“Then what choice do I have?” Caspion said. “Something is at work here. My instincts tell me to go, and I trust them.” He squared his shoulders. “I’m prepared to take this risk.”

“I want you to think about your decision overnight.”

Surprise flickered over the demon’s face. “What’s to think about? What male wouldn’t rush headlong to meet his beautiful mate?”

“Hear me, friend”—Mirceo pinned Caspion’s gaze with his own—“your choice will affect the rest of your eternal life.”

FOUR

The Realm of Blood and Mist

The demon is officially back on the menu.

“I have a surprise for you,” Mirceo said at the end of Caspion’s first week in Dacia. They stood on the balcony of Mirceo’s sprawling clifftop villa, one nearly as elevated as the empty royal castle.

As he and Caspion surveyed the sleepy realm and drank from crystal chalices, Mirceo savored the demon’s rain-and-leather scent. Everything I can do not to bite him . . .

“A surprise?” Caspion asked absently, taking a drink. Since discovering he felt nothing more than brotherly affection for Mina, he’d been rocked with disappointment. He’d confessed to feeling protective of her—much as he did with Bettina.

But Mina’s loss was her brother’s gain. Mirceo had become convinced he could bed the demon. Over the last week, he could swear Caspion’s regard for him had deepened. Little hints made Mirceo hope.

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A glimmer of awareness in the demon’s eyes. An overlong stare. A change in his scent.

Whenever Caspion grew lusty, his rain-and-leather thread skewed more toward leather; Mirceo had picked up on that—when the two of them had been alone together.

Yet he was running out of time—his heart continued to slow—which meant he could no longer play fair with the demon. Tonight it will happen. “Yes, a particularly toothsome surprise.”

In a noncommittal tone, Caspion said, “Your surprises always are.” He seemed even less interested in the debauchery they’d enjoyed.

Mirceo’s interest had waned as well. He’d used to love watching Caspion in the throes with others, but lately he’d experienced only dissatisfaction. He asked the demon, “What’s going on in that head of yours?” Mirceo’s ever-growing lust was equaled only by his fascination with Caspion’s mind.

What shadows lurked? What hidden desires lay untapped? He found himself hanging on this male’s every word.

Unhappiness tinged Caspion’s eyes. “This place is a marvel, and I’m one of the few outsiders who’s seen it. Not bad for a no-name demon.” When Caspion had first beheld Mirceo’s lavish residence, he’d pulled at his collar, fearing he’d break something valuable.

So Mirceo had set about smashing priceless vases until Caspion had cast him a hint of that boyish grin. Later, the demon had stared in awe at Mirceo’s book collection. Though Caspion had never been jealous of his wealth, a stark envy had burned in the demon’s eyes when he’d asked, “You’ve read all of those?”

Mirceo had already been planning to teach him to read. “I have,” he’d answered. “And I promise you, my brilliant friend, you will as well. . . .”

Now Mirceo canted his head. “You didn’t eat much at dinner.”

Caspion had been surprised by the extravagant delicacies available in the kingdom, until he’d seen the number of otherlanders who made permanent homes here. Plus, vampire young ate food of the earth. He shrugged. “After so many years of hunger, I never thought I could lack an appetite.”

Mirceo couldn’t imagine starving. As perilous as royal life could be in Dacia, he and Mina had wanted for nothing.

Caspion’s discontent was weighing on him, much as his sister’s would. A crazy idea crossed his mind. What if the demon is my mate? Same-sex pairings weren’t unheard of.

Mirceo couldn’t know until his heart went full-stop. If it then restarted . . . “Do you have any theories about our strong affinity now?”

Caspion leaned against the balcony railing. “There are tales that have been passed down through generations of legendary friendships. Balladeers sing songs about them. I believe you and I share such a friendship.”

In a softer tone, Mirceo said, “Yes. I like that idea.” It made more sense than his own far-fetched notion. What hope did a thirty-year-old vampire have of finding his mate? “But you’re not happy here?”

Caspion hiked his broad shoulders. “I took a chance. Given the same information, I would take that risk again.”

“That’s not what I asked.”

“My instincts drew me to this place.” The demon trusted his instincts more than Mirceo managed to do with his own. “But I do regret not checking on Bettina first. Coming here was rash. I got so caught up, so tunnel-visioned toward a certain future, that I couldn’t see the things that are most important to me.”

Mirceo wanted to be the most important thing to him. Damn it, why does he not fawn over me as others always do?

Caspion continued, “She is still vulnerable, and now I can’t protect her.” Without the ability to turn to mist, the demon wouldn’t get permission to exit the kingdom. “She’s used to me going away on jobs for months at a time, but things had been in flux when I left.”

“What do you mean?”

“There was talk of going back to olden demonic ways.” At Mirceo’s questioning look, Caspion explained, “Marrying her off to whichever suitor is strongest.”