So the demon wore a permanent armband over his bicep, and he'd been tattooed and pierced. It seemed that Rydstrom Woede was the type of male whose out­ward appearance indicated nothing about what might be hidden under his clothes.
As she carefully zipped his pants back up, Sabine grinned. What a surprise.
Rydstrom woke . . . consciousness slow to come. In that dim twilight, he vaguely comprehended that he was lying on a bed.
"You're waking, after a mere half hour," Sabine said to him. "You're a strong one, demon."
Rage coursed through him with his dawning compre­hension. She drugged me. He couldn't lift his limbs or pry open his eyelids. Though he scented her nearness, her voice seemed to come from miles away.
I'm not wearing a shirt? What the hell-
"It might be a few moments before we can resume physically, so I thought we'd talk about your meeting with Groot's emissary."
What did she know? He cast his mind back, but memories proved elusive.
"What do I know?" she asked, reading his mind, incensing him.
"I know why you were rushing off to New Orleans
this evening, and why you were so intent that I had to wreck your pretty car just to get your attention."
He was supposed to meet his brother tonight. Cadeon would be wondering where he was. When Ryd-strom felt her join him on the bed, he slitted open his stinging eyes, but couldn't make out more than a vague
In his ear, she whispered, "I know that Groot has forged a sword that you believe will destroy Omort."
He jerked from her, then bellowed at the sound and feel of chains. "You've . . . chained me?" The bitch had bound him to the bed with those manacles around his ankles and wrists.
J will kill her so slowly.
She ignored his question. "In payment for the sword, Groot has demanded the Vessel-a female who will beget a future warrior of either ultimate evil or ultimate good." Depending upon the father's inclination. "But wherever will you find one?"
He felt her probing his mind once more, but he had his defenses in place. "After all, demon, Vessels are born only every five hundred years."
And yet Cadeon already has one. Unfortunately, Cade-on's fated female-the one he'd spent over a year pining for-was the Vessel. A woman named Holly Ashwin was the payment Groot wanted.
Once Rydstrom's vision cleared, he focused on Sabine as she sat on the side of the bed, grinning at him over the rim of a wine goblet. He was relieved that she'd covered her chest. Then he frowned. Her top was white and so small and tight that he could see the bot-
toms of her breasts. Hadn't he ripped that one from her? Losing my mind . . .
"What I don't know is if you gave your tosser brother enough information to send him on this fruitless quest."
Groot had established parameters to make the trade, a system of checkpoints, with each supplying additional details about how to find his hidden lair. In their phone call, Rydstrom had given Cadeon enough information to make it to the first checkpoint and continue on the mission.
"Not fruitless," he said, but with Rydstrom miss­ing and unable to send word, was it even possible that Cadeon would do what was right?
"Even if your brother somehow managed to find the Vessel and locate Groot's secret fortress, the sword just won't work. The Sorceri worship metal, and Groot the Metallurgist forges and enchants it. That makes him very powerful. But not enough to give death to the deathless."
As Rydstrom began to regain his strength, he strug­gled against his bonds.
"You can't break them. They've been mystickally reinforced."
"Release me, Sabine!"
"But I've just caught you," she said in a pouting voice.
His gaze darted, scanning for a means to escape. She'd trapped him in the largest cell. When he'd ruled Tornin, he'd used this jail for political prisoners. Inside were a sink and facilities, a small bed stand, a rug on the floor, and hearth tools by the fire. Nothing to aid him.
But then, he well knew . . . No one escapes the dun­geons of Tornin.
"It looks like it's time to get back to the business at hand." She set her goblet on the bedstand.
"Business at hand? Still haven't come to your senses?"
"No, I'm even more determined than before. I don't lose, Rydstrom."
He lunged up against the bonds, snarling, "You are
"Ah, here's that notoriously strong will of yours. Almost as strong as your rational mind and your sense of right and wrong. But then, was it right to strangle me as you did?"
"You're an enemy to me." The maddening tension from before redoubled. "An enemy I'll kill at the earli­est chance."
His words were now strong, his tone lethal. Yet he alone knew how close he'd been to continuing his exploration of her, to wringing an orgasm from her responsive little body. Every inch of her had been more exciting to him than the last. "Do you have no hesita- tion being used like this? As a tool for Omort?"
"You seem to think me either cowed by Omort or suf-fering qualms about screwing someone for reasons other than pleasure or love. Neither is true of me."
"So you're just a cold, heartless bitch."
"As much as you're a self-righteous, miserable prick." Her lips curled into a smirk. "But that doesn't mean we
can't have something meaningful between us."
He kicked his legs and thrashed his upper body.
"You need to understand that you're not getting
away. It's impossible." She crawled on her hands and knees toward him, giving him a view of her cleavage. She noticed his hard-eyed staring, and suddenly the top disappeared, revealing breasts that would bring a lesser demon to his knees.
The garment had been a mere illusion. And now her stiffened nipples were an inch from dragging across his chest.
In a breathy voice, she said, "Do you want our skin to touch, Rydstrom?"
When she leaned down and grazed the peaks against him, her lids went heavy, and he had to bite back a groan. He renewed his struggles, which only increased the contact.
"These chains are reinforced, as is the cell door. Accept it, Rydstrom, you're mine."
"Sabine, you fucking unchain me-"
"Shh, demon." She placed her forefinger over his lips, and yanked it back just in time to miss his snapping teeth. "I know exactly what you're going to say. You'll say that I had better release you this instant, or you will throttle me or some such promise of violence. And then you'll pepper that with a threat about the future. Maybe something with a qualifier like 'when I get free.'"
She'd shushed him! "You see, my darling demon? We're so in tune, you don't even need to voice your thoughts to me." She gave him a smart-ass grin. "It's like we're already one."
"A threat about the future?" He raised his head, bar­ing his lengthening fangs. "I won't just hurt you, Sabine. I'll kill you." So much at stake.
Another futile attempt to power free from the chains left the manacles cutting into his skin, blood dripping.
He was truly trapped. Which meant he couldn't get to his brother. To the sword.
To be this close to what he wanted, prevented by bonds even his strength couldn't break . . .
This sorceress had stopped him-she'd done this to him. She was the obstacle standing in his way. One small female would undermine centuries of toiling, of warring.
"You'll kill me?" She lightly raked her nails from his chest to his navel, then sifted them through the trail of hair running down from it. He just stifled a shudder of
With her, his skin seemed a thousand times more sensitive, his body hungering for release like never before. And yet at the same time, he felt on the verge of rage, beginning to turn demonic.
Though his breed of demon was prone to mindless rages, he'd always kept them at bay. Now being with her was making him crazed, making him lose reason so easily. "Yes, kill you," he grated. "You Sorceri are physically easy to destroy. If I strangle you long and hard enough ..."
"Just as you had begun to do. Know this, demon, nothing makes me more cross than attempts on my life. I have a particular aversion to being murdered."
What in the hell was she talking about?
Kneeling between his legs, she leaned over him, ] placing her hands flat on his shoulders. As she lowered her head, she said, "Besides, would you really want to kill the mother of your future offspring?"
"You little bi-" Her tongue on his chest silenced him, the words dying in his throat.
Inhaling deeply, he wrestled for control. He'd begun turning, his rage building in time with his sexual hun-ger. Never had he felt both the turning and lust at the same time.
What is happening to me?
She began kissing down his body, her silky hair trail' ing over his heated skin. He needed to bury his face in her long hair. Why hadn't he done that before? No, he needed to kill her.
A ticking bomb. And she's just returned it to her lair.
She raised her gaze to his but continued to dip lick­ing kisses to his torso, like a creature drinking from a pool. Then her hands were on his pants.
As they stared at each other, she slowly lowered his zipper, the sound so loud in the silent chamber. Against his will, his hips rolled with his need.
"You felt how wet I was," she whispered, giving him another lick. He could feel her breaths hot on his skin, traveling lower. "Wouldn't you want to sink this into me?"
Just as she was baring his cock, he bucked his hips. "Release me!"
Scenes of things he wanted to do to her flashed in his mind. Pin her to the ground and shove into her. Pumping his seed into her pale body again and again. Till she begs me for mercy. More fantasies, more rage tangled in his mind.
Her eyes widened at his shifting visage, at the demonic changes he could feel. She finally drew back.
He twisted around, driving his horns into the chains over his head, gouging his arms in the process.
"Calm, demon," she murmured, her mesmerizing voice washing over him. But he fought her pull-
She took his cock in her firm grasp; he jerked in surprise. He'd been getting himself off for so long, the softness of her hands stunned him.
She began working him steadily, and thrashing his body only made his cock shove in and out of her fist.
Fighting, twisting, hating her, even as she continued stroking him. Blood poured from new wounds at his wrists and ankles-
Like a lightning bolt, a shock of pleasure shot through him, unfamiliar pleasure. Dazed, he lowered his
Moisture had beaded on the swollen crown, and she'd blown on it, cooling the hot pre-semen that had collected there.
When his shaft pulsed in her hand, seeming to strain toward her parted lips, she stared with eyes shimmer-ing once more. She was excited, her breaths panting, reminding him again of how aroused she'd been before, how she'd wet his fingers. "I can see it throbbing,
He believed her-he had never felt this kind of ach­ing pressure in his entire life.
Contusion welled, because he craved feeling her gaze on him, wanted her to lust for what she saw. He wanted her to desire him, even as he needed to kill her. The conflict within him grew stronger.
She dabbed her tongue to her bottom lip. "I think you want me to lick you there. To close my mouth over the head and suckle you."
As he groaned at her words, his cock jerked, and another bead arose. When he arched his back from the astonishing pleasure, she murmured, "Only your female can bring forth your seed. Have you ever been this close?"
I . . . haven't.
"Are you beginning to believe I'm yours?" As he'd done a few times before, the demon met her gaze steadily with his inscrutable obsidian eyes, but he said nothing. Sabine realized he did this when he was tempted to lie. Most people looked away in the same situation, but his eyes challenged hers.
She leaned forward. "I can't imagine how frustrat­ing it must be not to spill your seed. Sex must be so diminished. I bet you constantly wonder what it would be like to mount a soft, writhing female and pour your seed into her."
At her words, his brows drew together as if in pain, his lips curling back from his fangs.
"Now you can stop wondering. Say a few words, and I'll climb atop you and feed you into my body. I'll ride you so hard, demon, until you can't come anymore." She wanted to-she was nearly as aroused as he was.
To know this at last . . . she'd never imagined that he'd deny her this final step.
The crown was now slick all over. As they both stared, she was finally able to read one of his thoughts, because he was silently commanding her.
Run your tongue over the head! hit her mind like a blast of heat.
"Do it, tassia," he rasped aloud.
"What does that word mean?"
"Wicked female, because that's what you are. Now taste what you've wrought from me."
"I want to," she murmured in truth as she leaned down, lower, closer. Her breasts ached, her nipples swelling into tight points. "I will."
She knew exactly when he could feel her breath on his flesh; his every muscle tensed in anticipation.
"Say the words, Rydstrom. Make me your queen."
"Lower . . . put it in your mouth!"
He's going to bloody do it again. Deny me. She drew back and coldly said, "Your vow, demon. Or I go." , "Never!"
As she rose up, releasing him, she snapped, "You can't win this-you only waste my time!"
His hands fisted above the manacles. "Finish me!"
"Just a few words away!" She cast an illusion over her­self of the dress she'd worn earlier. "Maybe next time."
He reverted to his demon tongue, which she didn't have to understand to know he was cursing her vilely. No matter. She turned for the door, leaving him digging his heels in the bed and thrusting that great shaft into the air.
Outside, her ubiquitous assistant was waiting, ready to take direction. Sabine just called her "Inferi." She called all of them Inferi.
Though Sabine was still humming from her encoun­ter with her captive, she attempted to sound calm as she gave out instructions.
She ordered that he be sedated once more, then made to clean himself and see to his needs for the night. After that, he was to be secured to the bed with a collar at his neck, and then have his wrists bound behind his back-just in case he decided to release any steam.
Sabine figured that if he got aroused enough, even a "little bitch" like her would begin to look like a
Deep in thought, she left the dungeon, trudged to her tower, then began the six flights of stairs to her room. She knew she should be more alert to danger-Omort had cornered her on her way to her room often enough-but she couldn't get her mind off Rydstrom's body.
She'd never expected to be so affected by him. She'd been taught to think of herself as better than demons, and had seen this "breeding" as a mere play for power.
But aside from his inexplicable bent toward good- and the fact that he was their blood enemy-Rydstrom called to her. He was so different from the men she'd known and fraternized with that he intrigued her.
How had he gotten the scar on his face? And the ones along his shaft? Now that she'd seen most of him, there was no erasing the vision of his chest and those long, brawny arms. She'd run her greedy gaze over his large sex. . ..
Sabine sighed. Tonight, she was going to have to make a date with B.O.B.-her battery-operated boy­friend.
Once she crossed the threshold to her chamber and bolted the door behind her, she relaxed marginally and cast off the illusion of her dress. She was tired, but then, she was getting home from a full day of work.
She gazed into her gilded mirror. Her career was everything to her.
Plots and subplots. Sabine was notorious for them, and she was in deep with one right now.
Omort, Sabine, and Lanthe alone knew the real truth behind Rydstrom's capture. The demon's heir wasn't needed to quell rebellions but to unlock the mysterious Well of Souls in the center of Tornin's court. Sabine didn't know how the prince would release the power of the well. Only that he would.
But what Omort didn't know was that Sabine would see that her son unlocked it for her-alone. She was going to usurp the power from the Pravus. From Omort himself.
Sabine planned to take the kingdom of Rothkalina and turn it into a queendom.
By capturing the demon, she'd finally seized the means to do so. Now if she could just get him to bed her.
Rydstrom had never known such a pain existed. His cock was still in agony. He tried to ignore the pressure within it, tried to ignore the chains that bound him, but the manacles cleaved into his skin.
The indignity of this burned him inside like acid.
His mind was in turmoil, questions surfacing end­lessly. Would she return tonight? How long would she leave him bound? How had Sabine learned so much about Groot's bargain?
How long had this capture been planned?
He had to get free-but how? No one escapes the dun-geons of Tornin . . . He'd need to use Sabine as hostage. Unless she could be turned against Omort. How much loyalty did she have for her brother?
The benefits of winning a sorceress like her over to their side would be incalculable.
He tried to remember what he knew about the Sor-ceri in general. He recalled that they were greedy for wealth, merry hedonists who lived their lives in pursuit of pleasure-and gold. But they were also secretive and paranoid, suspicious of strangers who arrived at their doorstep. Most tended to live in the farthest reaches of the earth.
Yet they weren't an inherently evil race. You're just thinking this way because you want her. Maybe, but the fact remained that it was a possibility. Right now, it was the only one that seemed viable.
He was still in disbelief that she possibly was his. The Accession often brought pairs together, seeding fami­lies. He'd secretly entertained the faintest hope that maybe he could find his other half during this one. Over the years, he'd fantasized about his female constantly, wondering if she'd have a throaty laugh. Smooth skin. A body he could lose himself in.
Rydstrom struggled to recall a single thing he'd change about Sabine physically. Her skin was glowing, her cheeks rosy. Her glossy hair had shone in the fire­light. Not a single mark marred her skin.
When her eyes had shimmered a bright metallic blue with her desire ... she couldn't feign that. Nor her
body's reaction. Her sex had been wet, the soft lips bare. His claws sank into his palms.
After the last few weeks, this was just fuel on a blaze. There were too many conflicts within him. His mind simply didn't work like this. Usually potential decisions unfurled in precise tree diagrams, with clear choices and predicted outcomes. Normally, he was rational, and liked things straightforward, needed them to be so.
Yet now little was as it seemed, or if it was, it was utterly wrong. He had returned home but as a prisoner. He might have found his fated queen, but she was con­niving, cutthroat, and amoral. Until he could escape, his fate and the fate of his people rested in Cadeon's hands-and that was a tenuous position to be in.
Especially now, when Cadeon had with him the woman he'd once drunkenly called "the highlight of my existence."
Rydstrom had been there the first time Cadeon had seen Holly Ashwin, and he had sensed an energy between them. Yet Cadeon had been unable to attempt her because he'd thought she was a human.
Now Cadeon had learned Holly was actually a Valky­rie. So nothing stood in Cadeon's way of having her.
How could Rydstrom expect his brother to not only deny himself his female but also to turn her over to Groot, a psychotic murderer who only wanted to breed with her?
The last time the kingdom had needed him, Cadeon had turned his back on Rydstrom and their family. Why would this time be any different?
Thinking of Cadeon and Holly made another suspi­cion creep over him. The two of them were complete opposites. Cadeon, a slob and a cold-hearted mercenary, had found his woman in a glasses-wearing, genius math­ematician with a fixation on cleaning.
The obsessive-compulsive scholar and the rolling-stone soldier of fortune. A completely unexpected and absurd pairing.
Rydstrom was known as upstanding and good, Sabine as treacherous and evil. It didn't seem to matter. He couldn't ignore how his body had reacted to the sor­ceress. Instinctively he knew that should he sink into her, the seal would be broken. He would at last know the feeling of releasing his seed, and would be able to forever after.
Recently, he'd consulted the soothsayer Nïx about his future. She'd replied with a grin, "It's a doozy." She'd seemed secretly amused, as if from some kind of irony.
Nothing could be more ironic than Sabine being Rydstrom's queen. This situation was precisely what Nïx would find amusing. The Valkyrie worshipped fate like a religion.
And they were the first to admit that fate was a fickle bitch.
I can deny it. . . .
The cell door groaned open and servants entered. "We're to get you ready for this eve." Again powder stung his eyes.
When Sabine shot awake, she found her bed was sitting in the pouring rain and muddy field she'd been buried alive in all those years ago.
She blinked her eyes, realizing this was a chimera scene from a dream. She'd always cast illusions when dreaming or in the grip of a nightmare. As she absently ran her fingers over the scar at her neck, the illusion faded, her bedroom revealed again. . ..
This tower room was once supposed to have been the private chambers of Rydstrom. It was in the west tower, the one closest to the water, and had wall-size windows that she kept open to the ocean breezes. She'd redeco­rated it with flowing banners in scarlet and black that whipped in the wind.
She knew going back to sleep would be impossible, since she'd scarcely managed to drift off the first time-
"You didn't dream of your prisoner," a voice intoned from the shadows of her chamber.
She jerked back to the headboard when she spied Omort's yellow eyes glowing in the darkness.
After hastily covering her scanty nightgown with an illusion, she made the room appear to blaze with fluo­rescent light.
This was why she could never sleep through a night. Omort could have bound her wrists behind her back, a simple move that would have blocked her ability to cast illusions-her only defense. "You've crossed a line by coming into my room, brother."
"Wasn't that just a matter of formality? One soon to be done away with?" He was sending his mental probes out like sonar, but she'd learned to block them com-pletely. He often demanded others open their minds to him, but never Sabine-as if, deep down, he didn't really want to know her feelings about him.
"What does that mean?"
"With Rydstrom's capture, we are one step closer to ... the inevitable."
How much longer can I put Omort off? His trespass in her room boded ill. Once she surrendered her virginity to the demon and bore the child, she would have no sanctuary to protect her. She hadn't thought he'd be waiting like a vulture, especially not with Hettiah to tide him over.
When he approached the bed, she kept her demeanor composed. Barely. "What do you want?"
"Your covenant is still intact on the east wall. It doesn't go well with your captive?"
"He is as determined and strong-willed as you said."
"Maybe I should go see-"
"No! That's not possible. He doesn't need to be reminded of our connection," she said, then hastily asked, "How goes the search for an oracle?" They were caught in a vicious cycle, locating weaker and weaker soothsayers. Each one invariably made mistakes and was executed. Then an even weaker oracle replaced the dead one. "Finding any talent?"
He gave her a look that let her know he'd allowed the change of subject. "I've selected one and dispatched fire demons to collect her."
To collect her. Oracle Three Fifty-Six had been a volun­teer instead of an "acquisition" of Omort's. Some females stepped up for the position, no doubt thinking they'd be smarter, better, less expendable. They never were.
"It's critical that we have one in place as soon as pos­sible," she said in a measured tone. Sabine had to tread carefully with this subject, for it was a potentially enrag­ing one for Omort.
He'd once stolen the gift of foresight from an oracle'but had no talent for interpreting the visions he received. It had made him even more deranged before he'd been forced to relinquish the ability.
"And we shall," he said absently as he crept around her room, inspecting her things, pausing to pick up a book here and there. Hundreds were stacked all over. Most were histories of this kingdom, of Rydstrom. She'd been studying him for years.
"I hadn't known you were so well versed on my enemy."
"I take this seriously-my opportunity to garner power for the Pravus."
"Yes, I have studied him much as well. Rydstrom has long fascinated me." He carelessly flipped through an ancient tome, then tossed it away. "Does he believe you're his?"
"I think so."
Omort smiled, revealing flawless white teeth, but the expression never reached his cold eyes. "How disap­pointed the demon must be." He sat down on the bed beside her.
Calm . . . calm . . . distract him. "What happened that night you faced him? When the kingdom fell? I've read what's been recorded, but the details are hazy."
"I'd made a secret pact with the Horde king, Demes-triu. He aggressed Rydstrom, depleting his armies, then launched a surprise attack. Rydstrom was forced to jour­ney away to defend. That's when I captured Tornin. The castle was unprotected because Rydstrom's heir Cadeon refused his summons to defend the holding."
"Why would he do that?" From everything she'd heard about the mercenary Cadeon, he was fearless.
"Who can understand demons? I find great pleasure in knowing that Rydstrom blames Cadeon for turn­ing his back on his kingdom. What Rydstrom doesn't understand is that I well knew the importance of Cade-on's presence in the castle. That's why I had five hun­dred revenants waiting to ambush the prince. If Cadeon had obeyed his brother, he and his guard would've been slaughtered."
Interesting. "And you personally faced Rydstrom."
"He's the only being I've ever fought that lived. Instead of merely burning him to ash, I played at honor,
facing him in a sword duel in one of his strongholds. He beheaded me-the blow was true, and deadly for any other. But I rose. He used his brute strength to topple the roof, trapping me inside, and was able to escape."
Omort's hand was inching closer to her covered ankle. "Sabine, how much can I trust you?"
"Probably not as much as you can Hettiah. Shouldn't you be with her now?"
"She doesn't understand things as you do. And as much as I will it differently, she is a pale comparison to you. A dim shadow to your light."
"Did you come into my room just to state the obvi­ous?" Her brother's attraction to Sabine wasn't fueled only by her looks. She believed Omort secretly hun­gered for death. In lieu of that, he hungered for her, a woman who knew death so intimately.
When he grazed his forefinger over her covered ankle, his eyes slid shut and drool collected at the cor­ner of his lips. Stifling a shudder, she hastily rose, then crossed to the seaside balcony.
This place always calmed her, like a balm for her mind. During most of her sleepless nights, she stood out here, watching the sea.
Omort moved behind her, not touching her, but standing far too close. No warmth emanated from him. He was cold and deadened like a corpse.
Rydstrom had been all inviting heat.
"You should go, brother. I have a challenging day tomorrow. I'll need to be on top of my game to be the first to break the iron will of Rydstrom."
"I'm glad that you've ceased underestimating him."
When she could feel his cold breaths on her neck, she whirled around, hastening to her chamber's drink service. She poured sweet wine-only for herself-then held up her goblet to Omort. "Brother, do be a dear and poison me."
Every month, Omort gave her and Lanthe the mor­sus, literally the "stinging bite poison." The power of the morsus was that it didn't cause pain upon ingestion but upon withdrawal.
Weaning from the poison was supposed to be so excruciating that she and Lanthe were considered per­petually "condemned." Without an antidote, the pain would be so great they'd eventually die from it.
The morsus kept them from leaving Omort and from rebelling. For the most part.
He exhaled as if she were putting him out, then rotated the thick ring on his forefinger. As he snapped open the jeweled covering of his poison cache, she stared at the ring. It held so much significance for her. It was the source of life, the enforcer of her obedience.
And the ring told her when Omort lied, as he'd unconsciously rotate it.
When he poured the black granules into her wine, a hiss sounded and smoke tendrils seeped upward. But once it settled, it would be odorless and tasteless to those who weren't trained to detect it.
Ages ago, he'd slipped the morsus into their wine before they'd learned to identify potions by smell and taste-and before they'd learned to create their own to counter him.
Sabine nonchalantly held up the goblet. "Slainte." She drained the contents. "Now, I really need to get some sleep. Remember, Omort, I'm doing this for us. And I know you want us to succeed."
"Very well, Sabine." With a last lingering gaze, he finally exited, but not before she heard him murmur, "Soon."