Seeming to choose her words very carefully, Hag said, "Mortal mates are extremely rare for Loreans. I'm thinking now of all the couples brought together this Accession and can't cite a single one with a human in the mix. In any case, Lothaire despises mortals more than anyone I know."
"I won't say, and I don't suggest asking him."
"But it is possible that I'm his. Why don't you oracle-up and find out for certain?"
"You know I only have so many rolls a day."
Ellie had asked Hag how bone-rolling worked. She'd answered that it was like scanning text in a book, but if done too often, the words would grow blurry.
"What if I am his?" Ellie insisted. "If you serve Lothaire's interests, then how do you think it'll affect him once he realizes he killed his one and only Bride? You think he'd be pissed?"
Hag's gaze flitted away. "I trust Lothaire's judgment."
"Tell me why you owe him so much."
"Very well." Hag retrieved another beer, easily popping the top with her thumbnail. "Centuries ago, I began working for a powerful sorcerer and his sisters. He didn't like one of my foretellings, so he cursed me to appear as a repulsive crone, captive to his will for as long as he lived-a particularly dire predicament, considering how difficult it was to kill him. He was known as the Deathless One." Her fingers tightened around her bottle. Just when Ellie thought it'd shatter, Hag loosened her hold. "If not for Lothaire, I'd still be trapped in a dank castle basement. He betrayed all his alliances, breaking a covenant to free the sorcerer's
"Lothaire did all that for you?"
Hag gave a humorless laugh. "No, he had other mysterious reasons. My freedom was merely a happy coincidence, but all the same, he made me vow a debt in advance, which put me in his notorious book-" Her timer went off. "I'll be back after a while. Don't get too burned."
Alone, Ellie picked up her travel magazine once more. She turned the page, perusing an article on Bora-Bora, but not really reading. Instead, she reflected on all the things she'd never get to do.
See her family again. Travel around the world. Make a home of her own. Have kids. Ellie's idea of a white picket fence? Her own cabin on Peirce Mountain.
She'd never get to find that man who would dote on her. She'd always imagined the kind of guy she'd end up with, fantasizing in loving detail what he'd be like.
Basically the opposite of Lothaire in every way.
Reflecting like this could make a girl wish she weren't teetering on the verge of death.
Teetering. Ellie was sick of it. At least on death row she'd been able to count down the days till she was freed at last. The magazine edges crinkled in her grip.
Now she lingered in this wait-and-see hell.
She wanted to scream, wanted to strangle Lothaire, could actually see the appeal of ending a being's life.
How she wished for another chance to "cross swords" with him, especially now that she'd learned to decode the way he talked. She had analyzed his statements over and over, and she felt confident that she'd be able to tell when he was deflecting or misdirecting.
If she asked him, "Do you like blue?" and he did but didn't want to admit it, he'd sneer, "Do I look like the type of man who would like blue?"
He started statements with "Perhaps" or "I'd wager" to avoid lies. Or he'd say something distractingly outrageous.
She called it Lothaire-speak.
Ellie did agree with him about one thing: for even the remotest chance of survival, she still had only that one move open to her.
Part of her wanted to try it once more. Maybe if she got him to claim her totally, she could drive a wedge between him and Saroya.
Or maybe Ellie should just give him the blowjob he'd wanted. She remembered the wise words of her cousin Sadie, the mountainside's resident slut: "If you want to communicate an idea to a man's brain, you talk to him through his pecker. It's like an ear horn, y'all."
Musing on Lothaire's seduction had absolutely nothing to do with the fact that Ellie still craved him like crack.
Sure enough, he had awakened something in her.
All week, she'd been horny as hell, aching for his hands on her, replaying what they'd done together. When she slept, she dreamed of suckling him, then taking his thick shaft inside her.
She'd touched herself a couple of times in the shower, but could never relax enough to get off, always afraid Lothaire would suddenly appear to catch her-then mock her so viciously. . . .
She exhaled, turning a page, deciding then and there not to put out. I never had a shot at him anyway.
Which meant there were no moves open. Already as good as dead, just like the frontline soldiers.
The idea was liberating in a way. The pressure to sway him had been grueling. Especially since he'd avoided her for days.
She was resolved, steadfast.
So why were the pages blurring from unshed tears?
Hate her. Want her.
For a week, Lothaire had kept his distance from Elizabeth, leaving her with Hag and ignoring her when they were forced to be together.
Never had he needed her more than now.
This entire day, he'd tracked Declan Chase-who'd survived through no help of Lothaire's.
It turned out that the Blademan had been an immortal berserker all along, though Chase hadn't known he was.
Again and again, Lothaire had tried to get close enough to him to tap into his mind, but his mate, Regin, had some kind of spell on her that repelled Lothaire.
The suka never left Chase's side.
After a day of spying on the couple-including their enthusiastic bouts of sex-Lothaire returned to his apartment, weary but keyed up, lusting for his own woman. His Bride.
When Saroya had last surfaced, he'd sworn off the mortal. And once he'd purchased everything but the moon for the goddess, she'd agreed to rise in two weeks.
But what to do until then?
The separation from his Bride's body was affecting his own-as well as his sanity. There'd been more sleep-tracing, more rages, and even blackouts while he'd hunted.
Instead of visions concerning the ring, he'd been dreaming of things he'd thought long forgotten, random memories-his own random memories.
A fair-haired infant reaching for me.
The Valkyrie Helen big with child, her eyes filled with sorrow as she gazed at her husband.
Nix demanding, "Where is your patience . . . ?"
And more, Lothaire had perceived that mysterious presence again. The Daci. He thought he'd felt them outside the apartment on a couple of occasions. But none faced him.
Had they been following him, or had he only imagined their presence?
So many developments, so many moves. And I can barely keep my thoughts from Elizabeth, my lust under control.
Before he picked her up for the remainder of the day, he knew he had to ease some of this pressure. Seven days' worth . . .
Lying back in his bed, he carefully unzipped his pants over his aching erection. As he clasped it in his fist and began to pump, he wondered whether Elizabeth had brought herself to come since their last time together.
While he'd been so busy thinking about his miserable sexual state away from Elizabeth, he hadn't thought about hers.
She was a lusty female. The little peasant would probably ease her-