Wearing protective goggles, Bettina sat hunched over one of her creations, engraving the piece. Sensing his presence, she lifted her head. “Caspion!” Her light-brown eyes shimmered behind her comical eyewear.
He opened his arms, and she ran into them. “I’ve missed you, Tina.” He clasped her against him.
“How long were you gone?”
“Awhile,” he said, finally releasing her.
She removed her goggles. “Let’s have a drink out on the balcony.” As they used to do. “You can tell me everything.”
He followed her into the main area of her suite. A new framed piece of art—a pencil sketch of Trehan Daciano rendered by her hand—hung in a prominent place on the wall.
Sick of that vampire. Cas glanced from the portrait to Bettina, noting the pink in her cheeks and the light in her gaze.
She was . . . happy. The Prince of Shadow was actually making her happy.
From a bar area, she poured demon brew for Cas and a sweet wine for herself.
Drinks in hand, they headed out to her balcony. The moon was nearly full in the sky, its light beaming down over the fog that wisped through the medieval town.
That moonlit mist reminded him of the vampire. What doesn’t?
This sleepy hamlet seemed so much smaller than Cas remembered it. Why did I care what these demons think of me? As if they mattered in the grand scheme of his life. Cas got more satisfaction from one of Mirceo’s awed looks than he’d experienced when this entire fickle populace had cheered for him.
Cas would tell them all to go to hell in order to have his mate beside him. If my mate could be true.
Bettina sipped her wine. “I’m so glad you’re back, Cas. A lot has happened over these weeks.”
“Catch me up.”
“Well . . .” She exhaled a breath. “It turns out Trehan believed I was the one who poisoned him—in order to save you. To be fair, I did hand him a goblet of wine that night, and I had threatened to poison him before.” Not to mention that she designed poison rings. “Not long after you left, he and I reconciled and married.”
Still despise that prick. “How do the Abaddonae feel about a vampire as their king?”
She tucked her dark hair behind her ear. “Well, you know . . . they saw him at the death matches, and . . .”
“They love him.” Abaddon’s motto was Might makes right. “Cas, I love him.” She couldn’t contain a beaming smile. “And he adores me.”
“Why wouldn’t he, Tina? Daciano doesn’t deserve you.”
Her brows drew together. “Cas . . .”
Changing the subject, he said, “Where’s Salem?” Her insolent phantom bodyguard.
“He secretly tagged along with me into Dacia, then took off! Now he’s loose somewhere in the kingdom.”
“Gods help the Dacians.”
“I know, right? Speaking of hidden kingdoms, we, uh, called a truce with the Vrekeners not long ago.”
Cas’s head snapped up. “What the hell? What did Raum say about this?” The grand duke of the Deathly Ones had eagerly turned over the dimension to Bettina.
“He wasn’t thrilled, but when I explained things, he came around.” Tilting her head, she asked, “Do you want to see him while you’re here?”
Cas wasn’t ready to face him yet. Maybe if he had a more solid footing in his life. Am I mated? Am I not? This limbo was maddening. “Don’t change the subject. Tell me about the Vrekeners.”
“So much has happened. The leader of the gang who attacked me was their king. After Trehan killed those assholes, a new ruler stepped up. Thronos Talos. His mate is a sorceress!”
Surprising. “She managed to get him to stand down?”
Bettina sipped her wine. “No, Thronos is a decent guy. I like him.”
Cas’s jaw slackened. She had detested and feared Vrekeners, every last one of them.
“The king who hurt me was the outlier,” she said. “The rest aren’t like him.”
“That we know of.” Give them time.
Moving away from that subject, she said, “Please tell me how long you were gone. I mean, technically.”
He swigged his brew. “Five hundred years or so.”
Now her jaw slackened. “Why would . . . how could you remain away that long?”
“Because that’s what it took for me to accept everything that happened.”
Confusion marked her expression. “It wasn’t that bad!”
“I fought for my honor and the honor of our people. Then I lost. Spectacularly.”
“For the love of gold, Caspion, he was so much older than you.”
In a low tone, he said, “Not anymore.”
She stilled. “You have to let go of your animosity against Trehan. He’s my husband, and you’re my dearest friend. I can’t lose either of you.”
“I don’t see us mending fences.” Even if he could ever forget the pain that vampire had delivered, Cas wouldn’t want to be anywhere near a Daciano to remind him of Mirceo.
“Trey feels awful about how he treated you. He was under the influence of a serious toxin during that fight. Does that count for nothing?”
“He even offered to give you his scry crystal”—no longer an option—“to make amends, but also in recognition of your stellar career.”
As a tracker. Cas’s hunt for her attackers had been the most important of his life, now never to be completed—because of bloody Trehan.