The Darkest Touch

By: Gena Showalter

The bars of his cage rattled.

Direct hit.

“You won’t go near them,” he bellowed. Either he’d returned to full strength, or his mounting rage now drove him. “They’ve done nothing to you.”

“Like Mari had done nothing to you?”

“You weren’t there. You don’t know how things went down. You’re blaming me for an accident.”

“We both know you blame yourself. Why shouldn’t I?”

A moment passed, and when next he spoke, he was cool and collected once more, his tone actually languid. “Don’t you go getting all psychoanalytical on me, princess. I blame myself, yes. You can blame me, too. But take it out on me, not anyone else.”

Though he couldn’t see her, she raised her chin. “I am a queen. Call me ‘princess’ again and I will castrate you before I kill you.” For many years, castration had been her preferred method of punishment. The secret was in the turn of the wrist.

He muttered, “You should be grateful princess is all I’m calling you.”

“And you should know I will do whatever I deem fitting to whomever I deem deserving.”

“Your attitude makes me think you’re still unclear about the huge mistake you’re making.” He’d moved from calm to charm, but not even that dulled the sharp-edged steel accompanying his every word. “You may or may not be the Red Queen immortals fear, but I am a warrior with whom one does not screw. On the field of battle, I enjoy the feel of a blade slicing through my opponent. I like the scent of blood. It invigorates me. I even think screams of pain make a beautiful soundtrack while I’m working out.”

In their world, strength mattered. And the way he’d just described himself...


No, not sexy!

“Yawn,” was all she allowed herself to say.

“Yawn?” The bars rattled much harder. “Did you just yawn me?”

“Just so you know, I’ve eaten warriors like you for breakfast.”

He didn’t miss a beat. “Well, did you spit or swallow? Never mind. Don’t answer. Your sexual kinkiness has no bearing on this situation. I’d appreciate it if you’d focus.”

Heat flamed her cheeks. “I wasn’t talking about that!”

“Hey, I’m not here to judge. I’m here because I’d hoped to—” He stopped, a palpable sense of amazement thickening air that never quite lost the stench of unwashed bodies and filth.

What was going on? “You hoped to...what? Help Mari? Well, too late. You didn’t. She’s gone, and—” Keeley’s chin quaked so violently she had trouble getting out her next words. “And someone has to pay. Several someones.”

“Trust me. I’m—” click... “—paying.” The groan of rusty hinges accompanied the last word. Then...pounding footsteps sounded?

She frowned, confused. Had he just—


Keeley jumped to her feet, the shiv falling from her hand. Torin stood in front of her cell, a backpack hanging from his shoulder. He was everything a girl could want—and more. Mercenary-tall and cold-blooded-killer honed. My favorite. My weakness.

She’d gone centuries without seeing another person...without touching one. Why did Torin have to be so magnificent? His hair was snow-white, but his brows and lashes were night-dark, and the contrast was a sensuous delight. But, oh, his eyes...they were his most startling feature. They were the rarest of emeralds, intertwined with different shades of green, all without a single flaw.

Nerve endings she’d thought long deadened stirred to life and tingled. Moisture flooded her mouth. The blood in her veins turned molten.

Close the distance...touch him...

Definitely not...well, maybe. There was a rip in the collar of his shirt, causing the material to gape over a massive, muscular chest completely healed from his impromptu self-surgery. Taste...

“How did you escape an inescapable prison?” she demanded. I’m deprived. That’s all. An aardvark would have had this effect on her.

“A secret I forgot,” he replied.

“That’s not an answer.”

“Wasn’t meant to be.” His gaze raked over her, the intensity of it staggering—aggression in its purest form. His pupils dilated, black quickly overshadowing green. The most exquisite eclipse. One caused by...lust? Did this bad boy find her attractive despite her oddities?

The blood in her veins utterly boiled with desire.

What about his crime?

The boil tapered to a simmer. “You had best run while you can, warrior.”

“Or what, princess?”

“I’ll hurt you worse.”

He flicked his tongue over an incisor. Struggling for the tranquility he’d seemed to display so easily before? “I will warn you once. Only once. Never again threaten my friends. You do and I’ll end you. I won’t want to, and I’ll even hate myself afterward, but I will do it. Do you understand?”

Oh, yes. She understood. “You’re even more of a protector than I’d realized.”

For a moment, she experienced a keen jealousy directed at his friends. They were loved by this man wholeheartedly, nothing held back. With Mari gone—razors in my chest, slashing at me—there was no one in the world who would defend Keeley. Not that she needed defending. I am, and will forever be, a powder keg without equal. But the gesture would have been welcome.

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