A female stepped in his path and he ground to a halt to avoid plowing into her. “You’re Lord Kane.” A giggle filled the minute portion of air between them, overshadowing the soft hum of music in the background. She traced her fingertips along the center of his chest. “I’ve been so eager to meet you.”

He bit back an angry retort and set her aside.

Another girl moved into his path, and this one had brought a few of her friends. The females circled him, wolves intent on their prey, and rapid-fired comments at him.

“Ask me to dance, Lord Kane. Please.”

“Let’s adjourn to the balcony. I have a present I’d love for you to unwrap. Hint—it’s me.”

“My husband is spending the night with his mistress. I would love it if you kept me company tonight. I promise not to wear any clothes.”

“The only thing I’d be willing to do is spank the living hell out of you for accosting a stranger,” he said. “This is my engagement ball, and you think it’s okay to come on to me?”

Just like he thought it was okay to chase down Tink?


He barreled past the floundering females. Finally he reached Tink and the tension inside him eased. “Need help?”

She gave him the swiftest of glances. “You shouldn’t be talking to me.” Her hands trembled as she gathered the glasses the guests had discarded in the oddest places—and he cursed himself for what he’d done with his own.

“When have I ever done what I’m supposed to do?” he asked.

“Point taken. Now leave.”

Disaster purred his approval.

Anger sparked. “Why are you acting like this?”

“Why are you still here?”

He gnashed his teeth. “You want me, Tink. Don’t try to pretend otherwise.”

“Are you so desperate for compliments?” She tried to maneuver away from him, but he herded her in the other direction, away from the crowd and into the shadows. “What are you doing? Stop. I’m not giving you one.”

“It’s not a compliment I want from you, Tink. It’s information. Why have you run from me today?”

She wiped a few droplets of liquid from the wall before pressing her forehead into her hand. “Because! Whatever you want from me, Kane, I can’t give it to you.”

Because of Synda. Because he hadn’t yet broken things off. Guilt had him looking away. He spotted Red’s determined approach and realized it was just a matter of time before Green and Black decided to tag along. Kane latched onto Tink’s arm and hauled her toward the secret doorway he’d used.

He had her inside in less than a blink. Anyone watching would have had trouble tracking the movement.

“What are you doing?” she demanded. “I have a job to do.”

He scrubbed a hand through his hair. A two-way mirror covered the wall, allowing them to peer inside the ballroom. “Do you see the warriors standing where we just were?” He pointed. “The ones from the bar?”

She looked, groaned. “Yes. I see them.”

“They want you for their own. They want to use your ability to remove the war, famine and death from their bodies.”

“More enemies,” she muttered. “Great. Just great!” She whirled on him, eyes narrowed but no less ablaze. “Do you know what this means?”

“Yes. I’m a disaster,” he said hollowly. “I know.”

She peered at him for a long while, and whatever she saw in his expression calmed her down. Her shoulders stooped. “No, that wasn’t what I was going to say.”

“Why not? It’s true.”

She shook her head. “They’re trouble. Another threat against you.”

“And you.” He stepped closer to her. She stepped back, widening the distance. He took another step, and another, and she did the same, until she had nowhere else to go. The wall behind her stopped her retreat.

He leaned down and rubbed his nose against hers. Contact with her was as necessary as breathing.

She closed her eyes, as if pained. “How do you do this to me, Kane?” she whispered.

“Do what?”

“Make me want you, despite everything.”

He heard only two words—want you. He moved swiftly, fitting his mouth over hers. Though she remained closed to him, he could already taste her, and desire rushed through him, drowning him.

Mine, he thought.

Never, Disaster spat.

“Let me in,” Kane said, ignoring the beast. This close, he could see each individual lash framing her crystalline eyes, and they were long and gorgeous, badges of innocence blended with wanton need.

“No, I—”

This time, when he dove in for a taste, her mouth was already open. He took full advantage, thrusting his tongue against hers.

Moaning, she gave up the pretense of resistance. Her arms wrapped around him as she kissed him back with the fervency of a starving woman.

He tried to slow things down, but she began to writhe against him, lost to the sensations, all inhibitions forgotten. He nipped at her mouth, and she nipped at his, and that was it. They became animals.

He growled, and she growled, and they ate at each other. He kneaded her breast with one hand, his grip strong, too strong, but just like before, she didn’t seem to mind. He caged her wrists with the other and locked her arms above her head.

Her back arched, pressing her body more firmly against his.


“Please,” she rasped.

“I like that word on your lips.” Blood aflame, he lifted the hem of her dress. His knuckles brushed against the warm, tender skin on her inner thigh and he shuddered with the intensity of the pleasure. Then he hefted her up, anchored her, forcing her to wrap her legs around him, like she’d done inside the dress shop, finding a measure of release and deeper need with his erection pressed against her.

His fingers curled around her backside, past the edge of her panties, seeking more intimate contact.

“Ow!” she said, suddenly fighting to get away from him.

Concern instantly replaced desire as he set her on her feet. “What’s wrong?”

She patted at the sleeve of her dress. Flames from one of the torches had showered over her.

Scowling, he backed away from her. As he tried to tamp down his raging need, he made sure to keep a safe distance. Disaster would flip his lid if Kane continued what he’d started.

It wouldn’t always be this way, he reminded himself.

She sighed, gave him a pained look. “Just proves we shouldn’t be doing this.”

“We’re meant for each other, and you know it.”

She raised her arm with the charred sleeve. “Kane, did you see what just—”

“Did you think about me today?” he interjected, needing her to affirm that there were feelings there, no matter what she was saying. “Did you wish I was with you?”

She lowered her arm. “More times than I liked.”

“I thought about you, too,” he said.

“Why?” she whispered, her head down but her gaze remaining on him. “Why are we thinking about each other? It would be so much better for both of us if we walked away from each other.”

“I’ve tried. I can’t.” His gaze was piercing. “I could marry you,” he said softly.

She closed her eyes for a moment, looking as if she could burst into tears. Then, she closed the distance, expression more determined with every step. Before he could move away, she rested her hands on his shoulders. He stiffened, afraid for her, for what Disaster would do, but he didn’t dissuade her. He yearned so badly for some kind of contact with her, even this.

“I like your kisses,” she said. “I do. So much.”

“Like is too weak a word for how I feel about yours.”

“And I like when you touch me. And I like you, snarly beast that you can sometimes be.” Her chin trembled. “That’s why it pains me to say...no. No, I...don’t want to marry you.”

He reared back as if she’d nailed him with a hammer. “Because the demon burned you?” he croaked. “I won’t always have him. I plan to kill him.”

“I could lie and tell you that’s why. I could tell you I want someone else and you’re in the way. But the truth is, I don’t think you can help me. Not without getting hurt.”

He felt as if he’d just been punched in the stomach. Like his friends, she doubted him. Had no faith in his abilities.

Disaster laughed with undiluted glee, at last appeased.

“I want you to leave this realm,” she said with a tremor. “Tonight. Now.”

Kane was a man well acquainted with pain. At least, he’d thought so. Now, he learned the error of his ways. This was true pain. Rejection from the female he craved.

He’d gotten good at building walls inside himself, and used the skill now. Expression even, giving nothing away, he said, “Very well,” with all the calm of a man discussing the weather. “I won’t bother you any longer.” He turned from her and stalked out of the enclosure.

As he stormed down the hall, he ran into William.

“The problem?” William asked after taking one look at him.

“Doesn’t concern you,” he said. “Just keep your boys away from Tink. I won’t be around to protect her.”

“Hell-ooo. We’ve talked about this. She’s yours and I won’t let them—”

“She’s not mine,” he interjected harshly. “And keep your boys away from me, too. They come near me, and I won’t be responsible for my actions.”

He stalked away from William, grabbed the first drink he found, then another and another, and nearly drowned himself. He danced with Synda, twirling her across the floor. He danced with her friends. They put their hands all over him and he had to swallow back vomit time and time again. Then he danced with Synda again while the king nodded his approval.

“I have to have you, Lord Kane,” Synda whispered, warm breath fanning against his ear. “Let me. Please. You won’t regret it. I’ll do anything you ask.”