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Authors: Lauren Hawkeye

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Then she was on her back on the floor, the wind knocked out of
her, stars dancing in a multicolored conga above her head. As she wheezed,
trying to kick her way up off of the ground, she saw a stream of blond hair
waving in a sudden breeze as her target ran away at full vamp speed. Pressing a
hand to her head in an attempt to stop the throbbing, she tried to get her
leaden limbs to cooperate, but they wouldn’t listen to the signals that her
brain was screaming at them.

Whatever had hit her, it had hit her
hard
. She might be inexperienced, but she was strong—one of the
strongest Amazons in the compound. She had also been trained by the best, and
she was certain that she would have seen this vamp moving toward her if he
hadn’t had some unknown trick up his sleeve.

Blinking, she willed her eyes back into focus. As she did, a
heavy weight settled itself over her body, straddling her hips, pressing her own
blade to her cheek. Above her was a face, a face made up of lean planes and
interesting angles, topped with a wealth of tawny hair.

“You will stay away from the Darkling.” The voice of the man
whose identity she still didn’t know was low and rough, layered sexily with the
accent of her homeland. He looked her over intently, the beam of his charcoal
eyes studying her until she felt naked beneath him.

“Why did you stop me?” It was hard to speak with the blade
pressed against her cheek, but after assessing the situation, she had decided
that she was in no real danger. If he had truly wanted to kill her, then he
would have done so already. If he had wanted to feed from her, he would have
done that, too. “She is a rogue. This is the law.”

The heavily muscled man didn’t reply.


How
did you stop me?” Anastasia
wasn’t done talking. “I should have seen you.”

Slowly the blade was drawn away from her cheek, then thrown
across the floor, where she couldn’t reach it. As she was cursing the loss of
her weapon of choice, the man slowly leaned down and licked the thin line of
blood that had welled out of the shallow cut.

The slow, deliberate movement told Anastasia that he was merely
asserting his control. Instead of angering her—she was a Carpathian Amazon,
after all, and would not be dominated—she found herself intrigued at the feel of
his tongue on her skin.

“What are you?” The man leaned over, bracing an arm on either
side of her shoulders.

She had nowhere to run, but she wasn’t the kind of woman to
give in that easily.

“I’ll answer your question if you answer mine.” A hint of a
smile crossed the vamp’s lips as she spoke and after a moment of consideration
he nodded once in agreement.

“Some Darklings possess unique powers. I can wrap myself in
shadows, can hide in thin air.”

Anastasia’s mouth fell open a bit at the admission.

Yes, she was in
way
over her
head.

“I am a Carpathian Amazon. Sworn ally to the Darklings.” It was
her turn…and maybe he truly had no idea who he was messing with. “You’ve just
fucked up my mission from the Karpaty Council. So I guess the question is, who
the hell are
you?”

The man actually chuckled. He actually laughed at her! Angry
now, Anastasia squirmed beneath him, trying to free herself, but only succeeding
in making herself aware of the rock-hard muscles that were hidden beneath his
black-as-night shirt and pants.

“You think this is funny? That woman is a rogue Darkling, a
creature my people are sworn to hunt.” The man chuckled again, and Anastasia
shoved at his chest.

Strong as she was, he was stronger.

She didn’t like it.

“You are small for an Amazon.” Settling his weight more heavily
on her, as if experimenting with the pressure, she felt the jut of his hipbones
press against the curve of her belly.

She also felt the ridge of an unmistakeable erection, one that
startled her and at the same time made something hot sizzle through her
blood.

To distract herself, she dignified his rude comment with a
response.

“To be an Amazon is a state of being, you rube. It has nothing
to do with size.” The man laughed harder, and Anastasia bucked her body up,
trying to free herself. She must have made herself at least a bit of a nuisance,
because the man placed a hand flat on her chest, in the hollow between her
breasts, and pushed her flat onto her back. He held her there until she stilled,
glaring up at him.

“I am Jasper Nagorsky. I, too, am here for the Council. I will
let you fulfill your mission, little Amazon. Just as soon as I fill mine.” With
that he lowered his head, letting his lips drift over hers.

Stunned by the movement, Anastasia let Jasper’s lips brush over
hers softly but not at all gently. In the back of her mind she knew that he was
branding her, claiming her, marking his triumph over her and that the kiss had
nothing to do with attraction. Problem was, something deep in her belly
responded and had her hungering to return the kiss.

Just before she lost control she remembered who she was. Why
she was there. Bracing her hands again on his chest, she shoved as hard as she
could, putting every ounce of her strength into the movement. She saw surprise
flicker through his eyes quickly at the force behind her shove, then he settled
back on his heels, still straddling her body.

She wished that that kiss had never happened, because now she
was painfully aware of the press of his muscular thighs on either side of her
hips.

Trying to look as dangerous as she could while propping herself
up on her elbows, she nearly spat her words at him, all the while thinking
frantically of what she could use as a weapon.

“You will not
let
me do anything.”
She had two weapons at hand: her body, which the thick length jutting against
his pants told her he wasn’t immune to, and the metal bobby pins in her hair.
Even though heat from the physical contact with this big, raw male suffused her
body, she envisioned stabbing one of those pins into his chest, pointy end
first.

Not proud of what she was about to, Anastasia let her torso
fall back, even arching her back the slightest bit, displaying her breasts in
her tight black T-shirt like an offering. This was kill or be killed, after all.
Lesson number one.

Jasper’s eyes followed the movement, if warily. Slicking her
hands up the sides of her body, she ran them through her hair, dislodging two
pins at the same time.

When his eyes darkened with arousal, when he again bent his
head, she jabbed the pins into his neck, one on either side. He howled like a
wild animal as the sharp metal pierced his flesh, and while she had the
momentum, Anastasia flipped him over onto his back, letting her own thighs
squeeze tightly and hold him down.

The flip had brought her tantalizingly close to her knife. She
just needed an inch…just an inch…

Impossibly strong hands grasped her hips, pulled her down,
scraping her over hard flesh. Anastasia looked down, her own bottle-green eyes
meeting angry gray, and she swallowed thickly.

Her
nastavnyk
had never taught her
what to do with two hundred plus pounds of enraged, aroused Darkling.

A hand loosened its grip on her hips, reached up to cup her
around the back of her neck and pulled her down. Hot breath warmed her ear and
the whisper that followed tickled her skin.

“You are out of options, little Amazon.”

 

Chapter Two

Jasper was confused, though he knew that he hid it
well. He had assumed that the Amazon had blundered her capture of the rogue
Darkling in an attempt to show him her true desires. Though he knew that
interpersonal skills were not his strongest point, he wondered how he could have
so badly bungled this. While he could feels sparks of arousal shooting off her
skin, he was becoming very aware that none of this situation had been
planned.

She was far, far too angry for that.

Now he had two handfuls of spitting mad Carpathian Amazon
straddling him, her core open and heating his already painful erection. Ever
with her ire up, her heartbeat was slower than normal for a human—there was some
kind of supernatural in her, of this he was certain.

That would explain why she had been sent for this particular
mission, when she was clearly not experienced or even that disciplined.

What he could not explain was this attraction that he felt.
Something about her teased at the edges of his memory, connecting her to someone
else that he had long worked to forget, but this…this was stronger. More vital.
It had nothing to do with the bloodlust—he was not hungry, although to him, her
blood smelled like ripe fruit and honey gone warm in the sun. He was too old to
give in to base urges like biting just to taste, so he should have been too old,
as well, to want to strip her down to her skin, to bury himself in her tight
little body.

It seemed that he was not.

“You had best go, little Amazon.” Abruptly he released her,
slipped out from beneath her hips with vampire speed. Now standing across the
room from her, he ran his fingers through his thick, tousled hair as he studied
her intently one last time, filing every detail into his memory. “You do not
know what you are playing with.”

After allowing her mouth to fall open for a split second, the
Amazon hissed—actually hissed at him—and followed him across the room. “My name
is Anastasia, you ignorant ass, and I know exactly what I am playing with. Do
you not know who the Amazons are?”

She slapped a hand on his upper arm, digging her fingers in,
and Jasper lost control, both of his temper and his arousal. With his hands
clasped at her waist, he lifted her up and carried her to the table that sat a
scant few strides away. And with one sweep of his arm he cleared it of the
heavily scented candles and richly colored crystals that it had held. As the
objects crashed to the floor, he laid Anastasia on the table, wrapping her legs
around his waist.

Though she pushed at him again, he sensed that her heart was
not truly in the movement. Clasping one wrist in each of his hands, he took her
mouth in a kiss that tasted to him of rage and of acceptance, of hatred and
desire. He let his tongue sweep her mouth, let his fangs—now fully descended—nip
at her lips, though not hard enough to draw blood. It was a kiss full of
wanting, a wanting he hadn’t felt for years.

She cursed into his open mouth, then ground her hips upward
against his own. He swallowed her small cry when his cock rubbed insistently
against her cleft, and when she tugged to release one of her hands, he let it
go. She worked the hand between their bodies, dipped it just beneath the
waistband of his pants, where it circled the silky head of his shaft.

Releasing her other hand, he filled both of his with her
breasts. She moaned and kissed her way wetly to his ear, which she nipped. He
turned his head to give her better access to the tender flesh, and as he did,
his razor-sharp sight zeroed in on the silver of her blade, glinting in the
fading afternoon sunlight from where it lay abandoned on the floor.

What was he doing? He was a Darkling, a soldier. She was a
Carpathian Amazon. Though each knew of the other’s existence, they never
mingled, not like this. It was for the good of the species, something that had
been ingrained in him for decades, and for good reason. He had a job to do here,
and instead of following hot on the tail of Aubrey Hart and her Witchling, he
was tangling with this woman who had the potential to mess up everything.

He had broken this rule once before. The Council had allowed
him to live because he had tried to rectify the mistake as soon as he could, but
he had no illusions that they would do so a second time.

Closing his eyes in acceptance, Jasper reached into his back
pocket, withdrawing the handcuffs that the Karpaty had given him. They were
specially made, forged from titanium rather than silver or iron—ones that would
not harm his skin.

Before Anastasia’s mouth had even left his own, he had her
wrist circled with the cuff, and its twin attached to the iron table leg. The
table was bolted to the floor—perhaps Madame Esme had seen more supernatural
tussles in here than he’d imagined—and Jasper knew that Anastasia wouldn’t be
able to get free.

At least, not until after he had learned what he could about
Gavin Thibodeau, the Witchling. Not until he was on a flight back to Lviv, back
to his life, in which he gathered intel, nothing more, nothing less.

He knew that, though the Amazons lived somewhere near the
Coucil’s headquarters—his home—they rarely ventured out of their compound. The
chances that he would again see this tantalizing and infuriating creature were
next to none.

“What…” Slowly, as if his kisses had drugged her, Anastasia sat
up on the table, pulling short when her shackled arm would go no farther.
Narrowing her eyes in his direction as he inhaled deeply, more to burn her scent
into memory than for any other reason, she nearly spat at him when she realized
what had happened.

“Bastard.” It wasn’t the worst word that she could have called
him, but the tone beneath the two syllables made him wince. He wanted to
apologize, and
that
made him want to run.

There was something about this mysterious, somewhat clumsy
Amazon that could be very, very dangerous to him.

“I’ll send someone when I’m done. Then you can fulfill your own
mission.” He started for the door, feeling terrible but knowing that he was
doing what he had to do, when he was pulled up short by a small, choked cry-one
that would be inaudible to the ears of a human.

Slowly, feeling as if he would regret it, he turned around.
Anastasia was kneeling on the table, defiance in her eyes, but he knew what he
had heard.

“You’re going to just leave me here, alone and unarmed?” He
sensed rather than saw fear skitter through eyes, though she very nearly
succeeded in burying it under bravado.

Slowly, because he now had a healthy respect for what this
woman could do—was doing—to him, he crossed the room and picked up her blade. It
burned his fingers, and he quickly moved his grip to the hilt, which was made
not of the same silver as the blade, but from what looked to be carved onyx. His
fingers played over the characters, Ukrainian ones, and he allowed his mouth to
quirk up in the slightest ghost of a smile as he made out what they spelled.

Huntress.
Yes, this woman was
dangerous, all right, just not in the way that she thought. With his cock still
aching, and his fangs beginning to tingle in the start of what he knew to be
hunger, he crossed back to the front door of the magic store. He turned to toss
the blade to her just before he wrapped himself in shadows and exited, not
willing to risk discovering if she was versed in knife throwing or not. But her
curses followed him into the cloudless twilight, and the smell of syrupy sweet,
delicious fruit remained in his nose. Part of him wanted to chuckle again, but
he quashed it. The other half—the sensible half—urged him to put distance
between himself and the siren with the bad attitude and delectable mouth.

There was no place in the world for dalliances between
Darklings and humans-even ones who were possible not entirely
human
. If something in that knowledge made him ache,
well, he would soon forget, he was sure. Years earlier he had made a vow to
never again touch a human…and least not in that way…and he would continue that
way for centuries more, or face death. Yes, he would soon forget about the
pretty pink flush of Anastasia’s blood in her throat as arousal came over her,
of the fire in her eyes when she cursed at him.

He would do his job, he would go home, or move on to the next
assignment.

It was better that way. Better for everyone.

* * *

Anger gave Anastasia a strength that she hadn’t known
she had. The titanium of the handcuffs had proven too resilient for her attempts
to dislodge it, and besides, there was no point in battering her wrist
needlessly when she would need it to kill. The iron that bolted the table to the
floor, however, had finally come free when she’d really put her back into
it.

She’d wondered at that briefly before shaking it off and
heading out into the night to track down her target. Oh, she knew that she still
had a responsibility to take out Aubrey Hart, but that would now wait until
she’d taken care of a certain Jasper Nagorsky.

She knew exactly where he was heading…it was where she would
go, too. She was
good
at what she did, damn it, no
matter how badly she’d bungled this mission.

She laid the blame for that squarely on Jasper Nagorsky’s
gorgeous head. He had no idea who he was dealing with, none at all. Amazons
hunted down the worst of the worst and ate them for breakfast. Jasper had no
hope.

Okay, well, Amazons didn’t exactly eat anyone for breakfast,
rogue Darklings or not. But the Carpathian Amazons had sworn a blood allegiance
to the Karpaty Council centuries ago. Her sisters-in-arms trained from the
moment that they could fist a weapon, their purpose to rid the world of vampires
gone bad.

She had a responsibility to hold up this legacy. That she had
messed up so badly mortified her.

She had to make it right.

Anastasia had checked out the setup outside of Aubrey Hart’s
apartment building, and the hospital as well, before she had settled on her
stakeout at the magic store. She approached the building slowly, knowing that as
soon as she got close, Jasper would hear her heartbeat. She wouldn’t be able to
completely surprise him with her arrival, but hopefully he would be startled
enough by the fact that she had escaped to give her a bit of an edge.

At least it meant that she didn’t have to hide. She scanned the
parking lot for a sign of the Darkling and saw nothing. Though she had always
had good eyesight—for a human, at least—she squinted against the blueberry
twilight and finally had to admit to herself that if Jasper didn’t want to be
found, she wouldn’t find him.

Not only did he have Darkling strength and speed in his
arsenal, but he could wrap himself in shadows. It seemed an unfair advantage,
but it was one that she’d been aware of her entire life.

She wasn’t about to give up that easily. A combination of fury
and guilt still fizzled throughout her body,and she wasn’t going to let these
feelings go unresolved.

If she were to hide here, where would she do it? Letting her
eyes roam the lot, Anastasia scanned the clumps of barren trees that edged the
forest, the dumpsters and recycling bins, the piles of junk—it wasn’t the nicest
part of town—and finally came to rest on a small swell of frost-bitten grass in
a small thatch of pines.

If a person laid down flat in the grass, they could watch
without being seen, shadowed by the conifers overhead.

She started to tiptoe around the edge of the asphalt, then
reminded herself that her heartbeat would be clearly audible to vampire
ears.

If he was here, then he would know that she was, too.

Inhaling deeply, she stepped out into the middle of the parking
lot, her rubber-soled boots quiet on the pavement. The lot was half-full of
debris as well as vehicles, most of which had seen better days, but she still
managed to walk a fairly straight path to the knoll on the far side of the
lot.

When she stepped from the concrete to the grass, the frosted
tips crunched underfoot, releasing their spicy scent into the air. She stopped,
her fingers clasped on the hilt of her knife, and held her breath until she felt
dizzy.

The face that she had been looking for appeared in the branches
of the verdant tree, so quickly that she almost would have believed that he had
materialized just at that moment.

Oh, wait. It probably had.

Still, Darklings were not infallible as a species. They could
be killed.

“You escaped.” Jasper’s voice held no surprise—he was simply
stating fact. Anastasia was infuriated at his lack of ire, until she got close
enough to see the surprise flickering through the stormy depths.

She
had
surprised him. The moment
she understood that, she wished that she hadn’t. It took the edge off of her
anger, and she couldn’t have that.

She had to kill him. He would never let her fulfill her mission
otherwise. She would be justified in doing so—he was interfering in Council
business, which made him a rogue himself.

Worrying her lower lip between her teeth, she forced herself to
walk slowly, calmly, until she stood over him, his long, hard body curled into a
crouch. She narrowed her eyes when she thought of how uncomfortable she’d been
in that same position earlier.

The bastard looked like he could stay that way all damn day.
And his arrogance angered her—if he’d truly wanted to hide from her, he would
have.

He wasn’t afraid of her, and she deeply resented it.

Looking down at his sculpted face, she raised her knife, held
it high. “I have to do this.” She hoped that he couldn’t hear what she could in
her words, the feeling that while she had to complete her mission, she didn’t
want to, not at all.

No, what she
wanted
to do was to
drop down on her knees beside him, to feel his lips against her again. She
wanted to run her hands over his shoulders, wanted to nip at that cord in his
neck.

BOOK: The Darkling's Desire
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