Intensity – Sherrilyn Kenyon

The end will begin. It always does. On the wind and with stinging pain. Faster than you can see and always when least expected. Enemies will come and they will go— forever seeking to bring you low. But stand you must, and in even fewer trust. Thyself alone, thy heart of stone. One faith. One truth. One war. And so it was long ago, and centuries in our future. One Malachai son who began his race. Whose true love and devotion to his precious Rubati caused them all to be cursed forever. So it began. So it will end.

One Malachai son cursed to destroy the world because of the love of one woman. Or to save it because through her faithful heart he learned of salvation and forgiveness. His choice. To defy his destiny. Or embrace his fate. To build or destroy. The same decision that all humanity faces from the moment of birth. A road wide open to all that narrows with every decision made until we make the final one that ends our days with the last exhale we take to extinguish the candle on our lives forevermore. Pawn or master. Choose wisely or perish from the foolishness of that last poor decision.

The immovable rock or the unstoppable force. In truth, we are both. Situations have dictated and will dictate which we must be in order to survive. Today we are bitten, yet yesterday, we bit someone else. Tomorrow has yet to tell us which role will be ours, for it is in flux and could fall to either side. Biter or bitten. Life is ever a complicated symphony of catastrophes. Ever seeking to lay us low and lift us higher. And no one has ever understood this better than the Ambrose Malachai. Born Nicholas Ambrosius Aloysius Gautier.

Many things to many people. Son. Friend. Boyfriend. Squire. Brother. Dark-Hunter. Malachai. Demon. Husband.

Father. Betrayer. Destroyer of the world. Our could-be savior. Nick stared at the stark words that condemned him. As harsh as they were, they were made twice as bad by the fact that they’d been written in his own handwriting. In blood. And they struck him like a blow. With this he couldn’t argue. His clairvoyance was flawless as he stood beside himself in the future, looking down at the words he was writing in his grimoire.

“How did I get here?” he whispered. He still didn’t know. Because the future isn’t set in stone. His best friend Acheron’s voice teased him from deep inside his mind. Every decision made impacted the next. An endless rippling stream of indecision. One moment he’d been a clueless kid in high school. The next, he’d been a willing servant Squire for the Dark-Hunter Kyrian of Thrace. One who’d helped shield the immortal warrior from humans while Kyrian protected them from the demons who preyed on their lives and souls. The next thing Nick had known, he’d become a Dark-Hunter himself.

Only to learn that Menyara, his voodoo godmother who he trusted implicitly, was actually an ancient goddess who’d bound his own powers and hidden him from his demonic father and others who would kill or use him. That his true destiny was to become the demon who ate the world whole. That had been his first lifetime. Until he came back and tampered with it. Or did he? Man, Nick could lose his mind with this. Because what Ambrose—his future self—had failed to tell him was the secret he’d learned last night. The secret he now knew. For the first time ever, he understood Tabitha Devereaux’s tattoo from his vision of their future fight, and why she’d placed it on her arm. Not as a motto for herself. A note to him to serve as a reminder … Fabra est sui quaeque fati.

She creates her own destiny. That was why the Ambrose Malachai had stopped in the middle of battle to stare down at it. Why he’d screamed out in agony on the day he killed her. I made myself the monster. My choice. Son. Friend. Boyfriend. Squire. Brother.

Dark-Hunter. Malachai. Demon. Husband. Father. Betrayer. Destroyer of the world. Or savior … My choice alone. As with all things. The future would be made by the very decisions he made today.

Good, bad and “H indifferent. He was the master spinner of destiny. And he, alone, would bear it out. e will kill you.” Cyprian Malachai paused as those dire words hung in the air. A slow insidious smile spread across his face as he looked up from his homework to see the obsequious demon servant who stood on his left. “You don’t know my father at all, do you?” The demon stepped back into the shadows, cringing if the truth were known. Not that he blamed the creature. It was always good to fear him as he valued nothing and no one. That was the curse of the Malachai bloodline that he’d inherited from Ambrose.

They loved nothing and no one. Except for his father. Ambrose had been cut from a different Malachai cloth. Nicholas Ambrosius Aloysius Gautier. The so-called Ambrose Malachai had been a unique creature unto himself. Out of all the Malachai born after their downfall and curse, he’d been the only one to ever know a mother’s love. The only one to have a family and … Friends. Something that baffled Cyprian to this day as no one had ever liked him. He’d never understood his father’s life or the loyalty of all those who’d died by Ambrose’s side when they’d faced off in final battle all those centuries in the future. Even now, he could see them as that fateful day had dawned.

Lined up for battle. Both sides stood ready at the head of their armies. Cyprian’s dark Mavromino forces had salivated for his father’s good, Kalosum blood. The Ambrose Malachai had stood strong at the front with his wife and her brother at his side. For the first time in all of history, the Naşāru and Arelim had ridden to fight with a Malachai and his generals at their head. As had the last Sephiroth. Brothers and sisters in arms. All the forces of good and light had aligned themselves against Cyprian’s demonic army. The primal sources of evil and night-shadow were ready and more than willing to finally take them all to their graves. “Remember,” Cyprian’s mother had whispered in his ear as she prepared herself for war, “your father isn’t as strong as he appears.

Your mere presence here weakens him with every breath you draw while it strengthens you so that you can defeat him. Not to mention, half his army still thinks that he’s betrayed them. It will take nothing for them to turn against him now.” Because they had no idea that Cyprian had been born. Or that he and his mother had been playing havoc with all of their lives by masquerading as his father. He’d been having quite the time playing Ambrose at all their expenses. None of the poor fools had been the wiser. Not even his father. Unable to tell the two of them apart, the sheep had followed after him and done his bidding. They’d been duped without knowing.

He made fools of them all, and he’d laughed at them the entire time. Because they didn’t know better. For all his powers, the Ambrose Malachai wasn’t impervious to everything. He had a great blind spot whenever it came to those he trusted and called friend and family. And Cyprian’s mother was an ancient goddess of supreme power and vengeance. She’d promised Cyprian long ago that this day of reckoning would come. And here they were. Here they were … Facing off so that he could rise to power and his father could die by his hand and exact revenge for her. That was the way of the Malachai curse. The father perished whenever the son came of age and killed his father to take his place.

Only one Malachai could live at a time. Today Ambrose would die and Cyprian would rise. Embrace your fate. And Cyprian had gleefully seized it that day on the field when he’d killed Ambrose. Now he was in the past to make sure that day in the future came. One way or another. And there was nothing Nicholas Gautier could do to stop him. T CHAPTER 1 his was a stupid idea. But then stupid ideas were Nick Gautier’s specialty. In fact, when God had been giving them out, Nick had gone back not only for seconds, but thirds and fourths.

Probably fifths, too. Just ask anyone. They’d all agree. Especially his mother and friends. And none more so than his girlfriend, who was currently staring at him as if he’d lost his last three remaining brain cells. He probably had. Not that they’d ever worked particularly well whenever Kody was around. What with her tight jeans that hugged a very nice posterior, and those soft shirts she fancied that drained every last bit of blood from his teenaged Cajun mind and left it quite unable to function at full capacity. So even if he’d been a NASA rocket scientist, he’d have been rendered a blubbering idiot around her anyway. He took comfort with that knowledge.

Little bit though it was. “Oh, Nick! You can’t be serious.” Nekoda Kennedy crossed her arms over her ample chest and blinked those gorgeous green eyes at him as if to say—Son, you’re a flaming moron. Yeah, of course he was. And dang it anyway. How could she be so attractive while calling his meager intelligence into question? Yet there was no getting around it. He loved her. Every inch of that tanned, delectable caramel skin that tempted him a lot more than he ever wanted to admit. Every bit of those cupid’s bow lips he could spend the rest of his life kissing. Provided his mama didn’t catch him, that was.

No boy needed a lecture that stern. Not to mention all her soft, curly brown hair he always wanted to bury his face in … No doubt about it. He would always be a fool where his Kody was concerned. And he was willing to die to keep her safe. Whatever it took. Running into burning buildings. Dodging traffic and irate Madre phone calls. Even facing ticked off demons, and the Apocalypse, with nothing more than his meager wits as weapons. “I’ve got to do this, cher. It’s a moral imperative.

” “It’s a grand stupidity!” He touched her chin and grinned roguishly. “Nah! It’s a matter of honor.” Rolling her eyes, she let out a long-suffering sigh that probably had to do with the fact that she’d been hanging with him all afternoon without a break— he couldn’t blame her there as a lot of people made that exasperated sound around him whenever they spent this much time in his presence. Especially his maternal unit and his ancient Greek boss, Kyrian Hunter. And no one more so than the Dark-Hunter Acheron, and Nick’s demon bodyguard, Caleb. They both swore he could test the patience of Job and Ghandi. Kody growled at him. “Fine. Go on and do it, you stubborn Cajun beast. Not like anyone can ever talk you out of anything so stupid once you’ve set your mind to it, anyway.

But when you get a bellyache, I don’t want to hear it. So don’t come crying to me for Pepto Bismol later. I don’t care how cute and sexy you are. I will not allow you to wear me down for any sympathy this time. Not over something you know better than to do. You can just suffer in silence. Alone.” She stepped aside, clearing the way for him. “If you really think you can out-eat a Charonte demon … go for it.” Nick tsked as he stepped around her to slide into the empty folding chair, and inclined his head to Simi who was already waiting with a dozen plates of beignets for each of them.

“Oh, I’m ready. You ready, Ms. Simi?” Decked out in her black leather corset and purple ruffled skirt, the Goth demon grinned. “I’s born ready, half-demon boy! The Simi done gots her barbecue sauce dugged out and is rearing to go. Less do this!” Nick adjusted a plate and a glass of milk. “A’ight! And dang be he who first cries halt! Enough! I plan to eat till I snap the button off my jeans and make it a deadly weapon!” He popped his knuckles in preparation. Off to the side of their table, Kody continued to growl at both of them. It was quite the impressive noise. “What’s going on?” Caleb asked as he came up to stand behind Kody on the sidewalk that looked out toward Jackson Square from the Café Du Monde where Nick sat with Simi, who’d already jumped the gun and started chowing down. Kody gestured at them.

“They’re actually having an eat-off. Can you believe this?” Caleb laughed. “He’s an idiot if he thinks for one yoctosecond he can compete against a Charonte.” “Don’t I know?” “And yet you’re dating him? Good job, woman. Way to raise those expectations. Yesterday, or in your case, years in the future, you were a demigod warrior, saving mankind from the demonic hoard out to annihilate them. From that to baby Malachai sitter. You didn’t just fall off your high-and-mighty pedestal, Highness, you hit the ground and splintered to pieces, like Humpty Dumpty.” “Yeah … thanks.” Caleb held his hands up.

“Hey, I don’t judge. I fell just as far. Besides, I found a woman willing to actually marry my cantankerous demonic hide. After that, I will question no one’s intelligence for the man in their life. Ever. My Lil really got the short end of it all.” Nick swallowed his beignet whole before he glared at his demon bodyguard, who was also supposed to be his best friend. At least that was what Caleb claimed and how the theory went. Though on days like this, he definitely wondered. At well over six feet, Caleb Malphas had hair as dark as Simi’s and skin the same color of caramel as Kody’s.

Yet the one thing that irritated Nick about his running-mate—aside from Caleb’s rather caustic and biting barbs he never kept to himself and that were usually directed at Nick—were those Hollywood good looks that always left Nick feeling extremely inadequate. ’Course that was just a front. While Caleb might appear tall, dark, handsome and composed, his natural state of being was as an orangefleshed, fanged demon. Yeah, he was a total freak when he didn’t have his human disguise up. “Don’t you have something better to do like raze a village? Haunt a house? Torment the damned? And I don’t mean me. This is New Orleans, you know? There’s a lot more condemned folks here than just my little Cajun hide. Look around. I’m sure you can find a lot more worthy target for your venom. Surely?” “Yeah, but it’s so much more fun to scare a little boy who’s afraid of clowns.” Caleb flashed an evil grin at him.

Nick shifted indignantly as he knew exactly what Caleb was referring to and he didn’t appreciate it in the least. “Hey now, that thing ain’t no clown I’m afraid of … it’s a Mardi Gras jester. Get your terms straight, old man. Your senility’s showing again. Besides, it’s evil and talks under the light of your magic. And you know it. So don’t you be hassling me over a well-founded fear about Mr. Creepy and his little head on a stick. That thing’s nasty and whoever put it in the middle of a tourist district where they got little kids walking by it all the time ought to be tied naked to a Mardi Gras float on a cold rainy day and left there to be mocked. Just saying.

It’s all kinds of wrong.” And it wasn’t like Nick was the only person alive with coulrophobia. That fear was quite common and normal. Maybe not for a Malachai demon who could tear a clown apart, but still … Nick hadn’t known he was the Malachai until many years after he’d developed his coulro-jesterphobia … on a stick. By then, his fear had become second nature. Caleb made a rude dismissive noise before he passed a snide stare to Kody. “You know he’s still having nightmares about that night?” At least Kody defended him. “I’m still having nightmares about that night. I don’t fault him on that account. It was pretty gruesome.

” Yeah, and his father, the baddest Malachai ever born, had died in that battle. And all of them had been wounded. The night they’d faced the talking jester with the tiny head, and the demon krewe had been that terrifying. “Thank you, sug!” Nick kissed the air in her direction before he picked up another beignet and shoved it in his mouth whole. “But I can’t watch this.” She turned her back and shuddered. “I’m getting diabetes just being here.” “And losing respect for your boy by the heartbeat,” Caleb added. To Nick’s immediate cry of, “Hey!” Kody still ignored them both. And neither of that kept Caleb from his merciless quest to have fun at Nick’s expense.

“You’re a ghost,” Caleb reminded her. “You can’t get diabetes.” “So you say. I’m willing to debate it.” She shivered again even though she couldn’t see their contest any longer. “I can’t watch this insanity. Simi? You got my boy covered?” Simi doused another plate of beignets with barbecue sauce. “‘Course I do, Akri-Kody. The Simi won’t let no demons or nothing else et your demon-boy or hurt him on my watch. Promise.

Cross my heart, with barbecue sauce on top.” “Thank you, Ms. Simi. I’ll see you two later.” Nick licked at the sugar on his fingertips as he watched Kody head off in the direction of her house. He cut a meaningful stare toward Caleb. “Speaking of … aren’t you afraid your house guests are going to set fire to something? Like the whole, entire planet? Now that all three of the evil Celts are together and alone without adult or any kind of responsible supervision … ” Caleb went pale. “Yeah, clowns don’t scare me. An unsupervised war god, hellhound and banshee … this could have nuclear-level meltdown repercussions. Only thing worse would have been to leave Bubba with them.

See ya later.” Wiping his hands down the leg of his jeans, Nick tried not to be too obvious. But he couldn’t help the intense way he stared after them both, making sure they were completely out of sight before he returned to Simi. He brushed his dark brown hair back from his eyes. “Okay, I think we’re safe now.” Simi looked up with a slight pout which was made twice as adorable given that her mouth was covered in powdered sugar and barbecue sauce. He didn’t know why, but that combined with her black and red cybergoth pigtails made her look more like a kid his age than a demon who was thousands of years old. And while her speech was unorthodox to most ears, it came from the fact that English wasn’t her native or primary tongue. Charonte was. Unlike the Malachai who could speak all languages with ease, she sometimes had trouble navigating between the two languages—especially with subject-verb agreement, something that often caused her to ramble as she tried to make sense of words that baffled her with their similarities.

To her, many of them were superfluous and unnecessary, as in humans should be able to follow her meaning simply by the context. And if they couldn’t … Well, to quote Simi, poo on you. Not that Nick minded her random jumps in logic or sequence. While he might understand and speak all languages, he was most fluent in Gibberish most days anyway. And, he should get special bonus points for speaking in rapidly fluent Stupidity. At least according to his mom, and most of his teachers. If there was a wrong thing to say at a wrong time, he had a Ph.D. in it. Dr.

Nick Dumb-butt. That was him. “What?” Simi battered her eyelashes. “You meant we gotta go now?” “They might come back if we don’t.” “Well, poo to that!” Simi sighed heavily in her obvious disappointment. “And here the Simi was all happy with her eats. You a mean demon-boy to drag the Simi away mid feastery!” “That’s what they tell me.” And it was what he was trying his best to avoid. That and ending the world as they knew it. He’d really like to die centuries from now without causing the world to go with him on his way through the Pearly Gates.

Nick winced as that cold reality slapped him hard for the ten millionth time. He missed the days when he’d looked forward to a normal future of routine college, wife, kids, nine-to-five job, and growing fat, old and complacent with the world around him. When he’d been ignorant of his true destiny and future role in the larger universe. It sucked to know that you would one day be the end of all living things. At least that was what Kody and Caleb had led him to believe, but now … They didn’t know anymore. It was why he needed Simi to take him to Olympus so that he could meet his half-brother, the sleep god, and ask Madoc about time-travel and consequences. Nick needed answers and he didn’t want anyone to interfere with the real stupidity he was planning. Which was exactly what Caleb and Kody would do if they were here. They’d stop him from being even more suicidal than he already was. Warn him to stay away from Madoc and tell him why the last thing he needed was to cross those lines.

But as Kody had noted, he didn’t listen whenever he had his head set on something. Simi tucked her barbecue sauce into her coffin-shaped purse, then wiped her mouth. “Okies. Whenever you’s ready.” “I was born ready for being an idiot.” Nick braced himself for their trip through the dimension portals that he hated so much. Simi blinked her eyes and jerked her head like a bird.

.

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