Cursed Demon: Urban Fantasy Shifter Stand-Alone
She enjoyed life as a demon’s pet. Until the cries of an innocent tore her world asunder…
Emma Case is freaking out. Being surrounded by monsters is risky enough without breaking the rules, but when the soft-hearted girl hears a pup in distress, she can’t resist trespassing on forbidden ground. And after discovering the unfortunate creature is a wolf-shifter, she’s stunned when the child’s pack accuses her of the crime and abducts her for interrogation.
Tortured for information she doesn’t have, Emma pleads desperately for her handsome tormenter to believe her. Yet as the naïve young woman tumbles deeper into the realm of supernatural intrigue, she unexpectedly manifests frightening powers she has no idea how to control.
Will Emma’s hidden heritage prove a blessing or a bane?
Cursed Demon is the second standalone book in the character-driven Creatures of the Otherworld urban fantasy series. If you like sassy heroines, laugh-out-loud humour, and white-knuckle thrills, then you’ll love Brogan Thomas’s action-packed tale.
Buy Cursed Demon to fight fire with brimstone today!
Written in British English
Release date: April 1, 2021
Publisher: Brogan Thomas Books
Print pages: 410
Content advisory: Bad language
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Listen to a sample
Cursed Demon: Urban Fantasy Shifter Stand-Alone
A leaf flutters down and he dramatically jumps to the side, his hooves scrabbling for purchase on the stone track. My heart misses a beat and for a fraction of a second my body tenses. Keep him straight, keep him forward, chin high, breathe. Relax. I repeat the mantra in my head over and over.
It’s not helping.
Only one of us can freak out at a time, and it’s never my bloody turn.
My vampire dressage trainer, Nuno, has sent us to ride around the estate to cool off after this morning’s lesson. Nuno wants us to bond. Bond, ha, tell that to the snorting beast I am sitting on. Every little thing he can find is a grand excuse to spook. I’m trying my best to keep my posture elegant, pliable, to move with him and not to tense up, but I can already feel my shoulders creeping towards my ears. I let out a shaky breath and again force myself to relax.
The name on his paperwork is so fancy, it amuses me that he has the unfortunate stable name of Pudding. “Pudding,” what a laugh. If you combined the energy of a fancy sports car with a hair-trigger bomb, you still wouldn’t get the scary power of this horse. He feels like he is going to explode.
All. The. Time.
I love riding. But Pudding, my new gelding, is…urm…a challenge. We aren’t clicking the way I thought we would. I know it’s my fault as I want to ride Bob, my hairy Irish cob. I trust him and he trusts me, and we perform dressage like we are doing magic together. But I’ve been firmly encouraged to ride a ‘proper’ dressage horse, and both sides of Pudding’s breeding are impeccable. He is made for dressage. I guess he just isn’t made for me.
The beast underneath me shakes his head—my urge to get off is enormous. But then, Pudding would be worse with me on the ground—undoubtedly he’d stomp all over me. It doesn’t feel it at the moment, but from experience, I know I’m still safer to be riding him. I roll my eyes. Bloody horse.
The day is beautiful. Morning sunlight filters through the trees above us, painting glowing stripes on the track—golden lines that Pudding keeps attempting to leap over. Yay, I’m having such a good time. Not.
Keep him straight, keep him forward, chin high, breathe. Relax.
The birds sing, and his hooves crunch rhythmically. I gently stroke his mahogany neck with my left hand, and he snorts out a breath.
For the first time, his head and neck start to relax. We both begin to relax. I puff out a sigh, and just as a smile touches my lips, a duck hidden behind the hedge to our left takes flight with a dramatic snap of wings and an echoing quack.
The whole hedge wobbles.
My eyes widen in horror and before the quack has even dissipated, Pudding springs into action, and we go from what feels like 0–60 miles per hour in a split second.
No amount of pulling on the reins is going to stop Pudding’s panicked flight. Instead, I bridge the reins in my hands so they don’t get yanked from my grip, and I grab a handful of mane for good measure.
Oh bloody hell.
“Ooh, ooh, steady, steady,” I say in a soft, lilting tone.
His hooves thunder beneath us, and the world is a blur of colours as it flies past at a breathtaking rate. My eyes water as the once-gentle wind batters my face. “It was a duck, silly boy, it’s okay, it’s okay. Steady boy, steeeaaadddy. I would never let anything hurt you, steady.” Years of practice keeps the fear out of my voice.
It doesn’t stop me from internally shrieking, I’m going to die, but Pudding doesn’t have to know that.
Pudding’s left ear flicks back, and his strides slow.
Oh thank God.
“Good boy, steady now, walk, whoa.” His mad dash slows to a canter, a trot, then finally a bouncy walk. The energetic movement makes my boobs bounce, and my chest aches. Ow.
I fight the urge to slump in relief as I unlock my cramped left hand from its death-grip on the reins to stroke his now-sweaty neck. “Good boy, steady, walk.” God, my entire body is trembling with the adrenaline that is coursing through me. I feel sick, and my mouth is dry.
But ha, I’m alive. I’m alive. I want to jump off and kiss the ground. Take that, universe. I’m alive. I giggle with relief. “I’m a master rider—” As soon as the cocky words leave my mouth, without provocation Pudding leaps and spins.
The saddle is no longer underneath me. Catapulted, I find myself airborne. In what feels like slow motion, the ground meets my face. I crash to the floor with an oof.
Oh bloody hell.
Wheezing, I roll up onto my hands and knees and lift my throbbing head to watch Pudding’s retreating bottom as he gallops away in what I hope is the direction of the stables. His hooves thunder into the distance, dee dum—dee dum—dee dum, without me.
The urge to curl up into a ball and sob is huge.
“No, no. Oh, no, noooo,” I whisper in disbelief. I scrape my gloved fingertips across the stone ground in frustration. Louder and with abject horror I shout, “Pudding, come back. Please come back. Pudding!” What if something happens to him? What if he gets tangled in his reins? “Oh my God, please don’t get trapped in your reins,” I cry.
I undo the chin strap and pull my riding hat off and rub my forehead with frustration. “No, no, no, no…this isn’t happening. It’s not bloody happening.” The thought of him hurting himself, hurting his posh dressage-horse legs with his mad dash back to his friends at the stables, makes me dizzy with fear for him.
I rapidly blink to fight back my tears.
Instead, I force myself to get up. My legs wobble underneath me. Ouch—I think I’ve bruised my ribs. I press my hand to the sore spot and my hand also throbs in pain. My right palm underneath my glove is bleeding, although miraculously my handmade soft leather glove remains intact. I pull both gloves off and carefully tuck them into the waistband of my jodhpurs. I can’t say the same for my favourite riding hat—it’s scuffed and dented, and it will have to be replaced. It did its job. I give it an appreciative pat. I landed on my face; I could have easily been sporting that dent in my head instead of in the hat.
I plop it back onto my head.
I roll my shoulders and huff out a frustrated breath. The rest of me feels…okay…as okay as being chucked ten feet into the air and slammed down onto a stone track can be okay.
“Yeah, Emma, you’re a master rider,” I grumble. I wince as I pick a piece of gravel out of my bleeding palm. I turn and hobble in the direction Pudding fled. My ribs ache with the movement and my head pounds.
Gah, I am so stupid—I can’t believe I left my mobile in my bedroom. What the heck am I going to do?
A glance about, and I realise that our mad dash has taken us far away from the usual hacking route and into an area of the estate that I haven’t ventured to explore before.
I shouldn’t be here.
In the world I live in, magic is commonplace, with all manner of supernatural people: shifters, demons, witches, vampires, and an abundance of fae. But there’s a divide among the races—creature versus creature, with humans like me struggling to survive. It is all about the strong against the weak. It is all about power.
I kick a small stone. Humans like me do as we are told. To stay alive, we follow the rules. Barely tolerated, we are an afterthought to the powerful creatures around us. It has always been that way, since the beginning of time. I’m human and weak, but I’m also an anomaly: no one knows what my human breeding is mixed with. Combined with how I look…I roll my eyes. Everyone covets beauty. In this dangerous patriarchal world, with the tricks that I can do I’m a prize. Enough of a prize to gain the attention of a first-level demon and a measure of protection. All I need to do is follow his rules.
Bloody hell, I shouldn’t be here.
I swallow. My mouth and throat are dry. I hunch, and I keep walking. Hopefully no one will find out I ventured into a restricted area.
The trees stir with the breeze, revealing a bright-white building. It shows up in my peripheral vision to the left.
I look towards where Pudding has disappeared and then look left at the mystery building. Huh.
A niggly voice inside my brain tells me, Go look. Get help.
It is a terrible idea.
I drum the tips of my fingers on my thigh. I look at the building and then back at the track. Pudding will be back at the stables now, and I have at least a thirty-minute walk to get back to him. If I can find a phone and ring Sam at the yard, hopefully she can keep a lookout and grab him before anything further happens to him.
I nod; it is a good idea.
With my mind made up, I turn, grit my teeth, and barge my way through the trees. I drop my head so the dense branches scrape against my dented riding hat and not my face. My riding boots slip on the loose earth, and I almost fall as I scramble down a soft soil embankment and head towards the building. With each step towards my goal, my heart beats a little faster. It’s now hammering in my ears. My breath puffs out of my mouth a little more with every stride I take.
I should not be doing this.
Why am I doing this? Pudding, that’s why. God, my horses will be the death of me. I shake my head and keep walking.
The white building is large and squat-looking, with no windows. As I have some creature DNA, I can sense magic. So as I cautiously hobble toward the building, I can feel the magic surrounding it. The perimeter ward buzzes. I feel it thrumming in my bones—the witch-made magic is usually enough to stop anyone not keyed to it from entering.
A ward is a magic force field. Wards tend to be golden in colour and shaped like a dome. They can give you a nasty shock or kill you, depending on the ward’s purpose. They are designed to keep people out or keep people in.
This ward is a real piece of work; it crackles menacingly and flashes different colours as I get closer. The whole building screams keep out, or else—it’s a killer ward.
With that helpful thought, I can’t help the smug smile that pulls at my lips. At least I can do this.
I walk through the ward.
The magic slides off me like I don’t exist. I might be mostly human, but my unknown father has given me some neat tricks. Magic has zero effect on me.
The unlocked front door soundlessly opens when I pull it. I stick my head inside and take a peek.
All is quiet.
I have an excellent excuse for why I’m here. But a feeling of dread fills me. Like a good demon’s pet, I am well trained. Yet I am breaking another rule. I gulp.
I step into the dark corridor and let go of the heavy door. It automatically closes behind me with a whoosh. I jump forward to avoid the door almost smacking me on the bum.
The ceiling lights click on automatically with a hum. The harsh, bright light makes the now-grey corridor look worse, if that’s even possible. Everything is grey: the walls, the floor—I tilt my head up—yep, and the ceiling. This place is grim, and I can’t help the full-body shiver that racks me.
I stand in a square pocket of light. My nostrils flare, and like a proper nutter, I sniff loudly. I can’t make out any scent. Not that my nose is any good—it’s not like I’m a shifter or a vampire. Those creatures have an excellent sense of smell. But like a weirdo, I do it anyway. I can smell horse. I snort out a laugh.
What a dickhead.
I shake my head in self-deprecation. I’m glad I’m alone so no one can see me make a fool of myself.
“Hello.” I cough to clear my dry throat. “Hellooo, is anyone here? Hello? I fell off my horse, and I need to ring Sam at the stables. Hello?” My voice echoes back to me and my ears strain to hear a reply. Nope, nothing.
I shuffle down the corridor. Like something from a horror film, the lights come on with a buzz in front of me, and with a click, they turn off behind. It leaves me with a single square of light so I can never see what’s in front of me or what’s behind. Without windows, this building is like a grey tomb.
“Gosh, this place is so creepy.” I shiver again. Halfway down, I find an office and bingo, a phone. Yes. I make my call.
“Hi, Emma…yeah. I’ve got the snorting, sweaty monster. What do you want me to do with him?”
My legs sag with relief, and I slump against the office wall.
“Oh, thank God. Oh, Sam, it was horrible seeing him gallop off like that. The stirrups flapping and the reins dangling. I felt so helpless. Is he okay?”
“I found him running up and down the fence line of the mares’ field, snorting and screaming for their attention. Yeah, the daft bugger is fine. I’m glad you rang; I was about to do a security alert and send the guards out to search for you. I was so worried. Where are you? Why didn’t you answer your phone?”
“I left my phone in my room—I didn’t think I’d need it.” I nibble on my lip and ignore her question about where I am. The less she knows, the better. “Would you please hose him down and check his legs? I should be back before you’ve finished if I hurry.”
“Yeah, yeah, I’ll pamper the shit out of him, not that he deserves it. Are you okay?”
“I need a new riding hat, perhaps new ribs,” I mumble, then say with a contrite huff, “I’m fine, I’m fine. It was my fault, not Pudding’s. I feel like a right idiot.”
“I don’t know why you feel like an idiot. It’s not your fault that silly old vampire told you to hack the monster of a horse out for a cool-down. That man has a sadistic streak a mile long. I knew it was a mistake for you to ride out on your own. Look, I will sort this beast out for you if you promise to go have a hot bath. Hopefully the warm water will help with the bruising. You don’t think you’ve broken your ribs, do you? Ribs are the worst. I promise, Em, Pudding is fine. Please take care of yourself, and just this once let me help you.” I assure Sam that my ribs are just bruised, and we end the conversation with my reluctant agreement to have a long soak in the bath.
I have a feeling I won’t be able to stop myself from checking on Pudding later. Not that I don’t trust my friend, but I know I won’t be able to relax if I don’t see him with my own eyes. At the moment all I can see when I close my eyes is Pudding tear-arsing away.
I shake my head with disgust. I should have at least kept hold of the reins.
I head back down the corridor to the exit. As I hobble, I force my glum mood away. It happened, and Pudding is safe. I feel like we’ve both had a lucky escape today. It could have been a lot worse.
I hear a strange noise; I grind to an abrupt stop. I tilt my head to the side, hold my breath, and listen.
I can hear a…a dog…I think. Yeah, I can hear a dog crying in pain. I don’t even contemplate my next action. My feet instinctively follow the sounds of distress. My love of animals overrides any common sense that I might possess.
I hurry down the grey-on-grey corridor. The hum of the creepy lights follows in my wake, each square of light clicking on and off as I progress. My ears strain as I follow the cries. Goosebumps rise on my arms.
I stop when I come to an ominous-looking solid-steel door.
I think this is where the sound originated. A standard gold ward wavers in front of the doorway. I swallow and nibble on my lip; I hold my breath and listen. Yes…this is the room. I’ve found the source of the cries.
What are you doing, Emma? Making a phone call is one thing; poking around in locked, warded rooms is quite another. Of all the mistakes I have made, this may be my worst one yet. I gulp. I should not be doing this.
This is the point of no return. I shuffle forward, then thrust my hand into the ward; it parts around my fingers. I grip the doorknob. “Please don’t be locked…please be open,” I whisper as I twist. The door clicks, and with a hard shove, I swing the door open.
The light from the corridor spills into the room. Cautiously —I do have some semblance of self-preservation—I keep my toes on the other side of the golden ward so it’s between me and whatever is in the room. Slowly, my eyes adjust to the dim interior.
“Oh.” My heart breaks at the sight of the puppy. The fluffy, cream-coloured puppy with red tips on its fur is huddled in a ball in the far corner. I rub my chest, and my eyes fill with tears. “Poor baby.” Without thinking, I hustle into the room. “Oh puppy, please don’t cry.” The tiny puppy—no, I’m wrong, the creature’s wild energy tickles at my senses—the tiny wolf shifter lifts its head, and my gaze meets big, soulful green eyes. Green eyes filled with pain. The shifter continues to cry as it crawls across the concrete floor on its belly towards me. My heart misses a beat and a lump forms in my throat. The cries and the fear rolling off the shifter pull at something deep inside of me. Without thought or worry that the pup is going to chew my face off, I cover the distance between us and drop to my knees. I scoop the shifter pup into my arms. I ignore the pain in my ribs as they scream in protest. This puppy needs me.
A quick undercarriage glance, and I realise the shifter is a girl.
Oh, no. Oh bloody hell.
I swallow the building lump of now-fear in my throat. Female shifters are as rare as rocking-horse poop. Oh heck, I’ve stumbled into an impossible situation. Wars are fought over female shifters.
The pup buries her head in my neck, digging her front paws into my collarbone as she scrambles to get closer. Each breath she takes and the subsequent cry she makes tugs at my soul. Her puppy breath tickles the hairs on the back of my neck. A frightened tear runs down my cheek, and I rub my face against the shifter’s soft fur to hide it.
“It’s okay, it’s okay. I’ve got you, it’s okay. I am going to help you get home, you’re safe now. I’m going to do my best to get you home,” I whisper, swallowing the lumpy clump of fear that is now stuck in my throat. I rock her in my arms.
Both of us tremble.
I rock her and stroke her soft fur. Finally, after a few minutes, her whole body sags, and she stops that awful crying.
I feel her trust.
Total trust. In. Me.
I grit my teeth as a quiet rage slithers through me. Fire sparks in my chest. It’s my automatic response to bullying, to injustice, and a quintessential need in me to help the underdog. She can’t stay here.
She can’t stay here, not in this room, and not on the demon’s estate. I’m…I’m a pampered pet, but others…they are not so lucky. I have to do the right thing.
This shifter needs me. I clutch her soft, furry body to my chest, and determination thrums through me. The need to keep her safe is almost overwhelming.
If I don’t get her out of here, something bad will surely happen. Leaving her isn’t an option.
That kind of black mark on my soul? It is not something I’m willing to live with.
“It’s much easier to fight your way out of trouble than to fight a guilty conscience,” I mumble to her. I hug her to my chest and smile sadly. Another tear rolls down the side of my nose. I was the girl who always played by the rules, not because I’m perfect, but because I learned to play perfect. A neutral, calm, elegant facade. It has kept me relatively safe.
God, I’m going to be in serious trouble for doing this, but sometimes you have to do what you think is right. Even if you are punished for it in the end.
And I will be punished.
Yep, I am breaking all the rules today.
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