Home > Kingdom of the Cursed (Kingdom of the Wicked #2)(5)

Kingdom of the Cursed (Kingdom of the Wicked #2)(5)
Author: Kerri Maniscalco

“I did not take you for the sort to cut off their nose to spite their face.”

“If I cannot walk through snow without assistance, I might as well slit my throat now and be done with it. I do not need you or anyone else to hold my hand. In fact, I would like you to leave me alone. I’ll make better time without you.”

He stopped walking and glanced over his shoulder. There was no warmth or teasing in his expression now. “Fight the Sin Corridor, or I will leave you to your prideful hubris. You are more susceptible to falling under the influence of a particular sin when showing early attributes of it. That is my final warning and all the help I will give. Take it for what it is, or leave it.”

I gritted my teeth and did my best to follow his trail. With each step I took deeper into the underworld, it felt like the remaining pieces of myself were slowly shedding. I couldn’t help but wonder if anything familiar would be left of me by the time I returned home.

As if in answer to my circling worries, a simmering rage started to burn through me as we traveled for miles in silence. Undoubtedly, I was now being tested for wrath. It was familiar, welcome. Even though I should make sure I aligned best with pride, I tended to my anger while we picked our way down the trail, crossed over a frozen stream, and paused near a slightly wider, flatter expanse that peered over a smaller mountain range.

Clusters of evergreens that looked like the juniper and cedar sketches in Nonna’s grimoire fanned out in a semicircle around the easternmost corner where we’d paused.

Above them, angry clouds raced across the sky. Lightning lashed out like a great beast’s tongue, and a roar of thunder followed a heartbeat later. Unblinking, I watched as the dark mass galloped closer. I’d witnessed plenty of storms, but none that moved faster than the goddesses who sought vengeance. It was as if the very atmosphere was possessed.

Or perhaps this world resented its newest inhabitant and was making its displeasure known. It had that much in common with Wrath.

A few minutes later, we stopped our relentless march.

“This will have to do.”

Wrath removed his suit jacket and draped it carefully over a low-hanging branch. I’d been wrong earlier: his dagger wasn’t shoved into his jacket; he wore a leather shoulder holster over his inky shirt, and the gold hilt gleamed as he twisted around. He undid the buttons at his cuffs, quickly rolled back his sleeves, then began gathering ice-coated branches.

“What are you doing?”

“Building shelter. Unless you’d like to sleep in a storm, I suggest grabbing some evergreen branches and beating ice off them. We’ll use the ones you collect to lay on.”

“I’m not sleeping with you.” For many reasons, the most glaring being I was betrothed to his brother and—regardless of the survival aspect—I doubted the devil would be pleased if I snuggled next to another demon prince.

Wrath cracked a branch off the nearest cedar and glanced at me. “Your choice.” He swept an arm out. “But I will not nurse you back to health when you fall ill.” He gave me a hard look. “If you don’t want to freeze to death, I suggest moving swiftly.”

Not wanting to be tested for wrath or pride—or any other sin again—I swallowed any further protestations and went searching for branches. I found some a few paces away from where Wrath worked and knocked chunks of snow and ice from them as quickly as I could. Surprisingly, I moved as fast as the demon prince. In moments, I had almost more than I could carry. Which was good since my fingers were turning red and getting stiff from the cold and wet.

Once I gathered up a heaping armful, I hauled them back to our campsite. Clouds swirled around angrily, and thunder shook the ground. We had minutes left before the first plump drops hit, if we were lucky. Wrath had already created a small circular shelter beneath one of the denser trees and was in the middle of pushing snow up and around the branches he’d driven into the ground. The exterior walls were solid snow, the roof was thatched branches, and we’d both probably have to lay curled on our sides to fit. I couldn’t imagine surviving the night in a chamber made of winter’s offerings, but Wrath seemed to think we’d be safe.

I looked up; the large evergreen tree towering above us would also provide an added barrier of protection. It was a smart location to choose.

Without turning, Wrath stuck his arm out. “Hand them over.”

I did as he not-so-gently asked, giving him one branch at a time, all the while dreaming of whipping him upside the head with them. He laid them in a row, making sure the entire ground was covered in two layers of greens.

He moved swiftly and efficiently, as if he’d done this a thousand times before. And he probably had. I was not the first soul he’d stolen for the devil. But I would be his last.

Once he placed the final branch down, he started unbuttoning his shirt, careful to avoid the leather holster. That he kept on. Powerful muscles rippled as he shrugged out of the shirt, and I couldn’t help but stare at the serpent tattoo that wound up and around his right arm and shoulder. It seemed grander here, more detailed and striking.

Maybe that was because his skin looked darker when contrasted against the pale backdrop of this land, and the metallic gold lines stood out more vividly.

I cleared my throat. “Why are you undressing? Are you affected by the magic here, too?”

He looked up. Sweat dampened the dark hair at his brow, making him appear mortal for a change. “Take off your corset.”

“I’d rather not.” I gave him an incredulous look. “What in the seven hells do you think you’re doing?”

“Giving you something to wear so you don’t freeze your ass off in that metal.” He held his shirt out but pulled it back before I grasped it, eyes glittering with mirth. “Unless you’d prefer to sleep in the nude. Lady’s choice.”

My face heated. “Why can’t you just magic more clothing?”

“Any use of magic during your first journey in the Sin Corridor is considered interference.”

“You magicked a cloak.”

“Before we crossed into the true underworld.”

“What will you sleep in?”

His expression turned positively wicked as he raised a brow.

Oh.

I cursed this world and the devil and marched inside our chamber made of snow and ice and took the proffered shirt. I quickly removed my cloak and set it on the ground. Being a gentleman, Wrath exited the chamber—long enough to retrieve his jacket—and looked me over when he crowded back into the small space. So much for good manners.

His lips twitched as I twisted and tried turning the stupid garment around without touching him. It wouldn’t budge. And neither would he. I glared at the demon as if my current predicament was all his fault. He seemed utterly delighted by my anger, the heathen.

“I need your help,” I finally said. “I can’t undo it myself.”

The infernal prince inspected my corset with the same level of enthusiasm as if I’d asked him to recite a sonnet by light of a full moon, but he didn’t deny my request. “Turn around.”

“Try not to look too thrilled, or I might think you like me.”

“Count your blessings. My liking you would be a dangerous thing.”

I snorted. “Why? Would you ruin me for all other demon princes?”

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