The Darkest Touch

By: Gena Showalter

He rattled the bars. “I said, do you understand me?”

So fierce...

She breathed in deeply; the leather and musk of his scent should have been a welcome reprieve from aeons of rank, but the goose bumps breaking out over her arms aggravated her. If he’d been any other man, she would have called the reaction animal attraction. But he wasn’t. And if she’d possessed a weaker will, she would have given in to her craving and moved closer. She would have remembered how it felt to be a woman rather than a prisoner.

But she was the Red Queen and she didn’t possess a weaker will.

She planted her feet and remained in place. The male disturbed her. Noted. There was no reason to make the situation worse by flirting with temptation.

Such beautiful temptation.

Nothing would stop her from avenging Mari.

“Keeley,” he prompted. “Pay attention to me.”

Orders? “Tell me what to do again and I will rip out your spine through your mouth.”

He didn’t even blink. “That’s harder to do than you probably realize.”

“Oh, I know. It takes experience—which I have. In spades.”

Again, not a blink. “Hubris is never a good look.”

“I’m not wearing hubris. I’m wearing truth.” Calm. “Here is what I understand, warrior. Once I vowed to hurt anyone who hurt me, and I never lie. Especially to myself.” She raised her chin, knowing she was the picture of stubborn female. “You, Torin, have hurt me.”

He sighed with dejection, and yet excitement glowed in his eyes. The juxtaposition confused her. “So we are to war?” he asked.

She offered him a cold smile. “We’re already warring, warrior.”

“In that case, I would be wise to kill you now.”

“Please. Try it.” He’d have to open her door the same way he’d opened his own...something she’d attempted a thousand times. How did he do what I could not?

He frowned at her. “You actually think a woman like you can defeat me?”

A woman like her? What did that mean?

Beads of anger rolled through her. “I’ve taken down bigger and better than you.”

“Bigger maybe, but better? Doubtful, considering there is no one better.”

Hubris certainly looked good on him. “Have you heard of Typhon, the supposed father of all monstrosities? Half dragon, half snake. All attitude. Zeus likes to brag about defeating him, but I am the one who ripped him into a thousand pieces and stuffed him under a mountain. And do you know why? Because he frowned when I walked past him.”

“Yawn,” Torin said.

Her spine went rigid. “You have underestimated your opponent. A fatal mistake many before you have made. You could ask them about the experience...but they are dead.”

His gaze shifted between the lock on the door and the wound on her arm. Finally he said, “You’re mourning the loss of your friend. I’m going to give you a pass. This time. I won’t give you another.”

Aw, did the big bad warrior think he was being nice? “You have a choice. Stay in this realm or leave. One day soonish I will topple this entire prison. The moment I do, I will come for you. If you have stayed, we will conclude our business here in this realm. You have my word. If not, I will hunt your friends and start with them.”

He punched one of the bars.

Temper, temper.

A shiver stole through her.

“You can’t win against me, Keys. Why put yourself through a battle?”

She disregarded his familiarity, saying, “I suggest you use your remaining time alive setting traps for me.” No matter what he did, he would lose. But the effort might make him feel better about the defeat to come. Or not. Probably not.

His eyes narrowed. “Very well. Until we meet again...your majesty.” With a final glare that, shockingly, rendered her breathless, he left the dungeon.

* * *

KEELEY WORKED AT a fiendish pace, cutting and carving at the final brimstone scar. This is for you, Mari.

She would have finished already, but her mind had constantly drifted to Torin....

Hate him!

And yet she couldn’t stop wondering if his white-blond locks were as soft as they appeared. Or if his wicked lips would be firm against hers or soft. Or if his bronzed skin would burn oh, so good, and the hard muscles beneath clench every time she touched him.

A full-body shiver overtook her. Bad Keeley. Bad! But after everything she’d suffered, she deserved pleasure. And really, Torin owed her a little—

No way. Not going there.

Torin was forever off-limits, no matter how desperate she happened to be. He was pretty, there was no denying that, but she had to keep things in perspective. Look at Hades. A few inches taller than Torin, with a strength she’d never seen on another. His black hair was never not sexily mussed, and his midnight eyes always promised a wild carnal indulgence he was perfectly equipped to deliver. And yet Hades was just as likely to peel the skin from his bed partner as her clothing.

Keeley, the queen who had never known affection, had been helpless against his appeal. She’d fallen for him. Hard. A sizzling romance had bloomed, spanning centuries.

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