- The Darkest Craving
Everything he had to give.
“I want you safe,” he said. “Whatever the cost.”
He straightened and faced the men. “Everyone clear on the rules?”
“We’ve been clear for hours now.” From the blond.
“Definitely.” From the dark-haired one. “You should have stayed in hell. You would’ve had an easier life—and death.”
A nod from the bald one.
Kane grinned without a shred of humor. “I can’t wait to prove you wrong.”
“Ding, ding,” William said.
And just like that, the battle was on. The males converged on each other, becoming a tangle of fists and legs and weapons.
Synda cheered, “Go, Kane, go!” as if the two hadn’t almost come to blows seconds before.
White snapped her teeth at the girl. “You should cheer for my brothers. You just had sex with two of them in the bathroom.”
“Oh, that. It meant nothing.”
Josephina cringed, knowing she would be punished for this transgression, as well. But okay, all right, she would deal. Right now, Kane was more important—and he’d just vanished from her sight, a black cloud appearing and surrounding the men. Her hand covered her mouth to silence her cry of dismay. Grunts and groans and the click of metal against metal filled the air. Her blood chilled. What was happening in there?
She pushed to shaky legs, took a step forward.
“I wouldn’t do that.” William joined the women at the table. He grabbed one of White’s grapes and tossed the little fruit in his mouth.
“Do what?” Josephina croaked, unable to pull her attention away from the battle.
“Whatever you’re planning. The boys will attack anyone inside their force field, and Kane will punish them for it. They may not survive, and like I told Kane, a part of me wants them to survive.”
That “force field” raised the fine hairs on the back of her neck. It possessed some sort of electrical charge, attempting to pull the energy out of her the way she often pulled the energy out of others.
Was it draining Kane?
“Let her join,” White said. “She’ll die, and I’ll have an open playing field.”
“You wouldn’t have an open playing field if you were the last woman on earth,” Josephina snapped.
“An open playing field?” William growled. “I thought you wanted Kane dead.”
“Supposedly Kane is my destined mate, and my destined mate has no business lusting after another woman.”
“You said you cared nothing about destiny,” William roared.
Josephina didn’t hear White’s reply, didn’t care to; she was too busy marching forward. Whether Kane realized it or not, he needed her. He could take those men, but she doubted he could take the cloud. Look how easily he’d fallen when pitted against her.
When she reached the darkened dome, she removed her gloves and reached out. Lightning jolted through her, startling her. Her bones throbbed, and her blood fizzed, but she pushed through. The darkness soon cleared, and she realized she was standing in the midst of a raging battle. Blood was splattered across the floor. And Kane’s opponents...they’d become monsters.
One had horns. Or rather, what should have been horns. They were shredded and bleeding.
One had wings. Or rather, what used to be wings. They were misshapen and bleeding.
One had scales. Or rather, what were probably scales. They were ripped out in patches and bleeding.
All had fangs and claws.
Kane stood in place, wielding two daggers with perfect precision. He contorted his body left and right, forward and backward, avoiding impact with his enemies. He was...winning, despite the cloud and...and...despite the fact that the floor was cracking beneath his feet?
The demon was acting up again. Why? So he’d lose?
Oh, yes. Defeat would be considered a disaster, after all.
Thank goodness Kane knew what he was doing. When his feet caught on one of the cracks, he tilted forward, going with it, rolling into the motion, allowing his weapons to slash against his opponents with more force.
Relief speared her. She backed away.
He must have sensed her, though, because his gaze found her across the distance. His eyes widened, and a roar split his lips. He gave up his offensive stance to stalk toward her. A mistake. One of the monsters nailed him in the chin, a brutal slash of claws, slicing his skin and leaving him bleeding.
Josephina didn’t think about her next actions. She launched into motion, throwing herself into the monster closest to her. He went down with a moan the moment she touched him. A shocking amount of strength poured through her, more than her little body had ever had to hold, but she twisted to reach the second one...the third one...
On the heels of the strength came darkness, such terrible darkness. Worse than what had come with Kane. Then silence. Josephina stumbled. What’s happening? She was falling...falling... No, no, no! I’m back inside the Never-ending.
A sharp pain tore through her head before blackness took over.
TORIN, KEEPER OF Disease, paced the floor of the room where he’d last seen Cameo. Days had passed since she’d vanished, leaving all of the artifacts behind, but he couldn’t stop thinking about what had happened here. Her gaze had locked with Maddox’s. She had reached out. Then, she had been gone, with no trace of her remaining. Where was she? What had happened?
The other warriors had come and gone, inspecting the room before stalking out to hunt down anyone who might know how to save a woman Torin loved with all of his heart. Not as a lover, though they had once tried to go that route, but as his best friend.
If he would die for his friends, he would kill for his best friend.
And yet, Torin was stuck here. He could do nothing but wait. He’d already checked online, but the information he desired wasn’t out there. Or, if it was, he hadn’t yet found it.
He couldn’t leave the fortress, because he couldn’t risk touching anyone. Were his skin to accidentally brush against the skin of another immortal, that immortal would then carry the taint of Torin’s curse, infecting anyone they touched with disease. Were his skin to brush against the skin of a human, that human would sicken and die—but not before passing the disease on to others. A plague would erupt. Again.
Yeah. He’d once lusted after a woman he hadn’t been meant to have. He’d rescued her from the hands of his enemy—they’d noticed his interest in her. Then, he’d removed his gloves and touched her, desperate for contact. Skin-to-skin. Warmth to warmth. He’d thought she would be the exception, that his yearning for her would somehow overcome his handicap.
Her eyes had closed, and her lips had curled into a small grin, and pleasure had overwhelmed him. But then she’d sickened. Then her family and friends had sickened. Then they had all died—along with thousands of others.
Now, when Cameo needed him...
He was worse than useless. He was a failure. He hadn’t gotten here soon enough to save her, and he couldn’t race to her rescue. Frustration and fury burned in his chest, a toxic combination adding to the poison in his blood.
He stopped in front of the Cage of Compulsion. Two of the artifacts were inside, exactly where they’d fallen when Cameo vanished. The Rod was propped outside, against the corner. If he did what Cameo had done, could he get to where she was? To where Viola was?
Worth the risk, he thought.
He stepped forward and curled his fingers over the edge of the cage.
“Hey! What do you think you’re doing?” a voice said from behind him.
He stiffened. “What do you think I’m doing?”
Anya, the incarnation of Anarchy and girlfriend of the keeper of Death, leaned against the door frame, her arms crossed over her middle. She was tall and blonde and one of the most beautiful females ever created; she was also one of the most troublesome, preferring chaos over calm. Today she wore a skintight blue minidress that looked—wait, it was painted on.
“Better question. Are you going to tell Lucien?”
“When he took off this morning to escort a few souls to the hereafter, he failed to wake me with a kiss and tell me he loved me. Therefore, I’m currently giving him the silent treatment.”
And Lucien was probably loving it. Not that Torin would ever say such a thing aloud.
He changed the subject, saying, “New look?”
“New form of torture for Lucien. He’ll never not kiss me again!”
“He probably thought you’d demand more than a kiss from him, when he wouldn’t have the time to give it to you.”
“There’s always time to give it to me.”
He wanted to smile, and the thread of humor, even as small as it was, surprised him. But then, Anya had that effect on people. “Want to try and talk me out of this?” he said, motioning to the artifacts.
“Nah. I want Cameo brought back as much as you do. But if you die, well, I call dibs on your room. I’m thinking about getting a pet that will eat Viola’s devil, and my baby will need a place all her own.”
She nodded, as if she’d expected nothing less. “Just know that I’ve always enjoyed looking at you. I’ll miss your sexy face.”
The smile bloomed to full wattage, unstoppable. “I’ve always enjoyed looking at you, too.”
She blew him a kiss.
Because he carried the All-key inside his body, he was able to unlock anything with only a touch. The cage was no exception. He entered. The door slammed shut behind him.
“I feel like this is the perfect time to admit I’m the Cage’s owner,” Anya said, tapping her chin and eyeing him thoughtfully. “Cronus gave it to me. I could command you to strip and you’d have to obey.”
Torin ignored her, looking over the painting. A man’s office. A glass display case. Artifacts. One of them was a small box made of bones. Pandora’s box? Maybe. Why had he not noticed it before? He picked up the Cloak and draped the material over his shoulders, just as he’d watched Cameo do. Then, he took off his glove, reached out and gripped the Rod. But...