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Blessed by a Demon's Mark
By E.S. MOORE
KENSINGTON BOOKSCopyright © 2013 Eric S. Moore
All right reserved.
Chapter OneA shudder ran through me as I huddled on the bed. My fingers squeezed into the mattress in a vain attempt to stop my hands from shaking. My throat was dry, constricted. Every breath burned. Every attempt to swallow ended with me just about choking on my tongue. Every fiber of my being screamed at me to feed, to leap across the room and tear apart the two men sitting across from me.
"You're doing fine, Kat," Levi said. His voice was a calming balm to my screaming mind. "Just relax. Breathe in slowly and let it out nice and easy. It will be over soon, I promise."
I bared my fangs at him. Blood dripped down my chin from where they'd ripped through my gums. I was breathing fast, hard, still too wired to relax. I felt like a junkie who'd been denied her fix. It was all I could do to keep from breaking something.
I closed my eyes and swallowed, shutting out anything and everything I could. I could do this. This was the last night of the full moon and if I made it through the torture, I could relax for another month before it would start all over again.
My breathing slowed now that I wasn't looking at anyone. I could still feel them there, watching me, but since I couldn't see the pulse in their necks, see the warmth radiating off them, I was able to get myself under some semblance of control.
"Good," Levi urged. "You're doing great. Don't you think she's doing great, Ronnie?"
I refused to open my eyes but could almost feel the slight dip of Ronnie's head as he gave his assent. It was the only kind of response I ever saw him give.
An image of Ronnie sprung to mind. He was staring blankly at me, waiting, neck exposed. I could feel his slow, easy breath, could almost taste his skin between my teeth. All I'd have to do was bite down and my mouth would fill with the sweet nectar of life. His blood would revitalize me, would make me strong, powerful.
A growl rumbled in my chest. My eyes opened and settled on Ronnie where he sat, looking just like I'd seen him in my head. I started to slip from the bed. One foot hit the floor. It would be so easy to propel myself off the bed and end the pain. I fought hard against myself, but it was a losing battle. My other foot touched the floor.
"Easy," Levi said. "You've controlled yourself spectacularly. Don't ruin it now by giving in to your baser instincts. Fight it. You don't have to give in to the hunger. You can do this."
A soothing warmth spread over me as he spoke. I relaxed and slid back onto the bed, easing my back against the headboard. I needed its firmness for support. I focused on breathing nice and easy, letting all violent thoughts flow from me like Levi had taught me to do in our previous sessions. I licked my lips clean of blood and settled my gaze onto Levi's own.
He was smiling at me. He sat with his legs crossed as if he knew I wouldn't attack; not this time anyway. He hadn't been so confident a month ago. I took that as a sign I was making progress.
Ronnie was in the chair beside him, seemingly oblivious to everything that was going on in the room. He was central to my training, though he probably didn't know it. I sometimes wondered if anyone was really in there. To look into his eyes was to see emptiness.
We started my training almost as soon as I'd moved in a few months back. Levi had promised he could teach me to control my inner hunger, that even during the full moon when the Madness took over, I'd be able to keep from feeding, from killing.
The first month had been an utter disaster. The moment the moon had risen, I was up and off the bed, trying to tear at him. He'd been forced to lock me in the room. Even then, it took me a good hour before I calmed down. After that, I was okay as long as no one bothered me; but the moment anyone came near me, all I wanted to do was feed.
But a mere three months later, I was able to sit here, albeit with much difficulty, with two men in the room, without killing either. Despite the hunger, despite the desire to tear them both to shreds, I felt good about what I'd accomplished thus far.
"Good." Levi's grin widened.
All of the tension eased out of my shoulders and I managed a smile of my own. I could still feel the Madness wanting to take hold, but I was able to keep it at bay. I hadn't had blood in five nights and was still able to hold on, which was a miracle in itself.
I took a deep breath and let it out slowly. A faint thump upstairs reminded me that Eilene and Sienna were in the house. They didn't know exactly what went on in my room during these full moon nights, though I suspected they had an idea. What else could we possibly be doing?
Knowing they were there sometimes helped. Other times, it made the hunger worse. Part of me wished Levi would make them leave the house so I wouldn't be tempted. Just because I was doing good now, didn't mean I'd be so lucky the next time.
I glanced toward the wall, wishing there was a window in the room so I could look out at the sky. While there was a light dusting of snow and the cloud cover would hide the moon, it did little to abate the onset of the Full Moon Madness. Even the thick walls couldn't stop its effect on me. I'm not sure if seeing it would hinder my progress or help.
I felt myself calming even more as the seconds ticked by. Levi had done a good job teaching me how to control my inner beast. He'd done far more than I'd ever managed to do on my own. He kept a supply of blood bags in the fridge to drink from when the urge to feed was too great. It had been months since I'd fed on an actual living person.
The blood bags didn't completely erase the hunger, but they eased it enough so I wasn't constantly thinking about feeding. They tasted like shit, but it was a small price to pay for being free of the need to feed and kill for survival.
"I think we should up the stakes a bit," Levi said, sitting forward. The chair creaked with the movement and my anxiety level went through the roof.
My hands balled into the sheet again. I was terrified at what he might be planning to do. I mean, what else could he do to me that he hadn't already done? There was only so much I could take. I'd hate myself if I ended up killing him because he pushed me too far.
Levi studied me as if waiting for some sign that I was ready. He didn't look scared. In fact, he looked so calm you would have thought he was relaxing in his own room with a cup of tea and a good book instead of sitting in a room with a half-starved vampire.
I sat there, tense, afraid to move; but after a few seconds of his steadfast gaze, I found myself relaxing. My hands unclenched and I sat back, doing my best to appear calm and collected, though I felt anything but calm inside.
"Good," he said with a nod. "That's very good. You can control it whenever you want. Before long you'll fit right in. The desire for blood will no longer control you. No one would know you to be anything but human."
He reached into his pocket and removed a small penknife. He opened it and turned it so the light would catch the blade. It looked extremely sharp.
I tensed, unsure what he planned on doing with the knife. If he came anywhere near me with it, he wouldn't just lose the blade, but his arm as well. I was okay as long as everyone was just sitting there. If he were to intentionally antagonize me, I had serious doubts I could control myself.
"There is just one more test I need to run." He turned the knife over slowly in his hand. "If you can make it through this ..." He left the rest unsaid.
Levi's grip on the knife firmed and he reached out, causing me to jerk back. But it wasn't me he reached for.
He went for Ronnie.
The other man didn't even flinch as Levi took his arm. Nothing on his face gave any indication he knew what was happening or cared one way or the other what was being done to him. He was like a living puppet, only moving when his master pulled his strings.
"No," I said, pushing back hard against the headboard. I didn't want to see him hurt Ronnie, even to test me. I had an idea I knew what was coming, and I wasn't so sure I could keep from losing it. "Please."
Levi's eyes locked on mine. "This is a necessary step to your recovery. I can't help you if you don't let me do this. You'll be fine."
Warmth flooded over me and I nodded. I sucked back the blood that was still dribbling from my gums, used it to temper the hunger raging inside of me.
My head felt cloudy, as if it were full of thick smoke. It made it hard to think clearly, made it hard to order my thoughts. I knew if I were to really think about it, I would never hurt Ronnie or Levi or the girls upstairs, but the Madness had a way of fogging my mind. All it would take is one moment of confusion and one of them would be dead.
But here in Levi's presence, I did better. Something about him allowed me to take control of my own brain, forced me to see through the cloud and understand that the moon didn't have complete control over me. Only I did. Once I realized that, the rest would be easy.
Levi studied me a moment more before pressing the knife into Ronnie's palm.
Blood immediately welled in the wound, filling his hand. It pattered on the thin plastic sheeting Levi had spread on the floor before we started.
My throat closed up as soon as the smell of blood hit me. I couldn't look away from it even though I knew I would have to soon or I wouldn't be able to stop myself from flying off the bed. The urge was too powerful. There was no way I was going to be able to control my hunger.
Levi tipped Ronnie's hand so the blood pooling in his palm dripped onto the plastic. Each drop sounded like a gong to my ears as it hit the floor.
I started panting. My every muscle tensed as if I was going to spring, but yet I stayed put. I could almost taste the blood, could almost feel it on my tongue. The scent was overpowering; it filled my senses until it was the only thing I knew.
And still, I held back. As much as I wanted to feed, I knew I couldn't. I could hold on; I could wait it out. Levi would eventually leave me alone in the room and I could relax. I just needed to hold on for a few minutes more and it would all be over.
I forced my gaze from Ronnie's bloody palm. His arm was littered with tiny scars, as if this wasn't the first time this had happened. It was easy to imagine him sitting there, letting Levi cut him night after night, just so the bigger man could save someone just like me.
My hands dug into the mattress so hard it was a wonder my fingers didn't pop through. I forced myself to ease my grip even though I was half afraid to do so would be to ease the tentative grip I had on my control. Each finger unclenched slowly, the ligaments and joints popping as I straightened them. It hurt like hell.
"Get him the fuck out of here," I growled. I was shaking violently now. As much as I wanted to keep control of my hunger, it just wasn't happening. I was trying hard to breathe through my nose because I could taste the blood on my tongue every time I opened my mouth.
I felt myself moving forward and stopped just before I leaped from the bed. Ronnie was too close. I could be on him in half a second, could have my mouth on his hand, teeth tearing at the flesh, long before Levi could even think to pull him away. I could suck on the wound until the flow slowed and then finally stopped. It wouldn't kill him.
Not right away anyway. If I were to move my mouth a mere two to three inches up to his wrist, I could feed until completely sated.
I think the fear of not being able to stop was what kept me in place when Levi shook his head. If I moved, I would kill Ronnie, maybe Levi as well. Nothing could stop me. They were unarmed, aside from Levi's tiny knife. I could kill them both before the girls upstairs heard the first scream.
A sudden wash of warmth flowed over me and I blinked, head suddenly clear. I was sitting on the very edge of the bed, almost all the way onto the floor. I hadn't even realized I'd been moving until that very moment.
I scooted back, dropping my head so I wouldn't have to look at the two men, at the blood still dripping onto the plastic. Even though I knew Levi was trying to help, part of me wanted to kill him for torturing me like this.
"I think we can call our little test a success," Levi said. The self-satisfaction was clear in his voice, as if he had been the one to have overcome the Madness and hunger. "You don't have complete control yet, but I'm sure you will soon enough."
I growled, letting him know how unlikely I thought that prospect to be.
Levi chuckled as he stood. "We'll leave you be. You've had a rough night and deserve a little respite from what I've put you through. I completely understand if you hate me." He winked. "And I'll be sure to lock the door for your peace of mind."
A simple door and lock wouldn't stop me if I really wanted to get out, but he was right, the idea of a locked door between me and the Purebloods did make me feel better.
"You did good," Levi said. "Tomorrow night we'll have dinner and toast your success."
My stomach clenched as Ronnie stood at a motion from Levi. His blood pumped just a little faster, making another small drop ooze from his palm. It was all I could do to keep from reaching out and grabbing his hand just so I could have a taste.
Levi opened the door and held it out for Ronnie, who walked past him without a word. Levi hesitated a moment, like he was going to say something else, but instead, he turned and walked out, closing the door behind him.
I waited until the lock clicked before leaping from the bed onto the plastic. My fingers tore into it as I pulled it up to my face. I lapped at the blood, sucked at the plastic to get every single drop.
I wanted more. The tiny amount of blood that had spilled from Ronnie's palm was far from enough to sate my hunger. A big part of me wanted to give in to the beast, to break through the door and find someone to feed upon. I could drain them, could keep the hunger at bay for a week more. I could end the pain.
I rose from the floor, blood on my chin, and started stalking around the room. I felt like a caged animal despite the fact I knew I could break free anytime I wanted. I was making strange growling sounds deep in my chest as I breathed in and out, like a beast that knew its food was sitting just out of reach.
I bit my lip, drawing blood. I refused to give in. I dug my fingers into my temples, closed my eyes, and tried to push away all thoughts of blood and food. I kept seeing the blood dripping from Ronnie's hand and was forced to open my eyes lest it took hold of my mind for good.
Another growl bubbled up from somewhere deep inside, but somehow my head cleared just a little bit. I might still be in near full-fledged bloodlust, but at least now I was able to think through it.
I sat heavily on the bed. The sun would be up soon, dampening the effects of the full moon, and from there, everything would be easy. I knew my control was shot because of the Madness. A few more hours and I'd be in full control of myself once more.
The urge to feed started to subside and I slumped down onto the bed. A tear fell from the corner of my eye. I wiped it angrily away.
Why was he doing this to me? Deep down I knew Levi was trying to help, but it was hard to see it through the hunger and fog in my head. It felt less like he was helping and more like he was torturing me for his own amusement.
And that's exactly what it was: torture. I'd seen vampire Counts do the same thing to their prisoners. They'd tempt them with blood kept just out of their reach until it drove them insane.
I found myself standing and heading toward the door. I didn't need Ronnie's blood or anyone else's as long as I got Levi's. He deserved to be punished for what he was doing to me. The bigger man would fill me up so much more than the smaller Ronnie or either of the girls upstairs.
The thought of Eilene and Sienna brought some sense back and I backed away from the door. My legs bumped against the edge of the bed and I sat down hard. I took a deep breath, let it out through my teeth, and found a smile spreading across my lips.
I'd done it. I'd controlled my hunger, controlled the Madness.
My fangs retracted; my head cleared a little more. I wiped away the last of the blood that had fallen from my gums and managed not to lick my hand clean.
I was doing better. I'd made it. I could defeat this thing, could do exactly what Levi said I could do.
I started to laugh, to exalt in my success, but that was when the pain hit.
It came from directly behind my left ear. It seared into my brain and I screamed. I clutched at my head like it might explode, and right then, it sure as hell felt like it was going to.
I fell back and immediately rolled off the bed. I hit the floor with a thump, and another jolt of pure agony caused me to scream again. My feet kicked out so hard I knocked over the chair Levi had been sitting in. It slammed against the wall with a crash, punching a small hole into the plaster.
My fangs were out again, but instead of hunger, all I could feel was the pain. It shot through me again, bowed my back off the floor. My eyeballs felt like they were about to pop from my skull from the building pressure.
Excerpted from Blessed by a Demon's Mark by E.S. MOORE Copyright © 2013 by Eric S. Moore. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON BOOKS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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