“And here I thought you were intelligent. He doesn’t want that girl in any way.”

“I know, he told me, but that doesn’t mean he won’t marry her if he thinks that’s the best course of action.” And if he didn’t? If he chose Josephina, as he’d seemed to do this morning? What then?

The answer was simple: war.

William reached over, plucked an ice-blue rose from the bushes, and tucked the bud behind her ear. “I’m surprised he told you that much. You can’t be mad at him for his plan, though. The only reason he’d ever marry such a shrew would be to save you. Hopefully, though, it won’t come to that.”

Hopefully, he’d said, as if there was a greater chance Kane would have to do it. “Are you trying to help his chances with me or torch them?”

He ignored her, saying, “Listen up, and listen well. What Kane has gone through would have killed most people. He thinks I’m staying with him to keep him away from White, but he’s wrong. I’m trying to help him heal. I can tell you being with him isn’t going to be easy.”

Was he referring to Kane’s time in hell? “I know what he went through,” she said.

William anchored two fingers under her chin and forced her to look up at him. “He told you?”

“Some of it, yes. I also saw him right after it had happened.”

“Surprising. On both counts. He talked, and he let you live with the knowledge.” He shrugged, and said, “Give him time. He’ll figure out the best course of action, it’ll please you, things will smooth out, and you’ll live happily ever after. I’ll be quite disgusted, I’m sure.”

Time? Was he serious? “The ball is tomorrow, and the wedding is the day after that. How much time do you think I should give him?” And how selfish was she, to actually have put Kane in such a position? To marry her horrible sister, just to save her, or to marry her, and live with the ensuing bloodshed?

William smiled, and it wasn’t a nice smile. “Are you planning to run away if things don’t go your way, little fairy? I’d rethink that if I were you. He’ll track you down. He may not punish you when he finds you, but I will. I’ll do things to you you’ve only read about in horror stories. I don’t like to be inconvenienced, and I don’t like to see my friends suffer. Combine the two, and I’m afraid I get a little cranky.”

“Save your threats. I’m not—” A waft of smoke sent her into a coughing fit. She searched the area, and found a raging fire spreading through the flowers.

She heard Kane curse under his breath. “The Phoenix is here,” he threw at William before taking off in a run. Only, he stopped after just a few feet and turned. His narrowed gaze locked on the warrior, who still had his fingers under Josephina’s chin, then he started running again—in the opposite direction, flying straight toward the two of them.

He launched himself at William, shouting, “No one touches her but me!”


HE HAD TO get himself under control.

Kane had tackled his only ally, just for touching his chosen female, allowing a mortal enemy to escape.

Now, that chosen female was nowhere to be found. She’d run into the palace during his fight with William, and he hadn’t been able to find her since. He was forced to sleep alone—not that he did much sleeping. Without Tink in his bed, he couldn’t relax.

By morning, the palace was a flurry of activity. Servants rushed here and there, cleaning and moving furniture around to accommodate three long buffet tables.

He caught one of those servants by the arm, stopping her. “Where’s Josephina?”

The female grinned up at him, delighted by his attention. “I last saw her in the kitchen, Lord Kane. I’ll fetch her, if you like. I’ll do anything you ask.” She stepped closer to him. “Anything.”

Mine, Disaster said.

“Thanks, but I’ll fetch her myself.” He stalked to the kitchen—and missed her by less than a handful of seconds.

He picked up a bowl, his grip so tight the crystal instantly shattered. He didn’t want Tink working. He wanted her out of harm’s way. He wanted to kiss her and finish what they’d started yesterday morning. Then, when his body was calm—finally, blissfully satiated—he could figure out his next move.

He left the kitchen and ran into Synda. “Lord Kane!”

Mine, Disaster shouted.

Her smile of greeting slowly faded. “Tell me you’re not wearing those hideous clothes to the ball.”

He was wearing the clothes he’d come here in, but they were clean. “Will you cancel if I do?”

She patted his cheek, and he stepped out of reach. “You’re so cute when you expect the worst, but you’re even cuter in the proper attire, so make sure you change, or I’ll be very unhappy.” With that, she skipped away.

Whatever. With Tink avoiding him, he might as well try to take care of her Phoenix problem. He slipped out of the palace and into the forest, pleased to find Petra had left tracks today. Ridiculously obvious tracks, he realized with a frown. Did she want to be captured?

Yeah, he thought a moment later. She did.

A long time ago, he’d done something similar. He’d planted tracks, allowing his enemy to find him and escort him into their camp. Once there, he’d rained absolute and total destruction.

“—will suffer for what your people have done,” a male voice said.

Kane pushed through a veil of bushes and found four Fae soldiers pinning Petra to the ground and tying her hands behind her back. She was struggling, but her efforts were puny at best.

“Let her go, and stand back,” Kane commanded, pulling the gun he hadn’t given back to William and aiming at her head.

All eyes whipped to him.

The men frowned. Petra cursed.

“But Lord Kane, the other Phoenix have fled. When they return we can use this girl to threaten them,” the shortest exclaimed.

Kane bared his teeth in a scowl. “I said, let her go.”

The four instantly stepped away from her. She popped to her feet, and the rope they’d used fell away, the ends singed.

“You always ruin everything!” she screeched with a stomp of her foot.

Mine, Disaster purred.

Shut it!

“Let’s have this out,” Kane said. “Me and you. Winner gets the girl.”

She stilled, studied him with intrigue. “You’d fight a female?”

“I’d do worse than that.” Hadn’t he proven it already?

She gloated, saying, “Kill me, and you’ll only strengthen me. I’ll rise from the ashes and enslave you.”

“Maybe. Maybe not.”

She paled at the reminder that no Phoenix was guaranteed an eternity. At some point they all died for good.

“To be honest,” he said, “I don’t really want to kill you. I want to give you back to your people. After all, I was told your king would like to...speak with you.”

Fear darkened her eyes, and she backed a step away. Kane smiled—and squeezed the trigger once, twice. Screaming with pain and surprise, she collapsed. Blood leaked from both of her thighs.

“However,” he said, “I’ll do what I have to do.”

“So will I.” Cringing, she reached for one of the gaping soldiers. The moment her fingers touched the male, he burst into flames, flailing about, screaming with agony. Kane lost sight of the girl as he patted the man down. By the time the flames had been doused, Petra was gone.

He hunted for one hour...two...six...determination driving his every movement. He found multiple trails of her blood, but no more than that. She remained expertly hidden.

His mood was black and stormy by the time he returned to the palace. He could hear the murmurings of the crowd, and remembered the party. Tink would be serving. Still in his “hideous” clothes, he snuck in through one of the secret passageways and, after claiming a glass of whiskey, camped in a shadowed corner.

The ballroom had been decked out. The chandeliers dripped with diamonds as big as his fist, and dragon-shaped pillars had been wheeled inside. The heads moved, ruby eyes scanning the room, forked tongues darting from between blackened lips, and releasing smoke.

Fae males were dressed in weird, girly suits with lace and bows, and the women in big, puffy gowns, with their hair styled bizarrely, with knots and spikes shaped to look like animal heads. There was a lion. An eagle. An antelope. The atmosphere was very...Victorian era meets The Hunger Games in Wonderland, with an R rating. The men were feeding the women by hand, then going in for a taste themselves. On the dance floor, bodies gyrated together, hands roaming, clothing being shoved aside.

Kane watched as Synda fluttered from one group to another, sipping champagne and laughing gaily. The king had left his throne and now “graced” the assembly with a dance. Leopold waited at the entrance, greeting guests as they arrived. The queen was perched on a settee in back, ten of her friends sitting at her feet, watching the proceedings with hawk eyes.

William—my PMS—had gotten his stupid kids an invitation, and the group had taken up residence in the corner across from Kane. They watched him watching them, trying to intimidate him. All they did was irritate him.

Ignoring them, he searched for Tink. She had to be here. She—

Had just entered the room.

Breath caught in his throat. Her fall of black hair was tied in a simple bun at her nape, yet several tendrils had escaped confinement and framed the incomparable elegance of her face. She was captivating, and maddening, and utterly enchanting.

She was...everything.

He finished off his whiskey and dropped the glass in a potted plant. His blood heated, practically boiling in his veins as he pushed from the wall and stalked across the room. His gaze remained on her, studying her more intently. She wore the now-clean uniform he’d bought for her, managing to outshine every other woman in the room.

She carried a tray and gathered empty glasses, stealthily looking this way and that, searching for someone. For him?