Dark Realm 2: Seduced By Darkness
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Format: Trade Paperback
On Sale: February 26, 2008
For eight hundred years Nicolas Montfaucon has dedicated his life to preventing the rebirth of an immortal evil. But now a terrible storm has assaulted unsuspecting New Orleans—and the beast walks the earth once more. “The Devourer” has been awakened, and there is only one in the besieged city who can help Nicolas defeat the foul creature—a mysterious and beautiful enigma who haunts the handsome Revenant’s erotic waking dreams and enflames his passionate obsessions.
Chessa Tomas is not an ordinary policewoman. A vampire, she works only at night, patrolling a seamy and unseen underworld of roiling chaos. Though Nicolas is sensuality incarnate, Chessa wants no part of him or his kind—but she cannot close her eyes to the unholy malevolence that would consume their world. And Nicolas has uncovered the secret lust that rules her—a steaming, uncontrollable desire he intends to unleash, bending Chessa to his will by making her most forbidden fantasies real.
Note for Readers: You must be of legal age in your country of origin to read this excerpt.
His brother had thought Hell a fiery abyss, but Nicolas Montfaucon knew better. It was wet, smelled like a sewer, and sounded like the rush of collective hopes draining toward the sea.
With a heartbeat as leaden as his footfalls, he followed the sound of flowing water. His rubber boots sank in the rain-soaked grass as he stepped off the cemetery’s entrance road to head toward the water’s edge. Bayou St. John’s previous sluggish ambience had given way to a torrent in the aftermath of the storm. Just as the security team had reported, the waters that breached the levee in the early morning hours spilled into the bayou, raising it well above any thousand-year flood plain.
They couldn’t have planned for a worse scenario. The mausoleum lay in the center of a newly etched basin.
A cold, tight knot of horror settled in his gut, numbing him to the elements, while a soft rain fell like God’s kiss of benediction before the coming battle. The prickling unease lifting the hair on the back of his neck was familiar, but one he hadn’t experienced to this degree since the searing heat and biting sand of Palestine over seven hundred years ago.
Quiet, muffled voices drew him deeper into the cemetery. He followed the blurred edges of a once pristine graveled path, now strewn with long tangled strands of Spanish moss and broken tree branches, around sturdy stone crypts—ones untouched by the raging storm that had drenched New Orleans and changed its landscape irrevocably.
He glanced toward the dark gray clouds giving his team cover for what they must do. At least God hadn’t added one more insurmountable burden to overcome this day.
“Erika, Pasqual?” he called softly as he approached.
They turned with dread tightening their pale faces.
He noted their quick sideways glances and knew their loyalties might be tested. Just the night before one quarry had escaped their net. Did they know his role in the deception that had allowed the newest Born female to flee?
“The crypt is submerged,” Pasqual said, nodding ahead toward the swollen bayou.
Nicolas followed his gaze and found the winged angel that graced the top of the Morel mausoleum, the bottom edge of her robe licked by foaming, lapping waves of dark water.
“We brought a pirogue,” Erika said, shivering despite the humid heat, “but the water’s so swift…”
Nicolas nodded. “I’ll go. We’ll have to tie off the boat on both sides of the bayou to keep it from being swept away.”
“The crypt was solid. The doors were chained,” Pasqual said, his voice strained. “Do you really think he could have escaped?”
Nicolas’s lips curved and tightened. “His sarcophagus was in the center of the cemetery. The bayou jumped its banks and carved a new path—straight through his prison. Do you think that’s coincidental?”
Erika’s brown eyes looked overlarge in her slender face. “How will we contain him?”
“If the doors are still locked, we’ll wait for the waters to subside to discover whether his coffin remains intact.”
“If they aren’t locked?” she continued.
He shrugged. “Then we prepare ourselves.”
“How do we do that?” she asked, a note of hysteria in her brittle voice. “No one’s got a standard operating procedure for the end of the fucking world.”
“Someone has to go into the water,” Pasqual said quietly, his expression dark and troubled.
“I said I’ll go,” Nicolas said, straightening his shoulders. “I placed him there. It’s my duty to make sure he stays.”
“Not alone, you won’t.”
Nicolas turned at the sound of another voice, one familiar and welcome.
A tall dark-clad figure stepped from behind a large oak.
Nicolas wondered if he’d just arrived or had chosen the most dramatic moment to appear. Simon Jameson’s long brown hair was plastered against his skull and touched the tops of broad shoulders clothed in a rain slicker.
“Simon, bad news travels fast,” Nicolas said, his tone dry.
Despite the dire circumstance that brought him here, Simon smiled. “A little bird told me we had trouble.”
Nicolas raised a single brow at the thought of the mage’s familiar braving the remnants of the storm. “Her wings must be sodden.”
Simon’s lips crimped in the semblance of a smile. “She’s tired and drying off.” Then his gaze turned to the sunken crypt. “I’ll go with you. You may have need of me.”
“I’ll be glad for the company.” Whatever the reason for the falling out between the powerful mage and the leader of the vampire sabat, Nicolas held no grudge against Simon. Their acquaintance was older, forged in blood and battle. “I’d appreciate any help you can provide.”
Sloshing footsteps sounded behind them as more of the security team arrived, carrying a long, slender flat-bottomed boat and poles.
Using ropes suspended between the trees, Simon and Nicolas fought the swift current to drag the boat toward the stone angel. Once the boat scraped the spikes atop the iron fence surrounding the crypt, Nicolas stripped, dropping his clothing to the bottom of the boat. Then he tied a rope around his waist and said a quick prayer.
“Hold this in your mouth,” Simon said, slipping a carved, polished red stone from his pocket. “You’ll need your hands free.”
Nicolas didn’t question why he should keep a rock in his mouth. If his friend thought it necessary, that was enough for him to know. Likely a protective amulet, anyway. He could use all the help he could get.
Urgency and dread filled him. He had to see the damage below the surface of the black water for himself. He set the cold stone on top of his tongue and clamped his mouth closed. Then he lowered himself over the side of the boat, gripping it hard, shocked by the force of the water dragging at his body. Nicolas clutched the edge of the pirogue and shot Simon a glance.
The mage stood in the bottom of the boat, coiling the rope around his brawny fists and arms, and nodded. “Catch hold of the iron bars, and I’ll let out the rope.”
Out of instinct, rather than need, Nicolas drew in a deep breath through his nostrils and submerged. The dark water roiled around him, battering him with stones and debris. He forced open his eyes against the current and grimy sediments, but could see only a few inches in front of his face.
For long seconds he held his breath then made himself relax against the urge to gasp. He didn’t really need the air to live.
The current slammed him against the iron bars surrounding the crypt. He held tight then circled the fence, handhold by handhold, until he felt the gate’s hinges. With his feet against the gate, he bent his legs and made a powerful thrust, which propelled him forward in the eddying waters, toward the door of the crypt.
He reached out, grabbing for the carved edge of the stone door frame and followed it downward to the latch. Where a heavy chain should have wrapped around the mechanism, he found only a drooping handle, bobbing with the current.
Still, the door was closed.
He braced his feet against it and pulled with all his strength to bend the handle upward and lock it closed until he could return with another chain.
At that moment, a dull pounding came from inside, then a powerful thrust slammed open the door, tossing him backward into the current, which swept him toward the gate.
Despite the murky water, he saw a pale, ghostly apparition appear in the entrance of the crypt.
Sweet Mother of God! Nicolas bit down around the stone that threatened to lodge at the back of his throat.
The monster swam in the doorway, his mouth opening in a hideous grin.
Nicolas ground his heels against the iron bars and pushed forward again, launching himself toward the demon to drive him back inside. If he had to hold him there for an eternity, he’d never let him out. He’d uphold his oath—one given over the grisly remains of his wife.
When he barreled into the demon, the creature’s body felt…less than solid…gelatinous. The pale flesh gave way beneath Nicolas’s grasping hands. His torso disintegrated in rotten bits of flesh, tugged apart by the rapid current.
Nicolas screamed around the stone while his hand reached through the disintegrating body to grasp the demon’s spinal cord.
The beast’s face remained solid for only a moment longer while his grin turned triumphant, mocking Nicolas, before the skin stripped away to reveal a skeletal grimace.
Nicolas squeezed his eyes shut as he let go his fierce grip on what remained of the demon’s prison, his body, trying to forget the familiar face the monster had stolen and worn for centuries—his brother’s.
The heavy wooden door splintered beneath the force of a short log wielded like a battering ram. Once they breached the door, the soldiers dropped it to the floor and flooded into the small cell, surrounding Nicolas and his brother Armand before they had a chance to reach for their swords.
“Haut les mains! Raise your hands!” The shout was shrill. The soldiers looked ready for battle, hands gripping their swords so tight their knuckles gleamed white in the pale morning light sifting through the narrow cell window.
Nicolas almost smiled. These soldiers were green as saplings if two sleeping, unarmed men could frighten them so. Perhaps they believed the rumors.
Nicolas swallowed and gave his brother a quick nod, raising his hands slowly above his head. They’d been warned a plot was afoot to arrest the brethren from The Order.
Days earlier, Armand had scoffed at the idea. Who would dare touch God’s Knights?
“Why are you doing this?” his brother asked, his voice strong and calm.
Nicolas knew Armand’s faith led him to believe God would intervene, but Nicolas had heard the rumblings. The Templars’ wealth was incentive enough for those who coveted and feared their power. King Philip had long whispered in the ear of the Pope, raising specters of demon worshipers and heresy to foment hatred for the warrior monks.
“In the name of the king, you are under arrest for the crimes of heresy, devil worship, and sexual perversions.”
Nicolas snorted, earning a savage kick from the sapling nearest him. Stubbornly, he refused to bend to the pain and aimed a narrowed glance at his attacker.
“Brother, do not test their will,” Armand said. “All will be sorted out. This is a mistake.”
Only the mistake landed them in another sort of cell for months—a dungeon cellblock inhabited by a dozen of their brother knights. Subjected to vicious tortures that left their bodies permanently purple with bruises, sleeping in their own feces, and near starvation, most of the knights despaired of ever being set free. One had taken his own life.
“Think you now that God will intervene?” Nicolas asked his brother. Past despair, past all hope, he knew they were both doomed to die—burned at the stake for their refusal to confess. Armand because his faith would not allow him; Nicolas because he could not allow his brother to die alone.
“This is a test. We must remain strong. Didn’t the Lord answer us at Damiette?”
That Damiette had been taken and lost repeatedly during a Crusade nearly fifty years ago didn’t seem to diminish Armand’s faith. He’d been raised on the stories of the exploits of the Templars.
Unwilling to tear the curtain of belief from his brother’s eyes, Nicolas rolled his head against the damp, mossy stone of the cell wall. “If this is a test, then I have failed,” he muttered. “I promised our father I would keep you safe.”
“Father trusted our devotion would lead us to glory. By our steadfastness, we have already earned our passage through St. Peter’s gates.”
Nicolas held grave doubts that this was true. In the name of God, they’d been exhorted to commit gruesome retributions against the heathen Saracens. He kept his thoughts to himself so as not to upset his brother or give fodder to their inquisitors. How easy it would be to end their torment—a simple confession of crimes, however ludicrous, would earn him peace.
“You’re cold. Share my blanket.” Armand huddled closer and lifted his flea-ridden blanket to drape it around both their shoulders.
For this alone, Nicolas remained. For his brother, whom he loved more than his own life. They’d never been apart.
“I’m not a fool, you know,” Armand whispered. “I do know there is little hope we will live, Nic.”
“Then why not give them the words they want? Confess!” Nicolas leaned close and curved his fingers into Armand’s thigh. “Let them punish us to cleanse our souls,” he pleaded. “Then we will be free.”
His brother’s tired smile gleamed brightly in the torchlight. “Perhaps you should do it, Nic.”
Nicolas’s throat closed, and he gave a violent shake of his head. “Not without you. I will never abandon you,” he said, his voice hoarse.
“Then we will be together always, brother.”
Fresh from her shower, Chessa heard the heavy knock and glanced at her clock on the bedside stand. Still an hour before she had to be at work.
Not the super. She’d paid her rent. Besides, he’d fled with the rest of the building’s inhabitants when the Mayor ordered evacuation.
And not her partner seeing whether she wanted to get a cup of coffee before reporting to duty. Her partner wasn’t coming today.
Or ever again.
Curious, she threaded through piles of discarded clothing to her front door and peered through the peephole into a hallway lit only by grayish, pre-dusk light from the landing window. The power had gone out sometime during the night. Just one more annoyance on top of the last hellish twenty-four hours.
A familiar man stood on her threshold. Broad shoulders, long dark hair—her body clenched. “Nic?” What was he doing in the city again so soon? How the hell had he gotten in? She’d heard most of the roads around the city were closed due to flooding.
“Chessa, open the door.”
Something in his voice had her gripping the doorknob tight. Her chest tightened. She didn’t want to know what brought him here.
“Please,” he said, weariness and raw, aching need flavoring the rich timbre of his voice.
Although they’d sated their appetite for sex a few hours ago, Chessa’s body softened instantly, heat tightening her womb. She hated the way her body betrayed her.
They’d said their farewells, she reminded herself. “We had a deal, Nic. You stick to your turf—I’ll stick to mine.”
“Chessa, open the goddamn door.”
The “or else” he left unspoken in his lightly accented voice. She got the message and turned the knob, stepping aside to let him in as she wrapped her towel tightly around her body.
A quick, sweeping glance told her there was trouble. Big, fat vampire trouble. Nicolas looked a mess.
His long black-brown hair hung in damp, curling tendrils around his lean face. His exposed skin was grimy-looking, and he smelled of sewage and sour swamp water.
His hands reached for her.
Without time to sidestep, she found herself smashed against his chest, his strong hands clutching her close.
She leaned back in the circle of his arms and stared into his face. What she saw troubled her. His jaw was clenched tight, and his face was unnaturally pale—even by a vampire’s standards. “What’s happened?”
His throat tightened, but he shook his head and lowered it.
Only she’d just had a shower, and he stunk to high heaven. Besides, she needed space to calm the riot of feelings he aroused. Ones she was still uncomfortable acknowledging even existed. She pressed her palms against his chest to halt him.
She loved Rene. Although he’d chosen to enter a mage’s sanctuary with another Born vampire, Chessa wasn’t over him yet.
Her feelings for Nicolas were strictly carnal—and she needed to get her libido back under control. Unbridled passion had been unleashed by proximity to Natalie Lambert’s coming into season, as only a transforming Born could inspire. That arousal had spilled over onto Chessa and Nicolas—it was the only explanation Chessa would allow for the strength of the desire that even now made her body yearn toward his.
Nicolas’s chest heaved, and his eyes narrowed to feral slits. “Don’t deny me. Not now.”
She wrinkled her nose. “You stink.”
“Then we’ll shower,” he said, a dangerous edge to his voice.
As always, his first terse words had her melting. “Tell me why you’re here,” she said, searching for a way to put him off while she shored up her fading resistance.
Another shake of his head, this time sharp and violent. “Later,” he ground out.
Then she noted the wildness in his eyes. Something had rattled his cage. Nicolas was never anything but completely in control. Chessa felt the last bit of solid ground crumble beneath her. “All right,” she said softly and held up a hand to ward off a kiss. “But shower first.” He’d have to let her go to follow her.
However, Nicolas wasn’t giving her the space she needed to regroup. He grabbed the top of her towel and ripped it away, then slammed his mouth on hers, backing her toward the bedroom.
Chessa’s bare feet skidded on her wood floor as she dug in her heels, but he swept her along, through her bedroom into the bathroom, all the while punishing her lips with a brutal kiss.
When the edge of the tub brought them up short, he reached behind her and yanked aside the shower curtain. “Turn it on.”
Dumbly, she reached behind her, fumbling to turn the knob, finally sending a spray of water that misted around them before he lifted her above the rim of her tub to set her inside.
Nicolas tore at his clothes, dropping them at his feet, then stepped beside her in the stall, crowding her against the cool tile walls. “Any more objections?” he asked, in his oddly rasping voice.
She shook her head, overwhelmed and mute with rising desire. Her body already strained toward his. Her breasts swelled, her nipples ruching tight and hard. Her legs trembled, and her sex released a trickle of fragrant moisture she couldn’t deny.
His hands reached around her and grasped her bottom, lifting her off her feet, crushing her breasts to his chest, her mons against the base of his rigid cock.
With his erection pressing into her belly, any objection was obliterated. She flung out her arms and gripped his shoulders, aiding him as he angled her body toward his and thrust his cock between her legs.
Chessa groaned as he slid inside her. “Bastard, we had a deal.”
His response was a flex of his hips to thrust hard inside her, tunneling deep, pressing higher until the strength of his hips and cock had her feet dangling above the porcelain bottom of the tub.
When he’d reached inside her as far as he could, he wrapped his arms around her, squeezing away her breath and laid his cheek alongside hers, his chest heaving.
She shivered from arousal so strong it nearly choked her and from fear of whatever had shaken Nicolas to his core. She’d never seen him like this. “What is it? What’s happened?”
His head drew away, and his gaze burned as it slid to her lips. “Later,” he groaned.
Again, the wildness in his gaze and the tension that gripped his broad shoulders and arms as he held her unsettled her. This wasn’t Nicolas with his sardonic quips and ever-watchful gaze. Accustomed of late to him showing up at unexpected times to tempt her, this was different.
He was frightened.
Although tempted to argue, to chide him and try to drive him away, she wound her arms around his neck, her legs around his waist, and pulled him close, dragging his head down to bury against her shoulder.
If she were honest with herself, she was glad he’d come.
Not that she was ready to be anybody’s rock. She had problems of her own. A life to sort out. One far away from the vampire enclave at Ardeal.
Nicolas was entrenched in that life, but she had broken free decades ago and vowed she’d never go back. Whatever was bothering him now wasn’t her problem.
But she could hold him and let his warmth and strength provide her comfort as well. She had her own needs and a desolate loneliness that had filled her when she’d shut her apartment door hours earlier and realized the only friend she had in the world was lost to her forever.
“Stop thinking,” he growled.
“Just fuck me,” she bit out, meeting his hard gaze with a glare of her own.
Their hips churned against each other in a desperate coupling. Not at all the sexy, teasing pummeling she’d come to expect—that in itself was an indication of his upset. His movements lacked finesse. He gave no thought for her pleasure, which he was always so careful to draw out—torturing her with her own desire.
Instead, his hands gripped her ass hard, pushing her up and down his cock, grinding her back against the cool tiles as he powered into her.
When he came, his eyes squeezed tight, his body grew rigid, and he held his breath for one endless moment. After his pulsing release waned, he dropped his forehead against the tiles. “Get out.”
Surprised at the harshness of his voice, she didn’t question him, just unwound her legs from his waist and slid down his body. She stepped out of the tub to dry herself with a towel while he remained inside, drawing the curtain closed behind him.
She couldn’t think of a thing to say. Despite the steamy air inside the room, she shivered.
Damn. It sure as hell felt like she cared about the fact he’d tossed her out of her own shower.