Home > Shadow's Claim (The Dacians #1)(6)

Shadow's Claim (The Dacians #1)(6)
Author: Kresley Cole

He dug his fingers into the stone as he clearly grappled for control. "You awaited him this night?" he bit out, launching his other fist against the wall, sending rock shards flying.

She gave a cry, briefly ducking under the cover.

At the sound, he tensed even more. "You fear me. You shouldn't. I will never hurt you," he grated. "Gods know if I haven't yet . . ."

"B-because I'm your Bride." She could scarcely wrap her mind around that.

"Yes."

"Are you a natural-born vampire?" Born vampires couldn't tell lies.

"What you really want to know is if I can speak untruths. I can't. I wouldn't anyway." His voice was deep, his words marked by an accent she didn't recognize. "Lying is counterproductive and illogical."

"Oh." She found her tears drying. The fear that so often dominated her life had receded-and she didn't know why. Maybe because this vampire had somehow kept himself from biting her even though she'd blooded him-and infuriated him. His restraint reassured her somewhat.

Instead, other emotions arose. She was humiliated and still drunk, and her body felt like a stranger's.

Ah, gods, she'd just gotten with some foreigner vampire named Trehan Daciano. Not with her beloved.

This male had touched her as no one had before. "You wanted to bite me though? Isn't that what your kind does?"

"I've never bitten another."

That was difficult for her to believe. Every vampire she'd ever met-and there were many, since her demonarchy had allied with the Horde in the past-had eyes red from bloodlust.

When he turned, she caught a glimpse of his eyes before she averted her own. Clear of blood?

"Look at me, then. Know the male you belong to."

She cautiously returned her gaze.

He was handsome, she supposed, in an angry, brooding way. He had chiseled cheekbones and a strong chin. His wide, masculine jaw was clean shaven. His hair was thick and black, his irises like onyx from his emotions. She wondered what color they would be normally.

Individually, his features were pleasing. Together, they appeared too severe, his expression harsh.

Body-wise, he was as tall and muscle-packed as Cas. Mistaking them now seems a touch more plausible, she drunkenly reasoned.

But overall, he wasn't nearly so glorious as Caspion-the standard by which she judged all males.

Though the vampire had ordered her to look, he appeared uncomfortable with her frank stare. She supposed it was rude to gawk like this, but she'd never seen a shirtless vampire before. And they had just been intimate.

Her gaze dropped to his muscular chest. What an odd crystal he wore-

"Tell me your name, female."

Her head snapped up. "I'm Princess Bettina."

"Bettina," he said with that unusual accent. "Bettina," he repeated in a huskier voice, as if he liked the way her name rolled from his tongue.

His supremely talented tongue. She almost shivered, recalling how he'd used it on her br**sts-licking her ni**les, wickedly flicking them. Beneath the sheet, they hardened once more.

"And of what kingdom are you princess?"

"Why should I tell you anything?" Then his earlier words sank in. "Belong to you? Did you actually say that? I don't even know you! Y-you took advantage of my . . . state, allowing me to believe you were another. You were silent just to keep up the ruse!"

When his expression darkened even more, anyone in their right mind would have been afraid. Yet her oh-so-familiar fear was absent. Because he can't hurt his Bride. Plus, tendrils of sunlight had begun creeping into the candlelit room. Surely he'd be driven away in moments.

"I don't perpetrate ruses, sorceress."

"Then why were you quiet?"

"I followed your request for silence!"

Oh. She had shushed him, hadn't she? How could the night have gone so wrong?

This vampire had found his Bride-her-and had acted on instinct. Bettina was the one involved in a ruse-seduction. "You know I said those things because I thought you were someone else."

A muscle ticked in that broad jaw of his. "And I reacted as I did because I was keen to see what pleasures you intended. Keen to know 'how right I was to come to you.' Your eyes were promising irresistible things."

She gasped.

"His loss, female; you delivered. It seems I savored treats meant for another."

Now she glared. "You are amazing!"

"Parts of me, at least."

Her cheeks flushed as she remembered her awed comment when she'd touched her first erection. Struggling for composure, she said, "How did you get past my barrier spell?"

"With ease."

Arrogant male! "Why are you here?" Surely he wasn't one of the competitors. "Are you the first clear-eyed Horde vampire?"

Seeming to grapple with his temper, he said, "I'm not of the Horde."

"Then what? Why are you in Abaddon . . . ?" She trailed off, her gaze fixing on his sword, on the cross-guard over the grip. The forged metal was distinctly rounded-

"A crescent moon?" she cried. "Oh, gods, you're the one Cas spoke of, the Prince of Shadow! You're the assassin from the Realm of Blood and Mist come to kill him!"

The vampire didn't deny this. "He broke the laws of my people. He must pay."

Now everything Cas had told her began to make sense. An assassin without equal . . . the last thing I'll see is a crescent moon. "Please don't hurt him! He didn't realize he'd done wrong."

"Understand me, Bettina, the only thing he didn't realize was that I could find him here. I will dispatch him just as I have thousands before."

He didn't say this in a boastful manner-more like he merely stated an unavoidable truth.

Though Caspion was a powerful warrior, everything about this male convinced her that Cas had been right to fear for his life. There was a chilling lethality about the vampire, a confidence in his own coldbloodedness.

"And what is your interest in a wastrel like him?" he demanded. "Besides what you obviously intended to give to him."

"He's no wastrel! If you hurt him, I will never forgive you!"

Baring his fangs, he grated, "We'll sort this out back in my home."

"What gives you the right to accost me like this, to try to abduct me?"

"I told you who I am. I've told you what you are. You've blooded me. I didn't choose for this to happen with you. Fate decided this. And now we must bow to her commands."

"You can't trace me from Rune!" Olden ways. She was trapped on this plane-until she wed. Raum had used that damned summoning medallion to prevent her from leaving.

"Can't I?" The vampire reached for her, his gaze intent.

When Trehan yanked her na**d body to his chest and tensed to trace home, two things happened: he didn't budge her; pain shot through his palm.

He released her, staring down at three deep wounds in his hand. "What the hell is this?" he roared while she scrambled back under the sheet. "Where is your weapon?" As he wrapped his bloody palm with the ripped sleeve of his shirt, he saw what had caused his injury. When he'd grabbed her upper arm, her gold band had ejected spikes.

Clutching the sheet over her chest, she breathed, "It worked." He detected pride in her expression before she dropped her gaze once more, fiddling with the armlet. With a flip of a hidden lever, the spikes retracted.

All at once, he understood-that was her book collection. Those were her drawings. Weapons, gold-smithing, design . . . "You made that?"

She shrugged.

Clever little sorceress. How did she craft a pressure sensor-

No! With a sharp shake of his head, he reminded himself that he had larger issues to deal with. Namely, how to get her back to his home. "Are you under an enchantment?" He began pacing with frustration, unable to seize the Bride who was just before him.

Blood still ran from his palm. Should've sampled hers!

Could this night possibly decline any further? "Why was I unable to trace you?"

She pursed her lips, her glare telling him she'd answer no questions.

As a natural-born vampire, Trehan was, in fact, physically incapable of lying. If he even attempted to, the words would make his throat burn like fire. So what could he promise to get her to cooperate with him? "Bettina, if you answer my questions, we could leave together-and perhaps I need never return for Caspion." Of course he would return.

To be marked for death by Trehan Daciano was to be as good as dead.

Her eyes went wide. "I'll tell you anything!"

Anything to save that bastard. Had Trehan actually thought her clever? She had no sense if she favored Caspion-and she was still slurring.

My Bride, the mistress of the legendary House of Shadow, is a drunken, senseless Sorceri. His ancestors must be tracing over in their graves right now. "How can I take you from here?"

"My godfather has a summoning medallion, one I'm tied to. He's used it to ensure I remain in this kingdom until the tournament ends."

Trehan had heard of those kinds of medallions, knew they were an archaic means to control . . . demons. "You're part demon?" Yes, the night can decline further.

No, no, she had neither horns nor fangs. She looked like a fragile mortal, if anything. Scarcely a hardy demoness.

"My mother was a Sorceri, my father king of this demon realm," she said with a touch of smugness, but Trehan was in no way impressed with royalty.

My Bride is a drunken, senseless halfling. Of all the potential mixes in the Lore . . . This creature was the product of two of the most opposite immortal species.

As far from a proud, logical Dacian female as possible. He exhaled. No matter. Bettina was still his. "How do I procure your medallion?"

"It's being offered up as a prize," she said in a deadened tone. "For a tournament."

"You're the orphaned princess. You're the trophy?" Declining still further.

She shrugged. "There's an invitation on my dresser."

He glanced around, then traced to retrieve the old-fashioned parchment.

RAUM, THE GRAND DUKE OF THE DEATHLY ONES, AND MORGANA, THE QUEEN OF ALL SORCERI, REQUEST THE PLEASURE OF YOUR ATTENDANCE AT A TOURNAMENT FOR THE HAND OF THEIR GODDAUGHTER, PRINCESS BETTINA OF ABADDON.

VENUE: THE IRON RING; RUNE, ABADDON

WHEN: THE NINE DAYS BEFORE THE SANGUINE MOON

WHAT: FIGHTS TO THE DEATH

PRIZE: THE CROWN OF THE DEATHLY ONES AND THE SUMMONING MEDALLION OF BETTINA

In smaller print at the bottom:

FULL-MOON MARRIAGE CEREMONY TO FOLLOW FINAL ROUND OF TOURNAMENT. ALL ENTRANTS GUARANTEED MYSTICAL PROTECTION OUTSIDE THE RING.

"Guardians?" Trehan nearly crumpled the parchment. "How old are you?"

"Twenty-two."

His jaw slackened. "So young?" He'd amassed centuries' worth of strength, could have seriously harmed her tonight. "An entire kingdom is up for grabs. Do you know what types of males will be entering this farce?" Trehan had spied a sample of them near the combat ring.

"I agreed to the tournament."

"Why in the gods' names would you? And why would you ever surrender your blood for a summoning medallion?" Talismans like that were common enough in the Lore. But the demon had to give up blood willingly for it to work.

Chapter 7

She murmured, "They willed it." Before he could ask what she meant, she attempted a brisk demeanor. "Once the competition begins, I will be completely prepared to wed whoever may win." Yet her voice broke a bit on the end.

Completely prepared-and terrified.

"But you're regretting your decision now? Is that it?" Realization hit him. If Caspion had bedded her this eve, the tournament would be canceled. "That's why you were trying to seduce the demon!" His relief was profound. "So he'd save you." And now I will save you.

"I was trying to seduce Caspion because I love him. I always have, and I always will."

Trehan felt as if he'd had his fangs knocked down his throat. Of all the males in the world. That death demon was notoriously popular with females of all species, had plowed through half of Dacia's maids before he'd absconded in the night.

My Bride is in love with my target.

If Trehan's mate had been another vampire, she would feel the same urgency and need for him. But when a vampire was blooded by a female of another species, that foreign Bride might feel nothing for him.

This one feels nothing. "What if I decided to simply steal the medallion-and you?"

"It's protected."

"I'll breach that spell as easily as I did your barrier magic."

"The medallion is held in a glass case that's been protected by Morgana, using the full force of her magics. It can't be taken, only won by my future husband."

Trehan knew of Morgana, knew she was one of the most powerful sorceresses ever to live-because she controlled the abilities of all other Sorceri. Though Trehan was a learned Dacian, he wasn't egotistical enough to believe he could easily circumvent her spells. "You must know of a way to seize it."

She shook her head. "I don't. I'd tell you if I did."

"You'd tell me, but only to save your precious Caspion." Again he grappled with his temper, with a jealousy so raw he'd never experienced the like. "And what will he do to save you? Is he entering the tournament?"

In answer, she glanced at the coverlet.

"No? So it's either me tonight or one among the males lining up below? I would think you'd be more receptive to me. Surely I'm a better alternative."

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