Descended from Cain, the world's first murderer, Jax Flynn is destined to spend his life making others suffer. To shield the world from horrific chaos, he was forced to sacrifice the one and only thing he loved. Samantha Merrick.
Sam is special. She doesn't know how—or why—and she hasn't had any luck finding out. But there's a bright side to her life. She finally has Jax back. Sort of. They're living life on a strict look but don't touch policy, but with the explosive chemistry between them, keeping their hands to themselves is getting harder every day.
Unfortunately, keeping their libidos in check isn’t Jax and Sam's biggest problem. When an enemy from the past resurfaces with an ultimatum—complete a simple task or Sam dies—they're backed into a corner. The goal? Kill a demon called Malphi. The problem? Jax's demon, Azirak, has no intention of letting that happen…
To gain a chance at heaven, they’ll need to embrace hell…
Eternal Balance Book 1: Ruined
Eternal Balance Book 2: Embrace
Eternal Balance Book 3: Released
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By Jus Accardo, Liz Pelletier
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2015 Jus Accardo
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Bodies grinding against each other on the dance floor. Crowding around the bars. They were even lined up two deep against the walls, several locked at the lips and going at it like crazed fucking rabbits. The whole club reeked of lust. The orange mist it gave off bled into the air and swirled around like smog, mingling with the always present taint of red. Anger. You couldn't have one without the other. It made the world go round.
It made my world go round ...
I inhaled, taking it all in. Azirak — Azi — the demon royal that had lived inside me my entire life, nibbled at the emotion and rumbled with contentment. That was a demon for you. Always getting off on the dark side of humanity. It needed them to survive. Since we were shacked up in the same space — I was a descendant of Cain, born with a demon fused to my soul — in a twisted way I needed them, too.
A few feet away, a guy let out a yell and threw his bottle of Bud on the ground. It shattered, splattering liquid and glass everywhere as the surrounding crowd scattered and howled with laughter.
The one plus to taking this job as a bouncer at The Viking? It was the perfect way to feed the demon's need for violence.
"Hey!" The guy heard me, but chose to ignore it, turning back to the girl he was with. Big mistake. I wove through the crowd, itching to introduce him to one — or both — of my fists. The last few nights had been slow. Other than taking harmless crumbs of anger and lust, Azi hadn't truly fed in over two days. I was starting to feel edgy. Fingers crossed this bastard started something. A good skull cracking would take the edge off. "Knock it the fuck off," I demanded, grabbing the back of his shirt and spinning him around to face me.
He immediately threw his hands up in surrender. The whole exchange was hardly worth my trouble.
Much to the demon's irritation, I let go of the guy and went back to tracking my original prey. He was tall, with dark hair and a stocky build, and had been following the same girl all night long — a small-framed brunette behind the bar on the other side of the club, serving drinks and seeming oblivious to his attention.
After a quick glance over his shoulder, the guy made his move. I started forward as the demon gave an uneasy rumble. Tall-dark-and-stalkery elbowed his way to the bar, leaning in to get the girl's attention. I had no idea what he'd said, but she looked confused.
"Blow him off, Sammy," I growled. "Stay behind the fucking bar." I was still cutting a path through the crowded club floor. When people didn't move out of the way fast enough, I started pushing.
The guy waved his arms and pointed to the back of the club. After a minute of this, Sam shook her head and came around to his side of the bar. She called something to the other bartender and followed the guy into the crowd.
"Really?" I spat, willing her to feel my anger through our unwanted — and apparently useless — mental link. Nothing happened. Within seconds Sam's head disappeared, swallowed by a horde of drunk idiots.
I picked up the pace, roughly shoving away anyone in my path. When I reached the edge of the dance floor, she was just rounding the corner of the basement stairwell. I made it to the door in less than ten steps.
"I dunno what you heard, but I'm not into the whole three-way thing," I heard Sam say. She forced a laugh. "I'm betting you could find a more than willing participant upstairs, though. Try the bathroom by the door. Lots of weirdos hang out in there."
I eased the door closed so it didn't make any noise, then crept down the steps. Sam was at the bottom, by the spare bottles of liquor, and she wasn't alone. The guy from the bar was in front of her, and to his right was a tall woman with bright red hair. "Your bravado is unimpressive," she said. "You're going to come with us."
"That's really not gonna happen," Sam insisted, inching a hair to the left.
Azi flashed a series of images — the demon's primary means of communication — all involving the brutal beat down of the two intruders. Despite the wave of involuntary contentment at the scenario of massive carnage and snapping bones in my grasp, I tamped the urges down and stepped onto the landing.
"Will you submit to me?" he asked.
"Submit to you?" Sam repeated. There was the smallest warble in her voice. "What the hell is that supposed to mean?"
"Give yourself to us willingly. You'll feel no pain. I promise." The guy stepped closer, and the moment he reached out to touch her, I propelled myself forward.
Azi roared, a jarring sound that rattled my entire body. The demon didn't push for control, but stayed close to the surface in case I needed it. I wouldn't. "I suggest you take the lady's advice and go find a different playmate."
The guy glared from Sam to me, then glanced at the red haired woman. She let out a horrible shriek and flung herself at me. As murderous as the urges the demon spurred in me, I refused to hit a woman. Human, at least. But that didn't stop me from raising my arm to protect myself.
It wasn't my fault she knocked herself out on my elbow.
"See, Sammy?" I said, straightening. I rolled up the sleeve of my black Viking Security T-shirt and flexed. In the short time I'd been working as a bouncer at Harlow's one and only nightclub, I'd developed a wicked reputation. "Told you my biceps were dangerous."
"Leave," the guy commanded. With impressive speed for a human, he moved in to wrap his hand around Sam's neck, and the entire room shifted. "This is none of your concern."
"Isn't it?" My tone changed from deceptively light to viperous. Simmering anger coiled my muscles and galvanized every step. Most of it was me. I loved Sam and would kill anyone who tried to harm her. But there was demon in my motions. The monster inside bombarded me with another scene — my fist repeatedly pummeling the guy as he begged for mercy. The tantalizing lure of blood and fear and rage was almost too compelling to resist, but somehow I managed to push down the itch. Sam. Had to focus on Sam. I nodded to her. "You okay?"
"Well, you know ..." Sam was tougher than any ten women put together, still there was the slightest shake to her voice. Gray smoke bled into the air around her and almost sent me over the edge. "I'm not really into this guy, but he won't take no for an answer."
The demon's hunger caused pin pricks of pain to bloom across my body. Killing this asshole would be easy. I could get in and remove him from the situation without mussing Sam's hair. But how the fuck was I going to explain a dead body in the storage room? My new boss wouldn't like it.
I caught Sam's gaze and gave a slight nod upward. Whoever had stocked the vodka shelf had been lazy. The bottles were all perilously close to the edge directly above where the guy was standing. She tilted her head, but I had no idea if she saw it or not.
"You're still here," he said. There was something about his voice that bothered me. The underlying tone, while distinctly human, was just slightly ... off.
"So are you," Sam snapped. She brought her leg up and slammed it back into the wooden shelving. Glass clattered overhead and several of the bottles teetered and fell. They hit their mark and the guy went down hard, glass shattering all around him, clear liquid splashing everywhere.
"Hope you were thirsty," Sam said. "I suppose I should thank —"
The guy lifted his head and made a grab for her ankle. Sam yelped in surprise and kicked him hard. His eyes rolled back and he went still at her feet. Unfortunately her movement jostled the shelf again. The last remaining bottle of vodka wobbled, then plummeted.
I pitched forward, fingers closing around the bottle seconds before it crashed into her head. "... you," she finished softly.
My face was inches from hers, and her breath, sweetened by the rum punch she'd been sneaking all night, puffed across my face. I took her arm and dragged her around the corner to the next row of shelves. Common sense said to pull away, to move to the other end of the room where I could maintain a safe amount of space between us.
Azi was pleased. A series of disturbing and enticing pictures swam through my head. Lush caramel hair and big brown eyes. Creamy skin, warm beneath my fingers. A sound, delicate yet more powerful than any force of nature. My name spoken by a familiar feminine voice. Goose bumps rose along my skin and my heart raced. It was all fake. An illusion created by the demon in order to incite a reaction. But the scenes were like 3D movies, a kick to the nuts with five-inch spurs. Dig in and twist. I felt them, smelled them, and too often found myself unable to resist reacting to them.
"What the hell were you thinking?" I pushed the pictures aside and focused on the real Sam, the one in front of me. "Coming down to the basement with some random guy? After all the shit that's gone down recently? Are you —" I jabbed my finger at her attackers, but both the guy and the girl were gone. "What the fuck?"
Sam peered around the corner, then back to me, brows knitted together. She turned in a slow circle, scanning the rest of the room, confused. "Must have run out the basement door."
"Must have run —" I grabbed her arm and pinned her against the wall. "This is the fifth time in a month that we've had a problem, Sammy."
"I work in a club." She was defensive, but I heard the underlying concern. "There are going to be minor problems."
I leaned in close, much closer than I should have dared. "Getting hit on is a minor problem. Having some dickhead puke on you is a minor problem. Being repeatedly attacked is not a minor problem."
She grabbed a handful of my T-shirt and graced me with a grin that set my insides on fire. "Well then, I guess you'll have to pay closer attention to me, huh?"
It didn't seem fair that with one look this girl could completely unravel me, make me forget the world and lose myself in the simple sound of her voice. The demon wanted me to push forward, but I resisted. Being this close to Sam had disaster smeared all over it.
Unfortunately, thanks to the demon, every sense, each nerve ending, was magnified. I was hyperaware of every breath. The subtle tug at the neckline of her shirt as she crossed her arms. The slight shift of her weight as she leaned back against the wall.
Another round of images from Azi blotted out reality for a moment. It showed Sam on the floor, back arched and head thrown back as she writhed beneath me. Begging.
I was instantly hard.
The vision faded, and she sighed. "We should probably get back to work. Or ..." Her hands came to my chest. The warmth seeping through the thin, cheap black T- shirt was like an inferno burning straight to my soul. My heart slammed against my ribs as she pushed off the wall and rose onto her toes.
Still. Had to stay perfectly still. One wrong move and ...
With her lips lingering at my ear, her hot breath melting what little resolve I had, she whispered, "You could put your hands all over me."
"You need to stop." I forced her away. "We can't do this."
We'd been playing a dangerous game the last few weeks. Toeing the line. A stolen look here. A brush of skin there. Things had to change or I was going to do something that would land us both in trouble.
Sam folded her arms. Even in the shitty basement light, her swirling colors were easily visible. The orange of lust and red of anger were burning beacons against the darkness, tantalizing in a way that almost made me forget the rules and take what I wanted. Her. "Then why are you still standing there?"
Because there was no such thing as self-control when it came to her.
And that had to change.
"You want me," she said when I didn't answer. The orange smoke thickened, becoming more alluring.
"Not the point," I responded, but my body ignored the words. I licked my lips and, giving into the pull, stepped closer. Martin, the club owner, had instated a new dress code for the bartenders. He insisted they wear short black skirts instead of the previously approved jeans. Sam hated showing too much skin. She'd gotten around it by wearing tall boots, leaving only a small section of creamy thigh exposed. If even possible, it was sexier, giving just a seductive tease of the treasure that lay beneath.
Being so close, I found it impossible not to touch. My hands drifted down, playing with the edge of the silky material for a moment before tugging it up. First a fraction of an inch. Then a little bit more. The skin was soft. Inviting. I imagined what it would be like to run my tongue across and upward, until I came to her center. Then I —
Sam tilted her head back and let out a small sigh, and Azi went wild. It took in the swirl of lust and greedily inhaled. I wasn't unaffected. The demon needed the emotion to survive. It was sustenance. To me it was like a drug, and even though I despised myself, the sickest parts of me loved it.
Sam's hands covered mine, urging them — and the skirt — higher. Along with the demon I breathed in deeply, letting the orange mist envelope me. It was a heady sensation, one I knew to be dangerous. Losing myself in her, in her emotions, was one of my triggers, one turn of the key that blocked my control over the demon.
I groaned. There was nothing more I wanted than to give in and do all the dirty, twisted things clanking around my brain since the last time — the only time — we'd been together, but it couldn't happen. Not now. When I'd come back to town a few months ago, it had stirred up a whirlwind of shit. In order to save ourselves — and the world — Sam and I had called on powerful help, which hadn't come for free. We were still paying the price.
I yanked my hands away. "You're making this ten times harder on both of us," I snapped. Azi, realizing that I wasn't going to give in to temptation, grew angry as well, fueling my own fury and frustration. "How fucking hard do you think it is for me to stay in this damn town knowing that you're off-limits? To have you right in front of me and not be able to —"
She opened her mouth, but I covered her lips with my hand. The last thing I needed right then was the sound of her voice. It would push me over the edge.
"You're everywhere. In my house, at my work —"
She pried my hand away and fixed those beautiful brown eyes on me. "Your work? Technically I was here —"
I covered her mouth again. "Everywhere except where I want you. In my bed. In my fucking life."
She pulled my hand away again, and this time I let her. My resolve was crumbling. "I'm in your life, Jax. No deal is ever going to change that. We need to readjust. Find a new normal. Something that will work for this ... situation. Maybe it's time for me to move out of the house. I've saved a little bit of money. Chase has been gone for —"
"No." Sam moved into my Uncle Rick's house in case more trouble came beating down her door. It was a multipurpose choice. She'd been kicked out of her old place and needed somewhere to stay, and having her close so I could keep an eye out made me feel better. We'd only intended it to be temporary. Living under the same roof was like spreading a feast in front of a starving man. But the thought of not having her there was more agonizing.
I was a masochist. Clearly.
"No," I spat again. "That's not what —"
"Well then, where's the line?" she asked, pushing forward until she was pressed against me. I held my breath. "You gave me up. That's what you told me, right?"
Sam had sacrificed her life to break a demonic link between her and Chase, allowing me to beat the shit out of him. But it hadn't been enough. My brother — who'd been hiding his own demon — had been in synch with it from the time he was a kid, and they didn't have a fair fight in mind. I'd needed more of an edge. That's where the deal came in. I'd leveled the playing field but had to sacrifice the only thing I loved. Sam. Now, as further payment, we were both bound by our word to serve as "agents of balance" — though the broker of the deal hadn't bothered to tell us yet what the fuck that meant.
"Right," I replied, letting out my breath. I held it that way, not daring to breathe in.
Her voice dropped. She shifted, rubbing against me, and I clenched my jaw tight. "But we're supposed to be partners, correct?"
"Correct," I confirmed tightly.
"And we live together. So, us spending time together obviously isn't against the rules." She wrapped an arm around my neck and pulled my head down so that our foreheads touched. "That's all we're doing here. Spending time ..."
Something inside me cracked. I brought my lips to her earlobe, skimming the smooth skin. "Do you get off on pushing me?" I growled. My own colors swirled, a maelstrom of deep red and orange that mingled with hers. "Testing the limits of my restraint?"
Excerpted from Embraced by Jus Accardo, Liz Pelletier. Copyright © 2015 Jus Accardo. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
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