It is always so exciting to be a part of a cover reveal. And today, MuseTracks is honored to host Vivi Dumas and the next book, Stolen Innocence, in her Dueling with the Devil series. To celebrate, Vivi has brought us an excerpt, plus a chance to win a copy of the book. (The ARC of Stolen Innocence will not be available until September. But it will be worth the wait!)
Damballa eyed Lucifer suspiciously as the angel dusted off a boulder and gracefully lowered himself on the hard, burnt-orange surface. “What bring you to the slums of Purgatory?”
“Not many people still think of me as an angel. You’re showing your age, Damballa.” Lucifer’s smile gleamed in bright contrast to his ebony skin.
“You shouldn’t pry in other’s minds without their permission. Does age matter when you’re no longer amongst the living?”
“Again, why are you here?” Damballa demanded.
Lucifer inhaled a deep breath and sighed as he released it. His face displayed an Oscar winning expression of disappointment. “Everyone’s so impatient these days. All that television and those video games. Do you get those down here?”
Crossing his arms across his chest, Damballa stared at Lucifer without a response.
“I guess you want to know why I’m here.” Lucifer laughed at Damballa’s grunt of frustration. “I need your help.”
Damballa narrowed his eyes, tightening his arms in their locked position, closing himself off even more. “How can a lowly human priest banished to Purgatory help the Prince of Hell?”
“When you put it like that, it make me second guess my visit. But then again we both know the greatest Vodou priest who’s ever walked the Earth isn’t exactly a lowly human. Didn’t your followers even deem you a god?”
“You know I was stripped of my title and those followers turned on me with vengeance.”
“Some don’t appreciate those who think outside of the box. I, on the other hand, appreciate innovation, especially when it goes as far to the dark side as you delved.”
Damballa strolled over to the hollowed out cavern wall filled with books, pretending to study its contents. His hand trembled as he removed a book of spells from a shelf. Sorrow lingered in his heart when he thought of his demise. The darkness took everything he loved away from him and landed him in this fiery stone prison. Love was an unstable drug. No one could predict its side effects. For him, they were lethal.
“Regret and self-pity only lead one down the road to condemnation. They’re useless in seeking redemption. I know what you want. And I can get it for you.” Temptation slithered amongst Lucifer’s words.
A chuckle tickled Damballa’s throat. “There is nothing on Earth for me. I’ve glanced at the world a few times and they’ve turned it into a shithole. I’m not looking to go back to a place I no longer recognize.”
Pushing himself off his seat, Lucifer appeared beside Damballa. “You underestimate me. I mean I know what you really long for.”
Damballa faced the Prince. He raised a brow in question. “What is it you think that I want?”
“I can give her back to you. And I’ll throw in a bonus.”
“No. She has ascended,” Damballa spat.
Lucifer barked a laugh. “There’s no ascension for those who trade their soul to the Devil.”
“What do you mean? She made a deal with you?”
“Yep. I helped her people. She was really pissed at what you did. In exchange, I have her soul until I decide what I want to do with it.”
Grabbing Lucifer by the shoulders, Damballa shook the Devil. “You’re lying. She would never…she wouldn’t give herself to you.”
Lucifer shoved Damballa’s hands off his shoulders. “Your little lady was willing to offer herself to the highest bidder. Isn’t that why you killed her in the first place?”
Damballa struggled to keep from striking Lucifer.
“You’re not crazy. You know I could incinerate you right here. She wanted a life for her family. One not involving running around as wolves for the rest of their lives. A little blood signature on some parchment and we had a deal. I must admit the new E-sign makes brokering deals much easier.” Lucifer cracked a slow grin and chuckled to himself. “Anyway, I have her soul and the world got werewolves. Maybe not a full recovery, but a good compromise. Seemed like a fair trade at the time. Now, I’m offering to return her back to you. Slightly used needless to say, but who cares when it’s the love of your life.” The jagged edges of Lucifer’s teeth showed when he smiled fully.
Damballa’s heart and head raced with anticipation. “And what do I have to do to get her back?”
“Just a little magic.”
“I need to manifest on Earth,” Lucifer answered casually as he picked imaginary dirt from under his finger nails.
Damballa choked at Lucifer’s words. “Do you know how much dark magic that requires? I don’t even know if I can harness enough energy to jump start the process. That requires a blood sacrifice.”
“Okay. Let me know what you need and I’ll order it.” With those last words, Lucifer disappeared.
A shiver whispered down Damballa’s spine. No matter what dark magic he practiced in the past or how badly he wanted Ariella back, unleashing Lucifer on Earth was a terrifying thought.
* * *
The female crouched in a ball in the corner of the cell, hugging her long legs tight to her chest. Her ankle-length, brown skirt billowed around her on the twin-sized bed. Her honey-colored hair hung in a thick braid, dangling over her shoulder, glistening like spun gold in the dim light. Every now and again, Charity found the woman staring at her with haunting green eyes threaded with ribbons of amber, giving them an iridescent quality. For three days they had sat in this godforsaken hole without a word. Charity debated on speaking to her. Usually talking was a no brainer, a natural affliction she wielded like a weapon. But the odd symbols and murmured chants freaked her out. She was in enough trouble without pissing off some crazy witch. Especially one trapped in Lucifer’s dungeon.
The clamor of keys caught Charity’s attention. A burly demon balanced two trays in one hand as he unlocked the cell door. He pushed the heavy titanium bars open, clipping the edge of the top tray against the doorframe. In slow motion, the plate toppled to the floor. Charity watched the slop they considered food splash in a multicolored mess on the ground and sighed in both frustration and relief.
“Looks like one of you will not be dining tonight,” The guard laughed.
The girl in the corner stayed silent, glancing longingly at the destroyed food. The demon haphazardly dropped the other tray on the edge of Charity’s bed. She flashed him her famous f-you smile before he slammed the cell door shut. Charity remained in her spot and listened to the click-clack of his boots echo down the hall. When the sound disappeared, she stood and picked up the gruel left on her bed. As fowl as the food looked and smelled, it was the first nourishment they had brought in three days.
Charity walked cautiously over to the stranger in the corner. “Hi. You look like you need this more than I do.” Piercing emerald eyes met Charity’s gaze. A familiar sadness glowed behind the brilliance of the girl’s stare. “Can I sit?”
The female unwound her long body and dangled her legs over the side of the tiny bed. As she sat up and light shone upon her face, Charity gasped at the female’s overwhelming beauty. Handing the girl the tray, Charity lowered to the edge of the mattress, close to the foot of the bed. Her cellmate shoveled the food into her mouth with her hands, filling her cheeks like a chipmunk. How long had it been since she ate?
“Wow. You were hungry. How long had it been since they fed you?” Charity had been here three days and this was the first sign of food she had witnessed.
The girl choked down the stuff in her mouth with a look of embarrassment. “Seven days,” she announced through the food left in her mouth.
The girl nodded affirmation.
Charity pressed her lips in a thin line. Heat rose from her stomach, spreading throughout her body and flushing her face. “They’re not going to fucking starve me to death. Lucifer said nothing about starving to death.” I really got to think through shit before I act on it. That boy better be worth it. He was fine as hell.
The girl stopped eating, tilted her head to the side and studied Charity. Swallowing the mystery meat she was chewing, the female asked, “You look familiar. Who’s your people?”
“I’m with the New Orleans pack. My name is Charity Lovell. What’s yours?” The girl choked on something. Charity thumped her back as she coughed up a piece of bread. “You okay?”
The female nodded in affirmation even though her face remained red. “Yes. It’s been a long time since I met someone from the New Orleans pack.”
“Oh. You know someone from the pack? Who?”
“I doubt anyone I know would still be earthbound.”
Charity raised a brow. “And what did you say your name was?”
“I didn’t, but it’s Ariella Lovell.”
It was Charity’s turn to freak out. Her throat tightened and her head swam. How did she end up in a cell with her great-great-great-grandmother who died in the seventeen hundreds? “You can’t be. She died a long time ago.”
“Darling, you’re in Hell. Why are you shocked to run into someone who no longer walks among the living?”
Sweat moistened the palms of Charity’s hands. She fought the urge to touch her to see if she was real. She had heard of Ariella’s beauty. Listened to the stories about how the pack came to be, but she assumed most of it to be folklore, stories the elders told to keep them in check. But they hadn’t exaggerated about her allure.
“How did you end up here?” Charity asked.
Ariella laughed harshly, without humor. “Bad choices. I guess I can ask you the same.”
“A guy.” Charity folded her legs under her and shrugged.
Amusement lit Ariella’s face as she smiled. “That’s the same as bad choices. I’m glad Lucifer held his end of my deal. Tell me about my pack. I’ve worried so much through the years that the Devil would renege on his promise. Does the curse still run through the females in the family?”
* * *
“I didn’t fucking ask her to serve herself up for me,” Laurent barked at the massive wolf sitting across from him. “I was passed the fuck out. Haven’t even spoken two words to her.”
Damon jumped out of his seat, catching the lunging wolf midair. “I think we all need to calm down.”
A feral growl escaped Ty, the Alpha of the New Orleans pack. He shoved Damon away from him. “This is your fault Boudreaux. You came to us for help. We trusted you. And you vouched for them.” The wolf jerked his thumb towards Laurent and his friends.
Laurent’s sister, Bell, stood with her hand on her hip, blue eyes ablaze. “That chick was off. She went all Twilight-Wolf on us. Like she imprinted on Laurent. I told everyone something was wrong with her.”
“We don’t imprint!” a pretty she-wolf growled from the back of the room.
Bell inhaled to begin another rant, but her brother cut her off.
“Bell, sit down and be quiet,” Laurent grumbled. Bell muttered something under her breath. “You’re not helping. Sit!” Laurent snapped.
Stepping in the middle of the eclectic crowd of supernaturals, Damon ran a hand through his hair and cleared his throat. “This is no one’s fault. Charity is an adult. She made a choice, albeit stupid, but one she made on her own. She believes Laurent is her mate. When we rescued him from Lucifer’s dungeon, she definitely had some kind of attraction to him. Wouldn’t leave his side. We can’t change any of that now. We have to work together to figure out how to get her back.”
“Why the hell would Lucifer trade Laurent’s life for hers?” Tact wasn’t Bell’s strong suit. This time her fiancé, Xavier, nudged her lightly, swinging the ice-blue glare in his direction. “What? It’s a valid question.”
The five members of the New Orleans pack looked at Ty, waiting for his response. Them and their damn secrets. Damon shook his head.
“She’s one of the few members left of our original lineage. Charity’s family is the reason there are werewolves. The females of her line are cursed with the inability to shift until they find their mates. It keeps their other powers dormant until they find the one they love.” Ty spoke in hushed tones as if Lucifer himself eavesdropped on their conversation.
The whole room remained silent, allowing the gravity of the revelation to settle. Damon paced the length of the purple flowered sofa. The small living room became more constricting. Jacque, a shifter demon and Xavier’s brother, rose from his chair. He strolled over to Damon and Ty.
“How did her family start a species?” Jacque questioned.
Ty rubbed the back of his neck. “Her great-great-great-grandmother was promised to Damballa, but she gave herself to another. As punishment, Damballa cursed us to turn to wolves. He was so enraged he killed Ariella and then offed himself. It’s told Ariella brokered a deal with Lucifer before she ascended to allow us to maintain our human form except on the full moon. Later we learned to adapt and shift when we needed. Afraid that one of the Lovell females would eventually be able to reverse the curse or become too powerful, Lucifer bound their powers until the found a mate, which only a few did. It’s like one of those fucked up Lifetime movies.”
“What kind of powers do Charity’s people have?” Laurent asked.
Ty shrugged. “We don’t really know. None of them has ever used them to my knowledge. That’s why it’s dormant until they mate. If or when they find the one they belong with, they focus on their partners and not their powers. Only one has left the Ward and might have accessed her powers. We’ve asked Red to come here today.”
“Who names their child Red? Is that like Apple or North?” Bell stopped laughing when Laurent shot her a menacing glare.
“It’s a nickname cause she loves the color red. Her real name’s Simone,” one of the females of the New Orleans pack corrected, rolling her eyes at Bell.
“Someone talking bout me?” A fine, leggy female in a painted-on red dress walked into the small room followed by two equally hot females. Red’s thick mahogany tresses fell around her face in long spirals. She crossed the room to Ty and kissed both his cheeks. The other two women repeated the gesture. “Look like y’all started the party without us. What’s all the commanding my presence about?”
Ty hesitated before answering. “It’s about Charity.”
The short honey-toned female crossed her arms. “What the fuck she do now?”
“Jade, don’t start,” Red chastised before turning back to the Alpha. “What she do, Ty?”
Ty laughed nervously. “It’s bad this time. She done turned herself over to Lucifer.”
“What the fuck, Ty? You’re supposed to keep an eye on her and call us when she gets out of hand,” The female in the wife-beater and ball cap fussed. Even with the boyish clothes, she couldn’t hide her pretty features.
“Look, that girl’s a handful. Dani, you know for yourself. How many times you had to go find her outside of our territory?” Ty aged as the conversation continued. Lines cut deeper in his face from worry and stress.
Damon interrupted to get the conversation back on tract. “Hi, ladies. We were trying to figure out why Charity would be important to Lucifer. Ty seem to think the females in your family has some powers that might attract Luc’s attention, but not sure what kind. Do you have any idea?”
Red scanned the faces in the room with a deliberative expression. She met the gaze of the two females who arrived with her. The one they called Dani nodded in encouragement. “We’ve not spoken of our powers to anyone outside our family. It has brought nothing but unhappiness to the women who have used it.”
Jade spoke up. “But you know that’s why he wants Charity.” Red released a breath she was holding and plopped into an armchair, covering her face with her hands.
“How bad can it be? It’s a freaking power. We all have them,” Bell interjected.
Red lifted her head, her pretty face lined with worry. “We’re necromancers.”
The room went dead silent.
Vivi pens multicultural paranormal romance, mixing the two genres she loves. Her steamy paranormal romances indulge in worlds inhabited by demons, werewolves, vampires, and other supernatural beings. She has published works with Decadent Publishing, Ravenous Romance, and Breathless Press.