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BRINK OF ETERNITY (Chapter One)
What is eternal, but that which holds within its essence the shining light of hope.
--Collected Proverbs, Beatrice of Fourth
While standing in her office, preparing to leave for the night, a vision came to Elise Jordan, a sequence of events that threatened the life of someone she knew. She tried to shut the images down, to stop the flow, something she could normally do. But this vision would not be denied. She saw it through to the end, which was not an end at all, just that point at which the woman, if left on her own, would surely die.
Now she had a decision to make and a vampire to contact, something she had promised herself she would never do.
Elise thrived on order and routine. She enjoyed having a firm schedule. She was the only person she knew who had a genial relationship with her alarm clock.
Everything about this vision, however, invited chaos, the very thing she strove to avoid every day of her existence.
She sighed. She didn't really have a choice, not if she was to live with her conscience. Funny how her conscience, and not desire or drive or hope or even fear, would dictate her future. Just guilt. Good old-fashioned guilt.
She finished up in her office, going through her ritual: wiping down the counters, checking the optical refractor, frowning because she needed to buy a new one, bringing forward the small trash can beneath her desk to make sure the building maintenance people found it and emptied it. She stared at the trash can. Would she even be here after the weekend?
On Friday night, a single woman should be going out, maybe with girlfriends, maybe to a regular bar, meeting men, meeting normal men, not tracking down former vampire warrior boyfriends from other dimensions. Two or three expletives, a habit learned from said boyfriend, flowed through her mouth and hit the air.
She took off her professional white coat, folded it up, and put it in her tote. She had a stock of coats so that she could rotate them through the cleaners. She never wore the same coat twice in a row. She liked everything fresh, clean, in its place, which meant that what she was about to do went against the grain.
She never went against the grain. Except for Gideon. Gideon in all respects, in every sense, had been totally and irrefutably against the grain.
The last one to leave, she set the alarm, then locked the door to the building. She had a thriving practice that she shared with several other optometrists. Imagine, a clairvoyant setting up shop as an optometrist. Talk about overkill.
She headed to her car, her very sensible Audi, white, of course, against the endless months of strong Phoenix sunshine.
Once inside, she buckled up. In April, the temp hovered in the mid-eighties during the day, so she needed a couple minutes of air conditioning to take the day's heat off the vehicle. She started the engine and powered up the A/C.
She sat for a minute staring through the windshield at nothing in particular. She leaned her forehead against the steering wheel. She took deep breaths. The hum of the motor and rush of air eased her nerves. Sort of.
Oh, God. Was she really going to do this, open the lid to Pandora's box, let out all that chaos?
She didn't have a choice. She really didn't. Someone's life hung in the balance. If she felt the routine of her life slipping away, too bad.
She sat back in the seat and withdrew her iPhone from her simple gray leather purse. She touched the screen and brought up Gideon's number. She touched the screen again. The ringtone chimed along, not caring that she resented the hell out of this conundrum.
"Elise, what's wrong?"
Oh, God his voice. So deep. Her body knew that voice, every varied resonant timbre. She rocked her hips forward, trying to get more comfortable, trying not to feel so damn much, trying to push all that sudden familiar desire away.
"Sorry." Her voice sounded hoarse. "I never meant to use this number."
"I know. But that's why I gave it to you. Just tell me what's wrong."
"I had a vision."
"What? Wait a minute. You...had a vision?"
"Yes. Long story, that." She wanted him, just this once, to go with the flow. Fat chance. Neither of them really understood the concept of flow.
"What do you mean you had a fucking vision? As in, you saw the future?" Yep, no flow.
She rolled her tongue around her mouth. More guilt. "In all our time together, I might have forgotten to mention that I'm clairvoyant. I get visions. I see the future."
She heard him breathe for the space of eight long seconds. "You're fucking clairvoyant and you're just telling me now?"
She had to pull the phone away from her ear. All those familiar expletives rattled through the airwaves and burned up the inside of her car. She sighed again. A cursed tear slid from her right eye. Another from the left made the same unhappy journey.
"Can you be mad later?" she asked. "I don't like this any more than you do. But I have something critical I need to tell you."
Another eight seconds passed, filled with his muttering this time, deep and low. "Fine." Crisp, brittle, mad as hell. "Give."
The issue rose up, a solid wall in her chest. She had nothing to give, except guilt. "I had a vision about your sister. About Rachel."
She cut through another string of expletives. "Some really bad guys will be after her tomorrow at dusk; you know, longish dark hair, pale-bluish skin. You call them pretty-boys."
"Elise, you're killing me here. Are you saying what you're saying? Are you telling me that you know about death vampires?"
Dread worked claw-like fingers into her chest and grabbed hold. She really didn't want to do this, to reveal the truth. "Yes, Gideon, I retained all the memories you believe you wiped. Death vampires, otherwise called pretty-boys because of their overall beauty, alignment of features, extraordinary power, long dark hair, and glossy black wings, evidence that these monsters drink people to death in order to get at the highly addictive dying blood. And they're known as 'boys' because most death vamps are male, though women cross the line, too, just not as often."
No seconds this time. "Shit." He repeated this word a few more times and again she pulled the phone away from her ear. She let him mull all these truths around, unspoken from the beginning of their relationship, that she knew all about the multi-dimensional world of ascension, that she had a boatload of preternatural power, and that she had never truly been honest with him.
The long silence that followed brought a couple more tears.
"Okay," he said. "What exactly happens in this vision of yours?"
"Three death vampires fly over a ridge of tall trees, pines maybe, or redwoods. I don't recognize the place, but there's a clearing, a small river, bigger than a stream, lots of rocks on the banks, hills, more trees, a real forest. And there are two bridges, small bridges."
"You said this takes place tomorrow? How do you know?"
"I just know. Late afternoon, almost at dusk."
Long, long pause, "Meet me at the Blood and Bite. Tell me when you can get there." He didn't ask. He commanded. But what else was new?
"An hour and a half. I have to go home and change."
"Fine. And Elise?"
"We're going to talk."
More commands, but then Gideon wasn't just your average Militia Warrior serving Second Earth. He was high in the ranks, answering only to Colonel Seriffe, who headed the Militia Warriors in Metro Phoenix Two, and when the occasion demanded, the militia worldwide.
This time, she paused. After a couple more deep breaths, she said, "I don't want to, but I will."
The time had come.
Gideon hung up. He stared at his phone. Jesus, his hand shook.
He stood in the stone foyer of his home in north Scottsdale Two, Second Earth, like a suit of armor, unmoving and rigid. He couldn't even blink. He didn't know which thought to have first, that Elise possessed previously unacknowledged preternatural power or that his sister faced certain danger.
When some life started flowing back into his limbs, he touched the screen of his Droid a couple of times. He waited. His sister's voice came on the line.
"Hey, Gid." Okay, she sounded upbeat but he knew Rachel. She could front with the best of them, a family trait. She hid her unhappiness about living on Second Earth really well.
He worked his jaw, then finally said, "You're not thinking of doing anything foolish, are you?"
When silence returned, he pressed the phone against his thigh, closed his eyes and shouted one long "fuck" at the ceiling. He drew his phone back up to his ear. "Please don't, Rachel, I'm begging you. Don't do it. How can I keep you safe if you do this?"
"First, it's not your job to keep me safe. I'm a big girl. Second, I don't know what you're talking about." The slight tinny quality to her voice failed to escape his ear.
"I'm late for my yoga class."
"On Friday night?"
He debated his next course of action for about three seconds. "You might be in trouble, as in big trouble."
She laughed. "As in you're giving me a Seer warning."
"What?" She said it in that tone of hers, with the pitch angling up at the end. "Why would I show up in the future streams?"
"More like a clairvoyant vision and no, I don't really know the difference, but my source called it a vision. Beyond that, you know why. You have more power than you've ever admitted."
"More Second Earth bullshit, brother."
"I know you're not happy here." Rachel believed that no human should even possess, not to mention make use of, any form of preternatural power, and she thought Second Earth, as an ascended world at war, was one huge-ass piece of hypocrisy. She was into peace and love and vegan food. And she really hated that her own brother served as a Militia Warrior. So, yes, she was unhappy.
"Understatement," she said.
"Okay. Fine. But could you stay put for a day or two until I figure out a couple of things?"
The night was full of dead air spaces. He heard her take a deep breath through her nose. "I've heard of a rogue colony in northern California, and that's all I'm going to say."
"Well, gotta go. Love you, Gid, so much, but my instructor scowls if I cross the threshold past seven."
"Whatever," he responded, but only because he was talking to the screen of his phone. Rachel had already hung up.
Sweet Jesus. Every word out of his sister's mouth just confirmed at least part of Elise's prophecy. He didn't doubt for a second that his sister was going rogue.
Thousands of vampires left Second Earth to live in exile on Mortal Earth. He just never thought his sister would join those ranks.
And how the hell was he to protect her if she went rogue? She could say whatever she wanted to say, but death vampires hunted vulnerable women who tracked life alone, like culling the weak from the herd.
He also knew that powerful ascenders like Rachel had light signatures that could show up on HQ's electronic surveillance grid. He could contact Bev, who worked the grid all night, and have her start checking for power signatures over northern California.
He withdrew the thin, credit card-sized warrior phone from the pocket of his jeans. He swiped the front and a moment later Bev came on the phone.
"What's doin', Gideon?" He smiled. Bev's voice soothed him, but then the women chosen to work HQ's command center had that special calming quality, a necessary skill when dealing with disaster and horror on every other call.
"Hey, Bev. I have a situation."
"How can I help?" There it was, the words he needed to hear.
"I've just been tipped off about a rogue colony in northern California."
"Is it possible this is a lair?"
"My source indicated there were no death vampires present. Definitely a colony. And...this is critical."
"I'll set up the grid right now. May take a few hours to identify significant power signatures."
"Give me a shout when you find something."
He hung up and sucked in another deep breath.
Now for the other side of the equation.
An hour later, Gideon leaned against the tall side of the nearest red velvet booth at the Blood and Bite. His skin twitched.
Fighting and making war shaped his days and nights. As a Militia Warrior, he battled death vampires six nights out of seven every fucking week of his life, serving and protecting. He could handle wielding a sword, but waiting for his ex gave him the scratch.
Beyond that, could he believe a woman so made up of lies?
This last thought went straight to his hands. He watched them ball up into fists. He closed his eyes, took a deep breath, then shook out his hands. He needed to calm the hell down.
He hadn't seen Elise for a month. Talk about hell. He had no special attachment to her, but he couldn't exactly sleep at night and his thoughts ran to her more often than not.
Fuck. Breakups were hard. That's all.
He opened his eyes and once more scrutinized the entrance to the club in case Elise had arrived.
Unattached Militia Warriors milled around waiting for the next female to arrive. Mortal women came in droves to the Blood and Bite. Once they left, they might have foggy memories of exactly what happened on the club's premises, enthrallment being a beautiful thing to a vampire, but rarely did a woman leave without a smile on her face. That fulfillment brought them back every time.
For the most part, the warriors held to the rigid club rules: no deep enthrallment, consensual sex only, mind-altering mist over the openings to each booth to sustain privacy, no voyeurism except in the case of a superior officer checking out rumors of misconduct.
As a section leader for the Phoenix Two Militia Warriors, he had to investigate even the whiff of an infraction. Every once in a while, he prosecuted warriors who crossed the line.
He glanced to his right in the direction of the dance floor. The DJ kicked up the Black Eyed Peas and the strobes made those couples dancing look like zombies on crack.
He caught a scent and stiffened from head to toe.
He knew Elise had arrived because the air in the hot, sweaty club suddenly smelled of strawberries, ripe, lush, sweet, juicy strawberries. She had a scent meant just for him, an anomaly in their relationship, since specific mutual scents didn't occur in the usual course of ascended vampire life. In fact, the only known case of the phenomenon had occurred recently when a myth, which proved to be not a myth, afflicted one of the elite Warriors of the Blood.
That Gideon could scent Elise had always troubled him. What did it mean that she gave off a scent he could detect? Was this a case of the infamous breh-hedden? Impossible, on so many levels. For one thing, the breh-hedden was supposed to be a myth. And for another, only Warriors of the Blood were known through all those ancient myths and legends to have experienced the ritual.
Even thinking about the WOTBs, otherwise known as WhatBees among his ranks, also gave him the scratch. Those assholes just couldn't stay out of Militia Warrior business. The next time he found one of them disciplining one of his men, he'd not hold back, not even a little. Sure, the WhatBees had a place, but not on his turf. They served Madame Endelle directly, answered only to her as the ruler of Second Earth.
Right now, they were lined up at the bar, pretty as you please. Assholes.
Okay, so he was a little on edge and he should think nicer thoughts, because they did lay it on the line every night. That they had advanced powers was just the luck of the fucking draw. But courage for courage, give him a Militia Warrior every damn time.
When Elise's strawberry scent once more rolled in his direction, his body reacted, as it always did, as though her scent punched into all his pheromone receptors at exactly the same moment. Punched, then punched again.
Thank God for the strobes. He didn't have to worry about any of the other Militia Warriors thinking he was interested.
He pushed away from the bank of tall-backed red velvet booths and headed toward the entrance. When he reached her, two Militia Warriors hovered over her, attempting a thrall. He might have laughed, because no way could either of these bozos bust past her shields.
But amusement didn't exactly sum up his feelings right now. Instead, the sight of two men hitting on a woman he would always think of as his woman brought his head down and his fists up.
"Move it or lose it," he said. "This woman's taken."
The first warrior jerked back in his direction ready to do battle, then looked up. "Shit, Gideon. Sorry." He turned and headed toward the dance floor.
The other one backed away almost as fast.
He looked at the woman whose body he knew every which way from Sunday, and all those familiar sensations rushed back at him, her under him, her on top of him, her lips around him, taking him deep. God, he missed her. Even standing in front of her, yeah, he missed her. And he blamed her for his goddamn celibacy as well. For the last month, since their breakup, he'd been off blood and sex, which might just account for his current temper.
"Gideon," she said, in that controlled way of hers. Her voice, low and melodic, did him in every damn time.
The music had just cranked up again. More Black Eyed Peas. He leaned close and spoke against her ear. "I've got a booth."
She drew back and nodded. She looked tight around her eyes, even angry. What the hell did she have to be angry about? He was the wounded party here.
She moved to the right, in the direction of the booths. He crowded her, his hip up against her hip, his hand at her back, then around her shoulder, pulling her close to keep her from touching other men. Shit, he couldn't control his instincts around her. But how was that anything new?
He was so screwed.
When he drew her up next to the booth, she looked up at him and frowned. "You actually reserved this booth?"
He nodded. "Why, not? I figured you owed me one helluva an explanation, so why not here? After all, this is where you spoke and acted out all those fucking lies."
Elise stretched her preternatural vision just a little so that the strobes didn't impact her view of him. She saw him as though bathed in a warm light. But this was a mistake, because she could see him, really see him, and what she saw struck her down as it had from the beginning, as though she was looking at the only man on two earths that could ever do it for her.
His sheer physical presence never failed to surprise her. He was warrior tall at six-five, lean and heavily muscled. He wore a snug T-shirt and jeans, a look she loved on him. He had broad shoulders and thick pecs made for biting and sucking. She knew his biceps well; they were fit for holding on to when he drove into her.
She loved his dark blond hair, which flowed away from his face, neither long like the Warriors of the Blood, nor short like most Militia Warriors', but somewhere in between as though Gideon was in between.
But of all his many physical attributes, she loved his eyes the best. They were dark blue and stormy like waters in some northern sea. He had only to look at her, hold her gaze, and he could command her--not because he enthralled her, but because looking into his eyes was like looking into his soul and that was the real problem. She liked what she saw.
Gideon was like no man she knew. He was a warrior, a Militia Warrior, who were also called Thunder God Warriors after an Apache expression. He served the ruler of Second Earth as a frontline soldier in the war against death vampires. He had the commitment and dedication of the disciplined military mind.
She turned, ready to slide into the booth, but there, waiting for them both, was the usual: her reddish Cosmo and his Glenlivet neat.
Memories rushed back to her and she weaved on her feet so that he caught her elbow. "Hey," he whispered. "You okay?"
Damn and damn. Why did he have to prove his worth by having their drinks ready and waiting and why did she have to remember all the ways he'd made love to her as though time was just one big well-oiled, revolving door?
A shiver traveled straight through her and a wave of his scent, his gorgeous, sexy, toffee scent, flowed over her shoulder. A few of her learned expletives once more sped through her mind.
She swallowed hard, pulled her elbow out of his grasp and half scooted, half fell into the booth. She caught herself with hands on the strong red leather of the seat. She turned her near-topple into a quick glide and move to sit at the back of booth. Hopefully, he would keep his distance and sit adjacent to her. The last thing she wanted was his body next to hers. She slid her Cosmo toward her, then took a drink. She should have sipped, but right now she could use a little added courage.
She took a deep breath.
Now to explain all the lies.
BRINK OF ETERNITY Copyright © 2011 Caris Roane