Too soon, Caspion drew his pants up, buttoning the fly. He pulled on a black T-shirt, then faced Mirceo. “We need to talk.” His demeanor remained icy.

“What’s happened?”

“We are going to sort some things out.” He strode from the bedroom into the kitchen. Sitting down at the rough-hewn table, he waved to the other chair.

Mirceo sat. “Caspion, you can’t keep denying what you know is true. You know we’re mates.” Now the demon would rail that Mirceo wasn’t his, and the two of them would quarrel—

“I want you to leave.”

“Pardon?” Mirceo went cold. Damn it, they’d made strides yesterday! “What happened between the time I went to sleep and now?” Comprehension dawned. “You’ve accepted that I’m your mate, haven’t you?” The dynamics between them had shifted last night!

Caspion steepled his fingers, a contemplative gesture, but his dark claws had grown razor-sharp. His blue eyes flickered to obsidian and back. The demon was in turmoil, only feigning control. “I have.” At last! “Yet you will still leave. You’re going to take a century to do whatever you need to do. Don’t toe the line, don’t live within boundaries. Fuck anyone who tempts you and continue reveling with your hedonistic . . . friends. At the end of one hundred years, you and I will meet outside the castle in Abaddon. At that time, you will commit to me.”

Mirceo’s lips parted. “A century apart? Are you insane?”

“This is the only logical route.”

“Logical? Vampires are supposed to be logical, not claim-deprived demons.”

“I refuse to share my mate.”

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Even in the midst of all the craziness Caspion was spouting, Mirceo loved how “my mate” sounded coming from the demon. “As do I. We will both be faithful.”

Caspion shook his head. “You’re not capable of that. At least, not yet. You’re too young, too rash, and too selfish. You and I met each other too soon.”

“If you know I’m your mate, then you know you can’t go that long without fulfilling your instinct to claim me. You’ll grow crazed.”

Caspion traced to his feet to pace, a muscle ticking in his jaw. “Let me worry about that.”

Mirceo stood as well. “I’m not agreeing to this. Forget it.”

Lips drawn back from his fangs, Caspion said, “Once I claim you, I will never let you go. I will mark you—for all time.”

Mirceo had never seen him this livid. “That’s what I want!”

Caspion lunged for him, pressing him up against the wall. “For once, THINK!” he roared. “This isn’t a bloody game. If we don’t part, I will claim you. Once you wear my mark, you will never fuck another. Never bite another. Your life will never be the same!”

“You lout, I want my life to never be the same! We will build a new life together.” Adding to the House of Castellan. Pups. A family. Mirceo dared to lay his palm over the demon’s thundering heart.

Caspion flinched as though burned, but allowed the contact. Gods, the emotions crossing those stormy eyes . . . need, hope, despair. “I see the future clearly, vampire, because I know you so well. Once I claim you, your panic will return, and you will leave. Then I’ll be just like all of your other conquests, the ones who would give anything for just one more night with you.”

“None of them was my mate! And you’re my best friend on top of that. Why can’t you believe in me?”

“Because you’ve taught me not to.” Caspion released him and backed away. “Do you know what tracking is at its most basic form? It’s the ability to recognize potential when you come across it. I see so much potential in you, vampire. But you are not there yet. For now, you are your own worst enemy.”

“What will it take to change your mind?”

“Nothing. Your next step is to leave. A hundred years can pass quickly for an immortal who remains active.”

Bullshit. “I’m going to take a short leave just to get you off my back about it. I will carefully consider every aspect of our future. And then I will return in four days.”

Caspion shook his head hard. “One hundred years—”

“Four. Days.” Mirceo pinned his gaze. “Face it, demon, neither of us will make it a week apart, much less a century.”

TWENTY-FIVE

The first two days of their separation had been excruciating.

A low roar constantly sounded in Cas’s ears. Part of him thought/hoped that Mirceo would consider everything, realize he couldn’t yet commit, and stay away.

But another hot, aching part of Cas prayed to every dark god that the vampire would return in another two days.

Put me out of this misery. Cas hadn’t been able to eat or sleep. He’d finally started bloodletting—slice marks in various stages of regeneration covered his forearms—but the relief was fleeting. As he’d stared at the crimson pouring down the sink drain, he’d regretted the waste, just as he would the waste of any nourishment. It reminded him of Gouge, a demon who’d offered food, only to throw it away.

Cas could concentrate on nothing, his instincts going haywire. Need a distraction. His gaze landed on the coin pouch. Cas would go see Bettina, dropping off the dragon gold.

Stuffing the pouch into his coat pocket, he traced into her light and airy workshop. Her specialty was body jewelry with hidden weaponry. Dress dummies had been arrayed with various pieces. Workbenches with intricate tools lined the walls.