So once again, I’ve let too much time pass between posts. I’m sitting propped up with pillows and a neck pillow to try and ease this really, really painful stiff neck. I can barely move at all. Spent entire day yesterday nursing my little guy, thankfully he seems to be much better. Never a dull moment.
But I woke to a wonderful surprise this morning. Noble Romance Publishing has offered me a contract for Healing the Mage, the sequel to In The Devil’s Arms. Some of you may remember the snippet I posted a couple of months back, and my critique partners are very familiar with Lily and Aidan. As you can imagine, I am thrilled! I will have more details as they become available. At this moment, I have two other books planned in this series, characters and plotlines on my spreadsheets, and I have a glimmer of an idea for another. For now, though, those are on hold as I work on revisions for two others, The Night Club, my next vampire story, and the medieval Scottish tale I wrote during NaNo. It doesn't really have a title, been calling it Passion's Vengeance, but I really need to come up with another. Hmm, just got an idea. Stay tuned. :)
To celebrate this good news, here’s another little snippet from Healing the Mage:
The crack of leather against flesh, followed immediately by a muffled grunt from the submissive bound to the bench, cut through the hushed murmurs of the spectators. The spotlight bore down on the couple in the center of the room, the viewing area shrouded with dark shadows.
Ignoring the scene before them, Aidan Marchand stared at his soon-to-be former business partner. The man had finally cracked. Another strike of the submissive’s flesh, and the scene ended as she writhed on the bench, clearly reaching the desired climax, her cries filled with heat and tears. Aidan turned again to the pair being observed by many eager eyes, but he barely noticed the way the Dom unbound his submissive and drew her into his arms.
"Think about it, Marchand," Eddie Orvano said, his own beady gaze focused on the pair scening before them. "The money we can make — "
Aidan held up a hand. "Not here." He glanced around, though no one paid them any attention.
Eddie led Aidan to a somewhat secluded corner. The party wasn’t as crowded as earlier, many of the single attendees having left or found a partner to play with. Aidan closed his eyes against the throbbing in his head. It only grew worse, intensifying with every passing hour. As soon as he let Eddie know he planned on ending their partnership, he would head home to his comfortable bed and a long night’s sleep. He had too many other issues to focus on, and getting caught up in Orvano’s depraved scheme would ruin everything.
"Look at all these girls. They’re playing," Eddie said. He waved a hand about, indicating several single women perched at various places near the doorway, all subs based on the ribbons pinned to the right side of their outfits. The one in the middle, a striking Creole enchantress. Aidan had seen before. He and Eddie had had a three-way with her several weeks ago.
"That’s what these parties are for. To play." Aidan emphasized the word. What the fuck had he been thinking to come tonight? He’d had no inclination to scene with anyone, but Eddie had lured him with the hint of a new business venture. At first intrigued, now he wanted nothing more than to get away from the man who had finally let his fascination with the dark arts overcome him. This wasn’t just playing with mind control and pushing the limits with magic and sex, what Orvano planned crossed so many lines, at the least unethical, at worst, illegal. And insane.
"That’s not what I mean. How many of these women really have any idea what it’s like to be a true slave? No rights, no say in their lives. Merely a possession." The eagerness in Eddie’s voice, the unholy light gleaming in his tiny eyes, sent another flash of fiery pain through the center of Aidan’s brain.
He shook his head, then stopped when the pain worsened. "You’re a sick fuck. That’s not what this is about. What the hell happened to you?"
"Nothing happened to me except a need to make money. Do you know how much some of those rich foreign dignitaries will pay for American women? I’d prefer non-Magiste women, but think about it. All these lovely enchantresses and low-level witches are easy enough to subdue. You bind their magic, they’re the same as mortal women. I’m telling you, Marchand, we’d make fucking boatloads of money! I’ve got a business plan all laid out, the equipment and locations selected. Now it’s time to put the plan into play. That’s where you come in."
"No way. You’re not getting me involved!"
"You’re involved Marchand. I need your money to secure everything and get this operation running. I’m this close to hiring a manager to oversee the daily workload. I've got a few trainers lined up, too. It’ll be slow at first, but once we pick up a few girls, things are gonna get real busy real fast."
How Aidan possessed the strength not to lose his dinner right here on the floor, he'd never know. "You’re not getting one dime out of me. I’m having my lawyer draw up papers to dissolve our partnership."
Aidan turned to leave, but Eddie’s grip on his arm stopped him. He turned and stared into Orvano’s twisted face, thin lips curled with rage, eyes darkened with menace.
"You’ll stake me, Marchand. That pretty Creole over there? She told me she wasn’t really willing with you. She’ll testify before the Tribunal if it comes to that."
"What are you talking about? She was more than willing with both of us and everything we did." Aidan remembered the night. While the evening had at first started out as enjoyable, he’d quickly grown tired of her attempts to top from the bottom. His annoyance had led him to perhaps be harsher with her than he intended, but he knew she’d loved every minute of the way he whipped her.
Eddie shrugged, the skin-tight black shirt pulling over his shoulders. "You should see the video I got of you with that whip. Left some nice marks. She’s got photos of every one you put on her."
Aidan clenched his fingers, trying to force back the thumping in his head, which continued to increase with each passing second. He needed to get out of here. Now.
"Eddie, leave me out of this," he hissed through clenched teeth.
"You’re in. Until I say otherwise."
He scowled at the triumphant gleam in Orvano’s eyes and turned, his head near exploding. If he didn’t get some air, he would pass out. He finally made his way outside to the street, gulping in deep breaths. The pain in his head spread down through his shoulders and along his back. More than a headache bothered him. Il Relache. Why had the damn process chosen now to kick in?
He needed to get home, before the process rendered him weak with the pain of his growing powers. Where the hell was the nearest Portal? He didn’t see any signs of the magical glowing arch used for travel by the Magiste. Damn! The closest one was through the park. He straightened, forcing himself to concentrate on reaching the Portal.
* * * * *
Lily walked along the deserted street, wishing she'd left the bar earlier with her friends. Why did the wrong sort of man always attract her? Each time she let one get close, he hurt her in some way, proving her judgment had not gotten any better. No more. She was done with men.
Now, long after midnight, she found herself alone again, even Chartres Street dead silent and empty, unusual in this party town on a Saturday night. The faint sounds of Bourbon Street bars, the odd mix of jazz, blues and rock and roll, punctuated by drunken shouts and catcalls, faded as she approached Jackson Square.
The park, a favorite place to hang out during her teenage years, seemed eerily deserted. She’d timed this perfectly, so no one would see her tear-streaked makeup.
For a moment, Lily longed to go home to her parents and cry to her mother, to listen to the older woman’s advice and comfort as she had during her horrific teenage years. She shook her head. She’d cut those ties but good a long time ago. Her mother no longer offered the haven of reassurance she’d once been. Regret still burned in Lily’s gut, but she would prove to all of them she could survive without magic. Her job skills served her well, and she didn’t need magic to achieve what she’d accomplished in the last three years. If only her family could be proud of her. Why couldn't they ever see her as worthy? Her parents’ success had always been an impossible goal to strive for. Lily sighed and kicked the air, wishing she had something more satisfactory as a target. Her doubts in herself always came back to her parents' unreasonable expectations, always when she –
Something stabbed into her side, like a knife burning into her body, twisting, ripping her apart. What the hell? She looked down, expecting to see spurting blood, but the pain stopped. And slammed into her again. She doubled over, her stomach heaving.
An agony-filled groan sliced through the humid night. She looked around. No one. No wounds appeared on her body. Could this all be in her mind? Mon Dieu, what could it be? She wanted to scream against the rising volume resonating in her head, each throb and pound like crashing cymbals inside her brain. She couldn’t be imagining this agony, it hurt too much.
Another twist of fire along her spine and she cried out, falling to her knees. She pressed her hand against her mouth to prevent the scream from escaping. What was happening? She could barely see through the suffocating distress.
More cries, moans. She looked around again. There. Behind the statue of Jackson. She sucked in air and forced herself to stand on shaky legs. Each halting step jarred, each rasping breath scorched as she inched closer to the statue. She leaned heavily against the stone and panted. The soreness in her side receded a little and she crept around the monument.
A man lay huddled on the ground, curled into a fetal position. She forced her concentration on him, forced herself to ignore the pain still pulsing throughout her, though different now. The hoarse whimpers continued to increase. Lily crawled closer, each movement slow and careful, so as not to startle him. Another rough shout pierced the night and Lily froze momentarily before continuing to approach. The man clutched his head and gave a violent shudder, another deep cry torn from him.
Hesitating but a second, Lily knelt beside him, reaching out. He writhed with pain, but the instant her hand touched his shoulder, he calmed. Her fingers burned where they came in contact with him, but surprisingly, it didn’t hurt. Instead, a burst of energy coursed through her, flowing from her fingers and into the man.
His violent movements slowly stilled. He turned to her and opened his eyes. She froze, pinned by his silvery gaze. She should have known, should have recognized the pale blonde hair plastered to his head with sweat.
It had been years since she’d seen him, even longer since she’d exchanged more than a word or two with him. Her godmother Helene’s stepson. She’d barely known him, he'd been a few years ahead of her in school. She’d never given him more than a passing thought. What was wrong with him? Had he been cursed? She needed to get him some help.
She drew her hand away, and he immediately cried out, his body wracked once more with shudders. The sharp stabbing started again in her side, fiercer than before. She bent over, seeking some way to ease it. He reached for her and before she could back away, had grabbed her wrist. Even in the throes of whatever madness held him, his grip remained strong, too strong to break. But he calmed once more.
"Don’t let go." She barely understood his slurred words.
"You’re a Healer. Don’t let go."
"I . . . but . . . . " She couldn’t break free if she tried. He was right. She possessed the gift of healing. And she could deny it no longer.