First thought: Fuck the kingdom.

A sharp shake of his head. Steady, Trehan. Be rational, investigate.

Beside her were a male demon and a sorceress-must be the demon duke and the Queen of Sorceri.

Though Bettina seemed oblivious to all the gawking eyes on her, he did not like that most of her body was displayed to a multitude of covetous male gazes.

That's my Bride they lust after.

Despite her penchant for baring her body, her face was again concealed by a mask. I haven't fully seen her face, and still I consider this. But even as the thought arose, he realized that didn't matter. The physical was only part of what attracted him.

Still hidden, Trehan traced to a line of demonic contestants, listening to their conversations.

One young animus demon admitted to another, "I don't have a choice. Either I enter or my father will kill me."

A pathos demon said, "Of course I want the crown. Doesn't mean I won't breed on her for three litters a year."

A rage demon said, "The halfling's part sensual sorceress, part lusty demoness. I'd fight for a single night with a creature like that, much less an eternity. She's as good as beneath me."

The last two comments made Trehan's vision blur with rage, his fangs sharpening uncontrollably. No, be reasonable. This isn't you-

Reasonable? When all he wanted to do was rip out their arteries with his teeth?

Could Bettina hear any of these exchanges? She held herself very still, very regally-a detached beauty. So different from the shy seductress of the evening before.

But then, for just an instant, he saw a glimpse of fear in her eyes. His predator's gaze detected that wildly fluttering pulse in her neck.

Trehan might have resisted his mounting need to claim her, might have resisted the call of her blood. Yet her fear was intolerable to him.

He examined her more closely. Now that he knew what to look for, he could see her trembling. And why not? This wasn't a tournament for her hand-this was a virgin sacrifice, a spectacle.

The instinctive need to crush whatever threatened her hammered at him. The need to make her foes die bloody . . .

When the last of a line of roughly two hundred and thirty suitors had been presented to Bettina, she sank back, rubbing her forehead. Morgana reached over and pinched her chin, turning her face left to right. With a scowl, she shooed her ward away. A brief reprieve?

Trehan traced behind Bettina, secretly following her as she retreated to an alcove deep within a garden.

Gods, he liked the way she walked, liked the way the ends of her hair swayed back and forth just above her taut ass. With each step, a pale, gartered thigh flashed out from underneath her slinky skirt.

His swift erection didn't even surprise him. Nor did his lustful thoughts. Gods, female, the things I would do to you. . . . I'd rip those garters away with my fangs, your panties too. Then I'd spread your long, svelte legs wide and bury my tongue between them.

To claim the kiss he'd hungered for last night . . .

Everything about this woman aroused Trehan literally beyond reason. A fiery arrow through the temple? Will I ever recover from the shot?

After taking a seat on a bench, she turned to talk to a . . . plant? "Any sign of him?"

"No. I've looked for the last two hours, checked every whorehouse twice."

She glared at the plant, then murmured, "Did you see the way those entrants looked at me? I'm surprised they didn't want to check my teeth."

The plant replied, "Actually, one of them plans to remove all your teeth, so that you can handle his 'penile girth.' His words, not mine."

Who the hell had made that remark? Someone soon to die. Entering the tournament would afford Trehan the opportunity.

"Enough!" She started visibly shaking, her big eyes full of woe.

Trehan wanted to end that mouthy plant. Then I'd enfold her in my arms and tell her that all will be well. He found himself easing closer to her.

"I know what they plan for me," she said. "Oh, why won't Cas come?"

Always she thinks of that f**king demon.

Just before Trehan reached Bettina, Caspion appeared beside her, steps away from tracing directly into Trehan!

"Tina," the demon murmured, reaching for her.

She rose, her face crumpling as she launched herself at Caspion.

It isn't his right to embrace her. She is mine! Only centuries of honed self-discipline kept Trehan from ripping them apart. Investigate, Trehan. Delve. You know so little about her. . . .

Caspion whispered something in her ear, something Trehan couldn't hear. She gave him a wobbly smile, gazing up at the demon with open adoration. Hearing of her affection for Caspion was one thing, seeing it another.

Kill him. Trehan's hand fell to his sword, but before he could act, Caspion traced away with Bettina in tow.

Where had that bastard taken her? Trehan's gaze darted. When the two appeared on the grandstand, he exhaled with relief.

Only to tense once more-Caspion was striding toward the sign-in table? When the demon lifted the quill and dagger, the crowd cheered.

That son of a bitch! Trehan recalled the invitation. All competitors were mystically protected. With a swipe of the blade and a scratch of the quill, Caspion had entered the lists-removing himself from Trehan's reach.

At least until the tournament ended.

I can wait till then to kill him. Caspion might not even make it past the first round. Another might do Trehan's work for him.

Or I could enter. Two birds with one stone. He'd have no choice but to kill Caspion.

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