by Jeri Westerson
This is not an excerpt from the Booke of the Hidden urban fantasy series, but an exclusive and sexy little slice of subtext just for you.
Erasmus Dark skulked around the perimeter of the house now known as Strange Herbs & Teas. He glanced up at the sign in the moonlight, eyes tracing over the engraved letters inlaid with gold. The herbs he could manage. The tea was another thing. The smell of the stuff made him sneeze and he wondered how he could stand to be in the same room with those dreaded cannisters filled with tea of every stripe.
But it was the “Strange” part that was the most unfathomable. She was unfathomable. Humans he had known. Thousands of them over the many centuries. And Chosen Hosts, too. But Kylie…
“It must be some sort of magic charm,” he wondered aloud. Some sort of…spell. None of the other Chosen Hosts had ever intrigued him as much. Oh, there were a few in Babylon, in Egypt, and some in medieval Britain, but he had never felt so invested, so out of sorts, so…
He touched the place on his neck where his amulet used to be. Maybe that was it. Almost the first thing she had done upon meeting him was steal his amulet. And then she ordered him around like he was her minion, for Beelze’s sake, making him fetch the chthonic crossbow. How had it happened? Why hadn’t he been on his guard? It was ludicrous having a mere human lord it over him like that.
He frowned and glared at the moon. It wasn’t supposed to be like this. He just wanted to do his job and be done with it.
His sharp eyes turned again to the dark woods. He picked out forest creatures, saw their life forces shining brightly, almost too brightly to look at. Fox, vole, owl, cricket, frog…and other creatures so old that the earth scarce remembered them.
When a light came on inside the shop, his head jerked toward the window. He could see her moving about, doing Beelzebub-knew-what. Making that damned tea, no doubt. He moved closer to the window to peer inside.
The Booke of the Hidden had followed her and hovered near the chair she had curled up in. She tucked her legs under her and was wearing those ridiculous sleep clothes of thin, long-sleeved shirt and some sort of baggy trousers. Women in trousers. There was a time she would have been burned at the stake for that.
She pushed her hair back from her face. Women wore it shorter now. In past times, a woman with shorn hair meant she was being publicly humiliated. Twenty-first century. Bah! He could pull a better century out of his—
What was the woman doing now? Her shoulders shook, her face was hidden in her hands—all indication that she was crying. Erasmus frowned. He sensed her distress, even from outside. Without even thinking about it, he walked forward through the wall, feeling the atoms of wood and plaster pass easily through him.
He stood behind her, watching, listening to her wrenching sobs. She pushed her hand over her ruined face. It was red and folded into a grimace, with wet streaks across her cheeks. For some reason, even in her sudden ugliness, his heart twitched.
“Why do you weep?” he said softly.
It startled her anyway. She leapt from her seat, all ungainly legs and arms flailing. She spun to face him. “Don’t DO that!”
“Do what?” He meant it as a jibe, but she wasn’t having it.
“You know very well! Sneaking up on me.” She turned away, dug a well-used tissue from her trouser pocket, and blew her nose into it. “You’re always doing that,” she muttered.
“I’m sorry. It is my way. I can sense other beings around me and so I assume humans can do it too.”
“We can. Sometimes. When we aren’t vulnerable.”
He peered into her face nearly hidden by her hair. She glared back at his close proximity.
“And are you…vulnerable?” he asked.
She held her arms out, with an expression on her face that would seem to say, “Are you insane?”
He thought hard. Yes, he supposed she was. Vulnerable. Creatures coming from the book to plague her, and one mystery after the other, what with her friends in danger and other emotional turmoil. He could see where she could well be considered vulnerable. “I’m sorry,” was all he could think to say.
She blew her nose once more, stuffed the disreputable bit of tissue back in her pocket, and dropped back into the seat. “It’s not your fault. I guess.”
He sauntered around her, studying her from different angles. “It isn’t my fault. I am as much a captive of the book as the creatures that emerge from it.”
“I know. And I appreciate your helping me.”
He lurched to a halt behind her. She appreciated him? What sort of devilry was this? Humans ran in fear of him, prostrated themselves before him, even submitted unwillingly to his desires…but none had ever appreciated him. He scowled. It was likely some sort of trick.
He said nothing, continued walking around her chair, and stopped before the other chair opposite her. He sank slowly into it. Measuring her for a long while, he watched as she raised her gaze and settled it on him. Then she smiled.
His heart did that twitching thing again.
“I’m over it now.” She sighed and leaned back, resting her head against the cushioned chair. “Every now and then a good cry is what’s needed.” When he failed to answer her, she leaned forward, hands curling on her thighs. “I haven’t seen you all day. What have you been doing?”
“This and that.”
“Really. Nothing that can help?”
His eyes flicked for only a second toward his amulet flashing from its place on her chest. “Nothing. Sorry.”
She sat back again. “That’s all right. Maybe I don’t want to think about it tonight.” She glanced once at the book that persisted in hovering. “Will you sit down!” she yelled at it. Strangely, it complied, slowly lowering to a side table. “Thing makes me jumpy,” she said with a shiver.
“Kylie, you mustn’t fret yourself over this. You will conquer these creatures. I will be beside you when you do.”
“But I worry about you, too. I don’t want you to get hurt.”
And again, that strange squirmy feeling in his gut and in his chest. He was a demon. No one cared if he was hurt or not. Not for thousands of years. Not on earth, not in the Netherworld. Not ever.
He studied her again, wondering what she meant by it. She continued to gaze at him under increasingly droopy lids. No, not droopy. She was looking at him from under her lashes. Those long, dark lashes and those penetrating brown eyes that seemed to wear such a tender expression…
“Do you want some wine? Or some brandy?”
She had asked it so suddenly that he almost startled.
“Brandy,” he answered before he could think about it.
“Okay.” She sprang up as if her earlier melancholy had been a mere trick of the light. His ears pricked as he listened to her rummaging in the kitchen and soon she brought out two glasses. Handing one to him, she sat again, tucking her bare feet under her. She sipped, looking up through her lashes again over the rim of her glass. At the same time, she was absentmindedly stroking his amulet. “I was wondering,” she said quietly.
“Yes?” It wasn’t very good brandy, but he enjoyed the slight burn in his throat when he swallowed it.
“I wondered…if you wanted to stay.”
He coughed, choking on the drink, but he easily recovered and lowered the glass to the table beside him. “I am always here to guard.”
“I don’t mean…to guard.”
All his senses suddenly chimed together and he found himself standing. She followed suit to face him.
The many times he had engaged in sexual relations with the male and female of her species, it was always done quickly, fervently. Sometimes they welcomed him as an interesting stranger. Sometimes they simply felt obligated or succumbed from fear. The few Chosen Hosts with which he engaged did it with wariness, perhaps thinking erroneously that it would compel Erasmus to help them. But not her. Not Kylie. She even raised her chin to look at him with unabashed yearning.
He sensed her breathing, how it sped up and equally her heart, with its rapid beating that spoke of the life and spirit throbbing within her. When he stepped closer and touched her neck, fingers skimming up to her jaw, her pulse jumped on his fingertips. Pheromones billowed off of her and her aura gave off a distinctly reddish-orange glow. Those brown eyes with their pupils blown had no fear in them. He was surprised each time he looked at her, and how trusting she seemed to be. This was not like any of her species before her.
He breathed in the scent of her. Some of the herbs she kept in her shop and something flowery, perhaps perfume, mingled with the underlying earthy fragrance of her mortality. That in itself was intoxicating to any demon, but more so to him. He flared his nostrils, taking it in, before he leaned in closer and could no longer resist opening his lips over hers.
The taste of her mouth—the brandy with the bitterest perception of tea—could not hide the taste of her, and his mouth lingered, enjoying the feel of soft, warm lips, tongue, the essence of her breath. His lips left hers for an infinitesimal moment to breathe her name, “Kylie,” with a roughened voice. He hadn’t meant to say it, but it had spilled out of him, drenched in all the confusion that possessed him the moment his lips touched hers.
His shoulders gave off wisps of smoke that mingled with her pheromones, an intoxicating combination.
Suddenly, he yearned for privacy. The shop had windows where prying eyes could peer in, where the beasts of the forest and of the book could smell and see them. Through the Dark-In-Between, he instantly transported them both to her bedroom. She made a little sound of surprise but didn’t seem bothered with the change of location, continuing to kiss him with as much fervor as when she started.
He thrilled to the moment. Because he knew—for now, at least—he possessed her. Not that bumbling constable, not any past lover of hers, but him, the demon. And he had needed no coercion, no charm or spell. She gave herself willingly, and the fire of that knowledge burned hot in his chest.
Her arms reached up and encircled his neck, and she tilted her head to kiss deeper. He obliged and wrapped his arms around her, pulling her close. He burned their clothes away leaving a fine layer of ash that soon sloughed off of them. She made a concerned sound. She didn’t like him to do that. Apparently, hers never reappeared again like his clothes, but it was the most expeditious method to get at what he wanted. He didn’t want to take the time. He didn’t want her changing her mind.
His hands skimmed down her flanks, feeling the smoothness, the suppleness of her young, mortal skin. His exploring hands reached further and behind, grabbing the pliant globes of her buttocks and squeezed at the same time he pressed her against his groin. Yes, he liked the feel of her more than he had ever enjoyed her species before. He couldn’t owe it to the long years between these experiences for he had been in a state of stasis since the last time the book was opened and it had seemed but a brief time to him when he was awakened again. But this was different. Somehow. Perhaps it was her. Perhaps merely this strange new era.
She moved her lips away from his and attacked his ear lobe, nipping gently down to his neck. Oh yes, he liked that too, liked that she took the initiative. He allowed her to gnaw on him before he spread his hands on her ribcage and lifted her.
“Where are we going?” she said in a husky voice.
“To the bed,” he said, laying her gently back.
“And then what?” She was in a playful mood, a talkative mood.
“What indeed. Do you have any…preferences?” He watched her face as his hand moved below her belly.
She gasped before smiling lazily, looking down at herself, at what he was doing. He looked too. He liked what he saw and reached for her with his other hand and kneaded other pliant areas, until he couldn’t resist bending close and replacing his hands with his lips and tongue. She tasted like she smelled; earthy, floral, salty.
She threw her head back, closing her eyes. “Whatever you’d like,” she whispered as he continued tasting her.
That was a big list. But for now, he just wanted to be inside her. He wanted her to wrap her legs around his waist and pull him in. He wanted her hands on him, skimming, pinching, clawing with her nails.
When he reached under her to close his hands on her bottom again, she didn’t disappoint. He lifted her hips and she eagerly opened to him, and when he guided himself in, her thighs clenched his waist, and her heels dug into his backside. Never was a creature more compliant.
“Kylie,” he growled. She seemed to thrill at it and moved impatiently and then with him.
He wanted this feeling to go on and on, but he also wanted his completion in her too. Watching her writhe and her mouth fall open and her eyes close, sent him higher and higher, until she snapped open her eyes and watched him, daring him. And all at once, much to his chagrin, he realized that he possessed nothing. He never possessed her. It was she who owned him.
He couldn’t control the growl he expelled when he gave in to her. His hands were once again beneath her bringing her even closer, while hers dragged those nails down his chest. For a moment he spun higher, even when he thought he had finished. The spike in sensation with her piercing nails drew a sharp breath out of him and he thrust hard in the waning moments of his peak until finally he could slow, luxuriating in the feel of her, suspended in the moment that seemed all too brief. Hanging his head, he hid his eyes behind his hair and gazed at her, and she was still looking at him, breasts heaving as she breathed deep.
“I don’t understand you,” he said when he’d gotten his breath back, still poised above her…and within her.
She pushed her sweaty hair out of her face and offered an impish smile. “What do you mean?”
“You enjoy this.”
She looked down boldly at him as he finally withdrew and her legs flopped to the side. “What’s not to like?”
“I am a demon.”
“I know. Is there a problem?”
Abruptly, he rolled off the bed and stood up. “Shouldn’t there be?”
She struggled to sit up and folded her legs under her on the bed. She drew the blanket up to her chest. He suspected the room was cold though he could never feel it. “What’s wrong, Erasmus? What’s going on in that little horned head of yours?”
He swiped his hand over his forehead…just to check. “Why do you keep saying that? I do not have horns.”
She seemed to be suppressing a giggle. “Not anymore,” she muttered under her breath. “I mean what is your problem? Don’t you like…” She gestured awkwardly between them. “Don’t you like this?”
“Of course I do. I thought that would be obvious.”
“Then why do you question everything? Can’t you just enjoy it?”
He frowned. This was not what he expected. She was never what he expected. “I’m going to patrol.”
He vanished from her sight, but not before he heard the tail end of her, “Wait! I—”
The Dark-In-Between held him for only a moment. Atoms dissolved around him and he appeared outside below her bedroom window. At nearly the same instant he began to reappear, the atoms of clothing formed around him again—leather trousers, black shirt, black leather duster—and he looked upward. The window framed the light and shadows, and then there was a figure in the window looking down at him.
He turned away from her frown of perplexity. He didn’t want to look just now. Instead, his eyes faced the woods. That was something he could understand. The darkness, the shadows. He ignored the figure in the window and searched in the dark for each flare of life, searching for the danger he knew was out there.
Booke of the Hidden
Genre: Urban Fantasy/Paranormal Romance
Publisher: JABberwocky Literary
Date of Publication: October 2, 2019
Number of pages: 301
Word Count: 90,181
Cover Artist: Mayhem Cover Creations
Tagline: “Whoever said country life was dull didn’t know Moody Bog.”
With the arrival of Samhain, the supernatural Booke of the Hidden is set to release a barrage of deadly creatures onto the hapless village of Moody Bog, Maine.
Tea proprietor Kylie Strange knows the showdown is coming and wants to end the Booke for good. But the only way to accomplish this is a journey to the Netherworld and get the help of the only being powerful enough to destroy the Booke: Satan himself. And, though the brooding and elusive demon Erasmus Dark has captured Kylie’s heart against her better judgment, she ignores his repeated warnings that the mission guarantees her doom.
Series Book Trailer: https://youtu.be/vI5d1tFsBYM
I moved to the very edge of the road and waited.
The sound grew louder. It couldn’t be anything except hoofbeats. They clopped, not in a gallop but in a leisurely canter. And soon, there was the Dullahan coming around the curve. His head looked even greener and slimier under his arm than it had before, if that were possible.
His weirdly roving eyes spotted me easily. He kicked his red-eyed horse’s sides and hurried toward us. All the while, he swung that spine whip. With each revolution around his headless neck, the weapon grew longer and longer.
I kept the spear close to my side. I didn’t want that whip to catch it the way it had gotten the crossbow the last time.
He was almost upon me when he shrieked, “Kylie Strange!”
“That doesn’t work on me, you idiot!” I yelled.
The face frowned under his arm. It cast its googly eyes toward Erasmus and opened his mouth to yell his name.
“He’s a demon, remember? We’ve been through this before. Boy, you sure have a short memory. Must be because your brain is decaying faster than the rest of you. Looks like a bad case of melting Roquefort you got there.”
His dead face either grimaced or it really was melting. “Then I don’t need to say your name,” he said in a high screechy voice.
He spun the whip. Before I could get out of the way, it came at me and wrapped around my body, trapping my arms at my sides. I barely got out a yell before I was yanked off my feet.
The horse started galloping and I was flung out behind it almost parallel to the road. I couldn’t bring the spear up. I was whipping around in the air and getting a little seasick, but it was better than being dragged behind on the asphalt. There wouldn’t have been much left of me after that.
The bones of the spine whip were digging sharply into my skin. I tried wriggling free. If Headless decided to fling me off a cliff, there wasn’t much I could do about it. I knew Erasmus must be around somewhere, but this was up to me to figure out…if I could.
The Dullahan galloped around a sharp curve and I was thrown and dragged through the limbs of pine trees shouldering the road.
“Dammit!” I yelled, spitting out pine needles. “I am so going to kill you!”
He lifted his head up with his other arm. It swiveled and glared at me. “Not if I kill you first, Mistress Strange.”
“No need to be so formal,” I grunted, struggling. I slammed into some holly bushes and OW!
The face cackled and turned away, tucked back under his arm again. Then I looked up and saw what he was cackling about. The next curve of the road didn’t have any nice prickly holly bushes or spikey pine boughs. It was just granite all the way up the rock face. “Shit!”
About the Author:
Los Angeles native JERI WESTERSON is the author of twelve Crispin Guest Medieval Noir Mystery novels, a series nominated for thirteen national awards from the “Agatha” to the “Shamus”. Her fifth novel BLOOD LANCE was named one of the Ten Hot Crime Novels for Colder Days by Kirkus Reviews, and her sixth, SHADOW OF THE ALCHEMIST, was named Best of 2013 by Suspense Magazine. For BOOKE OF THE HIDDEN, her urban fantasy series, Publishers Weekly said, “Readers sad about the ending of Charlaine Harris’s MIDNIGHT, TEXAS trilogy will find some consolation in Moody Bog.” The fourth and final in the series, THE DARKEST GATEWAY, releases October 2, 2019. Jeri also writes the humorous SKYLER FOXE LGBT MYSTERIES under the pen name Haley Walsh. Jeri’s short stories were included in several mystery anthologies, including Shaken: Stories for Japan (for the 2011 Earthquake Relief Fund). Jeri was also featured on two local NPR shows, “My Awesome Empire” and KVCR-Arts. She has served two terms as president of the Southern California Chapter of Mystery Writers of America, twice president of the Orange County Chapter of Sisters in Crime, and as vice president and California Crime Writers Conference co-chair for the Los Angeles Chapter of Sisters in Crime. See more about Jeri at JeriWesterson.com, BOOKEoftheHIDDEN.com, and SkylerFoxeMysteries.wixsite.com/novels.
The cover looks really nice, this sounds really good
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