My turn to post has rolled around once again, but I’ve just spent all Easter getting the edits of Darkness Hunts (Dark Angels book 4) completed. I have little enough brain power to write something interesting or insightful on the best of days, let alone when I’ve just done a three day edit turn around. So, I thought I’d cheat and give you an excerpt from Darkness Devours, the third in the Dark Angels series, which is out in July.
“So, what’s next?”
Azriel shrugged. “Until your father contacts us with details of the next key’s location, we are basically at a standstill.”
“Well, if he wasn’t the one who stole the first key from us, maybe he won’t.” And if he wasn’t the one who’d stolen it, I was more than happy for him to remain far, far away. If only because I’d seen him angry—and, despite the fact that I’m part werewolf, it had taken days for the bruises to fade. “Maybe he’ll consider us too great a risk to use us again.”
He raised an eyebrow. “Do you honestly believe that?”
He knew I didn’t. He could read every thought, after all. I threw the spoon onto the plate, but it bounced and clattered over the edge of the table. Azriel caught it casually in one hand and gave it back to me.
“Finish the cake,” he said softly. “You need the sustenance.”
I scowled at him. “Stop mothering me. Besides, cake isn’t sustenance.”
“It is impossible for me to mother you when I am male,” he replied evenly, but there was a hint of humor glinting in the depths of his eyes, and, as usual, it did strange things to my pulse rate—which only emphasized just how irrational I really was. He added, “And is not chocolate one of the five essential food groups?”
I rolled my eyes. “You, reaper, need to stop believing everything you read in my thoughts.”
He merely raised an eyebrow. “If it is not essential, why do you have it so often?”
I studied him for a moment, wondering if he was still teasing me or not. “Because it’s like love and sex—it’s just something a woman has to have.” I paused, but couldn’t resist asking, “What about you? Is there anything in your life that you’d consider essential?”
“Valdis,” he said immediately.
“Valdis is your sword.” A demon-forged sword with a whole lot of power and a voice and mind of her own, granted, but still a sword. I had a similar one sitting at my back, but Amaya was shadow-wreathed, and no one would ever see her—not until her black blade pierced their flesh, anyway. “Swords don’t count.”
“Then it would be duty,” he said.
I snorted. “It’s a sad statement about the reaper community that duty is considered a far higher priority than love and laughter.”
“It is natural our priorities are different considering our beings are completely different in design.”
I frowned. “Aren’t you even curious as to why we humans consider love, sex, and chocolate so vital to our existence?”
“No.” He paused. “Which does not preclude the possibility that I have experienced at least one of those options.”
“I wasn’t talking about the reaper version of love and sex.”
“Neither was I,” he said, amusement teasing his lips.
I stared at him for several seconds, completely dumbstruck. No, he surely couldn’t mean . . .
He’d shown no interest in eating in the time I’d known him, so I had to think chocolate was out. And it was hard to imagine him falling in love with a human, given his often harsh opinions of humanity as a whole. But that left only sex and I really couldn’t imagine . . .
“Why not?” he asked softly. “If I can find death in this form, why would you think me incapable of finding other emotions?”
“Death isn’t an emotion. Neither is sex.” I said this in total disbelief. I was still trying to get my head around the fact that Azriel had had sex. In human form.
“On the contrary, death is a time of great sadness. And does not sex bring joy and completeness?”
“Yeah, for us. You’re not us.”
“Why can you believe it possible for the Aedh to enjoy the benefits of flesh, but not a reaper?”
The Aedh he was referring to was Lucian. Despite all the help Lucian had given to us recently, Azriel both disliked and distrusted him, to the point where he refused to call him by name—even if he was in the same room with him.
“I believe it because I’ve seen the joy Lucian gets out of sex. Besides, reapers are soul guides and it seems to me that you all treat that role with great respect and utmost devotion. I would have thought fraternizing with us would be banned.” Hell, there seemed to be rules forbidding almost everything else in the reaper world.
“Ah, but it is,” he said, and there was an almost bitter twist in his brief smile.
I blinked. “Okay, now you’re just confusing me.”
He studied me for a few minutes, his gaze more intense than usual, as if he were judging me. Which was odd, because he was connected to my chi and probably knew me better than I knew myself.
“You remember I mentioned the friend that died?”
“He was sent to retrieve a soul, but found a trap instead. Ten more reapers found their deaths before I tracked down the person responsible.” Azriel paused, and regret touched the air. But over what it had cost him, I thought, not what he’d done. “I was not a dark angel–not a Mijai –at the time, but I did what I had to do to uncover the killer.”
Which was what he’d advised me to do not so long ago, and the only reason I’d come here to see Jak today. “And doing what you had to do involved sex with a human?”
“Yes. Seducing the killer’s former mistress was the only way I could uncover his location.”
I raised my eyebrows. “Why couldn’t you have simply read her mind, or even waited until he came to see her again?”
“As I said, she was his former mistress. Apparently he stopped seeing her just before the killings began. And though it is extremely rare, there are minds reapers cannot read—that is why you sometimes see the classic gray shroud form of reaper.” He shrugged. “Violence was out—I would not desecrate my position as a soul guide that badly—so my only option was seduction. It took two weeks to gain her trust and get the information. That time was . . . enlightening.”
I bet. “So you became a Mijai because you seduced a woman?”
“And scattered the soul of my friend’s killer to the four winds, never to be reborn.”
Holy shit . . . he really had got his vengeance. “How the hell are you even still alive?”
I might not know a whole lot about the reaper world, but I did know that sort of action was out of bounds unless it was ordered by whoever was in charge of the Mijai. Or dark angels, as they sometimes called themselves.
“It was a close decision,” he said softly. “And I am still paying for my actions, even as a Mijai.”
“So you becoming a Mijai, and then being assigned to follow me, is part of that punishment?”
No wonder he’d been so hostile at the beginning of all this. “So when this assignment is over, will you be forgiven?”
“I doubt it. My sin was great. My penance will be a long one.”
I eyed him for a moment, suspecting there was more to his punishment than what he was admitting. “And you don’t care, do you?”
“I care that I will never again be a guide. Beyond that, no.”
Because he’d avenged his friend. And to think I’d once thought this reaper wasn’t capable of emotion.
I lifted my cup, then paused, the coffee washing warmth across my lips. There was another odd glimmer in the shadows behind Azriel. It definitely wasn’t smoke from the deep fryers or anything like that, because it was stationary under the vents. Steam would have been sucked out.
What? His voice slipped into my mind as smoothly as dark silk.
I think we have company.
Where? He didn’t move, but blue fire began to flicker across Valdis’s sharp edges, a sure sign that sword and master were ready for action.
It’s behind you.
And that, I’m afraid, is it!