The Darkest Seduction




"I know."

High in the heavens, Zacharel watched the world below him. Watched as the once genial Paris murdered yet another of his enemy, the Hunters. How many victims that made in the past hour alone, the angel could not say. He'd long since lost count. And even if he paused to do the tally, the answer would have changed a second later as yet another body fell to the slick, blood-coated blades the warrior wielded.

Of course, the panting, sweat-soaked Paris spun to engage two others, his motions fluid, lethally unstoppable as an avalanche. At first, he played. A punch, cracking bone. A kick, smashing lungs. Laughing, spouting the worst of curses. Soon none of that was enough for the demon-possessed soldier, and he danced his blades over the tendons in their ankles, hobbling his prey for easier elimination.

Paris had made himself Bait to purposely draw these Hunters to him. They'd come eagerly, happily, intending to steal the vile demon tethered inside him and finally end him. So Zacharel could not fault the warrior for what he did to defend himself, even as several new bodies joined the already mountainous pile enveloped by a sea of crimson and black. And yet, he could not commend the warrior, either.

These were not mercy slayings or even carried out in the name of a cold and calculated vengeance birthed in the bowels of an equally cold rage. No, these were a spew of fire, hate and desperation hotter than anything hell had ever created.

"He is like a poisoned apple," Zacharel said to the angel beside him. And because Paris was bonded to the demon of Promiscuity, his pruning belonged not to the humans he lived amongst but to the Deity's angels, who policed different realms of evil. "Poison of this nature spreads slowly but corrupts absolutely."

Beads of ice fell around Zacharel, as they always fell around him these days, his breath misting in front of his face. Every crystal was to be a reminder of his own crimes, so recently brought to his attention. But unlike Paris, he did not wear misery like a winter coat, hugging it close to his body, relying on it, feeding it, helping it grow. Zacharel cared for nothing, not anymore.

In his quest to destroy the demons that had ruined his life, he had slain "innocent" humans, and this was to be his punishment-to carry his Deity's displeasure with him always.

"As succulent as others consider this particular apple," Lysander proclaimed, "they will be willing to taste anything he offers."

Zacharel moved his gaze to the man who had taught him how to survive on the battlefield. The elite warrior was a muscled tower of unwavering strength. He wore a long white robe, his majestic wings like rivers of molten gold. Zacharel's ice raged around him, too, though not a single flake dared land on the man. Perhaps, like myriad other creatures, the crystals feared him-and rightly so. In their world, he was judge and jury, his word law.

"Do we remove temptation?" Zacharel asked. For centuries he had acted as Lysander's executioner.

"I will not order his assassination, no," Lysander said, resolute. "At the moment, Paris is redeemable."

Unexpected. Even with the great distance between the heavens and the earth, Zacharel could hear the grunts and groans Paris elicited, the screams of his enemies. The pleas for mercy that would echo into eternity, forever unheeded. And as determined as this Lord of the Underworld was, this was only the beginning.

"What will you have me do, then?"

"Paris searches for his woman, intending to free her from the Titan king's enslavement. You will aid him, protect him and protect the girl. The moment her ties to Cronus are cut, however, you will bring her here, where she will live out the rest of eternity."

Even more unexpected. The command smacked of leniency, something Lysander had shown to only one other demon-possessed immortal in all the millennia of his life: Amun, Paris's friend. And only because Bianka, Lysander's Harpy mate, had asked.

She must have requested this second favor, as well, for it was widely known that Lysander was powerless against her wiles. But even a besotted groom, tasked as he was with governing the heavens, responsible for all that transpired there, should not have asked another angel to do this deed. Aid a demon? Bring another here to live? Horrifying.

Zacharel offered no objection. And despite the fact that he had never experienced desire himself, he would do his best to cure Paris of his so that, when the inevitable break with the female came, the warrior would not return to his rage.

"Paris will protest her loss." After everything the warrior had done to find and save her already, everything he would soon do...oh, yes, he would protest-using those dripping blades to make his case.

"You must convince him that he will be better off without her," Lysander said.

"Will he be?"

"Of course." There was no hesitation in the pronouncement, lending it an edge of fiery truth. An unnecessary edge, for Zacharel knew Lysander would not, could not, lie.

"And if I fail to convince him?" He had to ask, needed the penalty riding heavy on his shoulders, driving him to succeed.

Eyes of pitiless navy frosted over, revealing the iron depths of Lysander's warrior core. "We are lost, for the greatest war the world has ever known now brews. The girl will lead us to our victory-or our enemy to theirs. It's as simple as that."

Very well, then. When the time came, Zacharel would take her. No matter how Paris was affected.

Paris would hate him, and would, perhaps, do more than rage. There was no stopping that, not when so much darkness swirled inside him, a rot in his soul, far worse than any spiritual poison. But that wouldn't stop Zacharel from fulfilling his duty.

Nothing would.