Jackdaw by KJ Charles: City and Country

 

Jackdaw by KJ Charles: City and Country

Someone was asking the other day about themes in my work. It’s interesting to consider if you have themes (it feels just a little like studying yourself for English GCSE), and when you look at what you actually write, what you seem to be circling around without even noticing, the answers are occasionally quite surprising.

For me, a big theme seems to be the flight to the city. My first book The Magpie Lord is mostly set in a sinister isolated mansion deep in the countryside. One hero spends the book wishing he was back in London; the other spends the full trilogy wishing he was back in Shanghai. A key Think of England plot driver is the way our 1904 heroes are trapped by their remote Northumberland location, where even the landscape turns out to be deadly. My thriller Non-Stop Till Tokyo is titled for the heroine’s urgent need to get back to the skyscrapers. (“In the countryside, nobody can hear you scream.”)

You might, in fact, conclude that the countryside and I don’t get on.

Funny thing, though. My Charm of Magpies trilogy is about a magical enforcer named Stephen and his dangerous aristocratic lover, Lord Crane. In the last (entirely London-based) book, Flight of Magpies, I introduced a minor villain called Jonah. He caught my imagination while being a damn nuisance to Stephen and Crane, and my new book Jackdaw is Jonah’s story.

Jackdaw turns the Magpie books on their head, with my hero Stephen now very much the Big Bad Wolf as he tries to bring chaotic, dishonest Jonah and his unfortunate, implicated ex-lover Ben to justice. And, weirdly enough, it also flips my thing about cities. Because where everything changes for Jonah and Ben is when they escape the pull of dark, dangerous London and find themselves in a tiny fishing village in Cornwall.

I love Cornwall. If I couldn’t live in London, I’d live in Cornwall. The skies are larger, the light is clearer and—oh, just look.

Those are the clifftops.

clifftops

This is the coastline.

coastline

Here’s the sheer drops. Did I mention that Jonah is a windwalker? That he can walk on the air and dance down over the sea?

sheer drop

Here’s Polperro, a fishing village very much like (though larger than) the one where Ben and Jonah end up.

polperro-harbour-view

 

Just a bunch of houses falling down the cliffs to a harbour, a tiny community a long way from London.

 

This is where Jonah and Ben can heal. This is the place they can live. A long, long way away from the city.

The question is whether it’s far enough from Stephen…

 

_____________________________________

If you stop running, you fall.

Jonah Pastern is a magician, a liar, a windwalker, a professional thief…and for six months, he was the love of police constable Ben Spenser’s life. Until his betrayal left Ben jailed, ruined, alone, and looking for revenge.

Ben is determined to make Jonah pay. But he can’t seem to forget what they once shared, and Jonah refuses to let him. Soon Ben is entangled in Jonah’s chaotic existence all over again, and they’re running together—from the police, the justiciary, and some dangerous people with a lethal grudge against them.

Threatened on all sides by betrayals, secrets, and the laws of the land, can they find a way to live and love before the past catches up with them?

Jackdaw big

PublisherAmazon UK:Amazon US

Blurb:

If you stop running, you fall.

Jonah Pastern is a magician, a liar, a windwalker, a professional thief…and for six months, he was the love of police constable Ben Spenser’s life. Until his betrayal left Ben jailed, ruined, alone, and looking for revenge.

Ben is determined to make Jonah pay. But he can’t seem to forget what they once shared, and Jonah refuses to let him. Soon Ben is entangled in Jonah’s chaotic existence all over again, and they’re running together—from the police, the justiciary, and some dangerous people with a lethal grudge against them.

Threatened on all sides by betrayals, secrets, and the laws of the land, can they find a way to live and love before the past catches up with them?

This story is set in the world of the Charm of Magpies series.

Excerpt:

“Thank God, water.” Jonah locked the door. “I am desperate to be clean.”

So was Ben, after days in the same clothes. He stripped without thought, using the thin towels provided to rub himself all over, until he felt the fug of long travel and fear-sweat lift from his skin. Beside him, Jonah was doing the same, so much more gracefully, his darkly furred chest glistening with damp, nipples hard in the chill air.

Ben couldn’t stop watching.

Jonah didn’t seem to notice. He ran the wet cloth under his arms, over his chest, and lower, over his muscular thighs, the nest of black curls. He was half-hard as he rinsed the cloth, wiped it over himself, rinsed it again. His skin shone with damp in the candlelight.

He wasn’t looking at Ben. If he had, if he just looked…

Ben stood, helpless, staring. Jonah’s body was as compact and muscular as ever. He looked so quick and sleek clothed, so powerful naked. Ben had wrapped his legs over those strong shoulders so often…

No. That was madness.

Ben moved to the big bed. It was a four-poster, evidently once equipped with curtains to pull round and keep the heat in. They had doubtless long rotted away. There was just a pile of quilts and blankets now, sheets warmed by a pan of coals, a bolster, and enough room for two.

Ben crawled in and lay in the bed, facing out.

Jonah blew out the candles and moved round to the other side of the bed, which dipped as he got in. The bed was very cold, except for the almost painfully hot, slightly crispy feel of the linen where the warming pan had rested. Neither of them had a nightshirt—he had a dim recollection of Jonah making some casual remark about lost bags to the landlady. Ben could feel the heat of Jonah’s body from here.

It was very dark, and very quiet.

“Ben?”

He could pretend to be asleep. God knew he was tired.

“Ben,” Jonah repeated.

“Mmm.”

Pause.

“I know it’s all gone wrong.” Jonah’s voice was very quiet. “And I know you probably still hate me—”

“I don’t hate you.” Ben stared into the dark. “I did, before. When I thought you left me because you didn’t love me, or didn’t love me enough. I hated you then, but I was wrong, and I am so sorry.” His voice shook on the words but it was time and past to say them. “What I did in that bloody place—”

“Don’t. It doesn’t matter.”

“It does.” Ben forced the words out. “I wanted to—to hurt you. Me. That’s what happened to me, that’s what this has done to me. I’ve become the kind of man who—”

“Who doesn’t do bad things, even if he wants to,” Jonah came in swift and sharp. “Have you forgotten that? You never had a reason to want to do something horrible to me before. And when you did, it was a good reason, but you didn’t do it. Look, I know we’ve done things to each other and, even if you don’t hate me…well, it’s not like it was any more.”

“No.” Because what they’d had, that golden idyll, had been a fantasy. Reality lay beside him, flawed and irresponsible and very warm.

“I just wondered,” Jonah said. “Could we pretend?”

Ben stilled. He could hear his own deepening breathing. Jonah’s tension was palpable. “Pretend?”

“Or forget. Or ignore even, but could we not be a thief and a copper, or two people who did bad things to each other? Just for tonight? Could we just be Ben and Jonah, in the dark? It wouldn’t change anything, or mean anything tomorrow. I promise I wouldn’t think that it did. But I miss you.” Jonah swallowed audibly. “I missed you when you weren’t there, and now you are here and I can’t touch you and I miss you even more.”

“I miss you too,” Ben whispered.

Jonah’s body was quivering with readiness, Ben could feel it, but he didn’t reach out, and Ben realised he was waiting. Letting Ben make the choice. Letting him decide if he wanted to be sucked back into the maelstrom that tore his existence apart, over and over.

Naturally Jonah would think this was a good idea. He lived in the moment, never looking ahead. Ben could see consequences looming on every side, and most of them were terrible.

They should split up, that was obvious. It would have been obvious days ago, if Ben had been able to think properly. His mind was clear now, and he could see it all. Jonah would never change, would never be responsible, quite blatantly intended to steal again should it become necessary. Ben couldn’t live like that, waiting for the next disaster, not after Jonah’s love had already plunged him into hell. He’d say goodbye tomorrow, and go, before they hurt each other more. It was the only sane thing to do, for both their sakes.

But if this was to be the last night…

He rolled over, under the heavy bedcovers, and reached out, and felt Jonah’s whole body twitch as his hand closed on Jonah’s shoulder.

“Ben,” Jonah whispered, and then he was in Ben’s arms, and they were kissing.

Jonah’s lips were soft, his beard unfamiliar and prickly, scratching against Ben’s own stubble. His tongue met Ben’s, sweeping round, tasting of ale and himself. His hands came up, running through Ben’s hair, sending shuddering sensation across his skin, and Ben lost himself in being kissed and held and loved.

It was utterly dark in the small room, with its shutters closing out the night. No sight of each other. No sight of the white streak marring Jonah’s hair, or the brutal ridge of scarring on Ben’s face. No evidence visible of what they’d done to each other and to themselves. It could have been five months ago, when everything was innocent, and Ben let himself believe that it was.

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