Home > Kingdom of the Cursed (Kingdom of the Wicked #2)(6)

Kingdom of the Cursed (Kingdom of the Wicked #2)(6)
Author: Kerri Maniscalco

“Something close.”

He smiled and motioned for me to turn. His fingers moved deftly across the ribbons crisscrossing down my back, tugging and undoing with militaristic precision.

I held the front of my top to keep myself from spilling out as the back fell open a moment later, exposing my skin. Frost-kissed air danced over me.

I’d never gotten out of a corset that quickly before. Either his supernatural senses aided him, or he had a lot of practice with undressing women.

Unbidden, a flash of him bedding someone crossed my mind in strikingly vivid detail. I saw perfectly filed nails digging into his back, long, tanned legs wrapping around his hips, soft groans of pleasure escaping as he rhythmically thrusted.

A dark feeling slithered through me at the thought. I ground my teeth together, suddenly biting back a string of accusations as I spun around. If I didn’t know any better, I’d think I was…

“Envious.” Wrath easily detected my change in mood.

“Stop reading my emotions.” I jerked my attention up to his. His expression was wiped clean. Gone was any glint of wry humor or wickedness. He stood rigidly, as if forcing himself to become an immoveable block of ice. Apparently, the idea of touching me that way was revolting.

“The corridor will continue testing you.” He observed the flush staining my cheeks a deep shade of red but didn’t comment on it. His attention briefly shifted to my neck before he brought it back up to my eyes. “Shut down as many of your emotions as possible. They’re only going to get more intense from this point forward. Aside from fear, this world thrives on both sin and desire in equal measure.”

“Isn’t desire the same as lust?”

“No. You can desire riches, power, or status. Friendship or vengeance. Desires are more complex wants than mere sins. Sometimes they’re good. Other times they reflect insecurities. This world is influenced by those who rule it. Over time it’s come to toy with us all.”

Avoiding further eye contact, he stepped away, removed his crown, and laid down on the edge of the branches, going so far as to face the opposite direction. Even still, we’d be sleeping entirely too close. There was barely a hand space between us.

Envious. About him rutting like a pig with someone else.

The notion was ridiculous, especially after his betrayal, but the lingering sense of jealousy didn’t leave right away. I cursed under my breath and focused harder on getting my emotions under control. The last thing I needed was to have this realm lure me deeper into those seven ruling sins by feeding on my feelings.

I dropped the metal corset/torture device and tugged his shirt on. It was huge on my frame, but I didn’t care. It was warm and smelled of the prince. Mint and summer. And something distinctly, unmistakably, male.

I looked over at Wrath. He was still shirtless despite the crispness of the air. Aside from his close-fitting trousers, he only wore the shoulder holster and dagger. It was going to be a long, miserable night. “Aren’t you going to put your jacket back on?”

“Stop having filthy thoughts about me and get some rest.”

“I should have killed you when I had the chance.”

He rolled over to study me, his gaze slow and meandering as it traveled from my eyes, over the curve of my cheeks, and settled on my lips. After a long moment, he said, “Sleep.”

I sighed, then sunk to the ground and pulled my cloak over me like a blanket. The small space quickly filled with the scent of cedar and pine. Outside the wind howled. A moment later, small ice pellets assaulted our chamber. Nothing infiltrated our shelter, though.

I lay there for a while, listening to the demon’s breathing turn slow and even. Once I was sure he was asleep, I peered at him again; he slept as if he didn’t have a care in the world: the deep slumber of an apex predator. I stared at the shimmering ink on his shoulders, the lines of Latin still too pale and distant to make out.

Against my better judgment, I let myself become curious about what held enough value or importance for him to permanently mark his body with it. I wanted to crack his soul open and read him like a book, discovering the deepest secrets and stories of how he came to be.

Which was foolish.

I tried not to notice the way our matching tattoo had elegantly crawled past his elbow now as well. His double crescent moons, wildflowers, and serpents reminded me of a fairy tale scene captured in a fresco back home. Something about gods and monsters.

I desperately tried not to think about how much I wanted to trace his tattoos, first with my fingertips and then with my mouth. Tasting, exploring.

I especially didn’t allow myself to think about being the person he’d laid out and made love to. His hard, powerful body moving on top of mine, deep inside of…

I shut that scandalously carnal thought down, shocked by the intensity of it.

Devious Sin Corridor. I was obviously being tested for lust now and, considering my bedmate, that was more dangerous than any hell beast prowling around outside, thirsting for my blood. I don’t know how much time passed, but sleep eventually found me.

A while later, I stirred. The storm raged, but that wasn’t what roused me. Warm breath tickled my neck in even, rhythmic strokes. Sometime during the night I must have shimmied up against the demon. And, surprisingly, neither one of us had moved.

Wrath lay behind me, one heavy arm draped possessively over my waist as if daring any intruder to steal what he’d claimed as his. I should scoot away. And not just for propriety’s sake. Being this close to him was like playing with fire and I’d already felt his burn, but I didn’t want to move. I liked his arm on my body, the weight and feel and scent of him curled around me like a python. I wanted him to claim me, almost as much as I wanted him to be mine.

The instant that thought came, he stopped breathing steadily.

I inched backward, pressing myself against his chest, still craving more contact.

His hold on me constricted a fraction. “Emilia…”

“Yes?”

We both stilled at the sultry tone of my voice, the longing I couldn’t hide. I hardly recognized this openly desirous version of myself. Back home, women were taught that those wants were evil, wrong. Men could indulge in their baser needs and no one called them ungodly. They were rakes, rogues—scandalous but not ostracized for their behavior.

A man with a healthy sexual appetite was considered to be full of vitality, a prime catch. Experienced for his partner, should he ever decide to wed. While women were taught to remain virginal, pure. As if our wants were dirty, shameful things.

I wasn’t human, nor was I a member of the nobility—who suffered more restrictions than I ever had—but I’d certainly been raised with those same notions.

I was no longer in the mortal world, though. No longer bound to play by their rules.

A frisson of surprise shot through me. I couldn’t decide if it was from excitement or fear of letting myself remove those shackles here. Maybe I did know, and maybe that was the part that scared me. I wanted something I’d been warned against. And now all I had to do was reach out and welcome it. It was time to be brave, bold.

Instead of being ruled by fear, I could become fearless. Beginning now. I nestled against Wrath again, my choice made. He slowly trailed a hand down the front of my shirt, toying with the buttons. I bit my lip to keep from gasping.

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