"Have-you-drowned?" he snapped.
"More-than-once?" she snapped back, her eyes growing blue with anger.
Obviously, this was a sensitive subject with the sor-ceress. "I'm weary of this, Sabine. You give me hints of what you're like, about your history. Am I supposed to spend the rest of the day wondering if you've drowned? Or why you don't like people touching your face-"
"Sorry I don't feel chatty just now! I'm out of breath and need to rest!"
He shook his head. "We press on-"
"We have to stop! I'm hurting here. My arms have been asleep for twenty-four hours. And when was the last time you wore metal against bare skin? There is one reason for this top-to look fabulous. Not to trek through the wilderness. Out here it collects sand, which rubs against my breasts. And they are already far too sensitive because you were forever kissing and sucking on them last night!"
Memories of the night before flashed in his mind, and he stifled a groan. Throughout the day, he'd been recalling with pleasure all the things he'd done to her body-and planning with anticipation what he'd do to her tonight.
The most excitement in centuries? She was right. "Demon, are you listening to me? This isn't parity. I never kept you in pain or hurt your flesh."
"You're immortal. You'll be healed by sundown-"
"Just take a look at them! They'll be pink and tender. Oh! And I'll bet my face is getting more sunburned!"
It was, which made her freckle across the bridge of her nose, which meant she looked even less like an evil sorceress. Damn her. Her body was so fragile, not like other females of the Lore. A Valkyrie or furie would be laughing at a hike over this terrain.
"You want me to fix it?" He unfastened her top, then yanked it off her, dropping it to the ground.
If he'd expected her to gasp and stammer, he'd have been wrong. Instead she sighed, flexing her back and rolling her head on her neck.
Her breasts were pink and looked tender. The tips budded right before his eyes. His mouth watered to lick and suckle her-
"Oh, don't you even think about it, demon!"
"You dare act angered with me?" Angered over his desire for her? The very need she'd stoked to a blaze?
Sabine stormed over to him, bare breasted, her hair shining like fire in the sun. "Yes, I dare!" She kicked his shin with the metal tip of her boot.
He gritted his teeth. "Do that again, sorceress, and you will not like the outcome."
"I'm beginning to wish I'd ordered more boy-on-boy shower-time for you."
His eyes went wide, then narrowed. "You're aching for your next spanking, aren't you? Keep this up, and I'll oblige you."
"You'd love that, wouldn't you? I think the reason you don't want to release me is because you'd have to part with this anger, and then you couldn't treat me like your sex slave each night. It's so good for you, you can't stand the thought of letting it go."
He cupped her nape. "You might be right."
"Of course I am!" Her eyes were blue, her lips parting around panting breaths. She was so damned sexy, too much so.
He dragged her into his chest. Had she gone up on her toes?
And then they were kissing each other, crazed, frenzied. Like the night he'd claimed her. Taking her trembling mouth was a madness, an addiction. Wring' ing those little moans and breathless cries . . .he could kiss her forever.
When she subtly arched her back, he groaned, raising his hand to gently pet her tender breasts-
Her stomach growled. Loudly.
He broke the kiss, leaning his forehead to hers as they caught their breath. "We'll stop here for the night, sweet." He took off his tunic, draping it over her front like an apron, then tying the sleeves around her back. "Looks like I need to hunt for my woman."
She rolled her eyes. "I don't need you to hunt, demon, I need you to gather.'"
"Drop it, Sabine!" Rydstrom bellowed from a lower plateau.
Earlier, he'd set up camp on a high promontory, set­tled her by a fire, and finally threaded her arms into his tunic-retying her right after, naturally. Then he'd gone all he-man, marching off to snare the unwitting crea­ture he'd just been dressing. Though he'd kept her in sight the entire time, he'd eventually gotten far enough away for her plans.
"Drop-the-wine!" He started charging for her. "Bloody now!"
In response, she maneuvered the bottle neck in her mouth's grasp, tightened her lips, and turned it up, gulp­ing the contents.
"Damn it, Sabine!" he yelled as he ran.
When he reached the campsite, she dropped the emptied bottle with a gasp and took in the sight of him.
His bare chest was heaving, and sweat trickled from his neck. Her eyes followed a bead as it slid down his torso over the ridges of muscle. Magnificent demon.
Then she frowned-he was holding a skinned animal of indeterminate species. Take away the animal carcass, and this would be one of the sexiest sights she'd ever seen.
"Do you know what I went through to get the cork out?" she asked him, turning to muffle a lady-like burp against her shoulder. "Then you expect me to go unrewarded? Besides, I can't face the upcoming trial of ritualistic animal abuse without wine."
He sank down on the opposite side of the fire, spit­ting the poor creature on a stick.
As he secured the little carcass over the flames, she studiously surveyed the scenery. Rydstrom had made their camp high up on a large jutting cliff. Below them the falls trickled into a pool of the darkest green-the color of his eyes. Other cliffs surrounded the water on three sides, and as the wind rushed in, white blossoms danced on the swirling air.
In minutes the smell of roasting meat was pervasive. After the day's arduous journey, she was starving, and the scent wasn't as bad as she'd thought it would be. In fact, it was . .. appetizing.
"It smells good, doesn't it, sorceress?"
She turned up her nose. "I won't eat it."
"Just look at it."
Before she could stop herself, she did. Her mouth watered at the sight. It was so succulent, it dripped, making the fire hiss. No, I'm more refined than this. I don't eat animals! "You are fully aware that my kind doesn't consume meat."
"You will now."
"Now what? Now that you're the boss?"
His gaze flickered over her belly.
"Ohhh, now that you think I might be carrying your babe. Will you force me to eat it?"
"I didn't cause this situation. Remember that." His tone made her raise her brows. "If your plan worked, and you've gotten yourself pregnant with a demon, you'll need meat to feed it."
"Do you not think that it would make me sick to eat something I never have before? Something I find revolt­ing? Perhaps you should have ascertained if I was high-maintenance before you abducted me."
When her stomach growled again, he rose and snatched up the empty pack. "Do not move, princess. I'll be back with something you might deign to eat."
A short time later, he returned with the pack full, dumping the contents on the blanket. She quirked a brow at a selection of berries. "A male trying to poison me. How . . . novel."
"They aren't poisonous." He scooped up some and popped them into his mouth.
"Not to demons, but they're toxic to me. Because we're not of the same species."
"You make it sound like we come from different plan­ets. We're not that different." • "No?" Her gaze flickered over his horns.
He ran his hand over one, then glowered at her. Strangely, she seemed to be exasperating him-but not angering him.
She gave a nod at a dirt covered root. "I'm not a bunny, Rydstrom. And is that bark?" With a laugh, she said, "Good gods, you brought me bark to gnaw on!"
"How am I supposed to know what you'll eat? You pass up perfectly good food-"
"That animal is not food. The Sorceri are too refined to eat other living things."
"You care about animals more than you do about other people."
"You see, that's the thing-cows never try to steal my sorcery and chickens rarely try to murder me. Why this is so-I do not know, just that it is."
"Is there anything here that you can eat?"
"The other berries aren't poisonous." When she gave a nod to indicate them, he rinsed them off with water from the canteen, then returned to sit beside her.
As he fed them to her, she took her time eating. He should be forced to wait for her, since he wouldn't allow her to feed herself.
But he didn't seem to mind her nibbling one berry from his palm at a time. In fact, he seemed to enjoy it. "My new pet's an herbivore," he said with amusement in his husky voice.
Disconcerted by the hint of a smile on his face, she gazed around her once more. "It's cooler up here. Why did we have to go so high?"
"Because most creatures don't."
"You wouldn't have to worry about that if you freed me-I can talk to animals."
"Demon, I'm being quite honest about that. I can speak to them, and they understand me."
"In any case, you won't need that ability. I'll protect you from any threats."
"Threats." As they'd gone deeper into Grave Realm, she'd caught him inspecting paw prints in the clay. She'd seen him rest his hand on his sword hilt. "We're in danger. Great. You've taken me to the most hazard­ous place in the entire kingdom-home of R.O.U.S.'s and the like-then bound me so that I can't defend myself."
"Rodents of Unusual Size? I don't think they exist."
Her lips parted- He'd quoted The Princess Bride.
"Don't be so shocked," he said gruffly. "At the local coven of witches, that movie plays twenty-four-seven. They drink every time they hear my darling Westley or something. It's hard to miss."
"Are you often at that coven? Visiting with the witches?." She could just imagine how those little magick mercenaries would fawn over the towering demon king. Sabine disliked witches, was wary of them.
"You sound condescending. Aren't the Sorceri related to the witches?"
"Distantly." Though they might have shared ances-tors and a love of revelry, and some of their powers were interchangeable-and stealable-the Sorceri were a unique culture, far distinct from the earth-worshipping witches. "So answer my question."
"I've been by a few times," he said. "As you might have seen when you were hacking into my brain, my good friend Bowen is wed to Mariketa the Awaited."
Sabine had heard of that female, but then most in the Lore had. She was the most powerful of the witches, so talented with mirrors she'd achieved the status of Queen of Reflections.
To steal her powers would be a coup. But going up against a strong witch or a coven of them was danger­ous. A witch could steal a Sorceri's power-if she killed her. "Ah yes, I remember seeing Bowen. He's the one you're jealous of."
"I wasn't jealous of him-I was envious that he'd found his mate."
"But now you have, too."
"At last, I have."
"Yet you won't release her?"
"She'd run at the first opportunity. Possibly taking my child with her. Both are far too valuable for me to risk losing."
Should I tell him I'm not pregnant? It would only anger him yet again. And now he seemed relaxed for the first time since she'd known him. Even that first night before he'd discovered who she was, he'd been on edge.
She decided she'd keep that knowledge secret for now. The Sorceri weren't known as being guarded for nothing.
When he leaned over and kissed the bridge of her nose, she asked, "What was that for?"
"Your freckles are gone. I told you everything would be healed by sunset." His gaze briefly dipped to her breasts.
She was indeed healed, and the sun was setting, clos­ing another day. She gazed out at the horizon at the last glimmers of light. This meant she had one fewer day until the morsus would strike.
Though she had almost two weeks left, the worry had begun to prey on her.
Contrary to what she'd told the demon, she didn't believe that Omort was coming to save her anytime soon. Rydstrom's escape would rock the Pravus, further jeopardizing the strength of the alliance. And then there was Lothaire's betrayal.
Factions would be bailing left and right, leaving fewer behind to come after her. If the fire demons and vampires weren't available to trace or had never been to this place, then only Lanthe could get to her out in Grave Realm.
But, as Sabine had discovered over the last two days-it was a big realm. The odds of Lanthe opening a portal nearby were slim.
And if Rydstrom took Sabine off-plane ... ?
She was almost spooked enough to consider telling him why she was in danger. But she could just imagine explaining the morsus to him.
"By the way, I'm going to have to take a U-turn and run hack to Omort, your most hated enemy, because I've been poisoned. By whom? Oh, Omort himself. Once I find a way to get back to my brother, I'm going to beg him to give me even more of the poison I've been taking. Is there any proof of my poisoning? Outward signs? Um, none. Not until I have an epileptic-like seizure and begin vomiting blood. And no outwardly identifiable marks, not until I am officially dying. Then you'll see a red X somewhere on my body. But by that time, it will be too late."
The demon wouldn't likely believe her, and she couldn't think of a vow he'd accept as true. Perhaps breaking hers so routinely when she'd first captured him hadn't been advisable.
But how was I supposed to have known to act like my word was good?
The only thing she could do would be to create a clay covenant between them. But she didn't see a kiln or an oven forthcoming in Grave Realm.
Exactly how bad was his mistrust? She'd make a foray to see. . . . "Rydstrom, if I were to tell you something that sounded crazy, and asked you to believe me, could you possibly-"
"You don't even want to think about-"
"What would it take for you to trust me? A vow?
Some kind of promise?"
"It will come, Sabine. I believe that. But only with time."
Time that I don't have.
Even if she could eventually convince him, she didn't have eventually. Het only hope was to get him to untie her-and to run, to try locating Lanthe in this place. If the sisters got close enough to each other, they could communicate telepathically.
Which was a good thing, since Sabine had zero sense of direction. She frowned. But so did Lanthe.
She mentally waved that detail away. They'd figure something out.
So the first step was beguiling Rydstrom to free her. That shouldn't be a problem. Sabine was an enchant­ress. She could seduce him to do her will.
The scene was set: the stars were feverishly bright and the moon heavy. Small ripples in the water below them caught the moonlight, reflecting in patterns of emerald shimmers.
Yes, I can be seductive. The demon wouldn't know what hit him when she turned on the charm.. . .
Once he'd eaten his catch-with exaggerated relish- and cleaned up the food, she waited a bit, commenting on the night and weather, then said, "My arms ache, Rydstrom." She flexed her fists for effect. "They've been asleep for so long."
When he gave her an appraising glance, she probed to read his mind, but he had those blocks firmly in place-
'I have a deal for you," he said. "If you answer any questions I ask, I'll free your arms for an hour."
She just stopped her lips from curling. Well, that was easier than I'd figured. "You have a deal, demon."
"This wasn't part of the deal!" the sorceress screeched when Rydstrom waded into the pool. "You didn't say anything about water!"
Though he cupped her ass, holding her up, she'd locked her legs tightly around his waist. Gods, she fit into his palms like she'd been made for him to hold her like this.
He was headed to a rock island he'd spied from aloft. Situated in the middle of the pool, it had a shallow bar circling it and was surrounded by deep water. "I won't untie you anywhere else. This way you won't use your illusions to escape me-unless you want to swim back by yourself."
"Swim! I've told you I can't swim! I don't like deep water!"
"Exactly." Earlier, when he'd told her his intention, she'd tried to fight him, tussling against him as he'd stripped her. But to no avail. He had an agenda and wouldn't be moved from it.
This morning, he'd realized that to win some kind of affection from the sorceress, he would have to change his tactics with her.
When he'd gone hunting, he'd recalled that dream of his yet again. And he'd mused that if Bowen had used his head to win his witch, Rydstrom would do no less for Sabine. He would figure out how to make it work between them.
But first he had to understand her to determine the right way to garner her affection. To do that, he needed to earn her trust.
The puzzle of her . . . the challenge of them . . . Ryd­strom was up for it-and he was committed.
Once he'd waded in up to his chest, she cried, "Go back, go back! What if you slip?" She was quaking.
"I won't slip, sweet. Look, we're here." The pool grew shallow again. At the island, he set her to her feet in knee-high water.
Her gaze darted all around her. "You can't understand how horrific I find this."
Probably as horrific as I'd found my court.
"Sit there." He pointed to a long, low rock. When she reluctantly did, he sat behind her, untying only the line that went between her rope cuffs. He set it beside him, keeping it within easy reach.
At once, she stretched her arms above her head, turning them this way and that. "What about these?" she asked, scratching at the rope still on her wrists.
"What? They itch like crazy!"
She seemed to bite her tongue against a sharp reply, instead saying, "As you wish."
To reward her cooperation, he began massaging her shoulders. She moaned, and her head dropped forward, her long hair parting over her neck. When her pale nape was left uncovered, he was helpless not to kiss it.
Her breath hitched in, and she shivered.
He kneaded her upper arms all the way down to her fingertips, then continuing back up. "Better?"
"Hmm? Oh, yes, better."
"Then it's time for questions."
"Ask me, then."
"How many times have you died?"
She tensed beneath his palms, but answered, "Over a dozen."
"What's it. .. like?"
"The most terrifying, wretched feeling you can imagine."
"Tell me about one time."
"A Vrekener had flown me high above a village, then dropped me. I was lying on a cobblestone street with my skull cracked open." Her tone grew distant. "You can feel your blood seeping out. Without the blood, the body gets so cold, but then, if it pools around you, it's like a warm blanket, for a few moments at least."
He couldn't be hearing this ... that she'd been thank­ful for a pool of blood.
"Rydstrom," she murmured. His hands were squeez­ing her too hard.
He let up the pressure. "Why would they hurt you like that?"
"Because I killed their leader. The Vrekeners were responsible for many of my deaths. Including one of the drownings."
"One of the . . . ?" He shook himself. "When we get off-plane I will seek them out and inform them that you and your sister are under my protection. Any move against either of you will be considered an act of war against my kind."
She turned to kneel before him, laying her delicate hands on his knees. "You'd do rhat?"
"You're my female-I will never let anyone hurt you." He brushed her face, and she scarcely flinched. "Since your sister helped keep you alive, I'm indebted to her as well. Is she the black haired female who was in the cell after my injury?"
"Yes, her name's Melanthe. She's got to be so worried about me."
"If there's an avian messenger among the refugees, we'll send word to her that you are unharmed."
Sabine looked confused by him, then she smiled-a genuine, heart-wrenching smile.
It made his chest tight with feeling. "You couldn't be more beautiful."
She sighed, "I know," making his lips quirk. Then she added, "You're not too shabby yourself. In fact, I think you're the most handsome male I've ever seen."
He exhaled. "Why do you always have to lie?"
"All right, you're not the most handsome. But you're in the top ten. Mayhe even in the top three."
"As long as I made the podium."
"I do love your body. You're an exceedingly well-made male." She began touching him as if she was see-ing him for the first time, sweeping her soft palms over his chest, shoulders, and neck.
When she brushed kisses along the scar on his face, she said, "How did you get this?"
"From a sword fight. When I was young, I was a brawler. That's how I broke my horn, too."
"You weren't always so calm and steady?" When he shook his head, she asked, "And the tattoo?"
"It was part of my rite of passage, to be marked with the image of a beast."
"And the scars down . . . here?" She grazed the backs of her fingers along his shaft.
Her touches were setting his blood on fire, but he strove to keep control. He had an agenda, and he was playing to win everything from this woman.
His voice was hoarse when he said, "Another part of the ritual. All demon males who reached a certain age had to complete it. Until I denounced it."
"Why did you?"
"Because it hurt like hell."
"I could have kissed it better." She grinned. The wine was definitely hitting her.
"I think I like my sorceresses drunken." It made it easier to get the puzzle pieces he needed most, for example, "How is it that you were a virgin?"
"I was saving myself for you," she said easily, but he was beginning to better detect her lies.
"No, you weren't."
She shrugged. "I claimed sanctuary on my body. It's a Sorceri covenant that holds that if I remained virginal, then no man could force me into having sex with him."
"Like Omort?" he bit out, his horns beginning to straighten with rage.
"I don't want to speak of him tonight. And my rea­sons are my own." She gazed at his horns, then glanced her fingers along one. "What it's like when you start to go demonic?"
He let the subject of her virginity drop. "I don't like it."
"Why? Your body has so much more strength-"
"And it's diverted away from my brain. It's as if I'm burning on pure instinct, like a rabid animal. I can't think. I can't reason. Thoughts come more randomly." He ran his hand over his jaw. "I hear my heartbeat drumming so loudly that I can't hear a conversation nearby. And yet I can detect a leaf crackling a half a mile away. Nothing makes sense. Which is really dif­ficult for me."
"Because you're such a slave to reason?"
"Exactly. You could be telling me something perfectly logical, but if it went counter to my instinct, my brain would discard it." He tapped his temple to emphasize his point. "And, Sabine, you seem to keep me on the edge of it. That's a very uneasy place to be."
"Why do I?"
"I took you, but I didn't mark you. Which means I haven't truly claimed you. The demon in me is not
"What would it be like if you marked me?"
"If I got to that state, I would be completely turned, which is rare for our kind. Once I was inside you, I'd sink my fangs into your neck, and it would stun you."
"Some say it's to keep the female steady while the male comes in her."
"Oh," she said, her voice breathy. "And if you did that to me, you would be less likely to get unreasonable?"
"It would help. But still, I feel no bond coming from you. As much as I would like you to feel more for me, I know that you don't."
"What if I told you that I've decided to stay with your She gave him one of those tender, coaxing kisses that made him wild for her, but he forced himself to pull away.