The Beast Within
Kensignton Brava (August 31, 2010)
ISBN-13: 9780758247360 ♦ ISBN-10: 0758247362
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Meet three men without boundaries, hell-bent on satisfying their deepest desires—and those of the women who drive them wild…
“Redeeming The Wizard” by Jennifer Lyon
Gage Remington was once a powerful wizard; now he’s a recluse who keeps the world at bay. But when Mira Tate arrives at Gage’s door, she stirs in him an attraction he can’t deny. Soon, Gage will risk everything to keep Mira close—even the secret that may be his ruin…
“The Howling” by Erin McCarthy
When Liv Lugaru’s boyfriend Sebastian disappears, she finds comfort in his brother’s arms. But Sebastian is much closer than Liv realizes…and he’ll stop at nothing to protect her from the feral danger that comes alive only when she sleeps…
“Smoke On The Water” by Bianca D’Arc
In the misty fog of a lakefront village, zombies are roaming wild—and zombie hunter John Petit must stop the carnage. John is also fighting a different kind of battle: a forbidden passion for his new partner, Donna. With her help, killing zombies is a walk in the park, but keeping his desire in check is making him sweat…
Read an Excerpt
“What’s taking so long, Mira? If the wizard shows up…”
“He won’t.” Mira Tate kept her eyes on the road while answering her cousin on the Bluetooth. In seventeen years, the Wizard of Raven Mist had never attended the Remington Day Celebration. The entire town turned out, bringing gifts, drinking wine, and celebrating the day the wizard had banished the demon who killed two of their citizens—Mira’s parents.
“He might,” Lacey insisted. “Besides, the party has started, the winery is brimming with townsfolk and Gram needs to give the toast.”
Mira turned down the private lane to the lakeside cabin and forced her jaw to unclench. “Lacey, you’re the one who forgot to pick up Gram.”
“I had an exorcism that took longer than I expected. It was for a couple moving into a new house. There were two spirits there who didn’t want to move or share.”
“You could have called.” Mira parked the car in front of the lake house.
“I sent Gram, Mom and Damon a psychic message. I couldn’t send the message to you, you’re magic-blind.”
She valiantly fought the urge to bang her head against the steering wheel. She loved her family, but they lived in a different world than Mira. A world of magic, while Mira lived in a little place she liked to call reality. “Your mom is on a private island doing readings for minor royalty, so she’s out of range. Your brother” —is an idiot. She sucked in a breath, trying to be fair. Damon was the strongest psychic in the family, but— “needs to scry to get the message. If he’s busy or distracted” —by his latest bimbo— “he won’t pick up the message in time.”
“But Gram usually gets my messages,” Lacey pointed out.
Twenty-four years old and she still hadn’t learned. Quit trying to reason with magicals. They were used to being special and getting away with crap like this, while the magic-blinds cleaned up after them. “Lacey, just take care of the party until Gram and I get back.” She turned off the car, killed the lights and was cast into darkness.
A chill went down her spine. If Gram was here, why weren’t there any lights on in the cabin? Oh God, what if she’d fallen? Or had a heart attack? Or— “Stop it.” She flipped on her dome light and got a flashlight out of the glove box. Then she grabbed her keys and cell phone and got out of the car.
Her heart rate skyrocketed and bitter fear coated her tongue. Gram was all Mira had. Her parents had been killed when she was seven. Gram raised her, loved her. Gram never cared that Mira was magic-blind.
She made her way up the stairs. The door was unlocked. If Gram was in there, that wasn’t unusual which increased her fear that the older woman was hurt. She didn’t want to take the time to call for help, not when Gram could be lying on the floor with a broken hip or something. Easing open the door, all she saw were shadows. She flipped the wall light switch revealing the living room and kitchen. Empty. She saw the suitcase sitting by the couch. “Gram?”
No sound came except the hum of the refrigerator. Mira checked around the corner in the kitchen: no Gram. She checked the two bedrooms and the bathroom but there was no sign of her.
She walked back out to the main room, willing herself to think. Gram couldn’t just vanish. She’d come to the cabin to meditate and consult with the spirits. Gram was a soul harmonizer and folks paid her a lot of money to find their soul mate. She didn’t drive though, so…
A lump on the floor by the suitcase caught her eye.
Mira walked over to it and bent down, ignoring her too tight skirt. It was a palm-sized, misshapen lump of purple plastic with black scorch marks. “Gram’s cell phone!” It looked like it had been hit by lightening or—
Her cell rang. She jumped, her heart slamming against her ribs. She glanced at the display. It was her other cousin, so she hit the button and answered, “Damon, Gram’s—”
“Been kidnapped! I just scryed a message from her that said, ‘Kidnapped, get the wizard.’ Then nothing, all contact was cut off. Mira, Gram’s in trouble! We need the town wizard. You have to get him to find Gram.”
A wizard kidnapped Gram? Mira’s fear turned to anger so fierce that it throbbed a violent red in her head. Why in the hell would a wizard kidnap her seventy-six-year old grandmother for?
“Mira?” Worry threaded into Damon’s voice. “Remington’s a recluse, won’t even talk to citizens. What if he won’t see you? Or refuses?”
She walked out the door, locked it and started down the stairs to her car. “He’ll do it.” She’d make damned sure of it. Gage Remington owed her.
That wizard had gotten her parents killed.
* * * * *
Gage looked at the BlackBerry screen, noting where the two troll-demons were skulking in the forest behind his house. These giants from the first ring of hell were butt ugly, vicious fighters. Every year on the anniversary of Gage sending back the higher-ranking demon that killed two of his citizens, the seal on the portal weakened.
Troll demons slithered out.
While the town was celebrating with drink, food and gifts, Gage tracked and killed the trolls. If they escaped into town, people would die. The more human blood they collected, the more powerful their demon master in the upper rings of hell became.
If they could kill Gage and harvest the blood from his master wizard triskellion over his solar plexus, their demon boss would rise to the ninth level of hell and become a demon lord.
Not a fucking chance. Shoving the BlackBerry into the pocket of his pants, Gage moved with the silence acquired from decades of training and nearly two centuries of being a master wizard. His shirt had been torn off in his battles with the trolls he’d already killed tonight. The half moon filtered through the tree branches and wind filled the air with the troll-stench just ahead. He caught sight of the two he was searching for and frowned. They were running toward his house. Why were they going that way instead of deeper into the forest where they had a chance of losing him, or doubling back and killing him? He lifted his sword and prepared to move.
“Oh shit!” Rhys yelled.
Gage stopped and jerked his BlackBerry from his jeans. “What?” he asked the ghost on his screen. Rhys Warwick had been the wizard who trained Gage into a master wizard. He’d been dead and quiet for a decade before Gage had fried his powers and then summoned his old mentor from his death-sleep. Unfortunately, Gage didn’t have enough power to send Rhys back to his rest.
“There’s a woman at your front gate and the troll-demons smell her.” The screen changed to show him the image. His wrought-iron fence was eight feet high and stretched across the front of his house. The woman was stabbing the buzzer at his intercom.
“I silenced it,” Rhys said. The ghost wore a karate gi stamped with the master wizard triskellion symbol, a black belt and a steely blue-eyed gaze.
“Gage Remington!” a woman’s voice hollered loud enough to shake the trees.
She must have realized the buzzer wasn’t working. “Troll balls,” he snarled and shoved the BlackBerry into his pocket. Then Gage launched into preternatural speed and caught up to the two trolls. Using the element of surprise, he killed them quickly.
“I know you’re in there, Remington!” The woman yelled, rattling the iron bars rattled.
Gage wiped the sweat pouring into his eyes and whipped around to race toward the gate.
A scream pierced the night.
Gage broke through the edges of the forest. Ignoring his gothic monstrosity of a house on the left, he ran full bore for the gate. He saw the problem immediately—another troll had reached through the gate and had grabbed the woman’s neck. Two other trolls were climbing over the fence.
Gage reached the fence in time to see the woman shove her fist through the bars.
The troll holding her bellowed and fell back, releasing her.
Stunned, Gage looked down to see that she’d stabbed the creature in his bulging eyes with her keys. The thing was rolling on the ground trying to jerk them out.
Brutal and resourceful—he admired that. He jerked his sword up and beheaded the creature. Then he turned to the two crawling over the fence. He reached out his hand and grabbed the iron bar to send enough power to the motor to open the gate and get between the trolls and the woman. Instead, his triskellion—the three spirals within a spiral—shorted out and sent a bolt of pure electricity into the bars.
The trolls touching it shrieked in agony and went up in flames. The bars turned molten red, then gray and finally fell to the ground in a long row of chunky ash. It smelled like burning iron, hair and rotten, greasy meat.
Gage sighed, so damned tired of his fucked-up power. He ignored the burn on his hand and glared at his unwanted guest. She was a plain-looking woman wearing a black skirt, an ugly blouse and high heels. Although he did notice her hair. It was a deep mahogany color that gleamed over her shoulders. Her face was pale and tight, her brown eyes huge. “You need to get out of here,” he growled, while trying not to breathe in the lingering stench.
Her eyes widened and she yelled, “Behind you!”
Gage gripped his sword with both hands, ignoring the hot flash of pain in his burned palm and swung around, beheading the troll just as it leapt toward him leapt at him with its teeth bared.
“You are summoning demons.”
The accusation hit him in the back and boiled his blood with outrage. He had spent the last seventeen years doing everything within his severely limited power to protect the town. Gage turned and narrowed his gaze. “Pay attention, woman, I am not summoning demons, I’m killing them. Besides, these barely qualify as demons; they are merely trolls.” Real demons would be a more serious problem with his fried magic. “But they won’t hesitate to kill you and consume all your blood. Run along while you still can.”
She shivered, wrapping her arms around her waist. “How did they get here?”
Gage didn’t have time for this. “Get out of here. Now.” He made it a command.
“Demons don’t just appear.” She sucked in a breath, her chest rising with clear outrage. “You’ve opened a portal!”
He didn’t need this shit. “Lady, I’m about ready to open a portal and toss you into hell. Get the hell out of here before I do it.” He had to get her away from the danger. The portal should reseal any minute now, but until he was sure no trolls were on this side, she was at risk.
Her eyes widened until he could see the ring of white around her irises. Hot color flooded her face. She dropped her arms and took a step toward him. “Don’t you dare threaten me, wizard!”
Swear to the Realm, could the gods have found a more irritating woman to drop on him tonight? He took a step closer to her and looked down at all five feet eight inches of her and refused to notice the way her breasts filled out that ugly top. “Leave.”
She tilted her head back. “Can’t. My car keys are in that…mess.” She gestured to where he’d killed the troll she’d maimed with her keys.
Gage felt his left eye begin to twitch. He walked over to the troll rotting into dust and snatched up the keys. Shaking off the remaining troll filth, he held them out to her. “Go.”
She ignored the keys. “Not until I get what I came here for.”
He knew he was going to regret asking this, but this woman was sticking like glue and he had to find a way to peel her off. “And that would be?”
“I want to hire you.”
He had to do another sweep of the forest for remaining trolls, have Rhys check with his spectral eyes and make sure the portal sealed. And this woman wanted to hire him? Because he looked, what, bored? “Too late, already have a job killing the trolls.” A spider-crawling sensation when up his spine. He jerked around, trying to see what set off the feeling.
“You have to find my grandmother!” The woman yelled at his back.
He didn’t see anything in the direction of his house. “I don’t do missing persons.” He barely paid attention to her. Instead he shifted his gaze to study the shadows cast by the branches waving in the breeze. He couldn’t pick out any trolls.
“She’s been kidnapped!”
“Call the police. Call a psychic. Call Ghostbusters. Just get the hell off my property.” The spider-crawling sensation wouldn’t ease, but he couldn’t see the threat.
“A wizard kidnapped her.”
Gage spun around, holding his sword carefully. “A wizard? Are you sure?”
She nodded. “Gram sent a psychic message to my cousin. Plus I found this.” She held up a lump of…something. “It was Gram’s phone. It looks like it’s been hit by lightning. It was in the house where she went missing and there’s no storm tonight, so it couldn’t be lightning. That only leaves a wizard.”
Fuck a troll, his night just got a worse.
A wizard kidnapping someone out of his town was a direct challenge to his authority. For seventeen years, Gage had managed to keep his fried powers a secret by living as a recluse and scaring away anyone who came near his house. He forced those who needed to contract him to use the Internet, and he had a staff of paid liaisons to keep an eye on the town. But now he needed more information. “What’s your name?”
That last name was like claws digging into his gut. “One of the Tate’s who own the Enchanted Winery?”
“Yes, my grandmother is Calia Tate.” Her eyes went hard. “And you’re going to help me find her.”
“Give me the phone and I’ll see what I can find out.” He held out his hand.
She snatched her fist away. “No. I’ll pay you but I’m working with you. I’m not going to let you get my grandmother killed the way you did my parents. We work together.”
The shock punched him. She was the daughter of the couple that the demon killed. He refused to let the guilt surface. Emotions got in the way. Moving quickly, he caught hold of her hand, took the phone and replaced it with her keys and stepped back before she registered what happened.
She looked down at the keys, then back up at him. “You can’t—”
“Just did.” He forced his voice into flat disinterest, but his fingers were tingling. Was it from touching her? No, it had to be the phone. He most definitely felt a wizard’s power, so Mira was correct. The phone was destroyed, but maybe Rhys could get some information out of it. “You can’t bully a wizard. Go home, I’ll let you know if—”
“How about blackmail?”
He jerked his gaze up.
She lifted her chin. “You work with me to find Gram or I’ll tell the whole town you’re opening a portal and summoning demons. You’ll be fired as town wizard.”
It took an entire three seconds to get control of the white-hot fury racing through him. The little mortal had no idea of the consequences of her actions. Without him there to guard that portal until he could fix his fried magic and permanently reseal it, the town would be slaughtered. Forcing the anger back, he considered his options when he saw the large figure come at them from the left.
Mira screamed just as the hulking creature grabbed her up and ran.