He wanted those images cut from her mind, even if he had to reach inside and remove them with a blade.

Then, he would cut them out of his own. The Hunters, blaming him for every disaster they’d ever faced. Their bomb. A trip into hell. A horde of demon minions attacking, killing the Hunters and secreting Kane away. Day after day of torment.

Shackles. The drip, drip of blood. Satisfied grins, bloodstained teeth. Hands, everywhere. Mouths, seeking. Tongues, licking.

A soundtrack played quietly in the background. Moans of pain—his. Moans of pleasure—none his own. The slap of flesh against flesh. The scrape of nails, digging deep. A bark of laughter.

Terrible scents filled his nose. Sulfur. Arousal. Dirt. Old copper. Sweat. The pungent sting of fear.

One brutal emotion after another bombarded him. Disgust, rage, feelings of utter violation. Sorrow, humiliation, sadness. Helplessness. Panic. More disgust.

He moaned, a tragic sound. Desperate to avoid a breakdown, he erected a brick wall around his screaming mind, blocking the worst of the emotions. Can’t deal right now. Just...can’t. He was free at least. He couldn’t forget that. Rescue had come.

No, not a rescue. Not at first. Warriors had stolen him from the minions, only to tie him down for their own special brand of torture.

Then, the girl had arrived, demanding he help her with the vilest of tasks.

“What have you done to him?” a male voice roared. “Why were there Fae soldiers ready to sneak into this room?”

“Wait. You’re not with the Fae?” she demanded.

“Who are you, female?”

Kane recognized the speaker. Sabin, his leader, and the keeper of the demon of Doubt. Sabin was a male who wouldn’t hesitate to snap a woman’s neck if he thought that woman had hurt one of his soldiers.

“Me?” the girl said. “I’m no one, and I’ve done nothing. Really.”

“Lies will only make it worse for you.”

Another speaker Kane recognized. Strider, the keeper of the demon of Defeat. Like Sabin, Strider wouldn’t hesitate to harm a woman in defense of a friend.

Kane should have been comforted by their appearance. They were brothers of his heart, the family he needed, and they would protect him, whisk him to safety, and do everything within their power to ensure he healed. But he was scabbed, bruised and emotionally naked, and they were now witnesses to his shame, too.

“Oh, sweet heat. Why didn’t you step into the light sooner? I know who you are,” the girl gasped out. “You’re...you’re...you.”

“Yes, and I’m also your doom,” Sabin snapped.

The warrior assumed the black-haired girl was responsible for Kane’s condition. A mistake. He tried to sit up, but the muscles in his stomach were useless, not yet completely woven back together.

“Please don’t take this the wrong way,” said the girl, “but that’s got to be the lamest thing anyone’s ever said to me, and Kane here has said some doozies. You’re a magnificent warrior known throughout all the lands for your strength and cunning. I know you can issue a better threat than that.”

More than once, the silly things that had come out of that candy-apple mouth had made him want to smile, despite the pain relentlessly battering him. Now was one of those times. He didn’t understand it.

“There’s a right way to take that?” Sabin snapped. “Guard the door,” he said to Strider. “I’m going to tear her from limb to limb.”

“No can do, boss. I’m calling dibs.”

“Does that mean we’re battling to the death?” she asked casually.

“Yes,” both men replied in unison.

“Oh, well. Okay, then. Let’s get started, shall we?”

Kane stiffened.

“Is she serious?” Sabin.

“No way.” Strider.

“I am,” she said. “I really am.”

Big talk for such a tiny girl.

A girl who confused Kane in every way.

She had tended him gently, tenderly, and yet he had hurt from more than just his injuries. And not a good hurt, either, to let him know he was alive, but a sharp throb that rode the waves in his veins, reaching him at a cellular level, like a disease, a cancer, eating at him, demanding he get away from her as quickly as possible. And yet, inside, deeper still, where primal instinct jerked at a flimsy leash, a desire to grab her, to hold on and never let go, consumed him.

She was beautiful, funny and sweet, and he heard one word every time he looked at her. Mine.

Mine. Mine. MINE.

It was a constant stream of noise, undeniable—unstoppable. It was also wrong. His “mine” would never cause him pain. And he didn’t want a “mine.” Any time he’d tried to make a go of a relationship, the evil inside him swiftly destroyed it—and the female. Now, after everything that had happened to him...

A rise of the disgust, sizzling and blistering, tightened his hands into dangerous weapons. No, he didn’t want a “mine.”

“You eager to die?” Strider asked, stalking a circle around her.

“You stalling?” she said. “Don’t think you can take me?”

The warrior sucked in a breath.

The girl had issued a challenge—intentional or unintentional?—and the warrior’s demon had just accepted. Strider would do everything in his power to win, and Kane couldn’t blame him. Anytime the male lost a challenge, he suffered in agonizing pain for days.

Demons always came with a curse.

Have to stop him. Whether the girl belonged to Kane or not, she wasn’t to be harmed. Seeing a single bruise on that sun-licked skin would unhinge him, he knew it, could already feel the darkness rising, his control teetering at the edge of chilling violence.

As he again struggled to sit up, multiple footsteps pounded, causing the floor to reverberate. Low growls erupted. The swish of clothing whispered past. Flesh met flesh, bone met bone. Metal clinked against metal. The males would destroy her.

“Is that all you got?” the girl taunted—a taunt undercut by her heavy panting. “Come on, fellas. Let’s make this memorable, one for the history books!”

“No,” Kane tried to shout, but not even his ears picked up the sound.

Strider jumped over him. Another clang of metal echoed.

“How can this be memorable?” Sabin roared. “The only thing you’re doing is leaping out of the way when we strike.”

“Sorry. I’m not meaning to, but instinct keeps kicking in,” she said.

To anyone but Kane, who knew her secret desire, the conversation would have sounded weird.

The fight continued, the two men chasing the girl around the small room, leaping on furniture, bouncing off the walls, slashing out with hungry blades and missing as she darted out of the way.

The urge to commit violence sharpened with deadly force.

“Don’t hurt her,” he growled. “I’ll hurt you back.” He would do anything to protect her.

Even in this pitiful state?

He ignored the humiliating question.

Question. Yes. He had more questions for the girl than he’d already asked—and this time, she would answer satisfactorily or he would...he wasn’t sure what he would do. He’d lost all sense of mercy and compassion inside that cave.

The threat stopped Sabin in his tracks. The warrior lowered his weapons.

Strider refused to give up, and finally managed to grab the girl by the hair. She yelped as he jerked, tugging her into the hard line of his body.

Kane managed to get to his feet, intending to rip the two apart. Mine. He stalked forward, tripped over a shoe, thanks to the demon, and came crashing down. Pain consumed him.

Before the girl had a chance to scream for help, or curse Strider’s very existence, he knocked her ankles together and sent her propelling to the floor. He went down with her, pinning her shoulders to the floor with his knees. Though she struggled, she couldn’t work her way free.

“I said...don’t hurt,” Kane shouted with what little strength he had left.

“Hey. I barely touched her. I also won,” the warrior announced, a huge grin lifting the corners of his mouth.

Sabin marched to Kane’s side, crouched, and helped roll him to his back. Then the warrior slid gentle hands under his head and shoulders. Kane flinched from the contact, his mind blaring out a protest he refused to let his mouth deliver, but still his friend held firm, easing him into a sitting position.

“We’ve been looking for you, my man.” Tender words meant to assure and comfort him. Too bad nothing would ever assure and comfort him again. “Weren’t ever going to give up.”

“How?” he managed to ask. Let me go. Please, just let me go.

Sabin understood his question, but not his inner plea. “There was a story in a tabloid about a superwoman in New York carrying a hulk over her shoulder. Torin worked his magic and hacked into security cameras in the area, and boom. We had you.”

From her trapped position on the floor, the girl looked over at him. Panting, she said to Sabin, “Hey, can’t you tell he’s not liking the physical contact? Let him go.”

How had she known, when one of his best friends hadn’t noticed?

“He’s fine,” Strider said. “Why are you wearing gloves, female?”

Ignoring the question, she closed her eyes and asked, “Are you going to kill me now?”

“No!” Kane roared. MINE! MINE!

Strider sheathed his blades and stood. Immediately the girl climbed to her feet. Long strands of hair had fallen over her brow, onto her cheeks; she pushed the locks behind the pointed ears that had so startled him.

Most of the Fae preferred to remain in their realm. They weren’t the most beloved of races, and immortals tended to attack first and ask questions later. Still, Kane had run into a few throughout the centuries. Each Fae had possessed curling white hair and skin as pale as milk. This one had a slick fall of jet-black silk, with no hint of a wave, and skin the most luscious shade of bronze. Marks of her humanity?