Darkest Ecstasy

By: Tawny Taylor

For David


To my editor, Martin Biro, thank you for being awesome.


In general, people complicated things too much. Life was simple. Human beings were simple. They were creatures. In essence, animals. And like every other beast in nature, they were driven by a handful of common motivators. The most powerful: self-preservation.

After decades of searching, living in fear, she had found the way to end the struggle. And she would do something great for all of humanity in the process. Talk about a win-win situation.

Her heart pounding with excitement, she signed the lease on her new apartment. She had a new lease on a home and a new lease on life. At last she was free from fear and frustration. Her life would never be the same.

After shaking the leasing agent’s hand, she stepped out into the warm, sunny day. For the first time ever she felt alive, energized, ready to start her new life.

This was just the first step.

A black Mercedes-Benz prowled around the corner and stopped. There they were, her new partners. Her ticket to a new, wonderful life.

Smiling, she entered the car.

“Bro, time to man up. You know what you’ve gotta do.”

Talen Gryffon grunted a response. If he’d actually enunciated the words, his oldest brother, Drako—who’d lately become a hell of a nag—might have tried to kick his ass. Of course, Drako would have failed. As long as he kept the fire thing out of it.

“Yeah. I hear you.” Lying on his back, on the weight bench, a loaded three-hundred-pound barbell in his hands, Talen completed his sixth rep. Four more to go.

Drako, the nag, stood at his head, ready to spot him if he needed it. He wouldn’t. “Any ideas yet?”

Talen lowered the bar to his chest. “No.”

“Want some advice?”

“No.” Chest and arm muscles working, Talen completed rep number seven.

“Fair enough.” Drako watched him finish up the last three repetitions, then helped him place the bar on the stand before stepping to the side. “Look, I know where you’re at. I’ve been there. I promise it’s not as bad as you think. Rin and I had our rough times, but I’m happy. Really happy.” He tossed a towel at Talen.

Talen snatched the white terry cloth out of the air and patted his face with it. What Drako, the leader of the Black Gryffons, had said was true. It was obvious he was happy. Now. In the beginning, when Drako had first married Rin . . . not so much. Drako hadn’t been any more ready for marriage than he was. Why they had to marry at such a young age, he simply didn’t get. There was plenty of time to have kids. Years. Decades. He and his brothers had only recently stepped into their positions as the Black Gryffons. Three brothers. Three guardians of The Secret. They didn’t need to think about the next generation so soon. “Yeah, sure. But there’s no saying I’ll find the same thing you did.”

“Malek’s done okay, too.”

“Sure. Okay. Right.”

He didn’t want to talk about this. Marriage. Ugh. He didn’t want to think about it, either. Drako didn’t know, didn’t understand. He wasn’t ready yet. He needed more time.

What the hell was the hurry, anyway? Both of his brothers’ wives were pregnant already. If they were carrying boys, two out of three future Black Gryffons were already on the way. He could wait awhile, at least until they found out what they were having.

“I’m not trying to be an asshole,” Drako said. “You know the deadline is getting close. Father told us we all needed to marry this year. Not to mention, the enemy has almost wiped us out. Twice. They’ve been on our asses lately.” That part was true. They’d been forced to pack up and leave, take new identities, and start over. It was a hazard of the job.

But there were the powers they’d somehow developed. Drako’s fire. Malek’s strength. Those would help them, keep them safe. So far, they had.

“Any sign of the Chimera again?” he asked, deciding a change of subject was a great idea. Finished with his workout, he headed for the door.

“No, not yet. But last time was close. I don’t think it’ll take them long to find us again.”

“Yeah, I know.” Some of the most powerful men in the country belonged to the Chimera. Scientists, politicians. Men with means. And the occasional nut job who was crazy enough to use those means in dangerous ways. The Chimera’s one and only goal was to get its hands on The Secret. Talen’s job, and the job of his brothers, the Black Gryffons, was to keep them from succeeding.

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