Home > Life Cycle (Preternaturals, #4)

Life Cycle (Preternaturals, #4)
Author: Zoe Winters

Prologue

123 A.D. A hidden cavern near the waters of the Blue Grotto in Italy.

Tamar shivered with her twelve companions. They were about to attempt their most daring incantation. An opening at the top of the cavern allowed the light from the full moon to shine down on them, illuminating their secret gathering and adding its own power to the unfolding ritual.

Salt water splashed on her from a waterfall in the nearby pool. They’d searched for the water of immortality, a legend that had spread since before her birth. Far and wide, people had spoken of water that could make a person eternal and young.

But it wasn’t the water that conferred immortality. It was the creatures that lived inside the water. They were transparent and hard to see, with spongy tops and long tendrils on the bottom that could sting if you got too close. They didn’t die. Instead, they could age backward, reaching the end of their life, and then, without dying, start over again.

“We’ll freeze to death if you don’t hurry.” Tamar glared at the man in the middle of the circle. The irony of freezing to death while seeking immortality caused her to stifle a dark laugh.

“The potion must be altered with other ingredients unless you want to come back as a newborn each time. You’ll find that frustrating,” Jacob said. He was their leader and the best with potions.

Tamar made a face, but huddled closer to her sister, Naomi, for warmth. A circle of salt had been poured around them. Candles were already lit. A large stone had become a makeshift table upon which the coven leader worked. The sea creatures had been pulverized and added to an iron pot. He poured the herbal infusions into the potion.

Jacob passed a sharp knife to the person on his left. “Each of us must contribute blood to the potion or it will fail. The magic is in this creature, but they have no blood. Our blood must bond with this animal if we hope to succeed.”

“Are you sure that’s necessary?” Naomi asked. Tamar nodded her agreement. Cutting themselves and mixing their blood seemed extreme. What would be the consequences of linking together eternally?

“I am sure,” Jacob said, losing patience with their squeamishness. Magic like this had a price, and they all knew it. But the consequences always showed themselves when it was too late.

One by one they sliced the center of their palms with the ritual knife and added their blood. Jacob stirred the concoction with a wooden spoon; it smelled like death. When he was finished, he dipped a silver goblet into the brew.

“We each drink and then we chant,” he said, passing the goblet.

Tamar couldn’t help feeling pride at the chant she’d written. When they’d all drunk, they clasped hands and turned their faces up to the moonlight. The cavern echoed their words back to them. “Da immortalitatem. Renatus sine oblitus. Numquam moriens. Da immortalitatem. Renatus sine oblitus. Numquam moriens...”

And then they all died.

Tamar jolted as oxygen flooded into her body. Something felt very strange. Had the spell worked? She glanced around at her companions, each of them coming back to life one by one.

“We’re all children.”

Chapter One

Golatha Falls, Georgia. The Present.

Tam perched on the bar stool in her kitchen, still as death. Her third cup of Earl Grey tea cooled on the counter, ignored. Normally the warm brew calmed her nerves, but nothing would comfort her today.

She’d read her tarot cards, tea leaves, and scried with a bowl of water and sea salt. Everything she tried gave her the same morbid story. The death card glared back at her, mocking, and though she’d told many others—sometimes truthfully, sometimes not so much—that the death card didn’t always mean death, she knew this card said her number was up.

Jack—as Jacob was called now—was back, and he was after her. She fought to keep the tremor out of her hand as she raised the tea to her lips. He wouldn’t offer her a quick death. It would involve a cold stone slab, bleeding to death, and having vital organs removed. Ritualistic, because ritual was how you got the most effect out of stealing a fellow magic user’s power.

Tam had considered herself a cycler since the night she was reborn in that cavern nearly two thousand years ago. True to Jack’s word, each time they died, they came right back in their own younger body, looking for all the world to be about twelve years old—an inconvenience to say the least. Tam had been shuffled from orphanage to orphanage each time she began a new life cycle.

This last time she’d gotten lucky and been adopted by a well-to-do family who had taken her in and put her through a good school. The thought was nice, though pointless, given how many times she’d already suffered through school.

Cyclers kept their memories, their sense of continuity. They were effectively immortal, just like the rare breed of jellyfish they’d discovered so long ago.

Jack had only been actively hunting the other cyclers for a few centuries. He’d gone power hungry, convinced he could stop the cycle altogether and achieve true immortality by draining the power of his coven. Magic users aged differently—the more magic, the longer they could live. But it wasn’t just that. She knew him. He had an angle—something more than a personal quest for immortality.

If murder was his new hobby, his purpose for gaining all that power couldn’t be good. If he was going to get her anyway, suicide seemed the smarter option. It would free her to be reborn the normal way and keep her safe from a more brutal death at Jack’s hands.

But it wasn’t so simple. There were two ways she could die for real—and two ways only: at the hands of another cycler, or through magical means by a very old preternatural being, such as a demon or vampire at least a few thousand years old. Those were hard to come by, and their killing methods were usually too creative for Tam’s taste. She wanted to break the cycle, not be tortured.

Either way, she’d managed, through this latest cycle, to stifle the suicidal urge. Until now.

The image of the demon she’d chosen formed in her mind. Cain. The very first incubus. If he couldn’t kill her, nobody could. And he hated her. It should be simple enough to get him to agree, assuming she could find him. She’d dropped him in front of his badass pals a couple of times already with energy balls. He was probably plotting her death at this very moment.

Anna might know where to find him, since she was mated to a demon, but Tam hadn’t seen her best friend in three months. It wasn’t as if Tam had directions to the demon portals or a way to get through to their dimension even if she did. If Anna surfaced in the human dimension, Tam could do a spell to locate her, but who could say when that would happen? And would it be before Jack reached her?

Deep in her gut, she knew she was going to die—either by Cain’s hand or by Jack’s. As arrogant as the bastard was, Cain’s methods would at least be pleasurable. Bleeding out and organ removal versus orgasms. Gee, how do I decide? They both sound so glamorous and exciting.

***

Cain snarled as he passed through the portal point into Cary Town, Washington. The filmy dimensional doorway shimmered and then fizzled out of existence as he moved through the forest away from it. He couldn’t believe he’d allowed himself to be summoned by the vampire king. Half-breeds.

He’d thought his business with Anthony was finished when Cain had delivered his don’t mess with us again or there will be a war speech the last time they’d met. But now there was a bigger evil brewing, something that risked the living standards of all the factions—and possibly their lives.

Even his newly turned succubus and her werewolf mate would be at the meeting, which was going to be awkward to say the least, given that they all hated Anthony. And the feeling was mutual. How this was going to go with everybody in one room, he couldn’t say. Officially, the werewolf pack was banished from Cary Town. If someone saw them slinking through the night to Anthony’s penthouse, things would get entertaining.

The demon nodded at the guardian in the lobby of the Cary Town Luxury Apartments. This meeting was being kept on the down-low. The Preternatural Council had been shut out. Even most of the vampire king’s coven didn’t know he was fraternizing with the enemy and holding a secret meeting in his former penthouse residence. Cain stepped onto the elevator and pulled out the key he’d been given to gain access to the sixth floor.

The door at the end of the hall was answered by a vampire who looked more like a butler. “They’re on the roof by the pool, sir.”

Cain took the stairs two at a time. His presence announced itself as the metal door clanged against the brick. All eyes went to him, and he smirked.

“Well, well, looks like the gang’s all here.” And what a motley crew they were.

Anthony stood at one end of the table beside an overhead projector and portable screen that had been plugged into an outlet embedded in the brick.

At the table were several familiar faces. Beside Anthony was his human mate, Charlee. Coming around the table was Cain’s brother, Luc, and his annoying mate, Anna. Then there was Jane, the new succubus who was mated to Cole, the Cary Town werewolf pack alpha. The rest, he didn’t know.

“You’re late,” Anthony said, bristling. “We’ve been waiting, and Charlotte needs her rest. The baby takes a lot out of her.”

Cain’s eyes cut to the vampire’s mate. She was so pregnant she’d pop any day now. If this meeting was about her and her spawn, heads were going to roll. If he didn’t care about a half-breed, he sure as hell didn’t care about a quarter-breed.

“I was detained. These things happen. Lovely little school teacher. I made some third graders very happy today. Or they’ll be happy tomorrow, anyway.”

Cole growled from his seat beside Jane. “You killed a woman, you mean.”

Cain chuckled. “My god, man, what is it with you and this obsession with killing? Which one of us is the demon? Perhaps amongst your kind third graders are happy when their teacher dies. She’s… just a little spent. She’ll have to take a sick day tomorrow.”

He dropped into a chair at the end of the table where he could most easily glare at and annoy Anthony. Since Cain wasn’t killing him right now, annoying him would be the second best thing. He didn’t like that Anthony was in charge of this meeting. The vampire king was practically a child next to Cain’s eight thousand years. It should be seniority rule.

   
Hot Series
» Vampire Academy Series read online
» Crossfire Series read online
» Fifty Shades trilogy read online
» Kate Daniels Series read online
» Black Dagger Brotherhood Series read online
» Cassandra Palmer Series read online
» Rosemary Beach Series read online
» Sea Breeze Series read online
» Too Far Series read online
» Shatter Me Series read online
» Thoughtless Series read online
» Marriage to a Billionaire Series read online
Most Popular
» Nothing But Trouble (Malibu University #1)
» Kill Switch (Devil's Night #3)
» Hold Me Today (Put A Ring On It #1)
» Spinning Silver
» Birthday Girl
» A Nordic King (Royal Romance #3)
» The Wild Heir (Royal Romance #2)
» The Swedish Prince (Royal Romance #1)
» Nothing Personal (Karina Halle)
» My Life in Shambles
» The Warrior Queen (The Hundredth Queen #4)
» The Rogue Queen (The Hundredth Queen #3)