Home > Kingdom of the Cursed (Kingdom of the Wicked #2)(8)

Kingdom of the Cursed (Kingdom of the Wicked #2)(8)
Author: Kerri Maniscalco

There was only a slight shift in the angle of the light and the way Wrath gruffly said, “Time to move,” that indicated it was indeed daytime. I waited for the arrogant prince to mock what happened a few hours ago, but he gave no indication I’d been half-naked and writhing against him, taunted with a sinful illusion of our bodies tangling together.

Maybe it was only a dream within a dream.

That hope rallied me up from our makeshift bed. I twisted from side to side, stretching out sore muscles. It wasn’t the worst night’s sleep I’d ever had, but it wasn’t comfortable by any means. A warm bath, a change of clothing, and a good meal were just what I needed.

At the thought of food, my stomach grumbled loud enough that Wrath turned around to look, a slight crease forming between his brows. “We don’t have much farther to travel, but, due to the terrain, it will likely take until nightfall to arrive at our destination.”

“I’ll live.”

Wrath seemed skeptical about that but kept his troublesome mouth shut.

I stared glumly at the metal corset top and started unbuttoning the demon’s shirt. Might as well get the miserable garment on quickly so we could leave. While I could definitely survive without food for a while, I’d eventually get a headache if it was too much longer.

Vittoria had been the same way. Our father used to tease us, claiming our magic burned a constant stream of energy that needed replenishing, and how it was a good thing we had a restaurant. Nonna would shake her head and shoo him away before slipping us sweets.

A different kind of ache took up residence near my heart. No matter how much I tried to shut it down, thoughts of food quickly turned to thoughts of Sea & Vine, our family trattoria.

Which was a swift emotional punch that almost had me doubling over. I missed my family terribly and I’d only spent one night in the underworld. Time might move differently here, so it was possible just an hour had passed in my world, maybe less.

I hoped Nonna managed to find a safe hiding place for everyone. Losing my twin was devastating, my grief still powerful enough to drown me if I let it surface above the fury for too long. If I lost anyone else… I shoved those worries into a little trunk near my heart and focused on getting through the day. A new thought slipped in.

“Where’s Antonio?” I watched Wrath carefully. Not that I would read much if he chose to shield his emotions. “You never told me where you sent him.”

“Someplace safe.”

He didn’t elaborate and it was probably best to let it be for now. We had more important things to focus on. Like making it out of the Sin Corridor without another prodding of my desires, and then formally introducing me to Pride and his royal court.

There would be plenty of time in the future to speak with Antonio, the human blade one of the demon princes had influenced to kill my twin. And the young man I used to dream of marrying before I knew the truth of his hatred for witches.

In my haste to get ready, I snapped a button off my borrowed shirt and cringed at the frayed thread. Knowing how fussy my traveling companion was about clothing, I braced myself for a lecture. I glanced up, an apology on my lips, surprised when Wrath shook his head, cutting my words off before I’d given voice to them.

“Keep it.” He slipped his black jacket on. I drew my brows together and he quickly noted the suspicion I didn’t try to hide. “It’s wrinkled and ruined. I refuse to be seen like that.”

“Your thoughtfulness is overwhelming. I might swoon.”

I inspected his jacket. The luxurious material pulled across his broad shoulders, accentuating the taut muscles and hard lines of his chest. Of course he would prefer to show up half-naked rather than wear a crinkled shirt in front of any demonic subjects. I almost rolled my eyes at his vanity but managed to keep my expression neutral.

I noticed something I hadn’t last night: he wore both amulets now. The first licks of anger bubbled up, but I shoved the feelings down. I’d had enough testing for one day.

He fastened the button above his trousers, leaving an unobstructed visual of his sculpted torso and the barest hint of the leather holster. The demon-forged blade was not his finest weapon—one look at him and anyone would hesitate to raise a hand.

Wrath’s eyes glinted with rakish pleasure when he saw what had caught my attention. “Would you like me to unbutton it again? Or would you prefer to do that?”

“Get over yourself. I was thinking about how conceited you are, not lusting over you.”

“You wished to get under me last night. In fact, you were quite insistent.”

I notched my chin up. He could sense a lie, so I didn’t bother with them. “Lust does not require liking or even loving someone. It’s a physical reaction, nothing more.”

“I was under the impression you weren’t interested in kissing someone you hate,” he said coolly. “Am I to believe you’d be all right bedding them now?”

“Who knows? Maybe it’s this realm and its wicked machinations.”

“Lie.”

“Fine. Maybe I was lonely and scared and you offered a distraction.”

I tucked the shirt into my skirts. It was much warmer, and I was excited to leave the metal top behind. I bent to retrieve my serpent belt and fastened it around my waist.

Wrath tracked each of my movements, his golden eyes assessing. Oddly enough, he seemed genuinely intrigued about my answer.

“Why do you care, anyway?” I asked. “It’s not as if you will be sharing my bed.”

“I’m wondering what changed.”

“We’re in the underworld, for one.” His eyes narrowed, detecting even the smallest untruth. Interesting. “Let me clear up any confusion. You’re very enjoyable to look at. And on some occasions where logic fails I may desire you, but I’ll never love you. Enjoy last night’s illusion—a fantasy is all it was and all it will ever be.”

He gave me a mocking smile as he replaced his crown. “We’ll see about that.”

“It would be so tempting to place a wager, but I refuse to sink to your level.”

His gaze smoldered, reminding me of a banked fire on the verge of igniting again. “Oh, I believe you’d enjoy every second of descending to my level. Every slip and plunge of your fall will make your pulse pound and your knees quake. Care to know why?”

“Not at all.”

An annoying half-smile ghosted across his face. He leaned in close, his voice dropping impossibly low. “Love and hate are both rooted in passion.” His lips whispered across my jaw as he slowly brought them to my ear. My breath caught from his nearness, his heat. He drew back enough to meet my gaze, his attention falling to my mouth. For a moment, I thought he was going to tip my face up to his, run his tongue over the seam of my lips and taste my lies. “Strange how that line becomes blurred over time.”

My traitorous lips parted on a sigh. Before I registered he’d even moved, he swept out of our little shelter. A shiver slid down my spine. It wasn’t the cold that unsettled me; it was the determination that flashed in his eyes. As if I’d declared war and he refused to walk away from the lure of battle. It wasn’t clear if he was referring to me never loving him, or never bedding him, but provoking the general of war meant trouble either way.

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