When it’d ended at last, a deafening silence had reigned. Then the Dacian had renounced Bettina in front of all, leaving Cas the “victor.”

The Abaddonae believed—rightly—that in a match to the death, someone must die. Instead, Trehan had left him to live in shame. . . .

Mirceo didn’t look disturbed by Cas’s anger whatsoever. “How could you defend yourself against my uncle? He’s a blooded Dacian—who happens to be a millennium older than you are.” Not anymore. “Would it help if I told you Trehan regrets his actions?”

“He saw reason?”

“You haven’t heard? He discovered a malicious squire had poisoned his blood mead. Trehan and Bettina are reconciled and happily wed now.”

King Trehan of Abaddon? Godsdamn it! Though Cas had finally gotten strong enough to defeat his enemy, could Bettina bear it?

As if reading his mind, Mirceo said, “My uncle worries for his delicate Bride. She would be torn apart if you two fought.” And she’d already been through so much.

So you’ll just abandon your revenge after all these centuries? The agony of that spike embedding in his skull was nothing compared to the blistering disgrace that followed—in and out of the Ring.

Once Cas had healed, he’d been forced to attend the tournament award ceremony. As he’d gazed out at the silent, grim-faced Abaddonae, one thought had echoed through his mind: I’ve known hatred and disdain all my life—but never like this.

He had accepted the crown, giving it right back to Bettina for her to rule alone. What else could he do after that but leave?

Cas’s situation there wouldn’t be changed in such a short time, but he was changed. He was stronger, wealthier, and wiser, had even taught himself to read. Cas had more control over his life than ever before.

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He would contemplate his next steps with calm rationality. He now knew how to find Trehan; there was time. Either way, Cas had nothing more to say to Mirceo. “I want you out of my life.”

Mirceo stepped closer. “That’s not possible.” He inhaled, seeming greedy for Cas’s scent—

The vampire’s eyes shot wide, as if he’d been thunderstruck. Then they opened even wider. He tilted back his head and mouthed to the sky, “Oh gods, thank you!”

Cas scowled, unable to hold back his question: “For what do you thank the gods?”

Mirceo faced him with a delighted look. “My fondest wish just came true.” In a low tone full of hunger, he added, “Ah, sweetheart, what fun you and I shall have together.”

Cas recalled those words from so long ago. As before, a shiver crossed his nape.

Baffled by Mirceo’s behavior, he traced back to his lodgings in the dusty outpost hotel.

Alone, he fought to calm his racing pulse. You’re wiser. Stronger. Focused. You’re in control.

Heading to the bathroom, he peeled off his sodden shirt, leaving his skin sticky with brew. He turned on the shower as cold as the water could get, then stepped under the cascade.

Cas was no longer an easily beguiled pup—so why did that pull toward Mirceo remain? It’d even intensified! Other vampires had attempted to enthrall him over the years and failed.

But then, none of them had been a Dacian.

Infinite times, Cas had lain in his bed in Poly, replaying that last night in Dacia. He’d relived the madness that had overtaken him, the primal lust that had forced him to pin down his friend and grind his cock against the vampire’s till they’d both come. Use me, demon—

“I could wash your back for you.” Mirceo?

Baring his fangs, Cas snapped, “How did you find me in here?”

“Not important,” Mirceo said, keeping his gaze raised. “I have a pressing matter to discuss with you. If you don’t like what I have to say, then you can still head off on your ridiculous penance trip, whiling away your years in hell.”

Cas gave a bitter laugh. “That so?” Ready to leave this outpost for good, he continued to wash. “There’s nothing for us to discuss. Nothing.”

“Aren’t you even curious what I might say?”

“No,” he lied. In the small bathroom, Mirceo’s scent inundated him, lighting up his mind. His shaft was getting harder than it’d been since the last time Mirceo had fucked with Cas’s head.

“You don’t seem to be in any particular hurry to leave this realm.” Lowering his voice, Mirceo said, “It’s been weeks since you abandoned me. That’s long enough.” He eased closer to the shower. “Deep down you know it is. You’re vacillating about your journey, aren’t you, sweetheart? Is something anchoring you here, hmm? Perhaps you are hesitant to venture so far from me?”

Cas leaned out of the shower stall to meet Mirceo’s eyes. “You arrogant asshole. I’m just returning to this realm. I’ve been gone for more than five hundred years. Five centuries without a thought of you.”

EIGHT

BOOM . . . . . . BOOM . . . . . BOOM . . . . BOOM . . .

Mirceo’s heart pounded again. Then again. And again. The demon has blooded me.

As horrifying as his walking-dead existence had been, this reawakening was miraculous! His lungs expanded for breath, his shaft filling with blood. He knew from others that he would soon grow mindless to lose his seed with his mate.

Mirceo could scarcely think over these new changes, but had Caspion just said he’d already gone, then returned? “Allow me a moment to get this straight.” He struggled to keep his eyes up, to not follow the water sluicing down the rugged planes of Caspion’s body. If Mirceo glanced down, he might lose all control and fall upon this demon. “Though only weeks have passed here, you’ve been away for half a millennium?”