Scorched by Darkness (Eternal Mates #18) by Felicity Heaton

Chapter 1





The clock in the grey stone tower to his right continued to chime the hour.

Midnight.

The hundreds of fae, witches, demons and other species crammed into the large square of the underground town swayed, hugged and sung together in a discordant melody that grated in Hartt’s ears as he stood unmoving, the only still thing in a churning sea.

But inside him, it was a different matter.

His stomach twisted and his mind spun, thoughts colliding and breaking apart, emotions threatening to unravel the tentative hold he had on the darkness. It lurked, waiting in the deepest recesses of his soul, a creeping and malevolent thing that hunted for a weakness in him, the tiniest fissure in his will that it could slip its claws into and rip wide open.

He lifted his left hand and absently rubbed the spot over his sternum as acid filled the scraped out and raw abyss where his heart should have been.

He had been a fool again.

Hartt tried not to think about it as he stood there in the square, his back to one of the towering three-storey grey stone buildings that enclosed it on all sides. He tried not to think about her.

Or the death wish he had.

He must have one since he had just come close to stepping into Underworld, a nightclub in London, to speak with his ex. If he could call her an ex. Iolanthe had stood him up on their wedding day, had left him waiting at the grand celebration his family had put together.

Looking like a fool.

The rubbing grew harder as the empty pit ached, his heart attempting to resurrect itself. The temptation to call on his armour was strong. It would only take a simple mental command to the black and silver bands that encircled his wrists and the onyx scales would ripple over his body, transforming his fingers into talons that could easily slice through bone and remove the damned broken thing that passed for his heart, freeing him of its constant torment.

He had been free.

For centuries, he hadn’t thought about her. He had moved on with his life, had stepped off the route that had been laid before him by their parents and trod his own path in the world.

And he had been happy.

He had a friend who was like a brother to him, had founded an assassin guild that had a fearsome reputation and was undeniably the best one in Hell, and he had more coin than he could ever need. He wasn’t short on females either. If the mood struck him, he only had to take a walk through the town that had sprung up around his guild and take his pick of the females who lived in it.

He had been happy.

And then Harbin, a snow leopard shifter who was more like a friend than an employee, had done something reckless in the mortal realm.

And his world had collided with Iolanthe’s again.

And all the godsdamned feelings Hartt had thought long dead had come flooding back.

So, like the fool he was, he had gone to see her tonight, well aware that if her jaguar shifter mate so much as smelled him nearby, he was a dead man.

Worse, he had brought his family’s ring with him.

One she should have worn on her finger.

Hartt raised his hand and scrubbed it down his face, somehow held back a groan as he closed his eyes and shook his head. What the hell was wrong with him?

He blamed Fuery. His brother-not-by-blood was settling into his new life with his fated female, Shaia, a happy ending that the elf deserved after everything he had been through. Not only that, but Harbin was happily mated too. Seeing the two of them with their females was screwing with his head, rousing desires he should have forgotten.

He blamed Iolanthe too. The shock of seeing her again after all these centuries must have jolted something loose.

“She means nothing to me,” Hartt muttered as the people around him swayed and came close to jostling him too.

The square was far too packed. It felt as if every person living in the fae town that occupied a cavern beneath a mountain in the highlands of Scotland was out tonight, crammed into the small heart of it to celebrate the dawning of a new year.

Someone tried to grab him, leaning close to him, and he flashed fangs and snarled as he rolled his right shoulder and shirked them. The big shifter of undetermined species, although he smelled like a wet dog, grunted and shrugged, and grabbed one of the witches instead. She squealed in delight as he lifted her and spun, her petite booted feet coming up and almost clocking Hartt in the face.

He huffed and leaned back to avoid being struck, and the darkness writhed in response to the switch in his emotions. If it had been a living being, it would have smirked. Sometimes, it felt as if it was alive and had a will of its own.