Released

By: Jus Accardo

Chapter One


Azirak/Jax

She hadn’t left my side in days. Samantha Merrick, the girl with fury in her eyes and unrelenting determination in her soul. She was also my… What the hell was she? Girlfriend wasn’t right. The word was too loose an interpretation of our relationship. I also couldn’t call us lovers. That was off the table—for now. She was my conscience, my craving, the source of every dirty thought I’d ever had… Sam was the reason I kept going.

One I could hear from across the room.

As she approached, my heartbeat quickened, and a noxious scent filled the air, coming from the plate thrust into my face. “Eat it,” Sam demanded.

Azirak took the plate from her and placed it on the bar in front of me.

Azirak. The demon who’d made my life hell from the moment I’d taken my first breath.

Azirak. The demon living inside me.

Azirak. The demon who now had control of my body.

Human food was offensive to it. The demon survived on the darker side of human emotion—not cheeseburgers. My—its—our—gut twisted in revulsion. I couldn’t force the bastard to eat it, but I could fill its mind with images of doing just that.

“No,” Azi said, barely hiding the disgust I’d inspired. “It has an unpleasant odor.”

Sam made a sound like a growl and kicked the edge of my chair. I felt the vibration as though it were my head she’d kicked in. That’s what it was like riding shotgun in your own fucking body. Everything was amplified. Sounds were sharper, lights were brighter, and feelings… Let’s just say that when Sam accidentally brushed my wrist while setting down the burger? Yeah. I felt it all over.

“Does it look like I care?” she ground out. All I wanted to do was feel her against my skin again. I pushed for control, straining with all the energy I had, but it was useless—not even the flicker of a finger under my command. “Hold his damn nose and stuff it down his throat.”

The girl on the other side of the bar, a dark-skinned woman with multiple colors in her hair, watched us with a strange expression. With a slow shake of her head, she went back to wiping down the bar.

Azi studied the burger. Under his command, my finger poked at the meat, and a ripple of disgust went through me. I wasn’t sure if it was the demon’s—or mine. “Why?”

Sam’s skin took on a reddish hue, and the muscles in her neck tightened. Sweet-tasting anger, a red haze that rolled off her in waves and drifted into the air between us, made my mouth water. “Because he needs to eat!”

Just eat the fucking thing.

If I could do it over, would I have killed Malphi, Azi’s mate, knowing it would get me locked inside my own body while the demon took control? Yeah. I would. It’d saved Sam’s life. And even though it now meant I couldn’t communicate with her, I could still annoy the shit out of the demon. It was the only bright spot in my miserable fucking life at the moment.

She won’t give up until you do.

It pushed me back and lifted my head to meet her gaze. The fury there was enough to rival any demon, tenfold. A swell of admiration washed through Azi. It often wondered what kind of a demon Sam would have made. It had an unhealthy obsession with my girl…

Azi nudged the plate away. “So long as I continue to feed, he will be nourished.”

She stood her ground, glaring like she wanted to rip me apart. I knew the contempt wasn’t for me, but I still hated seeing it aimed in my direction, hated what all this was doing to her. “His body needs actual food.” Leaning in close, she added, “Not other people’s bad vibes.”

We’ve been over this. Unless you want us to shrivel up, my body needs food.

Azi growled and snatched the burger from the plate. The action rattled the flatware and nearly sent it over the edge of the counter. Weakness, considering recent events, could get us killed. It could get her killed.

It stuffed the overcooked animal into my mouth and choked the thing down in three large bites. It was dry, the texture unpleasant, but it calmed the annoying rumble in my gut.

“Thank you,” she forced out, as though the words caused her physical pain. She reached around the bar to grab her coat, taking care not to brush my hand—which was a mind-fuck all its own. A part of me wanted the contact, craved it like air. But another part of me, the one trapped inside here, hated the way it made me feel—helpless. “Now, are you ready to go?”

Azi stood and, giving the plate one last glare, nodded.

Sam led the way, weaving through the diminishing crowd of Viking employees. It was four a.m. and the club was closing. Since the demon had totaled our only ride a week ago, we had a long walk ahead of us.

Heading out the back door and into the alley next to the club, Sam pulled her coat tighter. She looked one way and then the other. Satisfied that we were alone, she started for home. Azi followed, remaining silent.

Sam didn’t like when the demon spoke to her. She hadn’t said so outright, but it was obvious by the pain in her eyes every time it opened my mouth. Several times I’d seen her actually cringe. It was my voice, my lips moving—but it wasn’t me. Not really. Azi had no desire to cause her more suffering than it already had, so the demon kept to itself unless addressed directly. It was a small mercy, but I figured I had to take what I could get.

There was a chill in the air, and several blocks from the club, it began to rain, which complicated things. For the last block or so, something had been following us. Azi couldn’t tell what it was, but considering the shit we’d had to deal with lately, the demon remained on guard. The rain would make it harder to track the scent and get rid of the fucker—whatever it was.

As we passed a row of shops, Azi picked up the trail again, the pungent stink stinging my senses. This time it was closer and definitely not human. My fingers closed around Sam’s wrist, and without explanation, Azi dragged her into the small space between two of the buildings.

“What the hell are you—”

It covered her mouth and leaned close. For a moment, the smell of her overrode my system and sent a powerful spark of desire to my core. The demon inhaled, savoring the sudden spike of Sam’s anger, and grinned when the smallest tuft of lust seeped through. I wanted desperately to act on it, to fan the ember and turn it into an inferno, which only increased Azi’s desire—not that it needed the push. It already had a thing for Sam without any help from me.

“Be still and stay silent,” the demon whispered against her ear. My lips brushed the edge, and a wave of longing rolled over me. I wanted to tell Sam I missed her, to let her know that I would find a way out of this. But no matter how loud I roared, she wouldn’t hear me. It was the demon’s words that came from my lips, its sentiments expressed through the movements of my body. None of it was me except for the packaging. “We are being followed.”

The alley was devoid of light, but my senses were inhuman. I saw every detail of her face, from the worried gleam in her eyes to the sudden tension in her body. She gave a slight nod, and Azi removed my hand.

Get Sammy out of there.

I fought for dominance, failing, then let out an enraged howl.

If anything happens to her…

“We will be fine.” The demon’s assurance was for both of us, but it didn’t make me feel better.

Movement on the street distracted it momentarily, and a large black blur flew at us from the far end of the alley. Azi pushed Sam to the ground as the hulking mass crashed into my body. It was a million tons of weight crushing every bone.

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