"My godfather has a summoning medallion, one I'm tied to. He's used it to ensure I remain in this kingdom until the tournament ends."
Trehan had heard of those kinds of medallions, knew they were an archaic means to control . . . demons. "You're part demon?" Yes, the night can decline further.
No, no, she had neither horns nor fangs. She looked like a fragile mortal, if anything. Scarcely a hardy demoness.
"My mother was a Sorceri, my father king of this demon realm," she said with a touch of smugness, but Trehan was in no way impressed with royalty.
My Bride is a drunken, senseless halfling. Of all the potential mixes in the Lore . . . This creature was the product of two of the most opposite immortal species.
As far from a proud, logical Dacian female as possible. He exhaled. No matter. Bettina was still his. "How do I procure your medallion?"
"It's being offered up as a prize," she said in a deadened tone. "For a tournament."
"You're the orphaned princess. You're the trophy?" Declining still further.
She shrugged. "There's an invitation on my dresser."
He glanced around, then traced to retrieve the old-fashioned parchment.
RAUM, THE GRAND DUKE OF THE DEATHLY ONES, AND MORGANA, THE QUEEN OF ALL SORCERI, REQUEST THE PLEASURE OF YOUR ATTENDANCE AT A TOURNAMENT FOR THE HAND OF THEIR GODDAUGHTER, PRINCESS BETTINA OF ABADDON.
VENUE: THE IRON RING; RUNE, ABADDON
WHEN: THE NINE DAYS BEFORE THE SANGUINE MOON
WHAT: FIGHTS TO THE DEATH
PRIZE: THE CROWN OF THE DEATHLY ONES AND THE SUMMONING MEDALLION OF BETTINA
In smaller print at the bottom:
FULL-MOON MARRIAGE CEREMONY TO FOLLOW FINAL ROUND OF TOURNAMENT. ALL ENTRANTS GUARANTEED MYSTICAL PROTECTION OUTSIDE THE RING.
"Guardians?" Trehan nearly crumpled the parchment. "How old are you?"
His jaw slackened. "So young?" He'd amassed centuries' worth of strength, could have seriously harmed her tonight. "An entire kingdom is up for grabs. Do you know what types of males will be entering this farce?" Trehan had spied a sample of them near the combat ring.
"I agreed to the tournament."
"Why in the gods' names would you? And why would you ever surrender your blood for a summoning medallion?" Talismans like that were common enough in the Lore. But the demon had to give up blood willingly for it to work.
She murmured, "They willed it." Before he could ask what she meant, she attempted a brisk demeanor. "Once the competition begins, I will be completely prepared to wed whoever may win." Yet her voice broke a bit on the end.
Completely prepared-and terrified.
"But you're regretting your decision now? Is that it?" Realization hit him. If Caspion had bedded her this eve, the tournament would be canceled. "That's why you were trying to seduce the demon!" His relief was profound. "So he'd save you." And now I will save you.
"I was trying to seduce Caspion because I love him. I always have, and I always will."
Trehan felt as if he'd had his fangs knocked down his throat. Of all the males in the world. That death demon was notoriously popular with females of all species, had plowed through half of Dacia's maids before he'd absconded in the night.
My Bride is in love with my target.
If Trehan's mate had been another vampire, she would feel the same urgency and need for him. But when a vampire was blooded by a female of another species, that foreign Bride might feel nothing for him.
This one feels nothing. "What if I decided to simply steal the medallion-and you?"
"I'll breach that spell as easily as I did your barrier magic."
"The medallion is held in a glass case that's been protected by Morgana, using the full force of her magics. It can't be taken, only won by my future husband."
Trehan knew of Morgana, knew she was one of the most powerful sorceresses ever to live-because she controlled the abilities of all other Sorceri. Though Trehan was a learned Dacian, he wasn't egotistical enough to believe he could easily circumvent her spells. "You must know of a way to seize it."
She shook her head. "I don't. I'd tell you if I did."
"You'd tell me, but only to save your precious Caspion." Again he grappled with his temper, with a jealousy so raw he'd never experienced the like. "And what will he do to save you? Is he entering the tournament?"
In answer, she glanced at the coverlet.
"No? So it's either me tonight or one among the males lining up below? I would think you'd be more receptive to me. Surely I'm a better alternative."
"At least none of them want to murder the male I love."
Barely controlling his rage, he ignored the pain in his palm and clutched his sword hilt, something he never did. "The male you love is in a brothel right now; I'm here with you." His words hit home, making her flinch, but he took no satisfaction from it. "You've some skill in seduction, for a virgin. You'd be wise to use it right now." He could scarcely believe he'd said that to her. In the past, he'd spoken only after careful consideration of his words.
It seemed this jealousy was eroding his reason, his impulse control. Trehan, a Dacian, had nearly bitten her.
She met his gaze. "I'm sorry that I'm your Bride," she began, clearly trying to sort out the exact right thing to say. A difficulty in her condition. "I'm sorry that my heart's already taken. But if you harm him, you will break me." Tears welled in her eyes once more. "Please . . . don't."