- The Darkest Craving
“What are you going to do?” Lucien asked. “What about this girl?”
“Don’t worry about us.”
Lucien pinched the bridge of his nose. “I can’t believe you did this. I thought you’d learned.”
“Not his...fault,” Mari croaked.
“Of course it’s my fault,” Torin snapped, and she flinched.
Lucien looked ready to stomp over to the girl and scoop her into his arms. Instead, he backed away, saying, “Call me if you need anything else.” He disappeared.
Torin went through the medication, deciding to administer the antibiotic and cough suppressant. As he waited for any sign of recovery, an idea struck him. He didn’t allow himself to consider the many ramifications or the danger to himself. He raced to his closet and grabbed a nylon bag. He stuffed it full of weapons and any other equipment he thought he might need. He covered his hair and forehead with a bandanna, pulled a ski mask over his face to ensure the rest of him was covered, as well. He added the medicine to the bag, wrote a note to his friends, and then did something he’d hoped to circumvent forever.
He looked at Danika’s painting, expecting to see this moment, this tragedy—or, maybe, the outcome.
In it, Torin reclined on a black leather couch. He had a glass in one hand, and a cigar in the other—neither hand was gloved. He was grinning, an expression he hadn’t donned in a very long time, he didn’t think. There were people around him. So many people. Shock had him stumbling backward. Danika had never before shown him a happy ending.
He could be happy.
The girl coughed, drawing his attention back to her. Hope spread wings and flew through him. Maybe she would survive.
He crouched beside her.
“When you flash back to the prison, I want you to hold on to me and will me to go with you. Okay? Can you do that? I’m covered. Your skin won’t ever be in contact with mine, and your condition won’t worsen.” Please don’t worsen.
She licked her dry, cracked lips, but left no moisture behind. “Why?”
“I’m not leaving you alone in that cell. I know you have to go back, and there’s no way I can stop you, so I’ll just have to go with you. I’ll be there to doctor you, and maybe you’ll get better.” You have to get better.
“You won’t...be able...to leave.”
“That’s fine. Sienna will find us and I’ll introduce you.”
Between coughs, she replied, “Can...try.”
He stretched out beside her and pressed his mask-covered face against her chest. Her heart was beating too hard and too fast. Heat radiated through the material barriers between them. He draped his arm over her middle and twined his legs through hers.
The position was new to him. One he’d never before experienced. One he was ashamed to admit he liked, despite the circumstances. He’d never been so close to a female. Meanwhile, she was dying.
“I’m here,” he cooed. “I’m with you.”
A second later, the world around him vanished and a new one took shape.
It had worked.
He saw a small cell with crumbling rock walls. There was no window, and barely any light. The only door was made of metal bars. There was no bed, no blankets. The air was cold and damp.
A soft, pained moan left her.
They were on the frigid, hard ground, and it had to be painful to her aching bones. Torin hopped to his feet and tugged the clothes from his bag to create a barrier, a makeshift mattress. Then he picked her up and eased her down.
“Mari?” a pretty voice called from across the way. “Is that you? Are you back?”
In response, Mari coughed.
“Are you okay?” the girl asked, concerned. “And who’s in there with you? The shadow I see is too large to be yours.”
“My name is Torin,” he called. “Mari is sick, and I’m here to help her.”
The girl released a string of curses. “You touched her. You touched her, and now she’s going to die.”
“No,” he said. “I won’t let her.”
Bars rattled. “You better hope she doesn’t. She does, and I’ll find a way out of here. I’ll destroy you and everyone you love.”
* * *
CAMEO’S PATIENCE RAN out as she shoved past another tangle of thorn bushes. Her skin was sliced in too many places to count, her feet were throbbing, and she was pretty sure there were bugs in her hair.
She’d been so close to Pandora’s box, was now so far away.
“I want out of this dimension, like, yesterday,” she said.
“I’m looking for the doorway into the next.” Lazarus paused to move a branch out of her way. “Impatient much?”
“A girl I know could be trapped in another dimension, too, and I want to find her. So yes, I’m impatient.” She stomped past him. He released the branch and laughed when the thorns slapped her. Whirling around, she pointed a finger in his face. “I’m going to hang your balls in my trophy case if you do that again.”
“Good. Hold on to your anger. Your voice is unbearable when you’re complaining.” He stepped around her and resumed his journey.
“I never complain,” she muttered. “I’m a warrior. I’m strong. Tough. Unbeatable.” She’d fought in wars, saved her friends. Battled her way out of enemy territory. “Besides, it’s impolite to point out my only flaw.”
“Only?” Lazarus pushed another limb out of his way—only to let this one swing back and slap her in the face. “Oops. My bad.”
She snapped her teeth at his back.
“I saw that.”
“After I remove your balls, I’ll strap you to a slab of concrete and force you to listen while I sing.”
“Now that actually scares me.” He chuckled. “You amuse me, female.”
She amused him? “That’s a first.”
“But true nonetheless. Unlike the woman who tried to enslave me—a name you will not speak again or you will finally see my dark side—you aren’t the type to hurt an innocent man.”
“You aren’t innocent.”
“Have I harmed you?”
“No,” she grudgingly admitted.
“Then with you, I’m innocent.” He flicked her a glance, lingered. “You are so tiny, and so sad, and yet you consider yourself fierce.”
“I am fierce!” And if she hadn’t needed him so much, she would have shown him.
“Of course you are,” he said, and if he’d been facing her, she was certain he would have been patting her on top of the head.
Her gaze drilled into his back. His wide, muscular back. Because of the heat, he’d removed his shirt. Sweat ran down in rivulets. His skin was gorgeously bronzed, inked with the most vibrant tattoos, and—
“Do you ever laugh?” he asked, tugging her from her inspection before her knees could start knocking.
“I’ve been told I have.”
“You don’t remember?”
“No. Joy isn’t something that sticks.”
A loud roar reverberated behind her.
Lazarus stopped and twisted, a strange amber light shining in his eyes. She bumped into him, and his arms wrapped around her, holding her steady. He was strong. Amazingly strong. And I shouldn’t find that attractive, she thought. I should be immune. I’ve spent centuries with men just like him.
“Be still and quiet,” he whispered, his gaze searching the trees.
Well, maybe not just like him. Her friends would have asked nicely.
Her ears twitched as she, too, listened. In the distance, she could hear the swish of tree limbs shaking through the air, the clap of leaves banging together.
“Run,” Lazarus said, and broke into top speed, dragging her along with him.
“What is it?”
“You don’t want to know.”
A hideous creature broke through the line of trees behind them. The...whatever it was had the body of a wild hog and the face of a dragon. Gnarled wings stretched from its back, and long saber teeth extended from between its lips.
She’d never seen anything like it. “It’s closing in.” And she was the closest target, so she would be the first meal.
“So am I.” Lazarus picked up speed. “I’ve found the doorway.”
After another few steps, he leaped through the air, dragging Cameo with him. They flew toward a wall of leaves. She expected to feel the brush of limbs against her skin, but there was only a rush of cold air. Then, the forest vanished, and a new scene took shape around her.
Cameo crashed into a cold metal ground. When she caught her breath and stood, she looked around—and kind of wished they’d remained in the forest and faced the beast.
AS LEOPOLD BACKED away, and Synda cheered, and the queen slid to the floor to crab-walk away from her, Josephina tossed her wheezing father over her shoulder. He was a big man, and yet, he felt as light as a feather. He skidded across the floor, slamming into Fae after Fae before hitting the back wall. He was the bowling ball; they were the pins.
Rage and fear darkened his eyes as he jumped to his feet. “You...you...” he snarled.
Kane rushed through the room, shutting every door, rigging every lock, sealing everyone inside. He looked to Josephina, smiled proudly, then nodded to the area just behind her. “Incoming.”
She turned and saw a contingent of guards racing toward her. Adrenaline surged inside her, fizzing in her veins, amping her up. The moment the males reached her, she erupted into a flurry of movement, breaking noses with the heel of her hand, snapping arms in two, kneeing men in the groin, punching, punching, punching just as she’d been taught. Impact should have stung, but she felt no pain.
No one could latch onto her. Her limbs and body simply moved too swiftly.
Moaning and groaning, the men dropped around her, and when there was no one left to challenge her, she maneuvered over the mound of bodies, triumphant, intending to face her father once and for all.