It's been a long while since I've hit my own blog with a shameless plug of promo. However, since it's my blog I'm totally allowed the privilege. Here's an excerpt from my current release, Curse of the Demon Queen, published by Cobblestone Press. Please enjoy and also check out the other offerings from the Summer Reading Trail.
Curse of the Demon Queen by Lauren Murphy
Aamon’s head threatened to split open from the painful throb caused by hard, pounding techno emerging from the oversized speakers. The flickering darkness of the atmosphere seemed to only make things worse. Red lights, flashing in time to music—if you could call it that—immersed the room. Luminous beams went crazy as people jerked their bodies to the fast-paced song roaring over the crowd. The mist machines combined with the constant change in visual stimulation made his stomach roil. It took everything he had to keep from spewing his last meal all over the shiny black marble floor. Usually he didn’t allow the ambiance of Club Hell to bother him, but his concentration deserted him.
The club housed various demons, shifters, vampires and “gifted” individuals, but the humans who frequented the place had no idea. They all assumed things like the feather-covered raven head attached to his neck were fake. The humans’ ignorance allowed beings of The Order to walk about freely. To keep hostilities to a minimum, most patrons stuck to their own kind. Club Hell had one rule—no fighting. The owner enforced the rule personally and any fool stupid enough to break it, regretted it. Since the club was only governed by one law, everything else fell under the radar. As a result, interesting activities took place in the small, dark corners of the building.
For the past five minutes, a feminine voice had been floating around Aamon’s head. If ignoring her wouldn’t cause him pain in the long run, he’d disregard her. He didn’t know what she wanted, nor did he care, but she seemed determined to get it. She pushed the connection harder with every call, but he didn’t want to be bothered. Couldn’t she take the hint? Besides, whenever he responded to a summons from a woman, especially while at the club, Lilith made him pay. Just the thought of his tormentor made his teeth clench.
“What’s wrong with my little fortune teller?” Lilith’s cool voice purred into his ear out of nowhere.
Speak of the Devil.
Her lips grazed his skin as she spoke and his skin tingled with unwanted anticipation. The way she viewed him—like her rightful property—made his stomach twist.
“I’m not a fortune teller,” he bit out. “And I’m certainly not yours.”
“Now, now,” she said, sliding her smooth hands up and down his arms. “There’s no need to be testy.”
Sinful sensations raced through his body as she continued to haunt him with her touch. Her firm, supple figure pressed against him, creating a bulge in his undersized “uniform”. His clothing, or lack thereof, consisted of a simple loincloth. Since the workers were all demons under her command, they had no choice but to prance around practically naked. He preferred to walk around nude, so the apparel wasn’t an issue, but her attitude made him want to jam his fist through a wall.
Her charges worked as dancers. They danced with whomever, wherever, and however they wanted. Most of them found it exciting. Aamon found it revolting. He didn’t want to rub against strange women so Lilith could make a buck. Although demons didn’t need money, Lilith had a particular weakness for human baubles and clothing. To earn the cash to buy these things, Lilith opened the club in the human realm.
He disengaged from her touch and turned to look in her eyes. Her remarkable deep black orbs rimmed so thickly with kohl eyeliner enhanced the sensual pout of her blood red lips. An unwanted shiver slid through him as he observed her lithe body secured in a tight leather corset and mini-skirt. Her long, bronze legs seemed to go on forever, complemented by a pair of dangerously high-heeled, black leather boots. The things he could do with those silky smooth limbs if his mind could allow his body to have its way. Just the thought of her made his heart hiccup and his lungs stall, but it meant nothing. They’d had their chance, which she had crushed with one thoughtless act. He wouldn’t fall for her charms…again.
He shoved aside the fifty-year-old memories threatening to surface and took a step away from her. “I have to go.”
“Where?” she asked with a sway of her hips as she blocked his exit.
“Does it matter? My shift’s almost over.”
“You’re avoiding the question. It’s a woman, isn’t it?”
“Again, does it matter? I have to answer and you know it.”
“No, you don’t have to.”
The throbbing in his head grew worse the longer he continued to ignore the summons, and dealing with Lilith didn’t help. She ruffled the feathers on his face and he jerked his head away.
“Yes, I do. This isn’t about you.”
“I don’t believe you.”
“Fine, believe what you want,” he said before he blinked out of the club and away from Lilith.
Aamon’s head pulsed, screaming with pain by the time he made it to his domain. He changed to his full demon form with haste to help his mind cope, but it did little. The human woman calling to him had one of the strongest telekinetic minds he’d ever experienced, and she had no intentions of being ignored. She wanted information and obviously didn’t plan to let up until she got it.
Surrounded by an orange red blaze and legions of evil beings forced under his control, he was in a foul mood. The flames licked against towering, jagged, black walls, but never caused them harm. He sat on a rock by the leaping fire which always remained and pondered his surroundings. The heat made him feel sticky and impatient, but he spent a good deal of time there when he wasn’t required to work the club. The familiarity of his domain made it easier to handle the cursed summons. So what if they were his duty? He never asked for the so called ‘gift’. If he had is way, he’d toss it off a jagged cliff with razor sharp rocks and leaping flames waiting at the bottom. Oh wait, they were already there.
He worked to ignore the calls, but a few he couldn’t avoid. Stones from the hard, black floor dug into the bottoms of his paws. He ignored them. In the grand scheme of things, they were nothing but a tiny nuisance compared to the muddled mess of his life.
“Aamon,” the voice called again. His head throbbed every time she pushed another message through his brain. The demons in his domain roared at the pain. They were linked to him against his—and their—will. They suffered whatever physical hurt he experienced. Pain lanced through him, causing them anguish, which forced them to vocalize their agony. The cacophony roared in his head, increasing the throbbing. Such was the vicious cycle of anguish in hell.
The demons were yet another annoyance pushed upon him. Once his father had ceased to exist, he got stuck with all his shit. He didn’t want his “gift”, or the demons, but as a resident of hell, it didn’t matter what he wanted. Children always got stuck with their parent’s leftovers, whether they wanted them or not.
His charges could’ve been mistaken for large, black wolves if their glowing, red eyes and snake-like tongues could be ignored. The room shook with the force of their displeasure as the woman pushed another agonizing thought through his mind. His demons couldn’t leave their chains, and the noise of their snarling and barking damn near forced him to his knees. Why wouldn’t she just leave him be? Most people got the hint when he didn’t answer, but not her.
Finally, when the noise reached a fevered pitch and his head threatened to split open, he created a mind link and transported her to him. The stunned look on her face told him she hadn’t been expecting it, but so what? She’d annoyed the hell out of him, so he deserved a little payback.
“Speak,” he ordered.
Her mouth opened and closed, but no words came out as she studied the serpent tail swishing back and forth from his wolf form. Coarse black fur covered his body except for the sleek coal appendage. The woman chewed at her bottom lip and twisted her hands until they became raw. Like most humans, she probably couldn’t stand the sight of his full demon form.
If he were a normal man, he might find her attractive. A simple pink dress covered her lithe body, exposing the tops of supple breasts. The heat from his domain caused a sheen of sweat to appear on her exposed skin and the strained look of fear on her face almost made him want to comfort her. Almost. The woman shivered so hard, regardless of the heat, she’d probably die of fright if he did try. Not that she deserved to be comforted after giving him a damned splitting headache.
“Speak,” he ordered again. Patience wasn’t a virtue he possessed or wanted.
“P—please,” she said, half looking at him. “H—human form.”
The woman shook so hard with wide-eyed terror she couldn’t even make complete sentences. Regardless, he knew what she meant and once the request was made, he couldn’t resist. For some reason, whenever a human asked for his appearance to change, his body automatically obeyed.
He’d spent many years adjusting to the pain of transforming. At one time it caused him paralyzing agony, but now it only brought mild discomfort. His bones shifted and popped as the change took place. Once finished, he stood in the form of a nude man from his shoulders down. The cursed head of a raven once again formed upon on his neck, sporting shiny black feathers. The fires around them leapt at his discomfort. He hated this form most of all. It reminded him of his curse and the one who’d placed it upon him. Damn, even now he wanted the treacherous woman. After all she’d done to him, his dreams and thoughts were still filled with visions of her. But now wasn’t the time to ponder their disastrous relationship. He had to get the human out of his domain, and quick. She didn’t belong.
“Speak, or leave,” he ordered one last time.
“No,” she screamed, throwing her hands, palm up, in front of him. “I need to know my future. I need to know if I will bear a child.”
Great, now she wants to be bold.
He sighed and nodded at the request. “It will be done.”
He took her hands in his and noticed how tiny hers were in comparison. His eyes slid closed and they traveled with lightning speed through space and time. Cold wind whipped past his closely trimmed head which provided relief from the sweltering heat of his domain. The rate at which he traveled reached far beyond most humans’ comprehension. A good number of them struggled for consciousness during the journey. The sudden change in atmosphere alone made things difficult, but add in the startling speeds and they could barely cope. Traveling through an entirely different plane took some getting used to.
Humans never knew what to expect and none seemed to care. Only one thing seemed to be on their minds. “Show me this, show me that,” they would say…no—demand. Like their lives couldn’t continue without knowing some particular part of the future. The whole idea baffled Aamon. None of it could be changed, so he didn’t see the point.
He made an abrupt stop when he spotted where they needed to arrive and she landed with a thud. They stood in the middle of a lush field covered with purple and yellow flowers. In front of them sat a large wood cabin, surrounded by a fresh garden filled with bright red tomatoes. Perhaps he would have appreciated the picturesque scene more if he wouldn’t have been there against his will. As it stood, all he wanted was to send the woman packing and get back to where he belonged.
While they waited, an older image of the human padded barefoot from the house, swollen with the late stages of pregnancy. Next to him, she gasped and a small cry escaped her lips before she clamped a hand down over her mouth. Her body heaved with tearful spasms as she observed her future self tend to her garden before taking a walk.
“Oh, thank God,” the woman whispered as she sobbed into her open palms.
Hell, at this rate he’d be there all day. Females had children every day, in the demon realm and in the human realm.
It seemed like she went on forever, kneeling with her head in her hands as if bowing at the feet of some sacred deity. He gave his arm an absent scratch then proceeded to shift his weight from foot to foot.
The entire experience had been enough to make him want to swear off summoning for the rest of his eternal life. If only the pain from ignoring some of their summons wasn’t enough to force him to his knees. Yeah, life was a bitch. He cleared his throat and crossed his arms. She yanked her head in his direction and pinned him with a wide, unfocused stare. Obviously, she had gone into her own little world and forgotten she had someone waiting for her.
Humans seemed to think all other beings were created to serve them. At the thought, he forced himself not to roll his eyes at her in disgust. He wanted the whole thing to be over with as little difficulty as possible. Finally, she got ahold of herself. She thanked him with a nod, and from there he sent her back to her own realm using the mind link he created earlier.
When he transported back to his domain, Lilith stood, proud and tall, waiting on him. His body betrayed him and hardened at the sight of her. To make matters worse, his head still hurt from the pressure of trying to ignore the woman he’d helped. The pain would probably plague him for the rest of the week and screw with his much needed focus.
He sucked in a breath as he got a full on view of her new attire. Heaven knew why she insisted on the leather getup. It didn’t suit her. A black, sheer gown blew around her lithe body and bronze skin tantalized him as she sauntered toward him. The scent of lavender and vanilla wafted in the air, forcing him to close his eyes and strengthen his stance. Lilith’s beauty had blinded him once before and he’d paid dearly for it. As far as looks went, no other woman had ever come close, but some things were more important than physical splendor. Like how he’d declared fifty years ago they were an ill match and decided she needed to be off limits. As if he could stop wanting her.
“Did she leave so soon?” Lilith cooed in a sensual voice, interrupting his thoughts. “The ladies don’t fawn over you if they can’t see your beautiful face, do they?”
As the cruel words left her lips, she cupped his head between her hands. His face transformed, making him appear completely human.
“That’s better, isn’t it?”
A muscle ticked in his jaw and an angry growl leapt from his throat as he failed to hold back his temper. Usually, he had no trouble keeping his anger at bay, but not with her. He hated the way she taunted him with the power she held over his physical transformation. Only she seemed to be able to bring out his most primitive emotions, and he sensed she knew it—reveled in it. No other had the power to make him transform completely. He wished he could throw her and her stupid curse out of his life for good, but fantasies were for fools. She was the queen and he, just a duke. Oh, how he both hated and loved this woman. She who tormented him night and day, when he slept and awoke.
“Now, don’t be cross with me,” she said, sliding a skinny fingernail across his naked chest. “You know what must be done to lift the curse. Just do it.”
“Forget it,” he hissed.
Her smile was full of wickedness as she circled and continued to graze her hands across his flesh. He sucked in a breath as luscious tingles cascaded over his skin. He tried not to revel in her touch. Resisting her never worked—his body betrayed him every time—and he loathed the instant reaction she drew from him. She’d stabbed him in the back and twisted the blade, yet he still wanted her. Obviously, he needed his head examined.
“Look at that,” she whispered as her gaze traveled down his naked form. “I don’t think you hate me as much as you let on.”
“Oh,” he said, grabbing her hand, forcing her to stop touching him, “but I do.”
A dark sneer marred her feminine features. Her cat-like eyes narrowed, and her full lips disappeared into a thin line below her broad nose which turned up on one side. Damn, even in anger he wanted her. Would he ever be freed from her spell?
“Just wait, Aamon, I will bend you to my will eventually.”
“Never,” he retorted in a harsh whisper.
“I see how your body responds to me. You are only a man, after all.”
“I’m not just a man and you aren’t just a woman,” he said, letting go of her hand as if it were poison. “We are demons and I will not bow to you.”
“No one else has been able to resist. What makes you think you’re so different?”
“They were weak and I’m not.”
“We shall see,” she said, strolling off without bothering to look back.
* * * * *
Anger consumed Lilith as she stormed away from Aamon’s rooms. Her heart raced. Her head throbbed so hard she feared it would burst through her skull. She followed him from the club only to find him with some simpering slut. How dare he continue to challenge her?
When she made it around the corner, she stopped to rest. The great wall outside his domain provided support as she calmed her frayed nerves. In his presence, she forced herself to act like he didn’t matter, but she couldn’t lie to herself.
No other man stirred her mind or body the way he did. In his full human form, he looked deliciously edible. He stood tall enough to have to look down to see into her eyes, but he didn’t tower over her. Luscious lips ripe for kissing sat proudly on his face under a broad nose and smoldering, almond-shaped eyes. Rippling muscles covered his arms and legs, and clearly, the man had never been introduced to the word modest. He didn’t even keep clothing nearby for when he changed forms. The thought of his perfectly bare ass made shivers trickle down her spine. His smooth brown skin enticed and exhilarated her until she could think of nothing but her body surrounding his as he entered her, over and over again.
Her feelings for him were a double-edged sword. She loved the look of him, but hated other women to actively admire him. Years ago, her jealousy caused her to curse him, and once released, a curse couldn’t be taken back. If only she could shake her addiction, life would be easier. But she couldn’t, and no matter what, he fought her in a way no one else had. The thought made her teeth clench so hard she feared they’d break.
Frustration mounted and she suppressed a growl as she finally calmed down enough to blink to her rooms. Her powers were nothing if she wasn’t in full control of her mind and emotions. Demons had to be focused for their powers to work at full capacity. She never allowed herself to forget the small bit of potentially lifesaving knowledge. It had given her the advantage she needed to take the throne and keep it.
Heat enveloped her as she entered her rooms. She liked to have some added warmth in her dwelling, so she often kept a small fire burning near the doorway.
“How may I serve you, my lady?” Her one remaining servant, Neal, stood by the door waiting for her command.
The last of the fire demons had red, leathery skin and stood about three feet high. His size caused people to underestimate his power, which didn’t bode well for those who tried to overtake him. In the old days, fire demons had been used as bodyguards or servants because of their strength and loyalty. He’d been with her since before the war that enabled her to capture the throne. Lilith viewed him as more of a companion than a servant, but his proper training would never allow them to be friendly.
“I’m fine, Neal,” she replied with a wave of her hand. “Why don’t you take the rest of the night off?”
He quirked his mouth and frowned at her as he retreated to his spot on the other side of the large room. Lilith chuckled at his typical response. He never took time off and only left her side when she asked or went to the club. On the earth plane, her rooms would be considered a large loft, so he stayed in her rooms instead of going back to his. His were so ill-used they were probably covered in cob webs. She wished he could see her as a friend, but his training wouldn’t allow for it.
With a sigh, she sat in front of a vanity made of flame-shaped, red crystals. In her bedroom, she also kept a matching bed and chest. The light from the fire made the crimson jewels glitter against the hard black walls. It managed to give the room a somewhat homey aura. She picked up the brush and pulled it through the long, thick strands of her raven hair. The effortless movements calmed her as Aamon crept back into her thoughts.
He couldn’t continue to reject her this way…could he? She had many other subjects who were anxious to pleasure her, but not Aamon. He scorned her. Acted like the very air she breathed insulted his existence. She couldn’t understand it. Wasn’t she beautiful enough? Sexy enough? Alluring enough? What did those damn human women have that she didn’t? Why could he resist her, but not them? Whenever they called him to do their damn bidding, he obeyed without complaint. She could barely get an audience with him, and they were nothing compared to the queen of demons. He was only a duke, after all, but the man really knew how to make her blood boil.
A knock at her door drew her mind from the willful man.
“Who is it?”
“It is Bael, my queen.”
Oh, just great.
The guy acted more like a puppy than a demon. The way he followed her around whenever he sensed her made her stomach churn. Couldn’t he tell she just wanted to be left alone? She treated no one with favoritism, especially him, and there wasn’t a day he didn’t interrupt her private time in her chambers. Her sanctuary was all she really had, and she couldn’t even enjoy it. But then, no matter how much she wanted to, she never denied her subjects entry. She sighed before putting down her hairbrush. Instead of telling him to get lost like she wanted, she said, “You may enter.”
He bowed low and came to stand before her. His sneaky eyes glittered as he drank in her black attire. A saucy getup meant to entice Aamon, which he barely even glanced at. Bael, on the other hand, appreciated her physique much more than she cared for his. His nose hooked like a birds, his lips were too thin, and if he had muscles, they were invisible to the naked eye. Small men never attracted her, especially when their bones could be seen through their clothes, like Bael’s.
It took a few tries before she could push her displeasure away enough to keep it from showing on her face. “What can I do for you, Bael?”
“I’ve come to ask if you’ve given any thought to our last discussion.”
“No.” The word came out cold in comparison to the heat of the atmosphere. She felt no warmth for the smarmy, groveling demon before her.
“May I ask why, my queen?”
Because you’re a spineless wimp. Because you’re like a fish in bed. Because you’re not Aamon.
No matter how much she wanted to, she couldn’t allow herself to utter any of those responses, so she settled on, “Because there is nothing to think about. We’ve had this discussion before, and my mind will never change.”
He pulled a light brown hand through shoulder-length, oily, black hair and sighed. “I wish you would reconsider.”
“I won’t.” She turned back to her reflection in the vanity.
“Just listen to reason.” He took a presumptuous step closer.
“Watch yourself, Bael. Bad things happen to men who disrespect me.”
“I’m sorry, my queen. I just don’t understand.”
Pathetic, just pathetic.
How could she be expected to be with a man who whined more than a sniveling brat? Who couldn’t even muster the strength to stand up to her? Aamon would have stared her in the eyes and told her what to do with her commands. Like a man, even knowing she would punish him for it.
“There’s nothing else to be said.” She turned and grazed him with a quick glance then looked back at her reflection. She picked up her brush and went back to sliding it through her hair, all but forgetting his presence.
“But my que—”
She contained the growl hovering at the edge of her lips and took a few deep breaths. “If I were you, I’d leave now.”
A childish scowl drifted over his features before he could master his expression, but he said nothing in response. The door clicked closed behind him as he exited her room.
She breathed a heavy sigh of relief. In all her life, she’d never met such an insufferable man. He wanted more power than he knew what to do with, but couldn’t control his own damn minions. She’d made the mistake of sharing a bed with him when she’d hit a low point and regretted it still. Since then, he’d acted like he held favor with her, which he did not, and never would. It made her want to drop him off the side of a mountain or maybe down an active volcano. Her shoulders rose and fell as she blew out another sigh. If only she could go back—but only few could work with time. Even so, no one had the power to make any changes. Too bad.
She crossed over to her king-sized bed and plopped down on her red, silk sheets. The past no longer mattered. She had her sights on Aamon…still.
Thank you for stopping by.
The full version can be purchased directly from Cobblestone Press or Amazon.