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Mariana sat at the foot of her bed in her favorite dressing gown with the skirt arranged so her crossed legs were visible through the slit. It was hardly necessary since the fabric was so gauzy it left almost nothing to the imagination. She was waiting for the man who had just killed her father to burst through the door and say what his intentions were with her. The necklace she’d worn since she was sixteen had fallen from her neck ten minutes ago, and she knew there was only one reason that would have happened: Basilio Reyes, the demon king of Las Vegas, was dead.

For the first time in a long, long while, Mari had no idea what was about to happen. When the usually silent Rio had whispered to her to stay in her room after dinner, goosebumps had prickled all over her body. Somehow, she had known exactly what that heralded, although she couldn’t say what would happen as a result.

Out her third-story window, the lights from the Strip glowed in the distance. Though some might call the display garish, she found it soothing. The same could not be said for the room around her, which was decorated to her father’s tastes rather than hers. The delicate pastel scheme might be calming to some, but she found it grating because it felt so thoroughly not her. She was bold, bright colors and plush textures that begged to be touched.
She’d waited what seemed an eternity, straining to overhear when an argument started and then wincing when the sounds turned more obviously toward violence. Finally, she heard the heavy tread of a large person move up the hall and pause outside her door. The shouting had stopped a while ago. Now came the reckoning.

The timid knock surprised her. She composed her face in the blank mask she normally wore and called, “Enter.”
The door opened to reveal one of the largest men Mari had ever seen. He wasn’t just tall, but so broad he almost couldn’t fit through the door. His leathery wings rose behind him, granting him an even more imposing stature. He’d obviously been in a fight, judging by the bruising and cuts she could see fading on his matte gray skin even as she watched. When his all-black eyes found her, she couldn’t help but flinch, not because she was scared of him, but because of the pain she saw there.

“Princess,” he drawled.

She pitched her voice low so he had to lean into the room to actually hear her. “Francisco.”

“Your father is dead.”

“I know.” She held up the remains of her necklace before casting it aside. She’d expected at least some feelings of sadness, but there was nothing, just a bottomless void where her grief should have been. She supposed that had to do with the type of man her father had been.

The necklace had been fastened around her neck the night of her sixteenth birthday. Her father had orchestrated a ritual to bind her magic, but in order to accomplish that, he had to kindle her power. So he’d sold her virginity to the highest bidder and made the entire awkward experience into part of the spectacle. 

Thanks to the man in front of her, who had been little more than a boy himself at the time, she barely remembered any of that night. He’d offered to put her into a trance so that she wouldn’t be aware of what happened, and she’d accepted gratefully. When she awoke the next morning, the ornate necklace with a motif of links and chains was around her neck and impossible to remove. Cisco told her that if she wanted, he could restore the memories, but so far, she’d never wanted to relive that experience.

Cisco’s eyes followed the now useless collection of platinum and sapphires as it hit the ground with an expression of distaste twisting his mouth. She knew he wished he had done more at the time, but he’d been no more able to stand up to Basilio than she had been. They’d both feared his wrath—and rightfully so. He’d killed bigger and more powerful foes than the two of them to take his place as the king.

She tossed her head to dispel the specter of the past. This was not the time to let her father pull her down yet again.

Cisco passed his hand nervously through his hair and made the dark curls even more haphazard where they caressed his curving horns. Lowering his wings slightly, he took a single step into the room but still blocked the entire doorway. “The others are securing the grounds to make sure there are no surprises. You should go now before they get back.”

Mari laughed, high and light. The shocked expression on his face at her response was an absolute delight. “I’m not going anywhere.”

Cisco took another step, his large hands tipped with dangerous talons curling into fists at his sides. “This is your chance to get away. That’s all you’ve ever said you wanted.”

“I wanted to get away from him.” She tilted her head to one side and smiled. “But you’ve taken care of that, haven’t you?”

He took a deep breath and exhaled a sigh, his expression hovering between guilt and confusion. “If you don’t leave now, I won’t be able to let you go.”

She twirled her foot, considering if he meant that sentiment the way she desperately hoped he did. There was only one way to find out. “This is my home. I have nowhere else to go.”

He came toward her, almost angrily, his clawed feet clicking on the hardwood floor, stopping when he was only one of his long strides away from her. “I wouldn’t abandon you. I’ll give you whatever you need to make a life somewhere far away from here.”

“That is a very kind offer, and it means more to me than you will ever understand that you are willing to let me go.” She smiled again, softer this time. “But you need me. You can’t rule all of this without me, and you know it.”

His jaw worked for a moment, and then all the air seemed to go out of him at once. Cisco went to sit in one of her chairs, the only one in her room capable of bearing his weight, another heavy sigh escaping him. His wings drooped behind him. “I’ll figure something out.”

“When word gets out that you couldn’t hold on to his daughter, my father’s enemies will eat you alive.” She waited until he met her eyes. “If you can’t keep the magic that powers the city flowing, they will kill you and everyone else in this compound. And you can’t keep the magic flowing without me.”

“What would you have me do?” His eyes pleaded with her for an answer. She wondered if he had any idea how far she would go to help him.

She stood slowly, taking the time to arrange her gown, and then walked to him. Standing between his knees, she reached to run her shaking fingers through his hair and then stroked the elegant curve of one horn. It was not lost on her, or him, from his body’s shivering reaction, that it was the first time she’d ever dared to touch him this way. Her father would have killed Cisco if he had known even a fraction of what was between them in the form of lingering glances and whispers in dark corners, so they never let a hint of it show. 

She lifted his chin so that he looked up at her, fingers catching slightly in the stubble of his beard. “If you want to take this kingdom from him, the first step is to take me. We both know it.”

He put his hand over hers, his fingers shaking as he pressed her palm to his face. “That’s why you have to go.”

“This was built to keep me prisoner inside of it, Cisco. If you let me go, there’s nothing left.” She passed her thumb over his sharp cheekbone. “Does it make it easier if I tell you that I’ve wanted exactly this for years?”

“You have no idea how badly I’ve wanted to hear you say that.” His chuckle was dark and deep and made something tickle along her power that she couldn’t identify. “I’m still not sure you know what you’re signing yourself up for.”

“Would you like me to clarify, then?” She curled her fingers so her nails scratched along his jaw. “You need to claim me, publicly, so there’s no doubt about who I belong to. You need to utterly destroy the image he built this empire to protect and contain the untouchable sex witch who powers this whole place. And most importantly of all, we need to provide them so much magic that they never think for an instant of betraying you.” She lowered herself to sit on his thigh, basking in the way he looked at her like she was answering his every whispered prayer for the last decade. “Does that cover it?”

She leaned closer while he was still searching for a response, rubbing as much of her body on his as she could manage, until her lips almost touched his. The simmering desire bubbled up through her, making her skin feel tight. She kept her eyes open, staring into his until she couldn’t stand the building tension anymore. “Use me,” she purred. “I want you to.”

He grabbed the back of her head at the base of her skull and pulled her into a blistering kiss that she’d been ready for but had not been prepared for the brutality of. He drank in the desperate sound she made as he bit her lower lip and then pressed into her mouth with his tongue, scouring every thought from her head with his fervor. 

When he finally broke the kiss, he lowered his face to savage her neck, pulling her head back by tangling his fingers in her hair. She moaned when he bit her ever so gently, feeling her body’s visceral response to his razor-sharp teeth denting the delicate skin of her throat without causing even the smallest slice. His iron control almost undid her.

He pulled away slightly, his eyes searching her face for any sign of distress. He’d always been so desperately careful with her. “Is this okay?”

Mari nodded and moved his hand to where her heart raced and the eager bloom of her magic unfurled. “More than okay.”

He stared at the spot where his hand touched her as if he couldn’t believe she was real. She knew he could feel the desperate ache of her magic humming through her skin. “As much as I want you, we don’t have to do this tonight.”

She slid their joined hands around over her breast and pressed his fingers tighter against her gown. “I want to. We’ve both waited long enough.”

Cisco’s talons barely scraped the gauzy fabric but didn’t tear through it. She moaned as she imagined his massive hands all over her once he surrendered to desire. “We need to discuss a few things first.” He touched her chin lightly. “How far do you really want to take this?”

She knew what he was asking, and it touched someplace deep inside her where she was softest that he was so concerned. Part of this empire her father had built was the biggest and most infamous sex club in the city, where the wealthy and powerful went to have fun and get their kicks—because that was how her father had gathered his power, literally and metaphorically. “All the way.”

“You’re serious.” He exhaled hard. “You want me to parade you in front of his friends and enemies at the club for everyone to see?”

Mari shivered at both the slight growl in his voice and the image he evoked. She smiled slyly. “I think I would like that.”

He shook his head and laughed. “I don’t know what I did to deserve you.”

Mari ran her fingers down the buttons of his shirt, plucking at them with not quite enough force to unbutton them. She smiled again, not looking at his face. “Are you okay with all this?”

“That depends on a few things.” He lifted her chin so she looked into his eyes. “Listing you at the club is an absolute no.”

She let out a sigh of relief. A part of her had been afraid he might want that to prove his control over her, but her father had a lot of enemies, and some of them would love nothing more than to get their hands on her. She didn’t want to know what they would do with her, regardless of what the rules said and how valuable she was. “Agreed.”
“And me and Rio are also non-negotiable.” He smiled slightly. “I’m bound to him. I don’t have to share you with him, but I will still be with him.”

Mari didn’t know a lot about gargoyles, but she did know that while they were polyamorous, once bonded to a partner, they bonded for life. She’d suspected for a while Cisco was bound to Rio, but they hadn’t spoken about it before. Though he could take lovers, and even bond with others, nothing would part him from Rio; and in any case, she wouldn’t want to. “I don’t mind if you share me, with Rio or otherwise.”

His fingers tightened on her chin. He considered her again, searching her face for a moment that drew out long. “You know what I like, then?” he asked gruffly.

She swallowed and fought not to look away from his gaze, though she could feel the blush rising in her cheeks. She’d thought about this a lot, especially when she was alone in her room late at night. “I snuck out after one of the parties and watched through the window of the barracks.” Rio, Cisco, and a few others had shared one woman, passing her around between them while all of them watched and enjoyed themselves. At the time, she’d wanted to be that woman. Even now, the thought of it made her breath catch.

He whispered a curse in Spanish under his breath. “Is that something you’d want to try?”

She looked away, now truly too embarrassed to cope. “Only if you think it would help.”

He squeezed her chin gently until she met his eyes again. “So not good enough. Not for that.”

She licked her lips. “Yes.”

His heated gaze burned into hers. “Say it. So I know you understand.”

Mari exhaled a shaky sigh. She didn’t know what something like that would do to her power, but the prospect of it made something shiver along her veins. Her father had kept her chained in more ways than one. The necklace he’d magically fastened around her neck had siphoned her power for him to use, never letting it build in a way that was natural. “I’d like you to share me with people you trust and then take me yourself at the end.” 

His expression sharpened into something more feral than she’d ever seen. “I’ll consider it.” He moved his hand to hold her neck. “Yes, I’m okay with all of this.” His thumb traced a small circle. “And I’m glad you didn’t leave, because I’ve wanted you for a long time.”

She shivered at the sincerity in his voice. “There was no world where I would have left you alone in this to be destroyed. Not after you freed me.”

He searched her face. “I don’t want to do this here.” With careless ease, he lifted her up in his arms as he stood. “Until we can remodel the place, I figured it was too weird to stay in the main house. Feels like he’s lurking around every corner.”

She couldn’t believe she hadn’t thought of that. “Where then?”

He grinned. “Your new room.”

Mari tilted her head. “Is it your room?”

He nodded. “Rio’s too.”

She let out a soft laugh. “I hope the bed is big enough.”

“Gigantic.” He carried her out into the hallway as if she weighed nothing at all, and she supposed for a gargoyle, she did. “Pool house.”

“Oh, I’ve always loved that space.”

“I know.” His lips curled. “A small crew has been down there straightening up.”

“And you want to parade me in while they’re still there, like the prize you’ve won.”

“Does that bother you?” He started down the back stairs.

“Not in the slightest.” She put a hand on his chest. “I’ve always been a trophy. Better yours than his.”

He kissed the side of her head. “I like it when you say that, probably more than I should.”

She reached up to where his skin was bare above his shirt, caressing him with one finger. Repeating it felt too vulnerable in that moment, like it was tempting fate. “I do too.”

“Stop causing trouble, or I’m going to have to ravish you as soon as we get to our new bedroom, no matter who’s around.”

Mari smiled. “Okay.”

He laughed as he kicked open the door to the courtyard. “Just remember, you asked for it.”

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