Pleasure of a Dark Prince Read online

Page 4

direction, her pointed ears twitching.

  Without warning, she leapt up into a waterlogged oak, crouching there as she resumed her shooting stance, nocking another arrow. From a distance, her short bow was unassuming, a recurve bow with the ends arching away from her and a thickened grip in the middle. Typical, if old fashioned. But as he neared he could see there were etched gold markings in the polished black wood.

  Her weapon was as fine and proud as its owner obviously was. . . .

  She went motionless, aiming directly for the spot where he'd scented her prey. Did she plan to hit it through the earth?

  Aye, because in a reaper's voice, she whispered, "Underground won't save you. "

  Chapter 3

  I can hear its breath, muffled now. Lucia knew the kobold had gone underground, scurrying for its life. She'd trailed it here, easily reading the signs that all prey left behind.

  From this angle in the tree, she could shoot into the ground, piercing her arrow straight into the tunnel beneath. Her special arrow - it'd go in sleek and aerodynamic until contact, then it would release three razor-sharp barbs.

  Soon she'd report two confirmed kills back to Nucking Futs Nïx. Just as Lucia always did. And then what? Then I'll repeat days like this, over and over, until the Accession.

  When the nightmares came.

  For now, kill the kobold, go home.

  Yet for some reason, instead of focusing on her target, she recalled broad shoulders and lean cheeks, remembering how the Lykae had looked at her just before he'd been tackled. He'd stared, heaving breaths with that barrel chest, sweat trickling down his muscled torso. Until he'd gotten flattened by some of the biggest demons she'd ever seen.

  His interest had disconcerted her. In fact, all eyes had been on her - something that didn't often happen since Lucia usually had the brazen, showstopping Regin the Radiant to distract notice from her.

  But if anyone, including that male - who surely hadn't been reaching for her with that grubby paw - had gotten curious and actually followed her, she'd taken care to cover her tracks.

  Lucia shook her head hard, refocusing, inhaling a breath. Once she exhaled, she held herself motionless, sighting down the arrow's length. The ancient inscriptions on her bow seemed to glow. . . .

  She released the string. With a thunk, the arrow punctured the ground, boring deep, all the way to the kobold burrowed below. A muffled shriek sounded.

  Target hit. Even underground, she'd nailed it. Not surprising - she hadn't missed a shot in centuries. Skathi's essence literally worked like a charm.

  Lucia swung her bow back across her body, then leapt down to finish off her immortal prey with a swift beheading. It's hard being this good, she thought as she sauntered to the spot of contact. It's harder to act modest. She sighed. My cross to bear.

  Three tenets comprised the Skathian code: honesty, chastity, and humility. She managed honesty - mostly - and chastity totally. But she couldn't grasp the reasoning behind humility.

  When she neared, the creature scurried in the tunnel beneath her feet, making the arrow shaft dart frenziedly in the mucky ground, which amused her.

  This was her greatest pleasure - the hunt. When she was out like this, she felt less like an imposter, filled with shameful secrets. In these moments, she didn't feel as if her sins were stamped upon her like a scarlet letter for all to see.

  And she could briefly forget what would soon befall her in the approaching Accession.

  Shaking away that thought, she crouched to dig free her prey, hauling it out by the ankle in a rush of mud and roots. Still in cherubic form, the kobold squirmed frenetically, her arrow jutting from its throat.

  She dropped it to the ground and plucked free her arrow, taking half its neck with those barbs. The creature transformed, growing reptilian, with snakelike eyes and scaly skin. When it snapped its now elongated fangs at her, she turned the arrow lengthwise, pressing the shaft down over what was left of its neck.

  As blood sprayed up her arms, she grinned, relishing her job as enforcer of laws.

  Lucia had just beheaded the thing when her ears twitched with awareness yet again. Something's watching me. She leapt back to her feet, eyes darting. Something close.

  The male. She sensed it was him - but how had he gotten the drop on her?

  She peered into the shadows and almost gasped when golden eyes glowed back. "Why are you following me?" she demanded. On occasion, she acted as a negotiator between factions because she was so patient and levelheaded - or so everyone thought. Perhaps he sought her help to solve some grievance.

  The male stalked closer to her, ignoring the natural path, heading directly for her. A Lykae had made her the object of its interest. Never a good development.

  "How could I no' follow a lass as bonny as you?" he asked in a raspy brogue. The mud had washed clean, revealing the perfection of his still-bare chest and torso and all the strong planes of his face. His chin was stubborn with a hint of a cleft, his skin tan, with those faint laugh lines etched beside golden eyes. Rain spiked his lashes.

  His thick hair was wet and dark, whipping across his lean cheeks. She'd bet it'd be a rich brown when dry.

  His gaze met hers for long moments before he leisurely took in every feature of her face. The way he looked at her was consuming, savoring - as if she were the most beautiful creature on earth and he'd been starved for the sight of her.

  She frowned as a sense of awareness seemed to tingle through her every nerve.

  When his gaze dipped to her body, he raised a shaking hand to run over his mouth, clearly liking what he saw.

  What's not to like - No! Act reasonable and serious. Above all things be rational. "Who are you?"

  "I'm Garreth MacRieve of the Lykae clan. " He drew nearer and she sidled back. They began circling each other. "Never seen anyone shoot like you. "

  That truly never got old. "Because no one can," she answered matter-of-factly.

  Had the corner of his lips briefly curled? "What devil did you make a deal with to shoot like that?"

  She almost sighed. Devil? I did something entirely different with him. She stifled the memories that had begun to surface more and more often.

  "Mayhap your bow's enchanted?"

  "My bow's not enchanted - merely unequaled. " For over a thousand years, it'd held fast, as perfectly honed today as it'd been the night of Lucia's transformation. The black ash wood was polished to a sheen and carved with elaborate inscriptions. In a long-dead language, it was written that Lucia was a servant to the goddess Skathi. Forever. "You don't think mine could be a natural" - goddess-given - "talent?"

  "Aye. But to marry talent and beauty such as yours as well? Hardly sporting to other lasses. "