by Samantha Stone
Crescent City Creatures Book Five
Alex messed up. Last winter, he lost his chance to be with the only woman he’d ever loved. He wasn’t the werewolf Leila thought he was; he was also a warlock, promised to destroy her and her adoptive werewolf family. Now she thought him dead.
Leila finally landed the job of her dreams. The only catch was the hole in her heart created by Alex’s death. A principle ballerina at the New Orleans Dance Company, she’d be damned if she ruined everything she’d worked so hard for. Only, the same killers who’d murdered her once were after her again, this time more determined than ever to finish what they started.
Secrets and lies threaten them, but their only hope for survival is to work together to defeat the most powerful creatures in the world. The question is, will love be enough?
Genre: Paranormal RomancePurchase link(s): Amazon ARe BAM iTunes Kobo B&N
Content/Theme(s): Vampires, Werewolves, Witches, Fae, Magic
Release Date: November 6, 2016
Publisher: Liquid Silver Publishing
Excerpt & More
Lyon, France, January 1920
Without so much as tensing his muscles, Alexandre Henri Villeneuve contemplated whether he should kill the dog. Its eyes were crazed with illness, so death would be a kindness for the small creature.
But the sickness that haunted this canine wasn’t the reason it bared its teeth in a feral growl. No, that was all Alexandre.
Animals—of all kinds—hated warlocks. Witches claimed it was because of the evil living inside them. Warlocks chalked it up to their power. Either way, they were living proof of Darwin’s immortal writings.
Because if any animal, no matter how large or small, got on the wrong side of a warlock, they’d be dead before they could fight back. If they really pissed the warlock off, he’d find a way to ensure the beast’s extinction.
Smart beast. Still, Alexandre’s hand twitched to pet the dog’s matted fur. Stupid. He didn’t move until the beast loped away. Regenerating a hand involved cutting off someone else’s appendage, and he simply wasn’t up to that today.
Today, he himself might become a beast.
To his float, the group of warlocks he lived with, he’d listed at least a dozen reasons why becoming a loup-garou was a good idea. None of them knew he couldn’t have cared less about those reasons. The truth was he wanted to be a werewolf with the same fervency their warlock fledglings began with.
For most warlocks, it would have been difficult to keep something so important hidden. Alexandre wasn’t a typical warlock. In the first year after he’d joined the float in Lyon, he’d mastered the art of concealing his true intentions. When another looked at him, all they’d see was a powerful man contemplating the growth of his skills. Occasionally, he’d let them think they intruded on memories of him lying with a human woman.
The looks on their faces.
Warlocks couldn’t read minds, but their abilities allowed them to get a good idea of what other warlocks thought, like shadows of the messages ricocheting through the brain. If one wasn’t careful, they’d move too quickly to be read at all. It made Alexandre think the frontal lobe must be the part of the brain used for decision-making and consideration since they were the thoughts most obvious to his kind, as if they were written across the forehead.
The impolite greeting told Alexandre exactly who spoke against his back. He took his time turning around, just to let the other man know how unthreatened he was. It was laughable how weak this werewolf was compared to him.
And the man knew it, despite his misconception that Alexandre was a witch.
He hadn’t been a witch for half a century.
“Vincent.” Alexandre smiled wide and leaned against the metal rail of the bridge. Beneath them, the Rhone glittered, reflections from the sun keeping human eyes from spotting the dangers that lurked underneath the water’s surface.
Soon, they’ll all be gone.
Only warlocks would survive. With no other creatures to worry about, they’d reveal themselves to the humans for the superior beings they were, creating a new caste system that placed magic before money, and the search for knowledge before all else.
Every secret the Earth hid would be revealed, piece by piece.
“I’ve made my decision. I’ll do it…my family needs this.” Fire lit Vincent’s green eyes, and Alexandre didn’t miss the werewolf’s claws protruding from his fingers.
“D’accord.” Okay. Money wasn’t a problem for Alexandre. His float had so much wealth that the amount he’d taken for Vincent’s family would go unnoticed. He held out his hand, palm up, and willed his bag of money to appear.
It dangled from the tip of his index finger, heavy and satisfying.
“Ten thousand francs.” Alexandre bobbed the sack up and down. “Once you’ve changed me, there’s ten thousand more.” It was double what they’d agreed on.
Alexandre had seen the way Vincent’s small family was living. It wasn’t the way his wife’s bones all but poked through the skin of her cheeks or the defeated look in Vincent’s eyes that made something in his chest lurch. No, it was their little boy’s cough and their daughter’s pale skin.
No children should grow up that way. Alexandre understood punishing an adult, and the suffering of adults—that was life, in a nutshell—but children were meant to be free of such horrors.
Even if Vincent had arrived today with news that didn’t benefit Alexandre, plans were already in the works to help the small werewolf family. After over fifty vampires raided their homes, killing most of the werewolves and burning down even the survivors’ houses, the Lyon pack was having a particularly bad year.
It was another reason why, once Alexandre was a werewolf himself, he’d move south to Marseille. This pack didn’t need any more trouble.
Vincent grabbed the money in a quick motion, as if afraid it might disappear the way it had appeared. Alexandre could make that happen…but he hadn’t considered it until Vincent’s distrust all but shouted at him.
“At sundown, come to the church we discussed in the second arrondissment—it’ll be quiet and safe.” Vincent turned to leave, hesitated, and quickly turned back. The hems of his slacks were frayed, and three holes showed through his navy sweater vest. The werewolf twisted his hands together. “I’ve never heard of a witch becoming were. I don’t know if it’ll work—no, let me finish,” he snarled when Alexandre opened his mouth.
Amused, Alexandre rocked back on his heels, allowing his eyebrows to rise.
“It might kill you. The bites might hurt like hell. I don’t know.” Vincent heaved a sigh. “I want your promise that, if things go wrong, you won’t take it out on my wife and kids.”
While Alexandre had no intentions of harming them, he wouldn’t assuage Vincent’s concerns. He had a reputation to keep up, after all.
“Nothing will go wrong.”
Stone-faced, Vincent faced east and walked away.
Alexandre caught his pang of jealousy and stored it somewhere safe, somewhere no one else could find. Before he forgot about things he couldn’t have—an oxymoron for a warlock whose capabilities were unlimited—he allowed himself to consider what his life would be like, were he Vincent. A wife, children, grandparents, and brothers and sisters…all people who wouldn’t exploit his every weakness.
He hadn’t had that since before le Massacre de la Glacière, a string of violence during the first bits of the French Revolution. It wasn’t an event he ever released from his memories. There was one line he allowed himself to replay in his mind, over and over again, no matter the risk of his float catching on.
“Were we warlocks, we could have saved them.”
Enzo, a friend from his former coven, had said those words before disappearing. Over a century later, Alexandre still wondered what came of the older witch. At the time of the Revolution, Alexandre had barely come into his immortality. It had been the only reason he survived the beatings he received—violence that seemed downright compassionate in comparison to what had been done to his parents and three sisters. If they’d been of age, with the strength immortality brought, maybe the whole family would have survived.
But Alexandre’s parents sent him away on a fool’s errand, undoubtedly the result of one of his mother’s psychic dreams, and stood and fought for their children until, outnumbered, all of their lives had been taken.
Now, if Alexandre had such a family to protect, he could destroy their enemies with a quirk of his eyebrow. The problem was, his enemies could harm those he loved just as quickly. No one spoke of it, but this was why warlocks rarely had families. It was a weakness, a risk not even the strongest could afford in a culture where only the ruthless survived.
Suddenly weary, he stood on the bridge, watching the sun directly, daring the star to mar his vision, until it set, leaving a slight residual light to illuminate the water. Ignoring a siren rising nude from the water to his left, he made his way to the church Victor had indicated.
Tonight, he’d become a werewolf. It should be impossible, but after completing years of research and hoarding supplementary magic, it would work. Alexandre would have the strength of an element, a warlock, and a beast. Maybe, if he was very, very careful, he’d find a pack too.
Dieu aide-moi. God help me.
* * * *
New Orleans, Louisiana, December 2015
For Leila Newman, tonight was the night. Finally, she’d kiss Alex. Maybe more.
Most couples skated right past this first hurdle with no problem. Unfortunately, because Leila was a deaf banshee whose disability kept her from controlling her powers, this was a big deal. She’d been with Alexandre for over seven months, and he never did more than kiss her cheek or forehead. He hadn’t known about her haywire abilities until about a month ago—until then, he hadn’t pressured her, seemingly content with her almost platonic company.
Somehow, he’d known how scared she was. Any physical affection might cause her to lose the conscious control she kept over her voice. If she accidentally released any sound, she could hurt him. If it was loud enough, she could kill him. Although she hadn’t chosen to tell him how she came to be so dangerous, it was a relief he knew she wanted to touch him. She simply couldn’t.
That would change tonight. Since the time Alex learned her secret, she’d been practicing speech with another banshee. When her tutor stuck a knife through her hand, causing her to cry out in pain before she thought to control her voice, she’d done no damage. She took it to mean she was ready for the next step with Alex. If she didn’t hurt Birgitte after she stabbed her, she wouldn’t harm Alex if she accidentally gasped or voiced affection when they finally had a moment every other couple thought nothing about.
So they’d have to take it slow. But we’re getting to that starting line.
Now, they glided across the dance floor, Alex’s hand on her back pushing her slightly closer than a simple waltz called for. They were at the Bachelor’s Ball, where a surprisingly high number of creatures and humans alike came together for a pre-Christmas celebration at the New Orleans Country Club.
Having Alex on her arm was a dream come true. A year ago, no man spoke to her because he couldn’t understand her sign language. Now she had a best friend and boyfriend all in one…and it didn’t hurt that he was gorgeous.
Some of the jealous looks Leila received were from creatures she normally wouldn’t want to cross, like the sharp-toothed faery who’d sneered at her for the past half hour. Leila could hardly blame her. The idea of him with any other woman made her not only want to sneer herself, but it made her fists clench on their own accord, as if she clutched some sort of imaginary weapon.
Thank you for tonight, Leila signed against his chest. He was used to her hands moving quickly so close to him, as well as having to interpret her signs from a bird’s-eye view. He was that much taller than her tonight, despite her heels.
Alex grinned broadly, but confusion made him squint. “You’re welcome?” He spoke so softly that most of the more hearing-sensitive creatures in the vicinity would have a hard time eavesdropping. Keeping one hand on her back, he reached up to cup her cheek. “It’s my honor. I should be thanking you for putting up with my hairy ass every day.”
There was real humor in his smile but sincerity was there also. He could have taken any woman in New Orleans, most of whom could provide more than she could, and he thought it was an honor to have her.
The man was too sweet to be real. Some mornings, she woke up expecting him to have been a figment of her imagination, the result of loneliness and trauma caused by tragedy. Somehow, he always answered her wake-up phone call, or called her before she had a chance to so much as look at her phone.
In those cases, she had a light that flashed when her cell phone rang, in case her cochlear implants were off and she couldn’t hear someone calling.
Leila shook her head. It’s every bit as much of an honor for me to be here with you. She pressed a quick kiss to his cheek. I guess we’re just lucky to have each other.
Alex’s eyes shone in the dim light. “Truer words were never spoken, love.”
Speaking of…Leila took his hand rather than finishing her sentence and pulled him from the ballroom and onto the back patio. She vaguely registered the chilly night air, too excited to feel the full weight of the relatively mild winter weather. The limbs of a large live oak promising a touch of privacy, and she pulled him until the low-hanging branches were on either side.
I love you. She’d known for months, maybe even sooner, but had been too afraid to tell him as much. What did she know about love? He was her first boyfriend, and they’d done nothing that made most of the couples that she knew, well, couples.
Ever-bold, he’d taken all the risk and told her first. When he asked her to this ball, he’d told her he loved her after explaining how this was the first event he’d taken an actual date to. In that moment, she could’ve flown. Her body had gone weightless with the joy of hearing the very three words she’d been thinking for months. Never had she expected that he felt the same way about her. That he did was a miracle she planned to savor for as long as he’d have her.
She was slowly learning that he had as little relationship experience as she did, despite the easy way in which he’d slipped into the role of boyfriend, friend, and the occasional bodyguard.
An expression of sheer happiness lit up his face, and Leila could have sworn a flower bloomed off a thinner tree branch. She paid the strange occurrence little heed because Alex’s eyes were heated, and he had one gentle hand against her neck, the other lightly touching her chin.
Slowly, he rested his forehead against hers.
She closed her eyes, savoring the warmth of his body and the caress of his breath against her cheek.
And then the night was properly cold. In the blink of an eye, Alex was gone. With him went what felt like the whole of Leila’s heart.
He couldn’t have disappeared by himself. Even if he were an air elemental who could travel from place to place in the blink of an eye, which he wasn’t, his powers were bound. Someone she hadn’t been able to sense took him, indicating the fiend wasn’t of the familiar werewolf variety.
Alex was in danger. Or worse, he was dead already, transported into some kind of—
No. For a split second she imagined the grisly scene of her parents’ murder, marked at random by evidence tags the police department had distributed like notes on a dissected animal in a biology class.
That won’t happen to him. But it had happened to her mother, an immortal banshee whose powers weren’t bound.
He’s safe. Unlikely.
He can keep himself safe. How could he, when his means of protecting himself had been taken away? She doubted he had so much as a knife on him.
Her heart wilted, a dull ache under the palm of her hand. If something happened to him, she wasn’t altogether sure she could survive it. Too many pieces of her heart had been ripped away by the loss of her parents. If Alex were gone, there wouldn’t be enough left for her to function.
Desperately, she tried to stay calm. It wasn’t for her own sake, but so she wouldn’t hurt someone. It was hard to relax when she had the sinking, devastating feeling, for the second time in her life, that nothing would ever be okay again.
Where are you, Alex?
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