Kingdom of the Cursed (Kingdom of the Wicked, #2) (11)

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.”


“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.

As I pulled my cloak on, I recalled Nonna’s warnings about the Wicked—how once someone caught a demon prince’s attention he’d stop at nothing to claim them.

The way Wrath had looked at me made me think those stories were true. And despite his earlier proclamation about me being the last creature in all the realms he would want, and the fact I was now promised to his brother, something undeniably had just changed.

Goddess help us both.

Morning kicked and screamed its way toward noon as if it were a spoiled child throwing a tantrum. Snow squalls appeared, fierce and howling, and left as quickly as they’d arrived. When I thought the weather had finally turned moderate, ice pelted us.

Frozen strands of dark hair stuck to my face, and my cloak suctioned to my body like a second skin. I was cold and miserable in ways I’d never experienced at home on my warm island. Various body parts either burned or stung from the ice, and I’d long since lost sensation in my feet. I hoped I wouldn’t lose a toe or three to frostbite.

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