Chapter Four


Savannah woke slowly, drowsily, from her sleep. Awareness came with her first attempts at movement. The Carpathian gift of exquisite sensitivity, the ability to see and smell and hear and taste so vividly, the phenomenally passionate nature of body and mind that allowed them to mate so wildly, was a curse when it came to pain. Carpathians felt pain as sharply and clearly as they saw and heard, with no chemical agents to numb the sensation. A groan escaped before she could prevent it.

Instantly a soothing hand rested on her forehead, stroking back her hair. "You are not to move, ma petite."

A faint smile curved her mouth. "Do you have to make everything you say an order?" Her lashes lifted to reveal her blue-violet eyes.

Gregori expected censure, rage, disgust. Her eyes were cloudy with pain, a little sleepy, and held a hint of fear she tried hard to conceal, but nothing else. He was a shadow in her mind, so she couldn't hide her thoughts. She was concerned mainly for him, for the terrible fight he had endured for his own sanity, the scars on his soul. She felt guilt and an overwhelming sense of sadness that her youth and inexperience had forced such choices on him. He didn't realize he was frowning until her finger smoothed his lips. Her touch jolted him. The way she looked at him turned his heart over, melting his every jagged edge.

"You took a terrible chance, Savannah. I could have killed you. Next time I give you an order, follow it."

She flashed a wan grin, then hastily sobered when her swollen lips hurt. She was terribly weak, in need of blood. The scent of it rose to taunt her with memories she desperately needed to avoid right now. "I'm actually not very good at following orders. I guess you'll just have to get used to that." Savannah attempted to sit up, but he made it impossible with one large hand splayed over her heart.

She might have gotten away with her attempt at sarcasm except that their minds were so easily accessible to each other, slipping and merging back and forth without thought or effort. He caught the edge of nervousness, the echo of fear. She was very, very aware of his palm resting on the thin sheet over the swell of her breast. Savannah was trying to ignore the sexual tension arcing between them.

He bent, tenderly brushing his mouth across her forehead. "I thank you for your intervention. You saved my life. More importantly, my soul. "

Both our lives.

"Do not try to hide your fears from me, ma petite. There is no need."

A sigh escaped, and her lashes veiled her eyes. "You can be extremely irritating, Gregori. I'm trying hard to carry this off, and I could use a little help. To be honest, I'm scared to death. Actually, I don't want to think about it right now." She bit her lip, then winced when her mouth stung. She made a subtle movement of retreat, hoping he would move his hand. She was so aware of his touch, his heat. The awareness encompassed both the ache in her body that his touch induced and the terrible fear her mind had no hope of overcoming.

Gregori didn't move a muscle, remaining as still as a statue carved from granite. "You pulled me out of the darkness, from the gates of hell. By all rights, by every law our people have, you should have destroyed me for what I did to you." His voice was low and edged with sorrow. "In all honesty, I had no idea such self-sacrifice, and such a rescue, was possible."

Savannah never wanted to repeat the experience as long as she lived. But somehow, as much as she was frightened, as much as her body hurt, she knew that Gregori was far more tormented than she. "I don't suppose you're so grateful that you would consider living apart from me for a while?" she asked hopefully, closing her eyes for a moment to block out the memory of the fight for his soul. She couldn't face the memory and the very real, very intimidating person at the same time.

For one moment something flickered in the depths of his eyes, rippled in his mind, her mind, then was gone. Pain. Had she hurt him? Savannah wasn't certain she wanted to know.

"The ritual was completed, ma petite. It is too late. Neither of us would survive a separation." His fingers tangled in her hair, crushing silky strands as if he couldn't get enough of the feel of her.

Savannah remembered hearing that lifemates could not live apart. But that meant she had to find a way to resolve her inner conflicts and fear of their relationship right away. Was that even possible? "So, what does that mean?" she challenged. "I've heard my father and you both say that. I've heard it all my life. What does it mean?"

"You will need the touch of my mind, my body, the exchange of our blood, and I will need yours. It will happen often, and the need is so powerful, one of us cannot long exist without the other." He kept his voice neutral, low, a soothing cadence.

If it was possible for her to grow more pale, she did. Her heart jumped wildly, her eyes widening in fear.

Never!

She could never, ever, under any circumstances, go through that again. Sex was a nightmare, the exchange of blood painfully overrated. She turned her face away from him in an attempt to spare him her fear. Her mind was working furiously, trying to find a solution. She had brought this on herself. If only... But if she had done anything differently, Gregori might be dead - or, worse, a full-fledged vampire, and somehow, even with the threat of a repeat performance, Savannah couldn't bear the thought of that.

She moistened her lips with the tip of her tongue, felt the swollen, cracked evidence of his assault. "But there's no chance of you turning vampire now, right?"

Gregori's heart hitched at the little catch in her voice. "There is no possible chance of my giving up my soul to darkness, Savannah, unless I should lose you. I will not lie to you, ma petite.

Our life will be difficult at first. I had no idea of the depth of emotion you are capable of creating in me. It will take some time to adjust. If you are asking whether I will hurt you physically again, the answer is no."

"You're certain?" This time there was a distinct quaver in her voice, and her hand trembled when she lifted it to brush back her hair.

The movement caused her to wince, and Gregori felt that wince, that trembling, through his entire body like the blade of a knife. "You are in me, Savannah, a light to guide me through the darkest of times." He wanted to enfold her into the safety of his arms, shelter her for all eternity against his heart. But was he speaking the truth? He felt in his soul that he was, but he had long ago tampered with nature. Would the safeguards against his violence hold?

"I need time." She hated the pleading note in her voice. But her life had changed overnight. And Peter. God help her, she would never forgive herself for Peter's death.

"Roberto was not alone." It was easy to read her thoughts.

Savannah gingerly tested her ability to move. Every muscle seemed to shriek in protest. "What do you mean?"

His hand moved over her shoulder, his touch possessive. A jolt of fear hit her hard. She was naked beneath the sheet. Instantly she felt vulnerable, her blue-violet gaze jumping to his pale one as if she expected him to grow horns.

Gregori sighed softly and eased his weight onto the bed. "I will not hurt you, mon petit amour. I cannot with the ritual completed."

"Then why did you say our life will be difficult?" Her fingers were clutching the sheet until her knuckles turned white.

His hand settled gently over hers, tracing a fingertip over each tense knuckle. Every brush of his fingers sent an unexpected jolt of electricity through her. "I cannot lose you after waiting centuries for you. I know I am a hard man, and you will not find me easy to live with. We will both need to make certain adjustments."

"Yeah, like you can lose the macho attitude," she muttered under her breath. Steeling herself, she said aloud, "I want to sit up, Gregori." She felt at a distinct disadvantage, flat on her back and naked beneath the sheet. "If we're going to discuss our future, I'd like to participate."

For a long moment his silver eyes moved over her pale, bruised face, studying her intently, clearly debating whether to allow it. A storm began to gather in her eyes, and reluctantly he shifted back to give her room.

"Easy, b§ڢ§٬ " he said softly, slipping an arm around her, his breath warm on her neck. The feel of his hair-roughened, iron-hard arm wrapped around her bare skin sent a shiver down her spine and set warmth curling in the pit of her stomach. She detested that warmth, the way her body tuned itself to his, the way her mind struggled to ignore her firm resolution and sought to touch his. It was the ritual. She might tell herself that, but it didn't stop the self-loathing. How could her body want his brutal touch? Was she some kind of masochist?

The trembling started deep inside, progressing through her muscles until her very teeth chattered. Savannah clutched the sheet to her and sat rigidly against the support of his arm. "I think this would go a lot better if you sat over there." She pointed to a chair across the room.

Gregori's hands framed her face, thumbs stroking the delicate line of her jaw. "Look at me, Savannah." His voice was black velvet but an order nevertheless.

Her gaze jumped to his, but hastily she averted her eyes, lashes sweeping down protectively. Beneath the pad of his thumb her pulse raced. "Are you going to fight me at every turn? This is a small thing I ask of you, to look at me, your mate."

"Is it? It is said you can command anyone with one look."

His laughter was soft, playing over her skin like the touch of fingers. "I can do that with my voice alone, ch§ڲie. Savannah, I have a need for you to look at me."

Reluctantly she locked her gaze to his. Why had she thought his eyes cold? They were pools of molten mercury, warming her, calming her so that the trembling eased and some of her fear dissipated enough to begin to relax her muscles.

"I will never hurt you again. The way I took you was not by choice, and I will carry the shame and guilt of my lack of control for all time." His hands found her hair and brought the crushed silk to his lips. "I know you fear me, Savannah, and I have given you good reason, but I offer my mind freely so that you can see I speak the truth." He was risking everything. His past was murky, at times even black. At her tender age she was incapable of understanding such a history, the bleakness of his existence that had led to this moment. But she would know every fact, every merciless act. She would also know just how far he had gone to ensure that he would have her as his lifemate. It was the only way he knew to reassure her that he meant what he said. If he opened his mind completely, she would know he spoke the truth. She could never love him, but he didn't expect love from her.

Savannah studied his face for a long moment. "It's enough that you made the offer, Gregori. My fears wouldn't go away even knowing you're incapable of hurting me. Fear doesn't work that way." It wasn't necessary for him to sacrifice his pride, to confess every dark, ugly deed. His life had been hard, and he had done the best he could. She had no right to judge his actions. "Maybe we can slow all this down and work at getting to know one another."

He let his breath out slowly, became aware he had been holding it. "You are certain?" At her nod, he released her.

"What did you mean, Roberto was not alone?" Deliberately she changed the subject, tried to ease the tension between them.

"He traveled in a pack. They turned Europe into a killing ground. Your father was hard put to cover up the evidence and protect our people. It hasn't been that long since the assassins swept through our homeland and murdered our people."

"How many are in this pack?"

"Four more."

Her hand went to her throat. She looked so young and defenseless, he wanted to drag her into the protection of his arms. She was doing things to him he didn't understand, but no price was too high to pay for her. "Did they come here because of me? Roberto said he found me first. I thought he meant before you did. Did I bring them here?"

He wanted to lie to her - hadn't he caused her enough pain already? - but he couldn't bring himself to do it, so he said nothing.

Savannah shook her head sadly. "I see." She was still weak and dizzy with the loss of blood from his voracious feeding. "Where are my clothes? I am too weak to manufacture any."

His eyebrows shot up. "Where do you think you are going?"

"I have to make arrangements for Peter's funeral. Everyone's probably looking for me, and the crew must be devastated over Peter's death and worried about me. After I take care of those things, I intend to join you in hunting down the renegades."

"And you think I will allow such a dangerous thing?"

Her eyes grew stormy. "You can't dictate to me, Gregori - we may as well get that straight right now."

Gregori unfolded his long frame from the bed and stretched like a lazy jungle cat. Savannah found her eyes glued to him. He glided soundlessly, muscles rippling beneath his elegant silk shirt. Crushing sweet-smelling herbs into several small pots of water, he lit candles beneath each container. Instantly the room filled with a soothing, beguiling scent that seemed to find its way into her body, her very bloodstream. Picking up a brush from the nightstand, Gregori moved around the bed and returned to her side. "Of course I will be dictating to you, Savannah. But please do not worry. I can assure you, I am quite good at it."

She was shocked. Gregori, the Dark One, teasing her? He sat behind her, careful of her bruises, and began to smooth the tangles from her hair. It felt good, the brush moving over her scalp, down the length of her hair, his hands stroking in long caresses, a kind of magic.

"Very funny. I wasn't born in the fourteenth century or what ever idiotic and backward time you were born. I'm a modern woman whether you like it or not. It was your choice to tie yourself to me. Dictating, no matter how good you are at it, is out." There was sorcery, seduction, in the touch of his hands, the velvet of his voice, the little teasing note that she now matched with her own.

His fingers brushed the nape of her neck, sending heat spiraling through her blood. "I am of the Old World, b§ڢ§ٮ" The warmth of his breath was against her ear. "I can do no other than protect my woman."

"Get over it," she suggested sweetly. "We'll get along much better that way."

"We will get along splendidly, ma petite, as you will never oppose my will." His voice, pitched low, was temptation itself. The air in the room was thick with the scent of herbs, invading her senses, his voice mesmerizing her.

She turned her head to look at him over one bare shoulder, violet eyes smoldering. His silver eyes gleamed at her, amusement in their depths. "Get a grip, Gregori. You're losing your mind. It did occur to you I would need clothes, didn't it?" She tried to sound tough; it would do her no good to allow him to seduce her into lowering her guard. But she was very drowsy, her head spinning with the scent of the herbs and the feel of his hands in her hair.

"It is not difficult to conjure such items," he reminded her, bending his head to stroke his tongue soothingly across a particularly ugly bruise on her lower back. The healing saliva would work faster mixed with their native soil, but it was all he had.

Savannah jumped as the velvet roughness of his tongue moved erotically along her hip. The heavy scent of the herbs invaded her senses, inducing a languid drowsiness. Gregori's fingers brushed her hair aside, positioning the long length of silk over her shoulder to expose her back to him. He bent his head slowly to her, his own long, dark hair sliding over her sensitive skin.

She made a sound of protest and tried to move away from him, but she landed sprawled on her stomach, her hands trapped beneath her.

"Lie still, Savannah. This must be done." His mouth was against her hip, at the worst of the bruises.

Fear clawed at her, swirled in her brain. He made her feel so completely vulnerable, so helpless. It was going to happen all over again, his brutal possession. Tears burned behind her eyelids, and a moan welled up in her throat.

He found her fear of him intolerable. It shouldn't have mattered to him. He knew he wasn't going to hurt her - just the opposite, he was healing her - but her fear ate at him, turning him inside out. He, who had thought he had no gentleness left in him, touched her with extraordinary tenderness. "If I bring you your wolf, Savannah, will you accept his ministrations?" He offered it gently. Glossy black fur rippled along his arms, and bones crackled and stretched to accommodate his changing shape.

Savannah's skin was so unbearably sensitive, even the brush of fur was painful. Through her fear she caught a glimmer of hurt, as if it would bother Gregori that she would prefer the animal to the man. "No, please don't, Gregori. Don't bring the wolf. Let me heal naturally," she pleaded, unable to bear his hurt. She closed her eyes as the roped muscles rippled once more beneath his own skin.

His tongue found the dark mark of his fingers on her rounded bottom, tracing each purple line. "You are not mortal, ma petite. This is natural to our people." He felt pleasure at her choice, yet wondered that he did so.

Gregori's hands traced her body, finding every scratch, every bruise. His mouth was warm, moist, lapping caresses along her ribs, her waist, her hips and buttocks. Savannah gasped as he inserted a hand between her legs, forcing her to give him access to a long, terrible scratch on her thigh. It wound its way from the back to the inside of her leg. Rough velvet lapped gently, insistently, at the angry red wound, an intimate, erotic touch.

Savannah could barely breathe. His touch was like a drug, invading her body, warming her bloodstream, easing every ache. It was so easy for him to control her mind, her body, as if there were no Savannah without him. She needed his touch every bit as much as she hated it. Even the air in the chamber favored him, the soothing herbs insidious, making her drowsy.

Gregori turned her over gently, his breath catching in his throat. He had never realized just how beautiful the female body really was.

His.

Pride and possession were burning in his pale eyes as his gaze swept her bare skin, then moved to her delicate face. Tears glittered like jewels, caught in her long lashes.

He murmured something she couldn't catch, his fingers brushing the tears from the tips of her lashes so that the teardrops fell into his palm. He closed his hand around them, breathed warm air through his fingers, and opened his hand. Three flawless diamonds lay on his open palm.

Even though she was a mistress of illusion, Savannah's eyes widened in wonder at Gregori's feat, and her fingers curled around the thickness of his wrist. Gregori's heart somersaulted at the touch of her fingers, her mixture of childlike awe at his magic and the stark fear of what his intimate touch was doing to her body. Every Carpathian worth his salt could perform the illusion of tears to diamonds, but Gregori's gems were real, solid. He had used his enormous strength and the tremendous power of his mind to fashion the impossible for her, to make illusion reality.

Taking her hand, his eyes fastened to hers, Gregori allowed the diamonds to fall into her open palm, a shower of gems. Very carefully he closed her fingers around his gift to her. His eyes still holding hers, his tongue stroked along her bruised fist. Once, twice, a third time.

Darts of fire went racing into her bloodstream. Her body stirred, warmed in the cool of the night air. A little sound escaped when he bent his head to find a darkened smudge at the corner of her mouth. Her heart lurched crazily. She wanted to run, but her body was too heavy, the scent of the herbs drugging her senses. In her head, faint, far away, she could hear a chant in his low, smooth voice, the language centuries old. Her lashes drifted down. Fire and ice. Pain and pleasure. Rough velvet lapping at her sore mouth, taking away the sting.

Savannah closed her eyes against the torment of his masculine beauty, the tenderness etched in his sensual features. His tongue moved over her lips, then slipped inside to bathe a cut in her mouth. It felt so good.

He lingered over her neck, her throat, his tongue taking great care over torn flesh. The teeth marks on her shoulder where he had held her pinned beneath him required a slow, lazy swirl of his tongue, long, stroking caresses to remove the pain and replace it with a torturous heat.

Gregori's body responded to every inch of her satin skin, the taste and feel of her, the sight and smell of her, but this time would be all hers. There would be no chance of hurting her; he was determined to replace every bruise, every scratch, every bad memory with healing pleasure.

Enough, Gregori.

Her merged mind found his hungry and aroused, matching hers, without the fear clouding hers. Her breath was coming in short gasps somewhere between pleasure and terror.

"Every bruise, mon petit amour, no matter how small." Deliberately he whispered the words, his breath warm against the roundness of her breast. He took his time, enjoying his work, tracing the soft fullness, his tongue rasping tenderly over her nipples, soothing the ugly marks marring the perfection of her skin. Each caress lingered, stroked, teased, and healed. He would never get enough of her, never get over the feel and perfection of her. He would never get over the fact that she had refused to condemn him, that she had tried to protect him from the terrible crime he had committed against her. It seemed impossible that she could care enough, that anyone, least of all Savannah, after what he had inflicted upon her, would care enough to do what she had done. Follow him to the depths of hell and drag him back to her.

He groaned at the thought of it, aching inside, weeping silently that he had committed such a horrendous act against his woman, the only woman courageous enough to follow him and drag his soul from hell into her light.

Savannah's fingers tangled in his thick mane, weaving a kind of magic all their own.

Stop tormenting yourself, Gregori. You knew the risk, and yet you still gave me my freedom. Those five years of freedom were precious to me. I thank you for them.

Gregori closed his eyes. She was turning him inside out, melting his coldness, his frigid existence, with the beauty of her nature. She was all that he was not. Compassion, forgiveness, light, and goodness, now wed to a demon with no knowledge of the things that made her what she was. If it was love for her that was growing in him, it was a powerful, dangerous emotion.

You fear me now.

His torment was in his mind.

She moved slightly so that he could attend the underside of her breast. He felt her shiver in response to the gentle lapping of his tongue, the heat rushing through her body, the pressure building slowly.

I always feared you, Gregori, feared your power over me, feared what you represented, the loss of my freedom. I feared so powerful a being and how you made me feel. Even if this had not happened, I would still fear you.

His mouth moved lower still, over her narrow rib cage, and the small span of her waist. He lingered over four long scratches across her stomach, his body aching, but he so enjoyed his work, it didn't matter.

Now you fear to join with me.

Her breath caught in her throat, and she stilled beneath him, but the soothing chant went on, and the heavy scent of herbs combined with his gentle touch prevailed. She relaxed beneath him.

I don't want to be hard on your ego men are so fragile but sex is definitely overrated. We can refrain from that aspect of things.

He felt a tinge of amusement at her thoughts. He knew he was bringing a raging fire to her blood, that waves of heat were beating at her. He could easily smell her scent calling to him with her readiness. But she wasn't going to fall into his trap. He had been too big for her small frame, and far too rough. His mouth trailed fire across her stomach to the silken triangle at the junction of her legs. She jumped, her fingers twisting in his hair. "No, Gregori, I mean it."

Her voice was husky, and her small hands were trembling again, the feel against his scalp turning his heart over. His palms moved in gentle caresses over her thighs, and his tongue found the crease of one hip.

I know of only one way to heal you.

He stroked the center of her heat with infinite tenderness.

She cried out, her hips jerking, trying to squirm away from the swirling vortex of flames he was creating. Her muscles clenched. Tremors started in her stomach. Pressure built. There was such need building, heat raging at her innermost core.

Gregori!

It was a helpless plea - of wanting, of fear, of confusion.

The psychic connection between them was so strong, it was easy for him to read her every conflicting emotion, her burning need. His soothing chant never faltered, and he was careful to keep his own raging body under control along with his wild, passionate thoughts. For her sake he merged, created pleasure without fear, a healing to replace the brutal taking of her innocence.

On some level Savannah knew he was in her head, directing her emotions away from fear, heightening her pleasure until she thought she might die with the intensity of it. His touch was so gentle, easing her terrible soreness until the pressure building inside her became nearly unbearable.

Let go, ma petite.

I am here to catch you.

The voice was a spell compelling her compliance. She wanted to obey, to give herself into his care. She wanted him to extinguish the waves of flames beating at her.

Her soft keening, the little whimper escaping her throat, nearly tore him up. Her release was shattering, shocking her as her body seemed to fragment and dissolve, as the earth moved and colors burst all around her, through her, in her.

Gregori held her while her body rippled with pleasure, while aftershocks shook her. He dragged her close, pulled her into the shelter of his body, desperately needing to be close to her. He was bathed in sweat, his muscles taut and rigid with his own hunger for release. If the cycle of mating heat was anything like the desire clawing at him, he and Savannah were in for either a difficult time or a glorious one.

She could feel the urgency of his need beating at him, tearing at his very soul. "I'm sorry, Gregori." Savannah's voice was soft, filled with guilt, a mere thread of sound, her face buried against his silk-covered ribs.

He lifted strands of ebony hair to his mouth, inhaling her fragrance. "You have no reason to be sorry for anything, ma petite."

Her clenched fist lay over his heart, the three diamonds in her palm. "You think I can't read your body? Feel the heaviness in your mind as you try to shield me? I can't change who I am, not even for you. I know I'm failing you, causing you discomfort."

A slow smile curved his mouth.

Discomfort.

Now, there was a word for it. His hand crushed her hair, ran it through his fingers. "I have never asked you to change, nor would I want you to. You seem to forget that I know you better than anyone. I can handle you."

She turned her head so that he could see the silver stars flashing in her blue eyes, a smoldering warning. "You are so arrogant, Gregori, it makes me want to throw things. Do you hear yourself?

Handle me? Ha!

I try to say I'm sorry for failing you, and you act the lord of the manor. Being born centuries ago when women were chattel does not give you an excuse."

"Carpathian women have never been considered chattel," he corrected softly. "Ours is a dwindling race. Our children rarely survive, and there are so few women for lifemates, most of our men are lost to their inner darkness after centuries alone. Our women are our most precious treasure, guarded and protected."

"Gregori." Savannah kept her fist clenched, clutching the diamonds of her tears inside as if they were a symbol. "Let's try to come to some kind of understanding so we can maybe live together in peace." Her body was still rocking with aftershocks, and his looks alone kept warmth curling through her. She had the most surprising desire to touch his dark eyebrows with her fingertip.

His mouth found the silky fragrance of her hair, and his hands ran down the length of her back, finding pleasure in the way her tiny waist tucked into her slender hips. "What kind of understanding?" he murmured almost absently, his mind clearly on other, more provocative things.

The trace of amusement in his voice irritated her, as if he were merely humoring her. Savannah pushed at the solid wall of his chest to put a few inches between them. His large frame didn't budge, and she was locked in by his arm. She pushed at him again. "Forget it."

He bent his head to taste the vulnerable line of her neck, to feel her pulse in the warm, moist cavern of his mouth. His blood surged and pounded. Little jackhammers began to beat at his skull. "I am listening to every word you say, ma petite," he murmured, lost in her softness, in the scent of her. He wanted her with every fiber of his being, every cell in his body. "I could repeat each word verbatim, if you desire."

Soon the fire would start, and there would be no choice for either of them. His blood would call to hers with such an urgency that she couldn't ignore the summons. His mind would slip easily in and out of hers, the psychic link so strong it would bind them close even over great distances. She would need it as much he.

Gregori inhaled her into his very body, her scent so feminine, so seductive. She stirred such depths of feelings after such a barren existence, it terrified him. He was used to an emotionless life. She could bring him good, but his potential for evil was enormous. He was a law unto himself. Even the laws of his people, the very laws he defended, had never applied to him.

He could read her feelings quite easily. Savannah had an open, direct nature. She was drawn to him, even prepared to protect him from himself if necessary. But she had no intention of ever allowing him to make love to her again. It cut like a knife that he had been the one to hurt her, to make her fear their natural union.

"You're not listening." Savannah squirmed, trying to get out from under him. "You're trying to seduce me." She said it indignantly.

He lifted his head, pale eyes roaming possessively over her beautiful features. "Yes, I am. Is it working?" His voice - a low, teasing caress - disarmed her where denial would not have. His hand was spanning her throat, his thumb brushing tenderly along her neck, sending flames licking along her skin.

She was smiling at his words in spite of every effort not to. "No, it isn't working at all," she lied. She couldn't look at him without wanting him. Her pulse was racing beneath the pad of his thumb. Her skin was hot satin, inviting his touch, inviting further exploration. There was conflict in her mind, fear uppermost, but there was also desire. Gregori focused on that, fed that spark of need with his own.

He touched his mouth to the corner of hers, brushed a velvet-soft whisper across her lips, and felt her heart jump wildly in response. "Are you certain? I have learned much over the centuries. There is an art to making love." It was blatant sorcery now, all-out seduction.

He was doing something magical to her mouth. Applying hardly a touch, yet with such a mixture of tenderness and possession, her heart turned over. Her fingers tangled in his thick mane of jet-black hair. Long lashes swept her cheeks; then she lifted blue eyes dancing with laughter. "An art? Is that what you call it? I think I could come up with a better name."

He lifted his head, pale eyes glinting silver, warming to liquid mercury. "And you know so much? Your first time was a travesty, an abomination. That was not me, Savannah; it was the beast within. That definitely was not making love. You cannot count that as a lovemaking experience." His voice reflected his deep sorrow even as his eyes were sexy, hungry, intense with a heat that sent flames coursing through her.

She tilted her chin, hating the sorrow in him, the guilt. Wanting his mind on other matters, she deliberately challenged his statement. "You don't know so much about me. There was a man once. He was crazy about me." She tried to look worldly. "Absolutely crazy for me."

His answering laughter was warm against her neck, her throat. His lips touched the skin over her pulse and skimmed lightly up to her ear. "Are you, by any chance, referring to that foppish boy with the orange hair and spiked collar? Dragon something?"

Savannah gasped and pulled away to glare at him. "How could you possibly know about him? I dated him last year."

Gregori nuzzled her neck, inhaling her fragrance, his hand sliding over her shoulder, moving gently over her satin skin to take possession of her breast. "He wore boots and rode a Harley." His breath came out in a rush as his palm cupped the soft weight, his thumb brushing her nipple into a hard peak.

The feel of his large hand - so strong, so warm and possessive on her - sent heat curling through her body. Desire rose sharply. He was seducing her with tenderness. Savannah didn't want it to happen. Her body felt better, but the soreness was there to remind her where this could all lead. Fear was an ugly, living thing she couldn't shake. Her hand caught at his wrist. "How did you find out about Dragon?" she asked, desperate to distract him, to distract herself. How could he make her body burn for his when she was so afraid of him, of having sex with him?

"Making love," he corrected, his voice husky, caressing, betraying the ease with which his mind moved like a shadow through hers. "And to answer your question, I live in you, can touch you whenever I wish. I knew about all of them. Every damn one." He growled the words, and her breath caught in her throat. "He was the only one you thought of kissing." His mouth touched hers. Gently. Lightly. Returned for more. Coaxing, teasing, until she opened to him. He stole her breath, her reason, whirling her into a world of feeling. Bright colors and white-hot heat, the room falling away until there was only his broad shoulders, strong arms, hard body, and perfect, perfect mouth.

When he lifted his head, Savannah nearly pulled him back to her. He watched her face, her eyes cloudy with desire, her lips so beautiful, bereft of his. "Do you have any idea how beautiful you are, Savannah? There is such beauty in your soul, I can see it shining in your eyes."

She touched his face, her palm molding his strong jaw. Why couldn't she resist his hungry eyes? "I think you're casting a spell over me. I can't remember what we were talking about."

Gregori smiled. "Kissing." His teeth nibbled gently at her chin. "Specifically, your wanting to kiss that orange-bearded imbecile."

"I wanted to kiss every one of them," she lied indignantly.

"No, you did not. You were hoping that silly fop would wipe my taste from your mouth for all eternity." His hand stroked back the fall of hair around her face. He feathered kisses along the delicate line of her jaw. "It would not have worked, you know. As I recall, he seemed to have a problem getting close to you."

Her eyes smoldered dangerously. "Did you have anything to do with his allergies?" She had wanted someone, anyone, to wipe Gregori's taste from her mouth, her soul.

He raised his voice an octave. "Oh, Savannah, I just have to taste your lips," he mimicked. Then he went into a sneezing fit. "You haven't ridden until you've ridden on a Harley, baby." He sneezed, coughed, and gagged in perfect imitation.

Savannah punched his arm, forgetting for a moment her bruised fist. When it hurt, she yelped and glared accusingly at him. "It was you doing all that to him! The poor man - you damaged his ego for life. Each time he touched me, he had a sneezing fit."

Gregori raised an eyebrow, completely unrepentant. "Technically, he did not lay a hand on you. He sneezed before he could get that close."

She laid her head back on the pillow, her ebony hair curling around his arm, then her arm, weaving them together. His lips found her throat, then moved lower and found the spot over her breast that burned with need, with invitation. Savannah caught his head firmly in her hands and lifted him determinedly away from her before her treacherous body succumbed completely to his magic. "And the dog episode?"

He tried for innocence, but his laughter was echoing in her mind. "What do you mean?"

"You know very well what I mean," she insisted. "When Dragon walked me home."

"Ah, yes, I seem to recall now. The big bad wolf decked out in chains and spikes, afraid of a little dog."

"Little? A hundred-and-twenty-pound Rottweiler mix? Foaming at the mouth. Roaring. Charging him!"

"He ran like a rabbit." Gregori's soft, caressing voice echoed his satisfaction. He had taken great pleasure in running that particular jackass off. How dare the man try to lay a hand on Savannah?

"No wonder I couldn't touch the dog's mind and call him off. You rotten scoundrel."

"After Dragon left you, I chased him for two blocks, and he went up a tree. I kept him there for several hours, just to make a point. He looked like a rooster with his orange comb."

She laughed in spite of her desire not to. "He never came near me again."

"Of course not. It was unacceptable," he said complacently, with complete satisfaction, the warmth of his breath heating her blood. His mouth touched, skimmed, moved across her nipple, branding her with heat, with flame, before finding the underside of her breast. Savannah closed her eyes against a need so intense that she shook with it. How could she want something that hurt so terribly?

No pain, ma petite, only pleasure.

His tongue created an aching void in her.

I swear it on my life.

His mouth was hot velvet closing over her breast. Fire danced over her skin, invaded her body, melted her insides so that she was liquid heat, pulsing with need for him, only for him.

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