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Authors: Lauren Hawkeye

The Darkling's Desire

BOOK: The Darkling's Desire
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Amazon warrior Anastasia Duras has spent her entire life
training for one thing: to hunt and kill blood-drinking Darklings who refuse to
follow the Karpaty Council’s rule. Her first mission sends her after a newly
turned vampire gone rogue—and into the path of sexy Darkling Jasper
Nagorsky.

Jasper is on a mission of his own, one that clashes with
Anastasia’s—but their passionate confrontations arouse a hunger in him that has
nothing to do with the bloodlust. Yet dalliances between Darklings and humans
are forbidden by the Council. Jasper broke this rule once before and was barely
allowed to live. Is their passion worth risking death a second time?

The Darkling’s Desire

Lauren Hawkeye

www.millsandboon.co.uk

Chapter One

Anastasia Duras had been born to kill.

The thought reverberated through her mind as she twisted her
body into the impossibly complicated
ustrasana
yoga
pose, her muscles quivering like jelly. It was not until the quivering turned
into the unbearable heat of a serious burn that she relaxed, dropping to the
ground with the grace of a predatory cat.

She had started practicing yoga in her teens, on the advice of
her mentor, twisting her body into complicated poses before every training
match. Yoga helped her to focus before she zeroed in on a target. It cleared her
mind, let her training take over.

Kill or be killed.
The mantra had
been ingrained in her since birth. Though this was only her second mission, she
knew what she had to do.

Find and kill the rogue
Darkling.

She had no idea why she, of all the Amazons, had been chosen
for this mission. Though it was not spoken of loudly, she had heard the
whispers, the ones that spoke of the discovery of a rare Witchling and his
Darkling love.

This Darkling was her target. She had no idea what the
Witchling would do,
could
do, to keep his lover
safe.

Running a hand over the blunt edges of raven dark hair that
fell just below her ears, Anastasia rolled her head from side to side, working
out a kink in her neck before crouching down in the damp leaves that covered the
ground. Esme’s Magic Emporium backed onto a small forested area, and though it
was late fall and the leaves that should have dangled from above instead
carpeted the frozen ground beneath her feet, she was still grateful for the
cover.

Ignoring the little voice in her head that said she was no
match for this mission, Anastasia slowly breathed in, then out. She imagined
herself in one of her intense training sessions back in Lviv, pictured herself
hiding in the densely forested Carpathian mountains that were her home.

She could overcome the stiffness that wanted to take over her
legs, could ignore the numbness that crept into her fingers from the moist
evening chill.

This might have been her first real mission, and she might have
a ball of nerves wound tight in her belly, but she was not afraid of Darklings
as a species—they were the vampires of legend, the ones who drank blood, true,
but they were not collectively evil. No, they had the good and the bad in their
ranks, as did humans, and she had been raised with this knowledge. Her people
honored a long-held pact with their council, after all.

Still, her nerves skittered beneath her skin like a thousand
tiny spiders. Though she was a Carpathian Amazon, a warrior trained to hunt and
kill the rogue Darklings, and though she had excelled at her training, she had
never actually killed a sentient being before.

She had been born to kill.
And kill
was exactly what she had to do.

* * *

Jasper Nagorsky perched high in a barren oak tree,
staring down at the small figure huddled in the leaves. Having heard the
heartbeat as soon as he’d come close to the magic store, he had secured his
vantage point in the sturdy branches. The tree supporting his weight was devoid
of green, but it was closely surrounded by conifers.

He knew that the creature below him hadn’t detected his
presence as he had detected its.

The heartbeat didn’t sound entirely human, and he thought for a
minute that it might belong to his quarry. Dr. Gavin Thibodeau was a newly
turned Witchling. The organization that Jasper worked for—the Karpaty
Council—wanted to know more about this rare and lethal creature, this creature
that had become a legend in recent times.

Jasper absently rubbed his fingers over the rough surface of
the tree bark as he watched and waited to see what the creature below him would
do. He understood the importance of his mission. This Witchling had annihilated
a dozen Darklings at once, turned them to ash. He had powers that Jasper could
not even dream of, and also the advantage of walking during the day. His thirst
was slight enough to drink only every few weeks.

Jasper had different talents. Trained as a soldier, a veteran
of World War II, he had quickly shown an aptitude for uncovering hidden
information—things that others did not want known. His current mission was the
same—gather information and report back.

He was very good at what he did. But nothing in his long memory
clicked with the creature huddled on the damp ground. He peered through the fine
mist, could now see the strands of dark hair clinging to rosy cheeks. It was a
woman.

Because the Witchling doctor’s schedule at the hospital had
become erratic since his turning, Jasper had thought it more expedient to stake
out the place of employ of the doctor’s lady love. Aubrey Hart was a doctor
herself, but as a fairly newly turned Darkling, she had chosen a new path…away
from the constant scent of blood, he assumed, and wisely so.

He well remembered the thirst he’d experienced as a newborn. He
assumed that she was working at Esme’s store in exchange for guidance through
her difficult transition. Though Esme was human, she knew more about the
supernatural than even many old vampires did.

The newly born Aubrey was classified as a rogue Darkling, one
who had bucked the council’s orders. A salesperson in a magic shop was a curious
choice for someone with the balls to go against the council.

Pulling a strip of the bark from the tree to worry with his
fingers, he wondered what would become of her. There weren’t many who disobeyed
the Karpaty Council and lived to tell stories about it.

Jasper also wondered about the fate of the woman below him. If
she detected his presence, she would be an encumbrance to his mission. And he
would have to kill her. He didn’t like killing. He’d done it—he was a Darkling,
after all, as well as a soldier—but he regretted every life he’d been forced to
take.

Watching the woman now, he was almost inclined to think that
she was just a human, one with a very slow metabolism, but both her slender
frame and her focused stillness discouraged that notion.

No, she was more than human. He was sure of it. And if she was
here, in the exact spot as he, he would have bet that her purpose had something
to do with either the doctor or his Darkling.

Since he was here to monitor the Witchling, then she must be
here for the Darkling. His ego was large enough not to even consider that the
council would send someone else on his mission. His curiosity was piqued. He had
heard talk of a group of women who lived in the mountains outside of Lviv and
were trained to hunt and kill the rogue Darklings. He was aware now that a
former lover of his had been one, though he hadn’t known at the time.

Not that it would have changed anything between them.

The reams of information swirling in his busy mind told him
that this must be who this woman was—an Amazon warrior. But under his intense
scrutiny he saw that she shifted slightly in her crouch, clearly uncomfortable
from holding the posture. Her hand lifted to tuck an errant strand of
liquorice-black hair behind her ear before darting back down to her lap, as if
someone has verbally reminded her not to fidget.

She was either very new at this job, or not very good at
it—Amazons were rumoured to possess a fierceness to rival that of his own
species.
This
was the being that had been sent to
take care of the Darkling? His brow furrowed as he tried to work through the
puzzle.

The tinkle of a light as fairy dust bell rang out across the
breeze, followed by the distinct sound of a heavy door opening and closing. A
very human woman with long scraggly hair that belonged in another decade, and
floral printed clothing to match, exited the magic store and walked away down
the street, her unseasonal sandals slapping against the soles of her feet as she
moved.

The noise jolted Jasper out of his reverie. He was here to
gather information. The shop was now empty, the Darkling alone inside. The
workday was drawing to a close, and Jasper suspected that the Witchling would
come for his woman soon.

His suspicions were usually on the right.

Keeping himself wrapped in shadows, he jumped from the tree,
landing on his feet like an animal. Though he forced himself to keep his eyes
from the woman across the parking lot, he saw in his peripheral vision that she
started when he landed, a wicked-looking blade appearing suddenly in her right
hand.

So he had been right—she had some powers that were more than
human. She would never have heard his descent otherwise.

Closing his eyes and inhaling air that he no longer needed to
breathe, he told himself for the third time since discovering the woman to
focus.

No matter how much she intrigued him, for he had always loved a
puzzle, he had a job to do.

* * *

Anastasia shifted uneasily in her crouch, trying to
ignore the fact that she could no longer feel the tips of her fingers.

Minutes earlier she had heard a noise that sounded like a
footfall—a creature landing on the ground. Though her eyes, her ears, her every
sense failed to detect anything, she
knew
that she
hadn’t imagined it.

Squinting, straining, she scanned the empty lot and once again
saw nothing. But…was that.... yes! There was a low murmur of voices, barely
audible through the back door of the shop. But they were there, she was sure of
it.

Cursing, Anastasia made her way carefully to that closed door.
Pressing her ear to the cool steel, the voices became louder—one male, one
female.

Furious with herself, she fumbled for the blade that she had
replaced in its worn sheath only moments before. The Witchling, Gavin Thibodeau,
must have gotten past her somehow. How was she going to assassinate the female
Darkling now? She should have just gone in and done the job straightaway,
instead of waiting, hiding, gaining her bearings.

Lesson learned. But she still hadn’t accomplished what she had
come here to do. Inhaling deeply, she backed up, then sprang at the door with
her black-booted foot outstretched.

She was gratified when it flew open beneath her kick, though
the resultant shock was felt all the way up into her torso. But at least she had
done it right.

Two startled and wary faces greeted her as she burst forth into
the cluttered room. Aubrey Hart, the former doctor turned newly made Darkling,
stood with her palms planted on the ornately carved wooden counter. She
displayed the innate stillness of her kind. Anastasia had seen photos of the
woman, but she hadn’t been prepared for the innocence that the creature
displayed. With her cascade of honeyed hair and wide azure eyes she looked
nothing like the evil rogue that Anastasia had expected.

This
was who she was supposed to
kill?

Stalling for time as her mind sorted that one out, Anastasia
shifted her stare to the other being in the room. She pegged him instantly as
another Darkling, but he was a stranger to her. With his head cocked slightly to
one side, he studied her as if she were a bug under a microscope…or as if he
were taking her clothing off, piece by piece.

He was hot. She noted this as completely as she had noted
Aubrey’s unease, but she tried to shove that thought right out of her head.

It had no bearing on her mission.

Instead she focused on his special skills. Did he have more
speed than the average Darkling? She hadn’t learned of anything of the kind.

From the corner of her eye Anastasia saw Aubrey lick her lips
once, slowly, and saw the woman’s blue eyes fasten on the pulse throbbing, slow
and steady, in Anastasia’s neck.

Shit. She was in way over her head. Her only hope was to catch
Aubrey by surprise, and damn whatever the other Darkling was here for. Not ideal
circumstances, but she would have to work with what she could.

Before she could over think it, Anastasia launched herself
across the room, landing on the counter in a crouch. Aubrey hissed in surprise,
baring her fangs, a show that Anastasia knew was bravado.

She could see the fear reflected in the sea-blue depths of the
newborn’s eyes.

Instead of making her feel powerful, in control, it made her
sick to her stomach. Every fiber in her being screamed that this woman was not
the evil being that her
nastavnyk
—her mentor— had
insisted that she was, nor was she a threat to humankind.

Biting down on her lip hard, Anastasia choked those feelings
back. She was a Carpathian Amazon, sworn ally to the Darklings.

She had a job to do.

Catching the other woman’s long flaxen hair in her fist, she
yanked her close, turning her at the same time. The best way to kill a Darkling
was to burn them to ash. Since that wasn’t an option at the moment, she went
with option number two.

Slit the throat, deep and hard.

Anastasia caught the other woman around the throat with the arm
that had been woven in her hair. Aubrey struggled against the strong arm that
held her captive, and Anastasia held on tightly until her muscles screamed for
release.

“Why…why are you so strong?” Aubrey didn’t need to breathe,
Anastasia knew, but she panted regardless.

She hadn’t been a vampire for very long, and Anastasia knew
that habits were hard to break for those recently turned.

Anastasia didn’t answer Aubrey’s question. She couldn’t let
herself think of this woman like the living—well, sort of—being that she
was.

The Amazon closed her eyes and pressed the blade to the
tissue-thin skin at Aubrey’s neck. Gritting her teeth together, she dug in, just
the slightest bit. Darklings were heavily allergic to silver, though it could
not kill them, and she heard the sizzle as the metal of her blade burned the
Darkling’s flesh. The bittersweet tang of crimson blood, vampire blood, hit
Anastasia’s nose and caused nausea to roil through her belly.

BOOK: The Darkling's Desire
3.49Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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