Oh, there was! Would they discover it together?

When the demoness took the Volar’s horns in hand, Thronos sounded like he’d stifled a groan. —You did that to me earlier.—

—Would you like me to do it again?—

Hesitation. Then: —I can’t lie. I’d want that very much. Your soft palms on me, handling me.—

Even out of the corner of her eye, she saw his engorged member pulse in his breeches. Her sex clenched in reaction.

When the Volar ripped down the demoness’s peasant blouse to suckle a breast, Lanthe’s lids went heavy, her own breasts swelling in the molded cups of her top.

Thronos moved his hand on hers faster. —I would do that to you at every opportunity. I’d kill to do it now.—

She turned to him, found his spellbinding eyes filled with promise. Somehow he was beguiling her. The virgin was seducing the seductress!

If he had this power over her and made a move to claim her, how could she resist him? During this time, that could spell disaster!

Pregnant with Thronos Talos’s babe? The idea was too insane even to contemplate.

When the demoness cried out, she and Thronos both turned to the couple.

The Volar had positioned his female on her hands and knees, lifting her skirts. He’d taken her tenderly for as long as he’d been able to, but now his demon nature was clearly at the fore. With one animalistic shove, he entered her from behind, eliciting a lusty moan. After each thrust, he used his wings to draw his body back so he could plunge forward again. And again.

—I could take you thus.—

She barely bit back a whimper. —If you ever looked at me like he looks at her, I’d consider it.—

Though the two below were groaning and moaning in abandon, their pace hitting its crescendo, Lanthe faced Thronos.

She felt light-headed with arousal, desiring him more than she’d ever thought possible.

—I’ve got to kiss you, Melanthe.—

At least here, they couldn’t do anything more than kiss. Things couldn’t get out of hand.

Our first real kiss. His lips were inches from hers. . . .

A yell in Demonish sounded. She gasped. A pair of armored sentries had spotted them.

Come on!” Thronos snatched Melanthe into his arms, charging toward the rock bridge and the exit he’d scented.

“My sword!” She was reaching back for it.

“No time,” he snapped as he ran, bursting outside. Was this a continuation of the same mountainside path they’d hidden upon earlier? With more scavenging dragons? Can’t take to the air till I’m sure.

A bower of black and silver foliage grew over the trail here, providing cover from above, from the hazy sun that had finally risen.

As he sprinted headlong down the mountain, Melanthe peeked over his shoulder. “More are coming!”

He glanced back. Two had become half a dozen. They were burly pathos demons, a vicious breed. Their armor could deflect his talons.

The trail led toward a wooded valley between those two jagged ranges. “That’s a forest down there. We could lose them among the trees.”

“You have a better idea?” The lower they got, the closer they were to the river of lava. Sweat poured from him, ash drying out his mouth. The demons stayed right on his heels.

“We’re almost there.” The path finally veered away from the lava, leading straight to the forest.

As he and Melanthe neared the edge of it, she said, “They’re too close! We can’t lose them.”

“Then I fight.” He set her down, readying to combat the sentries. “Stay behind me. But remain close.” He faced off against the pursuing warriors, positioning his wings to strike.

Out of the corner of his eye, he spied two marble markers flanking the path. But he couldn’t divert his focus to read the glyphs.

They stopped before him, just out of range. Right at the line of those markers.

“Come on, then!” He flared his wings, antagonizing them. “Fight me!” But they wouldn’t cross that line, shifting and muttering.

So there was something in these woods that even a cadre of demons feared?

A heartbeat later, he heard an earsplitting buzzing sound above them—hair-raising in its intensity! Melanthe shrieked. Was she running from him?

He whirled around, saw a black swarm oozing through the tree canopy as if it’d been poured.

“Wait, Lanthe!” he yelled as he sped for her deeper into the brush. The swarm was already between them, a multitude of solid black wasps with dripping stingers.

Their buzzing seemed to make the entire world vibrate, like his brain would be jostled to mush.

Melanthe had clapped her hands over her ears, still careening along that path. “I can’t take that sound!”

Using his wings to fan and bat the wasps, he fought through the cloud to reach her, biting back yells with each sting—like icepicks stabbing his skin!

And that sound was about to drive him insane.

Closing in on her, he nearly tripped over one of another pair of engraved marble markers along the path. They read:

The pest that WAS . . .

What did that mean? Confusing bloody place! He lunged for Melanthe, enclosing her in his wings as they hit the ground.

Even with his wings shielding them, the sound was deafening.

He wrapped his arms around her trembling body. “Shh, shh, I know . . .” How the hell was he going to get her away? When he could barely think past that sound?

Yet then it . . . dimmed.

Were they no longer swarmed? He poked his head up to glance out.

The towering black mass had stopped before those stones, hovering in the air—as if there was an imaginary line that couldn’t be crossed.

Then they began dissipating, their buzz receding.

He squinted at the stones. On this side, both read:

The pest that IS . . .

He rose above her. “Melanthe? Are you okay?”

Between breaths, she said, “My head still feels like a jackhammer was in it.”

He levered himself to his feet, helping her stand. “Were you stung?” As he looked her over, he rasped his palms over his skin, scraping stingers away.

“Only a few times before you covered me.” She plucked stingers from her arms, leaving angry red welts. “Why’d they stop?”

“I think you were right about there being traps all over this realm. I’m beginning to believe there’s a patchwork of danger zones, and we reached the edge of one.” What he wouldn’t give for a map!

“On the other side, they read: The pest that was. On this side: The pest that is.”

She brushed hair from her eyes. “They sound like demonic road signs. Like if we were heading back into the swarm zone, the signs would be saying: Entering hazardous area.”

“Does The pest that was mean we left the hazardous area?”

“Only to enter another one?” she asked, her face wan.

He noticed she wasn’t sweating. In this heat? Not good. Wasn’t that a symptom of heat stroke?

He scented water, but it was far in the distance, several leagues away. Though most immortals could go without water for days, she wasn’t like most immortals. Reminded of how fragile a creature she was, he reached for her. “Come here, Melanthe.”

Ignoring her protests, he took her in his arms and cradled her slight weight. He started along the trail, working to minimize the jostle of his limp. With each step, she relaxed a degree more in his arms. Every now and then, she’d grumble about walking on her own.

“Why don’t you rest? We’ve got a long way between us and water.” Maybe there’d even be fruit growing nearby that the little sorceress would actually eat. She’d thrown up her last meal.

Had that been two nights ago?

In that short time, she’d gotten to him—until his thoughts and emotions were in chaos. “Try to sleep, Melanthe.”

“While you carry me? When we’re in a place chock-full of swamp serpents, demons, dragons, and pests?”

Ten minutes later, she was out, her head turned toward his chest, her hands curled against him. She’d fallen asleep in his arms—and it felt like one of his greatest accomplishments.

Surely this meant she trusted him? He squared his shoulders. She believed he would keep her safe against all the dangers they kept encountering.

He frowned. Or else she had heat exhaustion.

Inwardly waving away that thought, he regarded her relaxed face, her lips parted in slumber. This wasn’t the first time he’d held her sleeping. When they’d been young, they would lie in the meadow together, peering up at clouds to identify shapes. Sometimes, she would doze in his arms as he lifted her raven locks to the sun, just to watch them shine.

Their cloud pastime always made him grin because she thought every single one resembled some small befurred creature or another. “That one looks like a tree,” he’d say. She’d answer, “Or a squirrel on its hind legs with a mouthful of acorns.” He’d offer, “That one’s like a cottage with a chimney.” She’d sigh, “Or a very fat rabbit. With short ears.”

One time she’d woken from a nap, lifting her head from his chest to sleepily ask him, “When we’re apart, do you ever gaze down at clouds as I gaze up? Do you ever miss me as I miss you?”

More, Melanthe. So much more.

And that left him conflicted. Thronos had heard of the mate effect, that the mere presence of one’s mate would be a balm on all woes. His mate was as soothing as a cyclone.

After Inferno, his customary sexual frustration had been ratcheted up to a painful degree. But he was also experiencing this new . . . fascination for the female in his arms. She was a woman with her own desires. He wanted to learn them—so he could tease her and make her crazed for him.

He’d been committing offendments left and right, but he couldn’t muster much regret. Holding her hand like that had been the most sensual act he’d ever enjoyed.

He still burned for the kiss he’d almost taken. At the time, he’d thought she’d wanted it just as dearly.

And after that kiss? Even more delights awaited him! If you ever looked at me like he looks at her, I’d consider it.

Thronos had predicted a bleak future for them. But what if they could share pleasure, building on that?

Melanthe is misery. Had he really thought that only yesterday? Now he realized, Melanthe is doubt.

She’d always made him doubt his beliefs. He remembered a time when he’d tried to explain what she was to him. She’d been only nine, yet she’d questioned something he’d thought was absolute.

“Lanthe, when we get older, you’re going to be mine.”

She blinked up at him from a garland she’d been braiding. “How can I be yours when I’m my own?”

“You’re my mate. Do you know what that means?”

“Sorceri don’t have mates,” she pointed out.

“Let’s just stay best friends. That sounds fairer.”

Now they’d been together for less than three days, and she’d already made him doubt the word of Vrekeners. He . . . believed her about the attacks.

He gazed down at her pale hand, curled so delicately on her torso. Those faint scars still filled him with rage. She’d said she had to bite back her screams. He didn’t understand how she could have at her young age. Was it because she’d already grown so used to pain? Or because she’d been that terrified of being discovered?

For centuries, he’d believed her existence had been filled with wanton revelry, a sorceress’s dream. He now knew those years with Omort and his poisons had been hellish for her. Running from Vrekener attacks? Hellish.

As a girl, Melanthe had wept over the death of a single rabbit.

Yet she’d had to scoop up her sister’s brain.

Perhaps Thronos should consider himself fortunate that she hadn’t grown to be evil like every other Sorceri he’d met outside of the Territories.

But evil or not, once she regained her persuasion, she would use it against him. Every day, every hour, her sorcery was replenishing itself, and he was defenseless against it.

If he could get her to the Skye before then, he could harvest the ability with one of his people’s four fire scythes.

She would have even more reason to hate him—but he would never lose her again.

As soon as the thought arose, so did his guilt. Though Vrekeners didn’t believe a power could be a soul, Melanthe did. He could never do that to her. Which made him the biggest hypocrite. He was the one who’d pressed for his kind to collect sorcery, in order to spare lives.

Short of separating her from her persuasion, his only hope of keeping her was to convince her not to use it on him. He exhaled. In other words, she’d be gone at her first opportunity.

How to get her to go with him to his home, and stay there?

His heart stuttered when he realized the answer: she would bond to the father of her offspring.

She was in season—now. Who knew for how much longer?