Lanthe’s biological clock—which had no idea Thronos was a kidnapping, judgmental prick—quickened at the words our offspring.

Being a doting auntie to the twins had jump-started Lanthe’s clock. Caring for little Ruby in the prison had put it into overdrive.

That she was at the tail end of her fertile time probably wasn’t helping matters.

But children with Thronos? Never. It would be bad enough if Lanthe was trapped in Skye Hell, being brainwashed; she’d be damned if her children shunned laughter, for gold’s sake.

“You don’t seem averse to the idea of young in general,” he observed.

Not at all. And it wasn’t like she hadn’t been looking for a partner all these years.

Too bad each of her forays had ended poorly. She would either gain a creepy new admirer, have her powers stolen, or get the dreaded brush-off: males wincing at their watches, claiming, “Got a really early morning tomorrow, sweet.” Then they’d blaze.

Hit it and quit it. Nail and bail. Yet never a conceive and leave, because she’d taken precautions whenever she’d been in season.

“How could you not have had children?” Thronos demanded. “Your opportunities for impregnation must have been legion.”

She was making a note of all these slut-shaming comments, vowing to throw his demonic origins in his face at every opportunity. —Each day, I’m going to give you two harlot cards to play. If you play more than your two, then I’m going to retaliate, and you won’t enjoy it.—

—My wanting children is a recent development, one that has come to a screeching halt now that I’m your captive. Once I get free, I might investigate the possibility further.—

“You’ll never be free of me.” The words sounded like a sentencing. Meeting her gaze, he said, “Every second we’re together, I get under your skin as deeply as you’ve scarred mine.”

This was like arguing with a wall. A demonic, flying wall. —What’s your plan now?—

“Avoid the war on the plateau below.” The sound of it filtered upward so unceasingly that already it had become a kind of white noise. “Which means we’ll be staying in this cave until you can create a portal to the mortal realm. From there, I’ll take you to the Skye.”

—You’re not hearing me. Thronos, if you didn’t know about the attacks, then your knights were acting outside your orders. What’s to stop them from pitching me over the side up there?—

“My knights would not have dared harm you.” Had he sounded a touch less smug about that? Less confident?

She had to keep chipping away at his stubborn beliefs. —This sorceress is predicting some big adjustments in your future. You’re going to have to accept that Vrekeners break their word, and that your chivalrous and valiant knights laughed as they dropped a terrified girl to her death. You’re going to have to accept that your men sought to murder your eleven-year-old mate with a pitchfork while she fought not to scream!—

For a moment, Thronos looked almost spooked. As of today, she knew what it was like to have one’s lifelong beliefs called into question. It felt a lot like Portia moving a mountain—in your brain. If Lanthe hadn’t known him so well, she could almost have pitied him.

But she did know him well.

—As I said, you can verify everything with Nïx. For now, your bitterest necessity is too tired to keep arguing. You don’t rate high enough anyway.— She turned from him, looking for a place to curl up for an hour or two. Right now the raised rock shelf in the back looked like the best bed ever.

“What do you mean I don’t rate?” he asked. When she didn’t answer, he started talking about that sanctified knowledge again, about being a “sword for right,” so she tuned him out, heading toward the back.

“And you tell me I’m not hearing you?” he said from behind her.

He doesn’t like to be ignored. Good to know. Ignoring him, she swept her arm over the surface. Though the air was warm inside this cave, the slab was freezing cold. Beggars, choosers, blah. She curled up, closing her eyes.

Was it only a day ago that she’d been coughing up grit in the tunnel? Since then, she’d suffered a fiery Vrekener crash, a log to the face, and tongue amputation.

And that was after weeks of captivity.

I’m not doing too good here. On top of all that, she was trapped in a cave with gold nearby, which left her antsy. She could feel it, could all but smell it, yet she couldn’t reach it, to touch, to worship. Like an itch she couldn’t scratch. No, worse than that—like a blade in the back she couldn’t reach.

Think of something else. Shivering and miserable, she envisioned her lavish suite in Castle Tornin. Tonight, she’d be in her warm bed, watching movies—rom-coms and epic love stories. Or maybe she’d read a new self-help book.

Funny—before all this, she’d been chafing at Tornin. She often felt like a third wheel with Rydstrom and Sabine. Things improved when Rydstrom’s sisters visited or when Cadeon and Holly brought the girls, but their visits weren’t frequent enough to satisfy Lanthe.

Sharing a castle with Sabine and Rydstrom could be trying. Though Lanthe had her own tower in Tornin, she’d still see him kissing Sabine down in the courtyard, or holding her hand just to walk to dinner. Their obvious adoration for each other made Lanthe . . . jealous.

Not that her sister didn’t deserve every happiness, but Sabine had never even wanted love for herself. Lanthe had dreamed of it for centuries, leaving no stone unturned to find it; yet she was the one alone, with no prospect of it.

The closest she could get to a lasting relationship was with a murderous Vrekener. Ugh!

She couldn’t believe she’d had even a passing thought that Thronos’s physique was attractive! Damn her Sorceri hormones.

If she could get back to Rothkalina, she vowed on all the gold in her private vault that she would never chafe again.

She squeezed her eyes more tightly closed. She was acting as if she’d see home again. If the male pacing this cave had anything to do with it, she’d live out her days in a floating hell.

At least one of us can sleep. After about half an hour, the sorceress had passed out—while he sat back against a wall of hieroglyphs, watching her.

She seemed to have blocked him out, ignoring him so totally that he might as well not be here. In a way, ignoring him was precisely what she’d been doing for the last several centuries.

Because he didn’t rate. To her, he mattered not at all.

Positioned as she was, her ridiculous excuse for a skirt was riding up. Any higher and he’d be able to see the cleft of her ass. Recalling the feel of those shapely curves in his palms made his shaft stiffen with a swift heat.

Though he hadn’t slept in weeks, he wouldn’t with Melanthe near, for fear of what he might do to her. Over his adult life, every single one of his dreams had featured her—him doing things to her.

Sometimes he’d wake to find himself thrusting against the sheets, the pillow, his fist—anything to ease the pressure his body continued to struggle with.

Culminating like that was considered a disgrace for a mated male. Releasing anywhere outside his mate’s sex was taboo, a waste of a precious resource.

Soon he wouldn’t have to worry about such things. Once he wed her, he’d wake to find himself thrusting between her thighs.

In mere days, they’d be back in the Skye. Within his home, he’d take her to his bed—a Bed of Troth.

Craftsmen had begun carving it for him on the day of his birth, a practice that wasn’t unusual among the more stable Lorean species. For Vrekeners, this lifelong bed was considered hallowed. By law, it was the one place he could claim her.

Just that act would marry him and Melanthe. They’d be officially bound, and—with the gods’ favor—expecting.

But now he had another urgent reason to return to his home. If what she said was true and his knights had acted outside his specific orders not to hurt either sister, Thronos was going to rain down punishment.

Melanthe had once sent Thronos crashing to his doom. Years later, had they done the same to Sabine?

Not for justice. But for vengeance. The master I now serve.

Sabine had killed the sovereign of their species, his own father; Thronos could almost accept the idea of assassinating her, their vow notwithstanding.

It made no sense. In one thing she was correct: if he accepted Melanthe’s version of events, then his beliefs would be turned inside out.

He would investigate thoroughly, keeping her under close guard. For her safety. And ours.

How was he going to control her powers without that collar . . . ?

Thronos rolled his head on his neck to loosen the knotted muscles there. Though he should be exhausted, he was wired. Yes, he was alert to danger, feeling less than secure in this place, but it was more.

That weird feeling of expectancy hit him then, along with an easing within him. Even as constant desire for Melanthe racked him, he was feeling more nonchalant about consequences. He found himself less concerned about missteps and offendments.

Which could prove ruinous with the temptation sleeping not ten feet from him.

Were these changes because of her or this place? Both?

So what would happen to him after six more days here with Melanthe? Perhaps he should head out tomorrow and scout for an alternative portal.

He heard her sigh in sleep. Without waking, she turned on her side to face him, displaying ample cleavage.

When he could drag his gaze from her breasts, his eyes followed the seam of her lithe thighs all the way up to the shadow beneath her skirt. He shifted uncomfortably as his length grew even harder.

Conclusion: the decision to wed her is sound.

He recalled that Feveris comment she’d made earlier. Thronos had been startled by his reaction. He’d imagined them bespelled with lust, and he’d longed for it.

In Feveris, he would be incapable of denying her, unable to follow the Vrekener law of marriage before touching, kissing, or claiming. They’d have no urge to leave that place, content just to mate . . . and mate . . . and mate . . .

He barely stopped himself from stroking his aching member. He knew better than to entertain these imaginings—because Vrekener law left him no recourse for his condition.

Not yet allowed to touch her body, or ever to pleasure his own.

Despite this, he wondered what would happen if he woke her with another forbidden kiss.

At the thought of her opening up to him—her red lips and smooth thighs parting—his shaft began to throb for relief.

Though inexperienced, he believed he could move her past any hesitations—because so many males had done so before him. And more, she’d admitted to a year of celibacy. For the duration of her imprisonment, he doubted she’d enjoyed any release whatsoever, just as he hadn’t.

She’d likely melt for him.

Plus, if he wasn’t mistaken, his mate was in season. At his earlier mention of children, he thought her eyes had briefly softened. Might his mate truly yearn for her own brood?

And thus his seed?

The idea of planting himself deep inside her sheath and breaking his seal put him into a lather. Especially now when she was fertile and needing. He had to bite back a groan.

Must get her to a Bed of Troth.

He turned from her to ram his horns against the wall. He grunted in pain; when had they become so sensitive? His vision briefly blurred, and he could swear he’d read words among the incomprehensible glyphs:

He jerked back. No, that wasn’t possible. Though Thronos knew several languages, Demonish—especially primitive Demonish—was not among them.

There must be something in the air, making his vision play tricks on him. This place is getting to me. Even now the reasons he couldn’t touch his mate grew dimmer.

He shook his head hard, attention easily returning to her. Her eyes darted behind her lids, her shoulders twitching. Was she always this fitful a sleeper? His first impulse was to take her into his wings. His second impulse was to take her into his arms, into his hands.

But he wouldn’t. Though he now believed she was innocent of the worst of the crimes at Castle Tornin, she was still a liar and a thief who’d bedded scores of men. Already she had him doubting his own knights, who were epitomes of honor and forthrightness.

How could Thronos desire someone he’d long detested? He’d be damned if he valued her when she didn’t value herself. He knew one thing that would cool his need like an ice storm, a memory that made his hatred seethe.

He’d been eighteen, closer to finding her than he’d been since the fall. Accompanied by his brother, Aristo, the new king of the Territories, Thronos had followed her sorcery to a hamlet, one sitting low between mountains, nearly hidden from the skies.

Though that night was centuries distant, he remembered each detail as if they’d been branded into his mind.

Lanthe woke, going from deep sleep to instant awareness.

How long had she been out? She tested her tongue . . . almost healed.

Even as weary as she’d been, she was surprised she’d slept. The siren call of gold still plagued her. Not to mention that a Vrekener hovered nearby.

He was presently limping/pacing. Had he rested at all?

Feigning sleep, she cracked her lids like the sneaky sorceress that she was.

His gaze was distant, eyes flickering silver. What was he thinking about? Perhaps he had lowered some of his blocks, and she could probe his thoughts.

In. His blocks were down!

Thronos was recollecting some distant memory from when he was a teenager. He’d been walking with another Vrekener, one around the same age who resembled him somewhat.