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

His vision had nearly gone red with bloodlust, but he reined in his temper through sheer force of will. The witch would be of no use to him dead now, especially if he ever hoped to regain what was stolen.

She clicked her tongue once, as if disappointed he didn’t release his inner monster to fight back, and started to turn away. He didn’t bother charging after her. When he spoke, his voice was as dark and quiet as the night. “You’re wrong.”

She paused, tossing a glance over a delicate shoulder. “Oh?”

“The devil may be nasty, but he doesn’t perform tricks.” His smile was temptation incarnate. “He bargains.”

For the first time the witch seemed uncertain. She’d thought herself to be the most cunning, lethal one. She’d forgotten whose throne room she stood in and how he’d clawed himself onto that cursed and wretched thing. He would take immense pleasure in reminding her.

This was the kingdom of the Wicked, and he ruled them all.

“Care to strike a deal?”


Hell was not what I expected.

Ignoring the traitorous Prince of Wrath at my side, I took a quiet, shuddering breath as smoke wafted around from the demon magic he’d used to transport us here. To the Seven Circles.

In the brief moments it took us to travel from the cave in Palermo to this realm, I’d concocted various visions of our arrival, each one more terrible than the last. In every nightmare, I’d pictured a cascade of fire and brimstone raining down. Flames burning hot enough to scorch my soul or melt the flesh right off my bones. Instead, I fought a sudden shiver.

Through the lingering smoke and mist I could just make out walls hewn from a strange, opaque gemstone that shot up farther than I could see. They were either deep blue or black, as if the darkest part of the sea had swelled up to an impossible height and had frozen in place.

Chills raced down my spine. I resisted the urge to breathe warmth into my hands or turn to Wrath for comfort. He was not my friend, and he certainly wasn’t my protector. He was exactly what his brother Envy had claimed: the worst of the seven demon princes.

A monster among beasts.

I could never allow myself to forget what he was. One of the Wicked. The immortal beings who stole souls for the devil, and the selfish midnight creatures my grandmother warned my twin and me to hide from our whole lives. Now I willingly promised to wed their king, the Prince of Pride, to end a curse. Or so I’d led them to believe.

The metal corset my future husband had given me earlier tonight turned unbearably cold in the frigid air. Layers of my dark, glittering skirts were too light to provide any true protection or warmth, and my slippers were little more than scraps of black silk with thin leather soles.

Ice sluiced through my veins. I couldn’t help but think this was yet another wicked scheme designed by my enemy to unsettle me.

Puffs of breath floated like ghosts in front of my face. Haunting, ethereal. Disturbing. Goddess above. I was really in Hell. If the demon princes didn’t get to me first, Nonna Maria was certainly going to kill me. Especially when my grandmother discovered I’d signed my soul away to Pride. Blood and bones. The devil.

An image of the scroll that bound me to House Pride flashed through my mind. I couldn’t believe I’d signed the contract in blood. Despite my earlier confidence in my plot to infiltrate this world and avenge my sister’s murder, I felt completely unprepared now that I was standing here.

Wherever “here” was, exactly. It didn’t appear as if we’d made it inside any of the seven royal demon Houses. I don’t know why I thought Wrath would make this journey easy on me.

“Are we waiting for my betrothed to arrive?”


I shifted uncomfortably.

Smoke still drifted close enough to obscure my full view, and with my demonic escort refusing to speak, my mind started to taunt me with a wide array of inventive fears. For all I knew, Pride was standing before us, waiting to claim his bride in the flesh.

I listened hard, straining to hear any sound of an approach through the smoke. Of anything. There was nothing aside from the frantic pitter-patter of my heart.

No screams of the eternally tortured and cursed. Absolute, unnerving silence surrounded us. It felt heavy—as if all hope had been abandoned a millennium ago and all that remained was the crushing quiet of despair. It would be so easy to give up, to lie down and let the darkness in. This realm was winter in all its harsh, unforgiving glory.

And we hadn’t even passed through the gates yet…

Panic seized me. I wanted to be back in my city—with its sea-kissed air and summery people—so badly, my chest ached. But I’d made my choice, and I’d see it through, no matter what. Vittoria’s true murderer was still out there. And I’d walk through the gates of Hell a thousand times over to find him. My location changed, but my ultimate goal did not.

I took a deep breath, my emotions settling with the action.

The smoke finally dissipated, revealing my first unobstructed glimpse of the underworld.

We were alone in a cave, similar to the one we’d left high above the sea in Palermo, the very place I’d set up my bone circle and first summoned Wrath nearly two months before, but also so different my stomach lurched at the alien landscape.

From somewhere above us a few silvery pools of moonlight trickled in. It wasn’t much but offered enough illumination to see the desolate, rock-scattered ground glistening with frost.

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