Chapter Twenty

You're the calm in the storm, the most gentle power. In your hands, I'm a flower. Near you, my heart beams.


The smallest of sounds woke Dominic. Soft weeping. His heart stuttered awake, his eyes snapped open and he turned his head to find Solange. She huddled a foot from him, knees drawn up, head down, the fall of her sable, sun-kissed hair hiding her face from him. But she wept. His Solange. His heart and soul.

For a moment he could barely breathe, anxiety rushing through him. They had exchanged blood for the first time before going to sleep. He had waited several risings to ensure all the parasites were gone from his body before they had tried their first exchange. She didn't appear to have experienced any ill effects, but . . . The process itself had been difficult when it should have been erotic. Solange could not be put under compulsion. She had to voluntarily take his blood on her own, and she had struggled, but she'd trusted him enough to see it through.

"Solange." His voice was infinitely tender. "What is wrong, my own?" He couldn't help merging with her, afraid the exchange had injured her in some way.

Instead of physical pain he felt the remnants of her nightmare, the child desperate to hold her mother, and he wanted to weep for her. There would always be moments of sorrow in her life he couldn't prevent, couldn't heal no matter how much he wanted to. He crossed the short distance between them and sank down beside her, drawing her into his arms, cradling her on his lap, his face buried in her shoulder. He rocked her gently until she calmed and grew silent.

She pressed her hands over her ears. "I dreamt of my mother, and when I woke up, I couldn't stop crying. The sounds are so loud, Dominic, everything, even my own tears. The sound of water, of small animals and insects. I can hear what is happening outside the cave and I can't turn it down. My head hurts from all the noise. And the sounds were so amplified, and you were so utterly silent . . ." She trailed off. She pressed a hand to her heart. "And now I can hear the sound of my heart pounding. I was so afraid even though I knew intellectually you were safe."

His hand went to the nape of her neck, massaging the tense muscles. "I am so sorry about your mother, beloved. We will meet her again in the next life and she will welcome you with open arms. And I am sorry I frightened you." He tightened his hold in an effort to comfort her. He wasn't her mother, but he loved her fiercely. "Let me see about your hearing," he added gently.

Carpathians could hear the beat of wings in the distance, the smallest of stones rolling down a hillside. Dominic and Solange had exchanged blood and the conversion was beginning, but she should have been able to turn her hearing to an acceptable volume. Dominic left his body, sending his spirit into hers, examining her carefully, trying to determine what his Carpathian blood had done to her.

His blood should have begun the process of conversion, yet the cells were distinct, her cells bonding with his, separate yet together. It didn't make sense. Her jaguar seemed perfectly intact, other than the Carpathian blood cells piggybacking on hers. There was no chaos, no antibodies rushing to thwart the process at all. It was as if their bloodlines had merged, one on top of the other, coexisting rather than competing for dominance.

Her hearing was a different matter. Already acute due to her jaguar, the Carpathian blood had amplified her abilities until sounds were overwhelming. He moved through her, checking for other differences. There were subtle changes, nothing like he expected would happen. Puzzled, he returned to his own body.

"Is that better? It is a matter of turning down the volume. When something is not quite right, think of how it works and you can fix it just as I have done for you. If it is not enough, you can try it yourself to see if it works."

She turned her tear-wet face against his throat and sighed. "Yes, that's much better, thank you. I'm sorry I woke you. You shouldn't be up yet."

Everything in him went utterly still. She was right. His body knew the exact time of each rising. He had lived centuries and there was no doubt that he could tell the time of night when it was safe to rise. He had no doubts that the sun was still high. This time of day his body should be leaden, impossible to move. He was at his most vulnerable with the sun so high. Even beneath the earth he would feel the prickly sensation that threatened to burn his skin, yet he was perfectly comfortable. Uneasiness stirred. Every Carpathian needed a built-in warning system, and his seemed to be missing.

"The sun has not yet set." He made it a statement, but his mind was shocked at the realization. The sun was still in the sky and yet just minutes ago, he had walked over to her, sat down, pulled her into his lap. He had moved with no difficulty, no lethargy. Impossible! He was an ancient, and the sun, still in the sky, should have rendered him helpless.

She bit her lip, her eyes going wide, the shock betraying her comprehension. "If the sun is still out, Dominic, should you be awake? Can that hurt you? To be awakened while the sun is still up?" Anxiety was in her voice.

"Waking is not the problem." Very gently he put her from him and stood. " This is the problem. I should not be able to move right now."

He studied her face. She had changed very subtly. Her cat's eyes were still direct and glowed there in the dark, giving evidence of her excellent night vision, but not in the same way as before.

"What?" She touched her face. Sudden panic crossed her expression. She shifted without hesitation, ensuring her jaguar was safe.

Dominic had seen her shift so many times and she'd been incredibly fast, but this time he barely blinked and she was fully jaguar. The cat stretched languidly and nudged him with her head, clearly unaffected by the Carpathian blood. He was more puzzled than ever.

"This makes no sense, Solange."

The conversion was always painful, some less than others, but still difficult. Her jaguar should be reacting adversely, but instead she looked at him sleepily and yawned. Solange shifted back, laughing. "She's annoyed at me for disturbing her. She's not at all upset with the first blood exchange--in fact, she likes it. She feels stronger and faster." The laughter faded from her eyes and anxiety crept back in. "Check your body, Dominic. Maybe my blood is doing something to you."

There was worry in her voice. He was already assessing his body. His hearing, like hers, seemed more acute, although he'd automatically turned down the volume. His night vision was just a little bit clearer. He didn't feel the sun's warning on his skin, and his body, although heavy, hadn't gone leaden as it should have.

" Minan, I can detect no harm done to me. I am still fully Carpathian. Our blood does not mix. Mine does not take over yours; rather, the two strains connect. It is odd." He sighed, frowning a little. "We know that your blood can remove any spell cast with the blood sacrifice of black magic, and it heals damage done by black magic, but I do not understand why, when I give you my blood, the cells seem mated, yet one does not take over the other."

"I feel the worry in you."

"I do not like anything I do not understand. It makes no sense that I can move now or that I do not feel the warning prickling beneath my skin that tells me the sun is high."

"I actually feel rejuvenated," Solange admitted. "I was looking forward to another blood exchange, but if you think my blood is somehow affecting you adversely, I suppose we shouldn't try another until we figure out what is going on."

The wistful note in her voice touched his heart. She was fully committed to him, to the Carpathian way of life. Her one fear--her jaguar--was taking the whole conversion process in stride as if nothing at all was happening. Did he dare try to bring Solange more fully into his world? Yet even as he wondered, his hand was already, of its own volition, curling around the nape of her neck, drawing her to him. He craved the essence of her, pure Solange, the taste and rush unlike any other. She was an addiction he would never get over, the craving for her deep in his bones and seared irrevocably into his heart.

She shook her head. "Not yet. First go up to the cavern floor and see if your alarm system works from there," she insisted.

Heat flared. His Solange. Protecting him again, this time from himself, from his own needs. He floated easily toward the surface. Nearing the cavern floor, he began to feel the uneasiness of a Carpathian when the sun was high in the sky. The sensation wasn't particularly strong, but the warning was there. He realized his strength was waning, his hovering body beginning to feel clumsy and foreign. Deep inside the earth, he was able to move with a Carpathian's fluid grace even though the sun was high. But the closer to the surface he rose, or perhaps the longer he remained awake during the day, he was losing strength. He returned to Solange.

"If your blood is doing anything to me, it is allowing me to be alert during the day. I have no problems with that."

His smile dispelled the anxiousness in her eyes. She returned his smile and leaned into him in a blatant invitation. "Then we should keep going. Take my blood, Dominic. Bring me closer to your world."

His heart leapt. More than anything he wanted her to be part of his world. He wanted many lifetimes with her, not just one. He had gone so long without anyone, and now that he'd found her, he didn't want to give her up so fast. More important, she'd never had joy in her life, and he wanted centuries to give her as much joy as possible. "You are certain, Solange?" he whispered, nuzzling her neck. He kissed his way down to the swell of her breasts.

She arched into him, her body soft and pliant. "I think we should give it a second chance. My jaguar is sleepy and annoyed that I keep asking if she is all right. She would have protested if she was hurt." Her arms crept around his neck and she pressed her body to his.

He loved how she did that--gave herself to him without reservation. Solange. He whispered her name, shocked at the overwhelming love pouring through him. He sank his teeth into her tempting pulse. She cried out, a breathy little sound that sent a lash of erotic heat rushing through his body. He swept his tongue over that sweet spot and sank his teeth deep.

Her entire body shuddered. He felt the ripples starting deep in her core and spreading like a wildfire throughout her body. Her hot, sweet nectar poured into him, filling his cells with crackling energy. He fed, devouring her, taking her very life force into his body, feasting until her moan snapped him from the enthrallment. He swept his tongue across the pinpricks and, gently repositioning her, opened a line in his chest for her. He cradled her head, encouraging her, his body already shuddering with the need to feel her feeding.

Again she was tentative, but his Carpathian blood had made some changes in her. This time she licked at him with languid, sensual sweeps of her tongue. She lapped like the cat she was. Each stroke of her tongue sent shimmering fire dancing through his veins. Her mouth opened, moved over his chest, her lips soft and tender. She bit down and his entire body tightened, the rush close to an orgasm. Her teeth had extended enough to take his blood in the way Carpathians were meant to. She didn't seem to notice, her mind hazing with passion.

It was difficult for him to give up the amazing, sensual experience of his lifemate exchanging blood, but his strength was definitely waning. When she had taken enough blood for a true exchange, he pressed his hand to her mouth and she instantly pulled back, lapping again with her tongue. He had to close the wound, but he discovered the edges were already seamlessly repairing themselves.

He kissed her again with passionate thoroughness and took her back to earth with him, tucking the comforter around her, watching carefully for signs of distress. She pulled the comforter closer around her and fell to sleep long before he allowed himself to follow suit.

Dominic woke before Solange, determined to check her health. She lay sprawled across him, her legs over his thighs, beneath the blanket of rich earth. The comforter was bunched in her hand to the side of her, but sometime during their sleep she had burrowed instinctively beneath the soil. The dark loam covered her nearly to her neck. He took that as a good sign.

The moon was high; he felt the welcoming beams even below the earth as he did each rising. He allowed himself a brief sigh of relief. That hadn't changed. His body was completely tuned to the night. He could hear insects and even the soft rustle of mice. Outside the cave, something splashed in the stream. The kitten gave a small mewling sigh in its compulsion-induced sleep.

Dominic lay still, aware Solange had spent a lifetime in danger. She would know if he moved. He barely allowed his breath to rise and fall in his lungs as he left his body to examine hers. There were far more Carpathian cells attached to her cells now than there had been prior to their last exchange. The change was also more pronounced now. Organs were definitely reshaping. He was both satisfied and afraid. He needed to find her jaguar. So far, Solange had not experienced any discomfort and neither had her cat.

Her jaguar was completely intact, although when he studied her carefully, the organs she shared with Solange were reshaping as well. His heart beat harder, just for a moment, at his finding. The change in his rhythm was enough to awaken Solange. She was fully alert in moments, lifting her head, eyes moving quickly around them to search out any threat.

"What is it?"

"We are safe, Solange. I woke a little early to make certain you were suffering no adverse effects." He waved his hand to clean them both before she could really process that she'd been sleeping under a blanket of soil.

Solange nuzzled his chest, inhaling his scent. "I love how you smell, Dominic." She gazed up at him and smiled. "There are definite advantages to being Carpathian."

His fingers tangled in her hair. She looked at him with stars in her eyes. He found it amazing to have a woman look at him as if he were her entire world. And maybe he was--she certainly was his.

She stroked a hand over his chest, pleasure showing openly on her face at the simple act of touching him. "Did you check to make certain my blood wasn't doing anything freaky to you?"

He laughed softly, already caught in her spell. "Our blood together is doing something a little freaky, but I am still fully Carpathian. And your jaguar still seems to be wholly jaguar."

"Then really, there's no reason to wait, is there?" she asked.

He shook his head. "We should be cautious, Solange. I do not want to rush you into a decision you may regret."

Solange sprawled across his thighs, her hair spreading like so much silk over his skin, one hand caressing the velvet sac between his legs. She propped her chin on his thigh, mouth inches from his burgeoning cock. "I feel incredible."

As she spoke he could feel the warmth of her breath teasing the head of his cock. It jerked in anticipation. She leaned a little closer and licked from the base of his shaft to the very sensitive spot just beneath the broad head. Every nerve ending went on alert. His entire body shuddered. He had fantasized about waking up to her mouth on him, but the reality far exceeded his fantasy.

"I see no reason not to finish the conversion, Dominic." She licked up his long shaft a second time, engulfed the entire head for one long, heart-stopping moment, and then pulled back. "I feel great. You do, too. I think we should just make the exchange and see what happens."

He swallowed hard, watching her every movement. She was going to seduce him into getting anything she wanted and right now, it looked as though she wanted him.

I do. I do want you so very much.

Her cat's eyes gleamed a deep emerald green as she took him deep inside the scalding heat of her mouth. He lay back, savoring the feel of her soft mouth. She formed a tight ring with her index finger and thumb as she drew him deep, pulled back to balance him on her full lips and then completely engulfed him again.

His breath exploded out of his lungs. He tangled his fingers in her hair. "I could wake up to this forever." As seductions went, she found the way to get anything she wanted.

That's what I'm trying to say here. This would be a great way to start every rising for the next few centuries.

Her tongue stroked and teased, curling along the underside of the head. His hips bucked as she took him deeper with each stroke. He could already feel the explosion building. It was amazing how quickly she'd learned how to please him with an expertise he could hardly believe. She watched him with such intensity, paying complete attention to his every gasp and groan, learning from every reaction how best to drive him wild.

And she was an incredibly quick study.

"Solange . . . oh, God." He nearly exploded when she began humming, the sound vibrating through his cock and spreading heat through his veins.

I love how this makes you feel, she purred in his mind. I love your scent, how soft your skin is here. Like velvet.

His stomach muscles bunched as her fingernails lightly scraped along his sac and her fingers stroked and caressed, rolling the velvety balls very gently. She was good at detail, and very focused on his pleasure. Searing fire spread through his body and took his breath.

She began to move her head to the rhythm of his hips, taking him deeper, constricting him tightly before allowing his cock to slide along the velvet rasp of her tongue. He bunched her hair in tight fists, and pushed her head down, closing his eyes as her throat opened.

"You are so beautiful, Solange. So incredibly sexy. Oh, God, that's right, minan, I love when you do that with your tongue."

You make me feel sexy.

He loved the confidence in her voice. The hunger in her, the way she enjoyed what she was doing, wanting his pleasure, learning every hot spot, using her knowledge to push him beyond his control--it all made him hotter than ever. He filled her mouth, eyes half- closed now, watching, her hair bunched in his fists, holding her while his hips thrust in and out, stretching her lips, each surge taking him farther into the hot, constricting depths.

As if reading his mind--and she probably was--she began to suck harder as he tugged her closer. His cock swelled and pulsed with wild need. Her mouth tightened around him as the quick, hard thrusts penetrated deeper. She drew each breath fast as he pulled out. He held each thrust for a longer period of time in her hot, wet mouth, the fire racing through him. He could feel his body drawing tight.

She moaned, and the sound vibrated straight through his heavy erection, sending the fire racing through his body. He realized he was pulling on her scalp, yet she was on the edge of her own orgasm, the bite of pain only adding to her drenching desire. His cock tightened, burned. He thrust hard and deep. The explosion seemed to start in his toes and rocket through his body as he emptied himself in her.

He couldn't think or breathe with the mind-numbing pleasure, yet he was still hard and aching, needing more, needing the solace of her body. His hands in her hair tugged insistently until she moved up and over him. He caught her hips and guided her until she straddled him. Already he could feel the scorching heat of her feminine channel as, with infinite slowness, she began to impale herself on his thick, pulsing length.

The breath hissed out of his already burning lungs. She was so tight, grasping him, clamping down as she slowly opened for him and allowed his invasion. He loved the feel of all that hot silk gripping so tightly. When she tightened her muscles around him and he slid through those hot folds, the friction was incredible along his shaft.

Dominic watched her face, the dazed wonder in her eyes, the expression of shock as her desire built. Her full breasts swayed gently, and a flush spread over her body as her hips rose and fell with a steady, slow rhythm. He flexed his fingers on her hips, gripped and thrust up as she came down, all the while gazing at her face. Her breath caught as pleasure crashed through her. Her eyes went wide, almost completely cat. He watched her register the myriad of sensations as his thick, diamond-hard cock pushed through her tight, silken folds.

Dominic. She breathed his name in a kind of awed wonder.

The look in her glowing eyes, the absolute adulation, the glittering excitement building, her need urgent and unashamed, made his heart clench. Love washed over him.

He lifted her again, hands urging her to a little faster pace. She did a small spiral with her hips on her downward path that took his breath away. Her muscles gripped, biting down so that pleasure ripped through him. She made a small, inarticulate sound, throwing her head back as he thrust deep, driving upward as she came down. The broad mushroom head, filled with nerve endings, bumped her womb, lodged tight, scalding him with heat. Locking them together, he rolled her under him, blanketing her body with his own. The action sent fire racing up into his belly and down his thighs.

Solange closed her eyes, allowing the fire to wash over her. She'd never felt so sensuous or beautiful in her life. He had done that. Dominic. He had made her aware of how wonderful it was to be a woman. He showed her how giving could be just as perfect as receiving. He showed her love.

He leaned over her, looking into her eyes, his expression making her pulse race. His eyes were turquoise, hot, intense, burning into her with such hungry desire and unashamed adoration that she wanted to give him everything.

Deep inside her, she felt his hard, thick shaft stretching her, filling her, sending sensation after sensation rippling through her body. He set a hard, fast rhythm that left her gasping, the friction intensifying with each deep stroke. She tightened her muscles around him, attempting to match his fierce rhythm. The streaks of fire threatened to engulf her, consume her, burn her clean until there was nothing left of her.

This was Dominic, driving her into a frenzy of need and passion, taking her so far past what she ever thought possible, her body belonging to him, claiming his for her own. She let the haze take her, let her mind just go, flying into subspace as the building inferno began to engulf her. She writhed under him, her hips bucking, meeting his hips in frenzied need. Her orgasm washed through her like a tidal wave, building higher and higher, stronger and stronger, until she heard his hoarse shout. His hands gripped her tight as he surged into her one more time, driving her up so high the explosion was fast and hard, ripping through her, taking her breath, so that her muscles clamped down like a vise, taking him soaring with her. She fell over the top with him, struggling for breath.

They lay for some time, just breathing hard. Solange kept her hand tangled in his long hair. When she could find it in her to move, she brushed kisses along his jaw. "I think you wore me out."

He kissed her forehead. "I think it was the other way around." She looked up at him, wanting him to see that she meant what she said. "I want us to complete the ritual, Dominic. I want to come wholly into your world."

Dominic drew in his breath. This was the moment. He locked gazes with her, brushing back stray strands of her hair. "You have to be certain , kessake. Once this is done, there is no way to undo it." Very tenderly he kissed her mouth, noting she was beginning to tremble. The enormity of her decision was sinking in. "I will love you with all my heart and soul just as we are. You do not have to do this for me."

Solange took a breath, let it out and smiled up at him. She trailed the pads of her fingers over the lines etched into his face. "There is no one I would rather be with, in this life or the next. I have thought about this and I feel the rightness of it."

"It may be incredibly painful. I can help you through the pain if it comes to that, but I have heard it is a terrible thing to go through." He knew he was the one hesitating, not her, and yet he longed for this.

Her cat's eyes stared straight into his. "I'm not afraid, Dominic, and no matter what happens, I will have no regrets."

"Even if I cannot guarantee your jaguar?"

Her tongue touched her lips. "She will survive."

Joy surged through him. Dominic trailed fire from her lips to the swell of her breast. His teeth tugged gently at her nipple and his tongue lapped before he suckled strongly. She gasped and arched into him. He kissed his way to the pulse beating at the creamy swell, licked once, twice, and then sank his teeth deep. She cried out, her body going soft and pliant. She tangled her hands in his hair, cradling his head while he drank, her body shuddering through a second orgasm.

She tasted like heaven. Like Solange--his lifemate. The woman he loved above all else. Spice burst over his tongue. Every cell in his body reacted, soaking up the honeyed nectar, filling him with energy. His body responded with urgent need, wanting to claim her, to join with her and be one. He slid his tongue over the pinpricks and lifted his head.

"You are absolutely certain, Solange?"

Her eyes were glazed, her lips swollen from his kisses. She smiled up at him and touched his face with gentle fingers. "More certain than I've ever been about anything."

She had come so far, trusting him to do this. His heart swelled, nearly bursting with his love for her. It was such a precious gift--her trust. Her desire to please him. That she could take such a risk, that she would take such a risk for him, was humbling. Dominic drew a line across his chest and cradled her head. Come into my world, my own, he invited. Drink.

Solange didn't hesitate. She wanted this. All reservations were gone. She had never truly belonged anywhere, and now she had found a home in Dominic. Her lashes drifted down and she snuggled deeper into his arms, her tongue sliding over the seam of the wound in tentative exploration. She felt Dominic's entire body clench and shudder with pleasure, and rejoiced that she could give that to him. She was acutely aware of his shaft once more growing hard and stretching and filling her.

She felt along her teeth with her tongue, a little surprised to feel two had lengthened. Already the need was on her, a terrible craving she couldn't resist even had she wanted to. Dominic--her own. She sank her teeth deep. He cried out hoarsely, and her body clamped down hard on his. His essence flowed into her. Hot. Powerful. Rich. She felt the connection between them, the sharing of mind and body, the very blood flowing in their veins.

Her body moved against his, soft, made for him, fitting perfectly to him. His hips thrust deep and the now-familiar fire took her. He took command so easily, his hips surging into hers, penetrating deep, dragging over inflamed nerve endings over and over. Each stroke was more powerful than the last, pushing her higher until she hovered right on the edge of great precipice.

Dominic shared her mind, stole her heart and completed her soul. With the taste of him filling her, his breath moving in and out of her lungs, she lifted her hips to meet his, tightening every muscle around his hardened length, dragging another explosive release from him as her own took her high.

She swept her tongue over the laceration and watched it close, a little awed by what she had done. The taste of him was in her mouth and she leaned in to kiss him, to share with him the very life force he had shared with her.

"I love you, Solange," Dominic said.

She settled into his arms, knowing he was far more nervous about what was to come than she was. "It's going to be all right," she murmured, a little sleepily. "Making love is tiring business."

"Your body is changing , kessake ku toro s?vamak--beloved little wildcat. As soon as I know it is safe, I will put you to sleep in the ground so Mother Earth can do the rest."

"You will have to watch over our kitten and feed him," she said drowsily. "And make certain you play with him. He's just a cub and he needs lots of attention."

Dominic nuzzled the top of her head. Every muscle was bunched tight in anticipation of seeing her writhing in pain. "I will, Solange. Have no worries." "Check my cat now. Make certain she's all right."

He took a breath, allowed his spirit the freedom to leave his physical self behind to enter her body. Her organs were reshaping at a fast rate, both hers and the jaguar's. She should have already been in pain, but somehow her blood was still intact and seemed to heal the organs as fast as his blood changed them.

He returned to his body. "Your jaguar is not paying any attention to what is happening."

She turned up her face to his. "I knew she'd be fine. I'm tired, Dominic. I'm going to sleep now."

Her lashes drifted down and she was out, trusting him to look after her and the cub. Heart pounding, mouth dry, he held her for hours, just waiting for the pain to start. She simply slept. Her jaguar slept. He kept vigil through the night and finally, when he was certain he could do so, he put her in the earth with him and closed the soil over their heads.

Dominic allowed Solange to sleep for three risings. He checked her carefully, ensuring she was healing properly. He played with the kitten, making certain it had enough food, but each rising, he awakened earlier and earlier just to see if he would feel the warning that the sun was out. He didn't. Mostly he worried about Solange. He found, as silly as it was, that he missed her. He was used to sharing her mind, watching for her laughter, and enjoying just being with her. The world seemed far less bright without her beside him.

On the third rising he chose to wake her before the sun went down. He wanted to see the effect it had on her. He woke her gently and, cradling her against his chest, floated her out of the earth to her bath. She wrapped her arms around his neck and hugged him.

"I want to check my cat," she protested as he placed her in the hot water.

"Bath first," he said firmly. Her care had to come first.

She smirked and shifted right there in the water. Solange. His miracle. Her cat chuffed her disgust and shook her head, those green eyes gleaming with mischief. His warning radar went off, but he was too entranced with the laughter building in the jaguar's eyes. She gathered herself, her muscles rippling beneath the tawny fur, and sprang, hitting him in the chest and knocking him over. He tried to catch her, but she took him down to the ground, standing on him, her tongue rasping over his face. He caught her muzzle in his hands and looked into her laughing eyes. "I knew you were going to be trouble from the first moment I laid eyes on you."

She shifted in his arms, kissing him. "No, you didn't. You thought I was going to be docile and sweet." She jumped up. "Come on, I want to fly on my own."

Dominic caught her arm, restraining her. "The sun is up. We need to be a little cautious."

She ran her hand down her arm, frowning. "I don't feel any different, Dominic. Shouldn't I? I slept beneath the earth. I am fully Carpathian, aren't I?"

He swept his arm around her, cleaning the water from both of them as he did so. "We are both Carpathian, kessake, but we are also something more."

"I don't understand."

"Neither do I. Your blood is unique and remains intact. I think, somehow, although you are fully Carpathian, we both retain all the properties of your blood."

She bit her lip. "I don't know how I feel about that."

"Because of Brodrick?"

She nodded.

"Your blood also comes from your mother."

Her cat's eyes blinked once and a slow smile curved her mouth. "I should have known you'd say the right thing, Dominic. Thank you."

He took her hand, waving his other one to cover her body in her jeans and tee, her warrior armor. They made their way up toward the surface of the cave, maneuvering through the narrow tunnel. As they reached the entrance, light spilled in, dappled from the surrounding trees shading the area. He remembered emerging from a cave not so long ago, the sun burning his skin in spite of the cover, burning through the feathers of the harpy eagle. Now there was no reaction whatsoever. It had been centuries since he walked in the sun.

"Stay here, h?n s?vamak." It was an order, nothing less, and he looked down at her upturned face, letting her see he meant it.

Her protest died in her throat. She nodded.

Dominic slowly approached the entrance. The light grew stronger, reached for him. His heart pounded in anticipation. He took a few more cautious steps out of the cave. The sun fell across his body. Every muscle tensed. Nothing happened. There was no burning. No blisters. No terrible repercussions, just the feel of the sun on his skin.

He turned and looked at Solange. His miracle. She took his breath away. He held out his hand to her. Solange walked slowly toward him, reaching for his hand, smiling up at him with love shining in her eyes. He threaded his fingers through hers and called silently to awaken their kitten. They waited together until the little cat joined them, before walking together out in the sunshine.



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