WINGS OF FIRE
Book #3 – Guardians of Ascension Series
Experience the danger and desire of a secret race of vampire warriors—and the powerful women they are sworn to protect…
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IN THE HEAT OF BATTLE
By night, the winged warrior Antony Medichi fights the death vampires who threaten his world. By day, he hunts the rogue vampires who invade Mortal Earth. But deep in his heart rages the fiercest battle of all—his soul-searing passion for the one mortal he is sworn to protect…the one woman he is doomed to love.
ON THE WINGS OF FIRE
Parisa Lovejoy is so beautiful, and so powerful, that Antony cannot fight the feelings she arouses. But his unexpected love only intensifies his strength as her Guardian—a strength that is put to the ultimate test when Parisa is abducted. Her captor, Commander Greaves, enslaves mortal women for their blood. If Parisa hopes to survive—and ascend—she must forge an even deeper bond with Antony…in the flames of eternity.
Excerpt from Wings of Fire
In the twilight I think of him
He sees me in the wonder of his eye
I allow the air to breathe
He does not move with swift feet
His thoughts turn to me imagined
I wait beyond the faint boundary of time
He does not rush
My steps are measured
I have known his love from the beginning
I perceive his beauty angled, firm
He is earnest in his movements
Love rises on wings of fire
Maria Medichi, 707AD – 732AD
Translated by her husband, Antony, 1845
The search is futile
When carried out by the avenging heart.
—Collected Proverbs, Beatrice of Fourth
In the last three months, since the abduction of his woman, Antony Medichi, out of Italy in the late Roman era, had become a killing machine. He had steel for bones and molten iron for blood. He rarely slept. He battled death vampires at night sending to perdition any who crossed his sword. But during the day, when most of the pretty-boys were asleep, Antony bled his wrists on his altar and hunted rogue vampires on Mortal Earth searching for the woman he’d lost three months ago.
Those hunts also ended in death. Not his.
He stood on the rim of the Grand Canyon, Mortal Earth, looking down, tracking a death vampire flying in the shadows. Even though he was far from the touristy areas, he still cloaked his presence with a heavy concentration of mist, a preternatural creation designed to confuse the average human mind. For most mortals, he simply couldn’t be seen and right now he didn’t want to be seen.
Antony stared into the abyss. The profound silence across the canyon formed a strange juxtaposition to the visual feast. The Grand Canyon was all for the eyes, not for the ears. But he hadn’t come to admire the view or to embrace the quiet.
His predatory gaze followed the death vampire flying below, legs straight back, glossy black wings glinting in the early morning sunshine. He’d been hunting this particular bastard for weeks now. All clues had led here. This pretty-boy had known both Eldon Crace and Rith Do’onwa, two sons of bitches who had harmed women belonging to the Warriors of the Blood. Both vampires deserved death. Crace had already gotten what he deserved and within the depth of Medichi’s mind, Rith Do’onwa, the fiend who had kidnapped his woman three months, was a death waiting to happen, nothing more.
Three months ago, Medichi had served as Parisa Lovejoy’s Guardian of Ascension. She’d entered his world as an anomaly, a mortal with wings, a woman of extraordinary preternatural power in need of protection from the enemy. No one, except the first ascender, had mounted wings on mortal earth. But Parisa had. She’d also arrived with the ability to voyeur, a power that allowed her to focus on an individual or a place and to see what was happening in real time, to watch events unfold in an entirely separate location, even a different dimension.
So much power, and beauty, and a strong analytical mind.
But for all these immense gifts and abilities, they paled in comparison to the call of the breh-hedden, the myth of vampire mate-bonding, that had proved as real as the air he breathed. She was his breh, his mate, the one destiny had selected for him, the one he craved.
He hadn’t asked for a mate. He hadn’t wanted one and he sure as hell didn’t deserve one, but she’d come, he’d served as her guardian, and she’d been abducted on his watch.
So here he was, a wrecked, shell of a warrior, struggling to find his way back to her.
When Rith had abducted Parisa, Rith had not only blocked his trace, which indicated an enormous amount of preternatural power, but he’d deceived Medichi with a hologram of Parisa that lasted for at least half a minute. Medichi didn’t know anyone, not even any of his warrior brothers, the powerful Warriors of the Blood, who could create a hologram. So, yeah, Rith had power, which made him a clever, dangerous opponent.
But the death vampire working the airstreams of the Grand Canyon had known Rith. He had answers and Medichi meant to have them. Right now. This morning.
His heart pumped hard in his chest.
The death vampire flew close to the canyon walls as though trying to hide in the shadows. Medichi smiled the hard smile that tended to work his jaw at the same time. Did the death vamp actually think to hide in a place this size?
Medichi bound his hair, not in the ritual cadroen as he was supposed to but with a narrow leather strap over his forehead, tied at the back of his head so that his long warrior hair flowed free. He was uncivilized now, a wild beast hunting for what was his by right, for what had been taken from him.
He had his wings at close-mount, tight to his body since any breeze would send him off the canyon’s edge otherwise. But now it was time to take care of business. With the practice of thirteen centuries, he spread his wings to full-mount, adjusting with infinitesimal shifts to balance the air currents, then launched into the empty air space over the canyon.
A rush of pure adrenaline shot through his heart then sent dizzying endorphins into his head. There was nothing like flight, nothing like falling off a cliff and knowing that spreading his wings to their farthest span would catch, hold, then carry him where he wanted to go.
With a slight adjustment, the barest drawing back of his wings, his body shifted at an angle that meant down, and down he started to fly. Down and down, into the varying degrees of cool shadow and warm light as the canyon walls jutted and receded.
He was close now, his quarry an eighth of a mile away, less, less, a hundred yards now.
The bastard looked up. Shit. Maybe Medichi’s shadow had crossed him.
Panic seized the pretty-boy’s eye and he banked left then drew his wings into close mount. He threw his arms forward as though diving, his body now aimed in the direction of the Colorado River.
Medichi didn’t hesitate. He folded his wings close to his body and instead of flying in long pulls through the air, he became a missile as well and headed with fierce intent after his prey.
The bastard was good and he was old, which meant he had power, speed, and lots of fucking skill.
But then so did Medichi. He had never mounted his wings during battle, but he flew, a lot. He practiced, a lot. And now he smiled, his jaw twitching.
The mile deep canyon walls sped past him, the striated layers of rock blending into an orange-beige fusion as he jetted toward the blue and white ribbon below. Closer.
He could almost touch the bastard’s foot.
If he could wrap a hand around his ankle.
The waters rose up and up.
The death vamp leveled off just three feet above the water but Medichi took a huge risk, kept his missile shape for a split-second longer and just as the death vamp started to plow air, Medichi caught his ankle and jerked him down, straight into the frothy rapids of the river below. At the same time, with the steel of his bones, the molten iron of his blood, and a swift mental command, he snagged his levitation ability and threw his wings into parachute mount, cupped at the top, to keep from plunging into the frigid water.
The death vamp wasn’t so lucky. His wings went under and he surfaced screaming because the water had trashed his wings. The mesh superstructure that held the feathers in place was fairly fragile and the smallest injury hurt like a bitch. This tumbling in wild waters would be a form of torture. As the current dragged him in a heap, tossing him over and over, the death vamp screamed each time his head breached the water. He landed back first against an enormous rock. Medichi heard the crack as well as another shriek.
Medichi flew after him and when the pretty-boy would have slid into the heavy currents that swirled at the base of the rock, Medichi grabbed him by his long, dark hair and hauled him out of the water. He threw him face down on the rock. How many mortals had this motherfucker drunk to death? How many ascenders? Death vamps didn’t differentiate when it came to dying blood. Any human, ascended or not, would do.
Medichi wafted his wings slowly to keep his balance against the air currents that streamed through the canyon.
God, the bastard’s wings were a mess. The vamp shook hard, maybe from the icy water but probably from shock and a mountain of pain.
“Where’s Rith?” he asked. Time to keep the questions simple.
The death vampire shifted slightly to cast one dark beautiful eye up at Medichi. Calling death vampires ‘pretty-boys’ was more than accurate. He was exquisite, chiseled features shaped by the effects of dying blood, porcelain skin with a faint bluish cast, enhanced no doubt by the freezing water. Medichi felt the pull of attraction, an allure that created a swelling of ease within his chest. Fuck. Even shaking with pain and approaching death, the bastard was trying to enthrall him.
Medichi punched back with a shot of mental power that acted like a blow, pushing the death vamp’s face into the rock.
“Even at this hour,” Medichi shouted, “when you face death, you’d try to enthrall me?”
A smile curved the side of the pretty-boy’s mouth. Blood dribbled from his lips onto the wet black rock beneath his face. “Fuck you,” he whispered.
The death vampire just smiled. Yeah, questions would be futile but he always gave them a chance because what he intended to do next would hurt like hell.
He retracted his wings then dropped to his knees beside the death vamp. A bone jutted from the bastard’s thigh, shiny and white. Blood ran in a rivulet down his ruptured skin, but the water, still shedding from the nearest feathers of his broken wings, kept washing it away.
“You sure you don’t want to just tell me?” Medichi asked. One last chance.
The same reply returned, this time in a much stronger, “Fuck you.”
“Fine,” Medichi said. “We’ll do it the hard way.” He put his hand on the vamp’s forehead.
The struggle began as the pretty-boy’s mind bucked against Medichi’s touch as though trying to cast him out of his head. He put up a good fight, too, but more than just Medichi’s body had grown tougher over the past three months of forced separation from Parisa. He’d been working his mental powers as well, trying to find his woman telepathically. In doing so he’d gotten stronger.
He shoved hard and the vampire’s mind gave way. The death vamp screamed but Medichi ignored his cries and began the real hunt.
He cast aside memories like batting at flies until Rith’s strange face emerged, the Asian cast to his features, the broad forehead and wide nose. He focused on those memories and gained a portrait of the man as a powerful servant of Commander Greaves but then what else would he be? Greaves was the acknowledged enemy of all that Medichi held dear on Second Earth, in this beautiful dimensional world. Darian Greaves had ambitions to rule both Second Earth and Mortal Earth and was creating a powerful army of death vamps to back up his efforts. Rith was a favored servant.
Within the death vampire’s mind, he saw Rith’s lairs, sometimes in great caverns, sometimes in tents, sometimes in suburban homes, but all in various geographical locales. He kept picking through them, trying to feel the presence of his woman. All the while the death vamp screamed at the invasion.
Medichi came across the memory of one of Rith’s properties that was shrouded in a mental shield. What the fuck was that? This death vampire didn’t have enough power to create a deep mental shield like this, which meant that Rith had done it himself.
He tried punching through the shroud but couldn’t and then the preternatural sensation stole over him, of simply knowing. He knew. He could feel that this was where Rith held Parisa captive, cloaked even from Central’s advanced high-tech grid system that could locate anything on two earths.
Sweet Jesus. He felt light-headed. He struggled to breathe.
At last. He’d found a connection to her at last. He focused on breathing for a moment. He had to get command of himself if he had any hope of extracting the information he needed.
When he was calmer and while he was still inside the pretty-boy’s mind, he moved around the shrouded entity as though walking a mental circle. The death vampire sobbed now but Medichi didn’t give a rat’s ass. He’d witnessed too many of the bastard’s memories, those that involved securing dying blood, and the women he’d victimized to get to it, always women because they were easily subdued physically, all the women he’d killed.
So, yeah, let the bastard feel some pain. Let him feel a lot of pain because it wouldn’t be even a fraction of the devastation he’d created in the women he’d killed and the families left behind to deal with all those losses.
He focused once more on the shrouded dwelling and from deep, deep within the death vampire’s mind a location at last came forth, Burma, Second Earth.
Medichi couldn’t quite grasp the sensation that plowed through him but it popped a firework in his mind until glitter rained in his head. Relief flowed, pure exhilarating relief that after three long horrible months of hunting, he had just limited his search to a single country, located on only one of two dimensional earths.
His entire body sagged and his throat tightened. He had a chance now of finding her, of finding his woman.
Parisa on Second Earth and in Burma.
Even so, it would still take a few days given Rith’s level of preternatural power, to find the lair that held her captive. With Rith’s ability to create shields, no doubt the dwelling in which Parisa was kept was under some crazy-ass mist. The grid would have to search for an anomaly; something non-specific and unidentifiable, in other words something vague that didn’t belong.
But what were a few days after searching for three long months and finding nothing? Yeah, he could wait a few days for the grid to uncover an anomaly.
He closed his eyes. He took a long, long moment to offer thanks to the Creator, lifting his face to the heavens, his heart almost floating in a chest that had been constricted from the moment, three months ago, when the hologram of Parisa had disintegrated in front of his eyes.
He felt the pretty-boy’s life fading. He drew from his mind and the death vamp vomited blood, a lot of it.
Medichi sat down beside the creature that had once been a proper vampire youth. He put his hand on his shoulder, and kept it there. His touch calmed the shaking.
Medichi lowered his head to his knees. He despised what the death vamp had done, but he’d also seen that as a young ascender, a Twoling born on Second Earth, he’d tried dying blood on a dare, offered not from a body but from a goblet at a party. He’d been promised no ill-effects, just pleasure. Well, pleasure he’d gotten but he’d also gotten about three centuries of addiction, killing, despair and no way back from a stupid teenage mistake. He hated all this shit, the treachery of Greaves and his forces, the resulting mortal victims, but he remained close to the vampire, as much a victim as those he’d killed, until he felt the final breath.
Stillness overcame the broken body. Medichi looked up. How far away the rim of the canyon seemed. The rush of water was loud in his ears and dominated his impression of the space. Above, complete silence. Below, all this rushing noise.
With his hand still on the death vampire, he spoke words that had been his ritual for centuries. He was a man of faith if not a believer in structured religion, so in certain situations, like this one, he did what he thought was right, even necessary.
He looked at the now empty shell beside him and spoke against the hurtling water, “May the Great Spirit help you atone for these your terrible sins. May you be forgiven and may you find peace in the arms of the Creator. Amen.”
He released a heavy sigh.
So much death in their ascended dimension when it wasn’t necessary. Vampires were essentially immortal, or had the potential for immortality, to live forever. But the terrible nature of dying blood, which seduced every death vampire who partook of the addictive substance, made it necessary to kill mortals and ascenders alike in order to reach the infamous dying blood.
In turn, Commander Greaves, bent on the domination of two worlds, used dying blood as one of his weapons. He not only encouraged the creation of death vampires, but he built armies made up of them. There were even rumors he provided the blood not just to his armies but to those High Administrators around the globe that he’d persuaded to join his faction.
Medichi had no qualms about being the sword of justice.
He left forgiveness to God.
Still sitting, he pulled his phone from the pocket of his black leather battle kilt and drew it to his ear. He thumbed it. The phone was the size of a credit card and was a direct line to Central. For all other calls, he had a Blackberry.
“Hey, Warrior Medichi,” Carla said. “Did you get him?”
“I got him.”
He heard a whoop and a shout and then Medichi smiled. Thank God for the women at Central. They were chosen for their calm tempers and positive outlooks even in the face of nightly death. They also did clean-up through a sophisticated inter-dimensional process that was more technology than preternatural power.
“Has Jeannie gone home for the day?” Carla and Jeannie overlapped their schedules. Carla had the day shift, while her best friend, Jeannie had the night shift. The women were gold and served seven days-and-nights-a-week just like the Warriors of the Blood.
“Yeah,” Carla said. “I kicked her out an hour ago. She has a brunch this morning with a Militia Warrior.”
He bristled. As a Warrior of the Blood, his protective instincts were always in overdrive, even where Jeannie and Carla were concerned. The Militia Warriors, though less powerful than the elite Warriors of the Blood, were still strong hombres and carried a shitload of testosterone in their own right. “Is he treating her good?” he growled.
“He’d better if he wants to stay alive,” Carla responded, but she was chuckling. “Hey, don’t worry. Not only can Jeannie handle herself after this many centuries as a vampire, but our Militia boys aren’t stupid. They know the Warriors of the Blood would be all over their asses if either of us got hurt.”
“Damn straight,” he cried, but more softly, he added, “You still dating your man?”
She giggled then sighed.
“I take that as a yes.”
“He’s gorgeous,” she cooed. “Almost as pretty as you.”
Medichi found himself smiling all over again even though he was exhausted and had a torn-up and really dead pretty-boy beside him. Yeah, this was his life, finding small measures of comfort while sitting next to a corpse.
“I need a little clean-up action,” he said.
“I see him. What a mess. Oh, God, look at those wings.” In recent months, satellite imaging had enhanced the grid’s capacity as well. Medichi wondered if Carla could see the scars laced down his back although right now his long warrior hair hung almost to his waist. Well, if she’d seen his scars anytime in the last three months she hadn’t said anything, one more reason to love her. “Close your peepers.”
Medichi let his eyelids fall. Damn he was tired because it felt good to shut down like this, on a wet rock in the middle of the Colorado River. “Ready,” he murmured into his phone.
He saw the flash of light behind his lids. He felt the air move beside him. He opened his eyes. The death vamp was gone as well as any traces of blood, bone, or other feathered debris. “Clean as a whistle as usual, Carla. Thanks.”
“I know you’ve been after this death vamp for weeks. Please tell me you have some news for me? Anything I can use to find our girl?”
Our girl. That’s why he loved the Central staff. They made everything feel like a team effort, that no matter what you went through, you had back-up.
That earlier feeling of relief flowed through him again, like a cool breeze on a hot day. “Actually, I have the best news.” He explained getting inside the pretty-boy’s head and finding the shrouded dwelling.
Carla squealed several times in the telling. He could hear her tapping on her keyboard. “I’m reconfiguring the grid to Burma, Second Earth even as we speak. If I find so much as a fly speck out of place I’ll call you. Just remember that this will probably take two or three days. Jesus, this country is so frigging big. Did you know it’s the size of Texas?”
“Do what you can do,” he said.
“If we were looking for a power signature it would be different, but we’ve already searched both worlds and didn’t find one, so expect some near-misses.”
“Hey. Trust me. I know the drill.”
“I know you do but oh, how I want this to go fast and it just can’t but holy shit—” and Carla rarely used profanity, “Burma, Second Earth. This is fantastic news. Have a limoncello on me. Now head home, Warrior, and for the Creator’s sake, get some sleep. You’ve earned it.”
Aw, hell. Carla was such a sweetheart. “Can’t. Not yet. I’m heading over to the Cave. Some of the brothers might still be there having their morning bullshit session and I’ll want to talk to Thorne. I’ll let him know about the shift in grid coordinates.” Thorne was in charge of the Warriors of the Blood including all communications with Central. But once the warriors had checked in from a night of battling, searching for Parisa took priority.
Medichi wasn’t alone in his despair. All the warriors had been wrecked by the disappearance of one who had been lost on their watch. If it could happen to Medichi, it could happen to any of them.
Carla’s voice dropped to a whisper. “And you’ll let us know about…well, you know.”
“Good. Now give me a second to reconfigure the grid.” The tapping started.
He sighed and his heart pulled into a hard knot.
Every twenty-four hours he had contact with Parisa and everyone knew it. What they didn’t know was the personal way in which it happened and like hell he’d ever reveal that truth because it was like having phone sex, but without the phone. Once a day, and always in the morning after he’d battled all night, he’d go home, shower up, sit on the side of his bed and that’s when he’d hear Parisa’s voice in his head, only once, ‘Antony’; a sweet telepathic whisper that fired his heart and kept hope alive.
That was the only form of communication he had with her. She wasn’t even ascended, so not all of her powers were developed. And for whatever reason, even though she was a mortal with wings, she couldn’t communicate with her mind, at least not yet.
Despite this critical lack, she had another preternatural power that was considered a Third Earth or third dimension ability—she could open a voyeur’s window and see events unfold in real time. If she was indeed in Burma then this meant she was halfway around the globe when she sent her single telepathic communication of, Antony. It would be night to his day.
Sweet Jesus if that were true, then she had enormous telepathic capacity, she just hadn’t learned how to use it yet.
It still meant that in a half hour or so, he would go home, get ready for bed, and discover whether his woman was still alive.
His heart tightened a little more. He both dreaded and longed for the experience because honest-to-God he didn’t know what he would do if he didn’t hear her say his name today within the depths of his mind. If he thought for even a minute that she might be dead, he’d go mad.
Carla’s voice came back on the line. “The grid’s on Burma, Warrior, and you’re in my prayers.”
His eyes burned. “Thanks,” he said, but his voice sounded hoarse. “Later.”
He thumbed his phone and with a thought, folded to his villa to change out of his kilt and weapons harness. He still hadn’t revealed his scars to his brothers. Only Marcus knew that his back was covered in a basket-weave of silver scar tissue, and he’d promised his silence. There was no way he was going to the Cave to meet with the brothers while wearing only a kilt and a weapons harness. The latter, though broad enough in the front to support two daggers, had only a heavy narrow strip of black leather running down his spine.
Shit. He knew the time had come to reveal this hard truth about his mortal life, what had happened to him and to his family thirteen centuries ago, just before his ascension. But he dreaded speaking about the why of his scars, of letting anyone get that close to him.
Well, he wasn’t ready to talk just yet.
He changed into his usual; a black tee, black cargos and steel-toed boots. He thought the thought and headed to the Cave.
* * * * * * * * *
Caris Roane is the author of five paranormal novels for St. Martin’s Press and several indie pubbed novellas. Writing as Valerie King, she has published fifty novels and Novellas in Regency Romance. Caris lives in Phoenix, Arizona, really doesn’t like scorpions, and has two cats, Gizzy and Sebastien.
(Photographer/artist – please note: If any of the above photos belong to you, I would be happy to include your credit here as well as a link to your website! Thanks, Caris Roane)