Pleasure of a Dark Prince Read online

Page 3

blow the male gave - and took - and with each of his growled threats and taunts, it burned hotter. Her breaths shallowed and her small claws went from straight to curling, aching to clutch a warm body to her own.

  But when she remembered the last time she'd felt like this, a chill swept over her. She dragged her gaze from his antics and surveyed the nymphs frolicking on the sidelines. Lucia had once been like them - hedonistic, serving no higher purpose.

  Am I still to be like them? No, she was disciplined now; she had a code. I'm a Skathian - by right of pain and the blood I've spilled.

  With a hard shake of her head, she forced herself to focus on her mission - dispatching the kobolds. To the naked eye, they appeared cherubic, but they were actually ground dwellers with reptilian features. And when their populations went unchecked they tended to snatch human young, which jeopardized all of Lorekind.

  The pair had split up, one of them fleeing deeper into the swamps, while the other hid behind the wall of nymph spectators, assuming itself safe in this crowd.

  Lucia absently fingered the flights of the barbed arrows strapped to her thigh and savored the comforting weight of her bow over her shoulder.

  Her prey assumed wrong. The Archer never missed.

  Chapter 2

  Garreth swiftly broke away from the pack of demons at his heels, gaining more and more ground toward the goal. Rain pelted him as his speed increased.

  This would be an easy score, taking him nearly the entire length of the field. Finally the demons pursuing him gave up, slowing one by one, hailing curses.

  Yet then, in the most bewildering moment of his life, Garreth's lids grew heavy and his dark claws bit into the ball he carried, puncturing it. As he inhaled deeply, he isolated a new, exquisite scent from a thousand threads of them - the coppery smell of lightning, cut blades of grass, the swampy bayous all around them. Sensations overwhelmed him, racking his muscles as he slowed.

  Her. My mate. She's near. . . . She was downwind but close enough that he detected her. He didn't know what she looked like, what her name was, or even her species. Yet he'd been waiting a millennium - his entire existence - for her. His head swung around in the direction of the scent.

  A small female stood alone off to the side of the field.

  At his first sight of her, his breath was lost, his Lykae Instinct roaring to life within him.

  - Yours. Take her. -

  She was half a mile or so away, but he saw her clearly through the rain, could make out every detail. She had pouting pink lips and flashing amber eyes. A black bow was strapped over her petite body, and she'd tied a leather quiver full of arrows to her thigh. Wee pointed ears poked out through her mane of long, wet hair. Yes, mine.

  Gods, she was as exquisite as her scent -

  Wham! The demons tackled him with the force of a freight train, flattening him on the field, piling on top of him. His left shoulder popped from its joint. A knee to his jaw wrenched three back teeth loose. He growled, not with pain but with frustration, punching the still-hitting demons with his one good arm. As he battled to free himself, he sucked his teeth into his windpipe.

  The twins ran to help him, finally peeling the demons off him. Garreth struggled to his knees, futilely coughing, hacking as he watched the strange female.

  Suddenly, in a laserlike movement, she readied her bow, nocked three arrows from her quiver, and drew the bowstring to her cheek. What the hell? Everything happening so fast. . . Aiming for the nymphs? No, not them. A kobold cowering among them. Never hit it from so far away.

  She was poised, motionless, for a shot. Though rain and wind whipped her hair over her cheek, she never blinked, never took her eye from her target even after she released that bowstring.

  The arrows flew between two nymphs and sliced through the kobold's neck, severing its head from its miniature body. A fantastical shot. Yet she appeared bored with the result.

  Heaving, choking, Garreth saw her casually wend her way through the stunned nymphs. Once she reached the two pieces of kobold, the archeress chucked them into the nearby swamp.

  She replaced the bow over her body, then strolled back in the direction she'd come from. When she realized all attention was on her, she slowed. "Oh. " She gave them a Queen Elizabeth wave and said, "Play on. "

  As he wheezed and his cousins whaled hits on his back like anvil blows, she met Garreth's gaze. He reached a muddy hand toward her, but she frowned with disdain, then disappeared into the brush. Finally Uilleam kicked Garreth in the back, and his back teeth flew from his windpipe like Chiclets.

  "What in the hell's the matter with you?" Munro demanded.

  Between labored breaths, Garreth clambered to his feet. He'd been told what to expect when finding his mate, but never had he imagined the strength of his reaction. "It's. . . happened. "

  They knew immediately what he spoke of. Munro looked incredulous; Uilleam, jealous. How long had they both been waiting?

  "The archer?" Uilleam asked. "Never seen anyone shoot like that. But she looked like she might be. . . a Valkyrie. "

  Munro swore under his breath, "Bluidy bad luck. "

  "Just force my shoulder back in place! Be quick, man!" Naturally, the first time Garreth encountered his mate - the one he'd awaited so long - she'd seen him calling his competitors pussies and playing by dirty rules. He was shirtless, well on his way to being drunk, and filthy with blood and mud. He wasn't even wearing shoes.

  And it probably appeared as if he'd been about to take part in an orgy.

  "You tell no one of this," Garreth grated.

  "Why the hell no'?" Munro gave a hard yank on Garreth's arm.

  "Whatever she may be, she's other," he said. "And she's to be the Lykae queen? No one knows, not until she's marked and mated. Vow it!"

  "Aye, then, we vow it," Uilleam said.

  The second they popped his shoulder back in, he took off at a sprint. - Track her. Claim. - With his Instinct louder and sharper than it'd ever been, he ran headlong through the rain.

  He'd just been despairing over another year without his older brother, another year of royal responsibilities that he'd never thought would fall to him. On this day, the fates still refused to surrender Lachlain. But they'd given Garreth his mate in that ethereal creature.

  As he charged forward, excitement welled within him, followed by overwhelming relief. With the way the rain had been pouring earlier, he could've missed her scent. Now he was on her trail.

  Yet at the line of moss-curtained cypresses - the entrance to the most remote section of the swamp - he slowed. Somehow her scent was emanating from four different directions. He decided on one to follow, then raced through the brush, hurdling streams and bogs.

  When he reached the source of the scent and there was no sign of her, he turned in place. Then gazed up to find one of her arrows lodged in a tree, so deep only the flights showed. And to those, she'd tied little bits of her T-shirt. Clever girl. She'd used her arrows to obscure her trail.

  But he would follow each to the end, tracking her for as long as it took. She'd been born for him. And I was born to find her. . . .

  Terrain passed beneath his feet for half an hour before he located her true trail. With the innate stealth of his kind, he prowled closer, hunting this huntress in the now drizzling rain.

  The swamp made it easy for him to approach her undetected. There were a thousand shadows to conceal him, with animals constantly creeping about to distract her.

  Once he spied her again, he just stopped himself from sucking in a breath. Up close, she was even lovelier than he'd thought her. She had to be a Valkyrie, one among a species of women both notoriously beautiful. . . and notoriously fierce.

  Her features were stunning - high, bold cheekbones, plump lips, and a slim, pixie nose - but her coloring made her beyond compare. Her skin was golden and smooth, her eyes the color of Scots whiskey.

  She was of middling height and c