Alone once more, she returned to the balcony. As she surveyed the tumultuous sea and breathed deep of the salt air, she mused over her current situation.
Plots and subplots. She wanted Tornin for herself and for Lanthe. Yet after tonight, she suspected Omort would try to force her to surrender before she ever even got a chance to make her play.
She shivered. He'd been emboldened to come into her room, bringing with him coldness and misery hang­ing over him like a cloak. She felt pensive, unclean.
For the first time ever, Sabine's gaze wasn't held fast by the sea. She turned to the south, toward the dungeon tower.
The demon was such a force of nature, she imagined herself getting lost in him. Ultimately, she found her feet taking her in his direction, her heart aching for ... something.
Without a word, Sabine climbed into bed with the demon.
Though she sensed his instant tension, she lay on her back beside him, not touching him, but close enough to feel the heat from his big body.
For long moments, they lay side by side in silence, as if they'd called an uneasy mice. They both stared at the ceiling, so she made it appear to fade away, revealing the night sky.
He tensed even more. "Your power is great." His voice was rumbling.
In the dark, she seemed to feel it. "It is."
"Is this all illusion or did you make the ceiling disap­pear?"
"My vanity tells me that you're impressed with my goddesslike gift and curious about it. Experience tells me you want to learn my strengths and weaknesses so you can kill me."
"I'll spare your life, if you free me now," he said.
"You've served me ill. But you've done nothing irrevocable yet."
"Demon, give me time." How could he be so warm? Unbelievably, she felt herself growing relaxed. "To answer your question, all is illusion. Optical and auditory."
"You can't make others feel things?"
"I have no tactile illusions. Not yet. Which is a shame because I could decimate an army with anows I imagined. But I can make others feel things, just the same."
"I can make you see your worst nightmares or your most coveted dreams. And I can control them."
"Do you have other abilities?"
"Dozens," she lied. The only other one was Lanthe's birthday gift from so long ago-communicating with and mesmerizing animals. "I wield many."
He seemed to take that in. Finally he asked, "Have you thought about what you seek to do? What it would be like to bear and raise a demon child?"
In truth, she hadn't thought much about that what­soever. She didn't allow herself to imagine her preg­nancy, delivery, or the upbringing of a demon prince. If she ever began wondering what their halfling would look like, she forced herself to think of something else.
The agenda had been set, the plot hatched. The rest was just details.
But Omort's visit was throwing a kink in her plans.
She answered the demon's question with one of her own. "How do you know that I don't already have a lit­ter of demon children?"
"No, I have no offspring."
"What if you bore a female? The kingdom of Rothka-lina is patrilineal."
"Don't remind me. You know, in the Sorceri sept, females can inherit the crown. Morgana is the current Empress of all Sorceri." Sabine turned on her side, and he did as well, his arms still chained behind his back.
"The people wouldn't accept a female here. I wonder if I'd be kept alive long enough for another go?" A lock of his thick black hair fell over his forehead, but he could do nothing to move it from his eyes.
"I'm fated to conceive and deliver a healthy boy for your heir."
"A son." Had his voice roughened? "One I'll never see if you have your way. Never to teach or protect."
She fell silent. Contrary to popular belief, Sabine didn't relish hurting those who'd never done anything to her. But she didn't rule the world-yet-and so she couldn't change the outcome of this situation. For her and Lanthe to be safe at last, a demon was going down. This demon beside her.
He was collateral damage that couldn't be helped.
"Wait... if you know you're going to have a healthy boy, then you could assassinate me as soon as you find out you're pregnant."
She'd camouflaged her face and expression with an illusion, so he never saw her glance away.
"I won't leave behind my child to be raised here, in blood and hatred. I've heard the rumors of depravity going on in Tornin. Blood sacrifices and perversions. In my home."
"Omort does so enjoy his blood sacrifices."
The demon's lips parted. "Listen to yourself! You're so inured, you can't even realize how sick your world is."
She narrowed her eyes. ]ust because I don't flinch doesn't mean I'm blind.
Sabine knew how sick it was all too well. That was why she was determined to get above it.
"You'll never get my vow, sorceress."
"I won't stop until I do."
"Are you going to keep me chained the entire time? I know better than most that this cell is inescapable."
"Security isn't the only reason I'll keep you bound. I want to be certain you don't release any steam we build together, so you'll be in a bad way." When she traced a finger down his chest, the muscles in his torso con­tracted in response. "But it occurs to me that if you're so adamant about not wanting your offspring here, then you must be accepting that I am yours."
"Have you ever thought about what that would have meant for you? If you hadn't resorted to this?"
"You mean if we'd met under different circumstances? Would you have been good to me? True to me?" Her tone was amused. "If I hadn't been called to capture you this eve, I'd thought about setting myself up as a waitress at your favorite restaurant. I would have been the winsome but down-on-her-luck Lorean, who wears dresses with floral patterns and who needs just one little break to beat the rat race-or a male to save her." She chuckled at that. "I'd planned to serve you pie and let you peek up my skirt."
"If I hadn't known differently, then, yes, you prob­ably would have found yourself with an honorable male who would've been true and good to you."
"They say a lie never leaves your tongue."
"You sound disbelieving."
"Because I am. I've never known a male who didn't use the truth as it suited him, bending it and changing it at will."
"Then tell me, am I everything you'd hoped for physically?"
He did that silent challenge thing with his eyes, then said, "Morally you're not. I hadn't expected to be saddled with one of the most evil females in the Lore."
Omort's words from earlier resonated within her. How disappointed the demon must be . . .
"One of the most? Not number one?" She pouted. "Well, everyone needs aspirations. Interestingly, I've never considered myself eeevil. Just because I occasion' ally steal."
When he scowled at that, she amended, "Or kill someone who gets in the way of my stealing."
"Why do you have to steal?"
She blinked at him. "How else would I get gold? Join the typing pool?"
"Maybe you could do without."
"Impossible. You must have gold." Gold is Ufe . . .
"You're hated by more than can be imagined."
"Do you hate me?" she asked.
"I don't yet, but I believe that it's inevitable."
She laughed softly. "Hating me is like hating a
sharp sword that cuts you. It can't help the way it was formed."
"A sword can be refashioned, shaped anew."
"Only after it's broken down. Imagine how painful the forge fire and hammer blows would feel-as ter­rible as when it was first fashioned. Why repeat all that pain?"
"To get it right this time."
She let that drop. "Tonight, you called me tassia when I was in the midst of exquisitely fondling you. If it means wicked female, is there no male equivalent?"
"You don't know this? You can't speak Demonish?" he asked, incredulous.
"It's considered uncouth to learn that language, and it's forbidden to be spoken in the castle. I already know five other languages, anyway. Five is my limit; the slate is full."
"So you didn't understand me when I was cursing you?"
"Not at all. But you've called me evil and bitch enough times in English that I can glean-"
The castle bells tolled then, ringing out in the dis­tance.
"They ring at midnight and three now?" His tone was laced with disgust. "Why three? Does that mean you have a malevolent god to go worship? One greedy for those blood sacrifices?"
"Should I worship reason? Like you do?"
"You could do worse."
"Do you want to know a secret, Rydstrom?" she said. "I worship Illusion."
"What does that mean?"
She reached for his forehead, stroking his hair to the side. "Illusion is Reality's coy lover who cheers him when he is grim. Illusion is cunning to his wisdom of ages, sweet oblivion to his knowledge. A bounty to his lack. That is what I hold sacred."
"You see yourself as Illusion?"
She gave him a slow grin. "Do you want to be my Reality?" When his piercing green eyes dipped to her lips, she said, "Are you musing about our kiss, demon? I hope so, since I keep thinking about it. I liked the way you kissed me."
The line between his brows deepened. "Why did you come here tonight?"
To dilute the disgust Omort makes me feel. "To warn you. I'm going to be taking off the gloves for our next encounter." Or, rather, putting them on. "I will show you no mercy the next time I come here." She couldn't, since every day that passed made it more unlikely that she'd conceive.
The Sorceri simply weren't a prolific species like oth­ers in the Lore.
The demon was studying her face, intently, as if try­ing to delve beneath the mask of her illusions. "Sabine, I don't believe you're as bad as you seem."
"With me, nothing is as it seems. It's always much, much worse."
"No. I don't think you truly want to do these things to me, or to my people."
"Do what things? Make a bid for power? Capture a demon?" When he didn't answer, her tone grew cold.
"You think you can change me, don't you? Into some­one who's good? Maybe rehabilitate me?"
"In my circumstances, I have to believe that. You can be made to see things differently. I can teach you-"
As she rose, the room appeared to rock from her fury. Above them, in the illusion of sky, a cascade of shoot­ing stars blazed. "I beheaded the first male that tried to turn me toward good." At the cell doorway, she added, "I was twelve."
When Rydstrom caught Sabine's sultry scent, he briefly closed his eyes in pleasure, then cursed himself for his weakness.
What would she do to him tonight? Her attendants had left him unclothed and chained to the bed by his wrists and ankles, a single sheet covering his lower body.
For two days she hadn't returned. Hour after hour had crept by, the dungeon seeming to close in on him, the manacles continually cutting into his skin.
All rage demons knew tales of those among their kind who'd turned fully demonic, but never reverted. They lived like animals-a hellish idea for someone like Rydstrom. To forestall that rage, demons of his kind took release multiple times a day.
Sabine had denied him even that.
She'd asked him if he hated her. At the time, he hadn't, but the seed had been planted. It grew every day she left him in the bleak cell.
"You are angered by your treatment, and now you're sulking," she said airily as she entered and stood behind the bed. "But I plan to make it up to you."
More torment. More teasing. His growing hatred warred with need. He cursed his shaft when it rose in anticipation beneath the sheet.
Why in the hell had she remained away so long? He'd had no idea where she was or even if she would ever return.
"Not interested in what I have to offer?" She reached over the headboard. "Just as I warned, I've brought a stocked arsenal today, demon."
He felt cold metal against his skin and gazed down at her hands on his chest. She wore full-length gloves made of metal mesh that ended in silver-tipped claws, razor sharp and glinting.
Gauntlets? Unease built in him.
"I'm going to use all my unique talents to seduce you. Won't even look at your female?"
He'd have to crane his head around to see her. He refused to show her how curious he was.
Don't look . . . don't do anything she wants you to.
When she began to knead his muscles, he tensed, but she knew how to work those claws so she didn't pierce his skin.
"As I lay in the dark the other night, it occurred to me that just because you had denied yourself, I shouldn't have to."
Did she mean she'd taken another into her bed? Was that what she'd been doing all this time? His fangs grew in his mouth.
She leaned down to murmur at his ear, "So, I fanta­sized about you . . . while I pleasured myself."
He didn't have a second to bite back his rage-and relief-before she asked, "Do you want to see what I was imagining?"
Still leaning over him, she turned her hands up and put them side by side in front of his face. The air above them blurred and heated. An illusion began to play on the far wall, like a film on a movie screen.
He parted his lips at what she'd conjured. The scene showed her naked on all fours, with him behind her, clutching her hips as he took her hard from behind.
His lids grew heavy, his jaw slackening. He couldn't look away, instead gazing on for long moments as his shaft stiffened with each beat of his heart. The hatred I he felt toward her was being drowned out by wanting inside her body.
If I could just slake myself, relieve the pressure, then I could think . . .
To imagine claiming her was one thing, to witness it was another. When he saw his shaft buried into her sex, Rydstrom groaned, unable to hold it in. "You toy with things you don't understand. I will lose all control. I could kill you as easily as claim you."
She ignored him. "Would you like to see what I thought of when I climaxed?" The idea of her mastur­bating her pink bare flesh till she came on her own fingers.. .
Suddenly, the vision changed to show Sabine on her knees before him as he stood. He had his fist in her long
red hair, guiding her head as she sucked his shaft. He bucked into her mouth, clearly on the verge, his head thrown back. She'd imagined this?
She sauntered in front of him, in front of the illusion still playing. He lost his breath; time seemed to slow.
"Sabine?" She was clad in Sorceri dress, the same the ancients of her kind had favored ages ago. She wore an elaborate headdress in gold and silver that might easily have been the crown of a queen. Her hair was in wild plaits, spilling out all around it.
A mask of jet-black kohl made her amber eyes glow, and her lips were painted blood red. The metal of her top barely covered her breasts. Below her short skirt, her hose were like fishnet but made with threads of gold, climbing to her mid thighs.
He'd always thought the traditional dress for the Sor­ceri females had the potential to be mind-numbingly erotic. He'd never seen it on the right woman.
Until now. Rydstrom hissed out a curse. Deny it all I want . .
The Lore held that they'd dressed like this because they were among the physically weakest of all the spe­cies. They had no claws, so they mimicked them. They were vulnerable to injury so they protected their heads and their torsos with metal. The masks disconcerted their stronger opponents.
If she'd been nigh irresistible to him before ...
She was now his fantasy made flesh-standing framed by an illusion showing his legs nearly buckling as she Sucked him so deep.
Mine. She turned in a leisurely circle so he could see her from the back. As he beheld her pert ass in that skirt, he thought, I'm undone.
"I've decided we should get to know one another," she purred, facing him again. "Perhaps you've been reluctant to wed me because you haven't seen what a winning personality I have." She let the illusion behind
"Winning personality," he repeated dumbly. Now she wanted to talk, when he was doing his damnedest not to rock his aching shaft against the cool sheet.
"I'm curious, demon. What do you enjoy sexually?" He'd been trying to figure that out for most of his life. He knew he enjoyed her dressed like this. It made him fantasize about spending hours divesting her of wicked
The puzzle of unfastening each complicated piece ... the time it would take, the anticipation. The knotted leather laces on her metal top alone...
"It's rumored that you're attracted to good girls, to
After an inward shake, he said, "I want a good queen
for my people."
"But that's not what you need in bed."
"And how would you know that?"
"By the way you've been eye-fucking my body in this attire and tenting your sheet. Do you know what I think? I think that deep down, you've always wanted a wicked girl. Fate knew it, and that's why I was given to you. I think you've been taking virtuous women-
self-sacrificing, boring, virtuous women-only because that's what you were taught to do."
"You have no idea what you're talking about."
"I know everything about you, Rydstrom. I've studied you for years, devouring unauthorized biographies of the very old kind. And over the last two days, I've reviewed all the texts on your family's history, on your history. I've been working to reconcile what was written with what I know about you personally."
Sweat beaded on his brow. How much could she have learned?
"For instance, I'd read that you attempted your first female on your thirteenth birthday and your second the day after. I believe this to be true."
It was. For a demon prince, attempting females was critical. He'd bedded one after another, trying to find his consort. Rydstrom had taken more females in the first century of his life than he had during the fourteen that followed.
She continued, "They were all older than you and they were 'ladies,' which is code for 'sexually ignorant.' Did they simper? Did they call that your penis instead of your cock?" she asked, pointing a claw -tipped finger at it. "And were they too gentle with it?"
Yes to all those questions. He hated gentle. He wanted to take a woman over a long night and feel it the next day. When he'd been a young male, he'd had a friend who would show off the claw marks down his back from his latest abandoned conquest. Rydstrom had envied him bitterly.
"How awkward that must have been, taking one stranger after another. You had so many. And you were so very young to be handling that kind of pressure. The repeated disappointment."
His bed partners had always been nervous, each one inwardly hoping to break the seal, to become his con­sort. Sex had begun to be an ordeal, one embarrassing mating after another. "I am sorry that I pulled thy hair"; "Tis fine for you to do so, my liege."
He grated, "I did what was necessary for the king­dom." His older brother Nylson and their father had found their females in neighboring kingdoms. "We had every reason to expect that I could find my female-"
"In a virtuous demoness who would be as selfless as you," she finished in a disgusted tone. "And instead you found your queen fifteen centuries later in me-a deceitful, thieving, gratuitously violent sorceress."
"That remains to be seen."
She gave him an amused expression, a victorious one. "You took so many to your bed. Did you please them all?"
Not even close. He answered honestly, "I haven't had any complaints." Because they wouldn't dare. And that was a problem. For all his life, women had treated him like a king in bed. And though it might sound good, it left him cold.
"But then you've never been with a Sorceri female before." She sat beside him. "We tend to be more exact' ing than your average demoness."
"You think I've only slept with my kind?" He had, figuring the queen of the rage demons would at least be
of the demon breed. He'd never imagined he would be matched with a sorceress. No, it isn't certain. Not until he was inside her could he be sure.
Deny it all I want. . .
She ran those metal tips over his stomach, and his muscles dipped and tightened. "You're a dominant, virile male, and a king as well. Perhaps you'd be tempted if I were wicked-and submissive."
Never. He wanted a greedy female, aggressive, one bordering on selfish. He'd had enough selfless females to last even an immortal lifetime.
She drew back the sheet, then ran a claw along his shaft, lightly but enough to sting. His eyes rolled back in his head.
"A shame, because you're not going to get submis­sive. Not with me."
Good. My queen. I can't deny it . . . Then protect her. From himself.
"Sabine, if I turn, I will lose all control. Instinct will take over, and if you're the focus of everything the demon in me wants and needs, then gods help you. Is that what you want?"
"It's what I'm counting on."
"It won't be gentle . . . you can count on that as well."
"Maybe I wouldn't want gentle, demon. Maybe we fit together more than you can imagine." She tapped a claw to her chin. "So let me get this straight. You crave hard sex with wicked girls, but you don't want a submissive?"
"Stop putting words into my mouth." He could never explain it to her, didn't really understand it himself.
Even as he wanted to master her, he hated the idea of her as acquiescent. He needed her to struggle against him, to give as good as she got. He craved power plays between them, mental games.
But ultimately he did want to dominate her. At the end of a night with her, he would know he'd won when she pleaded with soft words in his ear to let her come-or, gods willing, when she clawed his back as she begged.
When his shaft pulsed, her eyes widened. "What are you musing about that has you reacting like this?" She raised her opened palms to him. "Let me into your mind. Let me see your fantasies."
"Why in the hell would I ever do that?"
"We could see your most secret desires, could watch them together. You know I can make all your wildest dreams come true if you let me into your mind."
She took his shaft in her gauntleted hand, making him hiss in a breath. "Still not convinced? Then ask me for a boon-within reason-and I'll grant it if you do this. There must be something you want from me ... ?"
"A boon?" He narrowed his gaze, the black irises intermittently flashing with that piercing green.
"Yes." He really does have the most divine eyes I've ever seen. "Just ask me." How painful it must be for such a mighty king to have to bargain for things he wanted.
"This can only help your agenda."
When she released the thick flesh pulsing in her palm, he seemed to bite back a groan. "It's true that I could become clearer on how to satisfy you and tempt you even more." And you could become clearer, too. Because I don't think even you know what you want. "So make two requests."
"There's nothing you'll actually grant me worth the disadvantage. You could see more than my fantasies."
"Rydstrom, if I wanted whatever's in your mind, I could easily drug you with a truth serum. Besides, this isn't mind reading. Consider it more of a mind expedi­tion: And I'm going to display everything I find."
"If I was considering this, I'd want a night with you, where I was unchained. And I'd want to be free within the cell when you're not here. And clothed."
"What if you tried to release some steam when you were alone and unchained?"
Again that lock of hair fell over his forehead. "I'd vow not to."
"And you never break your vows?"
"No, Sabine. I don't."
"Very well, demon." She raised her palms to him.
"No! I didn't-"
"Expect me to agree? And yet, I did. So you'll feel a drawing sensation. Just relax. I'm told it's not unpleas­ant, but definitely palpable. You'll know I'm inside your head."
She began to pull from his mind.
"I said no!"
"Too late." She turned to the side and blew against
one of her palms. A scene arose against the wall, drawn
from his own thoughts
In the vision, Rydstrom was free with her in this chamber, leisurely divesting her of her stockings, rolling them down her legs with infinite slowness. By the time he'd unhurriedly slipped her full-length gloves from her arms, she was visibly trembling.
"You want to see me quiver in anticipation?"
He said nothing, just watched himself leisurely unfas­tening her top before stripping her to her thong. He left her choker, yet in his imaginings, it looked more like a collar.
The scene flickered and changed to show Sabine fac-
ing the wall, with her wrists bound and hanging from a peg above her head. "You want me in bonds?"
She looked away to gaze at the real Rydstrom. He was staring in seeming awe, but more, he appeared surprised by what he was seeing, as if he'd never truly allowed himself to entertain thoughts like these. In the bed, his cock was harder than it had ever been, standing erect as he rolled his hips.
She took him in hand once more, fondling his length from base to head, as the Sabine in the vision struggled against her bonds. "Am I to want to escape you?" When he shook his head, she said, "Then what?"
She'd been stroking him until he was shuddering with pleasure, but since he wouldn't talk, she stopped.
He finally bit out, "I've kept you on the brink for hours." His horns were straightening, his sweat-slicked muscles corded with strain, sheening in the firelight. "You're desperate to touch me, or yourself, anything to come . .. it's all you can think about."
In the fantasy, he roamed his hands all over her body, pinching, cupping, palming her bared breasts. Then he kicked her legs apart and yanked her thong to her thighs, stretching it taut around them. When he pressed a finger into her sex from behind, he groaned through clenched teeth in both the vision and beside her in the bed.