“It tickles!”

Earlier, she’d laughed in the temple. Then he’d made her laugh on their march. The only thing that could make that sensual sound better? Being the cause of it.

His brows drew together when he realized she’d already laughed more today than he and all his grim knights had in centuries.

“Ah! Drops are going up my skirt!”

“Lucky drops.” Had he said that aloud?

Yes, because she faced him with an inquisitive look, as if she were taking his measure. Or making a decision.

Go to her, kiss her.

Yet when he heard bugle calls in the distance, he was reminded of all the perils of this realm. This strange glade might be the only source of water around, which made it a target.

Thronos leapt to a moonraker tree to keep watch.

Cold water seeped along Lanthe’s back, wetting her hair and cooling her heated skin.

She’d never seen a place like this glade and was determined to relish it—even if Thronos had deserted her.

After drinking her fill, she sat on the silver grass, removing her boots. “Just because you don’t have a skirt doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy this.”

He crouched on a limb, scanning the woods, looking both sexy—and demonic.

She didn’t know how he could continue to deny his demon blood when evidence kept mounting. Aside from his similarities to those dragons and his seamless adaptation to this place, he could read the demonic writing!

Maybe that was due to a genetic memory, passed down through the blood—a memory formed here.

By his ancestors.

Now that Thronos had returned to his “realm of origin,” his very behavior was changing. There’d been an overall mellowing of rage, and he’d actually cracked jokes. In the last twenty-four hours, he’d probably committed more offendments than in his entire lifetime. She could take some of the blame for those, but not for other changes.

His voice, already a baritone rumble, had grown even deeper, raspier. And his language was deteriorating rapidly. Over the day, he’d begun carrying his seven-foot-tall frame differently, with not quite so much tension in his shoulders, not so much stiffness in the spine. Even his horns seemed prouder somehow.

He not only sounded like a demon, he looked like one. Which she was discovering she might have a weakness for.

Sabine adored having a demon lover. Would Lanthe?

Maybe the realm of Feveris was precisely where she and Thronos needed to go. In the Land of Lusts, she’d feel no guilt for bedding an enemy Vrekener. No fear of the future.

Wait. What was she thinking? She was a daughter of the Sorceri, a born hedonist. She’d take pleasure where she found it, and laugh in the face of guilt.

Well, as long as she didn’t get knocked up.

Thronos could be an endless source of pleasure. She’d enjoyed teasing him earlier, wanted to some more. “Come back down here”—she crooked her finger at him—“with all the other offendmenters.”

Though he looked like he wanted nothing more than to join her, he remained where he was. “I’ll keep watch. It’s my job to protect you.”

Because his instinct told him so. She sighed. She appreciated the protection, but she wished he was doing it because he wanted to, not because he was compelled to.

For once, she’d love to hear a male say, “I’m going to do you a solid—not because of what you can do for me in return or what you can give me—but simply because I like you.”

Was Thronos so different from Felix? Thronos wanted offspring. Felix had hungered for power.

Both of them sought something from her; yet neither truly cared about her. They only saw what she could give them, how they could use her.

Which she didn’t care about, because she had a plan to get her back to Rothkalina: beguile Vrekener. Afterward, she’d never have to see Thronos again. “Come on, don’t be a killjoy. You’ll scent anything that comes near.” When he made no move, she said, “I think you don’t know how to have fun.”

“Why would I be versed in something I haven’t experienced since our last day together?”

She frowned at that. How . . . sad.

But she wouldn’t dwell on it when fun was here to be had now. “Thronos, we might not make it out of Pandemonia alive. We should have died multiple times over the last few days. These things remind me . . .”

“Of what?”

“You’re bound by your sacred duties—and I’m bound by mine.”

“This I must hear.”

“I’m bound to show gratitude for every second of life I’m given by enjoying it to the fullest. Why should the gods—or fate or whatever—grant you more of these precious seconds if you waste the ones they’ve already provided? It’s exactly like—are you ready for this?—GOLD. There’s only so much of it to be had. Sorceri believe The End of the Ore will come one day. But life can be shiny and savored and glorious until then.”

He raised his brows. “Shiny.”

“You squander the coins you’ve been given. In my eyes, you’re more of an offendmenter than I am.”

“How do I squander them, then?”

“Your mind is always in the past.”

He scowled. “You’re as mired in the past as I am.”

“Maybe, but I usually recall good memories. Like how much fun we used to have playing in that meadow together.”

Thronos rose to pace that limb. What was he contemplating?

She probed, but found his shields up. Fine. She turned from him, determined to enjoy Zero-G, and its upskirt rain, all by herself.

She spied a leafy branch that arched down beside a smooth trunk, heavier streams of water following it, making a shower head of sorts. She wished she could shuck off all of her clothes and finally take the shower she’d been longing for—

A bubble burst against the back of her head.

With a gasp, she whirled around—and caught another bubble against her arm.


He was using a wing to wave them over to her, because he was playing with her, having fun.

She gave a cry when another hit her chest, cool water trickling behind her breastplate. And once those delicious drops trickled down, they traveled right back up her body.

She opened her arms wide. “Give it your best shot. I’ll bet you can’t hit me”—she pointed to her navel—“here. Oh, wait, I forgot, Vrekeners don’t gamble.”

“I’ll enter into another wager with you. If I hit your target, then you have to remove your breastplate.”

He was certainly getting the hang of flirting. “And if you don’t?”

“You have to remove your breastplate.”

Her lips curled. “I think I’m going to have to teach you the finer points of wagers, demon.” For once, the word didn’t seem to bother him; of course, she’d all but purred it. “Honestly, I would love to take it off, would kill to bathe under that tree limb’s cascade.” She hiked a thumb in that direction. “But we’re back in the same boat as before. How can I be sure you won’t lose control?”

“Melanthe, you want to be naked for me.”

This authoritative side of him was kind of hot. “Do I?” She sounded completely unsure, even to her own ears. Maybe they could just play tonight—taking the edge off their need. They didn’t have to go further.

Surely premarital sex was an offendment Thronos would never commit, no matter how worked up they got. I’ll breed no bastards.

“You told me that if I got you to safety, you would show me anything I wanted to see,” he said. “I got you to safety, and I want to see everything.”

She arched her brows. Sexy Thronos. And a promise was a promise, right?

Lanthe shouldn’t want to take off her clothes for him, but he was right; she did. She wanted him to see her and desire her. She wanted to experience his reaction as he beheld his mate for the first time.

If simply holding hands with this male had nearly brought her to the edge . . .

At that thought, she reached for her breastplate, eager to have it gone. As she had in the temple, she gave him her back while she unbuckled the piece. Tugging it off, she tossed it away, then started on her skirt, unfastening the hidden hooks. With a swish of her hips, the garment dropped, pooling at her feet.

Leaving her in a black thong.

She grinned when she heard his wings shoot open with a snap.

Draping an arm across her breasts, she craned her head around to find him crouched, body tensed. His horns had straightened. There was no mistaking it.

Just as unmistakable? Her response. As her gaze followed those proud lengths, her nipples hardened and the folds of her sex grew slick.

“Your panties too,” he rasped. The pulselines on his wings were glowing brighter and moving faster than she’d ever seen them.

Keeping her back to him, she hooked her thumbs around the frayed lace, pulling them down her legs. As she kicked the thong away, she thought she heard him swallow thickly.

“Ready?” she asked.

“Very.” The word was a harsh grate.

“You sure?”

“Melanthe,” he growled in warning.

She dropped her arm and turned with her shoulders back. She caught one of his thoughts, and it sent a ripple of satisfaction through her.

—Mother. Of. Gods.—


Thronos had barely recovered from the vision of her flawless ass when she turned to him, unleashing the full force of her beauty. At the sight, three things happened:

He almost fell out of the tree.

His shaft shot so hard so fast that he grew dizzy.

And he decided he’d deal with any danger as it came along.

He’d known her breasts were generous. Now he saw they were perfection. Milk-white, a touch fuller at the bottom, topped with cherry-red nipples.

If he were a fanciful male, he’d swear those peaks were stiffening under his avid gaze. His member began to throb.

Her narrow waist flared to shapely hips. The black thatch of hair on her mons was a small, trimmed V. Her legs were long and lithe. He imagined them bent beside his hips as she rode his shaft—or kneeling over his head as she straddled his tongue.

“I’ll just wash off, then,” she said in a casual tone. Seeming unaware of her earth-shattering effect on him, she stepped under the cascade, tipping her face to the water, and started to bathe.

She must be confident that he could control himself; she was mistaken.

But considering the way his erection ached, intercourse would be short-lived. He decided to get his first release behind him, then seduce her slowly.

He had a last brief thought about dangers and being alert, but then she rubbed water over her breasts—the most breathtaking sight he’d ever witnessed.

Conclusion: the plan to mate her as soon as possible is sound.

Never taking his eyes off her, he was only dimly aware that his shaking hands had begun removing his boots.

As she rinsed her hair, she noticed him removing his second boot. “You didn’t say anything about your getting naked.”

“I plan to touch you.”

“Hmm. Wouldn’t that be an offendment?”

He nodded ominously.

“Do I have any say in this?” She drew her hair behind her shoulders.

“You told me that if I saved you from the swamp serpents, you would let me touch you.”

“Oh. That. I didn’t say you could while I was naked.”

In answer, he dropped to the ground, striding toward her.

Lanthe was in a precarious position. She desired Thronos. If she was honest with herself, she’d admit that her attraction to him was already greater than to any other male.

But touching led to claiming.

She was going to have to trust Thronos not to follow his most primal instincts. In general, males had never given her much reason to trust them. And this one was already rock hard, his cock straining against the leather of his breeches.

Thronos started on his pants as he closed in, his scarred fingers unlacing them, his stomach muscles flexing. Once the fly gaped, she followed his dark goody trail from his navel—

Down went his pants. Her jaw dropped in time. Well. Thronos is all growed up.

He planned to claim her. With that?

She could tell he was uncomfortable, obviously unused to being naked around another. But apparently his need was burning away his instilled modesty.

When he pressed closer, she stepped back against the smooth tree trunk, putting the curtain of water between them. With a second’s reprieve, she resolved again to go only up to a point with him. She could control herself, despite her hormones, despite the body he’d just revealed!

He continued forward, letting the water run over his back and wings. He shook his dark hair out, wet locks whipping over his broad cheekbones. Between his narrow hips, his erection jutted hungrily.

She waved to it. “You still deny your demon blood? Exhibit A. Case dismissed.”

Aside from his nearly dismaying size, his cock was gorgeous. The shaft was straight and thick, with a dominant vein visibly pulsing. The crown bulged so much that the slit was almost hidden. His testicles were large, and looked in need of cupping and kissing.

When she could drag her gaze up, she was treated to his entire body in all its naked glory. His rugged muscles were ideally proportioned for his seven feet of height. The width of his shoulders only highlighted the leanness of his hips.

Above the sculpted planes of his torso, his pecs were rigid slabs of masculinity. Were those flat, dusky nipples of his sensitive? The thought had her twirling her tongue in her mouth.

Scars crisscrossed his chest, one curling around his hip, another deep one slashing up his left thigh. But they didn’t blunt her attraction whatsoever.

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