"Because the belief is nearly as dangerous," Sabine answered impatiently. "The sword could be seen as a rallying point, used as a propaganda tool." Already little rebellions erupted over the countryside, the demons continuing to clamor for their deposed king.
Clamoring still-after nine centuries.
Sabine often wondered how he'd earned such fervent loyalty. "So it's clear I can't let the brothers meet," she said. "I'll intercept Rydstrom before he can reach the city."
"And then?" Omort said quietly. "What will you do
"And then I'll kill two birds with one stone," she answered. "This is the prophecy beginning." Just in time for the Accession.
Every five hundred years, that great immortal war took place, and they were on the cusp of it right now.
Her gaze flickered over the mysterious well in the center of the court, strewn with sacrifices-bloody and unidentifiable body parts. Her future depended on unlocking its power. And the demon was the key.
When she faced Omort, his brows drew together, as if he'd thought she would balk at bedding a demon. In fact, she was eager to get this over with-and then to seize the power that was there for the taking.
At last, something to want, to need.
Hettiah asked, "What if the demon resists you?"
Sabine's lips parted. "Have you looked at me lately, Hettiah?" She turned in a circle, a move that left Omort leaning forward on the edge of his throne, and Hettiah sending her murderous glances.
Hettiah wasn't without power. In fact, her ability was neutralizing others' powers. She could erase illusions as easily as Sabine could cast them. Lanthe had nick­named her Hettiah the Buzz Kill and Aunty-Matter.
"Don't underestimate the demon," Omort finally said. "He's one of the most iron-willed beings I've ever encoun­tered. Don't forget that I faced him-and yet he lives."
Sabine exhaled, trying to keep a rein on her notori­ous temper. "Yes, but I have unique attributes that make this demon's seduction in the bag."
"You also have a detriment," Hettiah sneered. "You're a freak among the Lore."
It was true she was unique-a virgin seductress. Sabine chuckled at Hettiah's statement, then her expres­sion instantly turned cold when she faced her brother. "Omort, put a muzzle on your pet, or I'll make her one from her intestines." She rapped her silver-tipped claws together, and the sound rang out in the chamber.
Hettiah lifted her chin, but she'd paled. Sabine had in fact plucked an organ from her. On several occasions. She kept them in jars on her bedside table.
But Sabine refrained from this as much as possible, because whenever she fought Hettiah, it seemed to overly excite Omort.
"Besides, if the demon somehow resists this"-Sabine waved her hands over her figure-"I'll have a backup plan." She always had a plan B.
"You'll need it." Hettiah smirked.
Sabine blew her a kiss, the ultimate insult among the Sorceri, who stored poisons in their rings to be mixed into drinks-or blown into the eyes of an enemy.
"Capture him tonight, and then . . . begin." Omort sounded sickened. Not only was Rydstrom a demon, which most Sorceri viewed as little better than an ani­mal, the fallen king was Omort's blood enemy.
And the time had finally come for Sabine to surren­der her virginal-hymenally speaking-body and her womb to the creature. No wonder Omort had gone into a fury with the oracle.
Part of him lusted for the power Sabine could garner. And part of him lusted for her-or for women who resembled her, like the red-haired Hettiah.
He rose then, descending the steps to stand before Sabine. Ignoring Hettiah's huff of dismay-and the warning in Sabine's eyes-he slowly raised his hand to
His bloodstained nails were long, cloudy, and thick. When he pinched her chin, she said in a seething tone, "Now brother, you know I dislike it when men touch
When angered-like now-Sabine's surroundings appeared to rock and explode as though from an earth­quake, while winds seemed to gust in tempests. Omort hesitantly released her as the court attendees nervously
"I have the coordinates for the road Rydstrom will be traveling," Omort said. "Lanthe can open a portal from the dungeon directly to that location, and you can stop him there. It will be a perfect trap. Unless she's already lost her thresholds power."
Lanthe could still create portals. But her ability was temporarily weakened each time, so she could only
manage it once every six days or so. Sabine only hoped she hadn't burned one recently.
"Why don't you call Lanthe in here and ask her your­self?" Sabine said, making him scowl. For some reason, Omort had always loathed being near Lanthe and had decreed that the two sisters would never be together in his presence.
"Exactly how long do I have to set this snare?" she asked.
"You must intercept him within the next two hours."
"I go at once." She had little time to hatch a plot, which irritated her. She adored plotting-devising plans and subplans and contingencies-and half the fun was the anticipation of a trap about to be sprung. She would dream up scenarios for months, and yet now she had only mere hours.
Before she could leave, Omort leaned down and murmured at her ear, "If there were any way around your sleeping with this beast, I would have found it for you."
"I know, brother."
She did believe him in this. Omort would never willingly give her up, because he wanted Sabine all for himself and had since the first time he'd seen her. He'd said there was something in her eyes he'd never seen before-the dark knowledge of what it was like to die. Something he could never know.
He covered her bare shoulder with a clammy hand, sounding as if he'd just stifled a groan at the contact.
"Do-not-touch, Omort." She gritted out the words, making her plaits appear to be striking vipers
until he removed his hand. Sometimes she had to remind him that she was as treacherous as the serpents he worshipped.
She turned immediately, giving him her back instead of taking three steps away before turning to exit the chamber. When she passed the well, she darted her gaze to it.
Soon . . .
"You won't fail me?" he called after her. "Rydstrom must not reach his brother."
"Consider it done," she called back with utter surety. How hard could it be to capture a demon?
A prize so rare it was fabled . . .
Rydstrom sped his McLaren down a deserted levee road, his headlights cleaving through the swamp fog. That crazed energy within him, the inexplicable tension, had spiked to a fever pitch.
Omort could be killed.
One hundred miles per hour. One hundred and ten . . .
With a sword forged by Groot the Metallurgist.
Rydstrom had waited so long for this, he had a hard time believing it was happening now. Although he didn't trust the demon Pogerth, Rydstrom trusted his ally, Nïx-the Valkyrie soothsayer who'd arranged their meeting.
Nïx had said that this campaign was a chance to kill Omort-Rydstrom's last chance. Either he would suc­ceed in destroying the sorcerer or he would fail forever.
By all the gods, it was possible. But for payment, Groot had asked for the impossible. Or so it would seem.
One hundred and forty miles per hour. Though Ryd-strom had hung up the phone with his brother min­utes ago, he was still slack jawed. Cadeon-the most untrustworthy and least dependable being Rydstrom had ever known-had informed him that he was already in possession of the prize Groot demanded in exchange for the sword.
Cadeon had reluctantly agreed to meet Rydstrom at their customary place north of New Orleans with the payment in tow, but Rydstrom still had half an hour to reach him. There was plenty of time for Cadeon to back out-if he hadn't already.
At that thought, Rydstrom floored the gas, surging to one hundred and sixty miles per hour. Not fast enough. He would give his right hand to be able to trace once more. Yet Omort had bound that teleportation power in him and in Cadeon. Rydstrom had never felt as frus­trated by that curse as right now. So much at stake.
Yes, Cadeon had already found the prize. But he would not be keen to give it up.
He'll run. Rydstrom had to get to him before he could. Long moments passed with him deep in thought over his brother. Knowing Cadeon would let him down, he accelerated even more. One seventy . . .
Rydstrom would die for his people. Why wouldn't Cadeon-
Eyes stared back at him in the headlights. Not an animal, a woman.
He slammed on the brakes and swerved, the vehicle skidding out of control.
* * *
The screech of tires peeled out into the night as the demon's sports car began to spin wildly. But somehow he was righting it.
"He's pulling it back." Lanthe sounded impressed. Sabine raised her hands and muttered, "I don't think so, demon." Just when he appeared to gain control, she shifted the vision of the road, obscuring the bridge abutment to his sight. He sped directly into it.
An explosion of sound erupted-the groaning of metal, the shattering of glass. Smoke tendrils snaked upward, and gaskets hissed. The previously shining black car was totaled.
"Did you have to make him crash that hard?" Lanthe asked, piping her lip to blow a black braid from her face. "He won't likely be in the mood for love now."
"You were the one in my ear, yelling that he was get­ting away."
Earlier, when Sabine had heard the smooth purr of an engine in the distance, she'd made Lanthe invisible, then she'd cast an illusion of a vehicle on the side of the road, stalled with the hood up.
The damsel in distress. Unable to fix her own engine. A ridiculous cliche. But necessary.
When he hadn't slowed, she'd waved her arms, and still he'd continued speeding along. Refusing to let him slip past her, she'd cast forward an illusion of herself, directly in his car's path. He'd swerved to avoid her likeness.
"Besides, he's a demon," Sabine continued. "Demons are both tough-and lusty." When his door shot open, she said, "See?" But he hadn't yet exited.
"What's taking him so long?" Lanthe asked, switching to telepathy, biting her nails as she silently talked. "What if we draw the Vrekeners?" Even after all these years, those fiends continued to track the sisters' heavy sorcery.
"We've got time yet," Sabine said, though she was growing impatient to see the male she'd be giving her' self to-and anxious to get a glimpse of one of the most well-respected leaders in the Lore.
Of course, Sabine had read all about Rydstrom and knew details of his history. He was fifteen hundred years old. He'd had five siblings, with two sisters and one brother still living. He'd been a warrior long before he'd unexpectedly inherited the crown of Rothkalina.
And she knew details of his appearance: a large male with a battle scar on his face and intense green eyes that would grow black with fury-or desire. As a rage demon, his horns would flow back instead of jutting for-ward. One of his had been damaged before he reached his immortality.
Horns. And she'd be taking this demon into her body in mere moments, if her plan worked.
If not, she had her poison ring. Under a ruby was a sleeping powder prepared by the Hag in the Basement, their resident poison and potion preparer. Demons were highly susceptible to both.
Drugging Rydstrom wasn't Sabine's preferred plan, but if it came down to it, she would use all means neces­sary to get him into the dungeon cell they'd prepared for him-one he couldn't break free from despite his demonic strength.
It was mere feet from them.
Directly within the cell, Lanthe had created the seamless portal that opened up to the road. To conceal it, Sabine had woven one of the largest, most intricate illusions of her life, making the dungeon look just like a part of the scenery along the road.
It seemed an eternity passed before Rydstrom finally lurched from the smoking wreck. She released a breath she hadn't known she held.
And there he was.
He certainly was big-approaching seven feet tall with broad shoulders. His hair was as black as night. His horns curved out from just past his temples to run along the sides of his head, their shell-like color stark against his thick hair. Indeed, one was damaged, the end bro­ken off.
Though he reeled a couple of steps, he didn't look too injured. No visible blood.
Sabine arched a brow just as Lanthe silently said, "Your demons just. . . fearsome-boking."
She was about to correct Lanthe and say, "Not my demon." But the male before them would indeed be hers. For a time. "He is a fearsome male, isn't he?"
From his appearance, Sabine would have guessed him to be an assassin or cutthroat criminal of some sort. How odd, since he was supposed to be a bastion of reason, a wise leader who liked to solve conflicts and discover solutions to complex puzzles.
Rumor in the Lore held that a lie had never left Ryd-strom's tongue. Which must be a lie in itself.
"Are you going to try to seduce him first or just spring the trap?"
"Seduce him first. He might go demonic over his capture." She smoothed her hands down her pale blue
"You look good," Lanthe said. "Sweet. Nothing says
'darnel' like pastel."
"That's just unnecessary, Lanthe." Since Sabine hadn't wanted him to know she was a sorceress, she'd worn an elegant but conservatively boring gown. She'd thought it wouldn't hurt to appear virtuous, which she assumed a good demon king would prefer.
He had better like her shuddersome new look. Except for her ring, not a single ounce of gold adorned her body. No makeup, either. She'd left her hair unplaited, curling almost to her waist-without a headdress. And it felt wrong.
"Are you sure you want to go through with this?" Lanthe asked. "No second thoughts about taking one on the chin for
Eyes locked on her prey, Sabine murmured, "Not in the least."
A goal, a plot, a possibility ... all lay before her.
Once he staggered back to survey the damage to his car, crunching over glass and debris, the demon whistled in a breath at the sight, but his attention quickly turned away from the wreck.
"Is someone here?" he called. With each second that he shook off the accident, his shoulders went farther back, his chin lifting, his demeanor unmistakably kingly. "Are you hurt?"
Sabine didn't answer, instead letting his voice roll
over her. It was pleasingly deep-toned, with the British-tinged accent common to noble rage demons.
When he loped in her direction, he snagged a cell phone from his pocket and peered at the screen. She heard him mutter, "Bugger me." No reception out here.
He wore a dark jacket over a thin black sweater that molded over his broad chest. His clothes were simple in cut but expensive-looking. Tailored, of course. No off-the-rack garments would fit his towering build and wide shoulders.
The battle scar on his face carved across his fore­head, then jagged down his cheek. He had to have received that injury before the age when he'd been "frozen" in his immortal body-she guessed when he was thirty-four or thirty-five years old-or else it would have healed seamlessly.
The scar gave him a dangerous air that clashed with his royal bearing and rich-looking clothing, as did his horns, his fangs, his black claws ...
"I'd do him," Lanthe said.
"Since you'd do anyone, your comment is meaningless in the definitive sense."
"You're just jealous."
Yes, yes she was.
When he glanced back up, he met eyes with Sabine. His were the most startling green she'd ever seen.
"Go now," she told Lanthe. "Be ready to shut the portal
directly behind us. Once I capture him, report my success to Omort. Loudly. In front of all the fools at court." "Will do. Go get 'em, tigress. Rar!"
With Lanthe gone, Sabine devoted her full concen-tration to him. His gaze narrowed as she made the night appear dreamlike. The stars shone brighter for him, the moon seeming heavier in the sky. Brows drawn in con­fusion, he started toward her.
She could see him assessing her, his gaze flickering over her long hair, and over the modest gown that for-tunately had grown damp in the humid night and clung to her breasts. When he peered hard at the outline of | her jutting nipples, he ran a hand over his mouth.
Time to get him through the portal. When she began sauntering along the road away from him, he said, "No, wait! Are you all right?"
She turned to him but continued to step backward toward the trap.
"I won't hurt you." The demon hastened after her. "Do you have a car out here?"
"I need your help," she told him, continuing her I damsel-in-distress act.
"Of course. Do you live near here?" Finally, they I neared the portal's edge.
"Need your help," she said once more, ducking I behind what appeared to be a willow by the water's I edge, but was actually an illusion within the dungeon.
He joined her there-and Sabine sensed the portal g closing. The trap had worked, and he'd never felt a thing. I
"I have to get to the city," he said. "But then I can I come back to help you."
Before she caught herself, her gaze flitted over the deep I scar on his face--the first time she'd seen it this close.
He noticed and seemed to be waiting for her to react.
The scar didn't bother her as much as it clearly did him. She could use that against him.
All in all, he wasn't anything like she imagined. He was .. . better. And if she looked at those intense eyes long enough, she could almost forget what he was. When she arched closer to him, he drew back, suspicion in his expression.
She hastily said, "Help me now." Grasping one of his big hands in hers, she kissed it with smiling lips, then placed it over one of her breasts.
As if he didn't realize what he was doing, he cupped her flesh with a growl.
"This is what I need," she murmured, arching to his rough palm.
"And the gods know that I want to give it to you, right after I've settled-"
"I need it"-she took his other hand and placed it on her inner thigh-"now."
He squeezed her breast and leg too hard, as if he were holding on for dear life. Yet still he seemed on the verge of leaving her. She delved to read his mind, but demons could deflect her probes. She only heard his stray thoughts, and only because they were so strong.
-"Been so long without a woman . . . can't have her . . . responsibilities."-
Exactly how long had he been celibate? And was this brute truly thinking to deny her? For responsibilities! The rejection was intriguing.
She knew that demon males loved to have their horns touched, relished having their females steering them sexually. His had straightened and become duskier with his arousal, so she raised her hands and wrapped her fingers around them.
He shuddered as if in ecstasy.
"Kiss me, demon." She gave a firm tug to lead him down to her, and he finally bowed his head. When their lips met, he groaned from deep in his chest.
-". . . connection with her, maybe the connection."-
Yes, already he sensed what she was to him. Now he'll
come to heel.
He began taking her mouth, twining his tongue against hers slowly. She got the impression that he was endeavoring to be gentle for her. He probably feared he'd scare her off. But when she met his tongue and gave it teasing laps with her own, his hands landed hard on her ass to rock her against his sizable erection.
So the rumors about demon males weren't exaggerated.
When she felt him subtly thrusting that shaft against her, she thought, This is better. Once males got to this state, they ceased to think.
As she relaxed somewhat, she began to find his kiss enjoyable. He tasted good, his lips were firm, and he knew how to use them. More of his delving kisses, more squeezing and exploring her body.
But when heavily aroused, Sabine unwittingly cast illusions of fire. If he saw them, he could guess her iden­tity. Just when she began to worry that her reaction to him might get that intense, he broke away from her.
"I . . . can't do this now. I have to meet someone. Much rides on this."
Was he serious? "Make love to me," she whispered, now sidling closer to him. "Here. Under this tree, in the moonlight. I'm aching for you." And that might actually be true.
"No. I have obligations." His voice was rough, his thoughts in turmoil, blasting past his own blocks.
-". . . she's so lush . . . cock's throbbing for her . . . horns straightening . . . No! The kingdom's needs always come before the king's."-
Yes, Rydstrom was supposed to be patient and wise. Apparently, she could add selfless to that list.
When he backed away, her lips parted in wonder­ment. He's going to deny me. She'd offered up her body, all but begged him to take it, and he'd declined.
How surprising. The only thing Sabine loved as much as a good juicy plot was a surprise. He'd resisted her-his own female. "Then you leave me no choice, Rydstrom."
Just when he frowned, no doubt wondering how she knew his name, she began withdrawing her illusion. The road and the moonlit night gradually disappeared, revealing the sealed and locked cell. As he twisted around, his eyes narrowed with recognition.
"You're Omort and Groot's sister, Sabine, the Queen of Illusions."
"Very good, Rydstrom."
The brows-drawn look of desire from before van­ished'. Now he appeared disgusted with her. "Show me your real form."
"This is." She smoothed her palms over her breasts and lower. "I'm so pleased by how much it arouses you." But it hadn't enough. . . .
Clearly struggling to control his temper, he asked, "Why have you done this to me, Sabine?"
She motioned toward the bed now revealed in the center of the cell-the one with chains at the head and foot. "Isn't it obvious?"
"No, it's not obvious." Rydstrom glanced from the bed back to the sorceress before him.
Thoughts ran riot in his mind-suspicions arose and were dismissed. A bed and chains. She'd failed to seduce him to willingly bed her. Was she now intent on taking what she'd wanted?
When he felt a confusing surge of lust at the idea, he realized she must already be enthralling him. Of course she was. He'd seen the road disappear, had seen the bridge abutment move. She had unthinkable power, and for some reason she'd targeted him.
He surveyed the dimly lit space. She'd lured him directly into a large dungeon cell. And one he recog­nized, because he'd kept prisoners here when he was master and king of Castle Tornin.
She's trapped me in my own goddamned dungeon.
When he faced her once more, she met his gaze. Her eyes were unusual-with light amber irises surrounded by a ring as dark as coffee. He couldn't seem to look
away from them. "You've brought me back to Tornin, so I assume you're working with Omort."
"That's correct." Her voice was a purr.
I'm in my own dungeon, a prisoner of my worst enemy. Between gritted teeth he said, "And when will I get to face him?"
"You will not. You need not. All you need is me."
"Explain to me exactly what you plan," he demanded, cursing his reaction to her. He'd never responded so strongly to any woman before her. He'd been kissing her, lost in pleasure, actually thinking, She might be my queen.
Rydstrom had worried what such a beauty would think about his scar, about how much larger he was than she. For her, he'd tried to gentle his touch and kiss. All the while she'd been luring him into a trap.
"I plan," she began matter-of-factly, "to become preg­nant with your heir."
His lips parted. Her very words made his shaft shoot hard as steel as every primal demon instinct inside him seemed to stir to life. This female with her plump breasts and sweet lips desired his seed, wanted to mate with him.
She's spellbinding me. She must be.
He'd studied Omort's family, had read about hundreds of his half siblings. Omort had murdered most of them after stealing their powers. But a few he kept close.
What have I read about this sorceress?. She was aptly called the Queen of Illusions. Rydstrom had just fallen prey to one of remarkable detail. Though she looked to be in her early twenties, she would have to be centuries old.
She was reputed to be even more diabolical than Omort.
Grappling for patience, he grated, "Sabine, let's discuss this like rational beings." Rational was the last thing he felt. "What do you hope to gain ?"
"With me in control of your heir, the last of the rage demon rebellions will be quelled."
The idea that the rebels amounted to even a thorn in Omort's side was heartening. Rydstrom had thought that the sorcerer's sadistic regime had broken any true momentum. "There are two flaws to your plan."
"Enlighten me, demon."
"First, my body won't . . . give up seed." A rage demon could take release in sex, but could never spill his seed until he'd claimed his female, and the seal was finally broken. "Not for any but my fated one-"
"I am yours." Her eyes held his, and he realized that she, at least, believed what she'd said. Omort had ora-cles, basically his own Nïx at his beck and call.
Sabine could know more than I do. . . .
Rydstrom shook his head hard, even as his mouth went dry. In fifteen hundred years, he'd never felt so attracted to another female. What if she were his? To find his queen after waiting so long? To find her as Omort's sister? "No, fate isn't that cruel."
She quirked a brow at that. "Fate is indifferent."
"What are the odds that my woman is related to my worst enemy?"
"Omort's sire lived for millennia and begot hundreds of daughters." She sidled around him. "Five centuries ago, a soothsayer told Omort that his own half sister,
the Queen of Illusions, would be your fated mate, and that she would bear your heir in a time of war. After the foretelling, Omort searched for me specifically because of what I am to you. And then I merely waited here at Tornin for the right time."
"Why now? Why do this now?"
She tilted her head. "I was going to seduce you slowly. But we learned of a plot between you and Groot. I had to prevent you from joining forces with your brother, Cadeon the Kingmaker."
Did Sabine know the specifics of their plans? Tonight, Rydstrom had told his brother that should Omort learn of his quest to get the sword, he would stop at nothing to thwart them. Rydstrom hadn't known his enemy had a sorceress like this aiding him.
"What do you know about a plot?"
"More than you think," she replied. "I always know more than men think."
Did she know that there was at last a weapon to kill Omort? That Rydstrom had been intent on speeding to meet Cadeon so they could go barter with the psychotic Groot for the weapon? She must.
Cadeon would be at their meeting place right now, wondering where in the hell his older brother was. The brother who was never late, who never missed a meeting.
"Even if you are fated to be mine, Sabine, I'll never
"Oh, you'll have me." Her lips curled in a knowing, sexual grin that made his heart pound. "Again and again until this deed is done."
Again and again. Taking her soft body, learning that perfect pale flesh ... No! Resist her.
"Tell me the second flaw." She lowered herself to the large bed, sitting gracefully on the side. Her mane of glossy red hair tumbled forward, and her scent swept him up. "You've raised my curiosity."
He inwardly shook himself. "For my heir to be legiti­mate, you have to be my queen by marriage."
"I know." She ran her fragile-looking hand over the sheet. "We will wed."
She talked of marrying him as if it were an after­thought, while his mind was reeling.