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She followed him. "Wait, what am I supposed to do?"

"Go to bed at dawn. Accustom your body to sleeping during the day."

"And tomorrow? What then? You said I might have a month left to live. What do you expect me to do for that time?"

"Put on weight." He slammed the door in her face.

Ellie glared at the panels of the solid door, her fists balling. "You asshole!" She yanked on the door handle. Locked!

She swept her gaze around the room. My new cell? No matter how open and airy it was, she remained trapped. She hated being confined!

Hurrying through the French doors to her balcony, she sucked in deep breaths of night air.

New York City lay before her, all bright lights and energy. How badly she wished to be down there! She imagined all the places to explore, all the new and interesting people she could meet.

But she'd never get the chance. Because there were mystical barriers. And goddesses and arrogant blood-drinkers.

She strode back inside, snatched up her dresser stool, and chucked it at the boundary. The stool bounced directly back inside, bounding toward her. She started laughing hysterically until it connected with her shin. That was going to leave a mark.

Ha-ha, Saroya. Black-and-blue's your color. She was just about to run her face into the doorknob when she remembered she wasn't to harm herself, else risk her family.

So she marched into the bathroom. Seeing herself in all this makeup with the Elvira-in-heat dress was like looking at Saroya. For the first time, Ellie was seeing what the goddess would prefer to look like.

She turned on the hot water to wash her face. "I hate you more than hell, Saroya."

A psychologist could have a field day with this. Staring into the mirror with hate? Daily affirmations turned to daily accusations?

Damn it, I should be dead right now! But the bitch had thwarted her yet again. "You may have won this battle, Saroya, but I'll win the war. I'll destroy you, somehow." Even as she said these bold words, Ellie wrestled with regret over her plight.

Part of her still wished for another chance, for the possibility to live. Why did she have to make this sacrifice? Why had it fallen to her?

But she'd long resigned herself to her fate.

Gathering water in her hands, she said, "Your big finish is rolling in like a thunderstorm. No stopping it." She scrubbed her face harder than she ever had, ridding herself of Saroya's war paint.

Another gander into the mirror. I'm back, she thought, even though the goddess's presence lurked within, eating away at her like a cancer.

After drying her tender skin, Ellie returned to the closet. Combing through the choices, she threw on a pair of jeans and a simple navy blouse. Feeling more like Ellie, she left her feet bare.

Unable to stop herself, she sneaked another peek at those jewels. She recalled the way Lothaire had shown them to her. Without a word, without bragging.

Why had he cared if Ellie saw them? Had he anticipated her floored reaction? Figured she'd go crazy like Saroya?

Then she frowned. Lothaire had never said anything to indicate that he and Saroya liked each other, much less loved each other. He'd talked only of fate and bloodings.

Questions about him surfaced endlessly. Did he love the goddess? Why hadn't he bedded his Bride? Were all vampires as ruthless as he was?

She wished she could analyze Lothaire at her leisure, maybe use her degree to benefit her.

One of the reasons she'd studied psychology was that she'd always found it easy to empathize with others. A handy tool for a counselor.

But psychology was the science of human behavior. He was in-

human. . . .

She would just have to work harder to discover what made Lothaire tick, using any means necessary.

When she exited the closet, she remembered that earlier they'd walked out of the main doorway from her suite. They'd traced back inside. Unlike the door adjoining Lothaire's room, it would be unlocked.

Wouldn't even have to pick it.

Maybe when he left, she'd investigate this place. Did she dare disobey him? He'd probably never even know she'd sneaked out.

With that aim in mind, she knelt at the doorway crack to his bedroom, listening for him.

She heard the rustle of sheets, a stifled curse. He'd gone to bed? After telling her he had work to do? And wasn't this kind of his workday?

Again she thought, Typical male.

Wait. Had he just . . . groaned?

I'm never going to sleep with this erection.

Though Lothaire was exhausted, it throbbed for relief, impossible to ignore. He couldn't turn on his front without grinding his shaft into the mattress, couldn't turn on his back without his hands descending to masturbate his length.

But he'd be damned if he spilled alone when he was in possession of his Bride.

His eyes narrowed when the mortal knelt at their shared doorway. Finished shrieking and throwing things, Elizabeth? He could hear her light breaths panting at the crack under the door.

She spied on him? Lothaire was a master at spying, enjoyed few things more.

Over his long lifetime, he'd watched countless beings having sex, was an unabashed voyeur. And he'd noted that every time a couple neared release, they reached a point of no return when all sense and inhibitions were lost, a point past which nothing could pull them apart.

Lothaire himself had never been unaware of what he was doing, nor unable to stop himself.

Now he feared that if he neared climax tonight, he'd cross a line, tossing Elizabeth into his bed. He'd strip her naked and bury his cock and fangs so deep in her, he wouldn't know where she ended and he began. . . .

No. I will not lower myself to a mortal.

Lothaire could wait for Saroya to rise tomorrow night. He would wait, he swore to himself, even as his mind whispered, She's not going to.

But how to sleep? He switched on the metronome beside his bed. Tick . . . tick . . . tick . . . Soothing, but not nearly enough to combat the persistent ache in his balls.

Maybe he should drug himself as his former jailer customarily did-Declan Chase, an Irish soldier of the Order, known as the Blademan.

Lothaire sat up, clasping his forehead. Had his escape from the Order's island prison been only yesterday? It felt like weeks had passed.

Less than twenty-four hours ago, Chase had been mortally wounded. Lothaire had given the Blademan his blood in exchange for Lothaire's own freedom-anything to reach Saroya before the execution.

Yet another bargain. Attempt to turn Chase into a vampire; save Saroya.

Centuries had passed since Lothaire had last made a vampire. Perhaps I'm a sire once more? But the blood was no guarantee. Did Chase even live yet?

My enemy. And potentially my spawn. He frowned, unsure how he felt about that. Especially since Chase had tortured Lothaire during his imprisonment.

Though the Blademan had himself been brutally tortured as a lad-and therefore knew what the hell he was about-Lothaire had merely laughed at the pain. Even when his skin was burned to ash.

Chase hadn't understood; no misery could compare to hiding in the snow while listening as one's mother was savagely raped and burned alive. No cruelty could compare to what Stefanovich had done to Lothaire years later.

The earth grinding over me, roots threading my body.

Block that memory out! Or stare down into the abyss. . . .

No matter what happened between Lothaire and Chase, they were connected now, had exchanged blood between them. Which meant that Lothaire could reach into Chase's mind with his own, could investigate his memories.

Perhaps I don't need to sleep. He only had to get close enough to Chase.

The Blademan's woman was a Valkyrie. She would have taken him back to Val Hall, the Louisiana estate where her coven resided-with its never-ending fog, lightning flashes, and ungodly Valkyrie shrieks.

A place Lothaire knew well. He was one of only a handful of vampires who'd seen the inside and still lived.

He could go there now, seeking Chase.

Yet if Lothaire had these plans, then others might as well. Immortals from all over the Lore would want a piece of Declan Chase, the bogeyman who'd crept through the night, abducting scores of them and their loved ones for ghastly experiments.

But I get him first.

Especially since Lothaire would get to him first. . . .

Chapter 12

Are you an extra sentry, then?" Lothaire asked Thaddeus Brayden, one of his fellow prison escapees. The young man had been pacing outside the Valkyries' antebellum mansion, marching in and out of the fog banks stirring from the nearby bayou.

Thaddeus twisted around, his fierce expression relaxing instantly-far from Lothaire's customary reception. "Guess I am, Mr. Lothaire! We're kind of under siege," he said with a marked Texas drawl. He wore faded jeans, a T-shirt, and cowboy boots, looking ridiculously human.

Though Thaddeus was new to the Lore, having only discovered he wasn't mortal a month ago, the boy could be useful tonight.

"How'd you get through Val Hall's boundary?" He gazed past Lothaire. "When no one else can?"

Lothaire smirked over his shoulder at the immortal lynch mob congregating at the front gates, kept from their vengeance by a Wiccan's enclosure spell. It was similar-but inferior-to his own druidic barrier. Easy for me to breach.

As predicted, all those Loreans wanted revenge on Chase. What they didn't realize was that the Blademan had been only the muscle behind the Order, had been brainwashed from the time he was a lad by the true leader-Commander Webb.

Webb, the mortal who'd taken Lothaire's ring off the prison island, had a secret hideout.

Chase would know where it was.

Lothaire wished all the best to the bloodthirsty mob, but knew they'd never get past the boundary-much less the Valkyries' second line of defense.

The wraiths.

Garbed in tattered red robes, those ghostly echoes of deceased female warriors swarmed the mansion in a whirlwind, a skeletal face peeking out occasionally.

The Valkyries had hired the Ancient Scourge-with their supposedly impenetrable guard-to protect the manor after a recent vampire incursion.

Hadn't Lothaire been a part of that? Ah, yes. That was I.

"I've told you, Thaddeus, I have powers that others cannot begin to fathom. And you can too, paren'. Merely drink from choice prey."

Thaddeus laughed, though Lothaire was in earnest. Ages ago, he'd consumed a sorcerer who knew how to neutralize Wiccan spells. Lothaire still remembered the taste of his blood, still remembered the unlikely ally who'd helped him seize it. . . .

Thaddeus rushed forward, hand outstretched. "In any case, it's good to see you."

Lothaire gave his hand a withering glare until the boy dropped it with a grin. No matter how unpleasant he was to the young immortal, Thaddeus still thought the best of him.

In their first encounter, Lothaire had been starving from his captivity and singled Thaddeus out to drink. Young, not so many memories, preferred. The boy lived only because he was part vampire.

"I guess you're here to check on Chase, huh? I could ask the Valks if they'll let you past the wraiths, but"-he shuffled his snakeskin boots, discomfited-"they don't seem to care for you much."

"I do not ask for anything-I take it. If I wanted in badly enough, even the wraiths couldn't stop me." Had I packed appropriately . . .

But he didn't need to be inside, just nearby Chase.

Thaddeus raised his brows at that but knew better than to disbelieve. Lothaire's feats on the island had mind-boggled the lad. "Chase is hanging in there-barely-but still unconscious."

The man had been gutted with a sword. "To be expected, Thaddeus."

"My friends call me Thad."

The Enemy of Old conversing with a teenage football-playing Eagle Scout named Thad? A vampire/phantom halfling named Thaddeus was more palatable.

In any case . . ."We are not friends," Lothaire said, then frowned. The words had made his throat burn, almost as if they were a lie.

How could that be? Thaddeus was everything he wasn't: a good and decent virgin devoted to his loved ones and friends. Other than the fact that he and Thaddeus were both considered remarkably attractive-Lothaire much more so, of course-they couldn't be more dissimilar.

"I gotta tell you, Regin's still really pee-ohed at you for screwing all of us over." He kicked a stone in the path.

Regin the Radiant was a warmongering Valkyrie. Along with Lothaire, Thaddeus, and eventually Chase himself, she'd been part of a group of six allying solely to escape the island, a not-so-merry band. Lothaire had saved their lives in exchange for vows from Chase.

If the Blademan lives, he'll go into my account book.

The six had been on the run together for a week, had fought mutual enemies side by side. Until Lothaire had cut a deal with their adversaries-whom he'd ultimately dicked over as well.

"I saw a play open and took it." In a thoughtful tone, Lothaire said, "And yet, Regin forgave Chase for all his sins against her?"

Before Chase had remembered that he'd loved her in a past life, the Blademan had followed Webb's orders and tortured Regin, had looked her in the eyes and released an excruciating pain poison into the Valkyrie's body.

Later he'd been wracked with guilt.

"Regin knew DC wasn't evil, not deep down," Thaddeus said. "She's certain you are."

Sanctimonious Valkyrie. Regin had probably killed thousands of Loreans over her long life. Yet she was admired for it. Lothaire? Reviled.

"I hope your blood does the trick for DC," Thaddeus said. "If you saved his life, then they'd have to forgive you, right?"

"You are so naive, it physically aggrieves me." Besides, not every man survived the transformation.

Thaddeus nodded gravely. "Been hearing a lot about you, Mr. Lothaire. None of it good. I take up for you all the time, but it seems like half of these Lore folks have this really bad impression of you."

"For accuracy's sake, I'd put that percentage closer to ninety. And their impressions are accurate." Lothaire had happily wronged most of them in reprehensible ways. "Taking up for me only makes you appear pitiably uninformed or willfully obtuse . . ." He trailed off, his attention already wandering toward the house. Keen to get back to my Bride.

The thought brought him up short. Why did Lothaire feel so connected to her now? Years before, he'd easily parted from her. Now, spending mere moments without her was affecting him. Blyad'!

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