This blog is for those 18 and older.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Disappointing Romance Novel?

Have you ever picked up a novel and been disappointed? All the hype and reviews led you to believe *this* was the best thing since sliced bread and yet, the moment you read the first paragraph, you knew it wasn’t? Sometimes, even our favorite authors have a story that just feels “off.”Fortunately for me, this hasn’t happened very often – only two or three times in the almost 40 years I’ve been an avid reader.
There were a few that had slow starts but once I got to the middle of the book, the story and pace picked up, leaving me satisfied at the end and glad I persevered. There have been a few that started well but kinda lost me somewhere afterward, but still, I read to the end. And there were one or two that started badly and stayed bad, but I kept reading, hoping the story would get better (they never did and I was left with the feeling that I had wasted my time).

I’ve only read one book that made me want to throw it at the wall, but perhaps it was me and the story just wasn’t what I was looking for at the time or perhaps, I had too much other stuff going on in my life that made it impossible for me to like that story.
Have you ever been disappointed in a romance novel? What was it about the story you didn’t like? Did it turn you off of that author? Or did you pick up his/her next release, hoping it was better than the last?

Happy Reading!

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Guest Author Interview: Michelle Willingham

Alexis: Hi Michelle. Welcome to Happily Ever After Thoughts.  Thank you so much for coming.  I love your book covers!  I noticed that you have focused on the Celtic theme lately.  Any particular reason why?

Michelle: Years ago, I visited Ireland and was amazed by all of the castles and round towers.  I knew Scottish romances were popular, but I wondered why I hadn't seen as many Irish romances.  I wrote a series of six Irish medieval romances, followed by some Victorian books, and now I've finally made my way into Scotland.  It was fascinating to see the differences and similarities in the two Celtic countries, and who doesn't love a hot medieval warrior? :-)

Alexis:  I’m all for that! Speaking of a hot medieval warrior, you have a new romance being released this month. Can you tell us about Seduced by Her Highland Warrior?

Michelle:  Seduced by Her Highland Warrior is the second book in my MacKinloch Clan series.  It features the clan’s chief, Alex MacKinloch, who is fighting to rebuild his clan’s fortress after they survive a battle with the English during the Scottish Wars of Independence.  He’s estranged from his wife after they lost their infant son.  In grieving, they grew apart and though they love each other, they’ve become virtual strangers.  Laren found solace for her grief in making stained glass, and it’s a secret she’s kept from her husband.  Alex tried to remain strong and focus his efforts on keeping the clan together, and he’s never faced the grief over losing their child.  Together, they must work through the past to rebuild their childhood love.

Alexis: Wow, this sounds like an emotional ride already. I think it fascinating that your hero and heroine are already married in this romance. You also took this approach with Claimed by the Highland Warrior. Why did you decide to do this?

Michelle: It wasn't a conscious decision, really.  In Claimed, I wanted to do a reunion story after Bram and Nairna were separated during his imprisonment.  The characters of Laren and Alex came alive during that story, and it intrigued me that their marriage had started to deteriorate.  I thought it would be a unique romance to explore how a failing marriage could be saved.

Alexis: I think you are right. It is unique and intriguing. What kind of research did you have to do for these novels? Did you just have to travel to Scotland? :-)

Michelle:  I did travel to Scotland in June of 2010, and at that time I was nearly finished with Claimed  and was brainstorming Seduced.  When I visited the museum Edinburgh and later, the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, I saw many examples of 14th century and 13th century stained glass.  It was amazing how vibrant the colors were, and I took many photographs to inspire Laren's glass.  I also visited a glass-blowing studio, Art of Fire, in Maryland and the artists helped me to understand how glass was made from raw materials, and how Laren would have made her own glass.

Alexis: That’s what I call fun and education research. If that is the type of research you’ve done for most of your novels, I can see why you’ve enjoyed writing so many. You have about 20 romances published now, right? Which one has your favorite hero?

Michelle: I've published eleven full-length books (one is slated to release in June of next year), six novellas, a short time travel story, and an online read.  So almost twenty!  I have many favorite heroes, but I have a particular love of tormented men.  Kieran O'Brannon from Her Warrior Slave was a woodcarver, with a tortured past, and I had a particular fondness for him.  I also loved Trahern MacEgan of Surrender to an Irish Warrior who lost the woman he loved and was seeking vengeance.  Trahern is the only hero I've done who shaved his head, and the cover art for that book was breathtaking.

Alexis: You are right. Here's the link for readers who would like to check it out  Do you have any other romances in the works that we can look forward to?

Michelle: On September 1st, my e-book novella “Craving the Highlander’s Touch” will release.  It’s connected to Seduced by Her Highland Warrior with two secondary characters (a wounded Highlander and an English lady) whom I felt deserved their own story. My next book, The Accidental Prince, is a sequel to The Accidental Princess and will be released in June 2012.  I was excited to finally give Karl his story, and I hope readers will enjoy the fairytale.  I'm also working on the third book in the MacKinloch series, and am halfway finished with Callum MacKinloch's story.  He's a particular challenge to write, because he lost the ability to speak.

Alexis: Oh wow. I love scarred heroes and Callum sounds absolutely riveting. 

Is there anything that you have to have when you sit down to write, like a photo of your family nearby, a cup of tea, lots of chocolate? :-)

Michelle: Soundtrack music is very much a part of my writing. I usually have an instrumental soundtrack that goes along with the story.  For Claimed by the Highland Warrior, it was The Tudors, Seasons 1 & 2.  For Seduced by Her Highland Warrior, I listened to more of The Tudors, only it was Season 3 this time.  I have no idea why those soundtracks helped me tap into Highlander mode, but for the third book in the trilogy, I'm listening to The Bourne Identity.  Now how's that for strange?

Alexis: Hmm, yes that is strange, but then again that’s part of what makes-up a great writer :-) Thank you so much for visiting Happily Ever After Thoughts. We like talking about romance novels here and learning about the wonderful authors who write them!

Michelle:  Thanks for having me!  I'd love to hear from readers about one of your all-time favorite romances.  My favorite is Morning Glory by LaVyrle Spencer.  And you?

Alexis: For a chance to win one of Michelle’s two books, Craving the Highlander's Touch or Seduced by the Highlander, be sure to leave a comment. For more information about Michelle’s many books go to And check out the excerpt below from Seduced by Her Highland Warrior.

Glen Arrin, Scotland

     Soldiers gripped spears in their palms and rushed forward, their weapons aimed at his wife and daughters. 
     Blood dripped from a wound on his forearm, but Alex MacKinloch wouldn't stop running.  A primal roar resounded from his mouth as he lifted his sword and hacked his way toward the women.  His lungs burned as he fought, the battle haze clouding his awareness of reality.  In the distance, he saw his wife Laren's gleaming red hair, as she struggled through a water-filled ditch.  Her skirts weighed her down, and she held their youngest daughter in her arms.  She didn't see the dozens of soldiers approaching as she tried to evacuate the fortress.
     I have to reach them.  Or they'll die.
     It was a reality he didn't want to face, and the thought of his Laren falling beneath a soldier's blade was a horror he couldn't grasp.  His arm ached with a vicious pain, but he fought a path toward them.   The soldiers blocked his line of vision until all he could see was a swift storm of arrows. 
      A pulse thundered in his ears until he realized the arrows were coming from their younger brother Callum, who was guarding the women and children.  Flames erupted from the wooden keep that stood high above them, like a dying sentry. 
     The fortress was going to fall.  He ran as hard as he could and heard his kinsman Ross breathe, "Mary, Mother of God." 
     As Alex rushed forward, he heard the cracking of wood.
*                      *                      *
     "Callum, dive!" shouted a man's voice from behind her.
     Laren MacKinloch struggled through the forest, her skirts sodden with water as the keep surrendered to the flames and collapsed.   She stared through the trees, in shock at the sight of her home.
     Gone now. 
     And what of Alex, her husband?  "Take Mairin and Adaira," she begged Vanora, handing over her daughters.  "I'll join you in a few moments."
     "You can't go back," the older matron warned.  "This isn't over yet."
     "I won't leave the trees," Laren promised.  I just need to see him.  I need to know if he's safe.
     She didn't wait for Vanora's reply, but moved back to the forest's edge, holding on to a slender birch tree for balance.  Her breath frosted in the evening air as the cold settled around the glen. 
     And when English soldiers surrounded the men from both sides, she felt her heart branching into silent pieces of terror.  Oh, dear God, no.
     She couldn't hear what was happening, but the look of grim finality on Alex's face meant that the worst was near.  As she stared from her hiding place, the years seemed to fall back.  No longer was he a powerful chief . . . but instead, the man she'd once loved.  The fist of heartbreak caught her, and tears dampened her cheeks.  They'd grown so far apart over the past two years, and now she didn't know if she would see him alive again. 
     If she had one last moment with him, there were too many words to speak.  Too many things she'd locked away in her heart for far too long.
     Her palm pressed against the tree bark, and though Alex couldn't see her, she kept her gaze fixed upon him, as if she could memorize his face and hold it forever.
     A fiery pain blasted through her right side.  Laren's knees buckled beneath her, and she gasped in shock at the arrow embedded within her skin.
     The searing agony stunned her, and she could barely keep her senses about her.  Though it was a shallow wound, piercing the soft skin sideways, near her ribs, she'd not realized how close she was to the battle.
     She forced herself to snap off the feathered end, sliding the arrow free of the wound.  Blood poured from her side, and she pressed her dark cloak against the flow, fighting the dizziness.
     You have to go back to your girls, her mind warned.  She couldn't stay, no matter how much she feared for Alex's life.  One of them had to live, to take care of their daughters. 
     It wrenched her apart, having to choose between her husband and her children, but she forced herself to continue.  If the English gained the victory, they would come looking for the survivors.  Her daughters needed her, and she had to protect them.
     She struggled up to the top of the ridge.  Each step sent another wave of pain raging through her side, but she ignored the wound, hiding it beneath her dark cloak.  There would be time to tend it later. 
     When she reached the girls, her eldest daughter threw her arms around her waist, weeping.  At the ages of four and not quite two, Mairin and Adaira weren't old enough to understand what was happening.  Laren caught her breath, keeping Mairin's hands away from the injury while she spoke soft, reassuring words.
     "Where is Da?" her daughter demanded.  "Is he safe?"
     "I don't know."  Laren's throat tightened with fear, her eyes burning.  "But we have to wait here for him, away from the soldiers."
     "I'm afraid," her daughter sobbed.
     Laren brushed a kiss against Mairin's forehead.  So am I.
*                                  *                      *
     The earth trembled as dozens of horsemen surrounded their army on both sides.  Robert Fitzroy, the Baron of Harkirk, watched in fury as more of the Scots poured in, reinforced by the French.  His hand tightened upon the hilt of his sword, and he wanted nothing more than to bathe his weapon in their blood. 
The MacKinlochs were supposed to die this day.  Hadn't he burned their fortress to the ground, slaughtering their kinsmen?  He'd already planned to set up an outpost here, to secure more land for King Edward Plantagenet.  But he could see his victory fading away like smoke.
     "Pull back!" he ordered, and his soldiers obeyed.   Though it splintered his pride, he hadn't survived half a dozen battles by making foolish decisions that would endanger his neck. 
     As they retreated into the hills, Harkirk cast a backwards glance.  This wasn't over.  Not by half. He vowed that the next time he looked upon the face of a MacKinloch, it would be mounted upon a pike outside his gates.
*                                  *                      *
     It took a quarter of an hour to reach the ridge, and Alex helped his brother up to the top of the hill.  Nairna looked worried, for although they had survived with only minor injuries, traces of battle madness lurked within her husband's face.  But Alex felt certain that when they brought Bram home, his brother would make a full recovery.
     When they reached the clearing, the first glimpse of Laren sent a roaring breath of relief back through Alex's lungs.  The instinct pulled at him, to go to them.  He needed to hold his wife and breathe in the scent of her skin, touching her soft red hair.
     Laren started to take a step towards him, but she abruptly stopped, her face ashen.  Her hand pressed to her side, and then she turned her attention to their girls.  Their clansmen were watching, and at their sudden attention, she shrank back. 
     He couldn't understand why.  Aye, they'd grown apart over the past two years, but was it so much to ask that she show him a grain of affection?  That she could welcome him back into her arms?  The pain in her eyes bothered him, for he didn't understand it.  Wasn't she glad to see him alive? 
     Though Mairin and Adaira called out, Laren bent and spoke quietly, as if to prevent them from running to him.  Adaira clutched Laren's leg, burying her face in her mother's skirts.
A thousand moments passed by in a single second.  Pride froze out the aching emotions, and Alex stared back at his wife wishing she would meet him halfway.  But she turned her gaze to the ground, unable to face him.  
     Something was wrong.  She'd closed herself off from him, and he didn't know why.  His hand tightened on the door frame, and he forced himself to look after his brother Bram.  "Will you be all right with him?" Alex asked Nairna, who had helped her husband to sit upon their bed.
     "Aye."  She poured water into a basin and retrieved a cloth to tend Bram's wounds.  When she wrung out the cloth, she sent Alex a pointed look.  "Go to Laren.  She needs you."
     He left them alone, watching the way Nairna cared for her husband.  The deep love in her eyes and the answering look in her husband's face brought a surge of envy.  He wanted to be with Laren right now, to shatter the invisible wall between them.
     The thought became a thorn, digging deeper into his pride.   She was the woman he'd pledged to protect.  Years ago, she would have thrown herself into his arms, not caring what anyone else thought.  She'd have clung to him, whispering words of how she'd worried.
     But now, she kept her distance from him, almost as if they were strangers.
     His frustration strung tighter as he walked among the survivors, asking about their welfare.  During that time, not once had Laren moved towards him.  Her face was white, as though she were too timid to move.
Damn it all, he didn't care if she no longer wanted him.  They'd survived their brush with death, and right now, he wanted to hold her.  He needed her in his arms, whether or not she was too shy to answer the embrace.
     He crossed through the people, moving directly towards her.  Without voicing a single word, he pulled her into his arms, holding her tightly.  She let out a slight gasp, but her hands moved up to his shoulders, resting there.  He didn't speak, didn't reveal any of the thoughts coursing through his mind.  Adaira and Mairin each grabbed his legs, but right now, he needed Laren.
     Dimly, he was aware that she wasn't quite holding him in return.  Her hands were there, but there was no warmth, no answering embrace.  His heart numbed when he pulled back to look at her, his hands resting at her waist. 
     He'd mistakenly believed that if he made the first move, she would welcome him back.  That the past two years of distance wouldn't matter anymore, because they were alive.  But she didn't look at him, as if she were too shy to speak.
     He let his hands fall away, saying nothing.  The girls were chattering, asking him questions about when they could go home, where they would sleep, and he couldn't give them an answer.
   His kinsman Ross came near, and asked, "Do you want to bring your family to our home for the night?"  Since Ross's home was on the opposite side of the fortress, it had escaped the fires.
     Alex never took his eyes from Laren but agreed.  "Aye, if it's no trouble to you." 
     "Not at all.  Vanora will want to fuss over the wee ones, as she likes to do."  His gaze grew somber, staring at the smoke that rose from the valley below.  "And you'll be needing a place to stay until you can rebuild the keep."
     "I'll take the girls there now," Laren said quietly.  "If you think it's safe to return."  Her voice was shaky, but at his nod, she guided their daughters away from the crowds.  As they disappeared into the forest, Ross was saying something else to him, but Alex didn't hear a word of it. 
     His wife was behaving strangely, and he didn't know why.  Then his gaze fell down to his hands.  Blood stained his palms from where he'd held his wife. 
     Jesu.   It was Laren's blood.

Alexis: Don’t forget, for a chance to win one of Michelle’s two books, leave a comment :-).

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Review: First Night by Debra Webb

Debra Webb writes a tale from her series, The Colby Agency.  Filled with a basket of conflicts, it’s a wonder that the crime under investigation could possibly be solved.

The Windy City, Chicago, sends more than a frozen breeze through Merri’s door as she works overtime as an investigator at the Colby Agency.  Merri, not able to hear, isn’t aware that a blood covered man, Brandon, shows up after hours to plead his innocence in the murder of his roommate, Kick, until he approaches her in her office. 

Brandon, a dyslexic, fears he is the main suspect. 

Merri and Brandon hide their disabilities and the chemistry building between them, yet work together to find out who knew Kick’s agenda as a journalist.  Kick previously researched an article to uncover the Crime Commission leader’s connection to the Mob.   

The story leads you on a trail with many dead-ends and complications.  Merri has no intentions of giving in to the real murderer, even if it may cost her own life.  Brandon won’t allow her to get in the line of fire as innocent bystanders find themselves.

Don’t miss out on whether the murderer is apprehended and how Merri and Brandon find that their disabilities are another barrier they can overcome.    


Sunday, August 21, 2011

Guest Author Interview: Caris Roane

Alexis: Hi Caris. Welcome back to Happily Ever After Thoughts.  Thank you so much for coming.  Your Guardians of Ascension series is really taking off! How do you keep all these stories headed in the right direction?

Caris: I’m so happy to be back with you and your readers!  Ah, my Guardians of Ascension!  I’m smiling as I write this, can you tell?  Creating this series has been one of the finest experiences of my life and now that I get to hear from the fans, I’m pretty much in heaven…all the time! 
            As for keeping the stories headed in the right direction, it helps to have an initial end-point in sight.  In this case, we’re building to a major war-ending battle in Book #10, so that all the stories, beginning with Ascension—which is Kerrick and Alison’s wonderful HEA—have to lead to that.  So far, so good!  I’m writing the 5th book in the series as we speak…and we’re building, we’re building.  I’d give details but man that would be a bunch of spoilers!
            I also want to state for the record here that Book #10 is only the end of this first part of the series.  When we get there—fingers crossed—we’ll leave behind our wonderful Second Ascenders and head to Third Earth where a whole new set of problems awaits an entirely new set of hunky vampires (or maybe shifters…).  FYI, I’ve already mentioned someone in the first three books who will be a major player on Third Earth, but I’m not tellin’ who it is!  

Alexis:  Ugh, talk about leading me on! And you’re only writing book #5 now?  That’s okay. The journey is most of the fun :-)  Speaking of the journey, you just had a novella released, Brink of Eternity. How does this book fit into the Guardians of Ascension Series?

Caris:  Brink of Eternity, as a novella, gave me the opportunity to develop the Militia Warrior side of things.  Within the framework of the series, the small elite group of warriors, called the Warriors of the Blood, have a mountain of power and can battle the enemy—the heinous death vampires—single-handedly.  But the Militia Warriors are the peacekeepers of Second Earth and number in the hundreds of thousands all over the world.  They also battle death vampires, but only in squads of four, so they have less power.  But they are warriors and Brink essentially shows how much pride and courage this force has.  So the novella gave me the chance to explore this aspect of the larger world of ascension.  It also shows the continuous theme of ascension that I’ve dubbed ‘emerging powers’.  

Alexis: I like the sound of that :-) Why did you decide to write a novella and for these two characters in particular?

Caris:  Well, the initial impetus was a request from St. Martin’s to do an original work for the website called, Heroes & Heartbreakers.  What I love about this website is that they feature authors from all of the pub houses, not just St. Martin’s.  Of course I said yes, because the novella would be a free read on the website through the month of May and it would help introduce the online e-reading audience to the series.  So, as I considered possibilities for subject matter, I thought, why not take a Militia Warrior on the brink of becoming a Warrior of the Blood?!?  It was the best concept for what I’m trying to accomplish with the series generally, that is, to show characters in flux, growing, working out issues, and arriving at new levels of competence and power.  At the same time, I took the heroine and put her through her ascension to Second Earth, transforming her from a mere mortal to an ‘ascended vampire’.   No biggy!  Ha, ha!  The fact that she almost dies in the process?!?  Well, what can I say…paranormals are basically suspense novels with fangs and fur!   
Alexis: Oh, I like that description. You also have a new book coming out the end of this month titled Wings of Fire.  Can you tell us a bit about that one?

Caris:  The third book in my Guardians of Ascension series, Wings of Fire, basically picks up right where the second book, Burning Skies, leaves off…and yes, I ended Burning Skies with a painful cliffhanger, so hang-tough, my friends…Wings of Fire answers all the questions posed in the preceding book.  
Without giving too much away, essentially Wings of Fire tracks the tumultuous relationship between Warrior Antony Medichi and his breh, or bonded-mate, Parisa Lovejoy.  He’s trying to keep her alive since the enemy wants her really dead, and she’s trying to find her own way through her new, ascended life without giving up her identity or her power.  Sparks fly and the war, which defines the core struggle for Antony and Parisa, puts a tremendous pressure on their growing, intense relationship.  What sets this novel apart from the previous two is that the profound quality inherent in their magnificent wings plays a significant role in how their relationship resolves, why they are finally able to commit to each other, and how together they are able to create a new power that will impact the war.

Alexis: This book sounds fascinating. I can’t wait for mine to come in. In the first book, Ascension, you introduced us to your wonderful, hunky Guardians. How do you decide what kind of woman is right for each one?

Caris:  For me, the ‘pairing’ process has evolved into something highly organic, and by that I mean that most of the decisions I make are intuitive rather than intellectual.  Although, I truly wish that I could simply reason out many things about the series—like plot, like characters, like pairings, even settings—but basically the activity of writing, day-in and day-out, causes a kind of magic to happen and all these tremendously unexpected elements just suddenly show up.  Of course, this leaves me surprised every single day that I write, which is awesome.  All that to say, that only as I work with each warrior, as I see him from the point-of-view of his brother-warriors, as I see him interact with the significant woman in his life, as I delve into his thoughts and all the ‘why’s’ of his conduct, do I get a sense of who he is.  Even then, I don’t really think, ‘Oh, this kind of woman would suit this warrior’.  Instead, at the same time that I’m writing my warrior, putting all these words on the page, his woman is developing in the writing process as well…who she is, what she wants, what she fears, what she hopes for in life.  And somehow in that back-and-forth of writing, processing, pondering, examining, and eventually through my dreams at night, the right couple emerges.
Is that clear as mud?  LOL!  

Alexis: Absolutely opaque. So, what book will be next, and whose story will it be, and most important, when will it be released?

Caris:  On January 3rd, the fourth book of the series hits the market:  Born of Ashes.  This book is all about Warrior Jean-Pierre and his woman, who of course you’ll meet in Wings of Fire.  But more I will not say for fear of giving too much away about what goes on in Wings of Fire

Alexis: Kill joy. Okay, okay, I get it. Your books and this world are so amazing. I can’t wait to read every one. Thank you so much for taking a few moments away from your Ascension series and visiting with us at Happily Ever After Thoughts. We like talking about romance novels here and learning about the imaginative authors like yourself who write them :-)

Caris:  I loved being here!  Meeting up with readers is one of my absolute favorite things!  Thanks for having me.  

Alexis: For more information on the Guardians of Ascension go to Caris’ website at  And don’t forget, for a chance to win your choice of one of the Guardians’ books, leave a comment.
To read the first 2 chapters of Wings of Fire, go to Heroes & Heartbreakers.
For just a taste of Wings of Fire, here is the first scene of the book:

My Beloved
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

Chapter One
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.
            “Where’s Rith?” 
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.”
“Of course.”
“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.

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