Date to be Published: March 17, 2023
Love is always a gamble, but when you bargain with a demon the deck’s stacked in his favor.
Demon’s Bargain (Embracing the Demon 1): Ella is desperate. A vicious dragon stalks her people. The only man strong enough to defeat it is Vaz, the half-demon outcast -- banished long ago for his tainted blood. Ella soon learns just how potent a demon’s touch can be.
Living with a Demon (Embracing the Demon 2): When Nate answered a personals ad, he wasn’t looking for romance. But now he knows Pierce is the man for him… even when he finds out Pierce is something more than human.
Playing Games (Embracing the Demon 3): Nate adores his demon lover, Pierce. But lately, Pierce has been distant and preoccupied, and it’s driving Nate crazy. Awakening Pierce’s possessive instincts is a dangerous game to play… but to Nate, the danger just makes it more tempting.
Escaping Darkside (Embracing the Demon 4): After he’s killed in a hit and run accident, Christian wakes up in Darkside -- the demon-infested world between life and death. If he can reach door back to Earth, Christian will have a second chance at life. But going back will mean leaving Seth behind forever… and Christian is falling in love with his demon.
Publisher's Note: Embracing the Demon (Box Set) contains the previously published novellas Demon's Bargain, Living with a Demon, Playing Games, and Escaping Darkside.
Copyright ©2023 AJ Graham
Excerpt from Escaping Darkside
Christian woke face down on the ground, head throbbing. A smell like garbage and sewer water filled his nose, and hard, gritty pavement pressed against his cheek. He opened his eyes to find himself lying in a narrow alley between two brick buildings, next to a row of overflowing trashcans.
Christian stood, staggered, and leaned against the nearby wall. What had happened? Had he been mugged? A wave of dizziness washed over him, and he swayed. He must have hit his head. Maybe that was why he couldn't remember anything. When the world finally stopped spinning, he began to walk.
Run-down, brick buildings lined the narrow street, and fragments of broken glass glittered on the pavement. It looked like one of the bad parts of Chicago, but it wasn't a neighborhood he recognized.
He heard a low, faint moan, like distant wind, and froze. The back of his neck prickled and he slowly turned.
Four red-cloaked figures stood in the street, motionless. Hoods covered their heads and shadow hid their faces. Goose bumps rose on Christian's flesh. "Um… hello."
No reply. One figure stretched out an arm and curled a long, bony finger in beckoning.
Christian swallowed, hard. His heart rose into his throat as fear slammed into his gut like a fist. He took a shaky step backward, then turned and ran, feet pounding the pavement, breath coming in frantic gulps. He looked over his shoulder and saw them following -- not running, but floating several inches above the road, their red cloaks billowing behind them.
What the hell was going on?
He kept running, but he could sense the things getting closer, closing in on him. An icy hand curled around his arm, the fingers brittle and thin, yet strong as iron. Cold filled his chest, as if that skeletal hand had reached into his body to grip his heart. He looked into the darkness beneath the thing's hood and saw the glint of eyes. A weird clicking, chattering noise drifted from that darkness.
Christian twisted away. "Let me go!" He yanked his arm free. His skin still burned where the thing had touched him.
He ran, ignoring the throbbing stitch in his side and the burn in his lungs. There was nothing left in his mind but the desperate need to get away. He ran until his legs gave out, and he sank to his hands and knees, gulping air, each breath like nettles scraping his raw lungs. He looked over his shoulder, shaking. The red-cloaked figures were nowhere in sight. Somehow, he'd lost them.
He crawled to the side of the street and hid behind a Dumpster, hugging his knees to his chest. He looked down at his arm, where the thing had grabbed him. Its grip had left ugly, black burn marks on his skin, and the marks writhed like something alive. Just looking at them made him nauseous. He pulled his sleeve over the burn, hiding it, then leaned back against the brick wall and closed his eyes. His muscles felt like overcooked noodles, but somehow, he managed to drag himself to his feet and resume walking.
Ahead, a row of motorcycles stood next to a low, windowless building with black cement walls. Even from a distance, Christian could hear the pulse of a bass-beat. A dance club?
Whatever it was, he needed to get inside. He ran toward the building, flung open the door, and entered. A blast of warm air and sound hit him. After the eerie silence of the street, the sudden din of music and voices was overwhelming. The club was dimly lit, smoky, and packed. Music thumped in his ears. Christian squeezed through the crush of bodies, his gaze darting back and forth. Sweaty shirts surrounded him wherever he turned.
"Ow! Watch where you're going!"
"Sorry. I --" Christian looked up and his jaw dropped. The thing staring down at him had the body of a weightlifter, but from the neck up, it resembled a cross between a bull and a lion, with curved black horns, a shaggy mane, and sharp fangs. "What are you staring at?" growled a deep, rough voice.
"S-sorry," Christian stammered and backed away.
Had he stumbled into some sort of costume party? No, that hadn't been a mask. He'd seen its mouth move.
He stepped on something that felt like a rope and heard a snarl. He looked down to see a long, furry tail pull away, and something with three horns and four eyes glared at him. Christian stumbled backward.
Breathing hard, he made his way through the crowd. He spotted a silver-haired girl in black leather. Relieved to see someone relatively normal-looking, Christian grabbed her arm. She looked at him. Her eyes were huge, almond-shaped, and completely black, without whites or irises. "Excuse me, Miss, I'm sorry, but could you tell me…"
She opened her mouth, revealing inch-long fangs where her canine teeth should have been, and hissed like a cat. He backed off. His head swiveled back and forth. Everywhere he looked was a creature out of a nightmare. There stood a man with a wriggling mass of tentacles where his mouth should have been. Across from him loomed another man with the head of a hawk and four feathery arms.
A hand grabbed his arm and twisted him around. He found himself staring up into a face that was almost human, except it was black -- not brown, but licorice black -- and topped by a pair of small, spiral horns protruding from crimson hair. The man dragged Christian through the crowd, out the door, into the cool night. He shoved his face into Christian's, eyes narrowed. "What are you doing here? You're not from Darkside."
"I don't even know how I got here. What is this place?"
His lip curled in an unpleasant expression that was half-grin, half-sneer, revealing tiny, sharp fangs. "You're from Earth, huh?"
"Earth? You mean we're not on Earth?"
"Oh boy, are you in for a rude awakening." Sharp claws dug into the meat of Christian's arm, making him squirm. "There's bound to be a fat reward on your head. The Council doesn't like it when souls slip through their grasp."
Breathing hard, Christian tried to pry the sausage-thick, dark fingers from his arm. "Let go!"
"Oh no. You're not getting away so easily."
About the Author
AJ Graham has a passion for cold weather, unusual beers, and anything otherworldly. Dragons, demons, shapeshifters and psychics have always populated their imagination, but sometimes the real world can be just as fascinating and mysterious. And no matter the genre, AJ has always loved stories about soulmates connecting. Whether it's instant, explosive passion or a slow burn, the power of two (or more) minds and bodies coming together to form a greater whole is always a story worth telling. AJ lives in the Chicago suburbs with their husband.
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