Home > Pleasure of a Dark Prince (Immortals After Dark #9)(3)

Pleasure of a Dark Prince (Immortals After Dark #9)(3)
Author: Kresley Cole

Yet for some reason, instead of focusing on her target, she recalled broad shoulders and lean cheeks, remembering how the Lykae had looked at her just before he'd been tackled. He'd stared, heaving breaths with that barrel chest, sweat trickling down his muscled torso. Until he'd gotten flattened by some of the biggest demons she'd ever seen.

His interest had disconcerted her. In fact, all eyes had been on her - something that didn't often happen since Lucia usually had the brazen, showstopping Regin the Radiant to distract notice from her.

But if anyone, including that male - who surely hadn't been reaching for her with that grubby paw - had gotten curious and actually followed her, she'd taken care to cover her tracks.

Lucia shook her head hard, refocusing, inhaling a breath. Once she exhaled, she held herself motionless, sighting down the arrow's length. The ancient inscriptions on her bow seemed to glow....

She released the string. With a thunk, the arrow punctured the ground, boring deep, all the way to the kobold burrowed below. A muffled shriek sounded.

Target hit. Even underground, she'd nailed it. Not surprising - she hadn't missed a shot in centuries. Skathi's essence literally worked like a charm.

Lucia swung her bow back across her body, then leapt down to finish off her immortal prey with a swift beheading. It's hard being this good, she thought as she sauntered to the spot of contact. It's harder to act modest. She sighed. My cross to bear.

Three tenets comprised the Skathian code: honesty, chastity, and humility. She managed honesty - mostly - and chastity totally. But she couldn't grasp the reasoning behind humility.

When she neared, the creature scurried in the tunnel beneath her feet, making the arrow shaft dart frenziedly in the mucky ground, which amused her.

This was her greatest pleasure - the hunt. When she was out like this, she felt less like an imposter, filled with shameful secrets. In these moments, she didn't feel as if her sins were stamped upon her like a scarlet letter for all to see.

And she could briefly forget what would soon befall her in the approaching Accession.

Shaking away that thought, she crouched to dig free her prey, hauling it out by the ankle in a rush of mud and roots. Still in cherubic form, the kobold squirmed frenetically, her arrow jutting from its throat.

She dropped it to the ground and plucked free her arrow, taking half its neck with those barbs. The creature transformed, growing reptilian, with snakelike eyes and scaly skin. When it snapped its now elongated fangs at her, she turned the arrow lengthwise, pressing the shaft down over what was left of its neck.

As blood sprayed up her arms, she grinned, relishing her job as enforcer of laws.

Lucia had just beheaded the thing when her ears twitched with awareness yet again. Something's watching me. She leapt back to her feet, eyes darting. Something close.

The male. She sensed it was him - but how had he gotten the drop on her?

She peered into the shadows and almost gasped when golden eyes glowed back. "Why are you following me?" she demanded. On occasion, she acted as a negotiator between factions because she was so patient and levelheaded - or so everyone thought. Perhaps he sought her help to solve some grievance.

The male stalked closer to her, ignoring the natural path, heading directly for her. A Lykae had made her the object of its interest. Never a good development.

"How could I no' follow a lass as bonny as you?" he asked in a raspy brogue. The mud had washed clean, revealing the perfection of his still-bare chest and torso and all the strong planes of his face. His chin was stubborn with a hint of a cleft, his skin tan, with those faint laugh lines etched beside golden eyes. Rain spiked his lashes.

His thick hair was wet and dark, whipping across his lean cheeks. She'd bet it'd be a rich brown when dry.

His gaze met hers for long moments before he leisurely took in every feature of her face. The way he looked at her was consuming, savoring - as if she were the most beautiful creature on earth and he'd been starved for the sight of her.

She frowned as a sense of awareness seemed to tingle through her every nerve.

When his gaze dipped to her body, he raised a shaking hand to run over his mouth, clearly liking what he saw.

What's not to like - No! Act reasonable and serious. Above all things be rational. "Who are you?"

"I'm Garreth MacRieve of the Lykae clan." He drew nearer and she sidled back. They began circling each other. "Never seen anyone shoot like you."

That truly never got old. "Because no one can," she answered matter-of-factly.

Had the corner of his lips briefly curled? "What devil did you make a deal with to shoot like that?"

She almost sighed. Devil? I did something entirely different with him. She stifled the memories that had begun to surface more and more often.

"Mayhap your bow's enchanted?"

"My bow's not enchanted - merely unequaled." For over a thousand years, it'd held fast, as perfectly honed today as it'd been the night of Lucia's transformation. The black ash wood was polished to a sheen and carved with elaborate inscriptions. In a long-dead language, it was written that Lucia was a servant to the goddess Skathi. Forever. "You don't think mine could be a natural" - goddess-given - "talent?"

"Aye. But to marry talent and beauty such as yours as well? Hardly sporting to other lasses."


 2

She'd often thought so herself. Luckily for them, she had no interest in garnering a man's attention.

"And you could no' be bonnier."

In fact, she could be. Her hair was drenched. Her clothes were boring - a serviceable pair of shorts and a plain T-shirt. She wore no makeup or jewelry, but then, she never did. Not since she'd started wearing the bow.

"Are you fey or Valkyrie?"

I'm an Archer. A celibate in plain clothes. A shadow in the background. "Guess." At least he got points for not mistaking her for a nymph. Unfortunately, the two species resembled each other with their elven features. That was where all similarities ended.

"With the bow and the pointed ears, I'd normally say fey. But you've wee fangs and claws, so I fear it will no' be so easy as that."

"Easy? What are you talking about?"

He opened his mouth, then closed it, slanting his head at her in an appraising way. She sensed that whatever he'd been about to tell her, he decided against it, instead saying: "Seduction. Valkyrie are notoriously difficult to seduce."

He wanted to seduce her? No talk of a date, of courting, just sex. Men! "Difficult, you say? If you've made a go at one of us in your current state - unshaven, bloody, half-dressed, and covered in mud - I just can't imagine why. Not to mention that you smell of mash and distillery. Be still my heart."

He scrubbed a palm over his face, seeming surprised to find stubble there. "Today is no' a good day for me."

"Then you should go back and enjoy your groupies. I've always heard that nothing brightens one's outlook like an orgy with nymphs." Why this sharp tone? As if she were jealous. A spark of disquiet arose in her.

"Doona want them." He drew closer. "Even before I saw you." He gazed deeply into her eyes, as if he could see through her chaste, ascetic shell and recognize how wild she truly was. As if he knew her façade was a shaky house of cards that could be felled with a touch.

You have a darkness in you, Lucia, Skathi had warned her eons ago. You must constantly be vigilant against it.

Yes, vigilant. Lucia needed to get home, away from this rumbling-voiced werewolf. A face like his had been her undoing once, a handsome face that had concealed a monster.

Just as this one's did.

"The attraction isn't mutual," she said crisply. "So be on your way." With that, she turned to dispose of her kill, intending to throw the pieces into the water for the animals there to feed on. When she bent for the kobold's head, the Lykae picked up the body, as if he were being gentlemanly, retrieving a dropped handkerchief. So surreal. They lobbed the pieces into the murky water.

Her task done, she brushed off her hands and turned for home.

He followed.

She stopped, glaring briefly at the sky before telling him, "Werewolf, save yourself both time and effort. Whatever is the opposite of a sure thing, that's me."

"Because I'm a Lykae?"

Because you're a man. "You were right earlier - I am a Valkyrie. And my kind considers yours little better than animals." They did. Though Lykae weren't formal enemies like the vampires, older Valkyrie had battled them in the past, during bygone Accessions - faction-wide wars in the Lore. They'd said it was rare to see one fully turned unless you threatened their mate or offspring, but that even a hint of the beast that resided inside them was harrowing....

So where was the conviction in Lucia's tone?

"Aye, mayhap they do, but what do you consider me?" He narrowed his eyes. "Surely you doona agree with them or you would no' want me to mate you now."

Her lips parted. "Mate me? I've met arrogant males in my day, but you are the king of them."

A shadow passed over his face. "The king, then? What a way of putting it." But he quickly recovered. "Then give me a boon for taking the prize. Tell me your name."

She exhaled, then grudgingly said, "I'm called Lucia the Huntress."

"Lousha," he repeated.

Everyone she'd ever known had pronounced her name Loo-see-ah. With his thick Scottish accent, the werewolf pronounced it Lousha. She just stopped herself from shivering.

"Well, then, Lousha the Huntress" - a roguish grin curled his lips - "you've snared me."

Tingles danced over her body, but just as swiftly foreboding filled her. She had no business responding to him. He'd just left the nymphs and a guaranteed orgy. He would expect sex from a female this night.

Which she could never give - even if she wanted to - without disaster.

So why was her gaze descending along his damp chest? Her eyes followed the trail of hair from his navel down to the low-slung waist of his worn jeans, then lower... she almost gasped to see the bulge there.

She realized he must have been doing the same perusal of her - because the bulge grew. She quickly glanced up, found the Lykae's gaze was riveted to her br**sts. Her ni**les were straining against the wet material of her shirt, and he was staring hard at them as if he wanted to remove her top - with his mind.

When their eyes met once more, his flickered blue again, reminding her anew of why interacting with him was unwise. "Run along, wolf. Or I'll make you wish you had."

"That will no' be happening, Valkyrie."

"Why?" At his determined look, a suspicion arose in her, one so ridiculous it hardly warranted another thought. But she couldn't shake it. "I'm not... your mate, or anything, right?" She couldn't be.

"Nay. Though I might wish it otherwise."

Thank the gods for that. "Then - leave."

When he instead drew nearer, she yanked free her bow and nocked an arrow, drawing the string without thought. She aimed straight for his heart, which wouldn't kill an immortal like him but would put him down for a good while. "Stop right where you are, or I'll shoot."

He didn't stop right where he was. "You would no'. When I mean you no harm?"

"This isn't an idle threat," she said in a steely tone. His expression turned impatient, as if he couldn't understand where her caution was coming from. "I will shoot you if you come closer."

He came closer. So she shot him in the heart. Or four inches to the right, having decided at the last second to vary her aim by a degree.

The arrow landed in his solid chest, drilling through his muscles until only the flights were visible. "Bluidy hell, woman!" he bellowed, scowling down at his chest.

In a placid tone, she reminded him, "I told you not to come closer."

He fisted the flights, trying to draw the arrow free, but those barbs made it impossible. Reaching around awkwardly, he grated, "Help me get this thing loose!"

She blinked up at him. "I put the arrows in. I don't take them out."

His chin jutted. "You do with me."

The corners of her lips quirked, surprising her. What a wild, mad Lykae. She schooled her features. "Why would I ever?"

"Because, Valkyrie" - he started for her again, apparently planning to ignore the arrow in his chest - "by the close of this night we'll be sharing a bed, and you'll feel foolish to have shot up your bedmate."

With a sigh, she let sail another arrow. "Oh, dear, how foolish of me. You were saying?"

He continued closer. "When I set to kissing those pouting lips of yours - "

Another arrow sunk into his chest.

Now three wounds marred his gorgeous body, three trails of blood tracking over the rises and falls of rock-hard muscle. Gritting his teeth, he said, "This hurts like hell, lass, but it's heartening."

"How do you figure?"

"At fifty times the distance, you dispatched that kobold with three arrows to the neck. I've earned a trio to the chest. Seems you slapped him while you're tickling me. You doona want to kill me, which is a good sign. Maybe this is your way of flirting?"

She sobered once more, reality washing over her. "I'm not flirting - trust me, you'd know." Because disaster would be imminent. Damn it, he kept coming for her.

"If you're truly a hunter, you will no' leave a wolf to suffer. I'll bet you usually shoot to kill - no' merely to torment."

He had a point. It wasn't in her nature to torture a being. Unless they had it coming. "Oh, very well. If I help you remove them, will you leave me alone?"

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