And no freaking roof. This lack had looked weird from the outside but was even weirder from within. The structure felt like a dollhouse, as if they were being watched from above. No wonder Vrekeners were so concerned with private behavior.

Thronos led her along a hallway, past a study lined with books; she decided to come back later and investigate at her leisure. With limited space in his home, every tome he kept must be important.

Past a surprisingly modern-looking bathroom was a spacious bedroom, with just a nightstand, a chest of drawers, and an enormous bed. The mattress was larger than a king-size, probably because of wingspan considerations.

When her steps teetered, he grabbed her elbow.

“Sorry. I’m light-headed after coming from the bottom of the ocean.”

“You should lie down.” He led her to the bed.

She sat at the edge. “In the legendary Bed of Troth?” It’d been crafted of a dark wood and looked sturdy. In a head-on collision with a truck, this bed would dominate. The headboard and footboard were carved with mysterious Vrekener markings. “So this is where we’ll do the deed?”

As if the words were pulled from him, he said, “I will wait until you feel better. I’ve waited this long.”

Since he’d been a teenager. Lifetimes of curiosity and building lust.

“Thronos, I’ll be fine if you give me a few minutes to get used to the altitude.”

She could hear his pulse accelerate as he said, “So tonight, we’ll . . .”

All in, Lanthe? Accompanying him to heaven meant marriage. Marriage meant possible pregnancy.

Which was a lot for any sorceress to have to decide in one night. Was she really going to take this step?

She’d told him that if he ever gave her a loving expression like the one that Volar had sported, she’d consider giving it up.

She regarded his face and found herself saying, “I figure I’ll go ahead and claim you.”

He grinned. “Then I need to retrieve something from the Hall. I’ll be right back. Make yourself at home—because it is your home.” At the doorway, he turned back. “I’m reluctant to let you out my sight. I feel like I should be chasing you, or we should be saving each other from some calamity.”

“I’ll be here waiting for you.” When he exited with a look of longing, she reclined to gaze at the stars. I’m in Thronos’s bed.

How many times had he lain here and thought of her? He’d told her he’d dreamed of her for hundreds of thousands of nights. How many of those times had been in this bed?

Now she began to get nervous. Because he was a virgin (her first and only virgin), she felt even more pressure to make this unforgettable.

But how could the reality possibly measure up to five hundred years of fantasy?

Thronos was tempted to fly to the Hall, but didn’t want to deal with that grinding pain right now. So he ran, withstanding a lesser agony in his leg.

He was actually going to claim Melanthe tonight! He’d been so close in Feveris—or in his hallucination—yet then he’d had that bliss wrenched away from him.

He couldn’t shake the feeling that something would befall them before he could return to her. He resolved to avoid Aristo. Though his brother might be away, Thronos entered the Hall quietly.

He passed the sorcery power vault and the sacred scribe’s room, where the extensive list of offendments was kept. This close to the hallowed writings, he experienced a twinge of guilt for all the things he’d done with Melanthe before they’d been wed.

Some things couldn’t be helped. They would marry this night, a proper wedding.

He headed toward his family’s storage room. Inside, he combed through boxes of ancient mementos and books. By the time he’d located the specific case he sought, in the most out-of-the-way spot, he was covered in dust.

Whoever had organized this closet clearly hadn’t thought Thronos would ever get married.

Case in hand, he hastened back to his mate. Though pain coursed up his leg, he found himself growing hard in anticipation of this night. He could feel his horns straightening, becoming more sensitive—

He froze. Had the distinct impression of being watched. Rubbing the back of his neck, he turned and scanned the shadows. Spied nothing.

Surely any Vrekener or Sorceri ward drifting about would hail him, and no one else could find this place.

He shrugged off his disquiet by the time he’d reached the house. He swallowed nervously as he unlatched their front door. When he passed the bathroom, he saw her mesh top hanging beside the shower, with her skirt and hose folded atop a hamper. Her blue mask dangled from a towel hook.

Seeing her things here gratified him to a staggering degree.

She’d showered. Should he? Another delay. He glanced down at himself, at the dust.

With an impatient curse, he set down the case, ripping off his garments. Under the water, he rested his head and hands against the wall. Though the temperature was ice cold, it did nothing to diminish his erection.

He recalled his mate’s tightness . . . would he last long enough even to get inside her? Would he hurt her?

She’d taught him how to get her ready. He bit off his foreclaws. Thinking better of it, he took the next ones over as well.

When he returned to the bedroom, he had a towel wrapped around his hips and the case at the ready.

His heart stuttered a beat. She was kneeling at the end of the bed, running the pads of her fingers over the footboard. She wore her long shining hair loose, and she’d donned one of his shirts, rolling the sleeves up to her wrists. The sight of her clad in something that belonged to him affected him in inexplicable ways, made him want to squeeze her in his wings, to rub his horns all over her trembling body.

Melanthe in his bed, awaiting him. She was too beautiful.

He watched her gaze leisurely take in his face, his chest, lower. . . . She parted her lips on a sigh, and her little tongue wetted them. Gods almighty.

Her eyes glittered with appreciation—for him.

She mightn’t even be real. Feveris hadn’t been, nor those time loops.

Soon he’d wake from slumber, aching for her, greeted by his customary pain—always more excruciating in the morning. He would clench his fists, renewing his determination, resuming his search. . . .

With a grin, she waved at his blatant erection behind the towel. “Are you doing your Nereus impression?”

A laugh escaped him before he even realized it. “You really are here.” Her mischievous smile got him tied up in knots, always had. “I never thought I’d see you in this bed.”

“That makes two of us.” She had removed her prized necklace, setting it on his nightstand. On their nightstand. “By the way, the hot water’s broken.”

“Oh?” Probably not a good time to tell her that there was never any hot water for showers.

He sat beside her, opening it to reveal the claiming sheet sewn for him ages ago. The material carried the pleasant scent of preserving herbs.

She unfolded it with a frown. “This is what you had to retrieve? It won’t be big enough for your bed.”

“We’re expected to keep that sheet between us. It’s tradition.”

“How is that going to work . . . ?” She trailed off when she found the stitched opening in the middle of the material. “Well, how kinky. But isn’t this supposed to be rubber?” She poked her forefinger through the gap, waggling her eyebrows at him.

He blinked at her. “Why would it be rubber?”

She sighed. “So many things I’ll have to teach you. I’m all for tradition, but do you really want something between us?”

He pulled her onto his lap, wrapping his arms around her. “Somehow we managed to get to this bed before sleeping together. I want to do this right. A proper marriage.”

“This claiming business is important to you, huh?”

“It is.” His forehead rested against hers. “But, Melanthe, you must be certain of this. We haven’t been together for long. And while I can’t have others—obviously wouldn’t even if I could—you could find someone else.” He began stroking one of her supple thighs. “If we take this step, you’ll have to pick me over all the men you’ll meet in your eternal life. Because I won’t ever let you go.” As if I would now . . .

She laid her silken hands on his face. “I picked you over all others when I walked through that portal with you. I want to be your wife.”

His heart felt too big for his chest. “My wife.” He dipped down, rubbing the base of one horn up and down her neck. Mine. She had to know he was marking her with his scent.

When she tilted her head away to give him more access, to let him do as his instinct commanded, he wanted to kiss her until her little toes curled.

“Just one last consideration,” she murmured absently. “I’m probably not even in season anymore, right? We could’ve been in the belly of the beast for weeks.”

He raised his head. “Though I’d wanted to impregnate you so you’d feel bound to me, I can’t lie. I scent you’re in season. It’s waned, but still there.”

“Then our already slim odds waned too.” She pressed her lips to his neck, then his jawline, then to the corner of his mouth. “You amaze me, Thronos. I wonder if I’ll ever get used to your honesty.”

“You’re going to have to. Because I’m about to marry you.” Season or not, she still wanted this. He turned to slant his mouth over hers.

Lanthe’s lips parted, welcoming his tongue as it slipped toward hers. She loved how leisurely he took their kisses, working the slow build—despite the tension in his massive body.

Despite the scorching hardness of his shaft beneath her ass.

As they tangled tongues, he reached higher between her thighs, his fingers trailing upward. There was something so erotic about wearing his shirt, his hand moving unseen beneath the fabric.

Against her lips, he rasped, “Need to get you ready.”

Seeing his gorgeous physique in that towel had already primed her pump. But who was she to disappoint the Vrekener? “I told you: I look at your body and mine grows wet for it. Anything else will be a bonus.” She spread her thighs for him.

He took the invitation, gently cupping her sex, pressing the heel of his hand against her sensitive clitoris.

With his other hand he started to rub her stiffened nipples, one, then the other.

Lightly pinching. Thumbing the very tip. Rolling each peak between his fingers . . .

When he dipped down to suckle her through the fabric, she gasped, threading her fingers in his damp hair. With each pull of his lips, she arched to him for more.

“Love suckling you. Could do it for hours.”

She was moaning when he moved to her other nipple, his breaths hot against the sensitive tip. As he sucked, he eased his finger inside her, groaning to find her so aroused.

The electricity that always sparked between them grew like a lightning storm. His finger was just a tease, a precursor to the delight she’d almost experienced with Thronos before—when he’d started to wedge his huge shaft into her.

At the thought, she rocked to meet his thrusting finger, her ass rubbing over the hardness she’d soon enjoy.

He grated, “This will be over before it starts.”

She was ready for him. She cupped the back of his neck. “Then get inside me. Quick, before something interrupts our wedding.”

His brows shot up. “My thoughts exactly.” He moved her from his lap, laying her back on the bed. Once he’d stripped her of the shirt, he dropped his towel, revealing that mouthwatering erection.

She took her time admiring all seven feet of his warrior’s body. His wings were unfurled, her demon’s sexy backdrop. His horns had gone ramrod straight.

When he’d run those lengths against her before, her sex had clenched in reaction. He’d marked her with his scent—and she’d loved it. She wanted to kiss and stroke those horns. Then lick his firm lips. And his flat nipples. She wanted to run her mouth along the rigid edges of his pec muscles before following his goodie trail down. . . .

What was her type? Voilà.

He moved to kneel between her legs. Because they were about to do this. Without protection.

Her biological clock was screaming: Roll. The. Dice.

Yet then he spread that sheet over her. It was about eight feet square, with a strategically placed slit. The politics of this rankled. She didn’t get contraception, but he got this barrier?

No, no, this was important to him. Her self-help books told her compromise was vital to a developing relationship.

Then she lit on an idea, a way for them both to be happy with the sheet; she decided to play along for now.

As he aligned the opening with her sex, he asked, “Are you sure you’re ready?”

He levered himself above her, resting on one straightened arm. “Slow?” His gaze fell upon her nipples jutting against the sheet. “I fear I won’t last. I’ve craved you for too long.” With his free hand, he gripped himself, aiming for the sheet’s gap.

She rested her hands on his broad shoulders as she awaited that first contact. When the bulbous head bumped right at her hungry core, she moaned in readiness. “I might not last long either!” Blue sorcery shimmered from her hands, tendrils of it swathing them.

He hissed in a breath, determinedly pressing against her. “My sensual sorceress.” He gazed down with possessiveness ablaze in his expression.