Today I am so pleased to welcome Tibby Armstrong to Joyfully Jay. Tibby has come to talk to share an excerpt from her latest release, Surrender the Dark. She has also brought along a great giveaway. Please join me in giving Tibby a big welcome!
Benjamin was drunk enough to be uncertain he hadn’t begun to hallucinate, but sober enough to remember the weapon secreted in his boot. He’d already downed his third Scotch when the creature walked into Whiskey Tango. The thing’s aura was like nothing he’d seen since developing his second sight. A majestic purple, it pulsed and vibrated with a heat that sang from across the room.
He focused on the glow. The creature moved toward the bar, and the color flickered then faded, leaving a current-like trail before winking to nothing. Benjamin’s hand lost its grip on the empty Scotch glass, and the tumbler met the table with a rocking thud that preceded the sound of shattering glass.
Marc hustled over. “Let me get that for you.”
“Sorry.” Benjamin never tore his gaze from where the thing had stood. Had he imagined the strange aura? Perhaps nobody was there at all?
“The creat—the man who just came in? I mean did a man just come in?”
The server answered with a bewildered, “Yeah . . .”
The how the hell did you know that note in Marc’s response told Benjamin he’d nearly given away too much. Having special magic abilities was one thing. Letting normal people know about them, however, tended to win you a one-way trip to Mass General, or a spot on the latest so-called reality freak show. Neither of which appealed.
“Windy night,” Benjamin offered without being asked. “I felt the breeze and smelled his cologne when he came in.”
“Oh.” Marc, curiosity dampened, stood. “I guess you have super hearing and the ability to smell stuff better because you’re blind.”
Benjamin breathed deep and dug for patience. It wasn’t the honest term blind that pissed him off. It was the things people came up with to explain how he functioned that made his blood boil. Blind people sometimes did have a better handle on their other senses, but only because they paid more attention to them than sighted people did. Even he wasn’t unusual among his ancestors. He had a sixth sense for magic, but it wasn’t something his kin hadn’t developed as well. Sighted or not.
Somehow, Benjamin managed not to snarl. “Just tell me what he looks like.”
“Uh . . .” The table shifted as Marc ostensibly grabbed its edge to steady himself and peer over his shoulder. “Yeah. Jeez. Wow.”
Benjamin crossed his right foot over his left knee, bringing the knife in his boot within easy reach. “What does that mean?”
“Depends on whether you want to be able to walk the next day.” Marc’s laugh was throaty. “With a body like that, and an attitude to match, he’d probably fuck you into next week and not stick around to see if there was anything left.”
Benjamin snorted. Just like Marc to assume he was after sex.
“When have I ever left here with anyone?” Benjamin asked, momentarily diverted.
“Maybe you should.” Marc laid a hand on his shoulder.
Benjamin shrugged off his touch. “What makes you think I’m gay?”
He’d spent most of his life trying to defy expectations people had of him—the blind man, the orphan, the wealthy eccentric. He wasn’t afraid of claiming his sexuality. That a mere acquaintance, however, had stumbled upon such intimate knowledge of him was neither welcome nor comforting.
“You talk when you’re drunk. Just like everyone else.” Marc leaned low and intoned, “Don’t worry. Your secrets are safe with me.”
Recoiling, Benjamin stopped himself from asking Marc what else he had revealed while washing the vampire stink from his sinuses. He imagined he might have said quite a lot, and he didn’t even have all that good of an imagination.
“Want me to get his number for you?” Marc’s voice retreated as he put a little distance between them. “Or I could get him a drink from you?”
“W-what?” Benjamin sputtered. “No.”
“He’s looking at you.” Marc nearly purred the observation. “And he’s wearing leather pants . . .”
“Leave him alone,” Benjamin growled, fingers flexing automatically in search of a drink. Gods save him from people’s matchmaking impulses. “And stop feeling sorry for me. I don’t need your charity . . . or his.”
And that’s what it would be. Charity. If the man were staring at him, he was likely trying to figure out if Benjamin were an easy lay or just a target for scar fetishists. Nobody who approached Benjamin for sex wanted to stick around, and he preferred it that way. Marc’s description of this man, however, made the idea of being pity fucked—even into the mind-blowing oblivion the server had described—something to be avoided at all costs.
Marc paused, and Benjamin could feel his considering gaze. “Do you really not know how good looking you are?”
In absence of a glass, Benjamin snatched up the damp shreds of his wadded-up cocktail napkin and began tearing it to tiny bits. He could feel the scars around his eyes with his fingers. He knew what he must look like.
“Oh, sure.” He hurled several chunks of sodden napkin onto the floor. “Because a guy with disfiguring scars who wears sunglasses all the time is so mysterious and sexy.”
“Actually, the sunglasses are rather intriguing.”
Benjamin’s chin whipped up. That had definitely not been Marc’s voice.
“Nice pants,” Marc cooed, confirming Benjamin’s suspicions as to the speaker’s identity.
“Thank you.” The reply should have contained a hint of a wry smile, but it didn’t. The man’s voice was like granite. It might warm under the bright sunshine, but it would never be anything but intrinsically cool, smooth, and hard.
Benjamin tried and failed to wed the aura he thought he’d seen to that voice. How had he not heard the man approach the alcove? Benjamin sat in this spot precisely because it was the one place where nobody could surprise him in the bar’s otherwise open floor plan.
“Can I get you anything?” Marc asked the stranger.
“Please.” The man paused, and Benjamin almost pictured him sniffing the air as he asked, “Scotch was it?”
Benjamin managed a nod.
“May I join you?”
More curious about the man’s purpose in seeking him out than anything else—or at least that’s what he told himself—Benjamin nodded again.
“Tzadkiel.” Fabric rustled as the man introduced himself.
Benjamin lifted his right hand, and managed to find his voice. “Benjamin.”
If Tzadkiel possessed magic or was supernatural in any way, the skin-to-skin contact should reveal the truth. Resolute fingers pressed and gripped his. Benjamin felt nothing. Saw nothing. He nearly sagged in relief. The aura had been imagined—likely an effect of agitation combined with a lifetime of hyper vigilance. Plus, there was the little fact he’d been drinking.
“Tzadkiel.” Benjamin said the first thing that came to mind. “That’s . . . unusual.”
Scanning his memory for legends, Benjamin retrieved only one. He considered it briefly. If angels existed, they might be able to mask their auras. There was no way to politely ask without getting himself potentially locked up. Again. Besides, a being of that magnitude, if they were real, had no reason to seek him out. He was hardly halo and celestial choir material.
Tzadkiel remained silent. Seconds ticked by. Benjamin tightened and flexed his fingers, his mind frantically searching for potential meaning behind this evening’s turn.
Marc placed their drinks down with a “To your right.”
Benjamin’s cheeks heated, and he snatched up his glass. To your right was a comment he heard every day from Nyx and Akito—one that he normally appreciated if he even noticed it at all. In this context, however, with Tzadkiel, he didn’t want to be mistaken for vulnerable.
“Are you from around here?” Benjamin asked.
Ice clinked in a raised glass. “Greece.”
Well, that explained the faint accent and stilted speech pattern. English wasn’t the guy’s first language.
“My maternal ancestors were Greek,” Benjamin said offhandedly after a moment.
It had been so long since he’d made small talk with anyone, he wasn’t quite sure how to do it. Words were like weights on his tongue, each one carefully lifted and set down again for fear he’d drop it clumsily on his foot.
“Benjamin?” Tzadkiel’s confusion registered in the drawn out and careful pronunciation of the name. “The name is not Greek.”
“My father liked the meaning. Son of my right hand,” Benjamin intoned, waving his hand in a vague flourish. “I was meant to go into the family business. But there is a Greek form, if you want to be picky. It’s Beniamin. I was always shit at Greek letters or I’d spell it out.”
Something creaked like leather bending, and Benjamin remembered Marc had said the man wore leather pants.
“Did you?” Tzadkiel’s question came from a more intimate distance. “Enter into the family business?”
The sounds of conversation and the bartender’s shaker, scraping stools and raised laughter were constant now outside the alcove; the frenetic joviality was that of a town full of young professionals and college students. The buzz and hum cushioned Benjamin’s already-hazy senses, lulling him into a state of easy relaxation he often sought but rarely found.
“Sort of. My parents are dead, so I had to start over.”
Benjamin heard Marc’s voice nearby and motioned for another drink.
“And are you good at what you do?” Voiced with languid precision, the quiet timbre of Tzadkiel’s question cast an erotic chill.
If the man had a competence kink, Benjamin knew at least a half dozen ways to satisfy it. Usually, he preferred bottoming, but it might be interesting to strut his stuff for a man who was so obviously used to being on top.
Feigning a relaxed posture, drink dangling between his fingertips, Benjamin gave a feline grin. “I am.”
There was another stretch of silence. Benjamin’s grip on the glass gradually tightened, and he resisted the urge to squirm. Had he misinterpreted the innuendo? Been too forward? Ruined the moment? Confidence spun out of his control, both it and the drink ruining his emotional and physical equilibrium until he slouched in his chair. He shouldn’t be coming on to a man he barely knew.
Tzadkiel set his glass on the table with a bright clink. “You had a good walk here?”
The question shook Benjamin by the scruff, and set his libido aside with an emphatic whump to his midsection. A startlingly clear and contemporary vision of himself, complete with the monochrome of lamplight and the hilly backdrop of Joy Street, rose in his mind.
“How did you know that I walked here?” Horrified disbelief broke through alcohol’s fumes. “Did you follow me?”
“Yes.” Tzadkiel’s answer hung in the air until Benjamin swore he could feel the man’s gaze boring straight through his anger to expose the marrow of his fear.
Crushing the emotion, Benjamin forced a “Why?” past his numb lips.
“I saw you nearly struck by a vehicle when you crossed the road earlier.” Scent—smoky with bergamot undertones—tickled Benjamin’s nostrils. Tzadkiel certainly didn’t smell like a vampire, or even a werewolf, for that matter. When the man spoke again, his voice was closer. “I wanted to make sure you were all right. So I finished my business and followed you here.”
Relief brought blood rushing back to Benjamin’s limbs, and heat flooded his cheeks. He didn’t know which idea was worse—that the man found him pathetic enough to follow him out of some misguided good-Samaritan impulse or that Tzadkiel might have followed him here in hopes he could kiss a blind man’s boo-boos and snag a sure thing.
“Who are you, anyway? Some angel of mercy jonesing for extra credit?” Benjamin spat the questions, covering his embarrassment with reflexive pride before manipulating the conversation into another direction. “And since when is the name Tzadkiel any more Greek than Benjamin?”
“It’s not.” Voice hollow, tone dry, Tzadkiel spoke into his glass. “My father had the same fondness for angels that yours did for . . . business partners.”
The music in the bar grew more grating, an industrial alternative that rattled Benjamin with its jagged rhythm. Alcohol had warped his hearing so that the notes seemed to stutter, taking on a warbled quality reminiscent of underwater listening. He swallowed down the rest of his drink and trusted Marc to bring him another.
“Well.” Benjamin turned his head, wishing for some way to dismiss the stranger. “You’ll have to satisfy your hurt-fix fetish with some other, less suspecting blind drunk. I’m fine.”
Only he wasn’t fine. The man had rattled him to the tips of his steel-toed boots. Marc brought another round, and Benjamin drank deeply. That drink disappeared and another followed. Alcohol clouded sense and memory. Benjamin tried and failed to remember if his questions had ever been answered. Too drunk to be cautious, he straightened and involuntarily swayed in time to the music’s suggestive rhythm.
His pulse was a sluggish beat that seemed to match the slur in his words. He jabbed a thumb at his own chest. “Do you know what I am?”
Fabric rustled, suggesting a shrug.
“Use your words.” Sarcasm bled from him.
The sweet scent of Scotch tickled Benjamin’s nostrils when Tzadkiel leaned in close. Too close.
Tzadkiel’s breath hit Benjamin’s cheek, then his ear. “I am so very intrigued. Beniamin.”
The name, uttered like a cold caress in flawless Greek, sent a shudder down Benjamin’s arms to his fingers. Benjamin sat back swiftly and skimmed his fingertips along the tabletop until he found his glass. Raising it to his nose, he sniffed, and grounded himself with the peaty aroma.
Unbidden, an image of the vampire from the night his family had died—dark haired and with exotically deep-set eyes, their color at once lovely and strange—flashed bright with violet hues. The remembered eyes were ancient, and mocking, as if the vampire had possessed knowledge Benjamin didn’t, and would never have.
That was the second time tonight he’d visualized a scene so vividly, and he had the feeling that it wasn’t just a memory. He shook his head to clear it of things that didn’t belong there. Instead, the visions intensified, running together so quickly that they bled into each other.
Color. Light. The slant of moonbeams across his bedroom on a silvery winter’s eve. So beautiful and so lifeless and so cold. The monochrome bloomed into a summer’s day. Blue sky and green leaves filtering the brightness. Tulips. A red-and-yellow-striped beach ball rolling down the front steps and onto brick pavers. Midnight blue eyes, and pain. So much pain. Technicolor reality knifed through Benjamin’s head, along with shouts and cries, and imagined red—too much red—seeping under the partially opened basement door.
“Stop it,” Benjamin hissed, wishing he could make the red stop. It had to stop. He pushed trembling fingers under his glasses and pressed them over the raised scars where his eyelids should have been, wishing he could reach into his brain and pluck out the nightmares.
“Your waiter is worried about you.” Tzadkiel’s thoughtful tone said he watched Marc, not Benjamin.
Dropping his hands, Benjamin fingered his glass as the visions, memories, whatever they were, came to a stuttering halt. “Should he be?”
There was a surprised pause followed by Tzadkiel’s quiet laugh. The dark, rich sound loosened Benjamin’s muscles a fraction. He breathed deep and realized how absurd the question sounded. How absurd all of this would sound if he said it aloud.
Everything he’d been dealing with tonight was a result of long-buried childhood memories married to macabre imagination. He should lay off the Stoker. Maybe read a little Jane Austen—he’d been meaning to get to Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. As a tonic against further unwanted visions, Benjamin downed the rest of his Scotch, tilting his head back to catch the last drops, and signaled for another. He was already going to be nailed to the proverbial cross of his hangover come morning. Might as well make it count.
“Are you always so . . . prickly?” Tzadkiel’s amusement called to mind a mocking grin.
Marc came, forcing a pause in their conversation. When he left, Benjamin leaned toward Tzadkiel. “For the record?” Rolling the weight of his newly filled glass clumsily between his fingers, he spoke with amazing and deliberate care given how drunk he was. “When someone’s almost been run over? You ask them immediately if they’re all right. Then you leave when they say they’re fine. You don’t stalk them.”
Though he knew now that he’d been followed, Benjamin wasn’t worried that the man—he had to be just a man—knew he was a hunter. Perhaps some magical residue from Nyx’s spell had allowed Tzadkiel to appear on Benjamin’s figurative radar when he’d walked into the lounge? Or maybe it had been as he’d surmised earlier—a figment of this evening’s overactive paranoia combined with habitual hyper vigilance. Either way, his sodden mind told him, the man was innocent of everything except bad judgment and perhaps questionable taste.
“My apologies.” Tzadkiel paused. “May I make amends by seeing you home?”
The formal request transported Benjamin a hundred years into the past, to a time when he imagined his home was newer and this area was teeming with streetcars and the clop of horses’ hooves. There was a certain comfort in that—a gentility that, rather than feeling stiff, spoke of steadiness and reliability.
Gods, he was shitfaced. “I can get there myself.”
At least he still had the good sense to make his tongue overrule his libido. No matter how much he wanted the oblivion a good fuck would bring to his overwrought mind, he knew better than to go home with strangers. Mostly.
“The storm is upon us.” Wary consideration edged Tzadkiel’s observation.
Upon us? That went beyond quaint into weird. Who spoke like that? “Who taught you English? Shakespeare?”
Silence greeted the question and belatedly, Benjamin recalled that English wasn’t Tzadkiel’s native tongue. He winced. The man had probably learned what he knew from formal high school language drills and classic literature, and Benjamin had insulted his skill.
Hell, it had been all Benjamin had been able to do to learn the Greek alphabet from his uncle—and even that had only come at the cost of brutal beatings and many sunny Saturdays spent indoors poring over musty books.
“Allow me to make certain you get home safely.” Tzadkiel’s tone drizzled dark honey down Benjamin’s spine.
One Scotch too many, his sixth—or was it seventh?—of the evening, had made its way into Benjamin’s bloodstream, eroding the foundations of his common sense until it crumbled in the face of arousal’s crashing onslaught. What did he have to lose? The man seemed to want to fuck him, and Benjamin wanted to be fucked. He’d done stupider things than go home with a guy who wanted an easy lay. Hell, he wanted an easy lay.
“Marc thinks you’ll fuck me into next week.” Benjamin raised his empty glass in mock salute, and Scotch sloshed over his hand. “I say he underestimates us both.”
In the back of his mind, the part barely sober enough to grapple with reason, he knew this was a bad idea. If Scotch goggles were a thing, he had slapped a big pair on his face. No matter what tomorrow brought, tonight he wanted to put away thoughts about monsters and death. He was tired of loneliness. Tired of waiting for permanent darkness to come. If only for an hour, he wanted to forget.
Meet your new paranormal addiction: the mouthwatering brothers of the Dragoumanos line. As a red-hot series begins, a vampire king seduces the supernaturally gifted man hunting him—and the stakes are literally life or death.
Benjamin Fuller is a hunter, born and bred. Blinded as a child by the vampire who slaughtered his family, he’s blessed with a second sight that allows him to catch and kill his quarry. What his gift can’t help him see coming is his fierce, almost carnal attraction to the mystery man who claims to be a fellow hunter and whose touch triggers both lust and revulsion. When he gains the upper hand, Benjamin vows to bring his enemy to his knees.
After many years spent in exile, the only one who can help restore Tzadkiel Dragoumanos to his rightful place as War King is a blind hunter with golden curls, a lithe dancer’s physique, and distinctive facial scars—scars Tzadkiel gave him two decades ago. The mere scent of Benjamin Fuller provokes an unwelcome rush of insatiable desire. Yet to win an all-out supernatural war, Tzadkiel must resist the ravenous hunger to possess his prey—for now.
Tibby Armstrong has been a romance reader since the age of eleven, when she snuck a very bad historical from her aunt’s shelves. In her late twenties, she fell in love with paranormal romance and urban fantasy. Now she writes contemporary and paranormal stories with strong relationship threads and a healthy helping of steam.
Tibby has brought a copy of Surrender the Dark to give away to one lucky reader (gifted via Amazon or Barnes & Noble only). Just leave a comment at the end of the post to enter. The contest ends on Tuesday, May 16th at 11:59 pm EST.
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