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“Why are we here?” he asked.
“You mean why are you still alive?” she corrected.
“Whatever gets me the answers I need, lady.”
“Treszka,” she supplied. She lifted the hem of her skirt and stepped closer. “I really don’t want to hurt you.” Her black-and-white gaze bore into him. “But I will if you don’t behave.”
Eric could feel an acute chill coming off her skin. The stink of her flesh was almost more than he could stand. It didn’t matter how pretty she was. The girl was rancid. “Where are the other two kids who were with me?”
“Safe. I thought it best if some of them were elsewhere, so you wouldn’t get any ideas about escape. You don’t seem the type to leave your offspring down here to fend for themselves.”
She was right, but he didn’t want to let her know it.
Eric shrugged. “Not my offspring.”
She ran a black-tipped fingernail down his chest. It was all he could do to stand there without flinching. “No paternal instincts?”
She made a tsking sound. “That’s a shame. I was hoping for more from you.”
“I’d say I’m sorry to disappoint, but I’d be lying. So, step aside so we can be on our way.”
Treszka laughed, and the sound was about as appealing as the squall of tortured kittens. “You know that’s not how it’s going to work. I brought you here for a reason.”
Of course she had. “Which is?”
A slow smile stretched her lips. Her fingers slid down the center of his chest toward the button of his jeans. “I have needs.”
Eric became acutely aware of the children standing behind him. That, and the fact that the woman touching him was a fucking cold-blooded demon.
“Not only no, but hell, no. Not even if you were the last piece of tail on the planet and I was dying from a chronic erection.”
Her smile turned into a pout. “I knew you’d play hard to get. You Slayers and your sense of honor.” She waved a hand in dismissal. “It’s all a big waste of time, if you ask me, but you’ve given me no choice but to play along. Guards!”
The second she raised her voice, a trio of those disturbingly human-looking demons piled into the room.
“Take another one of the children,” she ordered.
Eric stepped to the side, blocking the path of the guard that moved to obey fastest. “Not a fucking chance, lady.”
“You seem to lack a basic understanding of your situation. I am in control here. Not you. If I want you to kill and eat one of the children, then that’s exactly what you’ll do. Unless, of course, you’d rather I have one of my guards take them all?”
Eric glanced over his shoulder at the young. They were piled up, trying to stay warm. Kayla lay still, but he could see tension radiating through her little body. She’d heard every word Treszka had said. She may not have understood it all, but she would have absorbed enough to know that Eric had been offered a chance to save them and turned it down.
“So, Slayer, what will it be? Will you come with me, or would you prefer to stay here with your choice of three of the children? I really don’t care who dies. Neither will my men. Down here, meat is meat.”
What choice did he have? There was no way to fight his way free. There were too many guards outside of the cavern—and those were just the ones he could see. Chances were there were hundreds more between here and freedom.
And what about those two other young? She’d led him to believe that they were still alive. He couldn’t abandon them down here.
His best option was to get her alone and kill her. Once the queen bee was dead, the drones would be distraught and confused. That’s when he’d have the best chance of getting the young to freedom.
Eric held out his hand to her. “Lead the way.”
* * *
Joseph was stunned speechless.
He stared at the birthmark, then at Lyka’s face, then back again. He saw, but still couldn’t believe. It was simply impossible. Some kind of trick.
Before he could stop himself, his hand reached toward her. He stopped in the act, waiting for her to shy away like she always did, but this time she held her ground.
“Go ahead,” she said, bracing herself. “You need proof. The mark won’t wipe off. Heaven knows I’ve tried.”
His finger settled on her warm skin.
The pain he carried around with him—pain he’d endured for so long that it had become part of him—melted away. For a second he thought he became airborne, he felt so light. The shock of it rattled him down to his very soul.
He was still reeling from being pain free when the next sensation hit him. Warmth swirled up his arm, tingling his skin as it went. The streamers of heat shot straight for his chest, lingering along the branches of his lifemark before sinking into his heart. His whole body shuddered. His lifemark swayed along his skin, straining to get closer to her.
Lyka wasn’t lying. She was the real deal. A Theronai.
And she was compatible with his power. She could be his.
He shoved that idea out of his head before it could take root. Most of his men were far worse off than he was—their lifemarks nearly bare. It was his duty to see to their needs first. It didn’t matter if she was compatible with him or not. She needed to save one of his men.
“How can this be?” he asked, hearing his amazement in his voice. “You’re a Slayer.”
“So was my mother. My father, however, was a one-night stand. An Athanasian prince who came here for the sole purpose of creating me. Mom fell for his good looks and charm, and cheated on her husband. It’s not exactly something my family likes to talk about.”
A female Theronai. Under his roof. And he’d had no clue.
He shook his head in an effort to get reality to sink in. “Does Andreas know?”
His thumb stroked across her birthmark. His fingers had somehow wrapped around her arm in a grip tight enough that he could feel bone and muscles shifting beneath his hand. He knew he should stop touching her, but it felt so good to be free of pain. He couldn’t yet stand the idea of letting the weight of his agony crush him. Soon he would let her go, but right now, he needed this respite.