Authors: Rita Herron
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.
Copyright © 2008 by Rita Herron
All rights reserved. Except as permitted under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without the prior written permission of the publisher.
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First eBook Edition: September 2008
“IT’S REALLY OKAY,” CLARISSA SAID. “JUST A BRUISE.”
“It doesn’t look like it needs stitches,” Vincent replied. “Do you feel dizzy? Lightheaded?”
Yes, but not from the head wound. From having him touch her here in this private cavern. It felt like a sanctuary. The faint light spilling through the darkness created shards of colors like a rainbow across the gray walls.
She pressed her hand to his cheek, need spiraling through her. If—
—they left they had to face the world again, fight the demon.
His throat worked as he swallowed. “Try to relax. I’ll go ahead and hunt for a way out.”
“Not yet,” she whispered. “It’s safe here, free from the demons.”
She parted her lips on a sigh, then pressed a kiss to his lips. He was so handsome and virile, so protective and strong, that her body ached for him.
“Clarissa, don’t,” he growled. “I told you my rules.”
“We might not make it out of here alive,” she said softly. “And if or when we do, we might not survive this demon.” She wet her lips, traced a hand down his chest, and began to unbutton his shirt. “I don’t want to die without having you one more time.”
To my incredible agent Jenny Bent for believing in this trilogy and my twisted mind, and to my fabulous editor Michele Bidelspach for her great insight and for joining us on the dark side . . .
Also, I have to thank my critique partner Stephanie Bond for her never-ending encouragement and feedback. Thanks to Jen, Jenni, Susan, and Deb for adding their two cents. And to my husband for loving me and supporting me through the insane process of writing.
he deep shadows of the Smoky Mountains hid monsters. Beasts and evil that fed off the weak. Creatures not quite human.
Ten-year-old Vincent Valtrez knew because his father was one of them.
Vincent tracked him now, the fierce wind battering his face and hands as he wove through the densely packed woods to save his mother.
His mother, an Angel of Light, he’d once heard his father call her.
But that was before his father’s dark side had won and the evil had completely possessed him.
Yellow, piercing eyes seared Vincent with each turn through the forest. His breath caught painfully as he stumbled over a splintered log, falling into briars and other, ice-covered logs. Pine needles stabbed his palms, and splinters clawed at his fingertips. Pushing up on his knees, he searched the deep pockets of leaves and underbrush, knowing his father might be watching him, waiting, ready to strike any second.
A black bear growled nearby, and a wolf howled in the distance, its attack call sending a chill through Vincent that made him lurch to his feet and run faster. But his feet sank into the ankle-deep snow, slowing him, and the wind swirled flakes in a blinding fog, obliterating his vision. He plowed on, sweating as he climbed the rugged hills, shoving away tree branches that slapped his face.
He had to hurry. Had to find the cavern his father had once shown him. It was somewhere in the heart of the Black Forest. A place where no light remained. The land of the dead, where only inhuman creatures existed.
The gathering place of the demons, where his father sometimes worshipped.
The hellhole where he would take his mother to torture her.
Emotions threatened to choke Vincent as his mother’s cry reverberated through his head. She had been trying to protect him. That was the reason his father was going to destroy her.
Vincent had to stop him.
Storm clouds rolled ominously across the darkening sky, the scent of blood and death thick and acrid as he drew nearer the black poplars that lined the path to the Black Forest. Vincent tasted the bitterness of his own fear as he entered, heavy winding vines clawing at him when he stepped beneath the black cloud.
Below his feet, the ground suddenly swirled and hissed, a bed of snakes nipping at his heels and winding around his legs. He kicked at them, slinging his pocket-knife in a chopping motion and stirring their anger more.
They sucked at him, trying to frighten him into succumbing to his fear, but he refused to relent. Instead, he roared with fury, slung the knife again, and sent a dozen vile creatures flying through the darkness. More attacked him from the gnarled branches, while batlike creatures screamed and dove toward his eyes.
He battled them away and plunged through the miles of demonic creatures, until he finally reached the cavern. It was a mammoth-size indention in the hollowed-out side of the mountain.
The opening swallowed him like a black abyss, the emptiness echoing with horrific sounds of terror. Hate swelled inside him, and he cloaked himself in rage, knowing it would bolster his courage.
“I knew you would come, son.”
Vincent froze at the sound of his father’s menacing tone. “Father, please, let Mother go. She loves you.”
“Vincent, run!” his mother shouted. “It’s a trap.”
Her shrill cry rent the air as his father flicked his hand and shot fire around her. Vincent spotted her then, wearing nothing but a thin white cotton gown, her face, hands, arms, legs bloody where he’d tortured her.
Emotions choked him. She’d rocked him when he was little and sick, had read him Bible stories, had sung to him when he’d been frightened of the dark.
Now she’d been beaten and tied to a wooden stake like a sacrificial animal.
“Run, son, save yourself!” she screamed. “You can’t give in to the dark side, or you’ll be just like him.”
Vincent’s father laughed, knowing he had won. Vincent would not leave his mother to die like this, even if it meant he died with her or was destined to the dark side forever.
The flames created a halo around her angelic face, the amulet she always wore around her neck for protection glowing against her pale skin. The fire circled her, dancing into the shadows and chewing at her bare feet. He lunged forward and leapt through the fiery embers. Reaching out with his knife, he was just about to cut her ropes when his father snatched him back. Vincent reached for her again and managed to grab her amulet. The gold medallion imprinted with angel wings seared his palm as his father yanked it from his hand and tossed it back into the blaze.
Vincent kicked, shouted at his father, but his father knocked him to the ground. “Fight me, son. Fight me and maybe I’ll let you save her.”
His mother’s scream pierced the air. “No, Vincent, don’t give in to him.”
But rage heated his veins, and Vincent raised the knife and catapulted into motion. Outside the wind roared, and cold air swirled through the cavern as he jabbed the knife at his father. His father flung his hand like a savage and grabbed the weapon from Vincent. One slash and the knife sank into Vincent’s arm. Blood spurted from the cut, sparking his father’s laughter.
Vincent let the pain drive him as he lunged toward his dad again. Hitting him with all his force, he knocked him to the ground, and they rolled and fought on the rocky floor. The knife sliced his thigh, his cheek, his hand, then ripped into his gut. Vincent spat blood, clutching his abdomen as he rolled sideways to dodge another blow.
A scream from his mother made him jerk his head to the side, and he saw the flames consuming her. Her eyes widened with terror and regret, with the certainty that she was going to die and he would be left with this monster.
Fury and rage heated Vincent’s blood. Her body jerked as the fire ate it: then her hair swirled and caught. Vincent cried out in horror and tried to crawl toward her, but she took her last breath and the fire consumed her. The wooden stake she was tied to splintered into pieces from the flames, shooting sparks across the black floor. Vincent grabbed one, swinging it like a torch.
His father’s evil eyes rounded with the challenge, and he dove toward Vincent with the knife again. Vincent wielded the stake like a sword, raised it, and jabbed it straight into his father’s cold heart.
Shock registered on his father’s face, then a look of pure malevolence as his vile laugh echoed through the black walls.
Bile rose to Vincent’s throat. Even in death, his father had triumphed.
“You’re just like me, boy—you got bad blood,” he muttered as his last strangled breath shuddered from him.
The world spun sickeningly, but Vincent crawled toward the flames and latched his fingers around the amulet. The hot metal seared his palm, but he refused to release it. Exhausted, Vincent collapsed onto the dirt and faded into the darkness, his father’s dying words echoing in his head.
Bad blood, bad blood, bad blood . . .
He hoped he died now, too. He didn’t want to grow up to be an evil monster like his father.
But he had just lost part of his soul, because he’d made his first kill.
Which meant the evil already had its tentacles deeply embedded in him.
Helzebar, the leader of the demon underworld, stood by, clapping as flames consumed the man and woman and the boy choked on his own blood.
Zion had passed the greatest test by killing his wife, the angel. One less do-gooder on Earth to interfere with his business.
Victory tasted sweet. Not just one soul captured, but two in one evening. The father’s and son’s.
There would be a celebration in the underworld tonight.
But had he really won the son’s soul?
He glanced at his minion, one of his many Soul Collectors, but his empty eyes bulged white.
“The boy is not completely with us yet,” the Soul Collector concluded. “He killed to save another, not for the sheer pleasure of it.”
Helzebar shuddered, repulsed at the mere idea that good existed at all. Vincent was a Dark Lord—the special ones bred from both good and evil. His mother had been an Angel of Light, goodness. His father, Zion, had been a Dark Lord before they’d turned him.
Yet Zion had failed because he had not completely turned Vincent evil.
If Vincent chose good, he would be the fearless leader for the other Dark Lords one day.
Would Vincent pass the test when the time came?
Helzebar waved his fiery sword in disgust. “We need his power. Twenty years from now, Zion will rise from the grave to assume leadership of the underworld. To win over his son, the Dark Lord, will multiply his strength tenfold.”
Then Vincent would bring others with him to glorify Zion’s kingdom. An army of soldiers for evil.
Helzebar dropped a small piece of black rock beside the boy, a token of his presence, a symbol of the black rock from which his palace on Earth was being built.
The earth trembled as if all the gods had combined their powers, and the Fates laughed as they began to spin the linen thread to measure how long each mortal would live. Ares would cause war throughout the world, destroying thousands. Aphrodite and Eros would lose, and love would die. Eventually all good would be buried beneath the rubble.
Only evil and chaos would survive, just as Satan intended.
Twenty years later: six days until the rising
he first fuck was always the best.
Not that Special Agent Vincent Valtrez ever bedded the same woman twice.
No, twice meant they might misconstrue his intentions. Get involved. Expect something from him.
But he had nothing to give.
Sex was sex. An animal’s primal need. The one he fed willingly.