Tink stiffened, remained quiet.

Synda never ceased to amaze Kane. Her grip on reality was nonexistent, as was her ability to pick up on emotional cues or comprehend why a person would be angry with her.

“Lord Kane,” the king acknowledged. “Before the proceedings begin, we must say how thrilled we were to meet your PMS.”

Uh... “My what?”

“Your personal male secretary. He escorted the princess home the day of your shopping trip. We gave him a room in the same hall as yours.”

Well, that answered that. “Very...generous of you.”

“We want you happy here, Lord Kane.”

“Then make a decree that Josephina isn’t to be hurt.”

The king pressed his lips into a stubborn line. “As you know, you were granted custody of Servant Josephina for the duration of her illness. Since she has recovered, we must now see to her duties.”

Tink trembled, and he tightened his hold. He cataloged the rest of the room and everyone in it, planning for every eventuality. Escape. A mob. Battle.

He found Red, Black and Green standing on the sidelines, in front of the growing crowd of Fae upper class. Ice chips crystallized in his veins, giving new meaning to cold-blooded. Were they here for revenge against Tink? Or Kane?

“Do you know who those men are?” he asked, motioning to the warriors.

“Of course,” the king replied. “They are your servants. They arrived this morning.”

They did, did they? “My servants have a little problem with thieving. Make sure your guards accompany them wherever they go.”

The king snapped, and guards rushed to take up new posts behind the warriors.

None of the three seemed to notice or care. They kept their gazes on Tink, their expressions bright with fascination. Kane suddenly realized why—and it had nothing to do with revenge. They wanted her to pull the darkness out of them once more and forever. They wanted to feel whole, untainted. Normal. She was the only way to accomplish such a feat.

Rage liquefied the ice. Rage directed at the warriors—and himself. He’d brought this on Tink. Him. No one else. Now, she had to face yet another disaster.

“It is time for Servant Josephina’s sentence to be revealed,” the king announced. Bang, bang, bang, he slammed his scepter on the ground.

Kane focused. One battle at a time, he thought.

“Because Princess Synda was caught undressing in public, Servant Josephina will be forced to undress here, to be branded on the chest with a mark of shame.”

Tink cried out with alarm.

Kane roared a curse.

“But—” Leopold began, only to go silent when Tiberius shot him a narrowed look.

Four guards reached for her. Kane threw her behind him, using his body as a shield, and withdrew two daggers. The men paused, unsure how to proceed and survive.

William’s boys stiffened, as if preparing to stomp to Kane’s side and help him help Tink; but they remained in place, and he knew why. The three needed Tink alive and unharmed to get what they wanted from her and figured Kane wouldn’t allow anything bad to happen to her. They expected him to fight for her, even though the outcome of that fight was unimportant to them. Amid the chaos, they could sweep Tink away. He wouldn’t even be surprised if they’d been the ones to tattle to the king about what Synda had done in the tavern, just to set up this little scenario.

“I’ll take the punishment,” Kane called. A fight would be avoided, and he could force Tink to stay by his side.

The warriors would never try and take her so openly.

“He’s going to remove his shirt,” a female twittered.

“I know! It’s going to be glorious!”

Tink’s hands flattened on his back. “No, Kane. You can’t.” Her voice trembled with fear and upset. Ignoring her, the king pondered the suggestion for a moment. “You aren’t blood of Princess Synda’s blood,” he said to Kane. “Therefore, the exchange would not be acceptable.”

“Give Josephina to me, then. All of her. Now and forever. That kind of bond is as strong as blood, if not stronger.”

Blue eyes lasered at him, direct and piercing. “You are to have my daughter and none other. She is the only female worthy of you.”

One day, I’ll cut out his tongue. “If the princess is my female, she is my responsibility. Therefore I am to decide her punishments, correct? I am to see them through.”

The king stiffened. He knew he’d been caught in the web of his own rules. “Very well,” he finally said. “You may have the blood slave as well, and use her as she is meant.”

Knowing Tink was being placed in his care filled him with the greatest satisfaction he’d ever known. Enough to overshadow the only problem: he couldn’t save Tink from further abuse without wedding Synda.

“Thank you,” he said.

A nod of agreement. “I know better than most the power of an attraction for the wrong female—and that’s what you feel for Servant Josephina, isn’t it? If I take the girl away from you, you will want her even more. If I harm her, you will blame me. But if I give her to you, the yearning will quickly die.”

Kane held back a humorless laugh at the king’s ignorance. A yearning this strong couldn’t die.

“He wants a servant? A servant?” Scowling, eyes glowing bright red, Synda removed one of her shoes and chucked the thing at Kane’s head. He ducked just before contact. “You don’t deserve me!”

“Now, now, darling,” the king soothed. “Did you not hear me? The yearning will die.”

He could stay long enough to wed the princess, Kane thought, then place Tink in the care of his friends. They would protect her as fiercely as he would, knowing what she meant to him. The Fae would leave her alone. The Phoenix would leave her alone just as soon as Kane took care of her—which he still planned to do—and all of Tink’s problems would be solved now rather than later.

After the wedding, Tink would want nothing to do with him, of course, and he wouldn’t be able to blame her. But she would be safe, he reminded himself.

She would also be in confined quarters with Torin. And Paris.

Dark fury scraped at his chest.

And what about Synda? What was he supposed to do with her? He loved his friends too much to make them responsible for such a mercurial brat. But he definitely had no desire to keep her with him, wherever he went.

“Please, don’t do this,” Tink whispered to him. Her fingers clutched at his shirt in an effort to pull him down to her height. “I don’t want you harmed on my behalf.”

Her concern touched him deeply, placed him that much further under her spell. “I told you I wouldn’t allow you to be hurt, and I meant it.”

“Kane,” she said, sounding desperate now. “If you do this, I’ll be angry with you.”

“But you’ll still kiss me better.” He wasn’t married yet.

Kane stepped forward, and tugged his shirt over his head. Feminine twitters rose throughout the room, and he rolled his eyes. He reached back and pulled Tink as close to him as possible. A portable fire pit was wheeled in from the side door and left in the center of the room. In strode a male holding a branding iron. He stuck the rod into the burning coals, allowing the metal to heat. Guards approached Kane’s sides, intending to lock him in place. He shook them off and extended his arms.

“I won’t budge,” he proclaimed.

A nod from the king had the males backing down. Tiberius, Synda and Leopold leaned forward, each watching him, perhaps curious to know if he would keep his word.

“Kane,” Tink said, quivering palms pressing on his shoulder blades. Fear radiated from her. “Please don’t.”

Silent, he reached behind and wrapped his arms around her, twining his fingers together, caging her against his hard back. She rested her forehead against him, and he thought he felt the wet warmth of a tear trickle down his spine.

The suspicion rocked him. Undid him. Because it meant she cared for him. A care that went deeper than desire.

Don’t know if I can ever let her go.

The man lifted the rod, and steam curled from its end—a very large end shaped like a dragon. He approached Kane with hesitant steps.

“Do it,” Kane commanded.

“No,” Tink cried, violently shaking her head.

After a slight pause, the man jabbed the dragon into the center of Kane’s chest and held it steady. Flesh instantly sizzled and melted away. Far more pain than he’d expected slashed through him, the scent of overcooked meat overshadowed the fragrance of flowers. He wanted to gag. Instead, he seethed. These people had thought to do this to Tink’s delicate, beautiful body. Would have done it to her.

Disaster laughed as the man tried to remove the poker—and failed.

The metal had fused to Kane’s sternum.

As hard as the man continued to pull, the dragon refused to budge,

Gritting his teeth, Kane gripped the shaft of the rod and jerked with all of his might. Separation was finally achieved—but the rod took some of his bone with it. He dropped the thing with a thud. In and out he breathed, trying to regain his bearings. First thing he noticed—utter silence filled the throne room. Everyone was waiting for his reaction.

Used to pain, he lifted his chin and said, “Next order of business. I wish to spend time with the princess, getting to know my future...bride.” He had to keep her out of trouble. Had to do something to ensure she was tucked into bed without any more punishments thrown Tink’s—or his—way.

“Oh, Daddy, you were right!” A grinning Synda stood up before her father could reply, and skipped to Kane’s side, as if she’d never been angry, never tossed her shoe.

Tink ripped away from his hold.

He spun, tried to grab her. “You’re coming with us.”

Their gazes tangled in a heated clash. Hurt blazed from her, and he felt branded by the rod all over again.


“Absolutely not. Excuse me, please,” she said, pushing her way through the crowd, leaving the room.