After days of torment, that building pressure was about to be released.
His demon strength soared through him. Need deeper inside her. Shoot my seed so deep. He leaned his forehead on the cold headboard, finally balancing himself to thrust. Positioned like this, his hips shot forward uncon­trollably, forcing his shaft up inside her.
So tight.. Too tight? He thought she'd cried out as she writhed, pinned on his length. But all he could hear was his heartbeat thundering in his ears. Was she trying to shove him away? Screaming for him to stop?
The thought vanished when the pressure in his shaft became pain. She dug her nails into his shoulders-and he loved it.
He gave a brutal yell as his come shot from his cock for the first time.
The heat, the force. "Ah, gods, Sabine!" At the feel of that first hot jet pumping into her, his eyes rolled back in his head.
He mindlessly thrust, spending until he was emptied, until the ache receded at last. When he opened his eyes, her head was whipping toward his nose. Crack.
"What the hell?" he roared.
"I waited five hundred years for that?" As she squirmed from beneath him, her illusion briefly wavered before the mask was back in place.
Her eyes were watering.
Inhaling deep breaths for control, he said, "You were ... a virgin?" Damn it, he'd warned her about going demonic, because he'd known he might hurt an experienced woman-but this ... "I never wanted to hurt you, Sabine. Why did you let me believe you were experienced when you were pure?"
Whatever he said was the exact wrong thing. "I am experienced, and I am not pure!" As she cloaked herself in invisibility, he felt the biting slap of her palm across his face. He'd hurt her, and his fierce sorceress had hurt him back.
Once she'd gone, he stared down at his still semihard shaft, wincing at the blood and seed. Undeniable signs of her pain, and his pleasure-which had been stronger than he'd ever dreamed it could be.
But the guilt for hurting her wouldn't recede.
Neither would the knowledge that the vow he'd given her was for revenge.
That good?" Lanthe asked when she found Sabine sitting on the side of her bed in a bathrobe, with her head in her hands. Though the fire was stoked, she
"Why did I even expect anything different? He was awful. If I had to decide right now, I'd say I never want to do that again."
"It's only because he's a big demon, and it was your
"Maybe demons and Sorceri truly don't belong together. Maybe their kind is just too strong for us."
"He probably just lost control of himself during his first claiming of you. I mean, you had been building up some serious steam, and-"
"He ended up blowing in a big way. Lanthe, he wanted to mark me with his huge fangs." And when she'd told him no, he'd shoved inside her with all the strength in his body. She shuddered. "You should have seen the way he looked. He's truly a demon!"
"I can't believe you had bad sex, and now I'll have no sex. For three hundred and sixty-four more days. That'll teach me to wager against you."
Sabine didn't crack a smile. With a sigh, Lanthe sat beside her, wrapping an arm around her shoulders. "Look, I think maybe we've been hurt so often that even if someone harms us accidentally, we're blind to see it that way."
"Do you really believe that?"
"Yes. I think ... I think that not everyone is out to get us or to use us." When Sabine only made a scoffing noise and kept her head in her hands, Lanthe added, "Granted, every being we've come into contact with in the last five hundred years has, without fail, tried to screw us over. I don't know, though. Maybe the demon's truly an honorable guy. What if he's one in a million? What if he would take back the hurt if he could?"
Sabine peered up. "One in a million?" If Rydstrom was, then Sabine might not have been completely in the right with her actions. He had warned her about how he would lose control. Still, how was she supposed to know what would happen? She'd never done anything with a demon before! "He didn't know I was a virgin," she admitted.
"Oh, Abie, no."
Maybe I shouldn't have head'butted him, or slapped him, or . . . "And I left instructions for him to be punished." Her infamous temper had gotten away from her yet again. "For him to be bathed. Thoroughly. It might not be too late to take it b-"
Without warning, the door to her chamber opened.
Omort entered. "Leave us," he told Lanthe. "At once!"
She had no choice but to hurry out, casting Sabine a fearful expression before she left them alone.
Sabine sat upright, apprehensive to be anywhere near him after that earlier show of power.
He paced the room, his cape snapping. "Your covenant . . . broke." When he faced her, his brows drew together. "I feared you would enjoy it. With him."
"Do I look like I enjoyed that?"
"I am sorry you had to go through it. You will not
She exhaled with impatience. "We can't be sure I'm
"The demon's seal is no more?" When she hesitantly nodded, he said, "Then another female can breed with him."
As Rydstrom's fated mate, Sabine was the one female who could bring forth his seed the first time. But now that that seal had been broken, Rydstrom could impreg­nate other females.
"You will not return to him," Omort said. "Lanthe or Hettiah will take over your duties-once she has healed."
"Hettiah shouldn't be alive right now. She almost got both of us killed."
"She has been punished accordingly."
"Why would Hettiah do this with the demon, any-way?" Yes, he could get her with child now, but... "The heir has to be mine. I am Rydstrom's queen." Saying that out loud shook her. I'm the true queen of this castle. And he's my . . . husband.
Omort gazed away. "The child only has to be of his blood."
"The rage demons won't recognize any but a legiti­mate heir."
"I might have . . . misspoken about the prophecy.
The boy need only be born from him."
Misspoken? "What exactly do you know about how he will unlock the well?"
Omort studied her face with those eerie yellow eyes. "I want to trust you. I need to. These hours have been agonizing to me."
"You plan for us to rule together, but you tell me nothing."
"I didn't want to put undue pressure on you." He twisted his ring. Lying to me. "The fact is that Ryd-strom's son will be sacrificed."
"What did you say?"
"His firstborn child will be given to the well-"
"You mean cast into it?" She wove an illusion over
her face as her eyes darted for a waste bin in case she vomited.
Sabine hadn't particularly wanted a demon son-the only reason she would ever have done this was for the power-but she'd be damned before someone harmed her offspring. Demon halfling or not.
"This is why I didn't tell you. I didn't think that you'd understand what had to be done. You're not as ... strong as you act."
Not as evil. He was assessing her reaction. If she was somehow pregnant from that debacle and became pro-prietary about the child, Omort would just punish her,
and still kill her son. Any sign that she might care for
her babe would be seen as weakness.
"What makes you think that Hettiah will have an
easier time seducing him than I did?" Sabine didn't
even bother mentioning Lanthe in this context. She
would never do this.
"The demon will be given an aphrodisiac."
Over my dead body. "Because the heir doesn't have to
"Exactly. Sabine, open your thoughts to me."
"Never, Omort. I'll tell you what I'm thinking. I couldn't care less about what I had to do to get the power from the well," she lied, meeting his gaze without hesitation. "But I am infuriated that you didn't believe you could trust me with this. Why?"
"Sabine, everything hangs in the balance."
He stood to pace once more. "Cadeon has taken up the charge. He has the Vessel and proves unrelenting. I wasn't going to worry about him since Cadeon has failed in every attempt to redeem himself. But in this, he continues to succeed. Because the very Vessel he's to deliver to Groot seems to be aiding him in her own
"Rydstrom said that Nïx has vowed the sword can kill
you. Is this true?"
Omort fiddled with his ring, even as he met her eyes. "No. Of course the sword won't work. Nïx isn't infallible."
He's lying'. Breathe . . . breathe . . . "You're not being truthful with me."
His eyes skittered over the floor. "It is . . . possible." This explained why he'd been so unstable! "I need to trust you. Can I trust you?"
Never! "Of course, brother." He can be destroyed!
"This is one of the reasons I seek Nïx in particular," he said. "So I could question her about the weapon."
To disguise her excitement, Sabine acted indignant. "Why didn't you tell me this? You keep critical secrets like this from me? This is a vulnerability we can't afford-especially not now. Especially since Cadeon might actually succeed."
The ne'er-do-well brother of Rydstrom was that close to having the means to give death to the deathless. How to use this information? How to exploit this vul­nerability in him?
"I should have confided in you." Omort stopped in front of her, then reached for her face, murmuring, "I love you."
She jerked back. The last of her temper-gone. "You don't love me. You don't know what that is!"
What was worse, Sabine didn't know if she had a grasp on it either.
If Omort had been sleeping with one of his sisters, it hadn't been Sabine.
She'd been a virgin for Rydstrom. After all these years, she'd remained untouched.
What if I impregnated her? Rydstrom gazed up at the ceiling of the cell he had gotten to know too well. It was absolutely possible for her to have conceived.
Conceived my child. He found himself wanting it to be true-even as he knew the clock would begin tick-ing down on his life. If she was pregnant, they would have no more use for him. More than ever, he had to escape. Take my female, take my child, return for my kingdom. . . .
Rydstrom needed the sorceress here. He'd hurt her, and he wanted the chance to make it up to her. But he was uneasy over more than the pain he'd given her. Though he'd taken Sabine, she wasn't his wife, and he hadn't completely claimed her as his mate.
He needed to mark her to satisfy his demon instincts.
Rydstrom tensed when he heard loud footfalls sound­ing down the dungeon steps. Shortly after, three large males entered the cell, all clearly Inferi slaves. He recalled Sabine's fury-had she left orders for him to be beaten?
The largest one began unchaining Rydstrom. Which meant a chance to escape. He stilled in readiness. Three Inferi could never control a demon-
Again a powder stung his eyes. Gods damn them . . . Yet this time Rydstrom remained awake, seeing.
Only he couldn't move.
There was something in the men's eyes as they gazed at his prone body. Once Rydstrom recognized it, his heart went cold.
When they strung him up in the shower and stripped his pants from him, Rydstrom couldn't move a muscle to fight them. As they washed his deadened body, he was impotent to do anything but stare at the ceiling as a scalding hatred blazed inside him.
She'd done this to him. Sabine had ordered this, knowing how much he would despise it.
Once he escaped, he'd humiliate her in front of a thousand demons, he'd give her to them to use. As soon as the thought arose, rage erupted in him, possession burning hot. . . .
He lost himself in that rage, going awash in it, again vowing for the crudest revenge. An exact reprisal tc her, for every wrong she'd dealt him.
I won't rest until I've made her pay.
"Didn't get a chance to call off the, uh, bathing?" Lanthe said telepathically, able to sip from her goblet and communicate at the same time.
"Alas, no," Sabine said, modeling an outfit in front of her oversize mirror, readying for another night with the demon. "And it went. . . badly."
"The Inferi's powder wore off, and Rydstrom attacked with his poisonous horns."
The trio hadn't intended to do more than bathe him, but he'd gone insane, fighting them like a beast.
"He temporarily paralyzed one of my poor Inferi before they contained him," Sabine said, selecting another top from the collection recently forged for her. "I mean, I knew he wouldn't like being touched by three males-that's why I ordered it. But to react like that? The thought of being bathed by strange women merely sounds titillating to me:
"And you're going to him just three nights later?"
"I don't have a choice." Unfortunately, she wasn't preg­nant. The Hag could divine such things within days, so this morning, Sabine had descended into the bowels of the castle to consult the old crone. Rumor had it that she'd once been a beautiful elven maiden who'd met with some kind of curse.
Sabine couldn't see it.
The Hag's basement laboratory was squalid and dis­turbing with all the butchered animals-Sabine had had to bathe twice to get the odor of fried batwings off her body.
The woman had taken her blood and told her the news-a blow to Sabine because she was nearing the end of her fertile cycle.
Out of curiosity-and for no other reason-Sabine had asked the woman if Rydstrom would have been poi­soned by the morsus if he'd bitten her neck. The Hag had glared at her with aged opaque eyes. "Not unless you were in the full blown throes of the poison. So there's no excuse for you to deny the demon male some­thing he needs to do. No excuse other than your own selfishness," she'd said, demonstrating her customary insolence. "You take his seed and give nothing...."
Now Sabine told Lanthe, "Tonight it has to be business as usual." Hettiah wouldn't be out of commission much longer. "I have to conceive so that Hettiah doesn't bear my husband's child."
Lanthe winced. "That sounds really messed up."
"Because it is! Over my dead body will that be happen-ing. And you know I don't say that lightly."
"Have you thought any more about Groot's sword?"
Once Sabine had told her about it, the two of them had been antsy, wanting to plot, to act, to do something.
Outcomes and possibilities. Actions and reactions. Although plots usually came to her easily, Sabine was having to work for this one.
Plus, the memory of Omort's wrath on that Vampire army weighed heavily on them as well.
"I'm staying the course with the demon." Sabine had ultimately decided the prospect of the sword was too up in the air to even consider a plan of action.
"I thought you'd sworn off sex."
"I'm going to give it a second go," Sabine said as she donned a top that had metal cups shaped like actual paws, with claws flared. Knowing the demon would like it, she laced up the leather ties on the sides.
"You're softening toward Rydstrom, aren't you? Can you look me in the eyes and tell me you feel nothing for him?"
"Lanthe, you know perfectly well that I could look you in the eyes and lie," she said. "But I won't. Honestly, I'm drawn to him."
Sabine's head had been filled with thoughts of him. She craved his warmth against her body, his scent sur­rounding her. She'd lain in bed, staring at the ceiling as sea breezes rushed in, wondering what it would be like with him here in her bed. Could he touch her slowly at
"I keep thinking of him as my husband. It's silly that a few words should affect me like that, but the idea makes me possessive of him."
"You don't seem too broken up about having to bed him
"Upon further reflection, I've realized it wasn't all bad." The time leading up to the pain had been incredible. She wanted more of that excitement, was aching for it. She was a born hedonist, a Sorceri who craved her plea­sures. The demon could give them to her.
Last night, she'd woken to a chimera of Rydstrom slipping into bed with her, that intent look in his eyes and handcuffs dangling from his fist....
"The demon Cadeon is still going strong?" Lanthe asked.
Sabine gave herself an inward shake. "From what I understand, he had four checkpoints to get through, and he and the Vessel have already completed three." She settled a new headdress over her plaits, clasping the back of it to her collar. "But even if he gets the sword, he'll never get close enough to use it."
"We could. If given the chance, could you personally take Omortout?"
Sabine's eyes went cold. "In a heartbeat." She smoothed her finest metal fishnet hose up to her thighs, securing them in place with tight leather garters. Then she covered much of the hose with wicked steel-toed boots that climbed up past her knees.
"You still won't consider uniting with the rage demons?"
Sabine shook her head. "Omort would kill us before we even had a chance. How quickly we forget his power." Over her short skirt, she draped a belt hung with a dozen blue-gold tassels. "Besides, if we united with them, we'd have to turn around and kill them." When Lanthe raised her brows, Sabine said, "Or we'd be out a castle. And I'm not keen on sharing."
"Not even with your husband?"
There was that word again. She hesitated, then said, "Think of what Rydstrom would demand from us- obedience, lawfulness. Yes, it would be better than with Omort. But it couldn't be better than if we ruled."
"That's true." Lanthe rose to head back to her room. "Try to get some information tonight. Maybe they have a plan of their own."
"I'll see what I can find out." After Lanthe left, Sabine finished at the dresser, drawing her face paint in blurred streaks of black and gray that covered her eyes and fanned out toward her temples.
She checked her reflection. Was she alluring enough to tempt him from his certain ire? The mirror said yes.
But then she had the most startling thought. More of an impulse, really. And one she readily checked. She gave a nervous laugh, glancing around the room.
For a second there, she'd thought about telling him she was ... sorry.
Though he burned with rage toward her, Rydstrom wanted her with him.
Being separated from her like this wasn't natural-it went contrary to his demon instinct.
He hungered to have his mark on her, his scent on her skin. He needed to run his horns all over her.
His fists clenched. Damn it, when will she return to me?
A male materialized in his cell. Lothaire. Kill.
"Don't look at me like you'll rip my throat out," the vampire said in accented English. "I can aid your
escape." He held up a key in one hand and a pack in the other. "Your freedom. And supplies. I can trace you to Grave Realm, but not off-plane."
"Why aid me?" Rydstrom demanded, wondering what his game was.
"I want something from you. You'd have to make a vow to me."
"A vow to do what?"
Lothaire said, "When I ask you for something in the future, no matter what it is, you must give it to me."
"Think about it. Your options are limited at present."
They were. And in his current state, Rydstrom couldn't think of anything that Lothaire could ask for that would be worse than what he'd forfeit if he remained prisoner here-his female, his child, his king­dom, and eventually his life. "Why help me now?"
"Because at this moment, Sabine's sister Hettiah is limping her way here to drug you with an aphrodisiac. And that won't do."
"Not by Sabine's leave?"
"I would seriously doubt that."
"What you ask for is too steep, vampire. I'll resist the sister and her potions-"
"Not if you're unconscious."
"She could do that?" At Lothaire's nod, Rydstrom grated, "Even if I escape, I'll be found before I can get us off-plane." "Us?" "Sabine. I'm not leaving without her."
The vampire shook his head sharply. "Come back for her-we'll be discovered, and Omort will never let her go."
"Wherever I go, Sabine goes. It will be this way from now until I'm dead."
Lothaire gave him an appraising look, then nodded. "You have a few days before the sorcerer can manage to get all the illegal portals sealed. Especially since I'm in charge of that security measure. Now Hettiah nears."
The idea of that woman drugging and using him while he was unconscious made Rydstrom shudder with disgust.
"Make the vow, demon. I know much about this kingdom. And I know much about your intended new prisoner. How to render her completely powerless"
This time Rydstrom didn't hesitate. "I vow it. Now tell me."
Lothaire nearly smiled, a mean expression on him.
"She can't purposely cast her illusions with both hands bound behind her back." He began unlocking Ryd'
Strom's chains. "Her tower is the west one."
Heart thundering, Rydstrom said, "I know."
Lothaire clasped his wrist and traced them into her room.
Sabine was admiring herself in the mirror, the most beautiful creature Rydstrom had ever seen. Mine.
Sabine's breath left her when she spied Rydstrom in her mirror's reflection, with his eyes wild. And Lothaire, too? The vampire was working with him? That traitor!
She raised her hands to cloak herself, but Rydstrom lunged across the room and captured her wrists behind her back. Did he know that would prevent her from casting illusions? She shrieked once before he covered her mouth with his other hand.
Would it be enough for the Inferi outside to call for the guards?
While Rydstrom tied her wrists with a length of cord, Lothaire traced over to help him. She fought the two as. the vampire secured a gag around her head.
With muffled curses, she berated the traitor. He shrugged.
Shouts sounded as the castle raised the alarm. Sec­onds later, guards burst into the room with swords raised, a mix of revenants, Sorceri and fallen vampires. The latter nodded at Lothaire and traced away.
Rydstrom tossed her behind him, sending her tum­bling to the ground, then faced off against at least ten guards. His horns flared ominously, the color of his skin deepening in his rage. His muscles expanded and flexed before her very eyes.
She watched in awe as the demon launched him­self at the guards, slashing with fangs and claws. That dragon tattoo seemed to come alive, snaking its move­ments over sweat-slicked flesh.
Lothaire casually stood beside her place on her floor, drawing a knee up and resting his boot on the wall. "We could simply trace," he said, "but then, you'll likely want him to work some of this out of his system. And I'm hungry."
She cursed him again behind the gag, but his atten­tion was fixed on the melee.
Rydstrom was tearing the soldiers apart with such a ferocity, that even she was stunned. And that's my hus­band.
Lothaire himself quirked a brow, glancing from Ryd­strom to Sabine and back again, linking the demon's savage reaction to her. He muttered, "Noted."
Two Sorceri guards charged her and Lothaire. The vampire pushed away from the wall and fought them, seeming to enjoy the battle, easily dodging their swords with his tracing.
He slew one, then clasped the second's flailing body tightly to his own, piercing his neck. His blonde brows drew together with pleasure. Between his and the demon's brutality, Sabine stared in horrified fascina­tion.
She shook herself, scrambling to her feet to escape them. Almost to the door . .. But the demon was clash­ing with two more revenants, and the three barreled toward her.
Out of the corner of her eye, she saw a sword hilt rushing toward her head.
When she cried out in pain, the demon roared with fury. Then . . . nothingness.
His thoughts were dim-any part of him that was ratio­nal was muted. His demon instinct was ruling him.
Take my woman . . . get free.
More shouting soldiers charged up the stairs. With Sabine draped across his shoulder, Rydstrom hissed, "Trace us, vampire!"
Lothaire dumped the guard he'd been draining, then clutched Rydstrom's wrist once more. "Hold her tight."
After an instant of blackness, Rydstrom saw moun­tains soaring in the distance. The moon glowed off the sand of a barren plain. The vampire had traced them to Grave Realm.
Rydstrom was free-and Sabine was in his possession. He drew her from his shoulder into his arms. She looked innocent, but it was a false face. She'd tormented him again and again.
His mind was burdened with confusing hatred, his body with aggression and primitive need.
My woman. So pale and perfect. To use as I please.