Title: Origin of the Succubus
Author: J. E. McGraw
Genre: Dark Fantasy
Excerpt Heat Level: 1
Book Heat Level: 4
In the depths of winter, a bubonic plague survivor is seduced by a dark stranger who changes her life forever.
A survivor of the bubonic plague that has laid waste to much of Europe, nineteen-year-old Hanna is sent to a convent near Kosice by her wealthy father. She finds a wounded man named Cayo in the snow outside the convent and begins to nurse him back to health. There is something different about Cayo: his wounds heal much faster than expected, and Hanna becomes aroused whenever she is near him. Cayo seduces her. Hanna falls ill and Cayo urges her to flee the convent when he learns a priest has examined her. With those who once loved her now intent on her death, Hanna turns into a creature of lust and base desire: a succubus. She believes she will never know what true and pure love is again--until she meets a handsome paladin named Tartu...
Cayo was the only patient in the hospice. He was sleeping. I stood by the door of the hospice, my hand bandaged, and watched him. He looked better than when the Reverend Mother and I had rescued him. Then, his lips were blue and his face pale. I had thought he would die. The color had returned to his face over the past weeks. He looked more like a native of the place he said he came from: Spain.
Cayo was not a tall man, and he was quite slim. He had the natural olive complexion of a Spaniard, but the usual Spaniard's swarthiness was replaced by a slender, almost willowy…it wasn't grace, but elegance. He wore no top and was bandaged about his waist. Cayo might be of small build, but his shoulders were broad and his muscles well-defined. The shadow of a beard darkened his face and his black hair, unkempt and matted when I first saw him, was now washed and shiny.
Quietly, I walked to Cayo's bed and sat down beside him. The Reverend Mother had charged me with nursing Cayo back to health. I didn't need to be with him – the only reason I had come here was to bandage my hand – but it felt apt that I check on him while in the hospice. I reached out and touched Cayo on the chest. A tiny but pleasurable shock ran up my finger, along my arm and down my spine.
Cayo opened his eyes. It was nothing. Little shocks often happened when the weather was cold. It had happened twice, once when I first touched him and now, but that was just a coincidence. Cayo was a man, but I was a novice in the service of God.
Cayo managed a smile, but when I looked at him closely, there was something else, as if there were a knowing, almost mocking grin behind the smile. "Novice Hanna," he murmured.
"I cut myself in the garden," I said quickly, showing Cayo my bandaged hand. "I thought I should check on you."
Cayo reached out and held my wrist gently but with firm resolve. "Even a pious nun bleeds. Tell me, does it hurt?"
"A little," I admitted. "How do you feel?"
"I am getting better. My wound is still painful, but I can feel it healing. I will be gone in a week or two."
"But your wound was very deep. The Reverend Mother said it would take two, three months…"
Cayo held a finger to my lips. "I am a quick healer." His smile widened. "But you're right, to heal properly it might take two or three months. I would be a fool to leave when I'm in the care of a woman as beautiful as you."
I looked away from Cayo and smiled. I'm sure I would have seen red in my cheeks had I looked in a mirror. "Do you feel stronger?"
"My strength is returning slowly. I am stronger than when I came here. I must thank you for saving me that day. I thought I was going to die."
"It's no problem. I have to admit I was frightened. I didn't know robbers came so close to Kosice. The Reverend Mother spoke with the city watch but they couldn't find anyone."
"I was easy prey. Predators always hunt for the easiest prey they can find. They're surer of a kill. It is the same with people."
Cayo might have been traveling alone, but he spoke with the self-assured poise – bordering on arrogance – of nobility. I was the daughter of a minor noble, but my father had courted and dealt with men wealthier and more powerful than he was. Men like Jiri. I knew so little about Cayo. I could even be treating a lord or knight. "Where in Spain do you come from?"
"Basque. A town called Guernica."
"What is it like there?" I knew very little about the geography of Europe outside the Bohemian plain and the Carpathians. My father had not seen fit to teach us, believing that what we weren't going to encounter in our lifetimes was irrelevant.
"It's home, and therefore the most beautiful place in the world."
I thought of Cayo's answer and my own home near the forest. I felt the same way. "Why did you leave?" I asked him, genuinely curious.
Cayo reached out and grabbed my good hand. His grip was surprisingly gentle, as though he were handling a rare and delicate piece of jewelry "Why all these questions? My life has little enough of interest. Perhaps I should be asking about you. The history of a beautiful woman dedicating her life to God is far more interesting than anything I could tell you about me."
I blushed again, but this time I didn't look away. "What would you like to know?"
"Where are you from?"
"A tiny village south of here. You won't find it on any map."
"I have often found the most beautiful places in the world are those you can't find on maps."
"I miss it there."
"I must visit one day. What is there?" Cayo asked.
"Very little. My father is the local lord. The village borders the forest and there are cattle and pigs in the fields, and vineyards. Guernica must be very different."
Cayo looked at the high ceiling of the hospice and for a moment he was pensive. Then he said, "Yes, it would be very different. I haven't seen it for a long time." He looked back at me, his confidence and knowing manner returned. "So what is the daughter of a lord doing in a convent?"
I could tell him that I was a second daughter, a useless spare once my father had wed Dalibora to Jiri and consolidated his lands with those of my late sister's husband. I feared the main reason would be harder for Cayo to accept. I had contracted the plague but, unlike many, I had survived. I looked at my reflection in the river sometimes. I still had the gaunt look of those who had survived the plague, but it was improving. "My father isn't rich," I said, "and my elder sister had already wed. He thought a convent would be the best place for me."
"But wouldn't that leave you free to wed for love?"
What man would desire a woman who had survived the plague? "My father did the right thing. I like it here. It is a virtuous calling. I have a little sister. She will marry for love."
"You are lying." The bluntness of Cayo's words shocked me. He spoke softly, as though his statement wasn't an accusation but a comforting truth. "There is something sad about you. But there is anger too. You are not as at peace as you would have others believe." Cayo placed his hand on mine, and this time his grip was firm. "What do you seek?"
"I seek happiness and peace with God."
"You seek revenge."
"No!" The urgency of my protest only confirmed his accusation. I was ashamed of the feelings I had been experiencing when I thought of Jiri – I didn't even know if they were justified except for an unspoken inference from Dalibora – but part of me clung to them.
"Why do you lie to me?" Cayo asked gently. "It is a sin to lie." He smiled. "Or do you like indulging in sin?" Cayo's smile was predatory now and he looked at my body.
"You don't understand." I was angry with him for finding my lie out and looking at me the way he was, but another, deeper part of me felt aroused. There were few men in the convent and the way Cayo looked at me made me certain he was interested in me as more than his nurse. There was no one here. I could reach out and kiss him, caress him, lie beside him. No, it wasn't right! Ecaterina might indulge her wicked thoughts but I wouldn't. I was a novice in a convent and I would respect God.
"What are you thinking about?" Cayo inquired. "I think you're thinking about me."
"You don't understand," I said again. "Someone close to me…"
I didn't want to continue. My life was none of Cayo's business. He was a patient in the hospice and nothing more. I stood and smoothed out my habit. "It is good to see you are on the mend." I tried to sound practiced and self-assured, but I still felt a pleasurable sensation as I looked at Cayo's chest. I turned and left the hospice before my imagination got the better of me.