Home > Shadow's Claim (The Dacians #1)(9)

Shadow's Claim (The Dacians #1)(9)
Author: Kresley Cole

"Enough, Cousin."

"Not even close! Why are we wrangling over this crown when you can just go get another one?"

"I have no interest in that kingdom-solely the girl."

"The one who just happens to be under the protection of a Deathly One and the most powerful sorceress ever to live? Did you try to steal her from them this eve?"

"I did," Trehan admitted. "But she's bound to that plane."

"Wait, she's a . . . a demoness? Again, why are you not bedding her right now?"

"For the record, she's half sorceress. And she knows my target. They're . . . close. She will hate me forever if I kill him."

"You don't have a choice."

"And why's that?"

Viktor rolled his eyes. "Because you're a slave to your duty, to your house."

Over the last millennium, Trehan had sacrificed everything for the good of Dacia. For once in his life, would he have what he desired? "What if I . . . wasn't?"

Viktor backed away, unsure what to do with that. "Perfect, selfless Trehan Daciano entertains selfish thoughts? This I must explore. Truce for one eve?"

Trehan exhaled. "Pour the mead." Once he cautiously sheathed his sword, Viktor did as well.

"Tell me about her." Viktor traced to the sideboard, selecting a crystal decanter filled with mead-laced blood.

"She's young. Lovely." Talented, creative, innately sensual. With the sweetest skin I've ever imagined.

"How young?" Viktor handed him a glass topped off with crimson.

After a hesitation, Trehan said, "Kosmina's age." Mirceo and Kosmina were so much younger than the elder cousins that they called each one "uncle."

Viktor's lips parted. "You're jesting."

"Not at all." He took a drink, but found the blood tasteless. Again he wondered what Bettina's would be like.

Observant Viktor narrowed his eyes. "Did you bite her?"

Came so close. He recalled how his fangs had ached to pierce her-completely beyond his control. Like an ungovernable erection.

Would he be able to stop himself from tasting her blood if given a second chance? How did other Dacian males keep themselves in check?

Is something . . . wrong with me?

"You did!" Viktor raised his glass. "How very deviant of you, Trey! Did you mark her skin? Did you take her memories into you?"

"Don't be absurd." One of the reasons Dacians disavowed drinking from the flesh was because of the cosaşad-the ability to read memories through blood. When a cosaş took blood directly from the flesh, he took his prey's memories into his own consciousness, even from the merest drop on the tongue. The coldly rational Dacians believed this to be a pollution, an intrusion into their pure minds.

If I'd taken Bettina's memories, what would I have witnessed? Probably scenes of her lusting after Caspion. Trehan just stopped himself from crushing his goblet.

"Thinking about it even now?" Viktor said. "I can't believe you used your fangs on her-Trehan the Perfect is actually perverse!"

"I didn't bite her." He glanced up. "You look disappointed. So eager to see me fall?"

"But you wanted to."

Will fantasize about it for the rest of my life. "If I did, I'd never admit anything so shaming to you."

Viktor gazed away. "You might have once." He took a deep drink. "Back to the matter at hand. What are your options with the girl?"

"Kill Caspion. Forget her and move on." As he said the words, they burned like a lie. Forgetting her wasn't an option. Could he possibly move on?

There were so many questions surrounding her, so much to discover. He felt as if he'd read the first page of the most absorbing book he'd ever opened, only to have it slammed shut. "Second option: kill Caspion, find a way to steal the girl's medallion, then abduct her." Would she truly hate Trehan forever? Surely in a few decades she'd get over her displeasure.

Viktor shook his head decisively. "Morgana's magics won't be circumvented, not even by the likes of you. We have no spellcaster to aid you, much less one who could take her on. Logically, you know stealing the medallion isn't an option. A campaign like that would be doomed to fail." He lowered his drink, growing very serious about the topic.

This could be because Viktor had identified an enemy in Morgana, one who was thwarting the desires of a fellow Dacian. Or perhaps he was sensing imminent violence and hoping for a part of it. Maybe Viktor wanted to help because he sought to damage Trehan's chances at the throne.

Likely all three motives.

For a brief moment, Trehan considered that Viktor might be moved to help because once, long, long ago, they had been friends. Then he dismissed the idea. They had too much history between them.

Trehan said, "I'd contemplated appealing to her godparents before the tournament begins. But how exactly would I present my case? Should I say, 'I can't tell you who I am, what royal line I descend from, where I hail from, or what my properties used to be. But give me your ward anyway'?"

"What about stealing her after the tournament-but before the full-moon wedding?"

"Back to the summoning medallion. Whoever wins it will control her movements."

"If you entered, you'd have to leave the mist? To be seen by all?"

Trehan just stifled a shudder. "Yes. By all."

"You'd be banished-and then I wouldn't have to kill you," Viktor said smugly. "At least not pressingly."

Trehan gave him the look that comment deserved.

"Just think, you'd be king of one realm at least."

"That's actually a negative for me. Ruling a rainy, backwoods swamp plane filled with Deathly Ones? What do I know about ruling demons? Or about rain, for that matter?" He waved to indicate Dacia's stone sky. "And why would they accept a nameless vampire to govern them? Clearly, the tournament is not an option. I could never turn my back on my kingdom and abandon my house, not when the Dacians need a king."

"There's another who could rule us."

Trehan drank deeply, keen to get to the mead. "Lothaire again?" Lothaire Daciano, the Enemy of Old, was a three-thousand-year-old vampire gone red-eyed and insane from bloodlust-a prime example of why Dacians refrained from drinking others.

Lothaire was half Horde, half Dacian. Wholly mad.

Did he have a claim to the throne? Undoubtedly. His own house had always ruled.

What he lacked was a grasp of reality. Though the cousins had intermittently kept tabs on him, they'd never revealed themselves to him. "You'd truly accept a red-eyed king?" Horde vampires drained their prey to the quick, becoming addicted to the power and madness that act brought. Lothaire was rumored to have countless memories rattling around in his head.

In fact, it was said that he used the cosaşad to his advantage, drinking chosen victims just to get to their secrets.

"Perhaps I admire him," Viktor said. "His bargaining is masterful. He would bring his fabled book of debts to the kingdom like a dowry."

Lothaire's book was also legendary. For millennia, he'd maneuvered Loreans into life-or-death situations, offering to save them-for a price. Rumor held that his debtors had vowed to do anything he asked of them when he called in the debt, and that he'd recorded their bargains meticulously.

"He's probably the strongest vampire alive," Viktor continued. "We could do worse for a king. Besides, I thought you'd be all for it, eager to end all our family animosity."

"Don't you tire of it?"

"Who are you talking to, Trehan? I live for animosity."

And Viktor had plenty of cause for it. Trehan's own father had killed Viktor's. Of course, Viktor's mother had slain Trehan's. Throw in Stelian's parents and Mirceo's and they had all ended up dead eventually.

The blood vendettas of the Daciano houses were legion, inherited from their ancestors, with each generation adding new ones. "Then why would you even consider Lothaire?"

"Maybe I have no desire to be king either," Viktor said. "Perhaps I only fight for it because I know I'd be better at it than any of you. Give me a vampire who's actually more powerful than I am, and I'll help guide him as he rules."

From what Trehan had heard-and seen-of Lothaire, the male wouldn't prove easy to "guide."

Viktor viewed the invitation once more, this time with a look of lust on his face. "Zeii mea." My gods. "Fights. To the death." He actually groaned. "You could be in that ring. And with your clear eyes, everyone would think you're a Forbearer." One among an army of turned humans who didn't drink from the flesh. Viktor smiled evilly. "They'll believe you are weak, having no idea what you really are. Already an advantage."

Trehan gazed down at his drink, lost in thought. The fighting didn't factor into his decision whatsoever. If he chose to enter the tournament, he would win. Period.

Instead, his thoughts centered on another battle. Could I possibly win Bettina's affections? On that score, he was much less certain.

"Come, Cousin, there's more that you're not telling me."

Trehan quickly glanced up, the words falling from his lips: "She's in love with another. With . . . Caspion."

Damn it, what did she see in that demon? If those two had had some kind of relationship, then Caspion hadn't been true to her, had been in a brothel this very night.

Viktor winced. "Bloody bad luck, Trey." He sounded genuinely sorry for Trehan.

And yet tomorrow Viktor would plot to murder him all over again.

Unless I'm not here.

"He must die," Viktor said. "Even Mirceo has accepted that."

Mirceo had been Caspion's sponsor into the kingdom, using all his influence to campaign for the demon's acceptance. Mirceo had never expected Caspion to bolt, a first for the charming Dacian.

"You have other assassins under your command," Viktor pointed out. "Get someone else to kill the demon."

Trehan rubbed his brow. "By my hand or by my command won't make a difference with her."

"Is the demon entering the tournament? Then you could kill him in combat."

"I haven't relinquished Dacia yet, Cousin. If I decide to enter-"

"You'll enter."

"-then I will have spent my entire life in service to the kingdom, only to abandon it in a time of need, for a female who doesn't even want me!"

"It makes sense that she would prefer Caspion," Viktor said in a thoughtful tone. "Apparently, he is irresistible to females-and not a few males. There's a reason Cousin Mirceo petitioned for him to enter Dacia. Alas, the demon is much better-looking than you are, old man."

Trehan scowled. "I'm barely older than you are."

"You said your Bride was young. She likely doesn't know her mind yet. Her feelings for Caspion could be nothing more than a schoolgirl infatuation with a dashing demon."

Bettina was woefully young, and she'd obviously been overprotected. Perhaps she simply hadn't been around other males? She might have bonded with the one given most access to her.

Or was this only wishful thinking? He knew his looks didn't compare to the demon's-admittedly Caspion was . . . without flaw-but Trehan had other laudable qualities.

I'm a good killer. A talented scholar. Fuck. How could she possibly resist?

Chapter 10

Then why has fate chosen her for me?

Bettina, Princess of Abaddon, was the only female in existence-and in all times past and future-who'd proved to be his Bride. . . .

He reminded himself that she had responded to him. She'd inhaled deeply of his skin, moaning in reaction. She'd moistened her bloodred lips as she'd investigated him with her soft fingertips. She'd murmured in a throaty voice, "My gods, I love your body."

She'd delighted in touching me.

If he could seduce her into a similar situation, he could make her realize who'd awakened those feelings in her.

He had to believe that, given the chance, he could make her desire him again.

But that was the crux of this all: the mere chance would cost him dearly. His house would perish forever, his duty-and honor-with it. Competing in that tournament will cost me everything.

"You've obviously got it bad, old man," Viktor said. "The girl burned a hole in your brain, did she?"

Trehan recalled how she'd looked in the throes of passion-her shimmering eyes pleading for more of his touch-and muttered, "A fiery arrow through the f**king temple." She'd quivered against his hand, so close to coming for him. . . .

"What are you going to do?"

"What any logical male would."

Viktor raised brows. "Then I am at a loss. Enlighten me."

Trehan said, "I'm going to gather more information about her before rendering a decision."

Morgana would arrive in minutes, yet Bettina sat in her cooling bathwater in a daze, unable to muster any outrage that Salem had been watching her bathe again.

Her interaction with the vampire had left her feeling battered-not to mention Caspion's confession this morning.

When she'd all but begged him to make love to her, he'd said, "You're my best friend, and I love you like a sister. Tina, it wouldn't feel right. And after the night I've, uh, spent, I don't even know if I . . . can."

While she'd rocked on her feet as if slapped, Salem had sneered, "But pile-driving a hooker for hours felt right? Maybe the manwhore's all whored out? Maybe wittle Cas can't rise to the occasion?"

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