She hooked her shirt at her thumbs, readying it to pull on. While she was under the tight fabric, he heard her say, "Subatomic particle. Travels faster than the speed of light." He had closed his jaw by the time she'd drawn it on all the way.
"How do you understand these things?" And how could this blooding be so precise?
"My dad was a god, and they tend to be quick like that. I inherited."
"Of course." He didn't like to be reminded of this. Riora had asked him, "Do you have any idea how high you reach for one such as her?" Yes, Riora. Yes, I do. Every day, he had a better idea, and it was killing him. He shook himself. "Tachyons are hypothetical. Their existence would threaten laws of science - "
"Like radioactivity did?" she asked in a mild tone, glancing up from lacing her boots to cast him a too-pleasant smile.
He exhaled a long breath. She was referring to a time in the early nineteen hundreds when physicists couldn't account for the phenomenon of radioactivity. They had to remain confused, embattled, until the theory of quantum mechanics was proposed.
"Clever analogy," he said, beyond impressed. Had she convinced him? No, there were dozens of other arguments to prove one couldn't go back into the past to change the future. But never had he been so glad to agree to disagree; he'd die if he didn't kiss her.
Sebastian lunged for her, grabbing her upper arms and tumbling with her back onto the bed.
"What are you doing?" Kaderin demanded, but couldn't manage to sound angry enough - not when she'd been willing him to do this ever since she'd touched his gorgeous, still dampened chest.
After last night, she knew all of him was gorgeous.
She hadn't missed his heated looks while she dressed, but apparently talk about science had pushed him to the boiling point - she could feel his thick erection pressing into her. Science. She should have suspected - she'd seen all those texts in his castle, and they weren't exactly beach reads.
He sat up over her, pinning her arms above her head. In the cave, and even last night, he'd demonstrated his strength. Now, with her arms pinned, she again imagined him taking her - hard, with that rugged, flexing body...
She frowned. This morning, he'd told her, "My size has not put me in good stead with women." She believed this was one of his understatements, and suspected a woman - or women - had hurt him. So why did she now feel an overwhelming urge to claw the silly bitch's eyes out?
"Kiss me, Katja." His face was so handsome, rested. He seemed on the verge of grinning. Irresistible.
"Why would I want to do that?" she asked in a breathy voice.
"You like kissing me, Valkyrie." He sounded proud.
Oh, Freya, she did.
And then he did grin. "Christ, I enjoy being with you." A heart-stopping curving of his lips, showing his even white teeth and scarcely visible fangs against his forever tanned skin. Don't look at him. She was being charmed, warming so much to him, and she cast about for things to hate. He drinks blood. He drinks blood. He bites!
"You have to like being with me," she reminded him. "I'm your Bride."
He released her wrists and sat up. "Of course, it's mystical compulsion that's making me so attracted to you. Not the fact that you just gave me a good look at how your mind works and I admired what I saw. And it couldn't be because last night you gave me the most sexual pleasure I've ever had."
She studied his earnest expression. "Was it really?"
"Before last night and that first morning with you? By miles," he admitted quietly. She believed him, though she couldn't understand it. They hadn't even had sex. Surely he'd had women fawning over him, wanting to please him in any way. Yes, he seemed shy at times, but he'd also been a sexy, intelligent aristocrat and then a master soldier.
If she'd met him when he was still a shy mortal, she'd have cornered him in a hay barn and had her wicked way with him.
"What about you, Katja?" His voice went deeper. "Tell me I pleasured you well last night."
So much for shy. Now she was the one blushing and averting her face.
"Kiss me, or tell me. One of the two to get me to let you go."
She made a sound of frustration. "You know you did - you were there. We almost crashed the plane with lightning!"
He leaned down and rumbled against her neck, "What a way to go."
"Why would you ask me that?"
He drew back. "Because my plan is to make you need me for this. If you feel lust" - he pressed a kiss against her collarbone - "I want you automatically to seek me to ease it."
He was so arrogant and yet unsure, forthright but furtive. And gods help her, the contradictions fascinated her. "And what about you?" she asked.
He grazed the backs of his fingers along her cheek. "You know I'll never want another."
"Why... why did you want to die?" She didn't know where the question came from, but suddenly she burned to know the answer. Why had he been alone?
"I... didn't necessarily want to die. I just didn't see the point in living." At her frown, he added, "I will explain this to you. One day. But I still don't know how I feel about that situation."
She looked away. "It's fine. You don't have to."
He pressed his hand against her cheek, tenderly, coaxing her to face him again. "I will tell you. In time. Anything you wish. I want there to be no secrets between us, because I'm going to... marry you."
"What? Whoa!" She scrambled away from him, real fear coursing through her. This was exactly why the night before shouldn't have happened. Or even this morning when they'd been getting ready together. They'd been behaving just like a married couple readying for the office, one of those couples who pass a mug of coffee and a bagel between them. Well, except that she and Sebastian didn't eat or have an office.
But she hadn't seen the topic of marriage coming up - not so soon. Panic. No more playing with the vampire. "You can't marry me! I'm... I'm a pagan!" she babbled.
This was all insanity, anyway.
I'm going to die. And if I don't die, then I'll succeed in retrieving my sisters -
A sudden realization robbed her of breath.
If she saved them, she would change history. And Kaderin would never even know Sebastian.
"And I was Catholic," he said slowly, brows drawn in confusion. "I still want to marry you."
Stumbling from the bed, she swooped up her things, stuffing items into a bag. Was she shaking? "Look, Sebastian, am I attracted to you? Yep, you got me. I'm not going to lie. Last night was... enjoyable. I'm glad it happened. But that doesn't mean that it will happen again. Much less that I will wed you."
"What could make it so that you would?"
"My absolute belief that I would want to spend eternity with you. Immortals really have to be careful with this, you understand, and you and I have never even had a civil conversation before today. And honestly, I don't trust you, and I can't turn off a lifetime of beliefs in the course of two weeks."
"Why not just try life with me?"
"Because unturned vampires are like nuclear bombs. The bomb itself is not a bad thing. The damage it's capable of is the bad thing. In any event, you still don't want one in your backyard."
"Give me a chance to prove you wrong."
"Sebastian, have you ever seen a turned vampire? If you had, you would know why I would do just about anything not to wake up to one at sunset because you went out and got frisky."
"I would never be unfaithful to you," he said, then felt compelled to tell her, "And I have seen them. Through your dreams."
She clearly didn't like to be reminded of that and looked as if she barely held on to her patience.
"And not all vampires turn. My brother didn't and he drinks from the flesh."
Her eyes widened. "That's right. Tapping Myst, is he, then? So much for coven secrets."
"He would never betray her." For all of Nikolai's faults, he was as loyal as men came.
"Even if you would never turn, if I accepted you, and we were together, there are only two possible outcomes for our future. One, I leave behind my family. Or two, they kill you. Period. That is our future."
"But my brother and Myst - "
"Will be running for their lives when our queen returns."
"Let me guess. You've seen her, too?"
"I have." He felt his face grow cold. "She broke your goddamned arm."
"So, you've seen that she's a fearsome being."
"I don't fear her, and I would always protect you."
"You should fear her," Kaderin said, exasperated. "All vampires should. The Horde captured her and chained her to the bottom of the ocean for the last fifty years. For fifty years she's drowned repeatedly, every few minutes, only to have her immortality revive her, and no one could find her. But now we're getting close, and when she rises, she won't differentiate between the two armies of vampires. There'll be no reasoning with her. Because she wasn't exactly levelheaded before dying the last four million plus times."
"We'll deal with that when the time comes."
"Just stop. Do you want to know what the second of the three major turnoffs is? It's pressure. I don't respond well to pressure." She snatched up her bag and tossed the strap over her shoulder.
"Wait, before you go." He traced to her flat, carefully collected the egg from the drawer he'd stowed it in, then traced back. "Here."
"Of course." She tucked her hair behind her ear, then reached for it. "I was just about to ask for this."
"No, you weren't," he said, and somehow knew he was right.
"Was too." She held the egg up, and when it disappeared, the scents from far away came once more. "I was, because I was curious if you had killed the other two basilisks or not."
Can't lie. Even though he knew she'd view him as weak. He ran his palm over the back of his neck and averted his face. "I had to kill one of them. I decided... not to with the smallest basilisk."
Of all the reactions he might have expected, her sound of frustration and her forefinger pointed at him weren't among them.
"Of course, you did," she said in a disgusted tone. "Stay, leave, do as you will, but I've work to do."
He was growing angry. Mercy had its place. "Would you prefer that I had killed them both?"
Forefinger still out like a sword, she sputtered, "No! But you just had to turn out to be all noble and... and understanding. And you are such a... a... vampire!" She frowned, then seemed to seize on a thought. "And you could have told me who you are!"
Where in the hell had that come from? "I told you my name that first morning."
"But you didn't tell me who you were!"
He drew back his head, utterly baffled, as she stormed from the room into the sunlit main cabin.
She was leaving, and he couldn't go with her, even though everything in him wanted to. And because of the sun, he couldn't even watch her walk away.
When she was gone, he felt as if he were missing some part of himself. Something intrinsic and critical.
He felt caged, frustrated. He punched the wall of the plane, breaking an interior panel. Goddamn it, I want to follow where she goes.
Gobi Desert, Africa
Prize: A collection of water from the Fountain of
Youth, infinite in number, worth seven points
Twenty miles she'd covered before finding the oasis with the Fountain of Youth. She'd scooped up its magical waters in an empty, dented Aquafina bottle and raised it over her heart in offering.
Everyone in the Lore knew that the Fountain moved from desert to desert all over the world. It was not, for instance, located in the swamps of the panhandle of Florida. Conquistadors and their madcap ideas. How her sisters had chortled at the time.
Today she was allowing herself a more leisurely pace back, listening to Regin's iPod, which she'd left on the plane for Kaderin. The trek across the sand was uncomfortable enough without running. The sun scorched the desert like those food-heating lamps, keeping the area at a constant one hundred thirty degrees Fahrenheit. It seemed as if the sand were in its death throes, hissing at the sun.
Still, all in all, it was a good day. She was, for example, still alive.
She'd called Nïx back this morning from the car as she'd set out, hoping to catch her in a calmer frame of mind and confirm what she'd said. But, as was often the case, Nïx hadn't been lucid. She'd spoken frantically about "paper animal shapes all in a row" and "crass how-to books about the Lore." Nïx seemed to have no memory of her prediction. Kaderin provided the obligatory comments: "Is that so?" "How nice." "Sweet, let me talk to whoever is closest to you."
Even with this premonition hanging over her, Kaderin couldn't be depressed. Last night, she'd slept so perfectly, so soundly in Sebastian's warm arms, without a single nightmare. Not to mention the fact that she'd been thoroughly pleasured by him.
Besides, what else could one do with the knowledge of imminent death?
Yes, pleasured by a vampire. A gentleman warrior vampire who'd demonstrated enough strength to snap her foes like twigs and the ferocity on tap to unleash hell on them. And yet he possessed the understanding to spare a young dragon.
She'd left him miserable over the sheer fact that they would be parted. And probably still scratching his head at her inane babbling. Which satisfied her.
As she crested another dune, she wondered if it was possible that she was falling for Sebastian. If so, the timing was pitiful. Finally to find a man she could potentially care for, and she could never have a future with him.
If she didn't die, and if she saved her sisters, she would change history - her history. She would never have been withering away in her cold, emotionless existence and never would have readily traveled to an obscure Russian castle to kill a single vampire. And somehow she knew she never would meet him in any reality, not before he finally died in whatever way.
One could go crazy trying to figure it all out.
So she wouldn't try. Instead she'd replay scenes from the night before -
Suddenly, she had the vaguest sense of his traced presence behind her. A second later: "Bloody hell." Then he was gone.
He never saw her grin.
Prize: One golden and opal ring, first forged in
Mesopotamia, worth twelve points
Tonight, Kaderin's task was to get close enough to Rodrigo Gamboa, a Colombian drug lord guarded more closely than royalty, to acquire a ring, which never truly belonged to him.
Gamboa was notoriously cautious, and was rumored to have Lore blood in him. He moved most nights, and his compound was unassailable, so Kaderin was attending the grand opening of Descanso - Gamboa's newest club and money-laundry machine - which meant it was a rare event that would pin him down to one location.
Yet, unlike with Lore functions, Lady Kaderin was having to wait to get in - at the back of the line.
The difficulty in this task lay in the fact that the club would be full of humans. One had to get to him and avoid making a scene to alert humans to the Lore, or else be disqualified.
She'd have to make Gamboa behave rashly, persuade him to accompany her from the club, then take the ring from him when they were alone in the car. If she tried to nab the prize in public and then had to fight her way out, she'd definitely reveal she wasn't your average club kid. Her damned ears and the fact that she could toss cars always gave her away.
So tonight she planned to make nice with a boy.
Gone were her climbing shoes and heavy pack. Her sword was beneath the bed back at her hotel. Now she had tools of a different nature.
Get close to a man, quietly. She was a woman. One plus one equals two.
The upside of this task? She could bet that Bowen wouldn't be here.
But first she'd have to get in the club.
Wait! Was that Cindey in the line, way up front? Oh, no, she was not ahead of Kaderin. This was intolerable, and yet Kaderin couldn't just jog up there and drag Cindey out by her neck. As if she felt Kaderin's glare, Cindey leaned out from the line and gave her an arrogant wave.
Mustn't attack the siren... mustn't attack -
Suddenly Kaderin's jimmied untraceable sat phone rang. She slipped it from her little purse, and saw Myst's number on the i.d. "Why, Myst, how've you been?" she snapped in greeting. "Seems I owe you felicitations since you married your warlord."
Myst exhaled. "That wasn't my idea to keep you in the dark. But I also didn't think it would hurt anything to delay telling you for a couple of weeks. Especially since Nikolai and I eloped."
"Oh. Pagan ceremony?"
"Cool, I guess."
"So, you're Sebastian's Bride." When she didn't deny it, Myst asked, "What is going on with you and him?"
Kaderin stood on her toes to see ahead in the line. "I have no idea." Since the desert, she'd only met up with him for a couple of nights. She was zigzagging all over the world, and he'd caught her in the sun twice more. When they were together, he was reserved with her, standoffish even, which didn't surprise her after her harried reaction to the idea of marrying him.
What was taking this line so long? She'd kind of hoped to get in and out of this task. She suspected that if Sebastian did happen to show up, he might frown on her flirting - and on her clothing ensemble. Still, risking Sebastian's anger was better than a date with a very pesky werewolf.
"Sebastian's visiting with Nikolai right now. And from what I've been able to overhear of their conversations in the last couple of days, Sebastian has your memories," Myst said. "Are you letting him drink you?"
"Oh, for Freya's sake, you have got to be kidding me!" Kaderin cried, then glanced around, but no one in front of her in line was listening - and there was no one behind her. In a lower tone, Kaderin admitted, "He got dental with me. Accidentally."
"Look, Kad, I am ecstatic with Nikolai, but I realize this doesn't mean that all Valkyrie will be happy with all vampires. And I'm not sure... I don't know that Sebastian's head is in the right place with you. Especially with what you're trying to do. He doesn't really get it that you have to do anything to save your loved ones. He's a death-before-dishonor kind of guy."
"I've been getting an idea."
"It will kill Nikolai to see his brother suffer, but I can't let you make a mistake. I wouldn't let down my guard with him, not yet," Myst said. "And then, of course, there's the issue of Furie - "
"You know what, Myst?" Kaderin interrupted. "I can't even talk about this right now. You want to do me a favor? Keep Sebastian away from me tonight."
"How am I supposed to do that?" Myst cried. "The only thing he's interested in is hearing more about you."
"So, tell him things. Just not about the blessing. And not anything about Dasha and Rika."
"Is there anything else about you to tell?"
"You asked for it, Kaderin the Kind Hearted," Myst said, referring to Kaderin's embarrassing former nickname. "Way to take my advice about not letting down your guard," she added.
As soon as they hung up and she stowed her phone in her purse, a burly bouncer scouted the line and spotted her. Oddly, he seemed to ogle the area of her pointed ears, hidden under her hair, instead of her short skirt.
But then he let her out of the velvet rope corral to go inside.
When she passed Cindey, Kaderin winced as if in sympathy. "Appears that the retro-hooker look wasn't making the cut tonight, Cin."
When Sebastian finally left Nikolai and a suspiciously chatty Myst back at Blachmount and traced to Kaderin, he found himself inside a nightclub like nothing he'd ever seen before. This had to be the task in Colombia. The one he'd hoped she wouldn't select.
Lights like lasers shot to the rounded ceiling in bizarre rapid patterns. Half-clad dancers in cages dangled high above the dance floor.
The cages reminded him of his last dream.
In it, Kaderin had strolled to an imprisoned man. He was young, his body beaten and broken. Without raising his head, he gritted out the words, "Kill me."
She smiled. "Of course, leech." Her voice was sugary. "In a few more months."
He sounded as if he began weeping.
"Then I might let you escape into the sun," Kaderin continued. "Your organs will liquefy inside you well before you die, pooling beneath your skin. But by that time, you'll crawl desperately for the light, I promise you... "
Again, she'd felt nothing. No sympathy, no remorse, no hate, even.
Ever since he'd awakened, Sebastian had been filled with a marked disgust he couldn't shake. He'd visited Nikolai to ask him about these dreams, and Nikolai had warned him not to take her memories out of context. But how could Sebastian misunderstand that scene? It couldn't have been clearer.
He understood her cruelty, but that didn't mean it was easily witnessed -
Sebastian did a double take when he spied Kaderin, because he hardly recognized her.
Her eyes were kohled a deep blue, and her plump lips glistened. Her shirt was low-cut, deliberately displaying the lace of her bra. And her skirt was so short he could see her taut, lithe thighs almost up to the cleft of her ass when she slid into a booth with a group of people. Her black boots came to her knees and had wicked heels.
Even though he was furious with her for being here at all, much less dressed like this, the sight of her had his shaft rock-hard in an instant. He made a decision then - one night, he would be inside her when she wore those boots.
To all appearances, she was smiling and enjoying herself, but there was a hardness about her. The way she'd dressed left no doubt about how she planned to acquire the stone from the Colombian. No wonder Myst had been so willing to talk.
When he could drag his gaze away from Kaderin, he saw that all around her, men stared at her face or leered at her body. Sebastian's fists clenched. Who to kill first -
"Might as well sit," said a voice behind him. He whirled around and found the two nymphs. "Kaderin's going to be busy awhile."
He turned back in time to see a man slide in next to her and drape his arm around her shoulders. His hand almost brushed over her breast, and for the first time in his life, Sebastian needed to kill.
The first nymph sidled up to Sebastian. "We could pass the time. Vampire, forget about the Valkyrie. You're forbidden fruit to us as well, if that's your attraction to her."
Sebastian scarcely heard them over the pounding in his ears. "Is that the Colombian she's with?" he grated.
The bastard leaned over her and put his hand high on Kaderin's thigh, fingers teasing close to the hem of her skirt.
Rage exploded within Sebastian. This had to be a symptom of the blooding. He'd never felt such fury. Never.
He touches what's mine.