“I want your body, Lord Kane, not your mind,” she’d said.

He’d shrugged. And yeah, he felt a little guilty about his lack of concern for her. She might just be his destined mate.

No. Impossible. Kane must have misunderstood what the Moirai had said. And what about the prediction William had mentioned? His daughter, White, wedding the man destined to start an apocalypse.

Kane didn’t even want a mate. He wanted...he needed...yeah, some part of him wanted and needed a mate.

For the first time in centuries, he had a reason to hope. He’d watched his friends fall in love, and that love had strengthened them. They’d overcome centuries-old rages and self-loathing simply to become the men their women needed. What if Kane’s mate could help him defeat Disaster? What if she was the key?

The right girl could calm him, soothe him. The right girl mattered. But again, who was the right girl?

The princess, who carried Irresponsibility? Tink, who had spent time in the Never-ending? Or White? The wrong choice could torment him as much as the demon.

What he felt toward Synda was anger and pity.

She didn’t make him want to live, just to be with her.

She didn’t make him forget the trials of his past.

She didn’t make him long for something better.

What he felt toward Tink was...powerful.

She made him eager to achieve his goals.

She made him ache, in body and in soul.

She made him smile.

So, yeah, when he next had sex, it would be with Tink.

When? Whoa.

Had he seriously just thought the word when in conjunction with sex? He’d promised himself he wouldn’t go there with Tink. He would only disappoint her. He would ruin her innocence. Now, he considered her a foregone conclusion?

“You can speak,” Synda was saying to her. “I won’t tell Daddy. Swear.”

“You had better speak,” Kane reiterated. He wouldn’t be able to endure this little jaunt otherwise. “I’ll make sure no blame is cast your way.”

The buggy jolted forward, but Tink remained quiet.

A few minutes later, Synda stood up and said, “Oh, look. There’s the Twenty-fifth,” nearly tumbling out the side of the vehicle. “Hey, Aos Sí Caroline! Look at—hmph.”

Kane grabbed her hand and forced her back into her seat. “Stay,” he commanded. “Don’t move.”

The princess crossed her arms over her middle and pouted. “You’re no fun.”

“I’m devastated you think so. Now, tell me why you called that woman by a number, and what ees-shee means.”

Upset forgotten, Synda giggled like a schoolgirl. “Twenty-five is her number, silly, and Aos Sí is her title.”

Vapid does not even begin to describe. He looked to Tink.

After a lengthy pause, she drew in a deep breath and said, “Every Opulen outside the royal family bears a number. Caroline is twenty-fifth in line for the throne, meaning, she’s the twenty-fifth member of the high court. There are fifty members. All others are part of the lower court, and without a number.”

Was nothing more important than status to the Fae? “And the title?”

“The literal translation of Aos Sí is her people. Every female in the upper class bears such a title. The males are referred to as Daoine Sídhe.”

Good to know. “What’s your number and title?”

Red stained her cheeks; she clamped her lips shut.

“She isn’t an Opulen,” Synda said matter-of-factly.

So...she didn’t have a number or a title. He didn’t like that.

He spent the rest of the fifteen-minute ride drilling the girls with questions. How often had the throne changed hands? Answer: eight times in the history of the Fae. How had the past kings died? Answer: murdered by their successors. Had the race ever been without a king? Answer: never.

The exchange ended when the carriage stopped in front of the first shop in a row of shops. The buildings were comprised of dark stone and some kind of glittery material, with crystal roofs and windows surrounded by ivy, reminding him of something out of a fairy tale.

And...was that William the Panty Melter entering the shop at the end of the street? The...Devil’s Punchbowl, was the name, and it was clearly a tavern.

Kane popped to his feet. “I’ve spotted our first stop,” he said.

He helped the women exit the buggy, cringed against the memories Synda’s touch caused, marveled anew at the mental peace Tink’s wrought, and surged forward. When Synda tried to enter a shoe store, he dragged her away.

“But...” she began.

“The tavern first,” he said, and Synda stopped fighting.

“Why didn’t you say so? I’m always up for a good drink or twelve.”

“You can’t be serious, Kane,” Tink said with a groan. “It’s early morning and you want to get trashed? With the darling of the Fae? I’m going to be blamed for this, I just know it.”

“You’re not going to be blamed,” Kane said. He wouldn’t allow it. Not ever again.

He shouldered the doors open, and scanned the area. He spotted a dark-haired warrior sliding into a seat, claiming a handful of cards, and knew beyond any doubt. Yes, that was indeed William the Ever Randy.

Had he talked to Taliyah and followed Kane here?

One female and three males formed a circle around William. Kane recognized each. White, the female, and her brothers, Red, Black and Green. In hell, Red and Black had rescued him from Disaster’s minions, but rather than setting him free, they’d bound him, hoping to learn his secrets—whatever those were—then kill him to prevent him from hooking up with their sister. As long as they’d lived in hell, as many horrors as they’d seen, they’d come to hate demons with every fiber of their beings. It was a sentiment Kane shared. But they’d made the mistake of lumping him in the same category as Disaster and that he resented.

Then, of course, Green and White had found him and walked away, leaving him to his agony until Tink had found him.

He owed all four a little payback. With knives.

The five-person gang smoked cigars and drained shots of whiskey as they studied their cards. Synda tugged from Kane’s hold and skipped to the bar, where she ordered “my regular.” Tink remained by his side, unsure.

“What are you doing here?” Kane demanded.

“What else? You forced me!” she snapped.

“Not you, sweetheart.”

William glanced up, grinned and waved him over, not the least surprised to see him. “Kane, my boy. We’re playing hard. But not as hard as you, it seems. Two women? Really? I’m shocked Kanie the Prude can manage so much estrogen at the same time.”

White and her brothers looked over at him. In unison, the three guys pushed back their chairs and stood, glaring at him with murderous rage. White went back to studying her cards.

“Down,” William commanded easily. “Now isn’t the time for a battle royale.”

“When?” Red insisted.

“When I say so. I feel like finishing our game first.” Though William wore a T-shirt that read DADD: Dudes Against Daughters Dating, and it was difficult to take him seriously, the three obeyed without protest. But even still, Kane was never taken out of their cross hairs.

Black cracked his knuckles. “Today, demon, you die.”

He couldn’t help but grumble, “I wish you had rotted in hell, I really do.”

“I’m getting the impression he doesn’t like us,” White said, blowing out a puff of smoke. She flipped her cascade of pale hair over her shoulder. “I’m very okay with that.”

“What are you playing?” Synda asked, closing the distance and, without waiting for an invitation, plopping herself on Red’s lap.

Uncharacteristically patient, the dark-haired male with eyes of the cruelest blue settled her more comfortably against him and began to explain the game.

In that moment, Kane knew she couldn’t be the female for him, no matter that she was the keeper of Irresponsibility, and no matter what the Moirai had meant. He felt no sense of jealousy or possession.

Would there be consequences if she was the one and he blew her off? Maybe.

Did he care? No.

The woman in Danika’s painting had been blonde. White was also blonde, but while William’s daughter was lovely and strong, Kane absolutely despised her and that wasn’t going to change.

Tink, however, continued to interest him greatly. But if she was the one for him, why did he continue to ache when he neared her? And who was the blonde in the painting? What did she mean to him?

Kane pulled up a chair beside William, and forced Tink to sit in his lap. He wanted her nearby, wanted his hands on her to prevent her from running, and wanted to ensure every man knew to keep his grubby paws off her. The action ensured Kane received all three at once. Screw the pain, he thought. Yeah, it had bothered him less today, but now, he just flat-out didn’t care.

“How’d they get free of hell?” he asked, even as Disaster screamed a protest about the seating arrangement.

William shrugged his massive shoulders before tossing his cards on the table. He faced Kane. “I thought you could use a bit of help. You didn’t want your friends knowing what you were up to, so my own brood of vipers was my only option.”

“That tells me nothing.”

“Nor was it meant to. I sprang them early, and that’s all you need to know.”

“Fair enough. But answer me this. Why are you playing cards with them instead of helping me?”

Another shrug. “We heard about your engagement, and figured all was well.”

“You could have checked in.”

“Yeah. I could have, and I even thought about it. And it’s the thought that counts, right?”

“No. No, it’s not.”

William claimed a cigar from White, and took a drag. Smoke puffed around him as he said, “Clearly I have more faith in you than you have in yourself. You’re welcome.”