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The Icarus Unit: Guarding history. Guarding lives.

Eric Kade is one of the Shadow-born: men and women who use the power of shadow to protect mankind. Though he's recovered from the mission that claimed his father and brother's lives, he's not quite ready to rejoin the fight.

But the Unit needs him now. An artifact with the potential to change the course of the future has been unearthed and delivered to a museum in San Francisco. The specialist assigned to repair it doesn't know what she holds in her hands. Or how it will change her life.

Melanie Kendrick considers herself pretty average. Adventure-seeking isn't even on her radar, so she's completely unprepared for living shadows and impossible beasts trying to kill her.

With Kade assigned to protect her, they discover a piece of lost prophecy and a connection that binds them together. He'll have to teach her to embrace her heritage. She'll have to put up with him moving in.

And they'll both have to survive.

Chapter One

There were sphinxes on his ass, and they were gaining ground. Three blocks back, he thought he'd lost them. They'd disappeared like a figment of imagination, but they'd be back. The damned things didn't give up once they had a scent.

They shouldn't have had his. If he'd been on his game and not wasting time feeling sorry for himself, Kade might have remembered the timing on the trap he'd tripped, instead of stumbling over it like a rookie. If the Icarus Unit hadn't been collecting artifacts that kept the balance of power tipped in their favor for the last couple hundred years, he might not have taken the risk in the first place. It was worth it, though. It proved he still had what it took, hadn't completely lost his touch. Unless it got him killed.

He pounded past a dozen dark business fronts, clearing two city blocks before they found him. Claws on concrete made an unforgettable sound, especially when the thing with claws vaulted a taxi, overshot and took out the ATM at the corner bank.

"Son of a bitch." Kade skidded to a halt and changed direction, dropping a knee to the pavement briefly, then pushing off hard, a sprinter's start meant to keep him just far enough ahead of the beasts to avoid losing a limb.

"I'm gonna guess I picked a bad time to call, one way or another." The voice was low, male, and distinctly amused.

With his heart pounding hard and blood rushing in his ears, Kade had missed the chirp of the call ringing through to the earbud he wore, but he didn't miss a step. He knew the voice, might even have been glad for the blast from the past under other circumstances. Now it was just a distraction he couldn't afford. "Not a good time, Farris."

"Is it ever? We've been trying to get in contact—"

Behind him, one of the sphinxes shrieked. Kade glanced back in time to see a window shatter into shards in response.

"That sounded bad," the man in his ear joked. "Forget your manners again?"

"Really not the time." Up ahead, sound and light spilled out of an open doorway. People in Rio de Janeiro liked to party and they didn't believe in keeping the fun to themselves. Bodies not only filled the entrance to a nearby building, but they overflowed into the street, many with glasses in hand. There were people dancing out there, oblivious to anything but the music, the mood and having a good time.

Kade had nowhere to go. A quick scan of the scene showed no alleyways or side streets. He couldn't risk plowing through these people, hoping the beasts chasing him wouldn't be distracted by a dozen new scents. He sure as hell couldn't double back. Only one choice left.

"I'm going sideways."

"Whoa, wait!" So much for his sense of humor. Farris's voice got sharp and crystal clear, fast. "You step sideways now, they'll follow you."

So his old friend did know what was going on. That made a hell of a lot more sense than a random call. "Don't have time to argue. There are daylighters here." And he'd lost another half a block to the conversation. He had to move now.

Stepping sideways into the deep shadows of night was a last ditch, desperate tactic. Farris had it right: the sphinxes would follow him. More accurately, they'd be drawn along into the passage he created by the pull of power, but the end result would be the same. Kade would be beyond any help from the mundane world, but that world, and its people, would be protected from impossible creatures with a mindless desire to kill anything that got in their way.

He could hear the words in the song playing clearly. He hadn't studied Portuguese, so he couldn't understand, but being close enough to pick them out was far enough. No one had yet spotted him. With luck, no one would. He could hear, and feel, the sphinxes still charging toward him. Farris mumbled commands in his ear but they weren't directed at him. Kade closed his eyes to focus, took a deep breath, and moved.

It felt like standing on a sidewalk that abruptly jerked to one side. Between start and stop, the ride went smoothly, but neither end was gentle on him. He closed his eyes to avoid the vertigo that came from watching the colors of the world smear away like a chalk painting in the rain. Buildings, people, cars, clothes and trees could still be seen from this side of things, but only in the blue-tinted grays of twilight and the deep blacks of true shadow. Street parties weren't nearly as lively in monochrome.

But moving was easier. The laws of physics didn't have the same grip here as in the full-color world. Kade scanned the street again and spotted a skyscraper half a dozen blocks or so away. That would do, for now. He sprinted for it and climbed as he ran, traveling up and away from the ground as quickly as he moved forward, climbing seemingly empty air.

The sphinxes raced up behind him, nearly silent but no less deadly. The earbud now only spat bits of conversation, broken up by stretches of static. On your own again, he thought. Just like you started. You can finish this. For the last year, the voice in his mind wasn't his own, but his father's. A vote of confidence from beyond the grave or his own delusion? It didn't matter now.

A few more steps would see him on the roof of the building. He'd step back through the veil there and deal with the sphinxes so no one else in the city got hurt. He reached for the blade strapped against his thigh and reversed it once it came clear of the sheath. Blade tucked against his forearm, he'd drop the second he was through. He'd strike out as the sphinxes followed. With luck, he'd cut a hamstring and make the fight easier. Even the odds and he just might survive.

Or he might be deafened by a blast of sound from the earpiece the moment he slipped back into the Technicolor world. Ears twinging, he twisted as he fell. He hit the rooftop solidly, shoulders first, blade up and at the ready as the first of the sphinxes leapt into sight. His ears rang with the echo of voices, half a second's delay between the words against his eardrum and those from the people standing behind him on the roof.

"He's clear! Fire!"

A bolt of blue-white light caught the first sphinx as it sailed over Kade. He twisted where he lay to watch it fall to the roof beyond him. Feet twitching and tail thrashing as it struggled to free itself, the electrified net now tangled around it brightened to an incandescent glow, then flared out, taking the creature with it. For all the evidence left behind, it might never have existed at all, save the last echoes of its dying screech.

Another bolt flashed by overhead as the second sphinx made its appearance, but this one missed and the creature landed, woefully intact, angry and ready for a fight. Kade shoved himself back and got his feet underneath him, surging up to brace himself before it pounced on him.

It never had a chance. Three figures clad in black surrounded it immediately, keeping the thing's almost-human head whipping around to keep an eye on them. It swiped at one of them, and the figure stepped back, disappearing in a blink, only to reappear a second later at the creature's right shoulder and drive a blade in deep. The sound of metal on bone couldn't be missed. When the sphinx whirled to face its attacker, the figure disappeared again. Another of the trio stepped in to echo the blow on the monster's other side.

The fight, if it could be called that, lasted a minute at most. The three dark fighters put the panther-pawed sphinx down without any of them earning a single scratch. When the monster finally collapsed to the roof and stopped struggling, they backed off and let it drift apart. The evening breeze carried off the disintegrating remains like an inky dust devil, scattering what little lingered only a few moments after death.

The hand falling on his shoulder startled Kade more than the battle's end. "I know, I know, you could have done it all on your own. Nobody's arguing your bad-assity, buddy. We just figured a little help couldn't hurt."

When it came to the hero type, Sean Farris wouldn't have fit anyone's ideal. At five-foot-eight and change on a runner's build, he wasn't built to impress and he didn't intimidate. He was fast, though, had an even sharper mind and Kade didn't think he could go five minutes, much less a day without breaking into the grin he wore now. It showed off his dimples and the rumors said the ladies liked them almost as much as his sense of humor.

"Help never hurts," he agreed, reaching to grip Farris's arm at the wrist in acknowledgment. Though Kade topped the man by a good five inches and made a shadow wide enough to let Farris stand fully inside, he knew better than to underestimate his "little" friend. They both let go and Kade sheathed his blade then snapped his jacket, righting it on his shoulders. "How'd you get here? How'd you know where I'd go?"

"A little bit of guessing, a lot of tracking." Farris jerked a thumb toward the helicopter perched behind him. "Might not have been able to talk, but we could still see you. Which reminds me." He held out a hand.

Kade arched an eyebrow. "What? I already said thank you. I have to pay, too?"

Farris shook his head. "The cheap-ass earbud you're wearing. We can't afford more glitches like that." He beckoned with his fingers.

Kade's hand went to his ear automatically. He twisted the bud free and had almost dropped it onto Farris's palm when he paused. "This doesn't mean I'm back."

"Course it doesn't." Farris pinched the earpiece out of Kade's fingers and dropped it into a pocket on his vest. "Going hunting does, though, at least as far as Garamendi's concerned. You want out of that one, you can take it up with him."

"Long time no see." The lack of sarcasm in the tone of the words was Kade's first hint his boss was truly unhappy. He was waiting for the helicopter when it touched down. There'd been time to relax on the flight to the landing field, if catching his breath while he caught curious glances from the other members of Farris's team counted as rest.

The whine of the rotors spinning down behind him meant this wouldn't be a quiet conversation, but Garamendi probably wouldn't wait for a private moment no matter the situation to get the answers he wanted. Kade steeled himself and gave the other man a short nod. "Too long, sir. Nice to see you too."

Garamendi's lips curved very slightly. "That almost sounded sincere." He gave Kade a quick head-to-toe, then lifted his chin expectantly. "I'm guessing you have something for me."

Kade hesitated, caught off guard for a moment. Automatic defensiveness disappeared in the next. Of course he'd ask. Who knew how long they'd been monitoring his actions, waiting for him to be ready to be pulled back into the game. No, not a game. A fight. A battle. A war they had to win.

Farris claimed they'd tracked him through his cell phone, but the IU had other, less mundane ways of finding people and tagging them for just-in-case situations. They hadn't been there to back him up on a whim.

He hadn't gone to the trouble of finding and retrieving the medallion for them. He'd just been testing himself. Making sure he was ready to rejoin the world and, yes, maybe get back to work, but he hadn't decided what shape that work would take. He could freelance, he could rejoin the Unit, he could put together his own team...

But where would he recruit if not from the ranks of the IU? He'd spent eight months of the last year running down the lead that had brought him to Rio. With the resources Garamendi commanded, he could have wrapped up the mission entirely in a couple of weeks. Sure, he'd have to play by their rules but he'd also have their safety net. More importantly, he'd have to trust the team.

Trust. That was the bear to beat. Get it together or get lost.

The medallion hung like a weight around Kade's neck, suddenly heavy for all that it had been light as a feather when he’d slipped it on in the temple ruins. Despite the fact that it lay flat against his chest, Garamendi's gaze dipped again, zeroing in on a spot on Kade's shirt before it lifted to meet the taller man's again, and one thick eyebrow twitched upward a bit.

Kade sighed and lifted the necklace off, lips twisting wryly as he handed it over. "I might have wanted to keep that, you know? Sell it or something. I could make a buck."

"Or several hundred thousand," Garamendi agreed, catching the pendant on his palm. He turned it over carefully, inspecting its condition, scraping off a bit of something that looked like mud with his thumb. He wound the leather cord around his fingers, then, and folded the pendant into his fist. No taking it back now. "But you know I'd rather have you hand it to me than have to chase it down and make a back-alley deal in small, unmarked bills."

He pocketed the necklace as he walked toward the hangar at the edge of the strip. The wide doors on one side had been thrown open, and members of the Unit passed in and out in ways that looked far less organized than they probably were. Garamendi didn't look back at Kade and he didn't ask if he would follow. He simply started talking as he moved.

"We were worried about you, dropping off the grid like that. You could have asked for a leave."

Kade jogged a step before falling in beside his boss. "Would you have given it to me?"

Garamendi glanced up briefly. "I didn't send anyone after you, did I? You lost your father, your brother," he went on without apology. "It's understandable you'd need space, and I would have given it, no question. For a while." He shook his head. "Not a year."

"I needed the time."

"You've been hiding," he countered. "Kicking your own ass, letting your guilt fester. How's that working out, by the way? Feel any better about yourself?"

The boss didn't pull punches. Kade knew that about him already, but before things went bad, he'd gotten used to the bluntness. Now it felt a little too much like a blow to the gut, which was no doubt the point. "Yeah, actually, a little." He didn't bother keeping the challenge out of his voice. His father wouldn't like it. His father wasn't here. "I'm working on letting myself off the hook."

Garamendi paused just inside the doors to take a clipboard thrust at him by another one of his team. He scanned the paper quickly then scrawled his name on the signature line. As he handed it back, his gaze flickered up to Kade again. It lingered, he measured, then let out a quiet grunt of assent. "A little. Keep working on it. I need you at your best."

They were moving again, toward a battered metal desk that waited in the darkest corner of the building. There were no trinkets scattered between the stacks of tidy paper. There wasn't even an empty chair waiting to be claimed. The shadows at the deepest point seemed to move, almost rippling, and Kade recognized the anchor for what it was.

"I didn't say I was coming back," he pointed out, though he followed a few steps behind Garamendi.

A few steps that spared them a collision when the commander stopped abruptly and turned back to face him. "Look, I get it," he said. "What happened to your brother and your dad was a tragedy, but the world didn't stop because we lost them, Kade. It's still turning, Penumbra's still out there, and I need you on the job." His expression gentled almost to apologetic. "You're not the only one who lost a good team. You want to talk about need? I need you."

When Kade used the word, it was a confession. An admission that he'd been too badly broken to just get up and dust himself off. He'd been forced out of action for fear that the next blow he took, physical or mental or both, might shatter him completely. Destroy him.

Garamendi never said need.

They stood studying each other for a long moment. Protests about not being ready rose to Kade's lips and fell away, unspoken. He'd told himself when he left a year ago that he would go back, one day. He'd expected it to be farther off, when he chose it, but Garamendi had a point. The world wouldn't wait for him.

"One mission. For now. And I work by myself."

Garamendi went from solemn to amused in a second. He laughed and shook his head, then turned and headed for the pool of shadow. "We'll talk about that back at HQ."

Kade didn't get a chance to argue. The boss man simply stepped into darkness and was gone.

Content and design (c) S.L Gray 2013-2014