The darkest night, p.25

The Darkest Night, page 25

 part  #1 of  Lords of the Underworld Series


The Darkest Night

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  Maddox cradled his lover for what seemed an eternity, willing her to awaken. He could not stand the thought of life without her. Would rather die himself.

  Lucien and Reyes hovered behind him, silent.

  "Take my spirit to hell for eternity," he cried to the heavens. "Anything but this. Bring her back. Let me take her place at death's door. "

  All eternity? a voice purred. It was not Sabin speaking in his head this time, but a female. Now that's commitment.

  He did not hesitate. "Yes. Yes! Forever. All eternity. I cannot live without her. She is everything to me. "

  I like you, cowboy, I really do.

  "Do you hear a woman in your head, too?" Lucien asked, his shock clear.

  "Yes," Reyes said with equal bafflement. "Who are you?"

  Your new best friend, sugar.

  "Help me, then," Maddox pleaded.

  Silly immortal. For days I've been breaking the rules - which is kinda a hobby of mine - to help you. Not sure I want to keep it up, though. You and your woman are serious time-consumers.

  "Please. Help her, and I'll never need another moment of your time. I swear it. Just give her back to me. Please. Please. "

  You insulted the big dogs last week. Violence, and I really liked that. Made me sit up and take notice, to be honest Not many people break from the mold anymore, you know? And for a Lord to do it. . . rockin'! Know why?

  "No. " And he did not care.

  Awesome. Lesson time.

  "Ashlyn is - "

  Not going anywhere. Now hush it. I need to lay some background so you understand exactly what I'm risking for you.

  As he rocked Ashlyn in his arms, he pressed his lips together, fighting his desperation, his urgency.

  So anyway, the Titans are in control, the bastards, and they totally plan to take the world back to what it was in their heyday. A place of peace, a place of worship, blah, blah, blah, where humans bow and sacrifice to them, and all that shit. In a few days, two temples will suddenly rise from the sea. You just wait. It will be the beginning of the end, for sure. She paused dramatically. I don't know whether the Tities want you guys dead or not in the big scheme of things, but I do know they plan to use you to get what they want.

  "The women. Danika," Reyes said.

  Bingo. Something about her bloodline, maybe a prophecy. I'll have to study up 'cause I'm mostly drawing a blank. But you can see my dilemma, right? By helping you, I'm really going to piss off the new management.

  "Do you wish me to kill them for you?" Maddox rushed out. "I will do it. I will. " However much time it took, whatever he had to do. He would find a way.

  "Maddox," Lucien warned. "Stop. Before you bring a far worse curse upon our house. She's going to help you. She's just pretending she's got to bargain. Right, goddess?"

  Oh, a Smartie McSmartpants, she purred. You're a sexy one, I'll give you that. She uttered another sigh, dreamy this time, before collecting herself. No time for that. Unfortunately. Like I was saying before, the little woman really impressed me. I didn't think she'd do it, truth be told. What a show, though, right? Chuckle. If I had bodily functions, I think I would have peed my pants.

  "Goddess. Focus. Please. "

  "Maddox," Lucien warned again.

  Anya. My name is Anya. And I'm not, technically, a goddess myself, just the daughter of one, so stop lumping me in the same category as those jackoffs. Angry sigh now.

  "What can I do? Tell me! I will do anything. " Maddox thought Anya might have been sucking on a piece of candy, for there was a slurp and a pop and a strawberry and cream breeze.

  Your woman gave up her life for yours. Are you willing to do the same? Because you should know, my powers are contingent on others' actions and I can't do anything unless you do. Oh, and there's the little matter of payment.

  "Yes. I will sacrifice anything for her. " Again, no hesitation. "I will give whatever payment you ask. "

  There was another sucker-slurping pause. All right, here's the scoop. I've got Titans chasing me down. Don't ask me why. It's a long story. Anyway, they're hunting me like a freaking animal and have been for, like, days. If I ever come to you for help, you're going to give it. Understand?

  "Yes. Anything. "

  Not just you, sweetness. All of you.

  For a moment, neither Lucien nor Reyes responded. Maddox was close to leaping at them and cutting both their throats. Then, "Yes," they said in unison.

  Okay, then. A deal is struck. Your woman will wake up, and she'll be bound to you. She'll live as long as you do. Not a bad deal for a mortal, really. But if one of you dies, you both die. Got it?

  "Yes, yes. "

  If you try and renege, know that I'll kill you, which will kill her. Her voice dripped to a sugary hum. I'll cut off your heads and feed them to the gods on a silver platter.

  "I understand. I accept," he said immediately.

  One heartbeat passed. Another. Then there was a purr of satisfaction and Maddox was suddenly caught up in a whirlwind. Ashlyn was ripped from his bloody arms and he bellowed, reaching for her. She still lay motionless, but her blood seemed to be flowing back into her body.

  Maddox was thrown back on the bed and the chains once more banded around him, his wrists and ankles healing in seconds. Reyes and Lucien walked to the center of the room - but they were walking backward.

  Time was reversing at an accelerated speed, Maddox realized, shocked. He'd seen many things in his long life, but never this.

  Reyes stood in front of Ashlyn, pulling the sword out of her rather than thrusting it in. Rather than falling, she rose.

  As suddenly as the whirlwind began, it stopped. Everyone looked around in confusion.

  "What happened?" Ashlyn asked, incredulous. "I was dead. " She held up her arms, looking them over, then felt her stomach, searching for wounds. "I know I was. I can still feel that blade cutting through my - Oh my God, Maddox, what did you do? Did the curse reverse, too?"

  "That was. . . I do not have words," Reyes said, frowning. "I stabbed her. "

  They had all retained their memories of the event, yet as of now the event had not actually happened. "Free me," Maddox shouted. "The chains. "

  Expression confused, Lucien obeyed.

  Maddox leapt to his feet and pulled Ashlyn into his arms, kissing her face and squeezing as tight as he could without crushing her. She laughed, then drew back to study him. "But the death-curse - "

  "Is broken. I swear it. I feel its ties no more. "

  Enjoy yourselves, boyz, 'cause now you're free from Maddox's curse, as well, Anya's voice suddenly sang. Don't worry, though. I'm sure your demons will keep you plenty miserable. Just don't forget our deal. Ta-ta for now.

  Reyes's body jolted and Lucien's head was thrown back. They shook, their knees gave out and they fell to the ground. Both remained there, panting, for a long while. They looked up at the same time, their eyes meeting.

  "I do not have to kill Maddox anymore," Reyes said, awed. "The pull of his death is gone. Gone!"

  "The death-curse truly is broken," Lucien said, his tone as close to joyful as Maddox had ever heard it. "Thank you, Ashlyn. Thank you. You are a remarkable human. "

  "I'd like to say it was my pleasure," she teased with a grin.

  "You died for me," Maddox said, claiming her attention and blocking his friends from his focus. Only one person mattered right now. And he was shocked and overcome and furious at her. "You died for me," he growled.

  "I'd do it again," she said. "I love you. "

  He swung her around and she squealed happily. "Never again, woman. You will never leave me again. "

  "Never. "

  "Reyes, Lucien. You will leave," he said without taking his eyes from Ashlyn.

  They quietly exited the room, gifting him and Ashlyn with privacy. Maddox stripped her and kissed her stomach, where she'd been stabbed.

  "I need you," she breathed.

  And he need
ed her. Now and always. He penetrated her, unable to stop, and moaned at the pleasure.

  "I love you," he told her, slowly pumping inside her.

  "I love you, too. " She sighed, her head thrashing from side to side.

  "Thank you. For what you did, thank you. " No one had ever sacrificed so much for him. "Just. . . do not ever let yourself be killed again. Understand?"

  She laughed, but he stroked her deeply, exactly where she liked and her laugh became a moan. "Then don't get yourself cursed again, my sweet prince. "

  "Cursed? Love, I have been blessed with a prize beyond measure. "

  "So have I, Maddox," she said, and they both climaxed. "So have I. "

  The next afternoon, Lucien called a meeting.

  Ashlyn perched on Maddox's lap, happier than she'd ever been. All of her dreams had come true. She could control her ability with thoughts of Maddox and he could stop the voices altogether. True love really did conquer all.

  She even had a family. A real family, with a feud and everything. The two groups of men were stiff and distant with each other, though as polite as demons could be. She was determined to heal that rift, like the sister she felt she was.

  Since the (reversed) stabbing, most of the warriors had treated her with affection, ruffling her hair when they saw her, joking with her about being stuck with Maddox for eternity. Except for Disease, who was still recovering from his wounds. Torin did wink at her, though. Ashlyn knew the man had to feel terrible about accidentally unleashing illness on the townspeople. The effects had been - were - devastating, yes, but thankfully modern medicine had helped contain the outbreak. Maybe he would take comfort in that. And when he healed, he could help the warriors rebuild Club Destiny, giving something back to the town.

  Life was good. So much better than she could have ever imagined. She grinned.

  Lucien stood at the front of the room and said, "I have talked with Sabin and, as you know, I have decided to help him search for the box. It is time the damned thing was found. As long as it's out there, the demons are in danger of being sucked inside. Which means we're in danger of dying. "

  "Damn Hunters," Ashlyn said, and Maddox squeezed her waist.

  "They're dead, killed by Disease," Reyes pointed out.

  Ashlyn shook her head, hating to correct him. "You killed some of them. Not all. McIntosh was merely vice president of the Institute. I never actually met the president, not in all the years I worked there. I was told he never goes out in public. I hadn't thought about it before, but now it sounds suspicious to me. Besides that, there are a lot more employees, spread out all over the world. And maybe other Hunters who aren't even affiliated with the Institute. "

  There was a murmuring among the group.

  "We hoped the box was here in Budapest," Sabin said, stepping to Lucien's side and frowning when the warrior tensed, as if expecting an attack. "The interrogation of a Hunter, at least, led us here. But. . . "

  "They have found no sign of it," Lucien finished for him. "And they would like our help. "

  "You want me to help search for that box, you're going to have to give me some direction," Reyes said. He was on edge, Ashlyn knew, because Danika had sneaked out of the fortress that morning without a goodbye. No one had gone after her. Ashlyn was sad, having lost her first female friend, but knew it was better that way.

  They had to free Aeron sometime.

  Maddox had told Ashlyn about Aeron, how the man needed to kill Danika and her family. That was the only dark spot in Ashlyn's life. But Maddox also mentioned that Reyes was determined to protect the woman, even though he was fighting the need.

  Ashlyn liked to think Anya would ultimately help Danika the way she'd helped her. If Anya could help, that is. Maddox had also told her that Anya had confessed to being chased by the Titans. She was some sort of supernatural being who could pop in and out of buildings, remain cloaked in invisibility and reverse time, yet she feared being overtaken - which meant she could be overtaken.

  "Watch your tone, Pain," Cameo said, standing on Lucien's other side. "You're bringing down morale. "

  Okay, two dark spots, Ashlyn mused. Cameo made Ashlyn's heart weep every time she looked at her. The woman needed love. So far, though, none of the men seemed taken with her, as beautiful as she was. Everyone kept their distance, as if they feared they'd kill the woman - or themselves - if they got too close. Well, they weren't the only males in the world. Surely someone out there could fall in love with Misery.

  "Ashlyn has heard conflicting stories," Maddox said. "Will you tell them?"

  She nodded. "One says the box is being guarded by Argus. The other says the box is hidden deep in the sea, guarded by Hydra, but I don't know where. "

  Everyone groaned.

  "Any ideas where we should start?" Lucien asked her.

  She shook her head.

  "Anya mentioned the surfacing of two temples," Maddox said. "These temples were probably used by the gods and will not have been contaminated or picked over by humans. The moment they surface, some of us should search them. Perhaps we will find something to lead us to the correct path. "

  "Excellent. " Lucien nodded. "Someone will have to stay here with Aeron and Torin and guard the fortress. "

  "Ashlyn and I will stay. We'll read tomes and texts. "

  "And I'll listen for clues in town," she added.

  Maddox squeezed her closer to his side and whispered, "I need you so badly. "

  "Good. Because I plan to see to all your needs," she told him seductively.

  His mouth softened and his violet eyes dipped to her lips. "Right now I'm picturing you in a black leather suit with a sword at your side. I had Paris buy such an outfit in town earlier, as I know how you like your sexy garments. "

  She melted against him, so filled with love it bubbled out of her in a continuous stream. "When I wear it, will I be fighting to protect my virtue or fighting to take yours?"

  "Mine, of course. "

  Arousal thrummed to instant life and she shivered. "Wanna blow this meeting and go to our room? We can get a recap later. "

  "More than I can say. "

  They stood. And the man with the blackest violent streak in the whole wide world chased her laughingly from the room, leaving everyone staring after them in wonder and envy.

  Perhaps their time would come. . .
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