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The Cursed



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About The Author

L. A. BanksL. A. Banks

L. A. BANKS is the author of the Vampire Huntress Legend series and the Crimson Moon Novels. She had a bachelor’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business and a master’s in fine arts from Temple University. Banks considered herself a... More

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EXCERPT

Chapter One
 
Tahiti . . .
 
He was lacing up his Tims in the living room of their hotel suite by the time Damali opened her eyes, struggled to sit up, and half-stumbled through the doorway to argue. But there was nothing she could tell him. None of this was up for debate.
 
It was a knowing that slammed his core, sat him straight up in bed, killed his libido, and sent him over the edge of the mattress, ready for war. Never in his life had he been so sure about what he had to do. What hit him felt like a white lightning charge direct from the archon’s table of old.
 
He’d mentally sent the call out to the brothers already. Twelve days of bliss and the honeymoon was over. The meeting was already scheduled—2100 hours, sharp. Nary a man in the joint objected. They all knew what time it was. It was about protecting theirs—if the world got saved as a fringe benefit, cool. They all had something serious to lose. A preemptive strike was in order. An unmistakable energy jolt, throne level, had run up Carlos’s spine, just like it hit Shabazz’s locks and fucked with Mike’s hearing in a low, relentless buzz. Dan and J.L. felt it no differently than Rider and Jose smelled it. Pure sulfur was rising.
 
Carlos stared at Damali. She lifted her chin and folded her arms over her chest. He would not be moved. Fine as she was, standing there half-naked and draped in white silk, that was the primary reason he was gonna do what he had to do. Unlike all the times in the past where the team sat back, hid, waited for trouble to come to their door, this time his squad was going in to blow the roof off the mother—first.
 
“So, I guess there’s nothing I can say to you?”
 
“Nope,” Carlos muttered, pulling his foot down from the white wall and collecting a snub-nosed pump shotgun off the coffee table to stash in his long, black leather coat.
 
Damali stared at the huge boot print he’d left on the wall for a second and sighed hard. “Don’t you think we should have a full team meeting about this?” She stepped away from the bedroom door, worry blotting out the fury in her eyes.
 
“Nope.”
 
“Well, at least won’t you tell me where y’all are going?”
 
“Nope,” he said, hoisting up an Uzi to sling over his shoulder.
 
“Stop,” she said, walking deeper into the suite, now talking with her hands. “Team protocol. One half of the team will not know where the other half is—not done, brother. And you all just can’t up and leave Tahiti on a dime, no explanation, no nothing, Carlos!”
 
He stared at the door. “You’d better go put some clothes on before the brothers get here.”
 
“Carlos Rivera, are you listening to me?”
 
His response was very simplistic and to the point as he went to the door. “Nope.”
 
Big Mike was two steps from the door as Carlos swung it open. Carrying a shoulder launcher, Mike pounded Carlos’s fist.
 
“Ride or die, brother,” Mike said in a low, ready-for-war rumble, and then nodded toward Damali. “Evenin’, D.”
 
Consumed with frustration, she raced into the bedroom, grabbed a T-shirt and her jeans, and hurriedly threw them on. She looked at her ten-carat engagement ring and matching diamond-studded wedding band and sighed, then slipped them into her small front jeans pocket. Clearly, the honeymoon was over for everybody, and there was no sense in getting her rings fouled by nasty demon gook if she had to go to war. Men! They’d lost their minds. She came out of the bedroom like a bee had stung her, just in time to see Rider roll through the door with Shabazz, both giving Carlos a silent fist pound and her a brief nod as though she were a civilian.
 
Shabazz slammed a clip into Black Beauty, his eyes ablaze, locks lifted off his shoulders by two inches, blue arc crackling. Rider’s forearms bulged as he carried something ridiculous that looked like a custom-made Gatling gun. Damali’s eyes tore around the stone faces, hoping that the younger male members of the team would bring some sanity to whatever had set the senior brothers off. But as soon as Jose rolled through the door with a red bandana tied around his head, wearing a long leather coat, toting a crossbow with a snub-nosed welded to it, and J.L. stepped in behind him looking straight Samurai, her hopes considerably dimmed. By the time Bobby and Dan came in, she’d sat down heavily on the edge of the nearby dining room table.
 
Dan strolled in wearing a leather coat that swept the ground and clutching dual AK-47s. Bobby gripped handheld Ingram semis in both hands. Berkfield was with them, his seniority providing no rational balance whatsoever. He was strapped with grenades on a flack-jacket vest like he was going to ’Nam and carrying an M-16. There would definitely be no reasoning with them.
 
“I got black-box vamp on all scents coming off artillery. Everybody’s ammo demon-readied, hallowed-earth shells and shit?” Carlos asked in a low rumble, gaining nods all around. “Then let’s do this.”
 
“Hold it, hold it, hold it,” Marlene yelled, running down the hall, breasts bouncing, barefoot, wearing only a purple lace-and-satin robe. Her eyes wild, she circled on Shabazz, breathing hard and pointing at him. “Not after all we’ve been through, and not without saying good-bye—ever.”
 
Marjorie was on her heels, her eyes frantic, as she clutched the front of her pink silk negligee closed. “Richard, have you lost your mind?”
 
For Damali, it was an out-of-body experience. She knew the delay might take a few minutes, but she wasn’t even wasting her breath to argue. These men were already as good as gone. She knew her husband. There was that certain look that Carlos got in his eyes that she’d come to learn—that “no means no” stare. She sighed as Inez burst in behind Marlene and Marj, trying to make an impact against a stone wall. Before her girlfriend opened her mouth, she could tell by the look on her brother Mike’s face that, audio-sensor or not, he wasn’t trying to hear it.
 
“Baby, don’t do this. . . . Listen, we can figure out a plan, a team strategy,” Inez said, tears rising quickly as she whirled around in a white silk teddy, vastly overexposed. “I heard you all the way down the hall talking that ride-or-die mess.” When he didn’t move, she threw her arms around his waist.
 
“Suga, stay with ’Mali, hear,” was all Big Mike said as he peeled her away from his body, brushed her mouth with a kiss, and gave her a gentle bear shove toward Damali.
 
Stunned, Inez hugged herself and went to Damali, whispering thickly. “Say something to them, girl!”
 
For a moment, Damali didn’t answer her. Mike had spoken like he always did, real low and quiet, almost subsonic when he’s upset. How in the hell did Inez hear that all the way down the hall?
 
“Ain’t nothing to say,” Damali finally muttered, shaking her head. “This is a testosterone thing, and obviously we wouldn’t understand.”
 
Juanita’s voice hit a decibel as she was coming down the hall that made Mike, Carlos, and Jose cringe. “Oh, Jesus, no, Jose,” she shrieked, red silk robe billowing as she slid into the suite, tears streaming. “I just got married and I’m not trying to be no widow. No, don’t you leave me Jose Ciponte, or I’ll never forgive you if you die.” She stretched out her arms. “I’m your wife, por favor! You crazy? What am I gonna do without you, answer me that!”
 
“That’s what I’m saying,” Marlene hollered, her voice breaking. “’Bazz, you of all people in here know my heart can’t take a move like this.”
 
Shabazz never got a chance to respond. Krissy had swung into the room barely covered in an ivory Victoria’s Secret deep-plunge sheath, holding on to the edge of the door like she was about to bust a Jet Li move. Damali started toward her, to catch her in case she fell, because the poor girl was obviously rushing down the hall so fast that she almost missed the opening and then barreled into J.L.’s arms. Jasmine and Heather were right behind her with jewel-green and aqua silk flowing, and threatening to accidentally set off ammo as they threw themselves into Bobby’s and Dan’s arms. All the guys could do was raise the weapons toward the ceiling and kiss the tops of their heads, repeatedly muttering, “It’ll be cool.”
 
Tara strolled in shaking her head, eyes filled and glittering with unshed tears. There was resignation in her stride, a slow and deadly calm of a woman who’d seen way too much over many, many years. She tied the sash on her ice-blue robe and drew a deep breath, as though carefully measuring her words the way she carefully tied her sash.
 
“I could smell the hysteria, Jack Rider. The damned testosterone jumping off your skins with the adrenaline. If you die on me, I’ll kill you. Thirty years . . . thirty years, and I only get to have you to myself again for twelve days before you start up hunting sulfur trails?” Tara sucked in a shuddering breath. “I do not believe you.” She waltzed away. “I need a shot of Jack Daniel’s, I swear.”
 
“Now that the entire team is assembled . . .” Damali pushed off the table, walked over to the door, and slammed it hard. “I guess we can have a real meeting.”
 
Madness was the only description her mind could scavenge. Damali allowed her hard gaze to rake the male Guardians. Every man was cloaked in a shotgun-concealing leather duster, black jeans or fatigues, black combat boots or Tims, and sporting a black wife-beater shirt or a vest. For a moment she wondered if they had previously discussed battle uniform, too. This didn’t make no kinda sense!
 
“Okay. I give up. You’re men,” Damali said, throwing her hands up as she glared at Carlos and then the others. “You’re grown. Can’t nobody keep you from a ride-or-die.” Her hands went to her hips when no one spoke to even begin negotiating. “Fine. Do as you please. I just have one question though. Why? Why now, why so crazy, why without a group plan? And what is this bullshit about only taking half the team—the men? Just answer me that and I’ll stand down. No argument. We can lock on your coordinates and send in reinforcements if you get boxed in, whatever. I just wanna know, what detonated y’all tonight?”
 
Surly glances passed between the men and they answered in unison, “Lilith.”
 
Silence strangled the room and raised blue arcs of static to crackle up from the rug. For once, the female squad members were at a temporary loss for words. Carlos’s eyes met Damali’s in a hard glare and then he glanced at his watch as though he were about to bounce any second.
 
Open a channel, Carlos, Damali mentally said, her voice more mellow. Baby, what happened?
 
I’ll go into it later, D, but trust me when I say that after twelve days of being with their wives, every man in here is ready to die tonight. No telling whose wife is pregnant—and to get a strong Lilith-topside vamp vibe, they were all hitting my brain with SOS messages like you wouldn’t believe. Every brother had the same question—“Yo, Rivera, you feel that?”
 
Then we all need to be involved, Damali’s mind shouted back. You need to get with that!
 
No, D, what you all need to get with is the fact that ain’t nobody on the team ready for their woman to be battling or even linked to them in a way she could possibly get hurt—not even psychically. Berkfield is going because Krissy could be carrying his grandkid, just like Shabazz ain’t never trying to lose Marlene again in this lifetime. Same deal with Rider about Tara. Every brother done prayed on it, had his own one-on-one with his Maker, and came to his own conclusion. I’m not forcing anybody to do shit, D. Case closed.
 
“That’s unrealistic!” Damali said out loud accidentally, the information was freaking her out so badly.
 
“Is it?” Shabazz said, his gaze sweeping the group. “You heard the man, D. We’re all ready to go out shooting.”
 
“Whoa, whoa, whoa,” Marlene said, quickly stepping into the center of the all-male circle and slowly walking around Shabazz. “You’re a tactical. How did you hear what two telepaths were saying?”
 
Shabazz stared at Marlene for a moment and slowly lowered his weapon. “I don’t know. I heard it as clear as day, though.”
 
“That’s my department,” Marlene said, pressing her hand to her chest, “but I was never strong enough to pick up from those two if they had a blocked, direct transmission going.”
 
“Mar,” Damali said quietly. “Your locks are lifting off your shoulders.”
 
Marlene quickly touched her hair and watched the strong blue-white static current run over her hands. “Oh, shit! I’m not a tactical.”
 
“I’ve got it, too,” Heather said, staring at her hands and then at Dan.
 
Krissy nodded, staring at the bluish, flickering wash that crept over her fingertips and then glanced at J.L.
 
“I’m scared,” Jasmine said. “I admit it! All right. I don’t want you to get killed so, Bobby, put down that damned gun and talk to me!” His weapon left his hand in a hard midair yank and hung suspended as Jasmine turned away and began to cry.
 
“Oh . . . shit . . . that’s a wizard move if ever I saw one,” Bobby murmured.
 
Juanita covered her nose and dry heaved. “The static discharge is messing with my sinuses. I need air.”
 
Jose just stared at her for a moment. “Baby, just as a sensory test, tell me what’s in the fridge down the hall in Marlene’s room,” he asked, stepping in close to Juanita.
 
“I don’t know, and who cares?” Juanita said in tone close to a wail. “Champagne, some mango, watermelon, avocado sushi—without fish, some—”
 
“Oh, my Father . . .” Marlene whispered. “The girl got a nose.”
 
“Look, the club section is starting to fill up, people,” Berkfield said, his eyelids fluttering. “We need to move.”
 
“Sho’ he right. About fifty big blood suckas at the bar. I got ’em,” Mike rumbled and pounded Jose’s fist.
 
“Yeah, I got them punk bitches by the gaming tables,” Jose said.
 
“You saw something in your head, Richard?” Marjorie asked in awe.
 
“Wait!” Inez hollered, putting her hands up. “You can see, Mike?”
 
“Yeah, baby—”
 
“Since when?” Inez shrieked, now walking around in a tizzy.
 
“My point exactly,” Juanita said, going up to Jose and stroking his cheek. “Baby, you couldn’t ever see; don’t you think something is way wrong up in this joint?”
 
“Okay, fellas, just hold up for a second, okay—you all can go, we couldn’t stop you if we wanted to, but check it out . . . don’t you find any of this a little strange?” Damali’s voice was strident as her hands went to her hips.
 
“I need to do a divination,” Marlene said.
 
“We ain’t got time for all of that right now, baby,” Shabazz said, his eyes hard.
 
“This club,” Marjorie asked. “Where is it?”
 
Carlos looked around at the assembled male warriors, gave them a discreet nod, and they stepped in close to him. “Babylon,” he muttered, then he quickly folded the group away into a silver splinter of light.
 
Pandemonium broke out in the suite.
 
“I cannot believe they did something like that!” Inez yelled, walking in a circle where the male team had been.
 
Both Marlene and Damali glanced at each other as though to say, that was a Rivera move if ever they saw one. They let their breaths out hard at the same time and spoke in unison. “Puhlease . . . I can.”
 
Copyright © 2007 by Leslie Esdaile Banks. All rights reserved.
 

 

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