Home > Shadow's Claim (The Dacians #1)(3)

Shadow's Claim (The Dacians #1)(3)
Author: Kresley Cole

He shrugged. "Maybe."

"No, not maybe." Recalling his many conquests and his love of females, she glanced up at him from under her lashes, licking her lips. "Come back to me, and I'll welcome you with open arms, Caspion."

He groaned. "You're still a virgin, and the future queen of Abaddon. I'd have to wed you to bed you."

"Okay! You'd make an incredible king."

"Really? The Abaddonae welcoming the guttersnipe orphan as ruler?"

Some of the old guard Deathly Ones held him in low esteem because he'd been a foundling with no land or family name, but . . . "You've been making such strides, Cas."

She alone knew how much he yearned for acceptance. Though he reveled hard-he worked harder, accumulating wealth with each bounty.

He gave her a sad smile. "You know I can't have you."

For half a decade, she'd assured herself that he hesitated because of the difference in their stations. All she had to do was help him see his own worth.

Or maybe he simply needed to sow his wild oats before settling down.

Chapter 3

After all, who could possibly adore him more than she did? Though he must have guessed her feelings long before now, she finally confessed to his face, "But I . . . I love you, Cas."

He chucked her under her chin. "I love you too."

"Don't be obtuse." She laid one hand on his muscular chest. "I am in love with you. I want you above all others." She'd tried to forget him-her stint offplane hadn't been only for school-but Caspion remained firmly in her heart.

"You only feel this way because of what awaits you tomorrow," he said. "You're desperate for an escape. I understand why you're doing this, but you aren't my mate."

"You can't know that for certain, not until you 'attempt' me. In the throes, you know; isn't that what you demon males say?"

He gripped her hand, pulling it off his chest. "You shouldn't be musing about such things, Bettina!"

Sometimes Cas could be as medieval in his thinking as the rest of the denizens of this plane. He might admit his conquests to her-but he withheld all details. "I'm not a child. I know simple biology."

A male death demon-like the males of many demon species-couldn't produce se**n unless he was with his mate. He could enjoy sex up until then, could attempt a bevy of females and take release in a way, but the pleasure paled in comparison to what could be found with his fated one.

"Take me, Cas, and let's find out once and for all."

"If you're not mine, I'd still be honor-bound to wed you. Would you deprive me of my future mate? I'd grow to hate you." He pinched his forehead. "Ah, none of this matters anyway! I am done. I brought their killer down on my head."

"Whose killer? If you tell me, we can figure out a way to defeat him, or hide you. Just talk to me. Please."

Cas faced her, cupping her cheek with a callused palm. "Goodbye, Tina."

"Wait!"

He'd already traced away, teleporting from her apartments. But she couldn't follow, or search for him. Even if she were demon enough to trace, Bettina was unable to leave this cursed spire alone.

Her . . . condition made it impossible. Sure enough, her body had healed.

But not the rest of me.

She rushed to her circular balcony. During the day she could see the central market, but at night that fog rolled in. She squinted, straining to spy Cas; no use. She had the sight of the Sorceri, nearly as bad as a human's!

Can't go to him, can't watch over him.

Hastening inside, she called out, "Salem! Come here!" Nothing.

With great reluctance, she grabbed that copper bell-one that would summon Salem to her. A medallion controls me; a bell controls him.

She was well aware of how demeaning this could be, but seeing no other choice, she rang it.

A moment later, the grandfather clock spoke in a deep baritone voice: "You booted me out, and now you're ringing me back in? Somebody needs to make up her bloody mind!"

"Salem, I want you to guard Caspion tonight."

"What's doing wiv the demon?" he asked with his thick accent-exactly how a grown-up Oliver Twist would sound, Bettina often thought.

"Will you just follow my order for once?"

"Let me guess," Salem began in a surly tone, "he's hacked off the wrong sort yet again. Went cherry-picking wiv a lord's daughter? Played slip the pickle wiv a warrior's wife?"

"Aren't you supposed to follow my every command?" Salem's services had been a get-well-soon gift from Raum after the incident. Clearly, Raum had no idea that Salem was a rogue whose hobbies included spying on her bathing.

"Fiiine," Salem said begrudgingly. "Caspion'll be at his usual haunts?"

"Yes. Meeting with friends."

"Then by all means, I go to the closest cat-house forthwith," he said, the last word sounding like forfwif. The air around the clock seemed to ripple, and then Salem was gone.

Alone, she paced. If anything happened to Caspion . . . No, no, Salem would watch over him. Not that Caspion even needed watching over, she reminded herself.

And what foreign assassin would dare target a Deathly One in Abaddon?

Thirty minutes passed.

An hour.

She gnawed her fingernails, but they kept growing back, her immortal regeneration finally at its peak. The grandfather clock ticked ominously.

Oh, why wouldn't Cas return? To remind him that she awaited, she hung a lantern in her window. No, she couldn't see the town, but Cas could see her spire. A lingering light might beckon him.

Suddenly, a wave of vertigo hit Bettina. Her vision blurred.

Realization dawned. "Oh, no," she whispered, her tongue heavy in her mouth.

The demon brew had just caught up with her.

She shook her head against its effects, needing to think. I've been so despairing about Cas's safety . . . that I forgot my mission to seduce him failed.

One of two outcomes. Tomorrow, I am doomed.

She rocked on her feet as more dizziness followed. Light-headed, she blundered into her bedroom, crawling past the curtains of her canopy bed. Falling back atop the silken sheets, she closed her eyes as the room spun.

Perhaps Cas might come back this night. If she could just get one more shot at him, she wouldn't let him out of her clutches so easily. Bettina wasn't exactly known as a fiery fighter. But desperate times . . .

She would strike fast and hard.

Her last thought before she passed out: Please come back to me, Caspion.

So this is where the demon hides. . . .

Sword at his hip, cloaked in a mist of his own making, Trehan surveyed an imposing castle and surrounding town. Both had been built on a plateau inundated with fog. On three sides lay swampy jungle with small rivers forking out. Gargantuan trees twenty feet in diameter soared from murky waters.

Though Trehan had never seen such a jungle, he turned without interest, crossing an ancient-looking drawbridge into the town. A weathered sign read: Welcome to Rune, Royal Seat of Abaddon. Might Maketh Right. The words had been carved between two dragon heads.

Abaddon. He vaguely remembered hearing of it, knew it to be a demonic, backwater plane, closed off from most of the Lore. Yet Rune was bustling this eve. Merchants hawked their wares along winding cobblestone streets. Banners hung in shop windows. Many in the crowd peered around with the open curiosity of tourists.

As Trehan moved unseen through the throngs, he heard snippets of conversations, gleaning that a tournament was beginning tomorrow night for the hand of this demonarchy's orphaned princess. The throne of this plane was up for grabs as well.

Already competitors of various species were encamping near a large iron combat ring.

A change in regime? Despite his interest in politics, Trehan ignored his spark of curiosity, concentrating on the task at hand.

The Prince of Shadow had a sanctioned kill to make.

Just moments ago, he'd used his scry talisman-a priceless crystal passed down through his house for generations-to locate his target here.

He normally wore it on a leather tie around his neck, but now held it aloft; the four-faceted crystal emitted a red light, casting a flare to indicate the location of this night's prey: Caspion the Tracker.

That demon had broken the laws of Dacia and was now marked for death.

The crystal's flare appeared directly above what sounded like a brothel, filled with boisterous laughter and tinny music. Not surprising-Caspion was a wastrel with a penchant for drinking and whoring. He'd done plenty of that in Dacia.

A public place was not a favorable hunting ground for Trehan. He had to remain unseen, as was the Dacian way.

Deciding to lie in wait in the alley alongside the tavern, he retied the crystal's leather around his neck. Knowing Caspion's predilections, I fear I'm in for a long delay.

There'd be no reading before the fire in his lonely rooms this eve. No polishing the weapons in his meticulous collection. Resigned, he started toward the alley.

He scanned his surroundings, not to admire or explore-but to be prepared for any threat. Dacians were a breed of observers, watchers from the mist. Forever to observe, never to engage.

Though Trehan had traced to hundreds of different Lorean planes, each with its own attractions and wonders, he'd never enjoyed them.

Trehan rarely enjoyed anything. He drank blood, but didn't taste it. If he slept, he woke unrefreshed. He performed his duties for Dacia, but the satisfaction he'd once derived from his job had . . . ebbed.

One of Trehan's cousins, Viktor, had recently told him, "You must've been punished by the gods to live the most stupefyingly boring existence imaginable-with the added curse that you can't even recognize how onerous and aimless it is."

"I live a life of service," Trehan had corrected him. "And I have pastimes I enjoy. I read by the fire-"

"Because your only alternative is to stare mindlessly at the flames."

I do that as well. Trehan had heard the whispers about him. Some Dacians likened him to a ghost, calling him a shade-a play on his Shadow title-because his life consisted of nothing but silent, grinding toil, devoid of goals or plans. They conjectured that he had no desires-secret or otherwise.

He'd been taught early not to desire, and certainly not to aspire to more than service to his kingdom.

Yet three months ago, an old longing had resurfaced, one he'd thought he'd been rid of after all this time-

Trehan halted, his senses on alert. He peered around through the mist. He spied no threat, yet his inexplicable tension did not ease.

Then his gaze was drawn up far above him to one of the half dozen spires in the castle, the highest one, well beyond the fog's reach. In a swampy region like this, an elevated floor probably contained royal apartments.

One window in particular held his attention. A lone lantern glimmered inside, like a beacon. For some reason, he felt nigh compelled to investigate it. Which didn't make sense. No rational Dacian would court unnecessary exposure.

Focus on the mission. A target roamed free; Dacia was at risk so long as Caspion lived. Because the demon knew the way back to Trehan's kingdom.

Though the Dacians had mystically hidden their realm, no cloaking was foolproof forever. As an added security measure, they'd outlawed anyone from leaving without a special exemption. Disobey-and die.

That was where Trehan came in. As Dacia's master assassin, he stalked these lawbreakers across the ends of the Lore, locating them with the scry crystal and striking them down before they could lead anyone back.

That was his sacred duty-and he would complete it this eve.

With a determined shake of his head, he dragged his sights toward the talisman's flare over the tavern.

Yet just as quickly, his traitorous gaze slid back to the lantern. Why leave one lit in the window? What would Trehan find inside those apartments? What story was even now playing out within those walls?

Is my life truly stupefying?

Glancing from the flare . . . to the lantern . . . back to the flare . . .

Damn it, he was the last Dacian who should risk expulsion. No one loved his home more than Trehan.

When the lantern guttered out, he hissed a curse. And still I go to investigate?

Although such a move was completely unwarranted-and unprecedented-he teleported to the balcony outside the apartments. A warding spell was in place to bar his entry, a security measure that he easily circumvented.

Over the years, how many had surrounded themselves with spells to keep Trehan's sword from their neck? Breaching such magics was a particular talent of his.

He made himself into mist, ghosting past the glass doors into a spacious sitting room. The chamber was now pitch black, but he could see perfectly, noting the lavish-and feminine-decorations.

Instead of furs, woven rugs covered the stone floors. Precious silks in myriad shades of purple streamed over the windows and draped a settee.

Purple meant royal. So what demoness resided here? He wasn't familiar with the line of this demonarchy. Was she the princess about to be wed?

Shelves of well-worn books lined a gallery, tomes on design, fashion, ancient art, weapon history, and . . . goldsmithing? All had pages flagged.

Trehan was someone who revered weapons-and books; the specific focus of this collection intrigued him.

But before he could explore the shelves, he found himself following the scent of a light perfume down a corridor.

Sketches lined the walls, the subjects as unusual as the books. A talented hand had rendered the inner workings of an antique clock. The mechanisms of various spring traps. A three-dimensional diagram of a bolt-action crossbow. They were all signed simply B.A.

The level of detail and the unique style were fascinating. To Trehan, this was unparalleled art. He wanted to possess these pieces, to closet himself with them in his solitary quarters; they wouldn't be the first he'd "liberated" back to Dacia.

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