Ah, her tongue was working again. Soon he’d be treated to more of her lies. But she wasn’t a master deceiver, not like he’d expected. She had tells, and he was learning them.
In his absence, she’d cleaned herself. Her skin was scrubbed, looking rosier, highlighting the blue of her eyes. Her raven hair was drying into glossy braids and big curls.
He craved threading his fingers through that length.
To see it streaming over his chest as he held her close. . . .
Inward shake. Without those gauntlets, she appeared more delicate. Smaller somehow. He assessed the rest of her “garments” with a disapproving eye. When he got her to the Skye, he’d see to it that she dressed appropriately.
“Thronos, is there gold behind that stone?”
“Yes. A temple of it, built with gold bricks from floor to soaring ceiling. Even I found it wondrous to behold.”
When the heavy door began easing closed, she sprinted for it. The stone sealed shut before she could reach it. “Open this again!” Her tone was frantic. “Please!”
He didn’t answer, dismissively striding to the cliff edge of the cave. Behind him, he could hear her digging around for an entry she’d never find.
For once, he would ignore her. He stared out at the horizon, taking in the storms over the swamplands—the slow fade of lightning strikes backlighting purple clouds. So different from his home in the heavens.
The Air Territories were a collection of floating islands, massive monoliths that hovered above the clouds. His realm was crowned forever by seamless skies—unbroken blue or star-filled black.
Skye Hall was the royal seat, but every island had its own city, each laid out with precision. All the buildings were angular and uniform, with sun-bleached walls. His home was a testament to order, an anchor for steadfast Vrekeners.
The scene before Thronos was chaotic. Yet he found it surprisingly . . . arresting. Was there some kind of appeal to this entire domain?
His restlessness increased, that damned expectancy redoubling. He needed to get back to his anchor as soon as possible.
“How did you open this, Thronos?”
He’d read the instructions. Over this interminable night, Thronos had come to a conclusion: not reading the glyphs was cowardly; he was no coward.
This language might not even be demonic in nature. It could be some kind of mystical tongue that only certain Loreans could read. Perhaps only the worthy.
And, he’d reasoned, reading would help him learn about this plane. So he’d started at the outer cave wall, making his way in. Some sections had degraded with age, but he’d been able to glean that this cave was the entry to an ancient temple for dragon worship—and ritual sacrifice.
This hadn’t alarmed him. Dragons weren’t likely to roam war-torn Pandemonia; they’d gone extinct in most dimensions.
Then he’d come upon instructions to enter the temple, and had easily opened the door. He’d found a scene that would prove to be his mate’s most fevered fantasy.
Everyone knew Sorceri loved gold. Thronos had firsthand knowledge of just how much.
He remembered a day when Melanthe hadn’t come to the meadow. She hadn’t felt well the day before, and he’d been worried. He’d flown to her home, stealing across the roof, trying to scent her room amidst the sorcery. He’d scrabbled down the side of the abbey to a window, peeking inside. . . .
A black-haired woman with an immense gold headpiece and crazed blue eyes was rubbing coins against her masked face, murmuring, “Gold is life! It is perfection!” She began to speak to each piece, as if she’d met it at the market to gossip.
Chills raced over him. He’d never seen a madwoman before, and he believed she was Melanthe’s own mother.
Sorcery steeped the room as she chanted about gold: “Band it in armor over thy heart, and never will thy life’s blood part. Gild your hair and face and skin, and no man breathes that you can’t win. Never too much can a sorceress steal, those who defend she duly kills—”
Her eyes suddenly met his. He jolted back, but she cried, “I seeeee you. Come, hawkling. Visit a sorceress in her lair.”
He swallowed, then eased over to crouch on the sill, ready for flight. Behind her were piles of gold coins and bars, more than anyone could spend in a lifetime. Melanthe’s family had wealth; why would they let her go hungry?
“So you are the one who gives my Melanthe her new smiles,” the woman said. “She raises her gaze forever to the sky and floats when she walks—as if she’s still flying with you.”
He was forever gazing earthward, as if he could watch over her.
The sorceress was reading his mind!
“It won’t last. Melanthe will never be what you need her to be. You can’t break my daughter, and that’s the only way she’d love you . . . .”
Thronos didn’t want Melanthe’s love, had no desire for it. He would break her—but only to make her become what he needed. And he’d start by using this temple against her, getting answers out of her.
From behind him, she cried, “Why would you keep me from such a place?”
He turned to her. The distress on her face was priceless. She was practically vibrating with eagerness. He repeated her words: “Why not?”
Must get in! Behind this door was more gold than Lanthe had ever witnessed in one place. Even the great Morgana, queen of the Sorceri, didn’t have that much in her possession.
How could Thronos deny her?
Lanthe had already been on edge from his memory, then from her own dreams. She turned back to the stone, resting her body against it, raising her arms over her head—for more of her skin to touch the door that separated her from heaven. She remained like this, as if she could melt through.
He might as well be here blocking her way, her body pressed against his. He was the key! She had to convince him. Think, Lanthe! What did he want from her?
She faced him again. “Please, you can’t keep me from it!”
He sat on the ground, one knee bent, a casual arm resting over it. “I found it. I claimed it. My temple, my gold—I make the rules.”
There was something about his domineering tone that was weirdly arousing. Even though she was filled with turmoil, her nipples tightened again. She bit her bottom lip, wondering how far she’d go to sway him.
If she could just touch the gold, take its song into her . . .
She hastened over to kneel between his legs. He looked startled, but that didn’t stop him from widening his legs to accommodate her—so she moved in closer.
That electricity sparking between them made her hyper-aware of his body, of his heat. His shirt was hanging on only by a low button, revealing his chest, which rose and fell with his shallowed breaths.
When his Adam’s apple bobbed, she peeked down and found his shaft growing. It was only semihard, but already . . . generous. Demons were notorious for their size. I hope this one’s a show-er and not a grower, or I’m a dead woman.
No, no! There would be no intercourse with a Vrekener! So stop staring at his cock, Lanthe. Dragging her gaze up, she cleared her throat. “Thronos, beyond that wall is nothing less than heaven for me. Why would you keep me from it?” she asked, noticing that he had gold dust on one side of his neck. Did the temple rain gold? The thought made her pant.
He frowned at her reaction. “I’ll keep you from it because—”
He was cut short when she grabbed one of his horns and pulled his head to the side. “Gold dust,” she murmured, unable to help herself. “Give me this first.” His skin smelled as sublime as the gold. With a moan, she leaned in to rub her face against it, to get his gold on her. She rubbed her other cheek, then drew back.
A smattering remained right over his pulse point—which was palpitating along with his thundering heart.
Too much temptation! She dipped down to press her open mouth over his neck, feeling his pulse beneath her tongue, taking in the cool gold mixed with his own delectable taste. She shivered with delight. Once she’d licked him, she leaned in beside his ear to whisper, “I never knew you’d taste so good.”
His big body shuddered, bringing her back to reality. Oh, gods, was she actually gripping his horn? Releasing him, she drew back to face him.
His expression was . . . dazed, his pupils blown, his eyes glazed with lust. He shifted where he sat, no doubt because his erection was paining him. His claws dug into his palms as he fought not to touch her.
In that moment an epiphany struck her, as bright and shining as the temple of gold just one door away from her.
She could enchant this male.
In their history, she’d befriended him, run from him, fought him, and spurned him. But she’d never tried to tempt him. She was descended from the enchantment caste of the mystical immortal species. She wasn’t without innate skills.
Plus, she had centuries of sexual experience over this hard-up virgin novice. Though she’d never take it too far, she could tempt him up to a point. She’d run circles around him, wrapping him around her little finger.
If she didn’t want him to take her to the Skye, then all she had to do was ask him very, very nicely.
When she slowly grinned, his gaze dipped to her lips, so she licked them. His brows drew together, and he swallowed thickly.
Please take me back there, love.” Melanthe’s eyes were shimmering blue, her cheeks sparkling with gold.
Never in Thronos’s imaginings had he thought, She might lick my neck.
The decision to wed this creature is very sound.
She kept touching him—with her hands, with her mouth—and each contact made pleasure explode through him. She might not like his appearance, but she’d liked his taste. All his earlier plans seemed to evaporate, his mind shuttling to fantasies best left buried.
I could coax her to taste other parts of me. Feeding his shaft between her red lips . . .
Or he could taste her, wringing a climax from her with his tongue. At the thought of licking between her thighs, he was seized by the urge to toss her to the ground and feast.
His claws dug into his palms, the bite of pain helping him focus. Somewhat. “Why should I take you back there? Why should I make any concession for you?”
“Because your mate needs to see it.”
“Ah, so now you say you’re my mate.”
When she slinked even closer, her scent—a mix of home, sky, and woman—boggled his mind. “If that entitles me to fifty percent of your gold, then yes, I’m your mate.”
Where was her hostility? He could handle himself when she was a typical hateful sorceress, but this was throwing him. “If you see it, you’ll desire it. Then what? It’s not as if we can take it with us.”
“It would be enough just to touch it, to answer its call.”
“What can I say to convince you? Thronos, you can’t understand what the element is to me.”
He spoke before he considered his words: “It’s life to you.”
Her eyes widened, and she nodded. “Yes! Gold is life. It’s as beautiful as love, as divine as laughter.” She took his hand, raising it. When she made him trail the backs of his fingers over the soft skin above her breastplate, he just stifled a growl.
“Gold is this”—she pressed his palm flat over her chest—“next”—he dipped a thumb into her cleavage—“heartbeat.”
Her heart was racing; his must have stopped. Don’t squeeze her plump flesh, don’t squeeze. . . .
She laid her own hands on his thighs, shifting her weight to her straightened arms, which pushed his thumb deeper between her creamy breasts. “You want to show me your gold. You want my fingers wrapped around your gold, stroking it.”
Trying to command him? With a scowl, he dragged his hand away. “Your power isn’t working.”
“I wasn’t persuading you.” She inched her hands higher, nearly to his groin. “I was seeing if I could get you to substitute a certain noun for the word gold.” She pressed her thumbs in, indicating what she meant.
You want to show me your shaft. You want my fingers wrapped around your shaft, stroking it. When she gazed down at his erection, he almost rocked his hips. Yes, he did want to show it to her. So she could touch him, suck him. . . .
He hissed in a breath between his teeth. How much more of this could he be expected to resist? He needed to get space between them. “I have conditions before I agree.”
“Tell me something that will ease my wrath a degree.”
“Very well.” She gazed up at the ceiling for a moment before facing him again. “I had sensual dreams about you earlier.”
If true, this was at once encouraging and infuriating to him. “Once? I’ve had them of you every time I’ve slept!”
“I didn’t say it was the first time we’ve been wicked together. In my dreams.”
His lips parted. What wicked things did she dream of him doing to her?
“Clearly that eased your wrath a jot. Now, what’s your next condition?”
“If I’m to show you my treasures—you’re to show me yours,” he said, shocked by his own words. He’d planned to get answers out of her; all of a sudden, he’d begun angling to see her unclothed!
Nudity in his culture was taboo. Even husbands and wives were expected to be clothed around each other at all times. When he took Melanthe in a Bed of Troth, there’d be a claiming sheet between them.