The Darkest Pleasure



CHAPTER ONE

 

  Dear Reader,

  I'm thrilled to present The Darkest Pleasure, the third installment of my brand-new paranormal trilogy, Lords of the Underworld, which began with The Darkest Night and continued with The Darkest Kiss. In a remote fortress in Budapest, six immortal warriors - each more dangerously seductive than the last - are bound by an ancient curse none has been able to break. When a powerful enemy returns, they will travel the world in search of a sacred relic of the gods - one that threatens to destroy them all.

  Join me on a journey through this darkly sensual world, where the line between good and evil blurs and true love is put to the ultimate test. And stay tuned for further adventures from the Lords of the Underworld as the stakes get higher, the quest more dangerous and the romance hotter!

  Wishing you all the best,

  Gena Showalter

  This first Lords of the Underworld trilogy could not have been possible without the following amazing, wonderful, kick-ass people (whom I adore):

  Donna Hayes

  Loriana Sacilotto

  Dianne Moggy

  Randall Toye

  Tracy Farrell

  Margo Lipschultz

  Keyren Gerlach

  Kathleen Oudit

  Juliana Kolesova

  Diana Wong

  Stacy Widdrington

  Marianna Ricciuto

  Pat Muir-Rand

  Melissa Caraway

  Kristin Foti

  Kim Elliott

  Vicki So

  Josh Hilburt

  Nancy Fischer

  Sally Noonan

  Brian McGroarty

  The Harlequin Sales Group

  Deidre Knight

  Patricia Rouse

  Susan Grimshaw

  Kathy Baker

  Max Showalter

  Matt Showalter

  Roy Showalter

  Destinee Showalter

  Sheila Fields

  Jill Monroe

  To Kemmie Tolbert, an amazing woman who loves books as much as I do

  CHAPTER ONE

  REYES STOOD on the roof of his Budapest fortress, five stories up, his feet balanced precariously on the highest ledge. Above him, moonlight seeped red and yellow from the sky, blood mixed with fickle gold, dark mixed with light, wounds freshly cut in the endless expanse of black velvet.

  He gazed down at the gloomy, waiting void beneath him, the taunting ground opening its arms as if begging to embrace him. Thousands of years, and I'm still reduced to this.

  Frigid wind blustered, ruffling his hair in every direction, tickling his bare chest, the hated butterfly etched up onto his neck and the remembered lifeblood splattered there. Not his blood, though. No, not his, but his friend's. Every stroke of hair against that phantom evidence of life and death was like kindling thrown into the fire of his blazing guilt.

  So many times he'd come here, wishing for things that could never be. So many times he'd prayed for absolution, relief from his daily torment and the demon inside him responsible. . . relief from his utter dependence on self-mutilation.

  His prayers had never been answered. Would never be answered. This was what he was, what he would always be. And his agony would only increase. Once an immortal warrior to the gods, he was now a Lord of the Underworld, possessed by one of the many spirits formerly locked inside dimOuniak. From favor to dishonor, beloved to despised. From happiness to constant misery.

  He ground his teeth. Mortals knew dimOuniak as Pandora's box; he knew it as the source of his eternal downfall. He and his friends had defiantly opened it all those centuries ago; now he and his friends were the box, each holding a demon inside himself.

  Jump, his demon beseeched.

  His demon: Pain. His constant companion. The tempting whisper in the back of his mind, the dark entity that craved unspeakable evil. The supernatural force he battled every damned minute of every damned day.

  Jump.

  "Not yet. " A few more seconds of anticipation, of knowing most of his bones would shatter on contact. He grinned at the thought. The razor-sharp bone shards would cut his injured, swollen organs and those organs would burst like water balloons; his skin would rip from the excess fluid and this time the lifeblood that drained would be his own. Agony, such blissful agony, would consume him.

  For a little while, anyway.

  Slowly his smile faded. Within days - hours, if he failed to hurt himself badly enough - his body would heal itself, totally and completely. He would wake up, whole again, Pain once more a commanding force inside his mind, too loud to be denied. But oh, for those few blessed ticks of the clock before his bones began to realign, before his organs began to weave back together and his skin to reconnect, before blood once more pumped through his veins, he would experience nirvana. The ultimate paradise. Rapture of the sweetest kind. He would writhe in the exquisite pleasure the pain brought with it - his only source of pleasure. The demon would purr with utter contentment, so drunk on the sensation it was unable to speak, and Reyes would experience such blissful peace.

  For a little while. Always, only, a little while.

  "I do not need another reminder about how fleeting my peace is," he muttered to drown the depressing thought. He knew how quickly time passed. A year sometimes felt like nothing more than a day. A day sometimes felt like nothing more than a minute.

  "The Darkest Pleasure"

  And yet, both were sometimes infinite to him. Just one of the many contradictions of life as a Lord of the Underworld.

  Jump, Pain said. Then, more insistently, Jump! Jump!

  "I told you. Just a few seconds more. " Once again Reyes glanced at the ground. Jagged rocks winked in that bleeding moonlight, the clear puddles surrounding them rippling in the wind. Mist rose like ghostly fingers, summoning him closer, wonderfully closer. "Plunging a blade into your enemy's throat kills him, yes," he told the demon, "but then it's over, done, and you have nothing left to anticipate. "

  Jump! A snarled command, impatient and needy, a child throwing a tantrum.

  "Soon. "

  Jumpjumpjump!

  Yes, sometimes demons really were like whiny human children. Reyes shoved a hand through his tangled hair, a few strands ripping from his scalp. He knew of only one way to shut his other half up. Obedience. Why he'd even tried to resist and savor the moment, he didn't know.

  Jump!

  "Maybe this time you'll be sent back to hell," he muttered. A man could wish, anyway. Finally, he splayed his arms. Closed his eyes. Leaned. . . "Come down from there," he heard a voice say from behind him.

  Reyes's eyelids popped open at the unwelcome intrusion, and he stiffened. He rebalanced but didn't turn. He knew why Lucien was here, and he was too ashamed to face his friend. While the warrior understood what he dealt with because of his demon, there would be no understanding what he'd done.

  "That's the plan, coming down. Leave and I'll see that it gets done. "

  "You know what I meant. " There was no hint of laughter in Lucien's voice. "I need to talk to you. "

  The dewy scent of roses suddenly saturated the air, thick and lush and so unexpected in the late-winter night that Reyes would have sworn he'd been transported to a spring meadow. A human would have found the aroma hypnotic, lulling, almost drugging, and would have done anything the warrior asked. Reyes merely found it annoying. After thousands of years together, Lucien should have known the fragrance held no power over him.

  "We'll talk tomorrow," he said tightly.

  Jump!

  "We'll talk now. Afterward, you may do whatever you please. "

  After Reyes admitted his newest crime? No, thanks. Guilt, shame and grief might bring emotional pain, but none would soothe his demo