“Strength. Fierce ability. A streak of viciousness when needed. Someone possessed, like me. Someone beautiful.”

Yeah, but she had no idea the price she’d have to pay to be with him, if ever he were interested in her.

He stalked toward her. Her smile grew wider. No question, she expected him to toss her on the bed and ravish her. Instead, he picked her up and unceremoniously hauled her to the door, surprised to find contact with her was not accompanied by pain.

Surprised and irritated. Why couldn’t contact with Tinker Bell be this easy?

“Wait,” she cried. “You just passed the bed.”

He said nothing.

“I don’t mind doing it in public, warrior, but I was hoping to have you all to myself for a while.”

He twisted the knob and pushed at the seam in the wood with his shoulder. The guards were still there, probably commanded to remain all night. They snapped to attention.

“Is there anything we can get you, Lord Kane?”

“Anything at all?”

Tinker Bell stood in front of them, a fact that startled—and delighted—him. Her eyes locked on him, and relief bathed her expression. “Kane, I—” Her gaze fell to Synda, her lips pressing together. The relief faded, leaving the same resentment and hurt he’d experienced himself. “Never mind.”

The princess was her enemy. He got that. But he couldn’t explain himself, couldn’t tell her that he was only using his promise to wed Synda to help her. If the princess learned of his plan, it would fail. She would tell her father, and the king would do as he’d threatened during their game and target Kane for elimination.

“Is something wrong?” he demanded.

Up went Tinker Bell’s chin. “Nope. I’m fine.”

She wasn’t fine. He set Synda on her feet and pushed her forward. “I’m taking you to your room, Princess. And I’m leaving you there. Alone.”

She twisted to face him, flames of red erupting in her eyes. “You’re rejecting me?”

“For now,” he said.

“Oh!” She beat at his chest. “Fetch me a robe, then. This instant!”

And take his eyes off Tinker Bell? No. She would run.

Kane whipped off his shirt and tugged the material over the girl’s head. “There. You’re covered. Let’s go.”

The red disappeared as Synda gaped at him, practically drooling. “So. Many. Muscles.” She reached, intending to brush her fingertips over the ropes in his stomach, but he stepped backward, avoiding any further contact.

Tinker Bell peered down at the floor, refusing to look at him.

“Your room, Princess,” he prompted.

Synda turned with a flourish, ignoring Tinker Bell, and marched away. “Come on. This way.”

He followed, dragging Tinker Bell with him. “You’re not leaving my sight until I know why you came to see me.”

“It doesn’t matter why. I’ve changed my mind,” she snipped.

“Well, change it back.”

She hmphed. “Make me”

Dangerous words. He could already think of several ways to do it.

Synda led them to the top floor of the palace, to a suite of rooms with more riches than a sultan’s treasury. Antique furniture, diamond vases, marble, onyx, every portrait framed in gold, Persian rugs, a table made only of rubies and a massive bed capable of sleeping twelve.

The princess stripped out of the shirt as she strolled to her bathroom. “Bath time,” she called, stopping to look over her shoulder at Kane. “There’s still time to join me.”

“No, thanks.”

The flickers of red returned to her eyes. “I’ll make sure you enjoy yourself.”

Doubtful. “Why don’t you save it for the wedding night instead?” Kane stared down at Tinker Bell, who still wouldn’t meet his gaze yet somehow managed to radiate animosity. “Where’s your room? We’ll talk there.”

Pale, she muttered, “I’m not taking you to my room.”

“I’ll find it with or without your help. It’ll just be better for you if that happens sooner rather than later.”

Her eyes narrowed as she huffed out a breath. “Fine. This way,” and tugged him out of the suite.

Synda called out. He didn’t hear what she said, and didn’t care.

Tinker Bell ushered him down several flights of stairs, into a darker, dank area of the palace. The servants’ quarters, he would bet, and the knowledge angered him. How could the daughter of a king be treated so shabbily?

She stopped in front of an open door, and he peeked inside. Through the darkness, he could see cot after cot, sleeping body after sleeping body, but that was all. There were no luxuries of any kind.

“You’re not staying in there,” he gritted out.

“Uh, yes, I am.”

And know she was uncomfortable while he slept on something as soft as clouds? Never. But he wasn’t going to take the time to argue with her. Once again, he hefted a woman over his shoulder. Unlike the princess, Tinker Bell protested, beating her fists against his back, pounding her knees into his stomach.

“Is that the best you’ve got? If so, you don’t deserve the name Tinker Bell. It’s too masculine for you. From now on, all you’re getting is Tink.”

“Tink! I’m no Tink! I’m more ferocious than a wild animal!”

“A newborn kitten, maybe.”

“Argh!” She bit him on the butt.

For just a moment, the action dropped him straight into hell, and he tripped over his own feet. He caught himself before he hit the ground, and as he fought for breath, he managed to straighten. You’re with Tinker Bell. Your Fae. You’re safe.

“Scratch that,” he said, picking up their conversation as if it had never lapsed, hoping she wouldn’t notice the change in his tone. From teasing to tense. “You’re as gentle as a little puppy. I’ll call you Yappydoodle.”

“You...you...slime! I’ll call you Jackhole! Because that’s what you are!”


He barked out a laugh and then blinked in surprise. How did she always pull him from the brink of despair so quickly? “Now, now. No reason to dirty your tongue with name-calling. I’ll just have to wash your mouth out with—”

My tongue, he silently finished. He was flirting with her, acting as if he was normal. As if he could do normal things.

“Forget it,” he muttered.

She remained quiet, and he remained in this sudden foul mood.

When he came to his chamber, he wasn’t surprised to find the guards were still at their posts.

“Nice to see you again, Lord Kane.”

“Can I get you anything? It would be my pleasure.”

Without a word, he shoved past them and shut the door. Then, he tossed Tink on the mattress. She bounced up and down, and when she stopped, glared over at him.

Leave her! Disaster commanded.

One by one, he discarded the weapons he’d stolen from the king. As the floor cracked beneath his feet, he made sure the blades were within quick reach of the bed.

“What are you doing?” Tink gasped out.

“Getting ready for sleepy night-night time. You should try it.” He was too stressed and tired to find her a room of her own. At least, that’s what he told himself. He wouldn’t consider his inability to part with the girl.

Her mouth formed a small O and, seeing it, he was struck by the desire to kiss it right off her face—to taste her and learn her and brand her. The desires angered him. He was all emotion, no action, and he knew it.

He kicked off his boots, but left on his pants, and climbed onto the mattress.

“We can’t sleep together,” she said with a tremor. “It’s highly improper.”

And probably dangerous. For both of them. “Will you be punished?”

A heavy pause before she said, “For spending private time with precious Princess Synda’s betrothed? What do you think?”

He sighed. “I won’t let anything happen to you.”

“We’ll see” was all she said.

“You guys seem pretty accepting when it comes to sex. Why was Synda punished for sleeping with the butcher’s son?”

“She’s Fae. He was human. Such unions are prohibited, since they lead to a dilution of the bloodlines.”

“I’m not Fae, yet the king will allow me to wed his precious daughter.”

“You’re a Lord of the Underworld. You’re a celebrity. Rules don’t apply to you.”

Good to know. “Your mother was considered human, which means the king—”

“Yes. It does. So?”

“So. Was he punished?”

“What do you think? He’s the king.” She ran her tongue over her lips, leaving a sheen of moisture behind. Gorgeous. Down, boy. “And you, well, you can have anyone you want without worry, too. Tiberius never chastises upper-class males for their extracurricular activities. They can have who they want, when they want. They just have to be careful.”

He caught the tinge of bitterness in her tone. “Has anyone ever...” Forced you. He couldn’t ask her. He wasn’t sure how he would react if the same question were presented to him.

“No,” she answered, anyway. “I’m only viewed as a sexual object at parties, when men have been drinking, but the most they ever do is pat my bottom.”

“Uh, yeah. Sure. I’m certain you’re right. That it takes alcohol to find you attractive.”

“It’s a blessing and curse, I know. But then, I’m a blood slave, and nothing more.”

So innocent. She hadn’t even caught his sarcasm. “What about being amazing and wonderful? I believe you once described yourself that way.”

She flicked her hair over her shoulder, the picture of feminine pique. “I’m a person, too, you know. I deserve compliments every now and then, and since I’m the only one willing to give them to myself, I do.”