“After his trials, my mate might have . . . exiled himself. To the Plane of Lost Years.”

Mina gasped. “How long was he there?”

“He spent five centuries away from me.” Mirceo couldn’t hide his hurt. The demon had invaded all of his thoughts and dreams, but Caspion hadn’t even looked back.

Mirceo had half a mind to go see that place. If Caspion had stayed there so long, how bad could it truly have been?

“Five hundred years? Is he much changed?”

“I only spent a few moments with him—the blooding made me insane—but I suspect Caspion’s boyish charm has disappeared forever. He’s edgier and somehow . . . darker.” Yet no less attractive. Just the opposite.

“Oh, Mirceo, what will you do?”

“I’ll go to him tonight. Try to wear him down.” I, Mirceo Daciano, will run panting after another. How the worm had turned!

“Will you be true to him?”

“Utterly.”

She raised her brows.

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“You doubt my faithfulness, sister? Just because I’ve never been monogamous before?” Mirceo let others believe that only his selfish need for conquests drove his appetites. Did he enjoy a good conquest? Of course; who didn’t? But his situation was more complicated than that.

He’d never woken beside a partner without an inexplicable anxiety overtaking him, the need to escape another’s clutches riding him.

Surely he wouldn’t feel panic after Caspion claimed him. Their connection would cure Mirceo of that. Fate wanted them together.

“Be good to my new brother.” Mina’s eyes were filled with sympathy. “He’s been through so much.”

“That’s why he needs me.” As the last members of the House of Castellan—the heart of the Dacian kingdom—Mirceo and Mina were tasked with safeguarding the castle and all those within it. Maybe the need to care for others had been ingrained in them.

Mirceo wanted to safeguard his new mate, to soothe the worry from his brow.

As Mirceo and Mina passed one of Dacia’s blood fountains, the scent reminded him. . . . “I drank from Caspion.” Most Dacians eschewed bloodtaking because they didn’t want anyone else’s recollections to interfere with their clear, cold minds. As predicted, Lothaire—their newly installed regent—had denounced the bloodtaking taboo. In fact, the mad king expected his subjects to drink from others. “I took straight from my mate’s neck.”

Mina looked scandalized. Alas, Lothaire had been king for just a few months, and revolutions took time. “Will you see Caspion’s memories?”

They would come in dreams, seeping into his consciousness. “I hope so.” Mirceo’s mind had never been clear and cold anyway. “I want to learn anything I can about my mate.”

“What’s your strategy to win him over?” An expert on martial tactics, Mina often viewed life through that lens.

“Play on his jealousy? Remind him how much fun we had together?” Caspion—a hunter—loved to collect bounties; perhaps he and Mirceo could bond over that interest.

“Do you have Uncle Trey’s scry crystal?”

Mirceo reached into his coat pocket, knuckles brushing the talisman. “I used it last night.” Trehan had regretted his rage against Caspion so much that he’d offered Mirceo the use of the priceless crystal.

Though Mirceo could locate Caspion anywhere in the worlds, he already had a good idea where the demon, a creature of habit, would be tonight.

Mina said, “I still can’t believe you confided your mate’s identity to Uncle Trey.”

For centuries, backbiting conflict had plagued the Dacian royals. Mirceo and Mina’s parents had been casualties. Now peace reigned—yet another change brought about by Lothaire. “It’s nice not to continually expect a sword in the back,” Mirceo said, an understatement. His personality had been shaped by paranoia.

Once that had faded, hedonism had been a welcome alternative.

He and Mina each fell into their own thoughts, strolling along in easy companionship. He raised his face to the diamond-filtered sunlight. Vampire paradise. All it lacked was Caspion.

Out of the corner of his eye, Mirceo saw Mina worry her bottom lip with a fang. His gaze locked on her face. “What’s on your mind, sister?”

Her cheeks flushed. “You can always tell when aught is amiss with me.”

Because he’d raised her from the time he was fifteen. “Go on.”

“Do you know that I’ve never spoken to a strange male before?” As if this were a bad thing for a princess? “Everyone who comes into contact with me is vetted, then introduced. As Caspion was.”

Mirceo slept with strangers every night. Or, rather, he had in the past. “So?”

“Uncle Lothaire spoke again about sending me outside of the kingdom.”

The king considered her too innocent. Granted, Mirceo had sheltered her, possibly too much. But to dispatch Mina—who’d never seen a car or a skyscraper—outside the realm was ludicrous.

“I’m half terrified, half thrilled about the prospect,” Mina said, her blue eyes alight.

Mirceo shook his head. “It’s too dangerous. Do you forget that a deadly plague still spreads in the otherlands? There’s a reason no vampiresses exist out there.” The plague struck females especially hard.

“But if I remain in my mist, I can’t be touched by it,” Mina pointed out. “I would go out and secretly investigate, as you and the others always do. Forever to observe, never to engage.”