- The Darkest Craving
They marched toward the Fae realm.
“I’ll give you thirty minutes, then I’m coming in,” William announced.
“We’ve got this,” Kane replied without turning back.
His friends were staying in the Realm of Blood and Shadows to protect their weakened women. William was their backup.
“See you in thirty,” William said with a wave.
“I said no.”
“Frustrating,” Kane muttered.
They passed through the doorway, entered the charred remains of her father’s garden. Dark smoke still wafted through the air.
Josephina’s heart thundered in her chest. What if she failed, like she’d done during much of her training today? What if Kane got hurt? She would forever blame herself—and rightly so.
Yeah, but what if you succeed?
From the corner of her eye, she thought she spotted the warrior with white-and-gold wings, the one who’d brought her new clothing. But...surely not. That would mean he was following her.
She searched the darkness, but found no other sign of him.
“This way,” Kane said.
He led her toward the palace. Whenever a guard passed, he would shield her with his body, doing his best to hide them both. Finally, they reached the door to one of the secret passages.
Inside, Josephina took the lead. Down the hall. Up a flight of steps. Down a flight of steps. Around a corner. Around another corner. Trading one passage for another, moving at such a rapid pace, never giving herself time to think, until they reached their destination.
Her heart drummed as she stopped. Through the two-way mirror, she saw the throne room was as crowded as she’d expected.
“You ready?” Kane asked.
No. Yes. She had better be. “I am.”
“You’ve got this, sweetheart. I believe in you.”
Now, to believe in herself. Josephina pushed open the door, and with her head held high, entered the throng.
Two girls spotted her and gasped. They told their friends, and their friends gasped. One set of eyes after another found her.
Josephina walked forward, Kane behind her; the crowd parted, making way. Soon, the royal family came into view, each member perched on a throne.
Leopold spotted her and stood. Synda waved and smiled, as if Josephina hadn’t ruined her wedding. The queen scowled.
“Well, well,” the king said, rubbing his jaw. “You have returned.” His gaze slid to Kane and filled with satisfaction. “Tired of her already?”
Kane wound his arm around her and kissed her temple. “I’ll never be tired of her. She’s mine. I chose her then, and I choose her now. I’ll choose her tomorrow and every day after.”
Sweet heat. No one had ever... He’d just said...
Murmurs swept through the crowd. Josephina turned in a circle, meeting the stunned gazes of the Fae. These people had ignored her and talked down to her and laughed at her pain. No one had ever offered to help her. Now, envy looked back at her.
In a single moment, Kane had undone years of rejection. He’d given worth to the female no one had wanted. This man... He wasn’t a disaster. He was a savior.
And he’s mine.
King Tiberius frowned. “Then why are you here, Lord Kane?”
Do it. Finish this. “He heard you were looking for me, coming for me,” Josephina said. “I decided to save you the trouble and settle things.”
“You want to settle things?” The king perked up, motioning to the space at his feet. “Then bow before me. Offer your apologies for the destruction of the garden and accept your sentence when it’s pronounced.”
“And what, exactly, did I do wrong?” she asked, lifting her chin.
A pause. Then, “Just like your mother...everything.”
Anger torched any remorse she might have entertained over this. Bludgeoned any sadness, strangled any guilt.
But then, realization struck her. He blamed her for her mother’s decline and death, and always had. Always would.
Had he actually loved the woman, in his own warped way?
“I would like to approach you, yes.” Eyes narrowing, she moved away from Kane, and every ounce of her new, massive strength was required not to ghost her fingers through his hair, enjoying one last touch before Séduire forever changed. Before she changed.
At the dais, the guard backed away, allowing her to draw closer. In front of the king, she bowed her head, presenting the perfect picture of submission. “Majesty,” she said with a curtsy.
The command scraped against the piece of her heart that had hoped she would finally, at long last, find favor with him.
“How about this instead?” Quick as a blink, she grabbed him by the throat, lifting him from his seat, startling him—and crushing the pipes beneath her fingers. “You bow before me.”
The Realm of Blood and Shadows
FRANTIC, TORIN PACED beside his bed. Mari had arrived a few minutes ago—only to collapse. She was sick. So very sick.
And he was responsible.
He should never have touched her, should never have allowed her to shake his ungloved hand.
He was so worried for her he could barely see straight. She lay on the bed, coughing for the thousandth time. Blood gurgled from the corners of her mouth.
Fury blazed at the edges of Torin’s worry, and he punched a hole in the wall, desperate for some type of release. “Why didn’t you tell me I could make you sick with my touch?”
“I had...to die.”
“You had to die?” He stomped to her side. “And you thought I’d be okay with being the weapon responsible?” How was he supposed to live with himself, knowing he’d killed yet another innocent?
“No...worries. No plague. Only me. Never touch...anyone else.”
Oh, he knew she was only ever allowed in her prison and his bedroom, but that didn’t make this any better. He stalked to his door and locked it, ensuring none of his friends could burst inside for any reason. “You still should have told me,” he croaked. “It should have been my choice.”
“Sorry. Not want...to die. Resisted. But. No other way. Cronus said...friend would be...freed.”
Cronus had also said Torin wouldn’t sicken the woman sent to him. Clearly Cronus had lied. “The king of the Titans is dead. Your friend won’t be freed.”
“Vows last...even after death.”
And Torin hadn’t been smart enough to obtain a vow, had he.
She had coughed between every word. A hacking cough that had shaken her entire body. “Moment I die...she has freedom.”
Mari had given her life for her friend. He understood the desire. He did. But that didn’t make this any easier. He returned to her side and peered down at her. Her skin was ghostly white, a blue tracery of veins apparent. There were bruises under her eyes, and her lips were split and scabbed from being chewed. The last time she’d visited, she had looked healthy and whole. Now, twenty-four hours later, she was reduced to this.
Death was knocking on her door. Maybe she would answer today. Maybe tomorrow. Either way, she would answer. There would be no saving her.
No, he thought next. No. He had to try. Something. Anything. So far, he’d failed to help Cameo and Viola, but he could help this woman.
In the bathroom, he wet a washrag with cold water. He raced back to the girl’s side. Gloves covered his hands, so he didn’t hesitate to drape the cloth over her forehead. He’d never touched a human twice, and wasn’t sure what would happen to Mari if his skin were to brush hers a second time. Would she get sicker faster? Probably.
At his computer, he printed the list he’d recently created. The ones with medicines that might aid humans if ever his plague got out. Then, he called Lucien. “Flash to the States, to a pharmacy. I need a few things.” He tossed out the names.
“I won’t leave Anya, Tor. She needs me right now.”
“I’ll put a camera on her. I’ll make sure no one approaches her, I swear. Just do what I asked. Please.” Torin hung up on him and stuffed the phone in his pocket. He peered down at the girl. “Now you listen to me. You’re going to fight this. You’re not going to give up and allow yourself to die. You want your friend out, there’s another way. I told you about Sienna. Well, she arrived at the fortress just this morning. Give her a chance.”
Tears streamed from Mari’s eyes and tracked down her cheeks.
“Please,” he said.
She gave an almost imperceptible nod. But a nod was a nod.
“People have survived this.” Not many, but a few, and no one who’d had direct contact with him. “You can, too.” She had to. His heart couldn’t take another death.
Bang, bang, bang.
“Leave the stuff and go,” Torin called, knowing Lucien was at the door.
“What’s going on?” the warrior demanded.
“Just...trust me,” he replied as Mari coughed.
Tense silence filled the room.
“Reyes told me about the girl you had in there. Is she sick? Is she the one in need of the medicine?” Lucien’s voice was soft, quiet, and yet still managed to cut through the wood of the door.
“Leave the stuff and go,” he repeated.
Movement at the corner of his eye. He turned—and there was Lucien, dropping a bag on the floor. The warrior had flashed inside the room. His mismatched eyes scanned the area and landed on the girl.
Accusation tightened his features. “You said she was immune.”
“I was wrong. Now get out. I don’t want you becoming a carrier.”
“You should have told me about this.” The accusation in Lucien’s expression was like taking a knife to the back. “I need to take everyone to a new location. Especially the women and children.”
Yes. Of course. He should have thought of that. How foolish could Torin be?
“I need Sienna’s help with something. Freeing another girl. She’s in a prison Cronus owned. Tell her to start looking for it. Please.”