- The Darkest Craving
She had. Not Synda.
He’d held her for a long moment, his arms tight around her, as if he couldn’t bear to let her go, then he’d rolled her to her side of the bed. Obviously, he’d gotten over his aversion to touch somewhat—and yet, he hadn’t tried to kiss or touch her.
He must be saving that kind of thing for the princess.
Why did that tear her into so many ragged pieces?
An engaged man shouldn’t share a bed with anyone but his intended, and anyone that did should be...should be...castrated!
I could help him with that, she thought. I have no experience with knives, but a quick slice and dice shouldn’t be a problem.
Contemplating mutilation? I don’t know who you are anymore.
I’m you, dummy.
What if Kane was already in love with Synda?
Why do you care?
I don’t. Okay, fine. I do.
She had lain awake for hours, trying not to enjoy her first taste of luxury, all the while hoping to sneak out of the bedroom the moment Kane fell asleep. But he’d lain awake for hours, too, and her eyelids had eventually become too heavy to hold up. Then, his thrashing had woken her, and she’d cuddled him, and she’d liked it far more than she should have. Had even been tempted to ask for more.
If Synda found out...
She raised her chin and focused on the here and now. Four small chandeliers dripped with hundreds of opals and hung over a long, square table hewn from gold, diamonds and sapphires. The chairs were carved in the shape of dragons, with cobalt velvet lining the seats. Colorful murals of naked, frolicking Fae decorated the walls, and a soft white rug lined the floor.
There were three windows, each overlooking the flower garden out back. She adored that garden, and allowed herself a peek outside—wait. Armed guards were running toward the gate.
Something was happening. What—
King Tiberius strolled inside the room at long last, his latest mistress on his arm. Josephina snapped to attention. The mistress was lovely, to be sure, but only seventeen years old. She’d had a bright future before the king had taken notice of her, and most likely would have married the richest of the Opulens; she would have had a family and never would she have wanted for anything.
Except, perhaps, love and fidelity.
But now, no man would have her, not even the lowest of the servants. When the king discarded her, and he would, no one would want to risk his ire by pursuing what he suddenly deemed “unworthy.”
The king’s expression was troubled as he claimed the seat at the head of the table. He motioned for the scantily clad female to take the seat at his left—the queen’s seat. Josephina groaned. Queen Penelope knew of the king’s affairs, of course she did, everyone knew; in public, she simply pretended not to care. But in private, when only Josephina was around, she ranted and raged.
“—not sure why an army of Phoenix warriors are attacking us,” the king was saying. “Do they really want to start another war? They have brute force, but they haven’t the numbers.”
Oh, no, no, no. If the Phoenix were here, they were here for Josephina. And if her father found out she was the reason, he would unleash a torrent of wrath upon her.
A tremor rocked her, and liquid sloshed over the sides of the pitcher.
Tiberius cast her a reproachful glance.
“You have nothing to fear, my darling,” he continued, patting his mistress’s delicate hand. “The soldiers will be dead by the end of the day, their heads sent back to their people.”
“Thank you, Majesty” was the soft reply. The girl kept her gaze downcast. “You’re so strong. Utterly undefeatable.”
Kane strolled inside, and Josephina quivered with the memory of his embrace. His savage beauty had never been more apparent than at that moment, as morning light streamed over him. The two guards were stationed at his back. His gaze swept the area, and Josephina was certain he’d somehow managed to catalog every detail at once, though she fought a wave of disappointment when he simply skimmed over her.
Good morning to you, too, she thought, trying to ignore a fresh tide of hurt and resentment.
“Lord Kane. We’re pleased you’ve joined us.” The king motioned for Kane to take the chair at his right. Synda’s chair.
Kane sat, putting his back to Josephina. He held up his arm and cocked two fingers. Was he...summoning her over?
Those fingers moved again, more adamantly this time.
He was. He really was. I’m going to smash his face!
Teeth grinding, she moved forward and poured three drops of juice into his goblet.
When she tried to move away, Kane grabbed hold of her wrist. Startled, she almost dropped the pitcher. His grip was strong, his skin white-hot.
“There’s a mark on your cheek,” he said with the stillness she’d come to recognize as dangerous. He looked up at her, the thick shield of his lashes hiding whatever emotion gleamed in his eyes. His lips pressed into a thin, hard line.
“Well, yeah,” she replied.
“I get that. Whose?”
She licked her lips, and his gaze followed the motion. “Doesn’t matter. I took care of it.”
He squeezed her wrist harder. “Whose?”
“So I can kill him—or her.”
She had no loyalty to Cook, but she wouldn’t allow the man to be put to death for so minor an offense. So, she remained silent.
Kane released her and glared at the king. “If she’s hurt again, I’ll make sure everyone in this palace regrets it.”
Unused to such irreverence, Tiberius blustered for a moment. “My admiration for you won’t save you from my wrath, Lord Kane. Tread carefully.”
“Do you want an enemy you can’t afford to have? Because you’re walking the line with me,” Kane snapped. “You’ve got Phoenix running wild out there, and your men will never be able to take them down. You’ve allowed the army to become lazy, living off of the triumph of past conquests.”
“How dare you! My men are as strong as ever.”
Kane smiled, but it wasn’t a nice one. “If I were to walk out there right now, I could slay every single male under your command and not break a sweat. Want me to prove it?”
What was he doing? She wanted to jump in front of him and shield him from the curses and punishments about to start flying, but it was no longer her place to protect him. She returned to her spot against the wall.
Tiberius leaped to his feet, planted his palms on the tabletop and peered down at Kane with undiluted rage. “A dead man can’t prove anything.”
Kane stood, too, refusing to back down from the mighty king of the Fae—something very few had tried and none had survived. His chair toppled over, one of the legs poking him in the back of the knee. He didn’t seem to notice.
“I have some experience with the Phoenix, and I know they’ll play with your men these next few weeks, testing their abilities. Then, the Phoenix will seem to vanish for a few weeks more and you’ll relax. Then, the warriors will return with a vengeance and torch the palace and everyone in it.”
Crystal eyes narrowed. “If that’s the case, the problem will be yours as much as mine. Your engagement ball is set for eight days from now, and your wedding nine days from now.”
Just enough time to plan a feast but not so long the bulk of Synda’s personality flaws couldn’t be hidden.
I can’t watch their courtship. I just can’t. And she couldn’t allow herself to be drawn in and spit out by Kane anymore. From now on, it would be better for her if she kept her distance from him.
Maybe she should run away. She’d done it before. Of course, she’d been captured swiftly and disciplined severely, and had later vowed never to take such a risk again.
A silly vow, she realized now.
Leopold strolled into the room, and Synda skipped in behind him, branching off to close in on Kane.
Tiberius sat. Kane righted his chair and settled down.
“Good morning, warrior.” The princess tried to kiss him on the cheek, but he reared back, stopping her.
Perhaps he hadn’t gotten over his aversion, after all.
“What are you doing?” he gritted.
“Making your morning even better, of course,” she said, unperturbed as she smoothed her skirt around her chair.
“Next time wait for permission.”
The queen was the last to enter. She spotted the king’s mistress and stiffened.
Trembling, Josephina filled her goblet with juice.
The queen sipped—and spit the liquid out on Josephina’s shoes. “This is horrid swill. How dare you ruin the start of my day with it!”
“I’ll get you something else,” she muttered, her cheeks burning hotly.
“You’ll stay here,” Kane growled. “The juice is fine.”
Penelope looked to the king, expecting him to side with her. Tiberius nodded to Josephina to continue with her duties.
Josephina’s stomach threatened to rebel. The queen would make her suffer for this.
Her trembling increased as she moved to Leopold’s side and poured his measure of juice. He pressed his hand against the small of her back, as if holding her steady. Meanwhile, he spread his fingers to cover as much ground as possible, even daring to delve between the cheeks of her bottom.
She tried to shift out of the way.
Kane unleashed a stream of dark curses, and all eyes swung to him.
His gaze was locked on Leopold, and slitted.
Her brother shifted uncomfortably, lowered his arm.
What had that been about? Kane hadn’t been able to see her brother’s hand, had he? And if he had, he hadn’t cared about it. Had he? He’d simply wanted to...what? Confused, she flittered away to the kitchen to gather the food.
“Hurry up, you lazy cow,” Cook snipped.
She stuck her tongue out at him before returning to the dining room.
“—take me shopping tomorrow? Please!” Synda was saying to Kane.
“An excellent idea,” King Tiberius replied, as if the question had been directed at him.