“Taken By Fire is everything you'd want a finale of a series to be. The final battle between ACRO and ITOR is everything that it was built up to be and Melanie and Stryker join a fantastic array of relationships after a emotionally and physically painful road. With a decent amount of action mixed in with complicated romance and a lot of steamy sex, Taken By Fire ended up being my favorite book of this series. If you haven't already picked up the ACRO books, I suggest starting at the beginning. There are a couple book in the middle that were less than stellar but overall this was a fast paced, action and smut packed series that I highly enjoyed reading.”
—Stephanie, Paranormal Haven
“While this story focused on Stryker and Melanie and their relationship, the final showdown with Alek and Itor didn’t disappoint. We get to see all the ACRO agents in action and they all come out blazing with their special abilities. I also love that we get a really nice final scene, giving us a little bit of info about where each of our favorite ACRO couples are, their families and perhaps if Larissa Ione and Stephanie Tyler ever give Sydney Croft a chance to spinoff or continue this series, we may have met the next generation of ACRO agents by books end. ”
—Happily Ever After Reads
“What a great ending to a remarkable series!
When I first read Riding the Storm, I was shocked—in a good way—about the erotic nature of the story. It wasn't what I'd expected at all. But it was so. Very. Good.
As this series progressed, we're introduced to more characters within the ACRO world, characters I came to care deeply about. That Taken by Fire brings them back, at least those connected with the original trilogy, is a nice way to round out the series.
But, boy, were there some tense moments. Ms. Croft isn't pulling any punches in this finale, and the angst and action is at a fever pitch. The ending is worth those few fingernail biting instances, though. A great series from beginning to end.
Thank you, thank you, thank you!!
—My House of Books
· PROlogue ·
The acrid stench of burning flesh filled the air, tangling with the sound of screams and the sight of a man engulfed in flames. Gunfire rang out, clean, crisp pops that seemed distant and unimportant.
The man on fire was too distracting. He flailed, running blindly into trees until he hit the ground and rolled, but even as the flames began to snuff out, his movements flagged, until he was nothing but a charred, quivering lump on the jungle floor. Gray wisps of smoke rose from his body, reaching out to her, telling her the fire had done its evil work…
Melanie Milan jack-knifed upright in bed, her lungs seizing in terror, a cold sweat coating every inch of her body. Panic wrapped around her as she slapped a trembling hand down on the mattress, groping blindly for something familiar. Anything.
Please, please, let me be alone.
Sweet relief washed through her at the feel of the satin comforter she’d had for two years, and now that her vision had cleared of the dream-smoke, she could see the position of the alarm clock, the mirror near the foot of the bed, the window that was cracked to allow a cool breeze inside.
She was at the Rome apartment. Thank God. She never knew where she was going to wake up.
Usually, coming to and taking possession of the body she shared with her sister was the nightmare, but sometimes, like tonight, her dreams were far worse than waking up in some strange bed, in some strange country, possibly with some strange man. Or woman. Or both.
The burning man’s screams still echoed in her ears, and the foul odors clogged her nose. Didn’t matter that she hadn’t actually seen or heard the man burning alive. She knew it had happened, and she knew her sister was responsible.
Seeing Phoebe’s memories as nightmares was one of the worst things about sharing a body and brain. Melanie wasn’t consciously aware of anything that happened while Phoebe had control of their body, but sometimes, like now, Phoebe’s actions played out on the movie screen of Melanie’s mind.
This particular event had happened eight months ago — Melanie knew, because she’d suddenly come awake to take over the body after Phoebe retreated during a rare moment of terror. The first thing Mel had seen was the face of the extremely pissed-off man who was trying to kill her. The second thing was the dead, burned man on the ground, and she’d instantly known Phoebe was responsible.
And now, thanks to her nightmares, she was bone-chillingly aware of exactly how it had all gone down.
Melanie flopped back down on the pillow, afraid to sleep…but what sucked was that she was even more afraid to be awake.
· Chapter one ·
Rome wasn’t a place Stryker Wills was comfortable in. Sure, the women were gorgeous, the food amazing and fucking and eating were two of his favorite pleasures in life. But man, there was a lot of history here he could potentially destroy. The cathedrals and the Colosseum, not to mention the Vatican, had all survived hundreds, or even thousands, of years and he could take them out in one fell swoop with a flash of temper.
Knowing that made him more wary than usual. He’d been tense all morning, despite the beautiful women who’d been propositioning him as he ate in an outdoor cafe, because he didn’t like mixing business with pleasure. And this trip was business, pure and simple, as he tried to get a bead on fire-and-ice woman, a split-personalitied agent who’d killed his friend and nearly taken Stryker out - twice - eight months earlier in the Amazon jungle.
Stryker had been out for blood ever since - his easy-going personality fading into the background as his hunger for vengeance for his fellow murdered ACRO agent grew with each passing day.
Now, the woman responsible for the murder was close. His hands fisted and he realized that he was no longer the same man who’d left ACRO on this assignment all those months ago.
Itor operative Phoebe Milan had killed his supervisor and friend, Akbar Shatar, setting him on fire while Stryker watched, helpless to do anything. And when Stryker returned to ACRO after Phoebe escaped, he’d gotten his new instructions from Devlin O’Malley, head of the ACRO Agency.
Kill her, Dev told him. No further discussion needed.
It was an instruction ACRO agents heard often. As an operative with rare abilities, he’d actually lived on its massive compound since birth, as his parents were also both longtime agents with the Agency for Covert Rare Operatives.
His parents had assumed he’d have abilities but man, had they been surprised at both the type and the extent. Mating a telekinetic with an excedosapien with super strength hadn’t seemed like a crazy idea at the time - and most agents tended to marry other agents anyway. But the first time three-year old Stryker had a massive temper tantrum and caused a fault to rip through the middle of his house, everyone at ACRO had taken quite an interest in him.
So yeah, he’d grown up within the organization and, thanks to that, he was one of the few agents with special abilities who didn’t have major personal issues, but that didn’t mean that sometimes he didn’t feel intimidated by his own might.
He could cause earthquakes and volcanos. Tsunamis, too, of course. Mudslides. Avalanches. Thing was, once he started them, he couldn’t stop them, so he had to make sure to put just the right spin on his power. Typically, if he was forced to use it, he’d start small. Really, really small, because hey, there was always room to move up to life-threatening.
But there was a downside to his gift — there always was, for all the agents.
Stryker didn’t have to watch the news to find out about natural disasters that occurred globally. Most were under-reported anyway, but he was conscious of every single one, no matter their size.
Mainly, because they pulled at his libido, an unfortunate and common side-effect for any elementalist. Mother Nature had a way of getting back at humans who could manipulate her world, and her nasty punishment for Stryker was a hard-on whenever someone used elemental powers around him — or when the earth rocked out an earthquake.
It was all a constant, sometimes ranging from mild to highly uncomfortable reminder that he had no control over mother nature at all, because even though he had a built-in, early warning system, it came only mere seconds before the destruction. It left no time to actually help any victims in the path of the incoming natural disaster.
Most of the time, his sense of guilt was immense. More than once he’d gone to the ACRO scientists and psychics to seek a way to refine his abilities into more of an early warning system, but to no avail.
You can’t beat yourself up over this, Dev, the head of ACRO, would tell him, but Stryker would anyway.
Over the years, Stryker had watched men and women filter into ACRO - most dragged in, kicking and screaming until they could get their powers under control. He’d been there, done that with the control thing, and by the time he’d hit the all-too-volatile teen years, complete with raging hormones and plenty of testosterone, he’d gotten it, knew, for the most part, how to keep his temper in check and, more importantly, the reasoning behind the why.
The next years found him learning to temper his…temper, so he could use his power to help, not hurt. Because that’s what ACRO agents did - they helped to save the world, thanks to their agents’ blend of extraordinary gifts.
Some could control the weather. Others could communicate with animals, some with ghosts and there was a small army of men — excedosapiens — who had super strength or speed.
A pretty cool organization that assisted the government in saving the world from evil – and from Itor Corp, ACRO’s most dangerous enemy to date.
Dangerous, not just because of their self-serving, take-over-the-world goals, but because of the operatives they employed. Operatives like Stryker’s current target. Phoebe was the fiery bitch and her alter-ego was the icy one…but from what little information ACRO had been able to gather, it seemed that the icy personality was the more vulnerable of the two.
Stryker had seen that firsthand, would wake nightly from the same recurrent nightmare that played out as it had in real life in the jungle, with the icy personality pleading with him for her life, but he refused to let his resolve down.
He would kill her as soon as he got the chance, because his nightmares about the smell of burning flesh, and Akbar’s screams of pain, were just as vivid.
“Can I get you another espresso?” The young waitress, dark and curvy, was asking, before staring into his eyes. “I’m sorry, signor, I don’t mean to stare, but your eyes - they look like…a kaleidoscope.”
He nodded, had heard that before. His eyes were different, just like he was, crystal clear with a hint of blue and green, but the rest of him was classic all-American, blond, lean, and tall. “I’m all set here.”
He stood to leave, ignoring the woman’s continuing stare, and that’s when he felt it. A chill passed through the air, as if someone had poured ice down his back. But when he raised his head, he noted he wasn’t the only one feeling the effects.
Spring had just hit and Rome was brimming with tourists. Although March in Italy was always iffy weather-wise, Stryker knew this sudden chill had nothing at all to do with mother nature.
And still, his body responded as if a major strike at the earth was about to happen. A pull that got him up and moving fast, hands jammed in his pockets to hide his sudden arousal.
He did not want to get closer to that bitch - not like this, had not thought through the consequences that her powers could be a major turn-on to him. Mainly, because he hadn’t been affected at all the first time they’d met. He didn’t know if it was because of the horror of watching Akbar die, but this was an unfortunate development neither he nor his trainers considered.
He hated her - did not want to need sex because of her. And still, he walked against the icy wind, taking in the icicles hanging off store-fronts and the hoar frost coating windows and he knew he was close.
His gaze strayed upward, and he caught sight of a woman on a balcony, a blond woman who waved her arms wildly and was apparently having a rather animated conversation with…herself.
It was the ice lady, and although he much preferred her to the one who shot fire, he had to stop both of them. ASAP.
Quickly but covertly, he stashed all but one of his weapons and let himself into the secured building - illegally, of course - and headed up the stairs to the third floor.
Her icy door knocker gave her apartment away, if the film of frost on her door didn’t.
He drank the potion ACRO scientists had given him, the one that would render him immune to both Phoebe and Melanie’s powers, albeit for only a few minutes, but it did nothing to stop his arousal. If anything, the salty liquid seemed to heighten his sexual needs.
He cracked his fingers. He could control himself for a few minutes. That would be more than enough time.
·end of excerpt·