Three hours later, Gray found himself alone with Jewel and safe in the forest. True to their word, the vampires escorted them safely through the city and left them in peace.
"This is far enough," one of them said. "We must go now. Do not return to the city." Before Gray could respond, they vanished in a flap of movement.
"Wait here," he told Jewel. He sprinted through the trees, their trunks blurring because of his own speed. He wanted to make sure the vampires didn't double back and attack. He caught sight of them only once, their white-blond hair whipping past the foliage.
Satisfied they wouldn't come back, he retraced his steps. Jewel was exactly where he'd left her, spreading out the meal they'd purchased before leaving the city. She glanced up at his approach.
"I hope you're hungry."
"Starved." He plopped down. The air was cool and fragrant with summer scents. Birds soared overhead, and the river trickled beside them. The perfect picnic setting. He could almost forget he'd been chased by crazed mermen and revenge-minded demons.
He gazed at the food hungrily. After having only a tasteless energy bar for breakfast, he would have sold his soul - maybe he had already and that was a moot point - for a single bite of that succulent meat.
"Shall we eat?" she asked as proper as ever.
He didn't take time to respond, simply ripped off a piece of meat and popped it into his mouth. He almost groaned at the sheer pleasure of it.
Jewel did groan. "I don't think I've ever tasted anything quite this good," she said. "Well, except you."
She kept saying things like that, and such boldness from her shocked him enough that he paused, his fowl-filled hand poised just in front of his mouth. "I can say the same of you."
Since their last kiss, there had been a heavy tension between them. They were going to make love again; they both knew it. He couldn't resist her; he just couldn't. Every time he tried, he only succeeded in driving himself insane. So he was done denying himself. His desire to bite her excited rather than repulsed her. A blessing he wasn't going to question.
He didn't know with one hundred percent surety that she was the Jewel of Dunamis as he suspected. Didn't know if he'd have one more night with her or many. None of that mattered. He loved her, and he was going to be with her.
When, he knew, would be sooner rather than later.
His gaze drifted to her. Dirt and blood specks smudged her cheek. Black-as-night hair cascaded in tangles down her back. And yet, with the vitality sparkling in her ocean-blue eyes, she'd never looked more lovely. More exquisite.
This tenderness he felt for her, this ferocity. This need to be near her. This furious passion and unquenchable hunger.
This protective obsession.
Only his sister, Katie, had ever brought out his protective instincts like this - and now Jewel. He felt anything but brotherly toward her.
His sister would love her, he knew.
"You're thinking about your family," Jewel stated. She nibbled on a soft loaf of bread stuffed with cheese. His brows arched. "And just how do you know that, oh non-mind reader?"
"Your expression is wistful. Tell me about them."
"You already know about them."
"Tell me, anyway."
Between bites, he said, "Brian is the unflappable one, always strong, always steady. Erik is the peacemaker and hard to rile, but once he's mad," Gray gave a mock shudder, "the wrath of Erik is a terrible thing."
As he spoke, everything inside him relaxed. That had been Jewel's purpose, he realized with admiration. "Denver is probably on a date right this minute with the World's Biggest Ice Queen."
"Madison or Jane?" Jewel asked with a grin. "Madison."
"I remember her. She never smiles."
"I don't know what the boy sees in her. She's emotionless and probably as much fun as an alien probe in bed."
Jewel gasped in scandalized shock. "What a horrible thing to say."
A laugh escaped him, and he was surprised by just how genuine it was. "Maybe warming up a prude is more fun than I realized."
Her cheeks reddened. "I am not a prude."
"Believe me, Blaze, I know." He reached over and squeezed her hand. "Nick is probably causing trouble somewhere with his warped sense of humor. Katie's probably giving her husband, Jorlan, hell, and my dad is probably giving my stepmom, Francis, hell. It seems to be a family tradition."
"I wish I could meet them in person."
Her words instantly flashed an image through his mind - an image of Jewel surrounded by his brothers,
sister and father. They would welcome her with open arms, would love her openness and honesty, and hell, he'd love to watch her face as his sailor-mouthed family shocked her.
"I've always wished I had Katie's strength," Jewel sighed wistfully. "When she first met Jorlan, she could have easily been crushed by his sheer maleness. But she ended up conquering him instead."
Overhead, the dome breathed an amber glow and that glow dripped onto her features, casting her in a perfect frame of radiance. His chest constricted. "Dusk is falling, so we need to finish eating. I want to wash up before lights out."
They finished their meal in silence, and Gray pushed to his feet. He held out his hand. "You ready?" "To bathe?" Jewel looked at him, her gaze unsure. "Together?"
He nodded. "If you get in that water with me, we're going to make love."
"Finally." Reaching up, she curled her fingers through his. He helped her to her feet. A rosy flush of excitement colored her cheeks as they strolled the short distance to the river's edge.
"Are Mermen going to attack us?" he asked, the thought just now occurring to him. "They are still in the city, and I do not sense them."
"Did you last time?"
She nodded. "That's why I was dressed and was not naked as promised. I'd hoped they would pass me by. We are very much alone here."
When she released his hand to unlace the knots on the waist of her robe, he stopped her with a huskily muttered, "Let me."
Movements deft, he worked at the material. The dirty covering soon floated to her ankles, leaving her in undergarments. Those he pushed to the ground, too. And then she was suddenly, gloriously naked.
He drank in the sight of her. Pink, pearled nipples, smooth-as-silk belly, a small thatch of dark curls, and long tapered legs.
Jewel stood completely still for Gray's perusal. Because the people of Atlantis wanted her for her psychic skills, they saw her as on object. A thing. They even called her "it" upon occasion. They'd never seen her as a sexual being. But the way Gray looked at her... she felt achy. Erotic and craved.
"You are so beautiful," he breathed. His eyes were heated, his voice husky.
"Thank - thank you." She didn't know what else to say. Need thrummed through her, and she reached out, peeling away his clothing piece by unwanted piece. Her hands were shaky. His chest was wide and laced with muscle, and his nipples were small and brown, hard points against her hands. A thin trail of blond hair led past the waist of his pants all the way to his penis. The long, thick length of him jutted up.
She'd seen him like this before. Proud. Aroused. Not in the tent, too dark, but for other women. This time, he wanted her. Was hard for her. Her blood heated with the power of that knowledge.
"We were made to pleasure each other, I think," he said, lifting her by the waist and walking straight into the water.
She wrapped her legs around him as cool liquid enveloped her, making her shiver. Gray's heat kept her warm and provided an erotic contrast. Her arms wound around him. Breasts to chest. Erection to woman.
"I've wanted you for so long," she admitted breathlessly.
"Then take me," he said, his voice rougher, harsher than she'd ever heard it. "I'm yours."
She kissed him then, softly at first. The moment their tongues met, she nearly cried out at the sudden rush of intensity between them. All strength deserted her. Had his arms not been around her, she would have sunk bonelessly to the bottom of the river. One of his hands gripped her thigh, keeping her leg around him.
The feel of his erection pressed directly against her, ready for penetration - yet just beyond reach. He rocked against her. She whimpered at the inexplicable burst of pleasure as every nerve ending in her body awoke.
"That feels so good. Do it again."
He uttered a strained chuckle. "First, I need to wash you. Your breasts... they're filthy. Just filthy." He sounded so wicked.
"Drop your legs," he added.
When she did, his hands cupped the water and he poured it onto her chest. He watched with barely a breath as each drop slid over her plump breasts, catching on her nipples.
He licked the first droplet away, then the other. "You're just so dirty. I need to wash you all over." "Are you dirty?"
He kissed his way down her stomach, not stopping until he was kneeling. The water just reached the apex of her thighs. Darting out, his tongue found the heart of her. She screamed at the pleasure of it, and her head arched backward. Her hands gripped his head, holding him in place.
Jewel had to have him inside her. Now. She clawed at him with her nails. He jerked up and they tumbled into the water, their mouths locked together as the liquid washed over them, covering them. Their bodies tangled and strained as their tongues dueled.
Her head grew light just as Gray gave a powerful kick of his legs, sending them above the surface. She gasped in air, taking his breath. He gasped in air, taking hers. The need to have him, all of him, pounded through her.
"Don't make me wait any longer," she gasped.
He surged up and into her, going deep.
Her inner walls held him tight, and when he was sheathed completely, giving her body what it had craved all these many days, her pleasure exploded. She spasmed around him. Stars winked behind her eyelids, and heat spread like wildfire through her blood. Because he was inside her, a part of her, her rapture was so much more complete.
"Shit," Gray groaned. He rocked in and out of her, and she clung to him.
"More." So much more. She might never get enough of him. Already the hunger was building again. "I love you." Unbidden, the words ripped from her throat. They were imprinted on her every cell. Shouting them was as natural as breathing.
"Tell me again," he growled. "I love you."
"I love you. Gods, I love you."
In and out he moved, fast, so fast, the water splashing around them. She bit the cord of his neck, hard. She tugged at his hair, her need becoming too great to control. She needed... she needed...
His teeth sank into her neck.
Exactly that. Instantly another orgasm consumed her. Intense. So intense. "Yes. Yes!" And as she writhed against him, riding the waves of pleasure, he drank from her. His thrusts deepened, grew even faster, harder.
When he came, a hoarse cry ripped from his throat and the sound echoed through the forest.