Caspion gave a curt nod, reaching for Mirceo. “Closer to me, vampire.”

Not a problem. He’d just traced to the demon’s side when four males appeared. Wearing frayed black cloaks, the phantasms sat astride ghostly horses.

The Gaolers.

Hello, fodder of all future nightmares. They looked like skeletal reapers—at first glance. But then Mirceo realized their ragged faces had been tattooed to look like skulls. In places, inked flesh had peeled from actual bone. Both they and their mounts appeared to be decomposing. They had no eyeballs, but seemed to possess sight.

Caspion sidled in front of Mirceo protectively—awww—and boldly announced, “We claim the bounty on this sorcerer, the King of Sand.”

At last Harea began to come to with a pained groan. Twisting on the ground, he slurred, “Where’m I?”

May I never get that high. At least, not without Caspion to watch his back.

Harea tried to rise, finally managing to sit upright. “The hell’s going on?” Swinging his head toward Mirceo and Caspion, he said, “Who’re you?” His bleary eyes were a golden color, shot through with red.

Mirceo felt for the male. To go to sleep buried in trim, then wake to a capture and decomposing jailers? Harsh. “I’m Mirceo Daciano. My mate and I have captured you for the bounty. No hard feelings.”

“Can’t be.” Harea’s head snapped toward the Gaolers. “No.” Visible chill bumps arose over the sorcerer’s dark skin. He grappled against the restraints. Light glowed in his palms, but the shackles deactivated his powers. Sobering swiftly, he faced Mirceo and Caspion again. “I’ll kill you two for this! I’ll destroy anything you care about and murder anyone you love.” Lips drawn back from his teeth, he hissed, “I’ll replace the blood in your veins with sand!”

“Note to self”—Mirceo tapped his temple—“beware of the sand man.”

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One of the Gaolers raised a putrefying hand. A drawstring coin bag materialized above his palm. Without a word, he dropped the clinking bag at Caspion’s feet.

Harea met Mirceo’s eyes a last time. He mouthed, You’re a dead man.

The Gaolers—and the sorcerer—disappeared.

Out in the side street, the garbage truck’s compactor roared to life. Releasing a pent-up breath, Caspion sheathed his sword, then dipped to collect the coin bag. He hefted the weight, smiling at the metallic jingle.

“That’s what I’d call a no-nonsense transaction.” The tension in Mirceo’s knotted muscles faded. “We make a good team, demon.”

Caspion hiked his shoulders. “We completed a tough job.”

“Tough? You called it impossible, one of the longest-standing bounties in the Lore. You said no one could get close to that sorcerer. And so on and so forth.”

Caspion opened the bag and investigated the contents. “I’ll be damned. It’s real dragon gold.”

“I’ve never seen it before.” Mirceo traced closer for a look. “It truly is red.” The coins had been struck with the image of flames. “If neither of us needs the money, you should give these to your friend Bettina. Wouldn’t a goldsmith like her enjoy it?”

“She would go insane for this.” All Sorceri worshipped gold, but Bettina doubly so. “You’d really give up your share for her?”

“Of course.”

“I’m surprised you remember what I told you about her passion. You always seemed to be in your own little world whenever I opened up.”

“Because I was committing every word to memory.”

Surprise flashed in the demon’s expression. “You . . . can’t lie.”

“I told you I was interested in your mind. Your divine body and blood are simply the cherries on top.”

For long moments, Caspion stared at Mirceo. Seeming to make a decision, the demon said, “I think it’s time to celebrate.”

TWENTY-TWO

“DRINK!”

At a crowded table inside the Red Flag, Cas and the vampire raised their cups, then emptied them.

Earlier, when Cas had pinned the bounty parchment on the board for completed jobs, all the hunters had clamored to buy him and Mirceo rounds.

For a few hours Cas had been able to forget his history with the prince and enjoy his company. He didn’t know what tomorrow would bring, but tonight he’d been proud of Mirceo—as only a friend would be.

Lie to yourself, Cas.

To the very fucking end.

“Come on, vampire,” said one of the demon hunters. “Divvy how you stole into the sorcerer’s lair.”

These pros had been stunned to hear that Cas and Mirceo had taken out more than a hundred Wendigos. And that’d only been the first step.

Mirceo cast them his arrogant, sexy-as-hell grin. “Trade secret.” His words were slurred—because the vampire was drinking demon brew.

That libation provided an even buzz, right up until the bomb of total drunkenness hit. Cas had begun monitoring his own consumption. In the past, one of them had always remained a touch more sober in case they ran into threats.

Earlier, Cas had taken him outside, telling him, “You don’t have to drink every time they toast us. And you sure as hell don’t have to down brew. It gains on you with every drop.”

Mirceo had grazed his finger over Cas’s collarbone, saying, “My aim is to impress your friends.”

He already had. “Color them impressed. Besides, Bettina is the only friend I care about, apart from you.”