Night Embrace

By: Sherrilyn Kenyon

Dark-Hunter Series #04




For my fans who support me and who have given me untold smiles at conferences and booksignings and when I read my e-mails and letters.



To the RBL Romantica and DH posters whose presence is always a source of warmth.



For my family and friends who make my life worthwhile. And for my Kim and Nancy who believe in me and who are willing to give me the opportunity to introduce the world to the people who live in my heart and mind.



Thank you all! I hope each of you has all the blessings and riches you deserve. Hugs!





Prologue

A.D. 558, GLIONNAN



The roaring village fires burned high into the night, licking at the dark sky like serpents twining through black velvet. Smoke wafted through the misty darkness, pungent with the scent of death and vengeance.

The sight and smell should bring joy to Talon.

It didn’t.

Nothing would ever bring joy to him again.

Nothing.

The bitter agony that welled inside him was crippling. Debilitating. It was more than even he could bear and that thought was almost enough to make him laugh…

Or curse.

Aye, he cursed from the excruciating weight of his pain.

One by one, he had lost every human being on earth who had ever meant anything to him.

All of them.

At age seven, he’d been orphaned and left the heavy responsibility of caring for his baby sister. With nowhere to go and unable to provide for the infant himself, he had returned to the clan that had once been led by his mother.

A clan that had banished both his parents before his birth.

His uncle had been in his first year as king when Talon had forced his way into his hall. The king had grudgingly accepted him and Ceara, but his clan never had.

Not until Talon had forced them to.

They might not have respected his parentage, but Talon had made them respect his sword arm and temper. Respect his willingness to maim or slay any and all who insulted him.

By the time he’d entered manhood, no one dared to mock his birth or impugn his mother’s memory or honor.

He had risen through the ranks of warriors and learned all he could about weapons, fighting, and leadership.

In the end, he had been unanimously voted his uncle’s successor by the very people who had once mocked him.

As the heir, Talon had stood by his uncle’s right side, protecting him relentlessly until an enemy ambush had caught them off guard.

Wounded and in physical agony, Talon had held his uncle in his arms while Idiag died from his injuries.

“Guard my wife and Ceara, boy,” his uncle had whispered before his death. “Don’t make me regret taking you in.”

Talon had promised. But only a few months after that, he’d found his aunt raped and murdered by their enemies. Her body desecrated and left for the animals to prey upon.

Less than a full year later, he’d cradled his precious wife, Nynia, to his chest as she, too, drew her last breath and left him all alone, forever bereft of her gentle, soothing touch.

She had been his world.

His heart.

His soul.

Without her, he had no longer wished to live.

His spirit as broken as his heart, he had placed their stillborn son into her lifeless arms and buried the two of them together by the loch where he and Nynia had played as children.

Then, he’d done as he had been taught by his mother and uncle.

He had survived to lead his clan.

Laying aside his grief as best he could, he had lived only for the clan’s welfare.

As a chieftain, he had spilled enough blood to fill the raging sea and had taken countless wounds on his own flesh for his people. He had led his clan to glory against all the mainlanders and northern clans who had sought to conquer them. With most of his family dead, he had given his clan everything he had. His loyalty. His love.

He had even offered them his own life to protect them from the gods.

And in one heartbeat, his clansmen had taken the last thing on this earth he had loved.

Ceara.

His cherished little sister whom he had sworn to his mother, father, and uncle he would protect at any cost. Ceara with her golden hair and laughing amber eyes. So young. So kind and giving.

To satisfy one man’s selfish ambition, his clan had slain her before his eyes while he lay tied down, unable to stop them.

She’d died calling out for him to help her.

Her horrified screams still rang in his ears.

After her execution, the clan had turned on him and ended his life as well. But Talon’s death had brought no relief to him. He had felt only guilt. Guilt and a need to right the wrongs done to his family.

That vengeful need had transcended everything, even death itself.

“May the gods damn you all!” Talon roared at the burning village.

“The gods don’t damn us, we damn ourselves by our words and deeds.”

Talon turned sharply at the voice behind him to see a man clothed all in black. Cresting the small rise, this man was unlike any he’d seen before.

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