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Home > Wicked Deeds on a Winter's Night (Immortals After Dark #4)

Wicked Deeds on a Winter's Night (Immortals After Dark #4)
Author: Kresley Cole

Prologue

The Forest of Three Bridges

Winter 1827

It wants to mark my flesh... The full moon beat light down on a canvas of snow and barren trees, making Mariah's hunter green dress glow as distinctly as a beacon for the beast pursuing her.

Mark me with its teeth, she thought wildly as she leapt across an icy rivulet. When the beast's frenzied roar echoed through the forest, she stumbled at the embankment. Frantically scrambling up, she continued her flight for home.

Birch branches clawed at her hair and raked her cold-numbed face. As she twisted from their grasp, snow began to fall once more, blurring her vision. Another bellow in the dark silenced night creatures; the sound of her ragged breaths became deafening.

Bowen, the man she'd loved since she was a girl, had warned her of the full moon, preparing her: "I will change, Mariah. I canna control it. And you are vulnerable to harm still... "

She'd insisted on meeting him this night, because she'd known how critical this time was for him - and because she was anxious to make up for denying his desires again and again. But then, at this last hour, her courage failed her. She'd looked upon the face of her beloved, and the moon had revealed a monster in his place.

It had known she was horrified. Its eyes, glowing ice blue, had been filled with an animal-like yearning until they narrowed with comprehension. "Run... Mariah," it had grated in an unfamiliar rasp. "Get to the... castle. Lock yourself away... from me."

She could hear him crashing toward her, ever nearer, but she was almost there. Reaching the edge of the forest, she saw her home in the snowy plain below her - a castle towering amidst the confluence of their kingdom's three great rivers. So close.

Mariah raced for the familiar winding path that would lead her down. As soon as she alighted upon it, movement exploded before her eyes. Suddenly the air teemed with ravens, shooting up all around her, wings batting her numbed face. Swinging at them blindly, she stumbled and lost her footing on the icy, root-strewn path.

Weightlessness... falling... tumbling down the side of the ravine... The impact wrenched the breath from her lungs and made her sight darken. Falling still...

When she landed at the bottom, it was to a sickening wet sound as some force punched through her stomach. Unimaginable pain erupted through her. She gaped in incomprehension at the sharp stump jutting up from her body. No... No... cannot be.

As the pain dimmed to only a chilling sensation of pressure within her, she weakly grasped the remains of an axed-down birch, felled by one of her kingdom's woodsmen.

With each breath, blood bubbled from her mouth. It dripped from her face into the snow, as softly as tears.

Mariah of the Three Bridges would die in the moon's shadow of her own home.

In a daze, staring at the sky, she listened while the beast crashed toward her impossibly faster, as if scenting the blood. Before it could reach Mariah, she recognized she was no longer alone.

Just after she spied more ravens circling overhead, icy lips met hers. Emptiness and chaos seeped through her like a disease. As she writhed futilely, a voice inside Mariah's head spoke of this night, a wintry eve brimming with purpose.

"Die," the voice whispered against Mariah's bloody mouth. Immediately, she perceived the stillness of her heart. Her lungs ceased their labors and the mask of pain on her face slackened.

The presence faded, replaced by another. Mariah's last sight was the beast, roaring in agony to the moon, clawing at its chest with wild sorrow.

1

Present day

Tomb of the Incubi, the jungles of Guatemala

Day 3 of the Talisman's Hie

Prize: Four Mayan sacrificial headdresses, each worth seven points

"Stalking me, Mr. MacRieve?" Mariketa the Awaited asked the Lykae behind her without turning around. In the dark of a corridor leading to a burial chamber, Bowen MacRieve had been following her silently. But she'd felt him staring at her - just as she had at the Talisman's Hie assembly three nights ago.

"No' likely, witch." How could such a rumbling Scots' burr sound so menacing? "I only stalk what I want to catch."

Mari did turn to slant him a glance at that, even knowing he couldn't see her face under the hood of the scarlet cloak she always wore. But by the light of her lantern hanging over her shoulder, she could see his, and used the cover to disguise her long, appreciative look.

She inwardly sighed. Lykae males were notoriously good-looking, and the few she'd seen had lived up to their reputation, but this one was heart-poundingly sexy.

He had black hair, stick straight and thick, reaching to the collar of his obviously expensive shirt. His body - which she'd found herself thinking about frequently over the past few days - was sublime. He stood a good bit over six feet tall, and though the corridor was wide enough for two normal-size people to pass, his broad shoulders and big, rangy build filled the space.

But even with all his many attractions, his eyes were what made him so unique. They were the color of rich, warm amber, and yet there was a kind of sinister light to them, which she liked.

She was a little sinister, too.

"Look your fill?" he asked, his tone scathing. Yes, he was sexy, but unfortunately, his dislike of witches was well known.

"I'm done with you," she answered, and meant it. She didn't have time to pine after brusque werewolf warriors if she planned to be the first of her kind ever to win the Hie, an immortal scavenger hunt à la The Amazing Race.

With an inward shrug, she continued on toward yet another burial chamber. This was the tenth she'd investigated over the hours she and several other competitors had been down deep inside this never-ending Mayan tomb.

She might have surprised him with her curt dismissal because a moment passed before he followed her. The only sounds in the echoing space were his heavy footfalls, which he no longer bothered to muffle. The silence between them was grueling.

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