But the cocooning mist did protect the Daci from invasion and plague. Plus, with every excursion, they were basically all out spying, which he wholeheartedly endorsed. . . .
His impetuous cousin Viktor said, "I understand that you observed our soldiers sparring. What did you think of them?" He was a general, and justifiably proud of his battalions.
The army was honed, disciplined, and masterful with swords. In fact, the Daci were obsessed with all medieval arms-maces, throwing daggers, whips, battle-axes.
As soon as a Dacian wielded a weapon, a coldblooded single-
mindedness suffused him. Already ruled by logic, he became even more focused, able to predict his opponent's moves.
Much as I do.
"The soldiers were a shade too worried about martial honor," Lothaire answered. All that skill and might-and yet they waged no wars but among themselves? "Not to worry, Viktor. I'll see to that. In any case, they will serve me well enough in my war against the Horde. Unless you're concerned about the defense of my hidden kingdom."
Viktor tensed, clenching his fists beneath the table. Blooded or no, he had a brash, querulous nature that ensured he was a loner among the reserved and logical Daci.
And Lothaire's fair "niece"?
Though Kosmina was twenty, she'd been sheltered by the overprotective male royals to a damaging degree.
Apparently, Lothaire's naked male body had been the first she'd ever seen.
Pity, Mina, that you'll forever find all others lacking in comparison to Uncle Lothaire.
Yet though she was so ignorant of sex and sin as to be childlike, Kosmina was a killing machine, a mistress at arms with blazing reflexes.
Half simpering schoolgirl, half lethal assassin.
Lothaire had noticed that her ears were pointed, compliments of some fey ancestor-who'd also gifted her with that uncanny speed. He asked her now, "And what is your function? Or do you exist only to be coddled?"
Face hot, she stuttered, "I-I . . ."
Lothaire talked over her, saying, "I understand you have never ventured outside of Dacia, wouldn't know an automobile if it hit you in the face, which it might-if you're not, say, familiar with fucking cars."
Her eyes went wide.
He should send her forth from Dacia, dispatching her to investigate a particularly rambunctious covey of nymphs in Louisiana. "Kosmina, you are distantly related to a female called Ivana the Bold. Act like it."
Covering her mouth with her hand, she traced away.
Lastly, he turned to his cousin Trehan, an assassin in charge of an elite band of killers. He was the most dignified of all the cousins, the most "Dacian" of them, and so the least amusing to spy on. He often stared off into nothing, doubtless thinking about whatever Bride had blooded him, then left him.
Lothaire steepled his fingers. "Ah, Trehan, only a female could make you look like that."
"You would know," he replied icily.
While Mirceo was out glutting himself in every murky corner of Dacia, Trehan always traced back to his apartments alone, spending his lusts into his own hand, often multiple times in a night-while Lothaire rolled his eyes in disgust.
Yet don't I do the same?
Not for long; Lothaire had decided that after this meeting, he would reacquaint himself with other females.
He was an all-powerful king, and he'd definitely read interest as he'd walked the cobblestone streets of his realm. Evidently, his subjects still enjoyed pretty on the outside.
Yes, an all-powerful monarch was about to commence his hunt for a bevy of concubines. So where was the happiness?
He now knew what he was missing, because he'd felt it briefly-even before he'd had his crown.
Lothaire had concluded that each being had a unique key to his or her happiness. Mine was Elizabeth. Because of her actions, she'd robbed Lothaire of his key.
His fangs sharpened. He'd killed others for less. If you're not with me, you're against me. . . . His instinct was to punish, his mind seizing on revenge.
"My liege?" Stelian said, brows raised. "What revenge are we contemplating this eve?"
Have I spoken aloud? "We'll resume this at a later date," Lothaire bit out, then traced to his suite, pacing from one side of his bedroom to the other.
All he'd wanted was to suffer no more betrayals. He hadn't even desired Elizabeth's love, not particularly. But he had believed that her loyalty would follow it.
Why had he been unable to win her?
In the past, any female he'd bedded would follow him around for years. But not his Bride, the one he'd wanted above all others.
She didn't want me back. And I can't understand why.
As he tried to solve the puzzle that was Elizabeth, his mind would race through their past interactions. I never told her how I felt. But for fuck's sake, I tried to die for her. She knew me better than anyone; she was clever enough to figure out my feelings.
Maybe I ought to have told her she was clever . . . ?
He remembered deeming Saroya so arrogant that she would never suspect someone might not desire her. He remembered feeling as if there was a lesson inherent for him.
I was so arrogant I never realized Elizabeth wouldn't desire me as I did her.
Most nights he kept himself busy, but in the lulls he could feel her, could perceive her presence across their blood tie. Though he'd tried to delve into her emotions, the distance was too great, and he could barely discern his own, let alone another's.
All he knew was that she felt no fear. So she must be safe.
What am I going to do without her?
When he managed to sleep, he reached for her again and again, aching for her with both his body and his soul.
He despised her for that!
His heart pained him as nothing had before, made him want to howl with misery. A sharp, stabbing agony flared with every beat.
"Elizavetta!" he roared to the ceiling, clawing at his chest. He hated that his heart beat for her alone, that she'd brought it to life. . . .
Brought me to life.
Like an animal chewing off its own trapped, rotting limb, Lothaire dug at his chest.
Package!" someone cried from downstairs.
From Ellie's temporary room, she heard what sounded like a dozen Valkyries speeding down the stairs.
-"Who's it for?"
-"Gotta be me!"
-"No, you shut up!"
Ellie sighed, still marveling at how acquisitive her Valkyrie jailers were. She'd seen them stealing clothes in complex heists, sword-fighting over jewelry, pouncing on each other to wrest away new weapons.
Now that she'd learned how to trace, Ellie considered teleporting down there and scooping them all, but she didn't have the energy. Her appetite had deserted her. Not to crave food-or blood? But compared to the rich flavor of Lothaire's dark, dark blood, the bagged stuff was nauseating.
It'd been over three weeks since she'd been brought to Val Hall, and still she waited for him to come rescue her.
In that time, Ellie had forgiven Lothaire for turning her into a vampire. Though she occasionally felt like a circus freak-with her eyes growing black and her fangs sharpening for seemingly no good reason-being a vampire wasn't too bad.
On occasion, she even liked being this strong. Such as when pummeling mouthy Valkyries.
Ellie had forgiven him for a lot of the things he'd done, once she'd realized that what Lothaire said and what he did didn't always mesh.
Though he'd mocked her for being a lowly mortal, he had tried to burn himself to death in order to save her life-and she'd been mortal at the time.