Excerpt: Darkness Awakened: Reimagined

Excerpt: Darkness Awakened: Reimagined

Book 12: Order of the Blade

The scent of sex hung heavy and thick in the air.

Not just sex.

A wild fusion of relentless need, unrestrained physical release, and bitter rejuvenation saturated the air, and the heavy beat of music thudded through his body.

Ajax Steele stopped just inside the door of the Devil’s Cauldron, his body reacting instantly to the assault to his senses. His muscles tightened, his breath grew shallow, and blood shot to his groin.

Xander Sutton and Viktor Ivanov, two of his Order of the Blade brothers, moved up on either side of him, surveying the room packed with Calydon warriors and women. There was more skin than clothing, and many of the couples hadn’t waited for rooms to become available. Violence and lust rolled through the room as the warriors embraced thousand-year-old instincts.

Raw need rolled beneath Ajax’s skin, like a woman prowling inside his soul, ruthlessly teasing every cell in his body and leaving him hot, hard, and on the edge of control.

Xander let out a low whistle, his light brown hair sticking out from under his faded navy Red Sox cap, a casual look that didn’t fit a man as deadly as he was. Too many people realized Xander’s true nature a fraction of a second too late, and Xander never hesitated to take advantage of it. “I should’ve taken five minutes alone before coming in here.”

“Wouldn’t help.” Viktor came up beside them, sweat beading on his forehead. “Nothing helps with this kind of stimulation. Let’s get this done and get the hell out. Ajax? What’s the report?”

The three of them hadn’t moved from the shadows, but Ajax knew it wouldn’t take long before someone noticed them. They had only minutes to do their recon and convey the information back to the rest of their team, who was waiting outside for their signal.

Ajax quickly surveyed the huge warehouse that had been converted into a sex haven for Calydon warriors. More than a hundred fortified doors led off the main floor, with two heavily armed human sentries guarding the door of every occupied room, protecting the Calydon rutting within from enemies he wouldn’t hear coming because he was too consumed by the woman beneath him.

It didn’t matter how many times he came here; it still disgusted Ajax that there were Calydons so unable to control their physical needs that they were willing to have strangers guard their backs.

Ajax didn’t even trust his own team, except Xander and Viktor, and these warriors were trusting humans. With Calydon warriors too unreliable in this kind of sex-laden environment, it was human men who stood guard with M16s and held strategic positions on the scaffolding that surrounded the warehouse like steel spider webs.

The guards were ready to defend Calydons from any outside threats, prepared to shut down the deadly scuffles that inevitably arose with that many dominant males in close proximity, especially with so many sexually aroused women around.

The guard had orders to shoot without hesitation, and Ajax would bet they were trained to look for the red eyes indicative of a rogue. Calydons were dangerous enough on their own, but a Calydon who had crossed that line to murderous insanity was unstoppable, except by the Order.

Ajax scanned the room, aware that any of the women could be a Calydon sheva, and shevas were a primary trigger for turning Calydons rogue. Shevas were the ultimate downfall of Calydon warriors, the one woman destined to be a warrior’s perfect mate and his certain destruction. Irresistible and deadly, a sheva would turn even the most disciplined Order member rogue.

The Order of the Blade was an elite unit of Calydons, the darkest, the deadliest, the most brutal of them all, and even they struggled to control the intense sexual drive that was their nature, and their curse.

“He’s hired new help,” Xander said. “Upgraded.”

“Military elite, probably.” The guards had an alertness and a stillness rare to humans, and Ajax suspected they were Special Forces, hired out into the private sector.

Xander swore softly. “Bastard. Since when is Faulk working with the military? The bastard thinks that treaty we have with him makes him untouchable.”

“It does. But when he violates the terms of it, we’ll be there to shut him down.” Faulk Algorotti, the club’s owner, was a Calydon warrior as well. He was tough enough to be Order, but his moral code set him apart from Ajax and his brethren.

Faulk was an assassin against his own kind, willing to take out anyone for the right price, including babies whose only crime was that they’d dared to be born into a bad situation. Ajax had seen the aftermath of such a hit, and he still couldn’t look at Faulk without remembering what the assassin had done.

Someday, Faulk would pay, and Ajax was going to be the one to do it.

And he was going to take his time and enjoy every minute of Faulk’s torture and death when it finally happened, despite the centuries-old treaty between the Order and Faulk. No one was still alive who knew why that treaty had been made.

No one but Faulk.

And until he broke the treaty, the Order couldn’t touch him.

But they were all waiting, and Ajax was hoping they’d finally gotten their chance: the Order had scented Faulk at three of the sites where Calydons had been murdered over the last two weeks.

Except it wasn’t Faulk’s style to flaunt his kills to the human world. Whatever else Faulk was, he was clean when he did a kill. Clean and private.

Which was why Ajax and his crew were there tonight to get answers, instead of there to kill first and not bother with questions. The Order’s primary mission was to manage the Calydon race, which included protecting innocent Calydons from the few predators they had, and shutting down rogue Calydons before the body count got too high.

Fingers suddenly raked across Ajax’s thigh and he whirled fast, his hand closing around his aggressor’s throat.

Brilliant blue eyes heavy with makeup and temptation blinked back at him. He scented fear, along with the hot, sensuous promise of whatever he wanted. It was one of the women who worked there, willing to trade her body for a chance to get it on with a dangerous warrior. It was clear from her expression that she knew what he was, knew he could kill her in a heartbeat, and it excited the hell out of her. Jesus.

He became suddenly and violently aware of a flowery scent, of a woman pressed against him. Her flesh was warm beneath his bare arm, her breasts thrusting above her black bra, her belly bare, a short black skirt revealing legs a mile long.

He dropped his hand from her throat, refusing to be controlled by the Calydon need that constantly coursed through him. “Not interested.”

She smiled, a come-fuck-me seduction that was wasted on him. “It’s okay to want me,” she whispered. “It’s safe here. You can do whatever you want to me—”

He intercepted her hand on its way to his crotch. He could feel her rapid pulse beneath his grip, and the utter femaleness of her being. Delicate, vulnerable, a little bit afraid. He released her and shoved a hunk of cash from his wallet into her hand. “Buy yourself another life.”

The woman stared at him in shock, then looked down at the money in her hand. A fierce gleam came into her eyes, then she fisted the wad of bills and walked out the door to the parking lot. Would she come back another night? Or would she take that gift and do exactly what he’d said, and start a new life?

He didn’t have hopes, because the addiction to the Calydon high was a vicious cycle, but at least he’d given her a chance.

As Ajax watched her go, his weapons suddenly burned like firebrands beneath his skin, his infallible warning system that a deadly threat was imminent. He immediately sent a warning to his team as he called out his swords. Xander was already peeling his hands off the ass of a blond draped over him, but Viktor had a brunette up against the wall, his hands swallowed by the folds of her skirt, oblivious.

“Hey!” Ajax grabbed Viktor’s shoulder and hauled him off the woman. Viktor turned on him, his throwing star in his right hand, aimed directly at Ajax’s throat.

Ajax blocked the blow and pinned Viktor up against the wall, his forearm across Viktor’s throat. “Keep it in your pants, mate. We’re all friends, here.”

Viktor blinked, then his face cleared, and he swore softly. “I was ready to gut you.”

“She got to you. Never let your guard down.” He shouldn’t have had to warn Viktor. The Calydon was as disciplined as Ajax was, and Ajax had never seen him fall under the spell of his sexual drive. Ajax released him, but Viktor stayed up against the wall, throwing star still clenched in his hand. He studied his teammate. “You with me?”

Viktor nodded once, a vague response that made Ajax frown.

He searched his blood brother’s face for any signs that he was getting sketchy, as he and Xander had been doing ever since they’d learned an Illusionist was the one murdering Calydons. Thanks to a brutal past, Viktor had a dangerous vulnerability to Illusions, and they’d all been on edge, watching Viktor for any signs he was being affected.

Viktor had been fine so far, but Ajax didn’t like the fact that Viktor hadn’t been able to extricate himself from the woman, and he really didn’t like Viktor’s instinct to raise his weapon against Ajax. “You feeling anything weird?”

“I’m not sure.” Viktor wiped his forearm over his brow, and it came away sweaty.

Ajax swore under his breath and moved closer to Viktor, using his body as a shield while he surveyed the room. Was an Illusionist present? Bring it on.

Ever since blood bonding with Viktor and Xander five hundred years ago, Ajax had made it his mission to learn how to combat Illusions, to be there to defend Viktor if one ever came for him again. He was the only Order member with any defense against Illusions, and he was itching for the bastard taking down his race to challenge him. One chance was all Ajax needed, and the fact his weapons were still burning like acid in his arms told him a threat was still there, and he was ready.

This was Ajax’s gift: the ability to sense danger in battle. Others in the Order had their gifts: the ability to teleport, blend into any surroundings, to heal others, or set fires with a kiss. Their leader, Zion De Luca, had several gifts, including being a Runner, which basically meant your ass was grass if you tried to flee from him, even if you were in a Porsche and he was on foot. Rajak Caletti was the only teleporter currently in the Order, and they relied on him often to get places.

Some of the Order members didn’t have a special gift—or it hadn’t emerged yet—but Ajax had been aware of his talent even before he came of age as a warrior. His weapons warned him of threats before his other senses could pick them up, and his Order brethren depended on his ability to save their asses.

They all counted on him, and he was never wrong.

Only once had he ever ignored it, and Ajax’s uncle, Enzo Steele, had paid with his life.

Never again.

“She pushed your buttons. Don’t worry about it,” Xander said to Viktor, clearly trying to keep his voice casual, though his gaze was as alert as Ajax’s had been. “Faulk knows what he’s doing with the women he allows in here. It’s why no Calydon walks out of here with a full wallet.”

“Yeah, maybe.” Viktor levered himself off the wall and moved alongside Ajax. He rubbed the back of his neck, still looking twitchy. “I probably just need to get laid.”

“You know that’s not true. There’s something else going on. Let’s get this over and get the hell out.” Ajax finished his assessment of the guards, discovered six with enough weaponry to be a direct threat to the Order. They’d probably been hired by Faulk to be his personal bodyguards, as opposed to general peacekeepers, which meant they were focused on Ajax and his team as the real threats in the place.

He also identified six Calydons on the ground floor who weren’t there for the sex, bringing the total to twelve who might get in their way. He sent his report telepathically to the rest of the Order, and issued the command for those waiting outside the building to move in.

“Showtime, kids. Make sure you’re wearing your party dress.” Viktor’s eyes were bright with anticipation, no doubt hoping for a little action, as were they all.

As Calydons, they were meant for battle. As Order, it was as necessary as breathing.

The three warriors shoved away from the wall and stepped into the room, into the action.

The moment they moved forward, two nearby Calydons turned to look at them. Their eyes widened, and they moved back, out of the way. As the trio walked forward, several groups of Calydons slipped out the door, and Ajax felt the heavy gazes of the sentries upon them.

A Calydon warrior stepped out of a door marked private at the end of the warehouse. His shaved head reflected the muted lights of the main hall, and unlike the others, he was wearing a tuxedo. Faulk.

The man they had come to see.

Faulk’s gaze settled on them, and he stopped, though there was no surprise on his face. He lifted his hand and made a slight gesture with two fingers.

Ajax heard the clicks of safeties going off, and then a dozen M16s were trained on him and his teammates. A single bullet or two couldn’t do much damage to an immortal warrior, but nine hundred well-placed rounds in less than a minute could send even an Order member to his happy hunting grounds.

Ajax smiled.

The game had begun.

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