"Things are different between us," Sabine admitted. "We've kind of reached an understanding."
"Good! I'll make you another portal in six days, and you can return then. But for now, you have to come with me!"
"What has happened?"
"Omort lied-the morsus will hit you a week before you'd thought."
"He did what?" That bastard! When she faced him again, she would make him meet his nightmares, would show him scenes that even he couldn't bear.
"It's true. He admitted it to me himself. Abie, it's a mess at Tornin. The vampires bailed. The fire demons are squir-relly. And Omort nearly took my power and killed me."
"Then you can't go back there!"
"I convinced him that you would never accept him if he harmed me. Omort still believes the two of you will wed. Now, find your way out of the house, and follow my voice to the portal. We can't waste any more time."
"I can't just leave Rydstrom without a word," Sabine said.
"Are you jesting? As much as I hope it works out for you kids, now is not the time to start confiding in him."
When Sabine heard the paneled bedroom door creaking open, she quickly cloaked herself in invisibil­ity, then cast an illusion of herself sleeping soundly.
Rydstrom looked in on her, gazing at her sleep­ing form with an unmistakably proud expression. She probed his mind, just a touch.
-My woman . . . in my bed. At last.-
Then his expression changed once more, that line between his brows deepening.
"Oh, my gods, Lanthe. Rydstrom is looking at an illusion of me-and he appears to be ... in love."
"You saw that look?" Lanthe sounded wistful. "Did he have his brows drawn with feeling?"
"Yes. And as he walked out of the room, he kind of rubbed his chest a little." "Like his heart hurt!"
"I've only ever seen that on TV beforel" Sabine said. "Lanthe, I have to tell him-about everything."
"So he can do what exactly?" Lanthe demanded. "And while you're informing him that you are going to a place he will never let you go, I'll be Vrekener bait."
If Sabine explained the poison to Rydstrom, he wouldn't likely allow Sabine just to waltz back to Omort. And if she told him that she would probably die if she didn't make it through this portal, he'd insist that he could find help for her here. But there was no one on this plane who could prevent the morsus from striking.
Even knowing this, Sabine bit her lip, torn about what to do. "Sneaking out of his house seems so wrong."
"You are without a doubt one hundred percent in love, because it's making you stupid! It's not reasonable even to consider this. You can come back in mere days." "I could write him a let-" "Abie, I just heard wings."
Sabine was on her feet in a second. "I'm coming!" She hauled on her boots, then snatched up her clothes. Leaving the illusion on the bed, she kept herself cloaked in invisibility and slipped from the room.
She heard Rydstrom walking the house and eluded him to find her way out of a back door. As she hurried
off the property into the night, she hastily dragged on
her top and skirt.
The demon would follow as soon as he discovered her missing-she could only hope to make it to Lanthe's portal before then.
"Sabine, just follow my voice. I'm in a park somewhere."
The streets all looked the same, like a labyrinth. Rain began to fall, lightly at first, then intensifying. Soon, lightning fractured the skies. Thunder quaked. As though poured from a bucket, rain pounded down.
"I'm here. This weather blows."
Sabine caught sight of a park in the distance. "Talk to me."
"I can see a-" Sabine stumbled when she heard the demon roar her name, the sound echoing like a can­non's boom.
He'd started the chase. And he sounded enraged.
"Lanthe, he's coming for me!" No answer. "Lanthe?Where are you?"
When she answered, her voice was fainter. "Kind of had to make a detour."
"You're getting farther away from me? What are you doing?"
Her voice was a scarce whisper. "Right now I'm running from winged monsters. You?"
"Fleeing a seven-foot-tall rage demon. ..."
When Rydstrom had gone to check on her again, he'd reached down to brush her hair.
And found nothing but illusion. He'd stared for long moments, disbelieving.
She tricked me. She'd obviously never intended to stay. Another lie. She'd . .. deserted him.
Why! He'd charged from the house into a storm, bel­lowing her name. Where in the hell is she? He caught her scent from what must be miles away.
He tore off after her, tracking her, following his instinct. He sprinted down sodden streets, rage over­whelming him with every step. The frenzied need to mark her consumed him.
She doesn't carry my mark . . . we're not wed.
He caught sight of her nearing a small park, darting through puddles. He squinted through the rain. In the distance, he saw an area of diffused air-a portal. And she was heading directly for it.
Can't lose her. He pumped his arms for speed until he was on her heels, then lunged for her. Seizing her by the hips, he took her down into the muddy grass.
"You told me you wanted to stay with me!" With his breaths heaving, he tossed her to her back. "You made me believe you. And you were running back to Omortl"
"No . . . yes . . . Rydstrom, you must listen!" She blinked up at him, the pouring rain hitting her face.
He hauled her beneath him, digging his claws into her thighs. "Why? Every word out of your mouth is a lie! How many times will I let you deceive me?"
She'd thought to escape him? The lying sorceress would pay.
His eyes glowed in the night, cruel obsidian. Rain poured down painfully-never had Sabine felt it like this. The drops pelted her eyes so hard, she could barely see, could scarcely hear herself.
'I'd planned to be good to you," he grated. "To make love to you. But no longer."
When he began unbuckling his belt, her eyes went wide. "Not like this!" she cried, raking her nails over his face and chest.
He roared with fury, then seized her wrists, fettering them behind her back with his belt.
"Rydstrom, no! Something has happened! Demon, listen to me. My sister's here-"
"Your sister's not here, she's in Tornin! In my castle! My home!" His horns were dark and flaring. "I don't want to hear any more of your lies!"
"Please, Lanthe's in danger. . . ." Her words tangled on her tongue as she tried to explain to him, while lis­tening for Lanthe's voice or the sound of wings. "And the Vrekeners are everywhere!"
Rydstrom finished her binding and flipped her hack over to face him. He isn't hearing me. "I have to go to her!" she said, trying again, but there was no talking to him, no reasoning. I broke him. The demon who had been so rational, so reasonable. "If anything happens to her." Her heart was about to explode with fear for Lanthe. That fear turned to nausea, then fury. "You have no right to keep me," she cried. "No right to attack me, tackling me into the mud!"
"You lied-you'll pay for it."
"Get off of me, you animal! You have to release me, now!"
"Never, Sabine, Never." He snatched her up into his arms then over his shoulder, storming back to his home.
"No!" she screamed as he forced her away from the portal, away from Lanthe. "Don't take me back." Though the rain was easing, she still couldn't hear her sister.
"I'll keep her any way I have to," Rydstrom muttered to himself. "Chained to the bed if I have to. The demon in me will be satisfied this eve...."
She gazed back over his arm, shuddering. Where was her sister? Sabine had to get back to her, had to escape Rydstrom.
When the gale ended, she attempted once more to tell him about Lanthe. But it was like talking to a wall. He wouldn't listen, not even when they returned to the
house, not even when he stripped her. Not even when he stalked outside and found chains to trap her body to his bed.
One way to deal with a woman like her.
Rydstrom heard little of what she was saying. He didn't need to hear any more of her lies. Just need to mark her.
She lay on the bed with her damp red hair in a fall all around her head, her pale body spread and trembling. He shoved his pants off, then climbed over her.
Her eyes went wide. "You've got to let me go!" she cried. "I have to get back."
Do nothing irrevocable. . . . But he had to, because she wouldn't stay anyway. Mark her.
He knelt between her legs. "I was going to take you slow." When he lay over her, he clasped the sides of her face. His cock pulsed against her hot sex.
Get control. She makes me crazed! Got me so twisted inside. . . .
"Don't do this to me, demon!" She gazed up at him with beseeching eyes.
"You told me you would stay. I believed you."
"Rydstrom, I have to help Lanthe, my sister. If I don't get back, they'll kill her. Trust me to return to you, and I will."
"Did you think it would have ended between us when you went back to Omort? I'd come for you." As he ground his shaft against her, he said at her ear, "Cwena, if we are apart, it's only because I'm not done fighting my way to you."
"If we do this, will you let me go?" she asked desper­ately. "Then take me, claim me, do whatever you have to, but just release me."
"You must bear my bite."
"Then, yes! Do it!"
"You know what you have to say, sorceress."
"You want me to beg, demon? I will! I beg y-"
"No!" He shoved his hand over her mouth. He didn't want this. Didn't want her to break. When she grew quiet, he removed it.
"Th-that's what you wanted, isn't it?" she asked.
"Yes . . .no!" He eased off her, sitting on the edge of the bed, pinching his forehead. Just think.
"Then what?" she cried, writhing in her chains.
He rose, pacing. Think . . .
"What do you want me to do, demon? What do you want?"
"I don't know'." he bellowed, putting his fist through the wall. "I want you to feel something. For me." And then he was above her again, clutching her nape. "Because you're clawing my bloody heart from my chest!"
"I do feel something for you, demon. Take me, mark me as your own. Forever. "
Words from a dream. He couldn't decipher the sub­texts, couldn't foresee what trickery this was. Her silken tongue was telling him exactly what he wanted to hear, the sorceress soothing the beast inside him.
"But then you have to let me go. I will return to you!"
Can't think . . . nothing irrevocable ... He rose once more, then staggered to the bathroom. Inside, he rested his forehead and palms against the wall, digging in his claws as he grappled for control-
He heard the unmistakable sound of Cadeon's old truck in the drive. With a curse, Rydstrom slung on some jeans, then went to head him off before his brother could use a key.
When Rydstrom cracked open the side door, his mind was seized on Sabine, but he vaguely noted Cadeon appeared ... tired.
"Rydstrom?" Cadeon bit out incredulously.
He could only imagine what he looked like. He wore no shirt or shoes and had been buttoning up his jeans. Cadeon's gaze flickered over his clenched jaw, his shoulders bunched with tension, and the thin lines of blood running down his chest and across his cheek.
"Are you going to make me stand out here? Open the door."
Rydstrom glanced back into the house. That dream. She'd been about to take it away from him. He could hate her for that.
"You're worrying me, man. Let me in, and tell me what happened. The last I heard was that you'd been captured by Sabine."
When Rydstrom didn't answer, Cadeon said, "You were taken to Tornin, weren't you? Did you fight Omort to escape?"
Rydstrom finally shook his head.
"Then how the hell did you get free? No one escapes Tornin."
"I had an ace in my pocket," he said, his voice rough. What will I have to do to make her want to stay?
"You don't sound good. Are you all right?"
"I will be." Rydstrom looked back over his shoulder again. "Soon."
"I got the sword." Cadeon offered it to him. "Killed Groot, too."
Rydstrom accepted the weapon, barely sparing it a glance. She'd been running from me. After making me believe she wanted to be with me.
Cadeon was baffled, saying slowly, "That's the sword that will defeat Omort"
"We go to war in the spring. Be ready."
"That's all you've got to say? So much for abject gratitude, or even a pat on the back." Cadeon's tone grew louder with each word. "If you knew what I went through to get to that goddamned thing, what I put my female through . . . Oh, and for the record, your Vey-ron's missing, and it's never fucking coming home-"
"/s someone out there?" Sabine cried. "Oh, gods, help me!" She rattled the chains. "I'm being held against my
"Is that Sabine?" Cadeon bit out. "Was she your ace?"
"Please help me!"
Rydstrom peered at him hard, daring Cadeon to do something.
Clearly striving for a casual tone, Cadeon said, "So, you've got an evil sorceress chained up in your bed, then?"
Rydstrom knew what his brother believed. "She's mine," he seethed. "I'll do whatever the fuck I want to her. And it's nothing that wasn't done to me," he snapped, recalling the humiliation she'd subjected him to. The memories burned worse, because he'd intended to be so good to her, had planned to completely forgive her for her treatment of him. His fists clenched.
"Hey, hey, no need to slug me, brother. To each his own, yeah?" But he was studying Rydstrom.
"Once I'm done with her, I'll contact you."
As he closed the door, he barely heard Cadeon mutter, "Fuckall, does this mean I'm no longer the bad brother . . . ?"
Before Rydstrom locked the sword in the armory, he took it to the bedroom to show Sabine his prize. "This is the sword that will kill Omort."
It glinted in the light, and her eyes followed its every movement as he checked the weapon's balance, swing­ing it in a circle by his side.
"Soon, I'll return to Tornin for his head. Would you like that? How does the idea of your brother's death make you feel?"
"Like I'm hearing a weather report for a town I don't live in."
"I almost want you to have loyalty to him."
"Don't you understand? You'll never get close enough to use that weapon on him. He rarely leaves Tornin. He has guards and mystickal traps surrounding him at all times. Damn you, Rydstrom!" Her wrists were bleeding. "Let me go!"
He'turned from her and left the room. As he headed to his study, he gazed down at the sword-the most remarkable one Rydstrom had ever beheld. The weapon felt like an extension of his arm.
This was all he'd wanted, and he'd barely spared a glance at it. His brother had risked his life to claim this for him, and Rydstrom hadn't said a word of thanks.
Just now, Cadeon had looked at him like he'd lost his mind.
I think I have.
She sagged with relief. "Lanthe, where are you?" Her sister's voice had come to her once before when Sabine had screamed for help, but then it had faded again.
Dimly Sabine heard, "Dodging really big birds. What happened to you?"
"The demon caught me and chained me to his bed."
"He did what? As soon as I lose these assholes, I'm com-ing after the demon."
"What are you going to do? Portal him to death?" Sabine said. "Can you evade the Vrekeners for much longer? Wait, I hear him coming . . . just stand by!"
Rydstrom returned to her then, gazing at her with pain and confusion in his dark eyes. He reached for her, but instead of touching her body again, he began to free her bonds.
She held her breath. Was he letting her go?
"Do you know what I saw when you told me to dream of what I needed most?' His voice was hoarse as he unchained her ankles. "I dreamed of you and of our son. We were happy, Sabine. I was able to make you happy- and to protect you. The feeling was indescribable."
"Lanthe, he's freeing me-just hold on a little longer!"
Rydstrom continued, "But now I know that will never happen."
Once he'd released her, she shot to her feet and scrambled back from him, but he just sank onto the side of the bed, his face exhausted, his cheek marked from her nails.
"Lanthe, are you still there?" Sabine took only enough time to snatch up the undershirt he'd left out for her and drag it over her head, then she headed out.
At the doorway, she said, "Look, Rydstrom, I'll be back in six days. I promise you."
"No, you won't. I'm done, Sabine."
She whirled around. "What? Rydstrom, no-"
"I'm not like this. You bring out the worst in me." He was holding his head in his hands. People did that in grief, or in the realization that something they'd wanted was forever out of reach.
He'd given up on her. And she wanted to ask him not to. Even give him reasons why he shouldn't. But Lanthe was out there alone, defenseless.
"All we're going to do is continue hurting each other. I don't want you to return," he said quietly, but with steel in his tone.
"Demon, wait.. . ."
He met her gaze. "Do not come back here."
When she felt her bottom lip trembling, she made herself invisible. Casting another glance at him, she ran from the room.
"Abie, are you there? What's happening?"
"I-I just got broken up with."
"What? Well, you don't need him anyway!"
"Ah gods, Lanthe. I think I really do."
Lanthe sprinted, out of breath, getting herself more lost. She and Sabine both had zero directional skills. Hadn't she just passed those tennis shoes strung over the power lines?
All the while she was craning her head around to scan the skies and trees for the Vrekeners. But she thought she'd ditched them.
There'd been at least two dozen. And when she'd first seen several of them crouched on the limbs of an ancient oak, she thought she'd spied the scarred face of Thrpnos among them....
"I'm out of the house now."
Lanthe was so relieved she nearly tripped. "Then let's get the hell out of here. I've lost the Vrekeners, so all we have to do is find our way back to the portal. Do you remember where the park was?"
"Are you kidding?"
"One would think, huh?" Alley after alley opened up like doors to choose from. She sprinted headlong down the wet steaming pavement of one, then turned to fol­low another.
"Wait! I think I see it." Lanthe sprinted toward a clearing ahead-it would have to be the park. "I'm
here!" She could see the portal not even fifty yards ahead. "Follow my . . ." She trailed off, the tiny hairs on the back of her neck standing on end.
Lanthe gazed up with dread.
Vrekeners everywhere. Dotting the tree limbs, sur­rounding her on the ground. They'd trapped her, using the portal as bait. "Ah, gods, it's a trap! They've been waiting for us. Driving me, so I'd draw you out."
If Sabine hadn't been tackled by that demon, she would've been seized by them. "Abie, don't come here. This place is crawling with them!"
"I'm on my way!"
Lanthe caught sight of Thronos once more. Crouched on a limb in his black trench, he looked like the Reaper. He smirked, stretching the raised scars across his face. Then he dropped effortlessly to the ground.
The asshole thought he had her.
A perilous incident was supposed to reignite her power of persuasion? It didn't get much more perilous than this. Why not try?
He gave a hand signal, and in a flash, they attacked as one. She gulped in a breath and sprinted for the portal.
Some flew overhead as she hunched and darted, some chasing her on foot. "Leave me alone!" she cried. Had she felt a twinge of power?
Never slowing, she glanced over her shoulder. The ones on the ground had stopped. Those in the air flew in place. All except for Thronos, who appeared to be gnashing his teeth, straining to resist her command.
He continued limping toward her with malice in his
expression, his wings unfurling with hostility. Stalking closer. ...
Should Lanthe try to find Sabine? Or attempt to lead them away again so her sister could get through the portal-
One by one, they began to throw off her command, charging once more. In a panic, she scurried forward, diving headfirst into the portal, landing halfway into her room in Tornin.
Thronos was right behind her, catching her foot at the threshold. She gave a mule kick, connecting with his mouth. "Get back," she commanded.
The battle within him was clear as he resisted, but he took a step back.
Sabine said, "Where are you?"
"I'm at the portal door."
"Then close it!"
"What about you?"
"I can make it six days!" Sabine cried. "But if you get caught now, I don't have a chance."
"You have to do this!"
"I'm coming back for you!" Gritting her teeth with effort, Lanthe began sealing the portal, closing the rift she'd created. The edges of the threshold were like the seams of a wound, easing together to heal. "Abie, hold on till I return!"
Just before she'd sealed the sides, Thronos shoved his boot inside. He gazed down at her with silvery eyes, his wings'spread wide.
Lanthe cast him an evil smile. The wound of the portal was healing-nothing could keep the edges open now. She heard the echo of his roar as his foot was severed, then she fell back onto the floor of her room, gasping for breath. I've got to find a vampire, someone who could trace me back to Sabine. But they'd all bailed....
She stood in gradual degrees, shoving her hands to her knees as she heaved for breath. She glared at Thro-nos's booted foot. Because of him, Sabine was stuck in
Lanthe yelled at the foot, "I'm so sick of you fuckers coming down on us! Five hundred years of this!" She punted it across the room.
It sailed past Omort in the doorway. "And you dare return without her."