Crave the Darkness
A Shaede Assassin Novel
Nothing comes easy for Darian. Her heightened powers make her indispensable to the Shaede Nation, but dangerous missions have driven her lover, Tyler, to his breaking point. Darian must salvage their bond, but a new assignment to protect Anya—a fellow Shaede and the first of their kind to become pregnant in centuries—stands in the way.
It doesn’t help that the two Shaedes are longtime rivals and share nothing besides mutual hatred. But when it becomes clear that someone—or something—is bent on destroying the expectant mother and her unborn child, Darian must put her feelings aside and track down Anya’s would-be assassin.
As she probes into Anya’s past, Darian digs up long-buried secrets—and a startling connection between Tyler and the mission that could destroy everything between them.…
That’s how I started out; all I was again. A casting of mottled dark. The real me, the me that knew happiness and light left with him.
“Darian, pay attention.” Raif turned in his seat and nudged me with his elbow. I blinked at the sound of his whispered words and brought my eyes up to meet the faces staring back at me.
“Can you repeat the question?”
The seven members of the Pacific Northwest Territories judicial council exchanged frustrated glances. A murmur spread from one end of the long stone-topped table to the other, and the speaker—a Fae with dark eyes and shining, midnight blue hair—shuffled through her notes before addressing me.
“Let me see if I have this straight. You refuse to answer to the charges brought against you. Which are”—she glanced down at the paper in front of her as if she needed a reminder—“kidnapping of a high-priority PNT prisoner, as well as . . .”
I love you.
Tyler had said those words to me.
“. . . aiding and abetting . . . conspiracy . . . a treasonous . . .”
Right before he’d walked out the door.
My god, is this how a broken heart felt? What I’d felt when Azriel left me was a drop in the bucket compared to the pain I felt now. I was reduced to a hollow shell. Fragile. I wanted nothing more than to feel whole again.
Raif elbowed me once more, and I snapped to attention, sitting up straight in my seat.
“. . . in addition to evading PNT authorities and violating section 15-372.1 of chain of command standard operating procedure. Does that cover it?”
My gaze drifted across the stark white courtroom to the Fae woman, her face coming back into focus. They might as well toss me in jail right here and now. I wouldn’t deny my guilt, and I sure as hell wouldn’t explain myself. Silence hung heavy in the room, and Raif cleared his throat. Apparently, it was my turn to speak.
“You forgot breaking and entering, conspiracy, and all-around willful disobedience. That covers it.”
Raif pinched the bridge of his nose between his thumb and finger, closing his eyes as he released a heavy sigh. When he finally had his temper under control enough to look at me, he slowly shook his head and mouthed the word: Seriously?
Yeah, well, it wasn’t like I was going to throw myself on the floor and beg for the council’s mercy. Besides, I’d lost everything in this world I gave a damn about. At this point, I had nothing left to lose. The seven PNT council members leaned toward one another, throwing furtive glances my way while they discussed my fate. This was my third hearing in as many months, and I hadn’t given them any more information today than I had at my first arraignment. What had happened after I’d kidnapped Delilah, the Oracle who’d plotted against Raif and the entire Shaede Nation and left the PNT’s Washington Headquarters with her partner in crime, Faolán, was no one’s business but my own.
“You do realize that by keeping this secret, you may very well face imprisonment. Or worse.” The worried tone of Raif’s harshly whispered words didn’t change my mind. And though I knew he was grateful for my secrecy, he didn’t want to see me punished, either.
“Doesn’t matter.” I couldn’t muster an ounce of concern in my own voice. I leaned in to Raif so only he heard me. “They can threaten me all they want. I’m not going to endanger your daughter or the natural order by reminding anyone of things best left forgotten.”
I didn’t give two shits about the PNT’s discipline. Nothing they could dish out would punish me more than I’d already punished myself. My actions had hurt one of the few people in this world I gave a shit about, and destroyed us both in the process.
God, it hurt just to think his name. I broke his heart by leaving him without a word of where I was going or when I’d be back. I betrayed our trust by wishing for him to stay put in Seattle, unable to leave the city, while I traipsed around on my adventure to find Brakae, Raif’s daughter. And in the end, my reward was exactly what I deserved: time away from him and the space I needed to decide what I really wanted.
I didn’t need time, I already knew what I wanted.
I wanted Tyler.
But he wasn’t here with me, was he? Apparently, he didn’t think an appropriate length of time had passed for me to get my shit together. I’d tried wishing for him. I’d wished for him almost every day that first month, but he never showed. Jinn magic is full of rules, regulations, and limitations. One of those being that I could wish only for things I really, truly needed. And somehow, the powers that be had determined my want of Tyler wasn’t good enough.
“Will the accused stand?” So polite, as if she was asking if I’d stay for dinner or something. You’d never guess the council was about to bring down the hammer.
I pushed my chair out with the backs of my knees and shoved my bound hands against the table in front of me for leverage. The iron cuffs swirled with silver light, charmed to negate my ability to wreak any havoc, if the whim struck. Whenever an accused stood before the council, they were bound with the cuffs. In my case, they prevented me from leaving my corporeal form and weakened me to the point that I couldn’t break the bonds. Lucky for the council, I had no intentions of wreaking havoc of any kind. Not now, or in the future. The fight had pretty much drained right out of me.
“Since you refuse to speak on your own behalf, and considering we have sworn statements from many eye witnesses, this council has no choice but to—”
“If it pleases the council . . .” The double doors of the chamber swung wide, and the Shaede High King swept into the room as if he owned the place. “I beg a moment of your time.” Alexander Peck—or to me, just Xander—never turned down an opportunity to show off his dramatic flair, and right now, he claimed center stage.
“With all due respect, Your Highness,” the blue-haired Fae said, “the time to testify in front of this council has passed.”
Decked out in what had to have been a ten thousand dollar suit, Xander looked as regal as he did imposing. Though his stance was relaxed, his molten caramel eyes sparked with a cold light that dared anyone to turn down his request. I could only imagine what he was up to. Maybe he couldn’t stand that I was the center of attention. Or worse, maybe he just wanted to prove that he could throw his weight around.
“Do I have to remind you about Edinburgh, Amelia?” Oh yeah, Xander definitely wanted to throw his weight around.
The Fae looked at the questioning faces of her colleagues before she cleared her throat, fidgeting with the cuff of her sleeve. She scooped a glowing, pearlescent ball in her hand and knocked the faerie equivalent of a gavel down on the table twice. “We’ll adjourn for fifteen minutes. Alexander, if you’ll follow us to our private chambers, we’ll hear what you have to say.”
Xander flashed me an arrogant smile. He waited patiently as the seven council members stood, and then followed in their wake as they walked, single file, from the room. “Sit tight,” he said as he sauntered past Raif and me. “I’ll be back shortly.”
We sat back down at the same time, and I asked Raif, “What the hell is he up to?”
“Your guess is as good as mine. We are talking about Xander, after all.”
Raif leaned back in his seat, staring at the ceiling as if his brother’s plans were written there. I, on the other hand, had no interest in wondering what His Royal High and Mightiness had up his sleeve. Instead, my mind drifted to where it always did lately: the clusterfuck that was my life.
You’d think I would have lost track of the days since that night Tyler left me. The emerald pendulum that I wore around my neck, silenced the sound of time as it ticked within my soul, but I had invisible tally marks etched on my heart. Eighty-seven days, six hours, fifteen minutes, and twenty-two seconds. Twenty-three . . . twenty-four . . . twenty-five . . .
It’s not like I’d been brooding the entire time. I had a system, alternating between outings for my hearings with the PNT’s judicial council, setting up camp on my bed, answering the door for grocery delivery, and occasionally crashing on the couch while I let the TV lull me to sleep with mind-numbing entertainment. I wasn’t proud of the fact that I knew every single cast member of Jersey Shore down to their cocktails of choice, but it was better than the alternative: allowing my tortured thoughts to drive me to a state of near insanity.
I leaned forward in my chair and massaged my sternum. The imaginary fist that had been squeezing my heart for the past seven months clenched tight, leaving a dull ache I couldn’t get rid of no matter how long I rubbed. I’m not a fool. I realized that the blame for our separation rested solely on me. I ran—and spent four months away—from the one person in this world I should have sprinted toward. I shunned his protection, disregarded his strength, and stomped all over the love he offered . . . all in the name of arrogance.
Ty showed me how much he appreciated my treatment of him by returning the favor in classic “eye for an eye” fashion. I’d come back to Seattle after a months-long excursion spent in O Anel looking for—then protecting—Brakae.
According to Raif, during my absence Tyler had become temperamental, angry, and resentful, not to mention dirty and disheveled. I arrived at his apartment expecting to find a broken man. What I found broke me. Calm, clean, showered and shaved, and packing a suitcase for an extended vacation, Tyler gave me one last kiss and left. And he’d stayed gone. Three months and counting . . .
I took a deep breath, tried to slow the frantic beating of my heart that signaled the onset of another panic attack. Dredging up memories of my many mistakes caused my palms to sweat and my breath to stall in my lungs. The floor seemed to tip beneath me and the room swam in and out of focus in a dizzying blur.
“Darian, stand up.” Raif’s voice was nothing more than a whisper, but it echoed in my mind as if shouted down the length of a tunnel.
The door to the council’s private chambers opened, and I just about fell on my ass as I shot to my feet. Raif reached out to steady me, his face etched with concern. I would have given him a reassuring pat to the shoulder if my hands weren’t bound in the damn cuffs. A few deep, steady breaths managed to calm me down enough that I was no longer seeing stars at the periphery of my vision, and my head finally felt like its normal size—not floating above my shoulders like a balloon.
Xander sauntered out of the council’s chambers much the same way he’d entered. Only this time, the smugness of his expression spoke of victory, not just the prospect of success. Great. If he had any pull with regards to the council’s decision about my sentence, I’d never live it down. Just one more thing for his royal pain in the ass to hold over my head.
The Fae with the dark blue hair—Amelia, Xander had called her—cast a cautious glance in the king’s direction before turning her focus to me. “The accused is officially absolved of any wrongdoing against the PNT and any charges brought against her are stricken from the official record.” She brought the opalescent orb down against the table with a resounding crack. With the sound wave, a pulse of energy swept through the room and caressed my face like a kiss of warm breeze. The cuffs around my wrists loosened and dropped to the floor. Amelia’s eyes narrowed shrewdly as she addressed me. “You are free to go.”
Xander turned to leave, his chest puffed out with pride. “You can thank me later,” he said and strode from the room.
As the council members rose once again to leave, I said to Raif, “He really gets off on throwing his weight around, doesn’t he?”
Raif’s laughter was the only answer I needed.
“Let me take you to dinner.”
Tyler just couldn’t get it through his thick skull that I didn’t mix business with pleasure. I’d been working for him for a little over six months, and it seemed we’d begun to make excuses to see one another. Problem was, I was the only one who realized this wasn’t a good idea and we needed to put the brakes on whatever was developing between us.
“Come on, Darian,” he teased. “I don’t bite. What’s the big deal? It’s just dinner. I mean, you eat dinner on occasion, don’t you?”
A smiled threatened, tugging at my mouth. But I bit back the urge to let Tyler see just how charming I found him. He was my employer, for Christ’s sake. To-die-for good looks or not, I didn’t allow myself romantic entanglements of any kind. Love was a weakness I couldn’t afford, and the more time I spent with Ty, the more I thought he’d be very easy to fall in love with.
“I eat,” I finally replied, looking anywhere but right at him. “Just not with you.”
Tyler took a step closer and I breathed in his scent. Delicious. Like warm cinnamon. Such a comforting smell, it put me instantly at ease. It was actually the first thing I’d noticed when I met him. I don’t know what it was about Tyler, but being with him felt safe. Like nothing in the world would ever harm me when he was around. Stupid, I know. Sentimentality was another trait I couldn’t afford. Sentiment made you sloppy. And sloppy assassins didn’t get paid. “You’re invading my personal space,” I said flatly. Another step and he’d be close enough to touch. And oh man, how I wanted to touch.
“Has anyone ever mentioned how ridiculously stubborn you are?” His voice was warm with a sensual edge that gave me chills. “I think if you spent a little time with me, you might just find that you like me.”
Damn, he smelled good. My head was so full of his scent I couldn’t think straight. And those eyes—gorgeous. I didn’t need time for him to grow on me. Tyler was on my mind more times than not lately, and that was bad.
“Look Ty, you’re a nice guy, and I’m sure you know how to show a girl a good time. But it’s not gonna happen. Not tonight, not ever. That’s just the way it has to be.”
He leaned in close, the playful expression gone from his face.
“Who says?” he murmured.
A pleasant chill raced up my spine and I shuddered. Thank god I was leaning against the wall, because I wasn’t entirely sure my legs would hold me up. “I say.” My own voice was breathier than I’d intended. Damn it, he could rattle me with nothing more than the intensity of his stare.
“Darian.” My name on his lips was enough to make me swoon. No one had ever said it the way he did, with so much emotion and reverence. “You don’t need to be afraid,” he said, his mouth hovering close to my ear. “I won’t hurt you.”
The way he spoke . . . it was like he knew everything about me, right down to the nightmare of the human life I’d lived so long ago. But he couldn’t know those things. The only other men who’d witnessed that weakness in me were long gone. I was beyond repair, damaged goods. And once Tyler realized that fact, he wouldn’t stick around either.
“Here’s how it’s going to work between us from now on,” I said. “You call me when you have a mark you need eliminated. I take out said mark and you pay me. That’s it. Nothing more, nothing less.” Rejecting his advances was the right thing to do. He just didn’t realize it yet. As if on instinct, I caressed the ring on my thumb, the very same one Tyler had given me after I’d completed my first job. I hated to admit it, but the damned thing had quickly become a security blanket, sort of a good luck charm, and I couldn’t help but touch it.
“So you’re not even going to give me a chance, huh?” Tyler said with a sigh, obviously frustrated. “You just get to decide, right here and now that there can’t ever be anything between us?”
“Pretty much,” I said. “Believe me, you’ll thank me for keeping my distance later.” I let the shadows take me, becoming nothing more than a gossamer form. “Good night, Tyler.”
Some days, it’s just not worth getting out of bed.
As if my current heartache wasn’t enough, my dreams taunted me with past mistakes. I felt the sting of that moment with Tyler as if it had just happened, and wasn’t that just great? Everyone wants to be wanted. Needed. Desired. Loved. Ty wanted me and I’d rejected him. Putting distance between us again and again, wasting precious time we could have spent together. Happy. I guess there was no denying I was a Class A fuckup when it came to my love life. Not one man in my entire existence had managed to want me enough to stick it out. I supposed Henry didn’t truly count, but Azriel had dropped me without a second thought. And as for Ty, well, I guess he finally realized I was just too broken to fix.
I ran my tongue around the inside of my mouth, which felt like it’d sprouted fur overnight. Bourbon always tastes so good going down. But the hangover I suffered this morning, coupled with the remnants of my memories, made me rethink ever touching the stuff again. Wasn’t it a sign of a problem when you started drinking in solitude? Whatever. It’s not like I gave a shit, and the liquor wasn’t going to do anything to my preternatural liver. It did, however, make the pain go away for a while. A very short while. I guess at this point, I was willing to take what I could get.
One of the benefits of living in a warehouse-turned-studio-apartment is that I could see every inch of my space from the bed. The place was a mess: clothes piled in the corners, dishes stacked in the sink, unwashed. I couldn’t muster the energy to care anymore. I wondered how much longer Raif would wait before he staged an intervention. He’d even resorted to bringing my mail up once a day after he realized that I’d quit checking it. I had no desire to tell him that I was scared of what I’d find each time I looked in the box. My eyes wandered to my kitchen table. Laid out across the high-gloss surface, tossed in with the piles of mail Raif insisted on bringing up, were two postcards. At first I’d thought there’d been only the one, sitting on top of a stack of bills and junk mail. But when I’d dug deeper through the pile, I’d found another one. A beautiful bird’s-eye view of Central Park. Aside from my address, the only words scribbled across the card stock read: Wish you were here.
I tried to swallow, found my mouth too dry for the simple act. A cold lump of dread congealed in the pit of my stomach, sending out icy shards that speared my composure. Almost a century ago, Azriel had helped an Armenian mob boss’s son go into hiding. Lorik sent us a postcard from every city he’d visited writing only: Wish you were here. And now, when the mobster’s son should have been long dead, the postcards started showing up again. Whatever mess Azriel had left for me to clean up, I had a feeling it would be an unpleasant one. The tremor stretching out from my palms to the tips of my fingers had nothing to do with a hangover. I was straight-up rattled. Damn Azriel and his secrets. Shake it off, Darian. Jesus. It’s just paper. It’s not like those cards are going to self-destruct and blow your ass halfway across Seattle. Get a grip.
The whine and whir of the elevator coming to life drew my focus from the table. I reached for my pillow, for the throwing knives stashed under it. I may have been wallowing in self-pity and apathy, but I didn’t fuck around when it came to unannounced guests. And nothing says “Welcome!” like a knife barreling point-over-hilt in a blur of glinting silver light. Of course, it could be Raif again, but I didn’t take any chances.
I sat up, gathered the belt that held the six small knives and waited. I shook off the wave of anxiety threatening to pull me down to the fetal position and jacked my chin up a notch while willing my spine starch-stiff. I don’t know what I expected. A ghostly apparition of an Armenian mobster, perhaps? The intoxicating aroma of Shaede reached my nostrils long before the open elevator compartment came into sight, and I drew a knife from the holster. I knew the scent well, and though it wasn’t the specter from my past that I’d anticipated, this was one visitor I wasn’t about to entertain. Waiting, hand drawn back and ready to throw, I let my breathing slow. You need a certain stillness to throw a knife with accuracy. Stillness and patience. The elevator came to a halt, and the gate slid to one side. Heavy footfalls crossed the elevator’s threshold and I inhaled. Held my breath. Then let the knife fly.
The throw went wide and the knife buried itself to the handle in the drywall. So much for stillness and patience. Goddamn it.
“Your aim is shit,” Xander said, strolling through the living room like he had every right to be there. The King of Shaedes never let anyone forget who he was. Least of all me.
I took another knife from the holster, and sent it hurling toward my mark. It glanced off the fireplace in a flash of silver, landing with a dull thud on the carpeting. Son of a bitch.
As if he hadn’t noticed me trying to scar his beautiful face, Xander stopped at the dining room table, idly shuffling through my mail like it was all addressed to him. My heart skipped a beat as he came across the postcards, which he flipped over, seeming to read with interest. But he discarded them as easily as he had my water bill and turned to face me. “I said you could thank me later for intervening with the PNT.” He smiled. “It’s later.”
Knife number three left my hand before I could even think through what I was doing. It bounced off the polished concrete of the kitchen countertop and came to a skidding halt on my stove.
Xander cocked a sardonic brow. “Not quite the show of appreciation I was expecting.”
“Fuck off,” I snapped. My comebacks were as bad as my aim.
Xander pivoted on a heel and changed his course for my bed. I instinctively reached for another knife before I noticed the gleam in his eyes. Butterscotch flecks glowed in molten caramel depths. He was hoping I’d throw again. It always made my day to keep Xander from getting what he wanted, and so I sheathed the knife and tucked the belt back under my pillow. I wasn’t in the mood to play his games.
“I could have left your fate in Amelia’s hands,” his tone dripped with reproof, “but you are my employee. Paid on retainer, if I’m not mistaken. And I have a job for you. I couldn’t have the PNT detaining you when you have work to do. So, my darling, whether you want to admit it or not, you owe me for convincing the council to drop the charges against you.”
“Screw you, Your Highness.” I lounged back in bed, and pulled the covers up nice and cozy. “You can show yourself out the way you came in, because frankly, I’m not interested in doing anything for you, and I’m not moving any time soon.”
Xander bent toward me, and I reached for my knives. I drew one of the blades from the holster—which, honestly, wasn’t long enough to do any real damage—determined to send him on his way. I may have been out of my mind to threaten a king with a weapon, but hell, I’d thrown three of the knives at him when he arrived. What’s one more offense?
I didn’t have my usual oomph to lend credibility to the act. Instead, I sort of held the knife out in front of me, my elbow drawn in like I had no idea how to use the thing. Fact was, I had no interest in picking a fight with Xander. I just wanted him to leave me alone so I could continue to wallow in self-pity, undisturbed.
“You look like a frightened girl, holding that knife,” Xander said. His voice was like expensive velvet: rich and luxurious. It’s his most winsome quality in my opinion. I could only imagine how many women had gladly dropped on their backs from nothing more than a few words.
Not this girl, though. “Get out,” I said, fighting to keep my voice from quavering.
He smiled. “No.”
“Xander.” My throat burned with emotion. Jesus, Darian, get your shit together. I held the knife up, straightened my arm. “I’m not going to tell you again.”
So fast that he caught me off guard, Xander batted the knife out of my hand. It didn’t take much effort; I wasn’t holding it like I was planning to use it. It rang as it bounced off the hardwood floor and I shrunk back into my pillow. Christ, why couldn’t he just leave me alone? I didn’t want to talk to him, or anybody else. I wanted to be alone.
“You will stop this childish behavior. Now. I’ve allowed you these months to mourn the loss of your Jinn. But that time is over. I have work for you and expect you to snap out of this depression and get to it.”
Xander’s words had me rankled. If I’d been feeling more like myself I would have shown him how much with my fist. I was not mourning the loss of Tyler. That would indicate that he wasn’t coming back. Like he’d died or something. Tears stung behind my eyes, and I bit down hard on the inside of my cheek to stem the traitorous flow that would betray my emotions. Tyler wouldn’t leave me. Not forever. He was coming back. He had to. If he didn’t . . . well, let’s just say I didn’t want to think about what I’d do if he stayed away for good.
“I want you cleaned up, properly dressed, and at my house in an hour.” He turned on a heel and headed for the door.
I didn’t take my eyes off his broad back as I tried to keep myself from committing an act of violence. Xander’s steps grew silent and he paused, shouting from the elevator, “Don’t make me come back here for you, Darian. It’ll be more than a cordial visit if I do. One hour.”
The gate slid closed with a rasping of metal, and the gears once again whirred to life, taking the Shaede King from my apartment. I guessed going back to bed was out of the question.
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