Dark Hunger


Page 56



“I mean it, Salvatore,” she managed to croak.


“No, you don’t,” he countered with annoying calm. “You’re just trying to find another reason to convince yourself you shouldn’t be my queen, and I won’t play. I don’t care if you run through the palazzo stark naked or wearing Prada.”


Her lips parted, and then snapped closed, as she accepted that he was right.


Salvatore was her mate.


She could feel it to the very marrow of her bones.


And her instinctive need to rebel against his claim on her was becoming downright childish.


Not that she intended to become his doormat, she wryly acknowledged.


Not all the ancient powers combined could perform that impossible task.


But it was time to be done with fighting the knowledge that her destiny was forever, irrevocably connected to Salvatore Giuliani.


“You think you’re so damned smart, don’t you?” she muttered dryly.


A muscle twitched in his jaw. “If I were smart then Briggs would never have crawled from his grave, and we would be spending the night having hot, sweaty sex beneath the moon.”


Sensing his annoyance was directed at himself, Harley reached out to touch the rigid muscles of his arm.


“We’ll find him.”


“Si.”


They once again fell silent, their pace slowing as the stench of Briggs became more pronounced. Instinctively, Harley reached behind her back to pull the guns out of the holsters.


The tangle of brush and trees had thickened until it was impossible to see beyond a few feet from the road, and while her senses told her there was nothing but the usual wildlife scurrying through the shadows, she wasn’t going to take any chances.


Rounding the curve in the road, they both halted at the sight of the small cabin that looked in dire need of a match and some kindling.


Tilting precariously to one side, the paint had long ago peeled from the wood planks and the small front porch sagged with weariness. If there had ever been shutters, they had long ago disappeared, along with several wooden shingles from the roof, and at least one window.


Of course, the cabin looked almost habitable when compared to the shed with a rusty tin roof, built behind it.


Cue banjo music.


Harley resisted the urge to roll her eyes. At least it wasn’t another cave.


Breathing in deeply, she closed her eyes and sorted through the barrage of near overwhelming scents that filled the air.


It was easy to pick out Briggs’s odor that wafted from the cabin. Rotting meat was pretty tough to miss.


Not that he could have hidden his presence, even if he could disguise his god-awful stench. The frigid chill in the air would always give him away.


Taking in another breath, she ignored the vile presence of Briggs and concentrated on the scent of curs. It was no surprise to find their scent laced with a combination of fear and frustration. Even for curs, who always lived on the edge, they’d been put through hell over the past few days. It was a surprise, however, to realize their scent came from the shed, rather than the cabin.


Why wasn’t Briggs using them as a shield? More important, why would he leave them where they could so easily be rescued?


There was only one explanation.


A trap.


Salvatore moved to whisper directly in her ear. “The curs are in the shed.”


“I smell them.” She turned to meet the golden gaze that glowed with a savage anticipation. “You know he’s expecting you? This is a trap.”


“Bene.”


She clenched her teeth, torn between the urge to shake some sense into him and knocking him over the head with the butt of her gun.


Unfortunately, neither of them would keep him from waltzing straight into Briggs’s ambush.


“Salvatore, if you get yourself killed, I’m never going to forgive you,” she hissed.


With a feral smile he bent down to claim her lips in a kiss she felt to the tips of her toes.


“You’re never getting rid of me,” he whispered against her mouth.


Arching against his hard body, Harley momentarily allowed herself to savor the feel and scent of him. Then with a sigh, she reluctantly stepped back.


“What’s the plan?”


“You release the curs and get them out of here.”


“While you battle Briggs by yourself?”


He shrugged. “It has always been inevitable.”


“No, it’s not…”


“Si, it is.” He framed her face in his hands. “I have to do this, Harley. And I need to know that Hess and the others are far enough away that Briggs can’t gain control of them.”


She wanted to argue. It was insanity for Salvatore to confront Briggs alone. The Were was not only Hannibal-Lecter-nuts, but he was already dead. How the hell did you kill a zombie?


But in the end she bit back her words.


This wasn’t just Salvatore’s macho need to prove his superiority over the other male.


Briggs hadn’t just been an enemy to Salvatore. He had violated the entire Were nation with his bargain with the demon lord. And he’d come far too close to destroying them all.


As king, it was Salvatore’s duty to make sure the traitor suffered the ultimate punishment.


“Fine.”


He brushed one last kiss over her lips. “Take the curs back to the church. I’ll join you there once I’m certain Briggs is dead.”


Salvatore barely waited for Harley to disappear into the shadows before efficiently stripping off his expensive suit. He had every confidence in her ability to free the curs and lead them to safety.


Even if she did want to give him a black eye.


It wasn’t the first, and it certainly wouldn’t be the last time he annoyed her.


The gods willing.


His smile faded as he shifted into wolf form and silently padded toward the cabin.


He wasn’t going to underestimate Briggs. The Were was a flaming nutcase, but he had to know he was no match for Salvatore without his demon lord to hide behind. Which meant he must be confident that whatever trap he had set was capable of destroying Salvatore.


Circling the cabin, Salvatore allowed his superior animal senses to search the area for any hint of danger.


Predictably, the presence of werewolves had frightened off the local wildlife, and the nearest human was miles away, but there were a few lesser demons in the vicinity. A pack of hellhounds sniffing through the underbrush. A tree sprite dancing through the branches. A distant hag.


Nothing that could offer a threat.


Which meant that Briggs’s trap must be magical.


Naturalmente. The worthless hound wouldn’t recognize a code of honor if it bit him on the ass.


Accepting there was nothing physical to battle, Salvatore shifted back to human, moving through the overgrown backyard to peer through a window.


He could see a small kitchen with a worn linoleum floor and cabinets that had once been painted a hideous yellow. The appliances had been removed or stolen, leaving behind broken pipes and exposed wires.


Salvatore grimaced. Even without Briggs, the place was a deathtrap. He could only hope that the electricity had been turned off.


As if on cue, a bloom of candlelight filled the front room beyond the kitchen, revealing a battered sofa and matching chair that was the only furniture. Although it would be generous to label the rotting pieces of junk as furniture. More a post-apocalyptic nightmare.


His eyes narrowed as the shadowed outline of a cloaked figure was suddenly visible. Briggs. How convenient. Just the sleazeball he’d been looking for.


Climbing the back steps, Salvatore kicked in the door and rapidly crossed through the empty kitchen. If there was a trap, then so be it. Tiptoeing through the place wasn’t going to help.


He made it into the front room, headed straight for Briggs, when the expected snare was at last tripped.


A cold breeze prickled over his naked body, then invisible bonds wrapped around him, slamming him into the wall with enough force to shake chunks of plaster from the ceiling.


Salvatore grunted in pain, but he didn’t panic.


Briggs might be able to conjure a portion of his black magic, but his strength had to be failing with the death of the demon lord, while Salvatore’s power had never been greater.


Proving his point, Briggs pushed back the hood of his cloak, revealing his face that was barely more than a skull, with drooping bits of gray flesh and a set of crimson eyes that glittered with a rabid hatred. Cristo. Salvatore had stumbled across genuine zombies who looked better than this Were.


And the stench…Salvatore shuddered in disgust.


“You just never learn, do you, Salvatore?” Briggs taunted, strolling to stand directly before Salvatore.


“It’s not a matter of learning.” Ignoring the pain, Salvatore managed a smile. “I simply don’t fear you.”


Fury flashed over the Were’s emaciated face before he managed to regain his smug composure.


“I knew that arrogance would be your downfall.”


Salvatore shrugged. “It might be eventually, but not tonight.”


Briggs halted directly in front of him. “We’ll see about that.”


“What are you going to do, Briggs? Your master is gone, and without his powers you don’t have a chance in hell of beating me.”



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