Excerpt from Blood Debt
An Immortals Novel
, Book 8
revised and expanded reissue, including new scenes!
Revised length: 42,000 words
(July 25, 2013)
The night clerk was handsome and young, with olive skin and bedroom eyes. And he was, as fate would have it, an artist.
A sketchbook lay open before him, and a pencil graced his elegant, long-fingered hand. He greeted her with an innocent smile. Before she quite knew what she was doing, a tendril of her muse magic escaped, and floated towards him.
Its caress caused him to go still. His pupils darkened, and he swallowed and thickly. Leanna had no doubt that, hidden behind the desk, his cock was thickening as well.
Gods. How long had it been since she'd slept with an artist? Almost two years. The ugly truth was, Leanna missed her muse magic. The heady exchange of inspiration and life, delivered at the precise moment of orgasm, was a mind-blowing high, one she'd reveled in for two centuries, while her conscience slept.
Right here, right now, she wanted this boy, fiercely. She could lose herself in him, at least for one night. It wouldn't be a one-sided exchange. There was much she could offer him. She could give him his fondest dream. Under the influence of her magic, he would create brilliant works of art. His fame would be instant. The world would throw itself at his feet and worship him as a god.
But not before he'd exchanged every drop of his life essence for Leanna's inspiration. In the end, the world would mourn another tragic, youthful death of a brilliant artist who'd had so much to live for.
Leanna yanked her magic back just in time. What had she been thinking? She couldn't invite this young man to bed, no matter how lonely she was. He could very well be so hungry for fame and fortune that he'd destroy himself to get it. That was the problem with artists. One could never tell how desperate they were, until it was too late. That was why, during her stay in Annwyn, she'd renounced her muse magic.
Gathering all her hard-won restraint, she gave no more than an impersonal nod to the clerk and passed by without speaking. Perhaps he'd never be a great artist, but at least without Leanna's interference he'd have a chance for a long and happy life.
If Leanna had been full Sidhe, she would have found it easier to control her muse magic. Muse magic wasn't death magic, but it had led Leanna in that direction. Full-blooded Sidhe avoided death magic, as it made them ill. Leanna, being half human, didn't possess that natural revulsion. On the contrary, she'd taken to it like a Halfling to a midsummer feast. She'd quickly become addicted to the rush. The spiral of her destruction ended with her enslavement to a depraved demon.
Now she was whole again, if still fragile. She'd taken a vow: she'd never dabble in death magic, or her muse magic, again. It was just too bad the vow didn't stop her cravings.
The elevator doors swished closed, leaving her alone in the cab. When would she ever grow accustomed to keeping her own company? Never, she suspected. She hated being celibate. Hated being alone. But every night since she'd escaped Hell, she'd been just that.
Her hotel room was quiet, shrouded in darkness. She didn't bother to turn on the light as she shed her dress, shoes, stockings and bra. Wearing just her thong, she slid between the sheets. Her head sank onto a stack of downy pillows, but her eyes remained open. Despite what she'd told Mac, she wasn't tired at all.
The lace curtains at the window fluttered; the hazy light from the street danced across the coverlet.
A sudden shadow fell across the bed. She blinked. She didn't at first understand what was happening.
A man's voice cut through the velvet darkness.
"Bonsoir, Leanna. Or at this hour, perhaps I should say bon matin?"
She sucked in a breath.
She wasn't alone, after all.
Elflight lifted from Leanna's palm to hover over her head. The intruder was tall, with a broad chest and long, powerful legs. Death magic radiated from his body. Leanna suspected the potency she sensed was only a drop in the vast reservoir of his power. He wore a dark suit jacket over a black shirt, open at the neck. His hair, a glossy nut-brown touched by moonlight, shone. She should have been afraid, but oddly, she wasn't.
He looked familiar.
She sat up quickly, clutching the coverlet to her chest. "Do I know you?"
He smiled, a quick glint of white teeth that was anything but mirthful.
"Is your memory fading with age, Leanna? And here you promised never to forget me. But then, when you've known so many men, I suppose it's hard to keep us all straight."
He took a single step forward. Dim light bathed his features.
Leanna stared. One hand crept to her throat, her palm flattening over her pounding heart. Her lips opened, but no sound emerged.
The man snorted. "Speechless? Excuse me if I don't believe it. As I recall, you were never at a loss for words."
She swallowed. The reflex was painful. When her voice finally emerged from her throat, it was as a scratchy whisper.
"Jackson? Jackson Cabot?"
He bowed, a swift, graceful angling of the waist. So elegant. So much like the man she remembered.
But Jackson was...dead.
"You're..." She cleared her throat and began again. "You're not a ghost."
"No," he agreed.
He stepped closer, almost to the foot of the bed. Now the elflight shone full in his face, illuminating his beauty. Her mind stuttered. Jackson was human--he couldn't still be alive, not after more than a hundred years. And yet, his angled cheekbones, patrician nose, and high forehead hadn't changed at all. His hazel eyes, however, glinted with a cynical light that would have been wholly foreign to the man she'd once loved. And his complexion...that was different, too. The Jackson she'd known spent every free moment in the sun. This man's skin had nothing of Jackson's tanned, healthy glow.
Horror oozed through her veins. "You're vampire."
"Yes." Jackson planted both hands on the high mattress and leaned toward her. "And you, Leanna, are still a very beautiful woman."
His gaze left her face and traveled...lower.
She inched the blanket higher.
"Modest?" His tone was hard, completely lacking the teasing lilt Leanna associated with her memories of Jackson. "I confess, I'm surprised. What are you about, returning to your hotel unaccompanied? The last thing I expected was to find you climbing into this bed alone." He straightened. "What happened to your latest conquest?"
She stared up at him, his mocking tone flowing over her as she struggled to wrap her mind around the fact that this was Jackson, her Jackson. Here. In her bedroom. Speaking to her. It wasn't a dream. Or a nightmare.
Then his words registered. "Conquest? What are you talking about?"
His jaw tightened. "Manannán mac Lir, the musician. I saw you with him on the television."
"You saw Mac and me on the telly?" Inane reply. Her brain refused to operate properly.
"I did. Tell me, do you screw him alone, or does the woman who was with you get in on the fun?"
Shock caused the air to puff from her lungs. "What? You think...Mac and I...and Artemis--"
"Manannán's fame has exploded in the past year. And now I find that he's traveling with you. You're a sex muse. You can't tell me your magic hasn't played a part in his--"
"Mac's success had nothing to do with my magic. For the love of all the gods in Annwyn, Jackson, Mac is my brother!"
He snorted. "Oh, really? I don't recall you ever mentioning a divine brother."
"Mac's my half-brother. We have the same mother. I never told you about him because Mac and I weren't speaking when you and I...when we were..." She lost her words. Her throat closed. Her lashes were wet.
"...in love?" Jackson prompted with more than a little sarcasm.
She met his gaze evenly. "Yes. When you and I were in love."
"Love." He spat the word. "I thought it was love, Leanna, but I soon learned how deadly your particular brand of that emotion is, didn't I?"
He paced the room. "Our affair was the definition of irony. Your other lovers wanted you for your magic; I never did. I'd been in Paris only two weeks when I realized my meager talent was nothing compared to the great masters. I'd already accepted the fact that Paris was to be just a pleasant interlude, before returning to Boston to take up the reins of my father's manufacturing empire." Turning abruptly, he faced her. "And then I found you."
"We found each other," Leanna whispered.
Jackson dragged a hand over his face. "I wanted you for my wife. I knew there was every chance you would refuse. What I didn't expect, Leanna, was that you would kill me."
The hoarse emotion in his voice sent a tremor through Leanna's body. How many times had she lain in Jackson's arms, ear pressed to the low rumble of his chest as he told her of his life, his love, his dreams?
"But...you weren't dead when I left you! I never wanted to kill you--I just didn't want you to follow me. I made sure you had enough life essence left for a full recovery. I thought...I always assumed...you had awakened the next morning and returned to your family in Boston."
"A fine rationalization," he said. "Even for you. You knew far better than I what sort of scum roamed the alleys in Paris in those days."
Gods help her, she did.
Another ruthless glint of teeth. "Really, Leanna, you left me too soon. You should have made sure I was completely dead. Loose ends come back to strangle, sooner or later."