Cursed To Kill
Inherited Damnation , Book 1
Maine ~ July 30th, Present Day
Augusta was a nightmarish fiend, determined to destroy Cian McLaine. He slammed his black pickup into park and stared at the rare bookstore in the brick-front house. Building energy in the atmosphere pricked at his skin. The increasing presence of spirits summoned by those who had begun early rituals for Lughnasadh surrounded him. One thought ran through his mind—another birthday.
Not because he was getting older. No, he’d stopped counting birthdays somewhere around four hundred. Without pausing to calculate, all he knew was he’d been born in the year 200—before the Christians began documenting time with “Christ.” Age no longer mattered. His birthday was yet another grim reminder of what he was. This one too would come, and when the sun rose after the Lughnasadh fires burned out, his veins would still run with the blood of demons.
Another year had passed, and he was no closer to mortality than he had been ten, fifteen, a hundred years ago.
This year, however, brought more complications than the usual stirring of his incubus father’s demonic gift. Problems that came with Augusta, Maine, and one Miranda Phillips. If she was inside this bookstore, she’d better run. He didn’t know how much longer he could fight the fierce urge to kill her.
Taking a deep calming breath, Cian reminded himself Saturdays were her day off. Susan would be working the floor, and he could browse through the collection of rare books without worry. Miranda wouldn’t be here. Like she hadn’t been here every Saturday since he’d fallen in love with her and subsequently walked out of her life. Maybe not every Saturday, but those he’d stopped in on. She hadn’t changed her pattern in the seven months they spent together, nor the last six. Why should she now?
He shoved open the truck door and set a foot into the late afternoon sunlight. His muscles unwound as he unfolded his long body, and he turned his face to the heat, soaking it in. Gathering strength from the positive energy of light.
Go in, see what new stock she has, and leave. Simple. Easy. Just like he did every time he needed a rare, old book. Today, though, his skin felt more itchy than normal. The agitation just below the surface begged for freedom—the kind of freedom that would come with taking someone’s life. Something he’d only done on two occasions, both very early in his existence, and he didn’t wish to experience that horror ever again.
The front door to the bookstore Miranda kept on the first level of her home opened easily, filling his nose with the scent of must and aged papers. A highpitched beep alerted Susan that he had entered, and Cian quickly made his way to the far corner of the west side where Miranda shelved Celt and Roman histories. Maybe today he’d find something that related to his ancestry. Maybe he could locate the cryptic words his mother had left behind that would guide her eight children to their salvation.
Unlikely, but he couldn’t stave off the brief hope.
“Good afternoon, Cian,” Susan called brightly as he passed the Medieval Studies section.
Cian waved, forced a smile to his face, and didn’t stop to talk. He was too afraid she’d notice the barely controlled dark power behind his false smile. He shouldn’t have come today. But with his siblings, Rhiannon and Dàire, arriving this afternoon—so he didn’t have to spend his birthday completely alone— he wanted to make sure Miranda didn’t have something new that might help them bring their mother’s spirit to rest.
Besides, he’d taken this semester off, and if nothing else, he could use some fresh lecture material on the early Roman Empire. Not that he didn’t have all that locked away in his head. Hell, he’d lived through it. The University of Maine frowned on professors using undocumented material for lectures.
In the dark corner at last, Cian hunkered down and ran his index finger over the brittle, decaying spines. He let out a heavy sigh, finding nothing beyond the ancient philosophies that had been here last month. Two titles on Celt histories that had been published in the middle ages caught his attention. A quick flip through the Latin pages made him roll his eyes. Two authors couldn’t be more wrong. They hadn’t been sacrifice-loving people determined to fornicate with their ancestors. No, his mother’s people, his people, weren’t that much different from today’s. Lacking a little education, perhaps, but overall, they were part and parcel, the same human composition as those who inhabited earth today.
At least those who had been human. Unlike himself and his seven siblings.
Dismayed, Cian stood up and brushed the dust from his jeans. Roman history it was, then. He pulled off a faded, leather-bound tome penned by Nero’s advisor and started for the cash register. The book would cost him thousands, yet hearing a firsthand description of Rome’s great fire would make for great bedtime reading and even better lectures. Particularly, when he asked his students to compare and contrast modern historical take versus periodical documentation.
A swathe of deep purple in his peripheral vision halted him in his path. As every nerve rose to stand on end, he turned his head. His gaze fell on rich chestnut hair shot-through with chunks of blonde, a purple tank top, and low-waisted jeans that exposed china-fair skin. Like someone had punched him, his gut clamped down tight.
Damn. Damn, damn.
His heart jumped, kick-started by a jolt of excitement. Just as quickly, the darkness rose, threatening to overpower him. A vision of her lying on a bed, her soulful brown eyes staring up vacantly, her blood forming a crimson pool beneath her throat jammed into his mind.
Cian clenched his hands around the ancient book and ground his teeth together. No! He would not take her life. True, he’d made the fatal mistake of falling in love with her, but he would resist the curse that marked her as dead. His feelings weren’t her responsibility—even though he knew she shared the same soul-deep emotion.
He was leaving. Now. Before she noticed he was staring.
As he set one foot in front of the other to do exactly that, Miranda bent over to pick up an old book at her feet. Her tank top pulled up, exposing the skin at her lower back, and Cian’s heart ground to a stop. There, spanning her narrow waist and dipping into the low-cut denim, was a Celtic scrollwork tattoo.
Not just any black ink carved into her skin. The same damned patterns that his Selgovae tribe had developed centuries ago. Marks that identified clansman to clansman. Like the intricate band that ran down the middle of his abdomen, and the same design that his sister, Rhiannon, wore on her face. Where had Miranda stumbled onto a pattern like that?
Drawn to the design, Cian moved toward her. Impossible. He had to be seeing things. It was just a similarity, something that a tattoo artist lucked into designing.
Two foot away from him, and oblivious to his approach, she bent over again. This time, the shirt rode higher. Cian’s throat inched closed. No luck about it—those swirls and right angles were identical replicas to the tattoos his family had been anointed with at birth.
“Where did you get the tattoo?” The question popped out before he could stop it.
Miranda swiveled, brown eyes wide with surprise. She pressed a palm to the base of her neck, her features relaxing as her gaze settled on him. “Cian. Wow. Where’d you come from?”
In the next heartbeat, all the reasons he’d walked away from her pummeled into him. He stared, spellbound, at the confused light in her eyes, the tiny crease on her forehead that marked a budding frown. There wasn’t a single part of him that didn’t ache to touch her, to take her in his arms, feel her soft body press into his as he lost himself to the honey of her kiss.
Goddess above, he missed her.
“Miranda.” He swallowed hard, trying to loosen the lump of longing that choked off further words. It moved, allowing him to speak, but lingered at the base of his throat, balled emotion that he had tried so desperately to eradicate. He gestured at her back. “That’s new. Where’d you get it done?”
He wanted to know about her tattoo. Not hello. Not how have you been. Not even, it’s good to see you. Just the tattoo. It figured. He’d walked out of her life without an explanation. Why should he reenter it with one? Miranda’s frown deepened. “It’s nice to see you too.”
A touch of chagrin passed over Cian’s handsome face. He pushed a lock of golden brown hair that had escaped his neat ponytail away from his eyes and gave her a hesitant smile. “It’s good to see you, Miranda.”
“Uh-huh sure.” She turned back to the shelves and the new books she was stocking before he could notice the trembling in her hands. Cian, here. Six months without a word from him, six months of him dropping in on the days he knew she didn’t work, and now he was standing behind her, talking to her.
If she had a bit of sense, she’d turn around and deck him. Instead, she wanted to throw her arms around his neck and hug the life out of Cian McLaine.
“No, really. It is. How are you?”
Miserable. Lonely. Pathetically still in love with you. “Fine.” She bent over and picked up another book.
A shock of warmth hit her skin like an iron brand. She stood stock still, unable to straighten, fighting for the ability to breathe, as Cian ran a fingertip over the tattoo from one side of her waist to the other. Tingles broke out beneath his touch, chills raced violently up her spine.
“Where did you get this?”
She forced herself to ignore the delightful sensations and stood up to shove the book into its appropriate slot. He’d left her. She wasn’t going to simper at his feet. “Serendipity Designs. Why?”
His thumb bridged across her spine, dipping lower to the ink that vanished into her jeans. “The artwork is…unique.”
“Thank you.” He’s not touching me. He’s not.
And yet, he was. He caressed the artwork and her lower back with all the familiarity of her body he’d once possessed. The same tenderness that lighted her up like fireworks radiated out through the sweep of his thumb, the light press of his fingertips. Her blood warmed against her will, and the deep yearning she hadn’t figured out how to destroy begged her to turn into his embrace and snuggle against his rangy frame. Breathe in the scent of old-world spice she couldn’t erase from memory. Tip her head up, lift to her toes…
She was going to die right here, right now, if he didn’t stop touching her. At the very least, she’d make a supreme fool out of herself.
“Did the artist design it?”
“N-no…I did.” As his hand swept over her tattoo again, Miranda twisted around, eliminating the pleasant friction. “It’s a tattoo, Cian. You’ve got one too. Why the third degree?”
A shadow fell across his face as his gaze dipped to the base of her throat, lower to her breasts, and slowly canvassed her from head to toe. As that damnable warmth infiltrated her veins, and heat spread slowly through her body, Cian’s frown deepened. The light in his grass-green eyes glinted like shards of glass.
He shook his head, and the same quiet calm she associated with him settled into his features. “It’s a pattern known exclusively to the Selgovae tribe, whose works aren’t heavily documented. I possess the vast majority of written accounts about the people. Where did you learn it?”
Busted. Miranda groaned inwardly. Since she’d met Cian McLaine over a year ago, he’d been coming in here for early Celt information. She should have known better than to hold back the raggedy pages she’d found stuffed behind a collection of early Roman maps that she bought at auction last month. Now, she couldn’t hope to deny she’d deliberately kept that priceless, antique, record from him out of spite.
“Um.” She paused, searching for the explanation least likely to set him off. “I, ah, stumbled onto it. It was in something I read.”
His stare intensified. “About the Selgovae?”
“Let me see your hands.”
Miranda blinked, unaccustomed to the brittle, demanding tone of his voice. “What?”
“Your hands. Let me see them.”
“Why?” What in the world was going on? He’d been known to have his moments, but this defied Cian’s usual oddness.
To her complete surprise, Cian reached one hand between them and grabbed her by the wrist. First one, then the other, he turned her palms up and stared. The tightness along his mouth hollowed out his cheeks. She could almost feel the anger radiating off him.
“Cian?” she asked hesitantly, tugging on her hands. “What’s going on?”
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