurement?” Nevertheless, she sounded one short whistle, tipping the ground tea powder into a bowl.

She sank into her work, plucking herbs from their jars on her shelves and soaking them together. At some point she heard the sound of plates clinking in the kitchen, indicating Lao Lao and Orion were cleaning up, but she ignored it to focus on plugging in a miniature burner, angling it right under the bowl to heat the substance.

She was turning off the burner and fanning away the last of the smoke when a knock came on her bedroom door.

“One second.” Rosalind found a cover—one that was designed to keep flies away from food—and dropped it over her work, pushing everything to the side of her desk. It wouldn’t raise that many questions if Orion saw her making poison: it was natural enough for normal operatives to have weapons of self-defense. Still, an interest that seemed too intense might get him thinking, and if she could help it, she was going to steer away from revealing her identity as Fortune. “You may enter.”

Orion slid the door open. His tie was pulled loose, the top two buttons of his shirt undone.

“Lao Lao has retired downstairs. She says the soup should be warmed before consuming again or else you’ll get a stomachache.”

“She would love it if I got a stomachache. Then she could say she told me so—what are you doing?”

“Who, me?” Orion folded onto the bed. He took his jacket off, then lay heavily on the satin pillows. “I’m sleeping. Good night.”

Rosalind cast a glance at the small clock on her desk, its miniature pendulum swinging heavily to track the seconds. “It’s eight o’clock.”

“I am most tired, dearest. I need the rest.”

“You’re sleeping,” Rosalind said, folding her arms across her chest, “in your outside clothes?”

“I love sleeping in my outside clothes,” Orion shot back. “Makes it easy to run if we get intruders.”

“At least take off your shoes. You look like a lǎowài.”

With his eyes stubbornly shut, Orion kicked his shoes off to the side, letting them hit the floor at different intervals. Rosalind went to stand by the bed, looming with a silent glare. Orion didn’t give up the pretense of being asleep.

She sat down next to him instead. Stared at him and tried to make him uncomfortable. When that didn’t work, Rosalind said, “May I ask a question?”

“How very polite of you,” Orion returned, revealing his alertness while his eyes remained closed. “Go on.”

“What was your code name before this assignment?”

Orion’s nose wrinkled. “Beloved, at least sweeten me up first before asking about such personal matters.”

Rosalind knew of only a few active code names across the city. It was hardly a personal matter. If agents weren’t wanted at large or infamous within the party, there was little reason they could not reveal their code names to people they trusted. Of course, the trust needed to be present first.

“I’m only curious,” Rosalind said.

“As am I. What was yours?”

Rosalind thinned her lips. Orion smiled, noting through the silence that he had caught her out.

“Ah, checkmate.” More firmly this time, he repeated: “Good night.”

“You cannot possibly be going to sleep.”

He continued sleeping.

Rosalind thwacked the side of his leg. “Enough of this nonsense. You’re sleeping on the couch.”

Orion’s eyes flew open. “Is my darling wife so cruel?”

“Yes.” She pointed out the door. There was no chance that she was going to waste the whole night pretending to sleep in front of him. Her half-made poison needed to be transferred into a larger bowl in three hours. “Shoo.”

Janie,” he pleaded, eyes large and wide.

Shoo,” Rosalind said again. “Don’t force me to tell you to gǔn kāi.”

With a sigh, Orion sat up. “Fine, fine, it is my marital duty to listen to you.” He hopped off the bed with a casual ease, as if he hadn’t been making a fuss about trying to sleep a mere minute ago. “Once again, darling, good night.”

Rosalind eyed him warily as he left the bedroom, the door closing behind him. Seconds later, she heard her fake husband pushing the sofa around, creaking the floorboards as he adjusted his sleeping arrangements and moved the various cushions around.

The other side of the door finally fell silent.

“How did I get stuck with someone like this?” Rosalind muttered, rising to her feet. She took the cover off her poisons. Sniffed at the progress. Gave the bowl a shake. At least he would be out of her hair for the night.

A loud snap! came from the living room suddenly, interrupting her short-lived peace. Then: “Janie, is your lamp supposed to be plugged into the wall?”

Rosalind sighed.

 

Excerpted from Foul Lady Fortune, copyright © 2022 by Chloe Gong.

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