Crimes of Shadows
Viktor’s fingers dug into my arms as he held me barely more than an inch away, those wintery eyes willing me to trust him enough to put my sister’s life in his hands. The kiss still burned my lips, as did the words he spoke into my mind just moments ago.
Would the unseelie prince really declare war on the queen to finally end her cruel reign?
“How are we going to kick Isadora off her throne without hurting Jilly or Kaden?” I gripped the bottom of his shirt like an anchor to keep from floating into the cloud of darkness lingering around the corner.
Lines developed across his brow as he grew pensive. “We have to get them away from her and go into hiding.” He gently pried my grasp from his prison-issued shirt before pacing the cramped space, dragging his fingers through his bluish-black hair. “I have powerful allies on the outside, and a lot of them rely on the black-market trades between the Otherworld and Earth through the prison. They want to remain on my good side. There has to be someone who can help.”
Blood speckled his knuckles, and bruises had already begun to form from punching the brick wall. The anger that had overrun my senses had dissipated, but agitation still vibrated through Viktor. The bond between us had grown deeper since he’d given me more blood.
Cortland’s attempts to enslave me with elf potions ended when I nearly killed his two henchmen and Aria. After Viktor found me in the elf’s cabin in the Otherworld, poisoned and bleeding to death, he rushed me back to Wayward Fae Penitentiary. Most of that was a blur, but there was no denying more of the unseelie prince’s blood now ran through my veins.
Had he known saving me again would tie us together even tighter?
The unseelie prince had spent the last few nights by my bed to keep watch over me while I slept. Was that because of the bond or because he couldn’t stand the thought of me in another perilous situation? And what would happen if we succeeded in defeating Isadora?
“Will you become king?” I blurted, my words instantly halting Viktor’s pacing. The severe look settling over his face made me want to escape into the hall. Ruling the Fae was the last thing he wanted.
But who else would?
“I’m not a king.”
I leaned against a rickety metal shelf and picked at the curling tape on a dusty box. “Kaden’s too young. Even when he turns thirteen and can technically take the throne, he shouldn’t have that kind of responsibility or pressure.” As much as it pained me to admit, the sooner Viktor accepted his future, the better. “You’re only seventeen, and you’re pretty much the king at Wayward Fae Pen. Why not be one out there?”
I pushed aside the pang throbbing through my chest at the thought of Viktor taking the throne because once he did, there’d be no room for me—the freak mutt—in his life.
His nostrils flared while the temperature in the storage closet dropped to arctic levels. Before long, every grimy, forgotten item would be covered in a layer of frost. “My father was a king. Not me.” He took a step toward me with that intimidating aura building around him, the one that scared most people shitless. “I don’t—”
Blood-curdling screams exploded in the hall outside, cutting off our impending argument.
My pulse spiked through the ceiling. “What the hell is that?”
Viktor whipped around and yanked the door open, bounding down the tunnels of concrete and metal piping with me on his heels. As we turned the corner, two figures writhed on the ground while smoke curled from their wrists.
“It’s the goblin bracelets.” Viktor cursed and sprinted toward the two inmates. “We have to get them off.”
My black boots came to a screeching halt a few inches away from none other than Alicia and Maria. Son of a bitch. Phantom searing from the nasty gashes Maria sliced into my leg during the fight in Viktor’s club ricocheted over my nerve endings.
A low rumble slipped from the unseelie prince when he recognized who needed help, but he didn’t pause as he yanked the necklace over his head and grabbed Maria’s wrist to unlock the security bracelet.
With a huff, I slammed on my knees and snatched the key from my own necklace to release Alicia’s cuff. The metal clanked hollowly against the concrete ground as we freed the ailing shifter inmates. Alicia moaned, rolled over on her back, and found me hovering above.
“What the hell are you doing, seelie-dae?” Her throaty voice still radiated disdain even after helping her.
I rolled my eyes and rested on my haunches. “Just saving your ass. You’re welcome.”
“What is going on?” Officer Gildafor marched down the hall, her hand suspended over the sizzle stick dangling from her hip. “Are you attacking other inmates, seelie-dae?”
This is what I get for helping my enemies.
I slowly climbed to my feet and turned my attention to the elf guard who’d had it out for me since day one. “Why do you always think I’m attacking someone?”
Viktor’s presence loomed at my back as he stood. “Their goblin bracelets have been poisoned, and they collapsed. We took them off.”
Gildafor’s moss-green gaze landed on the necklace dangling from my fingers, or more importantly, the key to the security cuffs. “You’re not supposed to have that, inmate.” Her lips thinned into a hard line that deepened the sharp angles of her face. “I’ll be confiscating it and then taking you to the hole.” She reached forward to snatch the jewelry out of my grasp.
Viktor’s hand shot out and curled around her wrist. “Don’t touch her.” The danger in his voice sent shivers over my spine even though it wasn’t directed at me.
Color drained from the guard’s cheeks, and she yanked the sizzle stick off her hip, sparks of magic crackling on the end. “I suggest you release me before I’m forced to use this.”
A menacing, humorless laugh slithered from Viktor. “Try it and see what happens, elf.” He freed her arm but slipped in front of me like a protective wall of bronzed flesh and tattoos. “I know you had your hands in that attack at the animal shelter and the one in the Otherworld. You’re going to be held accountable for that at some point.”
“Are you threatening me?” The tremor in her words accentuated the fear riddling each syllable.
“No, Gildafor.” Viktor crossed his arms against his chest as his stance widened to demonstrate how insubstantial she was compared to him. “I’m reminding you of who I am, and that Sloane is under my protection.”
So, we were back to that?
“I don’t need protecting,” I muttered under my breath.
“What happened?” Warden Balfour appeared at the end of the corridor, his flawless black suit blending into the shadows except for the pops of silver on the cufflinks and buttons. He carefully assessed the situation as he marched closer with inaudible footsteps.
Gildafor lowered the sizzle stick. “These two were found attacking Maria and Alicia. And the seelie-dae is in possession of an illegal security key. I was just about to detain her when—”
“The goblin cuffs were malfunctioning, Balfour.” Viktor brushed off the guard as if she was no more than an annoying fly. “We removed them.”
Maria moaned as she finally came to and struggled to sit up. “What’s going on?”
Balfour’s mouth dipped into a frown. “You’ve fallen ill.” His pale-blue eyes lifted to Gildafor’s. “Call for backup to help escort these two to the medical ward to have Mixon examine them.”
Gildafor grabbed the radio off her belt and spoke into the receiver through clenched teeth as her shoulders strained beneath the navy and silver uniform.
Balfour picked up the two charred bracelets, cursing. “This does not bode well.”
No, it didn’t.
I tossed the necklace back over my head and tucked the key into my shirt as Officer Zeke arrived.
The brawny wolf shifter cursed as he took in the two disoriented inmates on the ground. “What the hell happened?”
“Help them to the medical ward,” Balfour said, ignoring his question. “And then wait for my call on your radio, both of you. We need to have a meeting.”
The guard nodded, hauled Alicia to her feet, and steadied her with his arm around her waist. She batted her lashes at him, clearly not upset at being tucked into his large body. “I’ve got you.”
Maria, on the other hand, snarled as Gildafor tried to help her. “I can walk on my own,” she hissed right before she started falling.
Gildafor grabbed the dochar around the waist. “Obviously not.”
Maria sent a sneer my way as the guard dragged her down the hall, to which I answered with the middle finger. Alicia was too busy snuggling up to Zeke to pay me any attention.
Once they were out of sight, Balfour released a long sigh. “I didn’t want it to come to this, but I don’t have a choice.”
Viktor took a subconscious step in my direction. “What is it, Balfour?
“I’ll need to remove all of the goblin security bracelets and hope the inmates can behave.” He ran his hand down his tired face. “If they can’t, I’ll be forced to resort to the iron cuffs.”