Home > Shadow's Claim (The Dacians #1)(7)

Shadow's Claim (The Dacians #1)(7)
Author: Kresley Cole

"At least none of them want to murder the male I love."

Barely controlling his rage, he ignored the pain in his palm and clutched his sword hilt, something he never did. "The male you love is in a brothel right now; I'm here with you." His words hit home, making her flinch, but he took no satisfaction from it. "You've some skill in seduction, for a virgin. You'd be wise to use it right now." He could scarcely believe he'd said that to her. In the past, he'd spoken only after careful consideration of his words.

It seemed this jealousy was eroding his reason, his impulse control. Trehan, a Dacian, had nearly bitten her.

She met his gaze. "I'm sorry that I'm your Bride," she began, clearly trying to sort out the exact right thing to say. A difficulty in her condition. "I'm sorry that my heart's already taken. But if you harm him, you will break me." Tears welled in her eyes once more. "Please . . . don't."

To protect his realm, Trehan must eliminate that demon; his Bride would never forgive the murder.

He needed to think. To approach this rationally. Which was impossible when the tears in her eyes affected him physically, and when the memory of her pulse against his tongue still made him thirst for the forbidden.

"I've told you everything I know," she murmured. "I'm begging you to leave Abaddon."

Begging me to leave her.

He didn't need this! He should be grateful for the increase in power his blooding had brought him-and the release he'd stolen with Bettina-then move on with his duties.

He could enjoy other women now that she'd brought his body back to life. He could still father heirs, could repopulate his house. As far as he knew, he was the first of his cousins to be blooded, which meant he'd just become the strongest.

Old longings could still be realized. I could have a female and offspring-and the strength to protect them all.

Trehan would be damned if he'd compete for Bettina's affections, especially not against someone so unworthy as Caspion. As the sun began to spill into her bedroom, he said, "Farewell, Bettina of Abaddon."

"You're leaving?"

The hopefulness in her tone cemented his decision. "I am."

Yet then her face fell. "To try to steal my medallion?"

"I return to my home."

Her eyes widened. "And you'll spare Cas?"

"Not at all. I have no plans to come back for you. But I definitely will for him. It's a done thing, Bettina. Resign yourself."

"Please, no! I'll do anything." Her face flamed as she asked, "Don't you need to . . . to claim me?"

Yes! The temptation to sink into her virgin body-to lose himself in the silky wetness that he'd touched, he'd tasted-nearly had him reaching for her once more.

With a nervous swallow, she dropped the sheet to her waist. "V-vow not to hurt him, and I'll be yours."

His gaze locked on her br**sts, on those taunting ni**les. She'll sleep with me to save him. Gods, the pleasure would be unimaginable. His c*ck hardened, twitching within his damp pants. Yet again, his fangs sharpened.

But he refused to force himself on a female who didn't want him. "You're in an impossible situation, girl. The more you plead for the demon, the less I'm inclined to want you." The more she pleaded, the less he wanted to want her. "The next female I take to my bed will be there because she craves what I alone can give her."

When burning rays of sun spilled into the room, he took one last look at her, then disappeared.

After Bettina tossed on a robe and ripped off her mask, she all but dived for Salem's bell, ringing it frantically.

"What's bloody wrong with you, chit?" the nearly empty jug on her coffee table demanded.

"Have you been watching over Cas?"

"I have. I morphed wiv the ceiling directly over the bed of the strumpet he's been pile-driving for hours. He's been doing things to her that you would not believe. I'll just pop off and get back to me post-"

"Wait." Bettina ground her teeth, reminding herself that it wasn't as if she and Cas had any commitment between them.

And it isn't like I haven't been with somebody else tonight.

"Go back to the strumpet's," she bit out, "and tell Caspion that I met the vampire sent to assassinate him."

The air shivered around her, the only indicator of Salem's emotions. No longer was he in the jug. She sensed him occupying a curl of her hair.

Right at her ear, he yelled, "An assassin was in your apartments? Why the bloody-ell didn't you call for me?"

Bettina jumped. "Just go get Cas! I'll explain everything to the two of you."

"I should have been here wiv you. And what if this leech returns? I'll tell Raum-"

"No! I don't believe there's a danger now that the sun's risen. Now go!"

Three minutes later, both Salem and Cas returned to her rooms. Cas was half-dressed, reeking of perfume, his horns and mouth smeared with lipstick. His shirt was unbuttoned, revealing flawless bronzed skin and more lipstick all the way to his navel.

What faceless female had enjoyed Cas's body over the night? Gods, the jealousy stung! Sometimes Bettina was glad that she didn't still possess her Sorceri power, could only imagine what she might be tempted to do in a fit of pique.

She gazed down at her splayed fingers; even after all this time, she expected power and light to boil up from her palms. Instead, emptiness tolled inside her.

A hollowness that nothing can alleviate. . . .

"You saw him?" Cas demanded as he pulled on a boot. "He was here?"

"Yes. In the flesh." And in my bed.

"How are you still alive?" Somewhat dressed, Cas laid his roughened hands on her shoulders, much as the vampire had done. "He never leaves anyone alive! It's forbidden for him to be seen by otherlanders!"

She swallowed. "I'm . . . well, I guess I'm an exception."

Salem shimmered through the room, possessing one of Cas's hands, but the demon shuddered, flicking his fingers with disgust.

Salem alighted, settling back into her hair. "Divvy, princess."

"The thing of it is . . . I'm his Bride."

As Cas gaped, Salem said, "So the demon pissed off some vampires, and they hired an assassin who recognizes you as his mate? Oh, this just gets better and better."

"That's about right."

Cas opened his mouth to speak, closed it, then tried once more before saying, "You blooded him?"

"Why do you sound that disbelieving?" She tightened the sash on her robe with snappish motions. "Some males actually find me attractive, Caspion."

"I know, I know. But-"

"And don't make it sound like this is my fault! I was asleep in my bed minding my own business when he appeared in my room."

"Because he was looking for me!" Cas backed away from her, swiping the back of his hand over his lipstick-stained mouth. "I've put you in danger, put you in that bastard's sights." Then he frowned. "Why is the vampire not here, trying to steal you?"

How embarrassing. She stared at the floor when she admitted, "I think he left me . . . because I told him of my feelings for you. He was angered." But not toward the very end. Then he'd seemed detached, unaffected by what had taken place between them.

"The bloody Prince of Shadow," Cas said. "Angered. What have I done?"

"How did he get past my warding spell in the first place?" She'd been completely vulnerable. What if he'd had ill intent? Her hand went to her throat. Could the Vrekeners get in at will? That spell had been in place since the castle had been built-was it expiring?

"The vampire turned to mist," Cas absently said. "He's got centuries of experience foiling barriers. I was certain he could get to me."

"Mist! Vampires!" Salem exclaimed. "You two are talkin' about a Dacian?"

"He told me his name was Daciano," Bettina said. "What exactly is a Dacian? I thought they were the Horde's boogeymen. Super-vampires of legend."

Cas muttered a harsh curse. "They are secret. Anyone who knows of them dies! I'll not speak of this in front of Salem."

"As if I can't find out all soon anyway," Salem said. "I'm a phantom. Well, a sylph. Don't you two understand that there're no secrets kept from Salem? None." He addressed Bettina. "Like when the princess noshed hallucinogens last year at a-what do the mortals call it?-rave."

How could he know that?

To Cas, he said, "Or what you did wiv those two Lykae sisters one full moon? Almost lost a hand that night, yeah?"

Cas swallowed uncomfortably, looking shamefaced. What happened with the she-wolves?

"Fine. You know things," Cas said. "But how can we be assured that you haven't been telling all this to Raum?"

"Because Raum has two gears: jolly and furious-bear hug or battle-ax to the brain. He can't hide reactions. Now, you two, decide: Salem as ally or enemy?"

She narrowed her eyes. "Why do you want to be involved in our lives if not to tell Raum all you learn?"

"Because I can't fight, eat, drink, sleep, or wank. It's difficult to get a leg over when you don't have legs! I want in on the intrigue! Now, demon, what did you do?"

Bettina sank down on her settee. "Oh, for gold's sake, Cas, just tell him."

With a grated sound of irritation, he said, "I left. Once you enter Dacia, you can't leave without special permission. It's granted very rarely for native Daci-and never to kingdom newcomers."

"Did no one tell you these rules?" she asked.

"I thought I could get around them, or that my sponsor would call the dogs off. At worst, I believed I'd have sanctuary here. I never told them I was from Abaddon, still don't know how their killer reached me here so quickly. He can't have ever been here before." Cas rubbed his palm over his face. "And how in the gods' names did he find you?"

"I have no idea. I just woke up and there he was."

Cas cast her a puzzled look. "How could he leave if his blooding wasn't completed?"

When Bettina studied her hands in her lap, tension rolled off him, so strong she gazed up again. Never had she seen him so furious. Even Salem had begun to blur the air with his anger.

"He forced you?" Cas grated. "I will gut him before he ever has a chance to strike at me!"

"No! It wasn't like that."

Salem snapped, "Then what was it like?"

Taking a deep breath, she said, "I was tipsy. I thought he was Cas." Her cheeks felt like they were on fire. "I was . . . receptive."

Cas drew his shoulders back. "You couldn't tell that it was another?" he demanded, clearly affronted.

"The room was dark! And we weren't doing much . . . talking. But no permanent damage has been done. I'm still a virgin. Just perhaps a jot more educated."

Cas reached forward, lifting her gold collar. "At least he didn't bite you."

Chapter 8

She recalled how hard Daciano had fought not to. I will never hurt you. . . . "He stopped himself when he saw I was upset."

"A very lucky break for us. To be bitten by a vampire is . . . altering." He glanced away briefly before facing her once more. "I'll find a way to protect you from him. Somehow. He might be ancient and skilled with a sword, but I'll figure out a way. When he returns, I'll make my move."

She didn't share Cas's optimism. That chilling lethality . . . "Wait, you said ancient?"

"At least nine centuries."

How very . . . old. She didn't know how she felt about that. But for Caspion, this was disastrous. Age brought strength to immortals. "He said he has no plans to return for me, but he definitely will for you, Cas. Do you really think you can defeat a professional killer? A long-lived Dacian? You certainly hadn't earlier-you were convinced that he'd end you."

"That was before you were involved. Now I have to find a way."

Salem said, "That's the thing about an assassin-wiv each kill, he risks capture or death himself. A long-lived assassin means he wins every single time."

Cas rubbed his throat again.

Bettina pressed her advantage. "There's only one course of action. Enter the tournament. Raum and Morgana guarantee each contestant's safety out of the ring. The vampire couldn't touch you. And you know you can beat anybody who enters."

Though he wasn't as powerful as he could be-death demons garnered strength from each kill and his job had been to track, not execute-Cas was an excellent swordsman, and he could trace.

A flicker of hope rose in his eyes. Then he shook his head. "And if I win? What then? Say I eliminate this assassin afterward and wed you. You would deprive my fated mate of her male? I'd be making both of our lives miserable."

Her mind cried, I might be your mate. "You can't know it's not me. And I'm free to love whoever I want to." Unlike many Lore species, Sorceri didn't have a mystical fated mate per se. But they did wed and form lifelong bonds.

"I'm sorry, Bettina." His expression looked genuinely remorseful, his blond brows drawn. "I can't enter."

Disappointment threatened to engulf her, but she strived for a calm tone. "I see. I could ask Morgana for help against the vampire." Bettina's godmother was just like a big sister.

That one did not ever, ever, ever want to cross.

Yet Bettina was desperate once more. "She doesn't arrive until this eve-won't stay on this 'wretched demonic plane' any longer than necessary-but I could ask her then."

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