“Josephina will go with us,” Kane said firmly.

Her birth name on his lips just seemed wrong. She wasn’t fond of Tinker Bell or Tink, but she also kind of loved them. They were special, meant just for her. He’d never used a nickname with Synda.

The king opened his mouth to reply—probably a refusal, considering the glint of anger in his eyes. But Synda clapped happily, and said, “Of course she can come. We’re going to have the best time ever!” so he remained quiet.

“What about the Phoenix?” Leopold asked tightly. “A woman of royal blood shouldn’t be wandering about town with such a threat on the loose.”

“The king has assured me your men can contain the threat. Besides, the ladies will be with me,” Kane said. “They’ll be protected.”

Tiberius thought for a moment, nodded. “You will accompany the pair, Prince Leopold, and ensure nothing happens to Warrior Kane and Princess Synda.”

The pair, he’d said, rather than the threesome. As if Josephina didn’t count.

The truth was, she didn’t.

The prince looked ready to argue, but quickly thought better of it. “As you wish, Majesty.”

Kane grinned without humor. “Until tomorrow.”

* * *

KANE SPENT THE rest of the day doing a bit of investigative work, questioning every servant he came across. The moment he learned the cook had been the one to put the mark on Tink’s cheek, he locked the kitchen, preventing anyone from escaping, and beat the man senseless.

He whistled with satisfaction as he went in search of Tink.


A HAZE OF early-morning sunlight filled Kane’s bedroom, chasing away the shadows.

As he shook off the horrors of another nightmare, a sense of excitement rose.

Last night, his attempts to talk to Tink had failed. He’d spied her in the throne room—but she’d disappeared behind a door the moment he’d approached her. He’d found her in the weaving room—but she’d pulled another disappearing act. He’d snuck up on her in the garden—but she’d wiggled from his hold and run away.

Today, though, she couldn’t do any running. According to the king, she had to stay by her sister’s side. Which meant she would be within Kane’s reach at all times.

A lamp toppled from the nightstand and smashed into his skull.

He scowled.

A knock sounded at the bedroom door.

Kane rose from the bed, stalked over and, with a dagger in hand, opened the obstruction. Prince Leopold stood before him, relaxed, utterly confident Kane would behave himself.

Foolish prince. Kane had a serious beef with the male. Not because of his taunts the day they’d met, but because he’d flattened his hand against Tink’s lower back while gazing at her with desire in his eyes. It had startled Kane. He’d thought he was misreading. But Disaster had snickered, seeing something Kane could not, something in the spirit realm in which he existed, perhaps. A dark cloud of lust? Another demon, sitting on Leopold’s shoulder, driving his actions? Kane had heard the Sent Ones talking about such an occurrence.

In the end, the reason didn’t matter. Results did.

“What?” Kane snapped, fingers tightening on the hilt.

Regal features darkened. “The princess is ready for your excursion. I’ll escort you to her, and accompany you into town, keeping everyone safe.”

Kane knew the Phoenix had taken off for the forest; he’d seen the little fires they’d left here and there. So far, though, the Fae had had no luck catching one or even engaging in any kind of battle.

Petra had to be the leader. She wanted Tink, and would stop at nothing to have her.

Well, Kane would stop at nothing to protect her.

“And the servant?” he asked.

“You’ll ignore.”

So not happening, dude.

“Or you’ll suffer,” the prince added. “The things I’ll do to you...”

“Understood.” Kane forced a smile. “Lead the way.”

The prince turned his back, just as confident as before, and Kane sheathed the blade. He stayed close to the male’s heels, conscious of his every step.

“You don’t think you’ll need guards while you’re with me?” Kane asked.

A smug laugh rolled from him—the same one Kane had heard at their first meeting. “Hardly. One word, and I can have you on your knees.”

They pounded down a winding flight of stairs, then another and another. When they reached the bottom floor, and neared a door leading into a storage closet, Kane forcibly bumped the man in the shoulder, sending him crashing into the wall.

Before the prince had time to react, Kane punched him in the throat, cutting off his airway, and pinched his carotid, stopping the flow of blood to his brain. In seconds, the prince was crumpled on the floor, unconscious.

“Got anything to say now?” he muttered.

A maid turned the corner, spotted them and ground to a halt. She gasped, her hand fluttering to her heart.

“He’s fine. Just napping,” Kane said. “He’ll wake up.” Eventually. “Don’t disturb him. You know how cranky he can get when he goes without his beauty Z’s.”

She nodded, wide-eyed, and hurried away.

He opened the storage closet, and dragged the prince to the center. Then, he rigged the lock, ensuring no one would be able to enter without force.

Mission accomplished.

Kane kicked back into gear. He’d memorized the layout of the entire palace, had secretly peeked through every door, and knew the front entrance was just around the corner. As promised, the princess and Tink were waiting.

Anger returned full force as he looked them over. Synda was decked out in a crimson-colored velvet ball gown, the material feminine and flattering. Tink was stuck wearing some kind of cheap, ill-fitting dress that left pink scratches on her beautiful skin.

A frilly hat with ribbons perched on Synda’s head.

Tink was without a hat, her hair pulled into a severe bun at the back of her neck.

Synda smelled of floral perfume.

Tink smelled of pungent floor cleaner.

His hands fisted. He wanted to kill someone. He wanted to hug Tink and never let go.

Synda smiled when she spotted him, skipped over and planted a kiss directly on his lips. He stood still and stiff, not wanting to deal with another outburst. His gaze immediately sought Tink. Her eyes were downcast.

“Where’s Prince Leopold?” Synda asked, oblivious.

“He’s sleeping. We should go.”

“Sleeping? Even though he was awake five minutes ago?” Tink asked. Then she looked at Synda, and pressed her lips together.

What? She wasn’t allowed to talk on this little excursion?

His knuckles nearly burst out of his skin, so tightly did he squeeze his fingers into a fist. “Yes. Sleeping.”

A dog came racing around the corner. The creature made a beeline for Tink, and the demon laughed, assuring Kane he was responsible. Kane jolted forward, sticking his leg in the path of wrath. Sharp teeth sank into his ankle, stinging.

“I’m so sorry,” a servant said, chasing after the dog. “I don’t know how he got away from me.”

With as gentle a tug as he could manage, Kane ripped the creature’s canines from his bone and handed him over.

“Come on, everyone,” Synda said cheerfully, skipping through the double doors held open by two guards. “I’ve been waiting days and days for this.”

Days. When it had only been mentioned yesterday.

Tink followed after her, and Kane followed after Tink. The sun was shining, though it was a muted and murky version of the one he was used to, the sky gray with threads of black rather than blue, as if a storm brewed. There was a high, transparent wall surrounding the palace, glittering brightly, and behind it, a lush green forest. Much of the military forces were still out there, chasing the Phoenix.

A cobblestone path led to a horse-drawn carriage. And there were other carriages on the road, he saw. Three that he could see up-close, and two in the distance, slowly closing in. In the three up-close perched females dressed as fancily as Synda, each peering at him with abject longing.

“Isn’t he gorgeous?” Synda called with pride. “He’s mine.”

Kane almost snapped a denial. He reached the carriage first, and hefted the princess inside. She braced her hands on his shoulders, and he had to grit his teeth against the horror of the contact.

Hands...all over him. Caressing him, scratching him.

Breathe. He had to breathe.

A punishment for his distaste of the girl, he supposed, the demon lashing out.

Next was Tink. He unfolded his fingers, revealing his palm. She hesitated a moment before placing her gloved fingers against his. As expected, there was a lance of pain, though it was lighter than usual, but...his mind was fine. The terrible memories retreated, Disaster unable to drudge them back up. Why?

Because, as Kane had realized in the forest, she was his light? Maybe. The memories were his darkness, and darkness had to flee in the presence of light.

Even after she’d sat down, he maintained contact, lingering, marveling, once again fighting an inexplicable need only she was able to stir.

“Kane,” she said, her voice taut, and he forced himself to release her. He climbed inside the carriage. One girl was on the left, one on the right. Embracing the chance to touch Tink again, he picked her up by the waist. So delicate. So feminine. Her gasp of surprise fanned over his skin as he set her beside her sister. Then, he settled into the other bench on his own, now able to watch both females.

“You look pretty today,” Synda said to Tink. And astonishingly enough, she sounded sincere.

This must be one of her sweet moments. Never had he met a person who could change moods so quickly—and he was counting himself. But then, Synda hadn’t yet learned to fight the demon inside her. Darkness drove her. Urges came, and she gave in without stopping to analyze the wisdom of her actions. Emotions came, and she never tried to look past them to the reasons behind them.

She needed help, but she didn’t want it—last night, at dinner, he’d offered and she’d declined.