Chapter Six


My dream lover and lifemate, You know every part of me.

SOLANGE TO DOMINIC

Solange stared up--and up. Dominic was far taller and larger in life than he seemed in her dream. This was no shadowy figure, but a real man, flesh and blood standing before her. He was an imposing figure, his shoulders wider, his chest more muscular, everything just more. Her gaze traveled up his body, noting every wound, noting the narrow hips, the tapered waist and the ripples of muscle over the flat belly. Her lungs refused to draw air. She literally had no idea how to react to him.

Her gaze got stuck on his mouth. He had a beautiful mouth, his lips very sculpted. She just stood there, her heart pounding, her mind screaming, staring at his mouth, unable to look away or look further up his face. She felt small and insubstantial beside him. She felt feminine. Like a girl. A young, silly girl who had no idea of the world between man and woman. She was at such a disadvantage.

She was likely to blurt out something insulting. She pushed people away when she felt vulnerable, and she'd never felt more vulnerable in her entire life. This man could break her heart. She knew that just by standing in his presence, and when her heart was involved, she was at her most lethal. Her claws were tipped with venom. She could be very mean, capable of cutting him into little pieces with insulting words. She had perfected her sarcastic, uncaring attitude until it was an art form.

She'd already lost him and she hadn't even opened her mouth. She couldn't do this. She could fight any battle asked of her, walk unafraid into the heart of the enemy's camp and steal a woman out from under them to set her free, but she couldn't do this. She pressed her lips together tightly, legs trembling, turning to jelly, wanting to run. She tasted fear in her mouth. Fear. Her. Solange Sangria, afraid of a man. She detested the feeling.

Solange with a man. For the first time in her adult life, she was terrified. Absolutely terrified. She couldn't do this. She couldn't face this--the one person on earth she had given her soul to. She had opened her soul to him, told him every secret desire, every fear, everything. Jaguar-women were naturally submissive to their males. They fought until the strongest, most aggressive dared to mate with them, and they submitted to the male. She was preprogrammed for that fight/submit dance between male and female, and it terrified her. She could never acknowledge that side of her personality. She could never submit, yet that part of her wanted to, so she pushed it deep, submerged it totally beneath the fighter, hidden from all eyes--all but his.

She shivered--or trembled; she honestly didn't know which. He caught her chin between his thumb and finger in a firm grip. Birds took wing in her stomach. His touch was just as she imagined, gentle but impossibly firm, the touch of a man in complete command of himself--and of her.

"Look at me, Solange."

His voice was every bit as gentle as his touch. A low caress, like velvet against skin. Tender, but a command nevertheless.

She struggled with her nature, with the heat between them, the need in her for a soul mate, for someone to share her lonely life, a need so strong she could barely think with wanting to be everything he desired. Someone like her might get lost in someone like him. Another man, one less--just less--and she would be able to save herself. The other side of her, fierce and proud--the side she was most familiar with, the one she took refuge and comfort in--would never respect a lesser man.

Silence stretched between them. It was sheer agony to obey. It was worse not to. He left the decision completely up to her, but the force of his personality was daunting.

"Does it require courage, then, to look at me, kessake--little cat?" That soft voice that stroked over nerve endings shook her.

He sounded so deceptively gentle, yet she'd seen him rip the heart from a master vampire. She actually trembled.

"I believe, if there is one woman with courage on this earth--it is my lifemate."

Her gaze jumped to his. Locked with those cool green eyes. No, they were slowly going as blue as the deepest water, changing color as the warrior in him gave way to the man. Her stomach somersaulted. Her heart contracted.

He smiled at her, a slow, sexy smile that took her breath. His teeth flashed at her, perfect and straight. His straight aristocratic nose, even his scars belonged--enhanced rather than detracted from his potent masculine aura. Everything about him seemed so perfect. She stood there soaked to the skin, shivering, her hair hanging in damp trails, wild and out of control, her body covered in scars, bruises and lacerations, streaked with blood and reeking of sweat instead of perfume.

His thumb slid over her lips, the softest of brushes. His palm framed the side of her face. He looked at her as if there were no other woman in the world. An illusion, but it warmed her when she was cold inside.

"Hello."

That simple greeting accompanied by that intense blue gaze burning over her, that slow, sexy smile and the dark, melting voice, turned her inside out. She moistened her lips, wanting to answer, but no sound would come out. She could only stand there helplessly looking up at him, wishing she was Juliette or Jasmine. Anyone but Solange Sangria.

"I need to inspect you, s?vamet--my heart."

Her heart jumped again. Inspect her? For what? To see if she was good enough for a man like him? A thousand ugly smart-ass comments welled up, but she couldn't utter a word, she couldn't even look at him. Mutely, she shook her head. Tears burned behind her eyes. She wouldn't hold up to any inspection if he was looking for the perfect woman.

Her hair was all over the place, muddy and straggly. She was covered in river water and blood. She tried to imagine what her body would look like to him. She was not removing her clothes. Jaguars were not modest, but in front of him? No way! It wasn't happening. For one horrible moment she pictured herself standing in front of him, nude, hands behind her head, presenting herself to him. She had thunder thighs. She didn't want to think about her hips or her butt. Okay, she did have nice breasts, and a narrow waist, but she had ropes of muscle everywhere. She was too heavy . . .

Panic took over. She nearly hyperventilated. His hands were gentle on her skin and she closed her eyes, shoving down a sob. She would not run from him like a coward. She was royalty, although Juliette often said she was a royal pain in the butt--which was true. How did other women handle this?

His fingers skimmed down her arms and then settled. Her heart jumped. He turned her around and bent his head to the bite on her shoulder, the one still oozing blood. He inhaled, taking the scent into his lungs so he would recognize anywhere the man who had assaulted her, simply by smell. "Hold still, kessake."

She couldn't have moved if she wanted to. She felt much like a wild animal cornered with nowhere to run. His tongue moved over the puncture wounds with healing saliva. The feeling of that velvet rasp against her bare skin robbed her of breath. He pushed her shirt out of the way and followed the wounds down her back.

Of course he hadn't wanted to inspect her body to see what his lifemate looked like. She felt embarrassed all over again, praying he hadn't read her wayward mind. It shocked her that he would take the time to see to her relatively minor wounds when his had been major. He even took the sting out of most of the bruises. She'd never really had a sensual experience, but the feeling of his fingers and mouth on her skin turned her body into a bundle of raw, throbbing nerve endings.

"You need blood."

The voice startled her and she jerked away from Dominic, dragging down her shirt. Zacarias. How had she forgotten him? She'd almost--Well, okay, she had been thinking erotic thoughts, forgetting they weren't alone. What was wrong with her? She'd never blushed before, but he'd witnessed her total humiliation and she could feel color turning her face an ugly red. She blinked rapidly. trying to break the spell Dominic had woven around her.

It took her a moment to realize Dominic's larger frame had blocked Zacarias's view of her. For some idiotic reason the knowledge that Dominic had protected her in her moment of weakness from prying eyes made her feel warm and comforted.

"As do you," Dominic responded. He turned then, keeping Solange close to him, his hand on her arm.

Both men looked at her. Her heart pounded frantically. She'd seen Juliette giving Riordan blood. Zacarias was torn to shreds and he was family. He was her family, whether extended or not, and therefore under her protection. But this . . . She'd never considered that she would ever have to give a man her very blood.

"It is our way, kessake." Dominic's voice was pitched low, but the sound moved inside her, that soft, velvet caress, snaking its way seductively into her mind.

She bit her lip hard, trembling, wanting to do this for him, such a small request, but enormous in her mind. Why did it matter whether she pleased him? She had never cared what anyone thought of her, yet she stood there like a mute imbecile, unable to say no when everything in her demanded that she run. She stood trembling, desperate to get away, yet she couldn't move, at war with her own nature.

Dominic was her chosen one. It mattered little if she'd thought he wasn't real. He was there now, more of a man than any she knew, more respected and more powerful. She wanted to be that woman he needed, and he needed this from her.

Hardly daring to breathe, she watched Zacarias approach, his body bleeding from a thousand tears from the vampire bats, their teeth and claws stripping his body of flesh at the command of Drago. Her stomach churned. Bile rose. He was going to sink his teeth into her skin and she was going to stand there, shuddering with distaste, caught in Dominic's spell. She had to find the strength to resist the madness that had settled around her, turning her body to lead.

She swallowed hard and looked up at Dominic. At once his blue eyes trapped her gaze and held her captive. His smile was tender, only for her, as if he were reading her mind and knew her abhorrence of this act, knew she was on the verge of fleeing and that it was only the sheer power of his personality that kept her there. He drew her body against his, her back to him, one arm just under her heaving breasts, his hold so gentle she didn't realize at first that she was locked to him with his enormous strength, unable to break away if she wanted to. His other hand slowly but inexorably stretched her arm out toward Zacarias in invitation.

"From her wrist, and be gentle," he cautioned.

She shuddered again as the Carpathian male drew near. Dominic bent his head and whispered softly to her in his own language. " Solange. Emnim. T?dak pit?sz w?ke bekimet mekesz kaiket. Te magk?szunam n? ama ka3 taka arvo. Solange. My woman. I knew you had courage to face anything. Thank you for this gift beyond price."

His breath was warm on her neck, and he pressed his lips over her frantic pulse. His teeth scraped back and forth, gentle, more than seductive, so that her heart beat fast and her breathing turned ragged. She was aware of him with every single cell in her body.

She closed her eyes and absorbed the sound of his voice, the pleasure in it, the way he made her feel as if he knew she was feeding the other male just for him--only for him. She could never have done it without his seductive voice in her ear, or his hard body against hers. It felt as if she were giving herself to him, giving him everything she was, and yet it was another man who took her wrist.

At the last second, as that hot breath touched her skin and she saw the length of those fangs, she felt panic and nearly jerked her arm away. Before she could move, Dominic bit down into her neck and the crashing pain turned instantly to a pleasure so intense she cried out, her body reacting with a tidal wave of pure fire. She had experienced the heat of her cat many times, a purely physical drive that didn't touch her beyond the abstract. But this--this was all encompassing. Every nerve ending felt raw with desire.

Her womb spasmed. Heat rose between her legs and her nipples tightened into hard, desperate peaks. The fire burned her skin, her insides, poured like molten gold through her body until she writhed against him, unable to control herself. Solange, who had so much control. Solange, who despised men, was giving herself body and soul to this man and his needs--not just his needs, his every desire. A small sob escaped.

Dominic had never imagined that anything could have been so erotic as taking his lifemate's blood. To him, the act of taking or giving blood had always been mundane, a necessity with no particular feeling attached to it, not even before he'd lost his emotions. He was unprepared for the need slamming wicked and low, a hard punch of arousal that shook his deadly calm as nothing else ever had. He was disciplined and controlled. It had never occurred to him that once he held Solange in his arms and his teeth connected them, the act of taking her blood would be as intimate as taking her body or her mind. He was in such a state of arousal, it felt to him as if he was sharing her with another man in an extremely intimate act--something he would never do. She was his to protect, to love and cherish. He didn't want another man to see her vulnerable or afraid or sexy, and right at that moment, he found her the most sensual being on earth. That part of her belonged solely to him. Had he realized what taking her blood would be like, he would never, under any circumstances, have forced her to give Zacarias blood.

And he had forced her--or at least coerced her. He knew she found the idea repugnant, yet Zacarias was family to her. She lived by her sense of code, her honor, her duty. She would not have forgiven herself for denying him in his moment of need. She would have dwelt on her refusal in the long hours of the day when Dominic couldn't comfort her. He had a code, too, and that code was to provide his lifemate with everything she needed, even if that meant stretching her limits beyond what she thought she could handle.

But this might be stretching his limits beyond what he could handle. She had been a warrior to Zacarias, but Dominic had seen her vulnerable. Her vulnerability was beautiful to him and that she would show it to him was an honor. It brought out his every protective instinct, and the beast prowling inside of him roared for her. Not simply the physical mating, but the completeness of what a lifemate was. She needed. He provided. He needed. She provided. Each was dedicated solely to the other.

But this--this shocking reaction of body and mind--was nearly his undoing. Her blood swept into his body and the parasites cowered before it, more than they had with Zacarias's pure Carpathian blood. They retreated, became quiet, hiding from the royal jaguar blood as if afraid of the fierce fighting cat. As her blood spread through his system, the internal fire started, a great sweeping storm that burned hot and fast and out of control.

Her body moved against his, inflaming his already rock-hard groin. He didn't want to stop; his hand stroked the underside of her breast, although what he wanted--no, needed--was to feel her silken skin against his. Her small sob brought him up short. Restored control. Order. An awareness of where he was and what was happening around him. He'd been so far into the throes of madness, he was astonished as he took a slow lick across the pinprick holes and followed the ruby-red drops of blood down her shoulder. He straightened slowly, breathing her in, absorbing the feel of her small, curvy body tight against him. Nothing had ever felt so right to him.

Aware of her growing fear, he pressed his mouth to her pulse, wanting only to calm and comfort her. His little wildcat had a feminine side she considered submissive, and it terrified her. It was up to him to show her that part of her was every bit as important as her warrior persona and that being a woman didn't in any way take away from who she was.

" Pes?d te engemal--You are safe with me." He whispered the words against the frantic pulse, his tongue swirling there, holding her while she calmed. Her wild nature was evident. Solange had lived her life on the fringes of society, never in the midst of it. Laws didn't apply in her world. She didn't need to learn the niceties of city life, or even life within a community. Her world was survival only--very much like his world had been.

Zacarias went to slide his tongue over the laceration to politely close it, but Dominic pulled her wrist to his mouth. He took one drink, felt the fireball rolling through his body and then he closed the wound himself.

"Thank you," Zacarias said.

Dominic knew the Carpathian hunter was thanking him, not Solange. In ancient times, lifemates were sacred and others didn't speak to them without express permission. Zacarias was of that old school, and perhaps, if he was entirely truthful with himself, Dominic was, too.

He lifted his head to meet Zacarias's gaze. "The dawn approaches."

Zacarias nodded. " Kolasz arwa-arvoval--may you die with honor." He stood for a moment. "It is long since I have heard our own language spoken. For a moment, I felt the call of our homeland."

"Veri olen piros, ek?m--blood be red, my brother," Dominic answered. The meaning was clear. Find your lifemate.

Zacarias looked from him to Solange, her clothes and skin stained with blood. He shook his head. "My time is past for that. The world has changed and left me behind. I will aid you when you call, old friend."

He simply vanished, the vapor merging with the smoke from the dying fire. There was silence. Solange didn't turn her head to look over her shoulder at Dominic, she simply stood waiting for his direction, holding herself very still, although he could feel the tremors running down her spine.

Above her head, he smiled, the tension easing from his body now that there were no males near her and they were alone. He gathered her to him. "I will take us to a safe place where we can bathe and rest."

She wanted to just let go of him and drop to earth and shatter. Did other women feel this way? Wanting to please him, to do what he asked and yet feeling so terrified she couldn't breathe? And what was he asking? A simple thing. Bathe and rest. He hadn't said anything else. She could never, ever give her body to him. Not him. A shudder went through her body. Mutely, she shook her head.

He heard the quick intake of her breath as he lifted her. "Courage," he whispered against the nape of her neck. She didn't fear the method of travel he chose, he knew that. He also knew she didn't fear him--not Dominic the warrior. She trusted him or she never would have entered into battle with him. It was Dominic the man she feared, and he was the one who needed to earn her trust. More than anything else, he wanted all of her. He knew his need was selfish, but he'd had very little brightness in his life, and Solange shone like the brightest of stars. He took her into the skies, her body locked to his.

Solange jammed her fist into her mouth to keep from protesting. She didn't want to do anything wrong, but if she didn't have an idea of how to act, she was bound to make a mistake. Her cat prowled back and forth, one moment purring contentedly and the next hissing and growling as she sensed Solange's growing terror.

How was she going to shed her clothes in front of him? Why hadn't she listened to MaryAnn when she was trying to help Solange learn to be more girly?

He leaned into her and stroked his tongue over the exact spot where he'd taken her blood. Her mind lost its train of thought. Heat flooded between her legs. Her stomach muscles bunched beneath his palm and her breasts suddenly felt full and aching. On top of everything else, she was going to react to him like a cat in heat. Except . . . she could never lay with him, never give herself to him because he would swallow her up, leave her with nothing.

He nuzzled her neck. Stop thinking and just let yourself enjoy what is left of the night. Relax into me.

She was holding herself stiffly, terrified of feeling his immense strength, petrified of the commitment just accompanying him meant. How much further would she go to please him? Would she lose her sense of herself?

Is it so difficult, kessa ku toro --my little wildcat, to relax for me?

Was it? She was being silly. She took a deep breath and let it out. She forced her eyes open and looked up at the night. They were out of the heavy canopy in open sky. High. Higher than she'd ever been before. She'd never been out of the rain forest. She'd never flown in a plane. For a moment she was frightened and she clutched at him.

Spread your arms out, minan-- my own.

She swallowed hard. There was that low purr in his voice, as if all she had to do was stretch her arms out like wings and she'd please him beyond anything else. Was it so simple? She had to trust him to keep her from falling. She'd trusted him in battle implicitly. Of course he would keep her safe. It was ridiculous to think that he wouldn't. And she would have the experience of flying, for maybe the only time in her life.

She let out her breath and pried each finger from his arm. Only then did she realize she was hanging on to his forearms with her claws. She gave a soft inarticulate cry, ashamed.

No worries, little cat. Just let go and fly with me.

It was a seductive whisper. She felt the warmth of his breath on her neck somehow giving her reassurance. To please him--to say she was sorry for inadvertently hurting him--she let go and spread her arms to the wind as if she were a great bird. The wind touched her face and ruffled her hair. Above her was a sea of clouds, rolling and turbulent, but so beautiful. Around her was open sky. Below her were the tops of the trees, some shooting past the thick cover to emerge triumphantly from the crowd. The earth below dazzled her eyes. She'd never felt so free in her life.

His mouth nuzzled her neck, a whisper really, yet she felt his touch like a brand. No one had ever made her feel like that--dizzy, important, his entire focus on her. With just one touch. And he'd asked. He could easily merge his mind with hers, Carpathians did it all the time--an invasion, she'd always thought. Wrong. No one should have access to one's private thoughts. And yet . . .

It is not necessary.

She couldn't detect disappointment, but still, why couldn't she just say yes? He was giving her such a beautiful experience, one she doubted very many people would ever have the chance to have. Was it such a big thing to let him see how much she appreciated this moment? He wasn't making her feel guilty; that was all her own. Was she really such a coward? What could happen if just for this moment she said yes?

She took a breath, knew his hands felt it, that swift intake of breath, so raw and ragged. I don't mind.

You honor me.

And then he was inside her mind, a slow penetration that sent a thousand darts of fire burning over her skin and deep inside of her, sending a slow burn through her stomach to her most feminine core. She felt him in her, just as if they were sharing the same skin, merged together so deep she didn't know where he started and she left off.

She realized her insecurities were displayed for him, her fragile hold on her courage, the terrible need she had for him, the horrendous, almost insurmountable fear of letting him down.

Shh, minan , see the night with me. That is all. Just share the night.

His soothing murmur, almost a caress, calmed her wild thoughts and she turned her attention to the spectacular sensation of soaring through the air. She found the miracle so much more special when shared. He took them in a large circle over the river and she spotted the rare pink dolphins. Of course she'd seen them before, but not like this, where she could see their amazing speed in the water. She laughed. With their minds merged together, his burst of happiness elated her. He was like a child experiencing everything for the first time after hundreds of years without emotion, and that enhanced her enjoyment.

She turned her head toward him and found herself wanting to nuzzle his neck in a rare display of shy affection, but she couldn't quite dare to touch him so she just inhaled his scent, took his masculine essence into her lungs and held it there, as if she were hugging it to her.

I will link my hands around your waist, Solange. Lean out and let me take your weight so you feel the actual flight.

Her heart stuttered at the idea. He was really pushing her limits of trust, yet he seemed unaware of it. Or was he? He couldn't be. He was inside her mind. He knew her fears. She moistened her lips, her pounding pulse thundering in her ears. As before he remained silent, he did not repeat the request. He simply waited for her choice.

She licked her suddenly dry lips. Her life would be in his hands. Arms outstretched, her body falling forward as if she were really flying, she wouldn't have the opportunity to hang on to him. She doubted she was fast enough at shifting to turn and latch on with claws should he drop her. Could she do it? Would it displease him if she didn't? Would it matter? She tried to touch his mind, but he simply waited.

She could feel the weight of his gaze on her. That single-minded focus. His complete concentration on her alone. She felt tears burning behind her eyes. She wanted to give this to him. It was all she could give him. Moments like this one. She knew there was no other woman for him. It wasn't that he loved her. Or wanted her. He had no choice, yet he was willing to give her choices. It was just that his personality was so overpowering.

She closed her eyes and nodded.

He brushed a kiss over the top of her head, setting off a peculiar fluttering in the pit of her stomach. She held her breath as his mouth drifted to her temple and then pressed his cool, firm lips to her ear.

My woman.

Her heart contracted. Her womb clenched and she felt a flood of damp heat between her legs. Two words and she melted. What did that say about her? Was she so desperate for his approval that all he had to do was sound happy with her and she would do anything he wanted?

He waited for her to shift position on her own. She almost wished he'd moved her first, but he didn't. She slowly, with caution, began to lean into his palms, so that she swung out, away from the solid comfort of his body. The wind increased and she couldn't stop her hands from grabbing his wrists. Instantly he brought her back against him and . . . waited.

She knew he was waiting for her to gather her courage and put her trust in him. There was no pretending she was too exhausted--he had her entire weight. All she had to do was hang there in the sky while the magic of the night surrounded her. He was giving her a gift of such importance. There had been no gifts since her family had been slaughtered, until now, until this moment. He seemed a dark sorcerer she couldn't resist--especially when he offered her such a rare, phenomenal experience.

Time slowed down. She could feel her heart pounding. He made her feel important when she'd never felt so before, not to anyone. The air seemed crisp and fresh, the night a cool blanket. She closed her eyes, took a deep breath and let go. She brought her arms straight out away from her body. He removed his hands from her and she knew this was the moment, now or never. She would never summon this kind of courage--or trust--again. She let herself fall forward. The sensation took her stomach and for a moment she was afraid he wouldn't catch her, but there his palms were, and she found herself suspended in the air with nothing but his hands under her.

Very slowly she opened her eyes. Her breath caught in her throat as she soared and dipped and wheeled with the freedom of the birds. Again she experienced that dizzying rapture that was physical, the adrenaline pouring into her bloodstream like dark gold, thickening her blood, spreading heat through her. She felt Dominic with her--in her-- sharing the dazzling moments. It was pure magic-- he was pure magic.

The wind tore tears from her eyes. After one of the worst days of her life, losing Annabelle, killing two men and nearly getting captured or killed by her own father, fighting vampires and having to face her lifemate, she was overwhelmed by sheer joy as she flew through the air. It was too much and yet she didn't want it to end.

Dominic drew her in, turning her so that her face was pressed over his heart. The rock- steady beat comforted her, helping her to keep from sobbing aloud. She wept quietly, her fingers buried in the front of his shirt. She just didn't care about anything in that moment. Not where they were going or what would happen when they got there. He had a destination in mind and it was evident he wouldn't drop her, so she just gave herself up to his care.

Dominic felt the exact moment she let go and gave herself over to him. His arms tightened around her, holding her close to him. She was very fragile, and so vulnerable. Not simply her physical self, but the woman she hid from the rest of the world. She was exhausted and she would have gone off to a damp retreat to lick her wounds alone and try to recover before she took on the enemy again.

Not this time, my little cat. This time I will see to your care.

She didn't answer, but her weeping, the tears tearing at his heart, lessened. He meticulously scanned the area for signs of the undead before he took her down to the forest floor, to the entrance of her favorite retreat. He'd seen it a dozen times, that small, snug cave deep in the recesses of the limestone labyrinth, when they met in her mind. The images were very detailed. She had no idea how much information he could pull from her mind in seconds when needed. And both of them needed this.

He found the entrance too small to carry her through, and reluctantly let her feet drop, his arm firmly anchoring her to him.

"How did you know . . . ?" Solange looked around her, lashes wet, her eyes bright and slightly shocked.

"I am your lifemate," he pointed out, his voice gentle. "This place brings you comfort."

She turned away from him and ducked inside, blinking back tears. He doubted if anyone had seen to her comfort in years. He followed her, noting the fluid movement of her body, just like the cat that was so much a part of her. She had a wild, untamed scent that appealed to him more than any other perfume he'd ever smelled. She belonged in the forest, and she moved with silent stealth, even in human form in the dark.

The tunnel led downward, deep under the earth. She stopped at what appeared to be a dead end and reached down to work at several large stones. Dominic gently moved her out of his way and simply levitated the large blocks of limestone and set them aside, and with a low bow gestured for her to precede him.

She hesitated, standing very close to him in the small confines of the tunnel. He could hear her heart, the rhythm too loud. She was frightened, but she was still putting herself in his hands; her courage humbled him. To encourage her, he took her hand and brought it to his mouth. He stroked long fingers over her wrist, the one Zacarias had drawn blood from, as he pressed a kiss into the exact center of her palm.

Solange's breath hitched, her gaze jumped to his face and then quickly skittered away. "You have to crawl to get into the chamber, and your shoulders . . ."

He kept possession of her hand, her fingers against his mouth. "I can turn to vapor," he reminded, a smile in his voice.

He felt her acute embarrassment that she hadn't remembered. Her body flooded with heat and immediately tensed. She started to pull her hand away, but he refused to relinquish control back to her. Instead, he drew her fingers into the warmth of his mouth and sucked on them. A shiver of awareness went through her body as he then drew her fingers to his lips and bit softly on the tips. "You are very tired, Solange. I thank you for your concern."

Once again her gaze flicked to his. She looked so uncertain he wanted to crush her to him. Instead, he released her hand and dropped his hand to her shoulders, silently guiding her to her knees. For a moment, he savored the feel of her warm breath on his rock-hard cock right through the material of his trousers. It would be so easy to remove them. The idea of her mouth on him shook him, but he didn't allow his own pleasures to be put before her care. He pressed gently until she was on all fours and crawling into the narrow, tight tunnel leading to the chamber.

The channel reminded him of a rabbit warren. He flowed through it easily, following his woman into the cave. She had made it somewhat of a home and his heart stilled in his chest when he realized she had never shared this sacred place, her only true refuge, with anyone else. She went to the north wall to find her lantern, but he lit the candles with a wave of his hand. Immediately the soft light threw shadows over everything.

He was grateful for the rich dirt floor. In one corner there was a handwoven rug and a few wooden bowls. The sound of water was background music as it trickled steadily from the wall on the east side to fill the basin so a wide pool took up one corner of the chamber. The ceiling was high, giving the illusion of space when actually the cavern was snug.

He noted that she stayed a good distance from him, silent, her green cat's eyes watching his every move as he explored. He took his time, allowing the silence to stretch out, listening to the beat of her heart, waiting for her to calm. He saw books and picked up several to study the titles. Most were on making weapons and the plants of the Amazon. He thumbed through one of the volumes and found many of the healing plants highlighted.

When he moved closer to Solange, she reacted the way a cornered wildcat might, retreating, her eyes wide, almost mesmerized by him. She kept her head down, face slightly averted, but she was watching him the entire time. He went to a small pile of articles carefully placed on a rock shelf inside a small alcove, and the tension seemed to ease out of her just a little bit more. Her heart rate slowed nearly to normal.

There was a ragged blanket, very old, that someone had lovingly made for a child. Not hers, he guessed by the blue color. A boy. Someone she loved, by the look of it. A faded picture of a woman in a wooden handmade frame, a woman who must have been her mother, sat on a shelf. She had the same amazing eyes. A hand-carved comb of the finest wood. He touched each item. Read the memories imprinted there. A brother--no, two brothers. The comb had been made by her father. He frowned. Not her birth father. The man she loved as a father. All gone. Every one of them.

He lifted his head and looked at her, his gaze colliding with hers. "Come here to me, Solange. Right here." He pointed to a spot right in front of him.

She looked startled. Her eyes went dark. Her heart began pounding again, filling the small chamber with its frantic beat.

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