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The Pledge by Laura Tolomei

The Pledge
Virtus Saga, Book 5
by Laura Tolomei

eXtasy Books

eBook ISBN: 9781771112949

While love and passion rise, enemies and misunderstandings become stronger. While resolves strengthen, the world and its nightmares stand in the way until one thing, and one alone, will save them–the pledge.

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Chapter One

She rushed through darkness, heart pounding in her ears, breathing scarce as her lungs burned from the lack of air. Too bad she seemed unable to take the giant steps she had before. Then again, not her fault her frame had shrunk to that of a child.
Stumbling, she accelerated, however unsure of the direction, the certainty they were after her fastening wings on her tiny feet. But who would want to harm her? And why?
Until a second before, she had been in the light, about to grasp true happiness. Now she was racing for her life, deathly afraid that something wanted to take it away from her.
After tripping on yet another half-hidden shrub, Ylianor turned to check on her pursuers. At the noise of their footsteps closing in, she sped away in the deserted place. No one was around, nobody to catch her cry for help.
Had she really screamed? In doubt, she opened her mouth again, but nothing came out. Flustered, she kept running against her tense muscles’ better judgment. Breath shorter, heart bursting—soon she would collapse and lie flat on her face, at anyone’s mercy.
“I’ll protect you,” a well-known voice rang out.
Raising her gaze, she peered at the blackness that lifted like magic or rather like a vibrant light appearing out of nowhere that made her realize she had been scurrying through a forest of tall, ominous trees.
“Do you understand now, little girl?”
“Yes.” Unafraid, she nodded at Virtus standing between her and the shiny beam, his hooded form blocking part of it. With a sigh of relief, Ylianor fell into his open arms to hide her face in the folds of his black robe.
“Here, little girl. Rest your load on me.” Lovingly, he caressed her long hair.
“I’m so tired…” Her voice faltered.
“Then sleep.”
“But they’re after me!” Abruptly remembering the reason she had to flee, she jumped back and shuffled in panic.
“I’ll take care of them.” Stretching out iron finger-like hooks he grabbed her. “Don’t worry.” Dragging her close, he smothered her against his impressive structure.
“Princess, why are you running away from us?” A man’s voice boomed behind her.
“Go away! She doesn’t want you.” Menacingly, Virtus’s intermittent red spark flashed like in a malignant scowl. “Leave her alone.”
“We’re not going anywhere without you, Princess.” Steadfast, the man stood his ground.
“Get lost!” Half turning her head, she took a quick peek from under her eyelashes. “You’ve used me long enough.” But catching a glimmer of gold, she could not resist looking at the familiar, very familiar, blond man approaching behind the dark-haired one.
“That’s a lie, sleeping beauty.” The blue-gray eyes blazed, highlighting his arresting features.
Something in that earnest gaze threw her off balance, twisting her stomach in a knot before a cold wave of recognition sliced it in half. “You’re a fine one to talk.” She sneered, confronting him. “After all you’ve done to get rid of me.” All right, maybe not, yet it felt liberating to say it.
“But I want her.” The human-like machine pressed her head to his lap. “She’ll stay here with me, where she belongs.”
“No, she doesn’t.” The striking man with the long and raven black hair took a step forward. “She’s mine.” Not possessively, he stated it as a matter of fact.
“You’re wrong, Leader. She was never yours, right, little girl?” His metallic stump clutched her shoulder.
“Yes, Father.” Raising her head, Ylianor embraced the dark figure. “Take me home.”
“Right this way, daughter.” With something resembling a smug snarl, he began to lead her away, but she spun around for one last look at the piercing black eyes fixed on her. Now she remembered, and the proper response was a knowing glance of her own that only he would understand. Then, squeezing the icy cold claws, she looked in front of her and walked away from the gorgeous prince and his even more attractive lover.
* * * *
Prince Duncan Caldwell knelt on Ylianor’s unconscious body, Christopher Templeton hovering on his shoulder.
“What was that all about?” Chris, his beautiful shiny angel, bent further down.
“Our nemesis catching up with us.” They had been in the middle of the most sacred ceremony of all, the pledge, when she had fainted. “What else?” Had she answered the leader’s ritual question, Ylianor Caldwell, his adopted sister, would now be his lover’s mate.
“You mean what else is new?” Alas, the unfulfilled promise would hinder a connection Duncan had tried to establish ever since rescuing Ylianor from her run-down shack a year ago…no, closer to a lifetime it seemed. “If she didn’t want me, she could’ve said so.” Then again, why did it happen at such a crucial moment?
However much he had expected it, Duncan could not feel sorrier. “Things have been kind of hectic lately with the Fitting and all.” The fact he, Duncan Caldwell newly fitted leader, loved both with a passion he could feel for no one else complicated matters all the more. “She may have forgotten to inform you,” he joked to lighten the heavy mood weighing on him at the sight of the pale face at his feet looking much like the sleeping beauty of Chris’s sardonic nickname, with her long, dark hair scattered disorderly around. “Or wanted to surprise you.” Gently, he pushed away the hair while checking her breathing.
“She’s alive, all right.” The healer in Chris was quick to kick in. “So we can wake her—”
“Not yet.” Unlike other times and unknown to his angel, he had been ready for Virtus, their archenemy. Fuck him! The mark on his left shoulder, the insignificant childhood scar mysteriously awakened by the leadership itself and transformed by the ceremony into a tiny three-sided pyramid, flared up in agreement. Things were going to change now that he controlled all life, now that he and the Nephis Valley Tower were one and the same, now that the Fitting had passed him down every past leader’s experience.
“But…” Chris looked perplexed as though wanting to question the leader’s decision, then dropped it. After all, why doubt the man to whom the Fitting had transferred the world’s Virt? “At least, now we’re sure what their connection is, even if the mere thought makes my blood cold.”
“You were the one who thought of it first.” One thing about his angel—he was the most insightful person he knew, quick to grasp the heart of the matter however unbelievable or painful. “Didn’t you see he turned her into a little girl?” Duncan shook his head, his own long hair, similar to Ylianor’s in color and texture, flying around his shoulders. “That’s how I saw her when I had to enter her mind in Harbor Town…” He turned to Chris. “And how I’d have remembered her if you hadn’t erased my memory, Angel.” The fact remained he and the princess shared a history prior to Chris’s arrival in his life, having grown up as siblings, despite the lack of any blood relation between them.
“I know.” The blond head lowered briefly in shame. “She looked exactly like that back then.” Shyly, he glanced at Prince Caldwell as to apologize once more. “But why is she convinced he’s her father?”
Because she has to make him fall for it, but it’s too long to explain now. “Let’s get her out of here first, then we’ll talk.” He bent over to pick her up. “We still have to finish up here.”
“Finish what?” The blue-gray eyes scanned the premises, returning on Duncan with a confused expression. “Lover, what’s happened to everyone?”
“Another of Virtus’s tricks.” Unlike Chris, he had not forgotten they were in Rhapsen Hall’s underground chamber, in front of hundreds of people come to see Prince Duncan Caldwell proclaimed leader.
“It’s like everybody left, only forgot to take their bodies with them.” Chris chuckled.
“You always beat me to the answers.” Grinning, Duncan stood up, already knowing no one was staring at either him or the lifeless body crumpled on the cold stone. They simply could not. “Actually, they’re frozen. Their lights…” He checked on Chris to see if he remembered his complaints about the chaos of flickers and sounds he had learned were the distinctive signatures of every living being.
“They don’t bother you anymore?” Of course, his angel had not forgotten.
“Had to wait for the Fitting to sort them out.” And what a relief. “Only now every light is dark and silent except for yours…” No, there was no mistaking the brightest of them all, which unfortunately concealed a dimmer spark that testified someone else had not been put out—a person whose humming had felt discordant even before every sound died, someone he knew for sure. Carmel!A mere thought and she was gone. “As for them…” His arm circled the great chamber. “They’re in a state of suspension.”
“Like sleeping beauty over here?”
“No, different. Virtus has taken her mind and spirit like he did in Harbor Town, while they’re just asleep.” To be honest, he had felt Virtus dimming lights and energy the moment he had started to run after his little princess. “But I can snap them out of it without too much of an effort.”
“And what do you suppose they’ll remember?” Chris gestured at the hundreds of human-like statues staring blankly into nothingness.
“That’s your department, Angel.” Despite the situation, Prince Caldwell could not help a cynical snarl to twist his lips. Then again, it was part of Chris’s Virt, along with the healing, which made him the most powerful being around…after him, of course.
“Still your call to bring them out of it.” As though reading his mind, which lately the leader suspected he did, Chris scoffed. “So what will you tell them?”
Catching Chris in his arms, he crushed the lithe body against his. “What do you want me to tell them, Angel?” Duncan whispered seductively in his blond lover’s ear, his heart going out to him. Apart from any other consideration, and Prince Caldwell had a lot of those on his mind, Chris came before everything else, especially with destiny, if not the leader himself, playing him such a cruel joke. Either way, it did not seem fair.
First, the death of the last leader, Arthur Fairchild, another victim of the evil they knew as Virtus, deprived his angel of someone he loved deeply, however loud he pretended otherwise. Then James Templeton’s retirement required his third son, Chris, to fill the vacant council seat. Not a usual procedure, but since the High Council was a place of power, none more than Chris was entitled to it. Then again, the leader had final say, so Duncan would have no other. Tough luck if his lover had to take an official mate as part of the same bargain. Nor was it the prince’s fault pledges were the sole way to ensure heirs, or that his blond beauty had little taste for women. Chris and Ylianor were meant for each other, and none more than he who shared their bed was sure of it. He would never have pledged them otherwise or given both his very personal gift, the bracelets with the central rose-shaped stone that his angel’s left wrist was pressing on his back. And though Chris did not dare give a name to his raging feelings for the princess, he had wanted her and would have taken her had the vicious beast not intervened…ironic to have come so far and lose it all in the blink of an eye.
“What can you tell them?” Chris buried the blond head in his chest, lowering his gaze. “Whatever it is, will they believe it?”
“Look at me, Angel.” Tilting up his head, the prince felt the tense muscles and the heartache beneath them. “They’ll believe whatever I tell them. It’s really up to you.” Lovingly, he squeezed his shoulders. “They heard you make your pledge, so they’ll take for granted she accepted it. With a little convincing, they’ll have no doubts.” He paused to search the worried blue-gray depths. “If not, I’ll tell them the princess fainted before she could give an answer and—”
“No, tell them the pledge was completed, please.” Placing his head on the leader’s shoulder, the one with the mark, Chris heaved. “I gave my promise, and I meant it, however badly it turned out.”
“Don’t worry.” Even more touched, Prince Caldwell caressed the short blond hair gently, filling him with his dark energy in an attempt to compensate for what he had temporarily lost. “I will.”
The energy business, as his angel called it, had come as another surprise to Duncan. But with teachers like Chris and Ylianor, he had quickly mastered the Virt, as his ancestors called the power, which he guessed was the reason for the tight connection between the three of them, more than sex and love anyway. No question about it, both his lovers had used their abundant supply since childhood, an oddity as Arthur had confirmed, for it usually came out late in a person’s life, if at all. So having dealt with his angel’s fire and his princess’s head talk for almost as long had made him accept what Ylianor had awakened only recently. “Right after we’ve taken care of the princess.” Feeling Chris relax, he dropped on his heels again.
“Let me, lover.” He stepped forward. “You have a job to do here.” Without any real effort, he picked her up.
“Take her to my room, Angel.”
“All right, but first give me a kiss.” Glancing around, he shifted closer. “It’ll be fun to know you’ve kissed me in front of all these people.”
“Even if they won’t ever know?”
Chris shrugged. “It’ll be our little secret.”
Their lips met, slowly at first, then more deeply. Ylianor between them did not seem awkward. In fact, she was as much a part of it as their tongues twisting heatedly or sweeping each other’s mouths to get as far as the throat. Had it been up to Duncan, it would have never ended, the spell too intense to break, had Chris not pulled back eventually. “You know, the ritual question you asked…”
“Well, my answer was meant for you, too, now and forever.”
“I know, Angel. No need to spell it out.”
Another kiss, then carrying his precious load next to his heart, Chris was gone. Duncan returned to the leader’s seat, a wooden throne on top of an upside down three-sided pyramid. A strong link to the Nephis Valley’s structure, no doubt, it immediately charged the prince with a surge of power so strong it coursed through the bloodstream and tingled at his fingertips as he turned to face the silent lights. Like he had told Chris, it would not be hard to revive them—enough to concentrate on each and every one, and the assembly came back to life. “Now that we’ve seen our newly pledged leave the chamber, I invite you all to join me and the council members for refreshments upstairs.” Unsurprisingly, dazed eyes stared at him in puzzlement before people piled at the many exits, moving slowly as though uncertain of their legs. Sorry folks. Nothing more could be added, so he moved on to his next task. “Ceci…” Catching sight of his freshly appointed vice-leader, he raised his voice. “I need a favor.” Coming down from the throne, Duncan went to her.
“Of course, darling.” Bright gaze expecting things he would never give her, she faced him. “What is it?”
Not what you think. “I need you to find David and tell him to detain Carmel Moore.” No, he could not satisfy her need for deeper feelings, in or out of bed. “She’s not to leave the Hall until I’ve talked to her.”
“Carmel Moore?” A disoriented look crossed her eyes. “I’ll get to it immediately.” She went off in a hurry.
“Hem…” With bafflement stamped all over his face, Lord James Templeton approached. “My leader, I’m a bit confused about what happened. Did Chris pledge?”
“He most certainly did.” And it was no lie. Not his angel’s fault Virtus had to intervene before she could promise, too. “Except he couldn’t wait to be alone with her, if you know what I mean.” Naturally, he charged the words with all the sexual innuendo he could muster. “Also ‘cause I’m afraid she’ll be leaving soon.”
“I’ve asked her to check on a few private matters of our family, and she might be away for a while.”
“Chris will be devastated.” James frowned. “During our dinner the other night, I couldn’t help noticing he’s developed an attachment for the girl.” He took a deep breath. “You can’t imagine how glad I am he didn’t pledge just to honor his family obligations, but because he feels something for her.”
“That’s why I agreed to it, Lord Templeton.” Duncan grinned. “Like I told you, I’d have never pledged them if I didn’t think their hearts were in it.” Catching a question in James’s gaze, he was quick to continue. “And I assure you. I had nothing to do with it.” So what if Lord Templeton had never believed his denials? “They did it all by themselves.” Well, with a little push and shove, here and there.
“Knowing Chris like I do, please allow me to be doubtful. He loves you too much to have—”
“As hard as it is to believe, he loves her, too.”
“Yes. It was strange to watch because I never thought—”
“Your son would pledge.”
“Exactly.” From the awareness in the clear blue eyes, Prince Caldwell knew he had struck a sensitive chord in the old man. “And he’s turning out quite a man.”
“That he certainly is.” And one I’m falling in love more deeply with every passing day. “Now, if you’ll excuse me…”
“Sure.” A glint of regret, perhaps at the thought he was not part of the council life anymore, glazed the ex vice-leader’s expression, but was quickly suppressed.
“Oh, one last thing.” So Duncan could not let it go. Instead of leaving, he remained to squeeze James’s shoulders. “Have I thanked you for your invaluable services to the council and to our people?”
“Yes, Prince, you have during your public speech.” His eyes lit in pleasure. “And it was very touching.”
“No, I meant personally.” The leader edged closer.
The chamber now empty except for the two of them, but Duncan would have done it anyway—to wrap his arms around the man he considered a father and pull the old frame to him, infusing him with all the cool energy he deserved. “Thank you for everything, and you know I mean everything.Your son in particular.
James buried his head in his chest, which he probably would not have done had they not been alone, and opened his heart. “No, thank you, for being there for us.” Of course, he had understood perfectly.
Then Duncan had to go. Gently, he untangled from the eldest Templeton and left, heading for his room. When he entered, Chris was hovering on Ylianor, lying on the bed under a couple of blankets. “How’s she?” Concerned, he approached.
“She’s…unconscious and very cold.”
Yes, she was freezing. “Maybe we need something more to keep her warm.”
“Like magic?” There was no surprise in the blue-gray eyes. “I was wondering about the same thing, mostly how to use my fire to—”
“So she’ll be kept warm for a while.”
“How long exactly?” If the angel sounded annoyed, Prince Caldwell ignored it to the point of not replying, watching him focus on her.
For a moment nothing happened. Then Duncan saw it, a ray of burning fire wrapping in tight coils around her body, like a blazing snake taking possession of her. The prince lent his own energy, giving Chris’s structure a solid support and a feeding source to keep burning indefinitely. “It’s working, Angel.” Touching her forehead, he found her warmer.
“She really looks like a sleeping princess.” After shaking his head half-amused, Chris went to the couch in front of the roaring fire. “Now, would you mind telling me what’s going on?” Dropping on the seat, he did not seem angry, merely resigned to the fact he would not like his lover’s explanations. “I mean it’s obvious you expected this to happen.”
“You’re right.” There was no point in beating around the bush with his angel’s phenomenal intuition. “I sent her to him.” Going to the couch, he plopped down next to him.
“So that knowing look you two exchanged before she left with him was a signal?”
“You noticed it, eh?” Not a question, it was a statement.
“Lover, I’m anything but stupid. A little slow perhaps, ‘cause I wasn’t aware you planned it all until I saw that look.”
“I’m sorry, Angel.” He reached out to grab his hand, but Chris moved away.
“So what was the purpose of this charade anyway? To lure that monster? And you didn’t see fit to tell me this pledge was a hoax because…” Barely suppressed, anger dripped from the words, along with fiery disappointment.
“I didn’t know when Virtus would strike. I just prayed the gods he would after you both pledged.” His voice turned colder. “Or do you think I gave you the bracelet and said all the things on my heart as part of the show?”
“All right, now I’m confused.” And he looked it, too, as he fingered the rose-shaped green gem of the golden band on his left arm.
“Listen, Angel, I know it appears like a set-up, but it isn’t. We just had bigger things on our minds, like her switching from one person to another—”
“Arthur and Charles have nothing to do with it.” It was another of the unexplained occurrences that had plagued their days before the Fitting—Ylianor falling prey either to Lord Fairchild or to Charles Caldwell, and they still had no clue about what exactly set them off or how to get rid of them. “Virtus is the problem, and the last thing she needed was a trip to his sadistic world—”
“Do you think I like putting her in danger?” He brushed off the hair on his face exasperated at Chris’s sneering tone. “Or you for that matter?” Taking a deep breath, he tried to calm down, regretting the fact he had given up the only form of controlling negative emotions. “Yet sometimes it’s going to be necessary, like when I had to ask you to clean up Virtus’s mess, which nearly killed you.” And I’d have never forgiven myself. “You two remain the most powerful beings.” Unable to stand the forced distance, he clutched Chris’s arms. “Your abilities determined who you were long before our connections defined our obligations.” Letting his hands fall on the couch, Duncan glanced briefly at the sleeping princess. “Unfortunately, now it’s her turn.” Again, his gaze was on the angel. “What other choice do I have? She’s the key to him. She’s the only one who can learn enough to allow us to defeat him once and for all.” He searched the blue-gray eyes for support. “You know how he is. You know we face an enemy that lives in a dimension we cannot reach easily, who uses his power as a weapon, determined to have his way, particularly with our girl. That’s why she agreed to go along with my idea, regardless of the risks.”
“All right, I get it.” Chris’s eyes flashed in understanding. “You sent her to do what she does best—spy.”
“Well, I didn’t think of it that way.” Despite his mood, Duncan laughed dryly. “But I suppose you’re right. And since you’ve always accused her of it, it was high time to use it to our advantage for a change.”
“Can’t argue there.” Imperceptibly, his angel moved closer.
“But it was a last-minute decision.” Becoming serious again, the leader stressed the point, wanting no misunderstanding to come between them. “Neither the princess nor I were sure when Virtus would strike, so we couldn’t really be ready for it. Fact is we didn’t even talk about it, just exchanged a few worried thoughts.”
“Then why did it have to be during the pledge?” No matter how he tried to rationalize it, the betrayed expression was still there. “I thought Virtus was more powerful when the three of us were apart, not all together…and with you becoming a leader, too, with greater Virt than ever…”
“That was the problem. We were all there, yes, but each focused on himself.”
“Even if we were disconnected during the Fitting itself, we had to be linked for the pledge—”
“No, Angel, it’s not how it works.” Apologetic, Duncan reached out for him, and this time Chris let him take his hand. “Unfortunately that was the perfect moment. Too bad I had no idea it would be until I knew how to perform a pledge.”
“Which is something that came to you with the Fitting, right?”
“Among other things, yes.” And I’ll tell you all about them when we have time for it. “In order for me to pledge a man and a woman, I need to extract their energy and blend it together. This way, I can lift the restraint we have since birth, which prevents us from having children every time we have sex.”
“So it works at an energy level, like Cecilia guessed.”
“Basically, yes.” Sure, Lady Hurst had been obsessed with the need to know why reproduction did not seem to follow any natural law. So she had stolen the three-sided pyramid that was the heart of the system, the same Arthur ordered Duncan, Chris and Ylianor to retrieve.
“Which means you were distracted by the ritual.”
“Exactly.” So what if he was revealing secrets belonging to leaders alone? He had made his choice at the Fitting’s eve and would follow it to its end. “I was taking the energy you were giving me—”
“Through the formal words.”
“That’s what they’re for.” As usual, Chris went straight to the finish line. “To surrender your essence and allow it to blend with the woman’s.”
“But she never got to the point of giving hers.”
“No, Virtus got to her before she could.” Shaking his head, Duncan squeezed Chris’s hand tighter. “It was perfect timing ‘cause we were separated.”
“Not enough to prevent him from pulling me, too, into his dream dimension.”
“Yeah. That was a first.” Duncan sat back, gazing at the bright flames. “Until now, he used the princess and me because of our channel. But having you there only proves David took you off Virtus’s control.” Which makes you all the more unpredictable, beautiful angel. Free of the mechanical device that transformed violent emotions into sexual impulses, it was impossible to tell how it would affect someone as highly volatile as Chris. For Duncan and Ylianor, it was hard to cope, as it was, although theirs had been a choice—his angel, instead, an accident.
“At least he confirmed what we suspected—”
“It was your guess from the start, Angel.”
“Yeah, but there’s one thing I don’t understand. If we’re all born connected to the damn device, the one inside the three-sided pyramid, why would he need a double link to tie her, and her alone, to him? I mean he could’ve just as easily controlled her from the sphere without going to all the trouble of making it like he’s her father.” Of course, Chris was talking about the heart of the pyramid Cecilia had stolen, the one with all the plaques controlling every human being, the same one Duncan ordered David to shift around and almost caused total chaos to break loose.
“I never thought of it.” The leader frowned. “She definitely has more than one mystery to solve.”
“As long as he doesn’t use her against us.”
“We’ll be ready for her.” He had sort of a plan for that, too, simply needed to work it out better. “Don’t worry. I just hope she learns as much as she can before she returns.”
“When exactly? When do you plan to call her back?”
“Not until she sends us a sign that her mission is done.”
“But she may die in the meantime.” There was no disguising the anguish in his angel’s voice.
“Not a chance. Virtus needs her alive. If he kills her body, he loses her mind as well, which is the last thing he wants.” At least for now. “Besides, if you remember, I left our channel wide open during the Fitting in order to pass on to her as much energy and information as I could.” Ruffling the blond hair, he ran his fingers through the thick mass. “Like me, she received the knowledge of all our past leaders in every feasible field.”
“So for the first time, we have two leaders,” Chris mused ruefully.
“No, Angel, we have three.” The prince took his face between his palms. “Listen, you share this, too, right along with her. I don’t want to be a solitary leader, like Arthur was. I want to divide everything with you, both of you, my friends and lovers. That’s why I’m telling you about how the pledge works, like I’ll tell you about everything else in due time. As for her…” Another look behind his shoulders told Duncan she had not moved a muscle. “She survived in Harbor Town. I don’t think she’ll have any trouble now that we’ll watch over her. And we’ll also enlist David’s help—”
“If he’s not too pissed off at both of us.” Chris chuckled. “You know what he said after you brought her back as the ghost of herself.”
“He…cares for her, too.” It was no lie. Prince Caldwell had seen the expression in his faithful valet’s eyes every time he glanced at Ylianor.
“That’s an understatement.” Evidently resentful, Chris would never admit it, not even to himself. Then again, it was obvious Ylianor felt something for David, too, which his angel could not stand. “I’d go as far as saying he’s shifted his love for you onto her.” That was another ongoing argument between them—Chris believing David to be in love with him, which perhaps he was. “Only with her, he also has sex.”
“Since when have you become jealous of the princess?” Duncan teased. “I could understand when it concerned me, but her—”
“Shut up, lover.” With a curious smirk, Chris waved a hand in the air. “It’s got nothing to do with being jealous. I was merely stating an obvious fact.”
“Either way, we need his help, even if he scolds us for the way she’s now. You and I will have other pressing matters to attend to and won’t be able to do much besides give her a steady supply of energy to keep her safe.”
“No problem.” Chris, too, ran his gaze to the bed. “It’ll be like old times, with us sleeping and fucking next to her—”
“Except she won’t spy on us this time.”
“And, boy, will I miss it!” Well, his angel was definitely changing.
“Me, too.” He remained in silence to stare at the immobile figure with the long black hair scattered on the pillow. “But we’ll get her back, and the first step is to find who helped Virtus. He didn’t pull this off by himself.”
“But you said we were distracted—”
“However distracted, it was still the three of us at our most powerful, so he enlisted Carmel’s aid.” Prince Caldwell pulled the angel close, the need to hold him intolerable.
“Carmel?” Resting his head on the leader’s chest, the angel stretched out on the couch. “Are you sure?”
“You and her were the only ones not dazed out.” So Duncan massaged his neck. “The princess told me to watch out, but there was no time to deal with her.” To be honest, the warning dated back to the Festival, when the blonde showed up at Black Rose, his home, to have sex with both him and Ylianor in turn. “Anyway, we have to find her and ask her directly.”
“Isn’t she here?” Settling more comfortably in Duncan’s arms, Chris glanced at Ylianor. “Sleeping beauty had sex with her last night.”
“How would you know?” His angel was truly amazing. “Last night we left our princess with Tyrell and Emilyan after we were done with her.”
“And it was a nice…doing.” Chris snickered, evidently recalling at their heated night with the other two men, who had once been part of Arthur’s boys. The truly incredible thing was not having left her alone with them. No, what had been beyond words was their simultaneous come—he, Chris and Ylianor—without even touching. “But she had sex with Carmel before I got her. I smelled her all over sleeping beauty while I was…hem…convincing her to join us.”
“Must’ve been some…heated convincing.” Prince Caldwell’s lips curved in a smile.
“You should’ve been there.” Chris grinned back. “Anyway, it proves Carmel was here, and if you think she helped Virtus, she must’ve stayed for the ritual, too.”
“She did, but I have the feeling she left right after we returned from Virtus’s dream.” Absentmindedly, the prince’s hand traveled down his angel’s chest. “In any case, I asked David to detain her should he find her.”
“Detain her?” Sliding downward, Chris turned to lie on his stomach. “Does this mean you have to go?”
“Hem…” Spreading his legs, Duncan managed to bring his crotch closer to his lover’s mouth. “Not necessarily.”
“Well, well…” A malicious gleam crossed the blue-gray eyes as he worked to open the fly. “How long will he keep her in custody?” It took less than a minute to free what he was after and jerk it into a vigorous erection.
“Indefinitely.” Or for Duncan to push the hot mouth over the bulging head. “I’m sorry tonight you should’ve been with her, not me.” He could not help saying it despite the fire enveloping his demanding piece and making it hard to focus on any other concern.
“I forgive you, lover.” Raising his head, Chris slid the skin along the rigid stem. “I always wanted to pledge to you anyway.” He was about to swallow the cock once more, pausing to gaze at Ylianor. “We’ll celebrate when she returns.”
“That’s for sure.” And Duncan knew he was already missing her, inevitably. She was part of them after all, whether they had wanted her or not. Now, being without her was like having a giant hole neither could hope to fill. Still, the wet cavity sucking him to the hilt was making its best effort to wipe out the memories, so good its intake to the throat, thoughts fled the prince’s mind, leaving only the burning desire to come inside his angel.
The hand play had a lot to do with it, too. Its rhythmical up and down was driving the sperm from the balls to the tip of the erection faster than Duncan’s wish to enjoy the cheeks pressing on every side or the tongue curling around the thickness to increase the snugness. That Chris was trying to make him come sooner rather than later seemed obvious, only…“Not so fast, Angel.” Yanking his hair, he pulled back the head and held it so as to stare into the blue-gray eyes. “I said I had some time.”
“You did?” A cunning grin curved Chris’s lips. “Must’ve missed it.”
“I have a hot reminder for you, if only you’d care to remove your pants.” Letting go of the blond hair, Duncan watched Chris take off everything. Well, there was nothing he loved more than his angel’s sensual body, lithe and elegant, seductive simply in the way he moved. The hard shaft added its own bit of erotic intrigue, though nothing was more sensual than his straddling the prince and spreading his buttocks to receive the cock waiting for him. “I said not so fast.” After sticking two fingers in Chris’s mouth, Duncan tested the ass hole. “First, I need to check if you’re ready for me.” He shoved, and the narrow entrance wrapped to suck them deep.
“I’m always ready for you, lover.” True enough as Chris thrust back, then bent to claim the leader’s mouth.
With the angel’s heady taste filling his senses, there was no reason to procrastinate. Nudging the tight opening, he enlarged it with one swift hip swing that brought his huge shaft inside the cramped behind. Not all, of course, it would have been impossible even for his slut lover. Still enough that a few more pumps got it all inside except for the balls.
Chris adapted, his ass giving in to the whole of him and more if necessary. Much like his mouth, it felt like plunging into liquid fire, the sensation urging Duncan to melt into him and never reemerge again.
As their tongues twirled, his cock slammed in the yielding rear. Duncan’s hands ran along Chris’s back, then tried circling to the front where the other large erection rubbed on his belly. Impossible to reach it until his angel pulled up, releasing him from the fiery kiss. Then the prince grabbed it and jerked its long length.
Unlike Chris, cocks did not make him lose his head, with the sole exception of his angel’s taut equipment. Now that was a piece he loved to fondle. And increasing the pressure right below the bulging head was the way to make his lover come. Prince Caldwell was close to a climax himself, the crammed walls drawing the fluid up to the tip in a tide Duncan knew he would not be able to stop. So to prove who was the master, he tightened his grip, speeding up the ramming at the same time.
“Lover…” Chris never got to finish the sentence. His first jet hit Duncan on a cheek, then spilled all over his chest with the same intensity of the leader’s release in the snug ass. There was no time to recover either, his dark energy wrapping around the pyre in which he hoped to lose himself, never to return.
“Fuck, lover!” Returning, the blue-gray eyes blazed partly annoyed. “Not fair. You wanted me to come—”
“So I did.” Stretching upward, he clutched Chris’s head. “What’s the problem?”
“It should’ve lasted longer.” Coming down, the angel licked his cheek clean, then plunged the tongue into his mouth to share the taste. Duncan pressed his head to him, drowning in his sweetness, deepening the kiss until Chris drew away.
“Because I so fucking love you, I wish it would never end.” The husky whisper tickled the leader’s ear.
“I know, Angel, but I’ve got to go now.”
“What’s the hurry?”
“It’s not just Carmel.” Sliding from under Chris’s legs, Duncan took off the shirt full of semen. “I’ve also got to attend the rest of the celebrations, remember?”
“While I suppose I should stay here.”
“Connecting to your new mate.” Duncan nodded, pulling out a clean shirt from his closet. Then he returned to Chris’s side and cradled the blond head on his chest. “I’m sorry, Angel, about all this. Like you asked me, I told everyone the pledge was completed.”
“And they believed it…”
“Well, everyone’s a bit confused, your father in particular. Anyway, they all expect you to be with her.”
“What are you going to tell them about—”
“Sort of the truth…that I had to send her on a mission without knowing when she’ll be back.” Bending, he pressed his lips to the blond head before sliding to the angel’s mouth for another roving exchange. “Have I told you lately how much I love you?” Prince Caldwell breathed eventually, after licking his neck and nibbling his ear.
“Mmm…not in so many words.”
“Trust me.” He went to the door. “By the time I return, I’ll have so many you’ll get tired of listening to them.”
“Then I’ll count the hours.”
And Duncan had no doubt he would.

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