Authors: Paula Altenburg
Tags: #romance, #Goddess, #Demon, #Outlaws, #Post-apocalyptic, #Western, #Prequel
Never show fear to a Demaon...
The Demon Lord has conquered the mortal world and sampled its pleasures. Now all he needs is to conquer the goddess who is meant to complete him. She, however, has other plans.
Allia is sent by her goddess sisters to win the heart of the Demon Lord and make him her slave. But Allia soon discovers that the Demon Lord’s heart is not easily given, and that in order to win it, she must sacrifice her own.
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 © 2014 by Paula Altenburg. All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce, distribute, or transmit in any form or by any means. For information regarding subsidiary rights, please contact the Publisher.
Entangled Publishing, LLC
2614 South Timberline Road
Fort Collins, CO 80525
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Edited by Kerri-Leigh Grady and Marni Molina
Cover design by Kim Killion
Ebook ISBN 978-1-62266-570-9
Manufactured in the United States of America
First Edition April 2014
Year 329 PD (Post Demon Occupation)
“Don’t do this,” Desire said. “You’re an immortal goddess, not prey.”
The vast desert night shimmered with life, both on the land and in its endless black and sparkling sky. Allia shivered in her thin robe, although not entirely from the cold. Demons were hunters, and these were the Demon Lord’s private hunting grounds she had invaded.
“Tonight, I am both. The world has had over three hundred years to recover from the devastation the immortals brought to it,” Allia said. “If we don’t act now, demons will destroy it again.”
She was to tempt the Demon Lord. Make him love her. Her sisters believed she could then enslave him, and through him, they’d be able to control the rest of his kind.
But this was no ordinary demon. She should expect no typical response.
Her handmaid scrubbed a hand over her shaved head, a telling gesture whenever she disagreed with some decision the goddesses made or an action they took. Her worried frown puckered the corners of the long scars marring her cheeks.
Flaws in mortal appearance, the women in particular, fascinated Allia. Goddesses were almost uniform in their beauty. To them, it was nothing remarkable. No imperfections set them apart. These women who served them, however, no matter how plain their exteriors, possessed an inner quality—a vitality of life—that transcended the shallow prettiness of goddess faces.
Allia had never asked Desire how she came by those facial scars. If the priestess wanted her to know, she would tell her. But to Allia, Desire was one of the most beautiful women she had ever met. When the mortal woman first entered into service to the goddesses, Allia had chosen her immediately. The scars on her face served as a contrast with what was inside her, and rather than detract from it, made her beauty shine brighter than the sun.
Allia loved her.
“Your sisters are like children.” Desire’s tone was heavy with disapproval. She drew her cloak more tightly around her shoulders against the bite of the night. “This plan of theirs is foolish and puts you at risk, not them. Nala took advice from Mamna, an even more foolish move if you ask me. Mamna delights in encouraging her into acts of stupidity. I don’t like this.”
Desire thought Nala was too impetuous. She didn’t trust Nala’s priestess either, a point on which Allia was inclined to agree. There was something…not right about Mamna. She had an ugliness inside her that Nala chose not to see. Perhaps it was because Mamna’s twisted and misshapen exterior blinded her goddess to other, far greater, flaws.
Allia dug her bare toes into sand still warm from the heat of the spent day. “Demons are hunters. Goddesses are the hunted. Immortals weren’t born to this world, yet it has provided us with a refuge for many hundreds of years. Your people continue to suffer because of our presence. They’re beginning to fight back against demons. We remember what happened the last time they did. The billions of people who died on our behalf. What is the sacrifice of one goddess if it keeps such devastation from happening again?”
“That war was so long ago. Why place your freedom—your life—at risk?” Desire persisted.
“Because I feel each and every one of those mortal deaths to this day,” Allia said. “They weigh on my soul and give me no peace. Back then, we had no idea what life meant, or how fragile and valuable it is. Now we do. My sisters know I’ll do what I can to keep the past from repeating.”
“Your sisters are selfish. You were chosen because you are the most trusting,” Desire said. “The sweetest and kindest. The most beautiful.”
Allia laughed. “You say that because you love me.”
“I say it because it’s true.” Desire’s frown deepened. “He will destroy you.”
“It won’t be so easy for him. I, too, am immortal,” Allia said gently.
“And yet you are very innocent.” Her eyes, fastened on Allia’s face, softened. “
. There are so many ways in which a man can destroy a woman.” Her handmaid sighed. “When it comes to matters of the heart, immortals know nothing.”
Allia knew enough. She loved her sisters. She loved Desire, too. She loved the people of this world, imperfect though they might be. She would do this for them, because there were things Desire didn’t know either.
The goddesses were far more selfish than she believed.
Immortals could not kill other immortals without owning the deaths. And those deaths would fight their new owners for release for all eternity. The goddesses had thought mortals could kill demons and save them from direct confrontation. Instead, demons had torn the mortal world apart.
The goddesses should have fled, leading the demons away. Her sisters, however, had refused to run any longer. They’d grown to love the physical pleasures this world had to offer and chosen to take a stand in it. While they were a mere dozen against what had then been tens of thousands of demons, the goddesses had truly believed that they could defeat demons with the help of the vast number of mortals. Demon numbers were cut to little more than a hundred, but it came at too great a cost. Mankind was brought to its knees. Innumerable people had died fighting. Once-vast cities of glass and steel from pre demon days had been crushed and turned to rubble. The best the goddesses could do in the aftermath was create boundaries that protected what remained of the world, and which demons couldn’t cross, giving it time to recover.
Guilt over the past had never abated for Allia. Her heart continued to weep for the loss of so much beauty and passion. Goddesses might not own those mortal deaths, but Allia believed the responsibility for each and every one was theirs.
“I do this willingly,” Allia said. “I agreed to it.”
She sent Desire to wait in safety a few hundred yards away, where she could see all that transpired but not be seen. Allia had brought her handmaid with her for courage and to know that there was someone nearby who would weep for her if the Demon Lord remained unmoved by her charms. Despite her brave words, Allia did not know what he would do to her.
Perhaps he wouldn’t find her death too difficult to own.Desire was to relay the night’s events to her sisters if Allia failed to win him.
Allia did not intend to sacrifice herself outright. Goddess rain would offer her some protection. It was how the goddesses defended themselves, and what they had used to limit the demons’ ability to move around in this world. Demons couldn’t bear the touch of rain. It burned them the way fire scorched mortal flesh.
Calling it against the Demon Lord inside his territory would be unwise, however, particularly considering her purpose in being here. Demons used fire as their weapon, and the Demon Lord owned it all.
Her gentle goddess rain would never stand against the full force of his fire. She had decided instead to call her rain to the center of this oasis, using it to create a warm, protective pool that no demon could enter, and to which she could flee if she felt in any way threatened.
She lifted her hand to the heavens and gave a flick of her wrist, as if turning a knob. A bank of low-lying clouds swirled in response, obscuring one patch of the glittering night sky. Seconds later a deluge began, pommeling the ground with growing intensity. It fell for long moments before gradually tapering off.
Allia coaxed the last drops of goddess rain from the clouds’ core and eyed with satisfaction the small pool of water now cradled in a hollow bed of rock and sand. Water already existed here naturally beneath the desert’s dry surface soil, nurturing the roots of palms, Joshua trees, and the perfume-drenched flowering plants. What she had brought would therefore remain here for hours, or at least until the hot sun rose in the morning and the dry air leached it away.
The cloud bank dissipated so that all was as it had been before, except for this tiny, tempting new pool she had created in the center of demon territory.
Awe overwhelmed her as she surveyed her handiwork. She had lived unrestricted by time for longer than she or any of her goddess sisters could remember. She’d traveled to the far-flung reaches of the universe. Yet she had never experienced anything as lovely or joyful as the wonders this fascinating, time-bound world and its people presented. From a single grain of sand to the tiny mayfly that lived but one day, everything here had a beginning and an end.
Immortals did not. They merely existed.
The goddesses were all in agreement. They would not give up this amazing world.
Luring the Demon Lord could not be that difficult. Demons pursued goddesses with greater ardor than they did mortal women. Women were an easier conquest, however. They could not resist the sensual lure of a demon any more than mortal men could resist the sexual appeal of a goddess.
The difference was that goddesses were kind to their lovers.
Demons were not.
And Allia stood in the depths of demon territory this night, in this tiny oasis, tasked with seducing the least kind and gentle of them all.
She slipped the soft, sheer, whisper-thin robe she wore from her shoulders to leave it at the side of the pool, and stepped into the warm and soothing waters. Light from the heavy, pale moon glinted off a glossy, black surface that mirrored the star-speckled night sky above.
With a sigh of pure pleasure, Allia submerged herself, then rose, lifting the heavy, wet ropes of her long golden hair in her hands.
A silent shadow blocked the moon’s light before gliding away.
Instantly alert, Allia lowered her arms and allowed her hair to settle around her. She again immersed herself in the water so that only her face remained exposed and tipped to the night.
The shadow passed above her again, and from the corner of her eye she saw a figure descend into the swell of darkness beyond the edge of the oasis.
Her heart pounded. If it was the Demon Lord, and he wanted her, he would have to lure her from the protective waters.
Or at least, she would allow him to believe he had done so.
The Demon Lord landed beneath the cover of darkness, shifting to mortal form. His bare feet struck the still-warm sand. Cool air washed over his naked flesh.
He’d spotted movement in a small pool of water where no water should be, and a feminine shape. Curiosity nudged him to discover why a woman would come so deep into demon territory—and his personal hunting grounds—without being summoned.
Also excitement, because he knew that a mortal woman would not. He had never seen a goddess up close, nor touched one, even though they were the reason demons had come to this world.
They were no longer the sole reason demons stayed here. Mortal women provided an equal distraction. Their numbers were far greater, leaving more than enough matings. Only after demons tired of hunting them would they move on—and demons had not yet tired of the sport, although several hundred years of mortal time had already passed.
Time, too, remained a novelty. Inside its limitations, mortal women came and went. They grew old, became less appealing, and even the ones who were claimed were eventually discarded for others. They offered no permanence. No continuity.
The goddesses, then, forever remained the demons’ obsession. None of his kind would pass on an opportunity such as this to find the one destined to be his for all eternity. The one promised to him at creation. Hunters hunted. But the true objective was to retire from the chase.
He moved stealthily across the sand and through the long tangles of grass butting the oasis, his feet making no sound as he approached. Tumbles of dried brush littered the broken landscape and provided enough coverage so that he could watch for a few moments before confronting her.
She had come with a purpose in mind. Otherwise, she would not be here. He wanted to know what it was. If she thought a shallow pool of goddess rain could protect her from him, she was mistaken. No goddess would be able to resist him. Not in his territory. Not in his hunting grounds.
Not for long.
She would come to him. And when she did, if he decided he wanted her—that she was meant to be his—then he would claim her, and forever be free of this eternal and unrelenting compulsion to hunt for a mate.
He crouched to watch her swim beneath the moon and the stars, his body’s weight balanced over his heels.
She swam idly and with a languorous pleasure all the more erotic to him because he had not compelled it of her. The Demon Lord felt himself tighten. He had known that goddesses consorted with men in much the same way demons did with women. It was an immortal’s nature to seek out pleasure. But he was unused to seeing that nature demonstrated by females, and with such an innate sensuality as this. Although he had not yet seen her face, already he was fascinated by her.
He disliked the loss of control intimated by this fascination.
With brusque hands, he pushed the dried brush aside and got to his feet. He no longer tried to hide his presence from her, but allowed a faint light to glow from beneath his skin as he walked in the moonlight toward the water’s edge.
She saw him at once. The long, languid strokes of her slender golden arms through the water halted, and abruptly, she brought her feet beneath her. Only her head and shoulders remained exposed to him.
That was more than enough. He inhaled sharply in surprise at the beauty of her gleaming, perfect face. He did not doubt that the rest of her would be as perfect.
“Why are you here?” he demanded of her. It did not come out as the command he had intended. His voice sounded far gentler than it should when he was addressing a goddess.
“Privacy,” she said, and smiled at the perplexity that must have shown on his face. “None of my sisters come here. There are no mortals.” Her smile faltered, showing she was not as innocent as she pretended. “I hadn’t expected any demons this far from the boundaries, where there’s nothing to hunt.”