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Page 44


Chapter 43

  Lanthe woke in a cavernous chamber, atop a bed with a shell canopy. “Where am I?” she asked groggily. “What happened?” She was having a hard time marshaling her thoughts, felt like she was riding waves—or beset by that spinning-bed feeling. Had she drunk that much wine? Had she wandered into the wrong room, then passed out fully dressed? 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. A giggle sounded from beneath her. “What the—” 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. Flames ignited behind her—Furie’s unique fire wings splaying. 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. ” “A shame he doesn’t return it. ” She straightened. “What does that mean? I know he does. He has for centuries. ” “He’s with Nereids right now. ” “That’s not possible. ” “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. ” “And if he doesn’t?” “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. Naked nymphs in obvious heat surrounded Lanthe’s male. 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. Because he’s mine. 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. On