The girl in his arms went from terrified to horrified in seconds. And now he was able to slip into her mind. The word Rajni blazed across her emotions. As did her revulsion at the thought.
This little bit of a girl—she was as small as a youth and he sensed she was quite young—thought he was her destined mate. Destined by her own goddess, no less.
And yet the girl did not want him.
Him. Half-brother to the demon king.
His Incubi ego was wounded, and at his age, he had no difficulty understanding that. He was a male of great demon pride, after all.
No mere Dardaptoan female should want to reject him. He had been sought by legions of females far more compelling than her.
Yet he did not want some girl for his mate now. He was Incubi.
He had consorts when the times were right; not a fated mate.
The closest his people ever came to that was gamata. And gamata was a bond that even Dardaptoan mating could not come close to comparing.
He had made himself a vow never to take a female to gamata.
Gamata was forever, after all. One female, one male, no others.
Even in the demon afterlife. A demon male made certain a gamata was the right decision. No matter what.
She struggled against him, frantic. Careless in her desire to escape him.
The girl was going to end up hurting herself.
Or bring Joru’s band of warriors running. To watch him deal with this small female who didn’t want him. To jest and jeer.
No. That would not do.
But he wanted her away from this hovel she had claimed as her home. It was not safe here; especially for young females.
He could smell the scorch of evil near.
Joru covered the girl’s mouth with his hand, ignoring the burn of where she had bitten him. He would heal by morning. “You will not bite me again, girl.”
Unless he gave her permission. He had been with female bloodsuckers before, and he hadn’t minded feeding them.
This female would be no different.
His quarters were just around the block, near the center ruling hall. He had been given a home of some prestige, as befitting his position as prince. It would do while he protected this city.
His true home lie in the heart of Relaklonos City. The home of his father, and where many of his brothers—and a few sisters—still resided.
Though with more Dardaptoans there, it was getting far too crowded for his liking.
The large hall in Thrun would do. At least until he got a good look at this female who feared he was her mate.
Nausea threatened to choke her. The taste of him was still on her lips. Her Rajni. The mate the goddess had ordained for her at the moment of her birth was a demon.
It couldn’t be possible. There had only been one demon and Dardaptoan pair that she knew of in the entire history of their peoples.
She should know.
Before coming to this world of demons she had romanticized the mysterious creatures from another world. Alaun had written novels about Dardaptoan females falling for strong, brave, handsome perfect demon males. Who happened to be their Rajnis.
Even with all of her research she had gotten it wrong. She’d discovered that when they’d been forced to relocate here.
But she’d kept writing those novels. Kept piling them up in her room, in the hopes that one day they would be printed again and her once-thriving career would support her family again.
Like it had once before. Back in her old world of Colorado.
That had been before she had been a victim to one of her own Kind and to one of his.
By the grace of her Equan she had escaped. Had Iahanna not been there…
There was no way she could be fated to be with a demon.
Even the goddess could not be quite that cruel. “Let me go!”
Her words came out garbled against his hand. He stroked a large hand down her hair. “Shhh, pet. We are coming to a dangerous neighborhood. I do not wish to have to put you down to keep you safe.”
He meant it, and she could tell they were in a rougher part of the Bottoms than she wanted to think about. The new homes the Woald had been relocated to weren’t that far from the old.
But they had been worlds better, even though they were primitive by modern Gaian standards.
She stilled in his arms. Even if she were to escape, this was not a place she wanted to be.
Already she could feel eyes upon them.
They hadn’t made it two blocks before a band of demons and Adrastos teenagers she recognized stepped from the shadows.
The leader, Keagin, was an Adrastos directly descended from Adrik the Elder, a vile male who thought nothing of letting his House harm others. Keagin was a nephew or something.
She had never asked.
But he had enjoyed taunting her whenever he could.
He smirked and walked around her, looking at where she was trapped in the bigger male’s arms.
Alaun knew it was the truth. Deep in her very soul, she knew this was the male the goddess had chosen for her.
And now he was all that stood between her and the gang surrounding them.
Fear threatened to break her completely apart.
“Move, pups.” Joru was not going to mess around with these Dardaptoan and demon scum. Not when he had a more intriguing option of letting off the blood lust that was within him at the moment.
He was starved, and this was the female he wanted. He would prove to her that he was worthy of her damned goddess’s favor. Perhaps they would even act as consorts together for a time; then he would disabuse her of the notion that they were somehow predestined and send her on her way. Perhaps he would even keep her for a decade or two, give her a spawn or two. He had yet to spawn and at his age, it was high time he did.
The idea of young spawn to coddle thrilled him.
That was what he would do, he would take her as consort, get a spawn or two from her, keep her with him for a few decades until those spawn were raised, and then when the time was right they could part ways. He would care and provide for her until then. Even after.
Or, he could just feast on her for the night and send her on her way.
That was far more likely.
The leader of the youths smirked. Even in the low moonlight Joru could see the disdain and arrogance of the spoiled. “Why should we? You’re in our territory, and that’s one of our females. The Woalds are our playthings, after all. We were promised.”
“Do your companions of my Kind not recognize the one before them?” He shifted until the emblem tattooed upon his chest was clearly visible.
The demons knew exactly what it was. What it meant.
But the Dardaptoan did not. “Step aside, boy. I am the brother of the demon king and I do not suffer with foolish boys long.”
“So what? This is Dardaptoan territory now.” The smirk was what did it. Joru was going to have to hit him. Knock him and his arrogance down to the ground.
“There is a curfew for your Kind. You are not strong enough to be out here alone.” He set his little burden down on her feet. He brushed one finger across the horns upon his head and then touched her soft bottom lip. The simple chemical would keep her from moving away from him.
He easily sensed her terror of these pups. And that would not be tolerated. “Step aside. Or stand and fight me. But know that I am Joru Malickus, and I am one of the greatest demon warriors that have ever walked this world. And many others. Fight me at your own peril.”
The youth charged.
Joru heard the girl’s screams of terror, and he just knew.
This youth had hurt her before.
Even if he did not claim her as mate, he would fight for her.
And he had yet to even see her face.
She could not move. Alaun was forced to stay where he had tucked her next to a stone column while he and Keagin fought. The demons with Keagin kept everyone away from the fighting, saying something about the rules. She didn’t care about rules.
All she cared about was getting back to her sister.
The demon fought with a skill that was terrifying and the demons around her recognized him for what he was.
Alaun had to get away somehow. And that meant throwing off this paralysis and getting back to her sisters.
With a satisfied crow, her Rajni had Keagin on the ground.
Heartlessly. He pulled the sword free and looked at the rest of the males surrounding them. “Take this offal back to his family. They can fix him up. But he will appear before my court in ten days to decide whether he will face dungeon time, or exile. None are to break the laws of the high king or the Laquazzeana Nalik. None.”
And then he turned back to her. He waved his hand in her direction and the paralysis holding her in place just lifted. “Come to me, girl.”
She shook her head. She could not go with a demon. No. The goddess could not be that cruel.
But Keagin was rising to his feet and he was looking at her. Saying her name and making threats.
She spun and did the only thing she could.
He caught her before she’d made it four lengths from him. “You do not run from me. I will always chase you.”
The girl whimpered, fear and frustration lending her strength when she kicked out at him. Joru ignored her struggles and carried her the remainder of the way through the Bottoms, toward the home he had claimed.
He had servants there and they met him when he entered the large doors. “I will be taking the female to my rooms. We are not to be disturbed.”
His servants never said a word. The girl begged for them to help her.
None would dare defy him.
But they knew he would not truly hurt a young, vulnerable female such as this.
He carried her into his suite, pleased to find the lamps lit.
Joru dumped her on the bed, quickly securing one wrist to the post. “You will not move until you answer all of my questions.”
She clawed at the scarf binding her to his bed. “I…please…why won’t you just let me go?”
Because…he couldn’t. Even though he suspected the girl had been telling the truth about living in that home. He had scented seven females inside that ruin. One of those scents had been hers. “Tell me, why did you risk yourself coming out this night?”
“I need to do what my sister asked.”
“Why? Was she so foolish to send you out into danger? Does she despise you, then?”
“No! Ambrea is dying and she said…I needed to find the key and take it to the goddess of our Kind. The goddess has the answers I seek.” She broke into a fit of coughing that had her small, narrow body bent as much as it was able on his bed.
It sounded almost like the little Dardaptoan was struggling for her very breath.
Joru sliced through the scarf holding her and rolled her to side.
He did not need her unconscious. At least not yet, anyway. “What makes this key so special?”
She did not answer until the coughing subsided. “I don’t know. But Ambrea has never been wrong with me.”
“So you just blinding do as she says? Tell me, how many years have you passed?”
He smirked. He was more than thirty times this girl’s age. She was so damned young, it was no wonder she was mistaken that he was her destined mate. “You aren’t exactly a spawn, but you are no bigger than one.”
“So? Woald do not always grow as big as the others of our Kind. Poor nutrition will do that to you.” The coughing fit had taken the strength out of the girl, but not the fire, apparently. “Just let me go. There’s not much to me, I swear. Not enough to feed you fully. I’m a waste of your time.”
“I wouldn’t say that, pet. I have a feeling you will prove quite diverting.” He reached out and snagged the little wooden box from her pocket. “Tell me all about this.”
She shrieked and hissed and snapped at him, going wild in a damned instant. It was all he could do to keep her from clawing at his face.
Joru grabbed the female around the waist and fell atop her on his bed.
She lay beneath him, panting and afraid. Waiting for what he was going to do next, perhaps?
The girl was small, far smaller than a demon female would be, and the curves were thinner than he preferred. But she smelled sweet and the skin he touched was smooth.
He wrapped his fingers around her pointed little chin and turned her more fully into the light. He wanted to see her.
“Well hello, little kitten. Sheathe your claws and let me look more fully upon you.” The hair was rich gold, and the eyes matched. The skin was a softer pale almost yellow that he was not used to seeing on demons of any Kind. Even the Dardaptoans that he had seen weren’t quite the same as this creature. Very striking, and very unusual.
The clothing was dark gray and old, the cloak she’d worn had covered the hair she’d had pulled tightly back.
Better to blend into the night.
Now, thanks to their struggles, golden hair was free around them both.
And it smelled like perfection. Flowers. He was a demon warrior, he would never admit a love of plants, but he liked his females to smell like flowers.
The eyes were tipped like the kitten he had named her, and the cheekbones heightened the resemblance to a feline. The lips trembled. The eyes were wet.
So very afraid. “I will not harm you, kitten.”
He had never liked his females afraid.
Joru stroked a finger down one of those pale cheeks. “Tell me who you are.”
She shook her head and firmed her lips together. The defiance in the gold eyes surprised him.
“Come now, don’t be difficult. I am Joru Malickus.” The name of his forefathers registered. The girl flinched. “Yes, I see you know of my brothers.”
He wanted to know what she was thinking, so he slipped into her mind. Now that he knew his way around her blocks, she would not be able to keep him out.
Terror. His name elicited terror.
“Why do you fear my name?”
His brother Elshuk’s face flashed into the girl’s head. Along with a memory of great pain. Bruising hands. A demon face shoved into hers. Pain as she was repeatedly struck.
And then the wall came back down between them. She bucked at him. “Stay out of my head!”
He subdued her easily enough. “Tell me! What all did Elshuk do to you, girl. You will tell me now. Or I will compel you to.”
His brother was a weak upstart, with Midreno and Incubi ancestry. His father hadn’t always been discerning on who he would spawn with.
Elshuk was one of the worst results of his father’s affairs. That he was anywhere near the Dardaptoan females at all infuriated Joru.
“Why do you even care? Just kill me or do what you’re going to do and get it over with. If not, let me go so I can do what I need to do.”
She wanted to fight him. To push him off of her. But she was barely five foot seven. He had almost eighteen inches or more on her. And he had to weigh three times what she did. He looked like one of the demons she would have used to write about.
Instead of fighting, she forced herself to lay still beneath him.
Despite how she felt about the goddess’s choice for her, her body hungered for the male above her.
He was her mate, same as Rix was now Ambrea’s.
She would deny him, of course. She would never be mated to a demon. Especially one like him.
Alaun just stared up at him and waited.
She needed that key, and whether she liked it or not, the demon was the one in charge.
She would have to do whatever she had to do. “Please, just give it to me and let me go.”
He shook his head. He had black eyes and black hair. And skin a deep reddish brown. Demons tended to wear a bit less clothes than Dardaptoans. He had on trousers of a linen type material, and a thin leather vest of some kind. The rest of him was exposed.
He was just as muscled as the purple demon that Elshuk accompanied when he came to torment the females of her Kind. Just as strong.
He’d put his sword in a chair next to his bed.
She was in a demon’s bed.
Panic threatened to have her choking.
She coughed again, closing her eyes to the threat above her.
She’d do anything to get that key.