There had to be a way to have both.
“—right? Yes?” the girl was saying.
Her lilting voice brought him back to the present.
“Uh, Kane,” Sabin prompted. “Did you promise to do that?”
She had been speaking to Kane, then, and he could imagine what she’d said. He shook his head, his neck almost too weak to support the action. “No. I didn’t.”
“But…but…his memory must be impaired.” Her gaze swung to Strider, cerulean flooding her irises, becoming an ocean of anger. “What about you? Will you carry out his end of the bargain?”
“Me?” Strider thumped his chest.
“And just how do you want me to proceed, hmm?”
A violent tremor swept through her, but she said, “I want…I want you to take your dagger and…stab me in the heart.”
The warrior blinked, shook his head. “You’re serious, aren’t you? You actually want to die.”
“I don’t want to, no, but I need to,” she whispered, the anger giving way to defeat.
Kane swallowed a roar, remembering her words in the cave.
I will take you to the human world—and in return, you will kill me. I’ll have your vow first.
Maybe he hadn’t believed her then. Maybe he’d been too lost to his own pain to care. But now, the fact that she wanted to die…not just no, but hell no. He would die first.
“Why did you dodge my blows?” Strider demanded of the girl.
“I told you. Instinct. But I’ll do better next time, I promise.”
Mine, Kane heard again, a deep, rumbling growl rising…rising…escaping. “Mine! Touch her and I’ll kill you.”
Both Sabin and Strider stared at him with astonishment. Kane had always been the calm one, and had never before raised his voice to his friends. But he wasn’t the man he used to be—wouldn’t ever be that man again.
“Please,” she begged the warrior, those eyes swirling with flecks of baby blue. How desperate she sounded.
How much more hotly his rage burned.
Something terrible had to have happened to her to make her feel death was the only option available. Had someone…had she been forced—he couldn’t finish the thought. He would erupt. Or bury his head in the hollow of her neck and sob.
He peered up at Strider. Big, blond Strider, with his navy eyes and warped sense of humor. “Bind her. Gently. Bring her with us.” He would help her.
“What?” She held up her hands, palms up, and backed away from the warrior. “No way. Just no way. Unless you’re planning to take me to an undisclosed location, so no one will see the blood.”
He could have lied. Instead, he remained quiet as Sabin assisted him to his feet. Broken bones that had only recently been reset screamed in protest, and his knees nearly buckled, but he held steady. He wouldn’t allow himself to go down. Not again. Not in front of his min—the girl.
“Sorry, honey cakes,” Strider said, “but you don’t get a say in what happens next. You’re gonna live and not die, and that’s that.”
“But…but…” Her gaze found Kane and pleaded. “I’ve wasted so much time with you. I have no one else to ask for help.”
“Good.” Any man who thought to give her what she asked for would die the worst of deaths.
“Good? Good! Oh!” Anger overshadowed everything else, and she stomped her foot. “You heartless, overgrown lout!”
“Because he won’t hurt you? That’s a first.” Strider reached out, intending to grab her.
In a snap, she kicked out her leg, nailing the male between the legs. As Strider hunched over, gasping for breath, she bolted for the door, tossing over her shoulder, “I’m so disappointed in you, Lord Kane!”
She vanished into the night.
He tried to follow after her, but curse his weakness, his knees buckled. “Come back, female! Now!”
She never reappeared.
Kane experienced a tidal wave of rage that made a mockery of what had come before. He would get her back. He would stalk through the night, grab everyone he spotted, and, if they couldn’t point him in the right direction, rip their spines out of their mouths. He would leave an ocean of blood in his wake, and she would have only herself to blame. He would—
Do nothing, Disaster finished with a laugh.
It stung all the worse because Kane could only remain crumpled on the floor.
“Bring her back to me,” he shouted to Strider.
Moaning in agony, the warrior toppled to the floor. He’d just been bested by a puny little girl; his demon would be throwing out pain for the next several days.
“Go!” Kane commanded Sabin.
“No. I’m not letting you out of my sight.”
“Go!” he insisted. “Bring her back.”
“Yelling at me isn’t going to change my mind.”
Kane tried to crawl to the door, but dizziness crowded into his mind, stopping him. He spit out a mouthful of curses.
Could nothing go right for him? Not even once?
Disaster started laughing all over again.
The Realm of Blood and Shadows
A week later
KANE ROSE FROM the king-size bed and padded to his private bathroom. Already naked, he stepped into the shower. Hot water beat against newly healed skin, all the bruises and scabs finally gone. And yet, his muscles had yet to unknot.
The fury he’d experienced at the loss of his rescuer had yet to fade, and hatred for Disaster was a constant burn in his chest. And his memories…they were the worst.
They came during the day. They came during the night. He could be lying in bed, staring up at the ceiling, and all of a sudden he would be transported back to hell, his wrists and ankles bound. He could be in the shower, like now, with the water raining over him, and all of a sudden he would see the dirt, blood and…other things once caked on his skin, and no amount of scrubbing would make him clean.
He was pretty sure the wires in his brain had gotten cut during his torture. And as he’d healed physically, those wires had been reattached in the wrong places. Darkness had become a perfume that constantly wafted from his pores. Hungry anger now simmered inside him, desperate for a target.
No one was safe.
He’d lost his appetite. He could no longer sleep. Sudden noises made him scramble for a weapon.
Once, he’d rolled with the punches life threw at him. Once, he’d been a softer, nicer guy. Now, there would be no more rolling. Now, he was a raging bull, at times too violent to contain. Any wrong was punished immediately—no one would ever think him weak enough to challenge again.