Chapter Twelve


You reveal me. Then you heal me Of all the scars and strife. And when my life was spinning downward, You caught me. I'd forgotten how to smile, but You re-taught me.

SOLANGE TO DOMINIC

Solange tried to slow her breathing, knowing he was watching her closely. She cleared her throat and tried to sound calm. "I don't think I've spent this much time with another person in years."

Minan --my own. The words were a soft, gentle whisper in her mind. Aloud, in his calm tone, he added, "Neither have I." He didn't hand her the peeled orange, but instead took a section and held it to her lips. "We make this journey together."

Everything in Solange settled. Her mind calmed and she found she could breathe. She simply had to match the basic rhythm of his lungs. In and out. It wasn't really that difficult. They were in this together, for better or worse. He didn't seem to mind that she floundered with her words, that she had no idea what she was doing. He seemed to accept her with all of her failings.

She opened her mouth and accepted the cool fruit. It was bursting with flavor. The orange was one of her favorites and difficult to get. She knew he had created it especially for her. He seemed thoughtful that way, finding the things she loved the most in some little corner of her mind and providing them for her. She ran her hand over the exquisite robe. She could see her silky skin, smooth in spite of the small white scars, those little dots she'd always detested and hidden, revealed now as if they didn't matter. A little subconsciously, she rubbed at them through the lacy material.

"When the candlelight plays over the dots, they look as if they are alive, dancing their way up your thigh. It is a highly erotic sight, Solange, and makes me want to follow them with my tongue. I will taste every inch of you, and those delightful dots lead the way to the feast."

She blushed again. There was no way to control the sweeping color so she opened her mouth as he slipped another orange slice against her lips. His words had once again called her attention to her body, to the way she looked, her voluptuous curves emphasized by the stretchy lace of her robe. The scattered stars did nothing to hide the swell of her breasts or her flared hips. She squirmed a little, wishing her chair was more in the shadows as his was. She crossed her legs. "I would prefer you were open to me."

His voice was so soft. It was no command, just a simple statement. She hadn't meant to close herself off to him . . . She glanced up at his face. God, but he was beautiful. "Wouldn't you prefer I was a little modest?" Which, when one thought about it, was hilarious. Cats were not modest as a rule. When she shifted, she was nude. That was all there was to it, yet this seemed so different.

"I would hope the woman is for me alone and that you are comfortable enough--and trust me enough--to take delight in your sexuality. You are naturally passionate and sensual. I love to look at you, to see you wanting me. When I feel your eyes moving over my body, and when I can look so openly on what is mine, it gives me great pleasure."

It sounded so simple, but it took great effort on her part to uncross her legs to give him the view of a wanton, needy woman. She couldn't help but feel sexy and a little wicked, but it was still one of the most difficult things she'd done. Worse, it sent another rush of heat that glistened between her legs. He inhaled, drawing the scent of her arousal into his lungs.

Solange knew her reaction to his request was only encouraging him in drawing her out of her shell--and she was a little afraid of where that might lead. That simple smile of appreciation, for her, was the greatest praise he could give her. It was shocking how satisfying it was to please him, when she'd never sought to please anyone.

"That's my woman."

He gave her a small, courtly bow that sent a ripple of pleasure through her. His manners were so Old World, as was his formal speech, but it seemed to suit him and make him, for her, all the more alluring.

"What's your plan?"

His eyebrow shot up and she blushed. "Not that," she qualified. "The vampire camp. You told me you'd ingested vampire blood so they would recognize you as part of their conspiracy. Do you think the parasites in your blood alone will gain you acceptance?"

"The vampires I have met so far have believed the call of the parasites, but they are never active with you around. I also took your blood a little while ago." He held another orange slice to her lips and waited until Solange bit into it. "So if you are thinking you will accompany me in some way, it will not work."

She frowned at him. "Of course I'm going to have your back. I can't imagine that you aren't already thinking of ways to kill Brodrick."

"Naturally." She forgot all about not wearing her warrior armor. Her green eyes went cat and she frowned at him. "Don't ever make the mistake of thinking I don't know what I'm doing. If you meant what you said about partners and respect and being equal, and knowing who I really am, then you have to know I'm going to be guarding your back."

She pushed out of the chair, forgetting the gossamer robe as she paced restlessly across the floor of the cavern, her cat prowling close to the surface. "You either accept me as I am, or you don't. You can't have it both ways. I would never be able to stay safe waiting while you're in danger."

Only the sound of water falling into the basin filled the room. She became aware of her harsh, agitated breathing, her accelerated heartbeat, the rush of adrenaline in her body. His silence stretched out until the tension was nearly unbearable. He simply looked at her with that dark, unfathomable, very direct stare that spoke volumes.

She raised her chin and stared right back. Protecting those she loved was her fundamental core. If he thought he could shape her into something or someone else with a few sexy outfits, he was very wrong. She wasn't good at this kind of crap anyway. She'd just go back to being a jaguar and find her place in the forest. She felt the familiar itch run under her skin and the call of the wild raged inside of her. Escape . . . it was the only way.

"You are a fierce fighter, Solange. When you cannot win a battle, what do you do?"

She fought back her cat to try to make her vocal cords work. "Retreat and plan a different way."

"You cannot win a battle with me. Not you. Not your cat. We both would lose if you insisted on such an action."

"What exactly are you saying to me? Because you are not going to dictate to me."

"You are looking for a fight and I refuse to join you. You have a very bad habit of jumping to conclusions and putting me in the worst light possible."

She opened her mouth and closed it again, forcing herself to breathe away panic. And she was panicking. She wanted, even needed to run before he took this any further. Until she wanted him with every cell in her body and she would do anything to keep him. She had more self-respect than that.

He stepped close to her, ignoring the warning look in her eyes, one hand spanning her throat, letting her feel his immense strength. More than physical strength, she could see the power and confidence the centuries had given him. The look in his eyes shook her. Censure. Pure, unadulterated censure. And it hurt. Maybe she deserved it, but it really hurt.

"You cannot lie to me or yourself, Solange. I will not allow that. You want to run from me, not out of self-respect but out of cowardice. You do not want to trust me with your body or your heart, and I am getting too close to both."

"I would shatter into a million pieces," she defended. "Don't you see? I'm not this woman you want."

"How do you know what I want when you refuse to look--or listen? You were waiting for your opportunity and you thought you found it. Did I not tell you that I respected you as a warrior? That I believed you to be my equal and a partner? Do you think that I would lie to you? I am Dominic Dragonseeker, and the Dragonseeker honor has never been called into question, not once in thousands of years." There was an edge now to that normally calm voice.

Solange felt the tears gathering behind her eyes. Of course she'd screwed things up. It was all too good to be true. Or maybe she just couldn't handle being happy after so many years of rage and sorrow.

His hand moved to the nape of her neck, and suddenly his fingers were doing a soothing massage. "Breathe, Solange. Just take a breath."

Her lungs were burning for air and she hadn't even realized it. Real shame, an emotion she hadn't known until then, was more bitter than rage. Dominic had put himself on the line. She hadn't really given him a chance, not in her heart. Her mind had tried, and her body certainly wanted him, but there was so much fear of having her heart torn out that she hadn't really committed to him. She was ready to run at the first sign of danger with him.

"Don't you see? I can't do this," she said. "I'm going to keep hurting you. I've never even lived in a house with people. We lived in camps and learned to defend ourselves. I haven't had a home since I was eight years old." She didn't know if she was pleading for understanding or pleading with him to let her go.

His fingers continued that slow, seductive massage. "Then perhaps it is time you had a home, Solange. I want to be your home. Give me your trust. I know we can do this."

"We'd need a miracle," Solange said, shaking her head. "I want to do this, Dominic, I really do, but I just don't think I'm capable. I look into your eyes and a part of me knows I'll be safe if I give myself to you, but I'm holding on to safety so tightly that I don't think I can let go and fall. You're like this amazing, larger-than-life hero who has swept into my personal nightmare, and I've just never believed in heroes."

He brushed at the tears in her eyes with his fingers, caught them in his hand and applied pressure. She drew in her breath when he opened his hands. Sparkling gems of red and green strung together with links of gold lay in the palm of his hand. "Green for your eyes and red for your temper, both of which I am very partial to." Solange would have backed away from him if he hadn't held her in place. "You have too much power for anyone, Dominic." She couldn't keep the tremors out of her voice.

"You said we needed a miracle." He nudged her hand until she opened it. He dropped the bracelet into her palm. "We have a miracle, Solange. You and I together can be a miracle. What are the odds after so many centuries of being alone that I would find you here in this place where I came for my final battle?"

Her fingers closed around the gems and she held them to her. "I want to be the woman you need, Dominic, but I'm too afraid of losing myself."

"How would you do that?"

"You asked me what I do when I can't win a battle. How could I ever win with you? You're too strong. Not just physical strength; I might be able to fight that. It's not even your gifts. It's the power in you. The absolute power I feel radiating from you."

He smiled at her and brushed back the fall of soft waves around her face. "That power belongs to you, Solange. It is there for your protection. For your happiness. For your use. It belongs to you. You have not figured it out yet, but you are both intelligent and a fighter. Do not fight me. Fight for us. Fight for me. Without you, I cannot survive. Can you do that?" He leaned down and brushed a soft kiss across her lips. "You are a strong woman, Solange. Will you save me? You are the only one who can."

Her heart contracted. "You don't need me, Dominic. You're so--so absolute. You could have any woman you wanted. This has to be some bizarre mistake."

He shook his head. "In many ways Carpathians look to be a superior species, and it is true we have many gifts, but in truth, like every species, we have weaknesses. Jaguars and humans can mate with anyone, and they often mistake physical attraction for a lasting relationship. For Carpathians there is only one. You are the other half of me. There is no getting it wrong, Solange. You were meant for me. If you choose not to commit to me, I will be lost."

Solange blinked back tears and opened her hand to look down at the bracelet, at the fiery red gems nestled in her palm. "I have a really, really bad temper," she warned. "And a very mean mouth."

Very gently he took the bracelet from her hand and fastened it around her wrist. He leaned down and brushed another kiss across her upturned lips before very gently slipping the robe from her body. "Then we will have to teach you other uses for your mouth. I dream of it often."

Her body reacted, flooding with heat. He leaned his head toward her, a slow, steady movement that only seemed to heighten her anticipation. Her legs trembled and turned to jelly. She gasped when he lifted her into his arms and when they turned, there was a thick, handwoven rug carpeting the bench. She had time for one brief thought-- How does he do that?

"I think you need to relax. You are shaking again."

He placed her faceup on the padded table. She stared up at the ceiling of the cave. It was as if he'd thrown her midnight blue robe up above her and scattered amazing silvery stars across the night sky. She recognized the dragon constellation. This dragon was blazing, as if the stars hadn't faded with time and still had the wings.

"I am going to give you a scalp massage. You do not have to worry about anything, Solange. I am not expecting or asking anything of you at this time. Only to relax."

His fingers were strong, yet so very gentle. The mesmerizing soft voice stroked like velvet over her skin while his fingers worked their magic.

"I want you to feel warm, kessake. And safe. Because you are always safe in my care. Do you know what the binding ritual is? Has your cousin talked to you about it?"

His voice had dropped an octave lower. Solange listened for the sound of it, concentrating on every cadence and rhythm of his tone as she looked up at the burning eyes and sharp teeth of the dragon overhead.

"Not really. I didn't understand what she did say." Her mind was a little hazy from the absolute pleasure his hands were inducing. There was no way she could fail to relax, not with his large hands drawing the tension out of her.

"The male of our species is imprinted with the binding words before birth. Once we say them to our lifemate, she is bound, soul to soul, to us. We believe the soul was split. The male is the darkness and she is the light."

In spite of the sheer magic of his fingers, she winced. "Surely mistakes are made. I've told you before, there is little light left in me. I kill, Dominic. I plan an attack and I carry it out with precision and no hesitation."

He waited in silence, and Solange bit her lip and then lifted her left hand into the air so she could look at the bracelet. The light from the candles caught the rubies and emeralds, and they blazed to life. "Maybe that's not exactly the truth. Lately, I've been hesitating." The confession came out in a soft little rush. She didn't want to lie to him. "The last few times I've known I'm going to kill someone, I feel sick inside. But if I don't do it, I know they'll harm another woman sometime, someplace, and there is no one else to stop them."

"I know that was difficult to admit to yourself, let alone to me."

The approval in his voice warmed her. She was startled to see him looming above her, but his hands began to work on her shoulders, those strong fingers digging into every tense muscle, and she subsided under his magic.

"There can be no mistake. When I heard your voice, my emotions returned. After centuries of living on memories, it was a little difficult not to be overwhelmed. My first thought was to find you and carry you off, as I believe my ancestors would have done. I see color. Your hair, all that soft, silky hair with so many colors blended together." He rubbed the strands between his fingers. "So beautiful."

She tried to stifle the little moan of pleasure his compliments elicited. She tried concentrating on the mouth of the dragon as those magic hands continued her massage right along her collarbone. The feeling was bone-melting. Her body began a delicious tingle, as if her nerve endings had begun to awaken all over again. That should have been alarming, but she was too relaxed under his ministrations to protest. He made her feel beautiful and cared for. He made her feel as if she really were his protected and safe lifemate.

"Why haven't you carried me off?" she asked. Her voice sounded faraway, drowsy. Maybe even a little sexy. Certainly not really her.

His hands cupped her breasts. Her stomach muscles bunched as he began a slow, gentle massage, and this time there was oil on his hands. Her heart pounded, drawing his attention to her accelerated pulse. "Carrying you off would not be right for you. For some women, yes, but you, my kessake, my little cat--you require seduction. Finesse. Loving. I have to earn your trust, and I would not want it any other way."

Her gaze jumped to his face when he tugged and rolled her nipples between his finger and thumb. He left behind a minty oil that began generating heat at the very tips of her breasts.

"Does that feel good, Solange? Your body is sexy, a temptation that is getting more difficult to resist. You are very responsive, and that is so seductive to me."

He bent his head and the long fall of silky midnight black hair spilled over her chest, teasing her senses as he sucked her nipple deep into his mouth and stroked with his tongue. She heard herself whimper, a soft, breathy sound that came close to a plea. He cupped both breasts, turned his head and found her other, woefully neglected nipple and drew it into his mouth, giving her left breast the same, unhurried loving attention. Pleasure was so intense she shook, her hips moving restlessly.

His hands stroked down her rib cage and over her belly. He found the tight little muscles and began his slow, leisurely massage. "Do you see, Solange, that you are the only woman in my world? The one woman who can choose life or death for me. You are the center of my world and you always will be. When I tell you that your pleasure is mine, I mean that literally. I can feel your body's response. I can feel your mind relax just as your muscles do, and it pleases me that I am the one, the only one, who can do that for you. I am the man your body responds to and your mind accepts." His fingers slipped lower to her mound, massaged ever so gently, stroked lightly over her damp sex and moved to her inner thighs. Her breath exploded in a ragged rush as his hands continued that bone-melting kneading of her tight muscles. All the way down her calves to her feet, he kept kneading and stroking until she simply melted there on the table.

His hand on her shoulder urged her to turn over. She could barely summon the strength, already drifting in a state of arousal and relaxation. She turned her head to one side as he stretched out her arms by her sides and began work on her shoulders with his clever fingers.

"Why did you say I can't accompany you when you go to the gathering of the vampires, when you know I won't be able to stay away?" She murmured the words, her lashes falling as his hands went to her back.

He was using an oil of some sort. It smelled a little minty, and as he applied it, rubbing it into her muscles, heat spread. She wasn't certain if it was the oil, his hands or her body's response, but deep inside her core, her temperature soared. He worked down each arm and then down her lower back until she was nearly purring. A pure jaguar couldn't purr, but her species could, thankfully, and right now would be an appropriate moment.

"You cannot be close to me--or to them. The moment the parasites sense you they will go quiet and they'll know either you or Brodrick is near. We will need a good plan."

She rubbed her cheek against the soft padding of the table. "That's what you were trying to tell me, but I jumped to conclusions."

"I have given some thought to how I phrased it. Perhaps I could have chosen my words more carefully."

His hands on the small of her back felt wonderful. "I think you were being who you are, Dominic. You were named well. You have dominant tendencies. Unfortunately, although I doubt I was born with them, I've developed them."

"Your fighting skills are extraordinary, as is your courage in battle," he acknowledged.

His praise sent a warm glow through her. His hands moved lower, to her buttocks, working deep in the muscle, kneading thoroughly until her body was limp. He took a few moments to stroke gentle caresses over her lush curves before his hands moved her thighs apart. She thought of protesting; she was already aroused beyond what she thought she could bear. But this time he started with her feet, so she submitted, thinking herself safe.

How many times had she limped her way back to this cave, cold and bloody and sore, and wished just for this one thing--a massage. She remembered telling her dream man how she often fantasized about a massage. It warmed her that he remembered and cared enough to give her this amazing experience. She'd never felt so pampered in her life.

His hands worked their way steadily up her legs and her breath caught in her throat as he began pressing and rubbing above her knees. The strokes moved up higher, toward the junction of her legs, and she couldn't stop the flood of telltale damp heat. She actually could feel her sheath pulsing, empty and in need. A small sound escaped and she jammed her fist into her mouth. She should have told him to stop, but it felt like heaven.

"So what do you think we should do?" She tried to keep her mind on battle, on any distraction, but she was so aware of those strong fingers moving closer and closer to the place where she needed him most.

"I think we have a couple of days before the big meeting takes place. More vampires are in the area. I want to make certain they stay away from Zacarias's people."

She frowned. "Can you do that?"

"I am going to try. It will be a difficult safeguard to cast, and I will need blood to do it."

"I don't mind you taking mine," Solange said, and realized it was true. She would rather provide for him than have anyone else do so. In the end, when she'd gotten past her fear of being conquered, she'd found it an erotic experience.

His finger moved down her bottom, tracing the firm flesh and sliding across her very wet sex. She inhaled sharply and rolled over. She couldn't take one more moment of his hands on her. She'd never felt so needy in her life.

He stepped back and helped her to sit. She was too limp to stand. "I do not know if it is safe for me to take your blood, for either of us. Not until we get the information needed from the vampires."

"For either of us?" Solange found it hard to look at him. He was so gorgeous and she was so naked, her skin flushed, her breathing almost harsh. Hadn't he been as affected by touching her as she was by his touch?

"Your blood may be killing the parasites, and I need them," he explained. "As for you, the act of taking your blood is very sensual, and I dare not lose control and convert you. How are you feeling now?"

"I feel better. Thank you."

"More relaxed?"

She bit her lip. She didn't want to lie to him. He'd gone to a lot of trouble for her.

Two fingers lifted her chin. "What is it, kessake ku toro s?vamak-- beloved little wildcat? I thought we had established that when I ask a question, I require an answer. Is that not easy?"

She shook her head and attempted a smile. "Not as easy as you make it sound."

"What would you be afraid of telling me?"

Now she was embarrassed to sit in front of him completely naked, her body so unbearably aroused she could barely think straight, let alone find the right words to tell him. She felt vulnerable all over again. Why should it be so difficult to voice her sexual needs? What more did she want from him? The way he'd said that taking her blood was sensual, and the tone of his voice when he'd uttered conversion had sent her already aroused body into a shocking frenzy of need. She stilled; in spite of her raging body, desperate for release, she wasn't certain her brain would allow her to receive him without a fight. So classic jaguar and so difficult to explain.

"It's embarrassing and I don't want to disappoint you." There. She'd told him the truth. Okay. Maybe she'd whispered, but she managed to say the words without stammering.

"You only disappoint me when you do not trust me enough to share your needs."

How could she possibly describe the slow-building, burning, relentless ache that refused to give her rest? The silence stretched between them. He didn't move, his body still, his eyes on hers, refusing to allow her to look away.

"I'm very . . ." Her voice trailed off and she shook her head. "I feel as if I'm burning alive. I ache."

A slow smile briefly teased his mouth. His eyes warmed. "For me? Did I put that ache here?" His fingers slid down her bare stomach to the smooth mound. The pads of his fingers did a slow massage "Do I make you this way? Is all the wetness a welcome for me?"

She closed her eyes, her head falling back at his touch. Deep inside, her body began to pulse. "Of course for you. I didn't know I could feel this way."

"You should never hide from who you are, Solange. Or hide from your needs. Certainly you should never try to hide them from me. I am the only one to give you satisfaction. Do you understand what I am telling you? Only me. I want you to embrace yourself as a woman, as my woman. I have never understood why a woman should be unfulfilled sexually, or in any other way. Partners should trust one another enough to share their needs."

Very gently, he pressed his hand against her shoulder, forcing her to lie back down on the bench. "Just relax again and let me put you where I want you." She swallowed her apprehension and let him shift her body so her bottom was at the end of the bench and her legs straddled the end of it. He opened her thighs, draping her there, her feet flat on the floor.

Her first instinct was to close her legs, but his hand rested on the inside of her knees so very gently, and she found she couldn't move. She tried to breathe evenly. He wasn't physically preventing her, but still, the power of his mind did. She didn't want him to stop, yet she felt so completely vulnerable. Her body was open to him, her most private center. She was a woman and she would have to accept invasion.

A small sob escaped. Invasion. Was that how she viewed sex? Making love? What was wrong with her? And how could he put up with her being so absolutely terrified of such a natural act? She wanted him. She needed him. She was extremely aroused, so much so that she knew her scent was pervading the air. But she didn't move. She couldn't move .

Dominic loomed over her nude body, completely clothed, and she found the situation even more arousing, especially when his heavy-lidded gaze drifted so possessively over her. She could see he was hard and thick and ready for her. She had done that. Solange Sangria, with her not-so-perfect body and her idiotic stammering ways and the millions of mistakes she made in a relationship. She had been the one to put that tremendous erection on such an amazing, powerful, very sensual man.

"When you let out those little breathy sobs, Solange, it should be out of pleasure, not because you are upset with your thoughts. You are not ready for joining with me yet. When you are, you will want to take care of my needs. That will be the only thing on your mind. You will cease to exist other than to please me, as I do for you now. That is how it should be."

His fingers traced over her breasts and then he simply bent his head and took possession of her mouth. The shock of pleasure sent a current of electricity straight to her core. She moaned as his tongue tangled and dueled with hers. She'd never kissed a man this way. Not once. Nothing had prepared her for Dominic sweeping her into a sensual, dazzling world where her body refused to be her own. His claiming was the most dominating thing she'd ever experienced.

His mouth took command of hers and insisted on her compliance. She couldn't have stopped herself if she wanted to. Besides his compelling, seductive nature, she could taste the dark lust in him, the passion that welled up for her, so strong, like a raging river. He seemed to feed at her mouth, kissing her again and again, his strong hands framing her face while he devoured her.

Just when her arms began to circle his neck, he bit at her lower lip with just enough force to sting her, sending a jolt of fire darting from her breasts to her sex. She moaned again as he kissed his way down to the swell of her breasts. He nuzzled there for a moment while her heart jumped and her hips grew even more restless. "I love how you sound. So sexy," he murmured against her nipple.

Before she could reply he drew her breast inside that scalding-hot cauldron of his mouth, sucking strongly, his tongue flicking and licking, alternating with his fingers as they tugged and rolled her nipple. She heard her own broken cry and her hips bucked. She hadn't known she could be so sensitive. She arched her back, giving him better access, compulsively circling his head with her arms. She tried to stifle the small sobs of need as all discipline and thought deserted her. Small lights burst behind her eyes, and sensation overwhelmed her.

He lavished attention on her breasts. She felt the scrape of his teeth and heard the change in his breathing--for her. All for her. He was in her mind, heightening her pleasure, showing her his. He loved her breasts. He could spend hours suckling there, feasting, teasing and tormenting. Some of the images in his head were shocking, but still very erotic, and she was willing, in that moment, to give him anything if he would just relieve the terrible building pressure in her body.

His hair swept her stomach as he kissed his way down, pausing for a just a moment to tease her belly button before he moved lower still. "This is why," he murmured against her bare mound, "I do not want anything between my mouth and your skin. I want you to feel everything I can give you."

His hands cupped her bottom and he lifted her hips to his mouth, his tongue sweeping over her in a languid, almost lazy lick. She jumped, her cry shocking her. That desperate, needy sound couldn't have been her.

"Mmm. Delicious. You taste like nectar to me. I hope you enjoy yourself, kessake, because I have the feeling this will be a favorite pastime."

He took his time at first, a gentle, slow torment while he kissed and licked and explored until she was writhing under his mouth. His tongue plunged deep and the breath hissed out of her. And then he stroked that hard little button where every nerve ending centered. She nearly convulsed with rapture.

Dominic feasted, exactly as if this were his favorite pastime. His expert tongue never stopped, and when he flicked and then suckled her clit, her shattered cries became pleas. He took his time, his fingers plunging deep while he lapped at her cream. Tremors rolled through her as she moaned brokenly, desperate for release. Her heart raced so fast, almost in time to the pulsing in her womb. Her body wound tighter and tighter until the sensation was nearly unbearable. She tried to push herself onto his mouth; her hips bucked uncontrollably. The hunger in her built and built with no end in sight. She was afraid she was going insane, thrashing on the table, her cries and pleas filling the room.

His relentless mouth didn't stop, his tongue flicking her small, inflamed button, fast and slow, then plunging deep to draw out more nectar, pushing her beyond every limit she'd ever considered, beyond any imagining. She sobbed, begged and promised him anything if he would just allow her release. Her hips rose pushing into his mouth helplessly. His torment was exquisite, a pleasure so deep it bordered on pain.

"Dominic, please," she pleaded. "I need . . ."

Me. You need me.

The words reverberated in her mind. He lifted his head and his eyes glittered, almost ruby red, a feral, dark promise nearly stopping her heart. Then he bent his head and sucked once more on her most sensitive spot, his tongue flicking hard and fast. Two fingers penetrated her and she choked, screaming as her body clamped down like a vise, the orgasm rolling over her fast and hard, so that her back arched and her hips ground against his hand.

Tears rolled down her face, and when she lifted her hand to wipe them away, he moved over her. He brushed the sweat from her skin as if it had never been there, tasting her tears as if they were a fine wine, stroking back her damp hair while she came down from the earth-shattering ripples of pure bliss. He was infinitely gentle, so tender she felt wrapped in a cocoon of love when she had long ago forgotten there was such a thing. He was giving her something beyond price, and it wasn't the rapture of his lovemaking. He made her feel hope again.

His soothing voice whispered to her, telling her how beautiful she was. When she found the energy she lifted her hand and traced the lines in his face, the small webbing of scars that ran down to his shoulder.

"I feel like I'm in the middle of one of those fairy tales my aunt used to tell us." Her voice trembled, her lashes were wet and spiky and her mouth quivered. "Are you real, Dominic? Do I dare believe in you?"

He lifted her into his arms, cradling her close to his chest. "Yes."

She stared into his compelling eyes. He didn't move or speak. Just waited. She was coming to know him now. He didn't mind the time it took for her to figure things out. If she needed time, he provided it. Something inside her shifted. She felt a little exposed; that small nugget of trust was taking hold, and it made her so vulnerable to him. She'd never allowed herself to need anyone; it was too easy for death to take them. She'd learned that lesson at a very early age. No one was safe. Not parents, not baby brothers. Not best friends. No one. If she dared to love them, they soon were torn from her.

"You didn't let me give back to you," she whispered.

"You have given me more than you can know, kessake. You are exhausted. We will rest now, and tomorrow you will eat properly."

She smiled at him, too tired to point out that he sounded like he was giving orders. And maybe he was. But right now, she desperately needed to go to sleep. She didn't even care that he opened the ground and floated them down into it, holding her close.

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