“I do. I love us together. I want you back.”
“I’m here.” His smile was glorious. “You’re right. Our story is epic.” He buried his face in her hair, inhaling—
His muscles went tense. “Wait. I’m to be a father?” His wings fluttered open—as if they were stunned. “We’re having a baby?”
“What were the odds, huh?” she asked wryly. “Now we’ll be an army of three. And I have it on good authority that we can handle this.”
He swooped her up, spinning her around. Then he slowed, his face falling. He set her back on her feet, his hand dipping to her belly. “I have nothing to offer you. You—and our babe.” His hand shook over her as he said those words. “I have no kingdom. No home. What would you want with a displaced king and faction, living on borrowed time in a mortal forest?”
“Our faction could live here in Pandemonia. You felt something for this realm, I know you did.”
“It’s true. But the land is rife with danger.”
“Because of the demon hordes?” She waved that away, tugging her necklace up. “Don’t forget that I’m the Keeper of Keys and you’re the Reader of Words. We’ll open both gates and air this place out a bit. Oh, oh, I can speak Dragon now! So we could negotiate some kind of treaty with them—we might have to offer them a hottie Rothkalinan dragoness, but that’s okay.” Lanthe walked her fingers up his chest. “I’m not saying we, like, own Pandemonia. But I’m not not saying that either.”
He caught her hand, pressing a kiss to her palm. “You’d live with me here?”
“Of course! I’d rather live in hell with you than in heaven without you.”
“The Vrekeners will think we’re mad.”
“I believe they’ll feel a pull to this place, just like you did. In any case, we’ll convince them. I know it’s a bit of a fixer-upper”—she motioned around her—“in need of Vrekener TLC. But it’s nothing that a bucket of paint and some lava dams can’t spruce up!” She stood on her toes, wanting more of his kiss. “We’ve got this, Thronos.”
He leaned in, his eyes telling her he was about to kiss her till her toes curled. Just before his lips met hers, he rasped, “If my mate has her heart set on Pandemonia, who am I to deny her?”
What if there’s an even better place than the demon valley?” Thronos asked, his voice roughened from his many bellows to the proverbial rafters. After Lanthe had healed his old injuries once more, he’d made love to her until well after the sun had gone down. Now they lay within the cocoon of his wings, telling secrets. “What if we were to lead the Vrekeners to something even greater?”
“What do you mean?” She stroked the backs of her fingers over one of his cheeks.
“I keep thinking about one of the paths here: The Long Way. I can’t stop thinking about it.”
“Then it must mean something,” Lanthe said, excitement filling her. “Let’s go see what awaits us at the end!”
He cupped her face. “Exactly my thoughts.”
After dressing, they set off hand in hand into the night. They stepped upon The Long Way—which was anything but straight and narrow.
Together, they followed its many twists and turns.
With each league away from the fuming lava and the miasma of the swamp, the air grew cleaner. The sun was beginning its long, slow rise when their army of two (soon to be three) arrived at a lush plain. In the center was a colossal gray-stone mountain wreathed in white clouds and moonrakers. A babbling brook meandered around the trunks.
The temperature was cooler here, the morning sun brighter.
The sky was a dazzling violet.
“Oh, my gold,” Lanthe whispered. “It’s so beautiful.”
Gaze still on her, he said, “Beautiful.”
She grinned. “And what do you think about the mountain?”
Thronos turned to take it in, canting his head.
Lanthe saw his chest bow, as if it were filled with too much emotion to be contained.
He tugged her back against his front, draping a possessive arm over her. “It smells like you.”
“Oh, yeah?” She sank into him, luxuriating in his warmth. “How’s that?”
Pressing a kiss into her hair, Thronos murmured, “It smells like sky. And home. . . .”