She caught sight of him, and her gaze widened, as if with disbelief. She dropped the bag she was carrying, taking a quick step forward, body tensed, those red lips parted.
He could almost swear she’d been about to leap into his arms before she’d stopped herself. Which couldn’t be right. A trick of the mind.
Raising his palms, he quickly said, “My name is Thronos Talos, and I mean you no harm, sorceress.”
“I know.” Her eyes started to shimmer with a blue metallic gleam. “I don’t mean you any harm either,” said the tiny female—who looked like she couldn’t hurt a fly.
But with Sorceri, appearances were deceiving.
Her friendly demeanor emboldened him to step closer to her. He struggled not to limp in front of such a beauty.
“I’m Lanthe.” She looked like running from him was the last thing on her mind. Again, he got the curious impression that she was barely holding herself in place.
She also showed no surprise at her surroundings, as if she’d been to this glade before. Thronos had half believed he was the only one who knew of it.
All around her, surreal drops floated and bubbles bobbed, but she never took her eyes from him. When she tilted her head, her black hair swept over her shoulder, sending tendrils of her scent toward him.
He inhaled greedily. His muscles shot tight with tension.
This exquisite creature was . . . his mate. A sense of déjà vu wracked him. “Will you not close that threshold and speak with me, Lanthe?”
She nodded, turning back to the portal. She leaned over to poke her head back in. Gods, the body on that female! He didn’t know whether he wanted to kiss her—or crush her in a hug.
All he knew was that the shard was slowly withdrawing from his chest.
Lanthe seemed to be speaking to someone on the other side. Was there another who would yank her back through? Who could ever let such a female go?
His face fell. How could a woman this incomparable have no mate?
“Yes, right this very minute!” she said to someone unseen. “Not twenty freaking feet behind me!” Pause. “Because maybe I don’t suck.” Another pause. “For the love of gold, I don’t need an illusion,” she said in an exasperated tone. “I look fine. I’ll portal soon!”
Relief rushed through him as soon as the threshold closed.
“My sister.” Lanthe rolled her eyes. “For someone so cool, she’s turned into a mother hen. Weird. So where were we?” She seemed nervous.
“Why are you in a place like this, sorceress?” A dark thought arose. “Perhaps you’ve come to spy on me for your queen?” Maybe Morgana sought their total annihilation.
“I vow to you that I have no loyalties to Morgana. She’s taken much from me.”
“Then we have that in common.”
“I’m so sorry about your kingdom, Thronos.”
“How much do you know of the situation?”
Seeming to choose her words carefully, she said, “I believe that I’m versed in both sides of the conflict.”
“Then you know Vrekener actions could have prevented the attack. I could have. I should have paid more attention to the former king and his actions.”
“You blame yourself?” she demanded, as if indignant on his behalf.
“How about this: Let’s not blame anyone. Let’s just fix the situation as best as we can.”
He liked this sorceress! Playing along, he said, “How shall we fix it, then?”
“I’m working on it even as we speak. But first, tell me—why are you here? What do you hope to find in Pandemonia?”
“I . . . I can’t lie.” He ran his fingers through his hair. “I’ve been unwell. In the explosion that destroyed my home, I somehow injured my mind, and I’m not healing. Some of my memories were lost.” Why did he find it so easy to talk to her? Just because she was his fated one? Yet she also felt familiar to him. “I recall traveling to this place, but it’s like looking at a puzzle with half of the pieces missing. Incomplete. I come here in the hopes of remembering.” Sharing these things with her felt like shucking weights from his shoulders.
“Maybe I can help with that?” she said softly, her voice like a balm.
Surely this sorceress had to be taken by someone. And even if she wasn’t, the idea of a female like her choosing him was implausible.
He was scarred, his body and mind battered. He had no wealth, no real home, nothing in the worlds to offer her.
But I want her. He’d still try. Because he also had nothing to lose.
Yet when she sidled closer and he drew more deeply of her scent, he detected the faintest hint of . . . another.
Recognition slammed him, along with a misery so weighty he felt that his knees would buckle. Voice gone hoarse, he said, “Sorceress, you’re expecting.” She was taken. “Where’s your man?” I will challenge him for her. And since the other male would fight to the death for a female like this . . . I will kill him.
Her eyes misted as she murmured, “I fear the man I knew is lost to me forever.”
The depths of sadness she conveyed roused a seething jealousy inside him. He wanted her to feel so strongly about him—only him!
But if the other male was lost . . .
Then I can have her for my own.
Lanthe had just probed his mind—and nearly wept.
She’d found nothing of herself in Thronos’s thoughts, not past today. His blocks were down—he might not even remember that he had them—so she’d searched, and found . . .
Not a single fleeting memory of a girl named Melanthe.
A wife. A queen. A best friend.
How could she make him recall what was no longer there?
His thoughts troubled her as well. Though he was filled with fury toward the man she loved—unknowingly himself—he was struggling to choke it back so he could speak to her with his full attention, because his “mind was not well.”
Already, he’d scented that she was his mate. He neared, tentatively, so as not to scare her away. He had no idea he’d never be rid of her.
When drops from the canopy kissed her face, he drew his wings over his head, creating a shelter. “I’ve always room for you too.”
Don’t cry, don’t cry. As she met him halfway, she gazed up at him, taking in his exhausted mien, his troubled gray eyes. He didn’t look like he’d eaten or slept since they’d been separated, and his wings had reverted to their gnarled and twisted state. She’d noticed him trying to conceal his limp in front of her.
Because she wasn’t his Lanthe anymore. She was a mysterious woman—his fated one—and he longed to impress her.
Yes, she would start over with him and tell him about their past, but how could she adequately put their journey into words?
Overcoming impossible odds. Defying death and learning to trust. Coming to love each other again.
Reminded of all they’d beaten, she set her jaw. I’m getting my Vrekener back. She would juice him with all the power in her body if she had to.
She’d done it for Sabine; she’d do it for him. When he stood before her, Lanthe said, “Thronos, if I tell you something crazy, could you try to believe me?”
“Sorceress, in these last few weeks, I’ve seen crazy. I’ve lived it.”
No kidding. “What if I told you that we were well acquainted with each other? But you were bespelled to forget me?”
She debated telling him upfront that they were married (oh, and having a kid!), but decided against it. She didn’t want him to believe she was a lock, didn’t want him complacent. For now, she needed him to ache for her—as badly as she did for him.
“I don’t see how I could ever forget you. Lanthe, I believe that you are my mate.” He eased even closer to her. “You don’t look surprised by this news?”
She shook her head. “Before Morgana destroyed your kingdom, she erased all your memories of me.” Voice going throaty, Lanthe said, “But, Thronos, we knew each other.”
He was in disbelief. “I’ve known you?” As if testing the waters, he tentatively smoothed her hair behind her ear, his hand trailing down to her face . . . to her neck . . . to her collarbone . . .
When she didn’t stop him, in fact arched to his touch, a shocked breath escaped him.
“That’s right, Thronos. I want to make you remember that and everything else. Because our story is epic.”
“How is this possible? It would explain so much. . . .” He swallowed thickly, as if he were starting to believe—to hope. “How would you restore my memory? Understand me, sorceress: I can’t express how fiercely I covet these memories. How I covet you.”
She laid her palm on his chest; his heart thundered. “I’ll need to use my sorcery on you.” It radiated from her palms. “Can you trust me to make this right?”
Ever brave, he squared his shoulders. “Do as you will, Lanthe. I’ve nothing to lose.”
She shook away any thoughts about her on-the-fritz power or her sorcery limitations. Yes, Morgana was stronger. Yes, the queen had packed one hell of a persuasive punch.
But love would triumph.
Lanthe pressed her alight palm over his chest as she commanded, “Remember me, Thronos. Remember.” Her sorcery burned brighter, coiling around them, through them. “Remember.”
The air grew warmer. Subtle tremors rippled beneath their feet. Floating drops of water began to rocket in haphazard directions. “Remember me.” Her voice sounded altered, vibrating with power.
Sadness seeped into his expression. “I . . . don’t.”
“We’re only getting started, Vrekener. Just open your mind as much as you can.”
He got that determined look, the one she’d seen hundreds of times before, the one she couldn’t love more. “I will.”
“Remember me. Restore your memories. Shake off what Morgana did to you.” To us.
When he still evinced no recognition, she bit her lip, deciding to reveal more of their past. “Do you feel the need to enclose us in your wings?”
“Overwhelmingly. But I don’t want to scare you.”
Again, as if he were testing the waters, he gradually wrapped his wings around her, enfolding them both completely. His pulselines were lighting like crazy. Her poor Vrekener must be a bewildered mix of nerves and anticipation. “Thronos, when we’re like this, we tell each other secrets. Do you want to know some?”
“We were best friends as children,” she told him. “Just as we are now.”
“Yes,” she murmured. “But we’re so much more. You love me. And I love you.”
“You? Love me?”
“Wildly. Madly.” Maybe a kiss would remind him. Maybe she needed to spur his body as much as his mind. She rose on her toes, cupping his face between her glowing hands, drawing him to her. Within his wings, her iridescent sorcery lit his eyes, joining his surreal pulselines. “Can I kiss you?”
His brows drew tight. “By all the gods, yes.”
Just as he had kissed her after those time loops—so she would kiss him.
A claiming kiss.
A no-going-back kiss.
He went motionless as she brushed her lips over his, once and again. When she slanted her mouth across his, he parted his lips.
She deepened the contact, slipping in her tongue to tease his. He met her with a groan, and she grew encouraged—as if he’d conceded far more than a kiss.
He began one of his slow-build love affairs with her mouth, sensuously licking her until her eyes slid shut.
Her hands shook on his face as their tongues slowly twined. His arms wrapped around her. He palmed the back of her head with one hand, his other dipping toward her ass, as if he couldn’t help himself. His wings tightened around her back even more, squeezing her closer.
Once they were sharing breaths, she drew back to whisper against his lips, “Remember me, love.” The ground tremors intensified, until even the immense trees shuddered. She felt like a sorcery reactor, stronger than she’d ever been.
Because I’ve never wanted anything like I want him.
“Remember”—she commanded between seeking kisses—“Thronos, please, remember me. I’m waiting for you. Remember, remember, REMEMBER!” Sorcery blasted from her to him.
Breathless, she drew back.
His eyes were heavy-lidded, vivid silver. Flickering remnants of blue light sparked around them.
He shook his head. “Though I’d like to repeat this process to be sure.” He tenderly brushed the pad of his thumb over her bottom lip. “Shall we try again, lamb?”
He frowned; she beamed.
Voice roughened, he murmured, “I . . . smell magics on you?”
Her eyes misted again. “Those were the first words you ever said to me.”
His brow creased as he clearly recollected. “I remember you!” Recognition flared in his gaze. “My Lanthe.” As they had so long ago, his eyes told her, I’ve been pretty much lost without you.
“Um, there’s a part in the middle. . . .”
“I’ve already skipped past it,” he told her. “We don’t dwell on things that have no consequence, and I’m not one to squander my golden”—he kissed her forehead—“coins.”
She grinned up at him. “I’ve been looking everywhere for you! I never would’ve given up.”
“I love you, Lanthe. I knew it before, was going to tell you that night . . .” He trailed off. “And you love me too?”