He was indeed tan all over. The sun had kissed him from the top of his head to that mouthwatering shaft to his feet. One of his lower legs looked swollen, as if the tendons were knotted there, and his foot curved inward. The cause of his limp. She thought he was fighting to keep his foot straight for this perusal.

She wished he wouldn’t bother, but males were funny like that. Show no weakness, grrr.

He’d seen all of her; she wanted a similar viewing of him, so she emerged from the water, sauntering around him. When he realized what she was doing, he lifted his chin, as if steeling himself against her reaction. But he didn’t move out from under the cascade.

Revealed between two glimmering wing tapers, his ass was a purr-inducing work of art. Streams coursed over the smooth skin there, over the tight muscles framed by shaded hollows. The cleft of his ass was so taut, she wondered if she could even nip it with her teeth.

As she continued around, he remained still, allowing her to ogle him. Now that she knew how he felt about his looks, she found this tremendously brave.

Sometimes Lanthe wasn’t as brave as she could be—certainly not like everyone else who lived in or even visited Tornin—so she applauded anyone who demonstrated the trait.

When she stood before him once more, he scanned her face. Searching for some hint of her thoughts?

“Thronos, if I honestly tell you what I think of your body, will you tell me what you think of mine?” He hadn’t said anything aloud.

“Peculiar sorceress. Yes, I will.” And then he held his breath.

“You’re so big. And hard. When I look at your body . . . I get wet for it.”

His lips parted around an exhalation. Puh.

Thronos was still reeling from her words. His body aroused hers? Only fair since she made him hard as stone.

Yet then her gaze dipped to his chest. To his scars. He stood unclothed before her, and she focused on the most hated parts of his body.

His head fell back. Was this her way of apologizing? Of showing her regret? Another feather-light graze of her lips followed.

If this was the way she expressed remorse, he might be helpless not to forgive her!

“And now, what do you think of mine?” she asked against his skin.

I almost come just from looking at you. I need to lick every inch of your flesh. I want to pin you down and suckle you—for hours. “You’re exquisite,” he finally bit out, laying his palms against the tree trunk above her head. His wings closed in on her. Trapping her.

Her gaze darted from one to the other, but she didn’t say anything.

“Impossibly exquisite.” He leaned his head down to her neck, drawing deep of her scent, letting her feel his exhalations. Gods, she smelled so inconceivably right to him. He couldn’t stop himself from nuzzling her neck. It made her shiver, so he did it again. Then he ran his lips beside her ear, rasping, “I’ll likely wake to discover this isn’t real—just another dream of you.”

“What happens when you have those dreams? I’m sure you have a law against masturbation.”

He nodded, then confessed, “I wake up thrashing, thrusting at anything, already culminating.”

She released a shaky breath of her own.

“I’ve fantasized about you, about all the forbidden things I want to do to you, for hundreds of thousands of nights. And now you’re here with me,” he said, voice laden with disbelief. “If just one of my dreams would come true.”

“What would you like to happen?”

Need to be buried inside you! But . . . “Melanthe, let’s begin with a kiss.” In Inferno, he’d decided that their first real kiss would be vastly different from the frenzied taking when he’d first captured her. He could be tender.

When he curled his finger under her chin, tilting her head up, she asked, “Have you ever done this before?”

“Do you remember when you taught me to swim?”

In the lake by their meadow. “I remember.” She’d been terrified at first, clinging to him, but by the end of that afternoon, she’d taken to the water like a selkie pup.

“You taught me the basics, and then instinct took over. Maybe I could teach you the basics of kissing?”

“You could brush your lips against mine a couple of times, to get used to the feeling. Then when you’re ready you could slip your tongue in to find mine.”

He raised his knee beside her, boxing her in, as if he subconsciously feared she’d escape him yet again. “And then?”

“You’d slowly and sensuously lick the tip of my tongue.”

“Hopefully we’ll drive each other crazy. When that happens you can take my mouth deeper. Just do what feels good for you, and it’ll likely feel good for me.”

With a nod, he leaned down to graze his lips over hers and back. Again. Hers were so plump, giving. When her breaths shallowed, he slanted his mouth to deepen the kiss.

As he slowly dipped between her sweet lips, she clung to his shoulders, gripping his muscles when the tip of his tongue found hers. The contact was electric! He groaned into her mouth, wondering if he would instantaneously spend.

Considering the pressure in his shaft, this seemed probable.

Though he’d wanted to get his first release out of the way, now he realized that would be squandering the experience.

She began licking back, with light laps of her tongue that made his head swim. Still, he kept the pace slow, lazily teasing her, as if he had all the time in the world. He was rewarded with her seductive moan.

When he grew more aggressive, she murmured against his lips, “Yes, yes.” She laid one palm on his chest, turning it until her fingers were pointed down. Inch by inch, she lowered her hand.

Between the kiss and her touch, he was awash in stimulation. Too much! His member jerked as if to meet her halfway. By the time she reached it, he would release in her palm.

Breaking from the kiss, he collected her wrists, pinning them above her head. Her eyes were glittering, her body trembling—because of him. Him.

In a breathy voice, she said, “Well. You certainly have the hang of it. But don’t you want us to touch each other?”

He bit out an anguished sound. “You have no idea.” He recalled how that Volar had used his wings to stroke the demoness. Gaze locked on Melanthe’s, Thronos began tracing his talon over her collarbone.

Her eyes went wide. “Oh! You’re touching me with your wings?”

“If I put my hands on you . . .”

She seemed to realize his quandary.

“Trust me not to hurt you, Melanthe.”

Gradually, he felt her body relaxing under his exploration.

As he trailed the talon between her breasts, his need to cup them was overwhelming. He made fists, claws digging into the palms of his hands until blood dripped.

His talon smoothed along the undersides of her breasts, those perfect, pale globes. They would be a heaven of softness beneath his rough palms.

As he finally skimmed toward one of her nipples, she shook, arching to him.

Then he scented her arousal. Dear gods. The luscious scent of her sex readying for his length . . .

Nearly put him to his knees.

How much more could he withstand?

Oh, my gold. Just as she’d feared, Thronos had turned irresistible.

His kiss had made her toes curl. He was a natural, which made her wonder what else he’d be a natural at.

Even his exploration of her—weird as it was—was turning her on. The idea of that lethal talon caressing her so gently messed with her mind.

His wings had once been a symbol of her fear. How perverse was she if she got off on this? Maybe she liked perverse?

Her nipples were pouting for attention—which he seemed determined not to give. Was he never going to put his hands on her? She understood his predicament; he feared coming too quickly. After such a long wait, who could blame him?

Eyes ablaze with lust—and intent—he lowered his wing, circling her navel.

Surely he wouldn’t go lower. “Thronos, wait.” He couldn’t. And, gods, she couldn’t desire him to. . . .

The smooth curve of his talon dipped between her legs.

She might’ve tried to get away, but he had her wrists trapped, her body boxed in.

He began stroking her sex, and it was . . . pleasurable. The talon was firm against her as he eased it back and forth over her needy clitoris.

This is so weird. And pervy. And I like it so much!

She squeezed her eyes closed, disturbed that she wasn’t more disturbed by this. She had a sinking suspicion: Thronos could do just about anything to her and she’d like it.

Because he was her mate? Was she fighting fate?

Seeming to lose his inner battle, he gave a groan of frustration, releasing her wrists.

Her eyes flashed open when his palms landed on her shoulders. He was bleeding—from digging his claws into his hands? Hot crimson mixed with the cool water in streams.

If she’d thought something was wrong with her before, now she was convinced, because she found his searing blood on her skin arousing—as if he was marking her, like he’d done in that tunnel when he’d painted her lips.

And though his blood was washing away, she could swear she’d perceived the heat of it streaking across her aching breasts and over her stiffened nipples. Over her hips and ass. Between his blood and the weird talon caresses, she was shaking with need.

She sucked in a breath, holding herself motionless as his hands roamed, starting to descend. And all the while his talon petted her clitoris.

His transfixed gaze followed his hands. “None lovelier.” His tone was awed.

Why did it feel so unbelievably good with him? He seemed just as lost, overwhelmed by this pleasure, starved for it.

Because he had been. So how would he react the first time they had sex? If they did. How would that magnificent cock feel plunging inside her? Imagining it made her moan.

To her surprise, she felt a glimmer of welling power, then another. Sorcery began whirling within her, as if she’d been an empty vessel waiting to be filled. Her lips curled with delight.

Wait . . . had his hands just bypassed her chest? He molded them over her waist, then rested them on her hips. He drew his wing back from her sex, leaving her yearning for release. Pervy, girl.

Without warning, he pressed a muscled thigh between her legs. She couldn’t stifle a cry. Positioned like this, his rampant cock prodded against her, the bulbous head rubbing along her damp torso.

She craved that thick length, craved all of his throbbing heat filling her. Of their own accord, her hips rocked in invitation as she slowly rode his leg.

“I feel your arousal, your wetness. I scent it.” Against her neck, he murmured, “Before this night is out, I want to know your taste, take it into me.”

“Oh! Ohhh. We can definitely work something out.”

“Ask your male to kiss you there. Though forbidden, I’d do it to you.” What wasn’t forbidden in his mind? “I’d do it till you came for me.”

I have to ask for it? With a mental shrug, she parted her lips . . . only to close them as doubts arose. What must he think of me now? As easy as he’d predicted?

Yet when he moved his thigh against her sex, those qualms faded into the ether.

At last, he covered her breasts with his rough palms! He shuddered to feel her. She gave a low cry as her head lolled.

He took several breaths, nostrils flaring, as if he were just preventing himself from coming. With a growling sound, he began to knead her. “Tantalizing female.” Holding one breast poised—to receive his mouth?—he dipped his head. “Need to suckle you.”

Lower, lower. She watched him lash a wet lick over one of her pebbled nipples. “Yes, Thronos!” Dimly she realized, His tongue is pointed.

Groaning, he wrapped his lips around her nipple, sucking it with greedy pulls.

She started panting. “You’re making me feel so good.” Tunneling her fingers through his hair, she held him close.

Against her breast, he rasped, “Your nipples are so sweet. As sweet as your lips. How I’ve hungered for this! Hungered for you.”

The disbelief and awe in his voice made her melt for him. His unshielded thoughts too: —This is real, Talos. You are with her. This is happening. Had no idea what pleasure was. . . . —

Thronos was never supposed to be like this.

She would’ve hungered for him too—if she’d known this was in store.

Giving the peak a loud suck, he moved to her other nipple, growling around it. His thigh kept rocking, his cock sliding up and down her belly. His pointed tongue was making her forget why she would ever resist him. She was in a heaven of sensation. Add to that his masculine scent and barely harnessed lust . . .

When he took his kisses away to stand fully, she gave a frustrated cry.

“Have to get closer to you.”

One of his arms coiled around her shoulders, his other around her neck. As he continued to thrust, he wrapped her tighter in his wings, tighter still—until their slippery bodies were mashed together, his cock trapped between them.

With each of his ragged breaths, his chest heaved against her breasts, against her achy nipples. She could feel his heart thundering.

Her arms were pinned by her sides; she should be panicked. He was a Vrekener—but she’d never felt this safe. Their bodies were so close, she couldn’t tell where he ended and she began. And at that moment, she didn’t want to be anywhere else in any world.