Personal Demons/Original Sin meets Beauty and the Beast
The countryside near Frannie Cavanaugh’s home had always been mysterious—especially the weathered house on the outskirts of town, where the quiet streets bled into the dark forest beyond. Shrouded in trees and shadows, it was said inside lurked ghosts and ghouls so heinous that just the sight of them would steal one’s sanity. All Frannie’s life, the house had sat abandoned. No one dared approach the home for fear of falling prey to the evil that resided within. Which is why it came as such a shock to Frannie to hear noises from within as she was passing by on her way home from school one day. She grew more alarmed when she realized the noise was a soft moan, as if someone was injured.
She only hesitated a second before slipping through the front gate. She skirted the house, listening. The moans stopped, but as she approached an open window in the rear of the house, the next thing she heard made her freeze. A voice hissed indiscernible words.
Frannie ran without looking back. But that evening she couldn’t stop thinking about what she’d heard. Was someone in the house, hurt?
At school the next day, Frannie told her friends what she’d heard. But when they suggested breaking in and checking it out, she became frightened for them. “No,” she’d said, “I’m sure I was imagining it.” But despite her inner promise to avoid the house, she found herself walking by again that afternoon. As she passed slowly by, listening intently for the moans of the day before, she thought she saw something move in the shadows on the front porch—a darker outline in the darkness. She stopped walking and pushed up against the high iron fence, straining to see what it was.
She’d expected a cat, or maybe a raccoon. What she saw was a boy just her age. She could make out the pale face in the dimness. But when he saw her looking, he stepped deeper into the shadows.
“Wait!” she called. “Are you okay?”
But there was no answer.
The boy huddled in the corner of the porch looking out at the girl on the street. He hadn’t meant to let her see him, but now that she had, he only had two choices: scare her off or lure her in. Once she knew he existed, he’d have no choice but to destroy her. Because no one could know he was here. If he was found and flushed from his sanctuary, the king of Hell would find him. The magic here was ancient and strong, and hid him, but there would be no hiding if he couldn’t stay. He was a beast. But he was not your typical beast. He was, in fact, a demon. Eons earlier, the king of Hell had created him from Pride, and, in turn, he had taken the name Lucifer, because only the proud are arrogant enough to take His name. For centuries, he’d roamed the earth, tempting mortals down the fiery path.
But, Luc was done doing Lucifer’s bidding. He’d found this place in his wanderings, and had often come here over the years anytime he needed to be out from under his king’s scrutiny. For the last few years it had been his self-imposed exile.
As Luc peered from the shadows at the girl, thick blond waves framing a pale face, something deep inside him sprang to life. Something about her was different than the other mortals he’d encountered. Without making a conscious decision, he felt his feet move him forward, out of the shifting darkness and into the thin rays of sun filtering through the thick canopy of leaves above. The sun hurt his eyes and he squinted against it, raising his forearm over his face.
The girl’s eyes widened when she saw him. “Are you okay?” she called again.
He nodded and stepped further into the light as his eyes adjusted.
“Can I…?” The girl looked unsure as she lifted her hand to the latch of the gate.
He nodded again, unable to stop himself, even though he knew the consequences. He’d have to kill her. Or keep her, a voice deep inside him urged.
She pushed tentatively through the gate but was cautious to keep her distance.
He’s beautiful, Frannie thought to herself as she looked at the boy on the porch. As he lowered his arm from his eyes, she really saw them; black as night in a pale face. His jet-black hair hung into them, making him look wild. And dangerous. A little thrill raced through her at the thought. Something about him drew her closer, despite her apprehension. The way he stood, staring down at her, he seemed strong and confident, but also maybe a little vulnerable.
“Who are you?” she asked, and realized her voice shook slightly.
“No one you want to know,” he responded, his voice low and scratchy, like he hadn’t used it in a while.
She knew she should be scared. She knew she should run. But she couldn’t. “What are you doing here?”
“The question, it would seem, is what are you doing here?” His gaze didn’t waver and his eyes seemed to pierce through her.
“I…” She trailed off, but then found her confidence again. “I heard something yesterday. Was that you?”
He continued to stare down at her and his eyes narrowed. “That depends on what you heard.”
“Something seemed…” She hesitated again. “…hurt, I guess.”
He didn’t answer, but she was sure something in his expression changed. Darkened.
She backed a step toward the gate. “So…I’m just going to…”
“You can come up, if you like,” he said, a hint of desperation in his words.
“Um…no. I have to go.”
He knew he shouldn’t let her leave. It was certain suicide. Thanks to local legend, he’d only been discovered by one other mortal—a young boy who’d entered the house on a dare from friends. In that instance, the legend had worked to his advantage. He was able to convince the mortal boy that he was an apparition. A ghost. The boy fled and perpetuated the myth. Since then, he’d been left alone.
He gazed down at the girl and thought about turning on his demonic charm…enticing her to stay. But something in his gut caught at the thought of what must come after if he did. He’d have to kill her or drive her mad.
Luc looked at her again, something tugging hard at his gut. Because if he drove her mad, she’s never leave. He’d no longer be alone.
He took another step forward. “Actually, I believe I may be injured.”
The girl slowed her retreat. “What?”
“You asked if I was okay. I’m not.”
She stopped backing toward the gate, but didn’t move toward the porch either. “What’s wrong?”
Everything, he thought to himself. But, instead of saying that, he resorting to his old tricks and reached into her mind, clouding her thoughts just the slightest bit. “My heart is breaking.”
For a moment, she just stood staring at him, her face blank. She took a step forward and he felt a stirring inside of him. She hesitated at the stairs and he pushed harder, encouraging her forward. But, as her foot lifted to the first stair, something snagged his brimstone heart. Regret? What’s wrong with me?
Before he had time to think better of it, he stepped through the door into the dark house and released her from his spell. He watched from the window as she stopped mid-stride, blinking. She looked around, then spun and jogged for the gate.
He was watching the next day when she passed by the house. She glanced nervously in his direction and picked up her pace. He turned from the second story window and peered into the dusty room, empty except for a pile of paint supplies in the corner. He moved to his wall mural of the Abyss and picked up a brush. But as he swept it over the roiling molten gold surface of the Lake of Fire, he sensed the presence of a mortal nearby. And the next instant, there was a knock at the front door.
Frannie stood on the front porch, shaking. All day, she’d been thinking about the boy. When she left school, she’d planned to take a longer route home, bypassing the house, but found herself walking past it. And now, she was standing on the porch.
For a long time nothing happened, and she began to wonder if she’s imagined the whole thing. Her memories of the day before were fuzzy. But she remembered the boy. And she remembered feeling drawn to him.
Just as she was losing her nerve, the door cracked open. Inside, the beautiful boy peered out at her through the narrow opening.
Frannie swallowed and forced herself not to run. “Hello.”
The opening widened and the boy stepped forward. “Hello.”
“So…are you really hurt?”
He hesitated. “I suppose that depends on your definition of hurt.”
A shudder racked her. “Can I—”
“Come in,” he finished for her, swinging the door wide.
She knew he would invite her in. She usually got what she wanted. It was a skill she didn’t even begin to understand, but all she had to do was want something and she had it. Even so, where she’d been anxious before, she felt cold fear grip her. She paused, too long.
“Or don’t,” he said with a smooth smile.
She heard the challenge in his words. Taking a deep breath, she pushed past him into the house, reminding herself that this was her idea. Once inside, she pulled up short as she looked around. There was no furniture, no decorations…nothing. “How long have you lived here?”
“Not long,” the boy said.
She turned back to him. “My mother taught me not to talk to strangers…so…I’m Frannie. And you are…?”
He looked at her, his gaze intense. For a long time, he said nothing and she began to wish she’d just walked by. “Luc,” he finally said. “My name is Luc.”
This close, Luc could smell her fear—tangy citrus. He didn’t understand the sudden compulsion he had to invite her in, but here she was. He had never been in this position before. He’d tempted hundreds of girls just like this one down the fiery path. But there was something different about this one. He couldn’t explain the rush that rolled through his insides when he opened the door and found her standing there, on his porch, of her own volition. And now she was in his house, introducing herself as if her mortal soul wasn’t in immanent peril. He started to reach into her mind again, but pulled back. If he were to be safe, it would have to be at her expense. The instant he’d seen her standing outside, he’d decided he wouldn’t kill her, but her mind would need to be twisted.
But not yet.
He moved to the kitchen waving his hand discretely in that direction, and a table and two chairs materialized in the center of the room just as he passed through the door. Frannie followed him through.
“Can I offer you something to drink?” He pulled open the refrigerator and two bottles of beer materialized on the shelf. He lifted them out of the refrigerator and held them up.
“Um…okay,” she answered, lowering herself into a chair. “Who lives here with you?”
Luc twisted off the bottle cap and handed it to her, holding her gaze. “No one.”
He watched as Frannie glanced at the door, a slightly panicked look flashing across her face. “You live here alone? How old are you?”
He hesitated before answering. The fact that he was seven thousand years old would probably not be well received. “How old do you think I am?”
She scowled. “Do you ever actually answer questions?”
“That depends on the question.” Luc could hear the amusement in his voice, but was helpless to contain it.
He watched anger flare in her eyes and caught the scent of black pepper—fury. “Stop it!” She pushed to her feet and he felt his insides tighten.
“Nineteen,” he said, suddenly desperate for her not to leave.
“What?” Frannie said.
“You asked my age. Nineteen.” It sounded reasonable enough, and he guessed she was seventeen or eighteen.
“Where are your parents?” she asked, settling back into the chair.
Luc shrugged. “I never knew them.”
“Oh…sorry.” He could see Frannie’s chagrin.
The topic changed, Frannie’s curiosity covering everything from where he went to school to what he liked to eat. It wasn’t until she stood to leave he realized he’d completely forgotten he had a strategy.
He was supposed to be worming his way into her mind—causing her to want to stay…forever. As she moved to the door, he started to push with his mind, but then couldn’t make himself follow through.
What was stopping him?
He couldn’t put a name to it, but something tugged at his gut. He watched Frannie open the door and step through, unable to stop her.
“So…see you later?” The question in her voice surprised him. He had the sudden compulsion to warn her off—to tell her not to return. But, instead, he nodded.
She smiled and headed for the stairs, but then something occurred to him. “Frannie.” She turned back to him. “It’d be better if people didn’t know I was here.”
She looked at him a moment longer and nodded.
The instant he said it, Frannie understood. Luc wasn’t supposed to be here. He was homeless. Squatting. And she knew she wasn’t going to give him away. She found the thought of having him to herself exciting and decided she’d keep her mouth shut. But she visited everyday after school. The second time she’d walked into his house, there was a couch and chair nestled around a low coffee table in the room that had been empty the day before. When she’d asked where the furniture had come from, he said he’d found it. She thought it was more likely he’d stolen it. But she didn’t say anything.
Mostly, they talked about everything and nothing. She told him about her family, and her sisters who drove her crazy; about judo, which she had a back belt in; and vintage Mustangs, which she restored with her grandfather. As she thought about it, she realized she was the one doing most of the talking, but he seemed happy enough to listen. She’d sit and do her homework, and was surprised when Luc was able to help when she was stuck on her calculus problems. And he always seemed to be able to produce exactly what she was craving, whether it was mocha java lava ice cream or Starbursts or atomic chicken wings.
Over the next several weeks, she felt herself growing closer to him, but her attempts at coaxing him out of the house always failed. He would stiffen and make up some excuse anytime she suggested they go for a walk in the woods, or out for a pizza. Which made her wonder if he was more than homeless. She felt dread course through her at the realization that he was running from someone. He was probably a criminal. But as she looked at him, reading her school copy of The Grapes of Wrath, she couldn’t see it. If he didn’t want to leave the house—be discovered—she was sure there was a good reason.
It wasn’t until the day her brother came up that she knew she was falling in love with Luc. She’d started crying when she told Luc about how he’d died. He’d wiped her tears away and drawn her to his shoulder. And she felt safe there. He’d held her until she was done crying and then he’d told her it was okay. “Children always go to Heaven,” he’d said with an air of authority, as if he knew this for a fact. And hearing that somehow made her felt better.
Luc felt himself changing. He couldn’t explain the feeling, other than to say he felt emotions flaring in him that he’d never experienced before. But the more time he spent around Frannie, the more it became apparent that he wasn’t the same demon he’d always been. And when she’d told him about the death of her twin brother, and the tears had spilled onto her cheeks, he wanted nothing more than to take away all her pain. He’d felt the hot throbbing lump in the back of his throat as she’d cried. And when she was finished, he’d felt the compulsion to tell her that her brother was in Heaven. Children never went to Hell.
When she’d picked up her textbooks to leave, he’d felt a pull at his heart he’d never experienced before. An indescribable need to be with her—closer to her. Before he realized what he was doing, he’d leaned in and kissed her.
In that instant, he felt a burst of bliss explode inside him. And the next instant, when he felt her lips moving on his, kissing him back, and caught the sudden burst of warm chocolate, everything changed. He pulled away and gazed down at her. Was he in love? Was that this uncontrollable need he had to be with her? Chocolate? Was that love? Did she love him as well? Suddenly, his survival didn’t matter as much. All he cared about was her. It was everything he could do to let her go.
After she’d gone, he sat on the couch, staring at the place she’d been. As he stood, he noticed a paper that had slid to the ground, under the low wooded coffee table where Frannie had been working. He reached for it, and when he saw his name written in pencil, traced and doodled over repeatedly, his brimstone heart throbbed. He laid the paper on the table and felt the sting as it slid across his finger. When he lifted it and saw the thin crimson line of the paper cut, he went suddenly cold.
Demons didn’t bleed.
What did this mean? He couldn’t comprehend what had happened to him, but he knew beyond a doubt that it was Frannie’s doing. He laid his hand on his chest, feeling the beat of his heart. When he tried to hold his breath, he found it impossible. He needed oxygen. And, just at that moment, his stomach growled. Had he turned human? The thought sent as shudder through him. If it was true, his exile was no longer necessary. He no longer belonged to the king of Hell.
He was free.
When Luc opened the door for Frannie the next day, she knew instantly that something was different. He’d kissed her. She’d spent all night thinking about it. Remembering it. Dreaming about it. She’d been nervous as he’d walked slowly up the stairs and knocked, not sure what to expect. But now, looking into his face, she couldn’t stop her smile. His eyes were bright as he stepped onto the porch and smiled down at her.
“Let’s go for a walk.”
“Really?” Frannie couldn’t hide the surprise in her voice. “You’re sure?”
A grin broke across his face as he glanced at his hand and Frannie noticed a bandage wrapped around his index finger. “I’m sure.” He only hesitated a second as he stepped off the porch. He looked cautiously to the heavens, as if waiting for someone to strike him down, but then he smiled at Frannie and wove his fingers into hers.
Frannie expected him to head for the woods, out of sight of the neighbors, but he turned for the street instead. They pushed through the gate and walked up the road without talking, hand in hand.
“Frannie?” Luc finally asked.
She looked up at him, a flutter in her belly at the sound of her name coming from his lips. “What?”
“Have things ever happened to you that you can’t explain? Have you ever…changed things? Changed people’s minds?”
Her stomach turned, thinking about all the times exactly that had happened. “Um…yeah. A lot. How did you know?”
“Because I think you’ve changed more than my mind.”
She stopped walking and turned to him, trying to read his expression, but before she could get a grip on what she was seeing in his face, he was kissing her again. Finally, he pulled back and gazed down into her eyes. “I think maybe it’s time I met your family, now that I’m…free,” he said, and even though Frannie had no idea what he was talking about, her heart soared.
I have two copies of Original Sin to giveaway! First one is signed and will be shipped Internationally and the second one, from the publisher, will be shipped to US & Canada only!
Luc Cain was born and raised in Hell, but he isn’t feeling as demonic as usual lately—thanks to Frannie Cavanaugh and the unique power she never realized she had. But you can’t desert Hell without consequences, and suddenly Frannie and Luc find themselves targeted by the same demons who used to be Luc’s allies.
Left with few options, Frannie and Luc accept the protection of Heaven and one of its most powerful angels, Gabe. Unfortunately, Luc isn’t the only one affected by Frannie, and it isn’t long before Gabe realizes that being around her is too…tempting. Rather than risk losing his wings, he leaves Frannie and Luc under the protection of her recently-acquired guardian angel.
Which would be fine, but Gabe is barely out the door before an assortment of demons appears—and they’re not leaving without dragging Luc back to Hell with them. Hell won’t give up and Heaven won’t give in. Frannie’s guardian exercises all the power he has to keep them away, but the demons are willing to hurt anyone close to Frannie in order to get what they want. It will take everything she has and then some to stay out of Hell’s grasp.
And not everyone will get out of it alive.
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Ends September 7th, 2011.
Lisa lives in central California with her husband and two very busy daughters. There is never a time that she can be found without a book in her hand, and she adores stories that take her to new places, and then take her by surprise. Books that changed her world include JRR Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings and A Separate Peace by John Knowles. Contemporary authors that she can’t get enough of include Melissa Marr, Kristin Cashore, Jay Asher, and Suzanne Collins.
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