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Authors: Kaily Hart

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Rise of Hope

BOOK: Rise of Hope
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Rise of Hope
By Kaily Hart

A secret ancient race of humans with fantastical abilities, the Vadïm are on the brink of extinction. Many of their women are imprisoned by an organization known as The Assembly, their history all but lost…

Devon Monroe has been a prisoner her entire life. She’s determined to make sense of the strange markings on her body, to learn why no one may touch her, to find where she belongs. That means escaping into the unknown, where she has no choice but to trust her self-appointed protector.

Soldier-for-hire Seth Eastman has a job to do: deliver Devon to safety. When Seth discovers the markings on Devon’s body, he’s stunned at what they mean. And at how she awakens his long-suppressed needs. As they struggle to escape detection and search for the truth of the
Vadïm
, can he ever hope to claim her for his own?

36,000 words

Dear Reader,

August has a special feel for me. Not only is it my birthday month (and I’m firmly in the camp of celebrating a birthday month—one day just isn’t enough) but since I’m in North America, August is also the last hurrah of summer. It’s the time before my daughter goes back to school and lazy weekends at the beach start drawing to a close. In my professional life, August is also the one month of the year I try to take a break from the crazy travel schedule.

So with all those things combined, you know what that means, right? I become self-indulgent and get in as much reading as possible. That’s why I’m thrilled we’re kicking off the month of August with the first book in the fun and flirty new contemporary romance trilogy, Aisle Bound.
Planning for Love
by Christi Barth releases the first of August, and I hope you love it as much as I do. It’s got all of the elements I adore in a contemporary romance: humor, passion, likable characters and, best of all, a happy ending. Christi is a wonderful, fresh new voice in contemporary romance. This book was so much fun to edit, and if you love contemporary romance, please check it out!

Not only do we have
Planning for Love
releasing in August, we also have quite the lineup of debut, new-to-Carina and returning authors in a variety of genres. This month, I’m excited to introduce debut authors Bronwyn Stuart, Ruth Diaz and Jacqueline M. Battisti, each writing three very different genres, but each bringing us three amazing stories. Bronwyn presents us with a passionate historical romance,
Scandal’s Mistress,
while Jacqueline blazes onto the writing scene with her first romantic urban fantasy,
The Guardian of Bastet.
Ruth’s book,
The Superheroes Union: Dynama,
is exactly what you might imagine it to be from that title: a fast-paced superhero female/female romance.

Also offering up urban-fantasy fare this month in the GLBT category are authors Heidi Belleau and Violetta Vane, with their co-authored male/male urban fantasy
The Druid Stone.
And if the male/male genre is what you enjoy, make sure you also check out L.B. Gregg’s August re-release of
Men of Smithfield: Mark and Tony,
a spicy contemporary male/male romance with a lighter edge.

If you’re a fan of romantic suspense, we have two to help you indulge your cravings. Tina Beckett offers up
In His Sights,
while fans of Adrienne Giordano’s Private Protectors series will be pleased to see her back with another action-packed installment in
Relentless Pursuit.
If you’ve never read Adrienne’s books,
Relentless Pursuit
is an excellent place to get attached to her sexy heroes and strong-willed heroines. Or, if you want to start with something shorter, check out Adrienne’s novella,
Negotiating Point
in the
Editor’s Choice Volume I
collection.

New Carina Press author Kaily Hart kicks off her paranormal romance series Fabric of Fate with
Rise of Hope.
Will fate alone determine their future or can they carve out their own destiny?

Rounding out our August releases are three returning Carina Press authors. Joely Sue Burkhart’s
The Bloodgate Warrior
is an erotic fantasy romance sure to knock your socks off! Robert Appleton returns with another science-fiction offering in
Cyber Sparks.
And bestselling author Rebecca York brings us the sequel to
Dark Magic
with the novella
Shattered Magic.

I think you’ll find something in this month’s collection to help you indulge. And, hey, since it’s my birthday month, celebrate with me by indulging in more than one. I won’t tell!

We love to hear from readers, and you can email us your thoughts, comments and questions to
[email protected]
. You can also interact with Carina Press staff and authors on our blog, Twitter stream and Facebook fan page.

Happy reading!

~Angela James
Executive Editor, Carina Press

www.carinapress.com
www.twitter.com/carinapress
www.facebook.com/carinapress

Dedication

To you, the reader. You’re the reason I write. You’re why I
strive to write the best book I can. Every. Single. Time. You’re the wind
beneath my… Nah. That’s way too corny, but seriously… You allow me to do what I
love every day. You let me show my kids that if you want something bad enough
and if you work for it, dreams can happen.

And Rula…girl, you know who you are and what you do. Thank
you!

Chapter One

This was the life.

Or it would be if this kind of crap was anything he cared about.

Seth eased back in the seat, folded his hands over his stomach and drew in a deep breath. Even extended as far as they could go, his feet still didn’t touch anything. Not the seat in front of him, not any of the luggage that had been carefully stowed, nothing. He wondered how long it’d been since Noah had flown commercial, if he ever had. The thought obliterated the last, lingering shred of guilt Seth may have had about making the guy pay through the nose for his services this time.

He might be heading out in Noah’s luxury jet, but he’d be returning under completely different circumstances. Yeah. He should probably make the most of it.

He still had the weird feeling in his gut—a dull, relentless ache he hadn’t been able to shake in the six weeks since he’d signed up for this assignment. It wasn’t adrenaline. He was used to that, welcomed the rush, used it to his advantage to keep him on edge, focused. And it wasn’t fear, even though he wasn’t dumb enough or arrogant enough to believe he could do this kind of work forever and remain unscathed. So far he’d been lucky. He hadn’t eaten a bullet or anything else, at least none that had really counted. Like any of the jobs he took on, he might not come out on the other side in one piece. If at all. It just went with the territory.

He glanced back down at the grainy picture he’d been studying. It was taken from a great distance, the subject standing at a window in half shadow. The shot was the best one they’d been able to get, yet the quality was so poor to be almost useless. It didn’t much matter. He had her description memorized, or as much of one as they had.

He sighed. Maybe he was getting too old for this shit, because the closer they got to their destination, the worse the sensation got. And the more it pissed him off. He hoped like hell it’d be gone when this was all over.

Seth glanced around the cabin. They’d been quiet since the jet had taken off—all of them—and that was fine with him; in fact, he preferred it that way.

Micah was engrossed in what looked like some kind of science textbook. Christ, who the fuck read something like that for fun? And the guy never seemed to be still. A nervous energy radiated from him and even now, he was drumming his fingers against his thigh. It made Seth uneasy, plain and simple.

Christian hadn’t said a word to anyone. Seth didn’t think he’d ever gotten a good look at him. He always seemed to hug the shadows and even now was hunkered down in the corner of the cabin, his personal lighting switched off. He’d been sitting in the same position since takeoff and looked as if he might have been napping, but Seth knew better. He was as alert as Seth was himself.

Both the other men were highly trained, lethal if they needed to be, experts who came to the table with their own “special skills.” He’d worked with them before doing Noah’s “master plan” bullshit, whatever that was. But who really cared anyway? Noah had enough money to fund whatever the hell he wanted, to chase down whatever demons he might have, to satisfy whatever bug he had up his ass.

Except this job was different.

Seth glanced back at the photograph, frowned when he realized he’d crushed it in his hand. They’d never done anything like this before.
He’d
never done anything like this before. Maybe that was the rub. He was an expert strategist, skilled marksman, and not many could best him in hand-to-hand. His time on the streets and the military had seen to that. But
this?
Yeah, this time the job wouldn’t only be intelligence gathering, they wouldn’t
just
be acquiring some
thing
. And it wasn’t exactly covert.

Micah looked up as if he sensed Seth’s thoughts, his pale eyes eerie in the dim light. Even after everything Seth had experienced, done, all that he’d seen, those eyes still put him on edge.

“You ready for this?” Seth asked, his voice harsher than he’d intended.

Micah’s mouth kicked up at one side. “I was born ready.”

Seth clenched his jaw. God, the whole thing depended on this fucking goofball. They all had an integral part, but Seth was putting his life in this guy’s hands. Literally. It didn’t sit well with him. At all.

“What about you?” Seth threw at Christian, the glitter between the other man’s lowered lids barely visible.

“Yeah,” he grated. “I know what we need to do.”

Seth swallowed what he’d been about to say as the flight attendant leaned down to place a glass of water on his console, brushing against his arm. He stilled, gritted his teeth and fought not to recoil at the contact.

Touch.

It wasn’t something he was used to, wasn’t anything he sought out and wasn’t something he often permitted. Except during sex. And only what was necessary.

He let out the breath that had stalled in his chest and shifted in the seat when she straightened. The lust had been riding him hard lately and it was only getting worse, so much worse. He tried to hold out for as long as he could until the demands of his body overrode his overpowering need for solitude, for privacy. His common sense.

He didn’t do dumb, yet last night more than qualified. He’d hooked up with some woman in a bar and it had all gone down in the front seat of her car. In a fucking parking lot.
Christ.
He’d left himself wide open—vulnerable—but he hadn’t had the patience to drive somewhere else. Or to exchange the pleasantries that went along with it.

He’d held himself back with her, like he always did during sex, always conscious of his size, his incredible strength, but it’d been a near thing. He’d left it too damn long that time.

Ego demanded he always gave more than he took but guilt probably factored in there somewhere too. And what do you know? He’d felt like an asshole afterward. It wasn’t the first time. It wouldn’t be the last either. The real problem? It was pretty familiar territory.

“Would you gentlemen care for anything else before we prepare for landing?”

Seth gritted his teeth, shook his head, registered the others responding to the quiet, soft voice.

Yeah. Right.

God, if only she knew…he wasn’t gentle, never would be. Any gentle had been ripped out of him a long time ago. And he wasn’t a man either. Not exactly.

None of them were.

* * *

Something was wrong. Very, very wrong.

He looked the same, walked the same, talked
exactly
the same, yet the energy, the very essence Devon felt from her guide was not that of the man she remembered. It was darker, more raw, almost…dangerous. He carried his heavy pack with a lot more ease than he had in the past, with more purpose in his stride. It paid to be cautious, but he watched everything around him, his gaze constantly scanning the woods, the trail behind and in front of them. Relentlessly. The hairs on the back of her neck had been on end as soon as they’d cleared the first tree line. And his clothes, they were loose, as if he might have lost weight recently.

“Have you been ill, Tom?” she asked.

His gaze shot to hers. His eyes were the same faded blue, crinkled a little at the corners, yet there was a laser-sharp alertness that was unnerving and…different.

“I’m fine, little lady.”

Again, the same husky voice with the slight drawl. He’d always called her that, yet now it seemed forced, wrong. There was something there, something she couldn’t quite put her finger on, almost as if—

Devon shook her head. Maybe she finally was losing her mind. After all this time of holding things together, of constantly putting up the front, had it all come down to her being delusional? Paranoid? Nerves, it had to be nerves. Or stress. After all, she’d never had the courage to follow through before, had even backed out last year, but God, she’d barely allowed herself to even dream of doing this for real. Nothing could go wrong, it just couldn’t. She didn’t have any other options left and there’d be no second chance. No do over this time. But first…

She stopped, waited.

He swung around immediately, gave her a quick smile. “We need to keep going if we’re going to make the camp site by nightfall.”

She could see his attempt at lightheartedness, but it was just that—an attempt. He probably didn’t have a lighthearted bone in his body, not really. There was an aura of darkness that clung to him and despite what he looked like, who he appeared to be, something was wrong.

She took a deep, shaky breath. “No.”

“What do you mean ‘no’?”

There it was. The edge of steel she’d sensed earlier, and her pulse jumped.

“Who are you?” she forced out. The last thing she wanted was a confrontation, but something was off and she needed to deal with it now. The stakes were too high.

He tried another forced smile. “Heat exhaustion. I’ve seen men, a lot bigger than you, succumb to it. Why don’t we take a quick break—”

“No. I’m not moving until you tell me who you really are.”

Devon held her ground as he walked to her, moving with a predatory grace that had her heart slamming against her ribs, the blood roaring in her ears. She fought the urge to turn and run, tried not to quake under the intensity of his stare, but it was hard. He had intimidation down to an art. That was definitely new too.

“He warned me you were smart,” he said quietly. “Off-the-charts smart.”

Oh God.

His voice came out deep, gravelly, without the drawl and minus the accent. Everything inside her froze.

She swallowed at the lump in her throat. “What—”

“But I don’t know how strong you are mentally and I don’t have the time to explain. We know you’re planning an escape. I’m here to help you, take you someplace safe.”

It could be a trick, a test of some sort. Or perhaps
they
already knew about her plans and this was only a game—some kind of sick, twisted game. She’d sensed things were changing, that something was about to happen at the compound. It’s why she’d known she had to make her move. And fast.

She had to be so careful. One wrong move, one stupid mistake and it would all be for nothing.

She held her composure with a mammoth effort and looked at the man she’d always relied on, had thought of as a friend of sorts, and wondered what the hell was going on. And who the hell he was really—friend or foe?

“Escape?” she managed. “Escape from what?”

“Look, I get it. We know about your plan, such as it is. I’m here to get you out.”

We?
How could he know, how could anyone know? She’d been so careful. For three long years she’d been so. Damned. Careful. “You’ve lost your mind,” she tried again.

His eyes narrowed. “I don’t know if you’re brainwashed or what, but whether you like it or not—” his voice dropped, “—whether you’re willing or not, you’re coming with me.”

She shivered at the quiet threat, tensing when he stepped even closer. He stared at her, jaw clenching, so near she could feel the warmth coming off him, and her throat went chalk dry.

“No. I—”

“You have markings,” he bit out, glancing toward her abdomen. Her breath caught and held. “You don’t know what they mean, or exactly how you got them, but you have them.”

“How—how do you know that?” she whispered before she could stop herself.

“I have them too. We all do.”

“What?” she said, her voice hoarse. “You—”

“But right now we need to get moving.”

“But—”

“Later,” he snapped.

He’d cut her off. Again. “Wait, just wait. I want to know who you are and what the—”

“We don’t have the fucking time.”

Devon flinched as much from the curse as the harshness of his voice. It wasn’t a word she’d heard often and never said directly to her.

“Look,” he ground out. “We have to—”

“No. You want me to come with you, you tell me who you really are and what’s going on. Right now.”

She’d wanted firm, but her voice ended up shaky at best. He looked at her for a heartbeat, two, before toeing out of his hiking boots.

She frowned. “What are you…?”

But the words choked in her throat. The air around him blurred for an instant, shimmered and waved, and in the blink of an eye, between one second and the next, he’d transformed into…someone else. She tried to suck in some much needed air, but her throat didn’t work, wouldn’t obey. Nothing would. It was as if everything was frozen, as if time had stopped.

She fought the urge to rub her eyes as if she could wipe away what she’d seen, what had just happened, from her mind. It wasn’t real. It couldn’t be. Could it?

Gone was the friendly, competent wilderness guide and in his place was one of the scariest-looking men she’d ever seen. Tall, heavily muscled, he now filled those loose clothes to the limit, the pants snug around powerful thighs, the shirt stretched across wide shoulders, around thick biceps. His face was harsh lines and hard angles, his short hair like ink, and his eyes…they were dark and trained on her, gauging her every reaction, watching her every move.

Everything in her screamed at her to turn and run, but she still couldn’t move, could do nothing but stare at him. And for the first time ever Devon considered the possibility that maybe the compound had been safe. That perhaps there were worse things, far worse, out here than she could ever have imagined.

Hold it together, Devon.

“How— What—” she tried again. “What are you?”

“We have to keep moving.
Now.

Devon reached back into her pack with a hand that shook, with fingers that barely worked, and pulled out the small knife she’d stashed in the side compartment. It’d seemed innocuous enough for the hike and she’d prayed it wouldn’t raise questions, but she’d figured she might need some kind of weapon—for protection, for…something—even knowing deep down she didn’t have the skill or the inclination to use it.

She was so ill-equipped for this, for all of it. Still, she held the knife out in front of her. “I’m—I’m not going anywhere with you.” She wished her voice didn’t sound so hesitant. “Tom, the real Tom? Did—did you hurt him? What have you done with him?”

BOOK: Rise of Hope
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