"Oh-my-God!" Her hands flew to his hips.

"Elizabeth, still. Don't you dare come yet!"

"Too late!" She shuddered, her long hair tumbling wildly over the sheets. "Can't stop."

He felt her nails bite into his ass as her hips rolled up and down, sliding her sex along his shaft. As soon as he released his grip, he'd spill. Can't resist this. . . .

He spread his knees wider, shoving them against the backs of her thighs. When he thrust faster over her, her breasts bounced, her rosy nipples jutting. Too much . . .

Gaze locked on her heavy-lidded eyes, he rasped, "You want my seed."

"Yes!"

"Then watch me . . . come." He released his cock; his back bowed as semen rushed forth. "Ah! Elizavetta!" he bellowed, pumping out onto her belly.

As arcs lashed over her again and again, he grew thunderstruck-because she was writhing in another orgasm.

And smiling. Her lips curled with delight.

"Lizvetta?"

When he finished spending at last, he collapsed beside her with a groan, his shaft twitching against her thigh.

Too much from her. He needed to get away from her.

And still, he lay on his side with one arm sprawled over her breasts, his leg drawn up over hers, pulling her closer.

Then he frowned. They fit.

Like two puzzle pieces.

Ellie's body was humming, her skin tingling as his hoarse exhalations hit her ear.

They lay like that as they both caught their breath. He even brushed his lips against her temple.

Daubing a finger in his seed, she gave him a saucy grin. "Look what I made you do," she said, repeating his words.

Just as Ellie was thinking she'd made progress with him, he drew back, his face a mask of rage. "Question me again like that, and I'll make you beg for your death!" Before he vanished, he grated, "And you still don't compare to Saroya."

She lay stunned, eyes darting, disbelieving what had just happened. But the glaring proof pooled on her belly.

Before, she'd found it erotic to feel him come over her; now she felt sullied by it.

Used. Ellie covered her face with her forearm, her bottom lip trembling. Not only hadn't she been good enough to sway him, he'd mocked her again for trying to seduce him away from Saroya.

Stings so bad. . . .

She never let herself cry, not even in prison. Now she didn't know if she could stave off her tears.

She'd just gotten off-again-with someone who'd threatened her, threatened her family, repeatedly. Someone who murdered.

Someone I hate so deeply.

Before she could burst into tears, she felt a stirring in her chest. Saroya. I wonder what the goddess would think about his spunk all over her? If she truly did scorn all things sexual . . .

Hell, even if she didn't.

For the first time in her life, Ellie would let her rise without a fight. "For the buckets of blood I threw up. Have fun with this, goddess."

Chapter 28

Oh, you little bitch." Saroya rose up in bed, staring in horror at her coated belly. So close to taking fruit.

This was why I was compelled to rise. Lothaire's seed felt as if it scalded her skin, like acid upon her.

Life in every cursed drop.

She rushed into the bathroom of her suite, frantically wiping it away, scouring herself with a wet cloth until her skin was abraded.

How Lamia would laugh.

If Saroya had risen when the vampire had asked, was this what he'd planned for her? Degradation? She'd known she wouldn't be able to hide her revulsion!

Once she felt relatively clean of his marking, she assessed herself in the mirror. There were bruises on her upper arms and inner thighs. Was there blood in her mouth? He'd cut her tongue with his fangs!

Brute.

Saroya's first impulse was to recede. But clearly, Lothaire had just been serviced. If he'd remained in the apartment, this would be an ideal time for her to face him. . . .

As she began to ready herself, Saroya longed for the ages when she'd had scores of attendants to bathe, clothe, and adorn her with jewels. Now she must fend for herself.

After applying her own cosmetics, she picked through the paltry number of garments allotted her, choosing a slinky black skirt, stilettos, and a metallic halter.

Satisfied with the results, she strode to his room, finding Lothaire at his desk, staring absently at a puzzle in his hands. Deep in thought? About what had just occurred with Elizabeth?

All around the room was crushed debris. Had he experienced one of the rages he'd spoken of? This doesn't bode well. Perhaps that was why he'd used the human-to vent his rancor.

He raised his head, casting her a sneer. Before she'd said a word, the look faded. "Ah, Saroya has deigned to rise for me."

"Why didn't you mistake me for Elizabeth?" She and the mortal weren't merely twins, they shared a body.

Ignoring her question, he asked, "When did you wake?"

"In time to find your . . . leavings on my belly. Elizabeth let me rise just to enjoy that."

He gave a half-laugh. "You deserve nothing less. I waited for you last night, but you refused to join me."

"And is that what you had in store for me?"

"Depends on how good you are. I don't come like a fountain for just anyone."

The gall! "Then she must have been quite talented."

"Surprisingly so."

She might have felt vulnerable that Elizabeth had pleasured him so well, but she was Saroya, goddess of blood and divine death. Besides, Lothaire was bound to her.

He could no more forsake her than the sun could keep from dawning.

"Perhaps I would have treated my Bride differently," he said. "In any case, it should have been you bringing me pleasure."

Saroya examined her nails. It would never be her. She'd avoided surrendering to a male for twenty millennia.

Only Lothaire would believe he'd be the one to master me. She raised her gaze to him.

The Enemy of Old would do well not to persist in that belief after she was turned. Otherwise, she'd delight in his last pitiful thought: I believed she wanted me.

Lothaire had expected Elizabeth to come marching into his room, upbraiding him about his exit and stinging comments.

Was I even looking forward to it?

Instead, Saroya faced him once more.


He was still furious with the goddess for not showing-but he was even more so at Elizabeth for being so inconceivably sexy.

The way she'd licked his fangs . . . her throaty moans . . .

Her passion aroused him like nothing else he could remember. Far from being disgusted by his seed marking her, she'd seemed excited by it. "Look what I made you do," she'd teased, nigh beguiling him.

Don't think of her. Your Bride stands before you.

The one who hadn't risen for him. "Tell me why you didn't meet me as promised."

"Elizabeth didn't let me rise."

Pretty little liar. Again, where was the loyalty, the trust? "If so, then she'll be punished. Severely. Though I do wonder how she prevented you from it-while she slept."

If Saroya hadn't risen, then perhaps she'd been afraid to. The goddess of blood afraid to face me? Impossible.

"Are you any closer to the ring?" She changed the subject, and he let her, deciding to drop this, to get past his resentment.

Ivana had told him that he'd be a good and true mate to his Bride.

No matter why Saroya had denied him, Lothaire would begin afresh

with her.

"No, I'm no closer in my search," he said. "But I might see my target's memories the next time I dream. If not, I plan to capture his Valkyrie female to force his cooperation." If Declan Chase lived. Lothaire would find out this eve. "As you know, there's no greater leverage than a loved one."

Of course, Lothaire might kill Chase's female the first time she mouthed off to him. Regin the Radiant could try a fey monk's patience.

"Your plans are sound. And Dorada?"

"My oracle searches for her. So far she has not strayed near you."

He noted her evident relief, but didn't remark on it. "Now that I have you here, you can spend the night with me. Sit." He pointed to the settee.

When she crossed the room to follow his order, he traced to his closet to politely don a shirt, as a good male might.

She called out, "How did you know it was I instead of the mortal?"

Lothaire's hands stilled on a button. He'd known because Elizabeth was . . . prettier.

He'd kid himself no longer-the two females were not one and the same. The goddess caked her face with makeup, covering those charming freckles on her nose. And she walked stiffly, not with that sensual roll of her hips.

Elizabeth's eyes were brighter. She smiled on occasion.

No, no. Saroya looked and walked differently because she was a goddess. She would comport herself as one. Not commonly like Elizabeth.

When he returned, Lothaire answered, "Surely, I would know my own Bride." He sat in the desk chair; Saroya perched on the very end of the settee, as far from him as possible. Even Elizabeth hadn't done that, and she feared him. No matter. "Speak with me, Saroya."

"About what?"

"Whatever is on your mind." Earlier, he'd sat with the mortal, matching wits with her. For a time, their bandying had distracted him from other concerns. Could he expect the same from Saroya?

"Very well. I want servants."

"I can trust no one but Hag."

"Then give her to me. Make her my servant."

"I doubt that would work out as you intend. Some immortals do not make good slaves. Alas, she's one among them. Besides, I need her talents as an oracle."

"This disappoints me deeply, Lothaire."

"It is temporary. We make sacrifices now to be rewarded later." Silence followed. "And is there nothing else on your mind?" That sounded harsher than he'd meant it to.

"My thoughts are consumed with the ring."

Another bout of silence.

As a male whose existence had almost always been solitary, Lothaire wasn't used to casting about for things to discuss. "What's your favorite memory, Saroya?" As good a question as any, he supposed.

"Why would you ask this?"

"Just humor me."

She gazed at her nails. "Once, for amusement, I chose a pair of my vampire acolytes, a male and his Bride, and threatened the lives of their two offspring. Of course, the parents would do anything to save them. So I made the father vow to the Lore that he would eat his female, bite by bite-

starting from the toes." Saroya sighed. "Afterward, he tried everything to get out of his vow, to circumvent it. At the very least to ease her suffering. But his vow compelled him, and her pesky regeneration ensured that this went on for decades. In fact, he was still at it when I was cursed."

Those unbreakable pledges to the Lore . . . Immortals depended on them, even as they dreaded ever being trapped by one.

Saroya shrugged. "I assured my acolytes that I would raise their offspring while they were otherwise occupied. But I fondly recall drinking them to the quick anyway."

Lothaire's shoulders knotted, any relaxation from earlier vanished. How good a mother would Saroya be . . . ? "You harm the young? You will no longer."

"You think to order me again, Lothaire? Understand that I'm a goddess-I have no sensibilities about age. My acolytes were merely organisms I used as playthings. Young, old . . . age matters naught."

"If you target the young, then your enemies will target your own."

She blinked. "I have no young."

"But you will. I will." Damn Elizabeth for planting doubts.

"If such is your wish, vampire. I will endeavor to be biddable to you. That's what you want, is it not?"

I might want a woman who will take my orders-and then do everything but. He pushed that thought aside. "Say something droll, Saroya," he commanded.

"What?"

"Are you quick of wit, glib of tongue?" As Elizabeth continued to be. You're the flyweight to her heavy. . . .

"Lothaire, I enslave others to be those things, so that they may entertain me."

Silence once more.

He kept recalling that night in the woods with Saroya, how well he'd gotten along with her. Or had he simply been staggered by his blooding? "The first night I found you, we talked for hours. Why is this like pulling teeth now?"

"I'm confused, Lothaire. It sounds like you're auditioning me for a role I've already won. One that is mine beyond any rectification. Has the mortal somehow sown discord between us?"

He made his expression neutral. The mortal has. He'd never thought past the getting of the thrones and the completion of his goals until a human girl had challenged him.

Now he was forced to wonder what eternity would be like with the female before him.

No, no, most immortals had difficulties with their mates in the beginning. Especially if they were from different factions or cultures. Lothaire was to be no different. At least in this.

As other Lorean males did every day, Lothaire would win over his female. He could be charming, if he chose to be. He could coax her to respond to him. "If not talk, then what shall we do this eve, flower?"

"Hunt. Kill. Spill the blood of innocents."

Lothaire didn't understand this need of Saroya's to kill. If she wasn't harvesting blood, then what was the point? He understood murdering his enemies and political obstacles. Reveled in it.

But Saroya slaughtered her prey for no reason. And Lothaire had vowed not to let her kill. "No hunting. You're completely hidden from my enemies only here and at my oracle's," he told her honestly, though he could have taken her out, half-tracing with her to keep her invisible to others.

And there was a druidic tattoo she could wear that would render her untrackable. He could acquire the ink from one of his debtors. But I'll keep that information close for now.

"Regrettably, Saroya, there's a bounty on your head-"

"A bounty!" she exclaimed. "Return my godhood, and I shall smite all your foes, afflict them with madness and plague until they boil and fester, groveling at your feet for mercy!"

His lips curled. "I do enjoy when you get like this."

"I will make a fearsome queen for you, as soon as you find the ring for us." She studied his face, couldn't mistake his interest-