"Take me to live bodies, Lothaire! In fact, trace me to Elizabeth's old home. I promised her mother that I'd kill her. I demand to have her in my grasp."
"Demand all you like, it won't happen." After all, he felt gratitude to the peasant woman for bearing Elizabeth. Without that mortal, Lothaire would have no body for his Bride.
"I won't remain at the fore if I'm to be treated thus." Saroya began to sway on her feet.
Now she was going to recede? The hell she would! "If you purposely recede, I'll brand this body. Scald your face. Gouge an eye out."
Saroya immediately righted herself. "What do you want?" Lothaire was clearly in a dangerous mood.
"You're going to answer some questions for me."
In an aggrieved tone, she said, "Really, Lothaire. What's brought this on? I'm the one who should be infuriated. Allowing Elizabeth to tan my skin like this?"
He traced from one wall to the other. "I need information."
"We talked years ago of ruling together," he said. "Do you still want this?"
"Of course. I fear you are the one with doubts."
"We spoke of thrones and power and vengeance. But what of us?"
"What do you mean?"
"When my retribution has been meted out and our crowns rest easy upon our heads, what then?"
"Then we conquer more," she said. "We could rule the world together, while searching for a way to return my godhood. I have enemies who beg for retribution as well. Or have you forgotten that?"
"Your sister, Lamia."
"Among others." La Dorada, for one. "You've got the Queen of Evil vowing reprisal against you-which means against me." Saroya debated whether to tell Lothaire of her many crimes against the sorceress, but decided against it. He didn't need to know why she'd dispatched assassins after Dorada for centuries.
He doesn't need to know about the prophecy, that foretelling by a long dead vampire oracle. "If you do not vanquish her, she will kill me, Lothaire. I feel this."
"Dorada cannot find you. No one in the Lore knows of this apartment. You are hidden if you remain here or at Hag's, and I cloaked the body otherwise. Do you think I would ever allow Dorada to steal my mate-and with her my entire future?"
Saroya calmed somewhat. Though she trusted no one, she did know that Lothaire was one of the most cutthroat warriors in the Lore, and one of the strongest vampires ever to live.
He pinched the bridge of his nose. "And after Dorada's been defeated, how do you envision our lives?"
"We will annihilate any remaining enemies, becoming the most powerful partnership the world has ever known."
Growing increasingly frustrated, he said, "And when our work is done for the night, when dawn comes . . . what then?"
She smoothed her hair back. "I don't understand."
"Do you know what happiness is?"
"It's watching the light dim in a good man's eyes. It's having subjects grovel. It's wielding the power over life and death."
"No, Saroya. I can't believe I'm about to say this, but . . . each of those things is a process. Not an outcome." He gave a bitter laugh. "You have no more idea of what happiness is than I do."
"You are growing besotted with your little mortal concubine. Look at you-it's almost as if you're pining for her. Almost as if she were your Bride."
Which Elizabeth likely was. Though Saroya had once believed she herself had triggered Lothaire's blooding, she no longer did.
For him to have feelings for such a loathsome creature? Something larger was at work here.
Still, he'd never believe Elizabeth was his; the very idea would be galling to a male of his rank and standing.
If Lothaire hadn't seen the truth by now, then it was because he didn't want to.
Doubts ate at Lothaire's confidence, eroding it.
Even if he could bring himself to believe that Elizabeth was his Bride-and that was a very big if-there was nothing he could do about it.
He'd already set his destiny into motion. He was inextricably bound to his fate-compelled not merely to cast out Elizabeth's soul as the girl thought. . . .
It couldn't be her.
Because he'd been so averse to her humanity, Lothaire had never allowed himself even to consider that Elizabeth might be his Bride.
Now, apparently, I'm going there.
It was possible that Elizabeth hadn't blooded him in their early encounters because she hadn't been old enough. Females from other species usually didn't trigger a blooding unless they were grown.
At seventeen, Elizabeth hadn't awakened him. When she was eighteen, one glance at Saroya had sparked his heart and body to life.
Was this due to Saroya's arrival? Or Elizabeth's age?
No, no, no. Goddess trumps mortal trailer trash.
Lusty mortal trailer trash-with a predilection for licking his fangs and slowly sucking on his tongue.
Of all the matches made this Accession, of all the tales of woe and bliss between mates, not one had included a human.
Why would I draw the short straw? Even Regin the Radiant's "mortal" male had ended up being a Lorean berserker.
Saroya crossed to him now. "Imagine how your family would've reacted to Elizabeth Peirce. Would Ivana have approved of her?"
Ivana would have gone into a frothing rage. Her only offspring shunning a goddess for a lowly "animal"? Where was the logic in that?
Stefanovich would have laughed, sneering, "The Dacian son is no better than a Horde vampire." He would have asked Lothaire if Elizabeth tasted of wine and honey.
And I'd have to say yes.
"You know Elizabeth can't be your Bride," Saroya said placidly. "Aside from the fact that I'm a goddess, and therefore an impeccable match for a king like you, consider this: no vampire could terrorize his female as you have her."
Saroya was right. Wouldn't his instincts have prevented him from harming Elizabeth?
Instead, he'd subjected this mortal to death row. He'd belittled her at every opportunity, holding her imminent death over her, taunting her with it.
Mentally tormenting her. Behold the ocean you'll never touch, the jewels you'll
never own. Desire the male who will never want you back and feel the pleasure
you'll never experience again. . . .
Bile rose in Lothaire's throat. It isn't Elizabeth. It's just not.
Even his uncle Fyodor hadn't tortured his Bride like this, and she'd been a reviled enemy.
Ivana had told Lothaire, "You'll be a good and true king to your Bride." But he hadn't been to Elizabeth. He'd made the girl's life a living hell.
Not her, not her.
And yet, as his restlessness increased and his doubt weighed on him to a crushing degree, his first impulse was to touch Elizabeth.
Not because she was his Bride, but because she could pleasure him, making him forget his troubles for a time. "Force her to surface," he bit out.
Saroya blinked at him. "Are you dismissing me?"