But that would mean Thronos would have to marry Melanthe first. He couldn’t even explore her body until then. The mere kiss he’d taken from her was an offendment.
He peered down at her in his arms. How could he wed her after everything he’d heard about her? When he didn’t know the extent of her involvement in the atrocities under Omort’s reign?
He remembered Aristo telling him centuries ago, “Your mate and her sister have allied with their brother Omort the Deathless, leader of the Pravus. Reports filter out from their hold. Thronos, what their family is doing . . . it’s beyond appalling.”
Incest, blood orgies, child sacrifices.
Melanthe—the sister of Omort and possibly his concubine—mother to my offspring?
WRATH. He felt like he was drowning in it. Engulfed in it.
“You’re hurting me!”
He found his claws digging into her. He didn’t loosen his grip.
“What are you thinking of to make you so enraged?”
He clenched his jaw, unable even to speak. He listened to her heartbeat, focusing on it. Get control, Talos. Early in his life he’d seen the tragedies even a brief loss of control could wreak.
Glass shards like fangs flaying my skin. He gave his head a hard shake, increasing his speed.
In a softer voice, Melanthe said, “Nïx wouldn’t have sold me out if she’d known you were going to hurt me.”
Debatable. He’d met the Valkyrie a year ago in the mortal city of New Orleans, when he was still regenerating the foot he’d lost because of Melanthe. Nïx hadn’t seemed to be tracking reality when she’d told Thronos where to be to get captured—and when to be there, just a week ago. All those months spent waiting since then had been punishing.
“What did that Valkyrie tell you about me?” Melanthe asked. “What was her advice?”
It’d been one cryptic sentence: Before Melanthe became this, she was that. . . .
The female would say nothing more, no matter how much he’d pressed. “She mentioned nothing about my treatment of you,” he grated as the pain in his wings intensified steadily.
With the pain came equal parts wrath.
Because of the creature in his arms, he’d had lifetimes of both.
Numbed to the drizzle and cold, Lanthe was lulled into a kind of exhausted stupor as the flight went on and on and on. When they’d crossed over an expansive forest, the noises of the battles grew dimmer.
She dared a glance back, could still see bursts of spectral light. Soon that melee would spread outward all over the entire island. Thronos had to know that.
His face was tensely set—as if he were concentrating on blocking out his pain. There’d be no talking. Think about something else, Lanthe. Anything else.
Yet now that she was his captive (temporarily), she found her mind mired in thoughts of him. A memory arose of their first day together, when he’d tried to feed her—his idea of courting.
Unfortunately, he hadn’t known she was a vegetarian.
“For you.” Thronos proudly dropped a carcass of bloody meat at her feet.
She burst into tears.
“Why do you cry?” Despite all his confidence, he looked confounded—and pained, as if her tears tormented him. “You don’t like my gift?”
“Th-that was my bunny!” One of the woodland creatures that she called friend.
“It’s decent meat. And you’re starving.”
Her face heated. “I am not!”
“Are too. You were scrounging for twigs, lamb.”
“They’re b-berries! I like to eat berries.”
The next morning, when curiosity had driven her back to the meadow, she’d found it littered with piles of berries. Thronos had been standing among them, with his fingers stained, his chin up, and that cocky look back on his face. Delighted, she’d leaned up and pecked his lips. His wings had snapped open, a reaction that had seemed to embarrass him.
After that rocky start, they’d grown to be best friends, just as he’d promised.
Later on, he’d asked her why her parents didn’t buy food. She couldn’t make him understand that her mother and father worshipped gold more than anything it could purchase. Not to mention that they’d deemed Lanthe old enough to begin stealing her own way through life—
Thronos’s grip was loosening in midair! “Wait!” she cried.
But he’d only repositioned her in the cradle of his arms. Apparently he was adjusting her for the duration—and wasn’t about to dump her like an armful of firewood. After a moment she relaxed slightly.
Though she had recurring nightmares about Vrekeners sweeping down on her, she was now trapped directly under a pair of wings. Talk about immersion therapy.
She stared up at them, spread in flight, wind whistling through his healing sword wound. As a girl, she’d been obsessed with his wings, touching them all the time.
She’d been fascinated to discover the backs were covered with scales like those of a dragon. As if in a mosaic, Thronos’s black and silver scales had made slashing designs that resembled sharp feathers.
During the day, the undersides were dark gray. At night, they turned black, stark against the electrical pathways that forked out along the bones. Each of those pulselines shone as bright as phosphorescence.
One night when they’d secretly met, he’d spread his wings, showing her how the pulselines moved. It’d looked like he’d been surrounded by lightning wings. He’d demonstrated how he could use tricks of light to camouflage his wings so they’d be invisible in the dark.
When he’d grown embarrassed by her wide-eyed stare, those pulselines had quickened, like a blush.
“I never knew these were scales instead of feathers,” she told him. “I guess none of my kind have gotten a good look at the backs of Vrekener wings.”
He appeared troubled. “That’s because no Vrekeners ever retreat from Sorceri.”
Now Thronos’s wings were contorted in places. She’d always imagined the bones had been set badly, but up close, she could see that they’d mended true, in strong straight lines. Maybe the muscles had bunched, growing off-kilter?
Biting her bottom lip, she dared to reach up and touch a pulseline. Its beat accelerated, and his grip tightened on her.
The first time she’d ever voluntarily touched him as an adult.
When he cast her a killing glance, he again resembled a reaper, every inch a “righteous reckoning.” His silvered talons glinted, as ominous as a sword blade. “Why did you do that?” he demanded.
“You used to like me to touch them.”
Voice brusque, he said, “You assume I remember that far back?”
What if he didn’t? His mind might have been injured. For some reason, the idea of that made her chest ache. She remembered every second of those four months. Regardless of their history, she found herself thinking of them—of him—far too often.
As they gained altitude to crest another mountain, her ears popped. Rain fell even harder, drops pelting her, winds buffeting them. She heard crashing waves. They’d reached the far coastline? She blinked against the rain, saw he was following the shore north. Or south. Who knew with her wretched directional skills?
He looked as if he were trying to scent something. He flew them to a point, hovered, then returned down the coast, flying farther in the opposite direction. Again he repeated his pattern, clearly growing more frustrated.
“Even if your senses are as keen as a Lykae’s, you can’t scent through pouring rain.”
“Silence.” He dove to circle a tree at the very edge of the storm-tossed peak.
The tree swayed in the winds, the top like the deck of a pitching ship. Yet the bastard tossed her onto a thrashing limb! She clawed her gauntlets across the wood, scrabbling for a hold.
If she fell, she’d tumble down the mountain, her body dashed to pieces. Apparently he’d forgotten how susceptible to injury Sorceri were!
Or maybe he hadn’t forgotten.
Once she’d steadied herself, she eased around to crawl along the limb, the wood slick beneath her hands and knees. Kneeling before the trunk, she stabbed her gauntlet claws into it, then peered up, blinking against the downpour. No leaves screened her from the gale. Above, bare limbs spread out like veins, as if they were stretching for the sky’s arteries of lightning.
Thronos stood at the very top, easily balanced, rising to his full height to ride the movement. A hand shielded his gaze from the horizontal rain.
As she put out a prayer to the gods that he got struck up there, her teeth began chattering. She soon shook until her head bobbed, and not just because of her fear of heights. She hadn’t had more than an hour or two of sleep at a time for three weeks, and had rarely eaten the gruel they’d been served.
Right now, she should be tucked in bed in her warm tower at Tornin, watching DVDs on her solar-powered TV and enjoying sumptuous foods and sweet Sorceri wine—while waited on hand and foot. Instead, she was trapped with her worst nightmare, strangling with the need to kill him.
A burst of hysterical laughter left her lips. Lanthe and Thronos, sitting in a tree, k-i-l-l-i-n-g. . . .
Damn it, why the hell hadn’t Sabine found her? Maybe the double-dealing Nïx had steered her wrong—while giving Thronos detailed directions to find Lanthe.
If Sabine found out he had her sister, she would unleash hell.
That night so long ago, when Thronos had led others to the abbey, Sabine had noted the way he’d stared at Lanthe: “The young Vrekener looked at you with absolute yearning. His people must have somehow discovered you are his fated mate. They attacked our family to secure you for the hawkling’s future, to groom you. To break you. As they do with so many other Sorceri children.”
Which Lanthe had supposed was true. But she’d remained silent, and to this day, Sabine had no idea of her sister’s connection to Thronos.
What was he planning for Lanthe once he’d gotten her off the island? Did he expect to have sex with her? She recalled the way he’d kissed her in the mine.
Oh, yeah. He expected it.
She heard a swoop of wings as he returned to stand behind her. She chanced a look over her shoulder, hating how he was totally in his element. As the tempest raged all around them, flashes of lightning illuminated his horns, wings, and fangs.
A true demon.
She remembered calling him one when they were young. He’d been horror-struck, hadn’t come back to the meadow for three days. Later she’d realized he’d flown home with the question: “Mom, Dad, am I a demon?”
When he’d finally returned to Lanthe, he’d been quick to present all the information he’d gathered about how Vrekeners were completely, utterly, without a doubt different from savage demons.
Vrekeners couldn’t teleport like demons, their eyes didn’t grow black with emotion, and males didn’t mark their females upon claiming. While demon horns had a function in that species’ mating rituals (Thronos had blushed at that), Vrekener horns were only for menacing show, to terrify wrongdoers. Their wings were for swift capture of prey, to stamp out evil as quickly as possible—because evil could spread.
She’d rested her chin in her hand and asked in a saucy tone, “And your fangs? Do they stamp out evil too?” He’d looked troubled for the rest of the day. . . .
Seeing him in this lightning, his species was plain to her—just as it was to many others in the Lore. When Loreans called Vrekeners demonic angels, it wasn’t because they resembled demons.
She recalled Sabine and Rydstrom debating Vrekener origins. Rydstrom had said, “They are sanctimonious, maniacal, and deluded. My kind claims no affinity with theirs.”
Now Lanthe blinked, and Thronos was gone. As thunder rocked the night, he moved from limb to limb, an eerie predator. He alighted on one above her. From there he could have spread his wings, blocking the worst of the storm for her, but he was content to watch her suffer.
She couldn’t remember the last time she’d felt this helpless, this powerless. The key to her collar was on the other side of the island. Thronos had separated her from her only shot at getting this thing off her neck. Not that she could simply walk up to Emberine and Portia and ask for it back. But Lanthe could’ve planned a sneak attack, anything.
Her portal power sure would come in handy right now.
He moved to a nearby limb, hanging from his arms to bring their faces inches apart. “I told you that I’d have you soon.”
“You also told me you knew a way off this island. But you can’t find it, can you?”
“We’ll reach it in the morn.”
“Uh-huh.” Bully for us. When she turned away, he vaulted to the other side, leaning in once more.
“In the tunnel, you let go of the witch’s hand so she could protect her young. Why would someone like you be moved to help her?”
Again with the someone like you? “Why should I tell you anything? You won’t believe a word I say.”
“Lies do spill so readily from those red lips. But I learn much from the very untruths you speak.”
She dared to loosen one gauntlet to give him a vulgar hand gesture. “Learn this, demon.”
Between gritted teeth, he said, “Call me that again, harlot.”
She detested that word! With all the countless immortal and mortal languages, why was there no male equivalent?
A gust of wind drilled rain against her, sending her into a fit of coughing.
His voice a harsh grate, he said, “A male shouldn’t be heartened to see his mate’s misery. But this pleases me well.”
“Mate? I’ll die first.”
He brought one of his wings closer to her, easing that talon to her face. The silver length was rounded, smooth as ivory on the outside of the curve—but she’d witnessed how sharp the tip was.