They were halfway there when her lungs reached their limit. She clawed him, needing air . . . about to involuntarily breathe water. He swam even faster, his heart pounding against her ear.
They breached the surface into a stormy day, sucking in misty breaths as they rolled on giant swells. She blinked against sea spray, trying to get her bearings.
“Where are . . . ?” She trailed off when Thronos’s head craned up. She twisted to look over her shoulder, saw water all the way up to the sky.
Inconceivably high. About to crash over them.
He’d already kicked for propulsion, shooting into flight. But if he couldn’t get high enough . . .
Her mind couldn’t accept the size of the wave—like a mountain of liquid toppling over. “Faster, Thronos!”
His jaw was clenched, his heart sounding like it’d explode. “Don’t let go of me, Lanthe!”
When the swell began to crest over them, he rotated in the air, wrapping his wings tightly around her. The wave collided with them so fast the water became as solid as brick.
The momentum hurtled them toward the coast, a jagged stone cliff. When they crashed into it, the rocks tore his wings like a monster with fangs, trying to rip her away from Thronos.
They clung to each other.
The wave sucked them back out to sea.
They clung harder.
The force raked them over coral reefs—before catapulting them back against the wall.
But when it receded the second time, they . . . remained.
Somehow Thronos had clung to the cliff with one quaking hand.
Gritting his teeth, he leapt higher, pulling them out of the wave’s reach. The next crest slapped just beneath their feet, foam licking their legs, but it couldn’t catch hold of them.
He hauled them up until they’d made the top of the cliff. At the edge, he shoved her ahead of him onto solid ground, then followed.
They lay on the stony ground, heaving breaths, coughing seawater. Beneath them, the cliff shook with each crashing wave.
“Melanthe, speak to me,” he said between gulps of air. “Are you hurt?”
She shook her head. Again, he’d kept her cocooned for the most part. “Just some wounds from . . . from where we were.” Swatches of her skin had been loosened by the acid, then sucked away.
She’d been food. Still would be, if not for Nïx. Except that the Valkyrie had sent them there in the first place! Why, why, why?
Most of Lanthe’s breastplate was gone; the scant remains of her skirt clung to her hips. “How long do you think we were in . . . there?”
“Could’ve been hours or days,” he answered. “Even weeks. I doubt our conception of time in Feveris corresponded to the actual duration.”
“Right.” She would never have words to convey to anyone else how horrific it’d been. Only Thronos could understand those tentacles, the pus, the burning.
Lanthe shuddered. She simply couldn’t think about that place right now without losing her ever-living shit.
When he rolled toward the edge of the cliff, scanning the waves as if searching for something, she noticed that one of his wings looked worse than normal, those scale mosaics even more skewed.
“How bad off are you?”
Over his shoulder, he said, “I’ve got a forearm and a wing snapped. I might’ve cracked my skull. Nothing major.”
That all? “What are you looking for?”
“I think someone—or something—followed us out. It was difficult to see in there, but I believe I spied a being.”
“Anyone who followed is probably dead. No one could break free of that current.” She frowned. “How did you?”
“I’m not as weak as you think me.” As if to prove his point, he lumbered to his feet. His shirt had been either eaten away or torn free; most of his leather pants had disintegrated from acid. “I’m an immortal male in my prime.”
“And that was the equivalent of an immortal current. Our bodies should have been dashed to pieces.”
“Well, they’re not.” He reached a hand down, helping her stand.
As he steadied her, she asked, “Do you think we had supernatural assistance?”
“Is it so difficult to believe I did that on my own?” He stared down into her eyes as he said, “Maybe you make me strong.”
He looked so earnest about this, she decided not to argue the point. “In any case, thanks for getting me to safety. We keep saving each other’s asses, don’t we?”
“That’s the way it should be, no?” He seemed to be asking more than just that simple question, so she changed the subject.
“Where do you think we are?”
“I have no idea.”
She turned her attention to herself. Though her necklace was unharmed, her breastplate was beyond salvage, the irregular edges cutting into her already damaged skin. She unfastened the last stubborn clip, then dumped it. Not that she cared, but her hair was long enough to cover most of her breasts. In the back, her locks had been eaten away, an involuntary bob cut. Her boots looked like acid had been drizzled over them, but at least the soles covered most of her feet.
Her skirt had only a few leather strands left. For Thronos’s sake, she shifted the garment to cover her front, which gave her an ass-less skirt.
He flicked his gaze over her torso. “You’re burned worse than I thought. You need to rest and regenerate.”
“Where? We have no idea what dangers surround us.”
“Then we need to get to higher ground while my wing heals.” He surveyed the horizon.
She saw only flat terrain, a sheet of slate-gray stone that matched the dismal sky. “If there is higher ground.” But he could see farther than she could.
“Come on.” He took her hand in his.
Though the rock had countless craters—just ideal for her acid-eaten stiletto boots—she said, “I can walk on my own.”
“I know you can.” He kept her hand. After that Pandemonian hell zone, he seemed to have a constant need to touch her.
Still fearing something would take her away from him?
Whatever he’d seen had changed this man. So what would happen to him once they ultimately separated . . . ?
For now, hand in hand, they set off, wending around larger holes.
“What if this is another dream?” she asked. “That hallucination was so realistic.” You know, Thro, the one where we were having hot interspecies action.
He nodded. “I feel as if I’ve known you. Almost.”
“We’re lucky that none of it happened. You didn’t commit any offendments. I didn’t almost get pregnant.”
“If we weren’t bespelled, then why did we feel such frenzy for each other?”
She didn’t have to read his mind to know that the guy in Thronos wanted the two orgasms he’d given her to, well, count. “Placebo effect maybe? All I know is that Feveris—or faux Feveris—changes nothing.”
“I think I’m your mate just as much as you are mine.” Cocky Thronos was back.
She repeated her standard reply. “Sorceri don’t have mates.”
When he opened his mouth to argue, she held up her free hand. “I’m too tired for this, Thronos. At least wait until all my skin regenerates before you hassle me.”
With a scowl, he started forward once more, toward a horizon of nothingness.
Nïx had told her to set worlds aflame. What could Lanthe possibly affect in a place like this? And she hadn’t exactly been a torch in that belly.
Lanthe had thought she could at least learn from this experience, from her travels. All she’d learned from faux Feveris was that Thronos could be sexy as sin, and that he had a very talented—pointed—tongue.
Oh, and that being intimate with him had been life altering.
When they’d lain in each other’s arms . . . as if nothing had ever torn them apart . . .
As the terrain grew even more challenging, he took her arm, helping her along. Gods, her awareness of him had gone through the roof. She could not, could not, could not be falling for Thronos.
Doomed did not even begin to describe a future together with him.
If she told Sabine, “I want to be with a Vrekener,” her sister would have no doubt that Lanthe had been brainwashed. Which would make Sabine and Rydstrom murderous.
How could Lanthe keep them from killing Thronos? Oh, wait—she couldn’t.
A briny gust of wind howled over the flats, chilling her bare skin. To escape her current dismal reality, she lost herself in thoughts of her sister and their new extended family, bracing for homesickness. She missed Sabine to the point of pain. She missed Rydstrom, their bedrock of stability. She missed her gurgling nieces with their downy blond hair and wide violet eyes.
The elder by seconds was called Brianna, Bri for short, and the younger was Alyson, or Aly. Cadeon and Holly had wanted to name their girls after loved ones, but in the end, the appeal of three-syllable names that could be shortened to three-letter nicknames was too overwhelming for Holly (she had an OCD thing for threes, thwarted in itself by twins).
Aly and Bri were little badasses. Everyone had been worried about the Pravus making attempts on their lives—as the vessel of this Accession, Holly had certainly been besieged by them—but there’d been no cause for alarm.
Lanthe’s nieces were super brilliant, could already trace. If they sensed danger—or bath time—they would simply teleport their diapered butts away.
When hungry, they traced right to their mother’s breast, which still freaked out the rather staid Holly. Cadeon thought it was uproarious, would croon praise to them. The twins and the boobs.
Rydstrom’s ne’er-do-well mercenary brother had finally done well, abandoning his soldier-of-fortune past to build a life and start a family with his mate. Like Rydstrom and Sabine, Cadeon and Holly were as opposite as they could be.
Maybe the differences kept things interesting. Lanthe’s gaze was helplessly drawn to Thronos.
But none of their factions were at war. None of their siblings would want to murder significant others.
She felt . . . despairing over the future. Because she couldn’t have Thronos? She wished she didn’t know how warm his chest was when he held her close—or what it would be like to make love to him.
Lanthe was a sorceress who wanted what she wanted when she wanted it. . . .
Not to be.
Despair promptly turned to resentment. Thronos had done this to her.
Made her wonder. Made her imagine more.
After several minutes of silence, he said, “I can’t stop thinking about Feveris.”
She yanked her hand from his. “Try!” When another gust hit them, she glared at her surroundings and kicked a stone. “This whole ordeal is like motherfucking Time Bandits, and I’m over it!”
“Don’t know who those bandits are, Lanthe.”
“Of course you don’t.” Because he’d never watched a movie in his eternal life.
They had nothing in common, except for some shared childhood experiences and recent hallucinatory orgasms.
Thronos now knew what it would be like to lose Melanthe forever, powerless to save her, forced to watch her die.
But he’d also glimpsed what it would be like to claim her as his woman. Neither experience had actually happened, which made him question if he were truly here with her even now. And she wondered why he kept touching her?
In their last two realms, he and Melanthe had been tested together—making him feel closer to her. Yet she was drawing away.
The situation wasn’t helping. Her skin was wounded. She must be freezing from regeneration, and still half shocked over where they’d been.
She was probably starving as well. He had no idea when they’d last eaten. How many days or weeks were we within that beast? Already, he’d suspected Pandemonian time moved differently. He could only guess how long he and Melanthe had been missing.
He helped her over a gulley, his thoughts ricocheting among four things: concern for her immediate safety, reliving her death in those harrowing loops, recalling his pride as she’d manipulated those demons to save him—and relishing how she’d responded to him in their dream of Feveris.
For the latter, he lowered his mental shield, letting her hear his musings loud and clear.
He replayed her wet heat kissing the head of his shaft . . . the pressure of her sex beginning to squeeze the crown as he inched inside . . . her pulse racing because she’d needed him too . . .
“It wasn’t real!” she insisted.
“It feels bloody real!” No one got his wings up like she did! “Damn it, I know your taste. I know your moans. Why are you so eager to deny what we felt?”
It was as if she considered herself weak because she’d surrendered to it. And all I feel is strong.
“Because it never happened!” Brows raised in challenge, she said, “If that hallucination truly took place, then shouldn’t Nïx’s lock of hair be in my pocket?” She dug into the waterlogged leather strip, one of the last remaining.
She pulled out a lock of Valkyrie hair.
He gaped. Could Feveris have been real?
Melanthe pinched her brow with confusion. “No, no. Nïx must’ve planted this on me when she attacked me on the island. She could’ve slipped this in when I was unconscious. Or maybe she was in the beast herself?” Melanthe shoved it back in her pocket. “Don’t look at me like that!”
“Like I made you scream with pleasure?” He closed in on her. “Face it, sorceress, I nearly claimed you as mine—and you loved it.” They were toe to toe. “You wanted me inside you. You wanted more. Nothing can ever take that away.”