Excerpt: His Darkest Salvation

The Darkest Salvation (Jaguar Warriors) by Julia Stone

Book Three: Jaguar Warriors

Prologue

The light had led to an unprecedented darkness; a flash of heat, a taste of sulphur and then nothing but fire.

The pain was constant. It drifted over his skin like black mist, sliding across flesh and caressing every inch, full of an evil that both fed upon and nourished him.

It sustained a need that grew stronger every day he was in this hellhole.

And it was hell, of that there was no question.

At the edge of Julian Castille’s vision a shape lingered, drifting, out of focus, ethereal. Watching…waiting, until it was time. Then she would carefully slice into his chest, peel back a piece of skin and resume her position.

To wait once more.

For the day he’d finally break.


Chapter One

Jaden DaCosta knew she was in trouble about ten seconds before the door opened.

It was in the air she dragged deep into her lungs and the electricity that ran along with it, pulsing, burning, as it slid down.

She whipped her head around, eyes scanning with quick, cool precision and dove behind the sofa just as a click echoed into the darkened penthouse.

Her heart slowed automatically and she relaxed her limbs, calling the shadows to her as she slid forward on her belly. Fingers felt along her waist to cradle the edge of the charmed dagger that was there, and her senses sharpened as the animal inside awakened.

The door swung open slowly, sweeping across cool tiles and allowing a thin beam of light to fall into the dim interior. She saw a shadow reflected on the floor as long moments passed. It was impressive and she gritted her teeth in anticipation.

And then he was there, striding into the room as if he owned the place.

Jaden gripped the dagger tightly. She inhaled the stench of otherworld, yet it was somehow different, already fading fast.

The intruder paused, his tall frame humming with an energy that was unlike any she’d come across. There was a familiarity to it and it tugged at something deep inside of her.

She watched in silence as he kicked the door shut, winced at the harsh echo as it slammed back against the frame.

The man held still for a few moments and then his head turned slowly. He paused, his nostrils flared. Her breath caught at the back of her throat. Would he be able to smell her through the charm that masked her scent?

Who the hell was he? What the hell was he?

The stranger relaxed a bit and rotated his neck, running his hands through thick hair that hung in waves to his shoulders. Power clung to him, gripping his tall form hungrily, electrifying the air.

It was tinged with a darkness that was hard to read.

After a few moments he headed toward the kitchen and the fridge door swung open at his command. Jaden could have saved him the bother. She’d already checked it out and no one had been inside the penthouse since Julian Castille had pulled a Copperfield and disappeared into thin air. The food was either moldy, dated or dried up.

The shrill echo of a cell phone pierced the silence and she bit her tongue as her body jerked. The coppery taste of blood flooded her mouth and her eyes narrowed as the stranger answered its call.

“Yeah.” His voice was low, husky, with a rasp that sounded rough. He straightened and ran a hand along the back of his neck as he rolled his shoulders and listened. Jaden strained to hear, but even with her enhanced senses she couldn’t pick up anything.

“I just got in.” He sounded weary and she inched forward slowly to get a better look, but froze as he turned once more and headed toward her hiding place, stopping a few feet away.

There was something about the man that called to her and Jaden found it harder to remain calm and undetected.

She studied his profile, her gaze running over the aristocratic nose, high cheekbones, and a mouth that even from this angle was to die for.

Inside the cat erupted and she broke out in a sweat as her skin began to burn and itch. The tattoos along the side of her neck became inflamed, the nerves pinched and sensitive.

Son of a bitch! It couldn’t be….

“It’s bearable.” He said as he ran his hand over his chest. He nodded his head in answer to whatever was being said on the other end before whispering harshly. “Don’t worry, I’m ready. Tomorrow we hunt.”

He threw the cell phone onto the sofa where it landed with a thud not more than two inches from her head. Jaden’s heart pounded so hard it was a miracle he couldn’t hear it.

Julian Castille back from the twilight zone? Was it possible? Had the bastard managed to survive whatever the hell he’d disappeared into?

She tried to ignore the rush of heat that rippled over her flesh as she struggled to keep it together. The man who’d haunted her dreams for the last three years stood not more than a few feet away, very much alive when she’d thought him dead.

As much as Jaden loathed him, deep inside her soul the jaguar was singing, wanting nothing more than to mate. To claim once more the man who’d awakened her spirit and bonded with her jaguar. The man who’d given her one amazing night of pleasure and then rejected her.

How pathetic.

Jaden’s cheeks stung from a sharp slap of humiliation as she recalled the look of disgust that had crossed his face when he’d realized what she was.

No one had ever made her feel like that before. Like dirt. Like less than dirt.

So many questions crowded her head but she pushed them away so she could concentrate. Something was off. This wasn’t the Julian Castille she remembered. Nope. Back in the day he’d been total GQ, hot for sure, but polished and boardroom ready. This man? He was edgy, dark-the word sinister came to mind.

She watched him cross to his bedroom and pause in the entrance, his head cocked to the side for a moment. He then padded over to the large bed just beyond and stripped the shirt from his body before slipping the jeans from his hips.

Jaden’s mouth went dry. She couldn’t take her eyes from him as he stood there, tall, fierce, buck naked with nothing but moonbeams through the window caressing his taught, powerful frame. He’d packed on some serious muscle since she last saw him.

She bit her lips once more to stifle the groan that now sat inside her mouth. Her jaguar was chomping at the bit, wanting out and a wave of dizziness rippled through her skull.

Heat erupted between her legs, which only infuriated her more. How the hell could he do that to her? After all this time?

She closed her eyes, wanting nothing more than for him to disappear.

“If you want I can bend over and give you a real treat.”

The words slid out into the space between them and Jaden’s eyes flew open, her hand going for the knife as adrenaline kicked in.

But it was too late. A flash of white teeth and a shimmering blur of air rushed at her. Jaden barely had time to roll to the side and she jackknifed her body, landing in a crouch with the dagger held in front of her.

Only to feel the heat of him at her back.

Fuck!

She reacted instinctively and swung her hips to the side, kicking her right leg out, intending to drop him hard. But it was she that took a tumble as large hands gripped her shoulders and spun her around like a top until she ended up on her back splayed out like a total loser.

The knife clattered across the tiles, teasing her from several feet away. Jaden clenched her teeth and fought the urge to curse a torrent of foulness. She’d just pulled a total newbie boner and had no one but herself to blame.

Julian stood over her and slowly her eyes moved up his long frame, skipping over the impressive display of manhood, up his taut belly until she saw a sight that was immediately sobering.

Jaden swallowed heavily and couldn’t rip her eyes away from the macabre display of scars that crisscrossed his chest in perfect precision just under his left pectoral. They looked raw and painful.

“Didn’t anyone teach you it’s impolite to stare?”

Jaden’s eyes jerked up to rest upon a face that was every bit as arresting as she remembered, if not more so.

Even in the dim light she could see the flair that lit up his golden eyes, eerily so, yet the smile that fell over his mouth didn’t reach them. A shiver ran over her body.

Julian Castille was not the person she remembered. At all.

“I’m sorry…I…” She began and actually blushed as she stammered like an idiot in front of him. “I didn’t expect…”

“To find me in my own home?” Julian took a step back and Jaden carefully got to her feet. She eyed him warily.

“Where have you been?” She asked as she tried to move closer to where her dagger had fallen.

Julian’s eyes narrowed. “I know you.” He said softly.

Jaden’s eyebrows arched and harsh laughter fell from her lips as she snorted. “Ya think?” she asked sarcastically. Christ, was he brain damaged?

He regarded her in silence and a sliver of something flickered in the depths of his eyes, but quickly disappeared as his lips thinned.

“You’re a DaCosta jaguar. You were there in Belize just before…” His voice trailed off and Jaden was surprised at the level of violence she could sense beneath the surface. There was a darkness inside of him that was lethal. A shiver rolled over her skin as she gazed at him.

But then his words sank in and her anger exploded. He honestly had no memory of their past? Of what they’d shared together?

“You’ve got to be joking.” She whispered harshly, more to herself than anything. “You really don’t remember who I am? Was I that forgettable?”

The air around him shimmered and before she could blink an eye, Julian was there, at her back, his arm across her chest as he pulled her in tight to his body.

She had no time to react and dazedly wondered what the hell had happened to him. She was the warrior, not him. Yet it seemed he’d ingested a bit of superhero dust wherever the hell he’d been.

“I know who you are.” His breath was hot against her neck. “Jaden DaCosta.”

She began to struggle but even with her superior strength he was too strong. Several moments later she gave up, her breaths falling in pants as she tried to calm herself.

His heart beat heavy against her ribs, the rhythm steady and the heat of him scorched her flesh.

“Why are you here?” he whispered, his breath warm against her neck as he nudged the mess of hair that lay there with his nose. Small bursts of electricity fell across her skin and she shivered, pissed that she had no control over her body.

“Where have you been for the last six months?” she asked in response, barely able to get the words out from between her tight lips.

His hand slid along her jaw and he gripped her hard, his fingers digging in until he drew a whimper from her.

“Lady, you don’t want to know where I’ve been. Not really. So why don’t we stop playing this game and you tell me why a DaCosta jaguar is holed up in my place.” She felt his fingers dig in a little more. “And no lies. I’ve not had the pleasure of kicking anyone’s ass in a long time and really don’t give a shit if the ass is-he ground his groin against her back side-nicely rounded.”

Jaden’s mind whirled, calculating every angle possible. Could she trust him?

“I’m looking for something.” She muttered as her mind frantically processed all of her options.

“Yeah, well, aren’t we all.”

Shit. She had no idea what she should do. Julian Castille had never figured into her plans for the night.

His hand slowly slid down her skin until it rested against the soft flesh that pulsed at the base of her neck. The beat was fast and Jaden was desperately trying to keep her jaguar at bay.

Her skin was on fire, aching. It felt as if she was being ripped in two.

“You’re a DaCosta. Convince me why I shouldn’t just snap your neck and be done with it.”

Something in the air changed, darkness slithered around them and she began to shiver as it clung to him and bled into her. His energy was empowered with strange nuances. It was potent, strong, and rippled along her skin until she felt nauseated.

Could she trust him? Did she have a choice?

“You didn’t seem to care about that three years ago.”

Jaden winced as her thoughts slipped from between her lips, a soft whisper, but vocalized nonetheless.

He stilled and she tried to ignore the hard planes of his body as he gripped her even tighter.

“Three years ago doesn’t count anymore.” His voice was soft at her ear, in total contrast to the tense feel of his body. “If I’d known then you were DaCosta I’d never have touched you.”

He did remember.

Humiliation scorched her cheeks with heat and Jaden sought a place of calm. His words ripped into her harder than she’d like to admit. The man had been an invisible part of her life for longer than she cared to admit and she’d been nothing more than the biggest mistake he’d ever made.

His hand slid from her neck, trailing a line of fire downward until he rested his large palm against her heaving chest. Her nipples were hard, and she flinched as his fingers passed over them.

Julian’s mouth was near her ear and his breath sent tingles of energy across her skin as he spoke, his voice low and sensual. “But it’s a different world today and right now you could be the devils bitch for all I care.”

Jaden’s pulse quickened even more and her eyes widened as his left hand traveled down to her hip, where he gripped her hard. The unmistakable feel of his hard cock dug into her back and the throb between her legs was unbearable.

What the hell was wrong with her? She should be kicking his ass but good instead of dancing on the edge. This game would not end well for her.

“It’s been too long Jaden.”

Her tongue caught between her teeth as her name fell from his lips. The way he said it sent waves of pleasure rolling through her. It wasn’t fair. She wanted to hang her head in shame at the betrayal of her body.

He tipped her head up until it rested against his chest and their eyes met as he looked down at her. Long moments passed and the only sound heard was their heavy breathing.

He smiled, but there was a cruelty in the depths of his eyes that gave her pause and put her instantly on edge. “Yeah, way too long,” he said roughly. “You’ll do.”

Then his mouth was upon hers, open, hot, and demanding.

In that moment nothing existed but the two of them. And even though it was all wrong and dark and humiliating, deep inside the cat began to purr.


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