The darkest promise, p.1
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       The Darkest Promise, p.1

         Part #13 of Lords of the Underworld series by Gena Showalter  
The Darkest Promise


  New York Times bestselling author Gena Showalter returns with a sizzling Lords of the Underworld story about an iron-willed sovereign and the somber beauty who melts him with a glance...

  Possessed by the demon of Misery, Cameo isn't allowed to experience joy. If she dares, her memory is wiped clean. With no other recourse, she sneaks into a land more fantastical than any fairy tale, determined to find the one man with the key to her redemption.

  Lazarus the Cruel and Unusual rules his kingdom with a single unwavering focus: to build his army and annihilate his enemies. Nothing distracts him--until Cameo. He is relentless in his quest to make her smile...and seduce her into his bed.

  As dark forces conspire against them, threatening to destroy the fragile bond they've forged, the once-calm Lazarus grows crazed. Every heart-stopping kiss and wicked touch causes Cameo to teeter on the brink of happiness. But if she falls, she risks forgetting him forever...

  Shackled by despair.

  Freed by desire.

  "One of the premier authors of paranormal romance. Gena Showalter delivers an utterly spell-binding story!"

  --Kresley Cole, #1 New York Times bestselling author "Gena Showalter never fails to dazzle."

  --Jeaniene Frost, New York Times bestselling author "Showalter...rocks me every time!"

  --Sylvia Day, #1 New York Times bestselling author "Showalter writes fun, sexy characters you fall in love with!"

  --Lori Foster, New York Times bestselling author "Showalter makes romance sizzle on every page!"

  --Jill Shalvis, New York Times bestselling author "A fascinating premise, a sexy hero and non-stop action, The Darkest Night is Showalter at her finest."

  --New York Times bestselling author Karen Marie Moning "Gena Showalter is a romantic genius."

  --San Francisco Book Review

  Gena Showalter is the New York Times and USA TODAY bestselling author of the spellbinding Lords of the Underworld series, two young adult series--Everlife and the White Rabbit Chronicles--and the highly addictive Original Heartbreakers series. She's hard at work on her next novel, a tale featuring an alpha male with a dark side and the strong woman who brings him to his knees. You can learn more about Gena, her menagerie of rescue dogs and all her upcoming books at genashowalter.com or Facebook.com/genashowalterfans.

  Also available from

  Gena Showalter

  and HQN Books The Darkest Torment

  The Harder You Fall

  The Hotter You Burn

  The Closer You Come

  All For You (anthology featuring "The One You Want")

  The Darkest Touch

  Burning Dawn

  After Dark (duology featuring "The Darkest Angel")

  The Darkest Craving

  Beauty Awakened

  After Moonrise (duology with P.C. Cast)

  Wicked Nights

  The Darkest Seduction

  The Darkest Surrender

  The Darkest Secret

  The Darkest Lie

  The Darkest Passion

  Into the Dark

  The Darkest Whisper

  The Darkest Pleasure

  The Darkest Kiss

  The Darkest Night

  The Vampire's Bride

  The Nymph King

  Jewel of Atlantis

  Heart of the Dragon

  Twice as Hot

  Playing with Fire

  Catch a Mate

  Animal Instincts

  The Pleasure Slave

  The Stone Prince

  From Harlequin Nonfiction Dating the Undead (with Jill Monroe)

  From Harlequin TEEN

  Lifeblood

  Firstlife

  A Mad Zombie Party

  The Queen of Zombie Hearts

  Through the Zombie Glass

  Alice in Zombieland

  Twisted

  Unraveled

  Intertwined

  And look for

  Can't Hardly Breathe and Can't Let Go

  coming soon from HQN Books!

  Table of Contents

  The Darkest Promise

  Lords of the Underworld: Insider's Guide

  Glossary of Terms and Players

  Bonus Scene

  Excerpt from Can't Hardly Breathe by Gena Showalter

  To Jill Monroe--Best friend, confidante, idea bouncer-offer!

  To Naomi at French n Bookish--A treasure!

  To Denise Tompkins--A sister of the heart! Thank you for being you!

  To Shane Tolbert, Shonna Hurt and Michelle Quine--My biggest cheerleaders!

  To Crystal Lepinsk, Penny Beerling, Sananda Davalillo, Sarah Hutchinson, Sarah McAdorey and Jennifer Forist--For helping me name a character (in this book and perhaps books to come).

  Contents

  Underworld Abridged Dictionary

  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  Chapter 6

  Chapter 7

  Chapter 8

  Chapter 9

  Chapter 10

  Chapter 11

  Chapter 12

  Chapter 13

  Chapter 14

  Chapter 15

  Chapter 16

  Chapter 17

  Chapter 18

  Chapter 19

  Chapter 20

  Chapter 21

  Chapter 22

  Chapter 23

  Chapter 24

  Chapter 25

  Chapter 26

  Chapter 27

  Chapter 28

  Chapter 29

  Chapter 30

  Underworld Abridged

  Dictionary, 6th Edition

  Definition: The demon High Lord of Misery ensures his immortal host remains in a constant state of mental, emotional and physical anguish; through his host, he is able to harm others.

  Example: The demon flooded Cameo with sorrow, and when she cried out, her misery-soaked voice broke the heart of everyone around her.

  Symptoms: Angst, anxiety, chronic RBF--resting bitch face--dejection, depression, desolation, despair, despondency, distress, gloom, grief, heartache, heartbreak, melancholy, pain, sadness, sorrow, stress, suffering, torment, unhappiness, woe, wretchedness.

  Cure: Death (not currently doctor recommended).

  1

  "Don't try to stay ten moves ahead of your opponent. Stay behind him with a knife."

  --Excerpted from Becoming the King You Are Meant to Be, a work in progress by Lazarus the Cruel and Unusual

  Like Alice on her way to Wonderland, Cameo, host to the demon of Misery, tumbled end over end down a long, dark cavern. When the bottom finally appeared, she braced for impact...only to slip through a glistening portal. The cavern walls vanished, and she spilled from a midnight sky--straight into a new realm.

  Never should have touched the Paring Rod. One brush of her fingertips against the pretty glass bulb that tipped its handle, and the ancient artifact had opened a door between the physical and spirit world. Voila! In a blink, her descent had begun.

  As she plunged toward a flat clearing, she braced for impact...

  Cameo smacked into the ground. A scream split her lips, her brain banging against her skull, her lungs emptying and multiple bones shattering all at once.

  Agony seared her, black dots weaving through her vision. Warmth drained from her hands and feet, collecting in her torso. Her body was in shock.

  Hours passed before she gained the strength to roll to her side, her wrecked heart tap-dancing a wild rhythm against broken ribs. Her head swam but thankfully her pain ebbed. Able to breathe again, she noted the sweet scent of ambrosia--the drug of choice for immortals--hung heavy in the air. She almost laughed. For once, lady luck had been on her side. If you had to crash-land, what better place than an ambrosia field?

  She drifted in and out of consciousness, the passage of time evidenced by the healing of her injuries and the shift from dark to light. When a beam of sun stroked her, blistering her pale skin, she finally woke for good.

  Her nose crinkled as she inhaled. The scent of ambrosia had been replaced by burnt foliage. Where had she landed? Hell? The sun blazed so hot it had scorched sections of land.

  Cameo crawled into a shadowed haven, exhaling with relief when her skin cooled. She scanned the lavender sky with its pale green clouds, then looked over an unfamiliar forest filled with towering pink trees and plots of azure grass.

  Oookay. This is new. A forest fit for a storybook princess. Too bad Cameo was the villain of the tale. Browniebitch and the Twelve Immortals. For her and her family of demon-possessed warriors, nothing had ever been just right.

  Cold fingers of dread crept down her spine as a butterfly the size of her fist fluttered past her. Over the centuries, the wretched insects had become an omen. Death and destruction await...

  The heavy weight of depression settled on her shoulders, and she wallowed about the travesty of her life.

  Lost so much already. All because she'd made one teeny tiny mistake when she'd lived in Mount Olympus.

  That mistake? Helping her friends steal and open Pandora's box. An appropriate punishment would have been a hand amputation or two. Maybe a few hundred years in the slammer. Instead, she was forced to play host to the demon of Misery for eternity, free will a thing of the past.

  To commemorate the occasion, a butterfly tattoo had appeared on her lower back.

  The beginning of the end.

  Misery had quickly peeled away the layers of her humanity, hope and happiness. Again and again he'd wiped her mind of any joyous memories.

  The bastard still wiped her mind of any joyous memories. Every day he breathed his poison into her thoughts, hurt others through her voice and ruined whatever relationships she managed to forge. He'd reduced her life to one horror after another.

  If only she could control him. But Misery was a separate entity with his own motivations and goals. A dark presence she'd never been able to drown out. A prison she had never been able to escape.

  Right now, he's not my biggest problem. The butterfly...

  Disaster was imminent.

  Cameo searched for a way out of the forest. At one side, a breathtaking river with rainbow-colored water trickled into a rocky crag. Some type of fish broke the surface. A water unicorn? A long, ivory horn stretched from between his eyes and--

  She gasped. Another water unicorn had jumped up and thrust his horn into the belly of the first. Blood spurted, creating a crimson waterfall. Countless other fish converged on the injured one, sharp teeth ripping into scales and organs until not even bones remained.

  Mental note: no baths in the wild, ever.

  At her other side, a field of ambrosia flourished, unaffected by the over-hot sun. Thick emerald stalks dripped with countless violet flowers, the petals drawn together to avoid the worst of the heat.

  The field might be her only viable--

  A thorny limb snatched the jumbo-size butterfly from the air. Her ears twitched, the soft breeze carrying the faint sounds of screaming.

  Viable path or not, it was time to go.

  Cameo lumbered to shaky legs, wincing as twigs sliced her heel. Her brow wrinkled. Her feet were bare, her combat boots gone.

  Someone had stolen her shoes?

  A quick scan proved her tank top and battle leathers were torn and stained with dried blood, but still in place. However, the daggers she'd made over two hundred years ago were missing.

  Someone had robbed her while she'd drifted out of consciousness.

  Someone would pay!

  This villain had come here to find a formidable immortal named Lazarus the Cruel and Unusual, and she would destroy anyone who hindered her.

  According to her friends, she had interacted with Lazarus twice before. Thanks to Misery, she remembered nothing about either encounter. Or did she? On the fringe of her mind was a suggestive montage of images that might or might not have happened.

  Flicker: Cameo performed a striptease for a faceless, muscled man, a sultry half smile playing at the corners of her mouth, her silvery eyes smoky with desire.

  Flicker: Cameo crawled toward the same faceless, muscled man, clearly intent on his seduction.

  Flicker: Cameo sprawled beneath the faceless, muscled man, one of his big, callused hands on her breast, the other between her legs as he drove her closer and closer to orgasm. Her spine was arched, her head thrown back, her expression taut with a sublime mix of agony and pleasure.

  Was the faceless man Lazarus? How had he tempted her into his bed?

  She wanted so badly to remember.

  Sex wasn't something she enjoyed or usually even risked. Not anymore. She had a Sexually Transmitted Demon, and almost everyone she dated ended up depressed at some point.

  Guilt flared, adding to her all-consuming misery. And yet...

  Every time she imagined her faceless lover, languid heat wrapped loving arms around her. Blood rushed through her veins with new purpose, molten shivers cascading through her, every inch of her tingling.

  Did he miss her? Or did he rejoice, thinking he would never see her again?

  Her heart seemed to crack open and seep acid. Memories were as necessary for survival as oxygen or water; without hers, she was incomplete. Weakened, even.

  Would Lazarus tell her what had happened between them? If there was even a chance, she had to find him.

  Problem was, she and the rest of the world knew very little about him. His past was shrouded in mystery. What she had managed to glean: her friend Strider, the keeper of Defeat, had beheaded him not too long ago. Lazarus's spirit had traveled through the Paring Rod and entered one of thousands of realms in the afterlife. Perhaps this one, a strange and predatory world.

  Soon after Lazarus's death, her semifriend Viola, the keeper of Narcissism, had accidentally followed him through--while still alive. Also alive, Cameo had followed her, intent on rescuing her.

  Cue her adventures with the mysterious warrior.

  If her brothers-by-circumstance hadn't launched a rescue mission of their own, would she have chosen to stay with Lazarus?

  Going by the tidbits she'd revealed before Misery had cleaned her mind with mental Windex, she and Lazarus had partnered up to find Viola and Pandora's box--aka dimOuniak--both supposedly hidden inside one of the realms.

  Why he'd agreed to partner with her when he had no stake in the outcome, she wasn't sure.

  Unless he wanted the box? DimOuniak was just as powerful as the Paring Rod--no, more so--and could be used to instantly kill anyone, everyone, who was demon possessed. Or so rumors claimed.

  Had Lazarus planned to harm her all along?

  See? Loss of memory left her vulnerable in the worst of ways.

  So. She would find Lazarus. Hopefully he liked her and wanted only to help her. After he filled in her mental blanks, maybe they could renew their quest for the box and he could make her happy? At least for a little while. What good was a life without happiness?

  Going to forget him again. Why bother?

  Because...just because! A girl without hope might as well curl up and die.

  Maybe he was her faceless lover. Maybe he would help her find Viola as well as the box. The goddess of the Afterlife had been rescued, yes, but she'd purposely used the Paring Rod a second time. No one knew why, and no one had heard from her since.

  Resolute, Cameo motored forward. Twigs sliced her feet, but she maintained a steady pace, maneuvering through the thicket of trees. At least the temperature had cooled.

  Seventy-two percent of men have cheated on their significant other. The demon's voice whispered through her mind in an attempt to immobilize her. Twenty-four percent are actively cheating right this second. Forty-eight percent are smug rather than remorseful. How long do you think you'll intrigue Lazarus? If you ever intrigued him at all.

  Horrid demon! Always lobbing H-bombs of gloom. Was Lazarus her faceless lover or not?

  Misery smoothly added, If he is, you should run. Considering what happened with Alex...

  "Shut up," she muttered, but the damage was done. He'd hit his target, reopening internal wounds.

  Alex, a human who had lived in ancient Greece, had been her first and only love.

  At the age of eight, a terrible sickness had rendered him deaf and, apparently, unworthy of his wealthy family's love. He was cast out of the only home he'd ever known. After months of starvation, a "protector" saved him from the slums. A blacksmith with a sickening taste for children.

  Apprentice by day, slave by night. A heartbreaking existence.

  When Alex reached his teens, the blacksmith dubbed him too old and kicked him out. Alex snapped, introducing the blacksmith's heart to his handmade dagger. Then he claimed the business as his due.

  He poured his time and energy into metalwork, his talent indisputable. He'd been the only person Cameo trusted to make her weapons. The only male unaffected by the sorrow in her voice.

  They fell in love, and for just a little while, she had verged on the edge of happiness. She'd craved more...but all the while, a shadow of foreboding had cloaked her like a second skin.

  With every new dawn, she'd wondered why she remembered him. Why the demon hadn't yet stolen her memory of him.

  The answer had proved more atrocious than she'd ever dreamed.

  In a vulnerable moment, she'd told Alex about her demonic companion. He'd decided she was worse than the blacksmith and arranged for Hunters, a cult of self-appointed slayers of immortals, to capture and torture her in the worst of ways.

  Razor-winged butterflies took flight in her stomach. Did Lazarus know the truth about her? Did he care?

  He must know. He was an immortal living among other immortal spirits. And he shouldn't care. He was called cruel and unusual. He had a dark side of his own. Very dark. Pitch-black without any hint of light.

  A sequence of high-pitched squawks rang out as a flock of birds leaped from treetops and scattered across the skyline, soon vanishing behind a wall of clouds.

  Whoosh! Thud!

  The ground shook. Cameo tumbled to her knees. Wheezing, fighting for oxygen, she reached for her daggers. Her missing daggers.

  Damn it! She darted behind one of the bigger pink trees, shadows enveloping her. Adrenaline surged, strong and sure, but it couldn't mask the sting of bark scraping through her shirt.

 
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