Home > Kingdom of the Cursed (Kingdom of the Wicked #2)(3)

Kingdom of the Cursed (Kingdom of the Wicked #2)(3)
Author: Kerri Maniscalco

His attention dropped to my lips and lingered. A seductive gleam entered his eyes as I returned the favor. He might not admit it, but he wanted to kiss me. My mouth curved into a vicious grin; finally, he’d lost that cold indifference. Too bad for him I was now forbidden.

He stared a moment longer, then said with lethal quiet, “You choose the devil?”

“Yes.”

We stood near enough to share breath now. I refused to back away. And he did, too.

“If that’s what you wish, speak it to this realm. As a matter of fact”—he yanked his dagger out from inside his suit jacket—“if you’re so certain about the devil, swear a blood oath. If pride truly is your sin of choice, I imagine you won’t say no.”

Challenge burned in his gaze as he handed the blade to me, hilt-first. I snatched his House dagger and pressed the sharp metal to my fingertip. Wrath crossed his arms and gave me a flat look. He didn’t think I’d go through with it. Maybe it was my cursed pride, but it also felt a little like my temper was raging as I pricked my finger and handed the serpent blade back. I’d already signed Pride’s contract; there was no reason to hesitate now. What was done was done.

“I, Emilia Maria di Carlo, freely choose the devil.”

A single drop of blood splattered to the ground, sealing the vow. I flicked my attention to Wrath. Something ignited in the depths of his eyes, but he turned away before I could read what it was. He shoved the dagger into his jacket and started making his way toward the gates, leaving me alone at the edge of nothingness.

I thought about running, but there was nowhere to go.

I glanced around once more and hurried after the demon, falling into step beside him. I wrapped my arms around myself, trying desperately to stop the increasing shivers, which only succeeded in making me shudder more. Wrath had taken his warmth with him, and now the metal corset top bit into my skin with renewed vigor. If we stayed out here much longer, I’d freeze to death. I conjured memories of warmth, peace.

I’d only ever felt this cold once—in northern Italy—and I’d been young and thrilled by the snow then. I’d thought it was romantic; now I saw the truth: it was beautifully dangerous.

Much like my current traveling companion.

My teeth chattered like tiny hammers, the only noise in the void. “How can we hear each other?”

“Because I will it.”

Arrogant beast. I released a quivering huff. It was meant to come across as exasperated, but I feared it only gave away how cold I was. A heavy velvet cloak appeared from thin air, draping itself around my shoulders. I don’t know where Wrath magicked it from and didn’t care.

I pulled it tighter, grateful for its warmth. I opened my mouth to thank the demon but stopped myself with a swift internal shake. Wrath hadn’t acted out of kindness or even chivalry. I imagined he did it largely to make sure I didn’t die this close to accomplishing his mission.

If I recalled correctly, delivery of my soul to Pride granted him freedom from the underworld. Something he once said he prized above all else.

How exceptionally marvelous for him. His stay was over just as mine was beginning. And all he had to do was betray me to secure his heart’s greatest desire.

I supposed I understood that well enough.

Wrath continued toward the gate and didn’t look in my direction again. He pressed a hand to the column closest to us and whispered a word in a foreign tongue, too low for me to hear. Gold light pulsed from his palm and flowed into the black gemstone.

A moment later, the gates slowly creaked open. I couldn’t see what lay beyond and my mind promptly crafted all sorts of terrible things. The demon prince offered no formal invitation; he prowled toward the opening he’d made without bothering to see if I followed.

I took a deep breath and steeled my nerves. No matter what was waiting for us, I’d do what I must to achieve my goals. I nestled into my cloak and started forward.

Wrath paused on the threshold to the underworld and finally deigned to look at me again. His expression was harsher than his tone, which halted me in my tracks.

“A word of caution.”

“We’re about to enter Hell,” I said sardonically. “The caution speech may be a little late.”

He was not amused. “In the Seven Circles there are three rules to abide by. First, don’t ever reveal your true fears.”

I hadn’t planned to. “Why?”

“This world will turn itself inside out to torture you.” I opened my mouth, but he held up a hand. “Second, control your desires or they will taunt you with illusions easily confused with reality. You had a taste of what that’s like when you met Lust. Each of your desires will be magnified tenfold here, particularly when we enter the Sin Corridor.”

“The Sin Corridor.” I didn’t pose it as a question, but Wrath answered anyway.

“New subjects of the realm are tested to see which royal House their dominant sin aligns best with. You will experience a certain… prodding… of emotions as you pass through it.”

“I signed my soul to Pride. Why do I need to see where I’m best suited?”

“Live long enough to find that answer out yourself.”

I swallowed my rising discomfort. Nonna always cautioned that bad news came in threes, which meant the worst was yet to come. “The third rule is…”

His attention slid to the finger I’d pricked. “Be cautious when making blood bargains with a prince of Hell. And under no circumstances should you ever make one involving the devil. What’s his is his. Only a fool would fight or challenge him.”

I ground my teeth together. The true games of deception had clearly begun. His warning vaguely reminded me of a note from our family grimoire, and I wondered how we’d come to hold that knowledge. I tucked those thoughts away, focusing instead on my growing anger.

He was no doubt stoking my emotions with his namesake power. Which enraged me all the more. “Signing my soul away wasn’t quite good enough. So you resorted to trickery. At least you’re consistent.”

“Someday you’ll see it as a favor.”

Unlikely. I curled my injured hand into a fist. Wrath met my gaze again, and a smile tugged at the corners of his sensuous mouth. He undoubtedly sensed my growing fury.

One day, soon enough, I would make him pay for this.

I gave him a dazzling smile, letting myself imagine how good it would feel when I finally destroyed him. His expression shuttered and he inclined his head—as if reading my every thought and emotion and silently vowed to do the same. In this hatred we were united.

Holding his intense stare, I nodded back, thankful for his treachery. It was the last time I’d fall for his lies. With any luck, though, it would be the start of him and his wicked brothers falling for mine. I’d need to play my role well, or I’d end up dead like the other witch brides.

I brushed past him and strode through the gates of Hell as if I owned them. “Take me to my new home. I’m ready to greet my dear husband.”

 

 

TWO


From the darkness of the cave we exited onto a gleaming mountaintop tundra.

I blinked away the sudden stinging in my eyes and beheld this cruel, unforgiving world. Goddess curse me. This was as far away from home as I could get.

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