The clock is ticking as Emberly—a phoenix capable of taking human form—races to take revenge against the sadistic and mysterious Rinaldo. The elusive rebel leader threatens to keep killing until he is given all of the research about a plaguelike virus derived from vampire blood.
Forced to reach out to the Paranormal Investigations Team for help, Emberly and her partner, Jackson, must decide who to trust as they follow the trail of dead bodies. When classified information is leaked and their safe house is ambushed, Emberly’s suspicions are confirmed—someone at PIT has betrayed them.
A final battle looms and Emberly will need to command all her powers—or watch the world turn to ash....
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I raised my face to the sky and drew in the heat of the day. It ran through me like a river, a caress filled with warmth and sympathy, as if the sun were aware of my reason for being in this clearing out in the middle of nowhere.
And maybe it was. It had witnessed me performing this ceremony far too many times in the past.
I closed my eyes and ignored the tears trickling down my cheeks. Rory's death was once again my fault. If he hadn't been in Brooklyn with me, he'd still be alive.
And if he hadn't been there, that inner voice whispered, not only would it be you who was dead, but possibly Jackson and Sam as well.
I hated that inner voice, if only because all too often it was right.
Rory had died saving our asses, and I knew he wouldn't be angry about that. He'd always had something of a hero complex, and had often said that if he had to go before his allotted one hundred years were up, he'd rather do it saving someone he loved.
And he and I did love each other; hell, I couldn't physically survive without him, nor he without me. But we weren't in love, thanks to the curse that haunted all phoenixes-a curse that was said to have come from a witch after a phoenix lover had left her with little more than the ashes of broken promises and dreams.
But it was a curse we could have ultimately lived with, if not for the fact that it came with one other kick in the teeth-that no matter whom we did fall in love with each lifetime, the relationship would end in ashes, just as the witch's had.
As far as I was aware, no phoenix had ever found a way to break the curse. I certainly wouldn't-not in this lifetime, at any rate. Sam might have gotten as far as talking to me of late, but I doubted it would ever progress beyond that. Not given what he saw as my complete betrayal of his trust-even if he now understood the reasons for it.
I drew in a deep breath and released it slowly, letting it wash the lingering wisps of regret and hurt from my mind. I needed to concentrate. The sun had almost reached its zenith, and that meant it was time to begin.
I stripped and placed my clothes onto the loose white tunic I'd brought here for Rory, and then kicked off my shoes. The slight breeze teased my skin, its touch chasing goose bumps across my body despite the sunshine.
Within me, energy stirred, energy that was a part of me and yet separate. Rory's soul, impatient for his rebirth. When phoenixes died-as Rory had in Brooklyn-their flesh became ashes that had to be called, and then retained, within the heat of a mate's body. If for some reason that process didn't happen, then there was no rebirth. And that, in turn, was a death sentence for the remaining partner, as phoenixes could only ever rise from their ashes through a spell performed by the mate.
And there was also a time restriction on rebirth. It had to be done within five days of death, or the life and the fire of those ashes would die, and the spirit and energy would be returned to the earth mother, never to be reborn.
It had been three days since Rory had passed. I was pushing it, time-wise-hence his impatience and, perhaps, a little fear. But I'd had no choice-the weather in Melbourne had been so bad, a fire would have struggled to remain alight. And while, as a phoenix, I could have kept the flames burning, I couldn't afford to waste energy when I had no idea how much I'd need for the ceremony. Because no matter how long I'd been doing this, no rebirth was ever exactly the same.
I brushed stray strands of red-gold hair out of my eyes as I moved into the center of the clearing and toward the square stack of wood I'd already piled there. The dry grass was harsh and scratchy underfoot, and the scent of eucalyptus teased my nostrils.
It was a perfect day for resurrection.
I reached down to the inner fires and called them to my fingers. As flames began to dance and shimmer across their tips, I stopped on the west side of the bonfire and raised my hands to the sky. Sparks plumed upward, glittering like red-gold diamonds against the blue of the sky.
"By dragon's light," I intoned softly in a language so old only the gods or another phoenix would understand, "and the mother's might, I beseech thee to protect all that surrounds me and the one I call from me."
As the words of the spell rolled across the silence, the air began to shimmer and spark with the colors of all creation. It was the heat of the day and the power of the mother, of the earth itself, rising to answer the call of protection.
"Banish all that would do us wrong," I continued. "Send them away, send them astray, never to pass this way. So mote it be."
The sparks I'd sent skyward began to fall gently down, but they never reached the ground, caught instead in the gentle hands of the shimmering light.
I moved to the north section and repeated the spell. The shimmering net of sparks extended, and the hum of its power began to vibrate through my body. I echoed the process on the two remaining sides until the net had joined and my entire body pulsated to the tune of the power that now surrounded me.
I faced the bonfire and again raised my face to the sky, watching for the precise moment the sun reached the pinnacle of its arc. Heat, energy, and sparks ran around me, through me, a force wanting to be used, needing to be used.
Now, that inner voice said.
I called to my flames, then stepped into the center of the bonfire. As flesh gave way to spirit and I became nothing but a being of fire, the wood around me burst into flame. I held out my hands and raised the fire to greater heights, until it burned with a white-hot heat.
It felt like home.
Felt like rebirth.
"I beseech the dragon that gives life, and the mother that nurtures us all, to release the soul that resides within."
The words were lost in the roar of the flames, but they were not unheard. The ground began to tremble, as if the earth itself were preparing for birth.
"Let the ashes of life be renewed; give him hope and bless him with love, and let him stand beside me once more. By the grace of the mother, and the will of the dragon, so mote it be."
As the last word was said, power tore up my legs and through the rest of my body, the sheer force of it momentarily stretching my spirit to the upper limits of survivability. Specks of luminescent ash began to peel away from these overstretched strands, gently at first but rapidly increasing, until it became a storm of light and ash. As the heat of the flames, the force of the earth, and the brightness of the day reached a crescendo of power, the motes began to condense and find form, alternating between our three forms-fire, firebird, and flesh-until what the earth and the day held in their grip was the spirit I'd spent aeons with.
I thanked the earth mother and the dragon in the sky for their generosity and the gift of life, and then reversed the spell, this time moving from south to west. The wall of energy and sparks shimmered briefly, then began to dissipate, the energy returning to the mother and the fiery sparks drifting skyward as they burned out and disappeared. Nothing was left but the bonfire and the fiery outline of the adult male curled up in a fetal position in the middle of it.
Weariness washed through me, and I all but fell to the ground. I sucked in several deep breaths to clear my head, then crossed my legs for the long wait ahead. Rory might now be reborn, but physically he was extremely weak. That was part of the reason I'd piled the bonfire so high-he would need the flames to fuel his body. He wouldn't wake-wouldn't even gain flesh-until the ashes in his soul had refueled enough on the heat of the fire to enable full functionality. And even then it would be days before he'd be back to his old self and fully mobile.
The afternoon passed slowly. I boosted the fire a couple of times and kept the heat at a white-hot level. It was close to four in the afternoon when his spirit form began to jerk and tremble, a sure sign that his inner fires had fully awoken. An hour later, he began to keen-a high-pitched sound so filled with pain that tears stung my eyes. Rebirth was never pleasant, but the pain was so much greater when we died before our time. I had no idea why, but figured it was the mother's way of making us a little more careful about how we lived and, ultimately, how we died.
Dusk had begun to seep across the skies in fiery fingers of red and gold by the time his spirit gave way to flesh. By then the bonfire was little more than softly glowing coals, but they didn't burn him. Which wasn't to say that we, as spirits of fire, couldn't be harmed by our element. The scars down my spine were evidence enough of that. But they'd come from a situation in which I'd been unable to either control or feed on fire; I'd been rescuing a child, in full view of a crowd of people. Vampires and werewolves might be out and proud-and had generally been accepted into human society far better than most of us had ever expected-but because there were still enough people who deemed them a threat to civilization, in need of erasing, the rest of us thought it better to remain in the shadows.
Who knew how society would react if people ever realized just how many of us were living among them?
Even though Rory was unconscious, the process of feeding during rebirth was automatic; the coals continued to fuel him, until the light within them was completely drained and nothing remained but cold ashes.
Only then did he stir.
Only then did he open his eyes and look at me.
"Emberly." His voice was little more than a harsh whisper, but it was a sound so sweet it brought tears to my eyes. Because it meant everything had gone right; he was back, and whole, and life for the two of us could go on as it always had.
I smiled. "Welcome once again to the land of the living."
"Not sure this can ever be called living. Not when every fucking piece of me is aching like shit."
"That is the price you pay for getting yourself shot."
He grunted and rolled onto his back. Ash plumed skyward, then rained back down, covering his flesh in a coat of fine gray. "Did you get the bastard who did it?"
He raised a pale, red-gold eyebrow. "Meaning?"
"That I sent every ounce of flame I could muster, and every bit of energy I could demand from the mother, into the building the shot had come from. It exploded into pieces so small, they were little more than dust, so I undoubtedly got the shooter."
"But it's the bastard who ordered the kill we want."
"Exactly." I uncrossed my legs and pushed upright. Just for an instant, the clearing spun around me, a warning that Rory wasn't the only weak one right now. "And I thought you might like a piece of that particular action."
"You thought right." He looked around. "Where are we?"
"Trawool. Or just outside of it, anyway."
He blinked. "Where the fuck is that?"
I smiled and held out my hands. "It's about fourteen kilometers out of Seymour and just over an hour from Melbourne. Ready?"
His fingers gripped mine and, after a deep breath, he nodded. I hauled him upright; ash flew around the two of us, catching in my throat and making me cough. He hissed, and his fingers tightened briefly on mine as he gathered his balance.
"It never gets any easier," he muttered.
I held on to him and waited. After several more minutes, he nodded. I released one hand but shifted the other to his elbow. Just because he thought he was stable didn't mean he actually was.
"I wasn't able to drive the car into the clearing-there're too many trees," I said. "But it's parked as close as I could get."
"I'll make it." He took a determined step forward, paused unsteadily for a moment, and then took another. He very much resembled a toddler taking his first steps, and, in many ways, it was an apt image. The two of us might have spent more years alive than either of us cared to remember, but each rebirth came with the cost of major muscle groups remembering how to function again. Sometimes it was almost instant-as had happened this time when it came to speech and arm movement-and other times it could take days. Hell, the last time I'd been reborn, it had taken close to two weeks for full function to return to my legs.
When we finally reached the edge of the small clearing, I quickly redressed, then picked up the soft tunic, shaking the dirt and leaves from it before helping him into it. Right now, his skin was so new that it was also ultrasensitive. Anything too tight or scratchy would rub him raw.
It was only half a dozen steps from there to the rental car, but by the time he'd climbed into the back of the station wagon, he was shaking and bathed in sweat.
Once he'd made himself comfortable on the thin mattress, I slammed the back door closed, then climbed into the driver's seat and started the car up. "There're protein bars and a couple of energy drinks in the backpack."
He dragged the pack closer and opened it up. "Whatever did we do before modern food manufacturing?"
"Snacked on beef jerky and drank unrefined cows' milk boosted with raw eggs."
"Which is probably the reason I hate both with a passion today." He tore open the protein bar and began munching on it. "Except, of course, when said milk is combined with either brandy or rum in the form of eggnog. How many days have I missed?"
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I continue to be impressed with the character and story line development. A must read series.
Just finished this book which is the 4 the in the series. Each book is better than the next. Great story and characters. Author so writing style keeps you coming back for more. Can the wait for next book.
So happy to reenter Emberly's world