- The Darkest Craving
“You have five seconds, female.”
“Or what, warrior? You’ll hurt me?”
“Yes.” Determined. Assured.
Silly man. Would it be totally gauche of her to ask him to sign her T-shirt? “Don’t you remember what you promised me?”
“I didn’t promise you anything,” he said, and though his tone was confident, his features darkened with confusion.
“You did. Think back to your last day in hell. It was you, me and a couple thousand of your worst enemies.”
His brows drew together, and his eyes glazed with remembrance, comprehension...then horror. He shook his head, as though desperate to dislodge the thoughts now swirling through his mind. “You weren’t serious. You couldn’t have been serious.”
He popped his jaw, an action of frustrated aggression. “What’s your name?”
“I think it’s better if you don’t know. That way, there’s no emotional attachment and you can more easily do what I require.”
“I never actually said I’d do it,” he gritted out. “And why are you looking at me like that?”
“Like I’m...a giant box of chocolates.”
“I’ve heard of you,” she said, and left it at that. Truth, without explanation.
“Hardly. If you’d heard anything about me, you’d be running away in fear.”
Oh, really? “I know that during the many wars you’ve fought, your friends often left you behind, afraid you’d cause some kind of travesty for them. I know you often keep yourself shut away from the world, terrified of the same. And yet, still you’ve managed to slay thousands. Dare I say bazillions?”
He ran his tongue over perfect white teeth. “How do you know that?”
“Why don’t we call it...gossip.”
“Gossip isn’t always right,” he muttered. In seconds, he had swept his gaze through the small room and refocused on her.
She also happened to know that visual caress was a habit he’d developed through the years, one meant to take everything in. Entrances, exits, weapons that could be used against him—weapons he could use.
This time, all he would have seen was the peeling yellow wallpaper, the scarred nightstand with the chipped lamp. The sputtering air-conditioning unit. The brown shag carpet. The trash bin filled with bloody rags and emptied tubes of medicine she’d used on his abrasions.
“That day in hell,” he began. “You told me what you wanted, and then you made the mistake of assuming I agreed.”
That sounded like a refusal. But...he can’t refuse me. Not now. “You gurgled your assent. Afterward, I did my part. Now you will do yours.”
“No. I never asked for your help.” His voice lashed like the sharpest of whips, striking at her, leaving an undeniable sting. “Never wanted it.”
“You did, too! Your eyes begged me, and you can’t deny it. You couldn’t see your eyes, so you have no idea what they were doing.”
A protracted pause. Then, quite calmly, he said, “I think that’s the most illogical argument I’ve ever heard.”
“No, it’s the smartest, but your puny brain simply can’t compute it.”
“My eyes did not beg,” he said, “and that’s final.”
“They did, too,” she insisted. “And I did a terrible thing to get you out.” Sadly, sending the Phoenix a note of apology wouldn’t fix the problem.
As weak as Josephina had been in hell, she’d required help with Kane. Only, once she’d caught up to the Phoenix, still hacking her way to freedom, there’d been a slight problem. The girl had refused so vehemently—rot in hell, Fae whore—that Josephina had known there would be no hope of changing her mind. So, Josephina had used the ability she alone carried. A blessing in the right circumstances. A curse that had kept her locked in a world without physical contact. With only a touch, she’d stolen the strength right out of the Phoenix’s body, reducing the girl to a boneless heap.
Yes, Josephina had draped the warrior woman over one shoulder and carried her out of hell, the same as she’d done for Kane, fighting demons along the way—a miracle considering she’d never fought a day in her life—eventually finding a way outside, but that wouldn’t matter to the Phoenix. A crime had been committed, and a price had to be paid.
“I never asked you to do terrible things.” His voice contained the darkest of warnings.
One she did not heed. “Maybe not audibly, but even still, I nearly broke my back saving you.” She settled to her knees, shaking the mattress and nearly bouncing the weakened Kane to the floor. “You weigh, like, ten thousand pounds. But they’re glorious pounds,” she rushed to add. Stop insulting the man!
His slitted gaze tripped over every inch of her. The action lacked the stealth he’d used for the room, and yet, it was almost tactile, as if he’d touched her, too. Could he see the goose bumps now breaking over her skin?
“How did a girl like you manage such a feat?”
A girl like her. Did he sense her inferiority? She lifted her chin, saying, “An information exchange wasn’t part of our bargain.”
“For the last time, woman, there was no bargain.”
Tremors of dread rocked her, overshadowing...whatever he’d previously made her feel. “If you don’t do what you promised, I’ll...I’ll...”
Suffer for the rest of my life. “What would it take to change your mind and make you do the right thing?”
His expression shuttered, hiding all of his thoughts. “What species are you?”
A question totally off topic, but okay, she could roll. Since the Fae were not a well-liked race, the men best known for their lack of honor in battle, as well as their insatiable need to sleep with anything that moved, and the women known for backstabbing and scandal—and okay, fine, their ability to sew a killer wardrobe—the knowledge might spur him into action.
“I’m half human, half Fae. See?” She pulled back the sides of her hair, drawing his attention to her ears and the points at the end.
His gaze locked on those points and narrowed. “Fae are descendants of Titans. Titans are children of fallen angels and humans. They are the current rulers of the lowest level of the skies.” He shot out each fact as if it were a bullet.
Can’t roll my eyes at a star. “Thank you for the history lesson.”
He frowned. “That makes you...”
Evil in his eyes? An enemy?
He shook his head, refusing to finish the thought. Then, his nose wrinkled, as if he’d just smelled something...not unpleasant, but not welcome, either. He inhaled sharply, and his frown deepened. “You look nothing like the girl who rescued me...girls who rescued me...no, just one,” he said with another shake of his head, as if he were trying to make sense of things that had happened. “Her face and hair kept changing, and I recall each countenance, yet what I see now I didn’t see then. But your scent...”
Was the same, yes. “I possessed the ability to switch my appearance.”
One of his brows arched. “Possessed. Past tense.”
Even in his compromised state, he’d caught her meaning. “Correct. I no longer have the ability.” The strength—and capabilities—she borrowed from others could remain with her for as little time as an hour to as long as a few weeks. She had no control over the time frame. What she’d taken from the Phoenix had faded yesterday.
“You’re lying. No one has an ability one day, but not the next.”
“I never lie—except for the few times I do, in fact, lie, but it’s never intentional, and I’m totally telling the truth right now.” She raised her right hand. “Promise.”
He pursed his lips. “How long have I been here?”
“Seven days,” he gasped out.
“Yes. We spent most of our time playing incompetent doctor and ungrateful patient.”
A dark scowl contorted his features, and oh, it was a scary thing to behold. The books hadn’t done him justice. “Seven days,” he repeated.
“I didn’t miscount, I assure you. I’ve been crossing off the seconds in the calendar in my heart.”
He gave her the stink eye. “You have a smart mouth, don’t you?”
She brightened. “You think so? Really?” It was the first compliment she’d received from someone other than herself since her mother had died, and she would cherish it. “Thank you. Would you say my mouth is extremely intelligent or just slightly above average?”
His jaw fell, as if he meant to reply, but no sound emerged from him. His eyelids were closing...opening...closing again, and his big body was swaying from side to side. He was about to go down, and if he hit the floor, she would never be able to lift him onto the bed.
Josephina surged forward, reaching for him with gloved hands. Though he teetered backward, he slapped her arms away, wanting no contact between them. Smart man. (As smart as he thought she was?) Down he fell, slamming into the carpet with a loud thud.
As she scrambled to her feet to rush to his side—and do what, she didn’t know—the motel door burst open, shards of wood raining in every direction. A tall, thickly muscled warrior with dark hair stood in the center of the gaping hole, his features bathed in shadows. Menace lanced from him. Maybe because he gripped two daggers—and they were already stained with blood.
Another warrior moved in behind him, this one blond, with...oh, someone save me. Guts hung from his hair.
Her father’s men had found her.
KANE BATTLED A tide of pain, humiliation and failure. He’d been created fully formed, a warrior to the depths of his core. Throughout the centuries, he had fought in countless wars. He had slain enemy after enemy, and had walked away with many a blood-drenched injury—but he’d walked with a smile. He’d fought, and he’d won, and others had suffered for coming after him. And yet, here he was, on the floor of a dirty motel, too weak to move, at the mercy of a beautiful, fragile female who’d seen him at his worst: chained, violated and carved open after yet another round of torture.