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Seduced By Darkness
His brother had thought Hell a fiery abyss, but Nicolas Montfaucon knew better. It was wet, smelled like a sewer, and sounded like the rush of collective hopes draining toward the sea.
With a heartbeat as leaden as his footfalls, he followed the sound of flowing water. His rubber boots sank in the rain-soaked grass as he stepped off the cemetery's entrance road to head towardthe water's edge. Bayou St. John's previous sluggish ambience had given way to a torrent in the aftermath of the storm. Just as the security team had reported, the waters that breached the levee in the early morning hours spilled into the bayou, raising it well above any thousand-year flood plain.
They couldn't have planned for a worse scenario. The mausoleum lay in the center of a newly etched basin.
A cold, tight knot of horror settled in his gut, numbing him to the elements, while a soft rain fell like God's kiss of benediction before the coming battle. The prickling unease lifting the hair on the back of his neck was familiar, but one he hadn't experienced to this degree since the searing heat and biting sand of Palestine over seven hundred years ago.
Quiet, muffled voices drew him deeper into the cemetery. He followed the blurred edges of a once pristine graveled path, now strewn with long tangled strands of Spanish moss and broken tree branches, around sturdy stone crypts—ones untouched by the raging storm that had drenched New Orleans and changed its landscape irrevocably.
He glanced toward the dark gray clouds giving his team cover for what they must do. At least God hadn't added one moreinsurmountable burden to overcome this day.
"Erika, Pasqual?" he called softly as he approached.
They turned with dread tightening their pale faces.
He noted their quick sideways glances and knew their loyalties might be tested. Just the night before one quarry had escaped their net. Did they know his role in the deception that had allowed the newest Born female to flee?
"The crypt is submerged," Pasqual said, nodding ahead toward the swollen bayou.
Nicolas followed his gaze and found the winged angel that graced the top of the Morel mausoleum, the bottom edge of her robe licked by foaming, lapping waves of dark water.
"We brought a pirogue," Erika said, shivering despite the humid heat, "but the water's so swift . . ."
Nicolas nodded. "I'll go. We'll have to tie off the boat on both sides of the bayou to keep it from being swept away."
"The crypt was solid. The doors were chained," Pasqual said, his voice strained. "Do you really think he could have escaped?"
Nicolas's lips curved and tightened. "His sarcophagus was in the center of the cemetery. The bayou jumped its banks and carved a new path—straight through his prison. Do you think that's coincidental?"
Erika's brown eyes looked overlarge in her slender face. "How will we contain him?"
"If the doors are still locked, we'll wait for the waters to subside to discover whether his coffin remains intact."
"If they aren't locked?" she continued.
He shrugged. "Then we prepare ourselves."
"How do we do that?" she asked, a note of hysteria in her brittle voice. "No one's got a standard operating procedure for the end of the fucking world."
"Someone has to go into the water," Pasqual said quietly, his expression dark and troubled.
"I said I'll go," Nicolas said, straightening his shoulders. "I placed him there. It's my duty to make sure he stays."
"Not alone, you won't."
Nicolas turned at the sound of another voice, one familiar and welcome.
A tall dark-clad figure stepped from behind a large oak.
Nicolas wondered if he'd just arrived or had chosen the most dramatic moment to appear. Simon Jameson's long brown hair was plastered against his skull and touched the tops of broad shoulders clothed in a rain slicker.
"Simon, bad news travels fast," Nicolas said, his tone dry.
Despite the dire circumstance that brought him here, Simon smiled. "A little bird told me we had trouble."
Nicolas raised a single brow at the thought of the mage's familiar braving the remnants of the storm. "Her wings must be sodden."
Simon's lips crimped in the semblance of a smile. "She's tired and drying off." Then his gaze turned to the sunken crypt. "I'll go with you. You may have need of me."
"I'll be glad for the company." Whatever the reason for the falling out between the powerful mage and the leader of the vampire sabat, Nicolas held no grudge against Simon. Their acquaintance was older, forged in blood and battle. "I'd appreciate any help you can provide."
Sloshing footsteps sounded behind them as more of the security team arrived, carrying a long, slender flat-bottomed boat and poles.
Using ropes suspended between the trees, Simon and Nicolas fought the swift current to drag the boat toward the stone angel. Once the boat scraped the spikes atop the iron fence surrounding the crypt, Nicolas stripped, dropping his clothing to the bottom of the boat. Then he tied a rope around his waist and said a quick prayer. "Hold this in your mouth," Simon said, slipping a carved, polished red stone from his pocket. "You'll need your hands free."
Nicolas didn't question why he should keep a rock in his mouth. If his friend thought it necessary, that was enough for him to know. Likely a protective amulet, anyway. He could use all the help he could get.
Urgency and dread filled him. He had to see the damage below the surface of the black water for himself. He set the cold stone on top of his tongue and clamped his mouth closed. Then he lowered himself over the side of the boat, gripping it hard, shocked by the force of the water dragging at his body. Nicolas clutched the edge of the pirogue and shot Simon a glance.Seduced By Darkness. Copyright © by Delilah Devlin. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.