"It's been passed down from my ancestors for generations. I've only to imagine a being's face, and it will lead me to him."

"You told me my enemies would . . . die bloody."

His fangs sharpened, but then he seemed to make an effort to control them. "Unimaginably so."

"It looked like you tortured them?" Had he given them as much pain as they had her?

In general, she was a compassionate person. But like most Loreans, she savored when her foes suffered.

"I did."

"I think I'd like"-she swallowed-"to know more about that."

He studied her face. "I wanted to uncover where your power is being held. They were resistant at first, but ultimately I learned of a vault."

She nodded. "That's where they store our powers."

"Only the leader knows where it is, and he was out of the territories. I couldn't reach him with my crystal, because I've never seen him. But understand me, Bettina-we'll get your power back. I won't rest until we do. Clearly no one steals from my Bride and lives. I've only just begun this endeavor."

For some reason, she started to believe him.

Then she remembered tomorrow's match. "Did you . . . enjoy hurting them?"

"Every second of it," he hissed. "Before I took each one's head, I forced him to say your name."

"Why would you do that?" They'd died with her name upon their lips?

"I wanted each to acknowledge why death had come for him, to whom he was paying the ultimate debt."

"And they complied? When they knew you were going to kill them anyway?"

"By that point, they did as I commanded-so that I would kill them."

I'd once known pain that great. . . .

"Protecting you is my purpose in life, Bettina. I was born to defend you. To be your shield." He eased even closer, staring down at her. "After a single dream, I also became your sword, your vengeance."

She averted her eyes. "In that dream, did you see my cowardice?"

He gently pinched her chin, raising her face to him. "There were four of them. Males in their prime-"

"I begged." Shame scalded her.

"I experienced your pain. It was some of the worst I've ever felt. And I've lived so long, Bettina."

"What else did you see of my life?" She knew he would point out her weakness, her dependency on her guardians, her useless panting after Caspion.

"You view the world differently than I do."

"Of course I do. You're a brave warrior. I'm . . . not."

"You're an artist. You see beauty in so much, noting details I never would have seen. You have a sensibility I could only imagine before." He parted his lips, then paused for a moment, as if he wanted to get his next words exactly right. "I've spent my entire life killing. I destroy. You create. You've opened my eyes to a new world. I crave more of it. More of you."

After he'd experienced her memories, he wanted her more? She hadn't seen that coming.

But then his words sank in. He wouldn't get more, even if she decided to give it to him.

"You're talking of things to come?" You're going to die in less than twenty-four hours! "Your future likely ends tomorrow night. And mine? I'll be given over to Gourlav with war brewing. That creature will possess my summoning medallion, and whoever controls it, controls me. It's a bond I can't break, one I can't outrun. I will never be free."

"Your medallion will never make it from Raum's hand to Gourlav's."

"How can you say that?" she cried.

"I've instructed my cousins to do whatever it takes to save you should I fall. Three Dacians have vowed to protect you eternally. And, Bride, there's little three Dacians can't do if they actually unite in a cause."

His precautions stunned her, but her flare of hope quickly died. She didn't see how they could circumvent the blood contract of the tournament. "Raum will be compelled to hand over my medallion."

"And he will-in a bank of mist where anything can get lost. Should my kinsmen fail to seize your freedom, they'll trace Gourlav to a hell plane and slaughter him. They'd do it now if he wasn't protected."

Not to be wed to a monster? Could she actually remove one worry from the mountain of them?

Great. Now all she had to do was figure out a way to save her childhood love-as well as this vampire who'd invaded her thoughts, her very life.

Who'd given her this gift.

She must've looked stunned, because he grated, "When I said I'd protect you, female, I meant it. I'll do it from the godsdamned grave if I have to."

Such . . . devotion. Yet she couldn't understand how he could feel so strongly for her in such a short period of time. "You've only known me for a week."

"Time enough to know we're connected."

"Because I'm your fated, mystical Bride."

"Yes, you brought me back to life," he said wryly, "an event that shouldn't be discounted so easily. But we're connected by more than that. I felt you, long before I first saw you."

"What are you talking about?"

"At the very time you were attacked, I was roused from sleep. My chest ached with the need to protect . . . something." He raked his fingers through his hair. "It was an unformed, chaotic urge, but, gods, it was strong. I thought I'd go mad from it. Had I been out in the world, I could have sensed you better, could have found you sooner. It was my fault you were vulnerable to those four. That's why I was so determined to discover who they were-to right the wrong I did to you."




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