“I need you to move now,” he said. “I want these shoes off.”
Inhale. Good. Now exhale. Several minutes passed before she was able to lift her head enough to see what was around her. An office. The one from the painting, she realized. There was a desk piled high with papers. There was a glass display case brimming with artifacts. And there was Pandora’s box.
For the moment, Viola was forgotten. Cameo pushed to a stand and wiped her mouth with the back of her hand.
“How did the Rod send us here?” She took a step forward. And where was here, exactly?
Lazarus chucked his shoes. He moved beside her and latched onto her arm, his grip strong, unbreakable. She turned to face him—and gaped. He wasn’t as tall as she’d imagined, but he was still a giant. He had a muscle mass even the biggest of her friends had yet to achieve. But it was his face that truly arrested her attention.
He. Was. Gorgeous. He wouldn’t have to speak to a woman to gain her interest. He’d just have to look at her. He had black hair, black eyes. Fathomless eyes, really. A proud nose, a stubbornly square chin. Lips the color of rubies, and the perfect contrast to all that dark. His skin was bronzed to perfection.
“You okay?” he asked.
“Yes.” You’re a warrior. Act like one. She tugged from his hold, and the only reason she succeeded was because he let her; she knew it. “I’ve seen you before.”
Strider was dating, or whatever, Kaia the Wing Shredder, and Strider had beheaded Lazarus to protect her. He was the consort of another Harpy, one even more annoying than Kaia, who was desperate to avenge his death.
“How are you alive?” she demanded.
“My body was destroyed, but not my spirit. It was trapped inside the Rod all this time.”
Trapped. Past tense. They’d really gotten out? “If your body was destroyed, why are you solid to me?”
“Your body was destroyed as well, the moment you entered the Rod.”
“Don’t worry. I can make us both another one, just as soon as I get home.”
She wouldn’t panic. She would believe him. She didn’t like the alternative.
“You have a weapon?” he asked.
Did she? She patted herself down and came up with…nothing. Silent, refusing to admit the lack, she raised her chin. “You want to fight me or something? Before you answer that, you should probably know I lack any sort of softer emotions and I’ll do things to you that you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy.”
“Yes, I want to fight, but you’re not the opponent I’m jonesing for—even though I’m intrigued by the things you say you can do. I want to fight him.” Lazarus nodded to a place behind her. “We’ll need to work together to defeat him. I’m good, probably the best and strongest warrior you’ll never have the pleasure to meet, but we just happen to be in the same room as the only male ever to beat me.”
Him, he’d said. The skinny red-eyed male she’d seen after draping the Cloak over her head and peering at the painting? And the guy had once beaten Lazarus? He must have powers the painting hadn’t revealed. Dread washed through her as she turned, but…she couldn’t see him.
“He’s here?” she demanded. “Who is he?”
“You can’t see him?”
She licked her lips, once again refusing to admit to a lack.
“He has the ability to reveal himself—or not. He must have decided you’re not worth playing with.” He sighed angrily. “I guess it’s up to me to save the day, then.”
DISASTER LAUGHED WITH diabolical glee. Laughed harder than he’d laughed when Kane had been tied down, raped, beaten and humiliated. All because Tink had collapsed to the floor, her body contorting into the most painful positions, her features screwing up tight. Moan after moan escaped her. The kind he’d only ever heard in battle, after the last sword had been swung, the only enemy left standing finally defeated.
Red wheeled away from her, the horns on his head shrinking…vanishing. “What’s happened to me? I’m so weak, and yet…yet…”
Black dropped to his knees, his wings snapping into his back and vanishing.
“Weak yet…at peace.”
Green stood frozen, his eyes wide with shock, the scales falling from his skin.
The cloak of mist surrounding them split at the sides, like a veil torn asunder. Suddenly Kane could see William, Synda and White, and when the three spotted the remnants of the battle scene, they stood in unison, chairs skidding backward.
“I told her not to do it,” William said, hands going up in a display of innocence.
“Are you ready to leave now?” Synda asked, studying her nails. “I’ve been waiting forever.”
White nodded with satisfaction—until she saw the state of her brothers. Angry eyes locked on Tink’s writhing body. “What did she do?”
Ignoring everyone, Kane rushed over to Tink and scooped her up in his arms. Her presence barely registered, she was so light, but her scent was there, sweet and strong, wonderfully familiar, and he found comfort in it. He had her close. She would be okay. He would make sure she was okay.
“She draws other people’s abilities inside herself.” The secret was out now. He needed answers. “What’d she get from your boys?” he demanded of William. “They’re not demons.”
There was a heavy pause, then a shrug. “No, they’re not, but as you know, they carry the essence of war, famine and death. She’s probably swarming with all three.”
His heart slammed against his ribs. “Get the princess to the palace.” He didn’t wait for a reply, but raced from the bar. The sun had dimmed, casting an eerie sort of darkness over the land. How long had he been fighting? The princess’s carriage was gone, probably driving around the area to keep people from knowing exactly where the princess was and what she was doing. Taking the time to look for it wasn’t an option.
People now littered the sidewalks. Men in suits. Women in fancy dresses. Every eye found him and remained locked on him. Hands brushed against him, pulled at his clothing.
“Come home with me,” a woman said.
“I want to have your baby,” another intoned. “Please, Lord Kane!”
He shoved his way through the crowd. He had to get Tink to the palace as quickly as possible. Had to summon the best physician in the realm. And he wasn’t moving fast enough, he thought, his jaw locked in irritation and frustration. He scanned the area. There was a carriage winding down the street at a slow pace—slow, but unencumbered.