Caris Roane Side Trip
Hi, Everyone! Welcome to Natalie’s Side Trip! This is a first ever, short, slice-of-life scene that will not be found in the complete novel, SAPPHIRE FLAME. In this story, we meet the heroine of the novel, Natalie McKinnon, six years before the start of SAPPHIRE FLAME. She is celebrating a major life event with her beloved husband, Aaron, until dark forces disrupt her life forever.
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A wolf ready to battle for alpha dominance. A fae bearing inexplicable wolf-sign. A vile alpha wolf in pursuit of Natalie’s futurist gifts. ~ ~ SAPPHIRE FLAME
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SAPPHIRE FLAME ~ Side Trip #1 for Natalie
*Six Years Prior to SAPPHIRE FLAME
Sometimes it was hard being married to a perfect man. Other times, like tonight, it was just perfect.
Natalie sat next to Aaron on the sofa of their living room in north Phoenix. They often had dinner this way, sitting side-by-side, plates on laps. She took a bite of her lemon chicken pasta, the kind she’d been craving once-a-week for the past three months and chewed with a sigh.
She’d married Aaron a year ago, despite her rule about dating someone for two years before talk became serious.
Aaron had done that for her, helped her to break her own rules. She had them for a reason, a childhood always in crisis because of a drunk father, had forged a list of rules that made her feel secure.
But Aaron said she had too many rules and that she often held back when she should have forged a bigger path forward. He was probably right. So, her eighteen months of bliss with him had become one long exercise in letting go. She was a counselor by profession and knew better, knew she needed to create more balance in her life.
But like any good advice, it was easier offered than taken.
Still, she tried. For Aaron, hell, she’d do just about anything. As far as she was concerned, the heavens rose in his dark brown eyes and set in the sweetness of his lips.
He shoved his fork around his plate of pasta. She could only smile.
“Any chance she might start craving something new?” He asked.
She was the gift Aaron had given her, the spreading oak tree of life that made her feel all things were possible.
“I only make this pasta once-a-week. It could be worse.”
Her smile turned into a grin. “Because I swear, I could have this every night.”
He groaned then dug in. He might be bored of a meal she’d craved constantly for several months, but he went along with what had become a mild form of torture. Aaron was all about variety, it being the spice of life and all.
In the end, he’d asked only that she prepare the food herself and not order take-out. There was too much risk in restaurants and fast-food establishments in recent months. She had no problem agreeing to his request.
They were both concerned about the rise in alter serum outbreaks. It had become a form of terrorism in the U.S. over the past thirty years. The horrendous serums that transformed humans into alter beings, were added to different foods and beverages, often anywhere meals were prepared or sold to the public.
Eateries and markets would unknowingly serve or sell contaminated products and entire groups of people would succumb to the serum. The painful process of transformation had all but ruined the restaurant industry in those areas that abutted the tall, prison-like walls of Five Bridges.
For the afflicted individual, the genetic changes stopped the normal human process and initiated the long-lived creation of vampires, wolves, witches and warlocks, fae and deadtalkers.
Of course, it didn’t help that Aaron served on the Phoenix-area task force. He’d been instrumental in setting up an anonymous tip-line with large rewards offered for the capture and conviction of anyone known to add alter serums to the local food supply.
Frequent death threats against Aaron had become the order of the day.
“Are you sure you can’t start craving something else?”
She shifted her plate to her right hand and took hold of his wrist. She tugged firmly which bought his arm over her belly. “She wants pasta, so pasta is what she gets.”
He set his own plate on the coffee table then turned into her. He patted her stomach, a soft light in his eye. “We made it to four months, Natalie. You and me and her.” They’d taken a photo a few days ago to celebrate.
“Yes, we did.”
They still hadn’t decided on a name for the baby. They had a dozen possibilities and were trying them all out, but they hadn’t gotten close to settling on any one in particular. More than once, Natalie had wondered if this was a bad sign. Aaron had told her she was being ridiculous. Nothing was going to happen to their daughter.
Yet, she was uneasy.
She glanced at him now and a small particle of relief trickled through her mind. Aaron was right. They had nothing to worry about. They’d made it to four months. She’d miscarried last year, and their doctor had told them they were in good shape this time around.
She’d fallen in love with Aaron the first time she met him two years ago. It had been at a party. She hadn’t wanted to go, but her friend had begged her. She’d walked in and caught sight of Aaron. He’d taken one look at her and pushed away from a wall he’d been supporting just to come and meet her.
He’d changed her life forever. From the first, he’d swept her into a new world, a better world. He loved to travel, and his enthusiasm had carried her along as well.
She’d never been happier.
Joy flooded her even now as she met his gaze. She set her plate down as well then leaned up to kiss him.
He cupped the back of her neck and returned the kiss with a firm pressure that had her forgetting her pasta and longing for their bed.
When he drew back, he smiled. “What do you think of Cape Town next year? Did you know they have a colony of penguins there?”
“In South Africa?” She was surprised. She’d had no idea.
“Yup. So, what do you say. “She’ll love them.”
“She’ll be a baby next year. She won’t even know what she’s looking at.”
His warm smile was infectious. “She’ll love them anyway.” He kissed her again.
Natalie supposed their baby would. She was Aaron’s daughter, after all. “Won’t that be too soon to be taking a baby on a long plane flight?”
He leaned back and rubbed her stomach again. “Not for her.”
Natalie couldn’t imagine taking an infant all the way to South Africa. But she knew that look in her husband’s eye. He’d want to go. Besides, his plans would become elaborate to ensure their safety and comfort and he’d carry her along as he always did.
She’d go, and she would value the experience more than anything.
Yet right now, she saw only the difficulties as well as the level of her fear. On her own, she’d never leave Phoenix. Staying put had become her primary means of survival.
But Aaron saw the enriching possibilities for their child and for them.
His kiss deepened, and her heart melted. When she drew back, she relented. “I suppose I wouldn’t mind seeing some penguins.”
He chuckled. She didn’t care that his laughter sounded a little smug.
He picked up her plate and handed it to her. “Eat. For her. I’ll make all the plans. We’ll travel first class.”
Natalie let her concerns dissipate.
She was in good hands. With Aaron, she always would be.
She dug back in. He sipped a glass of wine and spoke about work. “I don’t know if I told you, but we’ve had rumors lately of a wolf, maybe even one of the alphas, using a wizard spell to go invisible.”
“Really?” She doubted it was possible.” She sipped her sparkling water and pretended it was champagne. She’d wanted to bring home a bottle of the real thing to celebrate their arrival at four-months, but Aaron wouldn’t let her touch a drop.
He shook his head slowly, eyes narrowing. “What disturbs me most is that I can’t see an end to where the alter species can go, what they can achieve in terms of preternatural abilities. We don’t know what we’ll be up against in five years and I don’t want to think about ten or beyond.”
She wasn’t sure what he meant. She also wasn’t sure she wanted to know. She tried not to think about the nation known as Five Bridges, or the vampires and wolves that lived there. She shuddered at the concept of deadtalkers. Their world was a violent place, full of inter-territorial wars, drugs and drug lords, strip clubs and humans heading there nightly to gain a fix or a thrill. It was walled off and protected by yards of concrete and miles of barbed wire.
She decided a change of subject was needed.
“I have a surprise for you,” she said, hoping to make up for the pasta. “After I saw my last client, I drove over to that bakery we like in Cave Creek and brought home your favorite.”
“Not strawberry pie.” He made a moaning sound, then sat up a little straighter. “You went to Cave Creek?”
“All the way out, way past what anyone considers to be a danger zone, or even a questionable area.”
Some of the tension disappeared from his shoulders, but his lips still had a compressed look. “I appreciate the pie. I really do. But I don’t know if this is wise.”
She gripped his arm. “I checked the task force’s website. No incidents have been reported north of Bell Road for over a year and Cave Creek is miles beyond that. You know, at El Pedregal. I don’t think you can get safer than that. There were at least a dozen customers in the shop as well. Besides, aren’t you always telling me that the great majority of serum attacks take place within a three-mile radius of Five Bridges?”
He was silent for a moment, then nodded. “True enough.”
“I don’t mind having a restrained attitude toward going to restaurants. I really don’t. But we can’t let Five Bridges rule our lives completely. Then the terrorists win. Isn’t that what you’re always saying?”
“You’re right. Of course, you’re right.”
Natalie smiled. She was only turning his philosophy back at him. Besides, she occasionally liked to win an argument.
When she was done with her pasta, he took her plate, stacked it with his then headed to the kitchen. She trailed in his wake, wondering what she would feel like in a couple more months when her belly really started to swell. Right now, she had a small bump which meant she could continue wearing her leggings a little longer. They were stretchy enough across her abdomen to allow for a bit of expansion.
While Aaron cleaned up the dishes, she pulled the beautiful strawberry pie from the fridge along with a can of whipped cream. The number of customers in the bakery had given her even more courage to bring home Aaron’s favorite pie. She’d felt lighthearted as she placed her order.
She’d watched with a fluttering heart as the clerk lifted the freshly baked pie from the gleaming glass case. The deep red strawberries glittered beneath the overhead lights. Her mouth had watered, and her heart had thumped knowing how much Aaron would love this treat.
The clerk had set the pie on the counter and was preparing the usual pink box off to the side, when one of the other clerks stumbled into her just enough to knock her down.
No real harm had been done and the girls had laughed it off. The offender had helped the original clerk to her feet.
She’d left feeling heady with pleasure and excitement. Though the sun had already set, it was still sweltering in September as she made her way to her car. Yet, even the intense desert heat hadn’t dispelled her joy.
When she’d reached her car, however, she had an uneasy feeling that she’d been followed. She’d set the pie on the roof of the car, pulled her mace from her purse, then turned to face her attacker.
But no one was there.
She’d waited for several minutes, watching as more cars pulled into the parking lot and others left just to make sure she was safe.
After a time, the sensation passed, and she laughed at herself. Aaron’s job and all the information he shared with her had finally gotten to her.
She’d slipped her mace back into her purse, then put her pie on the passenger seat. She’d driven home completely at ease.
Yet now as she popped the top off the can of whipped cream, her doubts returned.
“Are we going to have pie?” Aaron asked.
She glanced up at him, surprised to find he’d finished the dishes and was standing next to her. “Maybe we shouldn’t eat it after all.”
He laughed. “Oh, yes, we are. You lectured me about supporting our local restaurants because I’m always offering the same edicts. Besides, you can’t get safer then Cave Creek. We’re eating the damn pie.”
Since he laughed again, her mood lightened as well.
She served up two pieces, ornamented each with plenty of whipped cream then handed him his plate. She then led the way back to the sofa.
She sat down first and put her feet up. He plopped down next to her and smiled as he took his first bite.
Natalie had never been so happy in her life as she was in this moment. She had a baby on the way, a man she loved more than life itself, and a gorgeous piece of strawberry pie.
Her life was full.
Everything she’d dreamed of.
She’d even be heading to Cape Town next year, safe in Aaron’s competent hands.
They lived simply and between her counseling work and his police task force assignment, they saved their pennies for the traveling they both loved.
Life was perfect with her perfect man.
The first sign something had gone wrong was that her back cramped in a strange way. Then she had a clear, moving vision of the future. It was a glorious sight of Aaron and their daughter flying through the heavens, as though they were carried on golden streams of light.
She blinked and at first felt ecstatic at the sight. It was so beautiful.
Then her head began to hurt.
She turned toward Aaron.
He looked at her with horror on his face. He was so pale. Sweat poured from him. “I should have listened to you. I’m sorry, Sweetheart.”
She wanted to say something, but she felt so confused. Her head hurt unbearably and now her entire body began to ache.
Aaron got to his feet but keeled over at the end of the coffee table.
Again, the future vision came back. She saw Aaron with their baby in his arms sweeping across the dark night skies.
I’m fae. That was what she knew.
Her brain finally made sense of it all: Somehow the alter serum had gotten into the pie.
She leaned her head against the back of the couch because it weighed a thousand pounds. She couldn’t hold it upright.
Her vision cleared for a moment and she watched Aaron struggle to his knees. He was reaching for his phone, then fell onto his back. He began groaning and thrashing.
With monumental effort she leaned forward, grabbed her phone then dialed 911. She could squeeze only one word through her vocal chords, “Alter.”
A muddled voice responded. “An ambulance is on the way.”
The phone slid from her hand and she fell sideways, though she remained on the couch. She could see Aaron, but he’d stopped moving. Instead, he lay on the floor gasping for air. His face was red, his neck swollen. She knew then he wasn’t going to make it. Not everyone could handle the alter transformation.
Her own body had entered a phase she’d heard about where every muscle cramped, and each nerve felt like it was pulsing with hot lightning. The pain in her head got increasingly worse. She’d never known such agony.
Aaron had grown very still, and his lips had turned blue. He wasn’t breathing. She had to reach him. Maybe she could help.
She slid between the coffee table and the couch. She pushed the table away then dragged herself, so she could stretch out beside him.
She put her hand on his chest. She spoke to him with her mind or maybe it was just a silent prayer. Aaron? Please try. I don’t want to do this alone.
Suddenly, his voice was in her head, It’s too late for me. I love you, Natalie. Not your fault. Please, don’t blame yourself. But there’s something more. I’ve seen something in the future. Don’t hold back. When the wolf comes, don’t hold back.
But it was too late to tell him anything more. She could feel him leave his body.
That’s when the future and the present became one and the golden streams of light began to flow. Except that he wasn’t moving. He appeared to be waiting, but for what?
The first horrible spasm hit her abdomen a split-second later.
“Nooooo,” She screamed.
She could feel her baby tumbling about now deep within her body, thrashing as Aaron had.
A moment later, the baby grew quiet as she, too, left her small, little physical body and her spirit fled the womb.
She watched as Aaron and his streams of light gathered up their daughter’s soul and held her gently in his arms. The ceiling disappeared as father and daughter floated upward and she could see the night sky.
Aaron looked down at her, his corporeal form as clear to her as was his spirit. We’ll call her Grace, he said, mind-to-mind once more.
Yes, she responded.
Be well. Remember, when the wolf comes, don’t hold back.
She tried to nod but couldn’t. He smiled. His dark brown eyes sparkled. He began to fade.
Then with Grace in his arms, he raced away on the same beautiful gold light and disappeared into the heavens. She had a view of the stars, an exquisite array she recognized as the Milky Way.
As she heard the approaching sirens, the pain in her head tore her mind apart. Just before she disappeared into the void of unconsciousness, she swore she heard laughter, Aaron’s and her daughter’s, together.
But the streams of golden light, the stars, were already gone.
The rest became a blur of a pounding on the door then the sound of shattering wood, of voices and shouts, of being pulled away from Aaron’s body.
She was in so much pain from what became an abrupt miscarriage coupled with the fae alter transformation, that she saw only flashes of images. Of the heavy boots of firemen, of a needle, a blanket laid over her that made the pain worse.
She heard someone shouting. She felt pinpricks in both arms.
Her vision came and went.
The pain remained.
She might have screamed, or at least someone was screaming.
She heard the sirens and felt the street move. Something moved. She couldn’t tell what.
She tried to see Aaron and her daughter again, but the vision had fallen into the hole of her suffering.
Someone yelled, “We’re losing her.” Other shouts followed. Another kind of pain slammed into her chest repeatedly.
Eventually she faded to nothing and was grateful.
~ ~ ~
A cool, soft hand held her burning fingers.
Natalie slowly opened her eyes. “Aaron?” She called for him, even though she knew he wasn’t there.
An older woman was there, with dark hair and a no-nonsense look.
“My name is Agnes and you’re at my compound in Revel Territory, in Five Bridges. Your husband didn’t make it.” The woman’s voice was firm, almost insistent. Natalie suspected this wasn’t the first time she’d come back to consciousness and spoken her husband’s name.
“Yes. My daughter died as well. I watched them leave on streams of gold light.” The memory of them both forced a rush of tears down her cheeks.
The cool hand stayed connected to her fingers while she wept.
Natalie held on as though she clutched a life-preserver in a rough, angry ocean.
“Let it all out. All of it.”
She couldn’t seem to stop crying and the knives had returned to slice up what was left of her brain.
After some time, she felt a prick in her arm and she disappeared once more.
~ ~ ~
When she awoke again, there were no cool fingers to soothe her. She was alone in a small room that looked like it had to be a medical bay of some kind.
For a moment, she couldn’t remember where she was. Then it came back to her.
Right, Revel Territory.
Agnes and her compound.
Natalie lay on her back and stared up at the ceiling.
She drew a breath in, then released it.
Without having to be told, she knew which of the five alter creatures she’d become.
She was fae.
Most of the physical pain was gone. Her heart, however, was a different matter. Her whole chest ached and somehow, she didn’t think she would ever be free of that pain again.
Pieces were now missing from her, one the size of her love for Aaron, and the other of similar breadth and weight that would always be her daughter, Grace.
What she didn’t understand was why she hadn’t died as well and flown through the heavens with her husband and baby?
Why had she lived?
Yet even as she had this thought, she knew. She was needed in Five Bridges and one day, as Aaron had said, a wolf would come…
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I hope you enjoyed meeting Natalie and reading the first ever Caris Roane Side Trip!
Buy Links will be coming soon.
Let the Flame Series become a new journey for you!
To read more details about The Flame Series, go here.
To Purchase EMERALD FLAME:
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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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Be sure to look for your welcome letter which has the link to your free e-book!
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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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