Excerpt: Darkness Awakened

Excerpt: Darkness Awakened

Book 1: Order of the Blade

Quinn Masters raced soundlessly through the thick woods, his injuries long forgotten, urgency coursing through him as he neared his house. He covered the last thirty yards, leapt over a fallen tree, then reached the edge of the clearing by his cabin.

There she was.

He stopped dead, fading back into the trees as he stared at the woman he’d scented when he was still two hours away, a lure that had eviscerated all weakness from his body and fueled him into a dead sprint back to his house.

His lungs heaving with the effort of pushing his severely damaged body so hard, Quinn stood rigidly as he studied the woman whose scent had called to him through the dark night. She’d yanked him out of his thoughts about Elijah and galvanized him with energy he hadn’t been able to summon on his own.

And now he’d found her.

She’d wedged herself up against the back corner of his porch, barely protected from the cold rain and wet wind. Her knees were pulled up against her chest, her delicate arms wrapped tightly around them as if she could hold onto her body heat by sheer force of will. Her shoulders were hunched, her forehead pressed against her knees while damp tangles of dark brown hair tumbled over her arms.

Her chest moved once. Twice. A trembling, aching breath into lungs that were too cold and too exhausted to work as well as they should.

He took a step toward her, and another, then three more before he realized what he was doing. He froze, suddenly aware of his urgent need to get to her. To help her. To fill her with heat and breathe safety into her trembling body. To whisk her off his porch and into his cabin.

Into his bed.

Quinn stiffened at the thought. Into his bed? Since when? He didn’t engage when it came to women. Not anymore. The risk was too high, for him, and for all Calydons. Any woman he met could be his mate, his fate, his doom. His sheva.

He was never tempted.

Until now.

Until this cold, vulnerable stranger had appeared inexplicably on his doorstep. He should be pulling out his sword, not thinking that the fastest way to get her warm would be to run his hands over her bare skin and infuse her whole body with the heat from his.

But his sword remained quiet. His instincts warned him of nothing.

What the hell was going on? She had to be a threat. Nothing else made sense. Women didn’t stumble onto his home, and he didn’t get a hard-on from simply catching a whiff of one from miles away.

His aching quads braced against the cold air, he inhaled her scent again, searching for answers to a thousand questions. She smelled delicate, with a hint of something sweet, and a flavoring of the bitterness of true desperation. He could practically taste her anguish, a cold, acrid weight in the air, and he knew she was in trouble.

His hands flexed with the need to close the distance between them, to crouch by her side, to give her his protection. But he didn’t move. He didn’t dare. He had to figure out why he was so compelled by her, why he was responding like this, especially at a time when he couldn’t afford any distraction.

She moaned softly and curled into an even tighter ball. His muscles tightened, his entire soul burning with the need to help her. Quinn narrowed his eyes and pried his gaze off her to search the woods.

With the life of his blood brother in his hands, an Order posse soon to be after him, and his own body still half in the grave, he should be so focused on business that a woman could dance naked on his chest and he still wouldn’t notice. It shouldn’t be possible for a woman he didn’t even know, hadn’t met and barely even seen to rock him on his ass like this simply because he’d caught a whiff of her scent.

He was disciplined, dammit, and disciplined warriors didn’t fall for that shit. It made no sense.

His intense need for her felt too similar to the compulsion that had sent him to the river three nights ago. Another trap? He’d suspected it from the moment he’d first reacted to her scent, but he’d been unable to resist the temptation, and he’d hauled ass to get back to his house. Yeah, true, he’d also needed to get back to his cabin to retrieve his supplies to go after Elijah. The fact she’d imbued him with new strength had been a bonus he wasn’t going to deny.

But now he had to be sure. A trap or not? Quinn laughed softly. Shit. He hoped it was. If it wasn’t, there was only one other reason he could think that could explain his reaction to her, and that would be if she was his mate. His sheva. His ticket to certain destruction.

No chance.

He wouldn’t allow it.

He had no time for dealing with that destiny right now. It was time to get in, get out, and go after Elijah. His amusement faded as he took a final survey of the woods. There was no lurking threat he could detect. Maybe he’d made it back before he’d been expected, or maybe an ambush had been aborted.

Either way, he had to get into his house, get his stuff, and move on. His gaze returned to the woman, and he noticed a drop of water sliding down the side of her neck, trickling over her skin like the most seductive of caresses. He swore, realizing she wasn’t going to leave. She’d freeze to death before she’d abandon her perch.

He cursed again and knew he had to go to her. He couldn’t let her die on his front step. Not this woman. Not her.

He would make it fast, he would make it efficient, he would stay on target for his mission, but he would get her safe.

Keeping alert for any indication that this was a setup, Quinn stepped out of the woods and into the clearing. He’d made no sound, not even a whisper of his clothing, and yet she sensed him.

She sat up, her gaze finding him instantly in the dim light, despite his stealthy approach. They made eye contact, and the world seemed to stop for a split second. The moment he saw those silvery eyes, something thumped in his chest. Something visceral and male howled inside him, raging to be set free.

As he strode up, she unfolded herself from her cramped position and pulled herself to her feet, her gaze never leaving his. Her face was wary, her body tense, but she lifted her chin ever so slightly and set her hands on her hips, telling him that she wasn’t leaving.

Her courage and determination, held together by that tiny, shivering frame, made satisfaction thud through him. There was a warrior in that slim, exhausted body.

She said nothing as he approached, and neither of them spoke as he came to a stop in front of her.

Up close, he was riveted. Her dark eyelashes were clumped from the rain. Her skin was pale, too pale. Her face was carrying the burden of a thousand weights. But beneath that pain, those nightmares, that hell, lay delicate femininity that called to him. The luminescent glow of her skin, the sensual curve of her mouth, the sheen of rain on her cheekbones, the simple silver hoops in her ears. It awoke in him something so male, so carnal, so primal he wanted to throw her up against the wall and consume her until their bodies were melted together in a single, scorching fire.

She searched his face with the same intensity raging through him, and he felt like she was tearing through his shields, cataloguing everything about him, all the way down to his soul.

He studied her carefully, and she let him, not flinching when his gaze traveled down her body. His blood pulsed as he noted the curve of her breasts under her rain-slicked jacket, the sensuous curve of her hips, and even the mud on her jeans and boots. He almost groaned at his need to palm her hips, drag her over to him, and mark her with his kiss. Loose strands of thick dark hair curled around her neck and shoulders like it was clinging to her for safety.

Protectiveness surged from deep inside him and he clenched his fists against the urge to sweep her into his arms and carry her inside, away from whatever hardships had brought her to his doorstep.

Double hell. He’d hoped his reaction would lessen when he got close to her, but it had intensified. He’d never felt like this before. Never had this response to a woman.

What the hell was going on? Sheva. The word was like a demon, whispering through his mind. He shut it out. He would never allow himself to bond with his mate. If that was what was going on, she was out of there immediately, before they were both destroyed forever.

Intent on sending her away, he looked again at her face, and then realized he was irrevocably ensnared. Her beautiful silver eyes were aching with a soul-deep pain that shattered what little defenses he had against her. He simply couldn’t abandon her.

It didn’t matter what she wanted. It didn’t matter why she was there. She was coming inside. He would make sure it didn’t interfere with his mission. He would make dead sure it turned out right. No matter what.

Without a word, he grabbed her backpack off the floor, surprised at how heavy it was. Either she had tossed her free weights in it, or she had packed her life into it.

He had a bad feeling it wasn’t a set of dumbbells.

Quinn walked past her and unlocked his front door. He shoved it open, then stood back. Letting her decide. Hoping she would walk away and spare them both.

She took a deep breath, glanced at his face one more time, then walked into the cabin.

Hell.

He paused to take one more survey of his woods, found nothing amiss, and then he followed her into his home and shut the door behind them.

Join My Newsletter

Do you want to know when Stephanie has a new book out, is running a sale, or giving away prizes? Sign up for her private newsletter here: