Alexei Korakov believes in fairy tales. He is living one. All his life his grandmother has told him about the curse visited upon his ancestor who spurned a witch and brought her wrath down upon his head. The witch cursed each Korakov male to meet his one true love over and over again until eternity, and each time to kill her. From childhood, Alexei's grandmother instilled in him one edict—never let anyone too close or the curse will take hold.
Drusilla Jordan has always loved fairy tales. That's not to say she believes in "happily ever after," or that she wants the hectic life of a fantasy princess. No, Dru loves fairy tales precisely because they're not true. As the only child of an alcoholic mother, she understood all about wicked stepmothers. She never knew who would be at home after school—her sweet, gentle mother or the wicked drunken stepmother who would pass out on the couch, leaving little Drusilla alone in the dark, with only her fantasies for company.
When the evil entity that cursed the Korakovs returns to battle Alexei and Dru, the two fragile humans are no match for Mavra's strength and hatred. Can Alexei trust Dru enough to bare the secret he hides in his deepest soul? And is Dru's love strong enough to triumph over her fear? Or will Mavra once again win the battle and make Alexei kill Dru...
**Also available in e-book
Long, long ago
As soon as he came to consciousness, he knew everything was different. He had wildness in his nostrils. Wildness and the acrid, sharp smell of blood. Before he opened his eyes, he tested his body, stretching and flexing, feeling the soreness all the way down to his bones.
What kind of dream had he had that would tie his muscles up in knots? What kind of awful nightmare that still haunted him with horrible images and nauseating smells like death surrounding him?
As he became more aware, he realized rocks and twigs stabbed his naked back and legs, and the early morning sun hurt his closed eyes.
He opened one eye to a slit and looked at his hand, his head filled with the gruesome dream and his joints and tendons aching as if he’d been tortured on the rack. But his hand was just a hand, with long blunt fingers, blue veins tracing its back, and broken, bloody nails.
Blood? Where had blood come from? The last thing he remembered was Mavra’s face, contorted with hatred and fury as she screamed at him.
He closed his eyes again, oddly reluctant to face reality and the day, and instead let his mind drift back over the evening before.
Mavra had come to his home, unwilling to give up her single-minded pursuit of him. She had threatened him—threatened Irina. He’d thrown her out bodily, but her words, her curses, still rang in his ears.
He licked his lips and tasted blood. A sickening dread suffused his brain. Turning over, he pushed himself up to hands and knees, squinting in the sunlight, trying to orient himself to the world around him.
A scarlet haze obscured his vision. He wiped sweat from his eyes with his forearm and blinked. The haze cleared.
The sight before him turned his soul to stone.
"No," he whispered through lips numb with shock and dreadful, fearful certainty. "Irina, please God no."
He crawled toward his wife, sickened and fascinated by the blood that matched the dark smears on his fingers and the metallic taste in his mouth. He prayed that his eyes deceived him, prayed the poor mangled body wasn’t hers.
"Don’t be," he begged. "Please, no." He touched the hem of her skirt and bunched it in his fist, so consumed by terror he couldn’t breathe as flashing horrifying images from his dream clouded his vision.
The dream in which he was dark and sleek and powerful. The dream in which his massive jaws and thick, sharp teeth tore out a delicate human throat in less than a heartbeat. The dream in which everything familiar was alien, everything good was profane, and everything beloved was destroyed.
His fingers curled like claws and he dug them into his own flesh, trying to rip out his heart.
"So Dimitri, now you understand."
The voice came from nowhere, from inside him, from all around him.
He raised his head and saw Mavra, her pale beauty darkening before his eyes as she took on her true form, the form of evil. He stared at her. If he could have slashed her throat with his fingers, his teeth, he would have, but he was too weak, too human now.
His sleek dark power was gone. His arms shook like a child’s.
His insides churned with impotent hatred.
"Now you know I am as good as my word. How does it feel to have murdered your true love?" Mavra stood over him, triumphant.
"I thought you loved me," he whispered. "Why have you done this?"
Mavra’s form wavered before his blood-hazed vision. Her eyes shone red and black in the bright sun, dark windows into a soulless void.
"Oh, I wanted you Dimitri. I warned you that I would do anything to have you. What a sniveling coward you are, crying over such as her. I should have known you were no match for me. You deserve your fate, Dimitri. And your pathetic little sweetheart deserved hers."
"Irina was good. She was pure and true. It was her goodness I loved. You are evil, and a murderer."
"I did not kill her, my faithless one. You did. And hear me, Dimitri Korakov. I curse you from now until eternity. You will live again and again, but you will never be human. Each time you live, you will live but for one purpose—to kill your true love all over again."
Mavra’s humanity was totally gone now, and in its place was a black, writhing form, sinuous and awful to look upon.
As Mavra’s laughter faded into the mundane sounds of awakening day, Dimitri felt the last dregs of his humanity slipping away.
He looked at his hand which bulged and stretched painfully as he changed. He felt his joints creaking, his skin thickening, and in his last sentient moments he screamed a vow to the heavens.
"I swear, Irina, I will find you. If it takes until forever, I will find you. We will defeat Mavra. Then we will be together, ever after.
* * * *