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 A Cursed Embrace

Weird Girls 2

by

Cecy Robson

To Jamie, my husband and best friend, and to our children, who honor me with more love and happiness than I deserve.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

This story of love and exploding demon parts would not have been possible without the talents of my editor, Jhanteigh Kupihea, and the members of the Penguin team. Jhanteigh, thank you for taking a chance on me, and for your laughter and tears—the good kind, I mean!

To my uberagent and friend, Nicole Resciniti. Nic, you hold my hand, you cheer me on, and you always believe in me—even when I don’t believe in myself. Where would I be without your heart and guidance? I love and adore you.

To Jamie, who read my pages and said, “This is going to get published,” and for his bromance with Misha. Babe, I would have never made it this far without you. Thank you for making my dream a reality, and for loving me and our babies.

To my buds: Kaitlyn Ballenger, Amanda Flower, Kate SeRine, and Melody Steiner—women and authors I’ve come to know and cherish.

To Katie Davis, Sue Henrikson, Willow Kallop, Natalie Volberding, and my FMC family for reading my work and enjoying it! Natalie, I’m sorry I told you about the giant, slimy tongue shooting out of the trash chute . . . just as you were opening the trash chute. But you have to admit, it was kind of hilarious.

To my parents, Armando and Carmen Galdamez, who encouraged everyone they’ve ever met in their lives to buy my books. And to my brother, Douglas Galdamez, who I respect more than he’ll ever know.

CHAPTER 1

A dead wereraccoon on your doorstep is no way to start the morning.

“I’m bored.”

Neither is a whiney vampire dressed like a naughty Catholic schoolgirl.

I raised my brows at her. “Edith Anne, I’m sorry you didn’t get to kill anything. If you’re this bored, why don’t you go home or find someone to snack on?”

Edith Anne’s blue-black hair shone like satin in Tahoe’s early-morning sun. She swung her knee-high red leather boots over the railing where she sat and—good Lord, I don’t think she was wearing panties beneath her tiny plaid skirt—stomped across the wooden floorboards, careful to avoid the blood and pus pooling around the body. “Oh, Celia.” She said my name as if she’d caught me eating her shoes. “The master says you and your”— Edith Anne scowled and motioned to my three sisters behind me—“weird-ass family are now under his protection. I can’t leave until he knows you’re safe.” She protruded her fangs, picked something off one with her perfectly manicured nails, and flicked it to the side. “Besides, I ate before I got here.”

If I didn’t know vampires needed only small amounts of blood to survive and were forbidden from killing humans, I would have staked her. “Did Misha say you had to do anything to keep me safe?”

Edith Anne rose to her full height, which meant her chest was right in my face. Oh, goody.

She pursed her bright red lips. “Why?”

My grin widened. “I’ll take that as a yes. Why don’t you start patrolling the perimeter of the house—you know, in case the bad guys try to sneak up on us?”

Edith frowned. “Your grass is muddy from the rain and I’m wearing four-inch heels.”

I glanced down. “Yes, you are. They’ll make a perfect weapon should some scary monster show up. Be sure to aim for the heart.”

Edith blinked her large brown eyes at me. “But what if he comes while I’m out back?”

“I promise to yell really loudly.”

“But what if—?”

“Get moving, freak,” Taran snapped, coming to stand next to me, arms crossed, attitude at the ready. As the second oldest, I could always count on her to have my back.

Edith Anne stuck out her bottom lip before turning on her four-inch heels and storming down the wooden steps. “You guys suck.”

She adjusted her bosom beneath her lacy red bra as she sloshed through the mud and disappeared around the house. Edith Anne was all about class.

“Son of a bitch, Ceel.” Taran stared at the dead were. The wounds gurgled pus like a fountain, deep from where the cursed gold bullets had lodged.

But the pus, and the blood, and the death were not what made Taran clutch herself protectively. I moved a little closer and whispered so our other sisters, Shayna and Emme, couldn’t hear. “Did you dream again, about those . . . creatures?”

I didn’t want to say “demons.” And neither did Taran. Yet the dread surrounding her nightmares over the past few weeks and the way she described those things—reptilian bodies, leather wings, and strangely humanoid faces—left us few choices from which to select. Gargoyles didn’t exist. Neither did any type of Fae. But demons? If a good, loving God existed, and darkness still reigned in our world, something not so good, not so loving, had also found its place among us.

Taran’s petrified blue eyes peered out to the horizon where Tahoe’s gentle waves sparkled beneath the warming April sun. The magic within her stirred, causing wavy strands of her jet-black hair to flutter around her stunning Latin features. Either the divination of the lake had stimulated her gift or she’d attempted to lure it to do so. She knew that Tahoe both settled and enlivened my beast—the literal tigress within me, who emerged when the superscaries came out to play. And while she didn’t understand how to draw its magic, something happened. A trickle of rising power brushed past me from the direction of the lake and into Taran. Whatever she gathered, though, didn’t seem to be enough. She shook her head, disappointment crinkling her neatly shaped brows. “It was the same dream, Ceel, the one where I see them sweeping down on us like locusts. They cover my body and claw at me and . . .” She shuddered. “Shayna’s cries are the last sound I hear before I wake up screaming.”

She jumped when I placed my hand on her shoulder and scowled hard enough to set me on fire with her power. “Damn it, Ceel. Don’t touch me when I’m—” She shut her lids tight and shook it off, swearing a mantra beneath her breath. When she opened her eyes, her scowl deepened, erasing any remaining susceptibility. Taran didn’t allow herself to express vulnerability very often. Attitude, yes. Bitchiness, daily. But that’s what kept her safe. And in the supernatural world we lived in, a little bit of boldness kept you very much alive.

I reached for her once more, moving slowly to avoid irritating her fragile nerves. My fingers squeezed her arm. “We have a pack of werewolves watching out for us.” I smirked when I thought of Misha. “And a guardian angel master vampire who feels indebted to us for saving his billion-dollar backside. We’re going to be okay.”

I had an inner beast. Taran, an inner bitch. They both worked well to help us through our struggles, just in different ways. She sighed. “Yeah. Maybe.” She stomped back to the body, scrutinizing our unexpected visitor from his gushing head to his seeping toes. “When the hell are the weres getting here? No offense to this poor sap, but he’s making a ridiculous mess.”

I tried not to think about the mess. Or the wereraccoon. I’d first found him riffling through our garbage a month or so back. Since then he’d periodically hid, watching us, in the tall, dense firs surrounding our house. Was it creepy? Oh yeah. Did I want him around us? No. But he’d been one of many supernaturals who had shown up

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