- The Darkest Craving
Alone, he realized.
Realization knocked him flat on his back. In that moment, there was no hint of the demon’s presence. No sickness in the pit of his stomach. No icy fingers of dread crawling all over his skin. No terrible whispers in the back of his mind.
But...how could that be? Kane was alive. And if he was alive, the demon was with him. Right?
Or, had the Greeks lied to him and his friends the first day of their possession, as he’d hoped? Gideon had once survived several minutes without his demon. Of course, the creature had still been tethered to him, and had returned.
Kane thought back. He’d never actually seen a possessed warrior killed simply because the demon had left his body. His friend Baden had died from a beheading. Cronus and Rhea, former king and queen of the Titans, had been demon possessed and had died from a beheading, too.
What if Disaster was gone? Permanently? But where could the demon have gone? With Tinker Bell?
Was Disaster the reason she’d screamed?
Or had she somehow killed the creature?
Had Kane finally experienced something good?
He rolled his shoulders, the muscles knotted and protesting as if he’d never really used them. He and Tinker Bell were going to have a long talk. He would ask questions and she would supply answers. If she hesitated, he would spank her. Yes. That’s what he’d do to her, he decided.
Part of him wanted her to hesitate.
He’d never thought to experience sexual desire again—not true desire—and yet, when he’d tackled her, her softness beneath him, and he’d had her scent in his nose, and her panting breaths in his ears, he’d yearned to strip her, to see her, all of her, and take everything she had to give.
She might have let him. But just how would his body, and his mind, have reacted?
Now, the need for her was still there, a thorn in his side. He didn’t like it, had to get rid of it.
A frowning William returned—without the girl.
Kane growled low in his throat. “What happened?”
“There was no sign of her,” the warrior said. “And don’t get your panties in a twist, but, uh, there was evidence of a struggle.”
The Realm of Blood and Shadows
LONG AGO, CAMEO had been cursed to host the demon of Misery and oh, the creature’s presence had never been more apparent than now. A deep sense of sorrow pressed heavily against her. Despair burned the center of her chest. Corrosive whispers drifted through her mind.
There’s no hope...
Life will never get better.
You’ll never succeed at anything. Might as well give up now.
She hated the demon of Misery with every fiber of her being. He was the essence of evil, darkness without any hint of light, yet she couldn’t survive without him. Problem was, she knew she couldn’t survive with him, either.
But what could she do?
Nothing, that’s what. Always nothing. Forever nothing.
And so, for the rest of her existence, tears would always burn at the backs of her eyes. If ever she laughed, she wouldn’t remember it. Her friends claimed she had, upon occasion, smiled, but she couldn’t recall a single instance—and never would.
But. Yes, but. While she couldn’t make her life better, she could make Kane’s better. Surely. Hopefully.
A few days ago, she’d visited him in his room. He’d worn anguish like a second skin, though he’d tried to mask it. He probably would have succeeded with anyone but Cameo. The misery of others delighted her demon.
For a moment, only a moment, she had felt better. Lighter. Finally free. Then, she had felt a thousand times worse as her own misery had merged with Kane’s.
Kane hadn’t seemed to notice. Distracted, he had played with the ends of her hair, the dark strands pretty against the bronze of his skin. “Silver Eyes,” he’d said, using his favorite nickname for her. “I missed you more than I can say.”
Lovely words. True words. They always missed each other when they were parted. But then he’d stood, not giving her a chance to reply, and padded to the bathroom, shutting himself inside. He hadn’t looked back.
He always looked back when he walked away from her.
He always winked at her.
She always blew him a kiss. Sometimes, when she was mad at him, with bite. He always chuckled.
Then, he’d left the fortress without saying goodbye to her. He always said goodbye.
They’d fought together for centuries, and never once had they deviated from their traditions. Traditions that had started because, after they’d first met, they had briefly dated. But his demon, Disaster, and her demon, Misery, had caused far too many problems and they’d eventually broken up. He’d become her best friend. Her confidant. Their traditions were all they had.
Since his return, something had changed.
He had changed.
She should have expected it. He’d spent several weeks in hell, bound and chained and tortured. He hadn’t spilled the details, and she hadn’t needed them. She could guess—and knew the worst of her imaginings wouldn’t even come close to what he’d suffered. She’d wanted only to make him feel better, at least for a little while.
As if you can do anything to help anyone.
Gritting her teeth, she blocked her mind to the demon’s manipulations. I can help him, and I will.
Cameo stood in the center of a bedroom emptied of all furniture. The walls were made of crumbling stone, and peppered with cameras. Torin was fierce about security. The marble floor was cracked—Kane had been here, and recently. The air was cool, but dry, and coated with dust.
She studied the four artifacts in front of her. Wars had been fought for them. People had killed to find them, to protect them, to steal them. She and her friends had done all of that and more to obtain them.
Somehow, some way, these seemingly useless things would lead the way to Pandora’s box. To the Lords’ freedom. And their ultimate doom.
The Cage of Compulsion was a rusted four-by-four cell. However, when trapped inside, a person was compelled to do whatever the owner commanded.
Then there was the Cloak of Invisibility. A simple piece of fabric. However, when a person draped the material over their shoulders, no one could see them.
Then there was the Paring Rod, a long, thin spear with a glittering crystal rounding out the top end. When touched, it could steal a spirit from a body, leaving only an empty shell.
Finally, there was a painting from the All-Seeing Eye, given to Cameo only this morning.
Danika, the Eye, could sometimes see into the skies and sometimes the abyss. Sometimes the past. Sometimes, as a gift from the Most High, the future. In this painting, Danika had obviously seen into a man’s office—in the present? At the far right wall, there were treasures locked inside a glass case, and one of those treasures was a small box made of bones.
Could it be Pandora’s box? A container hidden for centuries. A dangerous weapon supposedly constructed from the bones of the female incarnation of oppression. When opened, the box would suck the demons from Cameo and the other Lords, trapping the evil inside.
Ending their lives.
Cameo had sensed Kane’s hatred for Disaster. She had sensed his desire to rid himself of the creature’s influence, in any way necessary—she had sensed, because it was a mirror of her own yearnings. If he couldn’t find a way, he might decide to hunt down the box and use it.
She couldn’t let him die.
So, she would just have to eliminate this method of deliverance. She nodded. Yes. That’s how she would help him.
But...how was she supposed to put each of the artifacts to use at the same time? Because that was the key to finding the box. Should she climb into the cage while wearing the Cloak and holding the painting and the Rod?
The voice came from beside her. Cameo cut off a groan as she turned to face Viola, the keeper of Narcissism and the newest bane of her existence. Seriously. Dealing with a pack of rabid wolves on a steady diet of dark-haired, silver-eyed females would have been way easier.
Curling blond hair cascaded over Viola’s dainty shoulder, and eyes the color of cinnamon twinkled. She wore a skimpy, skintight dress with enough ruffles and bows to put Christmas morning to shame, and she held her pet Tasmanian devil in her arms. Princess Fluffy...something was his name.
Yes. The princess was a he.
“I’m spending time alone,” Cameo finally replied. Hint, hint.
“Well, I hate being the bearer of bad news almost as much as I love it, but spending time alone isn’t a good look for you. Your face is all scrunchy. It’s quite frightening. You should try to be more like me and look good no matter who you’re with. Or not with.”
“Thanks for the tip.”
“I know! I’m so smart it should be criminal.”
Gotta find that box. Cameo wouldn’t destroy it right away. She would run a test, just one, and shove Viola near it. Then, she would find out exactly what happened when a demon-possessed immortal approached it. Maybe Viola would survive. Fingers crossed she wouldn’t.
As if he sensed the direction of her thoughts, Princess Fluffywhatever lunged out and sank his fangs into Cameo’s wrist, a quick in-and-out job that left her bleeding. Viola continued chatting about nothing, unconcerned.
Cameo bent down, doing as Super Nanny had taught her, and as she’d often had to do with the men in her life, looking the little cretin in the eye. “If you do that again, I’m going to have he-princess for breakfast. I doubt you’ll taste very good, you’re too bitter, but that’s what mustard is for.”
The devil-dog yelped, jumped from his mistress’s arms, and raced out of the room.
“I wonder what’s wrong with him,” Viola said.
Talk about having a megawatt attention filter. If something didn’t revolve around Viola, the female never noticed.
“Do you recognize any of these artifacts?” Cameo asked her. Might as well make use of her while she was here.
“Of course I do. I can recognize anything. I’m quite gifted.”
Gotta find it real soon. “Tell me what you know.”