Released (Eternal Balance) - Jus Accardo

Chapter One


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