All of this pale, sleek perfection is mine.

He gave himself permission to study Mirceo’s body—with intent. He’d never assessed another male with the thought of enjoying him—of fighting or killing him, yes, but never considering the things he fantasized about with Mirceo.

He imagined kissing the vampire’s neck, nipping it with his fangs. His lips would travel down Mirceo’s chest, following in the wake of the cloth. He’d suck those dusky nipples raw. He’d dip his tongue to that shallow navel. Nuzzle the trail of black hair beneath it.

Cas would play with the prince, teasing him, dominating him. At the thought, his cock pulsed in his pants.

He audibly swallowed as he inched the sheet down to reveal Mirceo’s member. The veined shaft was semihard, the taut crown a shade of plum. The vampire’s size was generous, nearly as long as Cas’s but slimmer. Back in their days of debauchery, more than one immortal had screamed while riding it.

Again, Cas looked at it with . . . intent. What would that flesh taste like? What would it be like to suckle that length? Cas grazed his fingertips over his lips as he envisioned pleasuring another male with his mouth.

He would pin Mirceo’s hips down, then tease and tongue him for hours. After much suffering, Mirceo would be allowed to come.

Cas recalled the addictive taste of Mirceo’s seed and knew he’d drink the vampire down.

The idea made his shaft throb.

Just as Cas reached for his mate’s cock, Mirceo turned to his front, revealing the planes of his back. And lower. Cas groaned.

He’d never been the type to obsess over a woman’s ass. Yet Mirceo’s flawless ass held him rapt.

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The small of the vampire’s back rose to curves of sculpted muscles with shadowed hollows on the sides. The flesh at the cleft was so taut that Cas wondered if he could even graze a fang there.

He’d enjoyed anal sex with females, but he’d never been with a virgin—in any sense of the word. Mirceo would be so unbelievably tight. Cas would need to go slow. Lubrication would be key.

Fantasies arose. Inching his oiled shaft into Mirceo’s virgin channel . . . feeding his length in to the hilt . . . fucking moans out of the prince . . . marking the vampire’s neck . . . ejaculating inside his mate for the first time . . .

An involuntary growl burst from Cas’s chest. In a lather to mount Mirceo, he clenched his fists.

Realization struck: he desired Mirceo more than he did females. More than all others put together. The last time he’d yearned for something this much, he’d literally been starving. Cas was starving for Mirceo. He did not make that comparison lightly.

How much longer could Cas resist the irresistible? His gaze flicked to the pale column of Mirceo’s neck. For all of the vampire’s perfection, he lacked one thing.

My mark.

What if Cas seized what was right before him? His mate. Their future. I could claim and mark him as soon as he wakes.

But if the vampire later strayed . . . There was supposed to be no greater pain than a fated one’s betrayal.

A mate’s death? That pain would be short-lived because a demon would follow.

Yet a rift in the bond between mates delivered anguish without equal.

His arousal flagged. The prince will leave me broken.

Before Cas did anything stupid, maybe he should explain to Mirceo the harsh realities of matehood.

The totality of it. The eternity of it. The monogamy of it.

He’d have that vampire running in the opposite direction.

TWENTY-FOUR

Mirceo dreamed. Even in sleep, he knew he was experiencing his mate’s past.

A memory arose from a time years ago when the demon had been just a pup—a time before he’d been known as Caspion. . . .

Standing on his toes, Beggar stared through the tavern window as a barmaid brought steaming food to a nearby table.

Why was he doing this to himself? Seeing what he could never have just made his hunger worse. Look away.

From a tray, the female set out platter after platter. Haunches of venison. Fat sausages. Juicy suckling pig and roasted boar.

He’d just lost a baby fang, but his other one sharpened as he imagined what that meat would taste like. When the scents reached him, his mouth watered. So did his eyes.

If I could have just a shred of that meat . . .

Those demons—a group of five males—were so lucky. They chose when to eat and where. They read symbols on a menu, then picked whatever they were in the mood for. They decided if they would like the table beside the hearth fire.

Beggar wanted to choose. Anything.

He didn’t pick which clothes he wanted to wear; he had only the rags on his back. He didn’t choose among which shoes he’d wear; he had none at all. The snow and ice bit into his bare feet.

Everyone called him Beggar, because that’s how he’d survived. But only in the past. Now he’d learned how to scavenge too.

Cheeks heating, he admitted to himself he’d soon go back to shameful begging if the weather got any colder. One day, when he never had to wear rags or beg anymore, he would give himself a new name, a proud name—

A customer inside met gazes with him, a demon with gouged horns.

Now I’m in trouble! Last week, the tavern owner had chased him off with a broom! Beggar darted toward the back-alley crate he considered home.

“Hold there, pup,” a male called in a nice-enough tone.

Beggar slowed and turned warily.

The demon with the gouged horns was crossing the icy street toward him. “Come here, son.” Gouge carried a piled-high platter!