Every day, she broke his heart a little more.
Disaster gave up screaming and began growling. Overhead, a light bulb shorted. The crack in the floor widened to such an astonishing degree it could no longer be ignored. The entire building shook. Kane stepped away from Tink and the temptation she presented.
“What’s happening?” she asked, glancing around.
She stumbled, creating even more distance between them, and the commotion died down. “That was you, wasn’t it?” she asked.
He could have lied. He wanted to lie. But he said, “Yeah. That was me.”
“Then not really you,” she said, baffling him. She understood the difference between the man and the evil. “He’s acting up.”
“Yes,” Kane repeated.
“And that’s all he’s got?” She laughed, a sound as pure as Christmas bells. “How pathetic.”
Disaster snarled inside his head, and Kane grinned. The woman dreaded the things her family could do to her, and yet she was fearless in the face of a demon.
Desire stormed through him all over again.
“Let’s have the seamstresses finish your dress so we can return to the bar,” he said, turning away from her. “I have a fight to attend.”
“I’m still not on board with that fight.”
“It’s gotta happen eventually. The guys want to stop me from dating their sister.”
All of her humor drained, leaving her features pinched. “Well, by all means. Let’s get you to that fight so you can date whoever you wish.”
THE NEW UNIFORM fit Josephina perfectly, the material soft against her skin, a divine caress rather than an irritating scratch. She loved it. But she had no idea what to think about the man responsible.
He was cold. But he was kind.
He was fierce. But he was tender.
He was cruel. But he was sweet.
If she weren’t careful, she would become smitten with him—and end up heartbroken. He couldn’t be trusted. He’d kissed her, but he had no plans to break his engagement to Synda. He’d kissed her, but he was thinking about dating another woman, the blonde from the tavern.
How many females did he have dangling at the end of his beautiful rope?
Too many. Obviously.
And Josephina had almost become one of them.
I’m going to have to erect a wall of ice against him.
She’d expected her first experience with passion to be gentle—if ever she’d weakened enough to succumb to a male’s charm. She’d expected a hesitant exploration, cool, a little tame, and yet there’d been unbearable heat, necessary heat, and her every pulse point had turned into a wild drum. A frightening beat, but oh, so thrilling.
Kane had owned her mouth, had staked a claim and demanded a response, and she had been unable to deny him, unable to hold back, not wanting to hold back. He’d tasted of whiskey she hadn’t seen him drink, and he’d intoxicated her. His hands…in her hair…on her arms…her waist…he’d caressed and he’d squeezed and he’d left a white-hot trail of need in his wake.
For the first time in her life, she’d felt alive. She’d had something to look forward to, something worth the hardships she faced. But then he’d pulled away, as if she had disgusted him, and yes, she’d wanted to cry.
Knowing the disgust had nothing to do with her assuaged her. But it also made her want to cry. What he’d endured in hell had left him scarred, and he needed to move slowly, to wrap his head around the things his body was feeling, but he didn’t want to move more slowly with her. So, fine. Whatever. The other two women were welcome to him.
Squaring her shoulders, Josephina kept pace beside him. He stopped in front of the Devil’s Punchbowl and met her gaze. “The Fae can pretend they’re better than you, but that’s all they’re doing. Pretending. There’s no one better than you.”
He didn’t wait for her response, but shoved his way inside the building.
Reeling, she followed after him. What had…why… Surely her translation from English to…uh, English had screwed with the essence of his meaning. He’d just lavishly praised her, even though he didn’t want her? Something had to be off with her thinking.
“Maybe you should forget the fight and we should go somewhere to talk about our—” My poor eyes. Wearing only her undergarments, Synda was dancing on top of a table, her gown swinging from her upraised hand. The men hoping to pummel Kane into blood and pulp circled her, cheering and clapping.
At least the rest of the patrons had cleared out, leaving no other witnesses to the princess’s behavior. Still. Josephina would be penalized for this. Lewd acts among the Opulens were encouraged, often rewarded, but this was a common bar and these men were…she wasn’t sure what they were.
The blonde—the one Kane wasn’t supposed to date—sat in the back corner, eating grapes, unconcerned by the chaos around her.
Josephina disliked her immediately.
“Gentlemen,” Kane said, sounding calm.
All four males looked over at him. Three lost their smiles. The other—William—just grinned wider.
Silence reigned…until Synda spotted him and sighed. “Is the fun over?” she asked with a pout.
The grinning warrior stalked forward. He had dark hair and the electric blue eyes of the Fae, though he clearly wasn’t Fae. The power humming from him was too…unique. It was also the strongest she’d ever encountered. One touch, and she suspected the man’s energy would cause her body to combust.
“Candy Kane,” William said. “You’re back.”
Kane nodded in greeting. “I like it.”
“And there’s Ivanna B.,” William said to Josephina. He held out his hand, intending to clasp hers and perhaps bring it to his lips for a kiss.
What did that name even mean?
Before she could reach out, Kane batted the man’s arm away with enough force to crack bone. “No touching.” The fierce warning in his tone echoed from the walls.
“I’m wearing my gloves,” she said. “I wouldn’t have hurt him.”
“It’s not him I’m worried about.”
“You’ll share your soon-to-be bride, but not her servant,” the other man said good-naturedly. “That’s not weird at all.” To the others, he called, “Clear a space. The battle is about to begin.”
The men rushed to obey. Soon the tables and chairs were pushed against the walls, leaving a circular clearing. Synda was escorted to the grape-eating female. Facing Kane, the man with pale hair cracked his knuckles. The bald one leaned his head left, right, aligning his spine. The dark-haired one withdrew two hooked blades.