Awakening Chapter One

000 Caris Roane - Author Photo 2

Awakening Chapter One

Hi, Everyone!  And welcome to the entire first chapter of Awakening. Awakening is the first installment of the RAPTURE’S EDGE saga based on the Guardians of Ascension Series.

AWAKENING is the first part of Duncan and Rachel’s story. These characters appeared primarily in BRINK OF ETERNITY and to a lesser degree in THE DARKENING.  Now it’s their turn to begin their journey as well as the continuing stories of Endelle, the Warriors of the Blood and the Militia Warriors. As the saga evolves, we build to Warrior Luken’s story and the magical place called ‘Rapture’s Edge’.

The Awakening_mediumAwakening…

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He’s a warrior deep in his bones, but she wants only peace…

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. How is he supposed to make war when he’s falling in love with a woman who only wants peace?

Rachel can’t believe Duncan is back in her life. She spent years getting over him, over all the fights they had about her dislike of the war and his love of being a Militia Warrior. The problem is, she never stopped loving him and the trance he’s stuck in has her out of her mind with worry. When the breh-hedden crashes down on her, she wants only one thing: Duncan … in her bed … now. But how is she supposed to stay with a man who represents what she hates most about their ascended vampire world?

RAPTURE’S EDGE 1 Awakening is a paranormal romance novel, a vampire romance with a fantasy edge, of the Rapture’s Edge Series. The series is preceded by two related books: BRINK OF ETERNITY and THE DARKENING. RAPTURE’S EDGE is part of the Guardians of Ascension Saga!

The Entire First Chapter of AWAKENING

Duncan’s captor laid it out. “All I want is your lover’s current location. Once you give that to me, I’ll let you wake up and we can move forward. But I really do need Rachel to take a big step back.”

Right over a cliff, no doubt.

Duncan was under no illusion; the woman, Yolanthe, wanted Rachel dead. She’d said so more than once in the early part of this bizarre captivity. Softening her word choice didn’t change the intention.

Caught in a two-week trance he couldn’t escape, Duncan once again tried to make sense of what he was seeing. Though he knew he was lying in a hospital bed on Second Earth, he was staring at a snow leopard that his captor held on a short, black leather leash. But he didn’t know how he could see either the leopard or the beautiful red-haired woman or her rust-and-cream marble home.

And how the hell could he be in two places at once?

Although, his gut told him he wasn’t, not really. It was just some kind of Third Earth power, a mental distortion maybe. Yolanthe had called it a voyeur window, but a Third Dimension variety, not the simpler kind found on Second. Endelle, the leader of Second Earth, had a voyeur window, so he knew the concept was viable.

For two weeks now, during his waking hours, the trance had kept him focused only on Yolanthe.

He wanted desperately to come out of this captive mental state, but nothing he’d tried had worked. The woman had power, more than he could fathom, which was why he could see her and talk to her while lying prone on a bed in Metro Phoenix Two. She was some kind of freakish princess on Third Earth, but more than that he was still piecing together.

When he’d first come under Yolanthe’s spell, or whatever the hell this was, she’d worn her hair in thick curls hanging down her back. Maybe she was trying out a new look, but for now she’d bound up her curly red hair in about two dozen thin braids, wrapping them around her head in an almost haphazard way. The effect was both unique and unsettling because at first glance it looked like she had snakes for hair.

She was beautiful in a strange way, with very light red lashes and brows, and pale blue eyes. Her white skin was flawless, not a single freckle in sight. Though tall, looking to be about six-foot-one, the woman needed some meat on her bones. She used a dark purple lipstick, bordering on black that emphasized her habitual pallor. She kept her short nails in the same Gothic shade.

Of course, she’d promised to release the trance if only he’d tell her one small piece of information: where Rachel lived.

She harped on her theme now. “Please, Duncan, just tell me where I can find Rachel. I have excellent plans for you that will one day involve ruling a large portion of this planet. And sharing the information would go a long way to convincing me that we can work together as a team.”

She had the Third Earth darkening grid operators hunting for Rachel, but the process was hit-and-miss, and could take weeks according to what she’d told him in previous conversations. He didn’t understand much yet about the grid, but it ran through the nether-space between dimensions and could move Third ascenders down to Second and the other way around. All highly illegal.

Apparently, Third Earth wreckers were used to busting holes in the grid to gain access to Second. None of it was good.

And right now Yolanthe was using the grid to search for Rachel. Which meant, it was just a matter of time. Yolanthe would one day find Rachel, then what?

But like hell he’d give up Rachel’s location, or anyone else’s for that matter. He’d die first. “Thought I should warn you that you’re probably in for a long wait.”

She smiled, chuckling softly. “I know how to wait.”

Yeah, he got that about her. She’d shared a few pertinent details. She was nine-hundred-years old, for one, and had been waiting for Duncan for decades, from the time she’d had her first vision about him.

Unfortunately, she needed him unencumbered by Rachel.

He’d tried to explain that his on-again, off-again relationship with Rachel had been off for quite some time, that his ex-girlfriend was hardly a threat. But his explanation hadn’t moved Yolanthe even an inch.

Rachel must die.

How many times had he heard Yolanthe speak those exact words?

Yolanthe paced and the leopard moved with her.

She wore a long light green silk gown and a kind of elegant, sleeveless over-gown in pastel blue silk that had a short train dragging over the rust-and-cream marble floor. Even if he hadn’t heard her servants addressing her repeatedly with an obsequious ‘yes, Princess’, he would have known her as royalty by her movements alone.

What he couldn’t figure out was what she wanted with him, a Militia Warrior from Second Earth. He might understand if he’d been a powerful Warrior of the Blood like Luken or Zacharius, but he wasn’t. Sure, he had a couple of emerging powers, visions, for one. But in terms of the upper echelon of ability, Yolanthe would have been better off kidnapping a What-Bee instead.

While he was awake, she kept him with her like the leopard, always at her side, moving from room to room so that he’d seen the palace and her extensive gardens repeatedly.

Duncan felt like the leopard, like he was on a similar leash just as tight and commanding. And as a man used to doing and fighting, this level of inactivity kept his mind on edge.

The only time he’d seen Yolanthe even a little ruffled was when a servant had rushed in telling her that her father needed to see her at once. Even the servant had seemed upset.

She’d risen and put a hand to her chest, a sign that she was distressed; father issues, maybe. She’d left quickly only she hadn’t taken the voyeur window with her, but had left him to stare at an empty living room for hours.

Though appearing fully composed when she returned, Duncan felt certain she’d been in considerable pain. Her face was empty of expression, but there was a certain tension in the way she walked that hadn’t been there before. He decided the woman would be good at poker; she hid what she felt really well.

In that sense, he could relate to her, because he worked damn hard not to let anyone get a good glimpse behind his mask. But then he’d had all emotional displays beat out of him during a strict childhood. Raised solely by an abusive father, his internal walls were almost as cement-like as Yolanthe’s.

Hell. Maybe they were worse.

Rachel, the woman he considered the love-of-his-fucked-up-life, had once told Duncan that he could build a wall faster than any man she’d ever known.

But then he’d been well-trained.

Yolanthe stopped pacing and moved close to look at him. “Why don’t you just tell me what I need to know? Rachel is the only thing that stands between us.”

Again, he refused.

Though he hadn’t been to Rachel’s home on Mortal Earth, he’d heard she’d moved to the Seattle One Colony because of the simpler, more organic lifestyle. “Sorry, Yolanthe. Not giving anything up, not tonight, not ever.”

“I’m sorry to tell you this, Duncan, but I’ve come to a decision. Your refusal to give me the information I require has made it necessary.” She drew a deep breath and lifted her chin. “I’m going to have to do a mind-dive and it’s going to hurt. A lot.”

He poked the bear. “Is that how your father hurts you? Doing mind-dives?”

She lifted her right brow a quarter of an inch.

So, he’d surprised her.

She pinched her lips together, then said, “You’re not to speak of my father, ever. Do you hear me? Because I have chosen you to work beside me, I intend to treat you with great respect.” She cupped her hands in front of her, palms up, and slapped them together gently for emphasis. “This one thing I will require of you, however, you must not disparage my father’s name. If you disobey, I won’t hesitate to perform a violent mind-dive and ruin your capacity to reason forever. No one would be able to help you then and you’d be left to rot in that hospital room.”

He was right; Daddy was the issue for this Third Earth bitch-princess.

“And now, I’m going to retrieve the information I need.”

Duncan had never had anyone do a mind-dive before, but from what he’d heard from those who’d been on the receiving end, it was extremely unpleasant.

He braced himself as she stretched a hand toward him and split his mind open like a sharp knife to a cantaloupe.

He’d made war for decades. He’d been bruised, sliced up, had bones broken, and generally maimed in about every way possible, so he knew what pain was.

But what he felt right now, as the woman pierced his mind, was beyond anything he’d ever experienced in his life. Intense pain ripped through him, setting every nerve in his body on fire.

As she dove, his whole life opened up to Yolanthe, which meant very soon she’d find his memories about Rachel’s move to Seattle One.

Somehow, he had to warn Rachel.

~ ~ ~

Rachel stood in her garden, the tip of her shovel in the gravel walkway, her arms wrapped around the wood handle. She’d tried everything she could think of to help bring Duncan out of his trance. She’d talked to him, wept over him, and yelled at him. She’d rubbed his arms and legs briskly, she’d used a combination of resonance and telepathy to try to get even the smallest response from him mind-to-mind, and she’d even had him put him in an ice bath. But nothing had worked.

Horace, their most powerful healer on Second Earth, had brought his team in to work on Duncan repeatedly. He’d even used Fiona, mated to Warrior Jean-Pierre, who could amplify his power. But not even that had made a dent in his current, inexplicable situation.

He was healthy enough given he’d had a catheter for two weeks, a feeding tube, an IV for hydration and another one that carried her blood. She’d donated every day.

No stone had been left unturned.

Yet nothing had worked.

She was past the tears now and felt almost cold when she thought of him. Her frustration had stolen her compassion because her love and fear for him had about killed her.

And she thought she’d been over him.

Hah. Much chance of that.

Two weeks ago, Warrior Samuel and his woman, Vela, had rescued Duncan from a Third Earth torture cell. Some maniac called Sharav had abducted him from the New River Borderland and applied every vile technique known to human and ascended vampire kind in an attempt to break Duncan down.

He’d almost died in the process. But together, Fiona and Horace had brought him back from the brink.

Afterward, though he’d been brought out of harm’s way physically, he’d been left in a trance that not even the powerful Endelle, nine-thousand-years-old and the leader of Second Earth, had been able to pierce.

So, Rachel had donated repeatedly. Something she’d done just fifteen minutes ago, in an effort to keep Duncan alive. Now she was here in her Mortal Earth home to work in her garden.

She’d been so lost in thought, however, that she’d forgotten to change out of her dress, which made her smile. She glanced down. She loved this particular dress, a soft white cotton that ran mid-calf. Duncan had always liked her in dresses.

Her throat tightened. He’d kiss her and say, ‘Easy access.’ He was such a guy, but she’d loved it. Duncan had always known how to sex her up, then bring her to a roaring climax.

And here she was, standing on the gravel path of her garden holding her shovel point down and wearing lavender leather ballet flats.

Her head hurt as well. The persistent ache was driving her crazy. She knew the source and that ticked her off because she’d promised herself never, never, to get involved with anything having to do with Duncan Wallace, or Militia Warriors, or the war ever again.

Now she felt like she was being sucked back into a relationship with the man who could build internal walls faster than he could blink.

To be fair, she had her own issues and no doubt consistently overreacted to Duncan’s repetitive efforts to create distance. But she really wanted to help, because – and here was her absolute hardest personal truth – she loved Duncan.

She rested her cheek on top of her folded hands, the shovel wiggling with the weight. She wished she could help more than anything, but at the same time resented the interference in her life.

For a long time now, she’d worked toward building a life for herself apart from the war. She’d landed in the Mortal Earth colony outside of Seattle One, perfectly content with her small woodsy home and the extensive garden that backed up to the Pacific Northwest Cascade Mountain forest.

Having added a microclimate, she was able to grow watermelons, tomatoes, and every other fruit and vegetable under the sun, at any time of the year. The co-director of the colony, Mei-Amadi, wasn’t exactly happy about the micro-climate, but she didn’t reject the fresh tomatoes either.

Rachel knew she was something of a hypocrite since she refused to use most of her Second Earth powers on principle. But when it came to her garden, she couldn’t resist.

The pain in the center of her head began to throb.

Then suddenly, she heard Duncan – or thought she heard him – calling to her telepathically.

It was very faint. Rachel. You’re in trouble. She wants you dead.

A terrible shiver went through her. Duncan?

But just like before, each time she’d tried to reach him telepathically, she received some kind of static in response.

And who exactly wanted her dead?

~ ~ ~

Duncan couldn’t cry out, couldn’t move, couldn’t breathe.

He hurt into the bowels of his body and deep into the seat of his soul where Yolanthe searched through his memories, his thoughts, his beliefs, everything that he was as a man, even what he’d suffered as a child.

She’d paused over the horror of his father’s teaching lessons, the ones beat into every fiber of his being. He’d even felt her grow very still for a moment and the pain had actually lessened.

But that reprieve hadn’t lasted long.

The woman searched and searched.

While doing her mind-dive and because her voyeur window had drawn his vision inward at the same time, he saw what she saw, all the memories and the glow of something rust-colored. He finally understood that this was the means by which Yolanthe retained control of him: she’d formed an extremely powerful, Third Earth mind link with him.

If what he understood was true – only the creator of the link could remove it – then he was screwed.

She stumbled across another memory, one that he’d forgotten because it had taken place when that bastard, Sharav, had been torturing him.

Yolanthe had been there. She’d visited his stone cell, watching him with her pale blue, predatory eyes. “He’ll give us so much, my love.”

Sharav had gone to her, kissing her on the lips. “He already has.”

Somehow Duncan knew that Sharav was referring to sex, that the couple had used his suffering to get themselves off. Rage began to boil that once again he’d been at the mercy of powerful ascenders with vile, cruel natures. He’d grown up under the punishing thumb of his father, Sharav had tortured him, and now he was trapped in a trance.

To his surprise, Yolanthe seemed suddenly distressed, maybe that she’d inadvertently allowed Duncan to see those memories. She reversed direction and began to leave his mind. This time, the pain became so severe that he disappeared into the void of unconsciousness.

When he came to, Yolanthe stood near a warrior-type with long, black hair and three braids hanging down either side of his dark face.

Her reddish brow rose the familiar quarter-inch. “So, the grid has found Rachel at last? I just searched through his memories and couldn’t find a recent dwelling on Second Earth at all. I know he loves the woman, but apparently they haven’t been together for some time. So, where is she?”

“Mortal Earth. The Seattle area. A hidden colony of Second Earth ascenders, which is very well shielded.”

“Well, that would explain why it’s taken this long.”

Duncan’s mind hurt so badly that he could barely focus. But he forced himself to concentrate because somewhere in the muddle that was his head, he knew they were speaking about Rachel.

Oh, God, they’d found her.

His heart began to race. Despite the trance, he was connected to his body and could feel the catheter and the tubes, everything that was keeping him alive.

He had to get to Rachel to save her.

“Send your best wrecking crew through the Mortal Earth darkening grid. No one ever goes there these days and the grid won’t be watched or at least if you are discovered, you’ll be back by then and safe.”

“Your will is mine, Princess.” He bowed, one fist to his chest, then vanished in an abrupt fold.

Duncan’s chest felt crushed. Rachel would die in the next few minutes if he didn’t figure this out.

He forced himself to calm down, to think.

He recalled the glowing rust-colored ember deep within his soul: the mind-link.

On a hunch, he retraced Yolanthe’s path, diving deep. It hurt like holy hell but he didn’t care. He had to save Rachel and the only way he could set himself free was to find that link and sever it. He didn’t know if it was possible, but he had to try.

The trip probably only took a few seconds, but felt like an eternity. When he reached the glowing ember that indicated the link, he summoned every ounce of his preternatural power and began to work on the link, pounding it with waves of his essential vampire power.

The light began to waver and he felt the difference immediately, that at least for this moment, he was free.

He was free.

He didn’t wait, but flew back up through his mind, ignoring the searing pain and sure enough, the voyeur’s window was gone and he was in the hospital.

He sat up, but became so dizzy that he flopped back down on the bed. Slowly, he pulled the feeding tube out of his nose, gagging and sputtering.

Save Rachel.

He eased himself back up and drew the tube out of his penis, wincing the whole time. He then jerked both IVs out of his arms.

He dropped the railing and rolled out of bed. He would have fallen except he was able at the last second to grab the side railing.

He whispered to himself, his voice raw, “Come on, you fucker, get going.”

Once more, he summoned every last bit of his preternatural power, focusing on Rachel and her beloved garden. And just like that, he folded to Mortal Earth landing a few feet from where she stood with her shovel. The colony’s alarms shrieked because he hadn’t used their landing platforms.

“Rachel?” His voice barely worked.

She turned toward him, stunned. “Duncan?”

The dizziness returned and he felt himself falling backward.

~~~

Rachel dropped her shovel and ran to Duncan, just a few feet away. He had blood spatters on his hospital gown and he looked as pale as death. “Duncan, what happened? How did you get here?”

She knelt beside him and lifted his head, cradling him in her arms. His eyes rolled. She’d never seen him this weak before. “Duncan, please.”

He blinked. “Rachel. Wreckers. Apache Junction Two. Now.”

Rachel heard a faint, distant rumbling, a sound she didn’t recognize, but she suspected they were wreckers. She’d heard the stories; Third Earth warriors that worked their darkening grid. Her heart slammed around in her chest.

Wreckers. Here?

The rumbling grew stronger.

Every instinct told her to get the hell out of there. And when Duncan had said Apache Junction Two, she knew he meant Militia Warrior Headquarters on Second Earth.

Despite that she was breaking colony protocol by not heading to the landing platforms first, she focused on Militia HQ and began the fold. At the same split-second, the air in front of her exploded. She caught a glimpse of several powerful warriors, long-braids next to their faces, shotguns in hand.

They aimed at her and fired.

~ ~ ~

Endelle loved her scorpion belt. She’d paid a fortune to have the stinging creatures cast in metal and linked together. She donned her favorite black bustier, the one that sent her girls into the stratosphere and had all the men either staring slack-jawed or purposely looking elsewhere.

Either way, she loved the reaction. Keeping everyone off-center was a big part of her strategy for managing all the warriors around her.

Her thong had gotten twisted, so she took a moment to adjust the damn thing.

“Charming, Endelle.”

Oh, hell, she’d forgotten that Merl reclined on her bed behind her. He’d become the most recent addition to her retinue, more like a court jester than anything else right now. He’d helped Warrior Samuel and Vela pull Duncan out of Third Earth.

Now he was here, in her bedroom, watching her get dressed.

She turned toward him, lifting a finely plucked, arched brow. “You try wearing this shit and see how many times you’re plucking at your ass-hairs trying to get more comfortable.”

Merl laughed. He had a lot of beautiful white teeth with a pair of fangs to die for, which was just one of the many things she liked about the man. “Then why do you wear them?” he asked.

She glanced down at the triangle of sheer black fabric, then turned to check herself out in the mirror. “Because my pussy looks so pretty behind this thin layer of black see-through fabric. Don’t you think?”

She turned in Merl’s direction. With the intent of driving him crazy, she waved her hand and added a black garter belt with small red cherries embroidered across the top. Another wave, and she now wore sexy black fishnet stockings.

Merl, who’d been lying on his side, rolled onto his back, groaning. “You have me in a permanent wooded state, you know.”

“Aw, too bad. I feel so sad.”

Again, he laughed. She had the feeling she’d brought as much ease to his life as his absurdity had brought to hers.

She turned to face the full-length mirror once more. She needed to get a move on. She had a ten o’clock with an emissary from COPASS, that ridiculous governing group that hadn’t bothered to check the acronym when it had created and logged its official name: Committee to Oversee the Process of Ascension to Second Society. They did little more than cop-each-other’s-asses anyway, though they worked hard to make her life miserable.

After that, she had a teleconference with Thorne, then a massage at eleven. She would need the massage after Thorne told her just how badly the war against the three generals was going. Thorne had a permanent base in North Africa, running his command from there. Though, he often folded to her palace to check on his tech crew in the Command Center.

So far, his whole damn army was up shit creek.

She waved her hand again, lost the stockings and the garter belt, and donned a pair of snug capris pants with a cheetah pattern in gold and black. Another wave and her feet were encased in the most exquisite stilettos made of gold mesh and each dangling with about two dozen small metal scorpions. She loved the soft jangle the shoes made when she walked.

Wrapping the belt around her waist, she smiled thinking she was ready to meet the COPASS emissary.

Merl called to her from the bed. “Do you like my shirt?”

The man had a great voice and she suspected that if she ever did allow him between her legs, he’d use that voice laced with an exquisite resonance and make her come. He didn’t have as deep a voice as Duncan – poor bastard, still in his trance – but anytime Merl whispered in her ear, damn if she didn’t feel some chills and thrills in just the right places.

“What about your shirt?” she asked, turning to finally make eye-contact. When she saw that he was now bare-chested and circled his nipples with his fingers, she rolled her eyes.

He grinned. “Admit it, you like my body.”

Endelle sighed, heavily, because the man was right. She did love his stupid-ass, muscular, oh-so-hot, warrior physique and she wanted her hands all over him. She wanted to suck on something so hard that …

She closed her eyes. She had to stop all this freaking nonsense or she’d do what she knew she shouldn’t do; she’d have her way with Merl and probably keep him tied up permanently in her bedroom.

And for all of Merl’s teasing ways, she knew that’s exactly what he wanted as well.

Coming from Third Earth, he had a boatload of power. As soon as she’d met him, she’d used one of her more advanced gifts and had done a quick inventory of his abilities.

Her resistance to using him to satisfy her needs was pretty simple. From the time that Warrior Kerrick had found his vampire mate in Alison, Endelle had come to understand that those warriors nearest her had been chosen to help her. Whether by a higher power or the luck of the draw, each would gain a bonded mate, or breh, and a helluva lot more essential power.

Each man was on a track to run headlong into love, for she could call the breh-hedden nothing else.

She shook her head at Merl. Still on his back, he now pressed his leathers down around his crotch. His massive erection ran the full-length of his zipper and she clenched so hard between her legs that she almost came.

She closed her eyes for a moment, and took several long, deep breaths.

But Merl took advantage of her sexed-up state. He moved in close behind her, wrapping her up in his powerful arms. With his pants still on, he pushed what was hard between her butt-cheeks.

“Let me give you relief, Endelle,” he whispered, right behind her ear. “I can feel your need and I can smell your sex. You know I’d do this right.”

She might as well tell him the truth. “I know you would.”

He drew the words out slowly as he said, “Then … let me … pleasure you.” With his right hand, he dipped low and cupped her. He began to massage.

Shit.

But she caught his hand, forcing him to stop. “No. I want to, but you’re headed toward something, my friend. I can feel it. Otherwise, I would have jumped your bones the same day you showed up with Samuel and Vela.”

He slid his hand away, but rested his forehead against the back of her neck. “Fuck.”

“Sorry, no.”

He chuckled. “You make me, laugh, you know.”

“Same here.”

He released her but that’s when the dizziness hit Endelle. She reached out with her hands and grabbed air then toppled to the floor, rolling onto her back.

In the distance, she could hear Merl calling to her, asking her what was wrong. But she couldn’t speak.

Her back arched.

She didn’t know what the hell was happening to her. Her mind felt invaded, as though some force outside of her was pushing heat and power into her brain.

Then the images began to roll.

Holy fucking shit, she was having a vision!

She never had visions.

The first was of Luken battling as she’d seen him look when he fought death vampires, which was usually seven or eight at a time.

No one looked more glorious in battle, not even Thorne, the acknowledged hero of them all.

But Luken, with his massive shoulders, arms and pecs, his thick muscled thighs, his blond hair and blue eyes, was a Nordic God from mythology. When he donned battle gear and wielded his sword to fight hard on behalf of Second Earth, he had no equal.

But in these rolling images, she could see death vampires coming out of the sky, more and more and more, descending on him.

The steel of his sword flashed in the night sky, sparking with fire.

He fought like a god, whirling in the air, moving faster and faster, at times seeming to disappear. The land behind him was mountainous and stormy and a distant ridge was on fire.

She felt what was coming, and watched as at least a dozen Third Earth death vampires arrived to join the battle.

Luken wouldn’t stand a chance. Third Earth death vampires had tremendous power.

He fought valiantly, but the numbers overwhelmed him and a blade caught him from behind. He arched and fell, his light blue wings ineffective as he began plummeting to earth.

There was no way to save him.

Her heart ached as he disappeared into the land below.

In the vision, she remained high in the sky suspended as the death vampires celebrated, roaring into the heavens. They were incredibly beautiful with their pale, faintly bluish complexions, each feature even, and their wings a glossy black.

Within the vision, she followed the vampires, traveling hundreds of miles. She saw alternating landscapes of wastelands, ridges of fire, and the earth’s great natural beauty. Sometimes a city would appear and a great stone wall.

This was Third Earth. She’d heard tales of it, but she’d never seen it. The dimension had been closed off from all the other earths for a long time.

She flew with the death vampires until she reached what had to be Chicago Three only it was a small stone-built town, like something from Medieval England.

A large castle dominated the lakeshore, beautifully wrought with turrets and spires, a moat and a drawbridge.

The death vampires flew into one of the upper balconies, but she was drawn across the bridge, over the moat and though a vast courtyard. Massive doors opened and she moved into what she knew to be a throne room.

The vision paused as though waiting for something. Finally a man appeared, one she despised beyond any she had known in her entire life. He was called Chustaffus and he was the only man to have ever taken Endelle against her will.

He walked swiftly through the room and she followed him. What the castle lacked in modern structure, a full-blown war room made up for with every electronic device man had created in any dimension.

She hovered in the air at the back of his command center and watched as the monitors showed not his world, but Second Earth. She recognized the three theaters of war.

Three other men were there, all warrior tough. She knew them as Chustaffus’s sons, all made in his image. Chustaffus put his hands on the shoulders of two of them. “And we’re sure Duncan is dead at last?”

“He is, father,” the tallest said.

“Then let the final assault on Second Earth begin.” Chustaffus’s hard, brutal voice commanded the room.

Each monitor suddenly filled with what looked like smoke at first glance. Endelle soon realized she was looking at thousands upon thousands of death vampires flying into each of three theaters of war on Second Earth.

Over the next few minutes, she watched her armies overcome and slaughtered. Bombs exploded in constant succession as well.

Though time-elapsed in the vision, the assault went on for hours.

Other images passed through the main monitor as she watched the physical decimation of Metro Phoenix Two, then extending to every major city in the world.

The vision shifted and in a Paris Two castle, she watched as the royalty of her world paid fealty to Chustaffus who sat on the throne.

In the vision, she appeared as well, bound in chains, enhanced with Chustaffus’s power so that she couldn’t escape. “And you, Endelle, will belong to me for a very long time.”

Just as she thought the nightmarish images were coming to an end, she felt a hand on her shoulder within the vision. Turning, she saw Duncan who nodded somberly. “You must send me to Third. The future isn’t fixed. You must let me try, as well as Luken.”

Finally, the vision drifted away.

Never in Endelle’s long-lived life had she had a vision of any kind. She wasn’t made of Seer material.

Yet, she’d just seen the future of her world laid out for her: Luken’s fate appeared to begin a terrible sequence of events, ending almost simultaneously with the destruction of her armies and the major cities of Second Earth.

Endelle wasn’t a weeper, but as she lay on the floor, goddam tears streamed from her eyes and into her hair.

It took her a long time to realize that Merl knelt beside her and held her right hand in both of his.

When she finally shifted to look at him, he was frowning. “What happened?” he asked. He reached down and wiped at the tears on her face. “Did you have a vision?”

“Yes.”

“What did you see?”

All she could do for a long moment was shake her head slowly back and forth. “I had a fucking vision of our world and it’s not good. In fact, I don’t think it could be worse.”

He sighed heavily. “We’re in trouble then.”

The man who smiled so easily, who usually had a French martini in one hand and a lit cigarette in the other, had never looked more somber.

She remained where she was, still on the floor and stretched out prone. “I thought when I defeated Greaves, we’d start rolling the war back. But that’s not the case. In fact, I’m now understanding why the war has worsened. The three generals are being helped.”

“Let me guess; Chustaffus has his hand in the pie.”

“Both fists.”

“Do you have visions often?” he asked.

“Never. But this one punched into my head and I couldn’t have stopped it if I wanted to. But the hell if I know what to do.”

“It must have come for a reason.”

She got stuck on the early image of Luken plummeting to earth. She wished like hell Braulio was here, the man she tried to stay chaste for. He would know how to dissect the vision and he would offer an interpretation that would comfort her.

She reached out to him telepathically, but no response returned. The brief time she’d had with Braulio before and following the battle with Greaves had ended.

Right now, she wanted some kind of reassurance that what she’d just seen wouldn’t befall her world, that there was something she could do to stop these events from crashing on her, on Luken, on the world she held in the palm of her hands.

She wasn’t given to much deep feeling. She believed being a ruler didn’t allow her to be maudlin or nostalgic on any level. She had to keep her head clear and make tough decisions that often meant some of her people would die.

But right now, a measure of grief engulfed that shook her to her soul.

And as Merl helped her to her feet, her spirits sagged within. She rarely felt despondent, believing any kind of despair to be an unacceptable weakness, but right now she hurt. So she excused herself and went into the bathroom, shutting Merl out.

She had to think and make quick sense of what she had just witnessed.

She chose in that moment to see it as a warning, and that what had begun with Duncan’s kidnapping and his rescue by Samuel and Vela, as well as his current trance, had been a foreshadowing of things to come if she didn’t take heed.

And why had Chustaffus asked about Duncan? Why was his death critical to the madman’s plans?

Then Duncan had appeared and told her what she needed to do.

Never, in her five-thousand years of rule, had she been so close to losing Second Earth, especially now that Chustaffus supported the three generals.

But one thing she did understand; Duncan was the key at least for now. Everything pointed to him, including his inexplicable trance. But why had a mere Militia Warrior suddenly become so important?

Jeannie’s voice sounded through the small room. “Madame Endelle, sorry to bother you, but I have an urgent message from Apache Junction Two.”

Dear Creator, what now? “Yes?”

Jeannie’s next words of Duncan and Rachel arriving at the landing platform and about wreckers having attacked them on her Mortal Earth property, forced the air from her lungs. For a long moment, she couldn’t breathe.

Pacing her bathroom, she asked the hard question. “Is Duncan alive?”

“Yes, they both are. Horace is with Duncan now because he’s still in bad shape. Rachel’s pretty shook up.”

“Sonofabitch.”

Jeannie and Carla ran Central Command, a small group of communications experts who kept information moving between Endelle and her warriors as well as among all the Warriors of the Blood. Jeannie rarely took a night off.

“That’s exactly what I said,” Jeannie responded. “But the good news is we’ve got Duncan back. Rachel said he’s come out of his trance.”

“Is his mind okay?”

“Yes, but he’s unconscious.”

“Then how the hell do any of these dumbfucks know he didn’t fall right back into the trance?”

“Because he keeps waking up briefly and calling out for Rachel. Then passes out again.”

Endelle pressed a hand to her chest and more tears burned her eyes. “Creator be praised,” she said quietly.

“Amen to that.”

Endelle stopped her pacing to lean her hips against the sink. She covered her face with both hands, images of the vision still boiling in her head. “Who’s on rotation over there? Is Gideon back yet?”

“He just folded in to see his sister. Colonel Seriffe remained in North Africa with Thorne.”

She nodded as though Jeannie could see her. “Okay, thanks. Let HQ know I’m on my way.”

“Madame Supremeness?”

“Yes?”

“Are you okay?”

For reasons Endelle could not explain, the compassion in Jeannie’s voice chapped her hide. “What the fuck do you care if I’m okay or not! I rule this dimension, in case you forgot.”

But Jeannie chuckled; she’d been around awhile. “That’s better. For a moment there, I thought you’d lost your edge.”

“I am an edge.” A goddamn fucking righteous edge and like hell she was going to let Chustaffus or any other Third Earth asshole take her world.

~ ~ ~

Luken stared down at beautiful red hair cut precisely by one of Scottsdale Two’s pricier salons. Havily bent over a filing cabinet, searching through a bunch of folders and his heart as always felt caught in a vise.

He loved Havily Morgan, now Havily Amargi. She’d married the bastard, her breh, Marcus.

He couldn’t help but be a little bitter. He’d loved Havily long before Marcus returned from Mortal Earth to reenlist as a Warrior of the Blood. And even though Havily had never given Luken one true word of encouragement, hope had simply never died.

She’d been the rising moon to him and the setting sun, every season under heaven, every rise of mountain, every fall of tide. Her skin was like cream, her light green eyes the joy of his existence, and every time she smiled his heart broke a little more.

He still begrudged Marcus his windfall. Marcus had absented himself from battling as a What-bee for two hundred years, while Luken had been the faithful one. He’d stuck it out on Second Earth, battling death vampires at the Borderlands night after night, rarely having any time off. The Borderlands were natural gateways to other dimensions, in this case, Mortal Earth. Death vampires tried to use the Borderlands to get to a plentiful supply of vulnerable human blood. Both the Warriors of the Blood and the Militia Warriors worked hard to keep death vampires from escaping down to Mortal Earth.

Luken knew his duty and he loved fulfilling his obligations.

But why the hell had the Creator rewarded Marcus with an angel like Hav?

Havily rose from the filing cabinet, her arms loaded with manila folders. “Can you believe we still have so many files left? I’m processing stuff from fifty years ago. Although, I have to say some of it is fascinating. Did you know there was an uprising in Angola Two in 1964?”

“One of Greaves’s less exalted schemes.” He chuckled softly. Greaves no longer resided on Second Earth. According to Endelle, he was going through an extremely difficult rehabilitation process that Beatrice of Fourth had developed. Apparently, even psychopaths could be cured.

Luken repressed a need to curse the decision to let Greaves go. But Endelle must have had her reasons, and like any Warrior of the Blood, he bowed to her will.

Luken drew close and leaned an elbow on the tall, four-drawer cabinet. Havily moved the files to her desk, but returned to chat with him.

She was still young by Second Earth standards having ascended from Vancouver Island Mortal Earth about the turn of the prior century. She leaned her hips against her desk. “Listen, Luken, I hate to bring this up … ”

“Then don’t.” His heart began to race. He didn’t want her to say the words, but he knew what she was thinking.

She glanced at the glass windows of her office that led to the hallway behind him. A number of the executives in Endelle’s administrative HQ worked down the hall and more than one had no doubt witnessed him entering her office. His feelings for her weren’t even a little bit of a secret, so his appearance often set the gossip rolling once again.

She lowered her voice. “You know I like you coming here, right?”

“I do.”

“And that I value our friendship.”

He nodded. He didn’t try to make excuses or to pretend he didn’t feel what he felt. Something in his love for Havily had kept him sane through the last hard century of making war. “I feel the same way.”

“It’s just that, you’ve been here every day this week and Marcus has started getting jumpy. Between you and me, even though we’ve been together a while now, he can still go caveman on me and I don’t want a falling out between you men.”

At that Luken laughed. The breh-hedden made cavemen out of those warriors struck down by what had once been thought to be only a myth. “Heard he punched a Militia Warrior at the Blood and Bite for even mentioning your name.”

Havily’s smile grew crooked. “I love him. Creator help me, I love him so much.”

The words were a knife that had already pierced his heart but kept making slow, agonizing quarter turns every time she spoke of her love for Marcus. And Luken never stopped hoping that if she talked about her breh often enough, Luken would finally stop loving her. But he knew that was impossible. For whatever reason, he loved this woman with every fucking fiber of his being.

She continued, her voice still low, “Not that I’m complaining on my own behalf, but why have you been here so much this week? It’s not been your usual thing for the past several months. In fact, you’ve sort of kept your distance.”

His gaze slipped past her to the large window that overlooked the Sonoran Desert east of Phoenix. So, why had he come here this week, every day, as though compelled?

For Marcus’s sake, and to a larger degree his own, he’d been in the habit of limiting himself to a once-a-week drop-in.

He rubbed his thumb down his cheek a couple of times, which was something he did when he needed to think. Or across his chin. Or his forehead. “No reason. Just wanted to see you.”

But that was a lie.

“Bullshit. Something’s going on with you. I can feel it.”

He didn’t want to burden her. “It’s probably nothing. Just … I don’t know … I’ve been uneasy for days now. The war’s been heating up in North Africa lately and we seem to have more and more death vampires at the Borderlands trying to steal down to Mortal Earth. I keep waiting for the other shoe to drop.”

“Maybe it’s because of Duncan.”

“Well, I’ll admit his situation has us all on edge. You know, Jean-Pierre had been working with him for months and we all knew he had emerging powers of some magnitude. But, if he could get caught in a trance, then probably any of us could.” Maybe Duncan was the reason, he wasn’t sure. But he felt like he had an itch right in the center of his back that he couldn’t scratch. And as he’d always done, he came to Havily because something about her presence calmed him.

He felt his warrior phone vibrate in the thin slot of his battle kilt and withdrew it, turning away from Havily at the same time. “Hey, Jeannie, what’s cookin’?”

All the Warriors of the Blood had credit-card-like phones that kept them connected with Central Command. Jeannie and her staff kept Luken well-informed about death vampire movement at the Borderlands.

“Well, I’ve got good news, then typical news. Which do you want first?”

He stood a little straighter. “I’ll take the good news first. Give.”

“Duncan came out of his trance.” He quickly related the news to Havily. She gave a small jump on her feet then a quiet clap of her hands. He nodded to her as he spoke once more into his phone. “And what’s the typical news?”

“Wreckers tried to take Rachel out on Mortal Earth, just as Duncan arrived to warn her. He passed out, but Rachel was able to fold them both to Apache Junction Two. She said she saw the wreckers just as she vanished. And that’s the other reason I’m calling. Endelle wants you over there ASAP.”

“On my way.”

Shit, Duncan had somehow made it back and Rachel had saved him from a Third Earth wrecking squad. At least he hoped that’s what Jeannie’s call had meant.

He turned back to Havily and saw that her light green eyes were bright with curiosity. “So what else did Jeannie say? I have to know.” She was smiling.

“It’s not all good news.” He hesitated telling her about the wreckers, but not to say anything was foolish. Havily was a helluva lot stronger than she looked and she would be involved at some point anyway. Marcus and Havily worked together doing worldwide PR for Endelle on a regular basis.

So, he told her what he knew.

“Oh, my God.” She put a hand to her chest. “Another Third Earth incursion? What the hell is going on? I thought with the portal to Third closed up again, we were safe from Third involvement. I don’t get it.”

He was about to say something, but a weird dizziness hit him. As he looked at her, she telescoped away from him, fading father and farther from sight.

He felt like he was losing her.

Luken had that same otherworld feeling that had been dogging him for days. Something was on the wind and he was part of it.

When he blinked, the telescoping disappeared and his vision was back to normal.

He had the overwhelming sensation that this was an ending for him, for them. The sweet friendship that he’d always enjoyed with Havily would be no more.

“Luken, you have a funny look in your eye.”

“Hav, your friendship has meant the world to me.”

“I know. We’ve covered that.”

He moved close to her and leaned down to kiss her on the cheek.

When he drew back, he heard a growling sound coming from the doorway. He turned to find Marcus glaring at him, his straight brows a hard slash above his eyes. “What the hell is going on in here?” he barked.

Luken could feel Marcus bristling, but how could he explain? “Apologies, Marcus, I was just leaving.” He then tapped Marcus’s telepathy and pathed, I’m saying good-bye because something big is going on. Can’t explain it. Don’t say anything to Hav.

You sure? Marcus’s shoulders eased back.

Yes.

I won’t say a word. Aloud, Marcus said, “There’s some kind of rumor flashing around the office that Duncan is back.”

Luken relayed the same information that he’d told Havily. “But that’s all I know. And now, if I don’t get over to Militia HQ, Endelle will have my ass in a sling.”

He meant to walk by Marcus, but the brother caught his arm. “Hey. I never meant to be a hardass about Havily.”

“You weren’t.” But there it was again, a sense of something final happening in this room. He was grateful that Marcus had shown up when he did. “You were … incredibly gracious. But I … listen, I hope I didn’t—”

Marcus suddenly slung an arm around Luken’s neck. He had at least twenty percent more muscle mass than Marcus, but the brother was big and the hug that followed wrenched something inside Luken’s chest and his eyes burned.

Again, it felt like good-bye.

When he drew back, he cleared his throat as did Marcus, a sure sign they’d both crossed the line of warrior-ness.

Luken took one last look at Havily, then headed downstairs to the landing platforms. Security had tightened all around the Phoenix area, in Endelle’s Administrative HQ, at her palace at the McDowell Mountains, and at Militia HQ.

But the same sensation was back. He had a pretty good idea he wouldn’t be visiting Havily anymore.

~ ~ ~

At the same moment that Yolanthe received word that the wreckers had failed by a particle of a second to kill Rachel, Chustaffus had requested her presence in his library. She was severely disappointed that Duncan had somehow escaped her mind-link and that Rachel still lived. But as she took up her habitual seat in her father’s Chicago Three castle, she knew better than to let any of her emotions show.

She held herself with a good two inches between her back and the very upright seat in which she sat. She remained as always, like a piece of statuary in her father’s home, something to be looked at and perhaps valued at a distance, but treated without any real value.

Her legs were crossed at the ankles and shunted to the side to give her gown a smooth, seamless look. Her small white hands were folded in her lap, palms up.

She held the loop of her leopard’s leash around her right wrist, but she didn’t dare touch the cat or her father would reprimand her severely. He only barely tolerated her pet as it was.

Turning her attention toward her father, she could see that he was troubled, a circumstance that made her wing-locks tighten. She knew then that the meeting would not end well for her. But that didn’t matter. She understood and valued her role in her father’s life.

Her chest swelled as she watched Chustaffus. She felt as she always did; she was in the presence of true greatness. He was a renowned warrior in their world and had served as a Warrior of the Blood three millennia past, battling death vampires across a good portion of Third Earth.

Then two thousand years ago, he’d gathered all the leaders of the world together, created a Senate that he controlled, and made himself ruler of Third Earth. This was long before her birth a mere nine-hundred-years ago. But she knew Chustaffus’s history better than anyone in the dimension.

Disaster had struck, however, a millennium past when the one called The Prince had challenged Chustaffus and taken over a third of the world. No one was allowed to speak The Prince’s birth name in Chustaffus’s kingdom. He was referred to only as The Prince.

Chustaffus’s goal ever since had been to win his world back. And to that end, Yolanthe served her father with every ounce of energy she possessed. She always would. His will was her will.

She sat very still, observing her three brothers who ignored her as much as Chustaffus did. But the time would come when their attitudes toward her would change. All she had to do was to seize control of Duncan again and bring his phenomenal Seer powers forward. One day, he would have an unusual version of the Seer’s gift and when that day happened, she needed Duncan fully aligned with her.

She took deep breaths and as the men discussed strategy for their ongoing bid to take over Second Earth, she remained quiet, the image of an obedient daughter.

“I must have Rapture’s Edge,” Chustaffus said, slamming his hand hard on the dark wood table. All three of his sons jumped and exchanged glances. “Why have none of you boys found it for me yet?”

Her brothers almost as one leaned away from Chustaffus, which was a smart move since he had a quick hand and didn’t mind cuffing his children. Yolanthe had felt that backhand a thousand times in the course of her years, but usually for infractions that involved not being a statue.

So she held her pose.

She also wondered what excuses her brothers would come up with this time.

“Have any of you even tried? Any of you?”

The eldest, Hector, set his jaw. “We’ve each had our teams investigating and searching for decades. We’ve concluded that there’s no such place. Our support of the generals on Second and building their individual death vampire armies is far more useful.”

Chustaffus rose to his feet.

Rage rolled from him. Why was Hector challenging him so forcefully? When Hector stole a glance at Yolanthe, she understood. Hector was playing the old game of shifting daddy’s ire elsewhere, essentially onto her back. Yet again.

Yolanthe grew rigid as she waited. Her father never punished his boys, not when something of lesser value was present on which to inflict punishment.

Every muscle in her body grew tense as she waited.

He shifted slightly in her direction. He was very tall, almost six-feet-eight-inches. He wore his black, wavy hair long to his shoulders and swept away from his face. A silver streak about an inch wide flowed just off-center, giving him a striking appearance. He was handsome by most accountings, but women avoided him. A great number had spent the night in his chambers never to be seen again.

She’d grown up in his home, listening to their screams.

And afterward, the cold silence.

But for that, she blamed most of these women. They knew his reputation and he never took anyone to bed who didn’t go willingly. In Yolanthe’s opinion, each had chosen her death.

Chustaffus’s jaw ground a couple of times as he met her gaze.

She didn’t look away, however. It would go worse for her if she avoided his gaze or showed any other sign of weakness.

There was nothing she could say, only what she could do for her future. And that involved Duncan Wallace and his aid in helping her to find the mythical Rapture’s Edge.

“Come here, daughter.”

She hid the trembling of her legs as she rose to her feet.

Chustaffus folded a whip into his hand, brought from his weapon’s room. This one was split at the ends into a dozen smaller leather strands, metal shards bound to the end of each.

She mentally pushed a footstool close to him, something he always required. She eased the floor length overdress down. Her wing-locks had already begun to seal up in preparation and her under-gown was backless as required by her father.

Facing away from Chustaffus, she knelt in front of the footstool and wrapped her arms tight around the maroon leather.

She took a deep, steadying breath and closed her eyes.

The first blow always hurt the worst.

~ ~ ~

I hope you enjoyed this brief look at RAPTURE’S EDGE 1 Awakening!  Let the saga of RAPTURE’S EDGE become a new journey for you.

And now, have a wonderful day and an even better night! For more information about my books, keep scrolling! Live the fang!

Caris Roane Home Page

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Caris Roane Home PageDo 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!

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Caris Roane Paranormal Romance AuthorBlood Rose 4 – EMBRACE THE PASSION

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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Caris Roane Paranormal Romance AuthorBlood Rose 5 – EMBRACE THE NIGHT

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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Caris Roane Paranormal Romance AuthorBlood Rose 6 – EMBRACE THE WILD

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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Caris Roane Paranormal Romance AuthorBlood Rose 7 – EMBRACE THE WIND

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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Caris Roane Paranormal Romance AuthorBlood Rose 8 – EMBRACE THE HUNT

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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Caris Roane Paranormal Romance AuthorLove in the Fortress: Blood Rose Series 8.1

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…

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Caris Roane is the New York Times bestselling author of thirty-seven 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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