Dominion . . .

With an inward shake, he turned to the demon history book, to the Abaddonae entry.

Aptly named, the Deathly Ones derived strength from every kill they made, so historically they'd been at war more often than not. Their plane was an isolated swamp realm of no consequence, with a typical off-world time variance.

Time, like life, moved more slowly in Abaddon. . . .

Princess Bettina was the first daughter born in generations, described as "elfin" in appearance. Though a halfling, she'd inherited no outward demonic traits, yet she was reputed to possess a notable-but undisclosed-Sorceri power.

Fascinating. A delicate, little sorceress born into an archaic and violent demon world.

Her paternal ancestors had fought proudly and died in various battles, most often with other demonarchies. Just a decade earlier, her father, Mathar, had gone to the aid of one of his Pravus allies, perishing on the front line.

Apparently his sorceress queen, Eleara, had been killed by Vrekeners just after Bettina's birth. Those winged creatures were mortal enemies of the Sept of Sorceri, considering themselves a check on Sorceri evil.

Trehan could find no more history on Eleara's side, so he read in the Book of Lore about the Sorceri in general. Distantly related to witches, each was born with a root ability that they considered akin to a soul.

Their species was one of the weakest of all immortals-at least in matters of physical strength and healing-so they adorned their bodies with protective metals, especially gold.

They had no claws, so they wore metal ones. The masks they favored unsettled their enemies.

They were at once merry wine drinkers who worshipped gold-and fearful magicians, living in constant dread of ceding their powers to another.

What was Bettina's power? Why hadn't she used it against him when he'd been on the verge of taking her neck?

With these three books, he'd established a trio of facts.

His physical need wasn't only grueling, it was dangerous.

Though her line was partly demonic, it was proud and worthy.

The little sorceress would be under constant threat and would need him as well.

But some things couldn't be uncovered through books, and Trehan had more questions than answers regarding his Bride. He wondered what her personality was like, what her favorite color was. What were her hobbies? What made her laugh?

He considered what he did know about her.

She would bravely-if wrongly-sacrifice herself for the male she loved. She was sensual and curious about sex; no innately cold Bride for him. Yet again he recalled that shy grin as she'd bared her br**sts. She wasn't brazen by nature, but when pleasured, she grew beautifully wanton.

Judging by her book collection, she was fixated on her craft. Trehan was as obsessed with arms as any Dacian, probably more. He surveyed all his weapons displayed in gold cases and thought, She creates weapons; I wield them.

He gazed down at his injured hand. Ah, but she wielded one as well. Was that to be their initial common ground?

The wounds were fading; he found he didn't want them to. No, he hadn't sunk his fangs into her flesh, but she'd given him her own bite. When he remembered the blood welling across his palm and her flash of pride, for some reason he grew aroused once more.

Glancing from the invitation . . . to his books . . . back to the invitation-

Cold steel pressed against Trehan's neck.

Must be Viktor. He wondered if his cousin would finally land a deathblow. They'd been trying to kill each other for hundreds of years.

"You let me take you unawares?" Viktor grated. "What occupies your thoughts so completely?"

"Not completely occupied." Trehan prodded Viktor with the blade he'd managed to slip from his sword belt, the blade now pressed against Viktor's scrotum.

Viktor laughed at Trehan's ear. "I might temporarily lose my balls, old man, but you'll lose your life."

"I've been castrated before. The regeneration was such that you might find my headless fate preferable," he said, cursing his carelessness. Tonight was a night of firsts for Trehan: allowing Viktor to take him unawares, leaving a target alive, his blooding-even his rejection by a female.

Viktor hesitated, then backed away. "It won't prove amusing to end you without a fight." He loved nothing more than fighting. Not surprising-he was the last scion of the House of War, the wrath of the kingdom. "Take out your sword, Cousin."

With a weary exhalation, Trehan sheathed his short blade, then drew his sword. The weapon was one of the only belongings he truly cared about. It had been given to him by his father with the instructions: "Be an example, Son."

Ignoring the twinge in his injured hand, Trehan traced to face Viktor. Though their temperaments were directly opposed-one cold and methodical, one warlike and rash-their looks were so similar they could have been brothers.

Viktor narrowed his green eyes at Trehan. "You're even more pensive than usual. Trouble with your target?"

You have no idea, Trehan thought as he launched the first strike.

Viktor deflected it, and the clang of steel echoed in the spacious library.

"It was that new demon, right?" Viktor asked as he charged. Trehan neatly dodged his sword. Centuries of nearly constant battles between them had made them both superlative swordsmen. "Caspion the Tracker, the one all the females favored?"

All the females. Even mine.

Viktor feinted left, making a short jab to the right; Trehan arched his back, narrowly escaping the sword tip.

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