Authors: Danica Avet
Book one in the Love’s Defenders series.
When empath Gyda St. Germaine is rescued from a sex-trafficking ring, she vows vengeance on her tormentors. Aided by two distinct personalities who bolster her powers, she becomes a vigilante, hungry for revenge. Her path of retribution tosses her into the arms of an Order of Themis Siphon and her world is turned upside down. Fighting her past takes a backseat to her all-consuming desire for the man whose honor and sense of justice go against everything she believes.
The moment electricity manipulator Brit Harper stumbled across a feral woman with a bloody knife, his life changed. Black and white becomes gray as the scales of justice tip. Fascinated by her strength and the darkness in her eyes, he vows to teach her the true meaning of justice and help her explore the passion sizzling between them. But when the evil haunting Gyda’s dreams returns in the flesh, he’ll have to choose between his beliefs and the woman he loves.
paranormal erotic romance
from Ellora’s Cave
This is going to be a long one because there are so very many people who were involved in bringing
Touched by Lightning
series to life.
I have to thank Lea Barrymire. We locked ourselves in a room in Kansas City for six hours hashing out the details of this world and the people in it. Without her impressive organizational skills, I’m not sure we would’ve been able to keep everything straight. She didn’t give up on me, didn’t think this was a crazy idea. She grabbed hold with both hands and helped me run with it.
I really only have three words for you, Lea. “Shake ’n Bake”!
Thanks to A.M. Griffin who helped me iron out the details of Gyda’s personality disorder. I couldn’t have made Gyda crazy, but not too crazy, without you.
Special thanks goes to Amy Ruttan, Cara Carnes and Avril Ashton for reading
Touched by Lightning
and giving me their input. It always helps to have several sets of eyes on a story, especially when they’re the eyes of such talented writers.
Brian O’Hare, thank you so very much for making such an amazing logo! The Order of Themis wouldn’t be quite so official looking without you and I look forward to working with you on other super seekrit projects in the future.
Scott King, thank you from the bottom of my heart for taking such an amazing picture that epitomized Brit and Gyda’s relationship. The protectiveness and care in that single picture captivated me from the first time I saw it and I couldn’t have asked for a better man to style my fictional hero after.
Thanks to the EC Art Department for taking that single picture and making one of the best covers I’ve ever had. Y’all are the absolute best! Thank you to my editor, Grace Bradley, for not thinking Gyda was too crazy and for loving Joe as much as I do. And for taking a chance on the talkative Cajun at a small conference. I'll heart you forever, Grace!
And of course, thanks to my family for sticking by me throughout the painful process of writing this story. Writing is a dream come true and I wouldn’t be where I am now without your love and support. As for my readers, what would a writer be without people to read their books? Y’all constantly push me to write more, to dream up more stories. I love hearing from you and hope you enjoy Brit and Gyda’s story as much as I do.
Approximately ten years ago
It was cold for March. Almost wishing she’d gone to class instead of skipping, Gyda St. Germaine huddled into her threadbare sweater and waited for the sun to warm the park. This was her usual hiding place when she was able to slip the watchful eyes of Sister Agnes and Sister Mary. The nuns took their duty to see their “unfortunate souls” to school seriously by watching over them until they rounded the corner from the orphanage. As far as both were concerned, Gyda had gone to class like a good little Catholic schoolgirl.
She snorted and tried to tug the sweater lower on her legs, wishing she’d rolled up a pair of jeans beneath the hem of her skirt. It was a lot colder out here than it’d been on campus, but all she’d had to do was hear through the bus gossip that Patti Singleton was looking for her for Gyda to decide she’d brave the cold. She’d rather suffer a little discomfort than hear how she was a freak in the eyes of the beautiful, blonde Patti.
Her lip curled at the thought. She could probably ignore the words, hateful as they were, but her empathic powers ensured she knew exactly how much Patti and most of the other students at Our Lady of the Sea felt nothing but disgust for Gyda. Because while they might not realize precisely why she was different from them, they knew she didn’t really belong. Of course there was already a lot of shit stacked against her. The orphan thing, her smaller build and introverted personality ensured she was on someone’s shit list at some point or another. Gyda’s hand almost rose to cross herself for swearing, but she kept it stuffed in her sweater pocket.
She didn’t need to pretend right now. No watchful eyes were on her, no other orphans at St. Germaine’s Home for Kids would run to tell the sisters that Gyda was swearing. Again. She wouldn’t have to suffer the same disappointed look on Sister Agnes’ face when she confronted Gyda, or feel how very much the nun cared for her. Hell, her heart hurt just thinking about the woman who’d basically raised her. Sister Agnes had been a novice when Gyda’s mother dropped Gyda off as a two-week-old infant.
The rest was history. Sister Agnes saw herself as Gyda’s parent and sometimes Gyda felt the same, but any time that happened, she was quickly reminded that her real mom hadn’t wanted anything to do with her. Usually she was reminded at Our Lady of the Sea. As a charity student, the other girls, the rich ones whose parents doled out big bucks for their education, knew Gyda was only there because she was part of the diocese Catholic Charities. So yeah, she wasn’t exactly fond of school even if she secretly adored Sister Agnes.
Her back began to ache from being hunched over, but she held her position, her arms wrapped tight around her legs. She wasn’t about to let someone catch her because she moved. That was a lesson she’d learned when she first attended Our Lady of the Sea. If you were completely still and unobtrusive, people overlooked you. Of course, sometimes that only worked against you. Like it had with Patti, who seemed to have a sixth sense where Gyda was concerned. If she wasn’t so certain Patti was a norm, she’d almost think the other girl had a supernatural power of her own. But that made no sense. Not with how outspoken Patti was against the Order of Themis and all the people in it.
She bit back a wistful sigh. How many times had she dreamed of one of the Order of Themis’ infamous street teams finding her at St. Germaine’s? Too many to count. Gyda could remember being a little girl and watching documentaries about how the Order of Themis, a private organization filled with people just like her, worked together to protect the weak and fight for justice. She was well aware that there were others just like her, who weren’t part of the Order of Themis, all around the world. Some weird genetic quirk had left her with powers, the same way millions of other people across the globe had been left with them.
For the most part, abilities were hereditary with a few families who could trace their abilities back hundreds of years, but some were natural mutations. Gyda didn’t know which she was since she had no idea if her parents had powers or not. She thought they were norms, though, because why else would they give her up? And it wasn’t as though she could join the Order of Themis to find out more. They didn’t take the unwanted dregs like her. Hell, her own mother hadn’t wanted her, so why would an organization like the Order of Themis?
Gyda’s stomach churned with self-hatred, the way it always did when she thought about what the future held for her. She was fifteen and had nothing to look forward to. A big fat nothing. Sure, she could paint and stuff, but it wasn’t as if she could make a living at it. She wasn’t
good. If she was lucky, she’d find some dead-end job that’d pay enough to put a roof over her head. If she didn’t… Well, she didn’t even want to think about that.
Something buzzed at the back of her mind, but she pushed it away. Sometimes she caught the random feelings from people near the park. Stupid things like the jogger who was deathly afraid they’d finish slower than their best time, or the time she caught the intense paranoia of a bag lady who just knew everyone was watching her and trying to take her treasures. It was both annoying and painful because she felt what they felt. She just wasn’t strong enough yet to build a wall against powerful emotions, but she figured in time she’d be able to block out a lot. Once in a while, though, people’s feelings were so strong they pounded through her. Like now.
It buzzed again, like an alarm. She lifted her head and peered through the branches of the bush she hid behind. She didn’t see anything weird. There were moms with their kids, a solitary jogger whose face was screwed up in intense concentration as though this were the Boston Marathon and a couple of women strolling along the path. No one appeared interested in her little hidey-hole, but she still couldn’t get past the feeling that something was wrong. Something—
Icy fingers crept up her spine and sank into her brain. Gyda opened her mouth to scream or yell, she wasn’t sure which would have emerged and she’d never know. The instant she gathered her breath, the intruder cut her off from her body. The pain was absolute. Her eyes closed as she felt the death of herself. No, not death. She was still alive. She could feel herself breathing, hear her heart beating, but it didn’t pound the way it normally would have, considering how fucking scared she was.
Someone stepped up behind her, but she didn’t turn to look until something forced her to turn her head. She fought against it. And failed. Her brain functioned, her thoughts chaotic and fearful, but there was no physical show of it. Gyda was completely disconnected from her body and when the older man with the dangerous glint in his eyes squatted next to her, she didn’t even blink.
Pale-gray eyes dazzled as he studied her. Gyda studied him in return, noting the expensive clothing, the expensive scent of cologne wafting off him, but in her mind she screamed in horror. Because although her body wasn’t her own and she couldn’t take back control, she could
his evil. It surrounded her, poking at her like a little boy with a helpless animal. He could feel her terror and he liked it. A lot. Desire, sick and twisted and ravenously hungry, battered at her meager mental walls, wanting to feast on her fear.
He reached out with an age-spotted hand to touch her cheek, his skin dry and cool. Gyda didn’t flinch or pull back, although inside she whimpered. He was doing something to her, invading her thoughts, making it impossible for her to think. He’d effectively surrounded her soul, caging her inside her own flesh and mind. This was wrong and this man was bad. She knew it, but there was no getting away from him. Every muscle of her body belonged to him and she’d never been more frightened in all of her fifteen years.
“Aren’t you just a regular creature of habit,” the strange old man said with a smarmy smile. “She said you’d hide here. I’m glad you’re so predictable.” He cupped her chin, his thumb brushing over her lips, gaze on what he was doing, not her face. “I didn’t believe her when she said you were so unskilled and receptive,” he said almost to himself, his hand sliding away from her face to stroke her throat. Gyda wanted to vomit. “She was right though. You’re perfect.”
The question screamed through Gyda’s mind.
His smile deepened, carving grooves into the wrinkles on his face. “Why, Patti, your schoolmate,” he told her as though she should have known.
He was reading her mind and the thought should have sent her mind spinning.
“She was very…persuasive when she realized I was looking for an empath to keep as a pet.” Remembered lust pounded at Gyda’s shield. An image penetrated of Patti doing nasty things with this man, and bile rose in her throat, an involuntary reaction to the disgust she felt. The man’s smile died and his fingers tightened around her neck. “You might find me disgusting now, little girl, but when I’m finished with you, you’ll be kissing the ground I walk on.”
Gyda screamed in her mind as he lifted her to her feet. She tried to find the strength to pull away from him, to shout for someone’s attention, but the more she struggled internally, the deeper those icy fingers dug into her mind. By the time the stranger led her from the park, she was holding his hand, a vacant smile on her face while she howled in pain and fear on the inside.
“Don’t worry, Sixteen,” he whispered as he helped her into his car. “I’ll make sure you enjoy every minute of it.”
* * * * *
Six months later
There was an animal inside her soul. Sixteen stared at the bars of her cage, rage and hatred fueling the Beast. It hated everything and everyone. It especially hated
, her “Master”. He made her call him that. He hurt her in ways she wasn’t sure she’d ever recover from and he tried to make her like it. But deep inside, where the Beast lived, Sixteen knew she didn’t like it. She was the blade of grass that bent with the hurricane that was her “Master”, praying she wouldn’t break.
Sometimes, when the Beast was quiet and her false owner was gone, she tried to find herself, but the girl she knew as Gyda hid from everything. Gyda hadn’t been able to handle what was done to her over and over again, by men the master called friends. She’d tried to kill herself a few times. That had been when she felt shame at what they did to her, when she hated herself more than she hated them. Back then, she’d still held out hope that someone would save her from the horror of her life. Those days were long gone. Gyda had retreated, leaving Sixteen behind. So named because she was Master’s sixteenth pet.
When he was feeling chatty, he’d tell her about the other girls he’d kept like animals in the little cage she now called home. Four had been a fire eater that he made burn herself when she was bad. Ten had been a contortionist he’d reveled in twisting to his pleasure. Fourteen had been one of his favorites, a girl who could communicate with the dead. He’d made her welcome the spirits of very evil men and women into her soul, doing whatever they wanted when they wanted. Sixteen though, Master swore, would be his absolute favorite. Because she was an empath like him. He loved knowing she felt how much he enjoyed abusing her. He basked in the sick and twisted pleasure he got from forcing her body to do anything he wanted while she screamed deep in her soul where the Beast lived.
And that’s how the Beast came to be. It wouldn’t let Sixteen kill herself. She’d been recovering from yet another visit from the master when she realized he’d forgotten his tie behind when he tied her up. Sixteen had crawled across her cage, her hand slipping through the bars to touch the silk. It’d still been warm from her body. Somehow that felt right, that she should die with a piece of fabric she’d worn last. Sixteen had dragged the tie into her cage and knotted it around her throat. She didn’t know how she’d find enough room to hang herself, but she couldn’t handle him anymore. She’d just looped the end of the tie over the bars above her head when the Beast emerged and shut her down. When Sixteen woke up again, her cage had been littered with pieces of silk and her means of escape gone.
As far as the Beast was concerned, survival trumped everything. It would do whatever was necessary to live. But even as it accepted whatever was done to it, the Beast grew stronger and stronger, feeding off the hatred and rage Sixteen kept locked deep inside where the master couldn’t touch it. Oh, he tried to pry her open, to pull her completely apart like a piece of machinery he had no intentions of putting back together again. He tried and failed because although he’d taken control of her body and her emotions, could make her do and feel anything he wanted on the outside, the heart of her still belonged to her and the Beast.
The door clanged, alerting her that Master was back from wherever it was he went for long stretches of time. The Beast almost welcomed him because it was hungry. When he was gone he didn’t bother feeding her. He liked how hungry and dirty she got in his absence, as though it was proof she needed him. It wasn’t because he wanted to nurture her, it was all about power, the ability to give and take away.
“Hello, Sixteen,” Master said absently as he loosened his tie. He strolled across the massive, elegant bedroom to the walk-in closet. “You’re entertaining a client of mine tonight and if he likes you, he’ll take you north with him.” His voice was muffled as he changed out of his expensive suit. “He appreciates girls who don’t talk back. So I think he’ll like you.”
He emerged from the closet naked, his aging body repulsive to the Beast, but it didn’t let that thought linger. He’d been known to punish her by withholding food until she worshiped him the way Master believed he should be.