Kiss of Darkness

Kiss of Darkness, #2 of the Dragon Legion Novellas in the Dragonfire series of paranormal romances by Deborah CookeDamien, the Heartbreaker of the dragon warriors called the Pyr, can’t forget Petra, the only woman who could both captivate him and destroy him. He’s haunted by their firestorm, the prophecy that compelled him to leave her—and her subsequent death. When the darkfire crystal takes the Dragon Legion to the underworld, Damien seizes the chance to save his son. To his surprise he finds Petra just as enticing as ever…and still pregnant. When his kiss makes their baby stir to life again, they both hope for a different future. Can they learn from the past and trust each other? Even if they solve the riddle of the prophecy, will they be able to escape the underworld, save their son and claim the promise of the firestorm?

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An excerpt from Kiss of Darkness:

When the light of the darkfire crystal faded and its wind had stilled, Drake and his men found themselves in a sunny but empty plaza. It was early in the morning, dew fresh on the flowers in the heavy planters that were scattered across the space. One man watered the flowers, starting when he turned to find eight men had silently arrived in the space. A large fountain was in the middle of the square, water splashing from it and sparkling in the sunshine. There were buildings around the square, their windows shuttered or dark.

They had manifested in the shadows near what was clearly a restaurant. It was closed now, but the tables and chairs were still set up under awnings on its patio. The company of warriors pulled together a pair of tables and sat down together, flicking anxious glances around themselves.

Damien knew he wasn’t the only one who was hungry and exhausted. He guessed they were in southern Europe, maybe back in the twenty-first century again. He’d know better when the women appeared, by the style of their clothes.

Drake, their leader, had immediately counted their dwindling company. Damien had noticed that Aeson was gone. They were down to eight survivors: Drake and Damien, Thad and Ty, Peter and Ashe, Orion and Ignatio.

Drake scanned the plaza with unfounded optimism, then his lips tightened. He looked down at the large quartz crystal in his hand, and Damien was relieved that the light within it had dimmed.

For the moment. The darkfire crystal seemed intent on flinging them across the universe. Repeatedly and without warning.

“Aeson,” Ty said, defeat in his tone.

“One more lost,” Peter said with a grim satisfaction. He was always looking for the dark clouds on the horizon. “Besides Alexander, that is.” He glared at Drake. “You shouldn’t have let him go.”

“I have no wish to deny a man his greatest desire,” Drake said, his tone as tired as Damien felt. He held up the dark crystal, then closed his hand over it. “I wish it hadn’t lit so soon. I wish we could have waited for him.” He passed a hand over his forehead, and Damien saw how much this ordeal was costing their usually stalwart leader.

“He chose to look for Katina,” Ashe said to Peter, his tone defensive. “It’s our responsibility to defend our mates after we’ve had a firestorm. Alexander did what was right.”

“He ran to her,” Ty added. “Making sure the crystal left him behind.”

“Well, I hope she was there,” Ashe said, practical as ever. Drake cleared his throat but the younger man glanced up. “Well, I do! It would be terrible if he’d taken that chance only to find her gone.”

“Married,” Iggy added.

“Ancient,” added Peter. “There was no telling how much time had passed for her.”

“Or dead,” Damien felt obliged to add. “Alexander might have ended up alone.”

A shudder rolled through the group of men, as their worst fear was expressed aloud.

“That would suit you,” Iggy said to Damien, obviously trying to lighten the mood of his fellows. “Love them and leave them, that’s our Damien. Mr. Heartbreaker.”

Damien smiled at their teasing.

“Do you even have a heart?” Ty joked. He and Iggy as the youngest of the group were most envious of Damien’s sexual success. They wouldn’t have been envious of Damien’s experience, that was for sure, but he was never going to confide that story in them. “I remember that one in Paris.” Ty whistled through his teeth and Iggy grinned. “She could have had my heart and soul just for the asking, but not Damien.”

“He takes what they offer and leaves them behind,” Iggy concluded.

“And we’ll refrain from commentary on how that serves the good of mankind,” Peter muttered.

“They’re happy for a little bit,” Damien said, refusing to be defensive. “It’s not like I trick them. They know what they’re getting.” He spread his hands, as if he himself were enough of a gift.

Ashe rolled his eyes and Drake pretended not to have heard. Ty and Iggy laughed. Peter snorted with a disgust that had more to do with his lack of success with women than Damien’s luck.

A pair of older women came into the square at the opposite end, unlocking a door and moving inside. Mid to late twentieth-century, Damien guessed, by the cut of their clothing.

Then he smelled the coffee they had started to make. His stomach growled audibly.

“It’s a bakery,” Ashe whispered. “Get ready for temptation when they get that oven going.”

There was an almost-silent groan from the men. “If we’re still here, we’ll go see if we can buy something,” Drake said.

“Or make a deal.” Iggy nudged Damien. “If our money’s no good, maybe Mr. Charm can get us some breakfast.” Damien smiled as Iggy and Ty began to needle him, speculating on how he could obtain breakfast for eight hungry warriors for free.

“By Zeus, maybe that’s the point,” Thad said suddenly, interrupting the conversation. The others turned to look at him. “What if the darkfire crystal isn’t as unpredictable as we think? What if it’s got a plan to fulfill?”

“Such as?” Peter demanded. “What possible reason could be behind this insanity? Every time it flashes, we get picked up and flung down somewhere else. We don’t know where we are…”

“We don’t know when we are,” Ashe interjected.

“I’d say Italy, roughly 1972,” Damien murmured.

Drake peered at a church tower and shrugged. “Rome,” he said flatly.

Peter flicked a look at the pair of them that spoke volumes, then shoved a hand through his silvered hair. “We can’t eat, we can’t sleep, we don’t dare wander away from Drake and the stupid crystal in case it lights when we’re too far away and we get left behind. What kind of plan could there possibly be?”

Thad looked untroubled by the older man’s scathing tone. “Maybe it’s not an accident. Maybe the crystal is returning each of us to the place we belong. Scattering us like salt through the ages.”

“But how would it know?” Peter demanded.

“The firestorm,” Drake murmured, and the other men looked at him.

Orion frowned. “You mean that the darkfire crystal took us to Alexander’s village, precisely so he could be reunited with Katina?”

Thad nodded with enthusiasm. “It makes sense! Darkfire doesn’t have to be irrational. It’s disruptive and it’s unpredictable, if you don’t understand what it’s doing or why, but mostly, I think it makes unlikely things happen.” He nodded at the others. “And it’s linked to us. It’s a force associated with the Pyr. Why wouldn’t it enable the firestorm?”

“So, it sent Alexander back in time more than two thousand years to be with his wife and son,” Ashe said thoughtfully.

“So he could keep his duty to defend his mate and son,” Iggy agreed. “Makes sense to me.”

“If they’re there,” Peter said. “If she still wants him.”

Another beat of silence passed. “That’s all well and good,” Orion said, pacing around the group with his usual impatience. “But what can we do? How can we guide it? How can we guess where we are and why, or control where we go next?”

“Who else has had a firestorm?” Ty asked. “If Thad is right, the crystal will take us back to the mate.”

Excitement now passed through the small company, along with a sense of possibility that Damien didn’t share. He knew that Petra was dead. If Thad was right, he was going to end up alone with the crystal, which wasn’t an enticing possibility.

The more implausible possibility was even less enticing. Damien shivered.

“I left a wife and son,” Drake admitted, his words soft. “Theo was a little older than Alexander’s son and Cassandra…” His voice faded and he stared into the distance.

“I don’t think you should tease yourselves,” Damien interjected, knowing he had to say something.

“Why not?” Iggy demanded.

“It’s better than doing nothing,” Orion said.

“Because now one of you is thinking that your destined mate must be here,” Damien said, his tone harder than usual. “And each of you who hasn’t had a firestorm is going to want to break rank, no matter where we end up. You don’t know what the darkfire crystal is planning, if it’s planning anything. You could end up doing something stupid.”

Peter gave him a hard look. “Did you have a firestorm?”

“Yes,” Damien admitted, noting their surprise. “And no power is ever going to take us to where she is.”

Ty nudged Iggy. “We’re right. He doesn’t have a heart because he already gave it away.”

“You don’t know anything about it!” Damien snapped, and the rare glimpse of his temper silenced the two of them.

Orion caught his breath suddenly, drawing the attention of his fellows. He lifted his hand and his eyes widened as fire began to glow around his fingertips. The flames grew, becoming a dancing halo of flame.

“Great Wyvern,” Orion whispered in awe. “So this is what it feels like.”

Damien got to his feet, knowing what he was witnessing. Sure enough, a woman had come into the square and was knocking on the door that the older women had unlocked. Her hair was dark and long, and he guessed she was in her mid-twenties. Her shoes were flat and her skirt short, her legs perfect.

A spark exploded from Orion’s fingertip and arched through the air toward her. An answering spark rose from the woman, and the two sparks collided in a brilliant burst of yellow light over top of the fountain.

She turned to look, her eyes wide with astonishment.

“She’s the one,” Orion said and began to march across the square. Damien watched with mixed feelings: he was glad that his friend was experiencing his firestorm, but hoped Orion’s ended better than his own firestorm had.

Even given his experience, though, Damien wouldn’t have missed his firestorm—and knowing Petra—for the world.

“You were right,” Iggy whispered to Thad, whose mouth was open in surprise.

“Not again,” Drake muttered.

Damien turned to see the blue-green light beginning to pulse in the center of the darkfire crystal.

“Run!” Ty shouted and Orion did, bolting across the square, drawn to the woman who could bear his son by the heat of the firestorm. Damien saw her smile at Orion, then the darkfire became a blindingly brilliant flash.

Once again, they were tossed through the air and lashed by a vicious wind. Finally, Damien was cast to the ground and grunted at the force of the impact.

The darkfire faded to nothing, leaving the air as dark as pitch. It was still, wherever he had landed, and it was cold.

As cold as the grave.

Damien got to his feet, sure that his guess had to be wrong. His heart was pounding, even as he saw the deadened trees, the starless sky, the inky black river that separated them from a land filled with shadows. His heart felt heavy in this place, burdened by sorrow as it seldom was, even though his fellow warriors still surrounded him.

Petra had to be here.

Damien knew he’d made the right choice in leaving her, knew there was no point in dwelling on the past, knew there certainly was no chance of changing what he’d done. There had been the prophecy. It had all been so clear.

Why had the darkfire brought him here? He and Petra had no future… Damien had no sooner wondered than the answer became clear to him. The darkfire was giving him a chance to save his son.

It made perfect sense. It wasn’t their son’s fault that he and Petra hadn’t remained together. His son was Pyr, like Damien, and deserved a dragon’s education. The Pyr could use another dragon warrior in their corps. The firestorm, Damien was certain, had brought him to the underworld to retrieve his son.

Which meant it must be possible.

As Damien watched, a flat boat left the far shore. The hooded ferryman pushed his pole into the river, guiding his boat toward them. There was only darkness within the shadows of his hood and his fingers gleamed because they were bare bones.

“Charon,” he whispered, without intending to do so. Despite himself, Damien scanned the distant bank, seeking a glimpse of Petra. She’d been the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen—when she was alive. What did she look like now? How would he feel when he saw her? Just the possibility made him want to know for sure.

He doubted she’d surrender their son easily. Petra had always been stubborn.

But she was a mother. Surely she would sacrifice her own desires for her son’s welfare?

Damien didn’t know what to expect from her. He eyed the cold dead land on the other side of the river and remembered Petra’s passionate nature. He could doubt, but he guessed the darkfire would continue to bring him to this place until he accepted the opportunity it offered.

With that, Damien’s decision was made.

A dog began to bark then and was joined by the barking of two others. Damien narrowed his eyes to see the three-headed dog Cerberus on the far shore, its teeth white and sharp as it barked before a pair of gates.

“We’re in the realm of Hades,” Peter whispered in horror from behind him.

“All seven of us,” Drake said.

“That’ll be six, now,” Damien said, taking a step toward the shore. “This would be my stop.” He reached into his pocket, glad to find that he had two coins for the ferryman, and looked across the river. As he stepped closer to the shore, the dead who lacked the fare for the ferryman milled around him. They were no more substantial than a dark mist, but he shivered at the press of them on every side.

He still had a few moments to figure out how to get past Cerberus.

Never mind how to leave Hades alive.

Petra would be another challenge altogether. His son would certainly be with her, a babe in arms who wouldn’t be easily surrendered. Petra was loyal to those she loved, and a part of Damien regretted losing that distinction.

To his surprise, he felt a flicker of anticipation and a quickening of his pulse as the ferry drew closer. It made no sense. He knew what Petra was. He knew she’d been only an interlude in his life, a connection that couldn’t be sustained. The firestorm had brought them together to ensure his son’s conception, no more than that. He couldn’t be looking forward to seeing Petra again.

He was thrilled by the chance to save his son, no more than that.

As soon as Damien had stepped onto Charon’s vessel, he felt the flash of the darkfire. He glanced back at its brilliant light, then it faded to nothing.

The other Dragon Legion Warriors were gone.

He swallowed and paid the ferryman, knowing the way forward was the only possible way out. He still had a few moments to figure out how to get past Cerberus.

Never mind how to leave Hades alive.

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Excerpt from Kiss of Darkness ©2013 Deborah A. Cooke

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