Rydstrom knew what she was doing. Seduce the demon to that mindless state. To get him to do what she wanted. But what she didn't understand was that he expected these games from her.
And he liked them.
"Kingly Rydstrom, holding yourself off from everyone and everything," she said softly. "But you won't with me. I've decided to willingly go with you."
"Have you, then? Why's that?"
"Because, lonely demon, you need me so much. And because you're my husband."
He stifled a wince. Not her husband. But I will be. "You say that only so I'll leave you untied."
"Yes, I want that." She took one of his hands and rubbed her silky cheek against the palm. "But that doesn't mean what I'm saying isn't true."
Her words made him again remember the dream of them sharing their lives, sharing a bed, raising a son. If she was pregnant and escaped ...
He didn't want to admit it even to himself, but part of the reason he kept her bound was because he had started to believe they might have a future. Another conflict within me. Because he couldn't keep her tied forever.
"I want to stay with you," she murmured, her lips inches from his.
She was playing him. Rydstrom knew it. Yet that didn't mean he didn't enjoy hearing this. "Say it again."
"I want to be with you."
"I don't want to part from you. Take me to your home, the place where you live off-plane. I'm not going to try to escape from you. I wish to remain with you."
He stared into her eyes, needing to trust her. But he couldn't. Not yet.
"I brought you out here for another reason," the demon said.
"What's that?" Sabine asked lazily, gazing at him. Had she been one of those women who sighed, she would have now.
His black hair was tousled, his green eyes rapt on her face. His skin was damp and sheened in the moonlight. Such a gorgeous male.
And he was surprising her again and again. His promise of protection not only for her, but also for Lanthe affected her so much. She believed he would give his life if necessary to fulfill his promise.
Regrettably, he couldn't save her from the morsus. Only two people in the universe could.
"You need to learn how to swim," he said.
"What? No way! I panic in the water. This is the calmest I've ever been-"
"Then this is a good time to leam." He stood to swoop her up in his arms, then waded in deeper.
"Just trust me, Sabine. All I want you to do is get used to the water. Just float."
Maybe if she acted as if she trusted him, he might extend the courtesy? "What do you want me to do?"
"Stretch out on my hands." Even with her body stiff with tension, he maneuvered her easily. Soon she was lying flat on his palms. "Let go ... trust me." I can t.
"You can-you're already doing it." "I'm ... floating?"
"I'm not holding you up, just in place. That's it, just breathe easy. Good girl." His voice was soothing, his big hands her anchor. "Relax."
That peculiar watery silence surrounded her. Above her, blossoms swirled in the moonlight. Her hair tickled her shoulders. He continued caressing her back, and soon she did relax.
Her lids slid closed. Peaceful. Perfect. . . .
When she opened her eyes, she found him studying her face. The possessiveness in his gaze made her breath hitch. "My naked body is spread out before you, and you're looking at my face?"
"I'm trying to figure out how your mind works. If I can do that, then this"-he trailed his fingers between .her breasts and lower-"will always be mine to enjoy."
"Do you really believe that?"
"I have to, Sabine." When she shivered, he said, "Time to go in." After easing her back to the shoal, he helped her to her feet, then reached for the rope he'd left on the rock.
"What are you doing? You're not going to retie me?"
He snagged her wrists. "Of course I am."
"Why? I thought we'd come to an understanding." He was unbending, even though she resisted. "Ryd­strom! How long will you keep me bound like this?"
"Until I know you won't run."
"You're bull-headed, unreasonable-"
She was livid that her plan hadn't worked. "And now you're getting that look in your eyes! Oh, I know what's coming! If you torment me for another night, I will hate you!"
With his gaze narrowed, he nodded. "I know how that feels, wanting to hate, drawing on it. The only thing that got me through my own rage was vowing revenge. Did you never think I'm able to be gentle with you now because my wrath is placated in other ways?"
"All this was a sham!"
He gave a humorless laugh. "Of course it was! I'm well aware that you were playing me-"
"No, a sham on your part! You cajole me to give you my trust, but you won't even consider giving your own!"
"Give you my trust? How easily you forget all that you did to me. By keeping me from my brother, you might have destroyed my chances of ever reclaiming Tornin, my home. I vowed revenge, Sabine. I need it, I need you to surrender to me!"
When he lifted her from the water, cradling her to his chest, she kicked at him, squirming, but his hold was like a steel cage.
"Demon, don't. No more of this tormenting me!"
He ignored her, ferrying her to shore, then started the ascent to their camp-heading to that pallet, where he would do things to her all night.
Once they reached it, he let her slide down his naked body. He grasped her upper arms, keeping her in place as he kissed her neck.
She just prevented her head from falling back. "Demon ... don't make me weak ..."
"You make me weak." Against her damp skin, he rasped, "Surrender to me, and we can end this. Sabine, I want you so bad." She could feel his hard length press­ing against her.
"Not bad enough to break your word."
"One day, you'll be glad you have a man who keeps his word. You gave me unbearable nights. You'll get them as well. I vowed-"
"Save the explanation-you like this. You're keeping me tied just because it turns you on!"
"I've explained that I can't risk losing you."
"You're taking fifteen centuries of denial out on me!"
"Maybe what you're saying is true in part. I do like having you at my mercy. I crave driving you mad, as you were last night. Do you know what that does to me to see your eyes go blue with lust-for me? To see fires burning all around us?"
He nibbed his face against hers, inhaling her scent. "I've never felt things like this, and I want more," he growled at her ear. "You are my obsession, Sabine. I've heard every male has one in his life. And you are mine."
"Surrender to me. ..."
Between gritted teeth, she said, "If you don't let me go, I'll hate you. I vow I'll kill you!"
He dragged her down to the pallet. "Ah, but my beautiful captive doesn't keep her vows."
Would you care for any child of ours?" he asked her when he had her clasped in his arms, ready for sleep in the chill night. His hand slipped under the tunic and inside her skirt to rest on her flat belly. "Demon or no?"
She drowsily murmured, "Unless he was a miserable tool like you." Then she drifted off.
Miserable tool. What if he were killing something between them with each of his actions? Do nothing irrevo-cable. And yet tonight she'd screamed, "I hate you. ..."
Over the long hours that he'd teased her, keeping her on the brink of release, she'd never surrendered to him.
She'd been out of her head, her body writhing in a frenzy. She'd rolled her hips, enticing him to break his vow. When he'd beheld her beautiful sex, glistening to be filled ... nothing had ever excited him more.
But now the two nights were done. Tomorrow, he'd get her to surrender completely, and he'd take her once more. Then he would get control of himself. He had to.
Troubled and plagued with uncertainties, he finally fell asleep.
Toward dawn, Rydstrom blinked open his eyes and found himself deep within an illusion. Sabine was cast­ing chimeras in her sleep. Were these her dreams?
"Heat it, stroke it, beat and grow it. Rub it, twist it, love and kiss it," a woman chanted as she ran a fistful of gold chains against her cheek. This was the female voice from the night before-now he could see her.
She wore a silk mask around harried blue eyes. Her headdress stretched out behind her head a foot on each side, the extensions like wings, each crammed with sap­phires. Her jet-black hair was tangled beneath it.
"Gold is life. It is perfection. The element exists solely for us." Once she dropped the chains into a laden chest on her dresser, she dug her hands down into piles of coins, letting them pour through her fingers.
When she turned to the mirror, Rydstrom could see two girls in the reflection, one with red hair, and one with black. They were Sabine and Melanthe, both so young, watching her in wide-eyed fascination. This woman was their mother. And she was clearly mad. . . .
"Band it in armor over thy heart, and never will thy life's blood part. Gild your hair and face and skin, and no man breathes that you can't win. Never too much can a sorceress steal, those who defend"-her face went cold-"she duly kills."
The Sorceri worship gold, Sabine had told him. He'd thought it had been an excuse for greed, but she believed it was more. Recalling her look when he'd
thrown her headdress into the water, he ran a hand over
I will buy her new ones, buy her thousands of them . . .
When Sabine's eyes darted behind her lids, and she made faint cries, Rydstrom reached for her shoulder to wake her, but drew back his hand as a new scene appeared.
A nightmare. Literally.
On a blustery night, Sabine was standing at the edge of a pit, with women lined up on each side of her. She looked to be merely fourteen or fifteen.
A male in black robes stood before her, flanked by followers with pitchforks. He asked her in Latin to recant her evil ways.
Donning the smirk Rydstrom knew so well, she spit in his face. The man backhanded her, hurtling her into the pit-no, a grave.
My gods. The followers stabbed the other women with pitchforks until each one had fallen atop her. Shovelfuls of earth began to build, the weight crushing her. She couldn't get enough air....
An eternity seemed to pass before a dim voice called from the surface. Her sister. "Rise up, Abie! Climb and
Bile rose in Rydstrom's throat as Sabine mindlessly dug past the bodies, blindly climbing for that voice until her sister could pull her free of the grave.
No wonder Sabine was so hard. He'd only thought about her treacheries, never comprehending that she'd been dealt with in kind.
If she hadn't been hard, she would be . . . dead. And
then he wouldn't have her with him now. Would he curse the very traits that had kept her alive to be with him?
No. No longer.
In the illusion, the rain poured as she fell to her knees, vomiting earth. Lanthe knelt beside her, rubbing her back. When the rain washed away the filth from Sabine's hair, Lanthe picked up the new white lock and wept....
His fists clenched as a seething fury rose in him. He needed to fight for Sabine, to defend the girl who would grow to be his woman. / would give anything to go back and spare her that-
Suddenly, his ears twitched at an unidentifiable sound. He inhaled the night air and caught foreign scents nearby. He finally heard footfalls rushing toward them, but when he scanned the area, all he could see was her dream. "Sabine!" He shook her. "Wake up!"
He was blinded to reality by her illusion. "Sabine,
damn you, wake-"
Sabine woke to a roar as a battle hammer connected with Rydstrom's skull.
The demon flew back, blood spurting from his head, At least seven armed Teegloths were attacking, gro-tesque half-man, half-beast beings with protruding bot-tom fangs and reptilian skin.
She lunged to reach Rydstrom, but one tossed her across the clearing. Dazed on the ground, she rubbed her eyes on her shoulder, blinking repeatedly. She was complefely vulnerable, couldn't protect herself with her illusions. Couldn't help Rydstrom . . .
He was still conscious! As he struggled to rise, one told him, "We take the female now." He spit the words.
"Not while I live." Rydstrom had maneuvered closer to her. "Get behind me."
She rose unsteadily, tripping toward him. She didn't reach Rydstrom before they descended on him.
As he dodged their swinging battle hammers, they drove him back to the cliff's edge. A cudgel connected with his arm, crushing it. The pick end of another ham-mer slashed over his thigh.
When his leg buckled, and his knees met the ground, the edge began to crumble, the rock splintering beneath him.
Just before it collapsed, he caught her eyes. "Coming
In a rush of dust and spraying rock, he disappeared.
"Rydstrom!" she screamed, rushing to the edge. Oh, gods! Too dark . . . can't see him!
But she reminded herself that he was a formidable demon-not a Sorceri. He could live through this and more.
She rounded on them. "Why did you attack us? Have you been sent for me?" Maybe Omort had posted a
"Our land. You trespassed," one said, as he began ransacking Rydstrom's bag, stealing goods, taking his sword. He was the largest, which meant he would likely be the leader. "You to slave' market."
Slave market? They didn't know she was one of the Sorceri-she wasn't demonstrating powers, nor was she
dressed like one. She had no jewelry, and the blue tas-sels on her belt didn't necessarily look like gold.
Do I tell them I'm a princess of Omort's realm or the queen of the demon king?
She had better do something fast. The Teegloths weren't just slave traders. They were trophy collectors, with the body parts of their enemies affixed to their crude leather vests. Fingers and scalps adorned them. One had only ears on his vest, and he was staring at hers with intent in his beady eyes.
"I'm sister to Omort of Rothkalina. By law, you must ransom me."
"Ransom-sell as slave. Naught different," he said, his speech pattern primitive.
She'd heard about the slave markets, the ones Omort had allowed to proliferate, for a percentage of the gold. "That was King Rydstrom you just attacked, and I'm his wife. He will find me. And when he feasts on your throats, I will pat him on the head."
Another asked, "Ties up wife?"
"It's a game we play. I couldn't expect something like you to understand it."
He slapped her.
She staggered, her mouth filling with blood. When she spat at him, he struck her twice as hard, until her vision wavered and she reeled on her feet. He hauled her up, tossing her over his shoulder. Dawn was just breaking as the pack set out....
Hours later, Sabine still had seen no sign of Ryd­strom-or of any other beings who might aid her.
Why wasn't she succumbing to that cold fury she knew so well? Where was the nausea, the urgency? When she recognized what was happening, she was dis­gusted with herself.
I expect Rydstrom to save me.
With her bound hands, she reached for the back of her belt, plucking a gold tassel, dropping it for him to follow. She hoped he appreciated that she was shedding gold for him. But the do-gooder probably wouldn't! He'd tossed away her headdress like an apple core!
By dusk, she was convinced that every ounce of blood in her body resided in her head. She'd also accepted the fact that Rydstrom might not be coming for her. His injuries had been severe-before he'd fallen.
Now, fear threatened to overwhelm her. And that fear wasn't only for herself.
In the dying sunlight, sand gave way to rock as they neared another mountain. Ah, gods, they took her inside it, down into a pitch-black mine.
For hours, she could see nothing, could only hear their breathing and grunting words as they continued deep within.
At last, the Teegloth dropped her on her ass in the dark, and she heard them scuttling about around her.
They started a fire, and as soon she could see once more, she almost wished she couldn't. While they tore into their dinner-bones and bloody meat-they eyed her with renewed interest.
She surveyed the area, searching for any means to escape. They were in a central terminus of mine shafts, an area where three corridors ended. This mine looked
just like what she would imagine, with beam ceiling supports and track laid out.
But there were no leftover picks or shovels for her to run her bindings against. And Rydstrom's sword was out of reach, lying among their belongings haphazardly pilled at the edge of the camp.
Once they'd finished eating, the leader wasted no time, dragging her off to the side, then yanking her beneath him. She couldn't fight back-already bound for them.
More powerless than I've been since I was a girl.
A ropy line of saliva hung from the corner of his deformed mouth, inching toward her face as he ripped her tunic to shreds....
ydstrom came to in a rush, grappling to free himself from the rocks that had fallen over him. Once loose, he lumbered to his feet, every movement grueling.
Staggering with dizziness from his head wound, he scented the night air for her while assessing the damage to his body: severed muscles in one leg, broken ribs and collarbone. One arm fractured. Skull possibly cracked-He caught a hint of her scent to the south. Like a shot he sprinted in that direction, favoring his good leg, ignoring the pain as he began the most impor­tant pursuit of his life. For miles Rydstrom charged ever closer to her.
He hadn't known if the Teegloths had been sent by Omort to return her, hadn't known if she would will­ingly go with them. But the way she'd screamed his name when he'd fallen . ..
And then he'd begun finding gold tassels each time the Teegloths crossed water, or traveled in creek beds.
When Rydstrom realized she wanted to be found by him, his excitement was quickly extinguished by dread. If the Teegloths hadn't been sent to find her as a bounty, then they would feel free to use her.
They were taking her toward a chain of mountains, likely to the mine shafts within. Their habitat.
He wiped blood and sweat from his eyes, somehow increasing his speed. Sheer will forced his muscles to obey, and soon he'd reached an entrance to the mines. He charged inside, descending into the core of the mountain.
Suddenly, her shriek echoed in the dark. His heart dropped even as he bolted in the direction of the sound....
With a furious scream, Sabine head-butted the Tee-gloth. He slapped her, leaving her gasping on her side, her eyes watering.
And that was when she caught a glimpse of Rydstrom stealing out from the shadows. He'd lived!
As he stalked closer, his horns flared with aggres­sion, his muscles seeming to grow before her very eyes. At the edge of the firelight, he silently collected his sword.
When the leader pawed her, rolling her over once more, she hissed, "Teegloth, you're going to pose a ques­tion, and get beheaded before it's answered."
He roared, "What you talk of?"
She only smiled as Rydstrom swung his sword.
"You took the wrong demon's wife," she told the sev­ered head as she clambered away from its corpse.
With the death of their leader, the others howled with a furor. Rydstrom put himself between her and the pack. "Stay back!"
When they attacked, sweeping those hammers at him, he used his sword and claws against them. One tried to take him from behind, but he threw his head back, poisoning it with his horns.
He took hits that would have felled trees, but still he remained standing. Even injured, he was too strong for them to defeat. She watched in awe as the ruthless demon fought, lit by fire and cloaked in shadows from the mine.
Husband. Gods, he was amazing. He's fighting for me. No one but Lanthe had ever fought for Sabine, never, no matter how much she'd needed them to-
One slammed Rydstrom's massive body into a roof support. The shaft seemed to quake all around them. She couldn't scramble up swiftly enough with her hands behind her back.
When the immense beam began to splinter, she screamed Rydstrom's name.
With a roar, he took her by the waist and tossed her out of the way-just as the ceiling of the mine collapsed, boulders plummeting around him and the remaining Teegloths.
Nothing but dust. Again she was helpless, coughing, only able to wait. Would he make it out?
Waiting . . . Heartbeat, heartbeat. Damn it, stupid demon, don't die! Don't-
Rydstrom lurched out of the haze. He was bleeding freely from dozens of injuries, his breaths ragged. Brows
drawn with feeling, he dropped to his knees before her, still demonic, staring into her eyes.
She was overcome with relief that he'd lived and with gratitude that he'd saved her.
Then she remembered that she was one of the most powerful Sorceri ever born.
This damsel in distress could have defeated this entire pack in moments. Except her husband had bound and tied her and made her vulnerable.
He clasped her in his arms so tightly, she almost cried out. She felt when a sound was wrenched from his chest-part growl, part groan.
Warm . . . safe . . . furious? She futilely resisted him, cursing him. He said nothing, just clutched her, cupping her head to his chest, keeping her there with his big palm.
She was infuriated that any of this had happened at all when it could have been avoided. By keeping her tied, he'd risked her life.
But was she more angry that she'd been jeopardized- or because he'd been?
He finally drew back, his gaze flickering over her, assessing her injuries. His eyes darkened at every bruise. When he eased her skirt up, his Adam's apple worked in his throat as if he dreaded what he might find.
"They didn't rape me. No thanks to you."
He took deep breaths, wrestling for control, and his demonic visage receded.
When he smoothed blood from her lips, she flinched from his hand.
"Sabine, I'm here-"
"And I'm beaten. Trussed up like a present for their convenience."
He took a swath from the ripped tunic and tied it over her breasts, then he scanned the camp for their belongings. He left her side only to retrieve her boots. "If they intended to sell you as a slave, they wouldn't have struck your face, unless moved by anger."
"Yes, I taunted them. Therefore, they had every right to hit me! Right?"
He returned with her boots, then pulled them on her. "Why did you taunt them?"
Without looking at him, she muttered, "Because it felt good," repeating his own answer when asked why he'd goaded Omort.
"More might come." Rydstrom helped her to her feet. "We have to leave this place."
"You're not going to free me?" There was a hysterical note to her voice.
"You are angry that you were vulnerable. I should have been more vigilant."
"Damn you, Rydstrom, you won't release me even after this? I was defenseless! You saved me, yes, but you put me in this situation in the first place. Just like when I saved you from Omort, after bringing you into Tornin. Are you happy, demon? To get your parity once more?"
"Happy?" he snapped. "If anything had happened to you. . . . Damn it, I will be more watchful. I won't sleep."
"The Teegloths aren't the only threats out here," she said. "There are beasts from legend. As you know, I could drown."
"I also know that you'll run away from me at the ear­liest opportunity." When she shook her head to deny it, he said, "There's not a doubt in my mind! Every word you've said about wanting to stay with me was a lie. Now we don't have time for this. I won't be moved from my decision-and we need to get out of these mines before more come."
His tone brooked no argument, and when he grabbed her arm to hasten her from this place, she let him lead her.
They continued on, limping through the murky tun-nel for what seemed like miles, until they reached the surface at last.
A new landscape greeted them. High bluffs over­looked green hills that were dotted with trees. The late afternoon sun blazed above them, and the wind gusted. More terrain, more stumbling, more misery.
Enough. She yanked her arm from his grasp. Sabine- never a patient person in the best of circumstances- had hit her limit. She simply .. . stopped.
"Come on, keep up. We're near them. I can sense it."