- The Darkest Craving
Her eyes belonged to the Fae, though. Large and blue, like the rarest of jewels, the color lightened and darkened with her moods. Right now they were crystalline, almost lacking any color at all. Was she frightened?
The demon of Disaster liked the thought and purred his approval.
Shut up, Kane snarled. I’ll kill you. Kill you so dead.
The purrs became chuckles, and Kane had to force himself to breathe, in and out, in and out, slow and measured. He wanted to cut off his ears in the hopes of silencing all that sickening amusement. He wanted to tear the room apart, destroy every piece of furniture, take down every wall, rip up every inch of carpet. He wanted to...grab the girl and carry her away from this awful place.
His gaze met hers, and she offered the sweetest of smiles. A smile that said, It’s going to be okay, I promise.
The rage dialed down to a simmer.
How had she done that?
Of all the faces she had flashed, this was by far the prettiest. She had the longest lashes he’d ever seen. Her cheekbones were high and sharp, her nose perfectly sloped and her lips heart-shaped. There was a slight point in her chin.
She was like a little girl’s doll come to dazzling life, and she smelled of rosemary and spearmint—a fresh-baked bread paired with an after-dinner mint. In other words, home.
Never, the demon snipped, and the ground began to shake.
Stupid demon. Like any other living creature, Disaster experienced hunger. Unlike others, fear and upset were his favorite foods. So when he yearned for a meal—or just wanted dessert—he caused some sort of catastrophe for Kane, as well as those around him.
Sometimes, those catastrophes were small. A light bulb would short out, or the floor would crack at his feet. Too many times, those catastrophes were large. A limb would fall from a tree. Cars would crash. Buildings would crumble.
Hatred scraped at his chest. One day, I’ll be free of you. One day, I’ll destroy you.
The shaking stopped as the demon laughed with glee. I’m a part of you. There’ll be no getting rid of me. Ever.
Kane pounded a fist into the floor. Long ago, the Greeks had told him only death would separate him from the demon—his death—but that Disaster would live on forevermore. Perhaps that was true. Perhaps not. The Greeks were famous for their lies. But either way, Kane wouldn’t risk death. He was twisted enough to want to witness Disaster’s defeat, and just cold enough to want to be the one to deliver the final blow.
There had to be a way to have both.
“—right? Yes?” the girl was saying.
Her lilting voice brought him back to the present.
“Uh, Kane,” Sabin prompted. “Did you promise to do that?”
She had been speaking to Kane, then, and he could imagine what she’d said. He shook his head, his neck almost too weak to support the action. “No. I didn’t.”
“But...but...his memory must be impaired.” Her gaze swung to Strider, cerulean flooding her irises, becoming an ocean of anger. “What about you? Will you carry out his end of the bargain?”
“Me?” Strider thumped his chest.
“And just how do you want me to proceed, hmm?”
A violent tremor swept through her, but she said, “I want...I want you to take your dagger and...stab me in the heart.”
The warrior blinked, shook his head. “You’re serious, aren’t you? You actually want to die.”
“I don’t want to, no, but I need to,” she whispered, the anger giving way to defeat.
Kane swallowed a roar, remembering her words in the cave.
I will take you to the human world—and in return, you will kill me. I’ll have your vow first.
Maybe he hadn’t believed her then. Maybe he’d been too lost to his own pain to care. But now, the fact that she wanted to die...not just no, but hell no. He would die first.
“Why did you dodge my blows?” Strider demanded of the girl.
“I told you. Instinct. But I’ll do better next time, I promise.”
Mine, Kane heard again, a deep, rumbling growl rising...rising...escaping. “Mine! Touch her and I’ll kill you.”
Both Sabin and Strider stared at him with astonishment. Kane had always been the calm one, and had never before raised his voice to his friends. But he wasn’t the man he used to be—wouldn’t ever be that man again.
“Please,” she begged the warrior, those eyes swirling with flecks of baby blue. How desperate she sounded.
How much more hotly his rage burned.
Something terrible had to have happened to her to make her feel death was the only option available. Had someone...had she been forced—he couldn’t finish the thought. He would erupt. Or bury his head in the hollow of her neck and sob.
He peered up at Strider. Big, blond Strider, with his navy eyes and warped sense of humor. “Bind her. Gently. Bring her with us.” He would help her.
“What?” She held up her hands, palms up, and backed away from the warrior. “No way. Just no way. Unless you’re planning to take me to an undisclosed location, so no one will see the blood.”
He could have lied. Instead, he remained quiet as Sabin assisted him to his feet. Broken bones that had only recently been reset screamed in protest, and his knees nearly buckled, but he held steady. He wouldn’t allow himself to go down. Not again. Not in front of his min—the girl.
“Sorry, honey cakes,” Strider said, “but you don’t get a say in what happens next. You’re gonna live and not die, and that’s that.”
“But...but...” Her gaze found Kane and pleaded. “I’ve wasted so much time with you. I have no one else to ask for help.”
“Good.” Any man who thought to give her what she asked for would die the worst of deaths.
“Good? Good! Oh!” Anger overshadowed everything else, and she stomped her foot. “You heartless, overgrown lout!”
“Because he won’t hurt you? That’s a first.” Strider reached out, intending to grab her.
In a snap, she kicked out her leg, nailing the male between the legs. As Strider hunched over, gasping for breath, she bolted for the door, tossing over her shoulder, “I’m so disappointed in you, Lord Kane!”
She vanished into the night.
He tried to follow after her, but curse his weakness, his knees buckled. “Come back, female! Now!”
She never reappeared.
Kane experienced a tidal wave of rage that made a mockery of what had come before. He would get her back. He would stalk through the night, grab everyone he spotted, and, if they couldn’t point him in the right direction, rip their spines out of their mouths. He would leave an ocean of blood in his wake, and she would have only herself to blame. He would—
Do nothing, Disaster finished with a laugh.
It stung all the worse because Kane could only remain crumpled on the floor.
“Bring her back to me,” he shouted to Strider.
Moaning in agony, the warrior toppled to the floor. He’d just been bested by a puny little girl; his demon would be throwing out pain for the next several days.
“Go!” Kane commanded Sabin.
“No. I’m not letting you out of my sight.”
“Go!” he insisted. “Bring her back.”
“Yelling at me isn’t going to change my mind.”
Kane tried to crawl to the door, but dizziness crowded into his mind, stopping him. He spit out a mouthful of curses.
Could nothing go right for him? Not even once?
Disaster started laughing all over again.
The Realm of Blood and Shadows
A week later
KANE ROSE FROM the king-size bed and padded to his private bathroom. Already naked, he stepped into the shower. Hot water beat against newly healed skin, all the bruises and scabs finally gone. And yet, his muscles had yet to unknot.
The fury he’d experienced at the loss of his rescuer had yet to fade, and hatred for Disaster was a constant burn in his chest. And his memories...they were the worst.
They came during the day. They came during the night. He could be lying in bed, staring up at the ceiling, and all of a sudden he would be transported back to hell, his wrists and ankles bound. He could be in the shower, like now, with the water raining over him, and all of a sudden he would see the dirt, blood and...other things once caked on his skin, and no amount of scrubbing would make him clean.
He was pretty sure the wires in his brain had gotten cut during his torture. And as he’d healed physically, those wires had been reattached in the wrong places. Darkness had become a perfume that constantly wafted from his pores. Hungry anger now simmered inside him, desperate for a target.
No one was safe.
He’d lost his appetite. He could no longer sleep. Sudden noises made him scramble for a weapon.
Once, he’d rolled with the punches life threw at him. Once, he’d been a softer, nicer guy. Now, there would be no more rolling. Now, he was a raging bull, at times too violent to contain. Any wrong was punished immediately—no one would ever think him weak enough to challenge again.
The shambles of his room proved it.
He soaped up, rinsed off and towel dried, every action stiff, forced. Standing in front of the mirror, he studied his foggy reflection. His skin was pale. Dark hair dripped water down his shoulders and chest. Because of the weight he’d lost, his cheeks had yet to fill out. His lips were compressed into a thin line, as though they’d never known a smile. Maybe they hadn’t. Any memory with an accompaniment of amusement no longer seemed to belong to him. Everything positive had happened to someone else. Surely.
But the worst thing about him? His eyes were no longer a mix of brown and green. They were a mix of brown, green—and red. Demon red.
A sense of repugnance grew. Disaster was attempting to control him. And the demon was actually succeeding, whispering reminders about what had happened inside that cave.
A hand here...a mouth there...so helpless...
How dirty was Kane now? How tainted?
A whip across your legs. A dagger along your ribs.