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Thronos lunged for her, shoving her behind the stone door that led to the main cave. He pulled her close, then wrapped a protective wing around her. “What is it?” she whispered. “I smell a creature, but scarcely trust my senses. I thought they were going extinct across all worlds. ” He couldn’t be talking about a dragon? When she heard some great beast breathing at the outer cave entrance, she shuddered. Two bright lights blazed inside like a car’s high beams. Thronos craned his head around the door to catch a glimpse. His heart pounded at whatever he’d seen. She delved into his thoughts . . . then sucked in a breath. A dragon had its head in the cave opening, its brilliant yellow eyes glowing. Heated air blurred around its nose. Its scales were onyx and silver, glinting like metal. She switched to telepathy. —This place, the benches . . . — As if reciting something, he muttered, “Sacrifice the pure, worship the mighty, behold a temple unequaled. ” So this place was dedicated to virgin sacrifice for mighty dragons? She wasn’t surprised. Many demon cultures worshipped dragons. Rydstrom had the image of one tattooed on his side. In Rothkalina’s Grave Realm, the badlands of the kingdom, basilisks roamed wild. Lanthe had gone to visit them with Sabine a few times. Her sister had the power to communicate with animals, and had gotten to know one or two well. But Lanthe wasn’t Sabine. And this dragon looked hungry for a sacrifice. If she weren’t petrified, she might have laughed. Lanthe was no cherry-holder of yore; the dragon would probably spit her out like a pit. The headlights shining into the cave shuttered off and on. Oh, gods, the dragon had blinked. Then the entire mountain rocked and claws skittered into the cave. Had the beast shoved its lethal paw inside? The dragon sounded like it was blindly patting around the cave, reaching all the way to this door. It must have locked in on them! Pat . . . pat . . . pat . . . pat. Oh, yeah, the dragon knew they were in here, and it wanted its treat. Thronos whispered, “Easy, Melanthe. Stay quiet. ” Quiet? Did he think she’d cry out in hysterics? Galling! —Quiet, yourself! I have some experience with such situations. For instance, in that haystack, I never made a sound, even when pitchfork tines stabbed me. — She held up her hand, showing him the two puncture scars on the back. Granted, you had to really look for them, and she usually wore gauntlets. . . . He clasped her hand in his, turning it this way and that. She sensed his anger and confusion, but he made no comment. When the dragon snorted with impatience, Thronos drew her hand to his side and wrapped his wing tighter. She frowned down at it. Metallic onyx and silver scales. Just like this dragon had. In Rothkalina, the basilisks’ scales were red-toned. Curiosity made her brave, and she darted a glance around the door, before Thronos dragged her back. This dragon differed from its cousins in Rothkalina in one other way. It had four horns instead of two. Just as Vrekeners had four instead of a customary pair. As if with annoyance, the dragon pummeled its wings against the mountainside, causing a shower of grit and dust even deeper within the cave. Finally it gave a blood-curdling roar, then flew away. “Thronos,” she murmured, “you come from this place. ” “Are you mad? I do not come from this place,” Thronos snapped the moment they were in the clear, releasing her from his wing. “One more time, sorceress: I am not a demon! Vrekeners are descended from gods. We have purpose. ” His tone was harsher than he’d intended, because . . . because he had felt an affinity for the beast. There was no mistaking the similarity of their scales, their horns. Some said demons sprang from the same tainted well as dragons, that they lived and evolved on the same types of hell planes. Such as Pandemonia. “I thought Vrekener horns were only for show,” Melanthe said with obvious glee. “Yours straightened when I began to undress. ” “I’m to take your word on that?” But how they’d ached! “I’ll bet you have a demon seal. You won’t release seed until you’re inside your mate. ” Only this sorceress could make that sound like a huge failing. A Vrekener male could orgasm, but could never ejaculate until he first claimed his female. Thronos racked his brain for another species besides demons that shared this singular trait. “So I have a couple of things in common with demons. ” He ran his fingers through his hair. “I also have fangs—does that make me a vampire? My eyes turn silver, so I must be a Valkyrie. ” “Deny, deny, deny. Look at you, struggling to keep your head above water with this. Returning to this realm is crumbling your stuffy Vrekener façade, exposing your true demon nature. ” When he’d viewed Melanthe’s scars—puncture wounds that had pierced her hand clean through—his eyes had felt like they were on fire. When he’d imagined the pain she would’ve felt, his fangs had elongated to rip out someone’s throat. As a demon’s might. No, he was not a bloody demon! So why had he behaved like one earlier? He’d told himself he would only look at his mate. But when he’d realized she was actually going to bare her body, he’d known he would be helpless not to touch it. He’d imagined kneading her breasts, suckling them, licking her nipples until she couldn’t stand it anymore. By the time she’d started to remove her top, he was already envisioning even more forbidden taboos. Placing her hand into the heat of his pants and guiding her to fondle his length. Reaching beneath her skirt and exploring her sex with seeking fingers. Claiming her. Breaking his seal and spending his seed at long last. The dragon was gone; what was to stop Thronos now? He raked his gaze over her, his thoughts darkening once more. “Thronos, it’s not bad to be a demon,” she said, her tone softening a touch. “Some things just are, okay?” At her words, he lifted his eyes to hers, felt like he couldn’t get enough air. He’d been about to start the madness all over! Must leave this place. He needed to get back to the Skye. To sanity and reason and order. She was making him doubt everything—just as she had when they were children! “If you can create portals, can you sense other ones? Feel their energy?” She hesitated, then nodded. “We could find Pandemonia’s portal. ” Thresholds like that were valuable—and vulnerable. They were often hidden. “You’ll direct me, and I’ll protect you. ” “Ha! I will never leave a place like this to slog through a war-torn demon plane. You can close the stone door against the dragon, and we’ll wait out our time. ” “You and I could skirt the fray. ” Her speed was considerable, a fact that he used to curse. “I’ll keep you safe. ” She crossed her arms over her chest. “Not even going to discuss this. I’m going to stay in my gold house and sleep on my gold bed and ski down my piles of gold like Scrooge McDuck. ” Whatever that meant. Another TV reference? “We can’t stay here. Sooner or later that beast will get frustrated enough to dig through stone. ” She pursed her lips. “Out there, we’ll face nothing but danger, even more than the homicidal demon armies. This place is rumored to be littered with traps. ” “What kind of traps?” “You know how the humans have certain ideas of hell? Well, all those ideas are supposed to be based on the realities of Pandemonia. Torments of fire. Hell beasts of legend. Unearthly pleasures followed by punishments. The condemned cursed to repeat labors. ” “Like Sisyphus having to roll a stone up a hill for eternity?” “Bingo. ” Thronos was undaunted. “Then we’d best find that portal as soon as possible. ” “Nope. You will never convince me to leave this temple—” Whirring gears sounded from above. The circular ceiling started to rotate. “What’s happening, Thronos?” Gold dust rained down as the ceiling shifted to reveal a pie-shaped opening. A meaty, scaled arm shot through it, black dragon claws grappling over the floor beside them.