Publisher: Ellora's Cave (Twilight)
Heat Level: Sizzling
Release date: March 1, 2013
Copyright © STACEY KENNEDY, 2013
All Rights Reserved, Ellora’s Cave Publishing, Inc.A thump, followed by a ga-jug, echoed within the Volkswagen Rabbit, then the car rolled to a halt on the side of the gravel road. “Oh Blessed Be, this cannot be happening.” Bryanna turned the ignition key and it clicked. She tried again, but she didn’t hear a spark of the engine igniting or a purr from the muffler, she only heard silence. Dropping her head against her hands resting on the steering wheel, she shrieked in frustration and her throat tightened. But when tears filled her eyes, she straightened up. “No, you will not cry.” Cursing the now-dead piece of junk, she opened the car door, grabbed her handbag from the passenger seat and kicked the car’s silver door shut behind her. Before the dash-unit GPS crapped out on her, it had indicated she had arrived in the West Feliciana Parish of Louisiana. Now she stood atop a narrow ridge overlooking a river below with blue sky and white clouds above. The beautiful sight didn’t match her wretched mood. She should enjoy the rich, earthy scents around her, feel rejuvenated to have left the busy city of Shreveport behind and bask in the gloriousness of the nature around her. That was, if she was a good Earth Witch, which sadly, she wasn’t. In fact, her magical abilities were embarrassing at best. But those kinds of chastising thoughts weren’t important anymore. Nothing mattered. Least of all what she could or couldn’t do with her magic. She strode forward and her long black satin skirt dragged along the ground, making her grumble. The gravel road was slightly damp and the big clouds meant a storm had recently blown through, which only added to the strong scents around her. Rich moss thrived on the forest floors to her right. Birds chirped in welcome, but she didn’t know to where. Not as if that mattered either. The only thing that did concern her was never turning back and always moving forward. Her life needed to change, which included getting her ex-boyfriend, Layton Brimley, completely out of it. A man built of romantic dreams—beautiful on the outside, blue-eyed, blond-haired and sexy as sin. But the pretty packaging was deceptive; his soul was tainted with darkness. He was the reason she’d been on the road for four hours now and why she’d never go back to the Shreveport coven. Above her, a bird squawked and Bryanna raised her hand to protect her eyes, watching the hawk soaring on a thermal. She sighed. If only she was that hawk and Layton was a little mouse she could rip to pieces. It’d be the sweetest revenge. She focused back on the road and increased her speed. On her third step, her boot caught a stone, causing her to stumble forward. With a yelp, she nosedived toward a puddle and scraped her hands against the rough stones. The dirty water soaked her clothing, plastering her skirt to her skin. “Oh for the love of magic.” She pushed herself up, wiped her injured hands on her wet skirt and took a cautious step forward, but wobbled. When she glanced down, she noticed the heel of her boot had broken off. Drat! Things that had been bad so far were only getting worse with each passing hour. She’d need four sets of hands to count all the mishaps she’d encountered along the way. Limping forward, she continued on, determined to get to…well, she hadn’t figured that out yet. As the hawk above her squawked again, she also heard a car approaching from behind and drawing closer with each limp she took. Refusing to look back at the car in fear of embarrassing herself further, she stared at the gravel road when a thump caught her attention. The car’s tire had clearly hit another hole in the road, since when she turned, a splash came barreling toward her. If she were a normal Earth Witch, she could conjure magic to stop the dirty water from hitting her. Sadly, she was anything but normal. Instead, she braced herself, shut her eyes and waited for the deluge. Only a second later, the frigid water hit her dead center, as expected. When she opened her eyes, she discovered her violet-streaked long black hair dripping around her. Looking down at her black corset, she found it completely soaked and dirt particles marred her flesh. “That’s it!” she shrieked to the sky above. “I’ve had enough!” “You can either get in or stay wet. Your choice.” At the low, velvety voice, Bryanna jerked her head toward the car, looking at back door of the black Dodge Challenger, which was open. Get in the car with a stranger? Or stay in these soaked clothes, with a broken heel on my boot? The right decision was glaringly obvious. With her continuing limp, Bryanna approached the car, then settled into the backseat. “Thank you for stopping.” As she leaned against the back of the seat, she noticed she was dripping dirty water along the expensive black leather. “Perhaps this was a bad idea. I’m ruining your seat.” “It’s only a car,” the driver stated. Glancing up from her soaked clothes, Bryanna examined her savior. He stared out the front windshield, but then looked at her in the rearview mirror, and she sucked in a harsh breath. It wasn’t his appearance that worried her. His short dark-brown hair, the broad set of his shoulders and even his nicely defined arms filling his pale-blue T-shirt looked incredibly nice. But it was what lay in the depths of his coal-black eyes that terrified her. A demon. “The name is Zeke.” He flashed a grin that, if she hadn’t been frightened, might have been sexy. At her silence, he chuckled, put the car in gear and then drove down the road. “Surprised to see a demon?” She gulped, stunned speechless. Demons were underworld creatures, stealers of souls and spawns of Satan. What kind of trouble had she landed herself in? “Stop the car!” she shouted, blindly grasping for the door handle that seemed to have disappeared. She might have looked down to assist in her much needed escape, but that meant she would have to take her eyes off the demon, which she wouldn’t dare do. “Let me out. Don’t eat my soul.” Zeke barked a shout of laughter. “I might be a demon by right, but I have chosen a different life for myself. I won’t eat you.” His chuckling faded. “And I’ll even send a tow to get your car later. What’s your name?” His reply knocked her off her axis and made her pause. Was what he suggested even possible? Could a demon deny his heritage? “Bryanna.” She managed to look away from him and noticed they approached a town. “Where are you taking me?” “Charmstone.” Once he passed through the metal gates at the entrance, Bryanna spotted an old wooden sign that hung on a wrought iron stand. Charmstone was carved into the wood with Established in 1839 written below. As the car traveled down the curvy paved road, shops of all kinds appeared. First, Duncan’s Dungeons, then Scaredy Cat Café and even Little Shop of Potions. The town had a historical feel, with aged stores that only built more character. It didn’t look decrepit, but had an incredible charm. One of those places so memorable that if she left, she’d definitely return. After Zeke rounded a corner, he brought the car to a stop. Dragging her gaze from the eclectic shops and the few shifters who walked along the street, she exited the car and stared down the street to her right. She then looked to her left, totally mesmerized. The shops were all huddled together with no sense of organization. They were nothing like she’d seen in Shreveport. It even smelled different here, almost like gingersnap cookies. Every shop appeared to be a little house and each had a different style that somehow made each one special. “What a charming little town.” She glanced over her shoulder at Zeke and her mouth instantly went dry. At some point, he had joined her and he was dark, dangerous, but gorgeous. He towered over her, staring down at her in a way that should have sent her running. Instead, she found herself captivated. Her breath caught in her throat as he gave a smile that was as devilish as his evil roots. He regarded her a moment, giving her a once-over before curiosity filled his dark eyes. “If you’re a witch, why haven’t you,” he waved his hand over her, “changed your clothing?” At the reminder of her magical flaws, her cheeks warmed. The spell he suggested was, in fact, the simplest of magic. She considered lying to save herself from the embarrassment, but why bother? A demon had no right to judge her. “Because I’m a terrible witch.” One sleek eyebrow lifted. “How so?” A breeze filled the air, causing leaves to flutter down from the tree above, making her slightly chilled in her wet clothes. “My powers are on the fritz. I can command the earth element, but when I do, something horrible happens.” His eyes twinkled. “Show me.” “That’s not a good idea.” She scanned the area and while only a couple of warlocks stood by the café and a few werewolves across the street, this seemed dangerous. Turning back to Zeke, she admitted, “It’s best I don’t use my magic.” He closed the distance between them, studying her from head to toe. “But you are a witch.” To call her a witch was akin to calling a black cat white. “Yeah, that’s the problem. I’m only a half-witch.” He snorted, folding his arms over a thick chest. “There’s no such thing as a half-witch.” “Wanna bet?” she countered. The side of his mouth curved. “Go on.” He leaned against the wrought iron lamppost and waved her on, which flexed the muscles in his biceps. “I’m not worried. Show me.” She cleared her throat, a little stuck on the sight of his flexing muscles, before she gave herself hell for looking at a demon that way. Focusing off him, as well as realizing he wouldn’t relent until he saw her flaws for himself, she focused inward. “Don’t say I didn’t warn you.” He winked. “Little witch, you couldn’t hurt me if you tried.” Pointing toward himself, he tilted his head. “Demon, remember?” There was that. Besides, even if she had perfect magic, she still couldn’t injure him; exactly why witches feared demons. Although this demon wasn’t typical, was he? With that thought on her mind, and not wanting to prolong the moment, she shut her eyes. Years had passed since she called to her element and she wasn’t confident earth would respond. Perhaps some of her agreement had been because it almost felt like the final act of defiance. Her magic had been wonky since birth and her ex, Layton, had been right—her spells only caused trouble. Now she was free of him and could conjure magic whenever she wanted. That was, when alone and not for anyone to witness her mishaps. Warmth began to fill her veins, instantly reminding her of how intimately her magic touched her, bringing forth a world of guilt. Abandoning her element had been the hardest thing she’d ever done. But what else was she to do? As a heat wave rushed over her body and settled into her chest, happiness spread through her equally as powerful. The earth element appeared as elated as she was to reconnect. When the breeze picked up and turned into a stronger wind, fluttering her hair, she concentrated on her clothes. She pictured each article of clothing in her mind and switched that piece of clothing with something new. With a skirt and corset strong in her mind, the blast of heat in her veins burned wicked hot until it vanished and the wind returned to a gentle breeze. Only a second passed before Zeke burst out laughing. She snapped open her eyes, caught sight of him staring at the ground and then she followed his gaze. The moment she spotted the tiny round glass jar, she groaned. “See.” “I do see.” He picked up the container, pulled out the cork and lowered his nose to the glass. “It smells like vanilla with a hint of almonds.” After he closed the jar again, he smiled at her. “Is it skin cream?” “Sure is.” She lifted her chin, forcing herself to remember he was a demon and had no business judging her. “As I told you, my magic never comes out right and always gives me these thingamajigs.” “Thingamajigs?” She gave a firm nod. “Yup, all kinds of weird whatnots.” “Well, Bryanna.” He offered her the container with gentleness in his gaze that made no sense coming from a demon. “Must be incredible skin cream since your skin is beautiful.” With burning cheeks, she accepted the jar, unsure if she should thank him or ignore him. She chose the latter, considering he was a demon, after all. Sure, a sexy demon with a wickedly charming smile, but nonetheless, a demon. She deposited the cream in the garbage bin beside the lamppost and when the glass container clanged against the bottom of the metal garbage bin, she finally looked at Zeke. He stared at her intently and she became trapped in those same confusing eyes; so dangerous, yet tender. When he chuckled, her attention drifted down to his curved lips, making her wonder what it’d be like to kiss a demon. Would he be gentle? Or would he be a devil between the sheets? The second she realized it hadn’t been a passing thought, but intense curiosity, she gave her head a hard shake for even going there. What was wrong with her? “There’s a store close by that should suit you.” Zeke’s voice had deepened, his eyes glinting dangerously. “I’ll buy you whatever you need to replace your clothing.” She bit back a curse, seeing he wasn’t blind to her regard of him. Her most private thoughts always showed on her face. She had to work on not being such an open book. “I don’t need your money. That’s one thing I do have.” In fact, money was the only thing she had, not that she’d tell a demon that. What she didn’t have—what she longed for—was everything that truly mattered: love, acceptance and perfect magic. She had lived without the important stuff for twenty-five years and she couldn’t do it any longer. Those desires made her leave everything she knew behind in Shreveport in search of a new life. And now here she was, in Charmstone with a demon.