He bent down to lay her limp body in the sand, then checked her head. A knot had risen, but nothing her immortality wouldn't rapidly shake.
"A blade," he grated as he untied the cord he'd bound her with. When Lothaire handed him a dagger, Rydstrom cut lengths that he tied around her wrists like cuffs, then he secured the two together with another line.
Once he'd finished, Lothaire tossed Rydstrom a black tunic and the pack. "There's a canteen of water and sup' plies to camp for a few days." From his waist, he unfas­tened a sword belt. "And a weapon-to defend against the beasties," he said, seeming amused by that.
Rydstrom drew on the tunic, then strapped the sword
to his waist.
"You've got a week at the most to locate a portal Strike out due west from here-you'll likely begin to find rage demons, refugees who will know the way."
Rydstrom lifted Sabine once more. "What will you ask of me?"
The vampire's pale-eyed gaze locked on Rydstrom. "Something that will be worth what I've lost here by breaking my pact with Omort."
"When the time comes. In a week, a decade. Maybe a millennium."
"You're still my enemy," Rydstrom said. "I could sim­ply hunt you down and kill you."
"I'd expect nothing less. You're an honest king, but you're still a ruthless one. Now go. The clock ticks."
When Sabine woke, the moon had not yet set.
She was greeted by a pounding pain in her head, and since the demon had thrown her over his shoulder, each
of his long strides was increasing that ache. Her hands were still bound behind her back. Which meant...
Glancing up through her braids, she could see they were in a different region of Rothkalina-gone from the seaside castle and verdant forest to a desolate plain. There was only one region in Rothkalina that wasn't replete with green forest-the aptly named Grave Realm.
Where the wild things are . . .
She was out in the middle of a perilous territory with a madman, Lanthe must be out of her head with worry, and Sabine had no morsus-if she didn't get back to the castle, to Omort, she truly would be condemned.
All of this was because of that traitor Lothaire! And the bastard had traced them to Grave Realm. She'd stake him herself!
Sabine could only imagine how Omort was taking this betrayal ... or who he was taking it out on. She believed Lanthe would be safe, but she hoped her sister would protect their Inferi.
Gradually, one head-pounding stride of his at a time, the plain gave way to a gnarled forest of petrified wood. Shadows from the moon slithered over the ground. Unseen things scurried in the dirt.
More alarming, her skirt was riding up to her waist, leaving her ass in no more than a thong. The hand he used to pin her to his shoulder now covered her curves completely, and he'd begun kneading them.
What will he do to me? She didn't want to have sex with him again, especially since he was in this agitated state. For one thing, her plan was foiled. For another,
the pain was too fresh. When she'd decided to return to his cell, she'd had every intention of being on top... .
Rydstrom abruptly halted and dropped her to her feet. In the waning moonlight, his crazed eyes held a look of expectation, his lips drawn back from his fangs.
Steady Rydstrom had snapped.
Apparently, Sabine had grabbed a tiger by the tail. And she'd just become its prisoner.
Not for long.
"Rydstrom," she whispered.
She whispered more faintly. When he leaned in, she butted her headdress against his nose, then launched her steel-toed boot between his legs-
He caught her by the ankle and flipped her onto her back. He was on top of her in an instant. "You're a vicious little female." He crushed his face into her hair, inhaling. "Treacherous."
When he began kissing her neck desperately, she frowned up at the sky-he was kissing her as if he'd missed her. Just as his loneliness had called to her, now his yearning did.
"But you won't be for long."
He was already erect, and when he ground his shaft against her, a shock of pleasure jolted through her. She was getting caught up, his excitement fueling her own.
Wait . . . What did he mean by won't be for long? Planning on converting her to his side, changing her? Always wanting to change me!
He took her mouth, his firm lips crushing hers.
Before she got lost in the frenzy of his kiss, she nipped his bottom lip hard.
He hissed a curse as he bolted to his feet. Grabbing her by the waist, he hauled her over to a flat boulder. When he sank down on it, he laid her across his legs.
"What are you doing?" With her hands tied, she could do nothing to prevent him.
"Keeping my promises." Just as she realized what he was talking about, he shoved her skirt up to her waist.
"Rydstrom, just wait!" She wriggled when he yanked her panties to her ankles. "Demon-"
He brought his palm down with a loud slap. It stung, but it sounded worse than it felt.
This was his revenge? Would he mind if she slept through it? "Is that all you've got, demon? Was that punishment or affection? I'm confused-"
Whap! She whistled in a breath on that one, writhing over his lap. Another slap, followed by stinging pain, then another. His other hand was kneading her thigh. He was excited by this, heaving his breaths.
And something began to happen to her. To her amazement, she was growing aroused. What was it about the demon? Would there ever be a time when he couldn't make her want him? Maybe like right now, when he was spanking her ass and seemed a razor's edge away from throttling her?
But she was hyper-attracted to strength, and the demon was the strongest male she'd ever encountered. She'd never forget him fighting those guards-the ferocity within him. . . .
With his next slap, her cry turned to a moan, bewil­dering her. Even he hesitated.
She was a true daughter of the Sorceri-a hedonist who would take her pleasure where she found it. Here she was in the wilds of the realm, captive of a demonic being, receiving blows-and her illusions of fire were already lighting the night.
What a surprise, she thought, with the faintest smile.
She maneuvered over his lap, easing her knee to the side, spreading her legs. His body grew still. His hand hesitated in midair. All she could hear was his ragged breaths.
Then he gave a harsh groan as he leaned back to see between her legs. "Touch you ..."
She nodded. At the first contact, she cried out, then moaned when he delved one of his big fingers inside her. Had he just freed his shaft? She could feel that he'd begun stroking himself beneath her.
In and out went that seeking finger. "Getting so wet" he rasped. "Sorceress, you drive me . . . mad. ..."
Rydstrom was deep in that twilight between reason and instinct, where nothing made sense. He was losing control with her and couldn't savor it more.
He'd escaped with her. At last. Just thinking of her as his prisoner-his possession-made him want to bellow with triumph.
With her wild plaits flowing down her back and the metal adorning her body, she looked as wicked as she acted, taking the slaps-and raising her ass for more. And now she needed to come, badly. Her fires were already burning.
This is ecstasy.
He worked a second finger inside her hungry sheath. "So tight. Hot." Her flesh glistened, gripping his fingers. "And virgin no more."
With his other hand, he worked his fist up and down his shaft, until it throbbed to release its seed. He let his fingers slide out of her only long enough to turn her over so he could see her face.
There was no shame and no fear. With her eyes half-lidded, she lay across his lap, tilting her hips up, wan­tonly using his fingers. So beautiful. . . so fierce. Mine.
That still-unfamiliar pressure within his shaft mounted, the sensitive crown rubbing against her ass. Pleasure so extreme it's pain.
His muscles tensed, his body readying to come. He roared to the sky, beginning to ejaculate against her ass. On and on it continued while he yelled, pumping hard jets, his hips jerking uncontrollably beneath her.
She gasped, then moaned low. The sound of that drew forth from him a last explosion that landed between her spread legs. Even marked like this, she was writhing, moaning, about to come . ..
But he removed his hand to refasten his pants, then set her on her feet.
As she blinked up at him in bewilderment, he ripped the bottom of his tunic to wipe his seed from her.
"What are you doing?"
"I'm finished." Don't push me . . . don't enrage me, "You've three nights you owe me. Three nights where you'll know what I went through. Then we'll have par­ity between us."
When he swiped her skin, she bucked against him. "I'll kill you for this!"
In the moonlight, he could see her ass was bright red. How hard did I slap her?
"Very hard, you oaf!" she answered.
""Stay out of my goddamned head, Sabine!" He tossed the cloth away, then yanked up her scrap of underwear with so much force she rocked up on her toes.
"Or what? You'll spank me? Do you often strike women?"
"Never." Not once in fifteen centuries.
"Ah, that's right, you're King Rydstrom the Good. You don't seem so good now."
"You wouldn't recognize a good thing if it was spank­ing your ass." He wrenched down her skirt so hard, the material ripped.
"Am I turning you bad, demon? Shattering that upstanding facade?"
"That could've been much worse." He took her arm, propelling her forward as they journeyed on. "It didn't have to be like this. You started us on this path. Do you remember the time I asked you to release me? Do you recall my pain as I lay in that fucking bed, with my chest ripped open wide and my spine severed? Day after day, I was trapped in that goddamned dungeon-because of you!"
As if she'd heard none of that, she squinted up at his horns. "Hey, are you going to be like this for long?"
He released her, confounded by this female. Gods, she's got me twisted inside. He resumed walking, not turn­ing back as he spoke into the night, "You'll follow me now. If you don't, you'll be eaten alive out here."
"Where are you taking me?" she asked, trailing after him. "What are you going to do to me? Besides taking out your fetish on me?"
He stopped and rounded on her, making her crane her head up at him. "Woman, why would you possibly push me?" His eyes narrowed. "You're taunting me because you like it when I lose control."
She gazed away for a split second, then said, "Not likely. How else should I act with someone who's taken me prisoner? Pleasant?"
"If you had any sense, you'd avoid provoking me." Done with this exchange, he turned to resume their trek. The harsh sun would soon be rising, and the ter­rain was only going to become more grueling....
With each mile, she badgered him about where they were going and how long they'd be gone.
She'd complained about the heat of the sun, the furious pace, and his rationing of their dwindling water
Other than to feed her sips from the canteen, Ryd-strom ignored her, his thoughts in turmoil. Part of him felt triumphant. He was free, and had Sabine as his captive. He'd already begun his revenge and had been greatly rewarded, coming so hard his legs had been weak afterward.
Another part of him felt guilt for his treatment of her. Anytime that guilt arose, he would remind himself of all she'd done to him. The humiliation of those men bathing him... . The memory of that alone had him turning to her with his lips drawn back from his fangs.
Because of her behavior, he would feel free to do with her whatever he wanted.
But how long could he go without claiming her? If he hadn't done it already, he didn't want to impregnate her. Yes, he wanted his son, but not yet, not when there was so much danger. Not when he knew Sabine would run back to Omort at the earliest opportunity.
When they trudged up a steep incline, she tripped and fell forward onto her front. Spitting out sand, she snapped, "I've put up with this long enough! You've got to free me, else I can't keep up. At least free one of my hands. I need both to work illusions. Rydstrom, I can't keep going like this."
He clutched the front of her metal top and yanked her up with it.
"Omort will come for me! You'll never get away with this."
"Another word, and I'll gag you."
Against his warning, she said, "And Lothaire will be burned to ash ..." She trailed off when he tore another length of cloth from the bottom of his shirt. "Rydstrom! I'll be quiet-"
He wrapped the cloth around her head, tying it tight like a bit to gag her. "I know. ..."
For another hour, he left her like that, gagged as they covered more ground. He could feel her glare on his back, but he didn't want to hear any more of her com­plaints or demands.
He finally glanced back at her. She'd straggled farther behind, the journey taking its toll. She was sunburned, her knees bloodied, her legs cut. Her ass was probably still on fire.
He wanted to feel nothing but satisfaction over her suffering-and couldn't. It went against his instinct.
Damn that sorceress. Got me so twisted. He cast her a black look over his shoulder.
She straightened and assumed her haughty expres­sion-then stumbled once more. Though he could have
continued for days on end, he obviously had to stop for the night for her.
When he found a freshwater lake in a protected canyon pass, he dropped his pack near the shore and crouched down to unpack the contents: a small bottle of wine, bread, chicken, cheese, a knife and flints, bedding.
Sabine sagged in relief, dropping to her knees, then wobbled over on her hip.
After he started a fire, he ate his share of the food, then leaned over to yank her gag down.
She swallowed repeatedly, working her jaw out. "Is it as sweet as you'd hoped?" she asked. "Your revenge?"
"It will be. We're just beginning, princess. There will be parity for everything you did to me. Three nights you came to my cell and tormented me-"
"It wasn't three nights. You have no idea what I would have done the night you were injured. If I hadn't been summoned to court, I might have gotten carried away."
"Though you hadn't before?" He gave her some water from the canteen.
When he brought the chicken up to her lips, she turned her face away. "You know I don't consume meat"
"You knew I did."
"I won't eat it."
"Go hungry." He finished the food, then arranged the bedding under a leafless tree near the fire he'd built.
"I need you to free my hands, so I can wash off." She twisted around to peer at her backside. "I seem to have gotten demon seed on myself!"
He jerked his chin toward the lake.
"There's the water."
"What do you expect me to do with my hands bound?"
"Ask me to bathe you."
When she only glared at him, he stripped off his sword and clothes, then dove into the deep water from a low ledge. The temperature was cool and soothed his battered body.
He surfaced to see her carefully stepping on the slip­pery rocks at the edge of a dropoff, several yards above the one he'd used. Just when he was about to point out a sandy shore for her to go to instead, she slipped and tumbled into the water. In an instant, she disappeared. Her hands are tied behind her back, the metal like an anchor, weighing her down.
With a surge of panic, he dove for her.
What are you going to do about my sister?' Lanthe demanded of Omort. Only her concern for Sabine gave her courage with the monster before her.
He didn't even seem to be a man any longer, just per­sonified wrath. Hettiah knelt at the foot of his throne, with her head bowed, constantly shuddering as if with cold.
Over the last several hours, he'd killed again and again, Inferi, revenants, even rage demons abducted from their towns.
But nothing could appease him. Bodies had piled up all around the well, with sightless eyes and tangled limbs on a canvas of blood. The stench and flies were becoming unbearable.
"You've got to send the fire demons after her. They can teleport-"
"You think I haven't considered that?" he yell "Rydstrom will have taken her to Grave Realm-there are ways off-plane there. And none of the fire demons or vampires have been there before!"
Demons and vampires could only trace to places they'd previously been. Lanthe didn't know if Omort was aware of this, but whether or not the vampires could teleport to Grave Realm was irrelevant. None were allied here any longer.
The covenant tablet between the factions had broken, and when Lothaire's legion disappeared, it had become obvious who had betrayed Omort-and Sabine. The fire demon king remained allied, but for how long?
Truthfully, Lanthe wasn't worried about Rydstrom hurting Sabine. In fact, she believed he would protect his female with his life. What she was worried about was Sabine's morsus. "Omort, if we can't find her, when will the poison hit?" Lanthe asked.
He gave a humorless laugh. "A week before she expects it to."
"You lied to her about that?" she cried.
"It matters naught," he said. "You'll open a portal to Grave Realm. The revenants will scour the area and retrieve her this eve."
Lanthe swallowed. "I don't . . . have a portal to give you."
When Omort had called for Sabine's Inferi to tor­ture and kill, Lanthe had made a command decision,
opening a threshold to save the servants under her and
Sabine's protection. Lanthe honestly believed her sister was safer with the demon than any being inside Tornin.
And the sisters had made a pact that if anything should
happen to one, the other would provide for and protect her Inferi.
Omort faced her with confusion in those yellow eyes. "What are you saying to me?"
"I can't generate a threshold for several more days." When he shot to his feet, storming toward her, she scut' tied back from him. "If you do anything to me, you'll never get Sabine back."
"Or, I could take your power." He raised his palms, sinister heat rising above them. "And butcher your use-less body. ..."
Sabine flailed and coughed as the demon lugged her to
"It took you long enough!" She'd thought she would drown again, was sure of it, until she'd felt his hands clamping her sides.
"I dove straight down!" Glowering at the metal as if it were to blame, he took hold of her headdress, unlock­ing it from her collar.
"No!" she cried.
But he tossed the piece over his shoulder toward the camp. Once he'd removed her choker and spun it away like a Frisbee, he clutched her ankles. Before she could react, he'd snatched her feet out from under her. When her back met the sand, he was already yanking a boot off.
"Stop this, demon!" Fighting him was futile, but she still tried. She kicked out, aiming for his recently injured chest, connecting a couple of solid hits.
He didn't even seem to notice them, flinging her boots away. "You're my captive. My responsibility. I'll make sure you're clean."
After her spanking, Sabine had noticed that Ryd-
strom had calmed, that wild look diminishing-but in no way disappearing. Now it was back full force. His very voice was altered, his language and bearing decid­edly not kingly. He'd held himself rigid and aloof before. Now there was a fluidity in the way he moved.
Glaring up at him, she said, "And I suppose I don't have any say in this?"
He shook his head slowly, his attention already on her bustier. He stood, hauling her to her feet. With his brow furrowed in concentration, he began unlacing the intricate knots of her top, unraveling the swollen leather ties.
He was getting aroused once more, that thick shaft rising. His movements became unhurried, as if he rel­ished this task and didn't want it to end.
Once he'd removed the bustier, his gaze was trans­fixed by her breasts, rising and falling with her hectic breaths. He seemed to give himself a shake, then worked her skirt down her sandy legs.
"Enough!" She bucked against him again, thrashing her body, but he looped an arm around her waist to still her.
With a slap on her still burning ass, he gave her a look of warning so menacing, she decided she might heed it. "Stand here. Do not move." He tugged down her panties and mesh hose, tossing them into a pile.
After he'd stripped her completely, he began unbraid-ing her plaits. His countenance was fierce, but he han­dled her hair with infinite gentleness.
When he'd finished, he pulled her into the water up to her knees. There he laid his hands on her shoulders,
pressing her down to kneel, putting his jutting shaft right in front of her face.
Just when she thought he was going to try to force her to take him with her mouth, he knelt before her.
Once he'd rinsed the sand from her, he began invests gating her body. He traced her collarbone with those big demon hands, his eyes following his movements, then his lips. When his gaze dipped to her breasts she knew what would follow. He grazed rough palms over them, kissing her nipples with the merest brush of his lips.
Somehow, he was being gentle with her, his caresses so out of place with the anger she could feel still seeth-ing inside him. His touches were . . . tender. Consola-tory. But did he want to console her over what he'd done-or what he was about to do?
He scooped water over her chest, licking it from her breasts, sucking drops from the tips. He used his teeth to nip at her straining peaks, then he drew back to stare at them. His eyes were riveted on them, as if he was fasci­nated with this part of her.
She cursed her body for responding once more. But she was unfulfilled from their earlier encounter, and from nights of yearning for him even before her abduc-tion. Her lids grew heavy, her earlier alarm and rancor
He ran his lips over her ear, nuzzling it as he said, "I've waited a long time for my female. Fifteen centu-ries, I've gone without her." He gently ran his horns against her neck. "Without you. No longer."
He clasped her shoulders and turned her so he could drag his lips down her damp back. When she shivered,
he rasped, "You still like my touch." He drew the backs of his dark claws across her sensitive ass. "You always will."
By the time he'd turned her to face him once more, his kneading and kissing had put her in a daze of lethar­gic arousal. When he eased his hand between her legs, cupping her, she rested on him, pressing herself into his palm, leaning her forehead on his shoulder.
A daze . . . do what you will. . . She didn't care. Until he raised his other hand to her face.
She stiffened and scrambled back. In a deadly tone, she said, "Don't ever touch my face, Rydstrom."
Nine times out of ten, when a man had his hand raised in the vicinity of her face, it was either to cow her or kill her. In her five hundred years of life, this had proven true.
"I do as I please with you." When he grasped her chin, she flinched, and damn him, he noticed the weakness.
"You don't have any right-"
"You gave me that right with your treatment of me."
He ran his other palm lightly over the front of her neck. When he frowned as if he'd perceived the raised scar that was still invisible, she fought to get free, but he held her tightly. She had only so long before her illusions faded. Soon he'd see the white streak in her hair, the scar at her neck. She'd never imagined she'd be powerless near him.
"Are you going to want sex with me now?" she hast­ily asked to distract him. "Because I already gave at the office-"
"-and it was a debacle . . . what did you say?"
"I'll make the same deal that you offered me. You'll concede something to me before I'll take you. Some­thing you'll never want to say."
Parity for the wedding vow she'd forced him to give her.
"You'll say: 'I beg you to claim me. I need you as my master and surrender my will to yours.' And when you do, I will reward you."
"So, then . .. never."
"I vow to you I won't take you until you say these words to me. And I won't let you come until you either beg me for it or until your three nights have passed."
"If you're not going to demand sex from me, then you're keeping me only because of your revenge?"
He stared down at her with eyes dark like night. "And because I keep what's mine." With his hands clasped behind her head, he rubbed his thumbs over her cheekbones, then leaned in to kiss her.
Their last real kiss had been frantic, maddening. Like a drug to her. Now he licked her bottom lip before tug­ging it between his teeth.
When he finally took her mouth, he slipped his tongue in, tempting her to meet him.
She soon did, lapping at him, making him groan. His shaft prodded against her belly, and her hips began rocking toward it. Her back arched to get her nipples against his warm body.
But he broke away, leaving her breathless. She was still blinking for focus, dizzy from his kiss, when he swept her up in his arms, lifting her from the water.
"What are you doing now?"
Without a word, he carried her to the pallet beneath the tree, then laid her on it, still wet, with water drops trickling down her sides.
He untied the rope between her wrists-but only to lead it toward the mink. "Wait. . . No, demon!" But he forced her arms over her head, binding her to the tree.
Then he knelt before her. "Spread your legs."
"Go to hell."
With his big palms covering her inner thighs, he forced her legs open, then gazed at her for long moments.
She wanted to look away, but she couldn't draw her eyes from his compelling face, his scar lit by the fire.
"Do you know how bad I've wanted to taste you?" When he licked his lips, she almost whimpered. "Mouthwatering," he rasped. "So beautiful." Again, his voice sounded unfamiliar.
He bent down and nuzzled her curls, making her cry out. Then he brushed his mouth against her sensitive lips, his breath hot on her.
She drew her knees up around him. "Rydstrom! Ah, gods ... do it!"
"Do what?" He spread her flesh with his thumbs.
"Taste me ... kiss me," she breathed.
When his tongue first dipped to her, he groaned against her so hard, she felt it. She moaned with abandon.
Pressing his mouth to her core, he delved his tongue, licking her deeply, thoroughly. He was making her melt for him . . . exploring her with his lips, his fingers- nothing was sacred.
Never had she been kissed like this.