Hi, Everyone! Welcome to A TOUCH OF FLAME Chapter One. A TOUCH OF FLAME is the fifth paranormal romance book of the Flame Series. I like to provide my readers with the first chapter to make sure this book is a fit. A TOUCH OF FLAME features an alpha wolf and a powerful witch. A TOUCH OF FLAME, A Paranormal Romance, is a passionate, tender, standalone romance set in the Flame Series and the world of Five Bridges.
A powerful alpha wolf. A gifted witch. Each haunted by death. Can passion drive them to an everlasting love? Or will the enemy forge a hopeless chasm?
Here’s the entire first chapter of A TOUCH OF FLAME:
The Graveyard was not the place Mark Braden thought he’d breathe his last. He was sure he’d die in the pine forest of Savage Territory, chasing a drug-runner and getting hit by a spray of bullets.
Instead, he’d been ambushed.
He lay face down on the hard, rocky ground. Blood streamed from a deep gash in his skull and pooled in the debris beneath him. The rogue wolves kicked him, but he barely registered the blows anymore. One or two of his ribs had snapped and punctured his left lung. He had a deep stab wound in his abdomen. His heart felt like a bird fluttering wildly in his chest, nothing more.
The Graveyard was a cess-pit, a central place in Five Bridges used for dumping bodies at night. In the morning, Tribunal clean-up crews would arrive to cart off the dead, catalog them with unfailing carelessness, then send them to the crematory.
“He’s gone.” Ely Gammet, a powerful warlock, stood over him. The bastard had been one of six who’d drawn him to the Graveyard with the promise of information about his wife’s killers.
A few more kicks, and the crew started walking away. He had a dim view of their boots and heard the crunch through the loose rocks. Braden flared his nostrils to take in the warlock’s scent. He catalogued it in his shifter brain for future recall.
He almost laughed. What future?
His breaths were shallow now, small jolts of air he brought into lungs that barely worked anymore.
Maybe it was for the best.
Grief had ridden him hard. He’d spent the last year-and-a-half hunting his wife’s killers. He’d made the difficult decision to leave his pack in Savage Territory in search of justice. As an alpha, he’d assigned his top beta to function in his stead. He’d rented a small apartment in Elegance, and spent every off-hour on the hunt. His work as a Border Patrol officer in Savage hadn’t left him much time, but he was determined to make his wife’s murderers to pay for what they’d done.
Braden realized now that Gammet, a powerful warlock, had spelled him and blocked his wolf’s instincts. In any other circumstance, Braden couldn’t have been led into a trap.
The first blow had slammed into the back of his head. The second, his knees. He’d fallen before he’d gotten his opening question out. The rest was a blur of stabs and kicks.
Blood leaked everywhere.
Now, as he waited for death to take him the rest of the way, the footsteps returned.
“Boss, he’s gotta be dead. I stabbed him in his gut. Deep.”
Gammet snorted. “But you know what the witch is like. She’ll want proof. I’m taking his head back to her.”
The warlock had gathered powerful shifters to serve him. Braden could smell them as they drew near once more.
He couldn’t lift a finger to defend himself. If he could shift, he might have been able to heal. But he couldn’t even do that. A nice flow of obscenities slid through his brain.
Gammet’s smell grew stronger. He was over Braden now. He had an underlying stench that Braden recognized as an addiction to emerald flame. Braden hated the drugs of Five Bridges with a passion.
“You’re gonna love this, wolf.”
He felt a hand in his hair. A strong tug lifted his head off the rocks.
Light suddenly filled the near-dawn air.
A loud blast pummeled his ears.
His head dropped back to the rocks.
Machine gun fire. Rocks pelted his legs, what he could feel of them.
An engine gunned.
The blood loss took its toll and he suddenly felt his wife’s presence. Laura. He loved her so much. He could hear her voice in his head, Braden, what are you doing in the Graveyard? You’re supposed to live another two-hundred-years.
Love swelled over him. I love you so much, but I did something stupid. I trusted a warlock.
I know. He be-spelled you. I’m afraid you’ll have to go back, though. I’ve had word from On High. The witch needs you and you’ll come to need her, too. You’ll see.
He didn’t want a witch. He wanted his alpha-mate, Laura. He wanted her back in his arms.
He felt her fading. Don’t go.
I have to, my love. Heed the witch.
He would have given anything to hold her again. He’d never even seen her body after her murder. A dark coven had tortured her to death then disposed of her remains. At least, those were the rumors.
His grief slammed through him once more.
His thoughts slid around loosely then fell into a black pit.
~ ~ ~
“Do you have any idea who this is?”
“Not a clue.” Maeve glanced up Alfonso. He was her biggest support at Hard Landing. He was a beautiful African-American man and his dark skin glimmered in the moonlight. She’d found him in the Graveyard in a similar condition over a year ago. “But they sure wanted this one dead. The handiwork looks familiar as well.”
“It does. Gammet, no doubt.” Maeve heard the hard edge to his voice. “Looks like a shifter from Savage.” He squatted and carefully turned the wolf over, face up. “Lost a lot of blood. His face is swollen from the blows as well. Jesus.”
Maeve didn’t care who the shifter was. She made few discriminations in her rescues. Unless the victim was a criminal she recognized, she took as many still-alive people to her facility each night as she could manage.
Assassinations weren’t common, so in that sense the brutality of the attack was unusual. Most of the people thrown out here at night were women, both human and alter. Very few looked like this massive shifter.
The rogue squad they’d chased off was made up of a dark warlock of some power, and shifter security types. Looks like they’d ambushed the wolf, though she had no idea why.
She sniffed the air. She scented emerald flame, one of the most powerful of the flame drugs. Ely Gammet, a warlock attached to the dark witch, Veyda, was a heavy user. She sniffed once more and detected the spell the warlock had used.
“Let’s get him on the stretcher. Something tells me Gammet is desperate for the wolf to be good and dead. He and his squad will come back if they can, especially if Veyda gave the order for the kill.”
Alfonso settled the stretcher on the ground next to the man. She picked up his ankles. Alfonso slid his strong arms beneath the shifter’s shoulders. With some difficulty, she helped heft him onto the stretcher. The man had muscle and then some.
An odd tingling worked through her brain and left her dizzy. Then she understood. “He’s an alpha. What was he doing out here? And who is he?” His face was too bloody and bruised to be recognizable.
Alpha wolves had something extra, a powerful signal they gave off through their pheromones. It warned lesser wolves to keep their distance but encouraged the females to flock.
Though she was a witch, and not ordinarily attracted to wolves, even she felt the powerful alpha call this wolf exuded.
She hustled with Alfonso, keeping pace with him. Alfonso was also a big shifter. Dark eyes, black hair he kept cropped short. She’d gained some physical strength over the past year when she first began her rescue work. It was that, or leave the dying behind.
Alfonso had been her first rescue. It had taken her two hours just to figure out how to transport him. She’d lost valuable time, yet despite her lack of muscle or skill she’d strapped him to a cast-off, wood door then slowly dragged the set-up behind her Jeep.
His recovery had been swift, he’d dedicated himself to serving at her place she’d named Hard Landing and he’d been a huge comfort to her. He wasn’t exactly happy about still being alive, but then few were who resided in the hellhole known as Five Bridges.
“They’re coming.” Alfonso picked up the pace as he tracked toward the back of the jeep.
She kept up with him.
They were a team.
As soon as the stretched was secure, she ran to the driver’s seat and hopped in. The engine was still running.
“We’re good.” Alphonso called out.
She put the Jeep in motion. Fast. She spun a few rocks as she whipped the opposite direction.
Alfonso had a rifle in the back. She jerked a little when he shot off a few rounds.
“Did that push them back?”
“All but one. Gammet’s in the air and flying hard in our direction. Hit it.” Alfonso continued to fire his gun.
Maeve knew the bumpy road by heart. She sailed down a ditch, then up. The jeep heaved one way then the next. She launched at the upper edge of a ditch and felt air for a split-second. The Jeep landed with a jolt. She put pedal-to-the-metal the remaining two hundred yards.
All she had to do was reach the perimeter of her house. She kept a powerful hiding spell intact around her property. “Almost there.”
Alfonso released another spray of bullets. “He’s still on us. He must really want this wolf dead.”
Hang on. As she left the Five Bridges no-man’s-land, she hit the accelerator hard. Finally, she reached the entrance to the Landing. She shot through the spelled-barricade then put on the brakes. She needed to see if her security spell still held.
She looked behind her and into the air. The warlock had stalled out. “Good. He’ll have a pounding headache by now.” She watched as he turned and flew back in the direction of the Graveyard.
She put the jeep in motion once more then drove to the medical entrance of the building. She worked at calming her heart.
She hated Five Bridges and hated even more being an alter witch. Alfonso said she’d get used to it in time. Maybe she would. She’d only been transformed a year-and-a-few-months. Worse, still, she turned out to be a witch of considerable power. Veyda and her dark coven had come after her, trying to get her to join up. They’d even abducted her. But their plan had backfired and two of Veyda’s top witches had died at Maeve’s hand.
Against Maeve’s will or her understanding, she’d been initiated into the coven through a potion that contained a small portion of emerald flame. But the drug had acted like a booster shot on steroids and she’d gone mad with rage. Her killing power, common in witches, had ramped up. In the process, Maeve had destroyed the initiation room and killed at least two of the witches.
Veyda and her coven had left her alone after that.
With a need to somehow make her life in Five Bridges tolerable, Maeve had learned of the horror of the Graveyard and had started her rescues.
Tonight, she had an alpha shifter in her Jeep that Veyda wanted dead. Maeve had no idea why, but it didn’t matter.
Alfonso, an EMT by training, called for his staff and several came running. As an alter shifter, he’d spent the first months of his new life in Maeve’s compound by expanding his medical knowledge and developing surgical skills. Few doctors ended up in Five Bridges. But it hardly mattered. Alter medical work was a different thing altogether anyway. Each of the five species in her world could self-heal, which helped a lot. But each also required different types of treatment in extreme cases.
Maeve stepped back and let them work. Alfonso had trained several of her rescues to serve as medical support for her compound.
Given the condition the shifter was in, she didn’t have much hope he’d survive.
The Landing had a large staff, a sizable central building, and in the distance she could hear the construction on her new apartment complex. Most people she and Alfonso brought here, didn’t want to leave. She didn’t blame them since her spells kept the location secure and her people safe.
She had a trained therapist on staff who worked long hours in both individual and group settings. She needed to bring another in to help with the effects of the PTSD they all suffered.
The Landing had a well-equipped kitchen and serving staff since she fed everyone who lived here, permanent or not.
She followed Alfonso and his team into the infirmary, a wing she’d added three months into the project. Five Bridges was full of houses like the original home she’d bought when she’d been sent here. She’d soon expanded into several adjoining abandoned properties. Most of the shifters she’d rescued had stuck around to do the work for her. They’d formed a pack and she hoped they’d never leave. Her wolves gave her a lot of comfort and made the Landing feel even more secure.
To pay for everything, she ran a candle shop from the street side of the property, in a remodeled house that sold expensive, candles and other items she’d imbued with spells. The spells were basically designed to give the buyer an endorphin rush of pleasure. She’d never seen a customer leave empty-handed. Several of the female rescues worked in the shop. She even had two assistant witches who now used her spells and infusions to create the candles and other products. Her shop and online sales brought in a small fortune.
The proceeds from her sales plus donations from her wealthier rescues sustained the Landing. At this point, with her life ripped apart because of the alter serums rampant in the U.S., she didn’t care what it took to keep the cash flowing, so be-spelled candles it was. She saved lives, she paid for medical equipment and she did her best to rehab victims back into their corrupt, difficult world.
She was all about the Graveyard.
At night. Every night.
With the shifter now being treated by Alfonso and his team, she returned to the rescue entrance. She’d had her unusual, belowground apartment constructed on the opposite side of the tiled foyer. She had a powerful spell protecting the entrance.
She didn’t know the why of it, but after she’d killed the witches, she’d needed to live holed up in the earth. It gave her comfort, she could be private and her spell kept her secure.
She excelled in security spells like the one around her entire property. As much as any creature in Five Bridges could be secure, Maeve was.
Once she crossed the spelled boundary of her apartment, she headed down the spiral stone staircase that led to the first belowground level. The bottom step opened up to a large, high-ceilinged living room. Straight ahead was her bedroom and bathroom.
Sheba, her black cat and witch muse, met her at the bottom step and meowed at her.
“Hello to you, too.” Maeve was surprised. Sheba didn’t usually greet her like this. But Sheba was her own cat and expressed herself freely around Maeve.
With her clothes filthy from handling the shifter, Maeve wanted a shower. Sheba followed her into the bedroom, meowing the entire time.
Maeve slid her shoes off then unzipped her jeans. “What’s gotten into you?” Sheba sat right in front of her, but continued to yowl. Maybe she was out of food.
Just as Maeve pulled her shirt over her head, her cell rang. She plucked it from her jeans pocket. Alfonso. Oh, no.
Sheba let a long and almost hoarse meow flow from her furry throat.
She stared at her cat as she spoke to Alfonso. “What’s wrong?” He never called during a procedure. “Did he die?”
“No, our guest is very much alive. But he’s in bad shape and there’s something you need to know.”
She forced herself to take a deep breath. Every instinct she had now vibrated with warning. “Spill it, my friend.”
“It’s Officer Braden. The shifter we brought in was Braden and I’ll need your special witch blood to transfuse.”
Time stopped. That’s the only way she could describe what happened.
Had she heard right?
She should have known, but how could she? His face had been bloody and badly swollen. There was no way she could have recognized him.
Her throat grew tight. Dammit, why was she having this kind of reaction, as though she was losing her husband all over again.
She and Braden weren’t that close. Except, she’d gotten to know him well over the many appointments he’d made with her. For over a year, he’d been on a mission to locate his wife’s killers. For eight hours a day, he worked as a Border Patrol Officer, one of the hardest, most dangerous jobs in Five Bridges. But after each shift, he was on the hunt in her territory. He’d even rented a cheap apartment in Elegance Territory so he could work the case off-hours.
Until this moment, however, she hadn’t realized how important he’d become to her.
Somehow, in the months she’d gotten to know him, he’d become a true friend. In that sense, he was one of the first friendships she’d formed in Five Bridges. His wife had been killed not long after Maeve had arrived in Elegance.
“On my way.”
She jumped into a clean pair of jeans and threw on a fresh t-shirt, then ran the entire distance back to the emergency room.
~ ~ ~
Braden hovered between worlds. Gray fog rolled through the space. For some reason, he now lay on his back. Was he in the Graveyard? He couldn’t tell.
From far away, he heard voices calling to each other. One male shifter appeared to be giving orders. But he couldn’t make out the words.
He felt a soft hand on his face.
He turned. A gasp shuddered in his throat. His wife had returned. He tried to speak, but his voice wasn’t working. He switched to telepathy. Laura, my Love.
I’m here, my darling.
Her touch was cool to his forehead, yet not quite substantial, as though air passed over him. I can’t believe you’ve come back.
And I always forget how handsome you are. She leaned close. He felt her lips on his. But again, not fully substantial, just a soft vibration.
He was comforted. Deeply.
Yet pain followed, rising from the well of his grief that she’d died.
You can let me go now, Braden. I know you miss me. But you’ve got to move on and you must do it quickly. You have work to do, my love.
What work? He didn’t understand.
She continued to pet his forehead. Just look at her. There, not far.
Images came to him of Maeve. She was a red-headed beauty his body always responded to. He’d spoken with her often in his investigations. She had a candle shop and he confessed he liked talking to her. But she was a witch and he hated her kind. A dark coven had taken Laura’s life.
The setting didn’t seem familiar, though, so he knew he wasn’t in Maeve’s store. She sat on a stool near what looked like an operating table. A team worked on the body, but his gaze stayed focused on her.
Then he saw the line attached to her arm and leading to the patient. She was donating blood.
Huh. The witch continually surprised him. She was a blood donor.
He shifted his gaze fully to the patient. It took him a moment to recognize himself. Maeve is donating to me?
She is. Her blood has strong healing qualities, especially for wolves and no, I don’t know why. She hungers for you, Braden, the way I used to. You should give her what she needs.
I can’t. She’s a witch. I hate them all because they killed you.
Laura turned toward him and held his gaze. She petted his forehead again. You need to make an exception. Maeve is a powerful woman and I value her immensely. She did me a service once. A very great service.
I didn’t know you knew any of the witches in Elegance.
Not many. But Maeve, oh, yes.
What did she do for you?
Laura leaned over him once more and kissed him on the forehead this time. Again, it felt like air against his skin. No more talk. Work at your self-healing. Mind the witch.
Laura faded away. He wanted to call her back, but he couldn’t. His brain remained in a foggy state, his gaze now fixed on Maeve. Why did he have to mind the witch? ‘Mind’ as in obey? He didn’t understand.
He’d always been attracted to Maeve. He wouldn’t deny it. He’d spoken with her often during his hunt for Laura’s murderers. He suspected she knew something about the night his wife died, but she’d denied it. Repeatedly.
Last week, she’d finally admitted that her memory had gaps and it was possible she knew something she simply couldn’t remember. Maybe that was why Laura wanted him to pay attention to Maeve. The witch knew the truth about how she’d died and who was responsible.
Laura’s voice returned on a whisper. Maeve can help you find my killers.
~ ~ ~
This wasn’t a human procedure. Very little was sterile. But an immaculate workspace wasn’t necessary for alter beings. They were long-lived because germs didn’t infect their bodies the way they could easily engulf a human wound.
Alfonso worked quickly. Braden had been slashed in a dozen places and kicked hard. Alfonso had ripped into the side of Braden’s chest to pull the ribs out of the lungs and set a few broad sutures.
She kept shaking her head. There was no way Braden could survive what he was going through.
Maeve said good-bye repeatedly. She petted the top of Braden’s head and spoke softly to him. She thanked him for being a good friend to her. In many ways, he’d helped make her life in Five Bridges tolerable. He’d lived in Savage ten years. He knew a lot and he was fully acclimated to the alter way of life.
His eyelids weren’t taped down so he stared straight out at nothing. Once, he actually looked at her, yet she knew he wasn’t there. Not really.
She finally understood the saying, ‘hanging on by a thread’.
When she’d donated all she could, a shifter female came forward to take her place. Wolf blood would be almost as healing as Maeve’s. For whatever reason, her witchy life force held power for the wolf.
She watched the new line get hooked up.
Then something unexpected happened. Her nose wrinkled and her lips pulled back. She felt a growl form in her throat. She didn’t like that another woman was helping him.
What the hell?
These were wolf behaviors.
At almost the exact same moment, the monitor showed a slowing heartrate.
One of the techs called out, “We’re losing him.”
Alfonso spoke in a tense voice. “I’m almost done. Just a few more stitches. Hang on, Braden.”
Without giving it a thought, Maeve hurried to the opposite side of the table. She dipped down beneath Alfonso’s quick-working elbows and grabbed Braden’s free hand. Her heart raced. She felt panicky. He needed the connection to her, not to the female wolf. To her.
She gripped his hand hard and planted her free hand on his forehead. She turned his face toward her. His eyes flitted back and forth. Look at me.
Slowly, his eyes focused and settled on hers. Stay with me, Braden. Dammit, you gave me such a hard time in my candle shop, but I’ve gotten used to having you around. I need you to stay. I can’t explain why, but you’re needed here.
His eyes had an otherworldly glow.
Talk to me, Braden, from this dark place you’ve gone to. Talk to me. Come back to me. We need you in Five Bridges. You’re one of the honorable few. I know that. I’ve always known it. Lives will be lost because you’re not battling for all of us as you’ve done for the ten years you’ve served on the Border Patrol.
His heart-rate stopped plummeting but it didn’t rise either. It was still too slow. Any good nurse would tell her he was in heart failure.
She stayed with it and reminded him of their shared histories. I know you lost everything when Laura died. I know what that’s like. Veyda killed my Frank the day he was to leave me here forever. We’d said our good-byes. He’d be starting a new life without me. He was moving to Atlanta, on the other side of the country though he promised to visit me once a year.
Veyda killed him, Braden. He was my joy, my life. I know what it is to lose so much and I don’t want to lose you as well. You’re my good friend. You’re important to me.
So, get your ass back here, do you hear me?
For a moment, his eyes grew clear and she felt the faintest pressure as he squeezed her hand.
“Blood pressure’s going up.” The tech called out again.
Maeve choked on a sob. His eyes closed and his body fell limp once more.
“Is he okay?” she asked.
She looked from the tech to Alfonso. Each nodded.
She’d pulled him back.
“What did you do?” Alfonso asked, setting the final stitch.
“I talked to him. Telepathy, I mean.”
“You did good.”
She looked up and down the stitched-up body. He looked like the worst quilt ever made. He was bruised in more places than she could count. He shouldn’t have survived. This was nothing short of a miracle.
“He’ll need at least one more transfusion to put him on a solid path. We’ll find a couple more wolves to donate.”
Again, she felt an odd, unexpected growl form in her throat.
~ ~ ~
As Braden came to full-consciousness, he felt two things. First, he’d never been more comfortable in his life. He was cradled in the softest mattress he’d ever slept on. His wolf liked it.
Second, he had no idea where he was. Of course, he hadn’t opened his eyes. He wasn’t sure he could. He felt exhausted beyond words.
He knew he’d drifted to the shores of death at least once recently. He’d seen Maeve-the-witch a couple of times, which seemed odd. He could also recall a conversation with his deceased wife, Laura.
His beloved wife, his soul-mate, his alpha-mate.
His heart melted all over again with thoughts of her.
She was kindness personified and his pack had loved her. He wasn’t the only one to grieve her death. His entire pack had mourned. Bonfires had been lit in her honor night after night. Howling had filled the air. His wolves had been heartsick.
He’d been inconsolable.
A year-and-a-half later, he still was.
He’d left his pack in in the care of his second-in-command, Jeremy. The strong, beta wolf was close to alpha status and had done an excellent job keeping the pack in order while Braden worked his mission.
Braden went back to Savage monthly to sustain his bond with his pack. His wolves supported him completely in what he was doing. They’d lost Laura as well and wanted justice for her as much as he did.
As he grew more awake, he became aware of an unusual scent in the room, something like lemons and lavender. His cheap hotel room didn’t smell like this at all.
Right. So, he wasn’t at his hotel.
Where was he then?
He struggled to open his eyes, but gradually forced his eyelids up. Since he was on his back, the ceiling came into focus first. It was tall, maybe ten feet high and had squares bordered in dark wood. The ceiling itself was painted a muddy mustard color with a slight sheen. Oddly pleasing. There was a name for framed-up ceilings like this, but he couldn’t think of it.
His brain sloshed around.
Coffered. Right. A coffered ceiling.
His gaze took in the space. Maybe he would recognize something. Shake his memory loose.
He reclined in a king-sized bed. To the right, a large painting hung on a dark purple wall, an abstract floral, with glitter in some of the paints. It should have been garish, but wasn’t. Purple. Gold. Some red.
A dark, large Asian chest stood directly across from the bed, with intricate wood carvings. Above the chest, a Samurai sword.
An antique, full-length mirror stood in the far northeast corner. His wolfness had easily fixed the compass settings in his mind. Yup, the bed faced east.
A massive mahogany dresser rested against the adjacent wall to his left.
He worked hard and craned his neck all the way to the headboard wall and saw an opening of some kind, an entrance, maybe to a bathroom. It was strange, though, because the space held a small dark wood table against the wall with an arrangement of fresh flowers on top.
He lifted his wolf nose. Then he knew, he was in an underground apartment of some kind.
The air was fresh enough, but a table with flowers was a trick to give a feeling of the outdoors. Even the yellow ceiling gave a sense of airiness.
Still, nothing looked familiar. His pack had an underground compound. But he knew he wasn’t there. He sensed he wasn’t in Savage Territory at all. He was still in Elegance.
He drew a deep breath and forced himself to relax. He’d been a warrior for ten years. He lived on the edge. But he’d always been able to rely on his instincts once he’d become an alter-wolf.
He moved his arm and felt a tugging sensation. He looked down and saw he was hooked up to an IV. What the hell? Was he ill? And what wolf ever needed treatment like this? He could self-heal better than most.
His memory roared back to life.
Six toughs. One of them a warlock. Gammet, with five shifters under his command.
Knives and boots.
More pain than he’d ever known.
How the hell was he still alive?
He shifted his shoulders back-and-forth. He felt bruised inside and out. He tried to sit up, but the effort was too much.
The shores of death.
Again, where was he?
He heard footsteps. His adrenaline kicked in, but he couldn’t exactly move.
A tall, African-American man appeared in the doorway and the moment he met Braden’s gaze, his brows rose. “You’re awake.”
“Who the hell are you?”
~ ~ ~
Maeve rubbed the back of her neck. Again.
She was in her workroom modifying an infusion spell designed to aid Braden’s healing. He’d been in her bed for four days and still wasn’t awake.
Her cell rang. It lay near her on the wooden work table she used to create her potions, pastes and infusions.
She’d call him right back after she was done.
Sheba sat at the end of the table supervising her work, her cat’s eyes intent on the process.
Maeve had the healing concoction warming above a tealight so she could catch all the fragrances and their properties. She added a pinch of dried hyacinth to the lavender-marigold blend. She stirred the little black kettle that contained a cup of purified water. She was very witch in this moment, even hunched over.
She hadn’t understood the witch’s bent-over posture before. Now she did. Keeping her head positioned parallel to the table allowed her a full blast of the infusion.
Her nostrils flared and each floral fragrance sent spirals of sensation into her brain.
She closed her eyes to experience each one.
The lavender had definitely improved the infusion. She was much closer now to the balance she required.
In fact, she knew she’d reached the right level of floral healing elements.
The next step, however, made her heart pause and even skip a couple of beats. She had a terrible secret, one that made her feel like a traitor to both human and alter-kind alike. She often used a few grains of the drug, emerald flame, in the products she created.
The amount was infinitesimal, yet the difference was profound in terms of results.
Despite the amazing effects just a touch of the flame drug could create, Maeve always felt guilty using the illegal substance. Flame drugs had landed her here.
The drugs had been the method by which the alter serums had been introduced into human society. Originally designed to be a synthetic competitor for cocaine and heroin, the flame drugs had quickly garnered a third of all drug-trafficking in the U.S.
Thirty years ago, the original creators of the drug had accidentally developed serums that changed the human genome and the five alter species became known to the world: Vampire, witch, wolf-shifter, fae, and dead-talkers.
Worse, once infected with a serum and transformed, every person was immediately quarantined in lands set aside throughout the U.S. to keep the populations separate. The early alter-species had been notoriously violent.
Phoenix had fifteen square miles in the north heartland of the metropolitan area designated for alter creatures like herself. Thick walls and a serious Border Patrol kept the inmates quarantined in the prison-like setting of Five Bridges. Each bridge separated one warring territory from another, while a central no man’s land, the infamous Graveyard, made all kinds of traffic and exchange possible.
Humans were allowed into Five Bridges every night and on the weekends, they arrived by the thousands in search of drugs and to take advantage of hundreds of sex clubs.
Alters were only, and very rarely, permitted to leave the territories with Tribunal passports. The Trib governed Five Bridges.
She hated this world into which she’d landed all because she’d eaten a tainted piece of peach pie. Someone had dosed the pie with the witch serum. She’d had the pie. Her husband, Frank, had chosen pecan.
Now she was an alter witch, eighteen-months-old, who had to make a good living to keep her rescue facility running smoothly. So, a touch of flame it was.
Her witch workshop, though more accurately called a spellroom, was down a second staircase of spiraling stone steps deep underground. Only with this space, she’d left the jagged rock walls and ceiling exposed. She wanted the connection to the earth. Sometimes, she even slept down here.
She called this place her burrow. She had a leather club chair and a small writing table at the opposite end. A door to the right of the table led to a meditation and sleeping room which housed a garden. She’d created beds by jack-hammering the rock and filling the deep holes with a lot of good soil. She grew shrubs and flowers with gro-lights, vines that crept up the walls, and even a small tree in the corner. In the center of the room, she’d scattered faux furs on a stone-laid floor. There were nights, especially when her grief over Frank’s death overwhelmed her yet again, she slept on the furs.
Only her witch mentor, Kiara, knew about her underground garden-burrow and how much peace of mind it gave her. Kiara had encouraged her to go there as often as needed. So, she had.
Thoughts of Kiara, however, forced her to grow very still in front of her work table.
Veyda had abducted Kiara three weeks ago and Maeve had been hunting for her ever since. Two days before rescuing Braden from the Graveyard, she’d finally located Veyda’s well-hidden compound. She’d even succeeded in finding Kiara’s holding cell.
While waiting for Braden to recover, she’d gone back each night. It was a tremendous struggle to work her way through Veyda’s security spells to reach Kiara’s cell.
Where she was imprisoned was a small eight-by-eight space, one of a number along the west side of Veyda’s building. Each cell had barred windows and no glass. Steel shutters came down during the day to protect the inmates from the deadly sun. Other than that, the prisoners had to endure the falling temps at night then the rising desert heat as the sun rose.
Last night, she’d had a breakthrough and had made her first telepathic connection with Kiara. The latter had wept and spoken of the kind of torture she and the other women were enduring. Worse still, the torture eventually ended in death.
Maeve wanted desperately to help her, but she didn’t have either the natural witch power or the basic physicality to do it. As young as she was in alter terms, she didn’t have a single connection in the community of good witches that could help her. Kiara had been her only link in Elegance.
She’d tried taking Alfonso with her, but the presence of an extra person had somehow tightened Veyda’s spell and she’d been unable to pierce it with the tall shifter in tow.
She wasn’t even sure what it would take to break Kiara out of the place. Kiara’s plight was a problem Maeve’s mind now worked on constantly.
For the present, however, she felt a strong drive to get Braden back on his feet. He was well out of danger, but somewhere she’d come up with an idea. Maybe, if they worked together, this powerful alpha shifter could somehow help her rescue Kiara.
Swallowing hard, she went to her small refrigerator and took out a dark green bottle with an eye-dropper for a lid.
The purified content of her flame supply had cost her a small fortune, but worth every penny. She had two different forms of the drug. One liquid, the other granules. She used the liquid for infusions and potions. The granules went into any mixture that involved the grinding of herbs and other ingredients in her mortar.
She carried the bottle back to the table carefully as though the smallest bump would cause an explosion. Emerald flame didn’t work that way. It had no power to ignite the elements in her spellroom. But if it aerosolized in a large amount, the fumes could kill her. Even if she hadn’t known the nature of the drug, her witch instincts told her just how much power she carried in her hands.
Sheba offered a warning meow.
Maeve glanced at her. “I’m well aware I need to be careful.”
Sheba’s tail swiped back and forth twice, but her gaze was fixed to Maeve’s hands.
Opening the small bottle, she squeezed the eye-dropper to bring the liquid into the attached glass tube. She carefully shifted to a nearby spoon, held level in a special cradle she’d made just for the purpose. She never added the drug straight into whatever concoction she was creating. More than the number of required drops would ruin the effect.
With painstaking effort, she slowly squeezed first one drop, then two into her spoon. She breathed a sigh of relief.
She pivoted to return the dropper to the bottle and tightened up the seal. She then took the bottle back to her fridge and tucked it carefully toward the back.
Returning to the table, she drew several deep, purposeful breaths, then held the last one. She picked up the spoon with its two tiny drops of emerald flame and lowered it into the liquid.
The moment the droplets hit the potion, they partially aerosolized then shortly afterward dissipated. She’d only made the mistake once of breathing during the process of adding the drug. She’d awakened on the floor with a high that had lasted the rest of the night. If she’d been a druggy, she would have been in heaven. Instead, she’d wept for her stupidity.
As she stirred the mixture, she finally allowed herself to breathe. The drug was now incorporated into the infusion. She drew close and opened her nostrils. The same scent returned of lavender, marigold and hyacinth only heightened.
She closed her eyes and there it was, a kind of brightness within her mind. At the same time, because the drug took on the essence of the other ingredients, she felt waves of healing flow and knew she’d succeeded.
Sheba’s tail twitched and as if to confirm the efficacy of the infusion, she meowed once.
“Yes, I agree. This will help Braden heal.” The entire four days Braden had been in her apartment, Sheba hadn’t been far from the wolf, something that surprised Maeve. Sheba was known for ignoring everyone. But not Braden. Maeve had often found her curled up on the end of the bed as though guarding him.
She transferred the infusion into a separate black crockery that used a tea-light for heating. By means of a small tray, she carried the infuser up the spiral stone steps and into her living room. Maybe emerald flame would take Officer Braden the rest of the way and bring him out of his coma.
As she entered the darkened room, she moved to the left of the bed. She carefully avoided his IV and set the tray on the nightstand. She had to push the metal lamp almost to the edge to make room.
Once she knew the tray was secure and the tealight doing its warming chore, she stepped back around the IV and drew close to the bed. She allowed herself this much, to look at the wolf.
Braden was as handsome as any movie star. He had strong, angled cheekbones and a straight nose. His jaw was firm, his overall look rugged, tough. Braden was both.
He had wavy black hair to his shoulders. As a pack alpha, he’d once had long hair well down his back, though she’d never seen it. In his grief, he’d cut it short when his wife died, though it had since grown out a bit.
He was a good man. A strong leader.
And he was built.
She drew close and pulled the sheet back to look at his wounds. Her brows rose. They were much better. In fact, at least half of them were gone. This was new.
Relief rushed through her. Braden really was out of danger. He’d made his return trip to the land of the living and was self-healing. Tears touched her eyes.
Four days to bring him back.
She took hold of his hand as she had a hundred times over the past days and nights.
She’d shared her bed with him. It had been the only way to keep him calmed down. Her touch had soothed him and for reasons she couldn’t explain, it had become the most critical drive in her life to keep him alive.
Suddenly, he opened his eyes and shifted his head on the pillow. He blinked once very slowly. Though his voice was hoarse, he managed, “So how did I end up in your bed?”
But he smiled…
I hope you enjoyed this brief look at A TOUCH OF FLAME!
And now, have a wonderful day and an even better night! For more information about my books, keep scrolling! Live the fang!
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Do you enjoy free books!?! All year, I’ll be giving away copies of my e-books through my newsletter. I also run subscriber-exclusive giveaways, so be sure to sign up on my home page in the right hand column where it says: Subscribe to Our Mailing List! Once you do, you’ll receive a welcome letter with a link to your free e-book! Enjoy and hugs, Caris Roane!
Be sure to look for your welcome letter which has the link to your free e-book!
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Most Recent Releases:
Having lost his entire family, Mastyr Rez vowed never to love again…
‘Rez drew closer and caught her softly pointed fae chin. “You buy shoes on the black market because it’s exciting and different. You can’t fool me, Holly. You’re a secret rebel.”’ ~ from A VAMPIRE’S EMBRACE
A VAMPIRE’S SOFT EMBRACE
Taking the vampire into the past, changed the future…
The man held her heart in his hand.
He had for the past five years.
Did he even have the smallest clue?
~ A Vampire’s Soft Embrace
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REVEALED: Rapture’s Edge 3, A Guardians of Ascension Novel #11
He’s a warrior deep in his bones, but all she ever wanted was peace…
As Duncan battles the dangerous death vampires at night, during the day he fights an even greater monster: He can’t believe he’s worthy of the woman he loves.
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Mastyr Vampire Stone wants to bond with Aralynn, his battle partner, until he learns she lives a double life as a woman he despises…
For hundreds of years, Stone has lived a solitary life, serving Tannisford Realm as he battles the deadly Invictus wraith-pairs with his Vampire Guard.
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More about Caris Roane and her books!!!
THE FLAME SERIES
Vampire Officer Connor of the Crescent Border Patrol tries to suppress his desire for Iris, a powerful witch. Because the woman possesses the ability to kill him with the tips of her fingers, how can he possibly fall in love with her? When a double homicide throws them together, he soon finds his deepest fantasies fulfilled as Iris succumbs to his seductions.
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Vampire Officer Vaughn of the Crescent Border Patrol gets called to a triple homicide in a deadly place called the Graveyard. When he finds that Emma Delacey has been summoned to the same crime scene, warning bells sound. He’s tried to suppress his desire for the beautiful witch knowing nothing good can come of a relationship in the alter world of Five Bridges.
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Brannick works with Juliet Tunney to help several human women escape the nightmare of Five Bridges. But something isn’t right. Juliet acts as though she knows him really well, yet he’s only met her once. Unless…the dreams he’s been having about her aren’t dreams at all.
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AMBER FLAME, Book #4 of the Flame Series
Fergus has been without an alpha-mate for three years, from the time his wife was murdered. He’s failed repeatedly to bond with the female wolves of the Gordion Pack. When he rescues a fae woman from a sex club, his need to bond with her goes into overdrive.
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On Christmas Eve, vampire Officer Kyle Drake has finally persuaded the shy wolf shifter, Verena, to go on a first date. His plans include a little mistletoe and a lot of seduction.
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THE GUARDIANS OF ASCENSION SERIES
(After Ascension, Burning Skies, Wings of Fire, Born of Ashes, Obsidian Flame and Gates of Rapture)
Includes Sub-Series: Dawn of Ascension and the Rapture’s Edge Saga
Warrior Gideon swore he would never see Elise Jordan again even though they’d been passionate lovers for two years. Her human nature couldn’t survive in his ascended vampire world; she would be vulnerable to attack on every front if he tried to continue a relationship with her.
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Fearing that his newly emerged grayle power will kill innocent ascenders, Samuel Daman struggles to keep his distance from beautiful Vela Stillwell. But the breh-hedden has struck and her light floral scent tears at his restraint.
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For the last few weeks, since Warrior Duncan professed his intention ‘to try’ to make his relationship with Rachel work, he’s failed on all fronts. But how can he explain that a serpent lives in his gut, poisoning him against her?
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For decades, Warrior Duncan has had an on-again, off-again relationship with a woman opposed to his warrior lifestyle. When Rachel shows up in his life again, he wants to keep his distance, but the infamous breh-hedden, the myth-that-isn’t-a myth, bears down on him keeping him in a perpetual caveman-like state.
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THE BLOOD ROSE SERIES – SHORT WORKS
The Blood Rose Tales, are much shorter stories than the “Embrace” books of the Blood Rose Series. Each ‘tale’ highlights one particular aspect of the world of the Nine Realms as well as a mastyr vampire in pursuit of his Blood Rose.
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Zephyr can’t keep away from Alesia and feels obligated to keep her safe. They’d broken up, unable to reconcile painfully opposing views on what should be done to the evil Invictus pairs. But when several wraith-pairs attack her diner, he flies her to safety, taking her home where they’re trapped together for the entire day.
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Yolen keeps his love life and his work life separate with one goal in mind – to protect Brianna. After seeing his best friend slaughtered by the enemy, he will do whatever it takes to ensure Brianna’s safety even if it means holding her at a distance.
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For weeks, Mastyr Willem, agent for the Realm Investigative Unit, has been tracking Charlotte Vail, a human college student at the local Grochaire University. He’s had a thing for Charlotte that he doesn’t quite understand.
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THE BLOOD ROSE SERIES – THE BOOKS
Enter a world of blood-starved mastyr vampires and the rare women who can satisfy their deepest needs…
How can he resist his blood rose…
Gerrod, mastyr vampire of the Merhaine Realm, never thought to have his blood-needs satisfied by a mere human. But Abigail is no ordinary woman.
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Ethan, mastyr vampire of the Bergisson Realm, never thought to find his blood rose, the one woman who could ease the blood-starvation he’s endured for decades. But Samantha carries a surprising level of power as her newly discovered fae heritage emerges..
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Quinlan must keep Grochaire Realm safe from the enemy at all costs. As ruler of his realm, a woman has no permanent place in his day-to-day existence. But when his lust takes him to Batya’s bedroom, he soon discovers he’s deep into a powerful experience that threatens to blow his life apart.
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Seth, Mastyr Vampire of Walvashorr Realm, craves Lorelei, his new bodyguard, but he has a hands-off policy with those under his command. However, the sexy glint in her eye, as well as her wolf-shifter ways, keeps him in a fevered state.
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Mastyr Vampire Jude has kept his distance from all women because he lost his wife and daughter to an enemy attack a hundred years ago. He won’t go through that kind of loss again. And he won’t jeopardize another woman’s life while the deadly Invictus wraith-pairs still pose a threat in the Nine Realms.
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Mastyr Vampire Malik has only one goal: to serve the realm he loves. Battling both the dreaded Invictus wraith-pairs and an element in Ashleaf Realm that wants all innocent wraiths dead, Malik can’t afford to get distracted. But Willow has already become an obsession as he lusts for the powerful fae whose blood he craves.
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Mastyr Vampire Zane didn’t want another woman in his life not after the dreaded Invictus killed his wife five years ago. He serves Swanicott Realm, the land he rules, and doesn’t want anything to interfere with his war against the enemy.
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Mastyr Vampire Ian never wanted to see Regan again. He blamed her for the massacre at Raven’s Overlook, an attack that killed his sister and her children. He’s convinced Regan enthralled him, using her extensive fae powers to keep him by her side. If he’d been in his realm that night, he could have saved 200 people.
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Mastyr Vampire Griffin hates his enslavement in Margetta’s fortress. He sought death a thousand times because of it, but was denied when the Ancient Fae brought him back repeatedly, forcing him to train her evil army. When a beautiful fae-slave, Sandra, tells him to live, he begins to believe his life could have more meaning…
Caris Roane is the New York Times bestselling author of thirty-nine paranormal romance books. Writing as Valerie King, she has published fifty novels and novellas in Regency Romance. Caris lives in Phoenix, Arizona, loves gardening, enjoys the birds and lizards in her yard, but encourages the scorpions to inhabit elsewhere! Her motto: Live the Fang!
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