- The Darkest Craving
“I’m not going to do what you want,” he said.
Kiss this woman, and I’ll leave your Josephina alone.
Tink. Safe. “Ma’am,” he said, acid burning a path up his throat.
The woman looked up at him. Fear glazed her eyes. “What’s happening out there?”
“A whole lot of dangerous,” he said. “Why don’t I escort you somewhere safe?”
The window behind her shattered. Screaming, she threw herself into his arms.
A hand here...a mouth there...so helpless...
Memories hit him, swift and hard. As he fought the urge to jerk away from the woman, the past, to scrub himself from head to toe with steel wool, he gently detached himself from her grip.
Sweat beaded on his brow. Behind him, the roof of a building caved in.
The woman trembled. “It’s the end of the world,” she whispered.
Urgency rushed through him, joining forces with fear and panic. “Swear it,” he said to Disaster. “Swear you’ll leave Tink alone.”
“Who?” the woman asked.
I swear it.
Before he could talk himself out of it, Kane leaned down and kissed her. She stiffened, but she didn’t push him away; the urge to vomit hit him, and he straightened.
In a snap, the presence left him.
Disaster laughed. I was lying, of course. How foolish of you to trust me.
Kane punched the brick wall, uncaring when his knuckles broke upon impact. He should have known. The demon would do anything to ruin his most prized relationship—and had probably succeeded. And I went along with it, all for a lie. He punched the wall again.
“I-is everything okay?” the woman stuttered.
“I’ve been looking for you,” a male voice interjected from behind him.
The power that wafted from that voice startled him. Disaster, too. The demon yelped in sudden fear and hid in a far corner of his mind. Kane spun and met the gaze of a Sent One. The warrior wasn’t anyone he knew personally, but he recognized the green fauxhawk, the Asian features, the gleaming white robe and oh, yeah, the impressive white-and-gold wings arching over wide, muscled shoulders, sweeping all the way to the floor.
“Who are you and why are you here?” Kane liked the Sent Ones. He did. They’d helped his friend Amun, the keeper of Secrets, at the worst hour of his life. They were training Paris’s wife to lead the Titans out of darkness and into light. They hadn’t killed Aeron—not permanently, at least—when he married into the family. But now wasn’t a good time.
“Uh, who are you talking to?” the woman asked.
“I’m Malcolm,” the warrior said, acting as if she wasn’t there. “I’m here to check on you. We knew you were in hell, but heard you had escaped. I was told to find you and verify that you were indeed alive and well.”
“I’m alive.” But far from well. “Is that all?”
“O-kay,” the woman said. “I don’t care if you can save me from the end of the world or not. I’m out of here.”
Footsteps sounded but Kane never diverted his eyes from the Sent One before him.
Malcolm crossed his arms over his massive chest. “No, that’s not all. Six demons killed Deity, our king, and those demons are now living on earth, desperate to possess as many humans as possible. If you’re well, you are to help us find them.”
Yeah. He’d heard about the king’s death, and knew there’d been a change of management in the skies. “I can’t help you right now. Sorry. Look around. You’ll realize I’ve got too many problems of my own.”
A pause. Then, “I just came from the realm of the Fae. Where you were married?”
“Yeah.” Kane held up his left hand and wiggled his fingers, shamefully making light of a symbol he cherished. “So.”
“So, the woman you were kissing was human.” The warrior’s gaze moved away—only to return in a snap and latch onto the ring. “Where did you get that?” The question was uttered quietly, yet lashed like a whip.
Nerve-endings raw, Kane snapped, “What business is it of yours?”
Something dark crossed over the male’s features. He ignored the question, demanding, “What are you doing out here, without your woman?”
Destroying my life. He closed his eyes for a moment, desperate to escape the harsh reality of those words. “Watch me as I don’t discuss that with you.”
The warrior tapped two incisors together as he looked at the ring, then Kane, then the ring, then, finally, Kane. “I can guess. You carry Disaster, and you’re trying to feed the beast to keep him calm.”
Hearing it stated so plainly irritated him. “If you knew, why’d you ask?”
“I wondered if you knew.”
“Well, now that we’re clear, you can go.”
Malcolm tilted his head to the side. “Do you plan to kill the demon?”
“You’ll die, too.”
“Maybe not. Aeron used to be keeper of Wrath, but he’s now demon-free and living large.”
“Aeron was given a new body.”
“So I’ll get a new body, too,” Kane said. Maybe there was a store somewhere.
“That’s not how it works.”
“Look. The demon left me before—” when Tink had sucked him out “—and I did just fine.”
“You were only alone for a short period of time.”
And he knew that, how? “Yeah. So?”
“So, the creature’s departure emptied you out. Eventually you would have died.”
Disbelief would have wasted time. Sent Ones couldn’t lie. Frustrated, Kane scrubbed a hand down his face. “Explain.”
“Think of a cup filled with oil. When the cup is tipped over, the oil spills out. Soon there is nothing left but emptiness.”
And Kane’s body was the cup.
“Man cannot live on empty.” Malcolm paused, said, “Tell me. Do you hate your wife?”
The moment of camaraderie was ruined. He stilled, preparing to attack. “Back off, warrior. I won’t hesitate to snuff you out.”
“I’ll take that as a no, you don’t hate her. Then why were you kissing another woman to calm the demon? That wasn’t necessary.”
Kane palmed a dagger. How dare this piece of— The words that wasn’t necessary registered, and he stilled. “What do you mean, that wasn’t necessary?”
“You Lords of the Underworld,” Malcolm said with a shake of his head. “You’ve been dealing with the evil for so long, you’ve simply accepted it. You’ve stopped fighting it.”
“I fight it every day.”
He sucked in a breath. “You’re on dangerous ground again, my friend.”
Unaffected, Malcolm gazed down at the ring. “What you feed grows stronger. What you starve eventually dies.”
O-kay. “You’ve lost me.”
“Are you always this obtuse?”
“Are you always this rude?”
Sent Ones and their honesty, man. “I’m feeding the demon to calm him. He’s acting up and putting my woman in danger.”
“No, feeding the demon is what’s putting your woman in danger.”
“I don’t get what you’re saying. Help me understand.” He would do anything to walk away from this day with Tink at his side. “If I starve the demon, he’ll throw a tantrum.”
Malcolm leaned back and crossed his arms over his chest. “So what. When you deprive your body of food, your stomach begins to hurt and grumble loudly in protest. The demon is the same. When it becomes hungry, it acts up. Deny him satisfaction, and his power to throw tantrums will weaken.”
Feeding, and starving. Life, and death. “I can kill the demon this way,” Kane said, a light dawning in his mind. “I can starve him to death.”
“Emptying me out.”
The Sent One shrugged. “Yes, that, too.”
Killing Kane, as well.
Realization slammed hard, but true. To keep Tink safe, forever, he had to die. And if he died, he would never have his revenge against Disaster. How could he? They would meet the same fate.
There would be no happily ever after for him.
He wanted to protest. To fight this. There had to be another way. A way that would allow him to live with his wife for an eternity, to watch Disaster perish and finally have the last laugh. But just then, with the Sent One watching him with the barest measure of pity, he knew there wasn’t. And in the end, he would rather die, knowing Tink was safe, than live, knowing he was putting her in danger.
She was more important to him than...anything. Even vengeance.
Heart racing, Kane said, “I have to go.” But he paused a few feet away, a memory sliding into place. “I don’t know how to help you with your demon problem, but I do know you have a friend that disappeared,” he said, remembering what he’d heard about the Sent One, Thane, from Taliyah. Malcolm stiffened. “I heard he appeared in one of the Phoenix camps. The one with a new king. I believe they’re holding him captive.”
Hope flared in Malcolm’s eyes.
Kane leaped back into motion. He would do this. He would starve and kill the demon, and then die himself. He wasn’t sure how long it would take. It would be best to call Lucien, and have Tink whisked to a safe zone now, before Disaster began to act out from hunger pains, but he wanted to spend every one of his remaining seconds with her.
When the demon acted up again—and he would—Kane would just have to find a way to shield her. Because if he was going to die with a smile on his face, he needed her by his side.
THE MOMENT KANE burst into the hotel room, Josephina launched a pillow at his head. He stopped in his tracks, and she launched another.
“You snake!” she shouted. “You horrible, despicable snake!”