By Marie Hall
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This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around September 3, 2013. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.
Eve Philips thought she could never love again. After her husband died in a hit-and-run accident, Eve poured her heart into her potions shop, Witch’s Brew, and hasn’t given any man a second glance-until Cian. As soon as she locks eyes with him, Eve knows she’ll never be the same. Gorgeous and mysterious, he incites a passion in her that she’s never felt before. And it’s almost otherworldly . . .
Cian knows Eve is special the minute they lay eyes on each other. He’s a supernatural being with a dangerous duty, and being seen is not part of the job description. But when he meets the kind, beautiful Eve, all the rules go out the window. Now that his superiors have gotten wind of it, he has a wicked enemy on his tail. Yet all he cares about is Eve: loving her, protecting her-and finding the right time to tell her his dark and terrible secret, a secret that threatens both of their lives . . .
Eve Philips gripped her husband's arm tighter as they walked across the sidewalk to the mall entrance. She hadn't felt good this morning; she'd been haunted by bad dreams all night long. Dreams of blood and violence and gore. She'd screamed herself awake, clinging to her husband with a vague unsettling feeling. But as dreams often do, the intensity of it faded until now all that was left was a lingering echo of it and an annoying headache.
It was almost Christmas, and she and her husband had a shopping date planned. She refused to wuss out now over some stupid dreams. Still, the unease of this morning lingered in the darkest corners of her mind. Usually she could just shake these things. Maybe it was just the old, burned coffee the java shack had served her this morning. Either way, she really wanted to stop stressing about it. There were too many other real things to worry about.
Like the fact that in three days her coven would be required to vote on the fate of a werewolf who'd been caught stabbing his human wife. No matter that his wife had tried to kill him first with the aid of a warlock's spell. Humans demanded the supernatural folk—or "supers," as they preferred to be called—governed themselves as swiftly and brutally as possible, especially when the crime involved one of their own. That was the life of a witch, especially one who chose to live in a city in as much turmoil as San Francisco. Still, there was no other place in the world she'd rather be.
By congressional act, California had granted the first and only place that the others could come out of hiding and live as they truly were. Werewolves no longer had to hide in tunnels, vampires could roam the streets freely at night, and witches could practice their craft without fear of retribution by the normals. That was ten years ago, and she'd never looked back.
Not to say that it was one big love fest. A snake could shed its skin several times in a lifetime, but that would never change its true essence. In the end a snake would always remain a snake. Just as a vampire could not help but feed, or a werewolf would go mad by light of the full moon.
Having so many volatile and sometimes dangerous groups in such close proximity practically begged for the violence to occur.
But she accepted it and moved on, because freedom was worth any price. Glancing around, she inhaled the sharp nip to the wind. It was a cloudless, gray day. The type that made her want to curl up in front of a roaring fire with a steaming cup of chamomile, cocooned against her husband's body.
She didn't notice the small rut in the road and stepped down hard. Muddy water splashed up her leg. A large black gob of goo landed square on her bloodred pumps.
Michael glanced down. One side of his mouth curled into a half-formed grin. She growled and picked up a dead leaf to scrape off the nasty mixture.
"I don't even want to know what that was." He laughed.
Eve stood and glared at her husband's smiling face. Turning her nose in the air, she dropped the leaf with disgust and walked away.
"Honey." He grabbed her hand and chuckled. "You gotta admit…it was pretty funny."
"Ha-ha. I'm just howling with laughter." She pointed a finger to her deadpan face. "This is me in hysterics."
Michael hugged her and slowly she smiled, never really that mad to begin with, but loving to be a little dramatic all the same.
"Why does that only ever happen to me?"
"Because you're just so cute, the goddess had to give you some sort of flaw."
She nailed him with a glare and then sighed with exasperation when he refused to look at her. Michael refused to be ruffled today.
The mall was appropriately decorated: a large Christmas tree sat guard to the entrance, festive lights hung swag from one light post to the next, and there was, of course, the melee of people shoving against her at a constant, repetitive pace with barely an apology to be gained. She sighed. To say she had a love-hate relationship with the holidays was putting it mildly.
But Michael had been acting secretive all day, alluding to some great gift she'd find under the tree come Yule. In truth, her husband's enthusiasm for life was contagious. She wouldn't miss the annual last-minute shopping for the world, though she'd never tell him that.
"Michael," she grumbled, "let's go home. It's freezing. My feet hurt, and…" She paused, trying to think of the next excuse to come up with.
He only smiled as expected. "Love you, shrew."
She rolled her eyes, trying desperately not to snort with laughter.
Then as if the weather felt some need to remind her just how cold it was—and that she had no freaking business being out in the first place—she was blasted with a sweep of frigid air up her trench coat.
She shivered. "Stupid weatherman. I should hex his ass. He said temperatures of sixty."
Michael's lips twitched. "When are you gonna learn that were don't know his ass from his head? The man's worthless. Call a toad a toad and a bad weatherman a bad weatherman. Period."
She nodded. "Hear, hear."
Ten minutes later Eve fingered a delicate gold-and-emerald butterfly brooch. "Baby, do you think Tamryn would like this?"
He glanced up from browsing at a case of black pearl necklaces she'd considered buying for her sister. "Sure. I guess."
She laughed. "'I guess'? The standard male answer for everything, right? Why do I even bother?" She caught the heavily made-up clerk's eye and nodded.
The blonde glided over in a sea of expensive perfume and sent a blatantly lustful smile in Michael's direction. Eve hid her laughter under a pursed lip and raised brow. "The butterfly," she prompted and handed the lady a fifty.
Michael grinned and encircled Eve's waist from behind, laying his head on her shoulder. A soft lock of his doe-brown hair brushed the side of her neck. She swept the hair aside and sighed.
"You just love it when that happens, don't you?"
"What?" he asked in a rush of innocence.
"'What?'" she mimicked. "You're too gorgeous for your own good."
Throaty laughter spilled from his lips as he swayed with her in time to the strains of "Jingle Bell Rock" floating through the overcrowded department store.
Eve snuggled deeper into his arms.
Michael nuzzled the side of her neck.
Her whole body tightened up in reaction to his touch. Even after five years of marriage he still had the power to make her heart flutter and her knees tremble.
"Michael," she whispered.
"Hmm?" He placed a gentle kiss on the nape of her neck.
Goose bumps skimmed along her forearms. "I'm ovulating."
He went still for a split second then nipped her earlobe. His large hand framed her stomach. "Let's go make babies, then."
Her lip twitched, and she wiggled her bottom against him. Michael growled low in his throat and pinned her arms to her side, holding her still. "Eve," he warned.
She turned and draped her arms over his neck. "What?"
He dragged her closer, a mischievous twinkle in his emerald-green eyes. "Imp. You're lucky I'm wearing a coat long enough…"
"Excuse me." A strained voice interrupted them.
She turned. The sales clerk held her purchase and change in one hand. Her narrowed eyes and curled lip were too much for Eve to ignore.
Taking the bag and without missing a beat, Eve leaned forward just enough to part her button-down shirt at the collar, causing her pentagram to swing free from between her breasts. "He ain't on the market, babe."
The clerk, obviously human, turned deathly white. No human liked to tangle with the dark arts. And though that wasn't what Eve did by any means, the blonde didn't know it, and Eve sure as heck wasn't going to correct her assumption. Judging by the reaction, the threat had done its job.
With a smile and a jaunty wave, she turned on her heel and marched off.
Michael held out his arm. "What in the world did you say to her, Eve?" She didn't miss the tinge of humor lacing his voice.
She just grinned. "What? And give you a bigger head than you've already got? I don't think so."
He chuckled and grabbed her hand in his, caressing her knuckle with the pad of his thumb. Laughter glittered in his eyes. Then he became serious and turned her face to look directly at him. "I love you."
The way he said it made her shiver. One of those freaky moments in time that made her wonder if there was some sort of sixth sense involved, then she thought of the dream again and the visions of death.
Her smile slipped for a millisecond. She always tried to be aware of the signs and the environment around her. What if she was being purposefully ignorant? Ignoring the obvious? What if that dream really was a warning?
Don't make more out of this than what it is. Everything's fine.
Pushing the neurotic fears to the back of her mind, she gave him a crooked smile. "I know, Mikey. And I thank the goddess every day for you."
* * *
Cian waited within shadow just outside the entrance to the mall; the mortals he'd been sent to harvest should appear soon. Keeping his back to the crowd, he stood in such a way so that he had a clear view of the door as pedestrians filed and in out of the busy shopping plaza.
Using his essence, he transformed himself into an ordinary guy, hardly worth a second glance. Through all the years of using this guise, he'd never once been remembered. Right now, he needed people to look past him, not see the peculiarities that branded him not quite human. Unfortunately he couldn't go fully invisible until the harvest time came upon him.
His hair turned a drab brown, short and barely reaching his collar, his eyes much the same color. The process happened so fast, no one even had time to react at all.
Staring at his gloved hand he waited for the next step of his transformation to take place. He didn't have to wait long. A shock, like a burst of flame, ran down his arm and into his hand, turning him from man to monster. Fire traveled his veins, making him grunt with a momentary flash of pain. He hissed and snatched off his left glove, making sure he was well within shadow. The day was so drab and gray that unless he did something obvious, like flash the crowd, no one would turn his way.
He clenched his hand, studying the bones of his fingers. For an outsider, to look at the transformation would seem surreal. Above the wrist he was man—flesh and blood. But when the change overcame him, and it was time to harvest souls, the hand turned to a design of the macabre. The flesh, muscle, and tendon literally faded from sight.
Human depictions always had the grim reapers wearing the traditional black cowl with a sickle in their skeletal grip. In truth, reapers were as normal as man. You could pass them on the street, commenting on their remarkable beauty, little knowing that beneath the white smile and ever-present gloves lurked the killer of legend.
A small, noisy crowd of humans walked toward him. Shoving his hand into his pocket, he leaned against the wall and waited; it wouldn't be much longer now.
After centuries of doing this job, he'd learned patience, the art of stealth, and the endless waiting game of death. For such a vital and intricate part of life, the actual moment of death could be unbelievably boring.
Several minutes later, an electrical rush of power surged through his body when a couple walked out. A man and a raven-haired witch. He felt her power ripple through the air like a powerful ocean current. The man though exhibited no energy, which meant he was fully mortal. The man grabbed the witch around the waist, pulling her close for a quick embrace.
Cian's pulse pounded when she smiled. It was a good smile, the kind that made him want to return it, to see her do it again just so he could have the enjoyment of gazing on that kind of radiant and rare pure joy.
The man hopped in front of her and grabbed her hands, toying with her fingers. Her laughter was a rich, lilting sound, deep and throaty, hot and sexy, and for the first time in his life, Cian wondered what it might be like to have a woman look at him that way. He envied mortals in some ways, specifically the way they could enjoy life, short as it was, and how they loved one another. He couldn't think of anyone who'd look so happy to see him.
Those thoughts were jerked from him as the final phase of his transformation washed through his body. A charge, like static energy, traveled through his pores, his blood, and in seconds he'd gone completely invisible. Only able to be seen by those straddling the line between life and death, he strolled purposefully toward the car garage.
Today's scenario would be no different than the thousands of others he'd seen through the years. He could see it in his mind, like an image on a television screen. A carload of teenagers barreling through the garage, the interior of the car heavily laced with the thick stench of cannabis. The driver was laughing, blaring the Ozzy tune "Crazy Train," unaware that soon he'd be indicted for two counts of vehicular homicide.
Cian often wondered at times like these why the humans couldn't feel it. The end of their lifeline, the disturbance in the air, death; for him it was like the blast of trumpets, loud and hard to ignore.
Turning his attention back to the couple, he waited. The man popped open the trunk of a green sedan, laid down his packages, and flashed the witch a smile. She stood by the hood of the car, her midnight curls blowing in the stiff wind.
The faint rumble of an approaching engine echoed eerily through the garage. The vibrations traveled through the soles of his feet. Soon. It'll all be over soon.
For a crazy second he wanted to scream at them. Move. Get out of the way. But he held his tongue. He wouldn't interfere, that was the single most important rule of the reaper. His skeletal hand twitched, and he yanked it out of his pocket. No mistakes.
The car made a sharp left around a concrete post in the garage and swerved headlong toward the couple with a loud, echoing cry of rubber.
For Cian the scene was agonizingly slow, each detail sharp and clear, as if it were taking minutes, though in truth it would be done within seven seconds.
When they finally noticed it was already too late.
The witch's golden eyes grew wide in her face. Blood rushed from her skin, leaving her a pasty white. Her hands covered her mouth as a scream of raw fear flew from her lips. "Michael!"
The smile on the man's face died. He turned—unable to run for cover, to hide from his fate. She ran forward, arms outstretched, and tried to pull the man toward her.
Metal exploded against flesh. The sickening crunch of bone and tearing muscle warred with the scream of tires braking. The man was dragged under the car. She was flung aside, her limbs at odd proportions.
Cian's heart clenched painfully when he saw her ravaged body lying so helpless on the ground. She looked like a morbid porcelain doll. Beautiful and broken.
Blood spattered everywhere. All over the windshield. Even on the neighboring vehicles in the next three slots. The overwhelming metallic stench was all around.
The car squealed to a halt, slamming against the side of the sedan. The shattering of glass echoed through the garage with an eerie finality. It was done; their bodies slowly dying, their souls waiting only for him to harvest and carry on to the appropriate afterlife.
The driver, a pimply-faced redhead emerged. "Oh no! No!" he sang the litany over and over. He ran a trembling hand through his hair and glanced up. A family in the next row over stared back in openmouthed shock.
"Get back in the car, Derek!" the girl in the passenger seat screamed.
The wind picked up flurries of snow, enclosing them in winter's peaceful embrace. An ironic scene, at odds with the gruesome sight of death before him.
The kid jumped back in his car and squealed off with one last bump-bump in his wake.
Cian closed the gap between himself and the victims. First the male. The man's face had been nearly sheared off. His forehead was cracked open and a constant stream of blood gushed from the wound. Kneeling, Cian extended his skeletal hand, ready to harvest the soul and carry it safely to the afterlife.
The man moaned and opened green eyes glittering with pain. He didn't question why Cian was kneeling over him; instead he parted ruptured lips and croaked, "Save my wife."
Cian glanced over at her prostrate form for a brief second and then shook his head with a sad, bitter twist to his lips. He'd seen many broken bodies in the past, never feeling more than quiet detachment. But seeing her now, hearing the wet gurgle of her breaths, it was like razor-sharp spikes driving through his heart.
He closed his eyes, chanting over and over in his mind: This is the order to life. Without order there would be chaos. To prevent the chaos there must always be order.
Taking a deep breath, he plowed on, finishing what he'd started. "Find your peace, human…" For us both. Then he gently caressed the man's exposed cheek.
The light of death filled the man's eyes, and a single tear slipped down his cheek. The mask of pain relaxed, and a soft blue mist exploded from the caved-in chest—the soul pulsed with energy and differing shades of blue.
A glowing portal of brilliant white opened before him. The melodic song of a bubbling brook and rustling grass momentarily made Cian forget—forget the pain and loneliness.
The soul glided toward the light. It shimmered and glowed as it stepped through the portal. Then it was gone. The light went too, and with it the temporary peace Cian had sought his entire existence.
One left. The thought was a needle stabbing into his brain. He tried to remain clinical and study her not as a victim, but as a task and a duty to fulfill.
She wasn't in nearly as bad a shape as her husband had been. Both legs were broken at the hips. One foot was pointed north, the other south. Besides the obvious injuries, she also suffered a ruptured spleen and would soon die from internal bleeding.
Short, shallow breathing turned his gaze to her face. Thin and heart-shaped with full pink lips and almond-shaped eyes.
His hands trembled, something was causing him to hesitate, a strange feeling he had no name for. What was it? Curiosity maybe? Something about the witch tugged at his normally detached feelings about death and life. Do it. You must. Take her from this misery.
Her eyes snapped open. The lioness gaze ensnared him. Her bloody hand grabbed his fleshy one and his world turned upside down. Instantly images and thoughts came to him. The face of her husband, a sensation of overwhelming, heartrending love. The pain. The fear. The hope. Her hope exploded inside him like a seedling shooting through black earth.
His brows dipped, and his breathing spiked. He continued to share her emotions. He bit the inside of his lip, and the bitter taste of blood pooled on his tongue as he fought off the onslaught. He'd known upon first seeing her that she was a witch, had sensed her energy, but her powers were intense. He'd never come across a projecting empath as powerful as she was.
Cian took slow breaths and pushed his will against her own in an attempt to extricate himself from her furious assault. His will was like talons ripping and clawing at her insides; the back blast resonated through him. He reeled from it but couldn't block himself off. She whimpered, moans spilled from her lips, and still she fought him.
He could break her wrist, force her to let him go. Force her to end the emotional battering. So why wasn't he doing that?
Because he couldn't. Because for the first time in an eternity she was making him feel—not just her pain, but her desperation for life. Emotions he'd never felt before. It was all so confusing, and yet…he'd never felt more alive. All his life he'd walked around in a daze. Moving from one soul to another, not living, just existing. For the first time he wanted. He felt. Because of her, and he'd betrayed her in the worse possible way.
Her eyes, glazed with pain, held his own. Defying him to take her life. She wanted to live.
Another shot of emotions slammed him. They felt like churning waves of angry sea crashing against him, stripping the flesh from his bones. Her anger beat at him, clawed at his throat with desperation.
Right then he made a decision. In defiance of his queen, the ruler of the reapers, he let her live.
Cian opened the portal between the here and there with a swipe of his hand and stepped through. No one witnessed the shimmering disturbance of air, the growing crowd still entranced by the grisly scene before them.
He crossed the threshold, and an immediate soothing heat engulfed him in an explosion of sifting colors. Reds melded into gold, greens into blues. The dizzying array of shifting lights blurred until suddenly it opened, revealing a shrouded gray and misty isle.
He stepped through and studied the familiar surroundings, inhaling the sharp tang of salt in the breeze and allowing the awareness of home to ease the worry from between his brows and the throb of pain from his heart.
Algae-tinted water crashed against rocks, and foam bubbled up, looking like a witch's frosty brew. The wind shrieked, its tone almost magical in quality. If one listened closely one could hear the voice of the land and its children speaking. Hence its name: Isle of Whispers.
But the locals knew the isle as something else. Alcatraz. The atoll had been home to fae long before any human had dared to step foot upon it. There'd always been a hint of danger settled within the foundation of earth and stone. A natural fallout of magick linked to the longtime association of faerie. In truth, the island itself was not home, but rather an entrance to the sithen. Alcatraz Island was only one of many openings to the fae kingdom.
Cian bowed his head against the whipping winds and walked toward a tree. An old oak, its limbs twisted by age and roots gnarled and curled out the ground, that was the life-sustaining mother of this sithen. The shrill scream of twin crows forced him to glance up.
The knowledge did not come as a surprise.
The birds circled him twice then landed silently by his feet as they cocked their heads in unison, their hard glares boring into him. Cian clenched his jaw and waited for the summons.
He didn't hear the words so much as feel the push of their will against his mind. After what the witch had just put him through, the push felt more like a stab. He winced, still sensitive.
A golden quickening surrounded the crows, the crackles of light appeared as a sunburst—variegated colors of red and gold cut through the fog. The birds landed before the entrance and passed their feathered wings across the bark in unison. A loud creak, similar to the groaning of shifting earth, rumbled through the air, then, smooth as silk, the center of the tree separated.
The hollow tree encased a trove of glorious splendor—rolling emerald hills, meandering streams of liquid crystal, and craggy cliffs. Thick, billowing mists sheathed the surroundings.
This was truly a world within a world. To travel through the entirety of the fae world would take years, if not decades. But he knew where he was going: to the very center of the realm. The queen's castle rose through the mists as a spiraling steeple.
The crows cawed. Haunting, wispy calls echoed in return. The sylphs—winged beings resembling angels—flew overhead. None but immortals could ever see them. Their butterfly-like wings were a splash of glorious color against the gray of the sky.
The closer Cian drew to his queen's side, the more he felt her fury. It boiled inside him like a festering wound. He grimaced, tasting the blood from where he'd bitten his cheek earlier, and knew that bit of spilled scarlet would not be enough to assuage her thirst for revenge.
He went now to plead his case for the witch. The woman was still far from safe; he'd only granted her a temporary asylum. The queen could choose at any moment to send another reaper out there to finish what he hadn't. Whether the beating stripped all the flesh from his body or not, he meant to see her safe.
* * *
"Well, now, this has been a most interesting turn of events. Wouldn't you agree, Chaos?" Dagda—king of the earth elements and of the fae—asked.
The Morrigan—goddess of strife, war, and death—narrowed her eyes at him. "I despise when you call me by that name." The air quickened with the sharp nip of frost.
Oh yes, his queen was in a fury. He ignored her typical protest of his pet name for her with casual cool.
"You do revel at my misfortune, ugly bastard." Though her words were harsh, they were laced with a thread of humor.
Dagda chuckled. The thunderous boom of his voice filled their antechamber with resonance; it echoed off the high ceiling and caused gold dust to shower down upon them.
- On Sale
- Sep 3, 2013
- Page Count
- 336 pages
- Forever Yours