Authors: Amber Lynn Natusch
By Amber Lynn Natusch
The Caged Series
Light and Shadow Trilogy
Tempted by Evil
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, organizations, places, events, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.
Text copyright © 2014 Amber Lynn Natusch
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without express written permission of the publisher.
Published by 47North, Seattle
Amazon, the Amazon logo, and 47North are trademarks of
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Cover design by Damon Za
Cover photo by Dannielle Gleim Damm
Library of Congress Control Number: 2014932943
To Shannon Morton, who truly understands the need for a fictional bad boy.
It was not time for me to go yet—I had only just returned home.
The fiery pits I flew past blurred in my vision, painting everything around me the most vibrant orange. It was often said that there was nothing beautiful about my home, but I disagreed—vehemently. I much preferred it to where I was headed.
The unseen force that held me hostage moved me through the air at incredible speed. His attempt to pull me from the depths and eject me as quickly as possible was nearly accomplished, though the reasons behind his mission remained completely inexplicable. I had five months left before I was to leave—why had he come for me? Even more baffling was why
had come at all. The transition was never supposed to happen that way.
I knew the Dark Ones were fearsome creatures, capable of traveling between worlds, but, in all my centuries, I’d never seen one.
Father called them, warning me of their merciless nature. For that reason, he’d kept me well-hidden from them—at least until that day. Even Father had been powerless to stop the one who ripped me from his protective hold.
“I feared this day would come,” he yelled as his grasp on my arm gave way to the strength of the one sent to take me. “Take her where he won’t find her. You owe me that much!”
Those were the last words I heard before the sound of the Dark One’s wings drowned his wails completely.
I will miss him
, I thought.
He loved me so.
Water from the Acheron boiled and spit, stinging my face as we crossed it. I knew it wouldn’t be long before the familiar light of the world would start to permeate the darkened tunnel we were rocketing through. I’d never seen spring before; that was never part of the deal.
The favored one spent the fertile seasons on Earth, and I the seasons of death and darkness. I wondered why
I did not pass her on the journey—it was the only time I ever saw her
When the Dark One broke through to the world above, my hopes were smashed. The eternal cold of my existence was not to be broken; spring was not awaiting my arrival. Instead, the bitterness of a lingering winter surrounded and engulfed me, magnified further by our blistering rate of ascent. As the air thinned around me and the chill burrowed deeper, the irony that I was always cold struck me. I never understood how a person could be so perpetually frozen, even when surrounded by fire and flame. Father wondered if it was because I did not belong in the ed Underworld—that my soul repelled the warmth that the torment of the damned provided.
When I snapped my attention back from my wandering thoughts, I saw that I wasn’t being taken to meet my mother at all. I would normally have been entrusted to her care upon entering the earthly realm, delivered to where she always stood waiting, but never with open arms. Instead, I was being flown far and fast in the opposite direction, and, as my body shook and my breathing failed me, a faint sense of calm overtook me. Wherever I was headed, whatever fate I was destined for, I reveled in the knowledge that I’d finally be rid of her.
And that was a fate worth dying for.
The stench surrounding me when I awoke was insufferable. It coated the inside of my nose so thickly that I thought I could taste the rotten decay that made me want to retch. My eyes were clouded and heavy, my body catatonic. My mind was fuzzy, and I remembered little of the journey I had been on prior to my passing out. I did recall thinking I was destined to die. In some ways, that would have made my current situation far easier.
I felt like those I had spent half my life surrounded by: the lost, the broken—the damned. My body was as cumbersome as theirs, moving awkwardly as I attempted to pull myself up to stand. It would not comply with the majority of my commands. When I finally managed to force my eyes to take in my surroundings, my heart stopped, if only for a moment.
Where am I
, I wondered, the words a whisper in my mind. I looked around, breathing shakily in the cold night air—and it was night, wherever I was. Either I had been unconscious for longer than I could have imagined, or I was somewhere so far away that the sun rose and set on a schedule much different than the one I expected.
I also was not expecting to see snow on the ground. The green of spring should have been emerging from the deadened earth by then.
What place is this that remains so barren and lifeless long after its time?
I brought my focus to the claustrophobic setting I found myself immersed in. Towering walls of untextured concrete entombed me and paved the road beneath me.
I thought. I’d seen countless images of them in my life but had never been in one; I was far from impressed. I did, however, find comfort in the familiar gray shades of the buildings. They reminded me of the rock that housed the Underworld.
A sudden gust of wind blew down the alleyway, tossing my long auburn hair in my face. While I unsuccessfully willed my arms to untangle and retain the wild and unruly waves, a voice called to me softly. I almost missed it.
“Are you lost?” he asked, approaching me slowly. The light from the street behind him cast a glorious glow around his form but darkened his features entirely. I could not see his face.
My body still refused to move, so I stood firmly affixed to the snow-covered spot I had awoken in. I was not afraid of death. Father always said there were fates far worse.
Unable to find my voice, I merely stared at him blankly as he methodically advanced toward me. His moves were not cautious, but calculated, indicating that nothing about our encounter was friendly or chance. He had sought me out.
“Can I help you?” he asked essas he stopped only feet away from me. I saw his hand draw slowly behind his back while the expression on his face warmed slightly—a ruse. He was a warrior for certain. “Tell me your name.”
My tongue lay limp in my mouth, unable to move. Whatever had happened to me before I landed in this godforsaken place had rendered me utterly useless in every way. My body remained unreactive when he presented a knife far larger and blacker than any I had ever seen, and I silently cursed, knowing that I would die without properly saying good-bye to my father. He had always maintained that I would never go to him when I died—convinced my soul was bound to a lighter place.
When I did not respond, the warrior’s expression darkened ever so slightly.
“You shouldn’t have let them take it all,” he said mysteriously, drawing back the blade.
I did not flinch when he lunged at me.
The dagger danced before my face, closing in for a killing thrust, before it suddenly stopped. My attacker’s hand encircled my left arm, tightly holding me in place, and his grip shook violently.
“You can’t be . . .” he whispered to himself. I knew not of what he spoke, nor did I have the ability to speak myself, but he did not appear to be looking to me for answers. His eyes were far too wide and unfocused for that. When he regained his composure, his jaw tensed harshly, scowling at me for a moment as if deeply contemplating his next move.
As he continued to stare at me, his curious expression bleeding slowly to one of disbelief, the oddest sensation coursed through me. I felt I knew him, though I could not explain how. What I did realize was that the longer he held my arm, the more I seemed to regain command of my body. I delicately pulled my feet off the ground one at a time, then turned my head from side to side. I flexed my hand as I bent my arms upward. He looked on silently as I did.
“Khara,” I replied with the slightest of slurs. He looked at me strangely in response. “You requested my name. It is Khara.”
“You’re not an Empty?” he asked, expression unchanged.
“I do not know what you mean by an ‘Empty,’ but I do not believe I am one.”
“Do you know who you are . . .
“I am Khara, adopted daughter of Demeter and ward of Hades,” I told him, regaining more clarity of speech. “And who are
, warrior? Why have you not finished your task?”
He released his hold of me, looking pained, then did the strangest thing of all. He embraced me.
“There has never been a female born of him. Not since . . .” he said disbelievingly as he pulled away from me just enough to look into my eyes. “And yet here you stand. We must go tell the others.”
“Your brothers,” he replied with a wink.
“And what will we tell them?” I asked, feeling as confused as I had when I first regained consciousness. A genuine smile broadened across his face, softening the harshness in his eyes. He was happy—truly happy.
“We will tell them that Ares was wrong,” he said. “We will tell them they have a