Authors: Loribelle Hunt
Kiss of Darkness
By Loribelle Hunt
Winter, a hybrid, has spent her life at war. A group of humans who are part demon, the hybrids, along with the lupines and nightwalkers, have dedicated their lives to defeating demons and protecting humanity. Yet, despite their united cause, the three groups share an uneasy alliance.
When hybrid military compounds come under attack from demon insurgents, Winter has no choice but to turn to the lupines and nightwalkers for assistance. It’s a partnership based on necessity and she has no intention of letting down her guard with either group.
Marcus, the nightwalker Lord, has other plans. The immediate attraction between him and Winter promises a passion he can’t ignore. To claim her as his own, he’ll not only have to fight the demons who seem hell-bent on destroying her, but her own misconceptions about him and the nightwalker race. It’s a battle he refuses to lose.
A new year always brings with it a sense of expectation and promise (and maybe a vague sense of guilt). Expectation because we don’t know what the year will bring exactly, but promise because we always hope it will be good things. The guilt is due to all of the New Year’s resolutions we make with such good intentions.
This year, Carina Press is making a New Year’s resolution we know we won’t have any reason to feel guilty about: we’re going to bring our readers a year of fantastic editorial and diverse genre content. So far, our plans for 2011 include staff and author appearances at reader-focused conferences such as the RT Booklovers Convention in April, where we’ll be offering up goodies, appearing on panels, giving workshops and hosting a few fun activities for readers. We’re also cooking up several genre-specific release weeks, during which we’ll highlight individual genres. So far we have plans for steampunk week and unusual fantasy week. Readers will have access to free reads, discounts, contests and more as part of our week-long promotions!
But even when we’re not doing special promotions, we’re still offering something special to our readers in the form of the stories authors are delivering to Carina Press that we’re passing on to you. From sweet romance to sexy, and military science fiction to fairy-tale fantasy, from mysteries to romantic suspense, we’re proud to be offering a wide variety of genres and tales of escapism to our customers in this new year. Every week is a new adventure, and we want to bring our readers along on the journey. Be daring, be brave and try something new with Carina Press in 2011!
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Executive Editor, Carina Press
Many people were instrumental in making this book happen. Those who read it and gave great advice that I can only hope to reciprocate at a future date are Georgia Woods, Dana Belfry, Dayna Hart, Crystal Jordan, Jennifer Leeland and my mother. My lovely editor Charlotte Herscher was instrumental in making it all come together. Lastly, I would be remiss if I did not also thank my husband and kids. They’ve done their own laundry, cooked their own dinner, and could maybe identify me in a lineup. Many thanks to you all.
1955, Somewhere in the Southeastern United States
When they took the blindfold off, she squinted in the sudden glare and looked around. This Hollywood B movie setting was where she was to join her soul with a demon’s? It looked more like an unfinished basement than a cave, large and mostly empty with moisture-slick walls, floors smooth under her bare feet, like poured concrete. Her thin robe didn’t do anything to protect her against the chilly air. It might look benign, but the place gave her a serious case of the creeps.
Fixtures with bare bulbs were bolted to the walls, exposed wire stringing from one to the other. The cave smelled musty from disuse and abandonment. Someone flipped a switch and some of the lights went off, dimming the cavern. That was more like it, but still nothing like what she’d expected. After all when you agreed to merge souls with a demon you expected shadows and fire and glowing red eyes.
She shivered, but it wasn’t from the temperature. Despite its ordinary appearance she swore she could feel the hundreds of feet of earth over her head pressing into her. The place felt menacing. Evil. And she didn’t have to guess why.
Her gaze fell on the big old-fashioned well in the center of the cavern. It was the source of unborn demon souls the Order used to merge with. She could just see over the rim into a black chasm. So black she swore she could feel the very devil coming from it. A shiver of panic rushed up her spine at the prospect of what lay ahead, but she pushed it into the deep recesses of her mind and reminded herself why she was here. The now familiar rage returned. She welcomed it, let it fill the empty places in her heart and soul.
The choice had been easy really. Demons killed her husband. If she hadn’t seen them with her own eyes she never would have believed they existed. He’d fought them long enough for her to escape, and his death left her with a bone-deep fury. She would do
for vengeance. These people had been tracking the demons. Instead they had found and protected her. Sheltered her. Shown her the path to retribution. Survival was just an added bonus. But more than that, she owed them her life and her sanity. It was a debt she would repay.
Others began to enter and take their places until finally, nine people circled her and started chanting in Latin. She hadn’t asked too many questions about the source of the ceremony. Sometime during the Crusades a desert mystic had passed on the knowledge to knights. They’d been using it to fight demons ever since. The words had been translated for her, but in this moment she couldn’t remember what they were. Something about sacrifice and endangering her soul and a vow to protect humanity. And then there was the second part. Calling the demon soul from that well. Drawing it with the scent of her blood to create the merge. The chorus of voices started low and built to a crescendo, ending in an abrupt spooky silence. Benjamin, their leader, lifted a black-handled dagger from the box at his feet and offered it to her on the palms of his hands.
“Do you willingly join your soul with the demon to fight the greater evil?” he asked.
In a surreal mockery of a marriage ceremony she made her response firm. “I do.”
Lifting the blade from his hands, she quickly slashed it along her left palm before fear could change her mind. The cut stung, but that small discomfort was nothing compared to the fire that seared through her veins as the demon made its presence known. The sensation was excruciating and she fell to her knees with a cry, biting her tongue hard enough to bleed to stop the sound from escaping her throat. If the screams started, she feared they’d never stop.
She’d been told to expect it.
The telling was nothing like the reality.
Her insides felt like they were boiling, her skin like it was melting off. She pried open her eyes, desperately afraid of what she might see but even more scared not to know. Everything was washed in a film of red. Her hands, the floor, the hems of the robes around her. After what could have been seconds or hours, the pain ebbed and she looked up to see the faces surrounding her, embarrassed to have shown such weakness in front of her new family. There was no censure on anyone’s face, however. She swallowed bile and blood, wiped the back of her hand across her mouth.
On trembling legs, she stood and watched as they removed the daggers from their own belts and approached her one by one. Benjamin drew the knife along his right hand until blood welled up and she did the same. He took her hand in a firm grasp. The line progressed until the process was repeated with each member present. Each bonded to the other by blood and purpose.
Once finished, the acrid tang of blood filled the air. Her new demon half sniffed at it, wanted to gorge on it. Acting on pure instinct, she forced it into an impregnable cage in her mind, a battle won after a bitter struggle and she imagined slamming iron doors shut on its scream of rage. This was definitely going to take some getting used to. When she was breathing normally again she lifted her head to see her new family stretched in a semicircle before her.
Benjamin stepped forward.
“Welcome to the Order of Templar,” he said.
The initiation was over. It was time to get to work.
Her favorite part of the day. That last peaceful bit of daylight before the bogeymen came out. Funny how the edge of the day had been awakening the memory of her merging ceremony so often of late. Or maybe it wasn’t.