Authors: J. S. Chancellor
Tags: #Fiction, #Fantasy, #romance, #paranormal, #vampire
"Chancellor gives a refreshing take on an otherwise exhausted genre, leaving me more than a little pleasantly surprised! Jessica Slate, as unbridled a main character as she is (and her lively fellow Kindred), led me to feel as if I were eavesdropping on real conversations. Such a fun read, with much more substance than I'm accustomed to in paranormal fiction!"~Matthew Robert Best
By. J. S. Chancellor
Published by Rhemalda Publishing
Son of Ereubus; Guardians of Legend, Book One
Blood of Adoria; Guardians of Legend, Book Two
A Thief of Nightshade
Eternal Requiem; Guardians of Legend, Book Three
Published by Rhemalda Publishing
P.O. Box 2912
Wenatchee, WA 98801
Copyright © 2011 J. S. Chancellor
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any mean without prior permission of the publisher except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
Cover art by Melissa Williams
ISBN Paperback: 978-1-936850-37-2
ISBN ePUB: 978-1-936850-38-9
ISBN ePDF: 978-1-936850-39-6
Library of Congress Control Number: 2011939820
Visit author J. S. Chancellor on the Web at
Author photo by John Pyle Photography
For Robyn Leigh Watson
Jessica Slate, the main character in Icarus, has been part of my life for a very, very, long time.
Without revealing exactly how archaic I am, let's just say that when I was in junior high, Keifer Sutherland was as vampiric as it got. Okay, and Tom Cruise. Still, vamps weren't quite as HOT as they are right now. They were on the radar, but most "Twilight" fans hadn't even been conceived yet. The heart of this story was born then. I'm breaking every unwritten rule in the book by telling you any of this, by the way, but that's just how Jessica Slate rolls. I would be remiss by not giving you the whole story here.
Once upon a time, Jessica was human. She was also a teenager. But in the original version of her escapades—then titled "The Dark Angel," among other things—she meets a vampire named Wayne Chardon. At the beach. No, no one sparkled. But there was a whole lot of chemistry and whole lot of drama. Being the typical kid I was, I modeled some of the characters after television and movie stars. Wayne was modeled after my then-idol, Jonathan Brandis. Sadly, Jonathan committed suicide in 2003. Yes, even as a married adult woman, I cried. Shut up. Needless to say, the world created for this story meant a lot to me.
Years later, my best friend Robyn read a certain vampire book and loved it, but felt like it lacked some adult touches. I remembered my old characters from so long ago and thought, "I should totally dust them off and give them a new story." The male romantic lead's name had to change for a couple of reasons, the most important of which is that my father-in-law's name is Wayne. Oops. Using "Wayne" in the way that I have in this new book, well, that would have been a little too awkward at Thanksgiving. Let me be clear, to avoid legal issues: Aside from Jessica Slate (and that's debatable), these are not the same characters. But, in tribute to those characters, I included things that, for lack of a better word, are a nod to what once was. In other words, you'll notice a lot of cultural references in this book. They are there for a multitude of reasons. Some of it just flat struck me as funny, and since this is my book, I wrote it how I felt it should be written. Others, however, have personal meaning; the Pearl Jam references, the 4Runner, Olivia's Mustang, coffee, etc. I have no idea how all of that is going to go over with readers who don't share my past. I can't even begin to guess. I do hope that the spirit in which this book was written has carried through and you'll feel as close to these characters as I do. They have a whole section of my heart—the little bit that isn't consumed by Ariana, Garren, Michael and the rest of the "Guardians of Legend" characters.
Oh, and just so you know, the J.S. in my pen name (J.S. Chancellor), stands for Jessica Slate. Yes, the very one. The way I figure it, if you bothered reading this, then you deserve to know that. Okay, now for the actual acknowledgments:
I suppose, to be perfectly translucent, I should thank my junior high years for being so terrible as to produce Jessica Slate's badassness. Yes, that's a word. But, since that's probably against the rules somewhere, I'll start off with thanking real, live people.
Robyn Leigh Watson …
you are awesome
. This book, as you already know, was written for you. Thank you for spurring me on and for pulling this story out of me. It needed to be out there for the world to read, instead of hanging out in my head for the rest of my life. You know me better than I know myself sometimes. I've got a bottle of wine saved for when this book officially goes on sale. Sorry, it's not a 1942 merlot.
Thank you, Margo Lane, Jeff Lawrence, Lisa Daniels, Slater Christianson, Elizabeth Thomas, Wayne Chardon, J.R. and Jonathan Brandis. If it weren't for you, this book wouldn't have been written. Sorry about the go-cart scene. And the bad jokes. And for watching "Lost Boys" and "The Three Musketeers" too many times.
Thank you, Leah Novak and Mary Kennedy for reading this on embarrassingly short notice and giving such incredible, detailed, enthusiastic feedback. You might very well have saved this book. I owe both of you.
Another thank you to Wendi Doblin for reading the early drafts of this book (and all of the others). I promise yours is coming soon!
As always, thank you Rhemalda for being the best publisher on the planet. You guys are awesomesauce of only the highest ingredients.
Lastly, I owe a thank you to Christopher Pike and R.L. Stine for their influence on me at such an early age. You'll probably never read this book or hear my name, but know that I adore both of you and the books you wrote that fostered my love of all things dark and fantastic. I owe you both a debt I cannot repay.
P.S. Thank you, Richards Junior High School. You sucked.
The titles of the chapters create a
for the book.
Icarus, in Greek mythology,
was the son of the Athenian master craftsman Daedalus.
Icarus and his father were both imprisoned in the labyrinth by King Minos. Daedalus, wanting a better life for his son, created wings with feathers and wax, but warned Icarus not to fly too close to the sun, lest the wax melt and ruin his only chance at freedom. In the ensuing rush of exhilaration, however, Icarus forgot his father's warning. As he neared the sun, the wax melted, the feathers slid from their frame and Icarus fell to the sea and met his end.
Wake up Jessica ...
I bolt awake in my usual fashion, platinum blond hair plastered to my face and neck, my sheets a tangled mess near my ankles, one strap of my tank top halfway down my arm. His voice, the one I always hear before I wake, echoes, soft and doting. No one dotes on me in real life. Not for lack of trying, I suppose. But still, I'm not the tender-hearted type who you play nice with. I'm not, as they say in so many works of fine literature,
. You can't be fragile when you're in the ass-kicking business. Or one of the undead. No, don't give up on me yet. I swear to God I don't sparkle or bemoan my extravagantly wealthy existence.
I liked my mortality just fine. Don't get me wrong; immortality does have its perks. Take dieting, for example—kind of hard to do when you've only got two choices: fresh blood and slightly less fresh blood. The movies, television shows and novels have it wrong about us. Especially those bright stars who make a big to-do about not being wrong (you know, the ones who spell vampire
, as if that's really original). They make being Kindred sound glamorous and romantic. Like all we do is drink blood and sit around discussing existentialism while wearing gothic garb and looking unnaturally beautiful.
I glance at the clock on my nightstand, then force myself to my feet. It's too late to care about my appearance (which isn't much to speak of anyway), so my target should consider himself lucky that I've bothered to dress. The two seconds that I spend wiping the black smears from below my eyes don't do me much good, but you know how these things are. I've got places to go. People to kill. My name is Jessica Slate and I'm a Kindred Assassin.
Okay, that sounded a little cooler than it really is. I'm not the Point-of-No-Return-Bridget-Fonda kind of assassin. I don't get to go to Mardi Gras parties with a sharpshooter kit tucked obscurely into my suitcase and off someone from a window while clad in my underwear. I didn't get any kind of pardon from death row. If anything, I got stuck there—on death row—for the rest of my long immortal life. But, we'll get to that later. Right now, I'm late for an assignment. Not a good thing for a high-ranking assassin such as yours truly.
I make it to my car and in short order I'm flying down the highway at speeds that would get a mortal a big fat ticket. Since we have most state troopers and every local PD in our pocket, I'm not worried. The sun peeks over the horizon, highlighting the morning in a beautiful arrangement of pinks, yellows and blues. I slide on my Ray-Bans and sigh contentedly.
I love dawn.
It's like the whole world is on fire and I'm the one with the match. Oh, there is one thing that nearly every vampire work has gotten correct. I suppose I should mention that. Our bodies can't biologically process natural light. If I don't partake of my usual dose of Icarus every seven days—provided via injection by the powers that be—I'll lose my existence as I know it. It allows us to bask in the sunlight, keeps us from exploding into flames and I've heard rumors that it's what makes us immortal. You know, little things.
Let me guess, you want to know who the fine gent I was talking about earlier is, the owner of the voice? Well, he's a figment of my imagination. A bloody good-looking one, but nonetheless, he doesn't exist. And when I say good-looking, I'm talking about could-be-a-Christian-Bale-stand-in kind of hot. I've dreamed of him on and off for the last ten years, since I became living-impaired. The dreams used to be passive, but over the last year or so, they seem to have come alive somehow. That's when he started addressing me directly. Now, instead of me watching things happen, it's as if I'm an active participant in the events that are taking place. I feel his hands on me, his mouth on mine. I'm going to blame him for my being late this morning.
Yeah, I know, things like that are supposed to have some deep, celestial meaning. But folks, this is the real world. Shit like that usually turns out to be nothing more than a bad case of heartburn. Or psychosis. I
here telling you that I'm Kindred (or a
for those of you who can't let that go).
You still insist that it must mean something, huh? That's the urban fantasy/paranormal romance world you're thinking of, where we don't drink human blood unless it's part of some beautiful act of love, or we're a member of some Brotherhood of Warriors, or at the very least if we're one of the "bad guy" vamps who has undoubtedly gone rogue because our sole purpose on Earth is to protect humans …
. At least that's what the novels tell me.
In case you're wondering, there is no VETH. What is VETH, you ask? If you believe our sole purpose on Earth is to protect our food source, you'd have to believe in the existence of Vampires for the Ethical Treatment of Humans. Nope, sorry. You're more like vegetables to us. Less steak, more asparagus. We don't freak out at the scent of blood any more than you do when you pass by the broccoli—unless you do freak out at the sight of produce, in which case you might want to talk to someone about that.
The clock on my dash tells me that I'm now half an hour overdue and there's no question in my mind that my target won't be where I think he should. That's how these things work—you foul things up on one end, karma takes care of the other. This does not put me in a good mood.
Let's talk about that—the assassin thing, not my mood. See, I didn't get any more of a choice there than I did in becoming Kindred in the first place. Though, truth be told, I don't recall exactly how I was turned. I just know that I was. I can, however, assure you that it wasn't in the midst of some soul-binding, body-meshing ritual. My libido isn't damaged enough to forget that kind of thing.
Why don't I remember? After you're turned, after anyone is turned, the powers that be rush in like immortal witness protection agents and whisk you off to God knows where. Your life changes in ways you never thought it could. Like, I never thought I could live without Starbucks. Now, I order coffee just to smell it … I know, pathetic, isn't it? When you're in my line of work, though, you take pleasure wherever you can find it.
Back to being an assassin—things need an end, a natural end, and trying to end the life of a being whose time it is not yet to die is never poetic, or beautiful or even heroic. It's horrifying. I've taken more lives than I could possibly count. I'm never told what transgression they stumbled into and I don't care. It's easier that way. You could say that I live on autopilot. You could say that I don't really live at all because being a cold-blooded killer is no way to live. I could kill you for saying that, which brings me to the most important concept in my life these days—just because you have an opinion doesn't mean you should voice it aloud. Any action or thought against High Coven, intentional or otherwise, is considered treason. Treason is punishable by death. And like I said … unnatural death isn't a pretty thing. Speaking of which, I have a job to do. I pick up my cell and dial Belladonna, my assigned Well (short for Center of Wellness and some such).
"Covenant Slate, how may I be of assistance?" Lt. Childress asks. There are several classes of assassins: Trainee, Tyro, Apprentice, Master and Covenant. Covenant assassins swear a different set of oaths than the others, and are used more on an as-needed basis—but those circumstances usually involve elite risks and require skills that only Covenants have.
I narrowly miss side-swiping an old gray pickup truck to my left and the guy honks in response. I flip him off. "Blake Christianson. Any oddities I should know about?"
"No ma'am, none that we are aware of. Are you on your way back to containment with him? Should I ready a room?"
No, I'm late and haven't the slightest idea where the hell he is.
"Soon. Why the precautions on the order for the transport?"
"I'm not privy to that information ma'am. I can find ou—"
"No, that won't be necessary. Thank you. Tell Shelley to be ready, I'll be there shortly."
"I'm sorry ma'am, I thought you'd been notified. Covenant Shelley couldn't come in today. We may have to hold the target in containment."
And they say women are unreliable assassins? I pull into the parking lot of the workout center where my target is supposed to spend every morning. "Son of a bitch ... is there no one else who can cover for him?" Containment is a colossal waste of time and energy.
"I can make some phone calls, see—"
"No, I've got it. I don't have any plans today anyway. But you know it won't be pretty. Ready room seven." I hang up and stare at the glass walls of the empty gym in front of my car. It's a small place. He could be in the bathroom, I guess, but my gut tells me that he's left already.
If I were Blake Christianson, where would I go from here?
I know precious little about this target. His file was practically empty. Normally that doesn't bother me, I don't want to know how or why my target was chosen. This time, however, not knowing much is proving to be inconvenient.
The thought comes out of nowhere. Who goes to a book store after getting all sweaty? I dismiss the idea initially, but after coming up blank, I decide it won't hurt to check out the one around the corner.
I pull my hair into a ponytail, check my gun (loaded with vampire-repellent steel rounds) and blades and finally get out of the car. Within seconds, I duck into the alley and head toward the charming storefront to my right.
The little bell that seems to always be on the door of places like this jingles as I step over the threshold. A young woman looks up from the register—dirty blond hair, round features. She's short and has the biggest eyes I've ever seen. Her whole face seems to light up when she sees me.
Sorry, doll, I'm not here for a shitty used copy of "Wuthering Heights."
I glance around quickly and see a head of chestnut-colored hair at the back of the store in the science fiction section. Could be Blake. Could be no one in particular. I find it odd that he didn't look up when he heard me enter. Most people would have.
I nod to the girl, indicating that I can help myself, and make my way to block the guy.
"I was starting to think you wouldn't show up," he says.
Um … this is a first.
"You knew you were a target?"
He casually turns around and folds his arms across his chest. The ease with which he does this is unsettling. He's a slight fellow—narrow build, average height, sort of geeky. And I don't get any superpower vibes from him …
what in bloody hell is going on here?
"Does that bother you?" he asks.
"Not really … if you have a death wish, that's your business." I keep my ears trained on what's going on behind me and my eyes on what's going on in front of me. Blake moves his left hand a fraction of an inch and I instinctively draw my gun. "I guess that means you have a couple of choices, the easiest of which is to come with me willingly."
"You won't shoot me," Blake says. "Your orders say to bring me in alive and functional. This isn't an assassination."
How could he possibly know that?
I narrow my eyes and say without flinching, "Orders can change. I've shot targets in public before. On camera, in fact."
The girl at the counter, who hasn't screamed or done anything even remotely normal considering the circumstances, finally scrambles through a side door.
Blake, on the other hand, just stands there.
I reluctantly holster the gun and sigh. I am so not in the mood for this. "Should I assume that you're not going to cooperate with me?"
He holds both hands out wide, palms up, and grins. "You were sent to get me … so let's see what you're made of."
"Last chance to come without a fight."
"I genuinely believe that you don't want to hurt me." Something shifts in his expression and it pisses me off. "If you did, you would have done so by now."
"You're going to wish you hadn't said that."
do realize that I don't actually give a rat's bald ass what you've done to land yourself here, don't you?" I ask.
Blake spares me a wayward glance from his corner of interrogation cell number 7, but keeps his mouth sealed. His body is crouched at an awkward angle, half-sitting, half-squatting. His long limbs are tangled together and he's shivering. If I had a heart, I'd feel bad for him.
I don't. He asked for this.
"These are your last few minutes alive," I remind him. "If you'd rather spend them alone and in silence then you go right ahead, I have a Criminal Minds marathon to watch." I spin on my booted heals, fully prepared to leave him to his own devices, and wouldn't you know the sneaky little bastard finally speaks.
"Everything you know is a lie."
My reactionary face palm evolves into a temple rub because this kind of cryptic shit really, really,
aggravates me. "That's what you're going with?" I return to my chair, spin it around and straddle it backwards. "Seriously?"
"You don't have to be in here, do you?" he asks.