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A sexy, emotional roller coaster ride with explosive chemistry between a powerhouse couple. I was hooked from the first page!”– J.T. Geissinger, author

Resist, the first in an all-new irresistible duet by New York Times bestselling author K. Bromberg is available now!

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From the New York Times bestselling author of the Driven series comes a powerful romance about reaching great heights through low depths.

Who says you have to play by the rules to get what you want?

Agreeing to meet Ryker Lockhart is my first mistake. Rich, handsome, and more than intriguing, he thinks blackmail will bend me to his will.

But he’s wrong.

I may have done a few things that weren’t exactly legal, but I have my own reasons for that. The last thing I’m going to do is let some high-powered divorce attorney come into my life, have my body, and rule my heart. Not to mention ruin everything that I have carefully built in just a short amount of time.

But as much as I try to resist him, and against my better judgment, there is something about him that has me agreeing to his proposal.

I’m putting everything on the line for him. I just hope I won’t lose everything when this is all over.

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About K. Bromberg

New York Times Bestselling author K. Bromberg writes contemporary novels that contain a mixture of sweet, emotional, a whole lot of sexy, and a little bit of real. She likes to write strong heroines, and damaged heroes who we love to hate and hate to love.

A mom of three, she plots her novels in between school runs and soccer practices, more often than not with her laptop in tow.

Since publishing her first book in 2013, Kristy has sold over one million copies of her books across sixteen different countries and has landed on the New York Times, USA Today, and Wall Street Journal Bestsellers lists over twenty-five times. Her Driven trilogy (Driven, Fueled, and Crashed) is currently being adapted for film by Passionflix with the first movie slated to release in the summer of 2018.

She is currently working on her Everyday Heroes trilogy. This series consists of three complete standalone novels—Cuffed, Combust, and Cockpit (late spring 2018)—and is about three brothers who are emergency responders, the jobs that call to them, and the women who challenge them.

She loves to hear from her readers so make sure you check her out on social media or sign up for her newsletter to stay up to date on all her latest releases and sales: http://bit.ly/254MWtI

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Savagery. Sin. Depravity—-these are my virtues.

My religion.

Depraved, an all-new sexy and gritty mafia romance standalone from Trilina Pucci, is available now!

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My name is Dante Sovrano, head of the Chicago Mob,

and I run this city.

Everyone bows down to me.

Except her.

The moment I saw Sarah, I knew she’d be trouble.

She’s fiery and cutthroat, wrapped up in a lickable package.

But there are dark secrets hiding behind those gorgeous blue eyes.

And I plan to know them all because she’ll have to make a deal with the devil to solve her problems.

Too bad the devil always takes your soul.

And I’ll be keeping it—

Because Sarah London is mine.

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The newest ALPHA in A Sinful Series is the definition of depraved. Dante Sovrano is ruthless and knows exactly who and what he wants. Good luck standing in his way.

Download your copy today or read FREE in Kindle Unlimited!

Don’t miss out on the special release week price of $2.99.

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About Trilina

Trilina is an author, wife, and mama to three rowdy kiddos. When she isn’t making grilled cheese sandwiches, she can be found writing saucy novels that titillate and excite her readers.

Pucci’s journey started impulsively. She wanted to check off a box on her bucket list. But what began as fulfillment has become incredibly fulfilling. And now she can’t see her life without her characters, her readers and this community.

She currently resides in Northern California with her Italian stallion and her feral children, where the days are slow and easy and wine pours are heavy. (just kidding…maybe)

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Title: Salvation
Series: Angel’s Halo MC Next Gen #1
Author: Terri Anne Browning
Genre: Contemporary MC Romance
Release Date: July 30, 2019



Blurb

Lexa
These feelings I have for Ben can’t go anywhere.
I’m the Angels Halo MC president’s daughter.
And he is the sheriff.

For both our sakes, I have to keep him away.


Ben
Lexa calms the rage that I’ve struggled with my entire life.
I couldn’t care less who her father is.
Nothing matters but making her mine.

Because my broken beauty is where my salvation begins.


***You can read the Prelude to Salvation in Love, Loyalty & Mayhem: A Motorcycle Club Romance Anthology—out now***







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Terri Anne Browning is a USA TODAY bestselling author. Being dyslexic, she never thought a career in writing would be possible, yet she has been on bestselling lists multiple times since 2013. Reese: A Safe Haven Novella was her first Indie published book. The Rocker Who Holds Me changed the tables and kicked off The Rocker… series featuring the sinfully delicious members of Demon’s Wings. The Rocker… Series is now complete with 12 books and the occasional novella. Other books by Terri Anne include the Angel’s Halo MC Series, as well as The Lucy & Harris Novella Series, The Vitucci Mafiosos Series, and The Tainted Knights Rocker Series.

Terri Anne lives in Virginia with her husband, their three demons—err, children–and a hyper Frenchie named Grunt.



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Title: Convicted
Author: Kristi Pelton
Genre: New Adult Romance
Release Date: July 30, 2019



Blurb

Nothing in life has ever come easy for the boy from the other side of the tracks.  

A mother that left. A father that hit. A brother that protected.

They say everything happens for a reason.

Joss Hess has spent his entire life looking for that reason.

After nearly killing a man and barely avoiding prison, Joss finds himself sentenced to 18 months on Briscoe Ranch, where certain things are expected.  

Hard work. Manners. Responsibility. Respect. Worst of all—anger management and restraint.

If he fails, Joss will be sent back to the state penitentiary to serve the remainder of his sentence.

One road block stands between Joss and his freedom: Ren Briscoe


Raised by ranchers, Ren Briscoe has been around men her entire life.

Home on summer vacation, she quickly realizes that Joss Hess is unlike any man she has ever encountered before.

She hates everything about him…his filthy mouth, arrogant attitude, the way he makes fun of her purity ring and her boyfriend. Mostly, she hates him because no matter how hard she fights it, Joss occupies her every thought. He may be the convict serving his sentence; but the real prisoner is Ren.  







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Author Bio

Just the fact that someone may be reading my ‘bio’ thrills me. What does one say in an author bio? Well, I LOVE to write! Sometimes characters talk to me in my head (in a non-psychotic way) and I have to get what they are saying out on paper! So, here we are! 😊

I am a part-time juvenile probation officer and full-time wife…but I spend the majority of the time helping my two favorite, college-aged sons navigate through life and hopefully become the best humans they can be.

I am a huge fan of the Kansas Jayhawks, the Oregon Ducks and the Chicago Cubs! (I have a dog named Wrigley)

I’m terribly addicted to music—ALLLLL kinds and driving in the car with the sunroof open and radio turned up helps the creative juices flow.

I am deliciously addicted to queso and cupcakes; but even with that…I like to slowly kill my body with Crossfit. I’m annoyingly sarcastic.

People ask me ‘what has been your favorite book to write’—I would have to say my original series. (I think it sold 100 copies)  J   Someday…I may have to tweak them a bit because my heart was poured into those books—but they need help!  Slick was my Amazon best seller…but every one of them mean something to me.

In the end, I truly believe life is taken way too seriously by most…I say enjoy every moment, have an adult beverage and READ!! Cheers….


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Title: Two Hearts
Series: Sweetbriar Cove #10; Kinsella Family #1
Author: Melody Grace
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Release Date: July 30, 2019



Blurb

Discover summer love in Sweetbriar Cove with the new standalone romance from New York Times bestselling author Melody Grace!

Alice Evans wants to shake things up. Two years after tragedy first brought her back to Cape Cod, she’s still going through the motions, stuck in the same old routine. She’s looking for something to get her heart racing… Something, or someone — like the handsome stranger who comes roaring into town on a classic motorcycle, turning heads and sending the summer temperatures soaring. 

Jackson Kinsella isn’t looking to be tied down. A world-class photographer, he’s just in town visiting his grandfather and getting some much-needed rest and relaxation. But the mysterious brunette he meets on the Fourth of July won’t let his mind rest, and the sparks between them are anything but relaxing… 

The connection between them is immediate, and soon, their romance is heating up Sweetbriar Cove. But can Alice find the strength to start over? And will Jackson’s restless spirit keep him from true love? 

Find out in the new swoon-worthy standalone romance from New York Times bestselling author, Melody Grace!

Sweetbriar Cove Series:
1. Meant to Be
2. All for You
3. The Only One
4. I’m Yours
5. Holiday Kisses
6. No Ordinary Love
7. Wildest Dreams
8. This Kiss
9. Always Be Mine
10. Two Hearts (Kinsella Family #1)
11. The Story of Us (Kinsella Family #2) – November 2019
12. Back to You (Kinsella Family #3) – March 2020







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Author Bio


A small-town girl, Melody grew up in the English countryside before moving to Los Angeles. She is now a New York Times bestselling author of feel-good contemporary romance novels, and is also currently writing for the upcoming BRIDGERTONS television adaptation from Netflix. She has two cats. 


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Title: Perky
Author: Julia Kent
Genre: Romantic Comedy
Release Date: July 30, 2019



Blurb

AN ALL-NEW STANDALONE FROM NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLING AUTHOR JULIA KENT

One hundred years ago when I was young and impulsive (okay, it was five, alright? Five years ago…) I let my boyfriend take, let’s just say… compromising pictures of me.

(Shut up. It made sense at the time).

Surprise! The sleazy back-stabbing jerk posted them on a website and, well, you can guess what happened. That’s right.

I’m a meme. A really gross one.

You’ve seen the pictures. And if you haven’t – don’t ask. And don’t look!

As face recognition software online improves, I get tagged on social media whenever anyone shares my pictures. You try getting a thousand notifications a day, all of them pictures of your tatas.

So. I’m done.

It’s time for revenge. Let him see how it feels! But how do you get embarrassingly intimate pictures of your jerkface ex who double-crossed you five years ago?

Especially when he’s a member of the U.S.House of Representatives now?

Getting sweet between the sheets with a congressman is pretty much every political roadie’s dream, right? I’m one in a crowd.

Except to this day, he swears he didn’t do it. Pursued me for months after I dumped him five years ago. Begged me to take him back.

And I almost did it. Almost. I was weak and stupid and in love a hundred years ago.

Okay. Fine. Five.

But I still have the upper hand. Second chance romance has all the emotional feels, doesn’t it?

I can’t wait to punch him in the feels.

All I need to do is sleep with him once, take some hot-and-sweaty pics of him in… delicate positions, and bring him down. That’s it. Nothing more.

Pictures first. Revenge after. And then I win.

At least, that’s how it was supposed to happen. But then I did something worse than sexting.

I fell in love with him. Again.








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Excerpt

Parker’s grasp as we kiss is masterful, his hips pivoting until we’re in a tiny closet, the door shutting behind us, our bodies surrounded by coats. At any second, someone could walk in, find us, interrupt and embarrass us, but I don’t care as my fingers grasp his thick, hard chest. He doesn’t care as his hand slides between my thighs, my need to be touched so great that I moan into his mouth, biting his lip. He makes a sound that says he needs this, too, his erection pressing into my hip, the centering of his thickness as he nudges my legs wider with his knee making me hold my breath as he rubs up, just once, just right, just there.
“I’ve missed you,” he hisses as his mouth takes my earlobe, sucking gently, then hard, the tip of his tongue flicking and laving, my clit spasming as it imagines him doing this between my legs. My fingertips dig into his shoulders, one hand diving down the length of his abs until I cup his sac, then ride the ridge of my palm up his long, thick, engorged–
“What are we doing, Parker?” I gasp.
“Whatever we want,” he says, so steady, so sure, so unabashedly here.
“SKIP?” someone calls out from behind the door.
“PERKY?” Mallory whisper-yells, her voice breaking through as I clench, my whole body going tight, the core of me shivering with an orgasm that crashes over me as Parker’s leg, his mouth, his very presence, make me lose my everloving mind.
And all my self-control.
Every shred of it.






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Author Bio


New York Times and USA Today Bestselling Author Julia Kent writes romantic comedy with an edge. From billionaires to BBWs to new adult rock stars, Julia finds a sensual, goofy joy in every contemporary romance she writes. Unlike Shannon from Shopping for a Billionaire, she did not meet her husband after dropping her phone in a men’s room toilet (and he isn’t a billionaire). She lives in New England with her husband and three sons in a household where the toilet seat is never, ever, down.


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Title: Until December
Series: Until Her #5
Author: Aurora Rose Reynolds
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Release Date: July 30, 2019



Blurb

Gareth Black is drawn to December Mayson the moment he spots her across the room at her cousin’s wedding. When he approaches the beautiful woman, she captivates him with her shyness and wit, making him crave her.

With a pull so strong it’s impossible to ignore, December knows there’s something between her and Gareth. She just hopes they’re capable of jumping the hurdles ahead of them.

Two boys, an ex, a surprise that will change everything, and a disgruntled co-worker, guarantee these two will have their work cut out for them if they are going to find their happily ever after.







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Author Bio


Aurora Rose Reynolds is a New York Times, USA Today and Wall Street Journal bestselling author whose wildly popular series include Until, Until Him, Until Her, Underground Kings and Shooting Stars.

Her writing career started in an attempt to get the outrageously alpha men who resided in her head to leave her alone and has blossomed into an opportunity to share her stories with readers all over the world.


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Title: Queen of All
Series: The Masks of Under #6
Author: Kathryn Ann Kingsley
Genre: Dark Adult Fantasy Romance
Release Date: July 30, 2019 Publisher: Limitless Publishing
“The world of Under has been remade into what it was long before the Ancients were put in their prison. They are free, and with them comes the reign of the callous, merciless King who was once the man I loved.
I always knew Aon was a monster, and as the King of All he is far worse. But a part of me refuses to give up on him, hoping that Aon might be strong enough to shed the skin of the ruthless King he had become. 
But time is running out, and the Ancients are forcing me to choose. Either I let them destroy who I truly am, or fall to my knees and be remade into the one thing the King of All has always wanted, yet has always been denied…
The Queen of All.”
“Queen of All” Extended Excerpt
The Masks of Under
Kathryn Ann Kingsley
Chapter One
“Kneel for me…or kill me.”
The look in his eyes. There had been such dark desperation, hunger, and desire. He meant every word. That was the choice before her. There was no third way out. There was nowhere left to run, nowhere left to hide.
Submit or take his marks and end his life.
Really, that was what she should do. Take the second option and end the havoc and the death.
That’d be the logical choice.
The moment they had reappeared from the battlefield, he had pinned her to a column in his bedroom. In a panic, she had summoned a knife and tried to defend herself. Now she held that obsidian blade against the pitch-black ink on his pale cheek, and he made no move to stop her. In fact, he turned his head so she had better access and a clean shot to slice them off.
She should kill him. She really should.
It’d be the smart thing to do.
She never claimed to be smart.
He watched her with that icy, stone-like expression of a king, a man who was the master of everything around him, but his eyes were flashing in fascination and that heady mix of darkness and passion she had come to love so much. He might be like the oldest brother to the man she knew, but this was still—in some strange and horrible way—her Aon.
“Well? Make your choice.”
She couldn’t do it.
As her grasp on the blade loosened, his expression smoothed into a haughty one. He could see her defeat. He traced his flesh-and-blood hand slowly up her arm, leaving goosebumps in his wake. As he reached the back of her hand, he gently took the knife from her. Slowly enough that she could change her mind. Gently enough that she could argue.
She let him.
Her hand was trembling. She was trembling. His presence was washing over her like a dark cloud, like a fog. He flicked his wrist and tossed the knife away, letting it skitter across the floor toward the wall.
Aon stepped into her, pinning her to the column. His other hand grasped her hair, holding her head still, as his lips descended on hers.
The warlock was like a whirlwind or the crash of a storm as he overtook her instantly. God, how quickly she melted against him as he kissed her, possessive and passionate. He turned his head to deepen it, demanding entrance to her mouth with his tongue. She let him in without any resistance, letting her eyes slip shut. The stone column felt more escapable than he was right now.
He moaned against her lips. When he finally let up from the kiss, she was breathless and trembling. His own chest was heaving. He let his finger trail across her lower lip, swollen from his attention.
He took another step back, releasing her, leaving her standing there on her own, shivering at his sudden absence even in the hot air of the desert that flowed through the room. He seemed to be waiting for her to do something. But what?
Then it hit her. 
Oh.
“Kneel for me…or kill me.”
If she couldn’t do the latter, then he expected the former.
Swallowing the lump in her throat, her stomach twisted into a knot, that same familiar sense of fear and excitement he had always had over her. He was terrifying and always had been. And now, he was a whole different animal. 
“You asked me to take what was mine. Do not forget that.”
“Because you made me.”
“And what did I give you in return?”
Lydia cringed and lowered her head, her hands tightening into fists. She had asked him to take her, but to spare the lives of everyone else. She shouldn’t have been so surprised he was going to take her words very literally. That was what he had been wanting her to do, after all. And no small part of her wanted the same thing.
“Do not look so morose. You will lead me to think you have not anticipated this as much as I.” He chuckled at the defiant glare she gave him, and his features twisted into a playful, fiendish grin. One that was almost familiar. “What an expression…how long will you stay bitter at me, I wonder?”
“A good long while,” she snapped back at him angrily.
He let out a thoughtful noise as he watched her. “Fear, anger, and desire, in equal measures…makes for such an irresistible drug, don’t you think? Kneel. I grow impatient.”
“Wh—”
“You heard me. Kneel to your King. Or do you break your vow so quickly?”
“I—” Lydia began, but as his expression turned wicked, she knew he would put her there on his own if she said no. This was part of his game. She had agreed to do as he asked as part of her prisoner of war exchange. Herself, for everyone else. He was testing her resolve—to see if she was willing to shatter their agreement so quickly.
Wincing, she looked away from him and growled quietly in frustration. Fine. Fine! Okay. This wasn’t anything outrageous. He wasn’t asking her to kill someone. He wasn’t asking her to cut off her own arm.
This wasn’t anything she didn’t want, if she was honest with herself. She took a few steps forward away from the column and clenched her fists at her sides. She could do this. She had to do this. 
Slowly, she dropped to her knees on the polished stone floor. He let out a small moan at the sight, and he stepped up to her until he was only a few inches away. The smell of him was no longer of old books and dusty leather—it was of crisp summer air and the wind. It was of incense and spices. His human hand reached down and stroked her hair. “Good girl. Now, look up at me.”
She lifted her head and met his gaze. The lust and hunger there lodged a rock in her throat. She felt equal parts fear and excitement at what she saw. She was now also level with something else, proof of his desire for her. His expression was one pure darkness as he looked down at her.
“Your new King demands his tribute.”
***
The memory of the night prior was still running through her head. The images of what Aon had done—no, what the King of All had done—were pouring over her. And here she thought her version of Aon had been controlling. This man was another creature entirely.
He hadn’t hurt her. Not in any way that mattered. Not in any way that some sick, dark part of her hadn’t really enjoyed. This man merely didn’t feel the need to hold back. He had taken what he wanted or demanded she give it to him. The Aon she knew had wished to ease her into the hot water that was the dark side of his desires. This man felt no such compulsion. This man felt no need to take things one at a time.
Now that she healed so fast, she didn’t even have any bruises, bite marks, or claw marks from what had transpired. She felt no aches that she really should have after what he did to her.
The King of All had come to claim what he wanted, and he had taken the spoils of war for his own. And god damn her, she had enjoyed every moment of it. Even when she protested, when she had begged him to slow down or wait, some part of her was reveling in the act. She hadn’t wanted him to stop.
She couldn’t deny it. Her body had betrayed her dignity.
He had held her as they fell asleep, tangled in the thin sheets of his bed. He had whispered to her of how much he loved her, about how she was the only thing in his world that had ever really mattered. He had told her that his soul, his life, belonged to her. She would have cried if she hadn’t been so tired. And it was there that she had woken, curled up in his arms.
Really, his bed was more of a platform with a mat, feeling just as ancient as everything else in this palace of his. Two of the walls of the room were open to the world outside, framed only by the massive columns that soared overhead. It felt exceedingly exposed. But as they were up several hundred feet from the ground, she supposed she shouldn’t worry too much about last night’s escapades being heard or them being spied on.
Not that she suspected the man beneath her gave a flying fuck about any of that.
So here she found herself, in thin cotton nightclothes. Straddling his waist, one hand pressing against the headboard over him, the other holding one of her obsidian daggers against his throat.
It’d be so damn easy.
So simple.
He was asleep, after all. Dark hair splayed out on the unbleached cotton pillows around him. He looked so…contented. So peaceful. As though he had never enjoyed this kind of sleep before in his life.
Maybe he never has. Maybe he’s never been happy before. Maybe he never had anyone he wanted to share his bed with.
No. He was a tyrant and a murderer. He was going to kill everyone on that battlefield if she hadn’t bargained herself away. Worse yet, he admitted he was more than willing to destroy everyone in Under except for the two of them—just because they were a distraction. He only let them live because their presence here made her “happy.” He was a sociopath, at best.
One swipe of her knife across his throat and he wouldn’t wake up for half an hour. That’d give her time to remove the marks that decorated his face, and that’d be the end. The end of all this stupidity.
It would be so damn easy.
She looked down at him. When she had woken up, she was tucked against him like a lover, his knees against hers, her head under his chin, arm draped over her. It was a familiar pose. She had woken up with Aon like that many, many times. But this man was a stranger in his own right.
One motion.
Left to right.
It wouldn’t take much force—her daggers were sharp, after all. It really would just take commitment more than anything else. Just dedication. She wouldn’t even really feel it.
Just do it. Come on, it’s so simple! Just commit, then it’s all over!
Why couldn’t she do it? Why the hell couldn’t she kill him?
Lydia had been like this for ten minutes, hovering over him and screaming at herself in her mind to just kill him already. End it all! End his miserable life and your part in it! But she couldn’t. No matter how hard she shouted at herself inside her own head, she couldn’t make her hand move.
It wasn’t hypnotism.
It wasn’t the work of the Ancients.
It was her own inability to kill him.
Whoever the King of All was, he wore the face of the man she loved. He shared shades of the man she adored. This was the body and, just maybe, the soul of the man she would throw her whole life away for. If a portal opened to Earth this very moment, she would reject it to stand beside her warlock, this man beneath her. The man she had, for better or worse, whether or not she should, come to love. Her monster. Her madman.
But now, she didn’t know what, or who, he was. She had no clue who wore this mask of flesh and blood. Last night he had been so similar yet so foreign to the man she knew—reverent and violent in the same breath. He had pledged himself to her, swore that he was hers, even as he broke her down and pieced her back together. She couldn’t deny she had enjoyed every second of him and every inch of what he gave her.
But now?
What happened now?
Left to right. It would be so easy. Just do it, you stupid idiot!
Doubt gnawed at her like termites under a house. What if her Aon was still in there somewhere? What if he was really in any way the same man who lay sleeping peacefully beneath her? Could she really kill him?
She loved him.
What if his insistence that they were the same man was right? 
Or was he a monstrous creature that made all others pale before him? 
Lydia cringed, tears flowing down her cheeks. Edu and the rest were terrified of this man. They had hated the King of Shadows because some part of them could remember the King of All.
She could end it. Right now.
“If you wanted to be on top, all you had to do was ask.”
She froze. She had thought he was asleep. But as his dark eyes drifted open, he turned his head to look up at her. He didn’t grab at her wrist and didn’t force the knife away from his throat. If anything, he tipped his chin back to give her easier access. He watched her, his face free of anything but a kind of passive acceptance edged in grief.
She hung there silently, wide-eyed and unsure of what to do.
“I take this to mean you are upset with me,” he said after letting her inability to answer hang in the air for a long moment. He still didn’t move to stop her. “Do it, if you must. My life is yours to spend. Now, as it always has been, and ever will be, my love.”
With a frustrated growl, she rammed the knife into the headboard over his head. Stuck it halfway to the hilt. She couldn’t do it. Not when he had been asleep, and certainly not when he was looking up at her with sorrow in his eyes.
She pushed herself off him but couldn’t find the strength to go far. She sat on the bed and buried her head in her hands, feeling the tears redouble their efforts. His weight shifted on the bed. At first, she flinched, wondering if he would be angry at her. But instead, she felt his hand slowly stroke over her hair. He knelt behind her, his knees on either side of her legs. His arms curled around her, gently urging her to lean back into him. She gave in. His bare chest was warm against her back, and it lulled away some of her turmoil, even if her issues were about him.
His head settled atop hers. “I braced myself for what I might see in your eyes. But I admit, it stings worse than I could have imagined.”
“Which is what?” she murmured into her hands, trying to keep herself from all-out weeping.
“You look at me as you would a stranger.” Aon’s voice was tight in pain. “You look at me as if you do not know me. There is mistrust in your eyes. You look at me, truly wary. Not the mix of fear and delight when I seduced you as a madman, but real dread…”
Suddenly, his hand fisted in her hair and yanked her down. He bent her backward and twisted her over his right thigh. She hissed in a breath of surprise and found herself with another dagger in her hand. She didn’t even have to think about it before it was in her palm. She held it up against his throat once more, startled into action, thinking he was about to hurt her.
“You see? You would never have reacted in such a way to the man you knew before. You would have seen this as another game and relished my touch. Now you think I am going to hurt you—you—the only thing in this world that carries value to me. You trusted me as a madman, but you do not trust me now. You would never believe that version of me would hurt you, so why do you think I would do so now?”
His power seemed to fill the room, seemed to crackle through the air like lightning and clench around her stronger than the fist that curled in her hair. Aon had been intimidating before, but not like this. Still, he didn’t move her dagger from his throat. He knew as well as she did that she wasn’t going to use it. “You’re more dangerous than he is.”
Spilled-ink eyes narrowed as they bored into her. There was such age in those depths. The cold-hearted King who loomed over her was as sure and as cold as a stone mountainside. “That is false. Very false.”
“What do you mean?”
His eyes flicked over the writing on her face, as if reading them again. Only then did his gaze soften even a little. The hand in her hair did no such thing. His clawed hand drifted up to settle over her throat. Not tightening, but as if he were remembering a keen desire to do just that. “I nearly killed you so many times, Lydia. So many moments where I was on the brink of giving in to what I wanted to do to your mortal flesh. Or worse, losing myself into the insanity and tearing you to pieces as though I were a rabid animal. You walked the razor’s edge every day you spent in my presence, ignorant to how close to real danger you truly were.”
“But he never did it.”
“We are the same man,” he snarled, annoyed again that she had called them different people. “And I would have. It would have only been a matter of time. Edu merely killed you before my own insanity would have done the deed. And after, you chose to reject your mask and you did not hide your marks from me, even then. How long before, in a fit of darkness, I tore them from your skin and returned you to the void?”
“I trusted—” him. She stopped herself from calling him different people again, but just barely. “You.”
He leaned his head down to place a kiss at the corner of her mouth. It made her shudder despite herself and the compromising position she was in. “You are naïve. You are young. You will learn.” When he ghosted his lips over hers, she tightened her grip on the knife at his throat. “Now…either use that dagger or stop your hopeless grandstanding.”
“I’m not grandstanding.”
“Then do it. Slit my throat, take my marks, and send me to the void.” He tilted his head away for her. “You could not do it a moment ago. You could not do it last night. You could not do it when we fought. Make good upon your threat now or stop your whining. The blade is in my way, and it is irritating to be interrupted repeatedly in such a fashion.”
The icy wind that was his tone froze her to the core. She felt it roll down her spine, and she shuddered as if he had thrown her into a frozen lake. She struggled, pushing against him vehemently. He let her go, and she stood from the bed to pace away from him. The sun was out, but the room was still cast in shadow. She shivered again, even in the hot air. 
She looked down at her body, at the turquoise marks that decorated her skin. She wanted them gone.
She wanted to quit.
Please, let this end.
Nothing was worse than the heartlessness she had just seen reflected in his features. Aon may have not been in full control of his emotions—he was so quick to snap into jealousy or a fit of rage—but he had them.
“What do you want from me?” she asked quietly. 
“I want you to love me.”
“My love? Or my surrender?”
“They are one and the same. Come to the Altar of the Ancients. Kneel before our makers and join me. Be my queen.”
“So why not just drag me there? Why not re-write my head and make me love you? Why wait?”
“While I will love you, no matter what may remain of you…if they were to take you by force, you may end up little more than a shell. If you fight their dominion, you will break. I do not wish to see that terrible pain come to you.” Hands settled on her shoulders, one metal and one warm. She jolted in surprise and shouldn’t have been shocked she didn’t hear him approach. “If you accept them willingly, as the Priest has done, you will merely know peace. It will be as though nothing had changed.”
Lydia squeezed her eyes shut and lowered her head, trying to hide behind her long hair as it fell alongside her face. Surrender to having her mind rewritten or have it torn to shreds as they remade her. Kneel or have her knees broken. “My love would be a lie.”
“A shattered queen whose love is a fabrication is better than an eternity alone. I have destroyed this world countless times in my need to have someone at my side. You are the answer to that hole in my very being. Whether you wish to be or not. I am sorry, my love. But I will not let you slip away. You belong to me.”
Give up or be broken. There had to be another way out. There had to be some talking sense into him—some way to get through to him. There had to be. Otherwise, there was only one other way out. She looked down at the knife in her palm, and she had the sudden urge to tear her own marks off with it. To simply end it all.
Death was a better fate than this.
“Kill me, Aon. Just kill me. Or I’ll do it myself.”
Hands whirled her around to face him. “Do not say such a thing!”
She looked up at him, startled at his sudden reaction. “I’d rather be dead than—”
“No! No. Do not speak the words.” His eyes were wide in panic. He snatched the knife from her hand and hurled it away. “Do not leave me alone! Do not make me drag you to them so soon. I will not let you harm yourself. I will chain you to the wall, bind your arms and legs if I must.”
She glared at him. “I’ll find a way to do it. You know I will. I’m a lot of things, Aon, one of them being stubborn.”
“I—” His eyes went glassy, and his body jerked suddenly, as if something had been torn out from his back. His hands slipped from her shoulders, and he collapsed to his knees. His shoulders were now hunched, his head down. He buried his hands into his hair, clenching them tightly, shoulders heaving as he pulled in sharp, painful breaths. He moaned in agony.
Lydia blinked at the abrupt change. What the hell just happened to him?
Not knowing what else to do, she knelt in front of him and put her hand on his shoulder. He flinched at her touch. “Aon?”
“Dragonfly…”
Her heart wrenched so hard, it may have stopped. Her breath hung in her throat, and she looked at the man in wide-eyed horror. As his face turned up to hers, there was such torment in those flickering dark eyes that she knew the image would be burned into her memory for the rest of time.
There was no coldness there. Just a raw, exposed fire. Emotions flashed over his face. Pain, fear, torment. Love.
“Aon—”
He interrupted her before she could tell him how much she loved him. How much she missed him. He reached out and cupped her head in his hands, shifting to kneel closer to her. “They let me go. Just for a moment. Just so you could see. They wanted to sway you from seeking to take your own life.” His breaths were still coming fast and hard, as if he might hyperventilate. As if he were fighting off the edge of panic. “It is false hope. They are liars. This is an illusion—” Face twisting in pure suffering, he doubled over again. “I am an illusion.”
She threw her arms around him, cradling him against her. He half-collapsed into her embrace. “Aon, I love you. I love you, and I’m so sorry.”
“I beg you, do not end your life. Do not doom me to a reality where you are truly gone. The wrath I would pay to this world and all the others…there would be no returning from the damage that would do to my soul.” His body spasmed as if someone had shoved a red-hot poker against him. He pulled in a hissing breath. “This is why they have freed me, if but for a moment. To convince you to live. For in this desire, in this common goal, all parties are agreed.”
“I don’t know what else to do.”
“Do not take your life. Take mine instead. Find a way to end me. Please, my love.” He lifted his head and rested his forehead against hers. His voice was tight and thick with whatever pain the Ancients were flooding him with.
“I can’t—”
“There is no way to save me, and there is no hope of my return.” Tears rolled down his cheeks. “You are stronger than me. Stronger than the man I truly am.”
“I tried to kill you. I love you. I…I can’t.”
“You must.” He kissed her, a frantic press of lips to hers, as though they were on a sinking ship and this was their last chance. Perhaps it was. “Or I will destroy you. I will destroy this world and everyone in it, just to have you…and the man I really am will tear you to pieces to get what I want.” He held her face in his hands in his frantic need for her to understand.
She understood. But knowing and doing were very different things. 
“My life has been a ceaseless cycle of destruction, of yearning for what I could never have. Do you think the Great War was the first time I acted in such desperation? Your history is repeating itself, and so is mine. You are on this terrible, endless circular path beside me. End it all.” His eyes were turning glassy again. His hands were slipping from her cheeks. He was fighting to stay conscious, and he was losing.
“Aon, don’t go.” Don’t leave me alone again. “Please, don’t—”
“Do you know your eyes are now turquoise? Since you returned from the lake where Rxa had put you…I haven’t had the chance to tell you how beautiful they are.”
Her heart was cracking, and she let out a small, choked sob.
“I will always love you, my dragonfly.”
And with that, his eyes rolled into his head, and he slumped down against her.
Laying her head against his shoulders, she held him. Held him and wept. For him, for her…for them both.
Chapter Two
For a moment, Lydia could almost forget. 
She could run her fingers through his hair as he slept and believe just for a second that when he woke up, everything would be back to “normal.”
Normal. Right. None of this shit’s been normal for months.
Normal was her home in Boston. Her job. Nick. Her apartment. Normal was far, far away from here. It was all gone to her now, either through a portal or buried under sand and blood. God, she missed Nick. But like everything else, he was dead and gone.
All that was left…was him.
After he had passed out, she had hauled him back into bed. It hadn’t been graceful, but she was stronger than she used to be. She didn’t feel like sleeping, but it felt wrong to leave him. And so, she stayed with him, leaning up against the headboard, with his head in her lap. She traced her hand through his long black hair, and once her tears had finally dried out, she took the time to think.
Maybe she should give in. Maybe it’d be easier that way. To just let him drag her to the Altar of the Ancients and let them rewrite her brain. Let them possess her in the same way they were doing to Lyon. Or worse, like Aon, where they were plugging holes in his head like a sinking ship.
So far, she preferred the sinking ship to the man she was just starting to get to know.
For a moment, the Ancients had shown her they really were the same man. They had let go of their control of him so she could speak to the part of him that she recognized. And her Aon had begged her to kill him. Begged her to end his life. But she just couldn’t bring herself to do it. He was still, somehow, some way, the man she loved. Even if he was just a smaller part of the whole, he was still there.
Could she love this man? Could she love the “bigger picture?” She honestly didn’t know. He was cruel, but so had been the man she knew. He was egotistical—no change there. But the one thing that worried her more than anything else was his coldness, the stoic loftiness she saw in his dark eyes.
It was as though Aon really had been changed out for his older brother. There was a hardness there, an aloofness that scared her. But could she learn to love it, this dark king? Or would she always miss her madman, even if he was right in front of her? Even if those eyes that seemed so cold to her now softened—just a little—when he looked at her?
She didn’t know, and there was the problem. If she knew the answer, she’d kill him, or herself, or let him drag her off into the altar and let them bash her head open like a coconut and put someone else in her place. The fact that she didn’t know left her locked in indecision, stuck in the mire and unable to move.
How long the Ancients would let her linger like this, she had no idea. But she was certain it wouldn’t be enough time, in her opinion. For giant, world-controlling super-monsters, they seemed damn impatient.
For all her problems, she felt for the man who was unconscious in her lap, this King of All. It seemed he was doomed to always be suffering. Even when he finally had the only thing he ever wanted—her—she didn’t know if she loved him back anymore. That had to hurt worse than she could imagine. He had been alone for longer than the mountains on Earth had names. And now she was taunting him with her very presence.
That was the other reason she stayed with him; she sympathized with him. She couldn’t fix the problem, she couldn’t flick a switch and just magically love him again, but she couldn’t abandon him either.
His metal hand was lying in her lap, palm up. She watched as one of his fingers twitched once and then went still. His breathing never changed, but she knew better. Aon had done this a few times before. He had just woken up but didn’t want to move. He’d pretend to be asleep so he could stay where he was with her. “Hey,” she said, her voice barely above a whisper. Just in case she was wrong, even though she was damn sure she wasn’t. 
Nothing.
Lydia couldn’t help but grin. “I know you’re awake,” she said, her tone still low.
Silence. Just slow, perfectly paced breathing. It was a good act. Too bad she wasn’t buying it. She thought for a moment before an evil plan came to mind. “On Earth, we invented a thing called a ‘wet willy.’ It’s when you stick your finger in your mouth and then shove it into another person’s ear.” She stuck her finger into her mouth and let it make a pop noise as she withdrew it. Grinning, she lowered her hand toward his ear. This time, she was going to call his bluff for once.
His human hand shot up to catch hers before she could follow through. He kept his eyes shut and otherwise hadn’t moved. “Do not dare.”
Lydia chuckled. “Just proving my point.”
He was fighting off a smile and losing. It caught purchase for a moment before he finally let it have its way. It hung on him for a second or two and then faded away. He let go of her wrist as his eyes drifted open, but he didn’t lift his head or make any other movement to get up. She let her hand fall on his shoulder, and he placed his human hand back where it had been, idly resting on her leg.
“I’m glad my stupid antics can still make you smile, even if you don’t want to let them.”
“They always will, even if perhaps I do not show it as much as I used to.” He curled the fingers of his metal hand in toward his palm one at a time before releasing them and repeating, as if he were testing the mechanism. As if it really were foreign to him. “I know I am…less emotive than the man you knew. I know I am quieter than he. I am sorry for that. But I do not know how to change.”
She went back to gently stroking his hair. He was hurting. It was hard to see, but it was in his eyes, even if his face and tone were flat. “It’s not your fault.”
“But it is still my burden to bear.” His eyes slipped shut again, and his brow furrowed. “I find myself jealous of my own shadow. For it is that which I cast upon the ground that you love, not me.”
Wincing at his words, she leaned down and placed a kiss on his temple. “I’m not giving up hope. I don’t know yet.”
“You are resilient above all else. I remember the first time I laid eyes upon you in the waking world. Thrown from a horse, you were terrified, battered, and beaten. You had certain death chasing at your back. And yet you were brave enough to face down one demon with another close behind.”
“You remember that?”
“I remember a girl. A mortal, weak in body but stronger in heart than any I have ever known. One who took pity on a broken man. One who saw value in his empty heart and took his darkest needs with joy. And then she rose like a phoenix from the grave… I remember her forgiveness, her sympathy, her kindness, even as I took away her friend and her freedom.” 
He took her hand from his shoulder with his human one and pulled it to his lips, pressing a kiss to her fingers. His breath was hot against her skin. “I remember how she looked at me, blue eyes wide in fear and excitement. How she delighted in running from me yet how she would let me take her by the hand and lead her into the darkness. I recall how—despite all that broken monster had done—she loved me. I remember those who were too jealous, too afraid, to give that shell of a man the only thing he had ever wanted.”
He too waffled back and forth between calling his nightmare the same man and calling his mad self “he.” It must be hard for him to resolve as well, she realized. 
“I think you need a new name.”
“Hm?”
“It’s not fair to call you Aon.” She smiled faintly down at him. “It’s not fair to call you after your shadow.”
“It is somewhat adding insult to injury, yes.” He sighed and let his eyes slip shut. “Then name me, my Queen of Dreams.”
“Hmm…” She looked off thoughtfully. Naming things was fun, even if she was terribly bad at it. “Koa? For the ‘King of All?’”
“No. Sounds feminine.”
“Aoff. Y’know, like A-on, but A-off.”
“Absolutely not.” He was fighting a smile again.
“Well, if he was the alpha and you’re the omega, how about Oon?”
“Are you attempting to insult me more?”
Lydia snickered, and now the man in her lap was grinning despite his best efforts. She looked down at him and thought it over for another moment. “How about Noa? ‘Aon’ backwards. All the parts are there, but…just…different.” 
“He is my reflection in the glass.”
“Right.”
“Very well. Noa. I accept this name, my mother of monsters. Although I worry for the species of creatures you will create as time goes on. Your sense of humor is…pervasive…if nothing else.”
She laughed and leaned down to kiss his temple. “You have no idea.”
“I look forward to finding out.” The amusement faded from his eyes. “If the Ancients do not take that from you.” The moment of levity was gone, as he was reminded of the position they were both in. All that she was suffering, he was going through as well.
They fell silent as she felt the weight of her looming debate over them once more. “If it were your choice, what would you do?”
“Between what options?” He seemed as though her running her fingers through his hair was lulling him back into sleep. His voice was faraway sounding. It seemed her touch still did that to him, even if as he said, it showed less on the outside.
“As far as I can figure, I have two choices. My options are either to kill you or surrender my mind to the Ancients. Either willingly or unwillingly.”
“I would argue that willing and unwilling are very disparate choices and should therefore be listed separately.”
“I get mind-fucked either way.”
He chuckled at her crass language. “Yes. Precisely. And there is a far cry difference between willing intercourse and rape.”
When he had a point, he had a point. She couldn’t think up a retort. “Fair. Fine, there are three choices. What would you do?”
“If our situations were reversed?”
“Yeah.”
He paused for a long time. “I could not bring myself to kill you. Even thinking that there was a shadow of a woman I loved within you, I could not do the deed. Faced with the other choices? I would kneel willingly before their altar and sacrifice the sanctity of my mind.”
“Bullshit.”
“I would rather no longer be my true self than to be alone a moment longer. The man you knew believed the same. That is why he burned the world away to save you. I am no different. I am he. Do not forget your youth in comparison to my years. I have been alone for a very, very long time.”
She paused and considered his words. She couldn’t accuse him of lying, not really. He really would lay it all down to be with her. He already had. After a long pause, she finally admitted to him what she was feeling. “I’m scared.”
“I know.” He wove his fingers between hers and held her hand close to his chest. “If I could kiss your fears away, I would. But once you kneel before them, you will no longer feel such things.”
“That’s the problem.”
His brow knit together, and he seemed unable to find a way to argue with her. With a long, weary breath, he finally broke the silence. “Please, do not leave me.” 
“If I was planning on getting up, I would’ve by now.”
“That is not what I meant.”
He meant not to leave him here, in this world alone without her. It was his own plea for her not to kill herself or try to find a more permanent way out of this mess. Tears threatened to fall. She shuffled down to lie on the bed, pulling his head onto her shoulder, holding him.
The way he nuzzled into her broke her heart. He clung to her, draping his arm over her, and she knew he was listening to her heartbeat. The tension melted out of him. The warmth of his body and her own exhaustion were starting to lure her own eyes shut.
It had been a hopeless threat, saying she wanted to kill herself. She couldn’t leave him alone. Not her Aon, and not Noa. She found that she couldn’t bear to look at this man and turn her back on him. She didn’t know if she loved him…but she couldn’t abandon him.
“I’ll stay,” she whispered. It felt like an admission. It was the truth, and she couldn’t bring herself to lie to him.
“I am sorry I am not the man you love.”
“It’s okay.” It wasn’t. But she didn’t know what else to say. “Maybe you can be, someday.”
“Someday.”
“We’re immortal, aren’t we?”
“I suppose we are.” He leaned his head in and kissed her collarbone, and she couldn’t help but feel herself grow warm even at the innocent gesture from a half-asleep man. “Tomorrow, I must sit upon my throne and deal with the needs of my people. They squabble and bicker like children. Will you attend?”
“That sounds horrible.”
“It will be. But come with me.”
Lydia snickered. “Why?”
“It lifts my mood when you are near me.”
“Wait. This has been you in a good mood?”
He chuckled and clutched her to him as though she were a stuffed animal. “I love you, Lydia…”
When she couldn’t say it back, her heart broke, just shattered in her chest, and she felt the tears form and run along her face into her hair. She leaned her head in to kiss his forehead. If he cared, she couldn’t tell—he was already asleep.
She wrapped her arms around him and cried until sleep took her as well.
Chapter Three
Edu felt the chains biting into his flesh.
It was a memory he had long since sought to wipe from his mind. And for a very long time, he had succeeded.
But now, the nightmares he had banished to the recesses of his mind had returned. He was on his knees in a dungeon, hidden away from the blinding sunlight, save for one small window that cast a single square of light upon the floor. It never moved, for the sun did not track through the sky like it did on Earth. He could only tell the passage of time by its presence or absence as it slipped into eclipse.
His mask was gone. His arms were bound behind his back and attached to the wall behind him, and another chain was wound around his throat, tethering him to a heavy metal loop in the floor between his knees.
He knew he could not break it.
He had tried for thousands of years, after all.
The worn groove in the metal told him that yes, this was indeed the same ring of steel. He had put that dip in the metal with his constant thrashing. This was the same place. The question remained: which was the dream? This agony, or the past five thousand years of a peace they had, if only by comparison?
He had not expected to wake. Not after Ylena had died, and the King of All stood poised over him to remove his marks and send him to the void. But Lydia had intervened and seemingly spared his life and sent him to the pits of this hell instead.
He could not even straighten up, trapped as he was in this forced supplication. His arms were lashed to the wall behind him and his neck to the floor beneath him. He could not crack his aching bones or stretch his sore muscles in any way. It was meant to be an insult—it was meant to demean and degrade—and it worked. He knew that no matter how his body screamed to move, he would not be allowed such respite. The King of All knew how to break him.
The King of All knew how to destroy anyone. He always had. Now that he had regained the memories he had so willingly thrown away, he could see the comparisons between the man he knew as Aon and his true self. To call the King of All a sadist was to call a tree a flower. It was a gross understatement.
He was not the only one who dwelled within this dungeon suffering. While he could not lift his head well enough to see very much, he could hear the voices of those around him. Ini, and by her narration of things, Vjo, and Dtu were here as well but still unconscious. One voice hurt him more than most.
“You okay, Big Red?”
Evie. 
The King of All had taken Evie. Kept her as a prisoner in the same cell as him. There was no doubt as to why he had done it and not put her in the cages with the other lesser-ranked and rebellious souls. 
It’s a reminder of who I still have to lose. It’s a reminder that Ylena is gone, but there are others I must protect. He wants to tell me that he can still hurt me.
Edu nodded faintly. No, he was not okay. Not under any circumstances. But he did his best to lie.
“You sucked at lying b’fore I could see your cute face. Now you’re just awful.”
His fib had gone about as far as he had expected it to. He huffed a laugh and lifted his head as far as he could to look at her where she sat, chained to the wall, still finding the ability to smile at him. Although it didn’t quite reach her eyes.
“No wonder you all hid your faces. You’re all crap at lying without them.”
“Oh, wonderful child, we hid our faces for many reasons. Our desire to hide our motives is just one of them,” Ini said from where she lay. If he turned his head as far as he could to one side, he could see her where she was chained by one wall. 
It was dangerous keeping them all here in one cell—Dtu, Vjo, Ini, himself, and…Evie. Notable by her impending danger, Edu knew. But it took a great deal of power to keep their own gifts tamped down, captured and kept muted by the symbols etched upon every surface around them. There were not many cells that could hold a king or queen of Under, let alone four.
“But, yes, Edu is a miserable liar.” Ini giggled. The woman was battered and broken, spent beyond the point of healing her wounds, but not being allowed to die. And yet the glimmer hadn’t left her unnaturally bright sapphire eyes. It never would, no matter how hard the King of All tried to remove it.
He found himself smiling faintly at the Queen of Fate, the only one the King of All could not break. And oh…how he had tried throughout the years. Edu could remember her screams. It seemed these walls had heard them once more, judging by the bruises and cuts that adorned her small frame.
For the King of All knew how to ply his favorite trade—torture. Never was there a creature more skilled in the art of twisting a body to his whim than he. Not in this world or any other. Even Edu had begged for mercy on more than one occasion. Even Edu’s pride had fallen before knife and needle and screw. But not the Queen of Fate. She would only laugh when she had the air to do so.
Now that Edu could see Ini’s face, he remembered it, with her almond-shaped sapphire eyes and stunning features. Dtu and Vjo were also stripped of their masks and their pride, lying on the ground or propped up against a wall. Neither of them had awoken from their slumber of death yet. Dtu was going to be livid when he awoke. With the chains that bound them keeping their powers as shackled as their bodies, he couldn’t take his wolf form and howl, which was some small favor. Edu did not know if his headache could withstand the noise.
The door to the chamber swung open. He turned his head and strained to see who had entered. His heart fell along with his hopes. 
“Good evening, all.”
“Hello, Aon!” Ini piped brightly, greeting the man in such a manner to purposefully needle him, both in her tone and her use of his false name. “A wonderful night, isn’t it?”
The King of All ignored the attempt at goading him. “I see the dog and the spider have yet to wake. A shame. I wished to speak to you all at once. You will have to convey my message to them once they rise.”
A whisper of fabric on the packed dirt floor was all the warning Edu had before a metal hand twisted into his hair and yanked his head backward painfully, not caring for the iron around his neck that made that position send stabbing pain through his shoulders. “I suppose you will be unable to convey any message at all, hm? How clever of my false self to take your tongue. I think I prefer you this way.”
Edu glared and listed off a myriad of insults in his mind.
“I do not think you want to know what he said,” Ini said with a snicker. The psychic could hear his thoughts, and those had been particularly loud and colorful. “But know it was quite clever and unique.”
The King of All laughed dryly and let go of Edu’s hair, letting him drop his head back down to lessen the pain. “To think I would have expected gratitude that I allow you all to live. How foolish of me.”
“I was wondering, why do you let us live?” Ini asked.
“If I were to kill you, the Ancients would replace you,” the King replied simply.
“And what is the matter with that?”
“That’s easy,” Evie said and tried to stretch her shoulders. His fiery redhead did not know when to keep her mouth shut. He loved that about her. When he had owned a tongue with which to speak, he was quite similarly matched in that trait. “’Cuz he doesn’t want bunny to know we’re down here,” Evie interjected. 
The King of All merely turned to her and glowered dangerously. Evie, either blissfully unaware of the danger she was in, or more likely, belligerently uncaring, merely grinned back at him. “Oooh, look at that face! I’m right, I knew it. She doesn’t know we’re down here. She thinks you let us go. If you killed us, she’d know the jig was up when some other idiot walked around in red ink.”
“Bunny? Ah, you mean Lydia.” The King of All walked toward Evie. 
Edu yanked on the chains viciously and knew what was to come by the tone in his voice. No! Anyone but her. Let him flay the skin from my flesh before touching her! 
Hearing the racket, the King turned to look at Edu with an arched eyebrow. “You know why she is here. You know why she shares your prison. Certainly not for your comfort or peace of mind. I know you are an idiot, but you are not that foolish. You know what is to come.”
Yes, he knew. But it did not stop him from howling and yanking on the chains, trying—as if he had not done so a million times before and failed—to snap them.
“You really do make this too easy, Edu.”
Edu snarled in rage and yanked on the chains again. But he could no more budge them than he could the whole of the temple itself. His futile redoubling of his efforts brought a laugh out of the other man. Aon turned back to Evie and reached down to grasp her by the hair and drag her up to her feet. Evie squeaked and froze, but to her credit, she levied her best glare up at the warlock. She did not cower. She did not cry or beg. Edu could not have been prouder.
“Tell me I’m wrong,” the redhead piped up at the King. “She don’t know we’re down here.”
He seemed to debate his answer for a moment before shrugging idly, seeing no harm in telling a prisoner the truth even Edu already suspected. “No. She believes I have let you all go to find a new life on the horizons, far away from here.” He sneered at the childishness of the idea.
“Why not, though?” Evie asked, her innocence showing. 
A metal hand snapped around her throat, and Evie jumped in fear but barely made more than a wince of pain as the man tightened his grasp. Edu yanked on the chains again, but he was a proverbial dog barking on the end of his leash. He could do nothing to help her.
“Why not? Oh, poor, little, young thing. You think you know this world? You think you understand the players who live within it? Do you think that cretin”—he pointed back at Edu—“would ever let me live in peace? Do you think I have not let him try when I have tired of stripping his flesh from his bones for my own amusement? No. Time and time again, he comes back to hound me, to pester me like the insect that he is! I have beaten you. I have beaten you all, but that will not convince you that I am the rightful ruler of this place. This world is mine.”
“It ain’t yours, you pompous—”
The King of All backhanded Evie across the face, cutting off her insult. Edu pulled against the chains so hard he felt them bite into his skin. Blood, hot and thick, ran down his wrists and his neck, but he did not care.
“Mind your betters, girl.”
“You’re right. You’re older than me. You’ve been here fer longer than I can imagine. But y’know what? I know enough ’bout this world,” Evie’s voice was tight with pain and lack of air, “to know they’re better than you’ll ever be.”
Edu expected him to tear out her throat. To rip out her eyes or strip her of her mark right then and there for such an insult. But as his smile turned cold and vicious, he knew that would have been a kinder fate.
“I think,” the King said with sick amusement in his voice, “I would like to take the time to teach you some respect.” He reached up to release the chains that held her to the wall. His metal claw twisted in her red curls, and he dragged her beside him as he turned to leave.
“Lemme go!” Evie shrieked and tried to kick at the man. But he was far stronger than she, and he kept her under control like an adult might an angry toddler.
Edu roared in rage. How he wished to pitch invectives at the man, to threaten him with as much death and torment as he was capable. He thrashed, and the metal creaked but did not give way. No! Not Evie. Anyone, anything, but her!
The King of All looked back at Edu with a grin. “Do not fret so, old friend. I will be kinder to you than you were to Lydia. I will return your little love to you alive. You burned my love’s heart out of her chest with your own hand. Yet,” he paused thoughtfully, “what will be left of this one when I am done, I cannot promise you will recognize.” He dragged Evie from the room and slammed the door shut behind him, leaving Edu to his wordless rage.
    
Kat has always been a storyteller. With ten years in script-writing for performances on both the stage and for tourism, she has always been writing in one form or another. When she isn’t penning down fiction, she works as Creative Director for a company that designs and builds large-scale interactive adventure games. There, she is the lead concept designer, handling everything from game and set design, to audio and lighting, to illustration and script writing. Also on her list of skills are artistic direction, scenic painting and props, special effects, and electronics. A graduate of Boston University with a BFA in Theatre Design, she has a passion for unique, creative, and unconventional experiences. In her spare time, she builds animatronics and takes trapeze classes.
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Title: Out to Find Freedom
Author: Lila Rose 
Genre: Romance
Release Date: July 30, 2019
Death and pain.
They surround me. Hold me hostage, refusing to let go.
But I want to survive. Want to fight. I just don’t know if I have it in me.
Maybe dying would be better.
It’s the break in the shadows that gives me hope.
When I look at him, all I can see is light. 
So now I’m out to find freedom.
Private investigator Ryan Warden doesn’t know he’s moved next door to people he would put behind bars in an instant. Nor does he realise a sleepless night could lead him on the right track with the case he’s working on. 
He certainly doesn’t expect Emerson Spence.
What he does know is he has to stay away from her. She’s been beaten and broken. She deserves to live freely while learning and experiencing things in life like any young woman should. 
He’s too old for her. It’s better to stay away. 
If he can.
Author’s note: Out to Find Freedom starts out intense and dark, then moves into a very slow burn romance. It’s also set six months after No Way Out (Stoke and Malinda’s story from the Hawks MC: Ballarat Charter) but it can be read as a standalone.
Warning, triggers may occur 18+
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