- The Darkest Craving
New York City
JOSEPHINA AISLING PEERED down at the male splayed across the motel room bed. He was an immortal warrior, beautiful in a way no mortal could ever hope to be. Silky hair of jet, chestnut and flax spilled over the pillow, the multicolored strands forming a flawless tapestry, inviting the eye to linger a minute, then a minute more...sweet mercy, why not forever?
His name was Kane. He had long, boyish lashes, a strong nose and a stubborn chin. At six feet four, he was cut with the kind of muscle only earned on the bloodiest of battlefields. Though he wore stained and dirty pants, she knew a large butterfly tattoo dominated the right side of his hip, the ink thick and black, a little jagged. The tops of the wings stretched over the material and every so often tiny waves rippled through them, as though the insect struggled to lift from his skin—or burrow deeper.
Either was possible. The tattoo was a mark of absolute, utter evil, a visible sign of the demon contained inside Kane’s body.
Demon...she shuddered. Rulers of hell. Liars, thieves. Murderers. They were darkness without any hint of light. They lured and tempted. They ruined, tortured and destroyed.
But Kane wasn’t the demon.
Like all of her race, the mighty Fae, she had spent a good portion of her life studying Kane and his friends—the Lords of the Underworld. In fact, at the command of the Fae king, spies had spent countless centuries following the warriors, watching and reporting back. Scribes had then printed books with stories and pictures of what they’d witnessed. Mothers had bought those books and read them to their children. Then, when those children had grown up, they had made their own purchases, the need to know what happened next too strong to ignore.
The Lords of the Underworld had become the stars of the best and the worst soap opera in Séduire, the realm of the Fae.
Josephina always ate up every detail. Especially those about the ultra sexy Paris and the devastatingly lonely Torin. Kane, the beautiful tragedy, was a close third. She could probably recite his life history better than she could her own.
He was thousands of years old. He’d only had four serious girlfriends in his lifetime. Although, for a while, he’d had a string of meaningless one-night stands. He’d fought in bloody battle after bloody battle with his enemy, the Hunters. Three times, they’d managed to capture and torture him—and she’d waited, breathless, to hear of his escape.
Going back even further, to the beginning, he and his friends had stolen and opened Pandora’s box, unleashing the demons from inside. The Greeks had been in power at the time, and they’d decided to punish the warriors by turning their bodies into receptacles for the very evil they’d freed. Kane carried Disaster. The others carried Promiscuity, Disease, Distrust, Violence, Death, Pain, Wrath, Doubt, Lies, Misery, Secrets and Defeat. Each creature came with a nearly debilitating curse.
Promiscuity had to sleep with a new woman every day or he weakened and died.
Disease couldn’t touch another living creature without starting a plague.
Disaster caused catastrophes everywhere Kane went, a fact that sliced at Josephina’s heart and resonated deep. Her entire life was a disaster.
“Don’t touch me,” he muttered, his voice a sharp, callous rasp. Powerful legs kicked the already battered sheets away. “Hands off. Stop. I said stop!”
Poor Kane. Another nightmare plagued him.
“No one’s touching you,” she assured him. “You’re safe.”
He calmed, and she released a relieved breath.
When she’d first stumbled upon him, he’d been chained to a dais in hell, his chest cavity split open, his ribs spread and exposed, his wrists and ankles hanging on by fraying tendons.
He’d looked like a slab of beef at the local butcher’s.
I’ll have a two-pound rump roast and a pound of ground chuck.
Gross. Just gross. I’m thoroughly disgusted with you. Over the years, she’d spent so much time alone, conversing with herself had become her only source of amusement...and sadly, companionship. I would have ordered four pounds of pork loin.
Despite his condition, finding him was the best thing to ever happen to her. He was her ticket to freedom. Or possibly...acceptance?
Princess Synda, her half sister and the Fae’s most bestest female ever born, wasn’t a Lord, but she carried the demon of Irresponsibility. Apparently, there had been more demons than naughty, box-stealing warriors, and the excess had been given to the inmates of Tartarus—an underground prison for immortals. Synda’s first husband had been one of those inmates, and somehow, when the male had died, the demon had wormed its way inside her.
When the king of the Fae had learned of it, he’d launched a hunt for details about the cause—and the solution. So far, everyone had come up empty.
I could bring Kane to a meeting of the Fae High Court, show him off, let him answer any questions the congregation has, and my father might see me, really see me, for the first time in my life.
Her shoulders drooped. No, I’m not ever going back.
Josephina had always been, and would always be the royal whipping girl, there to receive the punishments Synda the Beloved was due.
Synda was always due.
Last week, in a fit of temper, the princess had burned to the ground the royal stables, and all of the animals trapped inside. Josephina’s sentence? A ticket to the Never-ending—a portal leading into hell.
There, a day was like a thousand years and a thousand years like a day, so, for what had seemed like an endless eternity, she had fallen down, down, down a blackened pit. She had screamed, but no one had heard. Had begged for mercy, but no one had cared. Had cried, but had never found an anchor.
Then, she and another girl had landed in the center of hell.
How startling to realize she’d never actually been alone.
The girl had been a Phoenix, a race descended from the Greeks. Every full-blooded warrior possessed the ability to rise from the dead, time and time again, growing stronger after every resurrection—until the final death came, and there could be no more bodily restoration.
Kane began to thrash and moan again.
“I’m not going to let anything happen to you,” she told him.
Again, he stilled.
If only the Phoenix had responded to her so well. When the girl had first seen her, hatred had lanced at her, hatred going far beyond what the children of the Titans—like Josephina—and the children of the Greeks usually felt for each other. But even still, the Phoenix hadn’t tried to kill her, had instead allowed her to follow her through the cave, searching for the exit, without having to exert any of her own waning energy. Like Josephina, she’d just wanted out.
They had stumbled past crimson-splattered walls, inhaling the fetid stink of sulfur. Grunts and groans had reverberated in their ears, creating a terrible symphony their deprived senses hadn’t been ready for. Then they’d stumbled upon the mutilated warrior. Josephina had recognized him, despite his condition, and stopped.
Awe had filled her. There, in front of her—her!—had been one of the infamous Lords of the Underworld. She hadn’t known how she could help him, when she could barely help herself, but she’d been determined to try. Whatever proved necessary.
A lot had proven necessary.
She looked at him. “You were my first and only opportunity to achieve my new greatest desire,” she admitted, “something I definitely couldn’t do on my own. And as soon as you wake up, I’m going to need you to make good on your promise.”
She sighed, quieted. She brushed her fingertips over his brow.
Even in his sleep, he flinched. “Don’t,” he snarled. “I’ll destroy you, piece by piece. You and your entire family.”
He wasn’t bragging, wasn’t issuing a hollow threat. He would ensure it happened, and he would probably smile the entire time.
Probably? Ha! He would. Typical Lord.
“Kane,” she said, and again, he calmed. “I think maybe it’s time to wake you up. My family is out there, and they want me back. While a thousand years passed for me inside that pit, only a day passed for them. Since I failed to return to Séduire, Fae soldiers are probably hunting me.”
To add to her bowl of miserypuffs, the Phoenix was definitely hunting her, determined to enslave her and avenge the wrong Josephina had done her during their escape.
“Kane.” She gently shook his shoulder. His skin was shockingly soft and exquisitely smooth, yet also feverishly hot, the muscles beneath as tight and firm as grenades. “I need you to open your eyes.”
Long lashes flipped up, revealing gold-and-emerald irises glassed over and dulled. A second later, big masculine hands wrapped around her neck and tossed her to her back. The mattress bounced, even with her slight weight. She offered no resistance as Kane rolled on top of her, pinning her in place. He was heavy, his grip so tight she couldn’t breathe in the rose scent she’d come to associate with him. An odd fragrance for a male, and one she didn’t understand.
“Who are you?” he snarled. “Where are we?”
He’s speaking directly to me. Me!
She tried to reply, couldn’t.
He loosened his hold.
There. Better. Deep breath in. Out. “For starters, I’m your amazing and wonderful rescuer.” Since receiving compliments had died with her mother, she’d decided to give them to herself at every opportunity. “Release me, and we’ll work out the particulars.”
“Who,” he demanded, squeezing her tighter.
Black winked through her line of sight. Her lungs burned, desperate for air, but still she offered no resistance.
“Female.” The pressure eased again. “Answer. Now.”
“Caveman. Free. Now,” she retorted as she sucked in oxygen.
Could you watch your mouth, please? You don’t want to scare him away.
He jerked away from her to crouch at the end of the bed. His gaze remained on her, watching intently as she slowly sat up. A red flush colored his cheeks, and she wondered if he was embarrassed by his actions or simply struggling to hide the weakness still pumping through him.