Home > Kingdom of the Cursed (Kingdom of the Wicked #2)(2)

Kingdom of the Cursed (Kingdom of the Wicked #2)(2)
Author: Kerri Maniscalco

Chills raced down my spine. I resisted the urge to breathe warmth into my hands or turn to Wrath for comfort. He was not my friend, and he certainly wasn’t my protector. He was exactly what his brother Envy had claimed: the worst of the seven demon princes.

A monster among beasts.

I could never allow myself to forget what he was. One of the Wicked. The immortal beings who stole souls for the devil, and the selfish midnight creatures my grandmother warned my twin and me to hide from our whole lives. Now I willingly promised to wed their king, the Prince of Pride, to end a curse. Or so I’d led them to believe.

The metal corset my future husband had given me earlier tonight turned unbearably cold in the frigid air. Layers of my dark, glittering skirts were too light to provide any true protection or warmth, and my slippers were little more than scraps of black silk with thin leather soles.

Ice sluiced through my veins. I couldn’t help but think this was yet another wicked scheme designed by my enemy to unsettle me.

Puffs of breath floated like ghosts in front of my face. Haunting, ethereal. Disturbing. Goddess above. I was really in Hell. If the demon princes didn’t get to me first, Nonna Maria was certainly going to kill me. Especially when my grandmother discovered I’d signed my soul away to Pride. Blood and bones. The devil.

An image of the scroll that bound me to House Pride flashed through my mind. I couldn’t believe I’d signed the contract in blood. Despite my earlier confidence in my plot to infiltrate this world and avenge my sister’s murder, I felt completely unprepared now that I was standing here.

Wherever “here” was, exactly. It didn’t appear as if we’d made it inside any of the seven royal demon Houses. I don’t know why I thought Wrath would make this journey easy on me.

“Are we waiting for my betrothed to arrive?”

Silence.

I shifted uncomfortably.

Smoke still drifted close enough to obscure my full view, and with my demonic escort refusing to speak, my mind started to taunt me with a wide array of inventive fears. For all I knew, Pride was standing before us, waiting to claim his bride in the flesh.

I listened hard, straining to hear any sound of an approach through the smoke. Of anything. There was nothing aside from the frantic pitter-patter of my heart.

No screams of the eternally tortured and cursed. Absolute, unnerving silence surrounded us. It felt heavy—as if all hope had been abandoned a millennium ago and all that remained was the crushing quiet of despair. It would be so easy to give up, to lie down and let the darkness in. This realm was winter in all its harsh, unforgiving glory.

And we hadn’t even passed through the gates yet…

Panic seized me. I wanted to be back in my city—with its sea-kissed air and summery people—so badly, my chest ached. But I’d made my choice, and I’d see it through, no matter what. Vittoria’s true murderer was still out there. And I’d walk through the gates of Hell a thousand times over to find him. My location changed, but my ultimate goal did not.

I took a deep breath, my emotions settling with the action.

The smoke finally dissipated, revealing my first unobstructed glimpse of the underworld.

We were alone in a cave, similar to the one we’d left high above the sea in Palermo, the very place I’d set up my bone circle and first summoned Wrath nearly two months before, but also so different my stomach lurched at the alien landscape.

From somewhere above us a few silvery pools of moonlight trickled in. It wasn’t much but offered enough illumination to see the desolate, rock-scattered ground glistening with frost.

Several meters away a towering gate stood tall and menacing, not unlike the silent prince standing beside me. Columns—carved from obsidian and depicting people being tortured and murdered in brutal fashions—bracketed two doors made entirely of skulls. Human. Animal. Demon. Some horned, others fanged. All disturbing. My focus landed on what I assumed was the handle: an elk skull with an enormous set of frost-coated antlers.

Wrath, the mighty demon of war and betrayer of my soul, shifted. A tiny spark of annoyance had me glancing his way. His penetrating gaze was already trained on me. That same cold look on his face. I wanted to claw out his heart and stomp on it to get some hint of an emotion. Anything would be better than the icy indifference he now wore so well.

He’d turned on me the second it suited his needs. He was a selfish creature. Just like Nonna had warned. And I’d been a fool to believe otherwise.

We stared at each other for an extended beat.

Here, in the shadows of the underworld, his dark gold eyes glinted like the ruby-tipped crown on his head. My pulse ticked faster the longer our gazes remained locked in battle. His hold on me tightened slightly, and it was only then that I realized I was clasping his hand in a white-knuckled grip. I dropped it and stepped away.

If he was annoyed or amused or even furious, I wouldn’t know. His expression still hadn’t changed; he was as remote as he’d been when he offered that contract with Pride a few minutes ago. If that’s the way he wanted things to be between us now, fine. I didn’t need or want him. In fact, I’d say he could go straight to Hell, but we’d both accomplished that.

He watched as I reined in my thoughts. I forced myself into a frozen calm I was far from feeling. Knowing how well he could sense emotions, it was probably futile. I looked him over.

Doing my best to emulate the demon prince, I mustered up my haughtiest tone. “The infamous gates of Hell, I presume.”

He arched a dark brow as if asking if that was the best I could come up with.

Anger replaced lingering fear. At least he was still good for something. “Is the devil too high and mighty to meet his future queen here? Or is he afraid of a dank cave?”

Wrath’s answering smile was all sharp edges and wicked delight. “This isn’t a cave. It’s a void outside the Seven Circles.”

He placed a hand on the small of my back and guided me forward. I was so shocked by the pleasant feel of him, the tender intimacy of his action, I didn’t step away. Pebbles skittered beneath our feet but didn’t make a sound. Aside from our voices, the lack of noise was jarring enough that I almost lost my balance. Wrath steadied me before letting go.

“It’s the place stars fear to enter,” he whispered near my ear, his warm breath a severe contrast against the frosty air. I shuddered. “But never the devil. Darkness is seduced by him. As is fear.”

He ran bare knuckles down my spine, enticing more goose bumps to rise. My breath hitched. I spun around and knocked his hand away.

“Take me to see Pride. I’m tired of your company.”

The ground rumbled below us. “Your pride didn’t appear in that bone circle the night you spilled blood and summoned me. It was your wrath. Your fury.”

“That may be true, your highness, but the scroll I signed said ‘House Pride,’ didn’t it?”

I stepped closer, heart thrashing as I crowded his space. The heat of his body radiated around me like sunshine, warm and enticing. It reminded me of home. The new ache in my chest was acute, consuming. I sharpened my tongue like a blade and aimed straight for his icy heart, hoping to penetrate the wall he’d so expertly erected between us. Wrong or not, I wanted to hurt him the way his deception had gutted me.

“Therefore, I chose the devil, not you. How does that feel? Knowing I’d prefer to bed a monster for eternity rather than subject myself to you again, Prince Wrath.”

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