The Moonlighters Welcome Billi Jean
Please welcome Billi Jean into the Moonlight. Billi Jean is the author of Midnight Star, which was recently released by Noble Romance Publishing. For those of us who didn't win NaNo (waves hand...that'd be me!), a big huge CONGRATS to Billi Jean for being a NaNo winner!!!
Now, it's time to create a little mayhem and get to the good stuff by revealing all of Billi Jean's deepest darkest secrets in the moonlight. LOL Yeah, you wish! ;-D Grab your favorite wicked drink, sink your teeth into something decadent, sit back, relax and enjoy getting to know Billi Jean.
MLM: The holidays are fast approaching and things always seem to get busier during this time of year. Do you have a relaxing technique that helps you de-stress? If so, please share, because this is advice we all need!
Billi Jean: Ummmm, relaxing techniques, you mean besides alcohol?? Jus kiddin'! Okay, well one thing I can't do without during this bustling and sometimes completely stressful time of year is hiking. I love it. Slip on a pair of hiking boots, a warm jacket, snuggly warm gloves and a scarf and I'm gone. Out here in New England, it can be a bit challenge, but once I get out of house and start on the trails I can almost feel the stress unwinding from in-between my shoulder blades. Love that.
MLM: Not everyone celebrates Christmas, but most of us still have traditions we participate in, such as attending holiday parties, decorating your house, baking cookies, etc. What is your favorite holiday tradition?
Billi Jean: Gingerbread houses. Yeah, I know, I know, am I nuts? The more kids the better, too. Nothing like filling other people's kids up with sugar, and then setting them free. LOL, seriously, gingerbread houses can be a lot of fun, even if you cheat (use your common sense) and buy graham crackers. The look on the kids faces when they've made their little cottage? Really kewl!!! ;) I also make tons of cookies to give away. Breads too, but over the years I've settled on just a few cookies and some breads along with my homemade jams. Only special peeps get the jam, but hey, most of my buddies are pretty special!
MLM: In the south, holidays are centered around food, with huge meals and lots of baked sweets. Do you have a favorite holiday recipe you'd like to share with us? If not, how about an all-year-round favorite recipe?
Billi Jean: Mmmm, a favorite recipe? I think most people make fudge, love it and only make it around the holidays. I've never gone wrong with it, and to be honest, I use the recipe on the back of the marshmellow fluff jar! But for a wonderful recipe I always get asked for? Pie crust recipes. I found one in Bon Appetite around …oh, a few years ago…lol, and it's sooo yummy. Well worth the trouble.
Fudge: *you can also find this recipe here: http://www.marshmallowfluff.com/pages/neverfailfudge.html
• 2 1/2 c. sugar
• 3/4 tsp. salt
• 1/2 stick butter or margarine
• 1 5 oz. can evaporated milk (2/3 c.)
• 1 Jar (7 1/2oz) Marshmallow Fluff
• 3/4 tsp. vanilla
• 1 12-oz. package semi-sweet chocolate pieces
• 1 /2 c. chopped walnuts (I used more, like one to one and a half cups…lol)
Grease a 9-inch square baking pan; set aside. In large saucepan combine the first 5 ingredients. Stir over low heat until blended. Increase heat to Medium and bring to a full-rolling boil being careful not to mistake escaping air bubbles for boiling. Boil slowly, stirring constantly for 5 minutes (use Soft-Ball test). Remove from heat, stir in vanilla and chocolate until chocolate is melted. Add nuts. Turn into greased pan and cool. Makes 2 1/2 pounds.
• 2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
• 1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
• 1 1/4 teaspoons salt
• 2/3 cup solid vegetable shortening, frozen, then cut into 1/2-inch pieces
• 1/2 cup (1 stick) chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
• 6 tablespoons (or more) ice water
• 2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
Blend flour, sugar and salt in processor. Add shortening and butter and cut in using on/off turns until mixture resembles coarse meal. Transfer mixture to bowl. Mix 6 tablespoons ice water and vinegar in small bowl; pour over flour mixture. Stir with fork until moist clumps form, adding more ice water by teaspoonfuls if dough is dry. Gather dough into 2 balls; flatten each into disk. Wrap each in plastic and chill 30 minutes. (Can be prepared ahead and refrigerated up to 2 days or frozen up to 1 month. If frozen, thaw overnight in refrigerator. Soften slightly at room temperature before using.)
MLM: Have you ever made your own holiday presents and/or decorations? If so, what were they? Were they successes or failures? Did you have fun while making them?
Billi Jean: Well….other than my homemade jams? I can't think of anything else I've made other than picture frames with my children in them….lol And the jams were a huge success. =D And yes, loads of fun making jam. I once had a friend over because she wanted to learn to make jam….she said afterwards it was like watching a tornado at work. She just stood back and mashed the berries, careful not to get caught up in the storm!! It was great fun though and we put up around eighty five jars of Blackberry Jam. Yummmmy!
MLM: I want some homemade jam!!! If "Santa Claus" could bring you any gift you wanted, what would be your ultimate gift? (Please refrain from saying "money" because who doesn't want more of that!)
Billi Jean: Mmmmm, let's see, if Santa were a hunky hottie that romance authors have on covers….oh, wait, is this sight PG? Sorry! Okay, seriously, I think I'd like a Ipad! =D I know, I know, so materialistic, but wow, you can do like PUZZLES on those things. And watch TV, movies, read books, if I had time, and chat….sigh. Yeah, I want an Ipad. Not very original, but I doubt Gerald Butler would fit in my stocking….although I would consider sewing a bigger one if I could have him for Christmas. ;)
MLM: Odd question, but my 9 year old thinks Rudolph and the reindeers "guiding Santa's sleigh" have GPS navigation. So, if you could give Santa and his sleigh any one modern technology, what would it be and why?
Billi Jean: Hydrolics, because my 16 year old son, says he'd be riding in style!!! He could bump to the music of Black Eyed Peas while he traveled around the world breaking and entering!!!
MLM: Now, let’s get to your writing, Billi Jean...what genre do you write and what is the draw for you?
Billi Jean: I write romance, paranormal, historical and I dabble a bit with contemporary, but my real favorite is paranormal. I love the world of characters I've created in my paranormal series: Sisters of the Moon. The world they live in is one I'd love to be in myself. Dangerous, dark at times, but heck so is our world and we don't have cool vampires, werewolves and wicked cool witches to play around with. =D
MLM: If you could describe your writing with a word or phrase, what would it be? Please delve into the core of your writing to tell us what word or phrase you want readers to take with them when they've finished reading your story.
Billi Jean: I write characters, that I hope, come to life for my readers. Each of my heroes and heroines has a story to tell, a life they've lived that for better or worse has made them who they are and when the two meet? I hope together they make a better whole than did separately. If that makes sense? I hope so. I guess what I am trying to say, is I want my readers to feel what my characters feel, cry when they cry, laugh when they do. I hope the one thing my readers can do is feel so lost in the story, they forget dinner, or even what time it is! Overall, I'd like my readers to experience the joy my characters do when the couple finally make it through their journey. And, of course, months later, when a reader walks by a book shelf and see my book? Pet it!!! LOL
MLM: With the current movement to encourage people to give books as gifts, what, in your opinion, makes your story unique? What makes it stand out among all of the other books out there?
Billi Jean: I think my paranormals stand out for the strong characters and the fast paced, fun journeys they often slip into just to be near each other. The Sisters of the Moon series will combine several of my adventures by bringing back well loved characters and drop in on new ones, all the while entertaining my readers with a story full of twists and turns from start to finish. (I hope!)
MLM: Do you prefer throwing snowballs or serving hot cocoa? Does that show through in your writing? If so, how?
Billi Jean: I like a good surprise snowball fight, then hot chocolate. And yes, funny enough this tricky little trait does crop up in my writing…. My female characters, for instance, are all fun loving and full of tricks, but in the end they know how to take care of their men. You will never, never say one of my women is 'whiny' or whimpy. No way, no how!!!
MLM: If you could give any of your characters a holiday gift, which character would it be and what would you give them? Why do they deserve this gift?
Billi Jean: I'd give a snowball music thingy to Star. You know, those things that come out this time of year that you turn upside down and they rain snow down on the little town inside? And play mucis of course. Star's a tough vampire, with a tender heart. Her hottie hunk of a mate, Ranger, would forget to get her something so whimsical. He would probably baby her with jewelry and breakfast in bed.
MLM: Who decides what your characters do, you or your muse? What kind of influence do you have over your story, or is the muse always the one stuffing the stocking?
Billi Jean: I have no say in what my characters do, unless, as a means of threatening them, I threaten to never send off their story to Jill at Noble Romance Publishing. Otherwise, my characters have huge opinions on what they do, where, when and with whom. Now, I have been known to play them a bit. For instance, when Samantha was dragging her feet on letting me in on what the heck was going on with her and Derrick, I moved over and wrote Midnight Star from start to finish. Needless to say, Sammie is still pissed, but she's realized I don't have to fight with a sword, I have the pen…er, keyboard. LOL. She will be next though, in Dark Moon Rising, the second in my Sisters of the Moon series.
MLM: What character did you have the most fun creating and why?
Billi Jean: I think one of my favorites was a genie who paired up with two hunkie cowboys. She's just one of those women you wish you could hate, you know, but can't? Cute, perfect body, sweet, innocent to the point of not being much fun to make fun of because she's just not getting it, and all in all, a great little person. She was so sweet, and her story was so sad, it wasn't a stretch for me to see why she needed twice the love in her life.
MLM: If you had the opportunity to meet just one of your characters in real life, who would it be and why?
Billi Jean: Oh, man, that's tough. Well, if I meet them as me, Billi Jean, the author that brought their lives to life in a book, well then I'd love to meet any of them, most definitely Star. She just seems like one of those people you can sit and have a girl's night out with. Not necessary a tequila night, since you’d have to carry me home, but one of those tell -all -your -story -to night outs. But if you're saying meet them as in casually met up for a drink without them knowing me? Forget it, they'd cut my head off! :P
MLM: Which of your characters would you never want to meet under any circumstance and why?
Billi Jean: Oh, I think that's easy. I'd never want to meet Mr. Psycho, otherwise known as Demetrick, an evil Faye Prince out to win Samantha one way or another. I think he was dropped on his head as a babe, but whom I to say? I just never want to meet him in a dark alley. Not only is he kinda rabid, but he hates humans and doesn't think too much of anyone other than himself. So, yeah, not on my favorite list.
MLM: If you were interviewing yourself, what is the one question you would ask yourself and please give us the answer to that question?
Billi Jean: Why do you write? Because I just can't stop the voices in my head any other way!! No, seriously, I write because, first of all, I love it. Secondly, as a kid I really found my own escape from a not so nice childhood in books. They brought such happiness. Stories I devoured in hours never really ended when I put the book down, but lived on in my own adventures and dreams. I used to wait and wait for authors to come out with a new book. I can remember lurking in book stores, spending money I just didn’t have, to buy a new book. I guess, I’d like to do that same thing for someone else, you know? Brighten their lives with my stories.
MLM: Thanks so much for joining us, Billi Jean! It's been a treat getting to know you better!
BLURB: Ranger is a werewolf, a Lykae with a problem. He's found his one true mate, the only female who can complete him. Only trouble is, he's denied his instinct to claim her. Now his mate hates him as much as she believes he hates her. He will have to risk both their lives to finally prove to his stubborn vampire he loves her?
Star is a half-breed vampire with a past of not being accepted because of her mixed blood. Ranger is just one more example of how much she doesn't fit into the immortal world no matter how much she tries to fool herself into believing otherwise. She's a strong female, a fighter, but when it comes to the opinions of others, she has no defenses. Why fight what she knows is true? She is a half breed, less than those around her. She has a home, friends and females she loves like family. Only trouble is, her family is now related to the mangy wolf man who hates her.
EXCERPT: The club music blared, the bass from the speakers making the room thud around them. Star glanced up from adjusting her sword grips and tried to ignore the irritating wolf on the sidelines. As if. Ranger was a force of nature, like some crazy hurricane blowing through her control. She just couldn't ignore the irritating male.
She spotted her next opponent through the sea of onlookers. Finally, a real challenge. A fight would take her mind off Ranger like nothing else could. The mixed crowd of immortal species crowding the fight club's floor parted to let the big blond demon through.
"Agni, so good of you to give me some sport."
Dark eyes reflected the low lights of the club as he grinned. Shoving his golden hair off his forehead, he gave her a full once over. Tall, at least six-foot-six, the golden demon was an eyeful, and knew it.
"Always willing to oblige a female; you know me, Star."
Tilting her head, she eyed him closely, biting the inside of her cheek to keep in a grin at his teasing. They'd been friends for a long time, since she'd cared for him after his family beat him nearly to death. If that was possible for a demon. Families were a pain in the ass. At least blood related families. Agni, or Fire as she liked to tag him, 'cause he was a hottie, had a family rivaling her vampire "House" for evil. House. The term had her anger, already high, stroking up a notch. The vampire's took pride in their pure lines, their little Houses and the lineage they could trace back to the father, or in her case, mother of their line.
She snorted. She'd rather drive a stake in her own heart than claim any kind of relation to her House. She had her few friends, and an adopted family; she didn't need or want anything from the past. Agni should feel the same, but she'd heard he still bowed to the wishes of his messed up brother. Still, the male had always come through for her, always been there since the first years of her freedom. He'd even returned the favor she'd shown him years later when her world had crashed down around her with Selenia’s death.
"Ah, good, then. You'll be hitting the mats soon, Fire."
Tipping his head back, he gave her one of those full-body laughs she loved.
"Ah, vamp-baby, you have no idea how much I love to hear those words fall from a female's lips." Flexing his arms, he proudly displayed all his golden muscles from his biceps to his hands. His tight, black tee didn't hide anything either, merely added to his sensuous strength. The fabric clung to his hard chest and tight six-pack above his loose fitting jeans. Too bad all his hot skin and intensity just didn't turn her on. She'd been vaguely considered taking a lover over the last few months, but not her demon friend.
Ranger stepped forward into her line of sight. Her stomach bottomed out. She turned her attention to her sword, trying not to notice how her hand trembled a little. Gripping the hilt tighter, she wished she could avoid him, put him out of her thoughts.
Glancing at him from under her lashes, she wanted to groan. Her heart rate increased and she grew wet between her thighs; both reactions irritated her even more. Taking a deep, sweat-scented breath, she frowned. Did she smell something spicy, a bit warm and musky, over the heat of the demon's fire? The subtle scent tickled her senses then drifted on. Ranger. She knew him, his scent. Sadly, an irresistible pull she fought tugged at her whenever the male appeared.
Shaking her head to rid herself of such distractions, she focused on Agni still facing her, his handsome face tilted as he read more than she probably wanted. She lifted a brow, held out one hand and pretended to exam the back for the shakes. "Nope, not quivering in fear."
"Damn right, I only want my females shivering in delight, not in fear." Agni laughed again. Winking, he pulled her in for a quick hug. He smelled clean—like soap and something woodsy. Warmth radiated off his skin, skin almost too hot to touch, much like his nickname. Fire, she thought with a smile.
She tossed her head, not impressed, but amused. They'd been flirting like this for over a century. "Yeah? I'd heard you lost your vibe in some alley? Flat on your back, knife at your throat, a wolf ready to skin your hide? Samantha was all over you like nobody’s business and you had nothing to do but spill."
She'd heard more than that from a grumbling Derrick, the one Lykae worth a spit, in her opinion. He'd not been too happy when Samantha had dodged him to go make a play for information from Agni about Susanna. Star had told Samantha she could trust Agni, but at the time, Samantha hadn't trusted anyone, least of all a demon she thought had fed her misinformation while she was on her hunt for her sister. All was well now though. So well, it was almost eerie. Samantha was mated to Derrick, a Lykae who'd supported and loved Samantha when word had come that her sister, Susanna, had been murdered. Even now, the pain sliced at her when she thought of Susanna gone from this world. Susanna, so sweet, so kind, so willing to do whatever she had to do to make everyone around her happy, gone from them all. It was beyond cruel.
Even Agni had played his part in trying to find Susanna. The man was worth his weight. And knew it.
A big grin split his handsome face, revealing his own set of impressive fangs. Demons were so cool. They made a vampire feel at home. "Damn, that's low, Star."
"Aw, don't be such a baby. Your ego seems still intact."
"Baby? Damn, you don't even have a hint of sympathy for me, do you?"
Grinning at his wounded act, she shrugged, examining her black nail polish. "Not really, since you're going to be flat on your back again real soon."
He laughed harder and shot her another wink. "Fine, let the games begin, vamp-baby."
She smirked and returned to her corner, accepting a bottle of water from her friend, Tara, a Fae with a touch of witch blood. She and her bonded, Daren, also from the Fae, had come with her tonight, but she could tell they were both interested in other things. Other things being themselves and a bed. Star tried not to let jealousy sour her stomach, but the green monster still did. Both immortals had been her friends for centuries. They'd always been looking for a bed. And in all that time, their bond never bothered her. A lot of things never bothered her before, she thought with a glare at the wolf man. Ranger hovered near the edge of the crowd, gazing in her direction.
"Are you going to be done any time soon?"
Eyeing Tara's beautiful but impatient face, Star shrugged. "You don't have to stay," she reminded her. She needed this night. Thus, the past two hours of fighting. Even now, the workout had barely taken the edge off. What she wouldn't do for a real battle, Death Stalkers or something equally bloody.
"Well, that's comforting." Tara ran a hand up Daren's arm, curling her long, slender fingers around his big biceps before reaching up to brush his dark chestnut hair off his brow. The two were making her sick. "We might get that fun time sooner rather than later, hunk."
"Simmering is good, no, my love?" Daren was dressed as usual in a hip gray pin-striped vest with a soft tee underneath. The combo looked good on the lean mage. And Tara matched him hip for hip in her jade silk blouse and black, skintight leggings with killer knee-high, black-heeled boots. The two made a stunning couple, and knew it. The Fae always did, she thought with another irritating glance at the two.
Gag her. Really. The two needed a bed.
She resisted the urge to glance around the club, feeling eyes on her and betting on Ranger. His elusive scent tickled her nose again, distracting her and making her blood race. She just couldn't be attracted to the big lug like this. Her interest in him bordered on insane. Not to mention it was wrong on so many levels she wanted to hit someone, herself first of all, him second.
Across from her, Agni tested his blade, and she stifled her unease and focused on him and their impending fight.
Anticipation rushed through her system like a triple shot of espresso. It wasn't often she could fight without having to worry over harming her opponent too badly.
Glancing at the immortal keeping score, she nodded. There were no referees in this level. The fight ran for six rounds with no rules. The huge male, a cloud demon judging by the blue swirls traced around his broad face and shaved head, merely kept time, made certain they broke off when the bell rang, and called the match. He waited until Agni nodded before hitting the bell and getting the hell out of the way.
She didn't have long to wait. Agni never let her being a female hinder his attacks. Swords out, they met in the middle with a loud scream of steel on steel. Blue sparks shot off their blades. Grinning, she shoved hard, loving the strain of muscle. She knew his tricks and wasn't about to let him get her too close. Knocking him back with a swift kick, she went low and hit him hard enough to unbalance him. Jumping back up, she tried to beat him to the punch, but he waited for her when she landed, forcing her to give him ground or get her head nearly taken.
She grinned. This was why she fought. Fighting was a dance, but with pain.
Excitement hummed through her veins, awaking every nerve, every muscle, every sense. She was the fight. Her twin swords were merely an extension of herself.
Not ducking back fast enough, she took a blow to the ribs, catching most of his wicked blade with her own. Gaining his back, she hit him hard enough to knock him to his knees. She jumped at the opportunity and gave him three swift blows with her sword hilt to the upper back then topped off her attack with a knee to his jaw.
In response, he growled low, and suddenly she found herself flying through the air, only to land flat on her back, her jaw aching. A low, threatening growl sounded near her, but she focused all her energy on the fight, barely registering the noise above the cheering crowd.
Arching, she pivoted and landed on her feet in time to stop Agni's downward stroke. Twisting away to meet him with one of her own, she caught his big feet with hers and nearly had him down.
The bell rang and they slowly lowered their weapons.
She grinned. Power throbbed through her.
He split a smile too and shook his head.
"Damn, female. What has your panties in a bind?"
"Males like you," she shot back before thinking. Ah, so very true. Males like him. Handsome, too-masculine-for-their-own-good males. Muttering a soft curse, she refused to glance around for Ranger.
"Damn," Agni grumbled, wiping the sweat off his forehead. "You're taking out your male troubles on me?"
"Quit your whining. Why shouldn't I?"
The bell rang and they were back on.
For the next hour they fought well, taking and giving blow after blow. In the end, they settled on a draw. The crowd resurfaced around her with a roar of approval. The music blared, pounding in time with her heart.
"Well, Star, if I can give you some advice?" Agni grumbled, rubbing his shoulder dramatically. "Be patient. Males take a while to train."
Like she wanted to train some male, she almost shot back at him but swallowed the words as she spotted Ranger's name go on the list of competitors. If she'd known he'd be here, let alone fighting, she never would have come.
Touching her arm lightly, he halted her. "Hey, not so fast, come share a drink, I have a question for you."
That got her attention. She came here to fight not talk. Rubbing his hair with a towel, he watched her. He looped the towel over his big shoulders and pinned her with a grin.
She sighed. That look always worked on her.
Behind him, she spied Torment, a demon from another family, but a close friend of Agni's. The two of them had both aided her more than a few times over the years. She didn't know the dark-haired, dark-eyed demon as well as Agni, but she knew him as an honorable male. He nodded when their eyes met.
Agni didn't relax until she took his towel. She wiped her own sweat off before she walked with them to a table. She tried not to grumble as she took a seat.
"So, talk, huh?" She watched Agni for a moment more before she sighed, nodding to the bar and the watchful barmaids for a round of drinks. She had time before her next fight. Maybe she wouldn't have to fight Ranger. He might lose, after all. Or maybe she would face the arrogant wolf and make him eat mat.
"Yeah, talk, you know the concept, right, gorgeous?"
Rolling her eyes at Torment's endearment, she sank deeper into the soft leather booth. She knew males, and he wasn't as interested as he put out. But they were both friends, males she'd fought back-to-back with, so maybe they were just teasing her.
"Goose." She ordered from the little barmaid.
Flashing a grin, the witch winked. "Nice match, Star; what'll it be, boys?"
"Damn, Star, I forgot you know how to drink. I'll have one as well," Agni said.
Torment nodded. "Good choice."
As soon as the young witch swished off, Star turned her attention to the demons. "So, what's up?" she asked, nervously tapping her claws on the scarred tabletop, trying not to glance around for Ranger.
"Shit, female. What's up with you?" Agni asked, casting her fingers a frown.
Stilling them, she sat back for her drink and tried for calm. Daren and Tara shot her questioning looks from their table but stayed put when she shook her head.
"Nada, what's the topic?"
"We wanted to ask you about the Immortal Council."
Tossing the vodka down, she glared at Agni. "Gods, not you too. I'm not joining some council of pompous idiots who think they can order others about."
Torment snorted a soft chuckle and belatedly she remembered both males were on the council.
"Damn, I didn't realize I was pompous. An idiot occasionally, but pompous?" Torment's deep voice rumbled in reply.
She rolled her eyes. "You know what I mean; there's no chance of it."
Watching him sink his big frame back in the booth, she waited. No way he'd give up so easily. Demons were worse than a dog with a bone. Once they thought something, wanted something, they were like little kids trying every angle to get their way.
"But Samantha and her mate are on the council," Torment murmured, rolling his drink between his big hands.
"Yeah, they are." Pride swelled inside for her family, but her? No way. "And before you say another word, I can fight Death Stalkers all by my little immortal self; I don't need the council telling me how."
"True. You can fight them when you happen to run into them."
She gave Torment a look for his sarcasm but he only grinned again. Did the male really find her gorgeous? His look seemed to say so. Hard and huge, Torment had always struck her as a deeply, intensely honorable fighter with hot scars. She loved scars on a male. The silver eyebrow piercing did something for him too. Unique. Both Agni and Torment didn't go with the flow; they struck out on their own course. So why did they seem intent on pushing her down a path now?
"Your family is insisting, eh?" Agni asked then.
She sighed, depressed at how easily he cut to her problem. How much did he know? Probably a great deal. He had family problems too, but not like hers. Her beautiful females wanted her respected, honored for her strength. She just wanted to be left alone. She liked being alone. Or she had, until recently. Now she just itched all the time, like her skin stretched too tight over her restless body. "I just want to be left alone, not bothered by all the drama."
"Yeah, well, let me know how that works out, 'kay?"
Frowning at Agni, she stretched her legs, trying to ease the muscles after such a long match. He looked a bit somber, as if the world weighed on him. She'd seen him suffering from depression, overwhelmed with the responsibilities his title earned him. Years ago, she'd even been one of the only immortals he trusted with his life during the worst of his family's battles. Families. Ties of blood. She preferred to choose her own family. And why not? Agni's had given him nothing but grief, and maybe a sword to the back. He'd suffered a great deal in the past from his siblings and their little wars.
Tilting her head, she considered his question and him. He looked off. Quiet, almost pensive, the demon hung his head a moment more before meeting her eyes. Intense, he simply waited for her to speak, obviously knowing she'd respond. He was probably one of the only immortals alive that could move her with a look.
"Yeah, maybe it's not working too well lately, but things will settle down, I'm sure."
"Yeah, you think so, huh? I doubt it, Star. Things are coming to a head in the immortal world. Too many are taking the dark vow. Too many are siding with the evil they spread. Soon there will be no standing back and trying to wait for this to pass. Soon, we'll all be forced to take action. And sides."
Agni nodded his agreement. His blond brows drew down sharply in a fierce frown. "This isn't something new. Through the years, the balance has to be struck, then shifted, re-aligned. Soon, immortals will be forced to try and stem the flow of evil, or darkness will overcome."
"And the immortal council knows how to stop this from happening, huh?" She watched Torment, then Agni. Both looked seriously concerned.
But they were wrong. Agni was wrong. Things would settle down.
"You feel it. You're more aggressive lately, aren't you? Damn, you nearly floored me."
She rolled her eyes. "I always almost floor you."
She wasn't more aggressive from some imminent battle. She itched with a constant state of . . . arousal. She awoke hot and bothered by her dreams. Glancing toward the mats, she spotted Ranger watching her with a deep frown. A shiver raced down her spine and her body tingled into awareness. Her libido kicked into overdrive and her response to him pissed her off.
Irritated with herself, she turned away, only to meet the gazes of the two demons watching her closely. She couldn't believe she'd been caught ogling some wolf man who was so disgusted with her he barely held himself in check. Not when she had two fine looking males sitting with her. She could take either male home and work out all her pent up frustration over the course of the evening. Right? If only she felt even a smidgeon of attraction for either demon, her theory might work.
Agni glanced at the mats. His blond brows snapped down into a scowl before he met her gaze. His eyes flared dark black, the slit irises disappearing. Handsome face creased, he leaned forward on his arms. "Ranger? You're attracted to . . . Ranger?"
"She is?" Tor sat forward too, even glancing in surprise from her to Ranger, then back.
"Star?" Agni drummed his fingers on the table, trying to get her attention.
If she could have shifted home without looking like a complete baby she would have. She ignored them both, instead focusing on her empty glass like it held the answers to the universe. "Not going there."
"Damn, Starbright. Could you pick a male who hates you more?"
"He's an ass." Agni snorted right over Torment's sharp question.
They were, sad to say, both right. "Damn, Tor, why not jab the knife deeper and twist?"
Torment looked suitably sheepish. "Sorry, Star, I wasn't thinking. I mean, you've been . . . well, we noticed you've been showing the signs, but . . . well, I might have thought, well, that—"
"He thought you might be interested in him." Agni chuckled.
Torment scowled, quickly glancing at her with as close to a blush on his high cheekbones as the fierce demon would ever get. "A male can dream, right? You're beautiful, strong, honorable, any male would be damn lucky to have you and that"—he jerked his thumb at the mats, frowning harder—"ass doesn't deserve you if he doesn't realize it."
Well, so much for keeping her embarrassing attraction to the enemy under wraps. Did Torment really think such things of her? If so, he'd managed to shock her. Women sought the male out, as much as they chased after Agni, and both looked willing to step in to replace the obsession she was forming over the wolf.
Too bad it wouldn't work. Really. Life sucked sometimes.
Glancing at the demon again, she sighed before focusing on her drink. So, Torment thought her beautiful and strong. Good thing he didn't know her well. The thought, the subtle self doubt, caught her off guard. She squelched it quickly. She had enough embarrassing things occurring without her inner wimp rising up. Her face heated and she wanted to groan. She never blushed. Blushing wasted good blood.
Blood she happened to be low on at the moment because for some reason she'd been unable to take much from the victims she chose. Usually, she hunted human evil. Rapists. Child molesters. Killers. All her victims were the vilest she could find. Humans were completely unaware something much more powerful than themselves haunted the back alleys and deserted places of this shared world. Something powerful but hidden in plain sight. Over the centuries, she’d not once been spotted. And she wasn’t as careful as some immortals were in blending in. She might not flaunt her fangs, but she didn’t hide them either.
Vampires had the ability to take a victim's thoughts. When they bit, a vampire often needed to erase they'd ever been near the human. Erasing memories, seeing their past, all of that was there for the taking. She took memories, and disgusting ones at that, and shoved them back at her victims. But she added a twist, a bit of role reversal. When her targets awoke from her bite? They not only lacked a few pints of blood but awoke thinking they'd been a victim of a violent crime. Most stayed straight for quite some time after she gave them what Bethany dubbed "Star Justice." She called it fun.
Her fun hadn't been so fun lately. Even the taste of her victims' blood had been affected by her mood, it seemed. The blood tasted off, like it'd gone bad and she had to force herself to swallow even the few mouthfuls she could stomach. She'd almost rather go hungry, chance being weak rather than put her lips on the neck of some foul, disgusting human, she realized. And that sucked. Because, really, what else was there? She couldn't ask an immortal to donate. Hopefully this affliction would pass, and soon. Otherwise she might start hitting the next Red Cross truck when it drove by. Drive by blood snatching. Shit, she could just see it now.
Rubbing the thought away with a hand on her brow, she looked up to meet both demons watching her closely, like she might have the answers to the universe. As if. She was barely holding herself together here, let alone anyone else.
"Look, let's just ignore all this. It'll go away. Obviously, I have some misplaced fascination for jerks that I'll outgrow. Maybe it's a vampire thing. You know? Pain and all that . . . ."
Both demons eyed her with twin frowns. Males—they just didn't give up, did they? Both of them looked at Ranger again before they turned back to focus on her.
"Huh, tell me how that works out, 'kay?"
Grumbling under her breath, she chose to ignore Agni.
Torment eyed her skeptically when she looked up again. He resembled Ranger in a lot of ways. If he had blue, lighter-than-the-sky eyes, he might be related. With his ebony hair he kept way too short, square, stubborn jaw and big, broad shoulders, he could pass for a distant relative. If you ignored his slit pupils and body heat. And the fact he was a demon. "Well, if it helps any, we're all feeling the rise in tension. Maybe your attraction to the male is part of it."
"Yeah, we all get jittery before a big battle. It's no different now. You've been in immortal conflicts before; you know what I speak of." Agni nodded, sitting back to give her an apprising look. Like he'd somehow won a point for his immortal battle argument because of her out of control sexual attraction to a silly wolf? Geesh, she had been in many immortal battles, and not once had she felt like this. Not that she was telling either of them that little jewel. Oh, no.
He raised a brow at her silence, like he'd won a point. Men.
"Geesh, give me a break, Fire."
Torment's frown deepened. "Makes sense. The battle will be soon, no doubt about it."
Soon. A shiver raced down her spine unexpectedly at Torment's deep-voiced concern.
Yes, she'd fought before. The life of an immortal overflowed with fighting. But she'd also given up causes like the demons were talking about. Who cared if someone took vows with the dark side? Evil spread like oil on water, both for immortals and humans. Fighting against it seemed useless. Pointless. The world was balanced with good and evil, it just worked out that way. There wasn't some evil plot to rule the world by some stupid Death Stalkers. What the hell would they do with it anyway? They couldn't really use the humans, after all, so they'd be what? Ruling over immortals? Like they could find them all? Geesh. It was too farfetched to believe. Impossible, really.
Once again her gaze drifted to Ranger. Did he believe this crap? An imminent battle between good and evil? She doubted it. By all accounts, the male owed his loyalty to the pack. Hell, she knew first hand he did. Six months ago he'd tried to take her head for trespassing on their sacred stronghold. But the Lykae rarely took sides in the immortal battles.
The last time had been centuries ago and that battle still burned her dreams more often than not. Losing Selenia, the only person who had ever shown her kindness and even love, had nearly killed her. Without Agni coming to her in those dark hours after Selenia’s passing, she might not have survived.
In that battle, she’d been good enough to fight side by side with the Lykae. She’d saved many of the clan that long ago, chilly night. But not the one person who meant more to her than anyone. Selenia. Yet, now, she had Selenia’s kin, and she’d not lose their love to the mangy wolf glaring at her.
Standing near the mats, he looked more than ready for battle. Hot and flushed from his match, not even breathing hard, he embodied the image of a confident, immortal male. He gave her the scratch. Not a swift and heavy arousal. No, no, no, she told her overeager sex drive. He wasn't the reason she'd been considering taking a lover. No, he couldn't be.
"I have a hard time believing there will be some huge battle in the near future. The world has changed. We've changed. The last battle was long ago, in another age." She reminded both demons. And she'd lost too much. She couldn't believe in something that might take away all she'd gained.
Torment watched her with a thoughtful expression, his dark eyes not missing much, she knew. Did he truly believe there would be some battle?
"There are rumors of evil corrupting immortals. Not asking for vows, but demanding them, and turning immortals to beasts if they resist."
Shivers raced over her skin. Turning immortals to beasts? Her eyes shifted to Agni, but he looked grim.
"Is this true? Have you seen such a thing?"
Torment shifted and grimaced. "No, I've not seen the transformation, but the information comes from a source I trust. The darkness is spreading. I've heard rumors of these beasts from several sources, one right here in London. A lab was found under a human club where the procedure"—he snorted and shook his head in disgust—"was being tried out. The source—"
"Hey, what's with the source? Don't I get a name?"
In other words, didn't he trust her?
"Hell, Star, he's deep in this, I can't just be throwing his name out there."
"Well, why are you telling me all this secret stuff then? I mean, why?"
He nodded to her swords again. "If the balance is being disrupted, unbalanced, it would explain your increasing need to fight."
She laughed. She couldn't help it. Some immortal bogey man was changing immortals into beasts if they didn't sign up for the dark side and Torment believed this rumor because her long-dormant sex drive had kicked in and to quell the urge she needed to fight?
Agni shifted and tipped back his head, drinking his vodka in a big swallow. "Perhaps you just need to fight more because you're just blood thirsty, eh?"
"Yep, glad you finally noticed." She flashed her fangs and smiled when Agni and Torment both laughed. The tension between them eased, but inside her stomach rippled with anxiousness, making her shift in her seat. If the Death Stalkers had found a way to change immortals into beasts that they then used, would that shift the necessary balance needed for good and evil to exist? Could this world, both mortal and immortal, continue with only one or the other?
"Ah, Ranger is up again. He must have some. . . aggression to work off as well." Agni shot a grin at her when she snorted.
"Hey, are you going on this mission of his? I heard a rumor one of the pack females, a youngling still, was taken, or missing?" Torment asked suddenly, bringing her back to all the reasons she hated the wolf man.
Shaking her head, she glared at him for even asking. The female wasn't even clearly missing yet and Ranger wanted her to aid him? Hell no. "No. Not going."
"Ah . . . and you aren't taking the position on the council either, I take it?" Agni asked.
"Nope. Not going to do that either."
Agni shrugged, giving her his half grin. "Huh. Interesting."
The male in question sauntered off the mat then, drawing her eye. As she watched, he grabbed a bottle of water, broke the cap and drank it down.
He stood tall, at least six and a half feet, and like all wolves he sported highly developed shoulders and the lean, mean look of the wolf. Like all his kind, the loss of temper could bring out their inner beast, not that he'd turn to a wolf, or wolf man, but she'd seen more than one Lykae with his beast out and impressive didn't even begin to describe the change. Fierce, bigger than their normal selves . . . when the beast was loose, he drove the bus, so to speak. And, being a beast, he drove on pure instinct and very little thought. Ranger wouldn't beast-out at a competition; he had an iron-like control, but still, she imagined him, all hot and huge, his wolf flashing his eyes a lighter blue, and for some reason she shivered.
He usually wore jeans and a t-shirt; tonight was no different. His faded jeans cupped his ass and fit his long, muscular legs to perfection, loose in all the right places, snug in so many fascinating others. And the leather belt. Gods, it was hot. Brown, wide and just plain sexy. Tonight, he had on a faded green T with some band branded over the chest. Godsmack, she noticed when he turned. She snorted. Typical. Such a hard rock band would fit him since he was a bone head, so why not?
But why did he look so sexy hot just drinking from the damned water bottle? Her breasts felt heavy and achy, her stomach contracted painfully, and she shut her eyes to block her view.
Gods, she needed to get a grip. Corralling her lust into a ball of anger, she glared at the male. He hated her, huh? Yet, now he wanted to use her like a dog to aid his hunt for a missing female pack mate? Well, wolf man, I'm about ready to educate you on how far I've come from being anyone's little pet.
He turned then and those blue eyes met hers from across the sea of people. Her stomach bottomed out. Damn it. She couldn't be attracted to the arrogant ass.
Somehow repeating herself wasn't helping.
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