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Kingdom of the Cursed Chapter 2 Excerpt

You heard that right! Here is the full second chapter of Kingdom of the Cursed! You can check out the first chapter here!


From the darkness of the cave we exited onto a gleaming mountaintop tundra.

I blinked away the sudden stinging in my eyes and beheld this cruel, unforgiving world. Goddess curse me. This was as far away from home as I could get.

There was no sea, no warmth, no brightly burning sun. We stood in the hollow of a steep snow-covered trail, barely wide enough to walk on side by side.

A biting wind snarled through the craggy mountain pass and tore through my cloak. Behind us the gates closed with a clank that echoed loudly between the snowcapped mountains. I tensed at the unexpected clamor. It was the first noise I’d heard outside the void and it couldn’t sound more foreboding if it tried.

I spun around, heart thundering, and watched demon magic spring up from the bowels of this land and slither up the gates. The same violet-blue thorn-covered vines that had bound Vittoria’s diary wound through eye sockets and jawbones, twisting until the off-white skulls glowed with an icy, unearthly hue.

Cold air cut my breath short. I was trapped in the underworld, surrounded by the Malvagi, alone. I’d acted out of fear and desperation—two essential ingredients in creating a disaster. A flash of my twin’s desecrated body stamped that feeling into the frozen ground.

“You told me the gates were broken.” There was an impressive bite in my tone. “That demons were slipping through, ready to wage war on Earth.”

“The Horn of Hades has been returned.”

“Of course.”

The devil’s horns were needed to lock the gates. Apparently any demon prince could wield them, and I hadn’t known to ask Wrath for clarification. It was another way he’d worked around the “not being able to directly lie to me” rule of my summoning.

If that part was even true.

I loosened a breath and shifted back around, staring out at the landscape. On our right a sharp drop-off was carved through the frost-coated terrain. In the distance, barely visible through either a covering of fog or a far-off storm, turrets on a castle reached up, pointing spindly fingers of accusation at the heavens.

“Is that…” I swallowed hard. “Is that where Pride lives?”

“Not so anxious to meet him now?” A smug expression ghosted across Wrath’s features before he schooled his face into indifference. “The first circle is Lust’s territory. Think of the layout like the Seven Hills of Rome. Each prince controls their own region or summit. Pride’s circle cannot be seen from here. It sits toward the center, near my House.”

Being so close to Lust’s stronghold wasn’t comforting. I hadn’t forgotten how his demonic influence had made me feel. How I’d lusted after Wrath and drank too much apple-honey wine and had danced without a care in the universe while a murderer hunted witches.

I’d also never forget how hard it had been to crawl back to my senses after Lust had cruelly wrested his powers away, leaving me an empty husk. If it hadn’t been for Wrath’s interference, I might still be in that dark, crushing place.

I could almost feel despair trailing a sharp nail across my throat now, begging, tempting…I pretended that the growing fear was muck beneath my shoes and squashed it.

Wrath watched me closely, his gaze alight with keen interest. Perhaps he was waiting for me to drop to my knees and beg him to escort me back home. It would take far more than standing in the coldest corner of Hell for me to ever lower myself before him.

“I thought it would be warmer,” I admitted, earning an amused look from the demon. “Fire and brimstone—the works.”

“Mortals have peculiar cautionary tales about gods and monsters and their supposed creator, but the truth, as you can see, is very different from what you’ve heard.”

I was distracted from further inquiry by a soft clicking. Up a dizzying incline on our left, a smattering of bare-branched trees stood, swaying in the arctic wind, their limbs lightly clacking against one another. Something about them reminded me of old crones sitting together, using bones as knitting needles. If I narrowed my eyes, I almost swore I saw the shadowy outline of their figures. I blinked and the image was gone. Almost immediately after, a low growl floated in on the wind.

I glanced at Wrath, but he didn’t seem to notice the peculiar vision or hear anything worthy of note. It had been a very long, very emotionally charged day and my imagination was getting the better of me. I shook the unsettling feeling away.

“This is the Sin Corridor,” Wrath continued, unknowingly interrupting my worries. “Transvenio magic is forbidden on this stretch of land the first time you cross into this realm, so you’ll need to travel by foot.”

“I have to do it alone?”

Wrath raked his attention over me. “No.”

I released a slow, quiet breath. Thank the goddess for small favors. “Why is it necessary for people to pass through here?”

“It is a way for newcomers to form alliances with others who share their dominant sin.”

I considered that. “If I tend toward anger, I’d be best aligned with House Wrath.” The prince nodded. “And others who are best suited to other sins…would they be put off by other demon houses? Let’s say a member of House Wrath consorted with House Sloth, would they be scandalized by the other in some way?”

“Not exactly scandalized, but close. Mortals align themselves with political parties and causes. It’s not unlike that here, but we deal in vice.”

“Are demons and humans tested the same way?”

Wrath seemed to choose his next words carefully. “Most mortals never reach the Sin Corridor, or the Seven Circles. They tend to imprison themselves on their own separate isle outside the gates, off the western shore. It’s a self-inflicted punishment of sorts.”

“You don’t lock them away in the Prison of Damnation?”

“The isle is the prison. They live in a reality of their own making. At any point they can leave. Most never do. They live and die on their isle and begin again.”

It was a hell in its own way. “Nonna said Star Witches were the guardians between realms. Why would mortals and the Wicked need guards if they never leave?”

“Maybe mortal souls—and my brothers—are not all they keep watch over.”

Vague and frustrating as always. “I still don’t understand why I need to be tested at all.”

“Then I suggest you heed my earlier warning and focus on surviving.”

He issued it as both a challenge and a haughty command to stop asking questions. I was too worried to verbally spar. Threat of death hung over me, low and dark like the gathering clouds. The stupid prince dragged his gaze over me again, letting it linger on my soft curves.

I wasn’t wearing my amulet—he still had possession of it—so there was no confusing where his focus landed. Even covered by the cloak, I swore I felt the heat of his attention like a physical caress on my skin.

Thoughts of death vanished. “Is there a problem with my bodice?”

“Seems as if your testing has begun. I was checking your cloak.”

I exhaled slowly and bit down on several colorful curses that sprang to mind.

He smirked as if my annoyance pleased him to no end. Still grinning, he swiftly moved down the steep mountain pass, his steps steady and sure despite the snow and ice.

I couldn’t believe…was he packing the snow down so I could walk through it in my delicate shoes? Impeccable demon manners hard at work again.

He really would do anything to see me safely delivered to Pride.

Speaking of that particular sin…I lifted my chin, my tone and demeanor more supercilious than any mortal king or queen born to rule could ever hope to achieve. And why shouldn’t I feel superior? I was about to rule the underworld. It was time Wrath showed some respect to his queen. “I am perfectly able to make my own way. You may run off now.”

“I did not take you for the sort to cut off their nose to spite their face.”

“If I cannot walk through snow without assistance, I might as well slit my throat now and be done with it. I do not need you or anyone else to hold my hand. In fact, I would like you to leave me alone. I’ll make better time without you.”

He stopped walking and glanced over his shoulder. There was no warmth or teasing in his expression now. “Fight the Sin Corridor, or I will leave you to your prideful hubris. You are more susceptible to falling under the influence of a particular sin when showing early attributes of it. That is my final warning and all the help I will give. Take it for what it is, or leave it.”

I gritted my teeth and did my best to follow his trail. With each step I took deeper into the underworld, it felt like the remaining pieces of myself were slowly shedding. I couldn’t help but wonder if anything familiar would be left of me by the time I returned home.

As if in answer to my circling worries, a simmering rage started to burn through me as we traveled for miles in silence. Undoubtedly, I was now being tested for wrath. It was familiar, welcome. Even though I should make sure I aligned best with pride, I tended to my anger while we picked our way down the trail, crossed over a frozen stream, and paused near a slightly wider, flatter expanse that peered over a smaller mountain range.

Clusters of evergreens that looked like the juniper and cedar sketches in Nonna’s grimoire fanned out in a semicircle around the easternmost corner where we’d paused.

Above them, angry clouds raced across the sky. Lightning lashed out like a great beast’s tongue, and a roar of thunder followed a heartbeat later. Unblinking, I watched as the dark mass galloped closer. I’d witnessed plenty of storms, but none that moved faster than the goddesses who sought vengeance. It was as if the very atmosphere was possessed.

Or perhaps this world resented its newest inhabitant and was making its displeasure known. It had that much in common with Wrath.

A few minutes later, we stopped our relentless march.

“This will have to do.”

Wrath removed his suit jacket and draped it carefully over a low-hanging branch. I’d been wrong earlier: his dagger wasn’t shoved into his jacket; he wore a leather shoulder holster over his inky shirt, and the gold hilt gleamed as he twisted around. He undid the buttons at his cuffs, quickly rolled back his sleeves, then began gathering ice-coated branches.

“What are you doing?”

“Building shelter. Unless you’d like to sleep in a storm, I suggest grabbing some evergreen branches and beating ice off them. We’ll use the ones you collect to lay on.”

“I’m not sleeping with you.” For many reasons, the most glaring being I was betrothed to his brother and—regardless of the survival aspect—I doubted the devil would be pleased if I snuggled next to another demon prince.

Wrath cracked a branch off the nearest cedar and glanced at me. “Your choice.” He swept an arm out. “But I will not nurse you back to health when you fall ill.” He gave me a hard look. “If you don’t want to freeze to death, I suggest moving swiftly.”

Not wanting to be tested for wrath or pride—or any other sin again—I swallowed any further protestations and went searching for branches. I found some a few paces away from where Wrath worked, and knocked chunks of snow and ice from them as quickly as I could. Surprisingly, I moved as fast as the demon prince. In moments, I had almost more than I could carry. Which was good since my fingers were turning red and getting stiff from the cold and wet.

Once I gathered up a heaping armful, I hauled them back to our campsite. Clouds swirled around angrily, and thunder shook the ground. We had minutes left before the first plump drops hit, if we were lucky. Wrath had already created a small circular shelter beneath one of the denser trees and was in the middle of pushing snow up and around the branches he’d driven into the ground. The exterior walls were solid snow, the roof was thatched branches, and we’d both probably have to lay curled on our sides to fit. I couldn’t imagine surviving the night in a chamber made of winter’s offerings, but Wrath seemed to think we’d be safe.

I looked up; the large evergreen tree towering above us would also provide an added barrier of protection. It was a smart location to choose.

Without turning, Wrath stuck his arm out. “Hand them over.”

I did as he not-so-gently asked, giving him one branch at a time, all the while dreaming of whipping him upside the head with them. He laid them in a row, making sure the entire ground was covered in two layers of greens.

He moved swiftly and efficiently, as if he’d done this a thousand times before. And he probably had. I was not the first soul he’d stolen for the devil. But I would be his last.

Once he placed the final branch down, he started unbuttoning his shirt, careful to avoid the leather holster. That he kept on. Powerful muscles rippled as he shrugged out of the shirt, and I couldn’t help but stare at the serpent tattoo that wound up and around his right arm and shoulder. It seemed grander here, more detailed and striking.

Maybe that was because his skin looked darker when contrasted against the pale backdrop of this land, and the metallic gold lines stood out more vividly.

I cleared my throat. “Why are you undressing? Are you affected by the magic here, too?”

He looked up. Sweat dampened the dark hair at his brow, making him appear mortal for a change. “Take off your corset.”

“I’d rather not.” I gave him an incredulous look. “What in the seven hells do you think you’re doing?”

“Giving you something to wear so you don’t freeze your ass off in that metal.” He held his shirt out but pulled it back before I grasped it, eyes glittering with mirth. “Unless you’d prefer to sleep in the nude. Lady’s choice.”

My face heated. “Why can’t you just magic more clothing?”

“Any use of magic during your first journey in the Sin Corridor is considered interference.”

“You magicked a cloak.”

“Before we crossed into the true underworld.”

“What will you sleep in?”

His expression turned positively wicked as he raised a brow.


I cursed this world and the devil and marched inside our chamber made of snow and ice and took the proffered shirt. I quickly removed my cloak and set it on the ground. Being a gentleman, Wrath exited the chamber—long enough to retrieve his jacket—and looked me over when he crowded back into the small space. So much for good manners.

His lips twitched as I twisted and tried turning the stupid garment around without touching him. It wouldn’t budge. And neither would he. I glared at the demon as if my current predicament was all his fault. He seemed utterly delighted by my anger, the heathen.

“I need your help,” I finally said. “I can’t undo it myself.”

The infernal prince inspected my corset with the same level of enthusiasm as if I’d asked him to recite a sonnet by light of a full moon, but he didn’t deny my request. “Turn around.”

“Try not to look too thrilled, or I might think you like me.”

“Count your blessings. My liking you would be a dangerous thing.”

I snorted. “Why? Would you ruin me for all other demon princes?”

“Something close.”

He smiled and motioned for me to turn. His fingers moved deftly across the ribbons crisscrossing down my back, tugging and undoing with militaristic precision.

I held the front of my top to keep myself from spilling out as the back fell open a moment later, exposing my skin. Frost-kissed air danced over me.

I’d never gotten out of a corset that quickly before. Either his supernatural senses aided him, or he had a lot of practice with undressing women.

Unbidden, a flash of him bedding someone crossed my mind in strikingly vivid detail. I saw perfectly filed nails digging into his back, long, tanned legs wrapping around his hips, soft groans of pleasure escaping as he rhythmically thrusted.

A dark feeling slithered through me at the thought. I ground my teeth together, suddenly biting back a string of accusations as I spun around. If I didn’t know any better, I’d think I was…

“Envious.” Wrath easily detected my change in mood.

“Stop reading my emotions.” I jerked my attention up to his. His expression was wiped clean. Gone was any glint of wry humor or wickedness. He stood rigidly, as if forcing himself to become an immoveable block of ice. Apparently, the idea of touching me that way was revolting.

“The corridor will continue testing you.” He observed the flush staining my cheeks a deep shade of red but didn’t comment on it. His attention briefly shifted to my neck before he brought it back up to my eyes. “Shut down as many of your emotions as possible. They’re only going to get more intense from this point forward. Aside from fear, this world thrives on both sin and desire in equal measure.”

“Isn’t desire the same as lust?”

“No. You can desire riches, power, or status. Friendship or vengeance. Desires are more complex wants than mere sins. Sometimes they’re good. Other times they reflect insecurities. This world is influenced by those who rule it. Over time it’s come to toy with us all.”

Avoiding further eye contact, he stepped away, removed his crown, and laid down on the edge of the branches, going so far as to face the opposite direction. Even still, we’d be sleeping entirely too close. There was barely a hand space between us.

Envious. About him rutting like a pig with someone else.

The notion was ridiculous, especially after his betrayal, but the lingering sense of jealousy didn’t leave right away. I cursed under my breath and focused harder on getting my emotions under control. The last thing I needed was to have this realm lure me deeper into those seven ruling sins by feeding on my feelings.

I dropped the metal corset/torture device and tugged his shirt on. It was huge on my frame, but I didn’t care. It was warm and smelled of the prince. Mint and summer. And something distinctly, unmistakably, male.

I looked over at Wrath. He was still shirtless despite the crispness of the air. Aside from his close-fitting trousers, he only wore the shoulder holster and dagger. It was going to be a long, miserable night. “Aren’t you going to put your jacket back on?”

“Stop having filthy thoughts about me and get some rest.”

“I should have killed you when I had the chance.”

He rolled over to study me, his gaze slow and meandering as it traveled from my eyes, over the curve of my cheeks, and settled on my lips. After a long moment, he said, “Sleep.”

I sighed, then sunk to the ground and pulled my cloak over me like a blanket. The small space quickly filled with the scent of cedar and pine. Outside the wind howled. A moment later, small ice pellets assaulted our chamber. Nothing infiltrated our shelter, though.

I lay there for a while, listening to the demon’s breathing turn slow and even. Once I was sure he was asleep, I peered at him again; he slept as if he didn’t have a care in the world: the deep slumber of an apex predator. I stared at the shimmering ink on his shoulders, the lines of Latin still too pale and distant to make out.

Against my better judgment, I let myself become curious about what held enough value or importance for him to permanently mark his body with it. I wanted to crack his soul open and read him like a book, discovering the deepest secrets and stories of how he came to be.

Which was foolish.

I tried not to notice the way our matching tattoo had elegantly crawled past his elbow now as well. His double crescent moons, wildflowers, and serpents reminded me of a fairy tale scene captured in a fresco back home. Something about gods and monsters.

I desperately tried not to think about how much I wanted to trace his tattoos, first with my fingertips and then with my mouth. Tasting, exploring.

I especially didn’t allow myself to think about being the person he’d laid out and made love to. His hard, powerful body moving on top of mine, deep inside of…

I shut that scandalously carnal thought down, shocked by the intensity of it.

Devious Sin Corridor. I was obviously being tested for lust now and, considering my bedmate, that was more dangerous than any hell beast prowling around outside, thirsting for my blood. I don’t know how much time passed, but sleep eventually found me.

A while later, I stirred. The storm raged outside, but that wasn’t what roused me. Warm breath tickled my neck in even, rhythmic strokes. Sometime during the night I must have shimmied up against the demon. And, surprisingly, neither one of us had moved.

Wrath lay behind me, one heavy arm draped possessively over my waist as if daring any intruder to steal what he’d claimed as his. I should scoot away. And not just for propriety’s sake. Being this close to him was like playing with fire and I’d already felt his burn, but I didn’t want to move. I liked his arm on my body, the weight and feel and scent of him curled around me like a python. I wanted him to claim me, almost as much as I wanted him to be mine.

The instant that thought came, he stopped breathing steadily.

I inched backward, pressing myself against his chest, still craving more contact.

His hold on me constricted a fraction. “Emilia…”


We both stilled at the sultry tone of my voice, the longing I couldn’t hide. I hardly recognized this openly desirous version of myself. Back home, women were taught that those wants were evil, wrong. Men could indulge in their baser needs and no one called them ungodly. They were rakes, rogues—scandalous but not ostracized for their behavior.

A man with a healthy sexual appetite was considered to be full of vitality, a prime catch. Experienced for his partner, should he ever decide to wed. While women were taught to remain virginal, pure. As if our wants were dirty, shameful things.

I wasn’t human, nor was I a member of the nobility—who suffered more restrictions than I ever had—but I’d certainly been raised with those same notions.

I was no longer in the mortal world, though. No longer bound to play by their rules.

A frisson of surprise shot through me. I couldn’t decide if it was from excitement or fear of letting myself remove those shackles here. Maybe I did know, and maybe that was the part that scared me. I wanted something I’d been warned against. And now all I had to do was reach out and welcome it. It was time to be brave, bold.

Instead of being ruled by fear, I could become fearless. Beginning now. I nestled against Wrath again, my choice made. He slowly trailed a hand down the front of my shirt, toying with the buttons. I bit my lip to keep from gasping.

“Your heart is beating very fast.”

His mouth grazed the lobe of my ear and—goddess curse me—I arched into the touch, feeling just how much he liked our current position.

His arousal sent a thrill all the way to my toes. I should not want this. I shouldn’t want him. But I couldn’t erase the phantom image of him bedding someone else from my mind, or the way it made me feel. I wanted to be the one he took to his bed. I wanted him to desire me in that way. And only me. It was a primal, ancient feeling.

One my future husband might not approve of, but I didn’t care. Perhaps the only approval I would seek from now on was my own. To Hell, quite literally, with all else. If I was to be queen of this realm, I would embrace each part of it—and my true self—fully.

“Tell me,” he whispered, his voice sliding like silk over my flushed skin.

“What?” My own voice came out breathless.

“I am your favorite sin.”

At the moment, I wasn’t sure I could manage to speak in full sentences. Wrath had teased me before, kissed me furiously and passionately, even, but he’d never tried seducing me.

He undid the first button on my shirt—his shirt—taking both infinite care and time meandering down to the next. All rational thoughts fled; his touch reduced me to possessing only one primitive need: desire. Raw, untamed, and endless. I felt no shame or worry or trepidation.

My chest rose and fell with each quickening beat of my pulse. Another button came undone. Followed by another. The grip on my emotions soon followed. A sizzling fire slowly consumed me from my toes upward. It was a wonder the snow beneath us hadn’t melted.

If he didn’t touch me, skin to skin, I’d combust. The fifth button popped open, leaving only a few more. I was about to rip the cursed shirt off. Sensing my urge, or perhaps finally giving in to his own, he swiftly undid the remaining buttons and pulled it open, exposing me.

From over my shoulder, he stared down at my body, his gaze darkening as his calloused hand slid across my smooth skin.

He was so tender, so attentive while he stroked my collarbone. When he pressed his palm to my heart, feeling its beat as if it was the most magical source in his world, I thought I might toss him down and bed him right then and there. His light touch was at odds with the mighty, terrifying power that emanated from him.

“Are you nervous?”

Hardly. I was enraptured. Completely at his mercy. Although one look at his raw expression indicated the opposite might be true. I managed to shake my head.

His fingers trailed lower, learning the curve beneath my breast, exploring my stomach and pausing to toy with the serpent belt I forgot I was wearing. If I turned slightly, angled myself up more, he could easily unbuckle it. Which was why he’d stopped. He was waiting for my decision. I thought it was obvious what I wanted.

“Tell me.”

I’d rather show him. Emboldened, I twisted around, winding one arm around his neck, and sunk my fingers into his raven hair. We might be in hell, but he felt like heaven.

His obstinate hands traveled upward to skim my breasts again. He gently squeezed them, the roughness of his skin creating pleasant friction.

He felt as good as I remembered. Better, even. I couldn’t help but gasp as his other hand finally obeyed my unspoken desires and slid in the opposite direction. It drifted across my ribs, past my stomach, and lingered right above where I wanted him to explore.

A honeyed heat pooled low in my belly.

Wrath finally slipped his fingers beneath the band of my skirt, brushing the soft skin between my hips, his touch featherlight. Goddess curse me. At the moment I didn’t care about his lies or betrayal. Nothing mattered except the feeling of his hands on my body.

“Please.” I tugged him close. Soft lips brushed against mine. “Kiss me.”

“Say it once.” He gently pulled my backside to him, offering a wicked taste of what was to come. His throbbing arousal fanned the flames of my own passions. I wished he’d do that without our clothes on. I rubbed against the hard length of him, and whatever control he’d had vanished. He captured my mouth with his, kissing me possessively, hungrily.

One of his hands remained locked on my hip and the other went under my skirts, sliding up my ankle, past my calf, then traveled between my thighs as his kiss deepened and his tongue claimed mine. His fingers were almost to the slick, aching center.

I needed him there. I groaned his name as he finally—

“While your current illusion sounds wildly interesting,” Wrath’s silky voice came from across the small enclosure, “you might want to put your clothes on. The temperature is well below freezing now.”

I jerked upright, blinking in the darkness. What in the seven hells…

It took a moment to steady my breaths and another to get my bearings. The shirt he’d let me borrow was discarded along with the cloak, and my bare skin puckered in the icy air. My skirts were wrested up around my waist as if I’d been tugging them off and failed.

I stared down at the cooling, empty spot beside me, confused.

“Is something wrong?” Perhaps my new association with House Pride prevented us from intimately associating with each other. “Did we break a rule?”

“I tried to warn you.” I couldn’t see his face, but heard the satisfied, all-too-smug—and very masculine—smile enter his voice, and alarm bells started ringing. “Your longings will taunt and tease you into oblivion if you can’t control them. This is a realm of sin and desire. It depends on your vices for its survival the same way the human world requires oxygen and water. If you lose control for a second, it will pounce. And not always in the way you believe it will. For example, if you were thinking of hatred, it might test to see if the opposite could be true.”

“I—” Goddess above. My lust-addled brain finally caught up with what had happened. He’d said it was an illusion. More like a nightmare. I buried my burning face in my hands, wondering if there was a spell I could use to disappear. “That wasn’t real…any of it?”

“One thing I can promise,” his voice was deep and sensual in the dark, “is you won’t ever doubt it’s real when I touch you.”

Frustrated, embarrassed, and furious to have submitted to desiring him for even one second, I plucked up his shirt and roughly tugged it back on before flopping onto my side. “Someone’s cocky.”

“Says the person rubbing up against my c—”

“Finish that sentence and I’ll smother you in your cursed sleep, demon.”

Wrath’s low chuckle had my toes curling and my imagination flying straight back into the fiery pits of Hell. My treacherous mind replayed one little word choice over and over. He’d said when he touched me, not if. As though he planned on making that erotic fantasy a reality at some point in the future. It was a good long while before sleep found me again.

Only this time I didn’t dream of being happily seduced by the forbidden prince.

I dreamed of a vicious, violent murder. And a beautiful woman with starlight eyes, screaming a curse of vengeance into the darkest of nights.

Most disturbing of all, it felt as if I knew her. And her curse had been directed at me.