Cas’s claws elongated. “She’s my sister-by-fate!”

Gaze glinting, she said, “I know, Cas. I’m so sorry.”

He folded the parchment, returning it to his coat. “Mirceo must be going insane.” Cas’s mate had needed him that morning, and every moment since. He would never forget the pain in those gray eyes, Mirceo’s plea: Help me. Because I think . . . I think I’m losing my mind.

Yet Cas’s own insecurities had colored how he’d interpreted the vampire’s reaction. Mirceo’s words from another time echoed in his head: Perhaps you don’t lack faith in me. Perhaps you lack faith in you.

Cas had assumed Mirceo wanted away from him, never considering another explanation for the young male’s bewilderment.

Bettina said, “He’s not doing well.”

“You have no idea how protective he is of Mina. He raised her from when she was just a little girl. He even sensed she was in danger.”

“Trehan sensed my attack as it happened. I think Dacians possess a tiny bit of precognition.”

How could I have been so bloody stupid? The idea of Mirceo in pain, vulnerable . . . “Damn it, Tina, where is your husband? I must reach the Realm of Blood and Mist.”

She tentatively touched his arm. “Cas, Trehan probably won’t take you. He blames Mina’s continued plight on you.”

“Me?” Cas stared at her. Oh. “Because I destroyed the scry crystal.”

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She nodded. “He pressured Mirceo to explain what happened to it. And since vampires can’t lie, the truth came out.”

Cas paced her chambers. “We don’t need the crystal. I will find her. The Forbearers likely took her.” After they’d failed with Mirceo . . .

“That was the working theory,” Bettina said. “But when the Dacianos launched an offensive on the Forbearer castle, they didn’t find her. And their seer can’t even scry Mina’s general vicinity.”

Cas frowned. “That bone roller would’ve been able to see Mina if the Forbearers had taken her.” Then who—? Cas stopped short. There was an entity that eluded seers . . . one that might have interest in a female vampire.

The Gaolers.

They didn’t just harvest criminals. They collected any threat to the Lore, including sick vampires. If Mina had been gone this long, she had to have left her mist, growing corporeal. Which meant she’d been vulnerable to otherland dangers.

Like the plague.

Cas had brought those collectors down upon New Orleans, the same place Mina had last been seen!

Trehan materialized into the room. All cool arrogance, he leveled his green eyes at Cas. “Precisely the demon I wanted to see.”

Cas’s muscles tensed, his chest bowing.

“I’d considered you a misguided whelp but not inherently flawed—until you committed such an idiotic act. If not for your reckless stupidity with the crystal, my niece would be safe in her home right now, instead of lost in a world she is woefully ignorant about.”

At best. And Cas had had the nerve to bust Mirceo’s ass for rashness? “You’re going to take me to Dacia.”

“You have no right to go there.”

Horns straightening with fury, Cas said, “My mate’s there. I have every right!”

“Yet you’ve been separated from him during the most painful trial he’s ever known?”

Cas’s gut clenched. “Are we going to do this again, leech? I’m much stronger than I was last time.” For centuries, the need for revenge against this male had shaped Cas. Finally they would finish what had been started so long ago!

Bettina hastily said, “Trey, he’ll go demonic to reach his mate—and he’s five hundred years older than he was before.”

Trehan wasn’t concerned whatsoever. “Presumably with hundreds more deaths under his belt? Then the whelp might present a modicum of challenge this time.”

Cas bared his fangs. “Thousands of deaths. And I’ll add yours to the list if you don’t take me to Mirceo.”

“Please, you two!” Bettina cried. “I’m asking you not to do this.”

Now that he and Trehan were more evenly matched, a battle could last for hours. Days even. Cas burned to make him pay for that beating—but he burned even more hotly to protect his mate and his sister-by-fate.

Cas had paid dearly for his years of wisdom and discipline. Though he’d used neither when dealing with Mirceo before, he would endeavor to do so now.

Bile rose in his throat. “Damn it, we don’t have time for this.” Only one move left to me. Cas bit out: “I am asking for your . . . help. Please, vampire. Trace me to my mate.”

Bettina gaped at him, and even Trehan looked taken aback. Both would know how difficult saying that had been for Cas.

Two weeks ago, those words would have been impossible.

He gritted his teeth, prepared for Trehan to heap on more humiliation. Though Cas hadn’t begged for anything since he’d been a pup, he would to reach Mirceo. His damaged pride, his searing disgrace, his need for vengeance—none of that mattered in the face of his family’s wellbeing.

“My gods,” Trehan said with a look of wonder, “you must love the hell out of my nephew.”

Cas gave a curt nod.

Bettina nibbled her bottom lip. “Please, Trey.”

As Trehan gazed at his wife, emotion made his eyes flicker black. “You know I can deny you nothing, draga mea.” He turned to Cas. “Very well.”