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The Darkest Touch dh-3

Jaci Burton

  The Darkest Touch

  ( Demon Hunters - 3 )

  Jaci Burton

  Jaci Burton. The Darkest Touch

  (Demon Hunters — 3)


  He was assigned to find and retrieve the black diamond. Find Angie and Isabelle.

  He’d found Angie, so one step accomplished. But damn, he’d just stepped into a whole hell of a lot more.

  Pandora’s box had just opened, and he had a feeling he and Angie had just climbed right inside of it.

  And despite his anger, his determination to keep his emotional distance, here he sat, with his arms wrapped around Angelique.

  And dammit, it felt right.

  Not good. Not good at all.

  He pushed away and stood, looking down at her. “You okay now?”

  She nodded, swung her legs over the bed. “I’ll be fine.”

  “Get dressed. Pack what you can in five minutes. We’re getting out of here now before the Sons of Darkness send in round two.”

  He pivoted and walked away from her, needing the distance. He’d do his job. He’d protect her and he’d bring back the black diamond.

  But that’s all he was going to do with Angelique. He wasn’t going to care about her.


  To Shauna Summers and Jessica Sebor at Bantam Dell, for your invaluable editorial advice on this book. Your keen insights were a bright light in the darkness. Thank you.

  To the copyediting, marketing, and art staff at Bantam Dell. It really does take a village to put a book together. Thank you for finding my mistakes and making my book sound and look beautiful. I so appreciate your hard work and dedication.

  To my wonderful agent, Deidre Knight, my light and my sanity. Thank you for keeping my feet on the ground and answering all my dumb questions.

  To the BB’s, who put up with me daily. What would I do without you? I love you guys.

  And as always, to Charlie, who stands by me even when I’m not fun (usually at deadline time). Thank you for your love, your patience, and all the fast food.



  Like the dark, damp cave Angelique Deveraux stood in, Bart’s hands were cold. Icy cold. And he held on to her with a death grip. Try as she might, she couldn’t pull away. She shivered and tried to jerk her arm free, but he held tight to her, rambling on and on about her being a catalyst to empower the black diamond. That she was the one they’d been searching for. He held her hand on the black diamond, that once lifeless rock that now glowed with an undulating mystical blue.

  This was wrong. She’d been hired to unearth the black diamond. She’d unearthed it, all right. And a whole mess of trouble to go with it, including finding out that her boss, Bart, who she’d thought was the owner of Diavolo Diamonds, was in fact a demon. A demon!

  Now she was held in this giant cave, surrounded by Bart’s minions-gruesome creatures from the bowels of hell-while Bart conducted a ceremony to bring the black diamond to life using her and Nic, another demon hunter, as catalysts.

  Only it wasn’t working. As soon as Bart laid her hand on the diamond, the light within the rock extinguished. Bart frowned, looking at her as if she’d caused the light to die, cursing at her, mumbling that she wasn’t the one he thought she was.

  What was he talking about? Who or what was “the one”?

  Fear snaked its way through her nerve endings. The look Bart shot at her was lethal. Her legs began to shake as Bart’s grip tightened on her wrist.

  “You’re hurting me,” she whimpered, trying again to break free of his superhuman hold.

  Suddenly, Ryder was there, next to her, and she breathed a sigh of relief. Ryder and those of his group were demon hunters. Could they defeat Bart and these creatures? She hoped so.

  Ryder placed his hand over hers, telling Bart he no longer needed Angelique. Ryder extricated her from Bart’s grasp, moving her from the altar and back with the demon hunters. Bart let her go. He let her go! Maybe he had no more use for her, his attention drawn back to the diamond, and to Nic, who remained on the altar.

  Angelique took a moment to catch her breath, assess her surroundings. The cave was filled with demons, no way out. She couldn’t run.

  As an archaeologist, she’d faced down ghosts of the past, worked alone in ruins, and uncovered skeletal remains, always feeling as if she were surrounded by the long-ago dead. It had never bothered her.

  But witnessing a demon ritual, seeing creatures from hell, knowing they existed, that she’d somehow become a part of all of it, was more than she could handle. Her mind didn’t want to process what Bart had said to her.

  “Something big and loud is about to happen,” Ryder whispered to her as Bart droned on, conducting some sort of demonic ceremony. “I want you to head out of here as soon as it does. This is your chance to escape.”


  Ryder inclined his head to the back of the room. “As soon as it happens, the demons will come after us and the exit will be clear. Head that way.”

  She frowned, not liking the idea of leaving him. “What about you and the others?”

  Ryder and the rest of his crew of demon hunters, known as the Realm of Light, had amassed in this cave to fight the Sons of Darkness. They were currently surrounded by demons-huge, monstrous creatures that would frighten even the most sturdy adult. The creatures towered over the humans. Some were massive, others fast and deadly with their dripping, toxic claws and teeth. She couldn’t imagine doing battle with those things.

  “We’re here for the duration. We’ve got to fight them. You don’t have the training, and I can’t take them on and protect you at the same time, so I need you out of the way.”

  He was right. She had no idea how to battle these creatures. But she didn’t want to leave. There were so many questions she didn’t have answers to yet.

  Somehow Ryder sensed her reluctance, because his gaze narrowed. “I mean it, Angie.”

  She inhaled, letting it out on a resigned sigh. Thoughts of protest hovered on her lips, but she bit them back. She was a hindrance and would get in the way. And she did really want to get out of this with her life. “Okay, I’ll run.”

  “Good. Hang outside the cave entrance and wait for us.”

  He started to turn away, but she held tight to his hand, forcing him to look at her.


  “Please be careful.” She wanted to see him again, to explain the reason she’d brought the black diamond to Bart. It wasn’t her fault. She wasn’t a treasure hunter, no matter what Ryder might think. She hadn’t had a choice. She hadn’t known what Bart was.

  “I’ll be okay,” Ryder said. “We’ll talk when all this is over.”

  She released his hand and began to drift toward the back of the cave. Just then, an explosion of lightning struck in the vicinity of the demon hunters. Growls mixed with shouts as the hunters engaged in battle with the demons. Smoke filled the room and the smell of melting demon assailed her nostrils.


  That was her cue. She ran like hell through the tunnels, her heart pounding, her steps unsure as she felt along the dark passageway. Afraid that someone or something would follow her, she tore ahead at a fast pace, the hairs on the back of her neck rising. She was certain some claw-handed creature was going to grab her by the throat any second. She made it halfway, her lungs burning, her legs feeling like rubber, until she couldn’t push any farther. She stopped to catch her breath. Her legs shook so much she was afraid she was going to slump to the ground. She was drenched in sweat, the result of fear and the rush of adrenaline from her flight to freedom.

  When she could breathe normally again, when her blood no longer rushed like pounding wave
s in her ears, she heard it. Or rather, didn’t hear it.

  The cave she’d run from had gone deathly quiet. Even while she’d been running, she’d heard the sounds of the battle echoing down the cavern. Now it was completely silent.

  Unnerving. What had happened back there? Was Ryder all right? What about the others? She strained to hear the sounds of rushing footsteps. He said they’d meet her outside after they took care of the demons, but she didn’t hear them coming.

  She needed to get out of here. What she was contemplating was a bad idea, something her sister would do.

  Don’t do it, Angelique. This isn’t brave, it’s stupid.

  She was going to do it, anyway. She had to know, had to check on Ryder. He could be hurt and she might be the only one who could help him, or go for help if he and the others needed it.

  She turned and headed back, first walking, then running again. But this time, she was running toward the cave, unable to stop herself. When she got to the cave entrance, she stopped, certain she was going to see the hunters’ bodies sprawled everywhere, dead; massacred by those hideous creatures.

  And then what are you going to do, Angelique? Fight demons on your own?

  Why was she doing this?

  Because Ryder would do the same for her. He wouldn’t leave her behind.

  Just a peek, then she’d run again. She was strong, fast. She could do it. She edged around the corner.

  Taking a deep breath, she stepped into the room and made a quick scan, fully expecting those hideous creatures to turn on her next.

  Stunned, she blinked, then frowned.

  The room was completely empty.

  Where had they all gone? The way she came was the only tunnel, the only exit.

  She moved into the room and looked around, wondering if she’d somehow missed another passageway.

  No, she’d been right. There was no other way out.

  Where were they?

  She moved toward the altar where Bart had conducted the ceremony. The hunters were gone, the demons nowhere to be seen. Everyone and everything was gone.

  But the black diamond remained.

  Why would they have left the black diamond here? It was vitally important to both the Realm of Light and the Sons of Darkness. The Sons of Darkness claimed it had the ability to empower the demons. The Realm of Light vowed to stop them from engaging the gem’s power source.

  Yet they had all disappeared and left the black diamond behind.

  For how long, though?

  She sucked in a breath, remembering how she had felt when Bart had grabbed her wrist and placed her hand over the diamond. The hum, the energy-such raw power emanated from the gem. And then all that beautiful power had simply gone cold and dark.

  Because she wasn’t the right person to bring its power to fruition.

  The black diamond wasn’t from this world; she knew that much about it. Other than that, it remained a mystery. A giant, beautiful, incredibly frightening mystery.

  And they’d just abandoned it? Something was very wrong about that.

  Indecision plagued her. What should she do? Leave it here? What if the demons came back?

  No. That wasn’t an option.

  Before she changed her mind, she scanned the room and saw one of the hunter’s bags, hurried over and grabbed it, then lifted her arms around the diamond. It had to weigh about ten pounds, and was the size of a bowling ball. It no longer glowed with brilliant blue light as it had when Nic had placed his hand on it. But then again, Nic was half human and half demon, so he’d had the power to bring forth the magic within it. But maybe not enough power? Was that why they thought they’d needed her?

  So many questions. No answers.

  She had to take it before the Sons of Darkness came back and took possession of it. Before something really bad happened.

  Like her twin sister Isabelle showing up and finding the diamond. She’d suspected Isabelle was around here somewhere. She was always lurking near Angelique’s digs, so it wouldn’t surprise her at all. Izzy had no scruples. It would be just like her sister to try to wrangle the diamond out from under her, then sell it to the highest bidder.

  And that could be disaster.

  She slid the diamond into the bag, then hightailed it out of the cave as fast as she could, still expecting demons to be hot on her tail. When she reached the exit, she sucked in a huge breath of air, not caring how hot it was outside. She was free of the cave, and she had the black diamond.

  She leaned against the cave wall, waiting for what seemed like hours.

  Surely Ryder and the others would come.

  They didn’t. And the longer she waited, the more certain she was they weren’t coming.

  Time for Plan B. Ryder might have wanted her to hang out and wait for him, but it was obvious that wasn’t going to happen, so she had to make some decisions of her own.

  Regret pounded at her. Ryder was going to hate her for taking it. If he was still alive.

  And what if he wasn’t? Her stomach twisted.

  No emotion. Think logically. If he wasn’t alive, she was on her own. With the black diamond. It was her responsibility now, and she couldn’t let the Sons of Darkness have it.

  She had to get away from this area, out of the country, away from the demons, too. She had to hide the black diamond, gather her bearings, then figure out what she was going to do about all this. She couldn’t stop to think right now. She couldn’t think. There was too much information to process. She needed time.

  She’d find a way to get in touch with Ryder and the Realm of Light, to get the black diamond back to them. She just couldn’t chance the Sons of Darkness grabbing it.

  God, she wished she knew more, but she was still in the dark about so many things.

  Like being “the one.” Bart had been convinced it was her, as if he’d known all along she had some kind of power over the diamond.

  But she didn’t. And if she didn’t wield the power, it was a logical leap as to who could.

  Angelique shivered as a cold chill skittered down her spine.


  The one.

  No matter how many times she tried to push it out of her mind, it kept coming back.


  Knowing Isabelle, it made sense.

  Bart had chosen the wrong sister.

  And if the Sons of Darkness wanted Isabelle and the black diamond, the Realm of Light would want her, too.

  She couldn’t let that happen. She and Izzy might have spent their lives at odds with each other, but she’d promised their mother she would protect Isabelle.

  Her heart clenched at what she had to do. It felt like a betrayal. Ryder had asked her to wait for him, and she wasn’t going to.

  She was taking the black diamond with her, but she didn’t see any other way. She had to go, had to hide the diamond, keep it away from the Sons of Darkness.

  Dear God, even from the Realm of Light.

  And from her sister.

  She was in this alone. Ryder couldn’t help her. For all she knew he could be dead. They could all be dead in there, and the Sons of Darkness could, at this very moment, be looking for the black diamond.

  She felt a sharp stab of pain in her middle at the thought of Ryder lying in a pool of blood on the floor of that cold, dark cave, then shoved it aside, refusing to face it.

  Quit thinking. Move!

  She glanced over her shoulder at the yawning cave entrance. “I’m sorry, Ryder,” she whispered, fighting back tears.

  She pushed away from the wall of the cave and started running.

  CHAPTER ONE. Two months later


  Ryder was hunting again, and damn, it felt good. To be on his own, with no one to tell him what to do and when or how to do it.

  It was like being back in the military again-Special Forces-the best of the best and in charge of his own destiny. He’d loved the life back then, and he’d done it for ten years before deciding all the killing wa
s just a little too enjoyable. That’s when his loner status had ended. He’d gotten out, gone back home a hero, and then shortly thereafter been recruited for the so-called reality show that had made him a demon hunter.

  Now he was killing again. But this time, he killed demons for a living, and he didn’t work alone anymore. He liked the other demon hunters just fine, but he was used to this isolation, to a one-man operation, and this is what he preferred-stalking his prey one-on-one.