Home > Dark Desires After Dusk (Immortals After Dark #6)

Dark Desires After Dusk (Immortals After Dark #6)
Author: Kresley Cole

Prologue

Rothkalina, the Kingdom of the Rage Demons

In ages long past

Cadeon Woede came upon the headless bodies of his foster father and brothers first, the three slain in a desperate defense of their home.

Their remains littered the ground near a demolished section of the barricades around their farmstead. Cadeon recognized the merciless slaughter as the work of revenants, corpse creatures dispatched by Omort the Deathless, their kingdom's most dreaded enemy.

He shuddered in stunned disbelief, his mind refusing to accept this...

The girls -

Like a shot, he charged up a hillock to the smoldering shell of the family's house. His foster sisters might have escaped into the forest. Heart thundering, he searched the ruins, praying to find nothing within. Sweat rolled down his face and into his eyes, mingling with the swirling ash and soot.

In the area where the hearth used to be, he found what was left of his younger foster sisters. They'd been burned, and while they were still alive. Their muscles had contracted in the heat, their little bodies curling up on the floor.

He lurched outside, retching until his throat was raw. No one had survived.

Running his forearm over his face, he staggered to an old oak, sinking down against it. In the space of a day, everything he'd loved in the world was dead.

The threat of Omort had hovered idly over the land for decades, yet the dark sorcerer had chosen this time to attack. Cadeon feared he knew why.

Mine own fault. He buried his head in his hands. All of this is my doing.

To most who knew him, Cadeon was a simple farmer, with few cares. But he'd been born a prince and was his brother's sole heir to the throne. He'd been ordered to return to Castle Tornin to defend the capitol.

Cadeon had disobeyed. The one who controls Tornin controls the kingdom....

Cool steel suddenly pressed against Cadeon's neck. He glanced up without interest. A demon had hidden behind the tree, and now had drawn on him. A rage demon.

"My master said you would return," the swordsman said. By the look of his weapon and tunic, he was an assassin dispatched by Omort. A traitor to his own kind.

"Be done with it," Cadeon whispered as a stream of blood welled at the edge of the sword. He had no cares now. "What do you await - "

Without warning, an arrow embedded itself into the assassin's neck; he dropped his sword to futilely claw at it, ripping at his skin while Cadeon watched dispassionately. As the bastard slumped to his knees, still digging at the arrow, a troop of cavalry neared.

The leader, clad in light armor, wore a fearsome black helmet - a notorious one. It was King Rydstrom, leader of all the rage demons. Cadeon's true blood brother.

Rydstrom removed the helmet, revealing his battle-scarred visage. Most saw this sight and grew weak with fear.

Resentment boiled in Cadeon's veins. His mind flashed to the last time he'd seen Rydstrom - when Cadeon had been only seven. As his brother's heir, he'd been separated out of the royal family twelve years ago, sent to live hidden in anonymity far from the oft-targeted Tornin.

The memory of his banishment rushed over him.... As Cadeon's carriage had rolled away, Rydstrom - who'd once been more like a father to him - had stood with his shoulders back, his face expressionless.

Cadeon remembered wondering if his brother had cared at all that he was leaving.

Now the king wasted no breath on greetings to his younger brother, nor did he bother to dismount. "I'd commanded your presence at Tornin."

To sit as regent while Rydstrom had journeyed off to defend against the aggressing Vampire Horde.

"Yet you refused to return with my guard?" Rydstrom said harshly. "And then you evaded them like a coward?"

Cadeon hadn't evaded the guards out of cowardice. His foster family had his first loyalty, and they'd needed his help. Because he could read and write and teleport, Cadeon was the natural choice to go afield and seek help for the blight on the area's crops.

And no one had ever suspected that Omort would truly attack. "Have you come to kill me for that?" Cadeon asked, his tone indifferent.

"I should," Rydstrom said. "I've been advised to." Cadeon's gaze flickered over Rydstrom's trusted officers, staring down at him with thinly veiled hostility. "You've been branded a coward. And not only by our enemies."

"I'm no coward. It wasn't my life - I hardly know you or that family."

"None of that mattered. It was your duty to be there," Rydstrom said. "The castle had no leader within. Omort seized on that and launched his rebellion, sending this scourge across the country. He has wrested control of Tornin. He possesses my crown."

"I did not lose your crown because of one decision. 'Tis not so simple a thing," Cadeon said, though he suspected otherwise.

"It is. The tides of war can be swayed by a word, an act, even the absence of a leader in the stronghold of a kingdom."

If true, then Cadeon's loved ones would still be alive.

"Let me explain this to you," Rydstrom bit out. "A childless king goes off to defend a surprise attack, and his sole heir, the last male of their line, repudiates his responsibilities. We couldn't have signaled our vulnerability more clearly."

Cadeon swiped at the blood on his throat. "It was not my crown, nor my concern."

With his fangs sharpened in aggression, Rydstrom dismounted. He drew his sword as he strode toward Cadeon, raised it - and seemed surprised when Cadeon refused to back up.

But his brother didn't understand; Cadeon should've died here. He had nothing to lose.

Cadeon didn't flinch, didn't blink, when the sword sliced down. A flicker of interest arose in Rydstrom's eyes as he beheaded the assassin behind Cadeon.

"Do you want to avenge the deaths of these people, brother?"

Rage filled Cadeon's chest at the idea, determination welling inside him. He grated, "Yes. I want to kill Omort."

"How do you expect to do that without training?"

Cadeon's peaceful existence had left him ill-prepared for war. "If you train me, I won't stop until I have his head," he vowed. "And once I do, I'll pluck your crown from it and return it to you."

After a lengthy silence, Rydstrom said, "A life driven by revenge is better than a life driven by nothing." He turned for his horse, saying over his shoulder, "We camp in the forest this eve. Tend to your dead, then find me there."

Cadeon would, because he wanted to destroy Omort. But he also wanted to atone for his failure.

Because of his decision to turn his back on his blood kin, Omort controlled Rothkalina - and Cadeon's foster family was dead.

Revenge and atonement. Cadeon couldn't do one without the other.

Yet as Rydstrom mounted his stallion, his soldiers gazed at Cadeon with an expression of hatred, tinged with disgust. They clearly thought Cadeon should die.

I had best get used to that look, he thought. Even at his young age, he knew he'd be seeing it for the rest of his life.

Or until I get that crown back....

1

New Orleans

Present day

Stupid...safety lock," Holly Ashwin muttered as she fiddled with the nozzle of the pepper spray in her bag.

With her free hand, she pushed up her glasses, casting another nervous glance over her shoulder. She'd thought she heard footsteps behind her in the night. Was she being followed - or paranoid?

For months, she'd had the sense that someone was watching her. Yet strangely it hadn't bothered her before. She couldn't explain it, but there had been an almost soothing quality to the presence she'd felt.

Tonight, all that had changed.

She sensed raw menace, and wished she hadn't made the walk from the parking lot to Gibson Hall by herself. Usually her boyfriend escorted her to class, but Tim was at a symposium presenting their latest paper - alone, because her condition made it nearly impossible for her to travel.

The manicured lawns on the way to her classroom were unusually empty. No doubt there were widespread parties tonight celebrating the full moon, which hung heavy and yellow in the black sky.

There was enough light that she could see the bushes behind her trembling. In a growing panic, she broke off the nozzle of the spray.

"Crap." She hastily abandoned her one weapon, tempted to snag one of the pill bottles in the pocket beside it for a dose of relief. Instead, she increased her pace toward her destination, the math building, brightly lit like a beacon.

Almost there. Her heels clicked along on the sidewalk - though they never landed on a crack, even in her rush. Apparently, obsessive-compulsive disorder was panic-proof....

She checked her watch. She was on time, of course, but she was late enough that her Remedial Math 101 students would be in the classroom already.

A few yards left. Almost to safety....

Once she'd made it up the six stone steps to the doors, she exhaled in relief. Inside, the hall was ablaze with fluorescent light. Made it.

Her class was in the second room on the right and would be filled with thirty-three very large and very loyal Tulane football players. Anyone thinking to frighten her would soon learn how a tackle dummy felt at season's end.

Holly's colleagues believed she'd drawn the short straw to have to teach Digits for Idjits, as some of the instructors called it. But Holly had actually volunteered for jock duty.

If she was to teach math, then why not instruct the ones who had exponentially more to learn?

And in truth, they were on their best behavior ninety-nine percent of the time. Though each Tuesday and Thursday night, some of the players always got there early to scribble sprawling messages for her on the blackboard. A fellow instructor had related to Holly that "the boys" - who were all of five or six years younger than she was - enjoyed watching her erase things in "those skirts."

Holly wore old-fashioned pencil skirts with hemlines past her knees. Would she never catch a break?

She wondered what she'd be erasing tonight. Some of the past offerings included "Got it bad, sooo bad, I'm hot for teacher," "I've been a naughty boy, Ms. Ashwin," and "Professor + Ginger = Holly Ashwin." They'd crossed the l's to make them t's.

So far she didn't think any of them had noticed her need to erase every millimeter of writing on the board, or to arrange the chalk in the tray into perfect trios, even breaking a stick to achieve a multiple of three....

Outside the door to her room, she took a calming breath and smoothed her tight chignon. After ascertaining that the clasp of her strand of pearls was directly in the center of the back of her neck, she tugged each sleeve of her twinset sweater until the ends perfectly hit her wrist-bones. She checked the backs of her earrings, then opened the door.

Empty. Every chair sat empty.

CLASS IS CANCELED was scrawled across the board. They'd gone too far this time.

Or maybe it wasn't them? She swallowed, whirling around.

Rough cloth covered her face, reeking of fumes, drowning out her scream.

Just as her eyelids slid shut and her body went limp, she heard the unholy roar of a man in the distance.

Rogue demons have my female.

As Cade's old Ford truck tore through traffic to yet another demon lair, he grappled to control the rage his breed of demon was known for.

They've taken Holly....

Almost one year ago, Cade had crossed paths with Holly Ashwin and had recognized the human as his own fated female. Unable to claim a mortal, he'd had to content himself by following her, guarding her.

Which was the only reason why he'd been there when a group of demons had traced her, teleporting her to gods knew where. But they'd hunted on the campus; surely their lair would be near.

Why would they want her? Because she was an innocent? Then they'd picked the wrong virgin - Cade would hang them by their own entrails and watch them dance if they touched so much as a hair on her head.

His phone rang just as he surged past a visibly drunk driver. When drunks drove slowly, it was exactly like they whispered - noticeably.

"What?" he barked in answer. Tonight he was supposed to receive the details of his latest job. It'd be the most important one he'd had since becoming a mercenary centuries ago.

"I've just left the meeting," his brother Rydstrom said. "I have the information we need."

Riding the bumper in front of him, tempted to give it a tap, Cade asked absently, "So who's the pay?"

"The client is Groot the Metallurgist."

Normally that would have had Cade raising his brows. Groot was the half brother of Omort the Deathless. "He intends to help us against Omort?" Cade's truck overtook another car, nearly trading paint with it.

"Groot's crafted a sword that can kill him."

Then it would be the only one in existence that could. Omort the Deathless didn't come by his name without reason. "What's the job?"

"He wants us to find the Vessel and deliver her to him before the next full moon."

The Vessel. Every Accession, a female from the Lore would come into sexual maturity. Her child would be a warrior of either ultimate evil or of ultimate good - depending on which way the father leaned.

A car weaved in front of Cade. "Son of a - "

"What are you doing?" Rydstrom demanded.

"Traffic." He didn't want his brother to know anything was off. Cade had told him that he would stop watching Holly. Though they both suspected she was his female, a future with her was impossible.

Humans were forbidden to demons. Because they never survived the initial claiming.

But Cade hadn't been able to stop himself from watching her from afar, studying her, growing more and more fascinated with the young mortal. Becoming more convinced that she was his.

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