- The Darkest Craving
* * *
JOSEPHINA CAME AWAKE gradually, slowly becoming aware of the warm pool surrounding her. Warm pool?
She blinked open her eyes, wallpapered walls coming into view. She was in the hotel room she shared with Kane, she realized, and in bed. Kane was behind her, his arms wrapped tightly around her as if he feared she would run away. After lovemak—uh, having sex, they must have fallen asleep. How many hours had passed?
Gingerly she sat up, and, body aching from the passion of the night, turned to face her hus—the guy she was sleeping with. Horror filled her. “Kane. You’re bleeding.” His poor shoulder...there was an open wound, exposing muscle, maybe even bone, and a flow of crimson raining to the sheet.
“What’s wrong?” he asked sleepily, groggily.
“You’re bleeding. I shot you, and we both thought I missed, but we were wrong, because now you’re bleeding.”
Like her, he blinked open his eyes. A slow grin lifted the corners of his mouth.
“You spent the entire night with me.”
“Listen to me. You’re injured. I shot you.”
“No, you did miss. Disaster somehow drew the bullet out of the wall and gave it another try. He succeeded. Thankfully, the thing went all the way through. Now, did you hear the part about spending the entire night with me?”
“You were shot while I was sleeping, and you failed to wake me up?”
“You needed to rest. Like I was going to disturb you.”
How could he act so casual while bleeding to death? She hopped from the bed and raced to the bathroom to gather a cup of water and clean rags. By the time she returned, he had rolled onto his back and lay propped against the pillows, the very picture of male satisfaction. She cleaned him up as best she could and applied pressure to stop the bleeding.
“You should have told me,” she chided.
“I was content and didn’t want anything to change.”
“Yeah, well. I’m sorry I tried to kill you,” she said on a sigh.
“Don’t be. I deserved it.”
“No, you didn’t.” She cut up the clean end of the sheet and wrapped the material around his shoulder, using it as a bandage. “What you did with that woman, Kane...”
“I know, Tinky Dink,” he said sadly. “I know.”
Tinky Dink. A new nickname. Her heart constricted painfully. “You did it for me, and I get that, but it still hurts.”
“It will never happen again, I vow it, no matter what Disaster does or says. You’re the only one I want, the only one I’ll have.” A heavy pause. “Will you stay with me?” he asked quietly.
Would she? Hurt still swam through her veins. Kane had been hers. He’d chosen her above all others. Finally, she’d mattered to someone other than her mother. No longer had she been a nothing. A servant and blood slave had become the envy of every Fae female and probably even some of the men. But who would envy a cuckold?
He said he wasn’t going to do it again, like thousands of men had said to thousands of women throughout the years.
Maybe, last night, she could have walked away from him. But what the demon had meant as harmful—the bullet—had actually softened her. Seeing Kane in a small pool of blood, realizing how close she’d come to losing him...
I’m not ready to lose him.
If—when—the demon acted up again, they could revisit this topic. Until then...
KANE ORDERED ROOM service. After he and Tink had eaten their weight in hamburgers and fries, he spent the rest of the day teaching her how to fight the biggest and the baddest of threats with her fists, blades and bullets. His shoulder gave him a little trouble, but he pushed through. She was an excellent student, a natural—unsurprising, considering she fought her way out of hell with no training whatsoever. She listened intently, put her whole heart into practicing, and what she lacked in strength she made up for in speed and cunning.
He was glad. He wanted her prepared for life without him.
Just how long would it take to starve Disaster to death?
You’ll change your mind, the demon said, but he was no longer laughing.
Disaster couldn’t imagine starving because he’d never experienced it; even now, his appetite was sated. Seeing the sharp edge of hurt still hanging in Tink’s eyes...yeah, Disaster had feasted. But that wouldn’t last. Kane wasn’t going to let it.
Whatever the demon threw at him, whatever danger he encountered, he was done acting the fool and catering to the very nature he despised. Tink was getting his best, and nothing less.
When he felt like he’d pushed her hard enough for one day, he gave her a gentle nudge forward. “Take a shower. We need to leave. I don’t want to stay in the same location much longer.”
“All right.” Panting, damp with perspiration, she disappeared inside the bathroom.
He wanted to join her, but didn’t dare. Not until she invited him.
She emerged a short while later, a towel wrapped around her luscious little body. Hair as black as night dripped at the ends. “Your turn.”
He halfway expected her to be gone by the time he finished, which is why he rushed, and yet he found her standing in front of the bed, looking shockingly sweet in a black leather corset top with purple ties at the bottom and a long, puffy skirt with dark lace.
“Where’d you get the clothes?” He cursed himself for not yet taking her shopping, as promised.
She shifted uncomfortably. “Some guy with wings and a spike of green hair down the middle of his head stepped into view, dropped a bag, winked at me and stepped back out of view.”
Malcolm, the Sent One, he realized with a bead of annoyance. He’d stepped from the spirit realm into the natural, clearly. “You should have called for me.” The moment his snippy tone registered, he cringed. Dial back the anger. She was in a fragile state where he was concerned, and he had to tread carefully.
Her eyes narrowed. “There wasn’t time.”
At least she hadn’t yelled. Very gently he said, “Next time, if someone appears, no matter who or what they are, no matter how fast they appear and disappear, or if you think they’re my best friend, call for me. Okay? Please. Just in case I need to intervene.”
She nodded stiffly.
“Thank you.” He dug through the bag and found a plain T-shirt and pants, dropped his towel and dressed.
Tink turned away, and he had to brush flickers of sadness aside. Things wouldn’t always be this strained.
“Let’s take off,” he said. “We’ve got a long journey ahead.”
“Where are we going?”
“You’ve always wanted to spend time with the Lords of the Underworld, and I want to—”
“Drop me off?” she interjected tersely.
“No. I’m staying with you.”
He got her outside, in the heat and light of the day, and scanned the crowds and buildings, searching for anything suspicious. This close to Times Square, there were flashing lights and stores everywhere, both offering great cover.
He dialed Lucien, but it went to voice mail. Next, he tried Torin. The warrior answered on the third ring with a curt, “What?”
O-kay. A very un-Torin-like greeting. As Kane led Tink around a corner and up to a coffee cart, he said, “I’m in Manhattan. I need Lucien to pick me up.” Lucien could flash from one location to another with only a thought, even between realms. “Me and my wife.”
At the counter, he held up two fingers.
Torin sputtered out a very undignified, “Wife?”
“Didn’t the boys tell you? Lucien, Reyes, Strider and Sabin were at the wedding.”
“They’ve been a little busy thinking up ways to find Viola and Cameo.”
“Cameo?” He tensed. “What happened to her?”
“The same thing that happened to Viola. She touched the Paring Rod and vanished.”
An instant flood of worry threatened to drown him. “What’s being done?”
“Anya talked to some guy she met while in prison,” Torin said. “He helped create the Rod, and he assured her the females were still alive. Just trapped.”
He pushed out a relieved breath.
“Give me the deets about your girl.”
“Her name’s Tink—”
“Josephina,” she interjected loudly.
“—and she’s half Fae. A royal, a daughter of their king. Wait till you see her. She’s the most beautiful woman ever created. But she has as many enemies as us.”
“Hey,” she said. “I don’t have that many, and only one is my fault. Actually, no. The Phoenix is your fault, too. But thank you for saying I’m beautiful.”
Two steaming cups were set before him. He stepped aside to doctor both with cream and sugar, then gave one to Tink. He remembered the longing looks she’d given the coffeepot during his breakfast with the royal family.
He watched as she sipped, closing her eyes to savor, and his chest constricted with a longing of his own.
“—time and place,” Torin was saying.
“Wait. Sorry. What was that?”
“Stop lusting after the ball and chain and pick a time and place to meet,” the warrior repeated. “I’ll make sure Lucien is there.”
“Two hours. Sabin’s old apartment.”
“Consider it done.”
He severed the connection. Then, seizing any excuse to touch his woman, he slipped the phone into a pocket of her skirt. “Guard this for me,” he said.
“Will your friends like me, do you think?” she asked, and nibbled on her bottom lip. “The few I’ve actually met have only seen me at my worst.”
He heard the uncertainty in her tone. “The wedding was your worst? Honey, your worst is most people’s best. My friends will love you.” If not, Kane would hand out some serious beatings. “They’ll guard you with their lives.”
“Yeah, but what if they think I’m all wrong for you?”