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In a week, straight A student and total good girl Leah Todd is supposed to graduate with her bachelor’s degree. Then she receives a mysterious tarot card in the mail and everything changes.
The tarot card seems to serve as a VIP ticket into a show by a metal band called The Forbidden. She’s never heard of them before, but the instant she lays eyes on the lead singer, Rage, she knows that she’s much more than a fan. She’s found where she needs to be.
Weirder still, the band agrees. They’ve been waiting for a tarot witch like Leah to save Graham, a dying werewolf, by mating with him. The problem is that Leah’s not a witch, she doesn’t believe in magic, and she quickly falls for the wrong werewolf. But Donne doesn’t seem to return the feelings. In fact, he might kind of hate her.
As high priest of his coven, Rage has solutions for Leah. All she needs to do is surrender her life to the coven, the werewolf pack…and to him.
Publisher: Red Iris Books
Did I mention that the last concert I’d seen outside of my temple’s holiday productions had been The Backstreet Boys? Because that was the last major concert I’d seen.
It didn’t prepare me for watching The Forbidden perform.
The music began with heavy drums. Lights blazed to life underneath me, revealing a man sitting at the center of the drum kit. He only had two arms and two drum sticks—hardly the dozen drummers I’d imagined would be required to play such a huge instrument.
His hands moved so fast that it looked like he had a thousand limbs. He slammed out a beat that I could feel deep in my chest, pumped out over the giant speakers, magnified for the entire stadium to hear.
That primal sound set my blood on fire and sucked all my breath away.READ MORE
Distantly, I was aware that I was leaning so far forward that I had almost fallen off of Storm’s lap. He chuckled. The drums were loud enough that I could only feel the motion of his chest behind me, not hear the sound.
I didn’t care if he was laughing at me. The alcohol was too heady, the music too overwhelming.
Now there was a bass line with the drums, and a man sauntered onto the stage who looked a lot like the drummer—narrow-shouldered, pale-skinned, and dark-eyed. Both had hair so long that it brushed their knees. But their coifs weren’t ratty, like the hippie guys at my college. These guys had hair like sheets of shimmering silk. All that hair should have made them look feminine, but it didn’t. Even with makeup, they were incredibly masculine.
My heart had skipped a beat or six at the music they created together. I gripped the edge of the balcony, gasping for air as I watched the bassist’s fingers pluck out a rhythm in time with the drums.
Fire erupted at the edge of the stage. It was so hot that I could feel it all the way up in the balcony. My internal eight-year-old Leah had completely vanished sometime around the first glass of liquor, so all I felt was an overpowering sense of awe.
The audience in the stadium screamed. They weren’t awed. They were exhilarated.
It sounded like they were about to riot.
When the fire finally dropped again, there was one more man on stage.
I had never seen a guy more gorgeous than this one. He looked like a painting rendered in adoring detail by one of the great masters, with all of the perfect musculature, the full lips, the dimpled chin. His eyes were rimmed with black kohl. His hair, long enough to brush his chiseled jaw, had been smeared with glitter that made him shimmer under the stage lights.
His bared chest muscles were completely covered in tattoos, all the way from collarbone to the place his waist sloped into his hips. They curved in abstract patterns around his abs and made spikes digging into his ribs. His arms were covered, too.
I wondered what other tattoos his leather pants might be hiding, and immediately blushed for thinking such a thing.
I’d seen him backstage, although he’d been wearing a shirt at the time. It was the man who had been staring at me as Road Crew led me up to the VIP balcony. Now he wore a guitar slung low over his shoulder so that the instrument was by his hips.
He was the lead singer.
“Rage,” Storm whispered into my ear. “His name is Rage.”
Rage caught the microphone in one hand, and he began to sing.
The words didn’t make any sense to me. I’m sure he was singing in English. I’m sure they were words that I knew, too. I was an English major, after all, and my vocabulary was a force to be reckoned with.
But my brain didn’t want to process the lyrics. It was like he sang pure emotion into my chest.
I understood why they called him Rage.
The song he played on his guitar, backed by those wicked drums—it made rage build in my chest like I was angry for whatever crimes had been committed against this guy. I felt his anger and I liked it.
It wasn’t just anger. His power chords switched to flats, making a bittersweet melody that evoked an aching deep within my heart.
I lost myself in that music. And I lost myself in the sight of Rage’s face as he chugged on his guitar. He was beautiful to behold, like a work of art come to life.
The music built toward a crescendo as he screamed. My legs clenched together, and I squeezed my eyes shut, trying to suppress the climax that I felt building.
Oh my goodness. Just the freaking music was going to make me orgasm.
Here. In front of all these people I didn’t know.
I’d only ever touched myself a couple times, hesitantly exploring the parts of my body that my roommate’s steamy romance novels called “rosebud” and “moist center,” things that the anatomy books gave much uglier names. It was too overwhelming for me to have done anything more than once or twice.
Now I was on the brink just by listening to music.
Oh. My. Goodness.
A feminine voice whispered in my ear. “You’re thinking too much. Stop thinking.” It was Ravyn. She tried to hand me a drink, but my hands were shaking too hard to take it.
She laughed at my awkwardness, the sound inaudible under the pounding music, and tipped my chin back with a finger so that she could pour the alcohol into my mouth.
At first, I balked. I tried to close my lips. Liquor slid down my chin.
Then I drank.
Oh my gosh, did I drink, taking long swallows that filled my stomach with the heat of the alcohol. I was so thirsty.
The alcohol hit me immediately.
The balcony blurred as someone took my hand, spinning me off of Storm’s lap into a dance. I glimpsed Ravyn’s face flashing through the strobe, reducing her joyous laughter to a jerky motion play.
Hips ground against mine from behind, driving someone’s erection hard against my pelvis. I knew what that was. I wasn’t that innocent. But my normal embarrassment was nowhere to be found, and I pushed back, dancing in time with him.
Ravyn’s hands clutched my waist, pressing her breasts to mine.
My head fell back, and I laughed.
The music went on for what could have been an eternity.
Rage rocked through me. Rage and exhilaration and excitement and…hunger. A deep, carnal hunger that I’d never felt before.
For some reason, I found myself thinking of Road Crew with his black t-shirt and red mohawk staring at my chest. I thought that if he’d joined us up on the balcony at that moment, I might not have been able to resist the urge to dance with him, too. Maybe do a lot more than dance.
Liquor flowed. Bodies danced.
I forgot my shame, my fear, and all I knew was the music.
If only Chad could see me now…
Time faded into a blur of music, alcohol, and dancing. I fell from the arms of one fan to those of the next—Ravyn and then to Storm, then over to a woman calling herself Phoenix, and a man who didn’t tell me his name. I let the beat move me. I’d always been too self-conscious to dance, but it felt good with these people. It felt right.
At some point, I thought that maybe, just maybe, Chad had been right to drag me out of the house after all.
We were having so much fun that I didn’t notice when the music stopped. It was easy to miss, since the fans never quit dancing. The drinks still flowed, and now we moved to the beat of our blood.
Only the touch of firm, rough hands on my arms brought me down from my high.
I twisted to see that Road Crew had come back again. It was hard to focus on his square features through my tipsy haze, but my cheeks immediately flushed at the sight of him.
I’d been thinking about Road Crew ever since the moment that he left me with the fans. Those thoughts had become increasingly dirty with every ounce of alcohol Ravyn poured down my throat.
Now he was here again, holding on to my arms, and he was even more ruggedly handsome than I’d remembered in his absence. It seemed impossible that a man could be so darn chiseled.
My thighs were clenching at the sight of him. His eyes were so penetrating that it felt like he should have been able to look through my skull and see all those dirty thoughts.
It was so presumptuous of me to think about climbing into Road Crew’s lap, grinding myself against him, exploring the parts of his body I’d always been too embarrassed to explore on my ex-boyfriend. I mean, it’s downright rude to fantasize about someone you’re not involved with. Isn’t it?
But my fingers crawled up his neck, tracing his cheekbones and ears and hairline. I couldn’t help it. I couldn’t get him out of my mind and I didn’t want to get him off of my skin.
I wasn’t shy about touching what I wanted to touch now. Ravyn and Storm and the gang had taken my sense of shame away for the moment.
His expression remained rigid as I touched him.
“Is it over?” I asked, stumbling over the words. “Is it time to go home?”
“No,” Road Crew said. He steered me back toward the stairs, and I stumbled after him, held upright only by the mercy of his incredibly thick biceps.
Ravyn noticed that I was being abducted. She cried out with complaint. “The kitten’s having fun! Let her stay and have fun!”
Road Crew’s response was curt. “Rage wants to examine her.”
A giggle slipped from my lips. “Examine me? What, is he a doctor or something?” Goodness, I was drunk. “I had this really hot doctor once. Um, he was actually a pediatrician—the guy I saw when I was like, you know, sixteen years old, and ancient Dr. Ermine retired, so the new guy wasn’t even thirty, and…” What in the world was I saying? “Rage can totally examine me. That’s what I’m getting at.” Yeah, I didn’t sound drunk at all.
I almost slipped down the stairs. Blame Chad’s stupid drag queen heels.
Road Crew’s steadying grip kept my ankle from twisting.
“Careful,” he growled, fingertips digging into my elbows. He looked angry that I’d almost fallen. “Don’t hurt yourself.”
“I’m sorry,” I said. “I’m so sorry. Be careful trying to handle me. We don’t want your mohawk getting hurt.”
“How much did they give you to drink?”
“I don’t know. A couple.” Another giggle. I couldn’t stop giggling. I might never stop giggling. “I feel nice, Road Crew. Really nice.”
“Road Crew,” he muttered, hefting me off of my feet.
Oh my goodness. I weighed a lot, and he could pick me up like I was nothing.
He practically carried me down the stairs into the darkness backstage, barely allowing the soles of my shoes to brush the floor.
The post-concert disassembly was chaotic. Reporters were cordoned off behind a line of tape, prevented from entering the crew-only area by a bunch of muscular men.
Those reporters had cameras. Someone could easily take my picture and publish it somewhere, in some newspaper or on some celebrity blog, and my mom could see it. She could know that I’d been drinking.
Luckily, I’d had enough to drink that even that thought didn’t bring me off of my high.
The crew that wasn’t holding off reporters were already breaking down, packing up, taking the equipment back out the way they had come. The tour buses would be waiting in the parking lot, along with a lot of eager fans desperate to meet the band, and—hopefully—my friend Chad.
Yet I wasn’t guided back to that dark hallway and the freedom beyond. I was taken to another room in the back corner. Its walls were painted black. The floor was concrete. There were a couple of folding tables in the corner.
Road Crew stepped inside with me. He cupped my face in both of his hands, searching me with his eyes. “Calm down, kid. You need to be calm. Can you do that for me?”
Somehow, I stopped giggling. “What’s going on?” I asked, swaying against him.
Road Crew gently dislodged me. The fact that he could handle me like that, firmly but without causing any pain, seemed incredible given his raw size. “Rage is going to inspect you. Wait for him here.”
He shoved the door shut again.
Suddenly, I was alone.
“Hey, Fabio, where’d you go?” I asked, trying to open the door.
It was locked from the other side.
The warmth of alcohol burned from my veins awfully fast, and worry filled the void where that buzz had been. I’d been having so much fun with the fans upstairs that I’d forgotten how weird the whole situation was in the first place.
I wanted Chad. I wanted the safety of his car. I wanted a ride back to the dorms and to snuggle up under my down comforter.
But the door wouldn’t open.
“What did you think of my show?”
I whirled, flattening my back against the locked door. Ooh, don’t move that fast. Whipping around made my head swim like I was on a cruise ship rocked by a storm.
“Your show?” I echoed. The room was too dark for me to see who had spoken.
Soft footsteps, like bare feet padding against the carpet, whispered through the shadow. “I saw you on the balcony with my people. I watched you, watching me. Did you like it?”
That deep, husky voice. I recognized it even through the alcohol’s fog.
I swallowed hard, but my mouth was almost too dry to speak. “Are you…?”
A man slipped into the edge of the single floodlight brightening the room. It illuminated his feet first, then slid up the black leather pants that hugged his thighs, his hips, and then highlighted the curves of his muscular chest.
My heart started pounding when I saw those distinctive tattoos. They curved around his pectorals, scraped at his ribs with sharp fingers, outlined his abs. It drew my eyes from the dark circles of his nipples down to his navel.
Then he took one more step forward, and I could see his face.
My eyes snapped up to his. There he was—this man that I had just been watching below me on the stage, his image projected a thousand times on giant screens as he screamed and sang into a microphone, pushing my body toward an unwilling climax.
He looked even angrier up close. I guess that was why they called him what they did: Rage. Like he wasn’t a man at all, but a force of pure anger locked inside a human body.
A really sexy human body that wouldn’t have looked out of place on the cover of my roommate’s romance novels.
This was the guy who all those reporters were dying to meet, but weren’t permitted to approach. Chad would have sawed off a body part to be in that room with him. Or sucked off a body part.
But the reporters and Chad and a million loyal fans of The Forbidden weren’t in that room.
It was me. Just me.
Leah Todd, too drunk to say anything that wouldn’t sound stupid.
Somehow, I managed to talk. “Thank you for the ticket.”
He prowled toward me, allowing me to get a closer look at the sleeves tattooed from his shoulders, down his biceps, to encircle his wrists. On his right arm, he had jagged forests, a dark sky, a full moon. All of it swirled with inky smoke as though the entire mountain was on fire.
These weren’t abstractions, like what he had on his chest. They were masterful works of art that evoked a frightening night in the wilderness as fire closed in on me. I could almost hear the howling of wolves over the crackling of flames.
And then Rage was there. Standing right in front of me. So close that I could feel his breath, so close that I could have touched him if I lifted my hands.
His face was shadowed as he gazed down at me. The spotlight shining behind him rimmed his hair and shoulders.
“Ticket?” he finally asked.
Did he want to see it? Proof that I was allowed backstage to meet the band?
I pulled The Hierophant out again. “This…” I couldn’t manage to get more than a single word out. I couldn’t feel my cheeks. Or my teeth, for that matter. Could I ever feel my teeth?
What I wouldn’t have given for a little more sobriety.
Rage, oblivious to the worrying status of my teeth, sucked in a breath at the sight of the tarot card. “May I hold it?”
Why was he asking me? “It’s your ticket.”
The lead singer took it from me, almost reverently. The tattoo sleeve on his other arm, the left one, didn’t match the right. It had a group of indistinct human figures swirling around a five-pointed star.
There were flames, sure, but there were also crashing waves, clouds, flowers sprouting from the earth. Blood dripped from the humans onto the pentagram.
Wolves on one side, witches on the other. This guy was occult all over.
I was never going to invite him to spend Thanksgiving with my family.
He studied the card as closely as Road Crew had, like there was nothing in the world but him and The Hierophant. “This is no ticket,” Rage said. “This is an invitation.”
“To your concert?”
“To something much, much greater than that.” He handed the card back to me and brushed his lips over the back of my hand. “Take care of the card. It came to you, and it’s yours now—for the rest of your life.”
His lips lingered on my skin. It was like he’d kissed me somewhere much more intimate. My knees pressed together, squeezing my thighs.
“Why? What does it mean?” I hoped he didn’t notice how breathy my voice was getting.
“It means that you’re like me.” Rage brushed his knuckles along the line of my jaw. My eyes fell shut. It was too overwhelming to look at him when I could already feel his touch throughout my entire body. “We’re the same. But you—you’re so much more. You have The Hierophant. You’re one of us, and one of them.”
I was pretty sure that I had absolutely nothing in common with Rage. I definitely wasn’t better than him. I wasn’t a rock star who could fill entire stadiums with my presence.
But I didn’t want to argue with him. I wanted him to like me the same way that I wanted the people in the booth to like me.
He hooked his arm around my waist, pulling me flush against his chest. I was locked in place as his other hand took possession of my body.
Rage explored my curves as though we’d already been involved much more intimately than as lead singer and new fan. His fingers darted between the laces of my corset and raked the furrow of my spine. He cupped my ass, crumpled my skirt in his fist, jerked my hips hard against his.
It was the inspection that Road Crew had promised. An incredibly physical inspection. I had a feeling Chad would have approved of it.
My whole body was burning hot. Embarrassment coupled with arousal. Nobody touched me like that, not even my former boyfriends, but Rage made it seem so casual. He wasn’t offering to have sex. He was sizing me up, taking stock of my body, seeing what he had to work with.
“Not a mark on your body—or on your soul, for that matter. You’re still so pure. So human.” Before I could ask what he meant by that, he abruptly changed the subject. “I’m going to show you something. Do you want to see?”
The good girl inside of me who had fought so hard against coming to the concert was dwindling rapidly to nothingness. She was being replaced by a wilder woman, a woman who hungered for Rage’s touch, someone who wasn’t afraid of anything.
It was that woman who groaned at his knee pushing between my thighs, hands splayed over his tattooed chest.
“Yes,” I gasped. “Please…show me everything.”
The fire in his eyes told me that I was going to get exactly what I had asked for.COLLAPSE