your taste is to be commended, demon boy person. Alas, you've got the wrong mark here. I've got nothing to bring to the mommy table."
He only tilted his head at her. Then he solemnly held out his hand as if he wanted to give her something.
Sabine did like to be given things. "What is it? Let me see." She rolled her eyes. "I'm tied here, clueless-I can't hold out my hand."
He laid something on her knee, something tiny and white. Sabine had noticed that he'd been missing his bottom fang. Not missing anymore!
And he'd obviously been saving it for a long time. "Oh, that's just not right." Her face screwed up into an expression of distaste, and not just because it was disgusting. "Don't you know you can get gold for that tooth? What's wrong with you?"
Rhydstrom had never thought he would be so happy to see a female's jealousy. Sabine was jealous of Durinda. Over the past two days, she'd displayed it repeatedly.
This was an indication that his female might truly feel something for him-an indication he'd never expected.
Again the puzzle deepened.
Rydstrom did spend most of the days with the demoness since she helped him organize the upcoming portal crossings. They were arranging groups based on destination. Most would go to one of a few Lore-rich cities like New York or Savannah. For extra money, one could give the portal keeper exact coordinates.
There were difficulties inherent in assimilating so many Lorekind into human societies. If a thousand demons suddenly showed up in Savannah, someone was bound to notice.
As he worked with his people, preparing them for this new world, he grew shamed that he'd resented
them, resented his responsibility. He found them to be industrious, hardworking, and down to earth.
Durinda was an invaluable help as they readied for the exodus, but Rydstrom also enjoyed her company. She was someone from his past who shared memories of Tornin from better times. He liked talking to her about the castle, recalling it in its glory, trying to erase what he'd witnessed of the court just days ago.
They also talked of Mia, Zoe, and Cadeon. Durinda said one of the reasons she was so protective of Puck was because he reminded her so much of Cadeon at that age. He did Rydstrom as well.
He remembered his brother as a towheaded little boy. His new horns had driven him crazy, itching as they grew. He'd run them against everything, even against the walls of the castle, leaving little gouges, all three feet high.
Rydstrom had never thought he'd miss Cadeon, but he did. Through the centuries, they had battled against others together, and routinely against each other. Before Sabine, Cadeon had been the only one who could pro­voke Rydstrom's ire. He gave a laugh. The two of them would get along perfectly.
But even with the contention between Rydstrom and Cadeon, they rarely separated. They were so often together that many in the Lore simply called the two of them The Woede. Cadeon presently lived in his pool house.
Today Rydstrom had learned that many rebels were rallying because of his brother's continued success in his quest for the sword. He was proud of Cadeon- shocked-but proud....
Rydstrom and Durinda shared another commonal­ity. She was reluctantly journeying off-plane to marry a male she refused to believe was hers. "At least he's con­vinced we are a pair," she'd said. "I'm not certain at all. We have absolutely nothing in common. I don't think two more dissimilar beings could be paired."
Durinda had no idea.
Rydstrom and Sabine were nearly complete oppo-sites. But now there was no doubt that Sabine was his. Although Rydstrom burned to bed his sorceress again- and for her to carry his mark-he would take things slowly, earn her trust.
Rydstrom was in this for no less than eternity.
Every day she was here, Sabine grudgingly grew more attracted to the demon.
Now as she watched him readying to go out, she realized she hadn't truly seen him as a potential mate until he was out of his chains. She respected power, was attracted to it, and he'd been powerless. Now he was so commanding, so delightfully in charge. People gazed at him in awe whenever he went out.
Yet even when he was among many, he still seemed . . . lonely. Kingly demon, holding himself off from everyone.
Unfortunately, Sabine's increased attraction wasn't mutual.
Each day Rydstrom spent more time with Durinda, leaving Puck behind to irritate her. They must figure that the boy would be safe from her influence since he didn't speak English. And she couldn't get the little
punk to leave. He would shyly enter her tent, bringing her a "gift" each time. One day she received the husk of a dragonfly, the next day, a rock.
Rydstrom still took Sabine to the hot springs each morning. When they passed Durinda and her clique- draped in the same stupid long skirts that they'd forced on her-the demoness acted very familiar with Ryd­strom, which made Sabine bristle.
And each night, he still held her tightly in bed. Because she was sleeping five or six hours a night, she had multiple nightmares. Whenever she woke, he was there, tenderly stroking her hair.
Last night, he'd rasped, "Shh, baby. I've got you." That made her toes curl every time she recalled it.
But he'd made no move to get sexual with her again, even though she'd felt him erect, pressing against her back. His self-denial disconcerted the hell out of her, and she wished she could talk to her sister about his behavior. Lanthe was a love guru. She would under­stand what Rydstrom's game was.
Gods, she missed her sister so much. They'd never been separated for this long. But just as Rydstrom had promised, he'd arranged for her to write Lanthe.
That second night, the demon had brought Sabine a piece of parchment and a quill. Though if she'd thought she would have an opportunity to get free, she'd have been mistaken. He'd released one hand and pinned the other behind her, glancing over her shoulder as she wrote.
"Just tell her I'm taking you off-plane," he'd said. "This won't get to Tornin until after we've gone."
"She'll know you're going to New Orleans. Omort will send assassins there." "Yes," he'd said simply.
When she'd finished and Rydstrom had retied her, she'd said, "I was almost moved to hug you for this, Rydstrom, but alas, armless hugs lose a little something. So instead, I'll do you a favor. I'll help you with your brother."
"Cadeon and I are beyond a sorceress's help. Besides, I did this for you because you were cooperative about the teens' punishment. Then for you to grant me a boon back? I don't want us to get into that habit."
"Because you and I are ... we're together" She recalled thinking, Are we together, and what exactly does that mean? She had zero experience with relationships. "Oh, no matter, then," she'd said airily. "I was just going to tell you something that might lessen your resentment over the past." He'd gruffly said, "Tell me, then." "The fall of Tornin would've happened regardless of
"All my brother had to do was answer my dispatch, journey to the castle, and remain within its walls until I returned from the front line against the vampires. Instead, he turned his back on me, choosing to remain with his foster family. I know you won't understand the impor' tance, but there needed to be a royal presence there."
"Oh, I do understand the importance-whoever con­trols Tornin controls the kingdom. Omort did as well. That's why he had five hundred troops, lying in wait to assassinate Cadeon."
Rydstrom had grown still. "What did you say?" "It didn't matter how many guards you'd assigned to Cadeon. If your brother hadn't ignored your dispatch, he never would've made it to the castle alive." "How do I know you're telling the truth?" "Why would I lie about that?" When he'd left her, he'd looked like he'd just been clocked with a gauntleted fist.. ..
Now he was readying to leave her yet again. The demon was wearing a dark green tunic that brought out the color of those remarkable eyes of his. The woven material hugged his broad shoulders and defined chest. His jet-black hair was as tousled as ever.
Had Sabine been one of those women who sighed, she would have right now.
"Where are you going this time?" she asked.
"Uh-huh. With whom? Durinda?" She sounded like a scorned housewife. All she was missing was a ciga­rette stuck to her bottom lip and a squalling kid on her
He strapped his sword belt around his waist. "That's
"You mean females are allowed to ride horses here?" She blinked in feigned amazement. "Can they touch weapons, too? Or will they be banished from the Clan of the Cavebear like Ayla?" When he wouldn't rise to the bait, she asked, "What is so interesting about that
"I like that she cares about others above herself," he said. "I admire that she's noble minded and virtuous."
Sabine gave a scoff. "I could be virtuous, if I wanted to be."
In an incredulous tone, he said, "You don't know the meaning of virtue!"
"Of course I do-it means your thong must be white."
He gazed upward, inhaling for patience, then said, "Look, I enjoy merely talking to her, actually having a conversation that doesn't devolve into fighting."
"Ah, you like her conversation?" Sabine walked on her knees over to where he stood. "Then I'm sure with enough of it, you'll forget what / did with my mouth." She gazed up at him. "Dialogue always trumps exquisite oral sex. You'll hardly remember how hot my mouth was and how hungry I'd been for you." She licked her lips.
He swallowed, growing erect right before her eyes. "Sabine, I do remember. I think about it constantly. But there's a lot to be said for comfort with another, for ease and companionship. If I could have all that with you. . ."
"Companionship?" Her eyes narrowed. "You've slept with her!"
"No, I haven't! Why would you say that?"
"Because of the way she looks at you. And at me."
"What's bothering you most about this situation? How quickly the boy is growing on you or how much I'm enjoying spending time with another female?" As he exited, he said, "I'll be back near sunset."
Excellent. She'd sent her husband off aroused and angry on a date with another woman.
She had nothing to do but stare at the roof of the tent and ponder her situation. What would she do if she could escape Rydstrom ? The tales of the beasts that lived in Grave Realm and her recent Teegloth abduc­tion definitely gave her pause about setting out on her own. But she wondered if anything could be worse than facing the morsus withdrawal?
If she somehow made it back to Tornin, with no pregnancy and no demon, Omort might prey on her at once. He could even withhold the poison until she sur­rendered to him.
Yes, that would be the reason why she would hesitate to flee from the demon-not because she was growing attached to him. And not because she thought about kissing him nearly every time she looked at his firm lips.
It took another hour before Puck, the demonling, entered the tent. And he'd brought her another present.
"A lizard. Just what I've always wanted."
When the creature leapt from his hand into her hair, Sabine gave a cry and shook her head violently until it hopped away.
Puck laughed, and it wasn't like that weird high-pitched giggle she'd heard out of children before, the one that begged the question: why would one possibly tickle a child just to elicit that noise?
He had a real chuckle, and she kind of smiled in response. He began scampering around after the lizard, continually glancing over his shoulder with a little wave at her, as if giving her reassurance that he would catch her gift again.
She frowned. He's the only one here that's nice to me.
At Tornin, her Inferi were always fawning. Courtiers kissed ass for concessions. Everyone here openly hates me. Luckily that didn't bother her. At all.
"Hey! Just sit, kid. You're making me dizzy." He hesitated, so she gave a deep nod at the floor beside her. "Sit." When he plopped down, she said, "If you're to be my only friend in this gods forsaken place, I need to get you working for me. And I was only half kidding about the shank."
Incomprehension. He shyly began speaking in Demon-ish, or, as she liked to call it, Gibberish.
"Blah, blah, blah. Demon boy, I can't speak that language. Furthermore, I don't want to pollute my brain by learning it. So it's time for you to learn mine. First lesson-I'm Say-been. I'm oft described as byoo-tee-full and mah-jest'ick."
"Ai-bee," he said.
She stilled. My name the way my little sister has always said it. The sister I'm missing like a lost limb. "Don't you call me that again!"
His eyes went wide. Great, she was about to lose her only entertainment. "Ha-ha. Sabine was kidding."
The little demon tilted his head. She waited for him to bail....
But he didn't. And she frowned to realize she'd actu­ally been holding her breath.
"Ah, gods'. It's going to kill them!" someone screamed a few hours later.
Whatever it was, Sabine wished it all the luck in the world. She was stewing, the demon's words going round and round in her brain. How much I'm enjoying spending time with another female. . . .
Rydstrom had gone off with Durinda hours ago, and eventually Puck had left to eat dinner with others.
The sun had set, gloaming heavy upon the sky. And Rydstrom still wasn't back. The moon would be beauti-ful tonight. Romantic even.
"Someone help them!"
With an irritated exhalation, Sabine worked her way to her feet, then butted her head against the tent flap to exit. She might as well watch the show-
Her lips parted. A crimson-scaled basilisk was chas­ing demons all over the place, swatting tents up into the
air. Its enormous tail pummeled the ground as it roared. The sound drummed in her ears and shook the night.
Sabine's guard was gone, convening with others, who looked like they planned to attack it.
The dragon cornered a group in a canyon pocket, tensing to pounce, its forked tongue darting into the air.
When it finished with that course, Sabine would be a sitting duck, tied to a stake-with no guard! While Rydstrom was out playing Romeo with the twit.
She caught sight of a noblewoman, a demoness in Durinda's clique who'd turned her nose up at Sabine. She was running back and forth talking to herself.
"Hey, demon lady person," Sabine called. "If you untie me, I can save them all with my goddesslike powers."
She slowed, hesitating, wringing her hands.
Hand-wringing and pacing, Sabine thought in disgust. Repetitive actions-way to take action, woman! "Do you want them to die?"
"Th-the males are defending the females and chil­dren." Demons with torches were preparing to rush the beast. "They will save us-"
"Thanks. I think I just vomited a little in my mouth." This society needed to be rewritten-completely! "The torches those guys are planning to use to scare him away will do nothing but make him feel friskier. So, the ties . . ." She twisted around and held up her bound wrists.
"If I freed you, King Rydstrom would be incensed-"
"Well, he's not here now, is he?" * * *
"Your mind is occupied with other things," Durinda said quietly to Rydstrom. After a successful hunt, they'd slowed their lathered horses on the way back.
"I apologize," he told Durinda. "I've much to mull over just now." He couldn't stop recalling earlier when Sabine had gazed up at him with those amber eyes. She'd been merry, having fun, teasing him ...
Yet another facet of her.
Learning about Sabine was exactly like arranging jigsaw pieces-sometimes they didn't fit.
For instance, she was a female who killed viciously, and yet she'd befriended-in her own way-a friendless demon boy. She was a sorceress who was so cold and hard that she kept a woman's tongue in a jar, but she'd begun turning to Rydstrom trustingly in sleep, nuzzling his chest.
He'd decided that Sabine needed someone to always be there to soothe her nightmares, the ones he'd wit­nessed. By the gods, he would be that man.
"Your thoughts are filled with the sorceress."
"Among other things." His musings weren't only on Sabine. What she'd told him about Cadeon-if true, and he suspected it was-meant that he had to rethink nine centuries of strife.
And now Cadeon was making him proud, pursu­ing that sword. But could he really turn Holly, his true mate, over to Groot? If Cadeon did, he'd hate Rydstrom forever.
"Sabine is clearly more than a concubine to you," Durinda said.
Rydstrom didn't deny it. "She's my female."
"You ... you attempted her?"
He nodded sharply, not liking her tone.
"I had wanted-and expected-so much better for you," she said in her halting way. "In fact, I don't see how it could get worse."
Rydstrom didn't either. He'd never met anyone as self-absorbed as Sabine. She lied, stole, cheated, and killed. Aside from Puck, every one of his subjects loathed her.
And I'm still falling for her. He couldn't help it-each time she clutched at him for comfort from a nightmare, or revealed glimpses of her sly sense of humor, his feel' ings for her grew. "It isn't like I had any choice in the matter."
"Why do you keep her bound in your tent?"
"She would likely run from me at the first chance." Even if Sabine was becoming more attracted to him, growing to trust him somewhat, she belonged to a dif­ferent world-one in which she was rewarded for all her vices. A world he was certain she wanted to return to.
Durinda said, "You can't keep her tied up forever."
"I'm hoping once we get off-plane I can win her affection." If she's even capable of it. No, she had to be.
"I just can't believe with all the demon females you attempted, you could never find one among our own kind."
"No, it didn't happen. And not from lack of trying." He gave a humorless laugh. "Just be glad you weren't among them."
A pause, then: "Rydstrom, I-I was."
"You can save them?" the hand-wringing woman said. At Sabine's earnest nod, she finally freed her hands and untied her ankle.
Sabine massaged her wrists with a mean smile. Idiot! At once, she stripped off the ridiculous blouse but left the corset, using her power to make it look like a metal breastplate. She imagined a bold headdress and collar, weaving the image over her, then used illusions to paint her face and plait her hair.
"Sabine, you must hurry!"
"Must I?" She stalked up to the woman. "Don't you ever call me by my given name again! I'm Rydstrom's queen-your queen. We're married whether he wants to admit it or not." She started away from the commotion, saying over her shoulder, "All the best with that."
The demoness hurried after her, with her eyes water­ing. "B-but you said . . ."
"Look, is it really my place to save the lives of people stupid enough to run into a canyon and get cornered by
a dragon? Yes, I'm egotistical, but who am I to challenge natural selection?" It wasn't her fight-
"Ai-bee!" a small voice echoed in the distance.
Sabine stilled. Puck was among the trapped demons. The little punk, who didn't have the sense not to be dragon food, had just called her name.
Which meant he'd just made her situation into one of two options: self-loathing if she risked her neck to save him or a bad day if the punk died. She exhaled. Maybe even worse than a bad day.
Turning toward the chaos, she muttered to herself, "I can't believe I'm doing this."
The woman clasped her hands to her chest. "Oh, thank you!"
In answer, Sabine lunged at her and snapped her teeth. "In no way am I doing this for your thanks." Then she carried on. So stupid . . . so bloody stupid.
Yes, Sabine had the ability to talk to animals.
But what if the big bastard didn't want to chat?
"I . . . didn't remember," Rydstrom told Durinda. And I still don't. But Sabine had voiced her suspicion of exactly this, and he'd vehemently denied it. Which meant he'd unintentionally lied to her.
"Well, this certainly is uncomfortable." Durinda stared straight ahead. "It was centuries ago, and I under­stand there were . . . many."
Had the demoness been trying to rekindle an affair? He'd assumed she'd just been kind to help him familiar-ize himself with the place. He'd thought she'd merely enjoyed reminiscing. "It was indeed long ago."
They rode on in onerous silence, but when they reached the rise over the camp, he found a scene that defied description.
In full Sorceri regalia, Sabine appeared to be mut­tering to herself as she shoved people out of her way while storming toward a dragon. The beast was poised to attack a cornered group-with Puck among them.
Drawing his sword as he spurred his horse, Rydstrom charged down the hill toward her. He'd never reach them in time.
When Sabine neared the beast, she yelled for its attention. Rydstrom's heart dropped when it rounded on her in a rippling flash of muscle and crackling scales.
"No!" he bellowed. "Get away!"
The beast hissed, darting its forked tongue. Yet she faced it with her chin up and shoulders back, raising her palms. Heat blurred the air above her hands. When it swept its paws, she leapt over them, then ducked under its swatting tail. "Hey! That was close! Stop this now!"
The beast slowed its tail, seeming to glower in confu­sion.
Rydstrom dismounted his horse in a full run. As he closed in on them, he could hear her talking to the dragon. She'd said she could speak to animals. Could she hold it off?
"That's better. You don't want to feed upon me," she murmured. "Though I am the tenderest, I'm also poisonous." She chuckled as if at an inside joke. "Don't be cross with us, great one." She cautiously reached up and petted its gleaming scales. It jerked back, yet then
allowed another stroke. "We didn't know this was your home." The beast chuffed air.
Sabine glanced at Rydstrom, her eyes glowing bright in her mask of kohl. "Do you think it could eat me in one bite?"
"Move away from it!"
"So you can strike this exceptional fellow down?"
"To protect you, yes!" Rydstrom hated the idea of killing one such as that, but he readily would.
"I've got this. Luckily, one person here had the sense to free me-against your orders."
Could she control it? He didn't want her in jeop­ardy, but she looked as if she was having . . . fun. He motioned for those cornered to begin slipping out.
The beast tensed. "Keep talking," Rydstrom muttered to her as he helped Puck and another away. Almost everyone had escaped.
Sabine continued, "Confession time, dragon. One night last summer, when my sister Lanthe and I were really bored, we almost sent all the creatures from Grave Realm through a portal to a place called Times Square. We've since seen why that would be hilarious only to us"
The creature's eyelids were growing heavy, as if it were mesmerized. When all the people were a safe dis-tance away, Rydstrom lowered his sword.
Instead of escaping when she'd been freed, Sabine had voluntarily waded into a dragon's way to save oth­ers. She'd told him she'd never help another if there was no benefit to herself. Yet now she had ...
"Cwena," he murmured, his chest tight with pride Little queen.
The way she was interacting with the beast was the most remarkable thing he'd ever seen-it looked pow­erless not to be enthralled by her.
We've that in common, dragon.
"Would you allow us a night or two longer here?" she asked the dragon.
In answer, it chuffed hot breath at her again, then turned its immense body to stalk off into the night.
People cheered. At once, Puck ran for Sabine in that headlong way the young did.
Yet she didn't kneel and open her arms to embrace the boy. She snatched him up by his belt and carried him like an accessory, berating him for not fleeing from things that have fangs bigger than his body. And the child looked as if he couldn't have been happier.
All around her, people rushed forward to express gratitude.
She negligently waved her free hand at them, mut­tering, "Yeah, yeah. Say it with gold."
Even Durinda thanked her as she collected Puck.
When Sabine approached Rydstrom, he was at a loss for words.
"If you think about binding my arms again," she began, "I'll call my big friend down here once more, and he will go off his newly restricted diet." She continued on, ignoring him.
Sabine had told him, "Lonely demon. You need me so much."
He feared she was right.
For two days, his female had free run of the camp, wreaking utter havoc.
The once reviled sorceress could do no wrong in the eyes of the demons here-and she was taking full advantage of that fact.
When a group of young females had asked her what one should name her horse, she'd answered, "I like the sound of Fellatio."
When Rydstrom had confronted Sabine about it, she'd said, "Do you know how priceless it was to hear that demoness sigh, 'I love my Fellatio' ? Even gold can't buy moments like that!"
At his unbending look, she'd rolled her eyes. "The young female was nineteen. And if she doesn't know what the word means by now, then she has bigger prob­lems than what to name her pony." She'd added, "You ridiculed the fact that I remained purposely ignorant of your language because my kind finds it uncouth. But
isn't that exactly what the females of your kingdom do about sex?"
He opened his mouth, then closed it, unable to deny her reasoning.
And she'd made many decrees. For the vintner to mix a sweeter wine for her. For the smithy to begin work on her crown and new breastplate. For a cook to prepare vegetarian dishes.
Puck followed her everywhere. Luckily, he couldn't understand her when she said things like, "Is it still behind me? Why won't it stop following me? It's look­ing at me again, isn't it? I can feel its little eyes on me."
Though she acted as if she didn't care for Puck's com­pany, Rydstrom had spied her sit on a bench and pat the space beside her for the boy to sit. He'd also seen her brush Puck's hair out of his eyes.
Each time, she'd seemed to startle herself, glancing around guiltily-as if her kindness was improper. In her old world, it would have been.
As for Rydstrom, he couldn't spend enough time with her-literally. She avoided him.
She'd demanded her own tent, refusing to share his. The night of the basilisk's attack, he'd found her in the bluffs high above the camp to thank her for saving the lives of his people-and to indicate that she was still to sleep with him.
She'd told him, "My subjects have provided me with a new place. Now, if you don't mind, I've had a taxing day saving all of these refugees, my subjects and all-
since I am their queen, even if you let them think I'm a lowly sex slave."
"They don't any longer."
"I deduced that when they started with the obeisance and gifts and all. They adore me. Coins will be minted with my face on them. It's in the works."