The Last Rising
CURSE OF THE PHOENIX - Book One - Rachel Firasek
After paying two millennia’s penance to Osiris, world-weary phoenix Ice has had enough. Saving souls without any hope for her own redemption isn’t how she imagined spending eternity. Fed up, she decides her next death will be her last. But when she sacrifices her own life for a sexy Texan in a catastrophic plane crash, she has no idea the consequences will be so great…or that she’ll end up back in his life for her next assignment.
Now that Turner Alcott has survived the worst, finding a wife and mother for his son matters more than ever before. When the mysterious Ice comes into his life, Turner knows she’s the one—but love is the last thing Ice wants. If he wants to win her heart, Turner must teach Ice how to forgive herself, and prove that love is the ultimate sacrifice.
Title: The Last Rising (Curse of the Phoenix, Book 1)
Author: Rachel Firasek
Genre: Paranormal Romance
Length: 104 pages
Launch Date: September 2011
Books 2 and 3 are coming November 2011 and January 2012!
Praise for The Last Rising
“Firasek’s heroine will seize your heart and enchant your soul.”
~ Caridad Piñeiro, NYT and USA TODAY Bestselling author of the Sin Hunters series
© 2011 Rachel Firasek
Heat licked along the wing of the plane, flickering like tiny fingers waving good-bye. Ironically, the thought of dying didn’t hurt, but rising again increased her heart rate and caused a damp drizzle at her temple.
The torture of passing through the portal and waking with no memory didn’t appeal to Ice any more than learning to live a new life—damn Osiris and his punishments.
Ice didn’t want to think about her ex. The last time she’d truly seen Osiris, he’d been in pieces—literally. Even dead, the ascended sun god was really beginning to piss her off. He refused to grace her with his presence, yet sent her across the world to rescue souls without any warning about whom she’d save.
The raspy drawl tightened her chest with a long-withered desire, forcing any thought of her ex-husband from her mind. Her attention shifted from the window and the musings eating her conscience. His scent teased her, spicy and exotic, like a piece of home where the hot desert sand met the Nile.
It had been centuries since she’d been home.
A shift in the aisle brought her back to the giant about to sit in 32A. His size alone should have intimidated her, but not a single ounce of fear lingered when he leaned forward to toss his briefcase in the cargo hold above her head. No, she’d gladly die again for just one touch of those large hands on her body.
She shifted in her seat, leaning to the left. When he sat, his arm brushed against her breasts, washing away the memories of every caress she’d ever had. Ah, she’d let too much time pass since she last took a man. The need gnawed at her. Green eyes flashed her way. Maybe he’d be in for a bit of fun before their world ended. And it would end today. Her hair had streaked with white that morning, her only real notice until the aches began. The pains started in her back and pierced her stomach like a sharp arrow. They dragged her to her destination, which is how she found herself on a plane to Dallas.
“Hello,” she purred in her most seductive voice, a cross between Marilyn Monroe and Jennifer Tilley. Not quite pure enough to be angelic, but not so annoying a dog would whine when she spoke.
He tipped his head before folding a black, pinstriped suit jacket—Armani, if she had to guess—across his lap. Long fingers unbuttoned the top two buttons of his white shirt to reveal a bronzed triangle of skin. His sun-kissed blond hair curled over one brow and the top of his collar. Yet, she wouldn’t call it shaggy. More like a work of art she itched to muss with her fingers.
When his glance flashed across her face, she wanted to lower her eyes in embarrassment for her saucy thoughts, but a goddess never lowered for a mere mortal. Instead, she smiled at him, hoping he’d finally speak to her.
Those green eyes flickered her way once more, but he didn’t return her smile. Instead, he fished a cell phone out of an interior pocket of his jacket, too busy to offer a response to her invitation. Or maybe too stupid. His dismissal would’ve hurt before, but now, after centuries of watching humanity’s fall, it only pissed her off. The smile slid from her face and her heart.
Her eyes narrowed. If only she had use of her powers in this world. Yeah, he’d think twice before ignoring her. If he wanted to be cold, she’d freeze his ass and give the polar bears a new glacier to fish on. It’s too bad this world stripped her magic. She turned her back on the man to gaze out the window.
“Hey, Brodie, how’s it going, buddy?”
Nice. The man ignored her to chum it up with a bud. At one time, no male dared turn from her.
“I know. I know. I promised I’d be home this afternoon, but the plane was delayed.” The man paused. “I know, Son, but you’ll have to be a big boy and understand. I’ll be home tonight. I promise we’ll make the next ballgame.”
So, maybe he wasn’t all bad. If he cared about a promise to his son, he must be halfway decent. Perhaps she’d judged him too harshly. Sure, she’d been wrong before.
The boy’s voice rose, dragging a weary breath from her seatmate. The muffled, high-pitched whine carried across the air. If the tantrum coming through the line held any clue, he was young and devastated.
“Brodie, you need to calm down or your asthma will flare up.” He lowered his voice. “Settle down. Shhh.” The man’s rumble seemed to soothe the distraught child and stoked her banked desire. “Put Mrs. Osborne on the phone.” He paused again. “I love you, too, buddy.”
Ice watched in fascination. He explained the delayed flight to Mrs. Osborne, then put the phone away. The man raked a hand over his wavy hair. His head sank back against the seat, a frown creasing his forehead. A slightly crooked nose sat atop a tilted mouth that made Ice wonder if he’d dimple when he smiled. Her interest traveled down to the dip in his chin, beneath the faintest hint of gold stubble.
A faint blush crept across his cheeks beneath the beard. How cute.
“Sorry about that,” he said.
“Excuse me? Sorry?” He was polite—sweet. No. Remain indifferent. Indifference allowed her to feel nothing. She could ignore him if he was a jerk. No memories, Ice. No conversations. You know the drill.
“I didn’t even introduce myself, but I wanted to make sure I reached my son before we had to turn off our cells.” With his head still reclined, he turned to regard her with a wicked grin that did indeed show off a dimple along one corner. “I’m Turner Alcott.”
He stretched a hand across his wide chest toward her. She glanced down at his offered palm. If she flipped this from casual conversation, she could maintain control and forget this peasant after his death.
Forgetting was a good thing.
She reached for his hand, her nails scraping along the sensitive flesh before settling into his grip.
Lesson Number One in controlling a man: find his weakness. Every man had one.
His nostrils flared, and his quick intake of breath confirmed he was at least mildly interested in her. She tipped her head to the side and grinned, hoping he’d read the “let’s slink down the aisle to the lavatory” in her eyes.
“Ice.” Her smile widened. She bit her lower lip and dropped her lashes.
He leaned forward, his face inches from hers. “Now, that’s different. Why Ice?”
“Why not?” She moved closer, until their lips almost touched. His aftershave wrapped around her. The sandalwood and vanilla scent cramped her stomach with a need threatening her sanity.
The pesky flight attendant chose that moment to interrupt her ploy. “Excuse me, would you like a pillow and blanket?”
Imaginary daggers pierced the helpful attendant. “Yes, please,” Ice gritted through clenched teeth, fighting to maintain the false smile plastered across her face. The blanket might come in handy. Ice paid the woman and gracefully snatched the parcel.
The unwanted distraction ruined the brief interlude. Turner settled in his seat, another hint of pink shadowing his face. “Do you fly often?”
She twisted in the small seat and rested her back against the glass. “Too often. And you?”
“Yeah.” He shrugged. “Work demands it. I have a son, Brodie. I would cart him and his nanny with me, but his asthma usually acts up on the plane.”
When he said his son’s name, his eyes lit up, reflecting bits of gold amongst the green. Love. Such a sad sentiment these humans had. Love wouldn’t keep his son from dying one day. Love was a soft emotion that tore your heart in two.
She’d loved like that once and it had destroyed her. The monster inside her would never know that kind of vulnerability again. Forget the child.
A pinched smile escaped her, but he seemed determined to carry on a conversation regardless of her lack of enthusiasm. She’d like to be doing something other than talking right now.
He stretched his legs forward and slumped deeper into the seat. “Do you have kids?”
He must have a damn sorcerer working for him. Was it Pick on Ice Day? Damn, nosy humans. She schooled her face into a practiced calm. “Not anymore.”
He watched her, calculating eyes too focused on hers. His blush deepened. “I’m sorry. Do you… do you want to talk about it?”
He nodded. “Fair enough. You don’t say much, do you?”
Not about her son. Never about him. Talking only made her remember and she couldn’t allow that. No memories. If she went down Memory Lane, the monster would get out and Osiris would add to her growing years of penance.
“Only when I have something to say.” She lowered her voice to a seductive whisper. “Is there something you’d like for me to say?”
He didn’t take the hint but grinned. “Wow, I don’t think I’ve ever met a woman who didn’t have something to say. No offense, but most gals in Texas speak more than they listen.”
She should probably have been offended, but his words held a ring of truth. The women in her care, three little birds needing guidance through the portal, proved his statement every day. They argued more than they learned and listened only to the words they wanted to hear. It was frustrating.
The pilot’s voice interrupted the low buzz of conversation, announcing the start of their journey, or possibly the end. It all depended on how you looked at it. She used that opportunity to arrange the pillow against the window, and covered her lap with the small blanket. She might as well be comfortable when all hell broke loose.
“So, Mr. Alcott,” she waved a hand at the suit jacket lying on his lap, “it’s obvious you’re on a business trip, if that suit is any indication. I’m surprised, though. You said Texas. No cowboy hat?”
Ice reached up to untie the bow at her collar, and the ribbons glided through the eyelets holding the tunic in place. It slipped, revealing her left shoulder and lace camisole underneath. Turner’s eyes followed the material sliding along her skin.
Time for Lesson Number Two: when “subtle” doesn’t work, “in your face” usually produces results.
Gotcha. Now come to me, she beckoned.
“No. I’m from the city, but I do have a small ranch.” He tugged the collar of his shirt and straightened in his seat. With a nervous laugh he replied, “You know boys, they never quite grow out of cowboys and Indians.”
“Well, this little Indian’s been real bad.”
Ice leaned forward, resting both elbows on the armrest, invading his space and forcing his eyes down the front of her shirt. The sweet control settled the nerves tingling along her spine. It would happen soon. Death would surround and invade. Only one would be spared.
“Now, don’t play naïve. We both know what we want.” She trailed her nails along his forearm. The bulge, now evident in his pants, proved he wasn’t immune to her.
He sat back, but kept his arm within her reach. “We do?”
The big cowboy feared his little Indian. How funny. She clutched the blanket in her free hand and draped it over the armrest and his lap. “You seem a little chilled. I can feel the goose bumps through your shirt.”
He cleared his throat. “Uh, yeah. Chilled.”
Incoherency always promised fun.
She scooted in the seat until she sat facing forward, then draped her left arm over the armrest. Her hand slithered under the blanket and she inched her fingers up his thigh. His clenched teeth spoke to her in ways he didn’t need to. “Um, baby, do you like that?”
“Ice, I… I don’t think you should—”
Too much talking. He needed a dose of feel-good. Ice scraped her nails over the ridges of his erection, teasing the zipper of his slacks down.
His hand gripped hers above the blanket. “Christ.”
He wanted the control, but she needed it.
“Has it been awhile, Mr. Alcott?”
“Yesss,” he hissed.
Poor guy, he had no idea this might be his last little bit of pleasure. The least she could do was make it the best ever.
“It’s been a while for me, too. When the seatbelt sign is off, let’s make our way to the back of the plane.”
Turner fought to keep his eyes open. The beautiful minx next to him squeezed his thigh inches below his aching shaft. Her features hinted of an exotic ancestry, but her pale skin kept him from placing her heritage. Arched dark brows flirted with him. Long eyelashes fluttered against high cheekbones, devoid of makeup. Her lips plumped into a pretty pout, and her small chin gave him ideas. Would he notice the smooth satin cleft when he slipped into her soft oval mouth?
He was no better than a randy teenager. Shit. He never let other people control him this way. The plane’s tilt kept him pinned to the seat. The pressure in the cabin made his ears pop and his head throb, which now matched the pulse throbbing below his belt. They’d have at least twenty more minutes before leveling out, and he’d be free to run from the temptation she offered.
He distracted himself with thoughts of the woman. Ice. Her name matched the glacier-blue of her eyes. She flicked a hand at a strand of blue-black hair that kept teasing forward to brush against her brow. Her hair, streaked with white highlights, didn’t fit the young woman’s appearance. Did she dye it, or was it naturally gray? He quieted the urge to push the strand behind her ear. If he touched her now, he wouldn’t quit.
“Ice, you need to stop.”
“Why?” she purred. The woman actually purred. He’d never heard a grown woman make that sound.
He had to stop this before he let her get his zipper down again. It pained him, but he grasped her slender wrist and tugged her hand from beneath the blanket, lifted her hand to his mouth, and placed a kiss on her palm.
“I really appreciate what you were trying to do, but I don’t do this.”
“Do what?” She laughed, and stuck her bottom lip out and pouted. Cute. “Oh, very well. I thought you might like a little fun. It helps ease the nerves, you know.”
“My nerves are—”
“Come on, Turner, don’t you want to find out what color my nipples are?”
He jerked at the image his mind conjured: berry red nipples thrusting toward his mouth. “Jesus. Woman, don’t you know what that kind of talk does to a man?”
Her eyes dropped to the blanket still draped across his lap. A nice tent outlined exactly what it did to him.
He dropped a hand to cover the evidence. “Enough. Turn around and stop torturing me.”
She winked. “Baby, I’d torture you in a way you’d never forget.”
Well, when she put it like that, how could a cowboy not lasso his Indian? Turner chuckled and scanned her body. She’d promise a good romp.
Before he replied, the chime from the overhead speaker indicated the attendants were about to make an announcement.
“Excuse me, ladies and gentlemen, this is the captain. We’re about to reach our cruising altitude, but please remain seated. We’re approaching a storm system that may give us a bit of turbulence. Thank you.”
After the announcement, the attendants hastened to their seats and strapped in. Several other passengers twisted around to follow the path of the uniformed workers. Definitely not a good sign.
They cruised for another half hour with no problems, yet the attendants remained in their seats. Turner’s mouth had dried from panting over the now-silent woman next to him. He glanced back at the attendants and motioned for a drink. The frown and brisk shake of her head irritated him. Damn, it was hard to get good service nowadays.
Midway through their flight, the first few bumps reminded him of the captain’s warning. Soon those small jerks morphed into complete drops in the air. He forgot all about the beauty and sex sitting next to him when his ass left the seat a time or two, and he pressed himself deep into the hard cushion.
He glanced at Ice. The damn woman stoically sat through the jarring bumps. She picked at a piece of lint on her pants and scowled when it didn’t immediately release. She arched a brow at him and with a slight sniff and chin raise, turned away from him to watch the plane bob along the clouds. Obviously, she was pissed because he hadn’t taken advantage of her offer immediately.
Stupid, man. She was exactly what he needed after the weeklong hell in Florida.
He thought of his son. Brodie. If something happened to him, Brodie wouldn’t have anyone. The state would possibly take him, but at five, the chances weren’t good for placement. Turner had witnessed firsthand how hard it was being in the system, waiting for a family to decide if they wanted you. He’d lived a life there and it wasn’t pretty.
The pilot’s voice sounded over the loudspeaker. “Excuse me, ladies and gentlemen, please remain seated and calm. We should pass through this in a few more minutes.”
The announcement shut down.
Turner’s hands wrapped around the outer armrest, and Ice’s forearm balanced on the divider. His knuckles turned white under the force of keeping his ass in the seat.
Her soft words drifted through his worry. “Are you okay?”
Great. Now she wanted to talk. The damn plane could fall from the sky any minute and she finally decided to get over her irritation at his lack of complete indecency?
“Um, I’m not sure. I fly a lot, but never through anything like this. You?”
She watched him, her forehead wrinkled as if she didn’t quite comprehend what he’d said. A gasp and shudder passed through her before those cold eyes warmed. “It’s your lucky day, cowboy.”
The plane tilted hard to the right. It shouldn’t have done that. His shoulder slammed into her slight frame. Then they rolled, and everything shifted forward with the plane’s loss of altitude. The seat belt cut across his lower abdomen, forcing the breath from his lungs. The thought of his manhood shredded by the tightening strap crossed his mind.
She wrenched her arm from his grasp and wrapped it around his shoulder, then whispered, “It’ll be fine, Turner. You’ve been chosen.”
All around them, panic ensued. Compartments overhead burst open. The plane continued to roll. Suitcases and handbags dropped into the cabin, becoming deadly projectiles. One balding man, three rows up, took a heavy case to the head. Others suffered similar blows. The overhead oxygen masks dropped onto their heads and he watched through surreal tunnel vision.
Everything slowed down but him. Men shouted, women screamed, and then it stopped.
Waking in a pile of fire and rubble left Turner disoriented. Swaying, he sat up, his vision blurry. The heavy air filled his lungs with smoke and ash. He pressed his fists against his eyes, rubbing frantically to clear his sight. “Is everyone okay?”
The eerie silence, interrupted only by the crackles in the flames, forced Turner to his knees. He scanned the surrounding area for the woman, Ice. She’d whispered sweetly in his ear that he would be all right, and she wasn’t mistaken. Somehow, he’d survived the crash.
The pop of burning debris mixed with the scent of charred flesh forced him from the haze clouding his mind. No screams, other than the whistle of bottles exploding, drifted along the land surrounding him. There should’ve been cries, pleas of help from God, but there wasn’t. The air was dead, like everyone and everything surrounding him.
Using a broken seat nearby, he pulled himself to his feet. This couldn’t be happening. Everywhere, fire scorched the earth. Seats, luggage, even the surrounding trees suffered from the flames. To his left, the back end of the plane—or what was left of it—sat between two tall cypress trees. He watched in horror as it sank into the murky waters of the swamp that surrounded the small strip of land where he stood.
We must be in Louisiana. Turner, stop sightseeing and help these people.
He rushed to the closest body and tried to beat at the heat engulfing one of the attendants. His hands blistered, but he kept fighting the endless battle. Tears and sweat soaked his face. The flames bit at his flesh.
“Come on! Come on!”
The charred remains of the woman beneath his palms would never hear him. He couldn’t save her.
Damn, fucking fire.
For every flame he beat out, two sprouted in its place. Screaming his frustration, he pulled his shaking hands from the dead woman and whispered a silent prayer for her soul.
The plane’s tail slipped farther into the water and the hiss of extinguished flames struck him with irony. How many lives might have been saved if they’d only gone down fifty feet to the left?
Get a grip. You have work to do.
He tried to find more survivors, but the debris hindered his staggering gait. He stumbled around the cockpit of the plane and didn’t even stop to check for life. The glass was gone, and so was the copilot. What was left of the pilot brought bile to his throat.
Another glance at the area, and he realized that half the plane was completely missing. He wouldn’t let his stunned mind process that he’d been walking all over the middle of it for the last fifteen minutes.
He tripped over a woman’s leg, which had been spared by the fire. His already roiling stomach took a quick and painful twist but he forced himself to continue his examination of her injuries. Dropping to his knees, his aching hands groped along the calf and up to a firm thigh, and he lifted a seat wedged around the torso, then flipped over the body of his angel. Ice.
She lay tattered, bruised, and disfigured. Her arms lay at odd angles, and a large piece of metal pierced her chest, folding around the corners and making it impossible for him to remove. A cold sense of dread froze his heart. “Please, no.”
Her lashes fluttered before opening. “Don’t be sad.”
“Ice.” She was alive. He leaned forward, pressing a hand to her neck, the stroke of his fingers a gentle caress.
“Go home to your son and love him. Don’t let this be for nothing.” Air rattled in her throat and the gurgle of blood broke her speech. “Teach… teach him to be a good person.” She wheezed the last few words. “Find someone to love.”
“Please, please stay with me.” His plea unheard, the light faded from her eyes. Those cold blue crystals that flashed sparks at him on the plane now glazed over with the stillness of death.
“Ice!” His voice, rough from the tears threatening to consume him, broke on a sob. So much death surrounded him. So many wasted lives.
Turner stood, shuffled backward, and searched for something to cover her. He couldn’t leave her like this. A piece from one of the life rafts had inflated and partially melted to a seat near him. Grabbing it, he pried the sticky fabric from the hot metal of the chair and hauled it back to her.
He lifted the tarp. A flash of fire engulfed her limp body. The bright flame, like that from a welder’s torch, forced him to drop the tarp and cover his face, shielding his eyes. The scream of a bird caught his attention and he braved a glimpse into the flame. A fiery apparition rose from the place where Ice had lain, and soared into the air. It climbed so high he lost sight of it in the setting sun. That flaming creature couldn’t be real. Shock shut down his body, and he remembered only the beautiful red bird before fainting.