- The Darkest Craving
Josephina was younger by several hundred years, and at the time of her birth, Synda already contained the demon. The stories she’d heard about the princess’s past, about what the female had been like before the possession, had shocked her. Apparently, there had been no one more kind, concerned and happy.
How much had Disaster changed Kane?
You’re thinking about him again.
Tiberius slammed the scepter into the floor, a loud boom shaking the entire room. “You will concentrate on the proceedings, Servant Josephina, or I’ll have to make an example out of you.”
“Maybe she likes it when you punish her,” the queen said with an evil grin. “Maybe that’s why she tempts you to give her more.”
Josephina shuddered. “Just...let me go. Please.”
The king leaned forward, placing his elbows on his knees. “Have I not been good to you? Have I not given you a home? A worthy purpose?”
The queen smirked.
Synda selected a pastry from the tray beside her.
Leopold shook his head in regret.
I won’t cry. Not again.
Tiberius sighed. “Take her to the dungeon. I can see the desire to run in your eyes, girl. You will be locked away until you’ve realized how well I’ve treated you—and how much worse it can be for you.”
The Opulens cheered.
She opened her mouth to protest, but closed it with a snap. Speaking after judgment had been handed down would only earn her further chastisement.
As she was dragged away, she heard another guard say to the king, “Two immortal warriors were following Servant Josephina. We left them in the forest, but placed a tracker on their equipment. What would you have us do with them?”
Though she didn’t hear the king’s answer, Josephina mewled with dismay.
* * *
THE WHOOSH OF a whip sounded, followed by screams of pain. Josephina flinched as every blow landed on the man on the other side of the crumbling stone wall.
Her poor arms were chained over her head, her fingers ice-cold from pitiable circulation. Once again she was sandwiched between two men. Only, these two weren’t guards. They were prisoners, like her, and they’d made the grievous mistake of owning land the king wanted for himself.
They, too, had their arms chained over their heads, but they were either unconscious or dead. They had been deprived of food for so long, their bodies were emaciated. And they had gone unwashed for years. Oh, the stench...
Footsteps pounded, and the dungeon master stalked around the corner. Prince Leopold smiled at her, genuine affection gleaming in his crystalline eyes. Like Princess Synda, he had curling white hair. Unlike Synda, he was tall, taller than their father, and leanly toned. Eligible Opulens were always drooling and panting for him.
He stopped in front of Josephina and pinched a lock of her hair between his blood-splattered fingers. “Did you miss me, little flower?” he asked, warm breath fanning over her face.
“Not even a bit,” she replied truthfully. “If you want the brutal truth of the matter, it was my hope we’d never see each other again.”
A muscle ticked in his jaw, a testament of his anger. First point, Servant Josephina. “Give yourself to me, and the king will no longer use you as Synda’s substitute.”
I’d rather die—obviously. “Even if that were true, which it’s not, my answer would be the same—never. Does that work for you?”
His lashes fused together, leaving only tiny slits. “Why don’t you want me? I’m desirable.”
Where to begin? Oh, yeah. “You’re my brother.”
“Only by blood.”
Was that all? “Well, you disgust me. How about that?”
He leaned in. “I would be good to you. Very, very good.”
She stiffened, gritting out, “Stop. I’m not interested.”
“Just give me a chance.”
Josephina turned her head away. Her body ached in the worst way. Her mind was foggy from hunger. She couldn’t deal with him right now.
He took her chin in a firm grip and returned her attention to him. “I could force you. You know that, don’t you?”
If he’d wanted her that way, he would have taken her years ago.
She remembered the first day they’d come into contact outside the throne room. She’d been walking through the royal garden, plucking the prettiest of the flowers for her mother. Back then, her mother had been the king’s favored concubine and Josephina had been free to do as she pleased—when she wasn’t being punished for Synda’s crimes, of course.
Yes, the king had used her that way even then, despite her mother’s protests.
Leopold had just achieved his immortality, never to physically age again, and he had been celebrating in the garden with two female slaves. Josephina had stumbled upon the group, seen them doing things that still made her blush; he’d heard her startled gasp and looked up. She’d backed away, afraid he would tell his mother she was a spy, and the queen would have her whipped. Again.
But Leopold had smiled, commanded Josephina to stay where she was, then righted his clothing and sent the females on their way. He’d gently teased her about her blush, picked up the flowers she’d dropped and gallantly presented them to her, as if she were an Eligible and worthy of his attention.
For the next few years, he’d met with her often, purposely, talking with her, laughing with her, and for the first time in her life, Josephina had felt a kinship with someone other than her mother.
But the day Josephina had achieved her own immortality, though so much more fragile than those of full blood, the focus of Leopold’s attention had changed. He’d gone from brotherly to amorous, charming to persistent, and had even tried to kiss her. At the time, she’d run away from him.
He’d been chasing her ever since.
Things had never been the same between them, and never would.
“You won’t,” she said, confident.
The prisoner across from her snickered over her continued rejection.
Leopold’s cheeks reddened the slightest degree. He released her and stomped over to the offender. Rather than rain his fists in a fury of punishment, he tilted his head to the side and said, “Agony.”
The man screamed in sudden anguish, his entire body shaking. Blood soon leaked from his eyes, his nose, and the corners of his mouth.
“Stop!” Josephina cried. “Stop it, Leopold! Please.”
He did. When the man was dead.
Bile burned her chest, and collected in her throat.
Leopold spun to eye every male in chains. “Anyone else have anything to say?”
Only the rattle of chains could be heard.
The scowling prince locked gazes with Josephina, spit on the ground at her feet. “It’s only a matter of time before Princess Synda commits another crime. You’ll be whipped in her place. Or worse. Let me protect you.”
“Even if you could save me, I’d never consider you the better choice,” she replied raggedly.
“We’ll see about that. I leave to capture the men hunting you. One of the imperial guards will be in charge of your care. I doubt he’ll be as gentle.” With that, he stalked from the dungeon.
A bitter laugh escaped her. Kane had wondered why she wanted to die. Kane had wanted to know what he could do to help her. Well, here was why. And clearly, there was nothing he could do. Just as she’d known.
There was nothing anyone could do.
But I can help him, she thought. She could use the second ability she possessed and warn Kane about the tracker the guards had placed in his equipment. That way, when they found him, he wouldn’t be caught unaware. He could fight. And he could win. Or run.
It was the least she could do, and had nothing to do with the fact that she wanted to see him again. Really.
ROCK MUSIC POUNDED through the nightclub, shaking the floor, rattling the walls. Strobe lights flashed all the colors of the rainbow and spun, creating a dizzying kaleidoscope that somehow lowered inhibitions. Immortal men and women flailed on the dance floor, walked the aisles in search of fresh prey, or sat at the tables, flirting in between throwing back shots of the beauty maker.
The world might be ugly before you drank a glass of ambrosia-laced whiskey, but it sure was beautiful afterwards. At least for a little while.
Kane wanted to leave, memories of the last time he’d been inside a nightclub playing through his mind, sickening him, but he’d texted Torin for information about Tinker Bell, and for some reason, the warrior had sent him here.
As usual, William was off trolling for women.
Kane pushed a vampire out of the chair he wanted, and claimed a place at the bar. The guy didn’t protest, just took one look at him and rushed away. Kane ordered a shot of the beauty maker. Anything to dull his riotous emotions.
Where was Tinker Bell?
Was she okay? Safe?
She no longer had custody of Disaster—if that’s what had happened, and he suspected it was. There was no other explanation. The demon had come roaring back to Kane a few hours after he’d left the forest. He’d been disappointed for himself, but relieved for her. He didn’t like the thought of such a delicate half immortal going against such evil.
But at least he had an answer to one of his questions now. The Greeks had indeed lied. The demon wasn’t as much a part of him as his lungs and his heart. Kane couldn’t survive a single moment without the organs, but he could survive a few hours without Disaster. Maybe more.
Hate you, Disaster growled.
Assure you, the feeling’s mutual.
One of the legs on his chair snapped, and he nearly hit the floor. He brutally kicked the broken stool out of the way, and decided to stand.
“About time you got here,” a female said.
His gaze snapped to the left, where a tall, lithe blonde stood. She was exquisite, with long hair that tumbled to a perfectly curved waist and snow-white skin covered in makeup to mute its luminous power. Blue eyes held his stare without wavering or fear.
She’s mine, Disaster shouted. All mine.