He returned his attention to the newcomer with laser focus. She was dirty, bruised and worn down—and his heart almost stopped. She was Tinker Bell.
The urge to go to her consumed him, and he stepped forward. A guard caught him, stopping him from going any farther. He could have broken free of the hold, but didn’t.
She was here. She was alive. Fighting now, before he’d gathered all the necessary information, could get her hurt far more severely.
He took in the rest of her. Her hair was tangled around her arms, all the way to her waist. Grime streaked her reddened cheeks. An apron hung around her neck, and it was in the same shape as her gown. She kept her eyes downcast, fear radiating from her.
Someone would pay for this.
He had to lock his knees to prevent another surge forward. Had to grip his pants to stop himself from throwing punches.
When the males released her, she tumbled to the ground, unable to sustain her own weight, slight though it was. Her knees hit the floor, and as she whimpered in pain, she braced herself with her hands, causing the fabric of her gown to rise, revealing her wrists. Angry red welts marred her skin. She’d been chained.
Tinker Bell. Chained.
Someone would pay severely.
Forget information. He stepped toward the dais, going for the king. This time, he was whacked in the back of the head.
He heard a muttered, “I’m so sorry, Lord Kane.”
Growling, he spun and slammed his joined hands into the culprit’s jaw. Bone snapped—and not Kane’s.
A yowl of agony split the air.
The rest of the regiment spurred into action. Bring it. He had enough violence pooling in his veins to take down a pack of rabid animals.
“Enough!” a voice thundered.
Everyone stilled and quieted.
“Tell me what’s going on.”
Kane’s gaze landed on the speaker. The king. Anger contorted features that promised to unleash death and destruction.
Whatever. Kane would get his information, after all.
The guard on his left bowed low. “My liege, this is Kane, a Lord of the Underworld, and the host to Disaster. He was the one chasing Servant Josephina.”
Behind him, wild murmurings arose. Tinker Bell’s gaze shot up, and landed on him. Her eyes widened, and she shook her head, mouthing, “Run.”
He popped his jaw. I’m here, honey, and I’m not going anywhere without you. Get used to it.
Excitement danced in the king’s eyes. “How we’ve longed to meet you, Lord Kane.” To the guard, he said, “Release our honored guest. Now.”
The bonds were instantly cut away. Kane rubbed his wrists.
“I must ask what you want with Servant Josephina, Lord Kane,” the king continued more warily. “She is a…special charge of ours.”
“Perhaps I wish to buy her.” If she was a slave, she was for sale, special or not. And if he had to go that route to get her out of here and started on her new life, well, he’d consider it a blessing.
“We will give you anything you desire—except her,” the king said. “I would never sell my own daughter.”
The queen hmphed with disdain. “Only a fool would want such an ugly, wretched female.”
Kane scowled at her.
Disaster was quick with an agreement.
Wait. Back up. Tinker Bell was the king’s daughter? A princess? But why was she dressed like, treated like—
Blood. Slave. The words rolled through his mind, and more pieces of the puzzle finally slid into place, little tidbits of information he’d picked up over the centuries drawing together. Tinker Bell was of royal blood, but only partway. Therefore, she qualified to bear the punishment meted out to those in her family.
Anytime the “real” princess had committed a crime, Josephina had been the one punished for it. She would have endured whippings, beatings, stonings and probably a thousand other things he couldn’t bring himself to consider. That’s why she’d ended up in hell.
Oh, Tinker Bell. Poor, sweet Tinker Bell. The very things he’d endured during the worst weeks of his life, she had endured for a lifetime. No wonder she wanted to die.
Kane’s jaw clenched, the only reason he was able to silence the spew of curses brewing at the back of his throat. No, the king would never let her go. Not for any price. Not for any reason.
I won’t let her go for any price or any reason, either.
Oh, really? asked Disaster.
The Fae next to Kane tripped, falling into him, knocking him to the side. “I’m so sorry. I don’t know what happened,” the man babbled.
“He’s so beautiful. More so than I ever imagined. And he’s just like me!” The princess clapped her hands, exclaiming, “I want him, Daddy. Please? Please! Give him to me.”
The king stiffened, only to relax a moment later. He eyed Kane with intrigue, the cogs in his brain clearly churning in a direction Kane wouldn’t like. “I do find the thought of our family being joined to that of Lord Kane’s intriguing.”
No. He didn’t like it. In any other situation, the threat would have enraged him. A rampage would have ensued.
“You will do us the great honor of wedding our daughter, Princess Synda,” the king said, a statement rather than a question.
He liked that even less.
But okay. All right. Kane needed to stay in this realm long enough to plan an escape for Tinker Bell. If he agreed to a wedding, he might be allowed free run of the palace. If he didn’t, he would have to fight the army every second of his stay.
“Sure,” he said with a nod. “Fine. Whatever. I’ll wed your daughter.” He wasn’t wedding anyone. “But Tink—Josephina can’t be harmed while I’m here.”
More murmurs slithered through the room. He tried to make sense of the words, couldn’t.
The king drummed his fingers against the shaft of his scepter. “We would love nothing more than to accommodate your request, Lord Kane, but a crime was committed last night, and a price must be paid. That’s why Servant Josephina is here.”
“Princess Synda was caught with the butcher’s son, a male far below her station. Worse, a human.”
“Then punish Princess Synda.” Problem? Meet solution.
A shake of the king’s head, firm and sure. “That’s not how we do things around here, Lord Kane. Since the spawning of our race, blood slaves have helped ensure the well-being of the royal family.”
“I see.” The blood slaves had also helped ensure the maliciousness of the royal family. “And what’s to be Josephina’s punishment for Synda’s crime?”