Michelle Rowen

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That Old Black Magic

Book #3 in the Living in Eden trilogy

Berkley Sensation – December 6, 2011


CHAPTER ONE

“Ready to hear your ultimate fate?”

Eden glanced warily at the shirtless demon sitting at the tiny dinette table in her tiny apartment with the daily newspaper’s Horoscope section in front of him. Seemed harmless enough, and yet a chill ran down her spine. Something about Darrak’s statement felt like an omen. A bad one.

Maybe she was just being paranoid. Nothing new there.

She pushed back against the unpleasant vibe. “Sure.”

Darrak absently raked his messy dark hair back from his forehead. “You’re a Gemini, right?”

“Present and accounted for.”

“Be prepared for a blast from the past as an old acquaintance, one whose destiny is irreversibly intertwined with yours, wants to reconnect. Also, buy more crunchy peanut butter as soon as possible.”

She nodded. “Let me take a wild guess here . . . you added the last bit yourself.”

“Doesn’t make it any less true. We’re out. And I love it.”

“I’ll put it on my grocery list.”

“Life is good.” He studied her for a moment longer before his grin began to fade at the edges. “What’s wrong?”

“Wrong?” Eden crossed her arms. “Nothing’s wrong. Nothing at all. Everything’s wonderful. Fabulous, in fact.”

“Overcompensating in your reply only leads me to believe that something’s seriously wrong.” When he stood the Horoscope page fluttered to the carpeted floor at his feet. His brows drew together. “What is it?”

It was surprising how quickly Darrak could switch from amusement over a horoscope and a craving for crunchy peanut butter to deep concern for her well-being.

He wanted to know what was bothering her. That was a very dangerous question these days.

Ever since Eden woke this morning, she’d felt the unrequested tingle of magic moving down her arms and sparking off her fingertips. She didn’t allow herself to tap into her recently acquired powers despite it being a constant itch for her. Magic — at least her magic — came with nasty consequences.

She could control it, she kept telling herself. She could.

Sometimes she even believed it.

“You need to get dressed,” she said instead of answering his question. Her gaze moved over his very bare and very distracting chest. “We have to leave for the office in five minutes.”

Black jersey material immediately flowed over Darrak’s skin. Since he’d come into Eden’s life a month ago, she’d wanted to take him shopping at a mall, but other than a leather coat he occasionally wore — short sleeves in Toronto in chilly mid-November might be a tip-off that he wasn’t exactly human — he magically conjured his own clothing, which seemed to solely consist of black jeans and black T-shirts.

She slid her hands into the pockets of her navy blue pants and turned away from him.

Darrak caught her arm. “It’s your magic, isn’t it?”

The peanut-butter-loving demon could be very insightful. “My magic?”

“I can feel it, you know. Right now. It’s coming off you in waves.”

“I’m fine. Don’t worry about it.”

She grabbed her purse, which was hanging off the back of one of the dinette chairs, to fish in it for her new BlackBerry. Andy McCoy, her partner at the investigation agency they co-owned, insisted they become more technically savvy now that their caseload had increased, so he’d bought them both brand-new phones. Triple-A Investigations had been on the brink of bankruptcy only a month ago, but now they were busy with new cases.

The sudden surge in business was directly related to Darrak coming into Eden’s life. While working as an occasional psychic consultant for the police, she’d been possessed by the cursed demon after the death of his previous host, a serial killer gunned down right in front of her.

Darrak was able to take solid human form during daylight hours, but when the sun set, he became incorporeal and had to possess her body. She’d recently had the chance to end the possession once and for all, but that would have destroyed him completely. Her privacy was a great motivator to find a solution to their problem, but not at such a high price.

After all . . . she’d come to care a great deal for the demon since they’d first met.

Unfortunately, all roads in their search for mutually beneficial separation had led to dead ends. Some deader than others.

She finally tore her gaze away from the screen of her phone to look at him and cringed when she noticed the searching look in his ice blue eyes. “I said nothing’s wrong. Please, Darrak, don’t worry.”

“Your phone is on fire.”

He was right. A spark from her magic had ignited her BlackBerry. She shrieked and threw it before it burned her. It skittered across the breakfast bar and landed with a sizzle in the kitchen sink. “Well, damn.”

Before she had a chance to move Darrak was right in front of her. He pulled out the chain she wore around her neck so her amulet lay flat against her freshly ironed white shirt.

“It’s even darker than it was yesterday.”

She clamped her hand over the visible state of her soul. The more she used her magic, the more damage it did. A black witch, even an extremely reluctant one like her, started with a pure white soul, but it grew darker and darker every time she accessed her very accessible black magic. Eden’s amulet was still pale gray, but it had darker veins branching through it, making it look like a piece of marble.

She shook her head. “I haven’t done anything.”

“Then what are these?” He pushed her hand away and slid his index finger over the veins.

She grimaced. “A glitch.”

“A glitch,” Darrak repeated skeptically. “Not sure it works like that.”

“Then I don’t know what to tell you.”

“Eden –” All amusement was gone from his voice now. “I’m worried about you.”

A demon from Hell was worried about her immortal soul. It sounded like a joke. But Darrak wasn’t any normal demon. And she wasn’t any normal black witch.

Once upon a time, Darrak had been just as bad as any demon who’d ever existed — as immortal as he was immoral, sadistic, powerful, selfish, manipulative, and deadly. He’d even conspired with a demonic pal to overthrow Lucifer himself in an attempt to take his power as Prince of Hell. However, they’d failed. Rather spectacularly, in fact.

Darrak had been summoned into the human world over three hundred years ago and a curse put on him that destroyed his original body and his ability to manifest a new one. He’d been forced to possess humans ever since. A side effect of this was that he’d absorbed humanity slowly but surely, and it infused his being. The demon had developed a conscience. Morals. A sense of right and wrong.

But that wasn’t the whole story.

To add to Eden’s growing paranormal resume, she’d recently been shocked to learn in addition to being a black witch she was also a nephilim.

A human mother plus an angel father equaled one very confused twenty-nine-year-old woman — black witch plus half-angel in the same body. It wasn’t exactly a combination that was working out perfectly, kind of like oil and water.

And the bonus prize — she was possessed by a demon.

It had been an interesting year to say the least.

Her angel side infused her with celestial energy, something she’d never even sensed before apart from a smidgeon of unreliable psychic insight. But it was what Darrak had absorbed over the last month due to their situation. And he’d absorbed a lot of it.

Bottom line, a human conscience was the least of Darrak’s troubles. A demon who’d been neck-deep in celestial energy as he had been in the last month . . .

Well, it was changing him on a core level. Only he didn’t exactly know it yet.

Eden knew it would shake his already shaky confidence, not to mention his entire identity, to find out he was becoming a little more . . . angelic. Whether he liked it or not.

The news could wait a little longer.

“Eden,” Darrak prompted when she didn’t speak for a while. “Are you going to talk to me or what?”

“You mean I have a choice?”

“No. No choices. This is not a choose-your-own-adventure novel. Your amulet is darkening and you say you’re doing nothing to cause this. Is that right?”

Eden didn’t want to deal with this, but sometimes fate didn’t give you a chance to catch your breath before it threw another bucket of water in your face.

She looked up at him. “I can feel it this morning stronger than ever. I’m honestly not sure how much longer I can control it.”

Darrak took her face between his hands. “But you want to control it.”

She touched one of his hands but didn’t pull away from him. “Of course I do.”

“I wish to hell I could protect you from all of this.” His jaw tensed. “Looks like it’s time to get some outside help.”

He walked over to the kitchen counter and grabbed the phone.

“Who are you calling?” she asked.

Darrak held a finger up to her. She flopped down on a chair at the table, already exhausted from talking about something she would much prefer to continue trying to ignore — magically melted BlackBerry or not.

She really hoped Andy had taken out a warranty on the device.

“Stanley?” Darrak said after a moment. “Do you know who this is?” A pause. “No, it’s okay. Don’t be scared. I’m not going to do that to you.” Another pause. “Seriously, I’m not. Evisceration is extremely messy and the cleanup is a — Come on. Stop crying. Be a man.”

That Darrak’s “outside help” required contacting Stanley didn’t fill Eden with a great deal of confidence. Stanley worked as a minion for just about any supernatural creature who paid or threatened him. Not exactly her favorite guy in the city.

“Is he back?” Darrak asked. “He is? Why didn’t you let me know this already? Oh, come on. Stop crying.”

Eden’s hands tingled. It was so tempting to throw out a spell right here, right now. It still seemed like just a dream that all of this had happened to her. Demons were real. Angels were real. Witches were real, and they came in a few different varieties.

White witches — the good and beneficial nature lovers. Among other things, Eden had heard they could make flowers grow and dying trees come back to life. How nice for them.

Gray witches — able to blend both white magic and black magic with the ability to do this successfully without damaging their souls provided they maintained a perfect balance.

And then there were black witches — able to destroy or kill things with a mere thought if they were so inclined. Not exactly the life of the party.

“We need to see him as soon as possible.” Darrak paced back and forth between her kitchenette and the dinette area. “That sounds fine. Why are you still crying? Suck it up, dude. Seriously.”

He hung up.

“You upset Stanley,” Eden said. “Actually . . . I’m fine with that.”

Darrak shrugged. “He’s still intimidated by my fearsome archdemon reputation. Nice to know somebody is.”

“Are you going to share what that was all about?”

“We’re seeing Maksim. Today.”

She stared at him blankly for a moment. “The wizard.”

“The one and only. Sounds like he’s finally back from his vacation.”

Maksim the wizard had gone on vacation after surviving a torture session by Theo — Darrak’s former demon friend — a couple weeks ago. Before he went AWOL, the wizard was supposed to help them find a way to break his curse, even though rumor had it only the witch who’d originally cursed him could do something about that. Since she was now dead it was a moot point.

“You really think he can help me?” She didn’t want to hope for too much from a simple phone call. Disappointment was a heartless bitch.

“I don’t think he can hurt. Wizards and witches go hand in hand, after all. Didn’t you read Harry Potter?”

Eden stared at him. “Well, yeah.”

“I didn’t read the books,” he continued. “But I did get to see the movies. A previous host was a fan. He even wore dress robes and pretended he’d been sorted into a house. Hufflepuff, if you can believe it. Who liked Hufflepuff best? I mean, seriously.”

“Not sure that’s really helpful in this situation.”

“A wizard, especially one at Maksim’s level, will know how to control black magic, even yours. I’m sure of it.”

It was worth a shot. “Okay, so when do we see him?”

“Now.”

“Now?” She glanced at the clock that read eight thirty. “But Andy’s going to want us in the office.”

“He can wait a couple of hours. He can wait a whole day if necessary. Figuring out how to control your magic is much more important.”

She took a deep breath. “Maybe you’re right.”

“Of course I’m right.” Darrak’s smile had returned, although this time it didn’t completely reach his eyes. He still looked worried.

Which was worrying.

“Fine.” Eden nodded and clenched her magically tingling hands into fists at her sides. “Then I guess we’re off to see the wizard.”

“Don’t make me start singing.” He snatched the fallen newspaper from the floor and put it back on the table. “You know, he just might be the person from your past whose destiny is intertwined with yours, according to your horoscope.”

“I think I’d remember meeting a wizard named Maksim.”

Darrak crossed his arms. “Then who do you think it was referring to?”

She waved her hand flippantly. “It was just a horoscope. It’s fiction. Totally meaningless.”

“If you say so.”

Out of all the drama in Eden’s life lately, an entertaining but silly horoscope was the least of her problems.

* * *

Caroline Riley watched from the shadows as her daughter left the apartment building and headed toward her rusty Toyota. She was about to run up and give Eden a big hug, but held back when the demon came into view.

He was tall with unruly dark hair almost long enough to brush his broad shoulders. He casually pulled on a black leather jacket as he trailed closely after Eden. He was very handsome, of course. Most demons had a highly attractive human visage they wore when not in their demonic form. It made it that much easier to prey upon humans.

He was going to be a problem.

She wondered why Eden would spend time with this evil creature and allow him into her home. Maybe he was threatening her. Blackmailing her.

Or . . . sleeping with her.

Was her daughter having an affair with a demon?

Eden had always been a rules follower, a perfect student, a hard worker, although one who’d always lacked any specific career direction. A smart girl like that wasn’t one who’d have her head easily turned by one of Lucifer’s minions.

Then again, despite Eden’s natural beauty — that she’d inherited from her mother, of course — she’d never had much confidence in herself when it came to men, poor thing. This must have been what the demon had preyed upon.

Caroline had arrived just in time. Sure, she had other pressing matters to attend to, but rescuing her only child from the clutches of a demon had now risen to the very top of her to-do list.

It would be so nice to talk to Eden again. It had been much too long since they’d last spent time together.

Then again, Caroline had been dead for the last three months.

 

CHAPTER TWO

Maksim Zadravec, the most powerful wizard in Toronto, didn’t look like someone from Hufflepuff at all.

Slytherin was more like it.

Darrak eyed him with distaste as the wizard leisurely moved his gaze over Eden’s body from head to toe. From the gleam in his eye it seemed as if he liked what he saw.

The wizard had dark good looks, tanned skin, broad shoulders, and wore an expensive-looking tailor-made suit. He lived in a large mansion at the outskirts of the city that looked more like a castle than anything else. If it didn’t have a feel of true history Darrak would assume the wizard had it custom-built to give himself more of a magical mystique.

Maksim lived alone . . . if you didn’t count the butler and two maids that silently slunk around the ten-thousand-square-foot, non-cozy home.

Darrak disliked him immediately. Knowing an attractive man was taking an active interest in Eden, for whatever reason, bothered him.

He knew it was jealousy, pure and simple. And maybe he was dealing with a small — or not so small — feeling of possession. No pun intended.

After all, Eden was his.

She, however, would likely argue this.

“So you want my help, do you?” Maksim said in a smooth, deep voice.

Darrak and Eden shared a glance.

“We do,” she confirmed. “It’s just that my black magic is –”

“Difficult for you to control,” Maksim finished. “And you are worried for the state of your soul.”

Her brows went up. “Well, yes. That’s exactly it. How do you –?”

“Know what’s wrong with you without first being told?” Maksim smiled. “One of my many talents, Eden.”

Darrak wasn’t sure how he felt about the wizard’s special insight. A lot of magic, even with the more notable wizards, was no more genuine than rabbits shoved up shirt sleeves. A whole lot of smoke and mirrors with a little genuine product to back it up. Black magic, after all, harmed every practitioner if used too blatantly. Even somebody like Maksim.

“Can you help her?” Darrak asked evenly.

“How did you come by this magic, Eden?” the wizard asked.

Darrak’s lips thinned. “Don’t you know that, too?”

Maksim glanced at the demon. “It was a spell, correct? Another witch from long ago — she cast a spell upon you.” He took a walk around Darrak as if assessing him. “Sex magic. Sleeping with you made her a black witch. And now the same has happened with Eden.”

Darrak didn’t like this guy, but he couldn’t help but be a bit impressed. “Pretty much.”

“I can sense the spell. And I can sense your curse as well.” Maksim’s smile held. “It’s a big one.”

“I try not to brag.”

Maksim now strolled around Eden, who stood stiffly, her arms crossed over her chest. Her gaze flicked to a large oil painting of a nude that looked as if it was a few hundred years old. However, Darrak wasn’t much of an art expert.

“How many times have you taken her?” the wizard asked.

Eden snorted at that. “Taken me?”

“Do you not understand the question?”

“No, I — I understand.” Eden cast an embarrassed look at Darrak. She hated having their private problems out on the table like this.

Darrak wasn’t too happy about it either, especially with the fact this guy knew too much too quickly. But he was hoping it would work out in their benefit.

“Twice,” he replied. “But I also believe when I possess her every night at sunset that also triggers the original witch’s spell, which has made her magic much stronger than it should be.”

Maksim nodded, his attention fully fixed on Eden. “I see. This is why you feel like a furnace of energy to me. And you’re also half-angel.”

Eden nodded.

“My, my,” Maksim said. “Quite a combination. I can see how it might cause . . . complications.”

Thus the reason for their visit. Time to move this along.

“There’s a tug of war going on within her,” Darrak said. “The dark magic and the celestial energy are fighting against each other. It’s a problem, a big one. And it isn’t getting better. Her magic is becoming more difficult for her to control with each day that passes. That’s why we need your help.”

He hated stating it so bluntly. Help us, wizard master.

So weak.

But there was only one alternative Darrak could think of, and he wasn’t ready to go there yet. He could go to Lucifer and beg his ex-boss to save both Eden’s life and her soul.

Hmm, he thought. Let’s make that Plan Z, shall we?

He and Lucifer weren’t exactly on the best of terms. Last time he’d seen the prince, Lucifer had almost destroyed him. Parts of Darrak still stung a bit from the assault. Mostly his pride.

“How does this tug-of-war between your darkness and your celestial energy feel?” Maksim asked.

She grimaced. “Like I’m being torn in two.”

“Does it happen often?”

“Every second day like clockwork.”

“And you’ve only slept together twice.”

“That’s right,” she said with a pointed glance in Darrak’s direction.

Yes, well, the decision to keep their relationship platonic was his doing, which was all kinds of hilarious considering he was once upon a time an incubus — a demon who thrived on sucking the life energy out of humans through hanky-panky.

He’d recently become a one-woman demon. Unfortunately, the one woman he wanted was also the one he couldn’t touch without potentially hurting her thanks to that pesky sex magic spell. He wanted to protect her from further harm and that managed to nicely trump his libido.

The fact they were being inspected and grilled by a smarmy Eurotrash wizard master was proof positive Darrak was more interested in Eden’s future well-being than his own ego-stroking. Or any other kind of stroking, for that matter.

Surprisingly, romance novels had become a nice distraction. Eden had a ton of them on her bookshelf. They were a good enough substitute for the real thing. He was a particular fan of historicals — the hotter the better. Those horny dukes and duchesses really knew how to get it on.

“Okay, enough questions,” Darrak said, his patience running thin. His gaze moved around the large parlor that included floor to ceiling bookshelves and a leather sofa that looked as if it cost the better part of a small country’s annual budget. Then again, so did the wizard’s designer suit. “Can you help Eden or not?”

Maksim shrugged. “She is a powerful black witch and you are a demon. I don’t understand why you need any help from me. It sounds like the perfect combination.”

Darrak hissed out a breath. “Maybe you haven’t been paying attention. Her soul is at risk, get it? Take a look at her amulet. See that color? I don’t want it to be a shade darker or she’s in danger. The original plan was for her not to use the magic at all, but it’s being sparked — sometimes literally — without any provocation. And that the fight against her angelic side causes her any pain at all — well, that’s simply not acceptable. Now you’re either going to help us directly or you’re going to tell us where to get help. That is, if you know what’s good for you.”

One of his more passive aggressive threats, but it would have to do. He didn’t want to scare Eden by shifting to his demon form and throttling this puny wizard within an inch of his semi-immortal life.

Maksim cocked his head to the side. “You’re in love with her.”

It wasn’t posed in the form of a question.

Darrak’s jaw tightened. “Let’s stay on topic.”

The wizard’s brows drew together. “Demons are heartless, cruel, without true emotion other than the glee they might feel at inflicting pain upon another being.”

“Stop, you’re making me blush.”

“But not you. Why?”

Darrak hissed out a breath. “I guess I’m . . . special.”

“You love her, don’t you?”

“What I feel for her is nobody’s damn business but my own. And Eden’s.”

“Say it,” Maksim said. “Or I will do nothing for you.”

“That would be a grave mistake.” Both Darrak’s tone and his mood darkened substantially. Witty, humanity-filled personality or not, he didn’t like being pushed.

Maksim’s smile looked genuinely filled with amusement. “You’d risk her safety for the sake of your own pride? That does sound more like a true demon. But all I’m asking is for you to admit your feelings, the ones that have made you go out of your way to help her. Say it, and I promise I’ll give you the answers you need.”

He was messing with Darrak and enjoying it. Testing him. And he seemed unconcerned with the danger this put him in. Darrak had faced many wizards in his existence, pre-humanity-infusion, and those that would dare to piss off an archdemon rarely survived in one happy, magic-wand-waving piece.

Darrak didn’t have to look at Eden to know she was watching him, waiting for his reply. They were dangerous words, dangerous feelings, especially for someone like him. Words held power — a power that even now he struggled against.

He supposed he could kill the wizard. Wizards could live for a very long time — just like witches — but a quick twist of the neck would solve that little problem. Unfortunately, he knew a little recreational carnage wasn’t in the cards today.

Too bad.

“Yes,” Darrak finally said after several tension-filled moments passed. “I tried to fight it, tried to deny it, but I couldn’t. It’s real and it’s big and it scares the unholy shit out of me, but it’s true. I love Eden, and I would do anything in the universe to save her from all of this. She’s the only thing that matters to me.”

He finally slanted a glance at her to see her expression was unreadable, but tears shone in her eyes.

“Anything in the universe?” Maksim repeated. “Sounds to me as if the solution to your problem has been right in front of you all along.”

“What do you mean?”

“The worry that the fight between her black magic and her celestial energy will destroy her. The seemingly uncontrollable magic. It’s all connected to one very specific thing.”

“What?” Darrak asked.

“You. You’re the dark object her angelic half is attempting to cast out. You’re the reason her magic is unreliable. Her black magic was caused by a spell, but it is a part of her, therefore organic to her core being. You, however, are not.”

The news hit him like a punch to the gut. He wanted to deny it, but he knew it was the truth. It was like he’d always known. This was just the confirmation.

“I would do anything in the universe to save her.”

He’d said it only a minute ago, and he meant every word. Now he saw the answer written all over Maksim’s face — the answer he’d been trying to avoid for as long as he could.

The only way to save Eden was for him to no longer possess her, but he already knew the only way not to possess her anymore was for one of them to die.

The horoscope this morning hadn’t mentioned anything like that.

“Awesome,” Darrak gritted out. “I just knew coming to see you would be helpful.”

“Don’t shoot the messenger,” Maksim replied.

“Shoot? I had a couple other things in mind, like fire and sharp glass. Bullets are much too speedy.”

Not even a glimmer of fear went through Maksim’s gaze, which, considering his last unpleasant run-in with a demon, was admirable. “Don’t you see, demon? You need to send yourself to the Void. Save the woman you love and sacrifice yourself. Simple.”

“That’s not going to happen,” Eden snapped. “There’s another solution.”

Maksim turned to regard her. “You think so?”

“Yes.”

“So you’re determined to do whatever it takes to save both this demon and yourself, are you?”

“One hundred percent.” Her eyes narrowed. “And you’re going to tell me how to do that.”

Maksim glanced at Darrak. “She’s spunky.”

“She has her moments.”

“Another potential answer lies with Selina.”

Darrak’s eyes snapped to the wizard. “How do you know that name?”

Maksim smiled. “I already told you I know many things. Selina is the name of the witch who placed the sex magic spell on you. And she’s also responsible for the curse that has bound you to Eden now three hundred years after it was first cast.”

Darrak struggled to keep his expression neutral. “You don’t happen to know what the lottery numbers are going to be this week, do you? Now there’s some very useful information.”

“Selina could remove both the spell and the curse.”

“Too bad she’s dead.”

“Yes, that is too bad.”

Selina was killed by a member of the Malleus, an organization of humans who liked to hunt demons and witches and other things that went bump in the night. Their origins went back to the infamous Salem witch trials. No, the Malleus weren’t fun people to be around if one preferred their head attached to their body, more like sanctimonious murderers who saw the world only in black and white terms. And red. Red was one of their favorite colors.

Eden had her arms crossed tightly over her chest. “She promised to help me learn to control my magic before she died. She said we were like sisters now.”

“More like twins, actually.” Maksim moved closer to her, studying her face. Eden stayed very still, her attention on Darrak as the wizard flicked her long, dark red hair back from her shoulder and moved around her slowly as if inspecting her. “If you received your magic from the same source, your magic signatures would be identical, like sharing a fingerprint.”

Darrak frowned. “You’re saying their magic is exactly the same.”

“That is what I’m saying.”

“Does that mean I can remove the spell and the curse?” Eden asked, her voice shaky. “Just like Selina would have been able to?”

“It is possible, but not guaranteed.”

“Nothing ever is, except death and taxes,” Darrak said. “Well, taxes.”

He watched Eden to see her reaction to this. It did make a crazy kind of sense to him, and he was surprised it hadn’t yet occurred to him. Selina and Eden had received their black magic from the same spell — and that was enough to make their black magic identical.

“I don’t know.” Eden shook her head. “I’d be afraid to even attempt it. I might hurt him.”

“Magic is a like a muscle,” Maksim explained. “With regular use it becomes stronger. It is only the truly destructive magic that will darken your soul. An attempt to do something like this should not tap too deeply into the black magic.”

But it wasn’t exactly white magic, either.

Darrak wasn’t convinced of a word that came out of the wizard’s mouth, but Eden seemed intrigued.

“Maybe this is the answer we’ve been looking for,” she said cautiously.

“The spell will be easier to remove and can be attempted at any time,” Maksim warned. “A curse, however, is made of much denser magic. Take care when you make your attempt on it, and remember it must be made as close to dawn as possible when the bond between you both is at its weakest point.”

Eden nodded. “Thank you so much for your help.”

He took her outstretched hand and squeezed it. “There’s something else, isn’t there?”

She frowned. “What do you mean?”

“You have a friend in need. One you’re concerned with. You work closely with him and you fear what will happen . . . tomorrow night.”

She gasped. “Are you talking about Andy?”

“Yes, that’s it.”

Andy had been bitten by a werewolf two weeks ago, and tomorrow night was the full moon. Maksim was right on the money. Darrak wondered where he kept his crystal ball hidden, although he did have a few ideas of where he’d like to shove it.

“I have something for you that may come in handy.” Maksim walked to a mahogany desk in the corner, opened the top drawer, and returned with a piece of parchment with faded handwriting on it. “It’s a containment spell. Any room he’s in when the time comes can be perfectly sealed and cloaked, which will prevent harm to him or to others. Such simple magic, even a human could use it if they have the correct wording. Consider it my gift to you.”

Eden took it from him and scanned the Latin words to both cast and remove the spell. “Thank you so much.”

“My pleasure.”

Darrak resisted the urge to roll his eyes. A gift. Sure. Nothing came for free. He’d just have to wait to see when the bill for this consultation was going to arrive and in what form. “We’re leaving.”

“You’re welcome, too, demon.”

“I’ll reserve penning any thank-you notes until we see some results — both for Eden and for our soon to be furry friend.”

Maksim smiled thinly. “Of course. But really, you must ask yourself this — how could things get any worse than they already are?”

Darrak chose not to reply to that.

How could things get any worse?

That was a dangerous question if ever he’d heard one.

 

CHAPTER THREE

Ben Hanson couldn’t stop thinking about angels.

He’d met one — a real one. He was sure of it. The angel was being kept prisoner right down the hall in the cell with the tiny window on the door. Ben had been staring at that cell for almost ten minutes now.

Ben had quickly realized that the Malleus had a bit of a dark side. To say the least.

But why were they holding an angel prisoner? There had to be a solid reason, something that he could understand.

He needed answers.

Not that he could do a damn thing about it, even if he wanted to. He’d signed over his body and soul when he’d accepted the job offer here. He’d tendered his resignation as a cop nearly two weeks ago and had been faced with questions he couldn’t answer. For better or for worse, he was a civilian now. One who worked for the Malleus — Latin for the hammer.

There was really only one thing that made this place remotely tolerable. Ben had met a woman named Sandy Matthews, a gray witch. He’d hoped she’d be able to help him forget someone else — a woman named Eden. So far, however, it hadn’t worked all that well.

Eden was the main reason Ben had signed up as a Malleus member. She’d helped him see that the world didn’t only contain criminals to lock up, but evil monsters as well. And, when the going got tough, Eden had chosen one of those monsters over him.

Things like that weren’t too good for a guy’s ego.

Ben had been told by his superiors to keep a close watch on Eden and her demon. His boss, Oliver Gale, had plans that had something to do with both of them, but he wasn’t exactly all that forthcoming with the details.

Damn it, he needed answers about that angel. It was driving him crazy.

The Malleus worked as a “need to know” organization. If Ben didn’t need to know something, he wasn’t told. But this was different. For his own peace of mind, he had to know the truth. Oliver was the leader here, the one who’d personally branded Ben’s forearm with the fleur-de-lis symbol that, along with the ritual that went along with it, gave him the ability to sense those who are Other and the extra strength needed to fight against them.

The pay wasn’t bad, either.

It was too late to change his mind now. He’d been told that once you were a member of the Malleus the only way out was death.

He really should have read the fine print first.

“Hey, Ken doll,” a female voice called out to him from the tiny window on a cell to his left. “Come here. I need to talk to you.”

“Ken doll?” he repeated.

“You’re blond, tan, and perfect. It’s as good a name as any.”

He glanced in the direction of her smooth voice. He couldn’t see anything but dark skin and dark eyes glittering from the other side of the window. The cell itself wasn’t lit.

“What do you want?” he asked warily. The Malleus dungeon was filled with evil creatures who were locked up until their ultimate fates could be decided.

“You have to help me. I shouldn’t be here.”

“If you’re in there it’s for a good reason, honey.”

Her almond-shaped eyes narrowed. “Wrong place, wrong time, that’s the only reason for this.”

“Are you human?”

“Well . . .” She hesitated. “Not exactly.”

“Then you’re exactly where you need to be.”

“Nice attitude,” the woman called after him as he started walking again. “That’ll get you far, asshole.”

“Nice talking to you.”

Her tone turned desperate. “Wait! They’re going to kill me. You know that, right? You need to do something!”

Ben’s pace slowed and his mouth went dry. “If you want help, you’re asking the wrong guy.”

He was followed only by silence as his footsteps echoed along the long hall.

He took the stairs to the top floor and came to a halt just outside of Oliver Gale’s office when he heard Sandy’s familiar voice. Ben hadn’t even known she’d be in the office today.

“– won’t be much longer,” she said.

“And you don’t have any new intel?”

“No, I think I need to –”

“What you need to do is focus on your assignment,” Oliver hissed.

Ben tensed. Oliver had been rough with Sandy before, given her a black eye when she’d done something he didn’t approve of. It had taken everything inside of Ben not to beat the shit out of the old man, but raising a hand in violence against one of the Malleus elders would have resulted in Sandy — and himself — being reprimanded in a much stronger and more unpleasant manner.

“The problem with Ben”– oddly, Sandy’s voice held none of the timidity Ben was accustomed to hearing –“is what you see is what you get. He’s here because he wants to help rid the world of evil. He has no deeper agenda than that.”

“Is he still obsessed with Eden Riley?”

“His connection to her is fading.”

“Have you succeeded in making him fall in love with you?”

Sandy cleared her throat. “Love isn’t something that can be forced naturally.”

“Did he love Eden?”

“He didn’t know her very long. I think he might have if given more time. He’s still obsessed with saving her from the demon because Ben’s fiancée from years ago was murdered. He thinks saving Eden will somehow right that wrong on his conscience.”

“How sad.”

“He’s a noble guy. Stupid, stubborn, and boring, but very noble.”

Every muscle in Ben’s body was tense. He couldn’t believe what he was hearing. Sandy was normally so sweet, so genuine. Or so he’d assumed.

“So you have failed to have him fall for your womanly charms,” Oliver said.

“I didn’t say that. We are sleeping together.”

A smile entered Oliver’s voice. “Even though he was told such a relationship between those associated with the Malleus is forbidden.”

“There is a rebel inside of him.”

“He’s too much of a wild card to have here right now. If he loves you, he’ll toe the line and won’t get in my way. Use a strong spell to make him fall in love with you. Control him, Sandy. Wrap him around your little finger, and, along with the other matter we’ve discussed, you’ll be well rewarded when the time comes. And that time is coming very soon.”

“Consider it done,” Sandy replied. “He’s mine.”

There were footsteps on the hardwood floor, but by the time the witch had left her boss’s office, Ben was already gone.

Ben had signed away his freedom, his life, in order to do the right thing. And now he was being betrayed by those he trusted. By a woman he was sleeping with.

Nothing made sense anymore. Maybe it never had in the first place.

* * *

Eden stayed quiet on the twenty-minute drive from Maksim’s bachelor-pad mansion to the small office that housed Triple-A Investigations as they absorbed the information presented to them by the wizard. Darrak had chosen not to try to get her talking. He wasn’t feeling too chatty at the moment anyway.

Something felt off about visiting the wizard, but he couldn’t put his finger on it.

Perhaps it was that Maksim had “helped” them without asking for anything in return. Darrak was accustomed to practitioners of magic being on the greedy side. Greed was one of the most popular deadly sins, after all. Right after lust.

It was also one of the most reliable.

“We’ll check in with Andy,” Darrak said. “Then you and me — we need to talk. In private.”

He reached for the door handle to let himself out, but felt Eden’s hand on his arm stopping him. He looked at her cautiously. Her beautiful face was tense.

He immediately worried she was experiencing the tearing pain again. “Are you all right?”

She just nodded.

“Then what?”

“What you said back there when he asked you what you felt about me.”

“Oh, that.”

“I just . . .” She rubbed her lips together, and her gaze flicked up to meet his. “Sometimes . . . I — I don’t know what to say.”

“You don’t have to say anything.”

“You didn’t have to be so blunt with him. You could have held something back.”

“Why would I want to do that? What I said was the truth.” He almost laughed at the shadow of doubt in her gaze. “Do you think I was lying to him?”

“No, but . . .” She shook her head. “Nobody’s ever felt like that about me before.”

He drew closer to her. “Stupid of them, but less competition is not necessarily a bad thing. I’m a little rusty on my sword fighting against other suitors. And pistols at dawn isn’t that appealing. I’m not really a morning person if I can help it.”

She searched his expression. “You really think this has a chance?”

“What?”

“You and me.”

Darrak thought he understood that doubt in her eyes. He wasn’t thinking quite so far ahead, but Eden was already looking years into the future to try to figure out if a relationship between someone like her and someone like him had a chance in a world of white-picket-fence dreams competing with a high-divorce-rate reality.

He knew he wasn’t Eden’s perfect choice in a man. He wasn’t even a man, really. Never had been, never would be. Some demons were former humans, with lives and memories and morals that they could cling to even if they’d made a few wrong choices in their lives that caused them to sell their soul to a demon lord or Lucifer himself.

Darrak had been reminded time and time again by the big boss that he was a big fat nothing. A lesser demon created at Lucifer’s whim once upon a time with a bit of hellfire and some powerful magic. That he lived, breathed, desired, lusted, loved, wanted, needed, and hungered was only a side effect of that magic.

How could something like that aspire to anything more than an eternity of servitude?

But he did. He aspired.

There was a fire inside of him that had nothing to do with Hell anymore. It was a fire ignited by the auburn-haired woman who studied him intently like whatever he said next was going to be some sort of prophecy for their future together.

“Kiss me,” he said.

It appeared to be a prophecy that had immediate results. She drew closer, took his face between her hands, and pressed her lips against his with a kiss that would have swelled his immortal soul if he’d been in possession of one. Her tongue slipped past his lips and slid against his own.

The kiss grew heated very quickly and his body responded in kind, hardening with a need he could barely hold back, especially when her hand moved up his thigh to brush against his groin. He didn’t stop her; he only managed a dark groan from the back of his throat.

He wanted her. In a parking lot at eleven o’clock in the morning, he desperately wanted her.

And it looked like he could have her as she crawled onto his lap to straddle him in the passenger seat. He moved his hands up to cup her full breasts, slipping underneath her crisp white shirt and bra. He ached to slide inside of her. Feel her heat, her need, make her cry out his name as he took her with long, sweet thrusts.

It seemed as if she was currently a mind reader since she began fiddling with the zipper of his jeans.

“Wait, Eden,” he managed. “We can’t do this . . .”

“You don’t sound completely convinced of that.”

“Eden,” his tone turned sharper. The woman was insatiable. Twice they’d made love, and both times had been incredible. Maybe he’d inadvertently managed to addict her to his demon loving just a little bit too much.

Sounded conceited, but it could actually be the truth. The spell on him could unconsciously drive her to seek more black magic by any means possible.

“Oh, hell.” His mind went foggy when she slipped her hand into the front of his pants and wrapped her fingers around him.

“Did you really mean it?” she whispered. “When you said you loved me?”

There was no parking lot anymore. No chance of being discovered. The world had narrowed to only Eden — sexy, desirable, incredible Eden — the only woman he’d ever truly loved in his entire existence. One who wasn’t sure about their future together since there were so many odds stacked against them. A black witch who was part angel.

One he’d corrupted so much that her soul was currently at risk of being sent directly to Hell upon her death.

Damn.

Yes, that thought definitely helped to douse his mindless desire.

He grasped her wrist and pulled her away from him. He turned his head when she attempted to kiss him again. He zipped up his jeans and took her firmly by her upper arms, directing her back to the driver’s seat. Her face was flushed and the need in her eyes hadn’t left yet.

“Yes,” he said very seriously. “I meant every word.”

Then he got out of the car and headed into the office on shaky legs.

* * *

The black magic made her do it.

It drew her to Darrak like a moth to a flame. While there was a whole lot of celestial energy swirling inside him, more than even he was aware of yet, there was still a large amount of Hell energy, too — the darkest of the dark. And that worked like a magnet for a black witch. And a black witch’s sex drive.

She wanted him so badly it hurt, but he’d put on the brakes.

Darrak loved her.

And he’d just soundly rejected her seduction attempt in the parking lot of Triple-A for her own damn good.

She had to focus. Too much was at risk here if she kept losing her mind like that.

A gorgeous, dark-haired, blue-eyed immortal demon had told her he was in love with her. But that same demon was cursed to possess her — and according to Maksim, that was the reason for a great many of her problems.

But she already knew that. Most of it, anyway.

Was it still considered an abusive relationship if the abuse wasn’t intended?

There was a time in college when she’d been involved with a man who’d intentionally abused her. She hated looking back at how weak she’d been then, how willing she was to accept a heartfelt apology and shiny gifts to make up for the occasional bruise or broken rib. She knew she’d never be in another relationship like that. Ever.

In fact, it was more than likely the reason she’d shielded herself from love ever since and refused to give up her control. Sure, she’d been briefly engaged since, but only because it had felt like the right time, the right place, the right opportunity. In that relationship she hadn’t been abused physically. Emotionally was more like it. Her fiancé had cheated on her on Valentine’s Day, originally prompting her to move to Toronto and take over half ownership of Triple-A so she could have a fresh start.

Eden’s love life had always been one big fat joke. She couldn’t help but be guarded, even now. Even with Darrak.

Maybe it was because of her mother’s influence. Caroline had never exactly been a glowing example of someone who had healthy relationships. She’d had a one-night stand with an angel and become pregnant from it. Who did that?

“Morning,” Andy McCoy greeted her as she entered the office. Darrak held the door open for her. “Or, rather, late morning. Just strolling in now whenever you feel like it, is that how it is?”

Darrak shrugged as he hung both his and Eden’s coats up on the rack near the door. “Had to see a wizard about a problem.”

“I will assume that’s not a euphemism.”

“Eden’s magic is no euphemism.”

Andy nodded gravely. “Tell me something I don’t know.”

“Well, for starters, you’re going to turn into a werewolf tomorrow night.”

Andy recoiled slightly. “No, I’m not.”

“You are.”

“Am not.”

“Are.”

“Not.”

“You can deny it all you like, Andy, but it’s going to happen. You got bitten by a werewolf. Mauled, actually.”

He shuddered. “I remember that part.”

“And that means you’re a werewolf, too. I’m not sure why this is so difficult for you to grasp.”

Eden felt bad for the guy. He was still in serious denial about what would happen. It was a discussion they’d had several times in the last couple of weeks, but no progress had been made to get him to accept the inevitable.

Maksim had given them a spell that would allegedly help safely contain Andy and cloak the area. Wouldn’t want someone to walk by and see a werewolf clawing at the door to be let out.

Apparently werewolves could shapeshift any time they liked, but when it came to the full moon, they didn’t have a choice. It was all werewolf all the time, for one night a month.

She glanced around the office, trying to judge how much damage there would be if they made this the containment area. Seemed like as good a place as any. She’d done some research into werewolves, along with Darrak’s knowledge of them, and knew Andy would go one of two ways. Either a rabid, out of control beast who had none of his human traits and only wanted to rip things — or people — apart. Or he’d be Andy. In wolf form.

She was hoping for the latter, but planning for the former.

“I am not going to turn into a werewolf tomorrow night,” Andy said firmly. “Just stop it. Both of you.”

He went to his desk, sat down, and took out a silver flask from his top drawer, draining it in one gulp.

Denial was a thirsty state of mind.

Darrak hadn’t looked directly at her since the impromptu lap dance in the car, but they had to talk. If her magic was truly identical to Selina’s, then they had to give it a shot. First with the spell and then, if they were successful, with the curse.

Could it really be that easy after all this time?

The bell above the door jingled as someone familiar entered the office. She was short, with bleached blonde hair, red lips, and a smile that stretched a mile wide. Nancy was the assistant manager at the coffee shop next door, a place called Hot Stuff that Andy also owned. She came by with coffee and donuts first thing every morning, the scent of which usually made Eden’s mouth water.

This morning it seemed to have the opposite effect. She felt a little queasy, actually.

Great. Word had it that the flu was going around. Getting sick was the last thing she needed to deal with right now.

“Hello all!” Nancy exclaimed cheerily.

“Nancy, you’re back bearing more delicious treats. Twice in one morning. What’s the occasion?” Andy grinned at her as if thrilled for the excuse to avoid the werewolf topic. Nancy was blissfully ignorant about a great deal of paranormal activity in the area. She’d come face-to-face with some dangerous magic recently at a local singles club that happened to be possessed by the demon lord of lust, but had recovered nicely. Well, except for one very unfortunate result.

The blonde was currently dating Stanley, the weaselly wizard’s assistant whom Darrak had made cry earlier on the phone.

Some women had questionable taste in men.

“I saw Darrak and Eden just got here. Had to bring over more munchies.” Nancy held up a paper bag emblazoned with the Hot Stuff logo.

“You’re an angel,” Darrak said. “And I mean that as a compliment, not an insult.”

Nancy had a large crush on Darrak for a while, but thankfully it had subsided. There was a time she’d demonstrated this crush by making Darrak chocolate donuts in the blobby shape of hearts. Now they were regular blobby-shaped ovals.

“Here, Eden.” Nancy held out a coffee to her.

“Thanks.” Eden took it and couldn’t help but notice something glitter on Nancy’s finger. Her eyes widened. “Wow, Nancy. Nice ring.”

“Oh, this?” Nancy held her left hand out to show off the diamond solitaire and then wriggled her fingers.

“You’re not . . .” Eden frowned. “Are you engaged?”

She would have thought it impossible, but Nancy’s smile shot up another fifty watts. “Stanley popped the question last night.”

“Congratulations!” Andy exclaimed.

“Popped what question?” Darrak asked.

“Stanley asked me to marry him, and I said yes.” More finger wriggling. “I’m going to be Mrs. Dancy!”

“Nancy Dancy,” Darrak said. “It’s catchy.”

Eden’s brows drew together. “I’m glad you’re so excited. Don’t take this the wrong way, but you’ve only known him a couple of weeks. Are you positive this is the right thing?”

The brightness dimmed a little at the edges. “Now you sound like my mother.”

“I’m just saying –”

“She was all ‘Is this going to be like last time? Marry in haste, repent at leisure,’ or whatever. But it’s not true. It’s not like the last time. That wasn’t true love. This — what me and Stanley have? It’s real. I feel it deep inside of me like nothing I’ve ever experienced before. It’s real and it’s lasting and I want to spend the rest of my life with that man. He’s the most wonderful person I’ve ever known in my entire life.”

“Stanley is?” Eden cleared her throat as Nancy’s cheery smile turned into a glower. “I mean, sure . . . he’s, uh, great. I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to rain on your parade. I’m just practical about this sort of thing. I don’t want you to get hurt.”

The blonde’s expression softened again. “I know. And I appreciate it. Don’t worry about me, Eden. You’ve always been like an older sister to me.”

“I believe I’m a few years younger than you, actually.”

“It would mean a lot to me if you’d be one of my bridesmaids. Will you do that?”

Eden was at a loss. It felt wrong talking about things like true love, bridal plans, and weddings when she was getting used to dealing with curses, demons, and an unavoidable working relationship with Lucifer himself. “I . . . I would be happy to be one of your bridesmaids.”

“Thank you so much.” Nancy gave her a tight hug. “Listen, I have to get back to work but we’ll talk soon. What fun!”

Then, with her mood elevated again by good wishes and promises of bridesmaids and impending nuptials, Nancy left them to their coffee and donuts.

If anything, Eden felt a bit queasier now than she did to start with. “I just hope Stanley isn’t using her.”

“When did you become such a Negative Nelly?” Andy said.

“Around the time I was a toddler. And it’s called being a realist, actually.”

“I think it’s wonderful. We could use more good news around here lately.”

“Definitely.” Darrak bit into his donut, then held the other one out to Eden. “Want some?”

Their tryst in the car came back to her with full erotic strength.

Oh, she still wanted some, all right, and she wasn’t talking about donuts. But she’d cooled off from before. Enough to keep her attention fully fixed on the issues at hand.

She gave him a strained smile. “Maybe later.”

Andy grabbed his coat. “I need to head out to meet with a client. Glad you two got here so I wouldn’t have to shut the office down completely.”

“More werewolves?” Darrak asked pointedly.

Andy cringed. “Would you stop with the werewolf stuff, already?”

“It was just a question, not an accusation.”

“Then no. Not werewolves. A human client, believe it or not. Wanted me to investigate a missing sister who ran off with a boyfriend without leaving any forwarding address. I already found her living in Vegas. Quick case, nice and easy.”

“Well, good,” Eden said. “Fine, you go do that. Darrak and I have some business of our own to take care of.”

“Oh yeah? Like what?”

“I’m going to experiment with a little spell removal.”

“Eden, I thought we were going to talk about that first.” There was a warning edge to Darrak’s voice.

She ignored it.

“Well, that’s great. Good luck with that,” Andy said. “But please try not to break anything.”

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