Hi guys! We have Elle E. Ire stopping by today with her upcoming re-release Vicious Circle, we have a brilliant guest post from Elle and a great excerpt so check out the post and enjoy! ❤️ ~Pixie~
Elle E, Ire
Assassin meets innocent.
Kicked out of the Assassins Guild for breach of contract, hunted by its members for killing the Guild Leader, and half hooked on illegal narcotics, Cor Sandros could use a break. Down to her last few credits, Cor is offered a freelance job to eliminate a perverse political powerhouse. Always a sucker for helping the helpless, she accepts.
The plan doesn’t include Cor falling in love with her employer, sweet and attractive Kila, but as the pair struggles to reach the target’s home world, pursued by assassins from the Guild, Cor finds the inexplicable attraction growing stronger. There’s a job to do, and intimate involvement is an unwelcome distraction. Then again, so is sexual frustration.
.•.•.**❣️ Dreamspinner | Amazon US | Amazon UK | B&N | BooksAMillion ❣️**.•.•.
Milestones and Turning Points
by Elle E. Ire
VICIOUS CIRCLE is my first novel, and it’s also the first to be rereleased, so it’s a double milestone for me. The book originally came out in 2015 from Torquere Press where it had a very short time to make any kind of a buzz before the publisher closed down. Dreamspinner Publications bought it in 2018 and it will be back out in the world in January of 2020.
It’s been very surreal, revisiting this book. I’m fortunate in that my original cover artist, the amazing Kris Norris, was willing to work with the new publisher to update the wonderful art for the book. And I was amazed that my Dreamspinner editing team still found ways to improve upon the novel even though it had been through editing at the first publisher. In particular, I know very little about sailing, and one of my new editors was quite the expert, so errors were corrected in that regard. I must admit, I recall being absolutely sick of working with it by the time it was ready for its first publication and I suspect other authors feel similarly. We write and rewrite and revise and edit over and over again, sometimes the same few pages until it’s as perfect as we can make it. Diving back into it after four years was not something I looked forward to, but I’m glad I did.
It was a lot like getting together with old friends after years have passed between visits. The protagonist, Cor Sandros, is an assassin, and getting into her head can be a challenge, but after a few chapters, her voice and worldview came back to me. I was surprised by descriptions and figurative language I’d forgotten I’d used, the snippets of sarcasm and the worldbuilding details. I had feared that since this was an earlier work, I would be unhappy with it, but this was not the case. Quite the contrary—I enjoyed the story all over again and was reminded of the joy I’d taken in writing it–because VICIOUS CIRCLE was also my first novel featuring a female/female romance as its subplot.
I wrote it on a whim. I had written several other novels which had won contests and gotten me agents, but I hadn’t sold anything. I’d always been a big fan of strong leading ladies, and when I wrote this book, Xena Warrior Princess was just wrapping up a six-year run. I’d been dissatisfied with the ending of the series (don’t get me started on that one. Xena fans will know exactly what I’m talking about) and while the teasing subtext of the romance between Xena and Gabrielle was fun and tantalizing, it never fulfilled the fantasy of really seeing them together.
I wanted to remedy that. I had my female assassin character in my head, my own idealized version of Xena, and I paired her with the most difficult person in the universe to fall in love with—Kila, a pacifist, my Gabrielle. They aren’t like the television characters beyond that much, but it was a great place to start from, especially with the intention of making the subtext the main text.
And then I sat down to write it. Three months later, I had VICIOUS CIRCLE. I’d never written a novel so quickly or had so much fun doing it. And then I sold it. My first sale. And I thought, “Hey, maybe I’m onto something here. Maybe what was missing from my other manuscripts was the author’s pleasure in doing the work.” Not that I didn’t have fun writing my other novels, but exploring the female/female relationship, and also discovering that I absolutely LOVE to write sex scenes—don’t judge–was much more entertaining to me than my previous pure action novels had been.
In fact, while I have written a few other things over the years, my only novels to sell so far have ALL been science fiction with female/female romances embedded within them, and now I’ve sold four. Huh.
Even better, with VICIOUS CIRCLE returning to publication, I may get the opportunity to write the two sequels I’d planned for it. Don’t worry; it’s a standalone. You can read it by itself just fine. But there’s definitely room for further exploration in the lives of Cor and Kila. The universe isn’t done with them yet.
And if you like it, check out THREADBARE, the first book in the STORM FRONTS series with a whole new set of characters and a new female/female romance to explore.
I SHOULD have been dead by now.
A wall of stone blocked the tunnel entrance. Instead of colliding with rock, I walked through the illusion, leaving the dark cold Sardonen desert behind. My arrival activated the string of flickering lights overhead.
I had to be crazy to come back.
Thin, brittle bones protruded from the hard-packed earth. They lined the walls from the dirt floor up to the tunnel’s ceiling. Skeletal fingers reached for me, clawing their way free from their rocky prison with each tremor and landslide that had plagued this world for hundreds of years. They caught on sleeves and pant legs wherever the passage narrowed, drawing the living to the deceased one thread at a time.
It was a barbaric way to dispose of our dead. In an age of disintegrators and molecular recyclers, the masters of the Assassins’ Guild held steadfast to their traditions; tradition taught lessons to those who came after.
Like me. I’d learned this lesson: Assassins who erred died young.
I swear, under penalty of death, to uphold the rules of the Guild, to protect its secrets, to defend the defenseless, to take a life only when deemed necessary by the Guild Leader, or in self-defense, or in defense of the Guild, to fulfill the contracts I accept…. Until now. The oath echoed in my head, pounding against my brain in painful pulses. Guilt and fear vied with rage, tearing at my intestines.
No, I could do this. I could state my case, defend it, work something out. They wouldn’t hold me to the death penalty. They couldn’t. My breath came in heavy puffs. I sealed my black flight jacket with one quick jerk of the zipper and plowed onward. Anger and determination carried me. I needed to ride that wave before it crested and evaporated.
Ahead, the light grew brighter. I slowed, then stopped at the entrance to a wide man-made chamber. I snapped the leather strap closed over the grip of the laser pistol at my side and tucked the hilt of my knife farther into my right boot. Reaching behind my head, I unfastened a matte black clasp and tucked it into my jacket pocket, letting my hair fall in a flow of inky darkness. It settled on my shoulders, heavy, thick, and straight.
Someone like me couldn’t present a less threatening appearance, short of wearing a dress. I hadn’t willingly worn a dress in all my twenty-nine years.
Absently, I rubbed at the cuff over my left wrist. The Guild tattoo itched incessantly, no matter how often the others told me it was all in my head. I stepped into the light.
The greeting chamber extended before me. If I squinted, I could make out the domed ceiling above, higher than a two-story building and shrouded by shadow. An irregular opening in the center let in minimal starlight and allowed smoke from the fire to escape. Ornate columns carved from local stone prevented the roof from caving in despite regular seismic tremors. The circular space could hold the entire Guild, all ninety-nine of us, ten times over. Low temporary dividers separated it into work, eating, and rest areas.
This had all been above ground before quakes decimated a rocky desert outcropping and buried the structure. Evidence of windows and blocked doorways remained in the fractured walls. No one knew its former purpose, but a cracked marble altar stood at one end, suggesting possible religious significance.
Ironic—a place of worship had become a training ground for murderers.
I bit my lower lip hard enough to taste blood—anything to prevent the shedding of tears. The term “murderers” never would have occurred to me before five days ago.
The flames thrived and danced in the central firepit, fed by a team of apprentices morning, midday, and night since the origination of the Guild. The oldest records and journal entries described the smoke as a constant annoyance. Later generations installed the metal ventilation shaft above the pit, drawing the smoke to the ceiling aperture, where it would release into the desert. Hundreds of steam geysers dotted the sandy surface—one of the many sources of seismic instability. Despite a slight variance in color, the assassins’ smoke went unnoticed. Assassins needed to have a camouflaged safe haven, and its isolation added to its invisibility.
Micah waited by the altar, his stance deceptively casual. The loose black training tunic hung over brown trousers to his upper thighs and covered muscles I’d once traced with my fingertips. Bright blue eyes under thick dark hair bore into my soul, seeing everything: my failures, weaknesses, and needs. “Come in, Corianne.” His use of my birth name tightened the muscles around my mouth. Nothing so melodious should apply to a master assassin. Everyone called me Cor. Micah’s voice was little more than a whisper, but those who stood behind the altar could be heard in every part of the open area—even speaking at low volume. Such were the acoustics of this room. Useful for training purposes.
While he crossed to the fire and stood beside it, I scanned the other sections of the only home I could remember. At least a dozen of the masters inhabited the Guild at any given time, and twice as many apprentices. The sleeping area should have been dotted with rolled-out smart mattresses that conformed to and cushioned tired bodies. Murmured conversation should have drifted from lowered heads around the docken-wood dining tables while masters consumed bowls of vegetable stew and mugs of ale.
Micah and I were alone. That realization raised the hairs at the nape of my neck. My hand dropped to rest on the grip of my holstered pistol. His eyes followed the motion, as I knew they would. The folds of his tunic hid his hands from my view.
A grinding noise jerked my attention to the entrance, where a steel door slid into place. I’d known of its existence. I’d seen it used before, but I’d clung to foolish hope Micah’s affections would prevent its use on me.
“You have a purpose. State it.” The commanding tone carried his words in echoes that bounced off the chamber walls. If I reached out far enough, I could touch his anger. It filled the room and threatened to suffocate me.
My jaw muscles clenched so tightly, I could barely force the words from my lips, but I spat them like tossed coins at a beggar’s feet. “I renounce my master’s status. I resign from the Guild.” There. Done. The speech sealed my fate. Whatever the next few minutes brought, there was no going back. It hurt more than I imagined.
Even from this distance, I saw his shoulders slump. He’d wished for a different outcome, maybe hoped I’d agree to go back and finish what I’d started. Not going to happen. Nice to know our relationship counted for something, though. Maybe I could use that.
My musing almost cost me my life as he drew a tiny pistol from a hidden wrist holster. He fired once, the beam of energy slashing the air between us. I lunged to the right and felt the tingling in my skin that always followed near-death. The burst struck the wall with a flash that threw sparks from the stone.
I’d gotten lucky. Micah rarely missed.
A dive to the left carried me over the closest divider and into the sleeping area. Several mattresses softened my landing, and I rolled to crawl back and peer over the partition. Micah had gone the opposite direction, into the dining section. He ducked under a table, then flipped it on its side as a barrier. Docken wood was partially petrified, prized for its hardness. I snapped the strap off my much larger, more powerful laser and drew it into the palm of my hand, fingers wrapping around the custom grip.
A standoff meant my eventual defeat. The other Guild members wouldn’t stay away forever. If I pursued Micah, he would shoot me. Instead I fired two shots, one at the ventilation shaft, knocking it askew, and another into the fire itself. It surged and roared, scattering embers and bits of wood in every direction. Billows of smoke poured from the enraged flames, carrying into other sections and obscuring vision. Stifling a cough with my free hand, I plunged into the ashy cloud cover and lost myself.
My eyes burned and teared as I circled the pit, hoping to approach Micah from behind. Pockets of drifting smoke floated like lost spirits—the ghosts of my victims, rising to seek their revenge.
A blur of motion launched from the smoke, tackled me to the ground, and slammed my gun hand against the polished marble floor. My bruised fingers released, and the weapon skittered across the smooth surface, disappearing into the shadows.
That’s it. I was dead. No real disgrace. He was Guild Leader for a reason. So why hadn’t he shot me already?
Micah’s weight pressed me down. He struck me hard enough across the face my vision blurred for a second, and I felt the shock wave run down my spine. “Why?” he demanded, breath hot against my cheek. I smelled the red wine he preferred in overabundant amounts. His decision to carry out Guild law had not come easily. Maybe he still had feelings for me.
I pictured fresh-faced, blue-eyed innocence under a mane of curly blond hair—my last assignment—and the bile rose in my throat. My Guildmates nicknamed me the Core of Sardonen, a play on my name, because they claimed I was the heart of the Guild. That heart cost me everything.
I spat in Micah’s face while I struggled to think of something else to say. The saliva ran down the side of his wide nose. “You sent me to kill a child.” The growl made my voice unrecognizable, even to me.
“A tyrant. His rulings have ended thousands of lives. You should have fulfilled the damn contract. Coming back here… you’ve left me few choices.”
Conversation equaled distraction. I drew my legs up to place my feet flat on the floor and thrust with my hips, twisting my torso. The sudden motion knocked him off-balance, and we rolled toward the edge of the firepit. His hand came down on a chunk of burning kindling. His cry of pain tore at me.
I looked sideways at him. Micah still gripped me with his left hand, but his opposite sleeve and the skin of his gun hand were aflame. He flung the tiny pistol, its metal superheated. It vanished into the fire. We shoved apart. Micah beat his burning clothing against his hip. My head met the stone floor, creating sparkles at the edges of my already spotty vision, but I rocked back for momentum and gained my feet in one move, panting. A flash of fabric caught my eye as Micah’s tunic disappeared behind another partition.
“He was a puppet, Mic!” I drew breath to continue but expelled the air in a wracking cough. My eyes streamed tears from the ash, and more. “The Gibran council made the decisions. His guardian pulled the strings.” I slipped the knife from my boot and strained my ears, listening for any cue that would give away Micah’s exact position. No human sound carried to me, only the crackling of burning wood and the creak of the ventilation shaft swinging overhead where I’d half detached it from its moorings. Micah taught me everything I knew about stalking prey. I didn’t expect to detect—
An arm wrapped around my shoulders and across my chest. I threw my weight forward, tossing him over my back to land with a thud and a grunt and a stirring of dust.
In an instant I’d straddled him. Memories of the two of us in similar positions under much more pleasant circumstances threatened to break my concentration. I shook my head once, viciously, and held my knife at his throat.
His gaze met mine. My hair brushed his cheeks. I noticed the stubble there, and this close I could see the shadows beneath his eyes. How long had he known of my refusal? Three days’ transit by star freighter from Gibran to Sardonen, another day to cross the desert in my aircar and refuel at the oasis city of Weathered Palms, then an hour to the Guild’s hidden base of operations. He’d had plenty of time to consider this moment.
My voice softened. “The Guild can’t know everything, Micah. Even you make mistakes. Admit it, dammit. Admit you were wrong. Let me walk away.” As I’d been taught, as he taught me, I’d returned to face my fate with honor. I’d resigned. If he admitted his personal error in accepting the contract for the Guild, my loss of status and livelihood would be punishment enough for me. Of course, it would also end him as Guild Leader.
What worth did he place on loyalty? On love, even love long lost? Time ceased to pass while I awaited his response.
“We are bound by the contracts we accept, Cor.” His breath wheezed in his chest.
What pieces of my heart he’d left me plummeted to the soles of my boots.
No doubt now where his priorities lay. I’d thrown myself on his mercy. I wouldn’t throw myself on his sword. Rigid adherence to Guild rules ended our relationship. That same rigidity would end one of our lives. More bones for the corridor walls. I’d been a fool to think I could depend on our relationship to convince him not to kill me. “I don’t kill kids.” My tone dropped to a whisper. “You couldn’t have done it. He was younger than an apprentice—thirteen at most. We do what we do to protect the innocent. It’s the only thing that makes this profession tolerable. You asked me to become a monster.”
“Thirteen….” Micah’s eyes closed. He drew a shuddering breath and released it.
A horrible understanding dawned.
Too easy. He realized what he’d done—no doubt after the fact—but he knew. With one order he’d destroyed everything I’d trained for, everything I was. My home, my friends, my livelihood—he’d taken them all with his one bad decision as Guild Leader to send me after that child. He knew. And he regretted it.
By coming back, I’d forced him to choose. My life and his humiliation or my death and his eternal guilt. But there was a third choice I’d initially failed to see.
No witnesses. He’d dismissed everyone so he could let me win this fight. Avoiding that first attack with the pistol shot hadn’t been luck. He’d missed intentionally. No other explanation made any sense. Micah trained me himself. Even drunk, he would always best me in combat. Besides some minor scrapes and bruises, I was unharmed.
He hadn’t sealed the entrance to keep me in. He’d locked it to keep others out, in case they returned ahead of schedule. Ahead of me killing him and getting away. Of course, even if I escaped, they’d hunt me. But I’d be alive and free, and he’d die a hero’s death.
The realization shook me, along with another, deeper epiphany.
I didn’t care. I didn’t care about Guild law or losing my status. And I wouldn’t make him a martyr to preserve his precious ego.
Few assassins lived to twenty-nine, even fewer to Micah’s thirty-five. I’d taken enough lives. Time to start living my own—by my rules, not theirs.
Little by little, I eased my blade away from my former lover’s throat. We could reach a compromise that would permit us both to live. Would my infliction of a severe enough beating allow him not to lose face for failing to kill me? Maybe if I drugged him first. “Micah—”
In a swift movement worthy of a master, he seized my wrist in his left hand. One slice and he’d drawn the knife across his own jugular. My scream echoed off the walls of the chamber, bouncing back to me in taunting waves of agony.
Elle E. Ire resides in Celebration, Florida, with her spouse and two dogs. She has won many local and national writing competitions including first place in the Royal Palm Literary Awards (novel-length science fiction), first place in the Pyr and Dragons essay contest judged by the editors at Pyr Publishing, first place in the Do It Write competition judged by a senior editor at Tor publishing, and she is a winner of the Backspace scholarship competition judged by multiple literary agents. She and her spouse run several writing groups and present at many local and statewide conferences. Elle is represented by Naomi Davis at BookEnds Literary Agency. Her first novel, VICIOUS CIRCLE, released from Torquere Press in November, 2015, and will be rereleased in January, 2020, by Dreamspinner Publications. Her new novel, THREADBARE, the first in the STORM FRONTS series was released in August, 2019, by Dreamspinner Publications. Learn more at her website. She can also be found on Twitter and Facebook.