- The Darkest Craving
The bugs. Oh, sweet mercy.
Where were they headed?
Amid the chaos, the Phoenix circled Josephina. “You have only yourself to blame for this. Well, yourself and your man. He crossed the Moirai. They said he changed their fate, and so, they changed his. They were only too happy to use me to punish him—and what better way to punish him than to destroy his darling wife?”
“Leave Kane out of this. It’s between you and me.”
“The Moirai dropped me in your life at the perfect time. You’re finally without your protector—and I’m without patience. This battle has been too long coming.”
The Phoenix launched at her.
Josephina spun out of the way, and the girl soared past her, dang it. Instincts, she thought—she needed to override them. She needed contact, even if it hurt.
The Phoenix quickly gained her footing and turned, swiping out a hand covered with metal claws. Josephina twisted to the side, taking the nails in her forearm, even while sucking a little of the girl’s strength. The Phoenix didn’t seem to notice—yet. As warm blood trickled down Josephina’s arm, the girl came at her again, and this time, her thigh took the brunt of the abuse. This injury proved worse, but she was able to suck in even more strength.
A fist into her heart. Hissing, Josephina wrapped her fingers around the girl’s wrists at the moment of contact. She was swept forward as the girl drew back for another strike, but managed to hold on, taking more and more energy.
The Phoenix weakening.
Realizing what she was doing, the girl jerked away, out of reach. “You dare try to thieve from me again!”
“Try?” She forced a laugh.
Growling, the Phoenix dove at her. Her arms crisscrossed as she attempted to slice Josephina into pieces, without allowing any prolonged contact. Josephina dodged, moving faster than she had a few minutes ago.
“Someone’s been practicing. So, how about we take this up a notch?” Grinning now, the Phoenix walked a wide circle around her, flames shooting from her fingertips and onto the ground. Those flames grew, reaching toward the ceiling. Smoke billowed, making Josephina cough.
Beyond the circle, she could hear Red cursing. What William and Green were doing, she wasn’t sure. The panicked murmurs and frantic footfalls of the Opulens had faded, but anyone remaining was still in danger. They were her people now, she thought. She’d left them without a leader, and they needed her. They were hers to protect.
“Very well, then,” she said with a nod. “Let’s finish this.”
Josephina threw herself into round two, managing to land just as many blows as she took. When the Phoenix tripped over one of the cracks Kane had left behind, Josephina raced forward, dropped to her knees and skidded across the floor, stopping at the girl’s feet. She grabbed her ankle and jerked her legs out from under her. As soon as the girl hit, she reached out to squeeze her arm, absorbing several more streams of energy.
The Phoenix pushed her away, and jumped to her feet—only to stumble with weakness.
“Kill you,” she gasped.
Knowing she had to act now, even at the expense of her own life, Josephina barreled into her. They fell and smacked into the floor, the Phoenix taking the brunt of the impact—but not all of it. Though dizziness swamped her, she crawled up the girl’s body, straddled her waist and gripped her by the neck. Another stream of energy entered Josephina. Another and another. The Phoenix tried to bat her away, failed.
“Tink!” she heard Kane shout, just before he ran through the flames.
As he crouched beside her, blisters popped up on his face, arms and hands. The ends of his hair smoked. He didn’t waste time asking questions, but slammed his fist into the girl’s temple, knocking her out.
Buzzing with energy and heat, so much heat, Josephina scooted away.
He picked the girl up and tossed her out of the fiery circle, calling, “She’s all yours, William.”
Even though she was overcome by a deluge of emotions—grief, relief, sadness, joy, fear, heartache—Josephina pushed to her feet. “I’ve got to put out the fire.”
“Let me. I—”
“No. It’s calling to me,” she interjected, and it was. She felt...connected to it, its warmth her warmth. “It wants to be with me.” She reached out and the flames instantly leaned in her direction. The moment the tips brushed against her skin, her pores opened up, as if she was drawing power from another person, and the flames were sucked into her body.
“Tell me you’re okay,” Kane said, gathering her in his arms. He hissed, as if she was burning him, but didn’t release her.
She scanned the throne room. Bodies littered the floor. Most were dead, some were writhing in pain. William, Red, Green and Black were gone—and so was the Phoenix.
“What happened?” Kane croaked. “I came in, and William and Red were nutcases, muttering about defeat and death and destruction. As I jumped through the flames, William demanded I give him the Phoenix.”
Tears welled in her eyes, and she explained as best she could about White. Kane paled, released her and fell back on his haunches.
“I did it. My actions, my decisions, killed her. Unleashed her destruction. In this realm. In another realm. An apocalypse has come. And it’s my fault,” he said.
“No, the Moirai are at fault. They sent the Phoenix.”
“Because of me. Because I failed to heed their prediction. Because I attacked them in their home.”
“Kane, no. The only reason the Phoenix came here in the first place was to get back at me. If you want to blame someone besides the Moirai, blame me.”
“No,” he said with a shake of his head. “Never you. Petra’s hatred first brought her here. Her stubbornness.”
“Well, then, you see. You’re not to blame.”
His eyes narrowed. “And you’re not, either.”
She patted his knee. “Okay, then. We’re agreed. The Moirai and Petra will carry this shame.”
A pained look passed over his face, and she knew he wanted to agree with her, but was struggling with his acceptance. And she understood. The Moirai’s predictions had haunted him for so long, he’d just expected to carry the guilt.
“Something will have to be done,” he said. “The threat will have to be contained.”
“I happen to know the Lords of the Underworld are up for the challenge.”
He nodded. “You’re right.”
“Always.” If anyone could fight this new threat, it was the Lords—and one day, it would be contained.
Kane placed a swift kiss on her lips, and the pain was still there, deep in his eyes, but now, there was also a measure of resolve. “I think you just manipulated me.”
“Me?” she said innocently. “Never.”
Another kiss. “Don’t ever change.”
JOSEPHINA AND KANE spent the rest of the night seeing to the defenses of the palace. The bugs had spread throughout the land, and the people were in revolt, fighting each other over the silliest things even while they attempted to storm the outer wall to get to Josephina.
When the two of them finished, when they finally got everyone calm and the wounded tended, she was so exhausted she could barely hold up her head. So much blood...so much violence...
Kane swept her into his arms and carried her to his old bedroom. “I’m sorry about what your father said to you. He was wrong, you know.”
“I know that. Now.”
“He never saw your worth, and that’s his disgrace, not yours.”
Similar to the words she’d given him earlier. Smart man, using her methods against her, stopping her argument in its tracks.
He kissed her temple. “You need a nap.”
“Well, then, I need to clean up your wounds and I don’t want you aware of the pain.”
“I’ll clean them.”
“And you would still feel the pain. That’s what I’m trying to avoid.”
“I can handle pain.”
“But you shouldn’t have to.” He set her on her feet and pinched the artery running up her neck.
“Don’t you dare—” Glaring, she collapsed on a cushioned settee.
His determined face was the last thing she saw.
When she came to however long later, he was still with her. He had a phone pressed to his ear. “Now you know as much as I do. And I’m sorry, man. I’m sorry this happened.” A pause. “I’d still really like you to come. The circumstances are the same in both realms, so the women won’t be in any more danger here.”
“Kane,” she rasped.
He spun to face her. “For me,” he said, and disconnected the call. Those hazel eyes filled with guilt. “I was just talking to Lucien. William and his children are unreachable. The bugs reached the human realm. No one knows exactly what harm they’ll cause.”
As he spoke, he walked toward her and discarded his shirt. “The doors are locked. The soldiers I’m willing to trust are doing patrol.” He reached down to unbutton her shirt. “Are you mad at me?”
“Do you want me to stop?”
“No.” A little mad would never mask the intensity of her desire for him.
Pupils expanding, he eased on top of her. Warm skin and against warm skin, driving her wild.
“Kane, I have a confession to make. I think I...love you,” she said, tangling her hands in his hair. “How do you feel about that?”
He closed his eyes for a moment, a look of utter bliss consuming his beautiful features. “I don’t know how to express the pleasure the thought of your love gives me, but sweetheart, I want you sure. It’s wrong of me, but—”
“Wrong of you how? We’re married.”
A dark look shuttered over his features. Silent now, he bent his head and kissed the pulse hammering at the base of her neck, a strategic move meant to distract her from her question, but she...wouldn’t...oh!