Phantom Warriors 7: The Dark King
Digital • Nov. 28, 2012
PW 7: The Dark King
Paperback ISBN: 9781942237006
Taylor Shelley has always had the worst taste in men. When her latest ex turns out to be part of the Russian mob, she’s offered the chance to start a new life…on another planet.
No more bad boys for her.
Hades, The Dark King is both feared and rejected due to his mixed Atlantean/Phantom heritage. As King of the Phantoms, he rules his land via blood and claw. Hades doesn’t have time to watch over a human female, even one as enticing as Taylor, but a debt is a debt. If keeping an eye on the woman for a week will clear the slates, then he’ll do it.
Taylor isn’t sure how a cage-fighting half-breed ended up on the throne, but she wants nothing to do with this royal bad boy.
What starts as an obligation, ends in a game of seduction where the players are evenly matched. There’s only one rule to remember when playing with the Dark King—the house ALWAYS wins.
ARRIVAL (Atlantean’s Quest 1)|EXODUS (Atlantean’s Quest 2)|REDEMPTION (Atlantean’s Quest 3)|
ATLANTEAN HEAT (Atlantean’s Quest 3.5)|THE RETURN (Atlantean’s Quest 4)|BACCHUS (Phantom Warriors 1)|SABER-TOOTH (Phantom Warriors 2)|TALON (Phantom Warriors 3)|ARCTOS (Phantom Warriors 4)|LINX (Phantom Warriors 5)|RIOT (Phantom Warriors 6)| HAWK’S SLAVE | PIT FIGHTER: CAGE
The warrior slipped into the communications room, during the shift change and shut the door behind him. Not that his presence would be questioned if he were found. No, the guards wouldn’t give him a second thought. But treason was best performed without an audience. He had minutes before the new guards arrived.
The red and white communication’s crystals sat upon a metal table in the center of the room. They glowed and pulsed, indicating that they were ready to use. In the corner, a green crystal coruscated, verifying that the energy field around the walled city was active. Had the energy field been expanded to cover the surrounding areas, the crystal’s green color would’ve morphed to gold, signifying that they were under attack.
The warrior ignored the crystal in the corner and picked up the red one nearest to him. He moved the crystal to the right of the white ones. The change in position caused the red crystal to vibrate and give out a high-pitched tone. He quickly moved another red crystal to the side. The tone changed and became a steady beep.
With a careful twist of his wrist, the beep turned into a signal, a beacon projected into space. The type of distress beacon a Slaver ship would be unable to resist. The warrior waited as long as he dared to ensure the message had gone out, then returned the crystals to their original positions.
It was done.
Time to see how the Dark King handled unwanted company.
Once the Phantom people saw how unsafe their city was, Hades would have to accept his challenge for the throne.
* * * * *
Linx strode into the dank cavern. Flames lit the walls, casting long shadows over the wet rock. The musty air tickled his nostrils, making him want to sneeze. The ground crunched as the rock beneath his boots crumbled under his weight. Behind him, his mate’s sister, Taylor stared wide-eyed into the darkness. She hesitated at the entrance for a moment, then followed him inside. Her kitten heels tip-tapped on the stone as she rushed to catch up.
“Remember what I told you about the Dark King,” Linx said.
Taylor glanced at him. “I will, stop worrying.” She rubbed her hands over her arms to ward off a chill.
“I know it looks bad, but it’s not as bad as it appears,” he said.
No, it was worse.
These days Hades loved to rule his Kingdom like some dark lord from the underworld, but that hadn’t always been the case. When he’d first risen to the throne, he’d railed against the voices of dissension. Strove to bring his people together. But eventually he became disillusioned by what the Phantom people were saying and decided to become the abomination they accused him of being. Neither the Phantom world nor the Atlantean one fully accepted him, but very few were stupid enough to challenge him.
Linx looked at the woman beside him. Perhaps her being here would create change. “I’ll bring Tabby as soon as I’m able to petition the Atlanteans for your status upgrade. I have no doubt that once they hear the circumstances under which you came here, they will accept you as a citizen of New Atlantis,” Linx said. “But it will take time.”
Taylor snorted. “Nice to know that bureaucracy exists everywhere in the universe.”
Linx smiled, but his grin faded as a regiment of towering guards came into view. The men were all Phantom Warriors. A bit of a surprise given the King’s mixed heritage. The guards stood in front of a massive metal door that looked like something from medieval earth. Linx stepped forward. “Phantom Warrior Linx. I’m here to see the Dark King,” he said in a loud voice, officially announcing his arrival.
“State your business, Phantom,” the nearest guard ordered. His red eyes glowed in the darkness, but held all the warmth of a glacier.
Linx felt a clumsy touch in his mind as the Phantom tried to read his thoughts. He fought back a smile, then pictured himself in a state of undress.
The guard’s face flushed and his gaze narrowed accusingly, then he straightened to attention.
Linx kept his expression innocent. “I have an appointment with the King. As for what it’s about, that is none of your business. Just tell him that I’m here,” he said. If things went well, he’d leave his Royal Crankiness with more than a new charge to care for. It was time the Dark King joined the land of the living again.
The guard’s jaw clenched and unclenched as an internal struggle took place. Eventually reason won out and he said, “One moment.” The other Phantoms continued to block the entrance as the lead guard stepped away.
It took fifteen minutes for the guard to return. Linx was sure that he’d kept them waiting on purpose. The Phantom barked an order and the guards slowly parted to reveal another door, this one made of thick stone, beyond the metal one they were blocking.
* * * * *
Taylor had never been more terrified in her life. Not even when the Russians were torturing her sister, Tabby, which was saying something. She had no idea what was on the other side of that great stone door, but if it was anything like the entrance to the cavern, then it wasn’t going to be good. Whose idea was it to build a palace—scratch that—fortress inside a mountain? She didn’t think things like this existed outside of the movies.
She’d been moved from what amounted to a windowless shipping container straight to Linx’s transport. He had made her duck down to avoid detection, so she hadn’t seen much of New Atlantis or the walled city. Heck, she’d barely gotten a glimpse of the light green sky. What she wouldn’t give for a little sunshine. If it weren’t for the tanned skin on the warriors they’d passed, Taylor would’ve thought she was being dropped off in the land of the mole people.
Linx looked back at her. “Ready?”
“As I’ll ever be.” She took a steadying breath.
“Before we go in, take this. You’ll need it if there’s any trouble.” He handed her a small round disc that looked like a black pebble.
“What am I supposed to do with a rock? Throw it at him?” From what she’d seen of the Phantom Warriors, she’d need something a lot bigger than a pebble to stop one.
Linx didn’t bother to hide his impatience. “It’s a communication device. You can reach me any time by touching the top. Your sister made me promise to give you one. I’m pretty sure that Hades won’t hurt you, so hopefully you won’t have to use the device.”
The mention of her sister, Tabby made Taylor’s heart clench, which was why it took her a moment to register what else Linx had said. “Pretty sure?” As in he had some doubts about her safety. “Your lack of confidence in the Dark King is not reassuring,” she said.
Linx sighed. “I’m positive he won’t. No Phantom Warrior would ever raise his hand to a woman. The punishment for such things is…severe.” He eyed her critically. “Besides, you’re kind of his ‘type’. He has a thing for long hair and full breasts.”
Taylor arched a brow. “Don’t most men?”
Linx grinned. “Good point. Ultimately his taste in women matters not, since you’ll be under his protection and you’ll only be here a week tops.”
How reassuring, Taylor thought.
“I think the King and I will be able to resist temptation for a week,” she said dryly.
Linx’s expression turned calculating. “Your sister didn’t last that long.”
She pulled a face. “Ew, too much information.”
The hair on Taylor’s arms rose. What was that cat up to? And why didn’t she think she was going to like it. “Thanks for the device.” She tossed the communicator into the air and caught it, then shoved it into her pocket.
He stepped forward. She followed close behind. More guards poured out of the shadows, blocking their entrance. Their fierce expressions never wavered as they frisked them, before they were allowed through the stone door.
Linx glared at the guard, who was a little too thorough in frisking Taylor, but he didn’t say a word. She gave him a small reassuring smile, but she was trembling by the time the Phantom finished. Taylor was used to men trying to cop a feel, used to them ogling her. When you take your clothes off for a living, you get used to a lot of things. But dealing with men and dealing with shape-shifting aliens were two very different things.
She thought about the pain and horror Tabby had gone through because of her poor judgment in men. If her twin could live through torture, then Taylor could survive the next week. Tabby may not think she was strong, but she was wrong. Taylor had learned to be strong, learned how to survive. She’d had to when she had gone into exotic dancing, since it wasn’t exactly an accepted profession.
People looked down on her, but Taylor refused to look down upon herself. In her mind, she had nothing to be ashamed of…at least not until she hooked up with Sergei. Her mistakes from that day forth had piled up until Taylor was convinced she’d never see daylight again. Fortunately, her sister and the man—make that alien—standing beside her had saved her life, given her a second chance, and she was determined to make the best of it.
No more mistakes. No more screwed up relationships. A proper ‘do-over’.
Linx stepped through the door. When she reached his side, he took her hand and placed her palm upon his arm before escorting her deeper inside the room. The move was oddly formal and caused butterflies to attack her stomach.
Taylor frowned, but didn’t say anything. They walked side by side into the Great Hall. Had he not been holding her, Taylor would’ve stopped, shocked by what lay beyond the cavern door.
The journey in had been all craggy cave, wet walls, and musty minerals, but somehow the stone door had transformed the cave from something out of Middle Earth into a sultan’s palace. Plump red pillows lined the benches that cuddled against row and row of long tables. Rich tapestries clung to the walls adding vibrant color to an otherwise slate room. Thick black rugs brushed the cobbled aisle, giving it a polished look. Taylor visually followed the stone pathway to…she squinted. Was that a throne?
Of course it’s a throne. You’re about to meet a King.
She’d never met a King before. Oh sure, she’d entertained a few Saudi royals at Sergei’s club, but she doubted that a King would be expecting a lap dance. Such things were beneath them. Weren’t they?
How did one behave in front of royalty?
Every culture had its own version of royalty. Each with its own set of rules when it came to dealing with them. Taylor had seen Kings and Queens on the television, but were they the same here? Did they even have Queens? She had her doubts. The cultural differences she’d witnessed thus far on Zaron were in stark contrast to the ones she’d left only a few days ago.
Had it only been a few days? It seemed like a lifetime.
Taylor cut that line of thinking off at the knees and dumped it in a shallow grave. She was done feeling sorry for herself.
The door shut behind them with a thunderous boom. Her palms began to sweat as Linx led her forward. She rubbed them over her jeans just in case she had to shake the King’s royal hand.
Blood roared in her ears as her heart tried to pound its way out of her chest. This was a mistake. She shouldn’t be here. She was a stripper for goodness sake! Wasn’t there a hotel or motel she could crash at until Linx cleared up her ‘visa’ issue?
The empty throne came into sharper relief. Fear and trepidation slowed her steps. The royal seat was neither gold nor silver. Taylor expected to see jewels at least, but there were none. The seat was a spider web of steel with spindly legs and humanoid skulls for feet. If she hadn’t been told it was a throne, Taylor would’ve thought she was viewing a torture device.
Was this some kind of joke? She looked at Linx, but he wasn’t laughing. Her gaze slid back to the empty-eyed skulls. Their grotesquely pointed teeth seemed to grin mockingly at her.
This wasn’t the throne of a King. This was the throne of a barbarian. What had she gotten herself into? The urge to turn and run away nearly overwhelmed her.
Linx must’ve sensed her unease for his grip tightened and he kept her moving.
A tawny-haired man with a fight-carved face lounged insolently against the base of the throne in the shadows. He was a study in muscle, though Taylor doubted that he’d ever stepped foot inside a gym.
Was this one of the King’s private guards? His bodyguard perhaps? He looked the part. Built for sheer brute force without all the frivolousness of subtly. One glance told her that the man could crush skulls with his bare hands until all that remained was bone dust.
His lazy gaze started at the top of her head, resting momentarily on her full breasts until her traitorous nipples hardened in awareness, before proceeding to her toes. He reversed direction without saying a word and stopped when he returned to her face. Taylor shivered under his uncompromising regard and hated that her reaction wasn’t all because of the cool, damp air and fear.
In her old life, he was the type of man that she would’ve been attracted to. His rock hard body and edgy vibe would’ve turned her on. The old Taylor would have wanted to lick and touch every one of his bulging muscles. And even if she didn’t surrender right away, the promise of mind-blowing sex would have been too tempting to resist for long.
Taylor would’ve gone out of her way to catch his attention, lure him with her body, and seduce him into her bed…but not anymore. She’d learned her lesson and it had very nearly cost her everything she held dear. Taylor forced herself to meet his eyes. Something odd flared in the icy blue depths before being carefully banked. The man’s unflinching gaze slowly moved from her to Linx.
“What do you want?” His clipped words made the temperature in the room drop.
Linx arched a brow and looked at the guard.
“I thought you said the King was expecting us,” Taylor said in a hushed breath, hoping that only Linx could hear her. Had they come on the wrong day? Had the King changed his mind about seeing them? What if he did? What would she do then? There were only so many places she could hide on Zaron without risking discovery and deportation.
“He is,” the guard said. He rose slowly and walked to the front of the throne, then sat, resting his meaty hands on the thick metal webs.
“Your Highness.” Linx’s lips kicked up at the corners in amusement. He gave the man a short bow.
Taylor gaped. This was the King. It couldn’t be. Kings didn’t look like cage fighters. Kings were soft, well-spoken, pampered. She glanced around the room at the lush red pillows. Okay, so maybe he did pamper himself a little, but that was as far as the stereotype went. Her gaze returned to the fierce looking throne and the even fiercer looking man seated upon it.
“If I grant you this favor, then we are even,” the Dark King said.
“I wouldn’t exactly call it a favor, Your Highness. Perhaps a gift.”
Gift? What did Linx mean by that?
The King’s eyes narrowed dangerously.
“But you’re absolutely right, we’re even now,” Linx said hurriedly before the King could speak. “I will be back to retrieve her within seven days.” He gave Taylor a warning glare and indicated to the King with a jerk of his chin.
Nothing like being forced on someone, she thought wryly.
Taylor dropped down onto one knee. “Thank you for allowing me to stay, Your Highness, and for putting me under your protection.” She recited the words Linx had made her memorize. Taylor must’ve done it right because Linx smiled at her when she finished.
“What are you called, Earthling?” the King asked, drawing her attention away from her sister’s mate.
“Taylor Shelley, but Taylor is fine.” She tittered nervously, then clamped her mouth shut.
“You may call me Hades.”
Taylor stared at him for a few seconds. She couldn’t have heard him correctly. “I’m sorry, did you say Hades?” She frowned. “Like the god of the underworld? Is it because you live inside a mountain?” She indicated to their surroundings.
“No.” He shot a pointed look at Linx. “It’s because it is my name.”
“Oh, that’s a good reason, too,” she said.
Linx sighed. “Forgive her impertinence, Sire. She’s never been presented to royalty before and doesn’t understand our culture. She meant no offense.”
“Fascinating.” The King looked at her again like she’d just sprouted ram horns out her ears. It was obvious he wasn’t used to receiving ‘common’ people. He continued to stare, his aqua blue eyes boring into her until Taylor felt naked. Finally, he deigned to speak. “The Phantom Warrior tells me that you have given up your wild Earth ways and plan to start a new life here on Zaron, if King Eros grants his permission.”
Wild ways? Taylor glared at Linx. What in the world had he told Hades? She wasn’t wild. Just because she’d chosen an unusual profession didn’t make her a slut. She resisted the urge to hit him, then turned back to address the King. “That is correct, Your Highness,” she said through gritted teeth. Why was it when men were ‘wild’ they were considered studs and when women were proud of their sexuality they were called much, much worse?
The King stared at her, no doubt judging her like so many of the men that she’d met in her lifetime. Would he consider her unworthy to stay in his kingdom? If he did, what would that mean in terms of her fate? She lifted her chin and stared right back at him. Taylor wouldn’t let a King or any other man make her feel inferior.
The silence became painfully uncomfortable. Sweat broke out on her forehead as they continued their staring contest. Taylor was about ready to repeat her answer, when he spoke.
“Pity, that you decided to make such a change now,” the King said, clearly bored with the whole conversation. “I had hoped for a distraction.”
Hoped for…what the hell?
Taylor’s temper flared before she could rein it in. She shot to her feet. “Well you won’t find one here,” she spat.
The arrogant jerk!
She should’ve known by looking at him that he’d be an ass. Taylor had thought that traveling a hundred light years would make a difference. When would she learn to ignore her hormones and see people for what they truly were? Men were the same no matter what solar system they lived in.
Linx’s eyes widened and he glowered at her. “You are speaking to a King,” he hissed. “We talked about this. You forget your place.”
“My place? My place is a hundred light years from here.” But he was right. Hades was doing them a favor by letting her stay here. The least she could do was be gracious. Taylor opened her mouth to apologize, but one look at the King’s arrogant expression changed her mind. She crossed her arms over her chest and glared right back at him. He could take her apology and stuff it up his tight butt.
Yes, she’d noticed that he had a great butt. She might be ‘reformed’, but she wasn’t blind.
Hades laughed. “Don’t underestimate yourself. I have a feeling you could be quite distracting, if you put your mind to it,” he said to Taylor, then glanced at Linx. “You are dismissed.”
“I thought perhaps–” His words died mid-sentence at the look upon Hades’ face. Linx hesitated, clearly torn about whether he should stick around. He shook his head, then gave the King another short bow. “As you wish.” Linx took a step back. “Behave,” he grumbled under his breath to Taylor.
She fumed silently. He had started it.
Linx waited for her to respond.
Taylor sighed. “I will,” she said reluctantly. “Maybe you should give his ‘Royal Badass’ the same advice. I think he could use it.”
“Nice to see you two hitting it off. I’ll give Tabby your best,” Linx said, then hightailed it out of the cave like a scaredy cat.
* * * * *
Hades wasn’t sure what the cat was up to, but he was grateful to have his debt satisfied. He sometimes wished that he had taken the knife to the chest. It would have been far less painful in the long run. He didn’t like owing Linx or anyone else.
He stared at the Earth woman that he’d promised to keep safe. She was full of fire like the long, flowing dark red hair that framed her pale face. Odd colored eyes, neither brown nor green but somewhere floating in the middle, stared back at him in observation…and defiance. Her looks bore no resemblance to the Atlantean women or the Phantoms, but they were striking in their own way. He felt himself drawn to her, despite her anger and her obvious human shortcomings.
He’d read Taylor’s thoughts easily, when she stepped forward into the chamber. She hadn’t believed him to be a King, but that was nothing new, since half the Atlanteans and Phantoms agreed and chose to follow King Eros instead.
In their eyes, Hades would always be a Half-being, neither Phantom nor Atlantean. A mistake. A ‘Royal Badass’ according to Taylor, though he kind of liked that term. Feared, but not necessarily respected. Their opinions would change quickly, if Zaron were ever under attack. For Hades was good at one thing, better than anyone else on the planet.
He knew how to fight, how to use every weapon. His strategies were beyond compare. He’d been raised as a warrior from the start and did not fear death. Nor did he court his demise. Hades would do whatever he must in order to win, to keep his people safe.
Eros would never be able to say the same. His family made him soft. Weak. Made him forget that he was a warrior first and foremost. That particular failure would never happen to Hades.
He ensured it by keeping his distance from female entanglements. Oh, he enjoyed a good fuck as much as the next man, maybe more so since his dual bloodline gave him an insatiable appetite, but he never let sexual gratification lead to bonding. Hades didn’t think with his dick. Never had, never would.
The Phantom people regularly pushed for him to take a mate, but Hades vowed never to do so. His refusal caused strife, but it was a strife that he could live with. He was satisfied with his life. Happy even.
So maybe he got bored on occasion. As King, it was his right. And maybe the women he bedded were becoming interchangeable in his mind. That didn’t stop him from enjoying their company. And it certainly didn’t mean that things needed to change.
His mood soured as his thoughts switched course. He glared at the human. It was her fault. He wasn’t a damn nursemaid. He was King. Kings didn’t babysit wayward females. He should call Linx back this instant and demand he come to retrieve her. Debt be damned! Hades noted the rebelliousness in Taylor’s eyes. It sparked something primal inside of him.
Perhaps she was an exception…
She finds you arrogant and thinks you’re an ass.
Hades snorted. Her words were strange, but their meaning was clear. She was right. He was an arrogant ass. Those were two of his good qualities.
Why wasn’t she lowering her gaze?
Didn’t she know about the beast lurking beneath the calm facade of every Phantom Warrior? He may only be half Phantom, but his beast was strong—and dominant. It didn’t like to be directly challenged. Yet, Taylor wasn’t backing down or looking away.
Hades continued to stare, shocked and oddly impressed by her brazen display. Something inside of him rose to accept the challenge she unwittingly tossed out.
Taylor Shelley was different. She’d made that abundantly clear with her barely veiled disdain. If he hadn’t sensed her fleeting attraction before she’d realized who he was, Hades might’ve been able to leave her alone for the week.
But he had sensed it. For a moment, she had wanted him. She had fantasized about stripping him bare. Now he could think of nothing but doing the same to her.
The flash of awareness coupled with her flare of temper intrigued him. Most women fell over themselves to please him in the hopes that he’d make them his Queen or at least bed them, but not Taylor. She wanted nothing to do with him. The question was why?
He knew it wasn’t because she’d been forced upon him. He’d read that much from her thoughts. No, something else held her back. Hades immediately strategized, running all the options, evaluating the various outcomes. In the end, the answer was always the same.
He would protect her like he vowed, but Taylor would learn to bow before the Dark King…like all the others who’d come before her. Hades knew his way around a woman’s body and took great satisfaction in bringing them pleasure. Taylor would be no different, even if he had to wait for Linx’s return to take her.
Who knows, he thought. She might even learn to like his touch.
Hades gave her an evil grin infused with sheer determination. Taylor’s full breasts quivered delectably beneath her shirt. She shifted her long, sensuous legs, which appeared to be poured into the thick blue material she wore, and glanced around as if she’d flee given half the chance.
Perhaps she was smart after all.
He inhaled through his nose and mouth. A rich, spicy scent tickled his sensitive nostrils. Hades’ eyes fluttered closed and his head spun as he drank her in. If Taylor tasted half as good as she smelled, she’d be delicious. His tongue darted out over his lips. He could almost taste her. He breathed in again, this time deeper. Now there was nowhere that she could hide that he wouldn’t find her, but it was going to be fun to try.
“Run!” he ordered.
Taylor squeaked and took off in the direction from which she’d come.
Hades watched her go, her full bottom twitching from side to side as she ran. Anticipation rose as he prepared to give chase. His beast prickled beneath his skin, scraping its claws down his spine. He looked forward to giving Taylor her first lesson in obedience. He had no doubt that when he caught her there would be a battle of wills. Hers cast from Earth’s soft soil and his cast from iron.
He might bend to get his way, but the Dark King would never break.
Hades wondered if the same could be said for Taylor Shelley. There was only one way to find out. He surged up from the throne and roared.
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