Crimson Rogue

Paranormal Romance

Book 2 in the Crimson City Series

THE ROGUE UNVEILED

He stood there framed in darkness, and then he stepped forward into the light, his jaw set, his mouth a grim slash, a mixture of fear and fury in his eyes…

Naked.

He was entirely naked, and his body held an unholy kind of beauty.

Cyd gasped as he moved across the carpet and stood before her, a strange and fascinating combination of sleek metal and human flesh marred by shiny strips and plates, burn marks, gashes, and angry red and white scars where metal no longer lined up or had been pried away.

“What kind of secrets do I have? You tell me,” he whispered.

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Crimson Rogue

is part of the Crimson City Series. The reading order is as follows:

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Crimson Rogue

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CHAPTER 1

Someone was definitely following him, but Finn made a point not to look over his shoulder. He didn’t have to; he could tell. Picking up the pace, he pulled his jacket closer around him and cut across the street.

It happened no more than once a month, but it wasn’t something a guy really wanted to get used to: Someone would figure him out… or at least think they had figured him out. And it wasn’t just the B-Ops teams. They were the least of Finn’s worries. He could track them on his black-market scanner, even tap into their comms and listen to them talk on the job.

It was the rest of them—the bounty hunters. And every time he found himself in this position, there were only two questions he had to ask himself. Whoever was after him, did they work for the humans, the vampires, the werewolves or the demons? And the second question was: Do they know what I am? Being robbed was one thing. Being revealed, something else entirely.

The longer Finn lived in the heart of Crimson City, the more experience dulled his once razor-sharp instincts. There were so many sensations and emotions competing for his attention. When he’d first hit the streets and slipped the Grid, he could hardly think for himself.

The Grid was the network that served as the technological backbone of Crimson City’s enforcement matrix; it was how the Ops teams communicated. Ops: Crimson City’s human government’s intelligence agency. Part FBI, part CIA, part Special Forces, they were the ones who handled everything. The Grid was how their Battlefield division out on the streets connected to the intelligence division behind the walls of the base. It was how they supported their comm devices, how they linked up the computer systems … and how they controlled their mechs. Having escaped the Grid, Finn might be a wanted man, but he wasn’t traceable and no one could tell him what to do.

Everything had been instinct, programming, training. Everything he was supposed to know had been drilled into his head and body so many times that he’d never thought he could escape. But then he’d found himself in the middle of a veritable war zone instead of the antiseptic calm of the Ops barracks. It had been an assault on the senses … and then he’d grown to appreciate it

He’d spent most of his first free days rotating through the city’s bookstores, attracting little notice as just another member of the city’s large homeless population; then, rather quickly, he’d begun to assimilate to the new world. He wasn’t living any longer on the few fragments of thought that some faceless organization allowed. Maybe that made him a weaker soldier, but it made him a better man.

“Drop your bag, put your hands on top of your head, walk into the alley, turn around and face the wall.”

Finn froze in his tracks. Hell. He let the strap of his bag slip off his shoulder and slide down his arm. His satchel hit the sidewalk with a dull thud. He could just whip around and have done with it, or he could give the man a chance to be mistaken. “You’ve got the wrong guy,” he said.

“I don’t think so. Move it.”

Finn stayed where he was. “You’ve got the wrong guy,” he repeated more forcefully. “Understand?”

Something blunt jabbed between his shoulder blades. Finn stumbled forward into the alley, pulling his hood up around his head more securely while raising his gloved hands. He heard the clink of the brass links on his bag’s strap as the man picked it up and moved behind him into the alley.

And so it goes. Crimson City was more of a jungle than ever, the prospect of some kind of peace—real peace—far off on the horizon. The most anyone hoped for these days was less bloodshed.

With the kind of detachment that came from experience, Finn lay down on the ground at the end of the alley on his stomach—too slow, of course, for the bounty hunter’s taste. A boot came down predictably on his back, shoving him into the slime, but allowing Finn to hide his hands underneath his body without attracting attention. Finn turned his head to the side, listening as the hunter fumbled with his equipment. Handcuffs, probably. Rope, perhaps.

It was more the simple lack of trust than a predisposition to hate that made the streets of Crimson City so very unpredictable these days. Which, in a roundabout way, was what had brought both Finn and the bounty hunter to this moment. In a world of “us” and “them,” the lines of safety and inclusion were becoming muddy. Terrible things were happening. And rather than band together, the human, vampire and the werewolf inhabitants pulled even further apart, the vampires escaping into their old-world opulence and endless luxuries atop skyscrapers in the highest strata of the city, the werewolves burying themselves in a technological wonderland in the strata belowground, and the humans locking themselves indoors at street level.

Of course, maybe they were smart to do that. Urban unrest was the least of what Crimson City’s citizens had to fear. There were also the demons who had broken through from Orcus to launch an offensive on the city. It had taken three government agencies to put it down, and not before a hell of a lot destruction had been wreaked.

How, in the middle of a problem of that magnitude, anybody could care about one failed experiment like him was hard to understand. But they did care.

A sudden weight came down on Finn’s back as the bounty hunter knelt on top of him. Good. Now the man was close enough for him to do something about it.

“Hello? Can you understand me? I said, take off your glove or I’ll put a bullet in your head.”

“I can’t move,” Finn pointed out.

The bounty hunter shifted a bit, freeing up Finn’s right hand. Finn squeezed his eyes shut, working to control his anger, and brought his hand to his mouth to pull the leather glove off using his teeth.

The bounty hunter grabbed him by the wrist. There was a silence. Then: “Holy shit. Holy shit! That’s what I thought I saw. You are the one.”

The hunter pressed Finn’s arm back down on the ground above his head. Finn squeezed his eyes shut, working to master his rage. He didn’t want to do it. He always gave them an out. Maybe this time, the guy would take it. “I’m going to beg here, okay? Please. Please, let me go. You’ve made a mistake. I don’t know what you think you see, but you’ve made a mistake.”

The hunter leaned over him, his mouth up to Finn’s ear. “You’re the biggest score in town. You’re the Holy Grail. Do you even know how much you’re worth?”

Finn frowned. He hadn’t heard anything about that.

“Ops just increased the reward money. Those guys still want you, man. After all, you’re what started this mess, yeah?”

They started this mess. I just couldn’t stop it. But nobody controls me anymore. Nobody. “I’m a human being like you. Have a little mercy.”

“I wouldn’t know exactly what to call you, but you’re definitely not human.”

Finn’s temperature instantly spiked, and wrath swept through him unfettered. “Son of a bitch. I am human.”

The hunter snatched the hood off Finn’s face, grabbed him by the hair and wrenched his head back, then ran the muzzle of an automatic weapon across the thin metal at Finn’s temple. “My god.” A greedy laugh burst from his mouth. “No dice, metal man. You’re going down, and I’m the one who gets to take you.”

With faster -than -normal -human reaction time, Finn whipped out his left arm, grabbed the hunter’s ankle and pulled the man’s feet out from under him. The hunter yelled in terror, releasing an arc of bullets into the air as he lost control and was slammed back down to the pavement. Finn rolled to one side of the alley; the hunter rolled the opposite way. Each man stared at the other as the shower of metal slugs rained down between them. As the last slug hit the ground, the two men sprang forward, the hunter going for his weapon, Finn going for the hunter and slamming the man’s face into the cement.

“We’re in a serious bind here, you and I,” Finn said. His foe’s chest heaved with big, uneven gulps of air. “Who told you about me? Who knows?”

“It’s just me.”

Finn slammed the man’s face down into the pavement again. “I’ll ask once more. Who told you about me?” He pulled the hunter’s face back up off the ground. Blood was streaming from the man’s nose and lip.

“It’s just me! I’m working with someone, but they just know they want the mech that killed those vampire leaders, the Dumonts. They don’t know who you are. I swear. I didn’t say who you were. It’s the only way I could guarantee they wouldn’t take the job themselves. Dude, you gotta believe me. I swear I’ll forget the whole thing if you let me go. I swear it!”

Finn gently pushed down the hunter’s face and tightened his grip around the man’s neck. “How do you know about me?”

“A month ago I was tailing this guy. Another freelance jobber,” the bounty hunter confessed in a panicked rush. “He was on a job. He was my job. And, get this, you were in the mix. It was a fucking car wreck, with a three-way-intersection cat-and-mouse.”

“Try making some sense.”

“You hit him before I did the same thing. I watched you do it. And it was weird. The weapons you used … Dude, that thing came right out of your arm—I’d bet on it.”

Finn swore. “Who sent you?”

“Does it matter?” the man gasped. “Everybody in this town would kill for a piece of your bounty money. Kill or be killed, that’s life in Crimson City, man.”

“You’re right,” Finn said. I can’t let you go. He stared into the bounty hunter’s eyes.

Under the crush of Finn’s grip, the man’s eyes widened, and then suddenly his whole body relaxed, as if he were making a choice. He knew.

“What do you prefer?” Finn asked softly.

“A bullet,” the man said, his voice cracking.

Finn raised his arm, then hesitated. “Like you said, it’s kill or be killed. I’m sorry.”

The hunter’s lip curled. “You can’t be sorry. You’re not human.”

The words themselves pulled the trigger. From the weaponry fused into the flesh of his forearm, Finn let the bullet fly, his aim true. The blast echoed down the alley. After a moment, Finn raised the back of his hand to his mouth, pressing the metal against his lips as he stared at the corpse at his feet. Leaning down, he gently swept a palm over the man’s face, closing the eyes and then folding the arms over the chest.

“Yes,” he replied. “I am.”

 

CHAPTER 2

As the room seemed to spin around her, Cyd Brighton looked into pale green demon eyes and fell backward onto the bed.

Promises, promises, she thought grimly, pushing against Griff-Vai’s shoulders with her fists. She should never have given in to him that first time. You’ll make everything better? Bullshit.

“I said no,” she spat out.

“I’ll make everything better,” Griff-Vai murmured, burying his face in her neck. “Just give in. Like you did before. Tell me you didn’t enjoy that.”

While it lasted. Sure. Before she’d realized that messing with her body equated to messing with her mind.

“Get. Off.” Cyd stuck the sole of her foot against the muscled ridges of his abdomen and pushed as hard as she could, turning her face away from his and toward the window framed by shining panels of ornately embroidered silk. The midnight blue sky and the strange red-tinted moon served as a constant reminder of this strange exile she was living.

The cold desire Griff-Vai could evoke crept over her limbs, her body again begging her to surrender. She fought him that much harder. He was always persuasive, but she knew what it all meant in the end. The way demons like Griff bent and shaped reality … a mere human couldn’t take it for long without something changing inside.

He’d made it clear what he wanted. He’d made it clear what he was about. He’d revealed that what he was doing to her mind was work he’d begun from afar, when she was still in Crimson City and going downhill fast. Before she’d been kidnapped. Before.…

Griff-Vai had been watching her since the day her Ops team first summoned demons. He’d waited until she was at her weakest, and then in a whirl of glass and blood, had stolen her away from that phone booth in Crimson City, leaving only a mystery for her friends. He’d brought her through the veil to the demon underworld … to be his mate. All that studying, all the waiting had paid off. He knew her well, his arguments were persuasive, and even now, as Griff-Vai kissed her with a dark hunger, she was actually still tempted. But not enough.

Cyd struggled against him as she’d done ever since making the mistake of giving in the first two times. Squirming, she freed one arm, flailing out ineffectively as Griff-Vai caressed her body and she started to give in. The first time she’d surrendered, he’d promised her she’d never be alone again, that she could lean on him. But when she awoke in the cold morning alone and still a prisoner in a strange world, she had cringed with shame and fear. They were just words. Words he’d known from watching her that she would want to hear.

The second time he’d come to her, she’d resisted, and he’d said he loved her. She fell for it, of course—but in the morning she knew it was as much a lie as the words had ever been. Perhaps he wanted to believe them, but his was a cold desire. He’d chosen her to replace someone he’d lost. He might want to believe he loved her, but he didn’t. And he didn’t act consistently as if it were true. And that made him all the more dangerous. Because she knew he would do his damnedest to convince them both.

Oh, how he tried. He’d come to her again and again with his gorgeous, fake words and deceptively silken touch. He’d found she wouldn’t be persuaded, would lose his temper and resort to the kind of violence that lived deep within his soul. And when she didn’t respond to his words or his fists, he’d tried for her mind. He’d put thoughts into her head, tried to control her, tried to get her to come to terms with being his prisoner for eternity. But it never worked for long. Eventually she would always see through his lies.

Cyd knew that the only way she could ever get away from him would be to make him understand that she wasn’t the one for him. And as he pressed his greedy mouth against her throat, she could only hope that the strange, frightening bond he’d forged between them with his mind and touch would die along with his desire.

“Cydney,” he tried again. “We are perfect for each other. You belong to me.”

She’d only just curled her hand into a fist to give him the answer he deserved when she was pressed flat against the bed in a surge of energy even more powerful than the bond Griff-Vai had worked so hard to forge between them. In the center of the burst of light in her mind’s eye stood a man holding something in his hands—a disk swinging from a chain, like some kind of amulet.

The power he generated clearly pained him; the man looked unable to maintain control. At his feet was a woman who looked to be dying.

Cyd stopped struggling, staring into thin air as the vision filled her head. Her heart was suddenly racing with terror. That’s Crimson City. They’re back in Crimson City.

“Shhh,” Griff-Vai said, moving over her, mistaking her stillness for acquiescence.

“Get. Off. Me!” Cyd yelled to Griff-Vai as the stranger in her vision threw back his head in agony.

Griff responded with a nasty backhand to the side of her face. The pain of the blow couldn’t distract her. She blinked away her tears and focused on the vision.

Griff-Vai raised himself off her, and she and the demon stared at each other, gasping for air, Cyd wide-eyed and full of adrenaline. “Stop it,” she snarled through gritted teeth. “Stop making me see things that aren’t there!”

Griff-Vai blinked uncertainly, his eyes flickering between their glowing-red state and the palest green. “I didn’t send anything to you.”

She looked at him, pure and bitter hatred filling her. Swinging out, she missed him completely, but as he grabbed her by the wrists and easily trapped her arms above her head, the room suddenly flooded with blue light.

“No,” Griff-Vai said. He looked up and out through the window. The view was gone, light pouring in. It blinded both of them. The vision came closer. “Not now. Not again,” Griff cried out. “It’s closing.”

For the first time in a very long time, Cyd felt hope.

“Look at me,” Griff-Vai said, his desperation giving itself away. Cyd could sense the real world close at hand, as close as she’d felt it since arriving here in the demon underworld. And with every bit of strength she had, she reached out into the energy and lunged for the one thing she could touch: the amulet.

Grabbing the chain with both hands, the entire weight of her body suspended from what seemed like the thinnest of strands. The man who held the amulet reacted to the weight. I’m the Draig-Uisge. Let go, so I can fulfill my duty. The energy dimmed for a moment, blue fading to white and back again. Cyd realized this was the opening of a portal between the two worlds.

Griff-Vai understood what she wanted. “If you leave me, I will seek to bring you back. You belong to me. It is because of me that you were ever spared.” He tried to lock eyes with her, but Cyd wouldn’t look. She held on to the chain for her life, knowing that her old existence was within reach. If only she could get there.

Holding on to the amulet chain with all of her strength, Cyd felt the moment Griff-Vai began to surrender. The air around her became lighter; the amulet itself came into focus. Cyd saw Griff’s face as he watched the amulet gain detail. He looked shocked, greedy. He knew what it was. Even if she didn’t, she knew it could lead her to freedom.

They exchanged a look one last time; then, suddenly, Griff-Vai reached out and pressed the amulet against her forehead, intoning some kind of oath in a foreign tongue.

Cyd screamed as the disc burned into her flesh. The demon grabbed her by the back of her neck, pressed his own forehead against the amulet so that it was between them, and then crushed his mouth down on hers in a cruel kiss. Finally pulling away, he held her face tightly between his palms.

“Don’t think you’ve escaped forever,” he said. “I won’t let you go. I brought you here once, and I can do it again. We may not be bound in the traditional sense, but we are bound together in my eyes nonetheless.”

Cyd couldn’t speak. She looked up at where the ceiling had vanished in a blue light. She closed her eyes and held on to the amulet chain with all of her strength. Griff-Vai cried out in anguish.

Terrified, Cyd felt her body burst through the veiled energy field. It was as if the glow formed a perfect barrier, with a single slim tear where she’d broken through. Pure white light slammed through her, as if she’d hit a brick wall, and she opened her eyes to find that she was falling, hurtling face-first toward pavement. She remembered to curl her body and take the fall on a roll. She tucked her head and took the impact shoulder to back, agilely leaping back to her feet, then stumbling over two bodies on the ground.

She thought one of them tried to grab her, to swipe the object in her hand, so when she regained her balance seconds later, she accelerated to a full-out sprint and ran like goddamn banshee-hellfire, not daring to look or absorb or think

A moment later, her shoes hit new turf, and the unexpected change threw her completely off her feet. Legs and arms flailing, she sprawled headfirst into the ground. This time when she took the roll, she didn’t get up.

Adrenaline washed over her in waves, and she stayed curled for some time after impact, her eyes squeezed shut. Her palm burned as though it were on fire. I’ll count to ten and open my eyes, and when I do, I’ll be home. A million times in the demon world she’d tried this childish trick; a million times she’d been disappointed.

A long twenty seconds ticked by. With her eyes still closed and her body tense, Cyd’s quieted senses detected the total and complete change of atmosphere from where she’d just been. The acrid tar smell of hot pavement mingled with the organic freshness of … grass and flowers? A car was honking in the distance, and she heard the sound of a couple of kids laughing and kicking a metal can.

Slowly, Cyd unfurled her body and sat up, then staggered to her feet and ran shaking hands down her body. I’m still wearing clothes. That’s a bonus. I’m still intact, from a bodily point of view. I won’t go into my mental state, particularly since I’m talking to myself again. And, she noted with surprise, she was somehow wearing the same clothes she’d had on, when the demons came for her in the first place.

Looking around, she could see that she’d landed on a street corner on the edge of a sidewalk in a patch of ungroomed city grass.

The intersection was Jackson and Troubadour. Smack-dab in the middle of The Triangle. Cyd started to laugh, quietly at first; then she lost control of her emotions for a moment, practically crying as she realized where she was.

This was Crimson City. For better or worse, she was home.

As if someone were listening to her innermost thoughts, the pain in her palm started to burn brighter. Cyd looked down and found her fingers wrapped so tightly around a disc-shaped object, that it had imprinted a welt into her hand. She relaxed her grip and examined the piece.

The amulet was a thin carved disc, around which appeared some sort of sculpted ivy. In the disc’s center was a raised crystal dome filled with red-black liquid. Cyd stared at the unfamiliar piece. Griff-Vai had recognized its power, even if she didn’t.

She tucked the amulet away, keeping her hand on it inside her pocket, the thought of Griff-Vai sending a bolt of paranoia through her. She looked around wildly, expecting the demon to come for her at any moment.

Something cold curled around her heart as she processed what had just happened. She ran her fingers over her forehead, where the amulet had been pressed. Nothing but grass and dirt. She took a few deep breaths and tried to shake the woolly feeling from her head, where a dull pain thudded in a slow, periodic beat.

Suddenly desperate for something familiar and safe, Cyd started to walk. But even what should have been familiar wasn’t quite the same. Large chunks of a freeway overpass lay crumbling at street level; burned-out storefronts and shallow craters spoke of military action. And a line of posters where the movies used to be advertised hung from a shiny new chain-link fence. White paper, red block print: QUARANTINE.

Cyd’s exhalation of breath came in a fast huff. The sign didn’t show any symbol for chemical or biological warfare, but “quarantine”—with or without explanation— wasn’t the kind of word one wanted to hang around and analyze for too long. Something major had happened to her city while she’d been gone. Then again, something major had also happened to her.

The area called The Triangle had been her old partner’s neighborhood, and the idea of seeing a friendly face was irresistible. Dain. A couple of lefts and a right put her on his block, and with a beating heart she picked up the pace until she was standing in front of his old apartment.

Except he wasn’t there. No one was there. Nothing but a shredded FOR RENT sign hanging askew off the door remained to greet her. She took the front stairs two at a time, then climbed along the dilapidated latticework trellis to peek through the side window.

The apartment was completely stripped. She winced at the emptiness, forced herself not to think about what might have become of him in her absence, then became incredibly angry with herself for running straight to the nearest man for help. She jumped from the lattice to the ground below and kept walking, shivering in her skin despite the temperate weather.

For god’s sake, Cyd, don’t you ever learn? Fix yourself. Two things. How long have you been gone, and what the bell are you going to do to get on your feet? She walked to the corner and stuck her hand into a green metal city garbage receptacle, tossing aside some fast-food wrappers and soda cans to reach a newspaper.

Her eye moved from the date to a secondary headline that screamed out in rage against the rogues: MORE GANG TROUBLE IN LA-LA-LAND. The rogues. That had once meant vampires—vampires who’d been “made” from humans instead of procreated; who were dangerously unpredictable. That was why the primary vampire leadership had banned such practice. Now it seemed Rogues were a group of vampires, werewolves and humans who’d refused to join with the leadership of their respective species. It seemed this rag-tag team of dissenters was finally taking advantage of the power in numbers.

The words blurred before her eyes. She’d buy a new paper later; she couldn’t even focus on the story if she wanted to. Cyd tossed the tabloid back as if it burned. She’d been gone for months. Months, stolen from her life.

Something brushed against her cheek, and she flinched, flailing wildly at her face with her hands before she realized it was just a scrap of paper blown up by the wind.

Now what are you going to do? Cyd started toward her old neighborhood, feeling its pull. She headed through the almost-empty streets, climbed a chain-link fence and dropped to the sidewalk on the other side. The sounds of sirens and yelling in the distance grew louder, and Cyd felt the pull even more. Walking faster, now jogging, she went down the familiar side streets and turned the corner toward the place she once called home.

Sticking her hands in her pockets, she went up to the window. The amulet heated her hand inside her jacket. A woman was in her old kitchen. A man came up behind the woman to plant a kiss on her cheek. Real things like a toaster and a blender were on the counter, real food, like lettuce and tomatoes, was on the cutting board. Her old apartment—rented to a new family and a new life. It was about as far from what she’d had in that place as you could get. Cyd backed away from the window and stood helplessly on the sidewalk.

What would she do? Go find her old partner, Dain? Go to her old team at B-Ops? Go to D-Alley and beg for an advance on something to numb the pain? Go fall at someone’s feet and beg them for help? Go find a guy who would promise to fix everything?

Not this time.

Cyd wandered aimlessly down the pavement, away from her old neighborhood, ruminating on the past. When Griff-Vai had stolen her away from Crimson City that day, after he’d explained how he’d been watching, waiting for her, she’d asked him why he’d taken her when he did. “Why now?” she’d asked.

He’d answered, “You were at your weakest.”

You were at your weakest. He couldn’t have known how those words burned. Because they were the truth. She’d lost control of her world, pretty much: She’d leaned on Dain, her partner in the B-Ops division, to get her through the night shift, and used pop-drugs to get her through the rest. And every morning as she’d woken up in Orcus, a stranger in a strange land, she’d thought of Griff-Vai’s words and blamed herself for giving the demon the opportunity.

She remembered the first moment she saw him: The demon turning to look at her through the double-sided glass. At first she’d thought he couldn’t see her. He hadn’t been with the group of demons who first came through, the murderers; he’d stared through the portal into the room. But with the crushed bodies of her coworkers at his feet on the other side of the glass, it was as if he was telling her she was next.

She’d lived in fear from that time, fleeing the research lab, the job, living life by the day, dreaming of that night and desperately trying to think of a way to forget. She couldn’t forget. And apparently Griff-Vai hadn’t forgotten either. He’d waited all that time for the right moment to bring her to him. He couldn’t pass through the veil between worlds, so he’d watched. And he’d waited. And the unnerving sense of being followed by something dark and angry that never went away had burst forth now and again to scare the hell of Cyd so badly she had to call Dain on the phone to come over and sit with her.

It turned out, he was following her. Griff-Vai had had a mate once, a perfect bond the demons called a vishtau. A young, innocent human female—like the girl Cyd had been once.

But Griff-Vai’s vishtau had died. And he saw Cyd as an ideal replacement. Except this time he’d chosen to wait for her innocence to change into something much darker, something that he believed could stand life with him in the underworld. And she knew he would do what he could to get her back to that dark place.

“Why me?” she’d asked.

“You know why.” His voice had been almost comforting, his eyes not unkind.

“Is it because I saw? I never told a soul about what happened when I-Ops summoned those demons. I kept the secrets.”

He stroked her face. “I knew you were perfect for me the first time I saw you through the veil. So fresh, so beautiful. And most of all … so innocent. You weren’t there in that room. You were watching through the glass in your booth. You saw the others die.

“I watched your eyes the entire time. And as it unfolded, as you witnessed your nightmare unfurl, I watched something in you change. I think I saw the very moment when your innocence slipped away.”

He caressed her chin. “One moment, you’d hardly seen anything in your lifetime. In the next, you’d already seen too much. The fear, the anger … the passion. It was almost as if there was demon in you from the moment you were born. I watched you turn inward—lose your mind a little, even. I watched you corrupt yourself. Remember that: You corrupted yourself. We didn’t have to do it for you.”

Griff-Vai, physically absent and yet very much present, kissed her neck, and Cyd turned her head away. It all fit the pattern of her life.

Why did she always give herself to them? The men in her life. The ones who’d been there for years, the ones who lasted only a night. She let them take control; she let them be the heroes. Whether human, vampire, werewolf … even demon. They picked her up off the floor when she thought she couldn’t do it herself. And she let them take control. She always let them explain what she had to do, explain how to get by. She didn’t want to get by. And she didn’t want to listen to anyone else anymore.

Whatever she wanted … it wasn’t this. She didn’t want to give herself back to a demon bent on possessing her body and soul, especially not for just another promise that he’d take care of things for her—not when what he really meant was that he’d control things for her.

Some days in Orcus, she’d felt as if she was losing her mind. She’d screamed and cowered on the ground, once again that same little girl of her past, shuttled from place to place, waiting for someone to take care of her and finding out that, just when she thought she’d got what she’d been asking for, it was a mirage. There was no love there. There was no love anywhere. It was all lies and false promises. Never anything like love.

Someone else’s home, someone else’s world. She’d rather be alone in the slums of Crimson City than in the most opulent palace in the demon underworld with a monster who had no true feeling for her. Who had done the things she’d seen him do.

You belong to me.

Pure fear leached into her bones as she heard Griff-Vai’s voice in her head. After walking a few more blocks at normal pace, still desperate for comfort, for the familiar, Cyd couldn’t handle her fear anymore and finally just broke into a run.

END OF EXCERPT

Crimson Rogue 

is available in the following formats:

Jan 30, 2012
ISBN-13: 2940015142327