After that, the vampire had begun reading to him each morning. Cas enjoyed those soothing lulls far more than the revelry. . . .

Now the prince sighed. “I miss my sister and my home. Plus there is the matter of crowning a new king.”

The crazed one? Gods help them.

Mirceo peered at Cas. “Will you miss me when I go?” The vampire’s gray eyes matched the fog ghosting over the water. Like that mist, Mirceo had seeped under Cas’s skin, into his very bones.

“You know I will.” Cas was happier than he’d ever been. Despite their fundamental differences, their personalities had meshed in an effortless ebb and flow. “My instincts are telling me to keep you close.”

Only one thing marred their time together. He wished Mirceo would quit using his seductive powers on him. All vampires possessed that supernatural allure, but Mirceo’s was nearly irresistible. Their bond needed no such distraction.

Mirceo turned to take in the surreal scene. “I have a theory as to why we feel so connected.”

So did Cas. He believed fate had given him the foundation for what would become a legendary friendship—in order to make up for all the things Cas had lacked: parents, a home, food. His earliest memory was of clutching his stomach against hunger pangs. “Tell me your theory.”

“You know how much I adore my little sister?”

“Yes.” The vampire often spoke of her. After their parents had been murdered by another royal, Mirceo had become Mina’s entire world, and she his.

Facing him again, Mirceo said, “Caspion, I believe you might be . . . her mate.”

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Cas’s breath left him. That would mean Mirceo was his brother-by-fate. Of course!

_______

Mirceo didn’t think anyone could deserve his beloved sister—he’d raised her since she was a bashful, six-year-old imp—but Caspion came closest.

“A fated connection to your family?” Excitement lit the demon’s expression. “Finally something to explain our connection.”

“Where nothing else could?” Mirceo murmured. As a prince of Dacia, he’d never had a best friend. I’d hoped that I might have something to do with this bond.

“That came out wrong.” Caspion took a drink from his flask. “I only meant that we have so many differences—our species, backgrounds, occupations, and . . . stations. We don’t have much that ties us together.”

But we finish each other’s sentences. Our minds seem to be synced. We trust one another.

Did his affection for Caspion run deeper than the reverse? How? Mirceo was beloved by everyone, celebrated in his kingdom. And in his otherland social circle. And in pleasure palaces the Lore over. “In any case, Mina is of age now.” Females grew into full immortality earlier than males—with no blooding drama to deal with. Mina had transitioned a few months ago, right around the time she’d turned twenty-one.

He pulled out a picture of her that he always kept in his pocket. Handing it to Caspion, he said, “May I present Princess Kosmina.” In the likeness, fair Mina gave a shy smile.

“Stunning.” The demon’s pupils enlarged at the sight. “But I never saw myself with a royal. Someone so superior.” Caspion cared more about class distinctions than anyone Mirceo had ever known—yet he never fawned or groveled.

“Being considered superior would amuse her. She’s deathly shy and passive, can’t meet a stranger’s eyes.”

“A passive female would suit me well.”

Hard to believe that not even a month ago, Mirceo had planned to bed this demon and win a wager. The joke’s on me. Caspion, his possible brother-by-fate, was officially off the menu.

Pity. Mirceo had begun to suspect he could truly seduce Caspion, dragging him over the finish line. Though the demon had shown no desire to join in when Mirceo bedded males, he’d never seemed particularly averse to it either. “Basically, she’s as retiring as I am arrogant—except when she’s sword fighting. Mina is a mistress at arms.”

“She sounds incredible.” Caspion gazed over at Mirceo with an unsure expression. “How would you feel about a no-name demon paired with your beloved sister?”

Rolling his eyes, Mirceo shoved him off the bridge.

Used to Mirceo’s antics, the demon simply traced back into place. Attention on the likeness, Caspion said, “I do feel something for her. A sense.” He flashed Mirceo his heartbreakingly boyish smile. “You help me with your sister, and we’ll give you a score of nieces and nephews.” The demon had told Mirceo he wanted dozens of children, reasoning: Though I have no line before me, I could forgive fate for that if I had a line to come after me. “When can I meet her?”

“There’s the catch. It’s too dangerous for her to leave Dacia.” A plague in the otherlands had wiped out female vampires, even fully immortal ones. “And we allow no passing visitors inside our hidden realm. You’ll be denied entry—unless you’re willing to remain in our underworld forever.”

“I’d be trapped down there?”

“Worse. You can leave, but if you did, you’d be hunted by my uncle Trehan.” Mina and Mirceo were so young compared to their older cousins that they called Trehan, Viktor, and Stelian uncle. “You would leave only to die.”

“I can’t meet her for five minutes just outside of your realm?”

Mirceo took the portrait back. “Though she would love to venture forth, I will never permit it.” He shuddered at the thought of losing her.