New Rome Pleasure Palace Months ago . . .
“I like your style, demon.”
Cas had just tipped his head back to relax in the warm springs when he heard that low voice above all the others in the bathhouse.
He sat upright on the underwater bench and gazed over in that direction, peering through the steam across the sizable pool. Hooded gray eyes stared back at him.
The black-haired vampire? The ladies at this palace whispered that he was a prince of some ancient line, rich beyond measure, and a generous lover of both males and females. He was a contradiction--a natural-born vampire whose eyes were clear of the red that signaled bloodlust.
Fawning admirers surrounded the prince; so why would he be addressing Cas?
“My style?” He must’ve watched me tonight. Cas was fresh from the Monday night free-for-all, an orgy with hundreds of immortals. He’d just stopped for a soak and a last mug of cheap brew before returning to his home realm of Abaddon.
To face his failure. The first-ever hunt he couldn’t complete.
The vampire’s expression was amused. “I saw you in action earlier, sweetheart.”
Cas’s face warmed at that endearment. Blushing? As a demon well-versed in sex, he didn’t blush. “We do what we can.”
The prince laughed, the rich sound pleasing to the ear. A lock of shoulder-length black hair fell over one of those gray eyes, and he smoothed it back. Though his clean-shaven face was vampire pale, his high cheekbones were tinged with healthy color. “A charmer, aren’t you?” He had a thick accent. Romanian? “Come join us.”
Everyone in the bathhouse--immortals fucking on lounge chairs, in the water, even in the air--seemed to be watching this exchange.
What does he want with me? “I’m good, thanks.”
Gasps sounded from all around. The prince’s brows shot up with surprise. Never been turned down before? With a slow grin spreading over his face, the vampire rose and began making his way across the pool.
Those deserted admirers shot Cas killing looks. As if he’d sought this attention? He was straight, which the prince would have gathered if he’d truly watched Cas in action.
Instead of tracing, the vampire chose to wade through the waist-deep water. He looked to be a few inches shorter than Cas’s seven feet. Whereas Cas possessed a brawny build, the prince was leanly muscled.
Other immortals clocked his hypnotic movements. A succubus riding a blue zalos demon on a massage table tweaked her nipples as she stared. When the prince passed a nymph--who was getting railed from behind by a huffing warlock--she stretched just to brush her fingertips along his arm.
Typical vampire magnetism. In order to feed, members of that species lured other beings within striking range. A biological necessity made vampires some of the most mesmerizing creatures in the Lore.
Once he reached Cas, the prince stretched out on the narrow bench beside him, utterly at ease. “Greetings, demon.”
Cas inclined his head. “What’s brought you over here?” Into this darkened corner. With me.
“My cock.” The vampire gestured to his semihard shaft, visible through the steam and water.
Cas tensed. “Pardon?”
“The wayward thing has a mind of its own. It points, and I must follow.” Staring down, he gav
e a woebegone sigh. “If only it weren’t so beautiful . . .”
“Your wayward cock was mistaken to point you in my direction.” A sentence I never thought I’d say. Already in this limited exchange, Cas had lost his equilibrium and couldn’t quite recover it.
The prince raised his gaze. “I’m jesting with you,” he said, immediately mouthing, I’m not jesting with you.
“I desire only females, friend.”
The vampire’s lips curved, revealing white teeth and fangs. “My own desires are not as . . . restricted. But I have others who can sate those needs. I didn’t seek you out for a mere fuck.”
He didn’t want to fuck Cas? An odd thought arose: What does he find objectionable about me? “Then what do you want?”
“For now, I’ll have your name.”
He grudgingly answered, “Caspion.” The other males Cas hung out with--rowdy demons in Abaddon and fellow bounty hunters--seemed far less complex than this vampire.
“I’m Prince Mirceo. Call me Mirceo.”
“Prince of what kingdom?”
“A secret one. I’m afraid I can’t tell you more.”
Was this vampire toying with him? Though Cas’s closest friend, Bettina, was heir to the throne of their demonarchy, he mistrusted the wealthy. Bettina was the rare exception.
Mirceo said, “Already I break the laws of my people, just by conversing with an otherlander.”
Cas doubted the prince wanted only conversation. They always want more. He felt as if he lived two lives: his normal existence in Abaddon, and his shadow life filled with sexual exploits. No one in his shadow life cared to converse with a demon like Cas. “You joined me for a reason. . . .”
“Perhaps I seek the friendship of a fellow erotic connoisseur. Tell me about yourself.”
Why waste his time with me? Unlike the others here, Cas had little money and zero education. He’d grown up on the streets, wearing rags, scavenging from refuse bins, and begging. He’d had no name, so everyone had called him Beggar.
Cas came to this opulent pleasure den solely because the management let him in for free, and the women were always stunning.
The vampire must still think he had a shot at sex. The two of them sat unclothed on a bench that seemed to shrink by the instant. If Cas moved his leg by even an inch, his bare thigh would brush the vampire’s. “I meant what I said, prince. I appreciate your interest, but I don’t return it.”
“My interest at present is in your mind, Caspion. I’ve a vampire’s curiosity, and your behavior fascinates me. Answer a few of my questions, and share some drink with me.” He waved for one of the servers.
“My mind?” Cas couldn’t keep the disbelief out of his voice. All but illiterate, he could only read the words most commonly used on bounty postings.
“Yes, your mind.”
Flattered, Cas sat a little taller.
The server arrived, a shapely demoness who cast Mirceo a look of longing. Had the vampire enjoyed that beauty? According to others, he’d been with most here--because he refused to repeat bedmates.
Mirceo ordered blood mead for himself and the palace’s best demon brew for his “handsome new friend.”
Cas raised his brows at the vintage, one he’d never been able to afford. Like most demons, he loved brew. “Perhaps I could remain for a round.” He didn’t want to return to home yet anyway. He was weary to his bones, had come to this place to release tension.
“Good choice.” Mirceo flashed him a smile of praise. “Ah, sweetheart, what fun you and I shall have together.”
For some reason, a shiver crossed Cas’s nape. The vampire’s words were harmless enough. So why do I feel like I just agreed to far more than a drink?
“Be a lamb and keep the drinks coming,” Mirceo told the server when she returned with two golden chalices. She was a storm demoness who’d delivered a memorable blowjob the other night.
Her eyes begged for a repeat. His eyes said, My apologies, tulip, but it will not happen.
A devoted hedonist, Mirceo had few hard and fast rules in his life--but he never revisited partners.
Once she left, Caspion took a swig from his chalice, then licked his lips. “By all the gods, that’s smooth. It must cost a fortune.”
I would spend a true fortune just to see you lick those lips again. “I’m a vampire with more gold than time,” he said absently, his gaze roaming over Caspion’s flawless features-- midnight-blue eyes, chiseled chin and jawline, a mouth made for kissing.
And those horns! They curved back along his fair head like a crown of polished amber, the perfect complement to his careless blond hair and sun-kissed skin.
The demon’s towering body exuded sex and power, the most magnificent Mirceo had ever beheld.
Well, outside of his own glorious form. I want him.
Earlier in the orgy, Mirceo had been pile-driving his third partner--a delightfully greedy succubus--when he’d spotted the demon. “Who’s the blond?” The way that male had pleasured--and controlled--his own partner was spellbinding.
Between panting breaths, the succubus had said, “Caspion the Tracker . . . a death demon.”
A little later, one of Mirceo’s hedonist friends had noticed his gaze drawn repeatedly to the demon, saying, “He’s a favorite of the ladies. Let’s put it this way: he’s the sole male here who doesn’t have to pay admission.”
“Is he a favorite of any gents?”
“Is he, then?” Mirceo had smiled. “I like a challenge. He’ll become the conquest of conquests.” His friends had laid wagers. Amazingly, some were foolish enough to bet against Mirceo Daciano. . . .
Now he raised his chalice to the demon. “Shall we have a toast?”
Caspion raised his own. “What should we drink to?”
“Why, to the bottom, of course.”
They downed their cups, and the demoness was quick with the refills.
Once she’d left again, Caspion said, “I’ve accepted your payment, vampire. Ask your questions.”
Tonight this deliciously dominant male had given Mirceo two things no one else here would dare: a refusal and an order. Mirceo found his lack of deference . . . thrilling. “Straight down to business, then? Am I such loathsome company that you can’t wait to get out of my clutches?” I need to clutch those bronzed pecs. While nuzzling the golden chest hair between them. “Very well, demon, I want to know what you were thinking about in that orgy. You certainly didn’t have your mind on your partners.”
Tension stole over his broad shoulders. “I heard no complaints.”
Sensitive, sweetheart? “Indeed not. That’s part of my interest. Though your thoughts were a million leagues away, you wrung orgasms from those females like juice from grapes.” He’d been all-alpha, calling the shots--as Mirceo himself always did.
“Sometimes my mind wanders during sex.” When Caspion rubbed his nape, Mirceo’s attention flicked from the demon’s bulging bicep to the sexy blond hair of his armpit. “How long were you watching me?”
“Long enough to grow intrigued.” Mirceo met his gaze. “I must know what you were contemplating.”
“I’m not used to revealing private details to strangers.” He took a generous swig of his drink, blue eyes growing stormy.
Gods, those eyes. I want to look up into them as I take his shaft between my lips. Mirceo stilled at the thought. He’d never been the one on his knees--he was a prince, after all--but he might sample a cock if it belonged to Caspion. Perhaps I should get pointers from the demoness server? “Shall I go first?” he asked. “Will you trust me if I tell you details from my own life?”
“Depends on what you share.”
“Very well.” Lowering his tone--one of Mirceo’s most foolproof seduction weapons was his raspy, accented voice--he murmured, “I come from a fabled realm that few outsiders have ever seen.” Hidden within a mountain, the kingdom of Dacia spreads beneath a soaring cavern. “Considered a vampire’s paradise, it’s filled with riches.” Blood runs in fountains, fog wisps over cobblestone streets, and a giant diamond in the highest part of the cavern filters the sun. “My kind have abilities that other vampires do not.” We can turn into mist and levitate. “I’m forbidden to leave my kingdom without the permission of a gatekeeper--yet I do leave, often.” Because the gatekeeper likes his blood mead a little too well. “Though I’m to stay hidden in mist, unseen by anyone outside of our realm--I am seen by others, regularly.”
If one departed Dacia without permission, he could never trace home, and memories of the kingdom’s location would fade. But I found ways around that.
The demon’s lids were half-masted. He looked as if he could have listened to Mirceo speak for eternity. “Is your father the king?”
“We have no king at present.” Even over the smells of hot springs and sex, Mirceo caught a thread of Caspion’s natural scent--a heady blend that called to mind raindrops and leather. As one who hailed from a realm with no rain, Mirceo found the demon’s scent as exotic as it was tantalizing.
Caspion took a deep drink. “If you’re a prince, why haven’t you taken the throne?”
“Others in my family have as much claim as I. The situation is fraught. There’s another who could rule us--the rightful heir.” Lothaire the Enemy of Old, a three-thousand-year-old vampire. “But his eyes are red.” He was half Horde, half Dacian.
“Indeed.” Mirceo sipped his chalice. “He’s crazed with it. In my particular kingdom, drinking from the flesh is considered a heinous taboo. Naturally I fantasize about it without cease.” Caspion’s pulse point drew his gaze, and the demon noticed, swallowing thickly. “My relatives and I have agreed to think on the matter and decide soon.” Mirceo would vote to install Lothaire without hesitation. Nothing could shatter Dacia’s blood-taking taboo like a red-eyed king. “Are you satisfied with my details?”
Caspion nodded. His drink seemed to be hitting him. He must be unused to the potency of expensive vintages. “My oldest friend--a Sorceri/demon halfling--was assaulted by a gang of Vrekeners.” Eyes flickering black with emotion, he said, “The attack was more vicious than anything I’ve ever seen; she barely survived. For sixty days, I sat at her bedside while she recovered. For sixty nights, I set out into the worlds to hunt her assailants.” She sounds like more than a friend. “I’m a bounty hunter by trade, but those winged fiends are hidden from me, their floating lair constantly moving. Today I was ordered off the search.”
“I’m sorry, Caspion. That must be difficult to accept. If I can be of service, tell me.”
“Why?” The demon grew cagey. “You don’t know me.”
True. “I can’t explain it, but I feel an affinity with you.” Perhaps he would remain friends with Caspion, even after they’d partaken of each other. There’s a first time for everything. “It is unusual.” Being near this male made him feel at once stimulated and satisfied. Enlivened, yet soothed.
“Unusual? You’re a favorite here. Everyone vies for your attention. I’d say you feel an affinity with many.”
Mirceo slid him a grin. “So you’ve noticed me?”
Caspion scowled into his cup.
“My home, though a paradise, is full of rules, so I enjoy otherlanders’ company. But none so much as yours.” Not a lie.
“I doubt that,” the demon said, revealing another intriguing facet to his personality: insecurity. This mighty blond Adonis was vulnerable. It made Mirceo want to champion him, to clutch him close.
Protectiveness? How unlike me. He only ever felt protective of Kosmina, his cherished younger sister. The rest of the beings in the worlds could all go to hell as far as he was concerned.
“Why should I believe anything you say?” Caspion asked.
“Why shouldn’t you? Also, do recall that a natural-born vampire like myself is incapable of lying.” Mirceo studied the demon’s breathtaking face. “Do you not feel a like affinity with me?”
Weirdly, Cas did. Or maybe he was enjoying the effects of the smoothest--yet strongest--brew he’d ever consumed. After all, why would he feel a connection with a sophisticated vampire prince? “Not a sexual affinity, though.”
Mirceo ran his fingers along the rim of his chalice, his black claws trimmed shorter than Cas’s own. “So you’ve never been with a male.”
He shook his head. “Not my cup of tea.”
“It wasn’t mine either, until I had a sip.” Mirceo took a drink, then licked a drop of blood mead from his lip.
The sight held Cas rapt before he blinked back to attention. How to respond to that comment? I see. Very good. Thanks for sharing.
“So what shall we do about your hunt?” the vampire asked, mercifully moving to another subject.
“There’s nothing I can do. I must follow my order.” Raum, one of Bettina’s guardians and the acting ruler of Abaddon, had vowed to send a cadre of his finest warriors to take over. “I find myself . . . adrift.”
“Is this female you sought to avenge more than a friend?”
“Though she’s beautiful and talented--she’s a goldsmith without equal--I’ll never view her as more than a sister.” Cas had taken her to the mortal realm to explore, teaching her what baseball was and how to drive a car.
But lately, his visits with her had grown increasingly awkward. She was ashamed of how she’d reacted to her gruesome injuries, wishing she’d been more demonic. Stronger. Yet the delicate halfling had never looked or acted as if she had demon blood. “I’ve known her for more than a decade, ever since I was fifteen.”
“You’re twenty-five? Five years younger than me. Are you fully immortal?”
“Just transitioned.” Little other than decapitation could kill Cas now.
“Regrettably, I’m right behind you. My heart has been slowing for years, soon to stop beating.” With his transition, a male vampire would go into a kind of walking stasis--heartbeat, respiration, and sexual ability dormant--only to be awakened by his vampire Bride. “Listen.” Mirceo held up a hand to pause the conversation for several moments, then pointed at his chest. “My heart was motionless for that entire time. I figure I have another couple of months before I can no longer fuck--until I find my mate,” he added darkly. “The prospect of a walking-dead existence is unfortunate enough, but to depend on a stranger to revive me? And then she’ll expect me to be faithful to her.” He shuddered. “So my upside is one partner. Forever.”
“Gods, I feel for you about the celibacy, friend.” These days, sex seemed to be the only thing keeping Cas sane. The problem was money. Cas didn’t get free admission at every establishment.
The life of a player was an impoverished one. Not to mention the sums he spent to fund apprenticeships for pups in Abaddon.
“You don’t sympathize about the monogamy? I consider it an intolerable hardship.”
“Once I find my female, I’ll be loyal to my dying breath.” Though Cas was young, he already longed for her and the younglings she’d give him.
“At least you can keep fucking until then. No end in sight for your cockstands.”
Cas countered, “At least you know what it’s like to spill seed.” A male demon could orgasm before he claimed his fated one, but he couldn’t release semen until he lost his demon seal inside his mate’s body. “Why are you so against monogamy?”
“My predatory nature makes me forever pursue new conquests. Would you track prey you’d already captured? Would a hunter stalk a boar he’d already felled?” Mirceo sighed. “Once my heart stops, it won’t matter anyway. But until then, I intend to fuck like a madman, sampling every wicked delight available to a vampire with more gold than time and less wisdom than daring.”
Must be nice.
“Join me, sweetheart. My treat. We’ll journey the worlds, sharing wenches and drink. I’ll take you to bacchanalia that will make tonight’s affair appear tame. I’ll introduce you to gods, and we’ll wallow in meaningless hedonism.”
After Cas’s last two months, that sounded so bloody tempting. If the spoiled prince wanted to pay, maybe Cas should simply enjoy. But first he’d get one thing clear. . . . “If you think to seduce me, it won’t happen. I will never desire another male.”
Holding Cas’s gaze, he said, “Around me, you won’t ever do anything you don’t wish.” The vampire leaned in closer. “Isn’t that the essence of hedonism? Partaking of all the things you want and none of the things you don’t?”
Cas couldn’t seem to look away. Up this close, he spied a ring of black encircling Mirceo’s irises. Mesmerizing . . . “So why me? Any number of these beings would leap at the offer you just made.”
The vampire’s lips curved. “What you do with a partner’s body can only be considered art. Young demon, consider me a patron of the arts. . . .”