Warrior Rising - By Pamela Palmer

Chapter 1
Midnight was still several hours away, the moon full behind a thick layer of snow clouds. Activity around the Dupont Circle fountain in downtown Washington, D.C., buzzed with a grim, almost desperate determination as more than a dozen metropolitan police, wearing wristbands of holly, cordoned off the traffic circle while a team of D.C. firefighters set up the fire ring that would be lit just before the witching hour.

Harrison Rand strode around the circle, overseeing the activity as the humans busily created a defense against the night's probable coming invasion. Every month, for an hour at midnight of the full moon, the gates between the human world and Esria opened. For fifteen hundred years, the Esri - the man-sized, malicious creatures at the heart of the legends of fairies and elves - had been locked out of the human world, the gates sealed, but for the one forgotten...a gate that opened, oddly enough, into the heart of Washington, D.C.

Six months ago, an Esri had stumbled upon that forgotten gate by accident, on the scent of one of the seven stones of power, and things had gone downhill fast. Now all twelve gates were open and the Esri's King Rith was hell-bent on tearing down the walls between the realms and enslaving the entire human race. Apparently, he had the power to do it. Or he would have, if he managed to get his hands on the magically powerful stones that had long ago been left in the human realm, stones that Harrison and his small team had searched for and found, and now guarded with their lives.

Harrison's sole mission in life had narrowed down to one thing - protecting humanity from the Esri. And the only way any of them could do that was to reseal the gates before King Rith's minions managed to steal back the stones, giving Rith the power he sought. But sealing those gates was a damn sight easier said than done.

He adjusted the combat vest that he'd donned in case the Esri came through shooting arrows this time. Blasted, uncomfortable thing. The CEO of his own computer software company, his world used to be one of the office, his uniform a pair of khakis and a polo shirt. It was his brother, Charlie, who'd always been the soldier, not him. But thanks to the trace of inhuman blood that apparently ran through their veins - Esri blood from some long-ago immortal ancestor - they were both soldiers now.

Those who couldn't be enchanted, the humans with that trace of Esri blood - humans the Esri called Sitheen - were the only ones who could fight this war. And the Sitheen numbered only a handful.

As snowflakes began to swirl, his gaze moved to the white marble fountain itself, rising high into the air like a giant chalice. In the summer, water would tumble from that high loft down into the circular base from which the carved pedestal rose.

In the dead of winter, there was no water. If anything moved in that chalice tonight, it would be Esri.

A chill went through him that had only a little to do with the frigid air. He zipped up his parka and listened as Jack and Kade gave last-minute instructions to the five new Sitheen recruits Kade had found at area military installations and police departments.

Jack Hallihan was a D.C. cop, six feet tall, as big or bigger than any of the recruits. Kade, or Kaderil the Dark as he was known in Esria, towered over the lot of them like they were midgets. Seven feet of hard-muscled Esri, the immortal was half-human and didn't look anything like his pale-skinned, pale-haired, slim-built brethren. Thank God for small favors, Kade was on their side now.

Harrison frowned. He didn't want to trust the Esri...any Esri. And he definitely didn't want to like this one. But Kade had offered up his immortal life to protect the humans - in particular, Autumn, the human woman he'd fallen in love with. It was hard to hate a guy like that.

But that didn't mean he couldn't hate the rest of the raping, murderous bastards. And he did. He despised them with a fury he sometimes thought would choke him.

Six months ago, an Esri had touched Harrison's seven-year-old daughter, Stephie. He'd just placed his white hand on her head, but whatever he'd done to her had made her scream and scream. And when the screaming had finally stopped, her mind had flown to a place no one