Excerpt: His Darkest Hunger

The Darkest Hunger (Jaguar Warriors) by Julia Stone

Book One: Jaguar Warriors

Chapter One

It did not bode well for the residents of Winterhaven that Jaxon Castille was working. In his particular area of expertise, it meant that someone was going to die.

It wouldn’t be pretty. Death never was, but it would be an act full of stealth, precision and deadly accuracy, performed by the best that there was.

Jaxon threw his satchel to the ground as his eyes fell to the semi frozen earth at his feet. The coolness of late spring lingered there and his quivering nostrils inhaled a fresh, crisp shot of air, blowing out a fine mist of warmth in return. He was well over six feet in height and moved with a sinuous grace that was at odds with someone of his size. His features were dark, a true reflection of both his Spanish heritage and the emotions at war inside his body.

He was tense, and took a few seconds to calm his spirit, his black eyes quickly scanning the small knoll where he stood. The slope was steady and crested down into the valley, where it rushed up against the outskirts of the small town of Winterhaven.

A muscle worked its way sharply across Jaxon’s cheek and he clenched his teeth in an effort to maintain control. Off into the distance, the last lingering rays of sun painted a vibrant picture of reds, oranges and yellows in the sky. Dusk was rapidly approaching and nervous energy clawed at his insides, as thoughts of his forthcoming mission slammed into him.

It was time to put old ghosts to rest and move on.

It was time for her to die.

Steely resolve flickered across handsome features that at the moment were obscured by cold fury. That particular emotion had taken up a permanent residence, ever since he’d received intel on his target several days earlier.

Intel that he had been waiting three long years for.

A picture rushed into his mind and he growled low, deep in his belly, as visions of entangled limbs, long blond hair and violet eyes assaulted him. The pressure along his jaw increased tenfold as his face darkened at the memories.

Traitorous bitch.

His skin began to burn, and his eyesight blurred slightly as his heart rate increased. He was close to the edge and could feel the beast clawing just under the surface.

With superhuman effort Jaxon pushed all thoughts but the deadly mission from his mind. He began to methodically examine the terrain around him, automatically finding the precise spot to set up his sniper gear.

His eyes swept back to town and as evening fast approached, one after one, lights began to flicker on in various homes and businesses.

He was only interested in one, and his eyes hardened at the sight of several patrons inside the small restaurant.

She hadn’t shown up yet.

But she would. His intel had indicated that she always reported for work at five o’clock sharp. He would be waiting for her tonight.

And it would be her last.

A bitter smile exposed even white teeth as he made preparations for the coming hour. He turned in a circle and scented the wind. Satisfied that no creature, human or other was near, Jaxon reached for the large satchel, and with great care, unpacked his M40.

The large rifle had been modified at Quantico, but his team had further enhanced the weapon. It was now cutting edge. He could take out a target at well over one thousand feet. His little bag of goodies contained several variations of nasty little bullets: silver for lycans, anti charm for magick’s, and extra special ones for vamps. These were dipped in holy water and engraved with etchings and symbols of a large sacred cross.

Tonight, Jaxon would need none of those. His target was human.

She would never know what hit her.

Something slithered through his brain then, and for the first time in days a shred of emotion other than hatred grabbed him. It was fleeting, gone as quickly as it had come. But it gave him pause nonetheless.

Was it his conscience? Was something trying to tell him that eliminating her was a bit extreme, even for him?

Angrily he checked and rechecked his weapon, anchored it on its tripod and settled in to wait. He glanced down to his time piece, noting his target would be in range within the next five minutes.

His target.

Funny that.

She had a name, one that when spoken used to make his body tight with desire. It was a name that had not crossed his lips in a very long time and now it had come to this.

She was a target. His target. Even white teeth slashed through the gloom and he snarled savagely.

He sure as hell had thought of her everyday, picturing all kinds of ways to exact revenge. Truthfully, a quick bullet between the eyes was probably more than the bitch deserved. If he had his way she’d suffer, just as Diego had.

On the day she’d betrayed the entire unit.

Movement inside the diner caught his eye and Jaxon felt the world slip away as his focus shifted to the brightly lit interior. There were several patrons inside enjoying a greasy meal of Americana, and several kitchen staff could be seen scurrying about further inside. He noticed two new staff members and felt a slice of impatience stab him.

She was nowhere to be seen.

A flicker of annoyance rushed through him but was quickly put to rest. Jaxon was used to waiting. Patience was a virtue and in his line of work it usually meant the difference between life and death.

He lay there quiet, focused and with deadly intent.

When a flash of blond hair moved from the kitchen and into the main dining area, he almost missed it. Jaxon bit his tongue, tasting the coppery scent of his own blood.

The world did indeed stop then. Everything faded into a swirl of fog as he brought his binoculars to his eyes, letting the amplified glass give him a close up of the face that had haunted him nightly.

He hissed sharply as the lens focused, feeling a keen sense of frustration run through him as her back was presented to the window. He could take her out now. One bullet straight to the back of the head and she’d be dead before she hit the ground.

Instead he held his breath, willing her body to turn so that he could lay eyes upon her one more time.

Her body was hunched over slightly and as he took a second to clinically look her over, he was surprised to note the drastic weight loss. The seam of her spine was plainly visible against the white cotton shirt she wore. She also seemed to be favoring her left side, her posture suggesting weakness there.

Her long blond hair thrown up into a careless ponytail had darkened somewhat, as if she’d been too long from the warmth of the sun. A few of the strands had fallen free and he watched the arc of her hand as she attempted to push the tendril from where it tickled the side of her neck.

His eyes honed in on the pale expanse of skin there, and once more visuals he cared never to visit again darkened his mind. Angrily he beat them away, welcoming the fresh rush of emotion that infused his spirit as hatred once more encircled his heart.

He was done. It was time.

He carefully placed the binoculars to his left and leaned in low, setting his eye to the telescopic lens attached to his weapon.

Within seconds he had a clear view, his fingers grasping the trigger as he eyed his target with determination.

He just needed her to move slightly to the left and the civilian would be out of the picture. Then he would have a clear shot.

She bent towards the patron before pausing, and once more he noted the stiffness of her movements.

Without warning she turned quickly and the flicker of pain that crossed her features startled him. But Jaxon was even less prepared for the face that peered out into the night.

As if she knew he was there.

The expressive violet eyes seemed to be too large for her face. There were dark circles ringed beneath them. Her pallor was startling and her cheeks shrunken. Her generous lips were without color and as his eyes focused on hers once more, Jaxon felt a sharp pang of…something.

Her eyes were wary, pained. He could see from several hundred feet out that, as she peered into the early evening gloom, she was scared shitless.

Jaxon laughed harshly under his breath. She should be scared out of her mind.

It was then that a thought rushed through him, so out of character, he dismissed it right away. But as he watched her slowly turn from the window and walk towards the kitchen, his mind was already made up.

In his entire career he’d never once broken protocol. But tonight was different, and for once Jaxon was going to let emotion take the lead. Maybe he’d get some sort of closure.

Maybe he’d find out why she’d betrayed the unit, or better yet, why she’d betrayed him.

The cold part of his heart roared to life as he jumped to his feet and grabbed his satchel. Quickly he dismantled his weapon, hitching the large bag around his shoulders before making his way stealthily down the embankment towards town.

Yeah, it was time to make things right.

Before she took her last breath and felt the heat of his vengeance, Libby Jamieson would know who her executioner was.

Inside the cat roared with pleasure, and Jaxon quickened his pace in answer to its call.

***

“Libby, does table seven want mashed or fries with his steak?”

The line cook waited expectantly and Libby felt a moment of panic as she grabbed her notepad, her eyes scanning the pages furiously. She felt her heart speed up as the blank pages flashed by, and the beginnings of a full on panic attack were well in the making.

Tears began to form at the corner of her eye, and blackness tickled at the shattered pieces of her brain.

Pete, the owner and resident head cook, noted her pallor and flew from behind his roost, taking the pad away from her gently.

“Libby, calm down. It’s all right.”

His slow drawl washed through her, and the feel of his fingers massaging the tense muscles in her hands provided a token bit of relief.

Frustrated, she shoved the pad of paper at him, her voice catching on a sob.

“What’s wrong with me, Pete? Why can’t I just get it right?” She turned from him, trying to count. Sometimes it worked. Sometimes it didn’t. “I was doing fine. I told him the specials, and he told me he wanted his steak, medium rare with steamed veggies, and then…then I got distracted. Something was outside.”

Pete winced at the anguish that colored her delicate features. How he wished he could make it all go away. He was an old man, a widower with no children. His life was the diner and when this little slip of woman had drifted into town a few months ago, he knew she needed special care to mend her broken spirit.

And he had tried. Good lord how he’d tried. But wherever she’d come from had been nothing short of hell and it had taken time to get her to trust him. She’d only been able to work and interact with his staff and the patrons over the last few weeks.

She’d not had an incident in a day or so, and damned if he was gonna let her get all out of sorts because she’d forgotten if a customer had wanted mashed or fries.

“Take a deep breath darlin’. You said he ordered steamed veggies, and…..just think sweetling, it’ll come.”

Libby fought the blackness with all her might, and was rewarded with a sense of calm that loosened her tight muscles and allowed her to breathe. She closed her eyes and concentrated.

It was only a few seconds before they flew open and a rare smile washed over her mouth.

“He wanted fries….and gravy, with a side dish of mayo!”

Pete patted her softly on her shoulders, “See darlin’? It’s not that hard to do.”

Libby watched as the burly cook turned and shouted down the line. “Libby says the gentleman wants fries with gravy and a side of mayo. Get to it!”

The silly grin didn’t leave her face for a few more moments. Pete moved back behind the grill and flashed a smile of encouragement. “You did good.”

Inside, nestled against the emptiness of her soul, warmth flushed through her system. It was one more battle she’d been able to win. One more challenge overcome.

Her hand went to the left side of her ribcage and she massaged the sore area under her heart. Pete had taken her to a local doctor, and she’d been informed that her ribs had been broken at one time, but they had not healed properly. She’d had pain as long as she could remember; which by most standards wasn’t long at all. She had no memory whatsoever of life before coming to Winterhaven. She knew her name and that was about it.

The discomfort was something she’d gotten used to, along with all of the rest.

“Libby, we just sat a new customer in your section. I gave him a menu and told him you’d be with him shortly.”

Libby glanced back towards the tall brunette who stood in the doorway. Maxine didn’t much care for her. That was obvious.

“Unless you don’t think you can handle it, ’cause I sure as hell wouldn’t mind serving him. He’s smokin’ hot; all tall, dark and sexy.”

Libby felt a headache begin to finger its way sneakily into her head. At the moment she’d like nothing more than to leave, to just go up to her little apartment atop the restaurant and try to forget everything; the nightmares, aches and pains….all of it.

But she couldn’t do that. Pete hadn’t taken any money for rent and she could no longer accept his charity. It was time she started contributing and paying her way.

“No, that’s fine Maxine. I’ll be out in a second.”

She counted to ten, ignoring the smile that graced Pete’s face and marched herself back out into the restaurant.

Mr. Steak and Fries smiled when she walked by, indicating with a nod of his head that his drink needed refreshing. She quickly complied, bringing him a fresh pint of beer.

The customer at table three had his back to her, but she could see that he was perusing the menu and knew she should go and check on him. Slowly her feet shuffled along until she was but a foot or two away.

He was large, muscular and tall by the looks of it. His hair was blue black, and closely cropped, but the texture was thick and it spiked in different directions atop his head.

The arms that rested on the table were darkly tanned, as if he spent a fair bit of time out in the sun. The left had a series of intricate tattoos that disappeared beneath the sleeve of this shirt. She shook her head slightly at the sight of them, so strange yet beautiful. As he flexed the muscles in his arms, the tattoos seemed to move, as if alive. His legs were long and they stretched out before him. They were covered in khaki pants that did nothing to hide the powerful limbs that seemed to be anything but relaxed.

Libby felt a hint of unease waft through her, but she angrily shoved it aside. She was sick and tired of being sick, tired and scared. Enough was enough.

Inhaling deeply, she drew in a calming breath and took two more steps until she was level with him. Keeping her eyes averted, she looked at the specials written on her pad and read them off quickly. Her voice was so soft she was afraid he wouldn’t be able to understand her and she’d have to start all over again.

When she was done, she waited patiently for him to tell her his order. Moments ticked by and no words were forthcoming. Quickly her eyes flickered to the table, and she became mesmerized by the tapping fingers that pounded out a staccato beat against the brown grain table top. They were long, lean and incredibly male.

Libby felt a small flush of heat begin to make its way up from her belly, spreading warmth over her flesh until her pale cheeks began to color.

“Would you like to order something sir?”

She tried again, feeling like a fool at the continued silence that stretched between them. When he finally spoke, Libby jumped, startled at both the low timber and the effect he had on her.

“I’d like you to look at me.”

His voice was low and rough with an edge of steel to it that immediately sent her defenses crashing into red alert. Her first instinct was to flee, to rush through the door of the diner and never look back.

She fought it. She fought it hard, and inside felt a sense of wonder that she was able to mumble a few words instead of run.

“I’m sorry, what would you like to order?”

She turned slightly, angled her head, and exhaled softly as she looked into midnight eyes that were staring at her with lethal hardness.

Her tummy took a nose dive and she stumbled slightly, as the intensity of his glare washed over her. The man was on edge and clearly pissed off. Danger clung to him, caressing his shoulders and surrounding his body like an invisible force.

She could feel it, deep inside; he was not to be messed with. He was the kind of man who would eat someone like her for lunch.

He was the kind of man that haunted her nightmares.

Libby broke into a sweat as her body heated up, full of anxiety. Her breath was coming fast and hard, and she could feel the blackness, once more skirting the edge of madness.

A small sob escaped her as she fought for control, trying to tame the emotions that ran rampant through her frail body. Her side began to ache from the pressure and instinctively her hand went to it, massaging it slowly.

The man’s eyes followed this movement and when they once more locked onto hers, a tingling awareness rushed through her. Her head had begun to pound and she thought she was literally going to come apart.

His eyes still held hers, but something in them had changed. A flicker of emotion colored the blackness that was there, and she swayed slightly, her hand grabbing his shoulder.

“I’m sorry, I…don’t feel well.”

He shrugged away violently from her touch, and she withdrew her hand feeling as if she’d been scorched. Libby staggered back slightly, her eyes never leaving his, trapped by the bitterness that she now saw.

“Libby, do you need some help?” Maxine asked from behind, the tone sarcastic and gleeful at the same time.

“Please, I…” An intense jolt of pain ripped through her brain, and Libby’s hands automatically went to cradle her head as she saw stars. Her eyes tried to focus as they watched the notepad fall to her feet. But she couldn’t. The world seemed to be heaving underfoot, and she swayed as the darkness that had been cloying around the edges of her mind erupted violently.

One second later her body fell forward and she would have smashed face first into the hard tiles, if not for the large arms that grabbed her.

At the same moment glass shattered to their right and a spray of bullets rained down, punching the empty air where they’d both been.


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