- The Darkest Craving
Kane nodded in agreement. “Thank you for understanding.”
“Hey, understanding is what the bro code is for,” Strider said. “Just keep a room ready for me. I’ll be visiting. Count on it.”
“We all might,” Sabin said. “We’re about to be homeless.”
He gave each warrior a hug, and wished Cameo and Torin were here. Even Viola.
The females would be found, alive and well. These men would make sure of it. And whatever was going on with Torin would be resolved. Kane wouldn’t believe otherwise.
He glanced over at Tink, his gaze always drawn to her. He spotted Malcolm, the green-haired Sent One standing behind her, his arms crossed over his middle as he listened to her conversation with the other females. None of the women seemed to notice him.
Apparently, he’d wanted Tink to see him in the hotel room, but Kane to see him now. What was his game?
Anger sprouted from roots that had yet to wither. “You,” Kane shouted. “What do you think you’re doing, hanging around here?”
Malcolm met his glare, and vanished.
“I’m not going to ask who you were talking to,” Maddox said. “I’m just going to go. Ashlyn and I must return to our babies. They are with the Sent One Lysander, and he had better be doing a good job or he will find himself without a head.”
Lysander, one of the seven leaders of the seven armies of Sent Ones. Married to Bianka, Kaia’s twin sister. Perhaps Zacharel, Lysander’s friend, had sent Malcolm, Zacharel’s soldier, to guard Tink?
Perhaps I should have been nicer.
Kane slapped Maddox on the shoulder. “I’ll miss you guys.”
“If ever you need anything,” Sabin said.
“We’re only a phone call away,” Strider finished.
“When we find Pandora’s box, we’ll let you know,” Reyes said.
Kane had spent centuries of his life searching for that box. To know he wouldn’t be alive when it was finally found and destroyed was a terrible blow. But whatever. He’d rather take out Disaster now, while the creature was too weak to fight back.
The men gathered their women, and Lucien flashed them away two at a time.
Kane strode over to Tink. “Well,” he said.
“Well,” she said.
“You’re officially the most powerful person in this realm.”
“No, that would be you, the new king.”
King? Him? He was her man, and that was enough. “The kingdom is yours. The people are yours. You’ll always be the final authority.”
Instantly, the terror returned to her eyes. “I don’t think I can do it,” she whispered.
“Tell me those words didn’t just spring from the girl who put the former king and queen in their place—the dungeon.”
“Yeah, but I did it with help,” she said. “Yours, the girls who fed me their strengths, William’s. The Rainbow Rejects.” Her chin trembled. “I couldn’t have done it on my own.”
He wanted to tell her she would never be on her own. Yeah. He wanted to. “You can do this, Tink. I have faith in you.”
“And I have faith in myself—sometimes.”
“Because you believe in me. And you love me,” she said. “I know you do, whether you’ve said the actual words or not.”
“You, Tinker Bell, own me. There’s nothing I wouldn’t do for you. No line I wouldn’t cross. I love you so much I can barely see straight. I’m obsessed with you, addicted to you. I respect you, and I revere you, and a thousand other words I’m not eloquent enough to express.”
Tears welled in her eyes. “Well, you did a great job just now. I think that’s the sweetest thing anyone has ever said to me.”
“Then everyone else is foolish.”
“Oh, Kane...I shouldn’t let you give up your home to stay with me. I should force you to leave. I’m finally in control of my own destiny, and you should be in control of yours.”
“I am in control.” He planted his palms on the arms of the throne, and leaned into her face. “My place is with you. I choose you. I’ll always choose you. But go ahead. Try to force me to leave. I dare you.”
She gazed up at him with luminous eyes. “Thank you.”
“Like I said. You’ve got me, all the days of my life.”
KANE STOOD BESIDE Tink’s throne, and watched as she resolved disputes between the Opulens and poor alike. She had settled into her new role quite nicely, having taken charge of the palace staff and tasked the high and low court with the reconstruction of the garden. There had been several riots, and one male had even snuck into the palace and tried to assassinate the new queen.
Kane and the guard now under his command had quelled the riots, and killed the male. He had not died easily—because Kane hadn’t let him.
Word of Tink’s feats the day she’d fought her father had spread, gaining her more and more notoriety and support. These people had grown up on the exploits of Lords versus Hunters. They prized cunning, and she’d displayed ample.
Now, only a few weeks into the new regime, the people were beginning to prize Tink.
“Next,” the guard manning the line shouted.
Two Opulens stepped to the bottom step of the dais.
Tink shifted uncomfortably in the throne. How beautiful she looked. She wore a new gown of pink silk, with pearls falling over her shoulders, and velvet rose vines hanging from her waist.
The same roses were woven through her dark hair, making her look as if she’d just stepped from a magical forest. Even her makeup added to the illusion. Bold, glittery eye shadow formed catlike points at her temples. Her cheeks were bright with color, and her lips bloodred.
“Tell me your problem,” she said to the pair.
The woman on the left raised her chin. “No. I won’t do it. It’s bad enough I was dragged here, but you’re nothing more than a servant. I don’t care that you’re married to a Lord. There’s no reason I should have to abide by your judgments.”
It wasn’t the first time words like those had been spoken to her, but suddenly Kane was determined that it would be the last. He marched forward, only to stop when Tink held up her hand. She stood, a study of elegance, and glided down the marble steps until she stood in front of the fuming female.
He doubted anyone could see the slight tremor in her limbs, but he could. He knew her—every luscious inch of her—and watched her more intensely than most. She was nervous, but angry. Sad, but determined.
The guards stealthily closed in. They’d been warned. If anything happened to Tink while they were near, they would die. Painfully. No questions would be asked. No excuses would be heard. And yet, Kane struggled to remain in place. He wanted to be down there, by her side, protecting her as instinct demanded. He was her man. But he’d taught her to look after herself, and now she was queen of an entire nation. He couldn’t swoop to the rescue without damaging her credibility.
Any other time, that might not have stopped him. He would have killed anyone who questioned her credibility, and that would have been that. But this time, he had to know. Could she survive without him?
Every day, Disaster weakened a little more.
Every day, a single fact became clearer. For Kane, the end was near.
Tink lifted her ungloved hands and cupped the offender’s cheeks.
The woman gasped, tried to pull away, but failed. Her skin grew pale. Her mouth floundered open and closed. Then, her knees buckled and she hit the ground, unconscious.
“I’m no servant,” Tink called loudly. “I’m queen, and I will be obeyed.”
Head held high, she strode from the room. Kane followed after her, the Opulen lucky he didn’t stomp on her as he passed. He didn’t say a word as he sidled up to her, and she didn’t, either. They made it into their room, and Kane shut the door.
“I shouldn’t have done that,” she choked out. “I was angry and I overreacted and I could have seriously hurt her.”
“You left her alive, and taught her a valuable lesson in the process. That’s more than she deserved.” More than he would have done.
“All I taught her was to fear me. And that would be wonderful if I wanted her fear. I don’t. That’s what my father had.” She wrung her hands together and paced in front of the bed. “I should have done to her what I’d done to the others. Sent her away without a verdict. One day she would have come back and she would have been willing to listen to anyone to settle the dispute. Even me.”
He shrugged. “Maybe you’re right.”
She stopped and peered over at him. “Wait. You’re not going to defend my actions, no matter how foolish I was?”
Can’t grin. “Cut yourself some slack. You’re new to this. And you’re doing better than I would have done. If I were queen, everyone would have received a death sentence at minute one.”
She rolled her eyes. “While you would make a very sexy queen, I know you’re just saying that to be nice.”
Her definition of “nice” was a bit skewed. Adorable, but skewed. “Sweetheart, when have you ever known me to be nice?”
She thought for a moment, nodded. “That’s true. You’re the meanest man I know. I’ll probably be known as the Mad—but Wonderful—Queen in all the history books, just for staying with you.”
Won’t laugh. “Well, well. Someone has a smart mouth today,” he said, stalking forward. “And that someone is getting a spanking.”
She yelped and darted around the bed. “Kane!”
“Silly Fae. You can’t get away from me.”
“But I can try.” She quickened her pace, and the chase was on.
She ran around the dresser, the vanity, through the bathroom, the closet, and anytime he would get his hands on her, she’d manage to wiggle free. Soon they were both laughing, out of breath, but he wasn’t one to give up—not when she was the prize.