“A portal is within this lair? With your power, could you use it without a key?”

She shook her head. “If it’s locked, it’s been barred for a reason. Against anyone.”

“So we could take a key from here to use with the Abysmals’ portal?” And if they managed to make it out of Inferno alive, would he drag her into Deep Place as well?

He didn’t know enough about the dangers in Pandemonia to leave Melanthe in hiding, which meant she would have to accompany him to yet another demon lair—without any advance scouting. Who knew what he could be leading her into?

The only other option would be to spend several more days in hell. Away from his home, his anchor. Will I even recognize myself?

Not to mention that he could never wait that long to claim Melanthe. “We search for the key, then. We’ll find it. I’ll kill any demon that gets in our way.”

“Hold on there, tiger. When was the last time you ate? Or slept? We’re coming off a prison stay, remember. We should at least find food and water. Maybe spend the day recuperating. We can return when they go back to the battlefield.”

He couldn’t argue with her logic. “Very well.” He steered her toward the exit he’d scented.

Across a narrow rock bridge, he spied the opening. Murky rays of sunlight wavered through it.

They were just about to traverse the bridge when a Volar demon swooped into the area directly below, beginning to remove pieces of his armor. Thronos and Melanthe flattened themselves against the wall of an alcove.

They wouldn’t be able to reach the exit without being seen by that Volar. Thronos could take him, but not before the male raised the alarm.

More telepathy? Yet she’d sounded almost impish, so he could forgive the intrusion, as well as the slight.

When she found a flat length of stone in the dim alcove and took a seat, he cautiously joined her. From the shadows, he surveyed the Volar. Its kind had features in common with Vrekeners, he supposed. Their wings were similarly shaped with glowing pulselines, and their claws were the same. But the Volar only had two horns, and its wings were all black.

The demon paced the area, seeming to await someone. Moments later, a small demoness of indeterminate subspecies rushed in. They ran to each other and began kissing.

Thronos turned his head away, but Melanthe leaned forward with eagerness. —An assignation! Oh, darn, Thronos. We’re stuck here until they get finished.—

“Turn from them, Melanthe.” Watching an offendment . . .

At Thronos’s low words, the Volar turned sharply, scanning the shadows. Thronos held his breath until the Volar’s mate drew the male’s attention back to her.

—I might as well read his mind too.—

Thronos wanted to tell her to ignore them, to think of something else, but he couldn’t risk the sound.

—This Volar is the leader of the Infernals and is fresh from the battlefield. He thanks the gods for his mate, stolen during a raid on the Abysmals. If not for her, he’d meet a dragon’s fire.—

Though that was all well and good, Thronos needed pertinent information. He couldn’t believe he was about to do this, but . . . he lowered his shields against Melanthe, which drew her attention. Then he thought the words: —Can you hear me?—

She smiled softly. —I like talking to you this way.—

—Can you find out from him where the key is?—

—That’s pretty much the last thing he’s thinking about right now!— She fanned herself.

The Volar and the demoness began to kiss even more passionately, making Melanthe sigh. When the male murmured in Demonish, she translated. —He told her that he loves her, and he couldn’t withstand this hell without her. And she says she feels the same way! They’re desperate for each other.—

—She’s no warrior. She must have been a camp follower.— A prostitute.

—But he knows many others have seen his mate. They’ve touched her and pleasured her.—

—Do you think that matters to him?—

Thronos knew this was dangerous ground, but answered honestly. —I can’t see how it wouldn’t.—

—It wouldn’t because he obviously knows a very real truth. The honor doesn’t go to the first male she bedded; it goes to the last male, the one she’ll spend eternity with. Him. He probably walks around this place feeling ten feet tall, superior to all.—

Thronos had never thought of it that way. —I’ll be the last male you ever bed.—

—That remains to be seen.— She turned to him with a frown. —You know, up in heaven, I’m sure things make sense and everyone acts as they’re expected to and surprises are few. But outside of heaven, life can be confusing and heartbreaking and dire. So most of us take pleasure where we can find it.— She pinned him with her gaze. —And we don’t judge anyone who does the same.—

Could Thronos ever take pleasure where he found it? For a moment, he considered how easy life would be if he were a mere demon. That Volar could mate his female whenever he felt the urge for release. He didn’t have to worry about laws or expectations or the Tales of Troth.

As a demon, Thronos would be able to forgive Melanthe her profligacy, because he would be in no position to judge. As soon as he led her from Inferno, he could find a place to take his demon’s due. The idea of claiming her this very day, without repercussions, was so seductive that he nearly groaned with want.

His shaft ached for her, his horns as well. Part of him wondered, Why fight something I need so badly? His mate was in need too. Her season was upon her, and he had a driving instinct to pleasure her.

A groan drew her attention back to the pair. He kept his eyes on her.

—They’re so in love.— Yearning emanated from her.

She’d said gold was “as beautiful as love.” Did she want love for herself?

His mate was such a contradiction. She was hardened to violence and death. But he’d also seen her joy in the temple and now her longing.

As a girl, she’d been thoughtful and gentle. Her eyes had usually been lit with merriment, especially when she’d teased him, making him laugh despite himself. Each day, he’d gone from the dour Skye to that meadow, to levity and play. They’d settled in so easily together.

Merry, gentle, thoughtful. Could she possibly have retained those traits after all she’d been through?

Before he considered his words, he asked: —Have you been in love?—

This surprised him. With not a single one of the males she’d been with? —Why?—

With a raised brow, she replied: —I haven’t found my future husband yet.—

—You do not know how wrong you are about that.—

What kind of answer was that? Vexing female!

The two below began making unrestrained sounds of passion. This too struck him as odd since Vrekeners were . . . discreet when mating.

As Melanthe watched, her lids grew heavier. What was affecting her like this? Cursing his weakness, he stole a glance.

The demoness had her legs and arms wrapped around the Volar, while he kneaded her ass beneath her long skirts. This was the same position Thronos and Melanthe had repeatedly taken! Was she imagining Thronos cupping and kneading her?

The Volar took his female’s lips with a deep kiss, then eased them to the ground so that she was astride him. As Lanthe had been astride me, her sleek thighs flexing around my waist. The Volar fumbled with something beneath the demoness’s skirt, then with his own breeches. Lifting the female up, he slowly lowered her, growling with pleasure.

At that, Melanthe inched forward even more, placing her hand flat on the bench of rock. It was small-boned and pale. Not the one that bore scars.

He moved his own hand closer. —Tell me how many you’ve done this with.— Ever since she’d refused to say a number earlier, his imagination had gone wild.

—This? They’re making love, so my answer is never.— Before he could argue, she said: —There’s a difference between sex and making love.—

He’d heard this said, of course. But he had experience with neither. Though he was desperately curious as to what she considered the difference to be, he didn’t want to highlight his own ignorance of such matters.

When the Volar spoke, Melanthe translated again. —He said he’s been thinking about her all night, wanting only to return to her.— With a grin, she added: —He said he’ll be tender with her for as long as he can.—

And then what? Thronos refused to ask her, just said: —Females like tender.— Not an embarrassing question; merely an observation.

She arched her brows at him. —I would let my partner know exactly what I desired every step of the way. He’d never have to worry on that score.—

Did she mean him or males in general? One of the reasons he hated her past was that he had no experience of his own. If she compared him to other lovers, how could he acquit himself well?

Yet if she told him exactly what she wanted . . . —When you tell me what you desire, I’ll give it to you. Anything.—

Had she inched her hand closer to his? —What about offendments? Some of the acts I might crave have nothing to do with procreation.—

With comments like this, she set his mind afire! —I will hear of these acts now.—

She slid him a mysterious smile that put him into a lather as much as her words had.

Since Thronos had captured her, Lanthe had seen entirely new facets of him—and each one confused her more.

The warlord in pain, roaring in a lightning storm.

The domineering demon in the temple.

The protector who’d saved her from dragons.

Now she could sense the conflict within him. His sexual curiosity and long-denied urges goaded him to learn about her own desires—and to watch others’, though he believed it forbidden.

How shocking these sights must be to him! —I think my angel’s a budding voyeur.—

—You lead me down a dark path, sorceress.— Thronos looked astounded that he was actually watching, but helplessly intrigued.

—You’ve really never seen others in the throes?— Their hands on the bench were inching closer together.

—Never. I’ve turned away every time.— His little finger brushed hers, and even that small contact shot currents into her skin.

—Because I see myself as him and you as her. Because I ache for what I almost took in that temple.—

The demoness moaned loudly. The Volar’s claws dug into the rocky ground.

Lanthe swallowed. —What had you planned to do to me?—

—For the first time in my adult life, there was no plan, only impulses.— Thronos’s hand suddenly covered hers. His was hot, rough with callouses.

She glanced up at him. Thick dark hair tumbled over his forehead, almost reaching his vivid eyes. Their color was the same as the ore that had spilled from the mountain.

His shirt clung to his broad shoulders and brawny chest. His normally clenched jaw was relaxed, the grim line of his lips softened, allowing her a glimpse of his true mien: masculine, compelling, sigh-worthy.

His face was flushed with excitement, as if he’d just discovered flirting.

Oh, wait. He probably had.

—What would you have allowed me in the temple, Melanthe?—

She felt like she was punch-drunk, losing any inhibitions she might have had with this male. By the way he stared at her eyes, she knew they were metallic, colored with her desire. —I honestly don’t know.—

He scowled when she pulled her hand away.

—If I based my decision on physical attraction alone, then . . . — She turned her hand palm up and parted her fingers for his.

A breath left him. His hand shot to hers, fingers entwining.

—You would have received me? Parted your thighs for me?— He pressed the heel of his palm into hers, tightening his grip so sensually.

She bit her bottom lip. —It’s not based just on physical attraction, is it?— How could the mere contact of their hands make her this aroused? Her nipples stiffened, her sex growing wet.

Averting her gaze from his, she turned toward the couple. The Volar cast his demoness a look of open adoration. Gripping her breasts, he bucked his hips, bouncing the thrilled female.

Did Thronos realize he’d begun rubbing the palm of his hand against Lanthe’s in time with the Volar’s thrusts? Their palms were hot with friction, and Thronos’s every movement sent pleasure rippling through her body.

She exhaled a tremulous breath. Could he make her come like this? A completely new meaning for the term hand job. . . .

She would catch him staring at her as she watched; then she’d gaze up at him as his flickering eyes took in the scene. Since they were communicating telepathically, it was easy to slip into his thoughts.

He was reluctantly enjoying this spying because she obviously did, but also because it was a wicked secret between them—something they were doing together. He wanted more secrets between them. She hid a grin when she caught another of his thoughts. He was wondering how much more his swollen shaft could pain him: There has to be a limit.