The Darkest Touch (Lords of the Underworld #11)


by Gena Showalter

CHAPTER ONE

“DON’T DIE. Don’t you dare die.” Frantic, Torin dug through a backpack crammed with clothing, weapons and medical supplies. He’d packed it days ago, blindly filling it with everything he’d thought he might need. There was no mouth guard. Fine. He’d proceed without one.

He hurried to his companion’s motionless form, straddled her waist. Her precious life slipped away with every second that passed. CPR was a last resort, but suddenly her only hope, and because they were locked inside a dungeon, no one else inside their cell, the responsibility belonged to him alone. The guy who’d rarely ever come this close to another person.

Just call me Wonder Doc.

He flattened his gloved hands over Mari’s delicate chest—still, too still. But rather than proceed as he should have, he found himself pausing to savor the rare and extraordinary connection with the opposite sex. So soft. So luscious.

What the hell am I doing? Jaw clenched, he pushed.

Crack.

Too hard. He’d just broken her sternum and probably several of her ribs.

Guilt pierced straight through his heart, and if the organ hadn’t already been shredded beyond repair, it might have hurt. Sweat trickled down his temples as he pressed against Mari’s chest more gently. Nothing else broke. Good. Okay. He pressed again and again, gradually increasing his speed. But how fast was too fast? What helped? What damaged?

“Come on, Mari.” She was human, but strong. Fragile, but resilient. “Stay with me. You can survive this, I know you can.”

Her head lolled to the side, her glassy eyes staring out at nothing.

“No. No!” He checked her for a pulse, waited...but never felt even the weakest of beats.

As he returned his hands to her chest to start over, his gaze locked on her blood-splattered lips; his mind willed them to part, a cough to escape. It would mean the sickness still plagued her, but sick was better than dead any day of the week.

“Mari, please.” He heard the desperation in his voice, didn’t care. I can’t be the one to kill someone so sweet.

Torin pushed harder, heard another crack.

Hell. He wasn’t some pansy crier, but damn if tears didn’t scald the backs of his eyes.

He’d come to think of this girl as a friend, and despite the numerous centuries he’d lived, he didn’t have many of those. He always protected the ones he had.

Until her.

If not for him, she never would have sickened in the first place.

Again he felt for a pulse. Still no beat.

Cursing, he set back to work. Five minutes...ten...twenty. He was Mari’s life support, the only thing standing between her and death; he would do this however long proved necessary.

Pull through, Mari. You have to pull through.

“Fight this!” But as another eternity elapsed without any change in her, he finally admitted his efforts weren’t doing any good. She was already gone.

Already dead.

And there was nothing he could do to bring her back.

With a roar, Torin wrenched away and paced the cell like the caged animal he was. His arms shook. His back and thighs ached. But what was physical pain compared to mental? Emotional? This was his fault. He’d known what would happen if ever he touched the girl, and he’d lured her closer anyway.

Monster! With another roar, he punched the wall, enjoying the unrelenting throb of pain as skin split and bones fractured. He punched again and again, cracks appearing in the stone, dust pluming around him.

If he had just stopped to question why a girl like Mari would be so starved for companionship she would agree to be with him she would still be alive.

He pressed his forehead against the battered wall. I’m keeper of the demon of Disease. When will I accept the fact that I’m meant to fly solo?

To be forever denied what I crave most.

“Mari, darling,” a slightly accented voice rang out. Female...delicious—even soaked in panic and pain as it was. “The bond is broken. Why is it broken?”

The blood in Torin’s veins turned into fuel, igniting as if a blazing match had just been thrown inside him. He became increasingly aware of his own heartbeat, speeding up, the need to stalk to the cell’s door and rip away every metal bar consuming him; anything to erase the distance between him and the speaker.

An extreme reaction. He knew that. Just as he knew such excruciating awareness of another person was unusual for him. It was also uncontrollable and unstoppable, his entire world centering around this one woman.

And this wasn’t the first time it had happened. Anytime she’d spoken, no matter the words she’d uttered, the huskiness of her tone had always carried a promise of absolute pleasure. As if there were nothing she wanted more than to kiss, lick and suck on him.

Masculine instincts he’d spent countless years denying shouted, Come, little moth. Come closer to my flame.

Or I’ll come to you....

He strode to the bars and, like a thousand times before, willed the shadows between their cells to part. But it did no good. Her appearance remained a mystery.

Somehow his sick obsession with her only intensified...and he thought that, for just five minutes of that kissing, licking and sucking, he would have happily risked a worldwide plague.

Hate myself. Someone should string him up by the collarbone and cane him. Again.

“Mari!” his obsession said. “Please.”

Disease whipped into a frenzy, banging against Torin’s skull, suddenly desperate to escape.

Escape her? Another unusual reaction. Usually the demon adored such close proximity with a potential victim.

How the fiend had laughed at Mari....

Hate him, too.

“Mari can’t talk right now,” Torin said. Or ever.

The admission...like pouring salt over my wounds.

Bars rattled. “What did you do to her?”

Nothing...everything.

“Tell me!” the female shouted.

“I shook her hand.” The words exploded from him, bitter and cutting. “That’s it.” But he’d done far more than that, hadn’t he.

He’d put a lot of time and effort into charming her. Feeding her. Talking and laughing with her. Eventually she’d felt comfortable enough to remove one of his gloves and intertwine their fingers. On purpose.

Nothing bad will happen, she had said. Or maybe her gaze had said it. The details were hazed by the fog of his eagerness. You’ll see.

He’d believed her. Because he’d wanted to believe her more than he’d wanted to take his next breath. He’d held on to her so tightly, a thirsty man who’d just discovered the last glass of water in a world burning to ash, nearly brought to his knees by the force of his physical response. Sensation after sensation had overwhelmed him. Feminine softness so near his masculine hardness. A floral scent in his nose. The ends of her silky hair tickling his wrist. Her warmth blending with his own. Her breath intersecting with his.

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