I’m multi-tasking today! I’m over visiting Shehanne Moore and talking about my trip to NOLA for the RT Book Lovers Convention, AND I’m hosting my friend and fellow RT’er, Renea Mason.
Shey grilled me about my time in New Orleans. She asked so many hard questions, and I finally just have to give her some pictures of the guys I met. Stumpy was my favorite, I think. If you’d like to meet Stumpy, please check out the interview. But don’t forget to come back and check out the first chapter in Between the Waters…
Yesterday I highlighted the three books tied to the Symphony of Light Series, by Renea Mason. Today, I’m sharing an excerpt from Book 2, the recently released Between the Waters.
Magic is no match for love…
Trapped somewhere between life and death, demigod Cyril has lost the ability to communicate with his love. But not before giving her valuable lessons in magic, as well as his blessing to move on without him.
Coming to terms with Cyril’s absence isn’t easy, but Linden is doing her best to honor his wishes. Until she receives an unusual request from Moreaux, an estranged member of Cyril’s family. Bizarre things are going on with Mary, the former housekeeper, and Linden can’t let them go. But when her investigation leads to a mistake that nearly costs her life, Cyril’s best friend, Overton, steps in and violates a promise he made centuries before to bring her back from the dead.
Gratitude turns to comfort, comfort turns to desire, and desire leads Linden to a shocking revelation. In her charge to uncover the truth behind Mary and Moreaux, she discovers a spell she can’t undo without leaving wounds on her heart, wounds she knows will never heal…
“Linden…take your clothes off.” Cyril’s voice, low and commanding, laced tendrils of seduction through my mind. Even without his six feet five inches of supernatural perfection looming, he had control.
“Absolutely not. You’re not talking me into that again.” A world away, he still commanded my body. My stomach filled with warmth, and hairs raised on my arms with the cadence and tone in my mind. Damn it.
“How was I to know the man would be walking his dog so late? If your inferior senses had detected his presence, you could have hidden instead of running naked through the streets.” He snickered. “Look at it this way…you were lighter without clothes, and Michael’s power infusion gave you the ability to outrun the beast. Important knowledge, even if your hearing sucks.”
Ever since the accident, which left Cyril in another plane of existence, tormenting me remained his main form of entertainment. He took great pleasure in my uncertainty. Being separated from his body left him with metaphorical idle hands, and my brain the only thing within reach. He blamed his actions on not knowing which abilities I inherited when I destroyed Michael—my short-lived husband and all-around supernatural nuisance. The moment I plunged the knife into Michael’s back, something in me changed. Beyond the branching pattern of raised skin covering my back, the experience also altered my soul, but how was unclear. With Cyril as my guide, I never knew if I’d end up the victor or the prey.
“My hearing is fine. Besides, I couldn’t hear around all the bullshit you were spewing in my head.” I crossed my arms, still not quite comfortable speaking to him out loud. A delay occurred between my thoughts and his access to them. His interpretation of them was accurate about sixty percent of the time. Verbal communication allowed for instant understanding, when it worked.
“You’re not questioning me, are you? Do you want to learn or not?” The huskiness surrounding his words accented power and his centuries of experience. Since he was at my mercy until he once again inhabited his body, desperation for control led him to push boundaries.
As much as I hated to admit it, I needed him too, but letting him know was not an option. He was cocky enough. Another ounce of ego would make him unbearable.
“Mr. Aristin, do not think for one moment you are going to manipulate me. There needs to be trust.”
“I couldn’t agree more. Had you trusted me, we wouldn’t be in this mess.” He sighed and in a soft tone wrapped with demand said, “Now take your clothes off.”
“Can’t I just stick to releasing souls? That was easy, and I could leave my pants on.”
“No. You have much to learn.”
Cyril had let me know that he was not sure why, but the mixture of his blood in my veins and my proximity to Michael’s destruction gave me the ability to release souls. He had said that mankind should be damn thankful I was there to take his place as the gateway to the afterlife. Freeing their souls for the journey to heaven or hell saved them from an eternity in purgatory. But apparently that was only part of it.
“As long as you don’t start calling me Grim.” Maybe it wasn’t fair to forbid the nickname I bestowed upon him for his role as the soul deliverer, but I was beyond worrying about his sensitivities.
“I have far better names for you. Would you like to hear how you inspired them?”
“No. Let’s get this over with. It’s freezing.”
“Magic is more than an ability. It’s a skill. Surely our previous lessons have taught you that. Channeling the energy takes practice.”
“But you say it’s equal parts will and magic. Some situations require an influence and focus—spell component and chant. Like how you told me you created your family with the souls of three men, your blood, magic, and focused will. What does any of that have to do with getting naked?”
He growled. “Stop talking and do it. Trust me.” His use of trust as a trump card to win arguments was getting old.
I inhaled the crisp night air as the moon shone bright in the night sky, outlining everything in a strange, opaque aura. Its shadows appeared astral. It was almost midnight, and the night was cold. I looked behind me to make sure I was alone. Cyril’s lessons had brought us back to the cemetery where we originally met. The energy resulting from the intersection of two powerful ley lines would make it easier for me to learn. I moved my hands to the zipper on my coat.
“They are magical; the moon shadows, I mean.”
It sucked having him in my mind. A few seconds after a thought crossed he had full access to it as a memory. I was never alone except when he grew too weary to maintain the connection or when it dropped like bad cell phone reception. His presence was always a surprise. During rare merciful times, he’d let an embarrassing stray notion vanish without comment, but that was a rarity most days. The constant focus on controlling my thoughts wore on me. It was impossible to stop them from forming without thinking of why they shouldn’t be formed in the first place. Either way, I was screwed.
He must have sensed my turmoil because he changed tactics. “If you’d be so kind as to oblige my request…” But his attempt at manners was undermined by the growl reverberating between my ears. I couldn’t even roll my eyes in peace.
“Request, my ass. Besides, it’s cold.” No matter how much I wanted to resist, the guilt that gripped me for trapping him outside his body softened my response to his bullshit every time.
“You won’t be for long. Now get on with it; we haven’t got all night. I’m growing tired.”
Another quick look around revealed row after row of headstones. The crisp nip of winter air and the moon-bathed landscape awaited me. I shrugged off my coat, removed my shoes and socks, shimmied the jeans over my hips, and pulled the sweater over my head. Standing next to a pile of clothes in only panties and bra, I wrapped my arms across my chest. With the temperature near the low thirties, I shivered and looked up to the sky. Closing my eyes, I grumbled, “Now what?”
He laughed. “Oh, my dearest Linden, open your eyes and look down.”
Busted. I looked, but focused several feet away, avoiding my body. I focused on the grass trimmed in tiny white crystals of frost. So fucking cold.
“You naughty girl. When I told you to take your clothes off, I meant all of them. Do it. Then let me see.”
I huffed and reached around to unfasten my bra. The task proved difficult as my hands shook from the temperature, anger, and anxiety. Working the panties down my legs, I complained, “I’m going to die from hypothermia.”
Standing on a hill overlooking the Laurel Mountain range, in a cemetery, at midnight, talking to nothing but the night air while taking orders from a voice in my head was all the evidence I needed. I had finally gone insane.
“Show me.” The menace gone, seduction in its place.
I sighed and complied. My nipples were so puckered and hard they could have chiseled ice. My skin reddened from windburn.
A sound in my head like air being sucked through teeth echoed between my ears. “You are so beautiful. When I’m back, I’m going to dedicate a week to savoring each part of your body. I’m going to wrap my lips around each of those rosy buds. Without touching any other part of your body, I’ll make you writhe, pant, and moan for me.”
Damn him. The breeze blew, but I was immune. The heat that grew from within, negating its effects. “Cyril, please…” I intended a warning, but he interpreted my words as a plea.
“I feel your need. If I was there, I’d bend you over the bench, watch your red hair drape over your back, and fuck you until you screamed my name. When the echoes of your passion stopped filling my ears, I’d sit you atop me and bury myself inside you and lathe the milky white skin of your breasts with my tongue. When those beautiful green eyes told me you surrendered, I’d bite and consume you as you consumed me.”
“Stop. Cyril, please. I am on edge. I’m ready to ignite. You can feel it. Please don’t make it worse.” He held a switch to my body’s thermostat. The only thing chilled was the place between my legs where moisture pooled. What other woman could say that she bedded a god made for sex? The goddess who created him, to see to her every physical need, perfected every detail. The man was a Titan in bed, and damn my luck, the universe gave me a taste before taking him, just so I’d know what I was missing. Fucking fates.
“When you bring me back to you, where I belong, I’ll make it up to you. You have my word. Are you still cold?”
“No.” In fact, I was surprised I didn’t combust.
“See, you should trust me more often.”
“Now your lesson…Light, close your eyes.”
Lowering my lids, I did as he asked.
“Can you feel the pulse?”
I focused, blocking out the whistle caused by the breeze blowing across my ears. The cold numbed my skin once my Cyril-induced inferno extinguished. It shook the hairs on my arms, tickling.
“Walk to it.”
I did. As I got closer, it thundered in my brain. Cyril’s identity, my anxiety, and the strange sensation caused something akin to a headache to take hold. “It’s making my head hurt.”
“That’s expected. The pulse has increased. Now, find the place where it’s so fast, it’s sustained. The pain will subside when you are in the precise spot. You’ll learn how to pace out the pinnacle, and you won’t need to focus on the feeling.”
“Is that what you were doing the first time I saw you here? You were counting.”
“Yes. The lines shift with the season, and winter is two paces to the left of summer. It’s easier to count since I’ve been here before. Better than getting naked and risk you attacking.”
“I never would have attacked you!”
“You may have been young, but the hunger in your eyes for me, even then, was unmistakable.”
“You are impossible. Hurry, I’m getting cold.”
“Do you need me to heat you up again? Should I tell you about how, if I was there, I’d drop to my knees, spread your legs and run my tongue up the inside of your thigh, savoring the essence. I’d lick—”
“Stop it. You can’t keep talking about sex.”
“Yes, I can. I’m made for sex. I am inseparable from sex.”
“But you’re not here, and it’s torture.”
“Seems a fitting price for not trusting me with our future.”
“I was only trying to help.”
“By giving yourself to a psychopath in a ridiculous effort to save me? I’m the closest thing to a god that exists here, and you thought to save me? My only vulnerability is you. You will be my destruction. Now that I have you, I won’t be without you. It’s your stubbornness that risks us both.”
“Well, sorry I told you I loved you. I should have left with Michael and kept you in the dark, wondering.”
“I would have found you. Besides, it was your careless disregard of magic that lead to my imprisonment.”
“Imprisonment? Really? Could you be more dramatic? I was trying to protect you.”
A sound that reminded me of a snort resonated. “Yes, and a ridiculous notion it was. Keep moving toward the source.”
“Whatever.” I cracked my lids the slightest bit to look for obstacles in my path. The pulsing stabilized at the center of the large circle of gravestones. The Nester family, I remembered. “Now what am I supposed to do? The frequency is sustained, and the headache is gone.”
“Fuck you.” He knew I wasn’t. Another one of his games was to ask questions he already knew the answer to just to prove his point.
“That’s my girl.” He laughed. “Clear your mind.”
“Easier said than done with the current infestation.” Removing all thoughts of Cyril and his tongue proved difficult. I focused on the grass, taking in the uneven blades.
“Now visualize. Look through the surface of the Earth and picture the energy. Picture pulling it through your body. As I said before, magic is little more than focused will, woven with the forces that sustain this world.”
It took a while to clear my head, and thankfully, he remained silent. Allowing numbness to fill my limbs and seep into my mind, I penetrated layers of earth, reaching the electric white lights branching under the surface. Each juncture enhanced the brightness. I focused on the nearest point and pictured drawing it toward me.
Soon a surge started in my feet, pins and needles followed, as the energy crept through my nervous system. I closed my eyes. The current continued until I was enveloped in the light, feeling invincible, but only for a moment. The energy started to recede.
“Linden, don’t let go. Use the chant. Remember how I told you to use the words to focus. Say them slowly. Nium parnum omsti narum.”
Mentally I grasped at the light as my lips formed the words. Even though not magical, each syllable helped channel the essence. I regained control and was once again overcome.
His next command caught me off guard. “Do not speak. Think of Clarence.”
Clarence? Why? I thought it odd but didn’t comment. Clarence, my friend and colleague, was the furthest thing from my mind. We spoke the night before. He was still vacillating between being pissed at me for bringing him into all this supernatural bullshit and appreciating me for adding excitement to his life.
Another set of instructions. “Think of how he looks. What he sounds like.”
Clarence. His smooth, coffee-colored complexion, baldhead, swimmer’s build, and slight Southern drawl.
My skin rippled like water and blended with the tingling caused by the energy. A straining from within—stretching muscle, shifting bone—caught me by surprise. It was not wholly painful, as the pulse served as an excellent analgesic.
“Keep thinking of him, concentrate.”
Entranced by the light and Cyril’s words, Clarence’s mannerisms came to mind. The way he fiddled with his collar, the strange way he cleared his throat when we passed a sexy man and how he held my elbow each time we crossed the street. I was all- things Clarence. I held the image, unmoving.
“That’s it. Feel him, know him, become him.”
Another focused thought on Clarence’s wide, mischievous smile and the corners of my lips lifted, mirroring my thoughts of his actions.
“That’s it, become Clarence.”
Deep breaths helped my concentration. I embodied his six plus feet of height. His toes, his large hands, his… “What the hell?” My eyes flew open.
Cyril screamed in my mind, “No, gain focus. Gain focus! Use the chant!”
Oh, dear God. I was a six-foot-tall…African- American…man. Holy shit. I was Clarence. What. The. Fuck!
“Linden, you have to calm down. Don’t let the magic snap back. If you do, it will be much worse. It’s going to be bad enough already.”
I turned my hands over and over again, taking in their size, color, and masculinity. Another glance revealed I no longer had breasts and a little lower… I was going to need more therapy.
The hands I scrutinized shook, and the sight disoriented. Rippling started in my skin, and the light began to recede.
“Damn it. Too late. Linden, I’m so sorry.”
was he sorry? For turning me into Clarence? But my knees buckled, and I fell to the ground. The energy sucked the last bit of warmth with it as it receded into the earth. My bones gave and muscles cramped in places I didn’t know I had. The pain crippled as I lay writhing on the ground.
“So sorry. Breathe through the pain.”
“Ahhhh…” The scream escaped from between my teeth. My eyes closed from contractions that raked my body. Some kind of grunting pushed through my throat. I was going to die.
“You’ll be OK. I wish I could help you.”
“Fuck you! What did you do?” Another violent spasm and sweat broke out across my skin. So cold.
“It should end soon. Just a little longer.”
Another groan I couldn’t control. I gritted my teeth from pain and the chill. More perspiration. I wanted to cry, but it would’ve hurt too much.
The jerking muscles quieted, and with that came the ability to move my limbs. I forced my eyes to open. Thank God! I had never been so happy to see my breasts.
“Light, I didn’t do anything. It’s all you.” Because Light was his pet name for me, I both loved and loathed him in that moment.
I formed my mouth into an O, and I steadied my breathing. Something wet slid down my forehead. What on earth? I opened my eyes to find my entire body covered in a thick, clear, mucous substance. It wasn’t sweat after all. I collected some and flung it from my fingertips. “What the fuck is this?”
“That, my dear, is shifting residue. It’s the by- product your cells produce when you take the form of another. You used to be quite found of it. It’s what your dearly departed Michael used to craft those little animal figurines he gifted you. Isn’t it romantic?”
“I would so punch you if I could.” I wiped the sticky disgusting liquid from my cheek.
“Do you have any idea what this means?” Elation sounded in his voice. My body felt like I fell from a thirty-story building, and he sounded like it was his fucking birthday.
“It means I’m bare-ass naked, lying on the ground after midnight, in a cemetery covered in goo.
Oh…and a minute ago I hallucinated that I had a penis.”
“That was no hallucination, Light. Isn’t this wonderful?” He was excited. Cyril didn’t get excited. Even when we first met and he discovered my immunity to his curse, he never let his enthusiasm show.
Another sweep of goo from my arm, I breathed heavy, rising on all fours. The slime dripped from my body, leaving tiny pools. “You’ll excuse me if I don’t see the wonder in all of this.”
“Linden, you mimicked Clarence. You changed shapes. You became him. I can’t even do that. I always envied Michael. Think of the possibilities.”
“Became Clarence? I feel like I gave birth to him.” The substance coating my skin started to harden. My clothes lay in a pile about ten feet away, but it felt more like ten miles.
“The process is a bit messier than I expected, but do you know what else this means?”
Right hand, left knee, then left hand, right knee. Each movement required thought, conviction. I needed to get to my sweater before the stuff hardened. “I.” Breath. “Don’t.” Huff. “Know.” Grunt. “What. Does. It.” Hyperventilate. “Fucking.” Growl. “Mean?” I fisted the sweater and rubbed at the small crystals forming on my skin.
“It means you are much stronger than I thought. Of course, you’ll need practice.”
I shrugged on my coat. Screw the underwear. Wiping down my legs, the residue splintered and flaked to the ground like small snowflakes. “Great. I can be Clarence. You know, one Clarence is more than enough.”
“You can do something I cannot. I wonder what else you can do.”
“Hell. No. We are done with your experiments.” I leaned back, wiggled my bottom into my jeans and eyed my car. Another ten feet. Fuck!
“You are strong enough to bring me back after all.”
On my hands and knees, I came to a halt. Why I looked up when he pissed me off was beyond me. It wasn’t as if he could hear me any better. “What? There was a possibility I wouldn’t be able to do it? When were you planning to tell me you might be stuck forever?” Five more feet. Never gonna make it.
“Everything is equally possible and impossible, Light. I hadn’t planned to tell you.”
“Oh, save your philosophical bullshit. I’m not in the mood.” My hand slapped hard against the door of my black Pontiac Solstice, and I pulled myself up, leaning against the car, still trying to catch my breath.
“I didn’t think it was possible, but I love you even more.”
“Funny, I didn’t think…that I’d want to strangle you any more than the night I ran naked through the street while being chased by that beast of a dog. But again, you’ve outdone yourself, my love.”
“Light, necessity is the mother of invention.”
I groaned at the pain and his words and opened the car door, falling into the seat. I grabbed each leg and pulled them inside one at a time. The smell of the leather soothed, familiar. I took a deep breath. “Nice quote. Who said it?”
I slumped against the steering wheel, trying to muster the strength to drive. “No, I mean originally.”
“That’s what I meant. Many attribute it to an old English proverb, but it was in a speech I gave in Greece, around 400 BC.”
Immortals. Bah! “Is there anything you haven’t done? I mean you’re essentially a vampire with your fangs, you’re immortal, you can summon wings, use magic like a wizard, and escort the dead. How does anyone compete with that?”
My groan of frustration surprised even me. I turned the key. The engine roared to life. “Why Clarence?” I cranked up the heat and rubbed my hands together, trying to generate warmth from friction. Finally, I slumped back in the seat and rested my hand on the gearshift.
I had no energy for his games. Enigmatic pain the ass.
“I heard that.”
“Good. Now shut up and let me drive.” My teeth chattered.
“Would you like me to warm you up? I could—”
“God help you…” I grabbed the rearview mirror and stared into it. Glaring at myself, knowing he’d see my reflection, I focused my anger. Goo had crystallized in my hair, and faint bruises formed under my skin. “If you say one more word, I will pull over and hack my own head off just to stop your incessant bullshit. Then who will you annoy? Huh?”
I reached up and moved a strand of hair, and they all moved. My hair was so hard an eighties girl would’ve been envious. “And Cyril, if I have to shave my head because of this, I’m not bringing you back. Do you hear me? Never. Coming. Back.”
He laughed. “Did I ever tell you that your feistiness makes me hard? If I were there I’d—”
“Don’t push me.”
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Visit again on Friday, when I share my review of Between the Waters.