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       Ascension, p.1

         Part #1 of Guardians of Ascension series by Caris Roane

  Page 1

  Chapter 1

  Kerrick stood by the bar at the Blood and Bite, looking for a woman, the right woman, the one who would keep his head straight, the one he craved. His thighs twitched, heavy muscles he’d worked hard an hour ago, muscles demanding relief. Hunger lived in him now, deep, begging, fierce. He was a vampire and a warrior. He needed what he needed.

  Yet something had changed and now he craved.

  What he craved, however, he couldn’t have.

  He’d taken vows.

  His gaze slid around the south Phoenix club, into the many dark corners, the deep padded booths covered in red velvet, past the flashing strobes meant to disguise the various dark deeds that brought mortal women in droves to the vampire joint. The bar had the only real light, enhanced by a tall mirror behind a landscape of hundreds of gem-like bottles. The rest of the club slid to darkness all around the edges.

  Vibrant moans punctuated the noise of the club and made his thighs twitch all over again.

  Still, what he needed wasn’t here, wasn’t the fuck anywhere. He’d awakened a few hours ago with a hum in his chest that wouldn’t go away, a need unfulfilled and now screaming. It wasn’t just sex but sex was what called to him as an opener, a place to begin. He hunted with his groin but couldn’t find her. Not here. He wasn’t even looking. He couldn’t look. He’d taken vows, goddammit.

  “You listening?”

  Kerrick shot his gaze to Thorne. “Shit. Sorry. No. ”

  “What the hell is the matter with you tonight?” Thorne, the leader of the Warriors of the Blood, sat on a stool next to him nursing a tumbler of Ketel One.

  Kerrick leaned his hips against the bar and turned to scan the dance floor. Loud sexy music pumped through the dark club. Shadows passed back and forth, women giggling, men chasing as they had from the beginning of time. He shook his head. “You ever had an itch you couldn’t scratch?” He heard Thorne suck in a deep breath then exhale like he’d been breathing water.

  “Sure. Every night of my life. ”

  Kerrick palmed the back of his neck and rubbed. The muscles were tight, but then they’d been tight for a few centuries. How long had he been here? Twelve. Yeah, his muscles had been tight for twelve centuries. What would it be like to have the strain worked out of every muscle?

  He turned in the direction of the barkeep then tapped his glass on the counter. Sam Finch, owner of the Blood and Bite, drew close with a bottle of Maker’s and refilled the tumbler with two fingers of liquid gold.

  Kerrick nodded his thanks then threw back the whiskey. He was used to the burn as he swallowed. He let the fire eat up his throat. He breathed in the vapors, felt his veins melt a little, yet no relief. Never relief, just a slight unwinding. “Where’s Medichi?”

  “I told you,” Thorne said. His voice always sounded like he’d roughed it up with some coarse-grade sandpaper. “I sent him to Awatukee. Everyone’s out already. Again, what the hell is with you?”

  Kerrick scowled. “Shit. ” The rest of the warriors had received their assignments for the first round of battling, but—like every night for a warrior—anything could happen and usually did. “I’ve got this uneasy sense that all hell is about to break loose. And it isn’t even a full moon. ” Kerrick tapped the bar once more. Sam refilled. He always took care of the warriors, staying close. “That will be Endelle. ”

  “What will be Endelle?” Thorne’s phone buzzed. He flipped Kerrick off then slashed the small flat card to his ear. “Give. ” He nodded and let loose a bunch of yes, ma’ams for the next minute.

  Kerrick shifted hips and torso, his gaze locked on Thorne. The brother’s hazel eyes were red-rimmed and not from weeping—too much Ketel One and no reason to put the bottle down. Thorne kept his fingers around the tumbler, stroking his thumb up and down the cold glass. He was Endelle’s numero uno, and Endelle answered to no one. She headed the main peacekeeping force in their world, and the warriors were hers to command. She was also a stick of dynamite, lit, ready to go off.

  Kerrick drew in another deep breath. His gaze drifted to the dance floor. A wicked beat had the ladies gyrating and the men putting their hands everywhere. A few fangs pierced necks, which forced Kerrick to take another deep breath. He should get out there and get some relief. Blood would help. So would getting inside a woman. Yet how long would the buzz last? These days, not even two minutes, so what was the point?

  Besides, what he needed wasn’t swinging her hips on a dance floor and what he needed he’d vowed never to take again. What he needed was a scent meant only for him, a myth, a woman who could fill all the deep gorges of his heart. And even if he found her, he was bound, hands together, ankles lashed, mouth gagged, heart blocked by a steel cage of guilt. So … shit.

  He slung back the Maker’s and tapped the bar again. Sam was once more at his elbow.

  “Yes, ma’am. ” Thorne slugged Kerrick’s thigh and caught his attention. He looked up at Kerrick but kept speaking into the phone. “Sure you don’t want someone else? That particular warrior needs some R and R. In fact, I think he ought to be pulled for the night. ” He drew the phone away from his ear and winced. Kerrick could hear the shouting; the words were the same set he used when he was just a little pissed off. He smiled and sipped. Endelle had lost her subtlety a few millennia ago.

  Endelle. Bitch-on-wheels, yet he’d die for her. She was what kept their world from sinking beneath the enemy’s boot and Kerrick served her, they all did. The Warriors of the Blood loved her, hated her, goddamn respected her.

  “Yes, ma’am. ” Thorne’s head bobbed, and more yessums followed. Finally he thumbed his phone and replaced it in an upper slit of his black leather kilt. He wore battle gear and would soon head out like the rest of them. “You’ve got an assignment. ”

  “Now, that’s what I’m talkin’ about. ” He needed his sword in one hand and his dagger in the other. Battling always helped, always took some of the strain from his neck. He stood upright, ready for action. Thorne just looked at him.

  “What?” Kerrick snapped.

  “It might be a woman. ”

  Kerrick shook his head. “She wants me to protect a mortal female? What the fuck? You know the vow I took and so does Endelle. I don’t guard females. ”

  Thorne met his gaze head-on, no blinking.

  “Shit. ” Kerrick dug in his heels, lowered his chin. He split his resonance. “Not gonna do it. ” He’d taken a vow and the hell he’d overturn it just because Her Supremeness willed it so.

  “Endelle requested you on this one, no one else. She never pushes me about assignments so she must have her reasons. Besides, she didn’t have any details. She saw something in her meditations, which as you know do not always pan out. ”

  “I’m better off battling. With the mood I’m in, I could crush skulls with my bare hands tonight. ” His biceps flexed and quivered, a thoroughbred at the gate.

  “Sorry. She wants you. ”

  The song ended abruptly and Kerrick’s voice boomed the length of the building: “Fuck you. ”

  All conversation, from one end of the club to the other, got knocked off track for about three long seconds. Kerrick glanced around and anyone looking his direction immediately looked away. Warriors weren’t known for their sweet tempers.

  Thorne rose from his seat, his hazel eyes hard as steel. He met Kerrick’s gaze dead-on. “You don’t have a choice. ”

  “The hell I don’t and that would be Jeannie. ”

  “Jeannie?” Thorne cried. “What the hell are you talking about?” His phone buzzed, and he flipped Kerrick off again as he drew the card to his ear. “Give,” he barked. “Oh. Hey, Jeannie. Sorry. What’s up?”
r />   Jeannie worked at Central Command. All the night’s assignments flowed from Central straight to Thorne. Central mapped the entire metro Phoenix area and knew exactly where the enemy operated and where the warriors needed to be. Kerrick narrowed his eyes, his fingers flexed around his tumbler. He imagined his sword in one hand, dagger in the other. His heart rate increased.

  “Got it,” Thorne said. He returned his phone to the same pocket and let another juicy set of obscenities fly. “Okay. You’ve got a reprieve. Four pretty-boys active in a downtown alley. You know the drill. ”

  “Four,” Kerrick murmured, nodding. He almost smiled. He clapped Thorne on the shoulder. “Thank you,” he said. “But please just get me the hell out of this other bullshit assignment. ”

  * * *

  Alison Wells sat in her office, perched on the edge of her cream-colored wing chair, the therapist’s chair, her BlackBerry clamped to her ear. The last thing she wanted to do was have a conversation with her sister about her love life, but for some reason Joy was pressing her to start dating again.

  Taking a deep breath, Alison said, “I think you’re forgetting that the last man who made love to me ended up in the emergency room … bleeding … and unconscious. ” She gripped her phone hard, painful memories crowding her head.

  “Not so loud,” Joy cried. “I have regular eardrums, remember?”

  “And I’m telling you that I don’t want to talk about my ex. I closed this chapter on my life the same night I rode to the hospital and nothing, nothing, will cause me to open it again. ”

  “Lissy, it’s been three years. Maybe things have changed. Maybe some of those special abilities of yours have calmed down a little. Maybe you could find some huge bodybuilder who could handle all your power. I mean … really. You should try again. Really. ”

  Alison sighed as a familiar longing filled up her chest until she could hardly breathe. Why couldn’t she have been more like Joy, even a little bit, Joy the younger sister, the normal sister, the sister with the gorgeous husband and nine-month-old adorable baby boy?

  They were like night and day. Joy with her curly brown hair and dark eyes who resembled their father, while Alison with her straight blond hair and blue eyes took after Mom. The only thing she shared in common with her sister was her height. At six-foot apiece, they’d both been teased all through middle school and well into high school.

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