Life Cycle Excerpt
From Life Cycle:
(It’s a longish excerpt, about 5k. Enjoy!)
Her cards were packed already or she’d do another reading. She turned away from the cage and took her single bag to the kitchen to make another cup of Earl Grey and wait for whoever he was.
She didn’t have to wait long. Half an hour later there was a knock on the door. She slung her bag over her shoulder and went to answer. Standing on the other side were an unlikely pair: Anna and Cain. Death and her best friend, delivered right to her door. Anna was looking mildly transparent and ghostly without her demon mate there to keep her solid. She was also looking mildly angry.
“Does our friendship mean nothing to you? How could you keep a secret like this from me?” She attempted to smack Tam on the arm, but her hand went right through. Sometimes that ghost thing was a good thing.
Tam decided to play dumb, even though there was only one giant secret she’d been keeping from her friend. “What secret?”
Anna rolled her eyes. “Seriously? We’re really doing this? I know what you are.”
The witch couldn’t help a quick glance at Cain. Why did the foul, evil demon have to be so hot? He had that dark, savage look going. Long, dark hair, dark eyes, dark skin. Her rational mind told her he was hot to catch prey and she was falling right into his web, but damn, she was human and he was… Wait, did he just arch an eyebrow at me? She was probably telegraphing her emotions right at him.
She turned back to Anna. “Okay, great, you know what I am. You couldn’t even handle basic witch stuff. You said you didn’t want to know about it. How would this truth-telling experiment have gone down?” Tam put on an affected mock-voice, “So, Anna, I know you hate hearing about magic stuff because you’re a pansy, but I’m really almost two thousand years old. Ask me anything about anything.”
“I don’t know. I just felt like I should have known. What about when you told me the other magic stuff? You couldn’t have told me then? Or when we were together in Cary Town around Halloween? What about then? You couldn’t have found an opening to tell me the truth?”
Tam looked down. “My coven doesn’t even know. Anna, I have to hide and lie to live. Okay? Not everything is about you.” Though she was debating the point of living again, lately. Was Jack even after her? Maybe it was just a danger with Cain in her cards. He was evil. And a killer.
“Girls. Please. We have to move now. The Cycler could be hunting her as we speak.”
“The Cycler?” Tam asked.
Another eye roll from Anna. “Are you going to playact like you don’t know you’re being hunted?”
“No, but, how do you guys know about him?”
Cain pulled her out of the house, ignoring her question. “There’s no time to pack. You’ll have to make do. You’re coming to the demon dimension, and don’t try your little energy ball trick. I’m not in the mood.”
Wait, he wanted to protect her? Since when?
When he touched her, she thought she’d swoon right there like some damsel in distress. Nobody should have that kind of sexual magnetism. At least it would make dying in his arms less repulsive. But she couldn’t bring that up now, not with Anna here. She wouldn’t understand.
For now, Tam had to just go along. They might think they could protect her, but staying in one place was unsafe, and if Jack succeeded… No. Tam wouldn’t let him. It was best to end the cycle. What they’d done was unnatural. It went against the order of things. One of them going mad and the others becoming his victims was nature’s way of righting that wrong. Who was she to call foul?
Tam pulled away, and to her surprise, he let her go, a wary look on his face. She gestured to her shoulder bag. “Already packed. I’m like twelve steps ahead of you.” She didn’t mention that she could have already left and been out of Cain’s reach. Her curiosity over Henry’s words had won out over personal safety. The raven had never led her wrong before.
Was Henry confirming her suspicion that now was the time to go, and she’d chosen her executioner wisely? Any other interpretation was unthinkable.
She took one last look at her house and locked the door behind her, even though everything of value—real and imagined—was in her shoulder bag.
They walked a few blocks until they reached the Golatha Falls forest. Once inside the woods, Anna spilled everything about the meeting. Cain remained uncharacteristically silent. Tam couldn’t help looking over her shoulder as they went, as if Jack could somehow track them if he was being talked about. His power must be that dark and strong by now.
When the portal shimmered in front of them, Cain took her hand and pulled her through. The portal only recognized demons and apparently demon mates, since Anna had no trouble herself, but then she was linked to Luc through strong blood magic, her soul tied irrevocably to him.
Tam’s eyes widened when she entered the demon dimension. She’d heard about it, but she’d never seen it. Her mouth dropped open. “This place is so beautiful.” Certainly not what she expected, even if she’d always known it wasn’t full of fire and brimstone.
Cain smiled with something like pride as Tam continued to take in the scene before her. The weather was perfect, the sky dark and clear with brilliant stars shining overhead, glowing with brightness equivalent to the moon. There was no moon, but then, this wasn’t Earth. For all she knew—and she highly suspected this was true—the stars were some kind of illusion made entirely from magic. Though maybe technically everything in existence was an illusion made from magic.
Stretching endlessly before her was sand and cobblestone streets lit by torchlight. Colorful tents made of rich, expensive fabrics lined the streets as far as the eye could see. There was a marketplace and music and laughter. Seductive laughter.
A scantily clad woman danced to the music while a couple of males encouraged her. The woman felt human; the males, demon.
Tam turned sharp eyes on the demon leader, suspicion growing over what she was witnessing.
“Jackson likes to play with his food,” Cain said with a shrug. “He likes to make them dance.”
His expression hardened. “Don’t come to my dimension and judge us. I should kill you rather than protect you. Do you know how much trouble your kind causes for mine? You represent our one true enemy, and I’ve chosen to keep you safe from the temporary, bigger threat. I might not continue to feel so generous if you don’t watch that mouth.”
Anna was still with them, so she couldn’t tell Cain what she really felt. She closed her eyes and dropped the shields she used to protect herself from demon thrall and sent a strong wave of feelings to him. He couldn’t read her exact thoughts, but he’d get the gist of her death wish.
The demon’s eyes widened, but he gave nothing of the exchange away. “You will have your own tent,” he said, stopping in front of a exquisite purple tent that must be hers. His gaze shifted to Anna and then back to Tam. “I’ll have a couple of my demons guarding you around the clock. They’ll go in shifts. Anna, you can go back to your mate now.”
“What? No. I can’t leave her here with you.”
“She’s a big girl. She doesn’t need a babysitter.”
“He’s right,” Tam said. “And I have to speak to him privately, anyway.”
“Yes, I need to learn more about The Cycler,” Cain said.
“But why can’t I stay for that?”
The demon leader took a threatening step toward the brunette. “You are one of us now. That doesn’t just mean the perks of this world, but the responsibilities as well. When I say jump, you ask how high?”
“Luc wouldn’t let you hurt me. And… y-you can’t touch me.”
“Do you really want to be on my shit list? I’m eight thousand. Waiting for you to come into your powers is nothing to me. When that happens, your mate won’t be able to stop me. Or I could just take it out on him. Now run along to my brother and cry about what a big bad wolf I am.”
Anna looked over at Tam, her eyes revealing her internal struggle.
“Go,” Tam said.
When Anna was a safe distance away, the witch turned to Cain and looked him right in the eyes. “I need you to kill me now.”
“I assumed as much. Care to tell me why—not that I’d ever turn down such a powerful meal. You weren’t suicidal the last time I met you. You were prepared to back us up in a war against Anthony.”
Tam flopped down on one of the thick, cushioned pillows on the ground, preparing to be much more honest than she was comfortable with. If she wanted him to agree to this, she had to lay all her cards out on the table.
“It’s different now. Jack will find me. It’s not a question. What you said about the meeting only confirms it. You may think I’m safe here, but anything could happen to end that safety. You’re old enough and strong enough to kill me. I may be strong, but he’s stronger. He’s killed so many of us now that I can’t fight him by myself. And I’m so tired of running and cycling. I didn’t know what I was asking for when I asked for eternal life.”
Cain crossed to a side bar and poured himself a drink. He raised the decanter and arched a brow in question, but Tam shook her head. The demon shrugged and put it down. He extended a hand and she took it, allowing him to guide her to the couch where they could sit together.
As his hand trailed along her collarbone, she tried not to pull away and equally not to want him so much. His gaze was assessing, evidence he’d done this millions of times.
“Exactly how old are you?” he asked.
“Closing in on two thousand.”
“Shit.” He took a drink.
She fought to keep the tears at bay. She wouldn’t display such weakness in front of him. “I don’t know how you do this. This is hell. I can’t imagine as long as you’ve been—”
“The difference in you and I is that I didn’t choose this.”
Tam looked away. “Are you going to lecture me now on my foolishness? I was young and stupid. I’d been taken into a secret magical order and was so proud of myself and what I’d achieved. I had no concept of the powers I was playing with or what I was asking for.”
Cain downed the rest of the brandy and put the snifter on the ground, then eased closer. His nearness made her heart flutter. He was the perfect predator, with prey that begged to be taken. She’d put her shields back up—force of habit. But even without thrall, his effect on a mere human could still be intoxicating.
“I prefer longer hair,” he said conversationally, his hand moving to the back of her neck.
She got chills as he stroked her skin, but she couldn’t let that comment lie there. “Well, let me grow it out real quick while we wait for a psycho to gruesomely murder me and take over the world. I’m glad to see you have your priorities in line.”
He laughed. “I don’t know if I hate you or admire you. I don’t normally let anyone speak to me like that.”
Tam flicked her wrist, turning her palm up, and focused her energy into a point of purple light that grew into an energetic ball that hissed like live electricity. “You think you can take me?”
“I think you’ve been touching yourself since the day you met me, dreaming about it,” the demon said, switching to innuendo that would have made him sound like a self-important jackass except for the fact that he probably brought to the table everything he implied and more.
She swallowed around the lump in her throat and found herself captured in his dark gaze. The energy ball whimpered and died in her hand. At least she hadn’t whimpered.
“That’s better,” he said. “I’m glad to see you’ve managed some manners in light of this favor I’m doing you.”
In any other situation, it would have been about the most offensive thing he could say, but he was doing her a favor.
It wasn’t the favor of his precious presence or sex with him; it was the favor of a painless death to help her escape her pursuer and break the cycle she’d been trapped in for so long she wanted to stop counting the years.
“Tell me, to satisfy my curiosity before we do this, how exactly did you pull it off? How did you become immortal?”
She had no choice but to tell him. If she didn’t tell him, he wouldn’t give her what she wanted. “Jack was our leader. He was the one who was obsessed with it. We call it the fountain of youth now, but even before that version of the legend, there were stories about waters that gave eternal life. We found it, deep inside a cavern: a saltwater pool. Down in the depths, in the dark, we found this jellyfish that didn’t die.”
Cain nodded. “I’ve heard of it.”
“Right. But back then, nobody knew about them. That was where the species started. They’ve spread since then. The water at the bottom fed back into the ocean. Jack was convinced he felt the energy we were looking for there, but when we did a spell to reveal it, it was in the sea creatures, not the water. The whole coven worked together to create the ritual. I wrote the chant.”
She may as well have said I bear more responsibility for what has happened than most. And she knew Cain could surely read her well enough to know that. Demons could read emotions, after all. But he’d gone quiet, missing the opportunity to throw condemnation.
When he didn’t interrupt her with a smartass retort, she continued. “Magic like this usually requires blood of the creature to seal it. We used the jellyfish itself, but they are bloodless, so we sealed the magic with our own blood. It may be another reason Jack is after us all.”
“Explain better,” he said, growing impatient with what he must have thought was a coy explanation.
“The power of immortality was diffused to all of us. If I were crazy like him, I’d think I could stop the cycle altogether if I could kill everyone else in the coven. You don’t know who the other two are, do you?”
Cain shook his head. “We don’t.”
Tam stood and paced in front of the couch, unable to concentrate with him so close. “I could give you names of everyone, but we’ve all lost touch. After Whitechapel it was safer not to congregate together. We were too easy to track that way. Everyone has probably changed their names dozens of times, perhaps even the way they look. I have no doubt Jack has. And I don’t know which of us he’s already killed and which remain. Even I changed my name, though not much.”
“What was your name before?”
“Tamar. It’s a biblical name. In the first few centuries I was so enamored with myself and my new ability—to cycle and not lose memories—that I renamed myself Tamara. In certain areas of India it means lotus flower, a symbol of rebirth. I was being ironic. But I’m fresh out of irony now. Now I just want to end it.”
“I told Anthony and the rest that I’d protect you.”
She stopped pacing. “And you are protecting me. Killing me protects me and everybody else. You and I both know this whole death thing is a sham. It’s not real. We get it. I don’t need to prolong a life that has run on far too long. Don’t make me beg.”
Cain smirked. “So no sex games, then?”
Tam’s face scrunched at that. “You’re so gross.”
“You say it, but you don’t mean it.”
She would have argued with him, but he’d already moved in to capture her mouth in a kiss, pulling her back onto the couch. Startled, she let out a sigh against his lips.
“Let down your shields,” he growled.
Tam pulled back, suspicion in her eyes. “Why?”
“Aren’t you curious about what it’s really like to die in the arms of an incubus? Don’t you want the whole show? What other danger could I possibly pose for you if you’re embracing your own demise?”
She was curious.
She closed her eyes and tried to relax, breathing deeply. The shields stubbornly stayed in place, as if they were arguing with her—her last bit of self-preservation instincts coming in to protect her. After her periodic searches for someone to end this, she’d finally found the one who could do it. Cain was old enough and strong enough. As much as she disliked him, he could give her the best death. It wasn’t possible to go out of this world in a more pleasant way.
Still, a small part of her rebelled against the idea of so willingly going into Cain’s arms, sleeping with a monster she didn’t trust, and ending her life. The shields had to go, or she’d end up fighting him with magic until she was tapped. Tam focused more intently, calming her mind until she felt the mental defense system go down around her.
The moment the shields were down, pornographic images of the two of them together filled her mind, and she wanted him like he was oxygen itself. She gripped the sides of the couch as she felt the effects of his thrall. It was a potent cocktail of warmth and arousal. Like an orgasm and alcohol buzz rolled into one.
“Hold onto me, instead.” He gripped her wrists and moved her hands to his shoulders. His well-muscled, firm, solid shoulders.
She held his gaze, trying not to be taken by smoldering black eyes, so dark—like pools she could drown and die in. And very soon she would. He looked at her so intensely, she thought she might expire from the power of that stare alone. At some point while she’d been busy dropping her shields, he’d divested himself of his clothing. She’d had a dim sense of it when she’d touched him and was disappointed she’d been too overwhelmed to enjoy the show.
A tiny voice way far away knew everything about this demon was an illusion to seduce her, but he was perfection. He looked perfect, he smelled perfect, and his voice was a perfect, haunting melody that would sing her to sleep.
The only thing that existed in this moment was desire. It was a desire so strong it was beginning to cause physical pain. She needed him inside her now.
“Please, Cain,” she whimpered, hating the lost, desperate tone her voice had taken.
“Oh, good. I knew you’d see things my way and beg.”
Maybe with her shields up, she could have thrown an appropriate retort or energy ball to wipe the smug look off his face. God, she hated him. But the only thing that would travel along her vocal cords and out her mouth was, “Please, fuck me.”
He chuckled. “Maybe I should toy with you a bit first. You have been quite an annoying little shit. You’ve thrown energy balls at me twice. Both times were inopportune. You made me look weak in front of my people. And now… here we are.”
Tam pushed through the haze of images of groping and body parts sliding against each other—his hypnotic, seductive voice, the eyes that occasionally flickered with fire and so much heat she thought she might combust—and said, “Eight thousand years and you still have the ego of a human.”
Cain’s eyes glowed dangerously. He pushed her back on the couch, his hand wrapped around her throat. “I could kill you the old-fashioned way.”
She shrugged—or did a bad impression of a shrug, since it was hard to do that with the way he had her positioned. He’d pulled back on the demon mojo enough for her to stop squirming against him. “I honestly don’t care what you do, Cain. But I don’t think killing me in a mundane way will work. You have to use your magic. So I guess you’re stuck fucking me, unless you want an annoying child following you around and kicking your ass. That’ll look great on your ego.”
Several things happened at once. He growled, ripped her shirt off her, sent a burst of images and desire her way, and captured her mouth in a kiss so hot she nearly melted. The onslaught was too overwhelming to fight. She was thrown down a dark hole of lust from which she didn’t think she could escape.
Her mind emptied itself of all its contents except the demon in front of her. The way he smelled, the way he felt as his hands slid over her. She couldn’t separate what was in her mind from what was actually happening. She felt drugged with him, and she never wanted to come down from the high.
Somehow, in this state, the rest of her clothes had been taken from her. Nothing could have prepared her for the feel of him inside her. The warmth of him, the arousal that came partly from what was happening and partly from the images he kept sending.
Even through the haze, knowing what he was, she felt him pulling the energy from her, the warm tingling as it moved over her body, so comforting and pleasurable and deadly. The orgasm hit her like a wave trying to pull her under, but she rode it until she was wrung out and certain she was about to die. If she’d wanted to turn back now, it would’ve been too late. She was irrevocably caught in his web, and all she could do was moan in his arms like the uncountable number of unfortunate souls before her.
But then it stopped. Cain’s weight lifted off her. It took her a moment to fight through the disorientation, the hazy mix of sexual feelings and idle thoughts about the end. As she came back to herself, she looked around, convinced someone must have interrupted them and pulled him off her. Probably Luc.
But there was no one. Only them. The demon stood a few feet away: naked, dark, and beautiful, looking at her as if she were a poisonous snake.
“Why am I still here?”
He just watched her.
Tam felt her energy growing, her life force mending itself, and with it, her anger rose. She put her shields back up, stood, and stormed toward him, flicking her hand up to form a glowing purple ball of energy as she went.
“Why, Cain? You promised me! How hard can it possibly be to kill a woman you hate?”
But he didn’t say anything. He just stood there, continuing with that inscrutable stare.
She threw the energy ball at him, but he seemed braced and ready for it. He went noncorporeal, the purple ball going through him to hit the fabric of the tent instead. A few seconds elapsed, and she created and threw another one. This time he was solid, and he did fall. He glared up at her from the ground, but he didn’t seek to restrain her.
The third energy ball she threw called in several of his demons. One gripped one of her arms, another grabbed the other. A third stood behind her and held a hand over her mouth so she couldn’t chant to protect herself.
Cain rose slowly to his feet, brushing sand off that perfect body. “Take your hands off her.” His voice was deadly, and Tam regretted throwing the magic at him. She might end up with a horrific death at his hands after all.
“But boss, she—”
He pulled one of the demons off her like he was a rag doll and growled. “I said, take your hands off her. No one touches her but me, do you understand? No feeding, no playing, no harming.”
“Keep arguing with me, Jackson. Find out where it leads.”
Jackson looked at the ground and took a step back from the demon. “My apologies, sir.”
The other two demons released her and backed away. Tam was too stunned to throw any more magic, and a little wiped after what had transpired between the two of them. She wished he’d put some clothes on, because residual lust still hung in the air, and now was a stupid time for that.
“Get out. All of you,” he snarled. “I don’t want a single demon in this tent unless I specifically call for one.”
Quick nods all around, and they backed out of the tent, keeping a wary eye on their leader in case he should retaliate anyway.
Tam took a step back as the demon leader stalked toward her. She held her hands up. “I’m sorry.” Was she? She wasn’t sure, but the look in his eyes was terrifying. She’d signed up for a quick end from a strong being that wouldn’t hurt—not torture. As fun as it was to kick his ass, she was outnumbered by his kind here.
His eyes weren’t on hers, they were on her arms, both of which were already forming angry bruises from the way the demons had manhandled her. He rubbed the dark marks. “Does it hurt?”
What the hell? “No, I’m fine.”
He nodded and went to put his jeans back on. Tam’s clothing had been destroyed in the fight. Noting her dilemma, he crossed to an elegant trunk and pulled out something gold and shimmery and tossed it to her.
Tam held the dress away from her as if it might bite. It was long and flowy and made of lightweight material that was the slightest bit transparent. Very sexy. She’d look like a goddess descending from Mount Olympus in it, but if he didn’t want other demons touching her, this wasn’t the outfit. “Are you freaking kidding me?” she said, still holding it like it might be coated in a deadly toxin.
“No. I am not kidding you. You wear that, and the demons here know you’re somebody else’s meal. We don’t steal from each other. It’s one of my rules. Demons don’t break my rules or they pay.”
She wanted to argue. She didn’t understand why he hadn’t killed her. “This isn’t a game. I obviously don’t trust you, but I thought you wouldn’t turn down the opportunity to kill me. This doesn’t have to be complicated.”
“Put the dress on, Tamara,” he said ignoring her lame attempt at stalling.
She didn’t know why she put it on.
Cain nodded his approval and turned to leave.
“Wait! Don’t turn your back on me. Are you really that stupid?” She had an energy ball ready to go when he turned back around.
“Are you sure this is how you want to engage with me, Tam? Do you know what my demons would have done to you if I hadn’t stopped them? They are very loyal. You don’t attack me here. Maybe in your silly human world, but not here.” He spoke without raising his voice at her. His tone was level. His eyes didn’t even glow, but they didn’t have to.
The energy ball faded and died in her hand. “You promised you’d kill me. Before you got to my house, I was going to come find you because I thought you’d do it.”
A look of surprise crossed his face, but he covered it. “And that promise still stands.” He moved toward her and stroked her cheek. “I will kill you when I tire of you. And there is nothing you can do about it. Throwing energy balls at me will only make me disinclined to put you out of your misery. Just enjoy the ride, sweetheart. You’ll die soon enough… when I get bored. Believe me, that’s never taken longer than a week. Surely you can struggle through a week of passion with me.”
Every fiber in her being screamed to kill him, not that she could. The second best option would be to seal him in a jar and bury it in the middle of his desert where no one would ever find it—an option she was considering.
“I’m not going to be your concubine.”
A smirk. “Of course you are. What other option do you have?”
“I’ll get another demon to do it.” Though any demon she asked could just do what Cain had done. Before long she’d be the demon slut with a death wish. Gross. And anyway, there were no guarantees any given demon would be strong enough. Some might be too young. Did she really want to risk starting a new cycle? Cain was a sure thing.
“They won’t do it. They’re afraid of me. You should be, too. I can do a lot more interesting things than kill you.”
He left before she could form a retort. She hated that demon.