Okay, I won’t keep you from the spice! But before you read, everybody say a big thank you to miss Kerri Maniscalco, because good lord did she deliver!
House Greed did not give the appearance that anything nefarious was afoot.
Well, anything more nefarious than the gambling club’s patrons lining up to be admitted to the sin-fueled den of iniquity.
I stood beside Wrath on the main floor we’d entered, waiting for our escorts, my gloved hands tightly gripping the ornate bronze railing as I gazed two stories down into the receiving hall.
On the brief carriage ride across the Black River to this House of Sin, Wrath had asked me to not speak until we’d entered Greed’s private quarters. Curious demons would be paying close attention to our rival House and the appearance of the king. It was best, Wrath said, to make them wonder. Greed did not want word spreading of the murder he’d called an “extremely unfortunate incident” in his letter. He wanted his subjects to be focused solely on indulging their greed, ever concerned with adding to his power.
I took the silent moments to inspect House Greed, interested in seeing how the sins shaped each demon court. Four grand, curving staircases converged in the center of the room, spilling patrons in from each corner they’d arrived from, though the circular chamber below was merely a place for members of the House to await gondolas.
Merlot-colored water snaked off in different directions, the signs above each canal indicating a different gaming hall patrons could choose for their entertainment. From where we stood, the water combined with the staircases resembled a beating heart and its chambers. I’d never been to Venice, but something about the flat-bottomed boats and canals reminded me of that famed city.
Except everything here was contained within the enormous castle. And was fitted to the extreme with riches. The gaming hell I’d visited in Palermo was nothing compared with the splendor of this House of Sin. In the mortal realm, Greed’s den was a secret, underground establishment that changed locations on a whim, worthy of being deemed a “hell.” There, it was easy to imagine innocents like Domenico’s father getting fleeced by card sharks and being completely taken over by the demon’s greedy influence.
Here, it was an entirely different story. The gleaming fixtures and elegant mosaic tiles were as carefully curated as the patrons’ neutral expressions. No one appeared to be in danger of losing their innocence; these were all various kinds of predators circling one another, each more dangerous than the last. Women and men both wore their finest clothes, the silks and brocades and stitches and embroidery all speaking to their wealth. And if their clothing didn’t inspire greed, their sparkling jewels did. Half of their adornments could fetch enough coin to feed a village for a year.
I was surprised that some didn’t simply wear gemstones—they’d had them fused to their skin. Diamonds and pearls and all manner of gems glinted from lips and noses and brows.
A few women even had gemstones tastefully placed on the side of their hands and forearms in place of gloves, while some more daring demons opted to wear only long, flowing skirts that had slits traveling high up each thigh, their bare breasts also sparkling with jewels.
Not to be outdone, men strode down the stairs toward the lines of gamblers waiting for their gondolas wearing nothing but jewels on their well-endowed members and smirks on their lips. Apparently there was a fine line between inspiring greed, lust, and envy. As I’d been learning held true for most demon circles. Sin and vice overlapped often, though the way they were expressed in each circle was slightly different.
Before I could ask Wrath about the body adornments, two lesser demons entered the balcony and beckoned for us to follow them. One had the pale green skin and eyes of a reptile, and the other was covered in short fur and had the liquid ebony eyes of a deer.
Large antlers curved back from the second one’s head, and I swallowed hard, remembering the first time I’d encountered these two particular guards. Except for a chance encounter with Domenico Nucci Senior, I’d been alone the night I’d found Greed in the private office of his traveling gaming hell, these demons standing watch.
They were my introduction to lesser demons. Though after my encounter with the witch-blood-craving Aper demon, they were by far the most civil.
Wrath nodded to them, then motioned for me to walk ahead. We traveled down a secret, winding staircase that deposited us in a private tunnel where a gondola waited at a quiet dock. Torches cast shadows along the stone walls, dark enough to hide a spy.
The reptile demon jerked his chin at the gondola. “This boat is spelled to take you directly to his highness. Do not attempt to get off until it docks.”
With that word of warning, the two guards inclined their heads slightly, then disappeared back up the stairs. A slight crease formed between Wrath’s brows as he took in our conveyance. It looked the same as the other boats, if perhaps a bit more gilded.
“What is it?” I asked, my own focus drifting back to the unsettling shadows before returning to my prince.
Wrath stared at the canal and the boat a beat longer. “Greed’s power propels the boats, and the demon-fueled water boosts— or more accurately, reflects— his sin. It’s a system that helps expend as little energy as possible on his end, while still using his magic.”
“So it will be like traveling in the Sin Corridor, but only focused on greed?”
“Yes.” Wrath held my gaze. “You will need to lock all your emotions down. My training lessons were powerful, but this will be even more so because of the demon water. It will sense your hidden desires and target them just as they were targeted in the Sin Corridor.”
The seemingly innocent boat and merlot-stained demon waterway suddenly felt ominous. “I wish I knew this was a potential issue sooner. Perhaps I could have taken a tonic.”
“I didn’t think my brother would wish to meet in the heart of his club. Greed has a building he uses for meetings outside the castle proper.” He held out his hand, helping me into the gondola before following me onto it. “You can fight this, Emilia. You’re strong enough and have trained hard. Remember what to feel for— that slight lick of magic, then shut it down.”
My foot touched the bottom of the boat the second he said “lick,” and the timing couldn’t be more unfortunate. Desire raked its claws over my skin before I shook the magic away. Wrath hadn’t exaggerated; the demon waterway certainly enhanced this circle’s magic. I greedily wanted Wrath’s touch— had craved it all night— and the circle knew it.
I quickly sat on the bench opposite Wrath, arranging my clothing to give my hands something to do. I’d chosen a gown with blush-colored tulle skirts and a black velvet bodice that had little gold and pink flowers sewn onto the straps and carefully placed around the sweetheart neckline. It was modest by demon fashion standards, but it was soft and pretty and I liked the way it made me feel. Perhaps a little too much. And so did my prince.
Wrath’s attention moved over the corset as the boat pushed itself off the dock and began gliding over the otherwise quiet water. Maybe it was the magic of the realm, or our betrothal bond, or the excess greed pumping through the lone canal, but that slight spark of desire suddenly blazed again the longer my prince admired me. All I could think of was how much I wanted to be in Wrath’s bedchamber.
I clenched my knees together, tried counting the waves our gondola made, but that worked against me. Thinking of waves lapping made me think of Wrath’s skilled tongue and all the things he’d done to me with it. I squeezed my eyes shut, but that only brought on memories of Wrath between my thighs, a king indulging in a royal feast.
Blood and bones. I needed release.
“Emilia.” Wrath’s voice held a note of warning, but it did nothing to soothe me or bring my desire under control. If anything, it made me crave him all the more. “Breathe.”
I exhaled slowly, thinking of the reason we were invited here. Murder. For the love of the goddess. That ought to be enough to dampen the fires of passion, but one look at Wrath’s strained face indicated he was struggling, too. Fantastic. My lack of control was bleeding over to him. If he unleashed himself now, we’d both be in trouble.
I focused on the waterway, on the rippling surface of the merlot waves. There were fewer torches this far into the tunnel, larger stretches of darkness. I’d almost wrangled my emotions back into a tight fist when I saw the bulge form in the demon’s trousers. That was all it took for me to submit to the sea of sin and my own wants.
Without breaking his stare, I removed my gloves, then stood, gently rocking the boat with the motion, and went to my knees before him. Power, unlike any magic I’d summoned before, filled me as something dark and dangerous glittered in his eyes.
“What are you doing?”
A coy smile curved my lips as I unfastened his trousers. “Conquering, your majesty.” “Emilia—” Before he could remind me why this wasn’t a good idea, as if I weren’t already aware of that, I pulled his hard length free and slowly licked him from tip to base. “Demon’s blood,” he growled as I closed my mouth around him and sucked a little harder, testing the action. His hands fisted at his sides. “You’re going to destroy me.”
Recalling what I’d seen at Gluttony’s House of Sin during the Feast of the Wolf, I gripped him in hand and repeated the motion using my mouth and tongue to work him, moving a little faster and holding him a little tighter with each pump, adoring the rasp of his breath.
Wrath sat still, allowing me to set the pace, but from the way his thighs tensed, I could tell he was holding himself back. And I wanted no part in that. This moment was meant for unleashing ourselves. I glanced up, silently commanding him to give in to his own dark passion. To show me just how wicked he could be. Because I wanted it. And so did he.
When he still didn’t move, I grew bolder. “Stand up, your majesty.”
Understanding flared in his eyes. With an impressive curse, he obeyed my order, then sank his fingers into my hair, guiding himself deeper. The boat rocked dangerously, but the flat bottom ensured we wouldn’t tip over. Perhaps that was why they were used here. I doubted we were the first travelers to give in to the greedy desire pumping through our veins.
I grasped onto Wrath’s hips, loving that this mighty demon was finally losing control. I might be the one on my knees, but I owned him in this moment. And he well knew it.
His grip tightened in my hair, possessive and an edge shy of painful, yet it made my knees clench together from the pleasure steadily building in me. It did not matter that we were in a rival demon House. That at any moment someone might spy us in a compromising position. Only pleasure mattered. And maybe it was greed fueling me, or maybe I didn’t mind the thought of others greedily watching us from the shadows. In fact, that scandalous thought made the honeyed heat in my belly spread, made me grow bolder still, hungrier for as much pleasure as I could get. I tugged him closer, urging him to thrust deeper, to not deny me my greed-fueled desire to taste him. I wanted him to mark me in every way, just as I intended to mark him.
“Fuck.” He needed no further encouragement.
Wrath pumped into my mouth as if he were pounding that slick junction of my body, claiming me with the same fervor I’d soon claim him. That very area throbbed at the thought of him being there now, dominating because I wished him to, but only in that one instance.
His awareness of my growing arousal must have finally sent him careening over the edge. With one last thrust and a groan that was more animal than human, he came undone. He gently stroked my hair back, massaging my skull tenderly as if he’d just realized how tightly he’d been holding on.
I swallowed him down, then gave one final, slow lick, grinning as he twitched from the aftershocks of pleasure.
“That was . . . incredible.” I went to my feet, feeling immensely gratified. “I’m not sure who enjoyed that more.”
“I’m curious to test that theory.” He reached for me, a sinful twinkle in his eye, when the trance we’d both been in was suddenly broken by the sound of a throat clearing.
I yanked my attention up and froze. The Prince of Lust leaned against a doorway that led down a narrow corridor, arms crossed. I hadn’t seen the corridor or the prince. Not that I really cared to look for either; Wrath had held all my greedy attention.
“If you’re both quite through,” Lust said, managing to sound immensely bored despite what he’d witnessed, “there’s a little matter of murder to attend to.” Even fully dressed, I still felt the heat of a blush kissing my cheeks at being caught. Lust watched his brother, shaking his head slightly. “Put your cock away and follow me. You’ll have plenty of time to pleasure your bride later. Greed sent me to see what was taking so long. He’s losing his temper. And you know how irksome that can become when any of us feel another sin.”
“Leave us.” Wrath’s voice was glacial, like his expression. “We’ll be there shortly.”
“Afraid I can’t do that,” Lust volleyed back. “Wouldn’t want you to get distracted again.”
The greedy influence was gone, but the desire wasn’t. I was still tempted to ignore Lust and Greed in favor of finishing what Wrath and I had started. I wanted to know what my prince had planned for me. “Did you—”
“See you blow my brother until he questioned his belief in the Divine?” A devious smile curled the edges of his lips. “Let’s just say I was impressed, Shadow Witch. And that’s saying a lot for the lord of pleasure.”
“That’s not what I was going to ask.” I shot him a nasty look as Wrath assisted me out of the boat. “Did you use your influence on us?”
“Didn’t need to. You both greedily went after your pleasure on your own. That little tableau was all you— and our demonic host. If it makes you feel better, I called out several times. I assumed you wanted the attention, so I gave it.” Lust cocked his head. “Are you planning on putting that vicious little mouth on me while my brother pleasures you from behind?”
My body flushed crimson. “You’re disgusting.”
“Your blush sings a different tune,” Lust said. “If you’re wondering,
yes, it would feel twice as good as you imagine. Though I suspect my brother would have my balls for trying. Remind me to send you a gift later from House Lust.”
The prince of pleasure stuck his hands into his pockets and turned, walking down the corridor as if he were out for an evening stroll.
“Hurry along,” he called over his shoulder. “Some of us have yet to indulge in our baser desires. Murder, unfortunately, seems to be an aphrodisiac only for House Wrath. Surprising to none, actually.”