Anytime the “real” princess had committed a crime, Josephina had been the one punished for it. She would have endured whippings, beatings, stonings and probably a thousand other things he couldn’t bring himself to consider. That’s why she’d ended up in hell.

Oh, Tinker Bell. Poor, sweet Tinker Bell. The very things he’d endured during the worst weeks of his life, she had endured for a lifetime. No wonder she wanted to die.

Kane’s jaw clenched, the only reason he was able to silence the spew of curses brewing at the back of his throat. No, the king would never let her go. Not for any price. Not for any reason.

I won’t let her go for any price or any reason, either.

Oh, really? asked Disaster.

The Fae next to Kane tripped, falling into him, knocking him to the side. “I’m so sorry. I don’t know what happened,” the man babbled.

Kane straightened.

“He’s so beautiful. More so than I ever imagined. And he’s just like me!” The princess clapped her hands, exclaiming, “I want him, Daddy. Please? Please! Give him to me.”

The king stiffened, only to relax a moment later. He eyed Kane with intrigue, the cogs in his brain clearly churning in a direction Kane wouldn’t like. “I do find the thought of our family being joined to that of Lord Kane’s intriguing.”

No. He didn’t like it. In any other situation, the threat would have enraged him. A rampage would have ensued.

“You will do us the great honor of wedding our daughter, Princess Synda,” the king said, a statement rather than a question.

He liked that even less.

But okay. All right. Kane needed to stay in this realm long enough to plan an escape for Tinker Bell. If he agreed to a wedding, he might be allowed free run of the palace. If he didn’t, he would have to fight the army every second of his stay.

“Sure,” he said with a nod. “Fine. Whatever. I’ll wed your daughter.” He wasn’t wedding anyone. “But Tink—Josephina can’t be harmed while I’m here.”

More murmurs slithered through the room. He tried to make sense of the words, couldn’t.

The king drummed his fingers against the shaft of his scepter. “We would love nothing more than to accommodate your request, Lord Kane, but a crime was committed last night, and a price must be paid. That’s why Servant Josephina is here.”

“What crime?”

“Princess Synda was caught with the butcher’s son, a male far below her station. Worse, a human.”

“Then punish Princess Synda.” Problem? Meet solution.

A shake of the king’s head, firm and sure. “That’s not how we do things around here, Lord Kane. Since the spawning of our race, blood slaves have helped ensure the well-being of the royal family.”

“I see.” The blood slaves had also helped ensure the maliciousness of the royal family. “And what’s to be Josephina’s punishment for Synda’s crime?”

“Servant Josephina will be shunned for one month. Anyone who speaks to her will be killed.”

Better than he could have hoped. Still, Kane squared his shoulders and braced his legs apart, preparing for battle. “Well, then, we’ve got our first real problem. I’m going to talk to her, and that’s non-negotiable.”

Crystal eyes narrowed. “Very well,” the king said after a few moments of thought, “but you will be lashed for every word.”

“What?” someone in the crowd gasped out.

“No. Not Lord Kane!” another cried.

“No,” Tinker Bell croaked.

Kane cut her a sharp glance. Silence.

She shook her head, dark hair wisping over her shoulders, saying, “Don’t do this.”

Still looking out for him, even after he’d failed her so miserably. His determination intensified. To the king, he said, “I will never willingly submit to such a punishment.” It would weaken him, and he needed every bit of strength he could summon. “I doubt you can force me—” except for Evil Overload, and his ability, but then, Kane could remove his tongue and that problem would be settled, too “—and the men that try will pay a very dear price.”

Behind him, a female fainted.

The princess flattened her hand over her heart and grinned. “He’s so wonderfully fierce. How soon can the wedding be planned?”

“Excellent question. We’ll make sure it’s done by the end of the month. That gives us ten days.” The king slammed his scepter into the marble floor so forcefully cracks formed in both. “Now. Everyone will return to their duties. And you,” he snarled at Kane. “You will join me in my chambers.”


JOSEPHINA SCRUBBED A rag back and forth over the already-clean upper staircase banister, surprised she hadn’t dimmed...whatever the material was. It looked like starlight and clouds. A chandelier hovered just above her, the rotating streams of opals, sapphires and emeralds attached to nothing but air, casting rainbow flecks in every direction, even the floor many stories below.

I wish I could jump.

Stupid Kane. He should have killed her when he’d had the chance. Now, she was going to make him wish he had. Yes. She liked that plan.

How dare he agree to wed Princess Synda?

Synda would lie to him, and cheat on him. The girl’s desire always burned white-hot, but died quickly. She would chew Kane up and spit him out, and there would be nothing left of him but bones. Bones Josephina had risked her life to save.

How could he want that girl? How could he not see beyond her pretty face?

Stupid, stupid, stupid man! Josephina stomped her foot. Anger was easier than hurt over yet another rejection.

The moment he’d agreed to the wedding, something inside her had cracked. Dark emotions had spilled out. She’d nearly broken down and sobbed. She’d nearly shouted, “He’s mine! All mine!”

But he wasn’t hers, and he never would be.

She, however, might become his.

Would Tiberius give her to Kane, thinking the warrior would punish her rather than his beautiful new wife when she misbehaved? Would Kane actually punish her? If he did...her nails scraped against the rag.

I won’t just make him wish I’d died. I’ll make him wish he had.

Her chin trembled, and she sniffled.

“I want to talk to you, Tinker Bell,” a masculine voice announced.

Jolting out of her wrathful thoughts, Josephina realized Kane stood just beside her. There were two guards behind him, careful to look away from her, shunning her properly, all while keeping watch over their charge and listening unabashedly.

Kane had just spoken eight words to her. Meaning, he’d just bought himself eight lashes of the whip. Josephina wanted him to suffer, but not that way.

“Go away,” she said, wiping at her eyes with the back of her hand, just in case.

“Give us some privacy,” he said to the guards.

“Anything for you, Lord Kane.” The pair raced to the other side of the hallway.

“You know you’re not allowed to talk to me,” she said. “No one is.”

“You want me to waste a few words telling you I do what I want, when I want? Because I will. I don’t mind.”

Thirty-two lashes. All for nothing! “Shut up, you stupid man.”

His lips twitched at the corners, the bout of amusement confusing her. She’d just insulted him, yet he was battling a laugh? I’ll never understand him.

“Your eyes are back to normal, at least,” she said.

He patted the skin underneath. “They are?”

Thirty-four. She nodded, hoping her silence would encourage his own.

That hazel gaze raked the length of her body, burning her everywhere it touched. Whatever he saw must have angered him, because he ran his tongue over his teeth. “The blood slave thing is the reason you want to die, isn’t it?”

She gave up trying to count his words, and simply replied. It was his back, his agonizing pain; if he wasn’t going to help himself, she wasn’t going to try and do it for him. “Yeah. So? Why do you care?” You’re an engaged man!

“I have no desire to see you hurt.”

And yet, in the past few hours, he’d managed to hurt her worse than all of her whippings combined. “Just leave me alone, all right? You’re not the rock star I thought you were.”

He flinched. “I’m sorry I disappointed you, but everything I’ve done since finding you in the forest, I’ve done for you.”

Pretty words, nothing more. He’d seen Synda and wanted her, just like every other man, and it had had nothing to do with Josephina.

They stared at each other, quiet. He towered over her, as intense and savage as a man could be, and she felt small in comparison...surrounded by his utter maleness. Trapped.

But what a beautiful cage.

Her limbs began to tremble. Her breathing quickened, and she noticed he smelled of the forest he’d found her in. Pine and dewdrops, clean and untainted by the cloying fragrances the Opulens preferred. There was no longer any hint of the roses she’d scented in the motel room.

While on the run, she’d done a little research. Apparently, when an immortal closed in on death, he began to smell like roses.

How close had Kane come?

And why did she long to reach out, to flatten her palms on his chest, to feel his warmth and his strength, to assure herself he was here and he was real and oh, sweet mercy, her blood was heating, and her lips tingling, as if preparing for his seduction. He wasn’t her friend or her boyfriend or even a suitor.

Tensing, he crossed his arms over his chest, clearly expecting her to...what?

“I don’t know what you want from me, Kane.”

“That makes two of us,” he replied darkly, anger firing up his eyes. Frustration tightened the skin underneath, and determination pulled at his lips. He stepped forward, and she stepped back, until the banister stopped any further retreat. “Do you know what you want from me?”

“Yes,” she whispered. “Your absence.” Before I crack.