A soft, fond smile curled Mirceo’s lips. “Mina won them over, one by one. Viktor, the head of the army, caught her—a little imp—devising brilliant battle strategies with her dollies. He lost his heart. From the time she was eight, she carried a blade, so Trehan, the shadow assassin, lost his as well.” Mirceo couldn’t sound prouder. “She brought blood mead to the guardhouse for Stelian, the realm’s gatekeeper—because she felt sorry for him. She admitted that she would keep watch with that lonely oaf, just sitting in silence and observing the mist float by. It eventually became clear that they’d all die for her.”
Cas could see this. Timid, blushing Mina kindled a person’s protective instincts.
“Once I realized my sister was in no danger from them, I loosened up, becoming the hedonist you once knew.”
“You bring out such protectiveness as well.”
“Do I? Mina and I are two of a kind,” he said. “Dacians consider Trehan the kingdom’s sword, Viktor its wrath, Stelian its sentinel, and Lothaire its cunning. Our people see Mina and me as the beating heart of Dacia. That’s why most are helpless not to love us.”
Beginning to believe that. “Your partners always fell for you.”
“The day I told Mina that our parents were gone, I comprehended that I was all she had in the world. I promised her that I would be her mother and father. She gazed up at me with . . . unlimited expectation and said, ‘I believe you.’”
My gods, Cas could barely imagine the pressure. Mirceo had been so young.
Mirceo frowned. “Partners often cast me a similar look of expectation after sex, as if they’d pinned all their worldly hopes on me. The burden of that responsibility filled me with panic and resentment—but I never understood why. Now I do.”
“What do you understand?”
Their gazes held. “They wanted me to give them something that already belonged to another. They wanted my future—but it’s yours alone.”
Cas loosed a breath. “So if I were ever to look at you like that . . .”
“Demon, you can pin any worldly hopes on me”—his voice grew hoarse—“because I’ve already pinned mine on you.”
What if the vampire truly would treat a mate differently? Wasn’t that the way of matehood?
Mirceo’s lids slid shut, the brew about to drop the hammer. “Caspion, I was proud of you tonight. Proud that you’re mine.”
The prince continued to see him as strong and capable, having no idea what a wretched creature his mate had once been. Mirceo’s description of royal intrigues just reminded Cas how ignoble his blood was.
He’s the heir to an ancient line from an extraordinary realm; I don’t even have a family name.
Mirceo murmured, “Before I pass out, I give you full permission to take advantage of me. You know I’m not shy. Look your fill. Touch. Do whatever you want to me.”
Here for my use. All night Cas had been half erect; now he grew painfully hard.
“And I’m always ready to blood-take if you need my services.”
His words brought on a mixture of irritation and lust. Again the vampire was eroding Cas’s control. “I’ll keep that in mind.” He yanked the covers up to Mirceo’s chin once more.
“Maybe I’ll sleep for just a moment. . . .” Any remaining tension drained from his body.
Down for the count. So leave him. Go to another property. Get away.
Cas stood to pace. The last thing he needed was to get in even deeper with this male. At least leave the fucking room.
Instead he returned to the chair, pulling it even closer.
Mirceo’s lips were parted, his lashes thick against his cheeks. He was always smirking or laughing, his expressions changeable. At rest, he seemed even younger than his thirty years.
From the very beginning, Cas had found Mirceo Daciano’s face spellbinding, but right now there was a sweetness to it that called to him.
He didn’t know how long he’d stared, but gradually the vampire began to grow restless. He changed positions, then again, and moisture dotted his forehead. Sweating out the brew.
Cas traced to the bathroom and wet a cloth. He returned to sit on the edge of the bed, then smoothed the cloth over Mirceo’s brow.
Though Cas’s body still thrummed with desire, caring for the sleeping prince soothed his mind. He brushed the backs of his knuckles Mirceo’s cheek, testing this affection.
More than instinct was at work here. When he imagined Mirceo as a scared teenage boy in Dacia, tenderness and protectiveness surged inside Cas. Those feelings reminded him of his frenzied thoughts when they’d been trapped in that gulg: I’ll make this monster choke on my fucking bones before I let it have the vampire. I’ll die for Mirceo.
A gust of breath left his lungs. No longer could Cas deny what he knew was true. He was a vampire’s mate, and Mirceo was . . . a demon’s.
Mine. Acceptance. This male is mine.
Without attempting him, Cas couldn’t confirm their connection a hundred percent, but he felt their bond. He’d never been so sure about anything.
This sleeping prince is my fated one.
For so long Cas had wondered what his mate would look like. Why not explore Mirceo? The vampire had all but dared him to.
Drawing down the sheet, Cas bared his torso. Running the cloth lower, he let his gaze roam over Mirceo’s lean body.
The elegant column of his throat. The broad chest with not an ounce of spare flesh. Those flat, dusky nipples.