“I’m to take your word on that?” But how they’d ached!
“I’ll bet you have a demon seal. You won’t release seed until you’re inside your mate.”
Only this sorceress could make that sound like a huge failing. A Vrekener male could orgasm, but could never ejaculate until he first claimed his female. Thronos racked his brain for another species besides demons that shared this singular trait.
“So I have a couple of things in common with demons.” He ran his fingers through his hair. “I also have fangs—does that make me a vampire? My eyes turn silver, so I must be a Valkyrie.”
“Deny, deny, deny. Look at you, struggling to keep your head above water with this. Returning to this realm is crumbling your stuffy Vrekener façade, exposing your true demon nature.”
When he’d viewed Melanthe’s scars—puncture wounds that had pierced her hand clean through—his eyes had felt like they were on fire. When he’d imagined the pain she would’ve felt, his fangs had elongated to rip out someone’s throat.
As a demon’s might.
No, he was not a bloody demon!
So why had he behaved like one earlier? He’d told himself he would only look at his mate. But when he’d realized she was actually going to bare her body, he’d known he would be helpless not to touch it.
He’d imagined kneading her breasts, suckling them, licking her nipples until she couldn’t stand it anymore. By the time she’d started to remove her top, he was already envisioning even more forbidden taboos.
Placing her hand into the heat of his pants and guiding her to fondle his length. Reaching beneath her skirt and exploring her sex with seeking fingers.
Claiming her. Breaking his seal and spending his seed at long last.
The dragon was gone; what was to stop Thronos now? He raked his gaze over her, his thoughts darkening once more.
“Thronos, it’s not bad to be a demon,” she said, her tone softening a touch. “Some things just are, okay?”
At her words, he lifted his eyes to hers, felt like he couldn’t get enough air. He’d been about to start the madness all over!
Must leave this place. He needed to get back to the Skye. To sanity and reason and order.
She was making him doubt everything—just as she had when they were children! “If you can create portals, can you sense other ones? Feel their energy?”
She hesitated, then nodded.
“We could find Pandemonia’s portal.” Thresholds like that were valuable—and vulnerable. They were often hidden. “You’ll direct me, and I’ll protect you.”
“Ha! I will never leave a place like this to slog through a war-torn demon plane. You can close the stone door against the dragon, and we’ll wait out our time.”
“You and I could skirt the fray.” Her speed was considerable, a fact that he used to curse. “I’ll keep you safe.”
She crossed her arms over her chest. “Not even going to discuss this. I’m going to stay in my gold house and sleep on my gold bed and ski down my piles of gold like Scrooge McDuck.”
Whatever that meant. Another TV reference? “We can’t stay here. Sooner or later that beast will get frustrated enough to dig through stone.”
She pursed her lips. “Out there, we’ll face nothing but danger, even more than the homicidal demon armies. This place is rumored to be littered with traps.”
“What kind of traps?”
“You know how the humans have certain ideas of hell? Well, all those ideas are supposed to be based on the realities of Pandemonia. Torments of fire. Hell beasts of legend. Unearthly pleasures followed by punishments. The condemned cursed to repeat labors.”
“Like Sisyphus having to roll a stone up a hill for eternity?”
Thronos was undaunted. “Then we’d best find that portal as soon as possible.”
“Nope. You will never convince me to leave this temple—”
Whirring gears sounded from above. The circular ceiling started to rotate. “What’s happening, Thronos?”
Gold dust rained down as the ceiling shifted to reveal a pie-shaped opening.
A meaty, scaled arm shot through it, black dragon claws grappling over the floor beside them.
Thronos snatched her hand, sprinting for the main cave—then skidded to a stop just beyond the door. The outside opening was blocked by another dragon, apparently the same one from earlier! Had it returned with reinforcements?
Back to the temple. “They’re getting angrier,” she cried. “Fire comes next!”
The dragon perched at the ceiling opening sucked in such a deep breath that Lanthe’s braids rose. She heard a hiss like a punctured oxygen tank. That sound must be its fuel.
Just as fire erupted, Thronos hunched over her against the wall, covering her with his wings, two mighty shields. The force of the flames was like a boot kick to his back; he lurched forward against Lanthe.
“Ah, gods, are you okay?”
He bit out, “Why wouldn’t I be?”
Had he just made a joke? Now?
“Ready to leave?” Sweat beaded his strained face.
“How?” She could swear she scented . . . melting gold. Was the dragon fire burning it to liquid?
When the flames receded, Thronos lowered his wing, glancing out. “The temple has another secret doorway.”
She peeked out through two folds of his wings. “But the dragon’s still above.” She spotted something that couldn’t be right. Amid a piping hot puddle of molten gold was a red medallion on a matching chain.
Red gold. It had to be silisk gold—a.k.a. dragon’s gold.
“Down!” Thronos covered her again, and once more a blast of flames battered them. “We’re going to run when he draws his next breath.”
“I-I need to collect something.”
“Your gauntlets? You don’t need those!”
“First of all, yes, I do. Second, I’m talking about a medallion, behind you. Three o’clock.”
He glanced in that direction. “Forget it, sorceress.” Gritting his teeth, he said, “Past the benches is a second door. We run as soon as these flames end. Now.” He shoved her in front of him, wings cloaking her as they rushed to the wall across the temple.
When Thronos’s eyes darted over the markings, hers went wide. “You’re reading them! That’s how you found this place!”
He started manipulating sections of gold. “What of it!”
Just as the gold door began to inch open, the dragon drew another breath. She heard that hissing sound.
The door was too slow . . . too slow! Through the opening crack, she spied a shadowy corridor with stone steps leading down.
“Go!” Thronos propelled her inside.
She was several flights down before he closed in behind her. Flames followed them.
He blocked them with his wings. Once they were out of range of the fire, he said, “Get behind me! We’ve no idea what we’re heading into.”
She nodded, shifting aside to let him lead as they raced farther down. A narrow passageway like this would prevent him from using his wings to strike. Now that she was working with him—somewhat—his vulnerabilities were hers as well. If they’d encountered those ghouls in this tight an area, she and Thronos would be dead, or worse.
The air grew hazy. Steam and smoke choked the corridor. Ahead, a rectangular opening seemed to glow. An exit! She stumbled. He glanced back.
He sped through the exit onto a pathway—
A pathway that was bordered by a sheer cliff dropping into a river of lava. He was pinwheeling at the edge! She didn’t think; her hand shot out, grasping the back of his breeches to reel him back in.
He gave her an irritated look over his shoulder. “I can fly, you know.” Lava erupted from below in a geyser inches from his face. “Run!” As they sprinted down the winding path, he positioned his wings over them.
They barely evaded the deluge of lava. Glancing back, she said, “If you’d fallen and tried to fly, that lava would have engulfed you.”
He couldn’t deny it.
“I think the words you’re searching for are ‘Thank you, oh great and wonderful sorceress.’ ”
He narrowed his eyes. “You saved me from falling now. If only you’d shown me the same consideration when I was a boy.”
“If only you’d warned my family that yours was coming over for tea and decapitation! What else have you got? I can do this all day!” She heard rock crunching behind them. The dragons were scaling the mountainside in pursuit!
Four lights blazed on the other side of the peak—from the dragons’ eyes. Like movie-premiere spotlights directed straight up into the sky, they cut through the steam and murk.
“When they crest, we’ll have to hide,” Thronos said. “For now, get as far down the path as you can.”
As she ran, she could see that the mountains on each side of the plateau below were actually the beginnings of two jagged ranges. More peaks lined the ongoing plateau and distant valleys—like teeth.
Farther down, she came upon a wooden handrail. She reached for it, nearly stumbling when it disintegrated into ash.
Like a domino chain, the rail began collapsing into ash, foot by foot for what looked like leagues. “I’m sick of heights!”
As they raced forward, Thronos kept her between him and the mountain. The lower they got on the path, the more lava spurted in their way, forcing them to leap and dodge.
Molten silver ore spilled from the charred mountainside, flashing in the firelight—distracting her.
“Eyes forward, sorceress!”
When they had to vault over a burned-out section of the ledge and she nearly fell short, he snapped, “Come to me.”
Without a word, she turned to hop into his arms, locking her legs around his waist, her arms around his neck. When he squeezed her against him, she said, “I’m getting used to jumping you.”
He did a double take as he set off once more. “Are you, then?”
“Easy, tiger. I meant that we keep having to run for our lives.”
“Just watch our back.” As he lunged across another gulley, he said, “I couldn’t have warned you about my father.”
“I had no idea of his plans until after he and his men had left. I dove for the abbey, but by the time I got there, he’d already killed your parents.”
The truth of that night. “How’d he find out?”
“My tutor saw me sneaking out and followed me.” Thronos slowed to meet her eyes. “I never betrayed you, Melanthe. I’d been tempted to tell my parents about you—I knew the Hall would move soon—but I would’ve talked to you about it first.”
To his clear surprise, she said, “I believe you.” Then her gaze drifted past him. “They’re cresting! We have to hide.” Thronos’s wings would perfectly match this blackened rock face and the silver ore that drizzled from the stone. “Good thing you blend.”
“I do not blend.”
“Face it, demon, you blend like a native of hell. Luckily for us, the fire-breathing dragon breeds don’t scent so well.”
“How would you know?”
“I’ve hung out with a pack of them in Rothkalina. My sister can talk to them. They’re really nice once you get to know them, only attacking trespassers and such. . . .” She trailed off when Thronos froze in place, craning his head up. She followed his gaze.
At least a dozen dragons swarmed the side of the mountain like bats coating a cave ceiling.
We are trespassers.” Thronos crouched down, pressing her back against the mountain. He spread his wings, enclosing them completely, and—damn her—blending.
When Melanthe shook against him, he muttered, “They haven’t seen us. We’re hidden here. Just think of something else.”
For long moments, the sounds of their heartbeats were loud drums in the insulated hush beneath his wings.
“You used to enclose us like this when we were young,” she finally said in a low voice. “I always felt I should whisper, as if we were under a sheet, staying up too late.”
“We told each other secrets.”
“So you do recall our months together?” she asked, looking pleased by this.
Some minutes less than others. He shrugged.
“How long do you think we’ll have to wait here?”
“We can stay for as long as we need to.” He’d no sooner said the words than he sensed a section of path disintegrating to his left. The dragons above roared in reaction. Then another section to his right collapsed, leaving him and Melanthe on a precarious island of rock.
“More heights.” She bit her bottom lip until he thought she would split it.
He wanted to talk to her, distracting her mind from their situation. What to say?
She took care of the problem. “If we live through this, I’m going back for the medallion.”
“The hell you are.” Besides, she wouldn’t find it if she returned.
“That wasn’t regular gold. It’s red silisk gold, also known as dragon’s gold, the rarest and most valuable in all the known realms. I must have it, Thronos.”
“Your timing is poor. I can’t believe you’re still thinking about it, considering our current circumstances.” He was one to talk. He’d just glanced down, glimpsing Lanthe’s thighs spread around his waist, her skirt worked up perilously high—and his thoughts had boomeranged back to the temple, to the treasures he’d almost seen. Even in this situation, his shaft hardened for his mate.