Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Forged in Fire Tour, Excerpt & Giveaway!

Forged in Fire
The Vessel Trilogy
Book One
Juliette Cross

Genre: Urban Fantasy/Paranormal Romance

Publisher:  Samhain Publishing, Ltd

Date of Publication:  January 27, 2015

ISBN: 9781619224919
ASIN: B00MHL2UR6

Number of pages: 318 pages
Word Count: 98,000

Cover Artist: Kanaxa

Book Description:

She never knew this demon world existed. Now she just wants to survive it.

Genevieve Drake never needed a man to come to her rescue. Not until the night of her twentieth birthday, when some dude nearly chokes her to death in an alley behind a New Orleans Goth club. And a hot stranger splits the guy in half, rips a monster from inside, and incinerates it into ash.

The hunky rescuer? Jude Delacroix—Dominus Daemonum, Master of Demons, now her guardian, whether she likes it or not. But she’s seriously beginning to like it.

Her would-be murderer turns out to be only the first of many minions of the demon prince, Danté, who has all kinds of lascivious and sadistic plans. Which means when the formidably beautiful Jude offers his protection, Genevieve has no problem accepting it.

For Jude and his fellow demon hunters tell her she is a Vessel, one who is born to serve the Light, but can be corrupted into a weapon of darkness. And to survive, she must trust a man whose unearthly eyes promise heaven…but whose powers unleash hell.

Warning: Contains a dark and brooding demon hunter who harbors even darker secrets, a snarky heroine who’s being hunted by every demon in the underworld, and a sadistic demon prince with a fancy for violent sexual encounters.

Available at Amazon  BN  Kobo




EXCERPT

Chapter One

I glimpsed my reflection in the mirror-backed elevator. Long legs in dark blue skinny jeans, red top that fit a little too well, and straightened black hair falling to the middle of my back. Along with Mindy’s Ferrari-red lipstick, I looked…
“Smokin’ hot. You’ve got some serious junk in the trunk too.”
“Shut. Up.”
I glared in the mirror at my best friend, her perfect blonde self beaming at me with a syrupy-sweet smile.
“Seriously, I will wipe that smirk off your face.”
“Oh, come on, Gen. You look amazing, and you know it. I wish I had half your curves. Don’t be so grumpy. Tonight, I want you to relax. Nothing else to worry about. Just have fun.”
I glanced down at her baby blues pleading with me to loosen up.
“Nothing to worry about. Fun. Got it.” I smiled.
“Awesome. Now let’s go celebrate!”
We were total opposites in just about every way. She was petite, slender and tan. I had inherited my height and dark hair from my dad. But my milk-pale skin and ice-blue eyes came from my mother.
“Stop brooding,” muttered Mindy.
“I’m not.”
Right before the elevator doors opened, Mindy shifted and glanced sideways under long lashes. A telltale sign of guilt I recognized from our long friendship.
“What, Mindy? What did you do?”
“Nothing,” she protested too innocently. “I forgot to mention that Steven is coming with us.”
The elevator dinged. The door opened.
“You did not set me up on a date tonight,” I grated out.
“No, I promise! Not a date. He just wanted to come along. As a friend. That’s all.”
I eyed her with suspicion. “Whatever. But, I am not on a date. This is my night, remember?”
“Yes! Of course! Your night.”
She hooked her arm through mine as we entered the lobby of her mother’s upscale New Orleans condo. I was still surprised by what an unemployed divorcee could afford, but then I glanced at Mindy. She was a perfect miniature of her mother. An endless stream of wealthy men in this city were willing to bestow treasures on attractive, charming women. I kept hoping Mindy would choose more wisely. Sadly, she had the same sort of taste in men as her mother.
We waltzed into the lobby, arm in arm, clip-clopping across white marble to a set of gold brocade sofas. Her boyfriend, Dazzling Dave, jumped up along with his buddy, Slippery Steve.
“Ladies, ladies. You two look divine.”
Seriously? I wish Mindy would find a new boyfriend and fast. His lines were nauseating. He gave us his signature smile, beaming his super-straight and over-bleached teeth.
“Hi, David,” she gushed, instantly gluing herself to his side.
Steven stepped up, eyeing me from top to toe. “Hello, Gen. You look awesome. Ready to celebrate?”
“Hey, Steven. Thanks. Ready as I’ll ever be.”
I tried not to grind my teeth as we pushed through the glass doors into the night. I wanted to stay angry at Mindy for dragging Steven along. She knew that our failed blind date nearly a month ago still had me on edge every time someone mentioned going to the movies. Seriously, I didn’t realize that watching a Will Ferrell comedy in the dark was a contact sport—not until I went out with Slippery Steve.
The ride downtown in David’s convertible definitely lightened my mood. Cool night air hinted at autumn. Canal Street buzzed with life. Neon lights blazed from one end to the other, highlighting everything from liquor stores to Commander’s Palace. Partygoers laughed, sauntered, and half stumbled along the sidewalks. The din of honking horns chorused energy and life. Rather than turn left toward the French Quarter where the buzz became downright noisy, we hung a right. I had no idea where we were going. Mindy had kept it all hush-hush, wanting to surprise me.
The New Orleans business district bustled during the daytime, but now the streets were near empty. All the shops and offices stood dark and closed. Apparently something was still open or Mindy wouldn’t have dragged us down here. David parallel parked on a side street, folding the top up with a click on the dash.
“Let’s go, ladies.”
“Come on, Gen!” Mindy squealed as she scooted out.
I smoothed down my hair, unable to keep from laughing at her enthusiasm. “I take it you’re excited?”
“You’re going to love this place. Promise.”
One block over, David led us down a few steps into a basement club underneath a fluorescent-green sign reading Tartarus. A broad, beefy guy took my license at the door, scanning it without expression. He blinked twice, then handed it back to me, saying in a monotone voice, “Happy birthday.”
“Thanks, Sunshine.” I gave him my brightest smile.
His mouth quirked at the corners, then straightened again to a grim line. I loved throwing people off-balance.
Mindy pulled me, literally, bouncing into the club. The beat pumped right through my body, vibrating to my bones. Laser lights flicked and twisted around the room, pulsing to the rhythm of the house music. While Tweedledee and Tweedledum went for drinks, I pulled Mindy out to the dance floor. A drinker I was not, but dancing? Hell yeah.
Making our way through the throng to the middle of the dance floor, Mindy and I moved our bodies to the rhythm pulsating around us. I loved this feeling of elation when I relaxed my inhibitions. I spent so much of my time behaving calm and controlled, but here, I could let loose and dance with my best friend. No matter that we were crushed between sweaty bodies reeking of cigarette smoke, hard liquor and musky cologne—I felt free. I laughed. Mindy threw her head back and laughed with me.
A tall sandy-haired guy beelined for us. He passed Mindy and started dancing behind me. Why is it that every Timberlake-wannabe thinks he can grind on a girl when she’s having a perfectly good time dancing without him? I maneuvered closer to Mindy, rolling my eyes so he couldn’t see. She smirked with a sympathetic tilt of the head, but the guy was not taking the hint. Seriously? I needed to warn him off. He put his hands on my hips, pressing even closer. I restrained from kneeing him in that most sensitive spot for men, wanting to keep my birthday as trouble free as possible.
“No thanks.” I pushed his hands away.
By some divine fortune, he didn’t put them back, but leaned close, warm breath on my ear.
“You’re really hot.”
I nodded. “Yeah, you’re right. It’s really hot. Need something to drink.”
I pointed toward the bar, pulling Mindy along with me. A quick glance back at gyrating boy had me stumped. He stood perfectly still, staring after us as if confused. A sinister red gleam flickered in his eyes as I turned away, a weird reflection of lights or something. When I glanced back from the bar, he had started dancing with another unlucky girl.
“Creeper!” yelled Mindy in my ear.
The music kept us from having any civil sort of conversation, so we leaned back against the bar, where David passed us drinks. Blue lighting backlit the wall of liquor bottles all the way to the ceiling, giving the dark room an eerie glow. Black dominated the place, except for the bar lighting and the silver cages on either side of the DJ’s stage. This is where especially drunk girls who wanted to be center stage could make total asses of themselves. Right now, only one cage was occupied by a barely standing blonde.
“Appletini.” David passed Mindy a glass of green liquid. “And Coke Zero.”
“Thanks,” I said, downing it.
“It is your birthday,” said Mindy. “You could live a little, you know?”
Mindy and I were still underage, but that didn’t stop most of the young-adult world stuck in that purgatory between eighteen and twenty-one. Honestly, who came up with the law to allow college students to enter a bar at eighteen but not be served alcohol? For once, I’d love to see an undercover police officer shut down one of these clubs, flashing his badge and attempting to arrest the vast number of underage drinkers allowed into the place.
“Come on,” urged Mindy.
She persuaded so well.
“Fine,” I sighed. “I’ll have a drink. A beer, please.”
Steven grinned like an idiot, and I don’t know why. It’s not like one beer would suddenly make him attractive. I leaned back against the bar, propping my elbows up behind me. Scanning the scene, my eyes passed by a corner, then did a double-take, zoning in on someone tall, dark and way-beyond-handsome.
He stood in the shadows against the far wall behind the dance floor. Dark jeans, black button-down, crossed arms, and seriously fine face fixed directly on…me. Never before had my heart leapt into my throat. I tried to swallow, to make it go back into my chest where it belonged. To no avail, mind you.
“Here, beautiful.” Steven handed me an Abita Amber.
“Thanks,” I muttered with a tight smile. Please, Steven. If you could see the competition across the room, you’d tuck tail and run.
“Yay!” screamed Mindy. “A birthday beer!” She giggled and clinked her glass against the lip of my bottle.
The music pumped hard and loud, wavering between old-school classics and modern tunes. Mindy suddenly squealed with delight. I knew why without asking. The Cure’s song “Fascination Street” started thrumming all around us. As much of a Barbie Doll as she was, Mindy had eclectic taste in music, and anything by The Cure required complete adoration. Taking my beer with me, I followed her back onto the floor, squeezing through the sweaty bodies.
Unfortunately, Steven did too. Persistence—I suppose that is a virtue in some people. Right now, it was just annoying. I sipped on the Abita to avoid talking to him and moved to the slow beat. Mindy and David shuffled off together, locked in an embrace. I feigned interest, pretending to listen to Steven yammer about who-knows-what, but all I wanted was to peer behind him at Mr. Rugged and Beautiful.
He hadn’t moved, still watching from his solitary post with hooded eyes. Actually, from here, I couldn’t really tell if his eyes were directed at me or simply in my general vicinity.
Oh crap! Here came sandy-haired gyrating boy again, more earnest than ever. His hands found my hips, quickly moving south.
“Back off!” I shouted over the music, elbowing him in the ribs.
Not too hard, but hard enough to make the average guy get the hint. He didn’t.
“Dude, did you hear her? Back off!” Steven stepped in.
For once, I was thankful he was present. Steven grabbed the guy’s shoulder, but Sandy-hair pushed Steven so hard he fell through the crowd into the DJ’s stage. Other dancers sidestepped and turned back to their partners, probably thinking him drunk. Sandy-hair swiveled to me. A cold expression shuddered across his face. I stepped back, but he caught my wrist in an unbreakable grip. He pulled me hard against his chest, knocking my bottle to the floor, pinning my arms under his. He grinned. Primal fear flared inside me. Something was very wrong here. Again, a flash of red skimmed across his eyes. Was I already tipsy from half a bottle of beer?
“Let her go,” a deep voice rumbled directly behind me.
Sandy-hair tore his gaze from mine. One glance at the deep-voiced person over my shoulder, and shock skittered over his expression. Or was it fear? He bared his teeth like a cornered animal, then let me go, backing away toward the exit of the club.
I twisted around, looking up, way up, into the face of Mr. R-and-B standing a head taller than me. I was five eight and wearing boots. Dark eyes, so dark they were almost black. An unreadable expression set in harsh lines. I couldn’t form a coherent thought, much less a sentence. From far away, he was stunning. Up close, I couldn’t even breathe. He gazed down at me for what seemed like an eternity while lights and music pumped around us. Captivating. Hypnotizing. Was he putting me under some spell? Why couldn’t I think straight? My mouth hung agape as I tried to regain composure.
Finally, he spoke. “Are you all right?”
Me? No! I’m about to need resuscitation from lack of oxygen. Preferably mouth-to-mouth. And from you, please.
“Yes. I’m fine,” I whispered, clearing my throat.
All of a sudden, it was very hot in here. Where was that beer?
He stared at me a moment longer. He appeared to be somewhere in his late twenties or early thirties, but something in those dark depths made him seem so much older. His olive skin reminded me of warmer climates; not here in Cajun country but somewhere distant, exotic. Wavy dark brown hair hung loosely across his forehead and to the nape of his neck. He hadn’t shaved recently, and man, oh man did I want to run my fingers across that scruffy jawline. I realized I was staring, no, gawking at him. A ghost of a smile flickered across his face. Without saying anything else, he pivoted and headed for the exit, which was quite a pleasant view.
By this time, Steven was back at my side, scowling.
“Where’s that dude? I’m gonna smash his face in!”
Yeah. Whatever.
I couldn’t figure out exactly what just happened. Of course I was thankful Mr. R-and-B showed up, for more than one reason. There was something very wrong with Sandy-hair. Maybe he was on drugs. Ecstasy could make people very touchy-feely, so I was told. The way he glared at me, the sheer menace in those strange-colored eyes—disturbing to say the least. Must be the laser lights in here.
I waved the bartender over and downed the beer the moment it was in my hands. I tried to chill out. Glancing back at the dance floor, I saw David half carrying Mindy toward the bar with a rip in her jeans at the knee.
“Mindy! What happened?”
“Fell and twisted it.” She winced with each step. I pulled up a stool.
“Let me go get the car,” said David. “I’ll pull it around.”
“No, David,” Mindy whined in her lilting drunk voice. “Stay with meeee.” She hooked her arm tighter around his neck. One too many appletinis.
“I’ll go.” I set my beer on the bar. “Wait here.”
Mindy grabbed my arm. “Sorry.” She pouted with glazed eyes. “Didn’t mean to ruin your birthday.”
“You didn’t.” I smiled. “Be right back.”
“I’ll come with you.” Steven took David’s keys and followed me. We pushed through the crowd back to the entrance, passing by big-and-beefy at the door.
“Later, Sunshine,” I called with a wave.
He nodded with a thin smile. Not a soul walked the street. I found it sort of strange to have a bar located in the more industrial end of town. But it was an eccentric place. Maybe that’s what they were going for. Exclusivity, to make it more appealing. A gust of wind whooshed by, lifting my hair. I wrapped my arms around myself as we angled down the side street toward the car.
“You cold?” asked Steven behind me.
“No.” But something made me shiver. “You have the keys?”
“Yeah, right—”
I heard the keys jingle and fall to the pavement, then a thump. I spun to find Steven slumped against the wall. Unconscious. Before I could register what happened, my body slammed up against the brick wall behind me. Pinned in place by none other than Sandy-hair, his hand grasping and squeezing my throat.
“Keep still.” Voice low and gravelly. “Don’t scream.”
As if I could. How could I, of all people, get myself into a defenseless position? I knew how to fend off an attack in a hundred different ways, but he already had me in such a tight grip. He crushed me against the wall, choking the life out of me. I stared up at him, hoping to memorize his face for a police report later. If there was a later. Spots hazed my vision, though I definitely recognized those hate-filled eyes, blazing blood-red down at me. What the hell?
“Such a pretty one.” A guttural murmur. “Such a shame to have to kill you.”
Kill me? What! I squirmed, trying to pull free. Useless. A sinister hissing laugh in my ear. Lightheaded. Dark spots at the corner of my vision. I couldn’t see anything anymore. I drifted. I thought how sad my father would be that I died in such a violent way as I slipped further into oblivion. I thought of my mother.
Suddenly, I gulped air back into my lungs. I was free of him, sliding down the wall, feeling my way along the cold brick behind me. A dark shape loomed, grappling with my attacker. Finally catching my breath, chest still heaving, I focused to see a shadowed figure lifting my would-be killer by the throat off the ground, holding him midair. His words confused me even more.
“Stop human-hopping, and come out to play.”
I knew that deep voice from the dance floor: R-and-B. Sandy-hair held on to my hero’s arms. He laughed that wicked laugh again.
“Make me,” he hissed.
“I was hoping you’d say that.”
R-and-B placed his free hand on the guy’s forehead, still holding him aloft. He whispered something I couldn’t hear. Sandy-hair screamed in agony. His body blurred. A second head twisted, separated from the first. How was that even possible? The second one was malformed and hideous with deep-set eyes, no nose at all and gnashing fangs. R-and-B pulled the monstrous head, slowly ripping a writhing, ghastly creature from inside Sandy-hair, letting the human host slump to the pavement. The monster screeched and hissed as my dark rescuer chanted inaudible words. Tiny hairs on my arms rose with a rippling chill. An aura of flickering golden light swept wide above his head and shoulders, beaming off his back.
I rubbed my eyes, sure I’d been slipped some mind-altering drugs in the club. R-and-B whispered more vehemently, words I couldn’t quite hear in another language, though they sounded familiar. The creature screamed, twisted, unable to free itself. The size of a small child with bony, spindly limbs and gnashing teeth, the thing beat and scratched and clawed the air. I heard the final words of the creature’s captor, his aura flickering like flame.
“Go back to hell.”
In a bright flash of reddish-gold light, the beast disintegrated into smoke and powdery black ash. The smell of sulfur wafted into the air, leaving a metallic taste on my tongue. R-and-B dusted his hands off on his jeans, totally calm and collected. He sighed, walked over to Sandy-hair and checked his pulse. A sharp nod, then he walked toward me where I still sat against the wall, wondering what in the world just happened. Squatting in front of me, he lifted my chin, examining my throat.
“How do you feel?”
I blinked, trying to ignore the heated sensation of his touch on my skin and wondering if I’d truly lost my mind.
“Well, I was nearly choked to death, and I just saw you pull a monster out of another man, then use some voodoo-mojo or something to crush it into dust.” I stopped to cough, rubbing my throat, my voice raspy. “I’m feeling fine. How are you?”
I knew I should be a little less snarky to the guy who just saved my life, but what an insane question. His extremely distracting lips lifted into a smile.
“Better, then.” He grinned. “Good.”
He had some sort of accent, but I couldn’t place it. I took advantage of our proximity to examine him closer. Above his top button, below his collarbone, I could see the black etchings of a tattoo. I recognized the Celtic interlacing from my mother’s artwork. The tattoo must be very big, and I wanted so much to see the fine details. He reached out his hand and pulled my necklace out from underneath my shirt. The action surprised me as he moved farther into my personal space.
“Can I help you?”
He observed the medal dangling on the chain. “St. George. The dragon slayer.” One dark eyebrow lifted in a question.
“My mother gave it to me.”
“She is a smart woman.”
“Was.”
Those midnight eyes gazed directly into mine, searching. “I’m sorry.”
Sorrow whirled in those depths. I felt overheated again so near him. My heart hammered away. He hovered so close, too close, just staring at me like…like what? He seemed to be trying to solve a puzzle. Finally, I found my voice.
“Thank you.” I swallowed, my throat tight. Glancing at Sandy-hair still unconscious, I nodded toward him. “What was that thing? The thing inside him?”
“A lower demon. A rogue, apparently. Why would he want to kill you?”
“A what? Are you kidding me?”
He shook his head once. “Not a joke, I’m afraid. I don’t understand why he wanted to kill you.”
His voice was so calm, so normal. A lower demon nearly killed me, and he was playing paranormal detective. What was a lower demon? And what did that make my rescuer? Steven stirred nearby. I’d forgotten all about him.
“Your boyfriend is unharmed. However, he’ll have a headache.”
“He is not my boyfriend,” I enunciated very, very clearly.
Another ghost of a smile crossed his face. My insides melted into a pile of goo.
“Come. Your friends will worry.”
He offered his hand and lifted me up. His hand enveloped mine, warm and rough from calluses. I needed to let go, feeling overwhelmed by the sensation of his touch. I was never overwhelmed. I was Genevieve Drake, the epitome of calm and collected. Steven moved again. Damn him.
Tall, dark and smolderingly sexy lifted my hand to his lips, brushing a soft kiss along my knuckles. His lips lingered, spreading warmth from my hand to my arm and throughout the rest of my body. What an old-fashioned gesture. I shivered. Not from the cold. His eyes never left mine.
“Happy birthday.” He let my hand slip from his.
What? How did he know? Unable to hold his gaze any longer, I glanced down, chanting a brief mantra in my head. Get—it—together. I took a deep shaky breath, finally summoning the courage to ask for his number. When I looked up, he was gone.


x


About the Author:

Juliette calls lush, moss-laden Louisiana home where the landscape curls into her imagination, creating mystical settings for her stories. She has a B.A. in creative writing from Louisiana State University, a M.Ed. in gifted education, and was privileged to study under the award-winning author Ernest J. Gaines in grad school. Her love of mythology, legends, and art serve as constant inspiration for her works. From the moment she read JANE EYRE as a teenager, she fell in love with the Gothic romance--brooding characters, mysterious settings, persevering heroines, and dark, sexy heroes. Even then, she not only longed to read more novels set in Gothic worlds, she wanted to create her own.









8 comments:

  1. Congrats on the new book. Can't wait to read it.

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    1. Thanks so much, Debby. I hope you enjoy when you get the chance. :)

      And a big thank you to Share My Destiny for having me today.

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    2. Glad you could visit! Come back often!

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  2. Thank you, Michaela. Pretty name. :)

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  3. Sounds like a really interesting read, added to my wishlist

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  4. This sounds like a great read! I have added it to my TBR list. Thanks so much for sharing & Happy Reading! :)

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  5. Thank you, Michelle and Salena! Greatly appreciated!

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