Crave the Darkness (Shaede Assassin #3)
Nothing comes easy for Darian. Her heightened powers make her indispensable to the Shaede Nation, but dangerous missions have driven her lover, Tyler, to his breaking point. Darian must salvage their bond, but a new assignment to protect Anya—a fellow Shaede and the first of their kind to become pregnant in centuries—stands in their way.
It doesn’t help that the two Shaedes are longtime rivals and share nothing besides mutual hatred. But when it becomes clear that someone—or something—is bent on destroying the expectant mother and her unborn child, Darian must put her feelings aside and track down Anya’s would-be assassin.
As she probes into Anya’s past, Darian digs up long-buried secrets—and a connection between Tyler and the mission that could destroy everything between them…
That’s how I started out; all I was again. A casting of mottled dark. The real me, the me that knew happiness and light left with him.
“Darian, pay attention.” Raif turned in his seat and nudged me with his elbow. I blinked at the sound of his whispered words and brought my eyes up to meet the faces staring back at me.
“Can you repeat the question?”
The seven members of the Pacific NorthwestTerritories judicial council exchanged frustrated glances. A murmur spread from one end of the long stone-topped table to the other, and the speaker—a Fae with dark eyes and shining, midnight blue hair—shuffled through her notes before addressing me.
“Let me see if I have this straight. You refuse to answer to the charges brought against you. Which are”—she glanced down at the paper in front of her as if she needed a reminder—“kidnapping of a high-priority PNT prisoner, as well as . . .”
I love you.
Tyler had said those words to me.
“. . . aiding and abetting . . . conspiracy . . . a treasonous . . .”
Right before he’d walked out the door.
My god, is this how a broken heart felt? What I’d felt when Azriel left me was a drop in the bucket compared to the pain I felt now. I was reduced to a hollow shell. Fragile. I wanted nothing more than to feel whole again.
Raif elbowed me once more, and I snapped to attention, sitting up straight in my seat.
“. . . in addition to evading PNT authorities and violating section 15-372.1 of chain of command standard operating procedure. Does that cover it?”
My gaze drifted across the stark white courtroom to the Fae woman, her face coming back into focus. They might as well toss me in jail right here and now. I wouldn’t deny my guilt, and I sure as hell wouldn’t explain myself. Silence hung heavy in the room, and Raif cleared his throat. Apparently, it was my turn to speak.
“You forgot breaking and entering, conspiracy, and all-around willful disobedience. That covers it.”
Raif pinched the bridge of his nose between his thumb and finger, closing his eyes as he released a heavy sigh. When he finally had his temper under control enough to look at me, he slowly shook his head and mouthed the word: Seriously?
Yeah, well, it wasn’t like I was going to throw myself on the floor and beg for the council’s mercy. Besides, I’d lost everything in this world I gave a damn about. At this point, I had nothing left to lose. The seven PNT council members leaned toward one another, throwing furtive glances my way while they discussed my fate. This was my third hearing in as many months, and I hadn’t given them any more information today than I had at my first arraignment. What had happened after I’d kidnapped Delilah, the Oracle who’d plotted against Raif and the entire Shaede Nation and left the PNT’s Washington Headquarters with her partner in crime, Faolán, was no one’s business but my own.
“You do realize that by keeping this secret, you may very well face imprisonment. Or worse.” The worried tone of Raif’s harshly whispered words didn’t change my mind. And though I knew he was grateful for my secrecy, he didn’t want to see me punished, either.
“Doesn’t matter.” I couldn’t muster an ounce of concern in my own voice. I leaned in to Raif so only he heard me. “They can threaten me all they want. I’m not going to endanger your daughter or the natural order by reminding anyone of things best left forgotten.”
I didn’t give two shits about the PNT’s discipline. Nothing they could dish out would punish me more than I’d already punished myself. My actions had hurt one of the few people in this world I gave a shit about, and destroyed us both in the process.
God, it hurt just to think his name. I broke his heart by leaving him without a word of where I was going or when I’d be back. I betrayed our trust by wishing for him to stay put in Seattle, unable to leave the city, while I traipsed around on my adventure to find Brakae, Raif’s daughter. And in the end, my reward was exactly what I deserved: time away from him and the space I needed to decide what I really wanted.
I didn’t need time, I already knew what I wanted.
I wanted Tyler.
But he wasn’t here with me, was he? Apparently, he didn’t think an appropriate length of time had passed for me to get my shit together. I’d tried wishing for him. I’d wished for him almost every day that first month, but he never showed. Jinn magic is full of rules, regulations, and limitations. One of those being that I could wish only for things I really, truly needed. And somehow, the powers that be had determined my want of Tyler wasn’t good enough.
“Will the accused stand?” So polite, as if she was asking if I’d stay for dinner or something. You’d never guess the council was about to bring down the hammer.
I pushed my chair out with the backs of my knees and shoved my bound hands against the table in front of me for leverage. The iron cuffs swirled with silver light, charmed to negate my ability to wreak any havoc, if the whim struck. Whenever an accused stood before the council, they were bound with the cuffs. In my case, they prevented me from leaving my corporeal form and weakened me to the point that I couldn’t break the bonds. Lucky for the council, I had no intentions of wreaking havoc of any kind. Not now, or in the future. The fight had pretty much drained right out of me.
“Since you refuse to speak on your own behalf, and considering we have sworn statements from many eye witnesses, this council has no choice but to—”
“If it pleases the council . . .” The double doors of the chamber swung wide, and the Shaede High King swept into the room as if he owned the place. “I beg a moment of your time.” Alexander Peck—or to me, just Xander—never turned down an opportunity to show off his dramatic flair, and right now, he claimed center stage.
“With all due respect, Your Highness,” the blue-haired Fae said, “the time to testify in front of this council has passed.”
Decked out in what had to have been a ten thousand dollar suit, Xander looked as regal as he did imposing. Though his stance was relaxed, his molten caramel eyes sparked with a cold light that dared anyone to turn down his request. I could only imagine what he was up to. Maybe he couldn’t stand that I was the center of attention. Or worse, maybe he just wanted to prove that he could throw his weight around.
“Do I have to remind you about Edinburgh, Amelia?” Oh yeah, Xander definitely wanted to throw his weight around.
The Fae looked at the questioning faces of her colleagues before she cleared her throat, fidgeting with the cuff of her sleeve. She scooped a glowing, pearlescent ball in her hand and knocked the faerie equivalent of a gavel down on the table twice. “We’ll adjourn for fifteen minutes. Alexander, if you’ll follow us to our private chambers, we’ll hear what you have to say.”
Xander flashed me an arrogant smile. He waited patiently as the seven council members stood, and then followed in their wake as they walked, single file, from the room. “Sit tight,” he said as he sauntered past Raif and me. “I’ll be back shortly.”
We sat back down at the same time, and I asked Raif, “What the hell is he up to?”
“Your guess is as good as mine. We are talking about Xander, after all.”
Raif leaned back in his seat, staring at the ceiling as if his brother’s plans were written there. I, on the other hand, had no interest in wondering what His Royal High and Mightiness had up his sleeve. Instead, my mind drifted to where it always did lately: the clusterfuck that was my life.
You’d think I would have lost track of the days since that night Tyler left me. The emerald pendulum that I wore around my neck, silenced the sound of time as it ticked within my soul, but I had invisible tally marks etched on my heart. Eighty-seven days, six hours, fifteen minutes, and twenty-two seconds. Twenty-three . . . twenty-four . . . twenty-five . . .
It’s not like I’d been brooding the entire time. I had a system, alternating between outings for my hearings with the PNT’s judicial council, setting up camp on my bed, answering the door for grocery delivery, and occasionally crashing on the couch while I let the TV lull me to sleep with mind-numbing entertainment. I wasn’t proud of the fact that I knew every single cast member of Jersey Shore down to their cocktails of choice, but it was better than the alternative: allowing my tortured thoughts to drive me to a state of near insanity.
I leaned forward in my chair and massaged my sternum. The imaginary fist that had been squeezing my heart for the past seven months clenched tight, leaving a dull ache I couldn’t get rid of no matter how long I rubbed. I’m not a fool. I realized that the blame for our separation rested solely on me. I ran—and spent four months away—from the one person in this world I should have sprinted toward. I shunned his protection, disregarded his strength, and stomped all over the love he offered . . . all in the name of arrogance.
Ty showed me how much he appreciated my treatment of him by returning the favor in classic “eye for an eye” fashion. I’d come back to Seattle after a months-long excursion spent in O Anel looking for—then protecting—Brakae.
According to Raif, during my absence Tyler had become temperamental, angry, and resentful, not to mention dirty and disheveled. I arrived at his apartment expecting to find a broken man. What I found broke me. Calm, clean, showered and shaved, and packing a suitcase for an extended vacation, Tyler gave me one last kiss and left. And he’d stayed gone. Three months and counting . . .
I took a deep breath, tried to slow the frantic beating of my heart that signaled the onset of another panic attack. Dredging up memories of my many mistakes caused my palms to sweat and my breath to stall in my lungs. The floor seemed to tip beneath me and the room swam in and out of focus in a dizzying blur.
“Darian, stand up.” Raif’s voice was nothing more than a whisper, but it echoed in my mind as if shouted down the length of a tunnel.
The door to the council’s private chambers opened, and I just about fell on my ass as I shot to my feet. Raif reached out to steady me, his face etched with concern. I would have given him a reassuring pat to the shoulder if my hands weren’t bound in the damn cuffs. A few deep, steady breaths managed to calm me down enough that I was no longer seeing stars at the periphery of my vision, and my head finally felt like its normal size—not floating above my shoulders like a balloon.
Xander sauntered out of the council’s chambers much the same way he’d entered. Only this time, the smugness of his expression spoke of victory, not just the prospect of success. Great. If he had any pull with regards to the council’s decision about my sentence, I’d never live it down. Just one more thing for his royal pain in the ass to hold over my head.
The Fae with the dark blue hair—Amelia, Xander had called her—cast a cautious glance in the king’s direction before turning her focus to me. “The accused is officially absolved of any wrongdoing against the PNT and any charges brought against her are stricken from the official record.” She brought the opalescent orb down against the table with a resounding crack. With the sound wave, a pulse of energy swept through the room and caressed my face like a kiss of warm breeze. The cuffs around my wrists loosened and dropped to the floor. Amelia’s eyes narrowed shrewdly as she addressed me. “You are free to go.”
Xander turned to leave, his chest puffed out with pride. “You can thank me later,” he said and strode from the room.
As the council members rose once again to leave, I said to Raif, “He really gets off on throwing his weight around, doesn’t he?”
Raif’s laughter was the only answer I needed.