The only thing worse than being a demon is being a Valari. As an undergraduate at Los Angeles’s Alameda University, Kara Valari can sometimes succeed at forgetting she’s both. Lost between the pages of the classics and tucked into the shadows of lecture halls, she can dodge the paparazzi’s lenses as well as her family’s publicized dramas—not to mention their private expectations. She has one more year to feed her true passions. Then she’ll be expected to fulfill a much darker destiny.
Cursed with inexplicable strength and god-like stature, literature professor Maximus Kane knows all about darkness. Every day he’s reminded of the missteps of his childhood and the devastating consequences they’ve had on those dearest to him. To atone, Maximus spends his nights alone and his days submerged in the quiet life of academia. His existence has become a study in control, and he’s become a master at it—until Kara Valari walks into his toughest course.
Viscerally, Kara’s everything he craves. Logically, she’s everything he rejects. She’s a starlet of privilege. She’s also a student. And after one touch, he can’t deny that she’s awakened something in him that may never go dormant. Nothing about her makes sense, but everything about her feels right. Especially in the deepest strands of his DNA, which are still shadows of mystery to him—a mystery Kara seems determined to uncover.
She’s Hollywood royalty. She’s forbidden fruit. And he’s pretty sure she could be the answer to everything.
Other Books In This Series
I rip my hand back when he grazes my skin. The hot bolt of awareness inspires a flash of concern first, then melts into something even more unsettling when I realize itâ€™s Professor Kaneâ€”well, Maximusâ€”beside me.
His polite gesture isnâ€™t paired with a friendly smile. If I didnâ€™t know better, Iâ€™d say he felt the singe of energy between us too. But thatâ€™s impossible. Normal people donâ€™t feel things like I do. Except he looks like I feelâ€”stunned and fascinated.
He stares down at the book like it offended him before offering it to me. I take it, careful not to touch him.
He doesnâ€™t speak for a moment, his blue-eyed gaze boring into me like Iâ€™m a problem he canâ€™t solve. It doesnâ€™t help that this place is jammed, forcing us into a proximity that feels too personal. Especially as I find myself taking in details about him I couldnâ€™t appreciate before. The ring of deeper blue around the irises of his eyes. His muscled forearms, visible now with his sleeves rolled up tightly. Most noticeably, his hair falls in messy coppery waves past his shoulders, giving him a wild and untethered look far from the buttoned-up professor I met yesterday.
The din of the crowd is pierced with the squeal of an excited Piper Blue fan on the other side of the store. He looks over briefly before turning his attention back to me and the book in my hand.
I blink a couple of times before I latch on to his meaning. â€śOh.â€ť I tuck the heavy hardcover under my arm. â€śNot really. Just looked interesting, I guess.â€ť
The corner of his mouth quirks up. â€śGreek rituals are interesting?â€ť
â€śIâ€™m a classicsâ€”â€ť
â€śYes, I know. Classics major. You told me that already.â€ť He rests his elbow on the edge of the shelf dedicated to the Roman Empire. â€śItâ€™s just that everyoneâ€™s here to gush over celebrities, and youâ€™re over here in your own little world.â€ť
â€śAnd thatâ€™s interesting to you?â€ť
Those rings of cobalt seem to intensify. â€śIt is.â€ť
I fidget with the textured edge of the book, a little floored that heâ€™d notice. â€śIs that why youâ€™re here? To gush over celebrities?â€ť
His smirk broadens. â€śNo. Iâ€™m friends with the owners. I grew up down the street. Theyâ€™re basically family.â€ť
â€śSo is Piper. She and my sister have been inseparable for years.â€ť
â€śThatâ€™s nice of you to come and support her.â€ť
I fail to mask an eye roll.
He laughs. â€śWhat?â€ť
â€śPiper has enough fangirls. She doesnâ€™t need moral support. My sisterâ€™s determined to put me in the spotlight every chance she can. I was promised a lift home after class and here we are.â€ť
â€śLittle bit of a detour.â€ť
I wrinkle my nose. â€śLittle bit.â€ť
â€śYou could just leave, you know.â€ť
I shrug. â€śI like books.â€ť
â€śI can tell. Howâ€™s Dante treating you?â€ť
I feel my cheeks color, though I canâ€™t reason why. His question is simple enough. â€śIâ€™m enjoying it,â€ť I finally manage.
His next words are lower. Almostâ€¦intimate. â€śYou donâ€™t have to tell me that just because Iâ€™m your professor.â€ť
â€śI wouldnâ€™t lie about that.â€ť
His gaze drops from my eyes to the book and seems to wander over more of me. I take in an uneven breath because this feels dangerously like flirting. With my professor. Not that Iâ€™m parked on any moral high ground about it, but Iâ€™m not in a position to get entangled with anyone. Especially Maximus, with his sweet eyes and electric touch and soft-looking mouthâ€¦
Suddenly Iâ€™m shoved from behind, launched against his massive frame. Lighting fast, he wraps his arm around me to keep me from tumbling sideways into the people near us.
â€śOh my God, Iâ€™m so sorry!â€ť someone says.
They could be a mile away, because all I can hear is Maximusâ€™s heavy exhale as he cinches us infinitesimally closer. His hand is on my waist, huge and warm. Then his voice is in my ear, breathy and low.
Itâ€™s barely a whisper. A word I can feel more than hear as I struggle to process the sensory explosion of this much contact. My heart beats excitedly, like itâ€™s responding to a fun new drug designed to keep me amped all night. I brace my palm against the expanse of his chest and force myself into a state of composure. Calm down. Focus.
Except this is more than butterflies. This is a phoenix in flight. The hard hook of attraction thatâ€™s impossible to pass off as anything else now. A live wire I donâ€™t want to let go of but desperately need to before he gets the wrong idea.
I steady on my feet and step back slowly. His touch falls away, and Iâ€™m almost mournful as I drag my gaze up to his. Iâ€™m ready to thank him for his quick reflexes, but the words die in my throat. Suddenly my skin burns as fiercely as the heat in his eyes. Then I realize his earlier slip wasnâ€™t meant to curse the offending klutz who ran into me. In fact, I donâ€™t think he meant to say it at all.
â€śYou all right?â€ť he says, his voice taking on a raspy quality that I can feel on the surface of my skin. And other places.
Too good. Buzzing with euphoria good. About to rip his clothes off good.
I should thank him for saving me from the fall. Then I should walk away and take great pains to never get this close to him again.
â€śKara. There you are. Seriously.â€ť
My sisterâ€™s dramatic drone breaks the spell. Maximus runs a shaky hand through his hair as she sidles up beside us in head-to-toe Gucci.
â€śItâ€™s a miracle the paparazzi get any pictures of you at all. You find the weirdest places to hide out. Youâ€™re nowhere near the action,â€ť she rattles on.
Before I can make introductions, Maximus mumbles something I canâ€™t make out and turns into the crowd, creating distance between us that Iâ€™m already too conflicted about. A little voice reminds me Iâ€™ll see him in class tomorrow, which shouldnâ€™t be such a thrilling prospect. Not after I nearly seized with pleasure from a few seconds of body contact.
I try in vain not to follow him as he finds a place to stand on the other side of the store. The farthest possible spot from me. Wise. I need to remind myself of that at least a thousand more times.
I silently promise to stick with my seat in the back row of the lecture hall going forward. This canâ€™t happen again. Heâ€™s too dangerous to the walls of my self-control.
â€śCome on. Letâ€™s go get a picâ€”â€ť Kellâ€™s deep brown eyes widen slightly. â€śWhoa. Do you smell that?â€ť
I swing my gaze back to her. â€śWhat?â€ť
Her nostrils flare with a couple of short sniffs. â€śLust andâ€¦â€ť She frowns. â€śAnxiety?â€ť
I lick my lips nervously. â€śThatâ€™s me. Iâ€™m anxious.â€ť
â€śI know what you smell like, K-demon. That wasnâ€™t you.â€ť
â€śDonâ€™t call me that.â€ť
She gracefully flips her slick wall of black hair over her shoulder. â€śKara, youâ€™re the only one of us who needs to be reminded of it.â€ť
â€śOkay, well, weâ€™re in public.â€ť I can barely gesture for effect without hitting someone with my hand.
â€śThe public hasnâ€™t called us worse?â€ť
I roll my eyes and breathe out a sigh. â€śWhatever.â€ť
â€śSoâ€¦â€ť Her gaze wanders over the crowd. â€śWho was Mr. Lusty? Thatâ€™s not like you to get someone all wound up.â€ť
â€śItâ€™s no one. Heâ€™s my professor. Itâ€™s not like that.â€ť
Her pretty red lips form a shocked oval as she spots Maximus. â€śYouâ€™re kidding me. Heâ€™s your professor?â€ť
â€śYes,â€ť I hiss quietly and turn my back to him, hoping to hell he doesnâ€™t notice the most tolerable of all my siblings blatantly pointing and staring at him like an unselfconscious toddler.
â€śWait a motherfucking minute,â€ť she says almost breathlessly. â€śThatâ€™s that superhot literature professor, isnâ€™t it? Shit. I tried to get into one of his classes too. I got stuck with some old hag with a hard-on for Whitman.â€ť
â€śKell, Professor Ferguson is the poet laureate.â€ť
She waves her hand dismissively. â€śI donâ€™t even care. On to more important mattersâ€¦â€ť She studies me closely as if I have evidence on me. â€śAre you putting the moves on him? I honestly never thought youâ€™d put out for grades. Thatâ€™s just not like you.â€ť
The growl that rumbles deep in my chest is drowned out by the crowd, unlike her unhinged remarks that can be clearly heard by nearly anyone with an interest. And tonight, with the media mingling like bees in a hive, the shop is swarming with people who want fresh dirt on the Valaris.
â€śConsidering Iâ€™ve had one class with him so far, no. Not to mentionâ€¦ You know.â€ť I wave my hand in tiny circles and stare at the bookshelf beside me, briefly wishing I could find a way to hide between the tomes. Maybe find a secret door in this enchanting little bookstore that can take me away from LA to another plane of reality where my life isnâ€™t already charted for me.
â€śWhat the hell are you talking about?â€ť Kellâ€™s flawless face is wrinkled with confusion.
â€śIâ€™m promised. And so are you, by the way. Did you forget that tiny detail?â€ť
When she crosses her arms and averts her gaze, I know she hasnâ€™t forgotten. If anyone can appreciate the vow we were bound to at birth, she can.
â€śYou can do other things in the meantime,â€ť she mutters without much conviction.
â€śWhatâ€™s the point?â€ť I wear my emotions too close to the surface, along with every base impulse. And when it comes to sex, having it with just anyone isnâ€™t an option. I may hate being a Valari, but that doesnâ€™t mean I can pretend Iâ€™m not one.
When humans break their vows, feelings get hurt. Hearts get broken. When demons break vows, someone gets punished.
Kell taps her red lacquered nail on her tooth. â€śYeah.â€ť Her eyes brighten after a moment. â€śWell, once you meet, you know, whoever itâ€™s going to be and seal the deal, you can hook up with whoever you want. You just need to finish this stupid degree and get on with it.â€ť
â€śWhy donâ€™t you get on with it?â€ť I challenge.
She scoffs. â€śI will. Eventually. Iâ€™m just trying to wait a respectable amount of time before I settle down. Iâ€™m not an old maid like you.â€ť
â€śYouâ€™re barely a year younger than me.â€ť
She shrugs, a small show of admission. â€śI hate people telling me what to do. Maybe in a few years I wonâ€™t care so much.â€ť
In fairness, her worry mirrors my own. We have no idea who weâ€™ll be matched with when the time comes. But every full-blooded demon Iâ€™ve ever met has fit a particular profile. Cocky and charismatic and not to be trifled with. Theyâ€™re talented liars with vicious tempers, sent to strengthen a bloodline weakened by my human ancestors.
Iâ€™ve spent a good part of my adult life trying not to think about it.
â€śCome on,â€ť Kell nudges me gently, the same inevitability is painted across her features. â€śLetâ€™s get out of here.â€ť