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Page 53


Chapter 52

  Thronos was barely listening as Jasen and Cadmus argued over further security. A group of knights had met on one of the outermost islands, assessing weaknesses—and quarreling about defenses. Thronos and Melanthe had been here only a week, but already the kingdom was more secure. He and the knights had implemented a successful alarm. In time, they’d install an emergency lever on every island. For now, Vrekener sentries patrolled the perimeter of the entire realm. As a plan B, Thronos had ordered that the Territories begin their inexorable journey toward the Vrekeners’ forest outpost. After days over the ocean, they’d passed the tip of Greenland and were now crossing a wintry gulf far in the northeast of North America. At first, the idea of an evacuation system—and an unscheduled move—had sat ill with the assembly. At least until Thronos had described some of the Sorceri power he’d witnessed on the Order’s island. Jasen agreed with Thronos that the Vrekeners couldn’t have enough measures in place. Cadmus believed that his king was discounting the might of their warriors—because Cadmus had never met a being like Portia and could never conceive what she was capable of until he’d seen it with his own eyes. On the one hand, Thronos had to convince others how malevolent some Sorceri could be. On the other, he wanted them to respect his queen and worked ceaselessly to smooth her way among his people. He’d been quick to tell the assembly of Melanthe’s part in the assassination of Omort. He’d lauded all her work to neutralize threats from other factions. Already, the House of Witches had declared peace. Once Bettina of the Deathly Ones had received Melanthe’s description of the red gold medallion, she’d promptly agreed to future talks. The Dacian ruler, Lothaire, had responded with a terse missive written in blood: Vrekeners actually exist? L, The King Which might have been a joke? Thronos decided it was a good sign. As for the rage demons, Rydstrom had written Thronos a personal message that still left him grinding his teeth. . . . Thronos, You are fucking up mightily, son. My queen and I received Melanthe’s letter, and based on your history with her, we can find no truth in it. Gods only know what you’re doing to my sister-in-law up there. Release her within the week, or court war with all of my vast kingdom. Since I know Lanthe is your mate, I also know that you’ll never release her, despite my threats. If anyone had tried to force me to relinquish Sabine, I would’ve laughed in his face. The only thing that can save us from bloody conflict is if Lanthe convinces her sister that she is with you of her own free will. Your best bet is to make your mate so deliriously happy that she can give a glowing—and believable—report. If you’re willing to try, then take my advice, because I’ve been right where you are. You don’t have to understand Sorceri ways; you just have to accept them. Allow her to be as she needs to be. Sabine has told me of your animosity toward all Sorceri, so unfortunately, I don’t have high hopes that you can content Lanthe. I ready for war. I recommend you do as well. Vrekener, harm my sister-in-law in any way, and I will find you on the battlefield. Your last sight will be of me, laughing as I take your head with my bare hands. R Of course Thronos had shown Melanthe the letter; she’d read it with wide eyes. “So my first letter was a Patty Hearst bust?” He’d had no idea what that meant. “Advise me in this,” he’d told her. “Do you want to meet with your sister?” “I’m scared she’ll use her sorcery to take me from you. Or Rydstrom will attack you. Let me try one more time. ” She’d bitten her lip. “Are you going to write him back?” Thronos had given the matter much thought. As he’d watched Melanthe sleeping last night, he’d penned a response, sending it this morning. . . . Lanthe’s work had mitigated danger from three formidable sources, and most of the assembly was grateful. But Cadmus and his contingent remained suspicious of their queen and disgruntled that Thronos had left her empowered. He could understand their doubt—because he’d initially contended with it himself. He’d had to go through hell before he’d appreciated Melanthe. Pain had confessed all. In Pandemonia, he’d resisted his feelings for her, bent on returning to the Hall, to reason and sanity, to find his anchor. Now that he was here, he’d realized Melanthe was his anchor. In any case, sanity and reason had proved in short supply for his brother. When had Aristo become so twisted? How? And how had he found three other males who’d shared his proclivities? Thronos feared that the rules of their culture were so strict, the specter of offendments so pervasive, that some grew warped under the strain. Should one truly be punished for something so harmless as a kiss? Thronos had failed to follow the letter of Vrekener law; how could he expect others to be bound by them? During his and Melanthe’s tour of worlds, he’d learned that his all-or-nothing, inflexible thinking was a liability. As she’d told him, “Up in heaven, I’m sure things make sense and everyone acts as they’re expected to and surprises are few. But outside of heaven, life can be confusing and heartbreaking and dire. So most of us take pleasure where we can find it. And we don’t judge anyone who does the same. ” In “heaven,” surprises had been many. Thronos’s brother had not acted in expected ways. Life had proved utterly confusing. Perhaps Vrekeners should judge less and enjoy more, taking pleasure where they could find it—especially since dire threats now surrounded them. Eternal life could be grindingly long, or heartbreakingly short. Once the Territories were “out of the crosshairs,” he would discuss social reforms with his co-ruler. . . . The debate between Cadmus and Jasen was winding down, the day coming to a close, which meant he could soon return to her. Every second he wasn’t with Melanthe, he wished he were. For the public, he maintained what she called his poker face. At home with her, he could relax. Thanks to her generous infusion of sorcery, he remained pain-free, even days later. Still, she wanted to do a maintenance massage tonight, just in case. Lucky, lucky me. How could he have handled this time without her? She made him laugh. She forced him to shuck off some worries and most regrets. He was insatiable for her. To his remarkable fortune, she was just as much so for him. He’d started taking more control, which she’d seemed all too happy to relinquish. Two nights ago, he’d positioned her on all fours, mounting her from behind, using his pain-free wings to propel his thrusts. When he’d felt her coming around his length, he’d reached forward to cover her mouth, then followed her, biting down on his forearm. Late last night, he’d been gripped by an erotic dream about her, despite their many couplings. Just as he’d once hoped, he’d awakened with his shaft buried deep inside his wife, his hips pounding between her thighs. When he’d realized what he was doing, he eased his movements, dumbfounded. Until he’d felt her nails dig into the muscles of his ass. “Don’t stop, Thronos. So close! I’ll be quiet. . . . ” Over these days, he’d done things that he could tell had surprised her. She’d cry, “Oh!” then follow it with a breathy, “Ohhh. ” To tell him she liked it. Just as she’d promised in Inferno, she always let him know what she needed. When he thought about how eagerly his lusty mate took his seed with her body, her hands—and yes, her mouth—he couldn’t prevent the grin that spread over his face. Until he realized that all attention was on him. “What do you think, my liege?” Jasen asked. About? Thronos coughed into his fist. “I think we’ll pick this up tomorrow. I know most of you have families awaiting you. ” I have a family. He and Melanthe were an army of two. He could fly, without pain, to meet his wife in their home. Gods, how things had changed in the weeks since he’d taken her. He smiled more often. So did she, casting him that mischievous grin. As a girl, Melanthe had snared his heart with it. As a woman, she owned his heart—invincible no longer. I have her had become I love her. Thronos would tell her tonight. He couldn’t be certain how she’d react, but he would never again keep something so important in his pocket.