Changed is Here
As a reader, I’m always skeptical when the next in the series is about the character I didn’t care for when they were first introduced. I’ve nearly skipped books entirely, simply because I didn’t think I’d like the guy, but then was pleasantly surprised to unpeel the layers and discover he is actually my newest book boyfriend. Somehow, the latest Thorny reads, Changed and A Day Late, feature comeback stories of where the main guy was a bit of a jerk when we meet them first. More to come on Grady’s journey later this year.
Changed shows how Bennett hits rock bottom, and comes out the hero he was always meant to be. His entire life, he knew he was meant for something big, and would have been thrilled to face the challenge, as when we met him in Six. After heartbreak and coming as close as a demon hunter can get to death, yet survive, he’s done.
Sometimes a story writes itself, and I can tell you with one hundred percent certainty, Bennett wrote himself. I had nothing to do with it. I hear you asking, didn’t you write it? Yeah, but that’s the best thing about writing, seeing the characters come to life, beyond my control.
And I hear you asking about Adair. You know me, damsels and simpering females have no place in romance novels. Adair would be the first to say that.
If you’ll recall the epilogue from Six, Bennett’s first was a vampire. She’s nothing like I would have imagined for Bennett, or as a vampire in general. Modern, a survivor, and she has an unwavering passion for experiencing the little things in life.
As usual, here’s a sneaky peek. Beginning a story with a flashback can be dicey – who wants to go back a step? Meet Bennett before his heart and dreams are crushed to a gut-wrenching pulp, so you know just how far he had to fall, before he could rise to crush the original vampire.
One more taste before sunrise. Drunk on the bliss of the night, on that heartrending instant when you knew nothing would ever be the same-and not just because the sex had been life-altering-Bennett rose to kiss her again. The tip of her fang grazed across his lips as she taunted him. Adair smiled and trailed her fingertips over his jaw before giving in to the kiss. Warm and tangy, their breath entwined.
In stark contrast to the quiet of the stolen moment, the piercing shrill of sirens rattled the air around them. The crisp breeze over the rooftop served as a reminder that winter was heavy in the air. Beneath him, the sandpapery roof scraped against the skin of his back. Adair slid off and readjusted, then snuggled atop him, resting her head on his shoulder.
His voice filled with gravel, and coated with satisfaction, he said, “I knew training on the roof was risky, but the rocks digging into my back have officially sealed it for me. I’m getting a bigger place. Something with room to train, add a gym, library, design my own living quarters. Maybe some outdoor furniture for more comfortable rooftop action.”
“Or we could try a bed next time. You know, like normal people?” He felt her wicked grin against him as her fingertips trailed along the ridges of his abdomen.
“Normal? I can’t say I am familiar with the concept.”
“I am well practiced at normal. What better way to blend in?”
“Fair point.” He grinned, tracing the contours of her arm.
Melted into him, she tormented him with her touch-and not just because he wanted to go again, well, he did, but if she had a clue what she did to him, the corny thoughts in his head, she’d run far and fast. She sighed. “I suppose demon hunters don’t have time for normal.”
“I had the choice to live a human life, but it wasn’t for me.”
She shifted up to her elbows and grinned at him. “It suits you. Slayer of monsters by night, and debater of the nuances of ancient languages in the lecture hall by day.”
“I should have picked something more interesting, but it is useful.” He tipped his head up and pressed his lips to hers before lying back down again, hoping she couldn’t feel the flutter in his chest at the simple affection. “What about you? You have an eternity to do whatever you’d like.”
“I enjoy experimenting with normal, but there are only so many careers that don’t involve daylight. Perhaps I’ll try my hand at graphic design.” She settled her head back on his shoulder and wrapped her arm around his waist.
“You kicked ass the other night when we ran into those werewolves. If you wanted, you could try out life as a demon hunter for a century or two. Quinn and Lana are open minded and would be on board with you joining our team. My parents would flip if they found out about us in any form, but they’d come around.”
“Bennett. It’s more than that. I don’t care what your parents think, nor your friends. They’re hunters; they won’t ever see past what I am. And sure, I can fight. Even vampires don’t last as long as I have without survival skills. But you were raised for this. You make a choice to dedicate your life to protecting the fricking world. I wasn’t. I didn’t.”
On his eighteenth birthday, Bennett had accepted his heritage, suffering the inelegant ceremony in which his parents, grandparents, and a few other demon hunting families gathered and watched him writhe around on the ground as his ancestor’s demon blood activated within him. While the others chatted and congratulated each other on his success, he lost his lunch. His skin prickled, sweat drenched his skin, and he fought the embarrassing tears of fear and pain as he transformed. It was like going through puberty all over again, multiplied by infinity, but within the course of an hour. Okay, so his mom and the other hunters in the room had tried to soothe the ache, acutely remembering the misery of the change. Especially the moment you believed you wouldn’t survive it. Because not everyone did.
When it cleared, they’d left him to recover blessedly alone while they shared cake and champagne. Breath coming easier, mind clearer than ever, he’d sat on the cool concrete of his parents’ patio. Cold was no longer painful, but simply a nagging reminder that he ought to move inside, eventually. Having prepared for the life of a demon hunter since infancy, Bennett was well trained in combat, but the strength running through his veins was intoxicating.
He’d wandered the first few years, traveling the world, learning the ropes as he tested his limits. But he’d missed home. So, four weeks and two days ago, he’d rented a simple apartment in Seattle. The place was exactly where he needed to be. The nightlife was vivid, the parties wild… and he knew vampires walked among them.
Demon hunters didn’t have keen smell or sight like vampires, certainly better than humans, but nothing one would call extrasensory. He simply knew.
And he’d been so right. Three weeks ago, he’d met her.
Trained well, he suspected the club was full of bloodsuckers. Bennett had been compelled to scope it out. Innocent in appearance, graceful in her movements, yet swift and assured, he’d known what she was. With the satin dress that clung to her body like sinful second skin, her sun-kissed hair, the dappling of freckles across her cheeks, and pink lips that formed a natural pout, she’d been a walking vision of all his fantasies come true. No doubt about it, she was absolutely a vampire; her allure seemed designed to tempt him.
Falling right into her trap-willingly and intentionally-he’d followed her to the dance floor and splayed his palm possessively over her abdomen as she leaned into him, their hips swaying together in a fluid rhythm.
But she hadn’t been at all what he was expecting. Instead of deigning to sink her teeth into him, she didn’t make the move. Not to say she didn’t make some moves. He had regretted that his first solo vampire slay was going to be such self-torture. But he’d been trained well. Vampires would do whatever it took to lure in their prey. And he wasn’t about to blow it by falling for her charms.
She didn’t struggle when he held the knife to her throat, but asserted her vegetarian status, her innocent blue eyes swimming with honesty. Vampires had survival instincts stronger than any other as the only immortal breed outside the demon realm. So naturally, he hadn’t believed her at first.
When the dust settled from their battle of wits, he’d learned they had the same goal. Well, similar. She wanted to maintain her safety in this corner of the world and was seeking to clear the area of bloodsuckers. He wanted them annihilated.
“Bennett?” Adair murmured, her porcelain skin warm against his. Yet her voice was colder than the sleet that teased in the air.
“Yeah?” He knew that tone. Well, not from experience, but he’d known it was inevitable. She’d made it clear he was little more than a dalliance. As she’d put it, minutes before thrusting her tongue down his throat that first time, their ages, and lifestyles were insurmountable barriers.
He’d scoffed. Sure, she was five centuries older. What guy wasn’t younger? Yes, he was a few months shy of twenty-one, and she was his first, but he knew what he was getting into. Adair looked no older than her early twenties, and would for the rest of eternity. As a demon hunter, he’d age a few more years, then hold steady for at least two or three hundred years. At least they’d look the same age for a few hundred years.
Interrupting him from his memories, waking him as he’d been falling asleep, Adair finally murmured her question, “You know this can’t happen again, right?” Her sunny brown hair tickled his skin as she sat up.
“Why not? Come on.” She gestured to herself in general, but his eyes drew right to her breasts, spectacularly perky… he grinned with pure postcoital, no-longer-a-virgin euphoria. Gliding the tip of her tongue over one of her razor-sharp canines, she bit down until a drop of blood clung to her tooth before she licked it away.
He sat up and embedded his hand in her beachy waves, cradling the back of her neck, and pressed his lips to hers. Without force, without plea. The blazing hot fire the simple connection stirred was off the charts. Didn’t matter that he had nothing for comparison, human or not. He knew. They shared something extraordinary.
“Bennett, you’re a sweet guy, but…” she trailed off, looking at the glow of sunrise threatening in the distant sky.
Thumb tracing his hand along the curve of her jaw, he shook his head. “I am a sweet guy. And I’m not an idiot. I’m not expecting white picket fences.” An ache in his chest, his breath grew heavy as he accepted the inevitable.
“This was a mistake. I’m sorry.”
The last trace of hope exhaling from his empty lungs, he shook his head. “It wasn’t, but I know where you stand.” Regrettably.
She slipped her feet into her panties. “Please say you won’t go after them alone. Call in your mother’s team or something.”
Teeth gritted tight, he grabbed his jeans and shoved his feet into the pant legs, lying back on the rough surface of the roof to pull them over his hips, the sharp pebbles digging into his skin. He kept his hand over the goods and tugged up the zipper, not caring where his underwear had gone. “No. First, demon hunters don’t join forces with any hunter outside their own team once their parent has trained them and deemed them ready. Second, they won’t understand that you’re not like other vampires and will go after you too.”
“You don’t have a team. Come on, you told me yourself, Quinn hasn’t accepted the demon blood yet, and Lana is away at college.”
“I’m not calling for my mommy and running from the first decent fight of my life.”
“There are too many of them.”
“Fight with me. I know you’ve got the skills.”
“We won’t survive it.”
“What about your brother, isn’t he getting back into town soon? Quinn will accept the gift when she turns eighteen in a few days, and Lana can be here at a moment’s notice. We’ve been training together since we were in diapers, and I know they’ll be game to dive right in. With your brother too, we can take them.” He was floored that her brother, her actual biological brother, was part of her life. Bennett didn’t even have a sibling, but his parents were in their reproductive prime, so maybe someday. But it was different now that he was old enough to have his own.
His jaw dropped, and whatever she’d been saying melted right out of his ears. She pulled her top over her head, closing her eyes and running her fingers through her hair. Before tonight, she had gifted him with a few third-base make-outs, but something about tonight had been special. Maybe she’d agree to a few years of more nights like this-
“Bennett?” She raised an eyebrow and cleared her throat when he didn’t look away.
“Huh? Sorry,” he muttered, sporting a sheepish grin as he raised his gaze to meet hers.
Adair wasn’t merely alluring because of her natural predator appeal. Something in her azure eyes and freckled cheeks gave her an air of naivete, but her wicked grin and sinful body promised so much more. And, well, damn, he knew that was absolutely true thanks to tonight. “He’s up in the highlands, and there’s no service at the castle, but he promised he’d be back by the twentieth.”
“Where you were born?”
“I wish. Our home crumbled long ago. This one was much more solidly built by the descendants of our cousins. We invested a lot to restore and modernize it.” She held her breath. He knew there was more to it, but she shook her head. “I can’t let three young demon hunters get killed by some old friends of mine.”
“Very old. They’re experienced, they’re smart, and they’re vicious. Even with three, you don’t stand a chance. So, Logan and I will lend a hand-“
“Great. You and me, your brother, Quinn, and Lana. We’ve got this.”
She glanced to the sky and clenched her jaw before letting out a controlled exhale. “We finish this, then I’m out.”
“You have better things to do with your eternity?”
A wicked shine flashed in her gaze. “Deflowering a newbie demon hunter is one thing.” She rose to her feet and extended her hand. “But keeping him on the hook? Not my style.”
As he met her grip, the shock of the connection sent heat radiating up his arm, surging through the rest of him. She’d surely had plenty of lovers, didn’t she realize this sort of thing wasn’t your run-of-the-mill affair?
Maybe she did. As he stood, she took a long, heavy breath, her eyes drifting over his shoulders, trailing down his abdomen where her tongue had been an hour ago.
“Adair?” he teased, biting his tongue as he watched her blush. So vampires could blush. Good to know.
She cleared her throat and looked up at him. “Sorry, I, uh, I think I’m hungry. Sun’s coming up soon anyway, and I’m not looking to get a tan today.”
“Sunset again? My place?” he asked. Not that it would be her place, as she wouldn’t even let him know where she lived.
She nodded, backing away. Reaching down, he snatched his shirt from the ground and watched her strut away.