Frost and Flame (Gods of War)

By: Gena Showalter

Fury morphed into white hot rage as corrosive as acid while raw panic hollowed out his chest. Another problem: Bane used sex to control his beast, bedding Meredith twice a day. At least! If he journeyed to Terra, he would have to go weeks, years, decades without a lover. He would rather die than betray her.

“In this war, my combatant will be at a terrible disadvantage,” Aveline said, unconcerned about the brutal storm brewing inside him. “The Terran sun is brighter than most, and shines for longer periods of time. With our sensitivity to light, measures must be taken.”

“Why not fight this battle yourself?” he snapped, his blood like fuel, every cell a blazing match. “Are you too weak? Too cowardly?”

Tone brittle, she told him, “Careful. I can make you cut out your own tongue.”

“I’ll grow a new one in a matter of days.”

“Good point. I’ll cut out Meredith’s tongue instead.”

Damn her. The price was too steep.

“Judging by your shell-shocked expression, you’re done protesting.” She smirked. “My trackers discovered Terra a year ago. I portaled in a contingent of breeders, with orders to seduce the strongest, most influential males. Most wove themselves into the fabric of society seamlessly, and many are already pregnant with a Terran-Adwaewethian mongrel. Perhaps my next crop of warriors will be able to walk in sunlight without being weakened or blinded.”

He ground his molars. Mongrel, a derogatory name for an Adwaewethian hybrid. “Failure to report the discovery of a new realm is a chargeable offense, but sneaking your citizens onto it...that is a crime punishable by death.” And not just for the queen. The High Council would send an army of Enforcers to Adwaeweth with a single objective: kill everyone.

Enforcers were trained as assassins, their numbers incalculable. Both males and females, all given to the High Council as children as payment for entering an All War. Adwaeweth would be reduced to a cautionary tale.

Aveline disregarded his statement, saying, “But I digress. I do not know which breeders are carrying a royal.”

Whenever Adwaewethians procreated with another race, they created a new colony, producing a handful of princesses, who would one day have the option to become queen. If they survived the Blood Rite. If more than one princess survived, the two would battle to the death.

Bane knew what was coming next and swallowed a curse.

“When a royal is born,” Aveline said, “you will kill her, and preserve her heart.”

Yes. That. The curse escaped, along with a dozen others. When a queen ate the heart of her enemy, she strengthened exponentially...for a time. “You would have me murder an infant?”

“Aw. Does my wittle beastie have a conscience?” She dismissed the idea with another wave of her hand, as if his “sensibilities” had no bearing on the situation. “We cannot allow a princess to become a queen. The moment she does, the mongrel beasts will awaken, and the High Council will discover what we’ve done.”

“What you and your insatiable greed have done. You have placed our people—”

“My people,” she insisted.

“—in grave danger.” She had placed Meredith in grave danger. Yes, his wife could take care of herself, but he would tolerate no unnecessary risks to her well-being. He’d lost too much already. His parents, both of his brothers and his only sister.

Perhaps he should find another full-blooded Adwaewethian princess willing to challenge Aveline, and help her assume the crown. Were there others? Aveline had killed so many.

As soon as he found one, his connection to Aveline would weaken and he could form a bond with another royal. But why bother? He would be subjected to the whims of another capricious bitch just as bad as Aveline. Or worse!

When would the terrible cycle end?

“I won’t kill a child,” he grated. “Pick someone else.” Pretty words. The woman could make him do anything, and they both knew it. Although, forcing him to anything, especially war, would be unwise. Unwilling and unmotivated representatives faced a higher likelihood of defeat.

Irritation twisted her features. “You refuse to win Terra?”

“I do.”

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