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Born of ashes, p.1
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       Born of Ashes, p.1

         Part #4 of Guardians of Ascension series by Caris Roane
Born of Ashes

   Chapter 1

  “You’re standing in front of the grid, Jean-Pierre. ” Fiona Gaines tried to push her warrior away, her formidable Guardian of Ascension, but for all his leanness the man was a rock.

  “Because you do not listen to me, chérie. And I need you to listen. I do not think you should go to the christening today. ”

  She finally looked up at him, something she avoided as much as she could. The vampire was a pain in the ass, but if she met his gaze her mind started sinking into a pile of mush—not because of his enthrallment skills but because he was, well, Jean-Pierre.

  He was tall, a beautiful six-five to her five-ten. When she wore heels, she matched him so perfectly that her lips reached his neck, so of course she avoided wearing heels. His eyes were the color of stormy seas, a gray-green-blue. He had strong cheekbones and reckless long golden-blond hair, which he held back in sculpted scraps of pastel brocades, a leftover affectation from revolutionary days in France.

  But his body was one powerful thrill waiting to happen, a warrior’s body so muscled, so lean, that her fingers trembled when he was close. She avoiding touching him, but sometimes in her dreams she would spend hours roving her hands over every solid inch of him. Every inch of him.

  Worse, however, was that he had a scent that kept her very female body in a state of almost constant arousal, a scent that was completely ridiculous. He smelled like the best cup of coffee ever brewed on the face of two worlds, yet at the same time that coffee was laced with something so male that even standing here, looking at him, her tongue tingled.

  A smile touched his lips, those full lips with the upper points that were so kissable. Damn him. He knew exactly what she was feeling, since for him she had the scent of a French patisserie. The universe could often show a surprising sense of humor. They were almost a cliché: coffee and doughnuts. Okay, so he said she smelled like light buttery croissants. Still.

  “Fiona. ” A Militia Warrior across the grid called to her and, thank God, broke the spell.

  She had to step around Jean-Pierre to actually see Eric. “What have you got?”

  Her heart rate kicked up a notch. She knew Eric well because of how much time she spent at Militia Warrior Headquarters in Apache Junction Two. Three others worked the grid, at least four on deck around the clock. With satellite hookups, the grid could be moved to any set of coordinates around the globe day or night, searching for anomalies.

  Central Command, attached to the ruler of Second Earth, also had a grid, but they kept theirs fixed on Metro Phoenix Two, hunting for death vampire sign.

  “Something just outside Bangkok Two. Thailand. ”

  She rounded the grid, which measured the size of a small car, to join Eric on the opposite side. She wasn’t surprised when Jean-Pierre followed after her. To his credit, he let her work. She had no doubt, however, that the subject would rear its ugly head again.

  After her release from blood slavery five months ago, Fiona had been a woman on a mission. She obsessed about finding Rith Do’onwa, the main instrument behind the heinous slavery system, and she obsessed about bringing home as many of her fellow slaves as possible. Out of twenty-two known facilities, they had found six, and brought home a total of forty slaves, all women.

  Eric had already enhanced the grid and there it was, the signature, so hard to read but fast becoming familiar to her. She had a gift, she knew that. Eric and the other MWs could find the infinitesimal smudges that constituted an anomaly, but only she could see the hint of blue-green, the color of the inside dome of Rith’s mist, that indicated they’d gotten a hit.

  “Get Gideon on the com. ” She didn’t need to ask if Gideon and his team of thirty-two warriors was ready to go. That would have been an insult to one of the Thunder God Warriors, the nickname for all Militia Warriors.

  Nor did Eric ask what, when, or why. He made the call and spoke in low tones.

  A minute passed.

  “Ready on your mark,” Eric said.

  She met his gaze and smiled. “Let them fly. ” It was kind of a joke, vampires having wings and all. And they couldn’t exactly fly through the dematerialization fold, since wings were too fragile to bear the process. But Eric smiled as he gave the order.

  Eric set the communications system on loudspeaker. Colonel Seriffe, the leader of the Thunder God Warriors, wanted it that way. If there would be a battle, they’d all hear it. Seriffe was all about keeping everyone connected, informed, and aware.

  Fiona glanced the length of the room. Over two dozen women staffed the communications along with MW section leaders, like Eric, like Gideon. Most turned in her direction, solemn, waiting.

  Gideon’s voice, low and quiet, hit the airwaves. He issued orders then said, “No DV sign here. ”

  Fiona didn’t know when she had actually backed up into Jean-Pierre, but his presence calmed her. He had a hand on her hip, and she felt his deep breaths. Her heart rate had doubled. She couldn’t help it.

  She knew exactly what all these women were going through, the despair after usually decades of serving as a blood donor—the polite euphemism for a process that involved taking a woman once a month through death and resurrection by defibrillator to get at the addictive dying blood. Death vampires, by the nature of their addiction, had to drink their victims to death in order to get that last euphoric substance.

  A hundred and twenty-five years ago Fiona had been out shopping when two death vampires, whom only she had been able to see, had abducted her from Boston the day after her eleventh wedding anniversary. She had been the first mortal woman to be partially ascended by Darian Greaves and experimented upon. Back then the draining of her blood had involved big steel needles and rubber tubing. Greaves would drain her blood, taking her to the point of death, pump more blood back into her veins, and bring her heart back to life with what she now understood to be powerful hand-blasts from his palm.

  Shortly after, Rith, who also had a great deal of preternatural power, had taken over. Fiona rarely saw Greaves after that.

  Over the loudspeaker, she could hear Gideon breathing hard as well as the sound of his battle sandals pounding up a flight of stairs. She saw movement to her right. Seriffe emerged from his office, a heavy scowl on his face as he, too, listened.

  Gideon’s voice, too loud for the speakers, became a shout. “We’ve got eleven women here!”

  HQ erupted in cheers and shouts.

  Fiona’s eyes filled with tears.

  Jean-Pierre leaned down. “Congratulations, chérie. ” She caught his hand and held it tight. She struggled to breathe and not to cry, but tears escaped anyway.

  She could hear Gideon speaking, but not what he was saying.

  “Settle down, people,” Seriffe called out.

  Gideon relayed the information that all eleven were alive and healthy.

  Fiona slipped her BlackBerry from her pants pocket, touched the screen, and connected with the rehab center. She let reception know that they’d be getting eleven new arrivals.

  The woman gave a little cry. “We’ll take it from here, Fiona. Well done. ”

  Well done. She wanted to rejoice, she really did, but that meant there were still fifteen other facilities, that they knew of, and how many more women to rescue before she could really begin to celebrate.

  “Take a moment, Fiona,” Jean-Pierre whispered. “This is a good thing you have done. ”

  How did he know? Could he read her mind?

  She drew away from him and looked up at him. She saw the deep compassion in his stormy eyes and then she understood. He was a Warrior of the Blood. He had fought for over two hundred years, from the first year of his ascension, against t
he ongoing depredation of death vampires. He knew the victory that the slaying of each death vampire meant, but he also knew the persistent frustration and despair that accrued because right now there seemed to be no end in sight. The enemy, Commander Darian Greaves, encouraged the creation of death vampires, since he used them as a significant weapon in his bid to take over two worlds, Second Earth and Mortal Earth.

  She nodded. She glanced at the clock on the wall. The hour was eleven at night. She would have to go home soon with Colonel Seriffe, her son-in-law, at which time Jean-Pierre would join the Warriors of the Blood as they fought at all five dimensional entry points in the Metro Phoenix area.

  “Where will you be tonight?” she asked.

  “Thorne likes to keep me at the downtown Borderland. ”

  She nodded. She knew why. The downtown Borderland was the closest location to Colonel Seriffe’s home, where Fiona now lived. Thorne knew that the situation for Jean-Pierre, serving as her guardian, was something of a nightmare. He looked it, too, with faint circles beneath his eyes. Even relatively immortal vampires could show signs of strain if they had to guard a woman twelve hours of the day, battle death vampires another six, then toss and turn through a restless sleep cycle.

  Damn the breh-hedden, she thought. The former mythological state of vampire mate-bonding had also reared its ugly head. She was afflicted with what she thought of as an inconvenient and terrible disease, but for whatever reason, the breh-hedden really took a toll on the men, as though it put all that testosterone on high alert constantly.

  Hence, even in the perfectly safe environment of Militia Warrior HQ, Jean-Pierre stuck close.

  “Now, chérie, we must talk about the christening tomorrow. ”

  She cocked her head and planted her hands on her hips. “I’m going and I don’t care whether you think it’s a security problem or not. Alison has been a good friend to me and bringing this baby into the world was no picnic. She’s a new mom, and I remember what that was like. She needs my support and if you think that I would bail on her at this late hour, after having been a slave for over a hundred years, because of the threat of death vampires, then you don’t know me at all. ”

  * * *

  Jean-Pierre Robillard, out of France in 1793, saw the familiar stubborn glint in the eye of his woman and his hopes sank that he would have the smallest chance to change her mind. She was so beautiful, her long thick chestnut hair wrapped in a twist at the back of her head, her lovely cheekbones well on display, the silver-blue of her eyes shining in the dim lights of the central grid room.

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