“Are we friends?”

“We could be, if you were content to remain that way.”

“Hmm.” What did that mean? “Even after what happened in the cave?”

He’d had no answer for that.

“Admit it, demon. You’re having fun with me. Just as we always used to.”

“I don’t deny that.” The vampire made life more exciting. Made each second taste better. If he was honest, Cas would admit this might be the best day of his life.

Unequaled bounty. Unequaled pleasure.

Unequaled mate? No! There was still hope for self-preservation. . . .

“Can I tell them you’re mine?” Mirceo had asked.

“Sure you don’t want to keep your options open, tulip?”

Mirceo had grabbed Cas’s balls.

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GULP. “Easy, vampire.”

Mirceo had given them a tug that sent Cas rocking to his toes. “I’d like to tell the world that these are mine. That all of you belongs to me.”

The vampire’s show of possessiveness had been . . . thrilling.

Now a lion shifter leaned in toward Mirceo and said, “At least tell us how you got past the sand scyllas.” That shifter was irritatingly bewitched with the sophisticated prince.

In fact, all of the rough-and-tumble hunters were, which made Cas’s own possessiveness—already off the charts—spike even higher.

Mirceo had pointed out that Cas’s demonic temper would continue to grow more volatile. Too true.

“It was nothing.” Mirceo brushed imaginary lint off his shoulder. “A day in the life of bounty hunters such as we.”

Cas’s lips twitched. Throughout the night, the vampire’s lids had grown heavy, his grin permanent and crooked. He was kind of . . . adorable like this.

“Were you truly inside a gulg?” another hunter asked.

“Come, gentlemen, who among us hasn’t been?” Mirceo winked at Cas.

The charmed hunters laughed. They reminded him of the fawning group that had surrounded the prince the first night Cas had met him.

“Now, which one of you exterminated that giant scorpion?” Leyak asked as he poured another round.

Cas waved toward the vampire. “The scorpion was all him.”

With his eyes lively, Mirceo said, “I also faced a monster in a firelit cave, a notorious one-eyed beast. I thought for sure it’d take me; it had me on my knees till I bested it with my fangs.”

Cas coughed into his fist to disguise his laugh.

Before anyone could ask about this beast, Mirceo said to them, “Tell me more about my hunting partner’s exploits.”

“He took his first posted bounty”—Leyak waved at the wall of them—“when he was just fourteen. But his big break was finding a rich warlock’s daughter.”

Mirceo said, “This I must hear.” Did Cas like that the vampire hung on every word as others talked about him?

Hell. Yes. Sometimes Mirceo gazed at Cas as if he was a hero of old—as if the vampire was a little . . . awed by him.

Feels like I’ve waited my entire godsdamned life for a look like that.

“She’d last been seen in a dark forest,” Leyak said. “In his panic, the warlord sent out his whole settlement to search for her.”

One of the hunters muttered, “Polluting the trail. Rookie mistake.”

“Even so, Cas located her,” Leyak continued. “She’d tripped into an abandoned troll hole and gotten trapped.”

“How did you find her?” Mirceo asked.

Deadpan, Cas said, “Tripped into the same troll hole.”

The hunters laughed, Mirceo among them.

Gods, that vampire’s laugh turned Cas inside out.

Leyak shook his head. “Nothing doing. Caspion identified her footprints among thousands of them and tracked her alone.”

Easy enough. Her right leg had been longer than her left, and her shoes had been assembled instead of cobbled—a sign of great wealth in that dimension.

“Tell me more,” Mirceo said.

“There’s a reason he’s called Caspion the Tracker,” Leyak said with pride. “He’s collected on every bounty, locating his every prey.”

Over the rim of his cup, Cas said, “Except for the one that got away.”

Leyak sighed. “Not technically a bounty, son.”

“Who got away?” Mirceo asked.

“The Vrekeners who attacked Bettina,” Cas said bitterly. “Remember, I could never find them—”

“Because you can’t bloody fly,” Leyak said, and the others nodded. “Their realm floated in the skies.”

“Maybe even then I could have succeeded.” Narrowing his eyes at Mirceo, he said, “But someone beat me to the punch.”

The vampire muttered, “Trehan.”

Bingo. That prick had brought Bettina the heads of her attackers. He must’ve located the gang with his scry crystal, then utilized his skill as an assassin to slaughter them.

Before his good mood soured further, Cas stood. “Enough out of you lot. I need to get my friend home.” They booed Cas, but he wouldn’t be deterred. Taking Mirceo’s arm, he said, “Time to call it, leechling. You’ve drunk your fill.”

Gray eyes locked on Cas’s neck, Mirceo rasped, “Never.”

TWENTY-THREE

“Where are we?” The vampire peered around Cas’s beach bungalow.

“Another one of my bolt holes.” A far cry from the luxury Mirceo was used to, this no-frills cabin had only one bedroom, a kitchen, and a bathroom. But the deck was large, stretching out over the sea.