I sat up in my empty bed and screamed at the top of my lungs. Oh, god. Oh, god. Oh, god. What the hell was that? Where was Eros? Why was I dreaming of Javier?
My heart thumped loudly against my chest, and I hopped out of bed, suddenly feeling beyond hot. The window was cracked slightly, the pink sunlight pouring in through it. I stumbled over to the balcony and pushed the doors open just enough to see my kingdom. The beautiful pink hills, the plush sky, the velvet rose garden. Not that atrocity from my dream.
But that... that wasn’t just any normal dream. That was a lust dream, a dream intricately woven and forged by an incubus himself. An incubus who was supposed to be dead.
Dreaming of Javier—like that—was impossible.
After drawing my thumb against my family ring, I took a deep breath. Maybe it was all just a nightmare. Yeah, that’s what it was. It had to be. Javier couldn’t be back. I was just getting too deep in my own head. All the stress from transitioning to Hell, from ascending as queen in a couple of weeks, from Kasey refusing to talk to me because Eros killed their parents.
Someone knocked on the bedroom door. “Commander, is everything okay? Should I get Eros?” Esha, the guard Eros had assigned to our chambers, asked.
I tied my scarlet silk robe around my waist and tried to think about better days. When Mom would wake me up with a big plate of French toast and a huge grin on Sunday mornings, when we’d visit the ice skating rink and twirl around on the ice for hours, when she smiled at me.
“I’m fine,” I said, gazing out the balcony doors. Demons walked down the white stone walkways from the palace to the nearest town, Chastion, below me. It was only eight in the morning, and some of them were stumbling home from a late night down in the palace’s Lust Rooms. The parties raged on until early in the mornings; the demons had been drinking Passion Delights on the front stairs and had been staggering through the castle.
I grasped the curtains. My quiet life had been replaced by boozing and partying in just a few short days. The Kingdom of Lust was nothing like the city back home...
But maybe I needed the change. I couldn’t stay with Maria for the rest of my life. Dad liked it here, so I would try to like it too.
“Eros wanted me to inform you that he will be in the Garden of Passion, waiting for you.”
After changing into something more modest—not that anyone would care—I opened the bedroom door. Dressed in a tight leather uniform that only the highest-ranked Lust guards wore, Esha nodded at me. “Good morning, Asmodeus.”
I brushed my fingers against her wrist. “Please, just Dani,” I said. She followed me down the hundreds of spiraling stairs to the ground floor. “Have you heard from Kasey?”
I pressed my lips together. “Mycah?”
After sighing through my nose, I nodded my head and walked out of the castle doors. She followed me, because Eros asked her to follow me everywhere, but I stopped her—my mind still buzzing with those dreadful thoughts from this morning. “I will find Eros alone.”
I just needed time to breathe.
Once she walked back inside the castle, I hurried along the stone pathway toward the Garden of Passion. The Garden of Passion was a luscious rose garden near Chastion. I pushed around people to get there as quickly as possible, to see Eros—my Eros—and to get Javier out of my mind.
Even when Javier was dead, he still found a way to fuck with me.
A group of Lusts blocked the walkway in front of me, and I patiently waited for them to move while I not-so-patiently tried to calm my racing heart. I didn’t understand why I had dreamt of Javier, and I didn’t think I ever would. Eros had done more than enough to please me. I didn’t need to dream of the one man both Eros and I hated the most.
“The crowning ceremony is only in two weeks,” one Lust in front of me said.
“I heard from Biast that once she ascends, Sathanus promised to rain fireballs down on her for killing his heir.”
My eyes widened, and I slowed my pace. Sathanus, the Commander of Wrath, was promising to kill me, to slaughter me, and to steal my soul. Rumors like this had been buzzing around Chastion for a couple weeks now, but I had only heard it from Eros and Esha when they talked to each other. Hearing it from an actual resident of Lust... made me feel things I shouldn’t.
Shame. Pain. Outrage.
“Do you think she can rule? Nobody has ever even seen her alone without Eros in the town yet.” They began whispering to each other, and I fell further back, not wanting them to know that I had heard every word of their conversation, because, well, I didn’t know what to say. It was true. I hadn’t been out to town alone. I hadn’t been anywhere in Hell alone. Though the people themselves didn’t freak me out, I just didn’t fit into their image of me.
I cut through the grass and made a bee-line for the garden. Don’t let this get into your head, Dani. Don’t let this pile up too. You will be a great queen. You will rule this kingdom with all the might that Dad knew you would. You will not fuck this up.
After clutching my ring so tightly in my palm, I entered the garden. It was empty, yet the sweet scent of cinnamon drifted in through my nostrils. I followed it through the garden, needing Eros to calm me down. The thought of Sathanus only brought me back to Javier, and it seemed that he was all I could think about these last couple of days.
Maybe it was because he was the first person who I had ever killed or maybe it was the fact that I knew he wouldn’t be my last. Controlling my demon was far harder than I ever expected. I had thought about sucking Eros’s soul too many times to count lately, and I could feel that everyday I was on the verge of breaking.
“Dani,” Eros whispered. I turned my head toward the direction of his voice, but he wasn’t there. So, I continued walking through the garden of roses, my fingers brushing against each one, letting their scent drift into my nose.
“Dani, come here,” he whispered again. I turned around, strands of my dark hair blowing into my face. The pink sun shimmered down onto the rose petals, making them glimmer. I heard him chuckle from behind me and went to turn around, but two strong arms curled around my waist from behind before I could. “If you want to find me, you’ll have to be faster than that,” Eros said into my ear. He pressed his lips against my collarbone. “Or, next time, I’ll have the chance to corrupt this pretty little mind of yours before you can stop me.”
I laughed, tilting my head to brush my lips against his. “And how will you corrupt me, exactly?” I turned in his embrace, drawing a finger up his abdomen. “Make me beg for you? Take me out on one of those bus rides again? Invite Lucifer over?”
His lip curled into a smirk, his eyes dancing with excitement. “I was thinking... force-feed you Fervor Crisps”—He held up a picnic basket full of baked goods and a bottle of Passion Delight—“and let you devour a whole bottle of Passion Delight, but...” He stepped closer to me and brushed his nose against mine. “... your way sounds much more exciting.”
After inhaling his cinnamon and forgetting all about Javier’s licorice stench from my dream, I relaxed and tugged Eros into a hug, letting my head rest against his chest. I had the strong urge to burst out in tears. It had only been a few days here, and the pressure of everything was almost too much to handle. But I sucked it up because I was going to become queen.
Eros’s chest rumbled softly, and he curled his arms around me. “I have a spot for us picked out under the cherry tree. We can eat breakfast, enjoy Passion Delights, and help you relax.”
I arched a brow and stared up at him, grinning. “It’s eight in the morning. We can’t have Passion Delights now.”
“We can if you say we can, my little Succubus.” He grabbed my hand and led me through the garden of roses to a picnic blanket under the blossoming cherry tree. Pink little leaves had fallen onto the blanket. I sat down and pulled out a Fervor Crisp, stuffing it into my mouth and relaxing completely.
Eros gazed at me with his piercing greens. “I heard you had a nightmare.”
I chewed my food and looked away from him, scared that he’d see the guilt in my eyes. I wanted to tell him about the dream more than anything... but I couldn’t tell him that I had a sex dream about his brother—the man that I killed. What would he think of me? Worst of all... what would he think of himself?
His parents had beat it into his head that he wasn’t a true incubus. If I told him about dreaming of Javier, he’d think all those lies were true. I didn’t want to hurt him anymore. I wanted him to heal from their abuse.
“I’ve been stressing you out lately, haven’t I?” he asked, taking a bite into his Fervor Crisp. He eyed the bottle of Passion, but didn’t open it. Instead, he just stole another crisp and frowned at me.
I swallowed hard. All I could think about was the Crowning Ceremony and Eros’s dire need to be enough for me and my growing urge to suck out his soul and Kasey and Sathanus and... God, it was so much.
“I’m fine, Eros.” I clasped my hands together and played with my ring. At least, I needed for everyone to think I was fine, so they trusted me to rule this kingdom. And besides, Javier was just a dream. A stupid, annoying dream. Nothing to worry about right now.
“Don’t do that to me,” he said, inching closer. “Don’t shut me out. Remember, we have to be open with each other if we want this kingdom to thrive. No secrets.”
No secrets... but what if I kept one to keep him safe? What if I kept one to keep him from hurting? To keep him from thinking he wasn’t enough for me because his parents had told him so much that he wasn’t enough that he actually started to believe it?
I sighed through my nose. “It’s just the stress of the ceremony. There’s so many rumors going around. And, honestly, I don’t know if I’ll ever be enough for this kingdom. I don’t know how I could ever live up to my father’s reputation.” I gazed around to make sure nobody was listening, then lowered my voice. “Will Lust trust me after all the lies that your family has spewed about my father? And what about when they find out that my mother was an angel?”
Eros placed his Fervor Crisp on the blanket, scooted closer to me, and took my hands in his. “Dani, I don’t know what they’ll think of you... but I have always believed that you’d be the best to rule this kingdom. I will protect you from anyone who threatens you or your rule.”
“I’m nervous,” I said.
“Then we’ll start your preparations today.”
“Preparations?” I asked, brows furrowing. “What kind of preparations? Do I have to memorize every sex position like I had to memorize the periodic table?” Because... Jesus... would that be a disaster.
He chuckled and brushed a strand of hair from my face. “No, preparations for the Courting Pit and for your Courting Ceremony.”
My eyes widened slightly. “Courting Pit?”
After pausing for the slightest moment, a look of uneasiness crossed Eros’s face. “I didn’t want to tell you yet, because it’s just going to be added stress, but”—He took a deep breath—“The Courting Pit is where demons can challenge you for your spot as commander.”
I nearly choked on my crisp. “Challenge me?” I whispered.
“Yes, and you’ll have to prove yourself worthy of the title: Commander of Lust.”
“Oh, no, I cannot do that...” I shook my head and put the sweet down on the picnic blanket. Was he crazy?! Did he forget how difficult it was for me to flirt with him when we started dating? “What am I going to have to do? Have sex with people? Flirt with the entire kingdom? Suck them of—”
“We’ll start your preparations by flirting.” Eros grasped my chin and made me look into his eyes. “Start off slow. Just flirting.”
He smirked and then looked at his phone. “We’re meeting Lucifer today. In thirty minutes. At the lounge.”
Oh, Lord. I had to flirt with Luci? That was bound to go great.
“Don’t worry. You’re not flirting with him, Dani. Don’t rile yourself up yet.” He chuckled. “Lucifer just wants to talk.”
I raised my brow. Just talk? The Devil never wanted to just talk.