Kiss of the Betrayer
a Bringer and the Bane novel by Boone Brux
Ever since he was fifteen, mix-blooded Bringer Luc Le Daun has blamed himself for the death of the woman he loved. His secret guilt led him into a life of danger, risking all and committing to no one.
Seeking revenge on Luc Le Daun has been all Jade Kendell has thought about for years. When her plan goes awry and she’s brought into the Bringers’ fold, she fights to keep her own dark secret hidden. Her desire for a better life battles with a promise made long before she understood its true cost.
Brought together by their pasts, Jade and Luc plunge into the dangerous world of the demon Bane, yet as the peril of their journey grows, so does the attraction between them. The price they will be forced to pay threatens their fragile bond, especially when their slightest misstep could give the Demon King exactly what he needs to annihilate the Bringers…
Title: Kiss of the Betrayer (Bringer and the Bane series)
Author: Boone Brux
Genre: Fantasy Romance
Length: 400 pages
Release Date: December 2012
Print ISBN: 978-1-62061-035-0
Ebook ISBN: 978-1-62061-036-7
Imprint: Entangled Select
Praise for Kiss of the Betrayer:
“Boone’s wonderful prose, pulse-pounding action scenes and intriguing, well-developed world had me turning with rare enthusiasm.”
– New York Times bestselling author C.L. Wilson
© 2012 Boone Brux
The Shrouded Forest, Outer Faela, Inness
“Come out, come out, wherever you are.” The demon’s taunt circled through Jade’s veiled hiding place. “You can’t escape.” Leaves rustled, shuffling under the demon’s feet. Its call drew closer. “You can never escape.”
Jade ground her teeth together and squeezed her right arm, cringing against the searing bite racing up her limbs. After all these years, she’d still not gotten used to Bane burn, as she called it. Her gaze darted around her small hiding spot inside the hollowed tree trunk, searching for something to draw the demon’s attention away. Dampness seeped through the seat of Jade’s pants and sent an involuntary shiver up her spine—whether from cold or anticipation, she couldn’t say.
A stone lay half-buried beneath the layer of rotting leaves. Careful not to make a sound, she picked up the rock and let it drop into her palm.
“You know I’ll find you,” the demon called from farther away.
With achingly slow movements, Jade scooted low enough to get a clear shot through the branches. She waited, listening. Nothing. Cursed demon. The stretching silence chipped away at her patience. Not a single leaf fluttered beyond her cover, but the needle-like bites on her skin told her the demon huntress was near.
Jade drew her hand back and focused on a spot several yards away. Concentrating, she closed her eyes and sought the ancient words. An earth magic chant, normally dormant until she needed it, filled her mind and rushed from her lips in an indistinct hiss. She snapped her wrist forward and released the stone.
As if thrown with full force, the rock sailed through the opening in the branches and disappeared into the shadows of the surrounding woods. A small crack echoed when the stone hit what must have been the trunk of a tree.
She held her breath but didn’t have to wait long. Three running steps thundered toward her hiding place. She tensed, ready to fight. The loud thump of the demon’s wings extending was followed by a rushing uptake of air. The dark shadow soared above her and headed toward the sound of the rock. It banked left and disappeared into the wall of trees.
Not waiting to see if her ruse worked, Jade scrambled from her spot, the twigs tearing the green kerchief from her head and scoring her back with their sharp points. She didn’t stop to retrieve the material or examine her injuries. Escape was her only thought.
Any second, the demon would realize she’d outsmarted it and return to the hunt, more determined than ever. Jade raced in the opposite direction, never running in a straight line for too long. She snaked a path through the trees in an all-too-familiar pattern meant to throw her pursuer off her trail. The woods blurred. Her chest tightened and her breathing became labored, but she didn’t stop.
Prickles nipped at her skin, which meant the danger was still near. A stitch of pain jabbed at her side. She wrapped an arm around her waist, but it didn’t help stem the discomfort. She craned her neck to look over her shoulder. Only the dark woods yawned behind her—empty—demonless as far as she could see.
Hope jabbed at her, teasing her into slowing her step, mocking her with the possibility that she’d actually eluded the Bane. She scanned the canopy. Still no demon. Her jog slowed and finally stopped. Blood pounded against her chest like a drum, ricocheting into her ears. She dragged in a deep breath, willing her body to recover.
A rivulet of sweat ran down the back of her neck, beneath her loose and tangled hair. She pushed the damp strands from her face. Her gaze raked the trees and sky for movement. Nothing. The demon lived for this kind of challenge. It loved to taunt its prey, which was her at this moment, into doing something stupid, namely standing around like an idiot the way she was now.
Jade began to jog again, ignoring the pinch in her side but not ignoring the raw burn that swept across her skin. Pain was the one thing that could divide her attention and make her lose focus. Over the years she’d mastered tolerance for many of life’s discomforts—cold, hunger, loneliness—but pain refused to be conquered.
She massaged her ribs. Just a little farther and she’d reach the sanctified grounds of the small chapel. There she’d be safe and could rest.
The throbbing pain suddenly flared, her only warning before large talons wrapped around her upper arms and lifted her from the ground. Jade screamed, her stomach lurching toward her feet. Her body swung wildly, the demon’s wings pulling her higher, cresting the tops of the trees.
Nausea rolled through her. “Put me down!”
A high-pitched cackle erupted from above. “Are you sure about that?”
Next to pain, she hated heights most. Vomit crept up her throat and she swallowed hard, fighting against the demon’s hold. Swirling air from the flapping wings battered her.
“You promised, no flying!”
The demon cackled again. “Promises are meant to be broken.”
“Damn it, Rell, put me down!”
“You’re no fun.”
Jade bit her tongue when the creature flipped its body to point head down. The sting had hardly registered before they fell into a spiral, plunging toward the earth. Her stomach slammed into her throat. Heartbeats hammered against her chest as the ground raced up to meet her.
Please, Sainted Ones, let me die now.
They circled low over the smooth rise of a hill. Without warning, Rell let her go and Jade suddenly found herself toppling through the air. A scream ripped from her throat but turned to a heavy grunt when she hit the ground hard and tumbled across the rise in a tangle of limbs. Stiff vegetation scraped a layer or more of flesh from her arms. A thorny bush blocked her path and she crashed into it, its sharp branches enveloping her. She groaned and rolled away from the plant’s painful embrace to lay with her arms and legs thrown wide.
Stinging cuts licked her body. “Fucking demon,” she muttered.
The wild pounding in her chest slowed as the shock from hovering ten feet above the tree line faded. Jade rolled to her stomach and kissed the wet grass. Thank the Sainted Ones. She lay with her face pressed against the cool ground for a few seconds before pushing to a sitting position, babying her battered ribs.
The demon circled and flared its green wings, alighting on the top of a boulder. Curled black talons rasped along the stone.
“I’m going to kill you,” Jade said.
“That’s not a very nice thing to say.” The creature folded its green wings behind its back and gave a feminine pout. “Besides, you can’t. I’m invincible.”
Jade struggled to her feet and pulled a dagger from her boot. “You know I hate flying.”
“Yes,” the demon drawled. “I do.”
“Then why did you throw me to the ground from ten feet up?”
“You told me to put you down.” The demon shrugged. “I was only doing what you asked.”
“I could have broken every bone in my body. Where’s the fair fight in that?”
“Bless the Sainted Ones, but you complain a lot. Whoever said being hunted by a demon was fair?” A wicked grin spread across the creature’s face. Its tiny spiked horns flicked toward the knife clutched in Jade’s hand. “Are we going to fight now?”
Exhaustion and aches battered her body, but Jade ignored them. She might not be able to best Rell, but getting in a few good punches would help cool her ire. “Oh yes, we are most definitely going to fight.”
“Oh goody.” The demon’s grin widened to a fanged smile. It jumped from the boulder and the scrape of talons against rock whispered across the clearing. “This is my favorite part.” Muscular legs rippled under the thin iridescent fabric that clung to her legs with each step the Bane took toward Jade. “I love your misplaced hope of beating me.”
“That’s the wonderful thing about being human, Rell—my optimism.”
The demon edged to the side, trying to work its way behind her, but Jade knew this maneuver. Tensed for the attack, she backed in a circle, keeping the demon in front of her.
“Remember hope, Rell?”
She stressed the demon’s name, trying to distract it.
The creature turned its head and spit, and then tracked its yellow eyes back to her. A sneer curled across the full upper lip, daring her to continue.
Not taking the warning, Jade spouted some of her best verbal barbs. “The joy of a new day? The feel of the sun on your face?”
Fangs glistened in the gloom of the darkening woods. “You humans are consumed with feelings.” Rell’s voice rose to a mocking whine. “Is this right? Is that wrong? I don’t have to worry about any of that now.”
“I know you.” Jade pointed the knife at the demon. “You miss being human.”
“And you talk too much.” The demon crouched. “Let’s fight.”
She attacked. Jade dove to the side and swiped her knife in a wide arc as she came to her feet. The blade grazed the demon’s arm, but Rell only laughed. With a powerful leap, the demon launched onto the boulder and spun to push off, hitting Jade full force and taking her down. The blade flew from Jade’s hand. A smooth green arm slid around her neck and tightened like a large snake crushing its prey, cutting off her air. She gasped and clawed at the forearm and elbow, but the pressure didn’t ease.
Blood pounded against Jade’s skull and black dots danced in front of her eyes. She kicked and flopped, trying to get free.
“Why would I miss being a weak human female?” Rell whispered. “I serve no man. Answer to no master.”
The zing of a blade being drawn sang through Jade’s descent into unconsciousness.
“Release her,” a strange voice said.
Rell’s grip eased enough for Jade to suck in a partial breath.
“Release her,” the voice demanded.
The demon’s imprisoning arm loosened and Jade fell to the ground. She rolled to her back and coughed, gulping in the cool, blessed air. The black dots faded and her vision cleared enough to see the silver tip of a blade pressed against Rell’s neck.
“We’ve got company,” the demon said, staring down at her.
Jade struggled to her feet. A young man of about seventeen held the sword. His eyes were wide with fear but his hand remained steady. The knot at his throat bobbed up and down with compulsive swallowing, his jaw clenching and unclenching.
“Run,” he said. “I’ll deal with the demon.”
The creature laughed. “Yes, run along, Jade, so the boy can deal with me.”
Jade’s gaze cut to Rell. “Don’t hurt him.”
“Run,” the young man said again. “This abomination needs to die.”
The demon laughed again. “It’s too easy.”
“Rell.” Jade whispered the demon’s name, holding the creature’s focus on her.
Rell’s eyes narrowed, pinning her with their yellow intensity. With slow movements, Jade gripped the point of the man’s sword and moved it away from the smooth, green neck. The blade sliced her hand but she didn’t release it.
The man fought her. “What are you doing? Run, you stupid cow.”
Anger blazed in the reptilian eyes, and before Jade could act, Rell spun. Like a striking snake, the demon knocked the blade from the man’s hand and closed black talons around his throat, lifting him off the ground. His toes dangled an inch above solid earth, kicking, searching for a foothold. He choked and sputtered.
“Rell!” Jade shouted. “Put him down!”
The demon’s lips pulled back in a snarl. “Why should I?”
“Put—him—down.” She enunciated each word, trying to pull Rell from the blood lust, but the demon didn’t budge. “Please.” With a soft touch, Jade laid a hand on the demon’s wrist. “Please. Don’t give in.”
Rell’s nostrils flared, seeming to struggle against her plea. “But the pull is so strong.”
“Fight it.” Jade took Rell’s face in her hands and forced the demon to look at her. “Fight it.” Her fingers caressed the smooth and delicate cheek of the demon. “Let him go.”
Sable brown brows furrowed against the inner struggle so apparent on the demon’s face. Rell stared for several long seconds, the man’s efforts to escape weakening. Yellow eyes swirled to green and back to yellow. With an anguished cry, the demon tossed the man across the clearing. He landed with a grunt and lay on his back, wheezing. Jade didn’t move to help him, but instead lowered her hands, holding the demon’s gaze. This was the most dangerous time.
“Go,” Jade said quietly to the man.
He coughed. “You control the demon?”
She opened her mouth to tell him to shut up but before she could utter a word, Rell shot across the distance to tower over him.
“Nobody—” Talons clawed the ground next to the man’s leg—“controls the demon.”
He scrambled backward. Jade raced across the clearing and jumped between them, bracing her back against the demon’s chest to stop another attack. “Go! Now!”
His gaze darted from her to Rell. Finally jumping to his feet, he fled into the woods. They stood, back to chest, watching until he’d disappeared.
Jade released a heavy breath and turned. “I’m proud of you.”
Rell gave a snort of disgust. “You should have let me kill him.”
“Why? Because it feels good?”
A fanged smile pulled across the creature’s mouth. “No, because the jackass called you a stupid cow.” The demon reached and brushed a sweaty strand of hair from Jade’s face. “Nobody calls my sister names—but me.”
The Iron Crown Tavern, Faela
Luc dodged the barstool flying past his head but failed to avoid the man’s uppercut. A meaty fist slammed into his jaw, sending him backward into a crowd of scantily clad women. Their shrieks filled the air, but thankfully their soft bodies cushioned his descent. Plump bosoms pressed against his head and the smell of heavy perfume over body odor enveloped him. The group stumbled under his weight, but settled without injury in a loose pile on the floor.
“Ladies.” Luc smiled, wincing at the pain in his jaw. He struggled to stand but the room spun around him. His hands conveniently fondled as much exposed flesh as possible before finding his feet. “I’m grateful for the assistance.”
The women giggled and trailed their hands across his shoulders, down his back and over his butt. One dark-haired lovely cupped his crotch before lowering her hand.
Luc’s smile spread. “Weeell,” he slurred. “Maybe I have time for a little—”
Hands gripped his collar and the waist of his pants, lifting him upright and off the ground. With an animal roar, the behemoth tossed Luc like a bag of grain. His body was hurled across the room, the low, black beams of the tavern just inches above his head. A rickety table broke his fall and collapsed, sending wood, ale, and its occupants scattering.
Luc lay among the splintered timber, the tang of blood in his mouth and a fierce pounding in his head. How had his evening gone so awry? One minute he was enjoying a pint and the attentions of aparticularly friendly lass, and the next, he found himself ejected from his seat by a most unfriendly man.
“Stay away from my woman.” The stranger towered over Luc, pointing a fat finger at his face. “Do you hear me?”
Luc struggled to sit, the pile of wood shifting under him. “I beg your pardon, sir.” The skin around his lower lip felt tight and hot. “I didn’t realize the lady was with you.” He held his hand out. “Some assistance, please.”
The brute glowered at him.
“Truly sir, you have my deepest apologies for any affront I might have caused.”
The man grunted and clutched Luc’s hand, hauling him to his feet.
“Thank you.” He brushed the chips of wood from his leather tunic and wiped the spatters of ale from his face with his sleeve. “It was all a misunderstanding.” He smiled up at the giant. “You misunderstood my friendly nature as flirting with your woman and I misunderstood the way she kept rubbing my cock under the table as her availability.”
The brute roared and Luc threw his punch, connecting with his attacker’s stomach. The man doubled over, meeting Luc’s raised knee, but he was made of sterner stuff and barreled forward, taking Luc down.
The massive weight of the stranger knocked the breath from Luc’s body. Punches rained down on his face, splitting his lower lip. Pain ricocheted through his body with each blow. With a hard jab, he landed an elbow strike in the man’s neck. Air rushed from the stranger’s lungs and he coughed. Luc punched him again in the jaw, which seemed to have no effect other than to make the brute angrier. A snarl squeezed from between the man’s gritted teeth a second before he grabbed Luc’s head and beat it against the floor.
Luc managed another direct hit to the thick jaw, causing the stranger to release his skull and reel backward. Black dots danced in front of his eyes and he struggled to sit up, but he was still trapped under the weight of the man. With no escape, he lifted his arms to block the incoming assault but gained little relief. Kicks followed punches, battering any exposed body parts. Luc curled into a ball, shielding himself from the free-for-all, which now felt like multiple hands, multiple feet, and multiple people.
The sound of breaking bottles rang from somewhere seconds before shards of glass showered him. The beating suddenly stopped, followed by a thunderous crash next to him.
Taking advantage of the lull in his thrashing, Luc uncurled and rolled over to push up to his hands and knees. The tang of blood mixed with the stale taste of ale. His stomach roiled and he coughed, making it difficult to breathe. The swelling around his eyes impeded his vision and the hot throbbing of his cheek vibrated from his temple to his teeth. He reached for the table to help him stand, but missed. Strong hands wrapped around his biceps and jerked him off the ground.
“Not again,” he moaned, squinting through bloated lids. In the tavern’s dim light he could barely make out the two cloaked figures holding him. “You’re not going to hit me, are you?” His head swam from the pummeling and the numerous pints of ale he’d consumed. “Cuz, I must say, I feel I’ve had my fair share tonight.”
Each stranger secured one of his arms around their shoulders and dragged him toward the door. Luc’s legs wouldn’t cooperate with his mental command to stand and fight. None too gently, they jostled him up the narrow stairs and out onto the dark street. Cool air brushed his face.
“No more fighting for you tonight,” a deep voice ordered.
“Damn, and I was doing so well, don’t you think?” He laughed and winced, then swung his head toward the speaker. A black hood shielded the man’s face, making it impossible to identify him. Luc stumbled, but they held him upright. “Did my father send you?”
“No,” the other stranger said.
Luc craned his neck, trying to bring the second man into focus, but the action only made his head bobble uncontrollably. The world spun and thunder ricocheted inside his skull. He inhaled, trying to settle his stomach. The smell of rotting fish and seawater filled his nostrils. Vague recognition cued him to the fact that they were traveling along the docks. Ships creaked and rocked against their lines and the noise from the tavern faded into the lapping of waves.
Their footsteps sounded hollow and overly loud against the wooden planks of the pier. With great effort, Luc concentrated on not stumbling.
Another cloaked figure stood at the end of a gangway, watching their approach. The image wavered and slowly settled into focus. The person appeared smaller than the two men holding him.
Luc’s fighting spirit rallied. He could probably overpower the smaller one if need be. The strangers shifted, hefting him higher. Luc’s stomach muscles clenched against the piercing ache in his side. Maybe he could take the little one, but he sincerely hoped he wouldn’t have to.
Progress up the gangway was slow. Luc tried to widen his swollen eyes, but gained only a fraction of an inch more clarity. He tripped and lurched forward onto the deck of the ship but the men steadied him, taking most of his weight. The surroundings looked familiar. He knew this ship. He was almost certain.
“Where are you taking me?”
“Bed,” one of the strangers said. “To sleep it off.”
“Well now, that’s very decent of you,” Luc said, giving his supporters a grateful smile. “Do me a favor, friends. Don’t tell my father. He’ll kill me if he knows I’ve been fighting again.”
One of the men chuckled but didn’t respond further.
They maneuvered across the deck and around a large blackened hole in the center. The faint odor of charred wood hung in the air. Luc took exaggerated steps away from the hole, the gentle rocking of the ship making it difficult to traverse a safe path. A small door stood open with the smaller stranger waiting at the side.
“This is Rhys Blackwell’s ship.” The need to defend his friend’s vessel flared but quickly fizzled. Every movement took energy—energy he didn’t have. “I hope for your sake he knows you’re using it? Probably does. He knows everything. And Siban, I can’t get away with anything—always knows when I’m lying.”
They ignored his drunken ramblings and they half-walked, half-dragged him across the floor of the captain’s quarters and set him on the bed.
Luc’s injuries coalesced into one giant ache. He groaned and melted into a boneless mass against the bedpost. The cool wood pressed into his aching cheek and prevented him from falling forward.
The smaller figure stepped inside the room, locked the door, and threw back her hood. Black curls tumbled from the covering and pale blue eyes sparkled with concern.
“Ravyn?” Luc tried to widen his lids. He pointed. “Ravyn.”
The two men pulled their cloaks over their heads and tossed them to the side.
“Rhys! Siban! What are you doing here?”
“Saving your ass, my friend.” Rhys knelt in front of him and gave a low whistle. “You need to quit stopping fists with your face.”
Luc laughed and winced. “Got in a good punch or two. Did you see it?”
“Impressive,” Ravyn said. She joined Rhys and knelt, pushing Luc’s hair out of his face. Her fingers traced his swollen eye. “Very impressive.”
She cupped a hand against the side of his face and whispered words he couldn’t understand. Heat spread along his cheek and down his neck. The throbbing eased, bringing blessed relief from the headache that had started at the base of his neck. The room began to spin.
“Lay back on the bed, Luc.” Ravyn’s voice lulled him, zapping any argument he might have considered working up. She swiped her hand across his forehead and pushed the hair away from his face. “Everything is going to be all right.”
His body went willingly and settled against the soft down tick. The scent of lavender wafted from the pillow when he laid his head on it, reminding him of Ravyn. Her fingers lingered against his skin before she rose to stand next to Rhys.
Even in his drunken state, Luc was glad he couldn’t fully make out their expressions. He thought he’d caught a hint of uncertainty in Ravyn’s expression. Maybe it was disappointment or pity. He was suddenly grateful that his eyelids were nearly swollen shut. Nobody spoke. Shame crept over him, but he’d lost the capacity to care what people thought of him long ago. Drink melted his pride and numbed his morals.
“Is he strong enough?” Rhys asked, looking at Ravyn. “Maybe we should wait until he sobers up.”
“I think these are just bruises and cuts and a lot of ale.” She looked at Rhys. “But I’ll heal him first. We can’t risk anything going wrong. I’m already guessing at too much.”
“What are you talking about?” Luc tried to sit up, certain he needed to be involved in whatever plan his friends were discussing. “I can help.”
Rhys lifted Luc’s hand and held his wrist in a tight grip. “Test him.”
“Test me for what?” he slurred.
Rhys threaded his fingers through Luc’s, pulling his hand open. Before Luc could react, Ravyn stepped forward and sliced his palm with a knife. The lamplight caught the blade and Luc recognized it as Ravyn’s immortal dagger, the weapon used to convert a Bringer to full power.
“Son of a—” Luc cried.
Rhys released him. Luc snatched his hand back to stare at the blood that welled but didn’t spill from the gash across his palm. He clenched his fist against the pain.
“Why the shaggin’ Saints did you cut me?”
“In death there is life,” Ravyn said. “In sacrifice, return.”
A tingle sparked in Luc’s hand. Heat raced along the cut. He opened his fist and stared at the slash. Pain snaked along the wound but his protest died on his lips. Threads of euphoria pushed against his muddled mind.
“All barriers destroyed and evil be spurned,” Ravyn continued.
Luc let his hand fall open to rest on the bed and looked at Ravyn, blinking several times to bring her into view. White light pulsed around her and ribbons of gold coiled outward, dancing around him. The burning of the cut faded away to be replaced by an overwhelming feeling of love.
“No hindrance remain, from our blood be renewed.”
He tried to sit up again, needing to go to her, but Siban pushed him back down. Her words were like a warm rain spilling over Luc, drenching and cleansing the stain on his soul. A tear slipped from the corner of his eye but he didn’t wipe it away.
“That which was taken settle in those who Bring true,” Ravyn finished.
“Ahhh!” Luc clutched his hand to his chest “What’s happening?”
His two friends knelt by the bed—Rhys, his best friend, at his feet and Siban, the mixed-blood Tell who Luc had recently come to think of as a friend, by his head. Ravyn stood.
“Relax, Luc.” Ravyn’s voice penetrated his pain. “We’re almost finished.”
Rhys laid his body across his legs as Siban stood over him and pressed his biceps to the bed.
“Finished?” Luc held Ravyn’s gaze, wanting nothing more than to go to her. He struggled against the men’s hold. “Release me.”
A spark of reality pushed through the haze of euphoria that gripped him. Being pinned down, unable to move, was tantamount to complete submission. Never was he completely at somebody’s mercy. He kicked and twisted against his restrainers. The sensation of being bound pushed away all traces of confusion. Panic rose.
“Damn you, let me go!” His shout filled the room. Surely, somebody would hear him. “Why are you doing this?”
He thrashed about, needing to get free, but the men shifted their weight to pin him fully to the bed.
“Hurry up,” Rhys growled.
Ravyn stepped to the bed and Luc froze, trying to understand the scene before him. Blue light glowed around the blade of the dagger she held—pointed directly at his chest—her intent clear.
A single word hissed from him. “Why?”
“Because we need you.” Ravyn’s voice quivered slightly.
“But are we not friends?”
“Yes, Luc.” The sweetest smile pulled at Ravyn’s mouth. She leaned in and kissed him gently on the lips. “The best of friends.”
Before he could reply, she straightened and brought the dagger down, plunging it into his chest, burying it deep. The blade bit into his skin and burned a path to his heart. Searing heat spread across his chest as blackness closed around his vision.
One word slipped from Luc’s lips before darkness claimed him. “Betrayer.”