“I might have stumbled into one…by accident.”
“How many times?”
“Six…teen. Girls get lost very easily sometimes.”
He fought a grin. “So, what were you going to tell me when you reached my room?”
A weary sigh left her. “It doesn’t matter now.”
“It does. By the way, nothing happened between Synda and me.”
“A naked Synda,” she muttered.
He wanted to tell her the truth. But what would happen if he had to do something he didn’t like in order to reach his goal? The truth would then become a lie. He’d be better off keeping all his options open. But the nail in the coffin? A part of him needed to preserve some distance between them, and the engagement created it.
“Maybe, when I came to your room, I was going to tell you I’ve never met anyone as dumb as you,” she said, and he imagined her features scrunched up in what she probably hoped was a snobby expression. “You’re going to hurt so bad when you’re whipped for talking to me.”
Can’t laugh. “I won’t be whipped. The king and I came to an arrangement.”
“What! Why didn’t you tell me?”
“You were having too much fun counting my words.”
She muttered a few more choice names for him. “Yeah, well, Synda will be punishment enough, I suppose. She lives for the moment and nothing more. She forgets her every promise. In a few weeks, another man will catch her attention and you’ll be left with a broken heart.”
Resentment blasted from her, and he had to tighten his grip on the pillow to stop from reaching for her. “I may be dumb, but my Spidey-senses are telling me she broke your heart, too.”
She hmphed, as if he were crazy.
She must have been tracing circles on the sheet, because her knuckles brushed against one of his ni**les. The contact electrified him, and he nearly shot off the bed.
“Maybe she did,” Tink said, unaware. “Long ago she promised to protect me from our father. Then, the very next day, she was caught stealing horses from visiting Harpies. It started a war, and punishment was decreed, but she said nothing as I was dragged away to be whipped.”
The story doused his lust. “I’m sorry,” he replied, hurting for her. “I really am.”
Did she look as sad and exhausted as she had sounded? “I’m going to make things better for you, Tink,” he vowed. Somehow, some way.
She sighed. “I’ll believe it when I see it.”
“No faith in me?”
“No faith in anyone.”
KANE STOOD BESIDE the bed and peered down at Tink. Sunlight streamed in from the window, and, as if drawn to her, enveloped her and her alone. Spotlighting her. Highlighting every luscious nuance. She exuded peace to an astonishing degree. A peace he craved for himself.
She was Sleeping Beauty. Or, more accurately, Cinderella, complete with an evil stepmother and half sister.
Too bad for her, Kane was to be her Prince Charming.
He hadn’t meant to, but at some point, he’d fallen asleep. A nightmare had awoken him—and he’d found Tinker Bell asleep on his chest.
Had she rolled there on her own, or had he pulled her over?
The contact had hurt him in more ways than one. His lust had returned full force.
After he’d eased her aside, he’d been more diligent, and remained awake, listening to her every breath, waiting for her every movement, remembering the way she’d made him smile, dying inside because he’d still wanted to roll over, on top of her, and strip her, and touch her, and do things to her, even though the very thoughts had him fighting back an all-consuming panic.
He didn’t deserve her. His moods were too mercurial. He was happy one minute, ticked off the next. He was decided on a course one minute, confused the next. She needed someone solid. Dependable. Like Torin.
She had no faith in anyone, she’d said, and that was downright sad. Whether Kane deserved her or not, he wasn’t going to let her down.
Kill her, Disaster said. It’s what she wants.
What she wanted wasn’t what she needed.
Tink’s lips parted on a breathy sigh, and his chest constricted. How innocent she was.
Kane turned and stalked from the room, the demon cursing him with every step.
* * *
JOSEPHINA HAD MANY duties, and serving breakfast to the royal family was one of them. A decree straight from Queen Penelope, meant to humiliate her at the start of her day, every day.
Waiting to begin, Josephina pressed against the far wall in the dining room, holding a pitcher of freshly made pomegranate juice. She should have been finished already, should have returned to her housecleaning, but no one had arrived. Everyone was probably busy congratulating Kane and Synda on their upcoming nuptials and the happy couple was probably gorging on the compliments.
Oh, Kane. Everyone’s right. We’re so beautiful together, Synda was probably saying. So perfect together.
I’m perfect for everyone, Kane was probably replying. But I’m glad I ended up with you.
The pitcher shattered in Josephina’s hands.
Cold liquid seeping through the fabric of her gloves and making her gasp, she rushed to the kitchen and gathered the rags she needed, trying to evade Cook’s eye. He welcomed any chance to lash out at her.
Once, as a means of punishment for one of Synda’s crimes, Josephina was starved for a week. Three days in, the hunger pangs had become so severe she’d snuck into the kitchen and stolen a hunk of bread.
Cook had caught her, but had vowed to remain silent if she would spend the night in his bed. She’d turned herself in instead, and he’d never forgiven her.
So, maybe she hadn’t been entirely honest with Kane. Maybe some of the men—other than her brother—did see her as more than a blood slave.
Annnd…Cook cleared his throat, and she glanced over.
“What did you do now? What new problem have you caused me?” He stomped over to her. He grabbed her by the wrist, only to rear backward with a wheeze. “You’re wet.”
“And your cooking sucks. So?”
“How dare you! I don’t care who you are, you will not insult my divine cuisine.”
“I just did.”
“Do it again. I dare you.”
Okay. “Your pies are flavorless, and your cakes are hard as rocks.”
His palm flew up and out, swiping over her cheek. Her skin instantly flamed, stinging. Josephina slapped him back. As he gurgled his outrage, she blew him a kiss and flounced away.