Born of Ashes (Guardians of Ascension #4)

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06.03.2019

He felt pride. Perhaps he should not. Perhaps he was being foolish, but he was proud of Fiona and her power and the delight she took in learning her new skill.

After launching a sparkling emerald firework to the ceiling, she danced around beneath the green sparks. When the most recent light show ended, Fiona tilted her head at Alison. “So you think my specialty somehow involves channeling?”

“I think so.” She glanced at her watch. “Just as I thought. I have to leave now but before I go home I’m going to have to give Endelle a report.”

Jean-Pierre watched, again savoring, as Fiona thanked Alison for her help. The women embraced then Alison left the makeshift training room and headed to the right toward the landing platforms.

“I don’t even know what to think about this,” Fiona said. She stood near the center of the room, hands on hips, and staring at the floor. After a moment she lifted her gaze to Jean-Pierre. “Channeling? Have you ever heard of a Second Earth preternatural power like that? Channeling?”

He shook his head. “Not at all. I am not even certain it is in Philippe Reynard’s book on ascension. But perhaps it is a gift of Third or Fourth ascenders. Given all that we know, anything is possible.”

“I guess. But how would this work? What would the benefit possibly be of me being able to channel a power like making fireworks with my hands?”

Jean-Pierre moved closer to her. “Do but think, Fiona. If you were ever in a difficult situation, you could channel this ability in possibly anyone. You could therefore throw a hand-blast to save yourself. I think the applications have great potential.”

She nodded again, but this time her nostrils flared. “I could take Rith down.”

At that he chuckled softly, and because he was close enough, he lifted her chin with two fingers. “Easy, tiger.” He smiled.

She returned his smile. “I do seem to have a one-track mind.”

“That is not a bad thing.” He still touched her chin, and the contact both eased him and excited him. In all the time that she worked with Alison, her delicate croissant scent was a constant pressure on his senses.

But standing here now, the delicate scent deepened. His breathing faltered. The pheromones, meant just for him, assaulted his nose then his brain. “Fiona,” he whispered, his voice now deep and very rough.

Café-au-lait, she sent, her nostrils flaring.

Seriffe appeared in the doorway, and Jean-Pierre let his hand fall away.

“You gotta see this, Fiona. Bev thinks she’s found another anomaly.”

“You’re kidding. So soon? That’s fantastic!” She headed for the doorway and before Seriffe could move out of the way, she pushed past him.

The two men followed behind.

“There’s just one problem,” Seriffe said, glancing at Jean-Pierre.

“What is wrong?” Jean-Pierre asked.

“We’ve got a bunch of power-signatures at the site.”

“Death vampires.”

“Probably. We’ve been able to count seven.”

“Mon Dieu.”

“No shit.”

Once at the grid, Fiona confirmed the blue-green shading that indicated Rith’s unique mist-signature.

“What is the location?” Jean-Pierre asked.

Without taking her eyes off the grid, Fiona responded, “Honduras Two. Not that far from us.” Although distance hardly mattered. A good fold would bring all the women back to the rehab center within seconds of extraction.

Fiona turned to Seriffe. “One of those signatures could be Rith. This could be it.”

Seriffe nodded. “Possibly.” He then looked around the room. His gaze found Gideon. “Is your team ready?”

“Calling them in now. Ten minutes to fold-time.”

“With so much death vampire sign,” Jean-Pierre said, addressing Seriffe, “I wish permission to accompany the team. You will need my sword.”

Gideon’s voice cut across the length of the grid, his voice as hard as steel. “We’ve got this, Warrior.”

Jean-Pierre turned and met his gaze. “You would turn down my sword because of your pride?”

“We don’t fucking need a WhatBee on site. No offense. But we’ve been managing just fine for the last seven extractions. My men are well trained.”

Jean-Pierre understood exactly what he was looking at. Gideon was not just a Militia Warrior marking his territory; he was close to WOTB status, which meant his instincts had moved into overdrive. He even wore his blondish hair long, past his shoulders and shoved behind his ears. He’d be needing a cadroen soon, in more ways than one.

“I will defer to Seriffe on this,” Jean-Pierre said. “His call. Not mine.”

“At least you’re making some sense now,” Gideon retorted, his voice sharp.

Jean-Pierre felt the tension that now surrounded the grid table. Even Fiona glanced up at him, her eyes wide.

“Gideon,” Seriffe said. “Stop being an asshole.” He turned to Jean-Pierre. “We’ll take you up on your offer and I’ll clear it with Endelle since you’re on guardian duty. I’ll keep Fiona close. But I have to say that I don’t like the way this feels. Too damn easy.”

Gideon moved to stand across from Seriffe, but his gaze was fixed on Fiona. “What do you think? You know Rith well. Is this something he would do? Try to lure us in?”

Fiona shook her head and shrugged. “I’m not sure. Rith was many things but his mind never struck me as particularly devious. He liked order and routine, everything by the numbers, and he did not like death vampires. So, if they’re at this facility, then I think there’s a good chance that something else is going on.”

“So where exactly is this in Honduras Two?” Seriffe asked, looking up at Bev.

She was on a platform elevated three feet above the massive grid so that she could see the whole picture. She sat on a tall stool, operating the controls. She made a few taps on her computer to her right then called out, “Near the Guatemalan border, a place called Copán Two. On Mortal Earth, the Mayan ruins draw people from all over the world. But on Second, a river, a jungle, solitude.”

“Perfect for a blood slavery facility,” Seriffe said. “Maybe more like a camp. Lots of vegetation. No wing fighting.” He looked up and met Gideon’s gaze.

Gideon nodded, his brow furrowed. “Got it. No wings.” He glanced at Jean-Pierre. “The landing platform in nine minutes.”

Jean-Pierre dipped his chin once.

Fiona was bent over the grid, staring at the anomaly, when Jean-Pierre leaned close. “May I speak with you … alone?”

His breath touching her cheek and ear sent shivers down her shoulder, arm, and back. He smelled of coffee suddenly, and male, and she rose up to let him escort her back in the direction of the original training room.

He was close at her back, almost touching her as she walked through the doorway. She was about to ask for a little space, but the door shut with a snap, the two slats he’d opened fell closed, and suddenly she was alone with her vampire.

Her breath caught in her throat as he took hold of her arm in a tight grip. “You must stay with Seriffe the entire time I am gone, do you understand? Seriffe is powerful. If there is trouble, he will be able to help you. And do what he tells you. Also, I do not want you near any of these Militia Warriors.”

In the dim light of the room, she stretched her preternatural vision so that his face appeared as if lit by candlelight. She opened her mouth to protest all these commands and was just about to pull her arm out of his grip when she caught sight of the terrified look in his eye.

How many times over the past five months had she seen that look, that haunted expression of complete fear that if he so much as moved a foot from her, she would be taken from him and he would be unable to get to her, to help her, to save her?

At one point, she had made him tell her what was going on with him. He said it was the breh-hedden, that he was crazed. All these feelings were new and maddening. He despised them and he despised himself for pressuring her when she didn’t need pressure of any kind.

Remembering what he had said just an hour or so ago—that he hadn’t slept so well in decades, because she’d been beside him—she relaxed her ready-to-do-battle stance and put her hand on his face. “Seriffe will know what to do,” she said.

A long agonized breath left his body. She was so glad that for once she hadn’t lit into him and told him to back off and give her some space. He even let go of her arm. “Bon,” he whispered. He plunged his hands into his hair, but the cadroen held fast, so that now some of his wavy blond curls stuck out from the sides of his head.

She chuckled and tried to pat them down, but it was no use. “You’ll have to reset your cadroen.”

He held her gaze and seemed to freeze at her touch.

He was so beautiful in his god-like warrior way. His features were strong, his cheekbones defined partly by his leanness, and his blue-gray-green eyes large and fringed with thick light brown lashes. His lips, oh his lips, the two erotic points and the full lower lip. She wanted to kiss him, but she shouldn’t. She wanted to touch more of him, but she needed to start getting a grip where he was concerned.

Her fear swamped her all over again, of living this difficult life. How simple things had been for her in Boston, the wife of a wealthy man of commerce. She’d been in command of her home, her servants, her children; she was a leader in her social circle.

Then captivity and life had undergone a long series of new definitions. Now, with Jean-Pierre, though it wasn’t his fault, she sometimes felt as much a captive of the breh-hedden as she had ever felt under Rith’s thumb.

“We need to take this slow,” she said. Of course visions of what it had been like to make love with him just a few hours ago sort of shattered her slow concept. In what way, exactly, could they now take it slow?

He nodded. “Oui, chérie. We should take it slow.”

At least he didn’t argue with her.