When a ray of light wavered through the palm trees, he lifted her raven locks to the sun, just to watch them shine. . . .
“Sometimes I feel so comfortable with you that I forget our pasts,” she said in a languorous voice. “Sometimes I feel as if nothing had separated us, and only yesterday we were gazing up at clouds together.”
“I was just thinking about our camaraderie. It’s still here between us.”
“Hmm. Something is,” she murmured.
As if an alarm had sounded, he picked up on the subtle change in her tone. When her hand started to dip, tension renewed within him.
Because Feveris wasn’t satisfied. He remained erect, and his mate’s hips began to move, rubbing the slick heat of her sex against him. Bliss.
“You’re hard as iron.”
“You make me thus.” He turned to her, cupping her face. “Are you ready for more? I can give it to you.”
Worry crossed her face, but she still nodded. “I have to feel you inside me.”
Even as his shaft strained demandingly, his chest twisted with emotion. “I don’t want you to regret this.”
She lay back in the flowers and reached for him, her hair like a cloud around her head, night-black curls against bloodred petals. He knew he’d never forget this sight for the rest of his immortal life.
“I can barely think past this fever for you.” Her eyes were luminous, telling him things he didn’t have the experience to recognize.
He sensed a vulnerability in her that he wouldn’t have expected.
As he knelt between her thighs, he said, “Worry not, Melanthe. I’ll be good to you. I’ll be true to you.”
“If we do this, we might be taking a step there’s no turning back from.”
“Tell me you want this.”
She bit her bottom lip. “I do.”
Then it will be done. He was to take his mate.
At the thought, his gaze was drawn to the smooth column of her neck. His fangs ached, as if to mark her.
Vrekener males didn’t bite their mates upon claiming. Defeating the compulsion, he fisted his erection, swiping his thumb over the head as he aimed it toward her tiny opening. “I don’t want to hurt you.”
“Go slow at first.” With a smile in her tone, she said, “Be tender for as long as you can.”
He tilted his hips toward her. Just as dampness kissed his sensitive skin, she gave a moan, undulating, sending the crown slipping up and down her wet folds.
A growl rose up from his chest. He wanted her arousal all over him. On his tongue, on his fingers, covering his shaft.
He placed his hands on either side of her head, easing his hips forward. Uncontrollable urges tormented him, and he had to gnash his teeth to keep from plunging inside at once. He’d delved just an inch into her core when his entire body gave a shudder. “My gods!” Another inch. “Melanthe, I will want this every hour of the day. You are—”
“Sweet!” a female said from not ten feet behind them. “Hot interspecies action! And I didn’t even have to subscribe to this channel!”
For a brief second, Lanthe wondered if Thronos would ignore the interruption and keep going.
Gazing at the intense hunger on his face, she could tell he was debating it. . . .
But then protectiveness or propriety made him stop. With a surprisingly vile curse, Thronos pulled out. As he stood, he dragged Lanthe up as well, tucking her back against his front as his wings enfolded their bodies.
Lanthe narrowed her eyes at the dark-haired female who’d come upon them. It was none other than Nïx the Ever-Knowing. “Why are you in Feveris, Nïx?”
“Am I in Feveris? Are we?” Her voice was melodious, her amber eyes amused. She had a freaking bat perched on her shoulder. “What if we’re not?”
“I’ve been here before and know what it looks like.” Lanthe could hardly believe she’d just been caught beneath a Vrekener. Would Nïx tell Sabine? Stressing the words, Lanthe said, “Not to mention that we’ve been bespelled with unending desire.”
“Yet you two have no urge to do me?”
Lanthe muttered, “Maybe a little.” Nïx was a dish.
“Hey!” Thronos yanked Lanthe closer.
“Understandable.” Nïx twirled her long hair. “You two get dressed, and then we’ll talk.”
When the Valkyrie turned from them, Lanthe eased around within the circle of Thronos’s wings to face him. “We were bespelled.” They might not have been bespelled.
“Of course,” he said solemnly.
“We must have been.” Otherwise, Lanthe had so very nearly let Thronos Talos claim her—during her most fertile time. And she’d been about to shove her hips up to get him inside her faster!
If she got pregnant with a Vrekener’s baby . . . with his baby . . .
His expression was inscrutable. Was he angry at himself for their offendments? “Of course,” he repeated. “The Valkyrie must be mistaken.”
He released Lanthe so they could find their clothes. She darted for her necklace right away.
The Valkyrie sauntered back to them as soon as Lanthe and Thronos were dressed. Nïx herself wore a T-shirt that read: I lost my heart on Immortal Island!
Recalling how Nïx had helped Thronos, Lanthe narrowed her eyes. “You told him how to capture me. Why would you betray me?”
“I’ve been running from him for centuries.” Or she had been. Act like partners long enough . . .
“Will you stop answering questions with questions?”
“Ugh!” Lanthe wanted to strangle her!
“You both have roles to fulfill.”
“What roles?” Thronos grated.
Nïx waved her hand in an arc above her as she breathed, “Future ones!”
Wait . . . immortal island? “You were on the Order’s prison island, weren’t you?”
“Was I?” Nïx asked with a coy smile.
“You talked to me when I was unconscious!” Lanthe flashed a look of realization. “You hit me in the face with a log!”
“You dare accuse me of such a thing?!” Nïx snapped, her Valkyrie emotions producing lightning above. “Outrageous! I would never!” Then she abruptly frowned. “I might have hit you in the face with a log.”
“You talked to me about realms and fires. Why?”
“You were in the mortal plane, then Pandemonia, now here, and soon . . . there. You really are the cutest wittle devilkin of a catalyst!”
“Catalyst? You’ve been steering my portals! You—you rigged my subconscious.” Hadn’t Lanthe felt like this journey was bigger than just her and Thronos? Had Nïx wanted them in Pandemonia to shake up those demons? To bring peace to hell? After all, what could those armies fight over now?
Or did Nïx want the dainty keys Lanthe now wore? Not without a fight, Valkyrie.
Nïx murmured, “In one realm, hurt. In one realm, leave. In one realm, cleave. In one realm, shine.”
Lanthe had hurt in Pandemonia, as if the festering wounds of the past had been sliced open. At last to heal? “So here, I’m supposed to leave?”
Nïx smiled blankly.
“What are you playing at, Valkyrie?” Thronos sounded like he was struggling not to lose his temper. He must be regretting their actions as much as Lanthe did.
Ignoring him, Nïx asked Lanthe, “How’s your power coming, sorceress? You look at it as if it’s a pot that needs to be filled. When in fact, it’s a muscle that has been flexed very little.”
This news was exciting! “So the more I use it, the stronger it’ll be?”
“Use, use, rest. Use, use, use, rest. Use, use, use, use, rest—”
“I get it!”
To Thronos, the Valkyrie said, “How did you like your vacay in Pandemonia? Glad you saved up sick days? Did you feel all . . . liberated? And swagger-y? I bet that plane made your soft parts tingle.”
“Once and for all, tell me, woman: Are Vrekeners demons?”
“Tell me, man: Does it matter?” she said with a roll of her eyes.
“Yes! Absolutely. Are we a demonarchy?”
“What would be the difference between your life now versus if you were a demon? You’d be able to trace. Big deal.”
Lanthe could sense his steep disappointment. Because he still didn’t have the conclusive answers he sought? Or because Nïx hadn’t denied Vrekeners were demons?
“I’ll make you a deal, Thronos,” the Valkyrie said. “I’ll tell you where you really are if your mate stores something for me.”
“Stores what?” Lanthe didn’t even have a bag with her.
Nïx plucked up a curl of her lustrous dark hair, peering down at it. “This is the one, you know.”
Lanthe didn’t know. “Which one?”
“The one that enslaves all the Valkyries. The tipping point with the Scourge.”
“Okay,” Lanthe said slowly. “Your hair enslaves?” She turned to Thronos, as if he could make sense of Nïx’s ramblings.
The Valkyrie nodded. “Quite.” Baring her foreclaw, she sliced off the curl, then glanced around, muttering, “What to tie it with?” She beamed at the bat, who now had a length of string in its creepy little maw. “Why thank you, Bertil!” Nïx tied the end of the curl tight, handing it to Lanthe. “In your pocket, if you please.”
Lanthe patted down her outfit. “I don’t have a pock—” Sure enough, there was a concealed pocket in one of the leather bands of her skirt. “Okay, give it over.”
“I’m ready for an explanation, soothsayer,” Thronos told Nïx. “Melanthe and I both felt the influence of this place; there was no denying it.”
The Valkyrie’s eyes flashed like her lightning. “Or maybe you two simply wanted an excuse to have each other. Here, you were able to get around your premarital sex rule. Here, Lanthe reasoned that you couldn’t think badly of her because she would have no control over her actions.”
“Then where are we?” Thronos demanded.
A sudden rank smell wafted over Lanthe, like . . . vomit. Where had that come from?
“Very well. I’ll tell Thronos alone.” Nïx sauntered up to him, standing on tiptoe.
When he leaned down to accommodate her, putting their faces close together, a spike of irritation hit Lanthe. Jealousy? No, of course not. Still, she pointed out, “Hey, I’m part of this too!”
Whatever Nïx was whispering made Thronos’s eyes widen. When she’d finished, he straightened, looking paler than Lanthe had ever seen him. His scars whitened.
Nïx turned to her. “As much as I’d like to stay and discuss my plans for the Accession—hint: there will be wearable party favors!—I have a meeting that was penciled in one hundred and twenty-five years ago. Do take care with my lock, Lanthe.” Then the Valkyrie gazed up at the sky, her eyes swirling like mercury. A split second later, a bolt of lightning struck her.
When the smoke cleared and their eyes readjusted, Nïx was gone.
Loreans had long wondered how Nïx traveled the world(s). Lightning bolts. Who knew?
Thronos hastened to Lanthe, grabbing her shoulders.
“What’s going on?” She winced as that pain in her side flared up again. She began to feel more burns up and down her legs.
“You need to wake up with me.”
“What is wrong with you? I’m not asleep.” She glanced past him. Had the fields of flowers wavered? Her nose was now burning with that ghastly smell.
His hands tightened on her. “None of this is real. It’s a shared hallucination—so that we don’t fight our captivity.”
“That last portal took us to . . . to a treacherous place. Into the belly of a beast. It will want to keep us—immortals are a source of constantly replenishing nourishment—but we’re going to fight.”
Was he saying she was something’s food? One of her worst fears. “Y-you’re scaring me.”
“I’ll get you free, but you’ll have to create a portal directly after, or we’ll be drugged and trapped once more.”
“This isn’t funny!”
In a gallows tone, he said, “No, Lanthe. It isn’t.”
Thrymheim Hold, Northlands
Home of Skathi, goddess of the hunt
Goddess council convening
Agenda: Petition for godhood submitted by Phenïx the Ever-Knowing, firstborn Valkyrie
Nïx, you’ve known about this meeting for decades and decades,” Riora, the goddess of impossibility, said. “Couldn’t you have prepared better?”
Nïx blinked at Riora as they made their way through the rumbling halls carved into Godsbellow Mountain, a peak continually shaken by thunder. “I don’t take your meaning.”
“You’re wearing a T-shirt and flops, you’re carrying a sleeping bat, and you reek of what can only be gastric acid.” The bat burped in its sleep, expelling a puff of green mist. Then it smacked its lips. “This is a formal affair. Kali is wearing twelve skulls.”
Nïx’s eyes went wide. “I should’ve vajazzled!” Her excitement woke the bat. It clawed its way up her T-shirt to perch on her shoulder. With a shrug, Nïx opened her backpack, retrieving sheets of paper.
Riora looked approving, expecting a résumé of Nïx’s great works and deeds, a divine CV to advance her cause—then frowned when the Valkyrie turned to post a flyer for a “barely used” Bentley on one of Thrymheim’s sacred walls. “As your friend, I have to tell you that the atmosphere in Skathi’s meeting hall is contentious. Most of the deities think you reach above your station. The questioning will be intense.” From within the hall, they could hear goddesses debating whether Nïx had “the juice.”