Jennifer Ashley

Romance Author

Immortals: The Redeeming: Excerpt


 

by Jennifer Ashley
Dorchester/Love Spell
September 2008
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Cast of Characters

Chapter One

Los Angeles, September

Samantha hated being demon bait.

She sat at a high table near the bar in Merrick’s demon club, wearing a form-hugging, short black dress, black thigh-high stockings, and four-inch heels she’d had to practice walking in. It had been her job for the last two weeks to perch on a high stool, cross her long legs, and wait for Merrick or one of his demons to offer her the illegal drug Mindglow. So far no one had pushed her to do anything more than order a second martini.

Tonight was typical for Merrick’s. Every table was full, the Venice beach clientele waiting eagerly for the demons to come in and chose their marks for the night. A few people sat alone at the bar, one of them a man with hunched shoulders who stared down at the line of empty shot glasses in front of him.

At eleven o’clock, the demons strolled out of the back rooms. They were beautiful and sensual, greeting guests with smiles filled with promise. Samantha felt their auras like dark purple smoke as they touched their victims, those whose life essences they would taste that night.

Laws in all states said that a demon had to have a human’s permission to feed on their life essence--that elusive substance that made a being alive rather than a collection of biological parts. Like the laws that kept vampires from draining their victims dry, likewise demons could not siphon off all life essence and leave a person dead. Demons constantly sought ways around the “permission” clause, and the black market for life essence was huge and profitable. Hence Mindglow, the demon date- rape drug, and Samantha’s LAPD assignment.

Merrick, the owner, glided to her table, dressed as usual in a pristine gray Armani suit. “Ah, Sam, I knew you couldn’t resist coming back to Merrick’s. Is tonight the night I convince you to partake in the glory of me?”

Her nostrils curled at the unmistakable scent of the netherworld, something normal humans couldn’t smell. It was the tiniest bit of sulfur and dry air, the scent of power and arrogance.

Modern demons didn’t consider themselves evil, unlike the Old Ones, powerful demons who’d walked the earth in centuries past. Samantha had once fought an Old One--not by herself, but with a group of witches and Immortal warriors--and she could attest to the evilness of the ancient ones. The whole experience still gave her nightmares.

The demons at Merrick’s were lesser demons who’d learned to adapt to living in the human world. If they stepped out of line, they could be arrested, carted off to special jail cells, and tried for crimes like taking too much life essence or coercing their marks to use Mindglow.

Samantha pasted on a vacant smile as she looked up at Merrick. “Maybe.”

He had dark eyes, like most demons, all the better to suck in his victims with. Not victims, Merrick would insist. Clients.

He traced her cheek. “I live in hope.”

“I’m still not sure. I mean--you’re hot.” She let her gaze rove his body. “But I’m so nervous.”

“You never have to worry with me, Sam, my dear.” Merrick’s touch became softer, trailing down her bare shoulder. “I can make it as pleasurable as you like, or if you like it to hurt . . .” He broke off suggestively as his finger moved to her cleavage.

“No,” she said quickly. “I’m not into that.”

“No, you’re obviously a sweet, gentle soul.” His pupils were wide, eyes black all the way across, hungry. “I can tell by the way you dress.”

As she seethed at his arrogance, Samantha’s half-demon senses picked up the pheromones he sent her way. He was trying to relax her, arouse her, make her pliant. She kept cool by remembering the young woman her partner Logan had found in the alley not far from here, her body drained of life, helped along with Mindglow.

“I’m scared,” Samantha said. “I know it’s supposed to be the best experience ever, but I just don’t know.”

Merrick moved behind her to massage the nape of her neck. “You know, my pet, I’ve let you sit at my best table two weeks running while you make up your mind. Most would have taken the plunge by now. What must I do to convince you?”

Offer me the Mindglow, already, damn it.

”It’s not like I don’t pay.”

“Yes, but sweetheart, there are so many others clamoring to get in. I have to make them wait while you sit here night after night. It’s bad for business, my darling.”

She pretended to pout. “Fine, I’ll sit at the bar then.”

“If you want. My bartender likes you--I’ll have him give you a couple of drinks on the house.”

She made what she hoped was an inane giggle. “Are you trying to get me drunk so I’ll go upstairs with you?”

“Of course not,” Merrick purred. “It’s not as good when you drink too much--for either of us.”

“What about drugs? Is it better when you’re high?”

“No.” Merrick’s voice was firm. “It’s much better when you’re aware and alert and feel everything.”

“I could have sworn I heard it was better when you have a buzz on.”

“You heard wrong.” Merrick breathed in her ear. “But there is something that enhances the experience, makes you feel less afraid. It’s not a drug, more like an herbal tea.”

Oh, frigging finally.

“What’s that?” she asked.

“Come upstairs, and I’ll show you.”

Not really the best scenario. Upstairs, Samantha might get herself trapped before Logan could get to her. She was strong, and she a gun in her large beaded purse, but even so she couldn’t take on a dozen demons by herself.

“I still don’t know . . .”

She found her face pinched in a viselike grip, Merrick forcing her to look him in the eye. “What are you trying to pull, Samantha?"

Her first instinct was to roll away from him, giving him a kick in the balls along the way, but she held back. “Nothing. Can’t I wait until I feel better?”

She felt his pheromones drifting over her, trying to sway her to him. She resisted, and knew he felt it.

“All right, damn you,” he growled. “But only because I like you so much.”

He snapped his fingers and one of the demon waiters came over. “One dose,” Merrick said to him.

Samantha tried to keep triumph from her eyes. She’d have to sit still until the waiter actually came down with the stuff, then Logan and his backup could raid the club, and Samantha could go home and slip into more sensible shoes.

Merrick smiled his most charming smile, but she sensed his arousal, his growing hunger. “You won’t regret it, you know. Because you’re so special to me, I’ll make it extra sweet. . .”

At a table near the door, a woman screamed.

Merrick jerked his head around as two well-dressed male demons near the club’s entrance suddenly burst out of their human forms. Their clothes ripped as their muscles bulged and their bodies elongated into leathery skinned monstrosities, then everyone was screaming and scrambling to get away from them.

“What the . . .” Merrick gaped as the two demons knocked over tables and grabbed his clients with powerful swiftness.

At the same time the hunched-over deadbeat at the bar came to life. A deadbeat no more, he unfolded himself into seven feet of warrior in a brown leather duster, a bronze sword in each hand. His granite-hard face bore a pentacle tattoo high on his cheekbone, and his hair was flame red. He glanced at Samantha with eyes like patches of blue sky, and her mouth went dry as dust.

Tain.

Merrick didn’t notice in the confusion. He yanked Samantha out of the chair and pushed her toward the back of the club. “You get upstairs and stay there. I’ll take care of this.”

Samantha tottered on her too-high heels, the surprise of the demons’ attack overridden by the shock she’d just gotten.

Tain couldn’t be here, he was off wandering the world trying to find himself or else in that magical realm they called Ravenscroft, wasn’t he?

She hadn’t seen him in a year an a half, not after he walked off after the battle in Seattle without even saying good-bye. Samantha had been sure he’d forgotten all about her, now he turned up here, out of the blue, in a club she just happened to be staking out.

“Go on,” Merrick snapped, still trying to push her in front of him. “Get upstairs and stay safe. I’d hate to see your cute little ass reduced to little tiny pieces.”

The club employees were trying to herd their clients the same direction, while the demons proceeded to wreak havoc. Samantha shoved her hand into her purse and pulled out her gun.

Merrick stared at it in amazement. “What the hell are you doing with that?”

“It’s your lucky night, Merrick,” Samantha said.

He gaped a second longer, and then rage mottled his face. “I don’t believe it. You’re a cop. You double-crossing little bitch, you’re too edible to be a cop. I even liked you.”

Logan and his men burst through the front door, weapons drawn. She saw Logan toss aside his weapon and morph into his wolf form, snarling as the demons leapt at him and the room filled with gunfire.

Tain lifted his swords as people screamed and dove for cover. Samantha watched in a daze as he crossed them above his head. Then white lightning streaked from the swords across the room and straight into the snarling demons. The demons flew high into the air, slammed against the ceiling, and fell to the floor, stone dead.

For a moment the club went quiet. Logan stood over the dead demons, his lupine nose wrinkling in distaste, his clothes scattered where he’d ripped out of them. Samantha looked up at Tain, but his gaze was remote, blank, like he didn’t see the bar or Samantha, or the demons he’d just killed. The rest of the clientele huddled in little clumps, trying to decide what had just happened.

Merrick was the first to recover. He swung around, his eyes blazing red, and tried to kick the pistol out of Samantha’s hand. She dodged him at the last second, keeping hold of the gun, and he punched her full in the face.

Samantha’s head snapped back, but she kept her weapon on him and fired.

Merrick tumbled across a table with the force of the shot, but demons were hard to kill. Merrick righted himself, blood all over his Armani suit, and went for her again. Samantha leveled her gun at him, but Tain shoved himself between them. Merrick looked down at the crossed swords pinning his throat.

Merrick snarled and shifted to his demon form, completing the ruin of his two thousand-dollar suit. He lunged, but Tain almost negligently slammed his swords into Merrick’s neck, and the demon gurgled and slid to the floor in a pool of blood.

Samantha’s face throbbed. Blood streamed from her nose and a deep cut in her cheek where Merrick had punched her, but she barely noticed. Tain stepped back, lowering swords that were stained black with demon blood, as though he knew the danger was over and he no longer needed to be on alert. Watching him change from vicious warrior to bystander again was unnerving. On the other side of the room, Logan had resumed his human form, unworriedly dressing again.

“Samantha.”

It was Merrick, still on the floor. He’d returned to his human form, his beautiful suit in shreds, his dark hair matted with blood. Blood streamed from the gash on his neck, but he was still alive. Demons were damn hard to kill.

Samantha limped to Merrick, trying not to slip in his blood. She pulled out her handcuffs with shaking fingers and snapped them around Merrick’s wrists. “Merrick, I’m arresting you for possession of Mindglow. You have the right to remain silent . . .” Anger flared in Merrick’s eyes, but he was in no condition to argue.

Samantha felt a warmth behind her and turned to look up at the man she hadn’t seen in a more than year. One year, four months, and one week.

The last time had been in the battle with the Old One, a vicious butt-kicker of a demon who’d wanted to watch all of humankind suffer just for fun. Tain had been the demon’s follower—maddened, powerful, tortured. Samantha had helped set him free and restore his sanity, but she wondered if he would ever be healed.

“Tain,” she whispered.

He placed his fingers on her face. She felt a sharp pain, then a pull that was almost sensual. Warmth pooled in her belly, and her nipples pearled against her skin-tight dress.

She recognized the feeling--she’d had it last year when Tain had healed her broken arm. He’d done it dispassionately, while she’d been bathed in a glow of his power that was nearly orgasmic.

He lifted his hand away, and she touched her face, finding it whole and uncut, the blood dry. He said nothing but flicked his blue gaze over her skin as though looking for more wounds.

“Do you remember me?” she asked him.

His unruly red hair reached his collar, strands brushing his impossibly handsome face. She’d met his four brothers, all of them breathtaking, but Tain had appealed to her the most, with his fine-sculpted face and lake-blue eyes.

He also had a presence that could knock her off her feet. Her knees wanted to bend, not so she could worship him, but so she could press her face to the fly of his jeans and feel what lay beneath . . .

He pinched her chin between his fingers. Merrick had done the same, but while Merrick’s presumption had had angered her, Tain only stunned her to silence.

Tain leaned down and growled into her ear, with the faint Welsh lilt she remembered, “Stay away from me.”

He released her, turned on his heel, and strode out of the club.