spark of madness
Spark of Madness is book one of three in the Ember Glen dystopian dark romance trilogy. The series is dark, involving many triggering elements which may be upsetting for some readers. Please click below to read the triggers if you need a warning.
Chaos looms, then sharply descends like the quick stab of a blade through supple flesh. My anxiety over tonight's service has reached its peak, pounding through my heart and pulsing adrenaline through my veins.
Tonight, we serve the Impulse beneath the full moon.
We serve, though lately I've come to think of it as something else—something I don't have a word to describe, and I wouldn't dare speak it even if I did.
Hyatt Price circles the flickering orange flames of the bonfire, his golden eyes glowing like a predator's in the night…and they're fixed on me. I knew he would seek my service tonight. He's been whispering his intentions to me every day for the last week. The anticipation of it has given me adrenaline fatigue.
I step backward in my short black lace-up boots, a twig cracking beneath my feet as they carry me toward the surrounding forest's tree line. He sees me retreating and his pace quickens toward me.
Debauchery falls like the black embers cast from the licking flames, sparking ash spewed out from the fire. It rains down to set our world on fire with the release of the Impulse in a monthly ritual where our men purge.
Servants have already been claimed. One woman is being ravaged in front of the fire, while another is beaten senselessly in the shadows. All around, the air is ripe with the scent of smoke, sex, and sin.
And Hyatt approaches to use me.
He marches right past three unclaimed servants dressed in their black corsets and lace. One of them is Ivy Jane, who I know for a fact takes great pleasure in serving the urge for violence. Yet after a quick appreciative glance at her curves on display, Hyatt continues, heading straight for me.
I take another step back, though I know there will be hell to pay if anyone sees me retreating. I should be marching toward him. I should be waiting on my knees for him, knowing he's coming to use me. But no matter how hard I try, I can't plant my feet. I can't bend. I can't sink to my knees and welcome his purge.
I'm a sinner…a rebel.
I watch as Hyatt's expression hardens, his pace quickening toward me, violent rage gleaming in his deceptive glowing gaze.
And then a hand closes around my wrist.
Jerking me toward him, Theo Hughes pulls me into his hard chest and bends to kiss me, claiming me before Hyatt can even reach me. I allow a sigh of relief against his bruising lips. Theo's urges are nothing to balk at, but they're manageable. I can survive Theo—I have time and again—but I don't know if I'd survive Hyatt.
As Theo drags his soft lips from mine, he turns his head, looking over at Hyatt, who's standing at our side. "Better luck next time," he says, clapping him on the shoulder. "Mercy's mine."
"You'll be done with her eventually," Hyatt says, his lips twisted devilishly at the corner of his mouth. "And then I'll take my turn with her."
"I wouldn't wait around," Theo replies, reaching around me and curving his palm around my ass cheek.
I swallow hard as Hyatt narrows his eyes, holding my stare. Heat burns through his gaze, scorching me with the promise of untold violence and pain. He holds me there, forcing me to take the fire before he blinks and turns his eyes to Theo. "Fine. Plenty of other servants." He reaches out to pluck a strand of my long blonde hair, twisting it sharply around his finger. "Just know I have my eye on you, Mercy Madness."
He turns on his heel, returning to the bonfire where Ivy Jane stands with a proud smile upon her cheeks as he approaches her. Hyatt glances over his shoulder at me before fully giving his attention to her.
"You're lucky I'm looking out for you," Theo murmurs.
I look up at him as a moment's relief tugs away the incessant throb of adrenaline, allowing me a brief reprieve. "Thank you."
He lowers his voice. "I saw you retreating from him. Someone else could've seen. You need to get yourself together, Mercy. You're a servant, and you need to accept it."
"I accept it," I tell him, though it may be a lie.
My lack of acceptance is rebellious, but I don't aim to rebel. I want to survive here, though sometimes I find it difficult to justify that desire.
Theo's hand latches around my throat and he squeezes, restricting my air flow as he pushes me back against the tree trunk. His other hand slips beneath the torn black lace of my skirt, shoving it aside and quickly seeking my sex, finding me bare without the barrier of undergarments—which we aren't allowed to wear during service. He unceremoniously shoves two fingers inside me, his rough skin scraping along my dry inner walls.
"Why aren't you ready for me?" he growls as he leans against me, his lips beside my ear. "What do you think Hyatt would've done to you if he'd found you dry and unprepared like this?"
I turn my head to the side, looking out at the campfire and the licking orange flames as depravity claims our village. Theo pumps his fingers harshly, grunting as he grinds his body against mine. He's trying to draw slickness and desire out of me, though it's for his benefit, not mine.
I sigh, watching as Hyatt playfully threatens to push Ivy into the flames. She screams and he laughs, a pulse of collective pleasure at the sound of her horror ripping through the crowd.
Men thrive on our horror, our pain, our misery. It's their burden to carry as they live their lives suppressing their natural and overwhelming urges—that instinctual, primal need for violence and sex, and the mixture of them together.
It's why we serve the Impulse tonight. It's why we allow them a regular outlet to purge. It's why we live to serve.
Purging is the only way they can control it.
Except I don't believe that.
Theo's hand leaves my throat, but only to allow him space to sink his teeth into the side of my neck, eliciting a yelp from me.
"I want to hear you scream like that," he whispers.
I gulp, assured that he will make me scream like that if it's what he wants.
"For fuck's sake," his voice is tinged with agitation, "get wet for me already."
"I'm sorry," I whisper. "I'm trying."
"It doesn't matter," he snarls, pulling his fingers out. He grips my shoulders and turns me before throwing me down on the dirt. I land sideways on my hip, a puff of soil caking my skirt. "Hands and knees."
I obey, though everything within me begs to resist.
Theo will hurt me and use me, but it won't be as bad as it would've been with Hyatt. I should be grateful to serve Theo's needs.
I'm not grateful to serve any man.
The boning of my black corset digs into my pelvis as I maneuver into position for him. I arch my back as he flips up my skirt, exposing my bare bottom to the world—but I'm still more covered than most of the women around us.
Grunting, groaning, screaming sex fills the air.
I'm supposed to let it take hold of me, to let it fill my heart with passion for service so it can sink me in pleasure—pleasure derived from serving any violent or sexual desire that's demanded by the men of Ember Glen.
But it never works for me, and as far as I can tell, I'm the only one. I'm the only woman who seems to think this way, or maybe the others just don't let on. I'm having a harder time hiding my truth as time goes on. I'm a bad seed, and I deserve to feel the pain of service.
Except...I don't deserve it at all.
Theo slams inside me, thrusting into my dry pussy with painful force as he grips my hips.
"It only hurts because you weren't ready for me." Always trying to shift the blame. "What's wrong with you?" he asks as he fucks me from behind.
Nothing's wrong with me.
Everything around me is wrong, but it makes me wrong to think it. To speak it would get me killed, so I pinch my eyes shut against the burning pain between my legs as Theo thrusts, and I let the single teardrop stray from the corner of my eye in aching silence.
I keep my mouth shut and let Theo sink into his cravings. Eventually my body succumbs to his movement, slickening with fake arousal to ease the sharpness of his intrusion.
We live to serve; we serve to live.
I repeat our mantra in my mind, pretending that I actually believe it until some part of my mind that aches to please demands control. I let that part of me take control, happy to let it, knowing that it will give all the other parts of me some sense of peace. Maybe not peace, exactly, but a reprieve, nevertheless.
With his brute strength, Theo flips me over, my back landing harshly on dirt and stones and twigs. He hooks his fingers into the top of my corset and yanks, forcing my breasts to peek out of the top.
I blink up at him, reminding myself that sometimes he's kind, that he stepped in to spare me from Hyatt's raging, that he's someone I might consider a friend if we ever interacted outside of service. But as he bends over me, planting his fists in the dirt on either side of my head, all I can see is a faceless foe.
Maybe something is wrong with me.
I wish I could be like the others. I wish I could let myself enjoy this. I wish I could feel my purpose in this as I'm meant to.
He lifts his hand and tucks my hair behind my ear, almost sweetly, deceptively so. Then he sinks inside me again, thrusting with slow, deep strokes, coaxing something out of me, too kindly tricking me into pleasure. I feel it for a moment, a tug deep in my core, and a single shockwave of pleasure I know I should let myself sink into.
But it's lost when he slaps me across the cheek so harshly that my head snaps to the side. His palm presses to my cheek and the pressure of it soothes the ache for a moment—until the pressure becomes too great. He presses down against my face with bruising force as he picks up his pace, fucking me harder, faster.
Gradually his hand slips down, fingers wrapping around my throat, squeezing. I reach for his wrist, grabbing hold of it with both hands after a minute of painful pressure takes my breath away.
He's supposed to be.
"That's fucking beautiful," he groans as my eyes widen, silently begging for air. He loosens his grip just long enough for me to suck in a greedy breath before his hand tightens again.
I panic as he skirts the edge of release, as his thrusting turns to manic fucking. His eyes darken as he pants, teasing me with his breaths that I'm not afforded the same privilege of having. My body bucks beneath him as he comes, as he shouts his pleasure into the night, and it mingles with the sound of so many others.
Moaning, panting, shouts of pleasure…screams of pain.
After Theo spills inside me, he hoists me up by his grip around my throat, pulling me into a sitting position with my legs still spread for him, my knees bent at his hips while he kneels between them.
His hand slips up to pinch my chin, forcing it up as he bends down over my face. "It's no wonder Hyatt wants you to serve him; once you're warmed up, your cunt is divine."
He spits in my face, and I flinch, turning away as his hand slips back into my hair. He holds my head steady as the other hand strikes my cheek again.
"Happy to serve," I mutter half-heartedly, speaking my script as he rubs his saliva across my cheek.
His fingertips drag to my mouth, wiggling against my sealed lips until I let them part. He shoves two fingers inside, stroking them along my tongue, toward the back of my throat until I gag. Only then does he drag them back out.
"Damnit, Mercy," frustration touches his tone, "give me something. Fucking anything."
I have a nasty habit of disengagement during service.
I've been told by others that using me is like fucking a corpse—but I have to disappear to avoid speaking my mind, to keep myself quiet, to stop myself from fighting.
I should be more enthusiastic to serve my purpose, but I'm simply not. I wish I could be like all the others.
I close my eyes, trying to find the actress within, though she's buried so deep. "How can I serve you better?"
He bends, my back arching as he looms over me, pressing an almost sweet kiss to my cheek. "Give me something. Literally any emotion would serve me. Passion, lust, anger, hatred…fight me if that's what you feel. Just wake the fuck up and engage." His lips slip back along my face, coming to stop at my ear where he whispers, "Everyone's watching you, Mercy."
My eyes snap open to take in the scene where sex and violence surround me. I glance around at the clusters of people, taking in the sight of women offering themselves with passion and purpose—because it is our purpose in Ember Glen. They fall to their knees, part their lips, spread their legs…They take a hit and rise for another; have their head slammed to the ground, only to lift it again for more.
But no one is watching me that I can see.
I turn my head to look at Theo. "What?"
"People talk about you," he says, catching my gaze with his dark eyes. I see honesty there—there's no room for anything but raw, painful truth when giving in to the Impulse. "They call you a sinner."
"I'm not a—"
He clamps his hand over my mouth. "It's what you look like when you give me nothing. You're supposed to serve happily, so do your God-given duty."
"Just tell me what you—"
He drops me, and I land hard on my back as his eyebrows knit together. "Get on your knees and offer your service with enthusiasm." His eyebrows lift expectantly. "Now."
I steel myself as I scramble to get on my knees, blinking up at him. "I offer myself to honor the Impulse." I speak the scripted words like a prayer at the altar of his feet. "How can I serve you?"
His hard chest rises and falls, his palm landing on the side of my head, stroking down my white-blonde waves. "That's better," he murmurs. "You know I'm only looking out for you."
I know he is…I do.
I know he cares about me.
Yet the more I serve, the more everything around me feels so wrong. I'm not doing a good enough job of hiding that, and I really need to. I need to bury my internal dissension so deep that no one can dig it up.
I nod, forcing a small smile. "I know. How can I serve?"
"No!" a sharp cry pierces the night, collectively jerking our attention toward the sound.
I twist to keep my eyes on her as a girl with wild eyes shoves a man near the campfire and runs toward us, racing for the forest just beyond. The entire village hesitates from their collective madness at the brilliant sound of a word no servant should ever speak, especially not while serving the Impulse.
I recognize the girl with the wild mane of long ashen hair—Delle Carter. She just turned sixteen last week, and this is the first time she's serving. My heart races as I see the fear on her face—I recognize it as the same fear I had when I had turned sixteen over four years ago.
Her eyes catch hold of mine as she approaches, her skirt floating behind her and shadowing the firelight at her back as she runs. The world around me slows, as if I'm trapped in a nightmare with her, trying to outrun a threat that's moving faster. But reality snaps back into focus as she blurs past us, chased by three men in quick stride.
"Who is that?" Theo asks, and when I turn my eyes to look up at him, I find his are fixed on the girl beyond my back being chased into the forest.
I clear my throat. "Delle. Tonight is her first—"
He holds up a hand to silence me, his gaze fixed far beyond me—and
I already know he's going after her.
He can have whoever he wants.
But it's not fine—I need him to claim me to keep me safe from the others.
"I'm going after her," he confirms, but I hardly hear the words because he's already running.
I look over my shoulder to see him dart off into the darkness of the forest, his strides quickly carrying him to match the speed of the other men chasing the poor girl before they all disappear into the night.
I hold my breath as they vanish in silence, waiting for the inevitable sound of it…and it comes, her scream piercing through the night once she's caught.
I turn forward and bow my head as I release my breath with an unsteady huff, my fingers curling into the lace covering my thighs. I should stand. I should go and find one to serve. But I can hear my pulse thrumming, pumping behind my ears, adrenaline running like rivers through my veins.
I want to run, too.
I want to disappear into the darkness.
I push to my feet and straighten my skirt, then press my modest breasts back into the corset and adjust it.
I raise my foot to take a step forward, intending to walk back to the campfire and present myself for another's use. And that's when another piercing scream, more horror-striking than Delle's, rips across the night.
My wide eyes snap to the burning fire, and I see it shift.
Feral flames streak away from the containment of the bonfire, rushing across the camp, but it's not a blaze set along the forest floor or burning through the trees. It's a servant, her skirt bathed in fire that threatens to consume her whole. She runs, flames chasing her, burning up the fabric, racing to greet her skin and burn her flesh.
Hyatt Price stands behind her, holding a torch of his own making, his twisted smile bright with delight for what he's done to her. It's not until her beautiful, raven-black tresses catch flame that I realize it's Ivy Jane screaming and running, begging for help.
But she'll get none.
She'll go down in literal flames to serve the Impulse.
And she'll be honored for her sacrifice.
I lurch as bile rises in my throat, bending sharply with a dry heave and catching myself with my hands on my thighs. I swallow it down, panting heavily through my sudden nausea. When I lift my head, I see Hyatt move in my direction. He sees that I'm unclaimed, that
Theo has left me, and now I'm on my own.
I rise and take a step back as he picks up his pace.
Another step, then another, committing the sin of retreat with each pad of my foot against earth.
A sin with my right foot, a sin with my left…
And when I realize I no longer care if anyone sees me retreating, knowing my fate is sealed no matter what I choose, I turn on my heels, and run into the forest.
I stood as a servant, and now, I run as a sinner.