She wished she could say that had never happened. But then, Lanthe liked her wine. So where was Thronos?
With bleary eyes, she regarded the room. Along one wall, a waterfall cascaded; scenes from under the sea played across the surface, like a TV.
Wait, was that Nereus crossing toward her?
Everything came crashing back. She and Thronos had either been drugged or bespelled!
“You’re in my private chambers, sorceress.” Nereus was leering like a kraken about to take his sacrifice. As he stalked closer, his shaft swayed under his filmy toga.
“I must have accidentally found my way in here,” she said to give him an out, though she knew he wasn’t about to take it.
Oh, for the love of gold! Lanthe wasn’t atop a mattress; she was atop a collection of curvy Nereids. They lay on their bellies, tightly nestled together.
Did Nereus sleep on them? Make love atop them?
She scrambled to her feet. “Are you kidding me?” she cried, trying to shake off whatever the god had roofied her with. “I need to get back to Thronos. He’s going to be wondering where I am.” When he woke. Wherever he woke.
Nereus kept advancing on her. She backed away from him, darting a glance out the round underwater window to her left: no help there. She was about to turn from it—until she heard a muffled shriek that vibrated the glass.
Chills broke out on her skin as she scanned the depths. A field of glittering gems drew her gaze. Her lips parted with shock.
Like the rays of the sun, the gems radiated out from a female . . . who was shackled to an anchor at the bottom of the ocean.
Her long black hair streamed across her naked body and floated above her head. The strands were coated in phosphorescence, illuminating her pale, corpselike face, her haunted violet eyes.
It was the queen of the Valkyrie, Furie, so named because she was part Fury—a fire-winged Arch-Fury. Rumor held that she’d been captured by the old vampire king, who’d cursed her to this existence, trapped alive underwater, hidden from her Valkyrie sisters and allies.
As a Lorean, Furie would drown every few minutes before her immortality revived her; she’d been missing for more than fifty years. Five decades of breathing water into her lungs.
Lanthe had almost drowned earlier—once—and it had been horrifying.
The Valkyrie locked eyes with her. Furie’s violet gaze was filled with madness—but also blankness. As if she couldn’t comprehend where she was or how she’d gotten here.
Only to be extinguished.
Lanthe had been wrong. There was another sky-born here at the bottom of the ocean.
Realization dawned. As with the other realms, Nïx had wanted Lanthe here. She was the planted spy, conducting Valkyrie recon.
“Do you like my new acquisition?” Nereus asked, as if he’d just pointed out a vase. “I found her along the ocean bed.”
Lanthe turned to him. “Truly an original,” she managed to say with Sabine’s composure. “But really, I need to get back to Thronos.”
“He’s occupied at the moment. You’ll remain with me.”
The god’s ominous tone filled her with fear. “Nereus, I don’t want this.”
“Of course you do. You think I cannot sense such a thing?”
“If you’ve sensed anything, it was my need for Thronos.”
She straightened. “What does that mean? I know he does. He has for centuries.”
“They’re seducing him as we speak. For those centuries, how many times has he prayed to be free of the bonds of matehood? To collect his own sexual experiences, as you have? I’m merely answering a prayer.”
Nereus and his games. He’d known Lanthe and Thronos’s story all along.
“Here in Sargasoe, matehood holds no sway. The Nereids now exude your scent. His body and instinct are as free as if he’d never met you.”
So, physically Thronos could stray. That didn’t mean he would. In Feveris, he’d told her he would be true to her.
Except Feveris wasn’t real. You said so yourself, Lanthe. Still . . . “He won’t go through with it.”
“No one has ever resisted them.”
The god didn’t understand; if there was any male out there who would prove loyal, it was Thronos. He was upstanding, principled, and forthright. He made tough choices. He was going to try to rehabilitate his evil brother, for gold’s sake!
Lanthe straightened her mask. Sorceri were gamblers. She would bet on Thronos to be, well, Thronos. “Care to make a wager on that score?”
Nereus raised his red brows. “I would. If the Vrekener succumbs to their considerable charms, you will spend the night with me. Willingly and lustily.”
“I will release both of you, giving you use of Sargasoe’s portal to travel wherever you choose.”
“How will we know?” she asked.
Nereus waved a hand, and a new scene played on the waterfall.
Lanthe could see Thronos lying on a bed, much like the one in which she’d woken—with Nereids for a mattress. He was slowly coming to.
A dozen more nymphs loomed over him. The sea-foam skirts they’d worn at the feast had disappeared. Their made-for-sex bodies were completely unclothed, their eyes lambent with desire.
This situation would be any man’s most fevered fantasy—yet Thronos looked agitated. “Where’s Melanthe?” In the face of such splendor, his first thought was of her.
He pushed them away, and her heart soared. He was so handsome, so strong. So . . . good.
“I’ll take your bet,” Lanthe told the god in a smug tone.
Nereus’s smile was unctuous. “Then we have a pact, sorceress.”
Yet before Thronos could reach the door, the nymphs fell upon him. Pale hands roamed all over his body, stroking his wings, his chest, his horns, their touch seeming to daze him. “I just want to find . . . it’s important to find her,” he murmured.
“Find us,” they purred, as if with one voice. “We desire you so deeply.”
Over her shoulder, Lanthe snapped, “They’re bespelling him! That wasn’t part of the deal!”
Nereus shrugged. “A worthy male, one who intends absolute fidelity, could shake off their spell. Otherwise he’ll succumb, and once he does, he’ll never want to leave. In fact, he’ll go into a murderous rage if separated from his harem.”
Lanthe’s stomach lurched as the females led Thronos back to the bed, ripping off his shirt on the way.
“Where is she?” he demanded, but his resistance faltered with each expert caress.
“She doesn’t want you,” they chorused, coaxing him to lie back. “Not like we do.”
I do! Faced with losing him, Lanthe was rocked by a yawning loss. She’d already been having possessive feelings toward Thronos, but now . . .
I want him so much.
Since she could remember, she’d pined for a male who would adore her above all things. Yes, there was a vicious history between her and Thronos, but she’d believed he would eventually fall in love with her.
True love. Which was more than she could say about any other male she’d met in her lifetime. . . .
Off went his boots. “All your life, you’ve pursued and endured,” the Nereids murmured, “while she enjoyed other males. You longed for the freedom to choose who you desired. Now you can, but only here, where there’s no such thing as matehood.”
How could he resist that reasoning? He’d felt “cuckolded.” He’d tried to stray. And now in this realm, he was finally free to.
No longer was Lanthe his bitter necessity.
Just days ago, he’d told her she was lacking, that he would never desire someone like her.
But things had changed between them. He’d told her he wanted everything from her. Maybe if she’d given him any kind of encouragement, any definitive signal that her own feelings had changed, he would’ve stayed faithful.
When one of the Nereids began undoing Thronos’s pants—with her teeth—Lanthe was staggered by the tears spilling from her eyes. “Let me go to him and stop this. Please, Nereus!”
His mien darkened, growing more piscine. She heard doors shutting and locking to prevent her escape.
Even after the nymphs had stripped Thronos naked, he gave one last struggle, so they deepened their spells to knock him out completely.
One nymph told another, “He’ll wake in my mouth.”
Then it was as good as done. No male alive could wake to a nymph blow-job and deny the female.
Crying, sick, Lanthe turned her back on the scene. I should’ve locked Thronos down. I should’ve fought for him when I had the chance.
Now she would have to face his murderous wrath when she tried to steal him back from the nymphs.
If she somehow could, would Thronos even want her after she bedded Nereus?
“My dear sorceress, if it’s any consolation”—Nereus patted the “bed” by his side—“he resisted them longer than any other male I’ve seen.”
She was too heartbroken to react much to her own predicament. The overly endowed god wasn’t known to be a gentle lover.
She wanted to blame Thronos for her situation, but of course she couldn’t. She was responsible for her fate. If she’d given him any sign . . .
With leaden feet, she crossed to Nereus—
She whirled toward the waterfall screen, saw Thronos shoving away Nereids, sending them flying across the room. “Where’s my mate?” he yelled, wings flaring, his naked body magnificent. “Begone from me, you foul witches!”
She smiled through new tears, cheering him as he yanked his pants on. Snatching up his clothes, he stormed away—from a carnal paradise.
She beamed with pride. By denying those nymphs, he’d gone against his instincts—and his ego.
Nereus released a stunned breath. “Amazing. Go to your Vrekener with my blessing.” In the distance, doors began to clang, unlocking for her. “I’m sure you can sense the location of Sargasoe’s portal.” Giving her a salacious grin, he added, “But you have no idea what you’re missing.”
“Uh, thank you. We’ll be off.”
“And by the way”—out of thin air, he produced a lock of shining black hair, scenting it—“tell Nïx that she asks much. Quelling a tsunami is no mean task.”
Whatever. “Will do, Nereus, will do,” she assured him, sprinting for the door.
What did I do with them?
Thronos recalled little of what had happened in that room, just knew he’d woken with no clothes on and naked Nereids kissing his body—while more had been layered beneath him.
“Melanthe!” he bellowed as he strode down the corridor, hastily dressing as he went.
Those nymphs had whispered that there was no matehood in Nereus’s realm. Thronos would be free to partake—as he’d wanted to for ages.
But that had been before.
He’d gotten drunk on demon brew, then betrayed his lovely, brave, intelligent mate. All of his laws, all of his righteousness, all of the grief he’d given her about her behavior—and he was the one who fell.
How could he tell her?
If he’d been seduced by nymphs, then what in the hell was happening to her? Was Nereus ravishing her? If the god touches her . . . “Melanthe!” His fear for her, his blind panic, burned away much of his inebriation. “Answer me!”
He heard, “I’m here!” just before he saw her speeding around a corner.
She ran for him, face ecstatic. My incomparable mate. So bloody beautiful.
He gave a curt nod, looping his arm over her shoulder. “I want to get far away from this wretched place.”
“The portal’s near.” She led him down a shadowy passageway.
As they hastened along it, sweat beaded on his lip. What did I do? “Where were you?” he asked.
“No, he kept his hands to himself.”
You’re going to have to tell her. The only thing worse than his infidelity would be hiding it. How would she react?
At the end of the corridor was the portal. Living coral framed the rippling surface.
“What’s wrong with you?” she asked. “I can all but hear you grinding your molars to dust. We’re here, we’re finally here.”
“Melanthe, my instinct tells me to do anything I can to get you to the Skye.” Only a coward would confess afterward. “But I must be honest with you.”
He wanted to rail at himself, to tear at his hair. His fist shot out, connected with the wall. Stone cracked, and a trickle of water seeped through it. “Lanthe, I . . . I was unfaithful to you.”
“Plural?” She seemed to be vibrating with some kind of tension.
“I thought you couldn’t stray,” she pointed out.
“And what did you do to them?”