Chapter 05 sneak preview of my current work-in-progress:
Luca – Book 1 of the Demon Born Series (paranormal romance).
Pre-edit version. May change before publication.
Luca raised his hand to his bare chest. His heart thudded beneath his fingers, steady but faint as if it knew that within days it’d be silenced forever.
But as long as it still beat, he had a chance.
Warm water from the shower dripped from his dark hair and clung in beads to his naked skin. The only part of him that was dry was where the towel wrapped him low on his hips. He rough-dried his hair with another towel, never once taking his gaze from the white rose outside his bedroom window.
Dusk was spreading over the garden below, and long shadows were knitting into a dark blanket as the sun withdrew. And into this approaching night, the rose threw its eerie light—a torment of memories he’d rather forget.
“Show yourself,” he muttered.
But she never did. She liked to seduce and control the beast inside him, but she would never face the man he’d become.
“Come on, hag. Let’s finish this. Right here.” And dropping the towel in his hand, he gathered his power.
Blue fire crackled out of nowhere, circled his hand, and then curled up the tense muscles of his forearm. One blast, and he could send the rose and every wretched thing it stood for straight into oblivion. What did he have to lose? If fifteen years hadn’t found him an answer, another few days never would.
His power built, and the blue glow around his arm deepened. There were risks. He would die for sure, but he was ready for that. But the enchantress’s curse had tainted all of Fairfall. What if everything blew up, including the town? His pack would die with him.
Some risks weren’t worth taking.
His gaze narrowed helplessly on the rose. It shimmered white, and its petals fluttered innocently in the thin evening breeze. And then, ever so slowly, one petal fell.
Ice talons at once gripped Luca’s heart and squeezed. Gasping, he crashed to one knee on the bedroom floor. His heart thumped like it was beating a path out of him, and vice-like pain crushed his chest. Gulping for breath, he doubled over and slammed both hands onto the carpet to steady his heaving body.
Faint mocking laughter filled his head. ‘So strong, my love, and yet not strong enough.’ Her voice was just a whisper in his consciousness, but his body immediately responded to her cold will. His claws shot out, and his teeth lengthened as his beast sought to tear free at her command.
With a shout, he thrust his claws into the thick carpet and willed his wolf to back down. She would not control him. But her pull was strong, and his wolf hungered for something only she promised. And bit by bit, he lost the fight.
A sudden warmth bathed his straining body.
The same voice that had stopped him by the tree last night reached him once again.
“Father?” he gasped into the empty room.
Luca sent the last scraps of his awareness to his heart, the core from which the warmth was spreading. “I remember.”
The warm touch deepened, and his power flared blue and strong around him. His wolf subsided.
Eventually, the blue faded, plunging him back into the dark emptiness of the bedroom. Exhausted, he collapsed onto the carpet, and then with a groan, rolled over onto his back. He lay staring up at the white stucco decorations on the high ceiling.
Each day as the rose’s petals fell, his father’s power inside him faded more. Wearily, Luca placed his hand on his chest and felt for his heart, but once again there was only a faint beat. It was becoming harder to reach his father’s essence inside him. And soon, his father wouldn’t be able to reach him either. On that day, the beast in him would swallow the man once and for all.
He closed his eyes on the dark future.
There had to be a way…
His father had fought to the bitter end, and he was no less his father’s son. He would fight too. Grim determination had him opening his eyes. He would find a way. And jaw set, he struggled achingly to his feet.
* * *
“I’ve laid out your clothes, sir.”
Luca splashed the remaining cold water over his face and wiping the dripping excess off, turned towards the voice. Hanson, his butler, stood by the en-suite door. He handed Luca a towel.
“You spoke to Chase?” Luca asked, drying his face. He avoided telling Hanson what had happened in the bedroom just five minutes earlier. Hanson would only worry.
Hanson’s lips firmed beneath his greying moustache. “You asked your cousins to leave.”
Luca nodded, noting the mild disapproval in the older man’s voice. It meant Hanson was mightily displeased. Hanson wasn’t known for abundant emotions, and Luca appreciated that about him. As prime-beta and hence second-in-command of the Fairfall pack, Hanson was his stoic right-hand man in more ways than one. But the tall, distinguished-looking butler was more than just a pack member. He’d also been the stand-in father Luca had desperately needed when he’d lost his own at just thirteen years of age.
“Samhain, Hanson,” Luca said, passing him the towel and walking back into the bedroom. “The clock’s ticking.”
Hanson followed him. “Your cousins would have been valuable help.”
Luca picked up the dark trousers from the clothes Hanson had placed on the large four-poster bed and pulled them on. “It’s too dangerous. The fewer people in the line of fire, the better.” He scrunched up the blue t-shirt and pulled it on over his head, then faced Hanson. “It’ll be just me in the end.”
“With all due respect, sir. I served your father. And I will serve you… to the end.”
Luca regarded him. His own words had been a direct order, and any other wolf would have known better than to contest them. But Hanson had earned the right to tread where others feared to. Though when the time came, Hanson wouldn’t be getting any choice in this matter. But for now, Luca merely shrugged. “Everyone else leaves though,” he said.
Hanson shook his greying head. “Sir, the pack has remained faithful to you these past fifteen years. They still have hope. Don’t take that from them.”
“What hope?” Luca asked with a growl. “I grow weaker every day. They can feel it, and they know they’re vulnerable.” He stalked past Hanson to stare out the window at the glowing rose and distant forest beyond. “Rogue werewolves are rampaging through the forest, and I can’t even protect my pack. I’m a lycan, and yet I’m useless. My wolf rages in me like a mad beast. If I let it loose, I might even kill my own people.”
“You are lycan,” Hanson said quietly behind him. “Best among us. It’s in your blood to lead, alpha, so lead. Don’t be the first to give in.”
Luca glared at him. “You know the pack will be stronger with a new alpha. My duty is to keep them safe, so follow my orders on this.”
The look Hanson gave him was sad. “There was a time, sir, before the world forgot Fairfall, when all the wolf clans of this land knew our pack. They knew of your father, and they marvelled. A powerful lycan, one of the rarest and strongest of all werewolves. But he lived up to that regard too, both as a leader and a warrior. And the respect he earned, his pack also gained. No wolf in Fairfall has forgotten it. They still see themselves as the alpha’s warriors. Now you are their alpha, their touchstone. No other can take your place in their hearts. And when you’re lost, they’re lost too. When you see yourself as weak, they’re weak too. So give them hope, alpha, because no one else can.”
Luca faced the window again. The day the first rose petal had fallen had been the last day his pack had seen him. His wolf had raged out of control, and he’d closed himself off from his pack to protect them. But what if Hanson was right? What if his absence was hurting them more?
He turned back to Hanson. “I haven’t given up,” he said quietly. “Not for them or myself. But what alpha am I if I go to them now without a way out of this curse?” He shook his head in frustration. “I am as you see me, lost and out of answers.”
“Well, sir, there might be… um…” Hanson glanced away.
Luca knew him well enough to guess something was wrong. “Hanson?”
“It’s a bad idea, but…” Hanson met Luca’s gaze with his deep-grey one. “But it may be the answer we need.”
“Sir, the Zikani elder who came to collect the teens, she wanted to thank you for sparing them.”
“Not my doing,” Luca said wryly.
“Indeed. But she insisted she owes you. I had no choice. She’s… um… waiting for you downstairs.”
“You let an outsider into the house?” Luca bit out. But Hanson’s helpless look stopped him from giving free reign to his anger. The Zikani wielded earth magic so ancient no other human witch or mage understood it. Even the supernaturals—the daemons, vampires, and werewolves—gave them respectful space. Hanson was probably right when he said he’d had no choice. “You think she can break the curse,” Luca said. “But we’ve already tried everything.”
“Except this. The Zikani have never offered their help before.”
Luca considered it. He knew from bitter experience to expect nothing but disappointment. But what if… “All right,” he said. “Let’s see what she’s got.”
To be continued next Friday…