- The Darkest Craving
“I don’t believe you. I think you want something...I think you want me. The way you look at me sometimes...”
“No,” she said with a shake of her head.
“I believe we’ve talked about that look.”
“I don’t want you,” she croaked.
“There’s a difference between not wanting a man, and not wanting to want a man. Which is it for you, Tinker Bell?”
She gulped. There was no way she would answer that.
Kane placed a hand at her left and a hand at her right, holding her captive. Tremors nearly rocked her off her feet.
“You make me feel...you make me feel,” he said quietly, fiercely, “and I don’t like it. I want it to stop. Now.”
For the first time in their acquaintance, he frightened her. There was an intensity to him she’d never noticed before, a vibe of uncontrolled danger. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
His gaze locked with hers, snaring her, drawing her in even while pushing her away. “Don’t you?” A thousand caresses in the dark waited in the softness of his voice.
A second passed. Another and another. Neither of them moved. They didn’t speak. Just stared. Somehow, those suspended seconds were more intimate than anything else she’d ever experienced. More...electrically charged.
She flattened her hands on his rock-solid chest, marveled at the strength he contained. “S-stay back.” His heartbeat was a wild tumult, just like hers. It was a shock. A revelation.
He stumbled away from her, breaking the connection, destroying the electrical charge.
It was what she’d wanted. But she hated being without it, she realized.
“What did you and the king discuss?” she asked, trying not to care—but caring anyway.
“You mean your father?”
Her shoulders lifted in the most casual shrug she could manage. “I am what he says I am.”
Kane reached out, as if to caress her cheek. His hand fisted just before contact, and fell away. “We drank some whiskey, smoked some cigars and discussed a few details for an engagement ball to be held in my honor. We played some chess. I won. He pouted.”
A ball. A ball Josephina would have to labor over. She would be forced to set up, then serve the guests food and drinks. The women would put their noses in the air and ignore her, and the men would forget their distaste for her, pat her on the bottom and maybe even try to pull her into shadowed corners. She would have to paste a grin on her face, and pretend all was well in her very dark world.
Meanwhile, Kane would be pampering the already pampered Princess Synda. The unfairness of it clogged her throat, making breathing difficult.
“You’re lucky to be alive,” she said stiffly. “Tiberius is the worst loser of all time.”
He waved her words away. “Let’s talk about your sister.”
Already he was obsessed. Jealousy hit her. Jealousy, and so much hurt she wasn’t sure how she was still standing. “What do you want to know?”
“She’s possessed, yes?”
“Yes. Her husband was the keeper of Irresponsibility and after he died—”
Kane’s lips pulled back from his teeth and a hissing sound left him.
“What’s wrong?” she asked, annoyed by an overwhelming surge of concern for him.
“Her husband was possessed by...Irresponsibility, you said?”
“That’s right. For several centuries, he was a prisoner of Tartarus. He died while...you-knowing Synda, and somehow she ended up with the demon. That’s why our race has studied you and your friends so intently. Well, one of the reasons.”
He scrubbed a hand through his hair. “This couldn’t get any worse. William tried to warn me, said I’d have to make choices, but I thought...hoped...and she’s blonde, just like the girl in the painting, and...well, it doesn’t matter. It’s happened. She is who she is. I’ll deal. I’ll figure things out. Somehow.”
Babbling she had no idea how to decipher. “What are you talking about?”
Again, he waved her words away. “You studied us, you said?”
“Us, meaning me and my friends?”
“Are you sure you want the truth?”
“Fae spies have followed you guys for centuries. They report back and books are published and sold all over the realm.”
“Spies,” he said flatly. “Books.”
“Pictures are drawn. Discussions take place. Fan clubs meet.”
Though his gaze remained on her, his head dropped, his chin nearly hitting his sternum. “Are you a member of a fan club?”
“Of course I am.”
He arched a brow, a command for her to offer more details.
She did. Happily. “I belong to Touch Me Torin.” She sighed dreamily. “He’s so kind and caring, always protecting those around him.”
Kane grabbed her by the upper arms, jerking her into the hard line of his body. The moment he realized what he’d done, he set her back in place, away from him, and lowered his hands, mumbling, “Sorry.”
I’m not. All that strength...
Stop enjoying his touch. Stop craving it. He’s not for you.
“You will stay away from Torin,” he said.
“But meeting him is the one and only thing I wanted to do before I died.”
He closed his eyes, as if praying for patience, and inhaled sharply.
One of the jewels hanging from the chandelier detached and plunged down, shattering on Kane’s head. Cringing, he brushed the pieces out of his hair.
“Okay, that’s never happened before. Are you all right?”
“Fine,” he gritted.
Feeling generous, she said, “Do you want to know the name of your fan club?”
“Not if you’re not part of it,” he said, an edge to his tone.
She wasn’t an official member, no. “Just so you know, Synda’s hobbies include backstabbing, causing trouble and ruining lives. You’ll never be happy with her.”
“She got you sentenced to the Never-ending, didn’t she?” he said. “You. Not her, the keeper of Irresponsibility.” He rubbed at his temples. “That’s how you ended up in hell.”
He seemed to be talking to himself as much as he was talking to her. “Yes. There are many openings to the Never-ending, and one is actually in Séduire. I was pushed inside, fell down the pit for a thousand years, yet only a day passed here. The bottom is the center of hell, and I finally reached it.”
“A thousand years,” he rasped. “Another reason you want to die. You don’t want to endure such torture again.”
Torture. Such a mild word for what had happened. “We’ve all heard the stories about it, but none of them do it justice. In that pit, it’s dark, with no hint of light. Soundless. You can’t even hear yourself scream and beg for help. It’s empty. There’s nothing to anchor you.” She shook her head to dislodge the memories. “No, I don’t want to endure it again.”
A strange vibration moved through him, as if he were barely holding himself back from an act of violence. He paled.
“I’m fine,” he rasped. And then he shocked her, taking her hand, twining their fingers, holding on to her as if she were a lifeline. The contact only lasted a few seconds, but it was enough to make her reel.
To hide her confusion...and her sudden inability to breathe...she returned her attention to her rag, rubbing at the banister. “I’ve got tons of work to do, Kane. I’m sorry, but I have to ask you to leave.”
“Why not kill yourself?” he continued, ignoring her. “Not that I’m suggesting you do such a thing. I’m not, and I’ll make you regret it if you try. I’m just curious.”
She sighed. “Whatever I do to myself brings only suffering, never death.”
His brow furrowed. “What if you managed to remove your head?”
“My body would grow back.”
“No way. One of my friends was beheaded, and there was nothing we could do to save him.”
“That doesn’t change the fact that I’ll recover.”
Josephina peered over the edge of the railing, and gave another sigh. “I’ll prove it.” And in the process, escape the sensations he awoke in her.
Trying to mask her fear, she climbed up the railing.
Behind her, she could hear the stomp of the guards.
Kane grabbed her by the arms, and forced her back to the ground. He was even warmer than before, his grip so deliciously firm. Her skin was suddenly more sensitive, tingling and aching. Her ears picked up every rasp of his breath, and heated. Her eyes drank in the purity of his features, and her nostrils became saturated with the decadence of his scent. Her mouth watered for a taste of...of...him?
“Stay back,” he called. “I’ve got her.”
The men retreated.
“I don’t need a demonstration,” he said to her, his voice tight. “I’ll believe you, whether it sounds far-fetched or not. Okay?”
The crystals in the chandelier rattled powerfully—a second later, the entire thing dropped from the top level and fell down, down, down, crashing into the floor at the bottom. Shards of glass shot in every direction. Screaming people raced out of the way.
Kane cursed under his breath. “Pay no attention to what just happened. Tell me about your problem.”
She nodded, because she didn’t want to think about the mess she would be forced to clean. “However I try to kill myself, I suffer with the pain for weeks, months, even if my organs go splat on the ground. Everything eventually grows back or heals.”
“How is that possible?”
Easy. “You know how I can absorb the abilities of others with a simple touch? Well, Tiberius can impart abilities to others. He imparted this one to me.”