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Scent of Darkness
Touch of Darkness
Christina Dodd's romantic suspense
Trouble in High Heels
Tongue in Chic
This book is dedicated to Roger Bell,
retired Air Force pilot,
with thanks for his advice and critique,
and to his commanding officer,
who always knows how to conjugate
and who generously reads, compliments and corrects.
The Darkness Chosen project has been a joy from the start, and a lot of people deserve recognition for their deeds and misdeeds.
To tell you the truth, most of the misdeeds have been mine, so I'd like to express appreciation for my agent, Mel Berger, for his enthusiasm and support. Thank you to Bobbie Morganroth for a clean read; to Teresa Medeiros and Geralyn Dawson for their brilliance; and to the NAL production team, art department and editorial department for their inspired scheduling, design and innovation. And to all my friends who have listened to me endlessly enthuse about this project without yawning, gasping or giggling, thank you.
The Night That Started It All
want you to cover my back.' Konstantine handed his brother the bottle and gestured down to the encampment in the valley below. 'I'm going to take the Gypsy girl.'
'We're not supposed to mess with the Gypsies.' Oleg took a long pull of vodka. 'Remember? It is written. Any woman is ours for the plucking, but not those
Konstantine bared his sharp white teeth in what passed for a grin. 'And I wonder why that is.' The Varinski family had no rules. No rules at all. They could do what they wanted—rape, pillage, torture, murder—and no one could stop them.
But one ancient law existed.
They were not to take a Gypsy woman.
'Gypsies are filthy.' Oleg spft in the direction of the camp, and the warm spittle steamed as it struck the frozen ground. This autumn was as cold as a witch's tit, with an early frost that had ruined the crops and put a hungry edge on everyone's temper. 'You'll get a disease.'
'What do I care about a disease? The only thing that can kill me, brother, is you.'
'I wouldn't kill you,' Oleg said hastily.
Oleg was the same age as Konstantine, and about the same size: six feet five, heavily muscled, with huge fists. Even better, Oleg was a great fighter. But he feared pain. When he had to fight, he would, but he didn't love it.
love it. He loved winning, of course, but more than that, he loved everything about a brawl. He loved strategizing while on his feet, figuring who was going to attack and how, calculating which of his enemies was easiest to crush and who required extra effort. Pain acted as a stimulant, and red was his favorite color.
Tonight Konstantine wanted more action. He judged there were probably forty people in the Gypsy camp: thirty men and women from ages fifteen to seventy, and ten children. 'Have we not fought hard this night? Have we not washed our hands in the blood of our enemies?'
'They weren't our enemies.' Oleg stared at the campfires below. 'They were just another job.'
'Whoever we have been hired to kill, they are our enemies.' Konstantine took the bottle and drank until the vodka burned his gut, and handed it back. He didn't underestimate the Gypsies; they defended their own, they valued the girl, and most of all, they were dirty fighters. He appreciated that. He also figured with a little strategy, he could steal the girl from under their noses. 'I am negotiating with a terrorist in Indonesia. Soon we'll go to war. Until then'—he started down the hill toward the encampment, the thrill of pursuit thrumming in his veins—'I will get me some Gypsy pussy.'
Oleg smashed the bottle across his head.
Konstantine saw stars.
Tackling him behind the knees, Oleg brought him down, and wrapped a crooked elbow around his throat. 'If you do this, you'll have to leave the clan.'
'Who would have the guts to throw me out?' Konstantine looked into his brother's eyes in challenge. 'Not you, Oleg.'
'No. Not me. But maybe . . . maybe the Gypsy law came not from the first Konstantine . . . but from his maker.'
'From his mama?' Konstantine's lip curled. 'He killed his mama to seal the pact with her life's blood.'
'No. From the devil.' Oleg jerked on Konstantine's hair. 'Did you never think of that? Did you never think the devil might have made that the condition of the pact?'
'Of course I did. Did you never wonder why? Why would the devil tell old Konstantine he couldn't have a Gypsy woman?'
'I ... don't know.'
Konstantine relaxed into his brother's arms. In a conversational tone, he said, 'Did you see the Gypsy girl when she was in town?' He waited. 'Well, did you?'
'Yes.' Oleg was reluctant to feed Konstantine's obsession, but he understood it very well. 'She's beautiful. But too small for you.'
'High breasts, small waist, small hips, dark hair—'
'She'll grow a mustache soon.'
'What do I care? I'm not going to keep her. But did you notice those deep, dark eyes that see everything? Do you know why her eyes are like that? Because she can see the future.'
Oleg's guard slipped. 'They're Gypsies. They lie so they can take the money from the gullible humans.'
'No, I heard her people talking—they thought I was a dog. The girl doesn't tell fortunes. She has visions. I want her to bear me a son.'
'A son. You can't have a son with her. She's a Gypsy!'
Konstantine grabbed Oleg's wrist. 'Think about it,
Oleg. Open your tiny little mind. Imagine a son with my gifts and her visions combined. He would be powerful, so powerful the Evil One himself would fear him. That's why we're not to breed with the Gypsies. Because my child could take the devil's place as the leader of hell.'
Oleg sat back, his expression appalled. 'Sometimes, Konstantine, you're crazy.'
And so swiftly Oleg never had a chance of holding him, Konstantine changed.
Where Konstantine had reclined on the brittle grass, a puddle of clothes remained, and over them stood a huge, muscled, brown wolf—a wolf who was Konstantine.
Oleg scrambled to regain his hold, but the wolf caught Oleg's hand in his teeth and bit down until the bones crunched. 'You filthy
Oleg screamed. Konstantine released. Sometimes Oleg had to be put in his place.
Loping down the hill, Konstantine entered the encampment. Almost at once, he caught the scent of the girl—a young body, fresh and clean. He gave the men a wide berth, wanting no trouble until he had his quarry in sight, and no one paid attention to him, for wolves traveled in packs, and lone dogs were nothing but a nuisance. He followed his nose, and there she was, sitting with the other girls, listening and talking, laughing at the antics of another girl who modeled a fur hat, and all the while using a spindle to turn wool into thread.
He stood out of sight of her campfire, watching.
His intentions were cold and calculating, true; he wanted a son born from the psychic's loins. But the deed would be a pleasure, for the girl was very pretty.
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Unexpectedly, cold crawled up his spine.
He glanced around. The men were drinking, and hadn't noticed him.
Oleg didn't dare interfere again; he was probably still nursing his hand and cursing.
So where was the threat?
There. On the far side of the fire. The old woman.
She was hideous, a hunched crone with eyebrows so dark and wildly curled he could see them from here. She had one of those soft, bulbous, old-lady noses that drooped over her wrinkled lips. Worst of all, beneath the wrinkles and the thinning hair, he saw the remnants of beauty. It was as if some evil spell had befallen her, and that spell was old age.
He was quite sure his brown coat and immobility hid him from human eyes, yet she looked right at him, her big, black-rimmed glasses magnifying her faded eyes. Slowly she lifted her hand and pointed her crooked finger at him.
A silence fell over the girls, and as one they turned to look.
'Varinski,' she said, and the word was a curse.
'Don't be silly, old one. The Varinskis don't bother us.'
'Varinski,' the old woman said again.
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How did she know? How did she recognize him?
Then the girl, the one with the visions, stood up, spindle in hand. 'I'll go check, old one.'
This was easier than he expected.
The girl started toward him.
He absorbed the wolf and once again became a man.
'No!' the old woman shouted with surprising power.
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The girl turned and walked backward toward him. 'It's all right. I've got to get more wool anyway.'
As the old woman struggled to get to her feet, the beautiful Gypsy walked right into Konstantine's arms.
She didn't scream; he didn't give her a chance. With one hand over her mouth, he wrapped his arm around her waist, lifted her, and walked toward the edge of the camp. He was naked. She wore a skirt.
This would be easy.
Then the bitch used her spindle to stab him in the side.
He dropped her and roared.
She screamed at the top of her lungs and scrambled to escape.
He caught a glimpse of the surprised men coming to life and charging toward him. Grabbing her arm, he spun her around toward him, and as she raised the spindle once more, he yanked it out of her hand and threw it at her rescuers.
'Poyesh' govna pechyonovo!'
He laughed, took out
the lead man, punching him into the middle of the charging mass of men. Tossing the tiny Gypsy girl over his shoulder, he ran into the darkness.
They couldn't catch him, those Romanies. They didn't have his stride, his lungs, or his instincts.
After a few attempts to knock him off-balance, the girl went still, but he didn't make the mistake of thinking she was resigned. She was simply waiting. Waiting until he stopped and she could fight him with all her breath and all her spirit. She made him want to laugh, this tiny thing who stabbed him with her woman contraption. She would be a pleasure to tame.