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An Eternity of Eclipse Book Series

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An Eternity of Eclipse, Book 1

Book Release Date: August 30, 2015

Book Summary:

On the surface, Grace Hwang is an average 20-year-old girl. She is soft-spoken, kind, and has a warm heart—at least this is what she has led others to believe.

But Grace has a secret.

At the age of 6, she was accused of murdering her entire family (an event she has no memory of). From that moment on, she has led life as a sadistic girl who revels in the misery of others. Grace’s evil tendency has been her most well-kept secret . . . until a mysterious supernatural entity—the strikingly gorgeous Demon of Lust—enters her life to claim what’s left of her humanity.

He not only wants her soul, but he also wants to turn her into a Demon.

Grace’s world is shaken to its core. She has always known that she was born different. Now, with the Prince of Hell after her soul, she will find out just how different—and dangerous—she is.

Something evil is coming to this world . . . and Grace is going to be the source of it all.

An Eternity of Eclipse – First 6 Chapters

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© Con Template 2015

All rights reserved.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are products of the author’s imagination, or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental. The Author holds exclusive rights to this work.

No part of this book may be used or reproduced without the written permission of the Author.

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“Something big is coming . . .”DifferentGrace00: Genesis

December 26th, 1996 – 3:33am

The interrogation room at Seoul’s Police Station was cold, much colder than any room I had ever been in.

Sitting on the icy metal chair with my back pressed against the rusted frame, I felt the fine hairs on the back of my neck stand as I quivered against the frigidness of the room. It was so cold I felt as if I was sitting in the middle of Antarctica rather than a confined interrogation room.

Though the dim lighting and freezing temperature of the room intimidated every atom within my small body, it did little to hide the vacant emotions emitting from my tired brown eyes. It was painstakingly obvious in my gaze that I didn’t want to be there.

With a lawyer sitting by my side, Officer Joo sitting across from me, and a small dainty desk separating us, I waited with bated breath as Officer Joo recounted words that would forever haunt my young existence.

“The gun and knife were in your hands when we walked in,” Officer Joo said warily, a stream of warm breath escaping from his chapped lips.

Officer Joo spared an uneasy glance at my lawyer, who subtly flinched at the officer’s words. My lawyer uncomfortably readjusted the gold rim of his glasses over the bridge of his nose. It was undeniable that he was also disturbed with this revelation. They were both disturbed. The only person who wasn’t disturbed with this revelation was me.

Officer Joo’s focus returned to me. His dark brown eyes glowed under the flickering illumination of the lone, battery-powered desk lamp sitting on the table. The bags of age under his eyes became darker, if not more visible under the dim lighting.

My silence persisted under his expectant and scrutinizing stare. I felt no need to respond to his troubling words because there was no point; I felt nothing when he said it anyway.

Finding it redundant to keep my focus on his eyes, I lowered my apathetic gaze onto the gold cross pendant he wore around his neck. For reasons I couldn’t explain, I started to shift awkwardly at the sight. I didn’t know what it was about cross pendants—or crosses in general—that always left me feeling unsettled. I didn’t like them nor did I despise them. There was just something about the religious symbol that held a captive audience of me; something about the symbolic mark that bated my breath and commanded my unwavering attention.

I only stopped staring when I saw that Officer Joo was growing uncomfortable with my focused silence on his cross. Soon, I returned my vacant eyes to him. I addressed his accusations with a simple shake of the head. Whether I was too tired to speak or didn’t care enough to speak, I wasn’t sure. I only knew that I didn’t want to hear my own voice in that moment.

“Grace, why did you do it?” he asked again. His voice was no longer gentle. It was now firm, unbending, and accusing.

It was when I heard these underlying tones that it occurred to me what he was trying to get out of me. Of course, why didn’t I see this before? Officer Joo wasn’t trying to get a statement of conviction from me because from what they told me, they already had all the evidence they needed. They knew without a shadow of a doubt that I was the one who murdered my family. It wasn’t a confession to the crime that he wanted. He wanted a confession to my emotions—a confession to my guilt. He wanted me to openly express all those emotions to him so that he could find any humanity left within me.

I shook my head at him, disappointed with his unspoken request. He didn’t get it. How could I give him remorse for something that I felt no guilt for? How could I give emotions for something that I didn’t give a damn about? His last question lingered in my head.

Why did I do it?

Do what? Killed my parents? My brother and sister? My family?

I wasn’t sure that I did.

The blunt truth was: I couldn’t recall anything that happened.

All that I remembered was waking up underneath my parents’ bed with their blood all over me. Everything that took place prior to that moment was a big mystery to me. For all I knew, a serial killer could have broken into our home, killed everyone while they were sleeping, and bolted out before the cops came. Just because I woke up covered in blood and had the knife and gun in my hands, the cops automatically assumed that I was the culprit?

“Why, Grace?” Officer Joo inquired again, breaking me out of my reverie. His eyes pleaded for me to give him some type of emotion. I was too calm for him. Although he didn’t show it, I saw in his eyes that I scared him. “Why did you kill them?”

“I didn’t kill them,” I finally replied, my voice barely above a whisper. The warm haze of my breath filtered into the room and dissipated under the weight of the cold air.

I had hoped that my verbal response—no matter how succinct—would alleviate some of Officer Joo’s horror. I had hoped that the courtesy I was showing him would mitigate his fears. However, when I saw him furrow his bushy dark brows in discontent, I knew I had said something wrong. The tone of my voice was too calm. I knew then that I should have injected more sorrow and distress into my response because as the fates would have it, my courtesy towards him was now tainted under the misinterpretation that I was mocking him. He misunderstood my intent, and now, much like the fates of all people who lived in terror, his fear transformed into anger.

My features hardened. His judgmental demeanor aggravated me to the core. Could I help that I was like this? It wasn’t like I could force emotions to come out of me. I didn’t care. I didn’t care about anything, and least of all, I didn’t care about my recently deceased family. As kind as they were to me, I really couldn’t care less about their deaths. The Demons of Hell could be ripping their souls apart and I wouldn’t blink an eye of concern. That was how much they meant to me. That was how much I loved them.

“Yes. Yes, you did, Grace,” Officer Joo continued to insist, disturbed at the cruelty that was gushing from my small body. “We both know that you did, so why are you acting like this?”

My big brown eyes appraised him as a lifeless doll would its owner.

I was petite in physical stature, young in age, but my mind was already so much more advanced than any other child my age. I had been told time and time again that with my Bambi-like eyes wide with innocence, my black hair soft as silk, and my skin as smooth as diamonds, that I resembled nothing short of a little Angel. Despite such an innocent appearance, Officer Joo was staring at me like I was a complete contradiction to all of that purity. He was staring at me like he would a serial killer, not a six-year-old girl who was young enough to be his daughter.

“We didn’t tell anyone this,” he began with difficulty, his breathing growing heavier with strain, “but when we found you, you were still stabbing your mother’s lifeless body. There was no one else there, Grace. Your fingerprints, all the handprints, and all the blood on your clothes . . . ” His eyes rested on the white dress I wore. I was still wearing the outfit they found me in—the one that was covered with sprays of blood. We left my house so quickly that they didn’t have time to change me. “It was you. Just you.”

I wanted to laugh at the silliness exuding from him. What was wrong with his eyes? Of course I wasn’t doing that.

I shook my head again, my lips parting to finally give my side of the story.

“I woke up and had them in my hands,” I explained calmly, referring to the gun and knife. I held my hands palms up with dried blood still present in the crevices of my skin. In the reflection of the mirror before us, I could see my eyes dim slightly as I finally recited the contents of my memory. “I was hungry. I was so hungry, and I started to call for someone to come up to give me something to eat. I shouted, but no one came to get me. No one came so I crawled out from under the bed. When I came out, I saw Daddy sleeping on the floor. At first, I thought he was awake because his eyes were open, but he just wouldn’t get up when I shook him. I got tired of calling for him so I got onto the bed with Mommy and called for her to wake up. I was so hungry and angry that she wouldn’t wake up when I called for her, so I just shook her and shook her. I shook her until I saw you standing at the door with the other police officers. I was still shaking her when you picked me up and took me out of the room.”

I smiled, straightening my back. I reached my arms up and placed them on the table. My seven gold bangles made soft, clinking noises when they made contact with the surface of the table. I was hopeful that Officer Joo would let me go home after I gave my side of the story. I kicked my small legs up and down, the soft fabric of my white dress dancing along with my jovial movements.

“See? Do you remember now? I was just shaking Mommy. I didn’t stab her. You guys just have bad memory.”

He shook his head at me, his fists clenching at the sound of my indifferent voice. He no longer made it a point to hide his disgust towards me. He hated me. Everything about me repelled him. Everything about me angered him. Everything about me was inhuman to him.

Desperate to further exonerate myself when I saw that he still didn’t believe me, I hastened to add, “Plus, I’m scared of blood. How could I kill them?” I sheepishly smiled after another realization thrust into my mind. “Today is my birthday and I’m really hungry. Can you take me home now so I can have some cake?”

I thought Officer Joo would cooperate and take me home after I told him this, but I was dead wrong. In a matter of seconds, something within him snapped. He glared at me, his eyes wide with fury.

“Then who, Grace?!” he roared. The bomb he held in finally detonated with my innocuous question. He was sick of me. He was sick of me breathing the same air as him and he was sick of my existence. “Who else could’ve been in that house? It was you! Just you, Grace!”

A swarm of chills attacked me. I felt my entire body shake in fear. I stopped kicking my legs and rounded my eyes in horror. What had gotten into him? Why was he screaming at me? All this time, I had only told him the truth. I didn’t know anything. Why should I confess or show guilty emotions for things that I took no part in?

“Officer Joo! Can’t you see that you’re scaring her? Calm down!” my lawyer shouted. He also feared for my safety. Sensing that this situation was getting too problematic, my lawyer bolted from his seat and raced for the door to get an officer inside to restrain Officer Joo.

“Do you have no soul?” Officer Joo bellowed just as my lawyer shouted out into the police precinct for someone to intervene and help. Bloodlust seeped into Officer Joo’s eyes. “How could you murder your own family and sit there with such indifference?”

His own statement was the last straw that convinced him he needed to take care of me himself. With a roar that could rival a lion’s, his big hands bloomed outwards. His ten fingers splayed open, all hungry for a taste of my neck.

“Ahhhhhhh!” I screamed when he lunged for me, the desk between us barreling into my chest at full force.

Boom!

The air slammed out of me, causing me to cradle my chest in agony. The impact of getting hit by the table was so powerful that the chair I was sitting on was knocked over, throwing me off its seat and into the air. Just as I fell, I heard another thunderous growl. I glanced up and saw that the table had been tossed aside. Before I could see anything else, a pair of big hands wrapped around my neck like a vise, clogging up any screams I could emit. I didn’t even get a chance to hit the ground when Officer Joo grabbed my neck mid-fall and held me prisoner in the air.

My lungs struggled for a gasp of breath while I kicked my small legs in midair. My chest locked up in panic, and I helplessly clawed at his hands. I couldn’t breathe. The pain of being strangled was nothing like I had ever experienced. I was in agony; I was literally shaking in agony. Tears gathered in my eyes at the excruciating pain. That was when I realized he would never let me out alive.

He was a single pressure away from snapping my neck apart when a sudden gush of air flew past me. In a split second, Officer Joo was forcefully pulled away from me and sent flying to the other side of the room like he was whipped by an unstoppable typhoon.

Boom!

Without his grip holding me captive, gravity became my savior. I took my first intake of air after I fell back onto the hard ground.

“No! That’s enough! That’s enough!” I heard screams coming as police officers stampeded into the room. They became the barrier that kept Officer Joo from coming back for me.

While chaos and screams ensued on the other side of the room, all I could do was curl in a fetal position. Black spots blurred my vision while I helplessly cradled my assaulted neck. I felt the weight of the world lay on my eyelids. My eyes surrendered briefly to the weight before I managed to open them again. I could see my lawyer and several officers fighting to restrain Officer Joo.

“I’m going to kill you, you monster!” Officer Joo shouted, struggling to reach for me. His gold cross pendant bounced into sight while his eyes sought my blood. “I’m going to rip you to shreds!”

“It . . . wasn’t me,” I finally managed to say in broken whispers.

I was still desperate to proclaim my innocence.

The world around me spun. As though a spell of slumber had cascaded upon me, my eyes began to blur.

“Stop lying!” Officer Joo roared.

Round and round the world went as my eyes rolled to the back of my head. The imprint left in my mind was the sight of all the men restraining Officer Joo. I felt myself fall into the darkness. The final thing I heard before I completely lost consciousness were words that would forever haunt me.

“It was you! I knew it was you! It was just you, you little Demon!”

* * *

As the months passed and as the biggest trial of my life went on, my lawyers pleaded for the judge to help me. They all said I was crazy. I had to be crazy. What six-year-old in her right mind would kill her entire family?

I tried to convince them. I tried to convince everyone that I didn’t kill my family. But no one, not even my own lawyers, believed me. All the evidence pointed to me and the simple fact that I showed no emotions—no guilt—further proved to everyone that I had lost my mind.

“She needs psychiatric help,” my lawyer would argue for me, capitalizing on the fact that I was still a young child.

The trial ended, and that was what wound up happening.

I was sent to a psychiatric hospital for children and received the “help” I needed. For years they deluded my mind, telling me that I was indeed crazy and they could help me get better. “We can help make you normal again, Grace.”

That was the luxury you received as a six-year-old kid who had a substantial amount of fortune at her disposal. Even in the face of overwhelming evidence, I could still roam free as long as I gave people enough money to “help” me. It also helped that Officer Joo physically attacked me in the police station. The media-susceptive court of law is typically more receptive to allowing six-year-olds to go free if a fifty-year-old officer nearly choked the life out of her. All of this couldn’t be worse with her lawyer, the entire police station, and a video recording as witnesses as well. Whatever the case, I only had Officer Joo to thank for the lessening of my punishment . . .

As I sat in the psychiatric ward (a place that had quickly become my prison), I stared out the two-story barred window with a bored, apathetic expression on my face. I held a helpless butterfly that I had caught while playing in the gardens earlier, and I couldn’t help but allow my mind to venture on. I concluded then and there that I just wasn’t normal.

It was such an odd time for me.

Whenever thoughts of my family arose, there was never a part of me that felt anything for them. I knew I should have felt remorse, guilt, and confusion for what happened to my family, especially because everyone was telling me that I was the one who killed them. Truthfully speaking, I simply didn’t feel any of that. I felt nothing.

While feeling helpless and trapped with my station in life, and wanting to bestow the same feeling of misery onto another living being, I suddenly ripped the wings off the butterfly. Its little body squirmed relentlessly. Holding the appendage of the butterfly in boredom, my eyes honed on the landscape outside.

Sure, I missed my family, but it was more or less the equivalent of missing my security blanket. You needed it to keep you warm and make you feel secure, but when it’s gone, you don’t cry about it. You simply move on. It was horrible because I felt nothing when I knew I should have felt something for them. The funny thing was . . . it was just that part of my life too. For whatever reason, I honestly didn’t give a damn. It was like I had no soul for that aspect of my life.

I sighed tiredly and lifted the window up. I tossed the once magnificent butterfly out. Its body flapped uselessly when it hit the ground, the longevity of its life grim. Unaffected by the death sentence I had imparted to the innocent butterfly, my contemplating mind sailed on.

Even though I felt nothing for my family, I knew the right words to say to make my doctors believe that they were helping me. I knew they wouldn’t release me from that psychiatric hospital unless they felt I was getting better. Albeit there was nothing wrong with me to begin with, I knew what I had to do to get out. Everyday, I told them that I felt sad and guilty. And everyday, they would give me pills that I would always flush down the toilet and pretend that I was getting “better.”

That was my gift. I was a wonderful actress when I needed to be.

When they thought that they were successful, the hospital finally released me.

As I was the sole heir to my family’s fortune, it wasn’t difficult for me to find a place to live. From the age of sixteen and onwards, I led the life of an ordinary person. It wasn’t supposed to be easy for me to start life over since I had such a high profile case, yet, because everything seemed to fall into place and my anonymity remained intact, it all worked out in my favor. I was able to start anew with complete ease. It was as though a higher power was watching over me and making sure everything in my life went smoothly.

I was approaching my last year of college and was excited to graduate. I was thrilled to move on to bigger and better things. Everything was going great until I met someone who would change the course of my life.

A guy.

And not just any guy, but a Demon.

A sinfully gorgeous, chain-smoking Demon who not only had the charms to make a submissive soul out of you, but also the cunningness to make a prey out of you. A Demon who not only took a strong liking to me, but a Demon adamant on helping me unravel the secrets of my life.

“You have no idea how special you are, Gracie,” he once whispered, his voice soft like the sweetest velvet. “How meaningful your existence is.”

Although I knew nothing of what he was insinuating, he paid no mind to that. His voice beat with a knowledge that I didn’t have. He was confident that sooner or later, I would understand the contents of his words.

“But I’ll be your guide,” he assured me, his eyes holding mine with great promise. Then, he whispered words that would perpetually sear my curiosity and lead me down a journey that would forever change my life.

“I won’t only show you why Heaven cried the night of your birth, but I’ll also show you why Hell will kneel before you on the night of your resurrection.”

“There’s a Demon in all of us.”

01: The Prince of Hell

The beginning of my end started on a cold October night in Seoul, Korea.

It was supposed to be a night like any other night. I was clubbing with my friends and like the carefree troublemakers we were (though debatably, I was anything but a troublemaker, just more of a bookworm), we were drunk off our asses. Well, my friends were. I was sober like still water.

Standing at a small stature of 5’2, excluding the five-inch heels I would wear to elevate my vertically challenged height, it was a wonder to anyone how someone like me could have such a high tolerance when it came to the consumption of alcohol. But pushing aside the impressiveness of my body’s astounding ability to handle large intakes of alcohol, that night proved to be anything but normal for me.

With the blaring hip-hop music reverberating behind us, the cold crisp night waiting to engulf us, and the alcohol ready to devour us, our giggling selves clumsily ran into the wintriness of the night. Our balance was challenged every step of the way.

Being the most sober of the three, I made it a point to be the one holding on to my two friends as I walked them over to the silver cab we hailed. Truthfully, I had never been much of a partier. I preferred to spend my nights at home with a good book rather than outside partying. For the sake of appearing sociable, I agreed to go, knowing all too well that I would end up being the babysitter because I was the only one who could handle my liquor. This wasn’t an extracurricular activity that I happily took part in, but it was an obligation that I accepted nonetheless. I couldn’t fathom leaving my friends to fend for themselves—both against the alcohol or anyone who might be looking to take advantage of them in their inebriated state.

“Careful, Ara,” I whispered, opening the door to help Ara in. Her long auburn hair fell listlessly over her face when I tucked her head into the car.

Once she was fully situated in the back seat, I helped her scoot down the seat in order to make room for Dawn. I took one last precaution by tucking the hem of her red dress underneath her thighs. I then whipped around to face Dawn with the swiftest of speed. I had left her to fend for herself in the war against gravity. I knew fairly well that intoxicated Dawn wouldn’t be able to hold on any longer. Gravity was going to win this “battle” unless I swooped in for the rescue.

“Oof! Your turn, Dawn . . .” I said breathlessly, catching her right before she befriended the black asphalt. Her tied up brown hair smacked me right in the eye. Biting my lips to hold back a curse, I struggled to hold her while silently praying that she wouldn’t vomit on me.

“Hahahahahaha.”

I hurled a sharp glare at the laughing cab driver. I understood that the sight of three beautiful girls drunk off their asses was an entertaining scene for bored eyes, but I wasn’t in the mood to be mocked, especially by someone I was about to give a lot of money to.

My death glare eviscerated the smile from his face. After catching the scowl, the cab driver clamped his mouth shut, uncomfortably cleared his throat, and removed his eyes from my line of sight. He kept his focus solidified on the empty street before him.

As soon as I observed the fear in his eyes, a slight remorse overcame me. I berated myself for losing my composure and glaring at the poor man. What was I thinking? I sighed. Before permitting myself to succumb to regret, I reprioritized. At the moment, taking care of my friends took precedence over feeling guilt.

I returned my attention to Dawn. I discovered that she was still swaying dangerously in the limbo between lucidity and incoherence. The only difference in her appearance was that her eyes had turned into slits. She could scarcely keep herself awake. There was no question about it. The alcohol had undoubtedly taken over her body.

“Almost there,” I encouraged, helping her into the cab.

I turned to the cab driver after she was finally settled beside Ara.

Now intimidated by me, he did his best to avoid eye contact. An apologetic smile came over my face. I was feeling guiltier by the second for glaring at him. I was typically better at containing my temper. I lost myself briefly because Dawn and Ara had distracted me. I hoped he wouldn’t take my glare to heart.

I extended my hand out and offered him a piece of paper that had the prewritten address to the girls’ apartment. Along with their address was a thick wad of bills for the trip.

The cab driver cautiously grabbed the money and furrowed his brows in perplexity. He clearly thought the amount of money was too much for the short trip. His curious eyes locked on me as if saying, “You gave me too much money.”

“That’s for the dinner they’re going to throw up,” I answered in response to his unspoken confusion.

I closed the door and hauled ass before the cab driver had the chance to absorb the contents of my words. The last thing I needed was for him to refuse service to the girls in fear of them puking in his car.

Scurrying as quickly as my black Manolo Blahnik heels would allow me, I jumped onto the curb and let out a sigh of relief. Now that my responsibilities were done, I made my way home, the diamonds encrusting the straps of my heels blinking in pride every time the city lights kissed them.

Much like any other Saturday night, my neighborhood was busy with partygoers swaying about. They were drunk out of their minds, meandering the streets and looking for some fresh air before they honored another club with their presence. While they were elated with life, I was just plain exhausted.

I could sense that queasy feeling come alive within me again. It was the type of feeling that I dreaded; it was the type that demanded relief.

I shook my head at this annoying need within me. The curls of my long black hair swayed in the wind as I walked through the busy street, skirting around fellow pedestrians while surveying the block for someone who could help me with this unbearable unease.

My eyes lit up when I sighted an emaciated looking homeless man sitting in front of an under-construction building. His eyes barely open, he held his red cup out and asked the people walking by to spare some change. Another building down the block, I saw a group of semi-healthy looking homeless men sitting in the further corner of the alley.

I smiled to myself. I knew instantly that the old homeless man was the one I wanted to give my money to. He was the one to help mitigate this unbearable unease inside me.

I unzipped my wristlet and withdrew $600. I made my way over to him and deposited $100 into his cup. My hand briefly brushed his jacket, catching his attention.

“I hope this helps you out,” I said sweetly, staring down at him with kind eyes.

His once tired eyes enlarged. He peered up at me like I was an Angel in the night.

“Oh my God,” he responded a bit too loudly. He held the money up, examining it under the dim street lighting. After he concluded that his eyes weren’t playing tricks on him—that I actually gave him that much money—he began to bow his head in incessant gratitude. “Thank you! Thank you so much! God bless you!”

“No problem. Please take care of yourself. Have a really good night,” I told him, my jovial voice traveling to the alleyway where the other homeless men were.

Their curious eyes peered in our direction. Even as I waved at him, I could see the other homeless men’s eyes light up when they realized that the old man was holding up $100.

I walked away slowly, feeling a heavy constriction fill my chest. The silence of the night became overbearing for me as the constriction became more agonizing. My condition was starting to get worse. I placed a hand over my chest and could feel the lightheadedness take form. I was having trouble breathing when—

“Hey old man! What are you holding there?” Voices from the alley behind me coursed into my ears. “Is that a $100?”

“N-no,” the old homeless man denied. His voice was wrought with distress. It was obvious that he regretted making such a spectacle of the donation. “N-no, it’s just a dollar. She just gave me a dollar.”

“Fucking bastard is lying,” said another man. His voice rippled with menace and greed. The beginnings of a physical struggle followed his words.

“No, please!” The old man’s voice echoed across the street. “Please, I need this money!”

“Shut the hell up!”

The sound of fists hitting flesh penetrated the frigid air, rolling over to me like a beautiful symphony. In that chaotic moment, all that could be heard were the old homeless man’s pained screams.

Ah yes, I thought in relief, rejoicing in the wretchedness filling the environment around me. This was exactly what I needed.

Turning away and leaving the liveliness of the club scene behind me, the constriction that once plagued my chest dispersed. I felt nothing but relaxation in the calm of the night. I could finally breathe again.

A genuine smile bloomed across my lips.

After feeling fully functional now that my needs had been quenched, I continued onward, purposely ignoring the excited voices of the homeless men who were ready to enjoy their stolen riches. As their footsteps pattered away in the opposite direction, I dialed the police. I urgently told them that someone needed their help because he had just been mugged. I made sure to inject stress and worry into the intonation of my voice. I turned briefly to see the homeless man sobbing to himself when I finished my call. Although his cries were music to my ears, it also acted like a sledgehammer to my conscience. I hoped that he would find the $500 I slipped into his jacket pocket soon. Hopefully that would help ease his misery.

“Sorry that it had to be you tonight,” I uttered quietly.

I dragged my eyes away from him and felt my smile broaden. As the memory of what occurred faded into the backdrop of my mind, the liveliness and chaos of my surroundings also faded. The further I treaded out of the party scene, the more serene the street became. The block had gotten quieter and foot traffic had thinned immensely. Soon, the only things that kept me company were the orange street lamps that illuminated the desolate road.

Although it was extremely quiet, I paid no mind to it because I felt no fear.

I gave a quiet sigh and tilted my head to gaze up at the night’s sky. With the full moon hovering in view, the stars smiling in unison, and the dim illumination of streetlights flickering in the distance, it warmed my heart to feel like I was walking inside a picturesque painting. There was something about walking alone at night that I enjoyed immensely. It could be the beauty or the tranquility, but I always found myself at peace in such a setting.

Regrettably, the peace was short-lived when I felt a wisp of alarmingly cold air curl around me. Coldness crept down my spine. What the heck? I folded my bare arms to fend off the sudden chill. I was momentarily mystified. I did not feel any wind seconds prior. Where did this nasty chill come from?

I was several yards away from my apartment complex when someone decided to answer that question in a surprising way.

“Don’t you know how dangerous it is for a pretty girl like you to walk alone at night?”

I tried.

I tried so hard not to flinch in fear when I heard the voice beside me. It took everything I had to not draw back in panic when I turned and saw that there was a stranger walking beside me. My throat grew dry while my heart rate tripled in speed.

There was no one else beside me moments ago.

Where did he come from?

My vigilant eyes slowly settled on him. Though I didn’t overtly flinch in fear, I knew the stranger caught the unease dancing in my flustered gaze. So much for not wanting to appear frightened so the guy would run off, I thought sullenly, trying to make out his face in the dimness of the night. It took a couple of seconds for my eyes to acclimate to the darkness that coated over him. Once I was finally able to make out his facial features, I mentally gasped for air at the sight before me.

Oh my . . .

I half expected the walking stalker to be an average looking hobo who was looking to mug me for some money. To my surprise, as my eyes inspected his features that were now visible under the glow of the full moon, I couldn’t help but, despite the arguably dangerous predicament I found myself in, admire his gorgeous features.

Dressed in a dark red dress shirt, black pants, and black dress shoes, this striking guy was anything but a bum. I had seen my fair share of handsome guys, but this guy took the cake for being the most handsome thing I had ever seen. If anything, “handsome” was too serene of a word to describe him.

He had a strong bone structure that accentuated every inch of his face and skin that looked as smooth as fine cut diamond. Not to be outdone, his piercing honey-brown eyes locked me in their gaze, holding me captive for a few breathtaking seconds before my eyes involuntarily trailed over to his tempting lips. I gulped quietly. I honestly felt like I was looking at a model who had just stepped out of the pages of those glamorous magazines. As ridiculous as it sounded, he truly looked like a glorious Fallen Angel who had been sent down to earth to show me what perfection looked like.

I only snapped out of my untimely trance when I saw the curve of an amused smirk form on those kissable lips of his. I hadn’t noticed it before because—oddly enough—I couldn’t smell it, but he was also smoking a cigarette as he walked beside me. I wrinkled my nose in distaste. Smoking was a big no-no for me. I hated the smell of cigaret—oh crap!

I lost my train of thoughts and immediately averted my eyes when I realized that he had caught me in my awe-like trance. Damn, how long had I been staring at him?

I gathered my nerves. Thankfully, my fear had subsided to some extent, and I was suddenly feeling warmer than ever. I did not allow this momentary warmth to distract me. Pushing this unusual attraction to this gorgeous stalker-like stranger aside, my mind was lucid enough to remind me of the dilemma I was in. Not too keen on being featured as a missing person on the morning news, I hastened my pace and uncomfortably cleared my throat.

“Don’t you know how scary it is to say that to someone while they’re walking alone?” I managed to muster out. Even though I manufactured a composed voice, my eyes were timid as they stared straight ahead.

I was aware that I should have screamed for help. The stranger could have easily thrown me into a dark alley and killed me without anyone knowing. I think the little alcohol in me may have clouded my better judgment. It was strange that I did not feel any immediate fear with this stranger. Whoever this guy was, I had an innate feeling that he wasn’t looking to hurt me. If anything, I was surprised to admit that I felt safer around him.

“I’m sorry, beautiful,” he apologized, a sexy lilt dancing in his sultry voice. It was so sensual that I could feel the fibers of my body come alive, wondering who this gorgeous creature was. Why was he walking with me when he could have any other girl falling to her knees at his charms?

I struggled to regulate my breathing. I was feeling hotter than I had ever felt and this sensation frightened me. It frightened me so much that it took all of my internal strength to accelerate my pace in hopes of losing this guy.

If I ran, would I be able to outrun him?

From my peripheral vision, I could see him smile at me in amusement. I was walking with my arms crossed, my shifty eyes bouncing back and forth between him and the street ahead of me. I began to assess my chances of outrunning him to my apartment. Seemingly knowing that I wouldn’t attempt to outrun him (it wasn’t like my heels could get me far anyway), his pace easily matched mine as another puff of smoke curled away from his mouth.

Parting his lips, he went on carelessly. While his left hand was in his pants’ pocket, his right hand was dangling about, holding onto the lit cigarette.

“I know that I shouldn’t have snuck up on you like this. It’s just that I’ve been trying to hit on you all night in the club, but you were with your friends the entire time.”

I could easily detect the widening smirk in his voice when he explained his reasoning for being here with me.

“I saw my chance when I noticed you walking alone. I figured, ‘Hey, I might as well walk her home. If I get lucky, she’ll invite me up to her apartment and I’ll be able to pleasure her all throughout the long and glorious night.’”

Silence was the only thing that poured from my mouth.

I gaped at him in disbelief.

The bewildered look I gave him pulsed with shock. Pure shock.

I had never had a guy speak to me so bluntly. I felt a hundred times better that he was a fellow patron from the club, but my caution with him remained. Even then, I knew I wasn’t dealing with a normal guy.

A string of smoke billowed away from his amused lips in the most carefree way. Its haze seemingly told me that he found much enjoyment in my reaction. He did not regret being bold and blunt with me. If anything, I would go as far as saying that he liked that I was taken aback by his boldness. It was as if he wanted to have that impact on me so I’d know exactly who I was dealing with.

He was as sexy as a guy could get, but I respected myself too much to deal with this crap. I enjoy being treated with respect and I enjoy when guys are chivalrous (even if they are being fake). I couldn’t have this chain-smoking fool talk to me like this.

“Look,” I started sternly, my eyes narrowing.

I was normally more of a pushover when it came to dealing with people. I rarely used my “stern” voice. I always tried to do my best to avoid confrontation. Because of this, it was a completely new development for me to stand up for myself against this stranger. Whatever it was about him, he made me feel more empowered than I normally felt.

As our feet continued down the sidewalk, I grew a spine and uttered firm words that I never once had the balls to say in my entire life.

“I appreciate the initiative you took to walk me home in hopes of sexing me up, but I’m not drunk enough to fall for your perverted charms. I’m also definitely not drunk enough to sleep with you.”

I could feel my heart beat in disbelief at the words that were coming out of my mouth. I was being rude and my voice wasn’t faltering the teeniest with fear! Fighting hard to keep from smiling in fear of messing up my “stern” face, I plowed on, puffing up my chest and raising my chin high. This guy didn’t know who he was messing with. This was the new and improved Grace Hwang, and he was going to get a taste of my independence and empowerment.

Looking him up and down with an air of superiority, I feigned a bit of eye rolling and meanly added, “I think it’s best if you scurry off. We’re near my apartment and if my boyfriend catches you talking to me, he’ll kick your ass. He’s pretty overprotective.”

I assumed he would get the hint and leave me alone. To my disappointment, he did not seem the least bit affected by it.

With another round of smoke swimming away from his lips, sexy-chain-smoking guy shook his head and laughed as my apartment complex came into view. Funny how I didn’t see him take a puff of that cigarette and funny how I couldn’t smell the stench of the cigarette. It would have definitely helped if I knew then what was going on. Of course, as his laughter invaded my mind, I became sublimely distracted from the obvious clues in life.

“What?” I asked, taken aback by his entertained bouts of laughter.

“Man,” he whispered in hilarity, suddenly flicking the cigarette butt away. He mirrored the position of his left hand by placing his right hand into the pocket of his pants. Inclining his head up to the starry skies, he closed his eyes and took a deep breath to savor the sensation of something. When he opened them shortly thereafter, he tilted his head and allowed his enthralling eyes to lock with mine.

The way he was gazing at me scared me briefly. Why did I have the uneasy feeling he was about to call my bluff? Worse yet, why did it feel like I was about to get caught?

“I love it when pretty girls like you lie,” he stated, his tone as soothing and innocent as could be. There was adoration in the way he stared at me. “Makes me wonder what other naughty stuff you’d be willing to do.”

I scoffed at him, feigning a bluff (even though I knew I was caught). I didn’t have an overprotective boyfriend to beat him up. In fact, I didn’t even have a boyfriend. It was a typical lie I used to get guys off my back. It was usually an effective tactic. I didn’t understand why it didn’t work with him. Already panicking in my mind, I tried to keep the lie alive as we neared the steps leading up to the entrance of my apartment complex.

“Lie?” I scoffed again, taking out my keys from my wristlet and stepping onto the landing. Anxiousness brimmed inside me. I knew at that moment, when he caught my bluff, that I should have been afraid of him. By how he was talking to me, any normal girl would be afraid that the guy would kidnap her and do God knows what to her. Yeah, this psychotically bold stranger would have freaked out any normal girl, but I wasn’t afraid. I was just anxious around him. And it wasn’t a bad form of anxiousness either.

“What’d I lie about?” I managed to utter while I unlocked the front door to my apartment complex.

When I was about to turn around to face him, I felt a pair of arms sneak up from behind me. Engulfed in a wave of blissful cologne, he pulled me into a deep embrace against his awaiting chest. The sensation of him resting his lips close to my earlobe electrified every cell in my body.

“Lying about you having a boyfriend, of course,” he stated in an alluring tone. His hot breath glided along my earlobe, leaving me to feel much weaker in his hold than I’d like to be.

I should have said, “Get your dirty hands off me, you pervert!

Alas, at this point, my voice somehow became lodged in my throat. This strange guy was too mesmerizing. I couldn’t find the strength to deny him. I couldn’t even think, much less form coherent words.

When I said nothing, he took my silence as a reply and relished in it. Fully satisfied with himself and my reaction to his impromptu hold, he gave a murmur of approval before wrapping me tighter with care. Blowing soft caresses of hot breath along the skin of my neck, the stranger took his time with teasing me and making me delirious with anticipation.

This is so hot . . .

I should have stopped him. I should have protested to the sudden invasion of personal space. I didn’t understand myself. Normally, I’d kick guys like him in the balls and run off. However, with this stranger, there was a strong magnetic attraction that kept me wanting him. It wasn’t because of his striking good looks (though that in itself would have cinched the deal), but because of something else—this raw, sexual magnetism that was so powerful by nature that no woman created would be able to refuse it.

“Let’s go upstairs,” he proposed delicately, his hands trailing down my hips and stopping at the lining that ended between the intersection of my black dress and my bare thighs. With deliberate care, his fingers treaded in that area, tempting me with what could happen. “I’d like to further introduce myself to you.”

As an added persuasion, he began to nuzzle himself against my bare shoulder, leaving me with more tingling sensations that were overwhelming my senses. I didn’t know what was wrong with me. Why was I behaving like this? I had never behaved like this. I was a virgin who was so prudish that I didn’t even kiss guys unless they were my boyfriend—and I had never liked anyone enough to have a boyfriend. I valued the intimacy between lovers and planned on saving all these gifts for my special someone. That said, I didn’t understand why I was not only allowing some random stalker-guy feel me up in front of my apartment, but I also didn’t understand why I didn’t stop him. The more his lips met my skin, the more I wanted him to touch me. It was like a drug. I knew it was wrong, but his touch was so damn addicting.

“Gracie,” he murmured, lost in the trance he placed us in.

My eyes bloomed once I heard the trigger that snapped me out of my idiotic stupor. I turned to face him with a look of shock and broke away from his embrace.

“How did you know my name?” I inquired firmly, panic riding the nerves of my trembling body. My heart began to beat relentlessly as I eyed him with complete vigilance. The spell he cast over me seemingly broken, I started to behave as any normal girl would. I started freaking the fuck out.

The guy groaned. Closing his eyes in frustration, the devastatingly tantalizing smile of his remained while he whispered a string of expletives to himself—as if scolding himself for blurting out the wrong thing.

A brooding sigh escaped his lips when he opened his eyes and held my gaze. Though he was pissed off at himself for having a momentary lapse in judgment, there was still amusement on his face. He didn’t seem concerned with how I was reacting—that I was now so wary of him.

“I was hoping that I’d get to pleasure you for a couple of hours before I got down to business,” he commented quietly, giving me a sheepish smile that was so innocent and inviting that I nearly lost control.

Before the stupid part of me could lunge at him in a sexual frenzy, my logic remained strong.

“Who are you?” I demanded. I didn’t worry too much about him knowing my name because I suspected that he probably overheard it while I was at the club with my friends. However, I wanted to know his.

He grinned slowly. With an undulation of pride beaming out of his voice, he casually said, “Your Guardian, of course.”

The world screeched to a stop.

“Excuse me?”

The look on my face said it all: with my jaw hanging low and my gaping eyes nearly bulging out, I was clearly scared and not amused with his answer. I trembled where I stood. This was just my luck. The one time I let some random guy feel me up, he turned out to be a psychotic freak. Seriously, where the heck was everyone tonight? I had hoped that one of my neighbors would pop out and save me. Hell, I’d even settle for someone walking on the street to say, “Hey! Girl-with-her-jaw-hung-low-in-shock, are you okay? Is this guy bothering you?but no such passerby made an appearance. Honestly. Why was no one saving me?

Make a run for it, you bimbo! Hurry before he cuts you up and makes a meal out of you, my brain shouted indignantly, lighting the fuse I needed to get away from him.

“I-I think I’m gonna go,” I announced urgently, realizing all too quickly that the only person who could save me from this sexy-but-suspiciously-mental-nutcase was myself.

I unlocked the door with the swiftest of speed and pulled it open just wide enough for myself to fit through. Wasting no time, I dashed in like a thief in the night.

“Oh shit!” he shouted disbelievingly, caught off guard at how quick I was. At the sight of me running away and the door closing shut behind me, I could see him take a stride forward in hopes of blocking the door from being closed. But it was too late. With the sound of the door clicking shut, an official barricade was placed between the stranger and myself.

“Gracie, don’t do this,” I heard him implore from the other side of the door.

“Go . . . j-just go away, you scary person!” I managed to squeak out, no longer putting up the façade of being an empowered independent woman. Right now, I was scared shitless.

I could hear him chuckling at the bad name I called him. Even if the door was between us, I could almost hear the smile that adorned his lips while he spoke to me.

“Gracie, stop playing and open up. You have no idea what I’ve given up to be here with you. I’m not wasting another second out here when I’ve been through Hell just to get to you.”

Stop playing and open up?

What he had given up to be here with me?

He had been through Hell just to get to me?

What the fuck?

I was at a loss. I didn’t know how to respond. It was official: I had stumbled upon an escapee from the mental hospital and there was a high likelihood that his M.O. was to attack susceptible girls walking home alone at night. His selling point: using his attractive features to persuade them to let their guards down so that he could take them back to their apartments and chop them to pieces.

And to think that I was a willing pawn when I allowed myself to succumb to his charms!

Beads of nervous sweat cloaked my forehead when I digested how terrifying my current situation was. I literally had a near-death experience and only escaped in the nick of time!

Shit.

Holy shit.

Shit like this only happens to me.

At this point, I was already digging my phone out of my wristlet with the sole intention of calling the cops. I wanted to make sure they incarcerated his crazy ass. No one was going to make a newsworthy victim out of me. I was horrified to find that my phone was out of batteries. I had used up the last of its juice to call the cops for that homeless man.

I muttered a curse under my breath. This was my karma for surfing online while at the club and getting homeless men assaulted instead of conserving precious battery life.

“W-what do you want with me?” I managed to splutter out, my intention to keep him in the dark that I had already figured out his M.O. (and that I figured out he was a psychotic serial-killer from the mental hospital).

At the same time, I continued my efforts to defy the laws of battery life by pushing my phone past its capacity.

Please work, please work.

All I needed was a ten-second phone call to the cops because it appeared that everyone in my damn building was missing!

“I already told you,” he answered softly, sternly. I could hear it in his voice that although he was still gentle with me, his patience was wearing thin. “I’m your Guardian.”

“Shoot,” I muttered when my phone refused to turn on. I was past listening to this maniac. I shook in disbelief at the absurdity of all of this. The fact that my cell phone was officially useless in my time of need, the fact that I had a wacko standing outside my door, and the fact that I was tempted to open the door, succumb to sexual frenzy, and hurl myself onto this crazy—but absolutely gorgeous—psycho was scaring the crap out of me.

“This . . . this is nuts,” I couldn’t help but whisper.

I rubbed my temples, feeling an impending headache ensue. I concluded that my next best strategic move was to run upstairs to my room and use the landline instead. Screw stalling the maniac so that the cops could come and arrest him outside. I had to protect myself now.

My decision set, I turned on my heels. I was prepared to dash towards the elevator when his voice filtered through the door.

“Gracie, I’m not joking,” he warned. Steel treaded beneath his gentle voice.

I shuddered. Even with the barrier between us, it felt as though he could see me take off in fear.

“I really don’t want to scare you,” he continued on the other side of the door. “So can you please just open the door so we can talk?”

I shook my head at the door, becoming more and more afraid of the dilemma I was in. How on earth was I supposed to open the door for someone who said, “I really don’t want to scare you”? Did he take me for an idiot? That was the gold-star line to freaking someone out!

“J-just leave me alone,” I stuttered, wanting no more interactions with him. Giving no more thought to his warning, I picked up speed and dashed towards the elevator like a scared little mouse.

“Bloody hell, I didn’t want to do this—” I heard him murmur once the sounds of my heels clacking on the tiles echoed throughout the room.

Then, it happened.

Within a split second, as I was about to run into the opened elevator, chain-smoking guy suddenly materialized before me, his arms folded and his lips curved in an annoyed smirk.

He gazed at me with slight reprove.

“—But you just had to be stubborn, right, Gracie?”

Needless to say, when he popped out in front of me like a ghost out of the abyss, I did the only thing I could do at that moment: I screamed like there was no tomorrow.

“One day, you will want everything the world has to offer.”

02: The Demon of Lust 

“Ahhhhhh!”

With unprecedented instincts, I bolted straight for the emergency stairwell. My heart galloped in pure fear. I could hear the guy sigh knowingly as I sped out of sight, my face turning as pale as a ghost who had received the supernatural shock of her life.

Oh. My. Flying. Pig.

He just appeared out of thin air!

I don’t know how fast I ran, but I couldn’t stop as I kept wishing for the thirteenth floor—my floor—to appear in sight. I was going crazy with confusion and panic.

This can’t be happening. This can’t be happening, I kept reciting in my mind as I hurtled one step after the other, fearing for my life.

I saw the guy perform something that was so impossible under the law of physics that my brain couldn’t believe what it saw. My brain couldn’t comprehend it, but that did not deter my body from continuing to move. The only thing driving me at that moment was survival instincts in its rawest and most potent form. In the stairwell, all I could hear was the sound of my heels clacking after every step. The sounds reverberated all across the walls, intermingling with my ragged breathing and fearful whimpering.

Needless to say, I was scared shitless.

My only solace to calm my frenzied nerves was to keep running. I was surprised at my stamina of running up thirteen floors and how I didn’t topple over the stairs from the heels I wore. I didn’t even feel tired. I was just scared. This was all too crazy and mind-boggling. I had to get back to the safety of my apartment so I could figure out what the hell I just saw!

I muttered words of absolute thanks after I reached the thirteenth floor.

Reprieve crashed over me when I ran into the bright haven of light that illuminated my apartment hall. Still terrified for my life, I wasted no time in sprinting to the furthest end of the hall for my apartment door: #999.

I fought hard to steady my hands, struggling to unlock the door.

“Come on, come on, come on,” I mumbled irritably, trying desperately to insert the key.

In my state of intense fear, I couldn’t believe I was still stuck outside my apartment trying to get in.

Honestly, how long does it fucking take to unlock a damn door?!

“Oh! Yes! Yes! Yes!”

A tsunami of relief spread over me once I was finally able to insert my key in the lock. My trembling hand found the doorknob and I pushed my way in. I stumbled into my dark apartment, never feeling safer to be back in my own home. I immediately shut the door and deadlocked it to ensure complete safety. Slowly backing away while my breathing grew slightly steadier, I continued to stare unblinkingly at the door, somehow expecting to hear him knock.

I waited for it.

I knew it was coming.

I knew he was going to knock.

Silence.

When nothing but silence rang in my ears, I let out a disbelieving exhale. My mind was still spinning and trying to make sense of what had transpired. I truly felt like I was going crazy. Did he really appear out of thin air or was my mind messing with me? Did the guy spike my drink at the club and follow me home in hopes of date-raping me or something? Or was I unknowingly on acid, and this was simply a fucked up trip?

My feet continued to instinctively back away from the door that now seemed like the passage to Hell. I forged on with trying to think up alternatives to what I thought I just saw—which was him appearing out of thin air. It couldn’t be possible. It was against all the laws of physics. How could someone materialize out of thin air and—?

My whirlwind of thoughts came to an earthshattering halt when I felt warm arms snake themselves from behind me. A familiar scent of cologne enveloped me while strong arms pulled me into a tight embrace, bringing me closer to someone I had become too well-acquainted with.

Oh no.

I screamed.

Or I thought I did.

My mouth was opened and I screamed with all my might, but nothing came out of my throat.

No, no! What happened to my voice? Where did it go?

With my internal terror alert rising at an all-time high, I brought both of my hands to my throat, subconsciously hoping that the touch would bring my voice back. But the action did no such thing. My heart thumped incessantly as I found myself mute with some strange guy embracing me from behind.

This is what I get for thinking that I was invincible and walking home alone at night, I thought miserably, wishing that I took a cab home instead of trying to save money. I was undeniably at this psycho’s mercy and I feared all the possible ways he could torture and kill me.

“Gracie,” I heard him say gently, his voice detecting the obvious fear in my frozen stance. He embraced me with a bit more care to ease my fears. He rested his lips near my ear and whispered, “I’m really sorry for scaring you. You should know that the very last thing I ever want to do is scare you.”

Though there was genuine regret in his voice, I still found myself shaking. I couldn’t control it. I was so terrified. I couldn’t believe all of this was happening to me.

He went on, his voice maintaining its soothing quality. “I was hoping that you’d open the door so I would be able to talk to you and—” He stopped as if catching himself in a lie. I could hear the sheepish smile in his voice as his next words flowed out. “Well, if I’m being honest, I was actually hoping that you’d throw yourself at me and let me have my way with your pretty little body before I freak you out and show you the stuff I can do.”

I couldn’t help but roll my eyes at the horndog reason he had to add in.

He continued, oblivious to my eye rolling. “But I promise I’m not here to hurt you. I already told you, I’m your Guardian. I’m here to watch over you. I’m here to protect you.”

Eye rolling aside, I was still too freaked out about not having a voice to absorb what he was saying. Instead of responding with a nod of comprehension, my body started to tremble even more. I felt like a feeble mouse that had gotten scooped up by a ravenous cat. I had never felt more helpless and scared for my life.

He sighed quietly, noting the shivering state I was in. Giving me a kiss on the back of my head as if to silently assure me that he wasn’t going to hurt me, he added, “I’ll give you your voice back if you promise not to scream. Do you promise?”

I nodded vigorously, not caring about anything else other than getting my voice back.

Yes, please give me my voice back, you insanely hot wacko!

At my obvious display of agreement, he moved his lips away from my ears and towards my neck.

The instant he planted a kiss on the side of my neck—electrifying my skin with his supple lips—I felt a surge of energy rise through my body and up towards my throat. Unable to subdue this mysterious force, I couldn’t help but let out a huge gasp. I placed a hand on my chest to brace myself for the liberation to come.

“Oh, thank God!” I shouted, overjoyed to hear my own voice.

I heard him chuckle behind me as I thanked God.

“Not quite,” was all he whispered in response to that.

Distracted with the return of my voice, I did not give his response a second thought. I simply rejoiced in my ability to speak again. Disoriented with everything that was hitting me at once, I found myself limp as I unknowingly relaxed under chain-smoking guy’s hold. My back pressed against his rock-hard chest and tall frame. The sense of safety returned to me while a momentary lapse in judgment left me feeling comfortable in his embrace.

Heeding the opportunity to use my sudden calmness to his advantage, chain-smoking guy wasted no time in spinning me around to face him. He had a big grin on his face when I locked eyes with him. He took the liberty to sit down on the arm of the sofa when he spun me around, which meant that the perverted horndog was graced with a close-up view of my cleavage.

He made it no secret that he loved the view.

“Stop staring!” I indignantly commanded, angered by his perversion and the mere fact that he was holding me hostage in my own home.

I tried to take a step away from him, but he responded to my attempt of escape by placing both of his hands on either side of my hips, bringing me closer to him. He continued to sit comfortably on the armchair as he held me in the space between his parted legs.

God, the look on his face made me so mad.

“Are you going to sit around and stare at me all night or are we going to talk about what you did?” I asked sharply, my voice a bit more forceful than it should have been. It may be because I was sure that he wasn’t going to hurt me, or it could easily be that all the shock and fear had pushed me over the edge of sanity, but I wasn’t afraid when I asked him. At this point, I simply wanted to know what the hell was going on.

Sighing, he stood up and pulled me closer. He lowered his head so that we were almost face-to-face. My knees went weak when he gave me a close-up of his handsome face. I inhaled sharply, taking in another whiff of that sexy cologne of his. It was slightly obscure at that moment, but I still didn’t understand why I couldn’t smell the scent of cigarettes on him.

“To be honest, I’d rather just stare and pleasure you all night,” he flippantly answered. His eyes twinkled with playfulness and great sexual innuendos. A slow, seductive smile lined the curves of his lips. I felt myself grow hot at the sight. The sexual heat that emanated from him was unbelievable.

I concluded then and there that I was a masochist on every level.

What girl in her right mind would be turned on in a situation like this?

I was suddenly afraid again. It terrified me that this guy held such power over me.

“I can feel your lust for me, Gracie,” he commented knowingly. His eyes gazed into mine. “You want me just as much as I want you.”

“You’re not real,” I replied, desperately trying to convince myself that none of this was taking place. This was all too insane—it was all too crazy to be real. It was a dream. It was all a big, crazy weird dream.

He arched a brow in amusement. “If I’m not real, then what am I?”

“A figment of my imagination,” I slowly answered, trying to gather my bearings in this dream world of mine. Breathing had become inconsequential because he had taken every inch of it away by simply being the attractive, dominant, and mesmeric guy that he was. “This . . . you’re not real. I’m hallucinating right now. You’re like one of those . . . one of those dreams. One of those sex dreams. You’re not real.”

“Sex dreams, is it?” he inquired while my thumping heart accelerated with desire. He didn’t mind humoring my notion that he was just a figment of my imagination, especially one pertaining to a sex dream. His gaze darkened with carnality. “Do you have a lot of those, Gracie?”

“N-no,” I said honestly, losing my breath with the amount of sexual energy rolling off his body. I had never had sex dreams before, but I had a feeling that after tonight, sex dreams would be frequent and this sexy creature would always be my leading man.

Male pride burst into his eyes. “So I’m your first?”

I didn’t say anything. I merely inhaled a sharp breath when the room started to get foggy. I could swear I felt invisible hands running up and down my body—caressing up and down my body e byscs:ingy to devourcuous question.pportunity!cdavis.edu. gn intern. ty to work with d me, seducing me, and further throwing me into the mercy of his presence.

I uncomfortably looked around the apartment once I noticed something odd.

Were my eyes playing tricks on me or was the room getting foggy?

Unaffected by my lack of response, his voice became hoarse with need. “What do you want to do with me in your dreams then, Gracie?”

A lot, I answered in my mind.

I was horrified when he hovered his lips over mine and smiled lazily at me. As though hearing my unspoken answer, he drawled, “Show me.”

Heat enflamed my cheeks. I shook my head. Even though this was a dream, I couldn’t bring myself to do something so brave and wanton.

An entertained chuckle emanated from him. “If I’m not real,” he began, running a hand through my hair in adoration, “then why are you holding back?”

I continued to shake my head, the hue of my face becoming reminiscent of a tomato.

He grinned, nipping his nose with mine while continuing to tease my lips with his. He teasingly closed the proximity between our lips—never fully bridging the gap. He never kissed me, but he made sure his mouth was so close to mine that even his hot breath was capable of doing the kissing for him. He was teasing me, and I was going bonkers for it.

“I know you want me, Gracie,” he reiterated, his sultry drawl convincing me that I should succumb to this desire.

I said nothing, but I couldn’t deny it. There was no question about it. I really did want him.

Taking advantage of my silence, he took it as an invitation to remove his hands from my hips. He shifted his hands’ attention to my waist and drew me against his body. Tilting his head down, he appreciatively nuzzled his lips to the side of my neck. While prodding my neck with his lips, he brought my arms around his neck.

It was that magnetic pull again. I knew I had to get to the bottom of what happened downstairs, I knew I had to stop him from making a hypnotic bimbo out of me, and I knew I had to get rid of him. I knew everything, but my body refused to listen to my logicality. I was too delirious with desire for him. I really wanted him. I wanted to strip down for him. I wanted to see him in all his naked glory. I wanted to have sex with him and—what the hell was I babbling about?

Finally realizing what was going on, my hands found his chest. I instantly pushed away from him and retreated.

“What do you think you’re doing?” I asked stupidly, jarring myself out of the sexual stupor I was in.

It was such a stupid question because it was quite obvious what he was doing. It was also quite obvious what I was getting ready to do with him. Suddenly, I was no longer sure if this was a dream or a completely screwed up reality. If this was a dream, then it was the most realistic dream I have ever had.

He sighed tiredly at my reaction.

“Gracie, don’t be like this,” he urged soothingly, extending his hand out to me. Desire teemed in his eyes. He still wanted me—badly. “Just let me take care of you. I swear it’ll be the most extravagant and phenomenal thing you’ll ever experience.”

On cue, my body reignited with desire for him. Yet, when I found myself reaching for his hand, I immediately bit my lower lip to remind myself of the situation I was in.

I couldn’t help but stare at him accusingly.

Something fishy was definitely going on . . .

“Did you put a spell on me or something?”

It was truly an offhanded question. Regardless when I caught the hint of a guilty smile in his eyes, I was surprised to find that I was actually on the right track.

I gaped at him in horror.

Oh dear Lord, what did this guy do to me?

“What did you do to me?” I managed to splutter out. I pointed an accusing finger at him. My vision gradually became clearer from the haziness. “Why am I acting like this? I would never in my right mind want to sleep with a guy who is holding me hostage in my own home—no matter how gorgeous he is! I’m normally a prude for Christ’s sake. I’ve never even kissed someone before!”

He feigned a look of innocence. His smile maintained its nervous curve.

“Well,” he began unsteadily. His uncomfortable facial expression told me he didn’t want to share this information with me. He didn’t want to share it, but when daggers found my eyes and were shot into his, he gave in. “I suppose being the Demon of Lust probably aided in making you a bit hornier for me than you’d normally be if I was just some regular guy off the street.”

He said it all in one breath, as if hoping I wouldn’t catch any of it.

But I caught it, all of it.

Despite all that I had seen thus far, I couldn’t help but scoff in disbelief. Not because I didn’t believe him, but because I was too scared to.

Yet again, a confusing bout of contemplation took over my senses. I was seriously convinced I was going crazy. If anything, it would have made me feel better if I were crazy.

When silence threatened to cascade upon us, I parted my shaking lips, afraid to ask the one question I somehow knew would haunt me forever.

“Who are you?” I asked, my eyes pleading for him to finally answer me.

Succumbing to the genuine mystification in my inquiring gaze, chain-smoking guy’s expression grew gentle and serious.

At long last, he finally decided it was due time to enlighten me on his true identity.

“My name is Eclipse,” he began proudly, his mesmerizing eyes never leaving mine. “I’m one of the Devil’s seven Demonic sons, and I’m here to help you fulfill your destiny by turning you into a Demon.”

Have you ever had one of those moments where you were so shocked with new information that you completely blacked out?

No?

Well, good for you.

Unfortunately, my body was not made for that type of shock. I don’t know about you, but when I’m face-to-face with a Demon who just casually told me that his sole purpose for being here was to turn me­­ into a Demon, I did the only thing I could do to properly deal with the newfound development.

I blacked out.

“What you seek, you will never have.”

03: A Life of Sin

It was the feeling of warm sunrays spilling over my face that stirred me from my sleep.

Stretching lazily underneath the solace of my white faux fur comforter, I woke up with a pounding headache that mirrored the likes of jackhammers infiltrating the core of my mind. All I could feel was throbbing, throbbing, and more throbbing. In other words, I woke up feeling like shit and I imagined I looked like shit as well.

I hate hangovers.

I continued to lie in bed and groaned miserably. I massaged my temples in circular motions in hopes of alleviating the migraine. Waking up had never felt more troublesome and attempting to open my exhausted eyes (and endeavoring to keep them opened) felt impossible. It did not help that the glaring sun was bearing down on me, urging me to squint my eyes as if persuading me to go back to sleep.

Ugh, so hard to wake up. 

With much effort, I turned to my side and spared a glance at my electronic alarm clock. Though the red LED backlight was difficult to read under the direct sunlight, I could make out enough of the numbers. 10:06 a.m. Relieved that it was a Sunday morning and that my volunteer work at the women’s shelter didn’t start until one in the afternoon, I was ready to snooze for another thirty minutes. The instant I closed my eyes, the abrupt contents of the night prior came rushing into my mind.

Demon?

Demon of Lust?

Eclipse?!

Fear skated through my quivering body. My eyes enlarged into the size of golf balls when I was reminded of the chilling event that occurred last night.

Crap!

Still dressed in my black party dress, I propelled my body into a sitting position. I allowed my terrified eyes to survey my bedroom. My gaze ran over the white office table area that had my finance and investment books stacked neatly on the table. My focus then swam across to the area around my floor-to-ceiling windows that had the view of Seoul’s skyscrapers in all of its glory. Finally, my eyes rested on the immaculate red carpet on the ground.

Everything looked the same.

Everything looked normal.

There were no signs of disturbances that would indicate that there was another living being in my room. If that “Demon” actually existed, then he must still be in my apartment, right? If he wasn’t, did this mean it was all just a dream?

Determined to ensure that I had arrived at the right conclusion, I hopped off the bed and nearly toppled over. I hadn’t realized that I was still wearing my black heels. Once I steadied my equilibrium, I dropped down onto the floor and ducked my head underneath the bed to conduct my investigation.

I found nothing underneath the bed that resembled a drop-dead gorgeous Demon. My vigilant eyes swerved to another plausible hiding area. Like a jackrabbit, I leapt up and ran to my massive walk-in closet. Pulling the double gold-trimmed glass doors open, I ran after the spillage of morning light that brightened the once dark closet. Once inside, I stopped in my tracks and evaluated the quiet space. All that stared back at me were my vast array of clothes, shoes, and handbags.

Nope.

No Demon here.

A twitch of a smile tugged at my lips with this good news. However, since I wasn’t done with my investigation, I forced myself to hold back that relieved smile. I had to perform one final assessment.

I ran out of my bedroom and burst into the hall where all that greeted me was my living room in all of its morning glory. The sun’s morning rays kissed every inch of my spacious living room with love, giving the space a glow of innocence that couldn’t be matched by any other room. The most important aspect of this room? It was void of any other living entity but me. There was absolutely no tall, dark, and handsome Demon standing here, telling me he was here to turn me into a Demon.

Could it be?

“Oh my flying pigs,” I finally breathed out, placing a hand over my trembling and now relieved heart. I stared up at the ceiling with gratefulness washing over me. “Oh, thank you. It was all just a dream. Thank you, thank you so much.”

I raked my fingers through the curls of my long black hair. Quiet laughter poured out of me. The craziness of my own imagination floored me. This was the last time I was going to drink so much. I had always assumed that I could handle my liquor, but it was all too obvious that I had finally met my limitation concerning the “holy potion.”

Surely, hallucinating and envisioning a gorgeous guy claiming to be a Demon (and a Demon of Lust of all things!) constitutes me as not being able to handle my alcohol. Despite the fact that this brought me down a notch in the “coolness” ladder (as I was a bookworm to begin with and being able to handle large consumptions of alcohol was my only claim to fame), I had never felt more relieved. If you were strongly considering admitting yourself back into the mental institution because you thought you were crazy, you would be relieved too!

I couldn’t stop smiling as I breathed in joy.

The non-existence of Eclipse made me a very happy and sane girl.

With conviction that I was indeed not crazy (just a slightly disturbed and horny drunk with a wild imagination), I immaturely pumped my fists into the air with victory.

I couldn’t be more excited to begin my wonderfully sane, casual, and ordinary day.

If only I knew . . .

* * *

Sanctuary Shelter.

It was originally an inheritance estate bestowed to a pastor’s wife after the death of her wealthy parents. The estate was reconstructed and turned into a shelter in hopes of providing aid, moral support, and a sense of familial support for those in need. Located about an hour and a half out of the city, the shelter was a three-story estate that had ten bedrooms, two living rooms, and several large recreational areas.

The one thing Sanctuary focused on? Helping women who were victims of domestic violence. Sanctuary provided educational classes that gave the residents crucial job hunting skills and provided motivational seminars and support groups to help these women get back on their feet. It was a shelter that did wonderful things, and it was a shelter that I volunteered my time at every Sunday.

My primary duty? Help babysit and keep the young children entertained while their mothers were in various workshops throughout the day. In essence, it was the one period out of the week where I abandoned my typical routine as a college student and surrounded myself with the type of people I wanted to be with—the ones who could help get my week started on a positive note.

“Grace! Hi Grace!” A small and very cheery voice greeted me from the estate once I stepped out of the cab.

Struggling to carry several big shopping bags in each of my hands, I told the cab driver that I would be right back and closed the door with a little push of my hip. A smile bloomed across my lips when I turned towards the direction of the cheery voice.

I happily waved at seven-year-old Sony Lee, who had just leapt off the porch of the estate and was running towards me at full speed.

The morning sun was gone, completely lost behind the vast sea of gray clouds that had penetrated the sky with its murkiness. The sun was gone, but Sony more than made up for its absence with his bright yellow shirt and spiffy little khaki pants. The jubilant child illuminated under the darkness of the overcast sky. He truly resembled nothing short of a little ball of sunshine.

“Hi Sony!” I greeted back, unable to resist his contagious excitement.

“Grace, what are you holding?” he inquired once he reached me. His voice was infused with eagerness. His big, curious brown eyes peered up at me and the bags in my possession.

I smiled and tilted my head at him coyly. Even though I was excited to tell him because I knew he was going to adore my answer, I did my best to keep my voice aloof. It was more fun to keep him in anticipation.

“Oh, you know . . . stuff.”

“Stuff?”

“You know,” I trailed again, my smile growing wider, “Halloween decorations. Halloween snacks. And new movies.”

His eyes lit up like a soccer stadium. “Really?”

I nodded, inclining my head at the shelter. I began to make my way towards the estate. “Yeah, I just stopped by to drop these off—”

“Here! Let me help!” Sony interjected, relieving two bags from each of my hands.

I made sure he was holding the lightest bags before I went on. “And I’m going to head to the store to buy some pumpkins for everyone to carve. Do you want to come and help me pick out the good ones?”

If it was even possible, Sony’s eyes lit up even more with excitement.

“Yeah!” he confirmed as we bounced up the steps and headed into the shelter. In one of the recreational rooms, I could see some volunteers administering mock interviews with some of the mothers, some tutoring the teenagers, and several other volunteers prepping for a seminar that was about to take place. “Yeah, I wanna come!”

I smiled approvingly. I truly enjoyed Sony’s company and I looked forward to having him accompany me to do some pumpkin shopping. I figured if there were anyone who would enjoy picking out pumpkins, it would be Sony. 

Before I got ahead of myself, I made sure to confirm that he was settled with any other commitments he might have had for the day.

“Have you finished all your chores and everything else?”

His head bounced up and down like a bobbing figurine. His small and eager footsteps matched mine. “I finished everything this morning, just in case you had to do shopping!”

I laughed, ruffling his hair. On the way upstairs, we waved at a couple of volunteers and climbed up to the second level where I usually watched the kids.

“Great!” I said after we stepped into the living room and deposited our bags onto a glass coffee table. “Now go grab a warm jacket. The weather’s crazy nowadays. It was sunny earlier, but I have a feeling that it might rain later.”

Sony gave a fervent nod of agreement and ran back to his room. As soon as he disappeared into the hall, five cute little rugrats came running into the room to take his place. They must have heard my voice across the hall.

“Grace!” the little voices screamed out in unison. “Hi Grace!”

Standing before me, eyes wide with innocence, were the five other kids I’ve come to adore: Kimmi, Lulu, Anni, Woo, and Timmi. All ranged from the ages of six to nine—Lulu and Anni being six and twins, Kimmi being seven, and Woo and Timmi being eight and nine respectively. It always amazed me to see how bubbly and happy these children were. Considering the circumstances of how they came here, it was an incredible thing.

They all had fathers who abused their mothers and all had mothers who had no choice but to pack up everything, take their kids, and escape to an unfamiliar place to seek shelter. I felt so terrible for them and was only too eager to be around them. The least I could do was offer them a bit of fun on Sundays to help ease their minds away from the reality of their lives—if only for a brief moment.

“Hey guys,” I greeted with a big smile, crouching down on the floor. They surrounded me like bees to honey when I was eye-level with them. “What’s up?”

“Grace!” Timmi prompted. His eyes were already darting to the bags behind me. “What’s in there?!”

I laughed. Just like Sony’s reaction, I knew they were going to love my answer.

“Halloween decorations,” I began to list off with a playful sigh.

The children gasped excitedly.

“Halloween snacks.”

They gasped again.

“And new movies!”

“Yay!” they cheered, clapping as their high-pitched chipmunk voices rose into the air.

I couldn’t help but laugh again. I playfully ruffled their hairs and feigned a look of suspicion. “But you guys already finished all your chores, right? And if you have homework, you’ve finished it all too?”

They nodded eagerly.

“Yes!” Kimmi screamed out proudly. Her small eyes twinkled with excitement. “We always finish everything early when we know you’re coming, Grace!”

Just as she said this, Sony came running out of the hall with a small maroon hoodie on.

“I’m ready, Grace!” he announced, exhilaration coloring his face.

“Okay then,” I answered, standing up.

I looked down at the kids before me in amusement. They took my standing up as a trigger to suddenly stand in a straight, single-file order line. It was as if they were waiting for me—the general—to give them their commands for the afternoon.

Holding back a grin at the cuteness that radiated from these kids, I humored them. In a strict voice, I started giving out my commands.

“You guys start unwrapping the decorations, start putting the snacks on the coffee table, start decorating in all the areas that you can, and start choosing what movie you want to watch for movie night later on. In the meantime, Sony and I are going to go buy pumpkins so we can carve them today. Okay?”

“Yay! Okay, okay!” the kids cheered, breaking out of their single-file line.

Gleeful giggles whipped past me as they headed straight for the coffee table area. They went to town, annihilating the shopping bags by ripping all the goodies out.

As my rambunctious little soldiers became distracted with the duties I assigned them, Sony and I were already running down the stairs to do some much-needed shopping.

“There is a royal more powerful than you.”

04: Next Time, Buy a Ferrari

“Grace, when is your school’s Fall Break? Is it the same as mine?”

Walking side by side down the dessert aisle of the grocery store, Sony’s eager eyes were looking left and right. His hands curled covetously while he eyed his prizes.

After entering the store, I had told him that I planned on buying more snacks for the shelter. I also told him that because he was my shopping buddy today, he was also in charge of stocking up on whatever supply that was needed for the snack room. I knew it was a responsibility that Sony enjoyed because as soon as I told him this, he was already wreaking havoc through the store, throwing in item after item of edible goodness into the cart.

“Yeah, it’s the same,” I answered him, trying to avoid making direct eye contact with all the delicious looking junk food that surrounded us.

Much like Sony, if my hands weren’t pushing the shopping cart, I’d curl them covetously as well. How could one not when in the company of such delicious sins?

“I just have to get through my exams and then I can enjoy it.”

Sony shifted uneasily once he appraised everything that was in the cart. He looked up at me tentatively.

“Grace, are you sure we don’t have too much stuff? I don’t think the shelter has this much money.”

I smiled reassuringly, impressed that a child so young was already careful with spending too much money.

“There’s no budget, Sony,” I told him honestly. I planned on expensing this from my own bank account. “Don’t worry about it, okay? Just buy whatever you need.”

With my assurance as his cushion, he nodded with a relieved smile.

“Are you sure all of this is enough?” I asked once he informed me that he had made all the necessary purchases for Sanctuary. “You don’t want to buy a couple more sketchbooks and games for yourself?”

Sony shook his head. His young mind was already focused on something else he wanted to do more. “It’s enough. Let’s go buy pumpkins now!”

“Yes, sir,” I said playfully, pushing my cart after him.

He hurried towards the entrance of the store where all the pumpkins were sold.

“Oh!” he squeaked upon remembering the conversation we had before we went off topic. “Will you be going to Busan to hang out with your family for Fall Break then? You haven’t seen them in a while, right?”

He looked up at me innocently, unaware that I was going to lie to him and that I was going to do a wonderful job at it.

Without giving any telltale sign that I was lying, I parted my lips and allowed the lies to swim out of my mouth with ease. “Yeah! I’m really excited because I haven’t seen my parents or my older siblings in a while. My older brother and sister made me promise that I’d visit soon so I’m planning on going during Fall Break.”

When I made the decision to keep my last name after I was released from the psychiatric hospital, I knew I would have to do everything in my power to dissociate myself from the news of the six-year-old who slayed her entire family. As a means to protect myself, I would lie (with elaborate and airtight details) about a family who lived in Busan and a family that I was very close to.

One would think this would be difficult to lie about. In all honesty, it was so easy to lie to everyone because I had never let anyone in. Although I was known as a “sweet and nice” girl, I did not allow anyone to get close to me. Because of this distance, none of my “friends” ever questioned my lies. Why would they? The truth is: humans are inherently easy to fool, especially if you look acceptable and morally just to them. And no one was better at putting on a fake mask and acting like an ordinary person than me.

Unbeknownst to him about what was going on in my thoughts, Sony beamed up at me. His face was completely innocent and void of doubt about me and my lies. “You really love your family, don’t you, Grace?”

I gave him a smile that matched his. “Just as much as you love your mom.”

That was another lie.

Sony loved his mom more than the world itself, and in turn, I loved everything in the world more than my own family. It was a sad fact—one that I would never impart onto Sony. He was far too innocent; he didn’t need to know that awful people like me actually existed in this world.

I parked the shopping cart at the sliding doors that led out to the pumpkin display. Excited for his pumpkin-shopping excursion, Sony no longer dwelled on the topic about families. He was too distracted by the vast display of pumpkins. Bless children and their short-attention spans.

“How many do we want, Grace?” he squeaked out.

“Fifteen,” I answered, grabbing another empty cart to put the pumpkins in. I wanted to buy enough for the kids, their mothers, and for the volunteers to participate in. I had planned on making the pumpkin carving the big event of the day and I couldn’t be more excited to go all out. “Get the big fat ones.”

And Sony did just that.

Being the conductor of the afternoon, Sony took his job seriously by inspecting every pumpkin for blemishes and any other imperfections. His selections were meticulous. Pumpkin after pumpkin that went into our shopping cart could only be categorized as perfection at its best. Grabbing onto each plump pumpkin that was far too big for him to carry, Sony never slowed down as he rushed over to me.

For my part, I would dutifully relieve him of the pumpkins and strategically place the pumpkins into the cart to make room for the others. The system was going well until I took my eyes off Sony for a fleeting second.

A loud scream rocked the world around me.

Thump!

“Ahhhhh! Fuck! You little piece of shit!”

“I-I’m sorry—”

A loud slap followed the apology.

“What the fuck is wrong with you?!”

I snapped my head back after hearing that earsplitting slap. I cast my frantic eyes back to the pumpkins display. I zeroed in on the scene before me. A man in his forties, who was dressed in a tacky-looking yellow leather jacket and dark dress pants, was cradling his toe. He was moaning in pain while a pumpkin that was far too big for Sony to carry lay beside his feet.

It didn’t take long for me to deduce that Sony had spotted another champion pumpkin that he wanted for the shelter and misjudged his ability to carry its weight. I could envision him running in excitement, only to realize the pumpkin was far too heavy for him. As a result, he dropped it, only to have it fall directly over the toe of the man next to him. As this likely scenario played out in my mind, I felt my blood boil when my gaze landed on Sony. He was cradling the side of his head, his small little body quivering in absolute fear. I felt every protective instinct within me flare up at the sight of the tears bubbling in his eyes. That bastard had slapped him against the head.

Though a small part of me—the sadistic part—found entertainment in seeing them in pain, the bigger and more powerful part of me was livid. Sony and his mother were nearly beaten to death by his poor excuse of a father. It took all the courage they had to leave their home and flee to Sanctuary. It had only been two months since Sony came to the shelter. Though he was the one who smiled the most, I knew that out of all the children, he was the most miserable. He lived in constant fear of his father coming to kill him. I could only imagine how getting slapped by this bastard only exacerbated those fears.

I instantly rushed over to comfort him.

“Sony. Sony, are you okay?” I kneeled in front of a crying Sony. I placed my fingers over the hand that was cradling his newly assaulted head.

Fury rose inside me.

Who the fuck hits a kid with such maliciousness when it was only an accident?

It was a pathetic sight to see a grown man behave like this. I was embarrassed that Sony had to experience this guy’s shortcomings firsthand. That bastard. Unable to contain my outrage, I stood up and faced the man. By now, Sony was hiding behind me, fearing that the man would come after him again.

“Did you really have to hit him like that?” I asked critically, staring at him through his thick bifocals. “He’s just a kid.”

Albeit the sight of the man acting like a little bitch was embarrassing, you were about to see an even more pathetic sight: the act of me cowering away when the man shot his ferocious glare to me.

“Fuck you, bitch,” he spat, giving no regard to the fact that there was a child standing behind me.

I held my breath, thunderstruck by his hostility. I was shocked with how he was speaking to me. I had never had another human being speak to me like this before. I couldn’t breathe or even blink as he went on, shocking me further with his viciousness.

“If you had done a better job watching his ass, then we wouldn’t have a problem, would we?” He glared at Sony, whose shuddering grew exponentially stronger under his heated glare. The man angrily pushed his gold-rimmed glasses up to his nose. “The little piece of shit is lucky I didn’t kick him in the face and show him what’s right.”

There were a million things I wanted to snap back at him. I wanted to yell at him, I wanted to hit him, I wanted to bash him over the head with a pumpkin for being a jackass . . . but when it all came down to it, all I did was feel my spine shrink away. I simply stood there in silence, bringing no justice to the pain Sony experienced and embarrassing myself in front of the child I was supposed to stand up for. I had never felt more ashamed of myself. I could enjoy people’s miseries and hurt them behind their backs, but when face-to-face with someone, all I found myself to be was weak and pathetic.

I could feel Sony shake even more behind me, fearing that the man would hit me as well. More shame hovered over me. When a kid fears for your safety as opposed to his own, then you know you have failed as his protector. Suddenly the courageous girl who was standing up to a handsome stranger in my dream last night felt even more nonexistent. I was back to being a pushover, and in this scenario, I was a spineless coward.

No words came out of me.

I didn’t say anything because I had no courage to.

My reply became inconsequential because another voice had already crept into the scene.

“Is that really the appropriate way to talk to a lady?” the voice asked. There was composure and civility within the intonation of the voice, but there was also steel lining inside it. “Especially when there is a child standing behind her?”

“And why is it your business with how I speak to this bitch?” the bastard incited, moving away from me to address the good Samaritan.

I felt someone brush past me to face the annoying bastard. I looked to my right to finally lay eyes on our savior.

Standing slightly in front of us, our chivalrous defender was dressed in a simple white t-shirt and blue jeans that fitted him perfectly, accentuating his tall and thin frame. His long black hair was tied in a half ponytail, the length resting just above his broad shoulders. I couldn’t see the features of his face because his back was turned to me, but judging by how that t-shirt wrapped around his skinny body, I couldn’t fathom this guy being able to take the fully built bastard if they got into a fight. Though, considering the annoying bastard looked like he was well into his forties and this guy appeared as though he was only in his mid-twenties, the young one might win for stamina alone. Regardless of his physical build, his height overshadowed the other man’s and his demeanor more than made him look intimidating. The authoritative aura that emanated from him was hard to miss. There was something about him that was powerful and extremely foreboding.

“Stay out of this,” the yellow-jacket-wearing-jackass warned him. “Or else I’ll—”

What?” our defender challenged. He took a step closer and stared the man down. “You’ll do what? You’ll slap the back of my head like you did that poor kid? You’ll belittle me? What will you do to me?”

Every word that he punctuated had steel in it, an underlying promise that if that bastard were to utter one wrong word to him, he would break his bones apart. It was an admonishment that I knew the bastard heeded. Apprehension and uncertainty began to cloud his eyes.

When the other man said nothing, our defender calmly, but commandingly, added, “You should walk away now.”

The man smirked, trying to pretend that he wasn’t afraid. “You know what? You’re not even worth it.”

With a sneer, he glanced at Sony and me. Then, with one final expression of irritation, he sauntered into the store like he hadn’t abused an innocent child and cursed a girl who was half his age. He had no shame.

I was disgusted. I was disgusted with him and I was disgusted with myself. We were poor examples of how adults should behave; the bastard being needlessly crass and me being needlessly spineless. The only semblance of a good example of how adults should conduct themselves was the nice Samaritan standing before us.

“Thank you,” I said appreciatively, averting my focus back to him. “That was really nice of you. You didn’t have to do what you did, but thank you. We really appreciate it.”

When he turned around to face me, I felt the breath escape me.

He was very good-looking.

His face was skinny and well defined, structured strategically to fit him and his body type. The only deterrents on his face would be the semi-dark shadows under his eyes and the hollowness of his cheeks. However, those weren’t big deterrents. If anything, they actually brought character to his visage and made him all the more unique. There was this “I-don’t-care-about-anythingambiance to him. He looked rugged, unkempt, lackadaisical, and dangerous, and it all fit him perfectly. All these qualities, though imperfect singularly, somehow came together harmoniously for him. It made him all the more attractive.

He was not usually the type of guy I’d go for, but I had to admit that I really liked what I saw.

He gave me a warm smile that lit up his handsome face. “No problem.” He looked compassionately from me to Sony, who stayed rooted behind me. “I’m just sorry I couldn’t do more to help.”

“You’ve done more than enough,” I replied swiftly, beaming gratefully at him. “Thank you again. Both of us really appreciate it.”

He nodded, his smile still kind on me. “You’re welcome.”

He looked like he wanted to say something else. Then, as if deciding against it when a gust of wind blew past us, he merely bequeathed Sony and I with a small hand wave, inclined his head at us, and chivalrously said, “Don’t let him ruin your day. Have a good one.”

With that, he grabbed a shopping basket from the side and made his way into the store, leaving Sony and I outside alone.

I took a second to stare after him. I wondered how someone could possess such strength to stand up for total strangers when I couldn’t do it for myself or Sony. I felt the shame return to me, along with the anger. When I felt Sony move behind me, my attention moved away from the bastard who ruined our day, the kind Samaritan who stood up for us, and my own inadequacies—it was solely focused on Sony, who I belatedly realized must have still been terrified.

“Hey Sony, how you doing?” I asked gently, crouching down to face him at eye level.

“Better,” he said faintly. He sniffled to himself and stared at me with teary eyes. “It was my fault, Grace. I dropped it on his toes . . .”

“It was an accident,” I corrected sternly, placing my hand on his cheek as a means of comforting him. “He was just a big crybaby. It wasn’t your fault at all.” I went on, doing my best to make him feel better. His misery was sustenance to my hungry soul, but poison to the very fibers that made me human. I didn’t want him to cry. “Hey, why don’t you go wait in the cab first?” I suggested, knowing that he’d probably feel better in a new environment. “I’m going to pay for everything and I’ll meet you there, okay?”

Eager to step away from the grocery store and possibly relieved to be able to go into hiding, Sony nodded in agreement. Smiling, I herded him to the cab, asked the nice cab driver to watch him for a moment, and then raced back to pay for all the items in our cart. After doing so, I ran back with all the grocery bags and was greeted by Sony. He eagerly helped me unload all the bags into the trunk. That was the thing I adored about Sony. He could be absolutely devastated about something, but regardless of his own misery, he never allowed an opportunity to pass where he could help someone else. 

Once we unloaded the last grocery bag into the trunk, I announced to Sony and our cab driver that I had forgotten to buy something else for the pumpkin carving.

“I’ll be right back!”

I skidded away, running back into the store to buy the final crucial items for the pumpkin carving. After hurrying back into the store for the supplies I needed, I ran out of the store in haste. I didn’t want Sony and our cab driver to wait too long for me. However, instead of running in the direction of the cab, I found myself in the back corner of the parking lot where all the other cars were parked.

I didn’t want them to wait long—so I was going to do this fast.

Retribution cloaked my eyes as I made my way down the row of cars. My observant eyes roamed over the plethora of cars surrounding me. As though beckoning for my attention, a yellow Lamborghini illuminated under the glare of the overcast sky.

In a parking lot filled with neutral colored cars, it more than stood out, and it more than became apparent to me that this was the car I was looking for. I knew right away that the car belonged to that jackass. No imbecile would sport a yellow leather jacket unless they had an expensive car of the same hue to match. It was tacky, but idiots did it, and I knew he was one of them.

My watchful eyes perused the lot to ensure that no one was around to witness what I was about to do.

Wind was howling as the dark clouds continued to hover overhead. Above me, I could hear the skies rumble softly, preparing for a storm. Thankfully, no man-made sound crept into my ears. Although I could not see anyone in the parking lot, I couldn’t shake off the feeling that there was another presence close to me.

The remembrance of my imaginary Demon thrust into my mind, but I ejected that thought as soon as it appeared. Who’d want to unlock that package of crazy when I was already about to do something crazy? I erased all thoughts about the imaginary Demon from my mind. When I was absolutely sure that the coast was clear, I withdrew one of the knives I had just purchased.

Heart racing in excitement, I eyed the tires of the Lamborghini and went to town, slashing the tires with anger and without mercy.

Hiss.

Hiss.

Hiss.

Hiss.

One by one, the tires that once held the Lamborghini upright deflated under duress. Stunned that the alarm hadn’t gone off after my first round of vandalism, I smiled to myself. That bastard didn’t even think to protect his car by remembering to trigger the alarm. I laughed internally. He was going to pay dearly for his neglect.

Not even close to being done with my brandishing, I ran to the hood of the car. With much satisfaction, I stabbed the knife into the center of the hood. Exerting slow and deliberate strength, I moved the tip of the knife downwards, earning a soft screech of pain from the vehicle as the expensive yellow paint curled around my knife, following its every move with swift obedience.

I replayed everything in my mind: the thought of the bastard slapping Sony, the thought of him making Sony cry, the thought of him talking down to me, and the thought of me not being able to stand up to him. I recounted all of that, and it became my catalyst as I mercilessly butchered the luxurious car. My eyes were unblinking with rage and joy while I did the damage. I could do this all night if I wasn’t so afraid of getting caught. Recalling that I had two others waiting for me, I instructed myself to finish what I needed to do so that I could get on with my life. I didn’t want to get caught.

With a trail of scattered paint flying into the air, I pulled the knife away with a satisfied smirk. I read the message I wrote on the once extravagant Italian car:

Next time, buy a Ferrari, bitch.

A huge smile streaked across my lips. The constriction that once plagued my chest dispersed completely. I could breathe again. Throwing the knife back into the shopping bag after I was done, I made sure to assess the area around me to make sure that I cleared anything and everything that could be traced back to me. When I determined that everything was clear, I broke into a sprint and hurried back to the cab.

“Are we done, Grace?” Sony asked after I hopped into the cab. His tears were completely dried up at this point. “Did we get everything we need? Are we good now?”

I nodded at Sony, happily handing him an ice cream bar I purchased when I ran back inside the second time around.

“Yeah,” I replied happily. I couldn’t control the smile of satisfaction whenever I thought about what I did with the bastard’s car. I felt proud. If Sony knew how I punished that jackass, he would’ve been happy too.

“Everything’s done. I’m definitely good now.”

“He will not only overpower you, but he will also destroy you.”
05: Dimmed Demon 

The rest of the day went by very quickly.

After Sony and I returned from our shopping excursion, it didn’t take long for his sadness to be swept away by the company of his hyperactive friends. And just like Sony, it didn’t take long for me to be swept away by the children’s excitement.

We spent a good hour of the day decorating the estate before the pumpkin-carving contest began. The pastor arrived just in time to be named a judge, along with his wife and myself. We playfully critiqued and gave praises to every single pumpkin and announced the winner to be Sony and his mom. By the time six o’ clock rolled around, the kids were all sitting in the upstairs living room, enjoying their snacks while watching one of the movies I brought. By seven, I was out the door, hugging everyone and heading back into the city to do my evening yoga before I called it a night.

“Have a good evening, miss,” one of the guys at the front desk said to me as I pivoted around the gym’s reception desk.

I was dressed from head to toe in one of my favorite yoga outfits: a pink tank top, light blue yoga shorts, and light blue platform flip-flops. To add to this already bubbly outfit, I also had my hair tied up in a high ponytail that bounced with each step out of the gym.

“Thank you,” I said sweetly, relaxed now that I had done my nightly yoga. Holding onto my blue yoga mat, I smiled and waved at him. “You have a good evening as well. Good night!”

Sighing in utter happiness, I stepped into the busy pedestrian traffic and enjoyed myself as I walked home in the cool night. Though the weather had gotten exponentially colder since I was last outside, the arctic-like cold did little to suppress the swarm of butterflies that had taken over my stomach. I had a fantastic day and felt like I was on top of the world.

The walk back home was nice, completely blissful for the first couple of blocks as I eased out of pedestrian traffic and immersed myself into the quiet street. It wasn’t until I felt a single raindrop fall from above and hit me in the face that my mood dampened.

I glanced up towards the dark skies and moaned, crestfallen that the sky was quite literally raining on my parade. So much for my victory walk. I paused to readjust my Birkin bag over my shoulder and pulled out my small Burberry umbrella. I was in the process of opening my umbrella when a familiar voice awakened every paranoid nerve in my body and dispelled the victorious spell I was under.

“What a naughty girl you’ve been today, Gracie.”

My bloodstream stuttered to a stop when I recognized the sexy voice I once deemed as a figment of my imagination.

Shit.

Holy shit.

It can’t be. It just can’t be, I told myself in desperation.

I had been having an arguably normal and sane day. My mind couldn’t be fucked up again. There was no way in hell he was standing there beside me—actually existing again. I rationalized this, but no matter how desperate my mind was, my eyes did not participate in the hopeful endeavor. I turned towards the direction of the voice, hoping against hope that I wouldn’t see anyone.

To my horror, there he was—the sinfully drop-dead gorgeous Demon himself. He was standing beside me with a black umbrella of his own. Dressed in all-black business attire with a cigarette between his lips and a breathtaking smile on his beautiful face, he looked as real as could be.

My heart plummeted to my stomach at the confirmation that the “nonexistent” Demon was actually back in my life. As a result, I did the only instinctive thing I could do in my time of panic and outrage: I attacked him.

“Ahhhhh! Why are you back? You’re not even real!” I shouted, impulsively pressing the little button on my umbrella in my moment of fear. In seconds, the metal spring of the umbrella was released from its captivity and shot up in the direction of the nonexistent one’s jaw.

“What the fuc—!” His words collapsed in his throat once the umbrella made contact with his jaw.

Blooming into a full-blown polyester weapon, my unlikely bludgeon knocked the cigarette out of his mouth, triggering him to lose hold of his umbrella while he cradled his assaulted jaw.

Desperate to take advantage of his moment of weakness, I supplemented the attack by lifting my bag in the air and smacking him across the face with it.

Bam!

“Bloody hell, woman!” he roared, nearly losing his balance when my heavy satchel pounded his face.

Not finished with my show of aggression and wanting to further immobilize him, I strategically used the tip of the umbrella and pummeled it into his stomach as I would a shovel to the ground. I was hoping that the extra attack would have him doubling over in surrender. Much to my dismay (and awe-like amazement), his abs were rock-hard. It felt like I had just driven my umbrella into a steel wall as opposed to someone’s abdomen. Eyeing him for a terrified second now that the momentum of my attack was gone, I used the last measure that I knew would force him to the ground . . .

I kneed his balls. 

“Motherfuc—!”

The rest of his curses never came out as he fell to the ground. Groans poured from him while he not only cradled his bloody lips, but also his assaulted family jewels.

I used this moment to make my escape.

I tossed my umbrella-turned-bludgeon aside, threw my bag back over my shoulder, and took off like a cute fat kid running after an ice cream truck. I ran so fast that I lost one of my flip-flops, but I didn’t care. Considering the state of fear I was in, I could have lost my crazily expensive bag and I wouldn’t have given a flying shit!

“Damn it, woman!” I heard him roar after me, pain throbbing in his hoarse voice. “Didn’t you scream enough last night? Why the hell did you attack me?!”

You had got to be shitting me. You had got to be shitting me.

Leaving the supposed “Demon” on the sidewalk, I ran straight for my apartment complex. Moments later, I barreled into the hallway and torpedoed my ass into my apartment. Once inside, I made a beeline towards my bedroom in a paranoid frenzy.

“This can’t be happening,” I muttered to myself, locking the door and jumping into bed. I threw my white faux fur comforter over my head and willed myself to fall asleep. I was hoping that getting some shut-eye would put an end to this strange night. Perhaps if I got some sleep the “Demon” would disappear and I would become normal again. My heart rate tripled in speed while I tried to assure myself that none of this was actually taking place. “This isn’t happening. There’s no Demon. There is absolutely no Demon outside my apartment. I’m just imagining this. I’m just dreaming again. I’m just—”

“Gracie . . .”

“Ahh!” I flinched once I felt the “nonexistent” Demon place a hand over my comforter-covered shoulder. “Get away from me, you nonexistent freak!”

“Gracie,” I heard the Demon call out from above the comforter. His voice teemed with adoration at my behavior. “Gracie, please don’t be like this. I’m not going to hurt you.”

When I remained underneath the comforter, I could hear him chuckling. The warm fluctuation of his laughter sent waves of pleasure unto my body. I didn’t understand what was happening. How could I be feeling like this when it was all too apparent that I was losing my mind?

“Gracie,” he prompted, his gentle voice filled with need. “You have no idea how much you’re tempting me right now, laying on that bed as if beckoning for me to join you. Now stop ignoring me and peek your pretty little head out because I swear to the God-who-will-never-answer-me, if you get me on that bed with you, it’ll take a swarm of Archangels to get me out. And considering that I’m a thousand times stronger than any of those bastards, you can bet that I’m never getting out once I cover my naked body over yours. So will you continue to tempt me or will you come out?”

It shouldn’t have turned me on.

His words most definitely shouldn’t have turned me on, but they did. And because of this travesty, I was more afraid than ever. Even then, imaginary or not, I knew it was best not to test his patience. From the way he exuded his energy into the room, I got the impression that he would actually get into bed with me and rip my clothes off. The scandalous thing was that I think I would comply with anything and everything he wanted to do with me!

Backed into a corner and perturbed at what he’d be capable of doing if I didn’t comply with his wishes, I pulled the blanket from my head and looked at him. My pulse raced once I found myself face-to-face with the sexual wonder that tilted my world on its already fucked up axis.

I silently gasped.

My eyes expanded at the sight of the eye candy before me. In all the previous times that I saw him, it was only under the shadows of darkness. But right here, right now, basking under the luminescent light of my bedroom, I couldn’t believe the wonder in front of my eyes. If the average male had the sexually charged energy of 100%, then this guy had the sexually charged energy of 10,000%. Every part of this too-good-to-be-true aphrodisiac embodied the perfection of extravagant sex. From his sinfully beautiful face to his sinfully masculine body frame, I was sure as hell he had the sexual stamina to throw any other boy I’ve ever been with out of the water. If there was a standard of male perfection, then this gorgeous creature outranked that standard by miles.

Oh my.

“Do you like what you see?” he asked silkily, reading my mind.

The way he was eyeing my body—or more specifically my cleavage—made me feel I was a meal he had been deprived of for centuries. He definitely liked what he saw. I frowned, resenting that I also liked what I saw. It was a cardinal sin that someone as aphrodisiacal as him should possess such power over me. I resented that he had the ability to make my body come alive in ways I didn’t know was possible. Honestly, how could I be so shallow when my reality was crashing all around me?

Managing to hold on to some modicum of rationale, I grabbed a pillow and covered it over my chest to prevent him from staring at it. I was physically attracted to him, but there was no need to act like a hoochie and allow him to stare at my cleavage.

He laughed at my sudden display of bashfulness.

“Smartass,” he murmured with bitter amusement.

It was only when he said this that it occurred to me that this “imaginary” Demon was becoming more real by the second.

Shit.

I could not help but conclude that I had gone off the deep end. I reflected back to my stay at the psychiatric hospital, recalling how all my lawyers said I was crazy. I did not take them seriously before, but I was now very convinced that I had lost it. I should have known I was fucked in the head when I had absolutely no feelings for my family’s death. I should have known that I was crazy with all those sadistic tendencies floating inside me. I was crazy. I had to be crazy because there was no way there was a Demon standing before me—and the Demon of Lust at that!

This was my punishment for flushing those pills down the toilet. If I took my stay at the psychiatric hospital more seriously, I could have gotten the help I actually needed. Now I was stuck with this strange, albeit sinfully hot, imaginary Demon who was so horny and attractive that he made me want him as well.

“Gracie, you’re not crazy. Stop thinking that you are,” he murmured as if reading my mind.

That observation would’ve been more convincing if it wasn’t coming from the very “Demon” who was giving me my first psychotic episode.

He made a move to touch me as a means to comfort me. However, when I saw him reach out for me, I immediately pulled myself back, preventing him from coming close.

“Don’t touch me and stop calling me, ‘Gracie,’” I ordered, still holding my pillow against my rapidly beating chest. “It sounds like you’re calling me ‘crazy.’” Resentment colored every corner of my voice.

It seemed that my aversion to his touch reminded him of what occurred earlier in the night. Bitterness morphed onto his face.

“You’re right. You are crazy,” he agreed at last, offense reverberating in his statement. His perfectly structured jaw tightened before resentfully adding, “Crazy to attack me the way you did.”

I froze at the last tidbit.

“Huh?”

He shook his head, ignoring my confusion. Scornfully, he forged on. “You know, I had always known you would scream a lot after having me come into your life, but I was under the impression that you would scream for the simple fact that I’m quite possibly the most handsome thing you’ve ever seen.” He frowned, clearly butt-hurt that I had such a negative reaction to him, especially when he had such pride in his appearance. “You act like I’m some hideous sleaze who should never see the light of day. Do you even realize what a grave mistake you’ve made?” His visage became foreboding. The cut on his lips glared at me in contempt. “No one hits me and gets away with it, Gracie. Not even you.”

“Wh-what are you going to do to me?” I managed to ask, hugging the pillow tighter against my chest. Nervous beads of sweat started to form on my forehead.

“You busted my lip, punched my jaw with an umbrella, nearly stabbed a hole into my stomach, and kicked me in the very place the rest of the female species under God’s creation adores and worships, you violent little minx.” I quivered at the hardened edge in his voice. “Can you imagine all the things I can do to punish you for even laying a finger on me?

I bit my lower lip while terror coursed through me. It would be a total lie if I were to say that I wasn’t afraid of him. As sexy and charming as the guy was, he was also inarguably intimidating. There was a powerful presence exuding from him, one that intimidated every human fiber in my body. I deduced right then and there that it must be embedded in our very genetic makeup as humans for us to fear Demons because in my particular case, this inherent fear couldn’t have been more alive and active.

Before my fear could manifest itself into pure paranoia, without warning, the “Demon” leaned in. His delicious smelling cologne coated around me as he extended a hand out. He tenderly removed my bangs from my eyes and tucked them behind my ear.

His captivating eyes held mine with an unspoken promise of sensual satisfaction. Lazily, his voice purred, “But I’ll forgive you if you give me a kiss to make it all better.”

“A k-kiss?” I spluttered out like an idiot.

“Just a small peck,” he compromised, his dark eyes glittering with carnality. He appraised my lips like they were the most fascinating things in existence. He leaned in closer, affording me the opportunity to make my amends. “Just a small kiss and I’ll be at your mercy again.”

“J-just a s-small kiss?”

I gasped.

I held my breath and stared at his tempting lips.

Fortunately, before the stupidity of my perverted sensibilities got the better of me, I found myself scrunching my nose in confusion when I registered something odd.

Accusation flared in my eyes as a tidal wave of comprehension crashed onto me.

“Wait,” I observed out loud. “Why the hell is a Demon bleeding?”

His silence told me that this was where I got him.

He muttered a curse, the contents of my realization hitting him.

In an instant, he was resentfully straightening up. He rolled his eyes, bitter that I could still manage to think logically while he was trying to seduce me. He stuck an already lit cigarette between his lips. As he began to avoid eye contact with me, I felt the mindless sexual frenzy dissipate. It was as though he had turned off a switch and my once fogged mind was cleared.

My eyes sharpened. The way he awkwardly smoked that cigarette told me that he didn’t want to give me an answer. His avoidance and clear discomfort made me foolishly believe that I had the upper hand in this conversation.

“You’re not a Demon, are you?” I accused. I tossed the pillow away and jumped off the bed. I fixed a hard stare on him. I was feeling braver than I should have been, but when I saw the light at the end of the tunnel—one that basically said, “You might not be crazy after all!”—I rolled with it. “You drugged me the other night, didn’t you? You’re just some freak who has been stalking me and is trying to play games with me before you kill me, aren’t you?”

At this rate, I’d settle for him being the crazy one rather than myself.

Amusement tilted the edge of his lips. Letting out a little laugh, he wiped the blood from his lips, revealing the little cut that was still there.

“You’d probably be safer with a psychotic serial killer than with me,” he said lightheartedly, allowing a string of smoke to flow from his lips. The teasing tone in his voice threw me off. I had no idea if he was joking or not. “And your constant need to prove that one of us is crazy is amusing, but I have to end your endeavors there, Gracie, because I am a Demon and my reason for being here is still the same.”

“But why are you bleeding?” I inquired in desperation. I still wanted to believe that he was just some hot nutcase. “Do Demons really bleed?”

“Demons do bleed,” he told me wistfully. As though mirroring him in thoughtfulness, another cloud of pensive smoke escaped from his lips. “But from other more powerful and unsavory assaults. Never from getting smacked in the face by a sexy little minx who could rival banshees with her screams.”

My cheeks turned a dozen shades of scarlet from his subtle insult.

There was a small smile on his face while he projected another round of smoke. I was aware that the insult was used as his way of getting me back for kneeing his “special masculine pride.” I hardened the features of my face and let his insult roll off me. I hoped that my stern face would act as a catalyst for him to stop messing with me. I had bigger problems to deal with.

“Are you going to tell me or not?” I hotly prompted.

He spared a tentative glance at me and pondered for a few more moments. With a resigned exhalation, he miserably yielded with his secretiveness.

“I bleed because . . . I’m a Dimmed Demon.”

My eyes bloomed. This “dream” was getting far too elaborate for my peace of mind. I gaped at him, floored by the odd term. “Dimmed?”

He nodded, visibly unhappy with labeling himself as something so demeaning.

“What does that mean?”

“It doesn’t mean that I’m not the brightest Demon in the pack or that I’m a lower-class Demon,” he explained lazily. He paused to smile with pride at the thought of his own intelligence. “If anything, I’m actually one of the more calculating and intelligent Demons in my race—”

When I bestowed him with an icy glare that could rival glaciers, he got back on track.

“But back to the point. A Dimmed Demon is a Demon who retains only a small portion of his actual powers. Having only a small portion of his power means that he allows the inferiority of being human to momentarily take over his body.”

I still couldn’t comprehend the specifics behind whatever the hell he was babbling on about. My main concern was another question that was on the forefront of my mind: did he make the choice to become a Dimmed Demon or was he forced into it?

I gazed up at him suspiciously. “Is there a reason why you are a Dimmed Demon?”

“My power is”—he sighed, trying to think up the right explanation—“beyond anything you have ever known. What you see now is merely 30% of the powerful entity that I normally am. I am like the sun to your world. From a great distance, I do no immediate harm to you, but at close proximity, I’ll burn you alive. Other Demons, ones who are less powerful, are free to roam as they wish. For a Royal Demon, in order to be around you so frequently, I have to ‘dim’ myself and give myself more human qualities so no harm would come to you.” Slight resentment shrouded his face while he wiped the blood from his cut lip. “Pain and bleeding is the unfortunate side effect of wanting to be around you and not killing you.”

I blinked at him, slowly registering all the things he shared.

“I don’t believe you.”

A dangerous grin kissed his lips. “Really?”

“What Demon in their right mind would ‘dim’ themselves?”

Outwardly, my voice was critical, but inwardly, my insides were quivering from anxiety. Fear aside, there was absolutely no way I was this impressionable. Did he really think I would believe the crap he just spewed? Who in their right mind, Demon or not, would voluntarily give up a portion of their power?

“You being a Demon makes no sense; even your preposterous explanation makes no sense. None of this makes any logical sense.”

He gave me a blank look before dryly saying, “So some looney tune appearing out of thin air makes more logical sense to you than believing that I’m a Demon?”

I blinked at him.

Hearing him say that out loud made me feel like a total idiot. In spite of his pointed question, the desperation within me was still stubborn. It did not want to give up on the last ray of hope that my world hadn’t become this insane.

I couldn’t believe it; I really couldn’t believe it.

But then, as I looked at him and realized that he was still standing there, staring at me while waiting for me to say something, I found myself opening up to the possibility that there was an actual Demon in my bedroom.

My heart sank to my stomach.

Crestfallen, I fell onto my bed and covered my face with my hands in disbelief.

It was unquestionably official.

If this was my reality—where the spawn of Satan was here to convert me into a Demon—then I was really fucked.

“You can fight all you want . . .”

06: The Demon Persuasion

“I’ve lost it, haven’t I?” I asked wretchedly, my lips trembling from the weight of my reality crashing down on me. “When I was six, they told me I was crazy. I didn’t believe them then, but I think all the craziness has finally caught up with me because there’s absolutely no way in hell there is a Demon in my room. There is no way in hell his sole reason for being here is to turn me into a Demon.”

The Demon’s expression on me was kind. He, to some degree, sympathized with my desperation to not believe the bizarre truth. “You know this is real, Gracie.”

His simple statement made me realize that it was true. I couldn’t deny it any longer—there was no point. All of this was too real to be a figment of my imagination. Accepting this truth did not make me feel better. I hunched forward and buried my face in my hands again. I wanted to sob at the shittiness that was my life.

I looked up at him and fought to keep my voice steady. “But why are you here? Why did you choose me? Why do you have to turn me into a Demon? Why me of all people?”

“Because I want you,” he told me bluntly. He placed his cigarette on my desk and approached me. His powerful body much too close to mine, he sat down on the bed and said, “Unabashedly, shamelessly, and desperately. I want you, and unfortunately, I can’t have you if you’re human. I can only have you if you’re a Demon.”

“I-I don’t understand.”

“The body of a human woman isn’t made for the”—he paused to search for the right term—“stamina of a Royal Demon. Unfortunately in the realm of sex, you are like a bubble to me. If I have sex with you while you’re human, then it is almost guaranteed that you will die.”

The prospect of death was the only thing that roused me from my dazed state. If he could kill me because he was too powerful, then why was I letting him sit next to me—on my bed, no less? I propelled off the bed and pulled myself away from him. There was no way I was going down like this.

My horrified eyes gaped at him from the opposite side of the room. “Have you killed a lot of human women to know that?”

He laughed at my reaction, his gaze following me as I continued to back away from him. He leisurely rose from the bed. Taking slow steps as a predator would when going after its prey, the Demon stalked after me, mirroring my retreating steps with his subtle advancements.

“My brothers have had their fun with human women. Depending on which brother, some women die within a day, others take a week or a couple months before death claimed them. But because I am the Demon of Lust and because sex is my specialty and my power, it is likely that you would die after your first climatic experience.”

Death by orgasm, I mused as I continued to tiptoe away from him. Talk about going out with a bang.  

“Wait,” I prompted when I truly absorbed everything he told me. “You’re doing all of this because you want to have sex with me?”

I couldn’t believe my ears and couldn’t believe the lengths someone would go to in order to get into my pants. Wow, this guy definitely put all the other sex-crazed males I had met to shame.

“Because I want you,” he clarified charmingly. His tone was innocent, as if his intentions with me were completely honorable. “Sex with you is just a very nice bonus.”

“How considerate of you for that clarification,” I mumbled sarcastically, still instinctively backing away from him.

“You should be honored,” he told me, sensing my sarcasm. There was amusement in his eyes as he watched me continue to back away from him. “No one has experienced my extravagant gifts, and because I’m putting in this much effort for you, you should be throwing yourself at me and thanking me for my thoughtfulness.”

I digested his words and paused when something didn’t make sense.

“Hold on,” I began, “you said no one has experienced your ‘gifts.’ D-does that mean you’re a . . . virgin?”

A sparkle of amusement appeared in his eyes. “In your terms, yes.”

I wanted to laugh at the irony of this scene—that the Demon of Lust himself was a virgin of all things. I wanted to laugh and perhaps not be so afraid of him and his sexual dominance because, you know, he hadn’t done it yet. I was in the process of feeling a bit safer around him when the Demon of Lust decided to remind me why he was so powerful.

“But make no mistake about it, Gracie,” he lectured, his voice as seductive and as dominant as could be.

In a matter of seconds, he closed the gap between us and stood in front of me. Stunned by his sudden closeness, I unknowingly backed into a corner and found myself trapped between the wall and his body.

He gazed down at me with sensuality glittering in his eyes. “I am your God, your Master, your King, and your Lord. I am the very embodiment of sex, lust, and passion at its rawest and most potent form. I am everything your fantasies could ever dream of. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that my ‘virginity’ will make me any less phenomenal than all the silly little boys you’ve been with. I’m the most experienced virgin you will ever meet, and when the time is right, I look forward to showing you the extravagance of being in my bed. And trust me, after you’ve had me, you will never spare a glance at any other man again.”

I gulped, silently agreeing with him.

Who was I kidding? His experience did not matter. In the end, every part of my womanly intuition knew his presence in bed would be unsurpassed by any other entity in existence. In essence, he didn’t need experience; he had the laws of nature kneeling before him in adoration, and no amount of experience could ever transcend that.

Although there was truth to his words, his intentions offended me greatly.

“You think it’s going to be easy to have sex with me,” I suddenly accused, feeling all my defenses rise up. Fidgeting with my fingers, I moved to the side and stepped away from him. “You think I’m just going to lie in bed and let you have your way with me and not put up a fight.”

He smiled coolly, taking note of the offense in my voice. “Seduction is part of lust, Gracie. I plan on giving you the full ride. I plan on wooing you, seducing you, andinevitably making you mine. I don’t know about you, but that sounds like a lot of work to me. I don’t think it will be easy to get you to sleep with me, but I think the journey to get there will be fun as hell.” He winked at me, his eyes playful, teasing, and extremely charming. “No pun intended.”  

“Well, sorry to burst your bubble, but I won’t have it,” I told him with inflexible determination.

I was turned on by him, yes. I wanted him sexually, yes. I was very close to ripping off his clothes with my teeth, yes, but desire aside, I also possessed self-control. I was a virgin for Christ’s sake. Just because my body was reacting to him positively didn’t mean that I was easy, and it certainly didn’t mean that I would sleep with any hot thing in sight. I refused to be some human sex-toy used for his pleasure. I wasn’t a hoochie and didn’t plan on ever being one for a Demon.

“I won’t have sex with you. I refuse.”

He merely nodded, feigning a tint of innocence in his eyes. “Thank you for the heads up, Gracie. I’m sure you won’t be too pissed off with a poor little smitten Demon for still wanting you, right?”

I bit my lips, finding it difficult to look him straight in the eye when he made himself appear so innocent, especially when I knew all too well that he wasn’t. He was trouble in its most magnetic form. I could never allow myself to forget that. “I’m just letting you know that it will be wasted effort.”

“That’s very considerate of you, but I’m known to be a persistent Demon. I don’t give up on anything once I’ve made my claim over it.”

By this point, my mind was already elsewhere. Something unnerving thrust into my thoughts. I looked at him with widened eyes. “If having sex with you while I’m still human would kill me, then why were you trying to have sex with me last night?” My eyes morphed into bitter slits. “Trying to kill me already?”

A guilty expression marred his usually cool and composed face. He sighed, nodding in concurrence at the idiocy of what occurred the night before.

“I admit that was idiotic on my part. Demons, even Royal ones, aren’t necessarily known for their self-control. Unfortunately in my case, I failed to control myself when I was with you.” His eyes then hardened with conviction. “I wouldn’t have gone through with anything if it got that far though,” he assured me, his voice genuine. “I only wanted to kiss you for a bit. I couldn’t resist, but I would’ve stopped before anything lethal happened.”

Anger raged inside me. I, too, recalled the idiocy of what happened last night. I recalled the “spell” he admitted to placing on me. I became more outraged. He took advantage of me. He forced himself on me against my will. Scathingly, I said, “You know, what you did to me last night could be considered attempted rape, if not rape itself.”

For the first time, his cool façade thawed. Offense twisted the features of his face.

“Rape?” he repeated, looking at me like I had slapped him across the face. Anger threaded his eyes. “How the hell was I about to rape you last night?”

“You placed a spell on me! You admitted it! You said that was the reason why I wanted you so much!”

“No,” he bit back harshly. “You asked me if I’ve placed a spell on you or ‘something.’ I admitted to the ‘something,’ which is the fact that I’m the Demon of Lust and the aura I give off is hard to resist. Nothing more, nothing less. I don’t force myself on women who don’t want me.” He looked at me critically, clearly wanting to bury this point home to subdue any other ideas I might harbor about him. “I don’t rape, Gracie. This may come as a big surprise to you, but some Demons do have some standard of integrity. The scumbag men of your race might resort to doing such revolting things, but the men of my race have too much of an inflated ego to resort to something so parasitic. We have pride. We are the more”—he tilted his head to conjure up the most appropriate word—“intelligent race and we try to uphold this notion by not doing something so demeaning and animalistic.” He passionately went on. “I never once placed any spell over you or forced you to do anything against your will—I don’t need to. I was seducing, and it’s entirely up to the will of the recipient whether they find me to be irresistible or not.” His accusatory eyes buried into mine. “This is all on you and your willpower, Gracie.”

I scoffed, not believing the state of my life. A Demon had not only insulted me and my race, but he was also throwing a dig at my willpower. What kind of ass-backwards reality had I been thrown into?

“Calling me weak-willed now?” I scowled at him.

Charm suffused his face when he noted that I was becoming more and more irritated. “Don’t be too offended, Gracie. You can think of our situation as you submerging yourself in water and getting wet. You do not want to get wet, but it is not up to you to control or to defy the bylaws of nature. Water is water—if you touch it, you will get wet. It’s a fact and it’s something you can’t escape.”

His powerful shoulders shrugged in a prideful manner.

“I am lust in its most powerful form. The nature of who I am is that those who are close enough to me feel it—they feel nothing but lust. I can’t control who people lust after. That’s not in my nature. My nature is to simply radiate it. The actions people take around me—and who they want to take it with—is beyond my control. This means that you shouldn’t be so hard on yourself. I am, after all, one of your cardinal sins. The temptation of me is understandably hard to resist, and if you ask me, I’m the best sin there is. You shouldn’t feel bad for finding me to be so enticing.”

It took all my willpower to not roll my eyes. I was certain I was going to keel over from this guy’s big ego.

“You have a very big head,” I commented, unable to contain my irritation. “Did you know that?”

This made him laugh. He wasn’t offended by my comment. If anything, he was charmed by it. “Would you expect any less from the son of the prideful Lucifer?”

From what I heard about Lucifer and his oversized pride, I imagined it would only make sense if his spawn followed that same characteristic. I didn’t expect any less from the spawn of Satan himself, but I wasn’t about to accept it or allow him to think it was okay either.

“Do people actually like you?” I incited, wanting to hurt his feelings because I was still bitter that he insulted my willpower (or allegedly lack thereof). “Your oversized ego is a turn off.” I gulped uneasily and hastily added, “And I don’t like you.”

His lips lifted into a grin. Intent on getting back on my good side, he said, “Then I should endeavor to change your mind, shouldn’t I?” When I didn’t return his playful smile with a favorable reaction, the Demon sighed and said, “Don’t the people of your race have a saying? ‘Don’t judge a book by its cover’? Do you think it’s fair that you’re placing so much judgment on me when you don’t even know me?”

“You’re a Demon,” I dismissed. “Human sayings are not applicable to you.”

He made a rude noise at my dismissal.

“Typical human,” he murmured stiffly. “The youngest of God’s creations and the most ignorant ones. The ones who deem themselves to know everything when in truth, you all know nothing.” He arched an ironic brow at me. “Who has the bigger ego now, Gracie? A Demon of my caliber or a human of your—” He stopped to find the most politically correct term. Whereas he was insulting with his terms before, he made sure that he was very careful with the one he picked out. He wanted to make his point, not hurt my feelings. “Current standing?” There was amused bitterness in his voice when he added, “Perhaps I shouldn’t disappoint the preconceived notions you seem to already have of me now should I, Gracie? Perhaps I should show you how evil I could be.”

A frightened trigger went off inside me. Oh God. What was I doing? Why on earth was I butting heads with a Demon? Why was I insulting him when I should be scared shitless? Did I have a death wish?!

Fear drenched my eyes once I realized the fatal mistake I had made, and when the Demon caught the fear in my eyes, he softened his critical gaze. It was in his nature to defend himself, but he didn’t want to scare me and further alienate me from him.

Smiling nervously as a means to show me that he was completely harmless and that he would never hurt me, he cleverly moved the conversation along.

He answered the question I posed earlier about whether or not people actually liked him. “I’ve been told that I’m an acquired taste. For the ones who are able to tolerate my blunt personality, they actually find me to be very charming, despite the flawed ego and exhaustive character traits. If anything, I seem to be everyone’s favorite. So to answer your question, yes, people do find me to be endearing—flaws and all.”

He expelled a long breath before wrapping all that up and tossing it aside. It was time to get to business. He was no longer in the mood to prolong the inevitable.

“Enough about me, I think it’s time we refocus our attention on the most important thing in this room: you and the reason why I’m here in the first place.”

Ice-cold chills ran down my spine.

Oh my flying pig. This Demon was completely serious about turning me into a Demon!

I shook my head at him, my lips trembling. Despite the fact that a big part of me found him to be endearing as opposed to dangerous, I couldn’t misplace the knowledge that he was here for my soul. I knew all too well that I couldn’t trust a Demon. The cost of trusting him would cost me my life—literally. I couldn’t fall for his games; I could never give him my soul.

“I-I don’t want to lose my soul,” I attempted to tell him firmly, my voice quivering when I locked eyes with him. “I don’t want to play any demonic games, I don’t want to make any deals, I don’t want to be involved in dark magic or whatever. I’ve seen way too many movies and read too many books to know that nothing good comes out of making a deal with a Demon.” I shook my head more fervently, hoping the added display of distaste would get it through his skull that my answer was “no.” “I don’t want to be a Demon. I want to be a normal person, so please, just please leave me alone. Go after someone else’s soul because I want to keep mine.”

Unfazed by my refusal, he merely tilted his head. His perceptive eyes scrutinized me with interest.

“Do you ever wonder why the most evil people in this world appear to live the longest and most prosperous lives, Gracie?”

I said nothing because I truthfully didn’t care.

Still unfazed by my obvious lack of interest, he forged on, his voice filled with charm that held my undivided attention. “Don’t you ever wonder why the good people are the ones who are plagued with poverty, cancer, diseases, and every other malady there is while the evil ones appear unharmed and immune to all those curses?”

I remained silent, allowing him to further enlighten me.

“They’ve all made a deal with my brethren; they’ve all made a deal with the ‘Devil’ as the popular saying goes.”

“I already have all the money in the world and I’m as healthy as can be,” I told him quickly. I wasn’t some poor desperate soul who was looking for a new station in life. I was very happy with everything that I had been blessed with. “I don’t need any deals.”

Something about my words caused a light to change in his eyes. However, instead of telling me why he was perturbed by my words, he prompted another series of questions to further persuade me into becoming a Demon.

“Have you ever felt different, Gracie? Like you don’t belong?”

“No,” I lied. The truth was: I had felt different. But who didn’t feel different at this day and age? It’s the twenty-first century; everyone and their dogs felt different and felt like they didn’t belong.

Undeterred, he probed on. “No?”

I shook my head.

“So you’ve never felt like your fellow human beings merely exist for your entertainment?”

I shook my head.

“You’ve never purposely given a hundred dollars to a homeless man knowing that he would get beaten to near death for it?”

On the surface, I shook my head like I had no idea what he was talking about. Inside, I was shaking at the possibility of him knowing all the terrible things I had done.

“You’ve never vandalized the Lamborghini of a bastard who pissed you off?”

I felt beads of sweat form as I swayed my head from side to side again. I desperately wanted him to stop bringing this up.

“You’ve never volunteered at a shelter—not because you wanted to help people—but because you enjoy immersing yourself in their misery?”

Even though I was shaking my head, I could tell by the expression on Eclipse’s face that he knew I was lying. Then, with much satisfaction, he used the trump card to finally force a reaction out of me.

“You’ve never not felt any emotions, much less sadness, towards the death of your own family?”

My eyes expanded, and Eclipse smiled, knowing he had me where he wanted me.

“Yes, Gracie, I know what happened. I know that when you were six, you did the unthinkable. I know you killed your parents, your sister, and your brother. You killed them ruthlessly, savagely, and possibly even with a smile on your angelic face. You’ve become nothing short of a prized human in my world because of this. Everyone wants a piece of you. Needless to say, you’re famous.”

“Is that why you’re here?” I asked, at long last breaking out of my silence. “Is that why you say it’s your job to help me fulfill my destiny by turning me into a Demon? Because you think I’m immoral—that I actually killed my family?”

Think that you killed your family?” There was interest in his eyes with my choice of words. He tilted his head in curiosity. “Are you insinuating that you didn’t?”

“Well,” I began uncomfortably, feeling odd that I was having a conversation about my family’s massacre nearly fifteen years later, “I-I don’t remember.” I fumbled with my words, the very words that had become a mantra to me during the days of my court proceedings. “I don’t remember, but I know—I just know that I didn’t.”

He watched me skeptically, and I quickly went on to defend myself.

“Look, I know I have sadistic tendencies, but I never took it any further than playing pranks on people and immersing myself in other people’s miseries. I’ve never andwillnever kill anyone. With my family, even though I don’t feel anything for them, I know I didn’t kill them. I just know I didn’t.”

“You don’t have any memory of what happened that night,” he concluded indifferently. He let out a bored breath. “Very interesting, but of no importance to me.”

My insides twisted with how he was behaving towards me, like I was a broken record spewing out white noise that didn’t fit in with reality. Breathing heavily, it took all my courage to look up at him and ask something that I truly didn’t want to know the answer to.

“So I really did kill them? You know this for a fact?”

He stared down at me questioningly. “Do you really want to know or is that just a bullshit question that I should fabricate a lie for?”

“Yes,” I replied hesitantly, my eyes pleading for an answer. “Tell me the truth. Did I kill them?”

He regarded me for a long second before saying, “Yes.”

This simple confirmation from the spawn of Satan tilted my world on its axis.

Damn it.

I wasn’t feeling guilty or sad about the new development. It was just that after all these years of denying that I didn’t kill them, it rocked me with how I found out the truth—from a Demon, a supernatural entity himself. Damn. It couldn’t be denied anymore. Like Officer Joo said in the interrogation room: who else could it have been?

Frustration rose within me while I absorbed all of this. Fuck. My only claim to a sense of normalcy with my “sadistic” tendencies was that I had never physically harmed or killed anyone. Surely killing my entire family ruined my image. I was not only a sadistic person, but I was also a murderer. I was most certainly not normal.

“But I was so small,” I said faintly, still not wanting to admit the truth, “how could I kill everyone?”

“Why act like you care?” he dismissed offhandedly, clearly not a fan of tangents. “We both know you don’t give a damn whether they’re alive or not. There’s no point in faking shock. Deep down, whether or not you were in denial, you knew that it was you. There’s no point in mulling over stuff you don’t really give a damn about. It’s a waste of time.”

I glared at him. Even though he was right about me not giving a damn, I didn’t need him to say it out loud.

“I’m sadistic,” I snapped back, “but that doesn’t mean I have no interest in trying to figure out how the hell I managed to kill my entire family and wound up in the insane asylum in the process.”

My face was rippling with anger. Yeah, I didn’t care about what happened to them, but I was in a goddamn mental institution for ten years. I deserved to be able to ask questions if I wanted to, and no one, Demon or otherwise, could tell me what to do.

Mentally chastising himself for upsetting me, Eclipse softened his expression and nodded in apology.

“Look, don’t worry about it, Gracie,” he appeased tactfully, smart enough to know what tone of voice to use to calm the fury inside me. “It happened, you’ve moved on, and the world has moved on. Now bigger and better things have come your way. So how about we focus on the more important things and talk about your future?”

Leave it to the great Demon of Lust to revert us back onto the topic of him persuading me to become a Demon.

“I’m not giving you my soul,” I said with firm resolve. The death of my family and my responsibility for it didn’t impair my judgment. I didn’t give a damn if I was disturbed enough to kill them when I was younger. I may still be slightly disturbed now, but I wasn’t stupid enough to give up my soul to the first Demon who asked for it.

“What’s the big deal, Gracie?” He was genuinely perplexed with my stubbornness. “You humans place so much emphasis on your souls when it does nothing for you. Why do you want to keep it so badly?”

“Why should I give it up then if it means nothing?” I retorted in a caustic tone, feeling extremely territorial. “Why do you want it so much?”

“Because you cannot become a Demon if you have one,” he countered dryly. Despite his growing impatience, never once did he lose the charm in his voice. “And since I’m trying to turn you into a Demon, I would very much appreciate you not having a soul so I can succeed.”

“Well, my answer remains the same,” I clipped out, no longer wanting to linger on this subject. This conversation was getting nowhere and I was in no mood to have it anymore. How many times did he need to be rejected before he got the point? I swallowed tightly and continued with my efforts to appear brave. “Anyway, I’ve already refused your offer several times. Is this the part where you leave me alone?”

Clearly biting back a curse at my stubbornness, he closed his eyes in slight annoyance before composing himself. He opened his eyes and looked at me with compromise in his gaze.

“I’ll tell you what,” he launched in apparent understanding, “I know that this is a lot to ask. It was silly and insensitive on my part to rush this on you and expect you to give a decision right away. As a token of my apology, I’ll give you the night to think it over. I’ll come back tomorrow for your answer. Does that sound fair?”

I wanted to throw a tantrum and ask him why he couldn’t simply leave me alone. I vetoed that idea because I knew that would get me nowhere.

Maintaining my composure as well, I humored him and asked, “What if my answer is still the same?”

“Then lucky for you, I’m not the type of Demon who likes to take ‘no’ as an answer, Gracie.” He leaned in, giving me a heavenly whiff of his scent before he moved his lips to my ear. His hot breath sent sparks of electricity flying throughout my body when he added, “You should know that Demons are known to be very persuasive creatures. You should also know that if I want something, then I always get it.”

I felt goose bumps form on my body. I stared at him, tentativeness dwelling in my eyes. “How are you planning to persuade me if I say ‘no’?”

He offered me a slow, dangerous smile that a predator would give to the prey it was certain it would catch. It was a smile that sent chills through my body. He didn’t say anything, but I already knew his answer: he would do whatever it took to persuade me.

“Have a good night, Gracie,” he bid captivatingly.

In an instant, he was gone. The only remnant of his existence was the cigarette burning away on my desk.

Left alone in the silence of my bedroom, my widened eyes scanned the room. It continued to baffle my mind that someone could appear and disappear within the blink of an eye. I felt my breath become raggedy.

Damn it.

I succumbed to the weakening of my legs and listlessly sat down on the cushion of my bed. I stared at my stunned reflection on the window. Behind the glass, I could see the twinkling city vibrating with life. It was a complete contrast to the paleness that had overtaken my face. My heart was racing and the sudden silence I had been left with was not making matters better. How does one process this information gracefully?

Fragmented, my eyes continued to gaze out the window. Though the beauty of the city vista was enthralling, the only thought ruminating through my mind was that it had finally been confirmed: I was the one who killed my own family.

This revelation should have been mind-blowing because I had been denying it all my life. On the contrary, the confirmation from Eclipse only supplied me with more reasons to feel bitter. I was the one who killed them, and because of this travesty, a Demon was now after me. He had been sent to retrieve my soul—to ultimately bring me to Hell where my soul would burn for the remaining eternity as punishment for my sins against my own family.

Closing my eyes in misery, I buried my face in my palms and felt the wretchedness drown me.

I had always hated Sunday nights for the simple fact that it was the prelude for the start of another tiring week of school. To my dismay, this particular Sunday night was by far the worst I’d ever had.

Not knowing what else to do but sleep my misery away, I threw myself onto my pillow, punched it several times, and then allowed the lavishness of slumber to take me away from this shithole of a reality.

I didn’t know it then, but that was one of the last “normal” nights of my life. Even though realizing that Demons existed was scary and meeting Eclipse was scarier, it could never compare to all the horrors that were waiting for me in the future.

There were bigger things to come, and to this day, I wish I had been more prepared for it.

. . . To Be Continued . . .

AEOE-Book Cover

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