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18

The woman’s hands were tied, her wrists now purple and swollen from chafing. The mahogany‑skinned Hassassin lay beside her, spent, admiring his naked prize. He wondered if her current slumber was just a deception, a pathetic attempt to avoid further service to him.

He did not care. He had reaped sufficient reward. Sated, he sat up in bed.

In his country women were possessions. Weak. Tools of pleasure. Chattel to be traded like livestock. And they understood their place. But here, in Europe, women feigned a strength and independence that both amused and excited him. Forcing them into physical submission was a gratification he always enjoyed.

Now, despite the contentment in his loins, the Hassassin sensed another appetite growing within him. He had killed last night, killed and mutilated, and for him killing was like heroin . . . each encounter satisfying only temporarily before increasing his longing for more. The exhilaration had worn off. The craving had returned.

He studied the sleeping woman beside him. Running his palm across her neck, he felt aroused with the knowledge that he could end her life in an instant. What would it matter? She was subhuman, a vehicle only of pleasure and service. His strong fingers encircled her throat, savoring her delicate pulse. Then, fighting desire, he removed his hand. There was work to do. Service to a higher cause than his own desire.

As he got out of bed, he reveled in the honor of the job before him. He still could not fathom the influence of this man named Janus and the ancient brotherhood he commanded. Wondrously, the brotherhood had chosen him. Somehow they had learned of his loathing . . . and of his skills. How, he would never know. Their roots reach wide.

Now they had bestowed on him the ultimate honor. He would be their hands and their voice. Their assassin and their messenger. The one his people knew as Malak al‑haq —the Angel of Truth.