Was he being stalked?
How to anticipate a threat when he could scarcely untangle reality from reverie? Waiting . . . watching . . .
Once night fell, the presence disappeared. Or had he imagined it?
Unsettled, he returned to the living room. Saroya emerged shortly after. At the sight of her, he shrugged off his disquiet.
The wait had been worth it.
A floor-length gown of black silk molded over her every curve. The front was a deep V cutting down all the way to her waist. Thin leather ties crisscrossed over her chest, holding the material in place over her full breasts.
Want to see them. For the first time. Lothaire had never gazed upon her naked form.
His eyes were riveted to her movements in that ingenious garment-one created to make males fantasize about slowly unlacing those ties to free her bound flesh.
She sauntered across the room, her stilettos giving her the illusion of height. Her damp hair smelled of scented shampoo and hung heavily down her back.
Her makeup had been applied liberally. Bold blush strokes over her cheeks and heavy foundation nearly blunted the nuances of her finely boned features. Her eyes were made up with sweeping shades of brown, black, and silver. Her lipstick was scarlet.
She had lips like a sexpot, a pouting bow.
And her wicked nails looked as if blood dripped from each fingertip. Very nice touch, Saroya.
Overall, the effect was flagrantly sexual.
By all the gods, she was a lovely piece, and soon he'd claim her. At the thought, his shaft swelled. He shifted uncomfortably, adjusting the long jacket that disguised his reaction to her. The growing pressure . . .
Lothaire had been thirty-three when he'd last had a woman beneath him, the night before his heart had stopped its beating and he'd frozen into his immortal form. Until that age, he'd enjoyed females from all factions in the Lore, had taken a new one every night.
Now he was to suffer the urges and drives of his youth all over again?
Between his dwindling sanity and this inconvenient erection, he found it impossible to concentrate on his Endgame.
He began to pace, having to remind himself not to teleport in front of the mortals.
I can't lose focus. At long last, he was on the cusp of seizing the Horde throne. He'd completed the most challenging task-slaying Stefanovich-ages ago.
Though not before the old king had lashed out against his bastard with incomprehensible malice. The earth grinding over me . . .
No, focus on the Endgame! On the ring. It would enable Lothaire to
destroy Elizabeth and transform Saroya into a vampire-a vital measure of protection for his Bride, and the key to securing the Horde throne
And the ring would give him the power to find and annihilate the Daci. To locate Serghei at last.
One ring equaled Lothaire's eternal mate, two kingdoms, and the vengeance he'd hungered for since his mother's murder. . . .
Saroya began to finalize her purchases, her demeanor bored. She pointed out every rack of clothing, ordering, "Put them in my wardrobe." Her bedroom, the one adjoining his own, had an oversize closet; he doubted everything would fit into even that cavernous space.
With an aggrieved air, she perused the jeweler's offerings. "I will take all the baubles."
Eight figures' worth of baubles. Lothaire sighed. Welcome to matrimony.
All eyes fell on him. With a negligent wave of his hand, he approved the expenditures. If possible, the humans groveled even more, which increased his irritation.
When Saroya returned to her suite and settled into a chair to have her hair trimmed, he followed her.
"Am I to have no privacy?" she asked.
"No," he said simply. No longer. He owned the body as much as she did. He'd be there for any alterations. "And after this, I want to see you in the garments I've bought for you." He leaned down to say at her ear, "See you in the lingerie." His gaze dipped, greedily taking in the swells of her breasts.
One tug of a leather tie . . . golden flesh spilling out.
"Of course, lover," she said, too smoothly.
He pinched her chin, turning her to face him. "Saroya, I don't buy you these things for your benefit." Never would he give a gift with no thought of a return on his investment. "I buy them for both of us to enjoy. Just as we will this new body."
She subtly arched her back. "A body like this is made for sex, is it not?"
He ground his teeth before saying, "I can only guess, as I've never seen it."
"Soon, Enemy of Old. I promise."
Lothaire debated whether to believe her. Saroya's mythology was sparse at best, and contradictory. Some said she'd been as frigid with-and deadly to-males as her twin Lamia was sexual with them. Others said Saroya had participated in depraved orgies in her temples.
Seeing her like this-in fuck-me makeup and clothing-had him betting on the latter.
But no matter what her proclivities were, he knew the great Saroya wouldn't happily bed a mate like him, a male who would demand obedience in all ways.
And he would never rape a female. So it would take all his considerable experience to bring her to heel-
"Shear it. To my chin," she commanded the stylist.
"Ah-ah," Lothaire grated. "Keep it long." He'd never seen hair so lovely, curling locks the color of mink.
Now she wanted to cut it all off? After he'd imagined threading his fingers through it infinite times?
After he'd fantasized about gripping it in his fists-as he eased his shaft into and out of her mouth . . . ?
Saroya bristled. "I want it short."
He snapped his fingers, and the stylist scurried out of the room, closing the door behind her. "I prefer it long."
"It's my hair."
He gave her a snide look of amusement. "That body is as much mine as it is yours."
Her eyes flashed. "I inhabit it."
"And I stole it from prison. I'll be the one feeding it, safeguarding it. The body would be dead if not for me. Therefore, I own it."
"You forget I'm a goddess," she hissed. "Your goddess."
And a bitch as well. But then, weren't all goddesses afflicted with bitchery?
Though he knew he couldn't expect anything different from Saroya, he could begin putting her in line. "You forget that you have no power. So for now, I am your god. Stop pushing me, Saroya." He held her gaze. "You won't like it when I push back."
Saroya parted her lips to curse Lothaire to the surface of the sun, but her vision wavered. She raised her freshly manicured hand to her forehead.
She could feel Elizabeth already trying to rise-as if the girl was ramming herself against whatever internal wall separated them.
A reminder of how much Saroya needed this fiend. For now.
Control your righteous anger, tell him what he wants to hear. "Lothaire, I was a deity of the first Ether. I'm unused to relinquishing control. And now I've been too long downtrodden and trapped. I'm sure someone as great as you can scarcely imagine how low I've been brought, but try."
Immediately, she sensed a change in him. Her words had affected him.
"I do understand, goddess." Now he tenderly curled his forefinger under her chin. "But in this matter I will not bend."
He can't lie. Which meant he truly wouldn't relent. "Then I will leave all this"-she waved at the heavy mass of hair-"for your pleasure."
His eyes darkened with need. "And what else would you do for my pleasure?"
Nothing. Never again. That night she'd let him kiss her, she'd barely concealed how revolting she'd found that rutting side of him.
If he hadn't been in such a fervor from his blooding, surely he would have detected her reaction?
She knew he wouldn't be as motivated to secure the Ring of Sums for her if he discovered how sexually repellent his Bride found him. How could she disguise it if he slaked himself on her now?
Stifling a shudder, she purred, "Soon you'll see. But for now, let me acquiesce to your wish about my hair." Before she stood and turned on her heel to call the human back in, she saw his eyes narrow with suspicion.
When the stylist began trimming scant inches off her long mane, Lothaire took a seat nearby, as if to guard every lock.
Watching this process seemed to be both relaxing and exciting for him. As the brush glided through her hair, his lids went heavy, even as he leaned forward, inching toward the edge of his chair.
He clearly needed her for far more than his throne.
How could she put him off for possibly a month? Perhaps by diverting his attention toward another?
Finding a bedmate for him wouldn't be difficult. Even she could admit how handsome he appeared in his tailored garments.
His longish blond hair was cleaned of blood and styled with a seemingly careless air-into a perfectly decadent result. He wore sunglasses to hide his eyes and a long coat to cover his physical reaction to her. Both made him look even more the rogue. Especially with that dark gold stubble on his jaw-he'd been frozen forever with it, could shave his face, but it would soon return to the same rakish length.
The women and men here coveted him so intensely she could feel their desire.
He should bed one or all of them. I'll see to it.
Once the stylist finished, Saroya gazed into the mirror, disdaining the outcome, but what could she expect, considering Lothaire's constraints?
The soft, flowing curls made her look younger, more innocent. Less powerful. Though she detested sex, she made a point of looking sexually receptive-an illusion of desirability, like that used by a Venus flytrap.
Saroya enjoyed luring her victims with promises of fulfilling their wildest dreams-only to deliver their worst nightmares. She delighted in imagining each one's last pitiful thought: I believed she wanted me.
His voice a rasp, Lothaire said, "I am pleased."
Saroya informed him, "Then, by all means, the mortal may live."
The woman thought she was jesting and giggled, but fell silent at Saroya's impassive expression.
Then Lothaire began hastening the humans out of the apartment-before Saroya could secure a bedmate for him. He no doubt believed that with his Bride's objections out of the way, they could begin pleasuring each other in other ways.
When they were alone, he traced back to her, reaching for her-
As if on cue, her stomach growled.
He dropped his hand. "You haven't eaten all day?"
He exhaled, seeming begrudgingly amused, as if he found a human trait in her quaint. "I've had a meal prepared for you."
"Eat mortal food?" At the thought, she grew queasy. "I refuse."
"You can't refuse."
"I will eat as soon as you do." The vampire could eat just as easily as a mortal could drink blood, but he'd be likewise unwilling.
"Saroya, you know that won't happen."
"I will feed when I can drink blood once more. I miss it feverishly."
"You can't stomach it now?"
She shook her head. "I tried it with Elizabeth. At the first sign of nausea, I receded into the background, overjoyed at the thought of her waking to vomit buckets of blood." The little things in life . . .
"And after I force her to go dormant, what then? You'll have to nourish this human body until I can turn you into a vampire."
Repeating his words, she said, "In this, I will not bend. Let Elizabeth feed it."
"You want her to rise on occasion?"
Otherwise Saroya would be expected to eat food-and appease his lusts. "Can you keep her prisoner here when I recede? Do you have a guard to protect the body from Dorada while you search for the ring?"
His brow was furrowed, his complicated mind already working through the details. Lothaire might have the urges of a primate, but his mind impressed her. "This apartment is protected from intrusion and escape. It's hidden from any being in the Lore."
"I know some of the old ways," he said. "I've used a Druid spell to create an invisible boundary around the apartment."
Even Dorada couldn't cross that boundary. "So where is the lock?" Somewhere in this dwelling he'd inscribed, etched, or painted symbols-a code of sorts. It might be prudent to know where-as well as the reverse code to unlock it.
"Within my room." Anticipating her question, he said, "The combination is updated throughout the day, just in case a talented soothsayer set out to scry your existence."
She'd let this lie for now. "Excellent, vampire." She was assured by the precautions Lothaire had taken and convinced of his dedication to keeping her safe, to returning her to her former glory.
After all, he was bound to her forever.
Yes, she was confident. Enough that she refused to wallow in this weak mortal shell any longer than necessary. "Then you can deal with Elizabeth. And perhaps make her add flesh? Lothaire, if I could trust you to see this done, I could sleep until my turning, building my strength." She'd need it to overpower Elizabeth at will.
"Sleep the entire time?" He was incredulous. "I told you it might take a month! I should go without my female for that time?"
Rutting animal! "A month feels like seconds to me, hardly a replenishing rest. And you've gone this long. Besides, you shouldn't have time for a female because you should be working ceaselessly to find that ring!"
She could see him wrestling for control of his temper. "Circumstances are different now. My needs are strong, and my mind seizes on them. I can't afford to lose my concentration."
"Very well. I'll attempt to rise tomorrow night," she lied.
"Don't attempt, goddess." He caught her wrist, forcing her palm to his pulsing erection. "I'm a blooded male. I will have another relieve me of this ache. You or a stranger. Decide."
Saroya yanked back her hand, parting her lips to tell him to have at a stranger. But then she realized that securing a bedmate could take time
away from his search, and his dalliances with another would limit the
time he personally remained with this body.
Which wouldn't do. Not with Dorada in the picture.
An idea arose. Why not let Elizabeth endure his primitive lusts? "You may sate yourself on Elizabeth." At least, up to a point. Saroya didn't want her favorite temple defiled by Lothaire's offspring.