Authors: Loribelle Hunt
Tags: #Romance, #Fiction, #Paranormal, #Fantasy
Kiss of Twilight
By Loribelle Hunt
Dupree Jackson is everything a senior soldier of the Order of Templar should be. Cold. Unbreakable. A master at arms in the fight against demons. But as a hybrid, Dupree is beginning to lose himself to the demon half of his soul. One woman has the power to save him. If he lets her.
Kara Stone wants two things in life: to be merged with a demon so that she can become a full member of the Order; and Dupree Jackson. She knows they are meant to be together, if only Dupree would love her back.
Though his desire for Kara is undeniable, Dupree's need to protect her is stronger. Not wanting to see her merge, to face the internal struggle he deals with every day, he refuses to bond with her. But when Kara becomes a target and uncovers a dark secret about her past, Dupree may no longer have a choice...
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Camden, Georgia, 1950
It was the screaming that woke him.
Dupree Jackson leaned out his second story window and stared into the yard. He banged his head against the wooden frame and willed himself awake with his eyes squeezed shut, but when he opened them again the scene below him hadn't changed. The horror that froze him in place was not the white robed Klan with their burning crosses that he'd expected.
This was worse. So much worse. Monsters out of his nightmares. The creatures were massive, with short horns sprouting from their foreheads. They appeared sickly orange under the porch's floodlights and when he caught a glimpse at the eyes, he swore they glowed red. Were they the demons spawned from hell that Reverend Grant was always warning about? Had the end times that his logical, scientific mother always so scornfully dismissed come to Earth after all?
Momma wouldn't have anything to say about it later, either. She lay still on the ground and he tried not to notice the signs of her attack. Tried not to notice the blood running from her body. The great rends in her flesh and other mutilation. Both of his older brothers lay on the ground near her as if they'd tried to defend her. Neither moved.
His father was still on his feet, standing between Momma and the two creatures with a pitchfork. Dupree felt a sudden and deep sense of shame. He should be out there helping defend them. When his father jabbed forward suddenly, poking the demon in the side so it howled, Dupree's mind finally snapped free of the fear and disbelief holding it captive.
He ran to his parents' room, his bare feet slapping against cool pine floors, sounding as loud as gunshots in his mind. Inside he dropped to the floor and flung open his mother's cedar chest, shoved his grandmother's and great-grandmother's multi-colored quilts out of the way and dug out the hidden shotgun. He loaded two cartridges as he rose from his knees and shoved extras into his pockets. Then he ran outside to help and found his father swaying on his feet but holding firm.
Dupree was forced to move closer to the creatures to keep his father out of range of the shotgun, and he knew he had to be quick. His heart was a fast and furious drumbeat in his chest and his hands shook as he raised the shotgun. The first one noticed him as he squeezed the trigger. The blast hit it in the torso. It flew backward and landed against the ground with a satisfying thunk. Dupree didn't have time to rejoice in the defeat before the other one rushed him. The clawed hands reached for him as he pulled the trigger. A very lucky shot. The blast took off the top half of the demon's head.
His father fell to his knees, then slowly seemed to fold up on himself till he lay face down in the dirt. Dupree hurried to his side and rolled him over. There were deep gouges in his side and stomach. His stare was blank. Dupree had seen death before, but his mind refused to accept what he was seeing. He pressed his hands to the wounds anyway. He couldn't lose everyone, mother, father and brothers, in the same night. Not like this. Not in a nightmare vision of hell.
A roar broke the silence and Dupree turned his head to see the first demon lurch to its feet. Shock held him frozen.
got up from a shotgun blast to the chest at such close range. Before he could lurch to his feet and even think about reloading the weapon, air whistled by his ear and a knife embedded itself in the demon's chest. Again, it fell to the ground but this time there were no twitches, no signs of life.
Slowly he stood, shotgun in hand, wondering if he was still in harm's way. Two men and a woman waited for him to notice them. Once he did, the woman walked by and he turned to watch as she set one booted foot on the demon's chest and yanked out the blade. He stared at the weapon. He'd never seen anything like it. It was black, polished to a high sheen and seemed to reflect a dark rainbow when it caught the light. She wiped it off with a cloth pulled from a pocket, dropped the blood stained fabric on top of the body and put the knife in a scabbard belted to her waist.
Dupree knew he was in shock. His mother was a doctor. He'd been joining her on home visits since he could walk and he'd seen people in shock before, usually the result of some kind of farm accident. This was different, shock not from an injury but from discovering the world had turned upside down and inside out. His parents lay dead at the hand of two demons. There were white people in his yard, one of them an armed woman. And the older man was holding his hand out as if he expected Dupree to shake it. He figured it was the absurdity of the night that made him reach for the man's hand and let him pump it.
"I'm Benjamin." He waited expectantly, but Dupree's attention was caught on what his companions were doing. They'd piled logs from the woodpile and were building the flames. After a few moments they tossed the first and then the second demon carcasses on it. Benjamin continued, his voice soft and a little sad, "When they're finished we need to bury your family."
That got his attention. "What? No, sir. We have to tell someone about this. They have to have a proper burial."
"What's your name, son?"
He swallowed convulsively. The only man who could call him son was dead and gone. "Dupree."
"Listen, Dupree. You can't tell anyone about this. We're destroying the evidence. If you bring the law out here, they'll either accuse you of murder and lock you up, or think you're insane and lock you up."
God almighty. Was he right? Probably.
"We hunt these creatures, Dupree. It's our job to kill them and protect the innocent. I'm sorry we didn't find them in time to save your parents." He took a deep breath. "How old are you?"
"Fifteen." Well, in a couple weeks.
Thinking felt like wading through sludge, but he forced himself to do it. The flames of the funeral pyre soared and crackled. The Jacksons didn't have any close neighbors. No one would see the fire much less come to investigate, so if he tried to tell the police what had happened, they wouldn't believe him. He hated it. Lying was wrong. A man's integrity was sometimes all he had, his father always said. But his father wouldn't want him locked up because people thought he was crazy, wouldn't want the farm lost to strangers if Dupree was forced to flee, which he would be if he didn't come up with an explanation for his parents' and brothers' disappearance. His throat swelled closed. Gone forever. The pain of their brutal, abrupt loss dug claws in his chest. He breathed through it and remembered his mother's prescription for sadness that medicine couldn't cure. Hard, physical labor. It freed the body to work and the mind to think, she said.
Without another word, he went to the barn and retrieved both shovels. The white man picked up his mother and led. Dupree hefted his father's body, staggering a bit at the unexpected weight, and the other two brought his brothers. He followed them into the woods, quietly approving the little glade Benjamin chose, and started digging.
"You can stay with us for a while. Decide if you want to join us or go on your own way later," Benjamin said while he dug the other grave.
Dupree's head snapped up to look at him. He knew he needed a plan. The authorities wouldn't let him live on his own at his age but he couldn't abandon the farm. "This place is mine." Not that that was the only problem with him going with this man and his people.
Benjamin continued like he read minds, "We used to be a religious order of knights. As you can see we're no longer monks. And you'll find people of many colors in our Order. Evil doesn't differentiate and neither do we. Stay awhile. Get to know our purpose. There are things you should know before you decide. This place will stay yours. We have lawyers who can take care of all the legal issues like inheritance and guardianship."
Dupree didn't answer. The holes were deep enough and he watched in despair as his parents were lowered in, watched in growing rage as they were covered up. Fear was replaced by fury and the need for vengeance. He whispered a prayer, a promise of revenge to his parents.
"Well, Dupree?" Benjamin asked when they were done.
"I'll join you."
He swore the man's eyes flashed red, but when he blinked they were brown again. And it didn't matter, did it? Dupree's course was set.
As an orphan raised and trained by the Order since I was a child, I understand the hazards and benefits of merging. I am ready to take that step.
--from Kara Stone's petition to join the Order of Templar
Kara Stone's hand shook as she brushed her fingers over his brow, then his high chiseled cheeks. When she'd heard that Dupree Jackson, the Order's second in command, had been injured in tonight's big demon showdown and taken to the lupine lair for treatment, she'd rushed right over. He didn't look like he'd been hurt, though. The only thing marring the perfection of his smooth midnight colored skin was a white bandage across his stomach.
"He's going to be okay, right?" she asked the lupine hovering behind her.
"He'll be fine in a few days."
She couldn't believe anything else. Dupree looked as strong and imposing as he always did. Indestructible despite his unconscious state. Until he opened his eyes. They glowed red and hot, stormy and confused.
He lifted a hand and gestured to his side, motioning her to lie down next to him. She was stunned. Partly because with the demon poison raging through his system he shouldn't be conscious much less able to move. Usually it left victims paralyzed for days and weak for much longer. Though this was Dupree. She shouldn't be surprised he was stubborn enough to fight its effects.
What really shocked her was his wanting her
There was an attraction between them that she couldn't fight but that he was damned good at pretending didn't exist. He rarely touched her. He'd sure as hell never suggested she lie down with him. He kept a distance between them even while he tried to protect her. Maybe this was no more than that. Under other circumstances that would have pissed her off, but now she just wanted reassurance he would be okay so she scrambled over him and stretched out on her side. She propped up on her elbow so she could stare down at him.
The lupine said something about watching out for them, but she didn't really listen. All her focus was on Dupree.
"You scared the hell out of me," she whispered.
She didn't try to hide the fear she'd felt when she'd heard he was injured and poisoned. Dupree was her rock. He couldn't be hurt. He'd rescued her from a demon attack when she was a child. Served as her protector as she'd grown to adulthood.
"Then maybe now you understand why I won't let you go through the merging ceremony."
In a few weeks she'd go through the ceremony to merge her soul with a demon's and become the same thing Dupree was. For some reason he really hated that idea. Born human, members of the Order willingly bound their souls to that of a demon, pure evil, to aid in the secret battle against the true demons who managed to escape their dimension and come through the portal to Earth. The merging made the hybrids stronger, faster and damned close to immortal as long as they were blood bonded to a spouse. They also gained some kind of mental ability when they took on a demon's soul, though no one knew what in advance. Telepathy, telekinesis, psychometry. The possibilities were endless, though all hybrids could teleport.
Unfortunately, Dupree still refused to recognize that at almost twenty-five, she
an adult and capable of making reasonable, well thought-out decisions. And he wasn't hurt that bad after all if he was bringing up this old argument. She glared at him.
"You don't get to make that choice for me, Dupree."
"Yeah, I do."
Sometimes he made her want to scream. She punched his shoulder instead and tried to get up, but he caught her hips and rolled over, pinning her beneath his body. Her reaction was immediate, a hot molten desire searing her. He'd always been so careful to bank the attraction between them, but it flared full force and unfettered now. He snarled when she struggled against his hold, but she was trying to get closer not away. She cupped his face with her palms and softened her body beneath his. Welcoming.
"You should be running like hell from me," he muttered.
When she was finally making progress? No way. "And leave the other half of my soul?"
He stared at her like she'd lost her mind, a combination of astonishment and disbelief. Like he just couldn't believe she'd laid it all out on the line. Well, why shouldn't she? He knew she wanted him. She knew he wanted her. She shrugged. "I've always known, Dupree. Why do you fight it so much?"
She wondered if he'd fall back on his usual excuses for keeping her at arm's length. She was too young. He wanted to protect her, even from himself.
"You deserve more," he whispered, gaze fixed on her lips. Could she tempt him to kiss her? Just one little kiss before he reverted to the reserved, unapproachable Dupree she was more accustomed to? God, she hoped so.
"Maybe," she answered, lifting her head from the pillow, lips getting closer to his. He groaned and she continued in a whisper she hoped enticed, "But maybe I'd rather have you. Just you."
He leaned into her, full body contact that made her crave more. She slid her hands up the smooth skin of his back and marveled at the feel of him. He was big and heavy, his eyes glowing with hungry intent. She got the impression he was a hunter and she was his prey. That was fine with her.
His mouth slanted over hers, teeth nipping her bottom lip when she didn't immediately open to him. She gasped and his tongue thrust into her mouth, stroking and sending little sparks of sensation through her. She wrapped her arms around his neck and clung to him. His kiss was wild and untamed, demanding and explosive. He broke away too soon, leaving them both panting. She fell back into the pillow, and moved her hands to grip his upper arms, trying to pull him with her.
"You get back here and finish what you started, Dupree Jackson," she ordered.
He couldn't stop now.
"You're playing with fire," he said.
His voice was hard, but his lips twitched as he fought a smile. She knew she was one of a select few who didn't fear him. She knew also, despite how much he tried to hide it, that it pleased him she wasn't afraid. She grinned up at him. "The only way to play with you is to play with fire."
He rolled to her side, as if the strength had suddenly left his body, and she experienced a surge of guilt. Damn. How could she have forgotten so quickly why she'd come here? She propped up on one elbow to lean over him.
"Dupree?" It wasn't worry that made her suck in a deep breath when he met her gaze, however. He was so successful at hiding the way he felt that even she usually had a hard time reading him. He wasn't hiding anything now. She hoped she could handle what she'd unleashed. The dominance and possession that gleamed in his eyes was enough to overwhelm most women.
"How did you get here?" he asked.
He nodded and she could see him pulling back into himself. "Go back. I'll be there in a few hours," he said, tone even and firm.
He was doing it again. Pushing her away. But she saw the desire he couldn't quite hide in his eyes and it gave her hope. It wouldn't be easy, breaking through the walls Dupree had spent a lifetime building, but she sensed she was close.
Patience. Just a little more time,
she promised herself. For now she'd let him rest. He'd see how determined she was soon enough. She pressed a kiss against his lips and left.