“Why not?” I shuck my pants off, my erection proud and thick. “This body is yours, my mate. Everything about it. It was created only for you.” I stride to her, but she doesn’t turn.

“You’re naked. Right behind me. Being naked.”

I lean close, my lips to her ear. “You can look all you want. I don’t mind. Besides, I saw you, and I’ll be dreaming of your beautiful skin, perfect breasts, and creamy thighs for the rest of my life.”

She shivers, her breathing speeding up. I run a finger along her delicate neck, then press my lips to the spot gently. So gently. Her breath hitches as I suck lightly, then move closer to the skin beneath her ear.

A loud splash breaks the moment, and I turn to see Gareth’s dark hair disappearing beneath the water.

“We’ll continue this.” I nibble her ear lobe.

She hastily turns toward camp. “I need, um. I need to …” She doesn’t finish the sentence, just hurries away through the trees.

I stretch and head toward the pool. Gareth splashes towards the far edge to grab some blumerin. As I wade in, I can feel Taylor’s eyes on me, and when my crisp wind carries the scent of her arousal to me, I groan and sink beneath the sparkling surface.

6

Taylor

We spend the next three days travelling through the forest, the horses no longer running at breakneck speeds. Gareth and Leander still keep a wary eye out, stopping at times just to listen to the wind soughing through the trees. Sleeping next to Leander becomes a little more comfortable each night, his warm body and gentle touches easing my worries.

“Is there a damn town anywhere around here?” Beth rubs her lower back.

“There are towns.” Gareth leans away from her elbow. “But we aren’t stopping in them. Too dangerous.”

“And the forest isn’t?” She twists, her back cracking, and sighs.

“The forest hides us from prying eyes.” Gareth stares through the trees. “But we’ll enter the Red Plains in two days’ time. We’ll have no choice but to take shelter in a village along the way.”

“Nice. Maybe that’ll give me a chance to get away from your surly grunting.”

“I don’t grunt.” Gareth’s offended tone makes Beth smile.

“Sure you don’t.” She loves getting him going. And it works, because before long, they’re sniping at each other.

Leander pulls the reins a little so we drop back from the repartee on the other horse. “Are you tired?”

“I’m okay.” Truth be told, my ass is sorer than it’s ever been in my life, I’m hungry, and I long for another bath.

“Do you … miss the human world?” He keeps his voice soft, as if tiptoeing around a grave.

I sigh. “Yes.”

He stiffens a bit. “Hmm.”

“But the human world isn’t all roses,” I hasten to add. “It has plenty of room for improvement.”

“Were you unhappy there?”

How do I answer that? My entire childhood was a nightmare that I still have damage from. My relationship with my mom is terrible, I can’t even remember what my father looks like, and Steve still has a starring role in all my bad dreams. But then again, I was finally beginning to feel like I was on the right path. I was doing well in school, excelling in my chemistry classes and impressing my professors. Things were looking up until Cecile sent me here.

I realize I’ve been lost in thought instead of answering his question. “It was a mixed bag.”

“How so?”

I shrug. “Some things were bad. Some were good.”

“Tell me about your life. I want to know everything.”

“Everything? That’s a lot.”

“We have time.” He leads the horse around a sinkhole littered with ivy and odd pink blooms shaped like corkscrews.

“Um, well I was born in Indiana. Went to school there, graduated high school and then left for college.”

“School? Magical or elemental?”

I turn and peer at his dark eyes and handsome face. “Huh? It was just like regular school. You know, history, math, reading, writing, science, things like that.”

His brows knot, but he says, “Interesting. Please continue.”

“I had a knack for the sciences.” There isn’t a word in fae for what I’m trying to say, so I have to switch to English. “Chemistry and physics especially.”

“What are chemistry and physics?” The words come out funny with his thick accent.

I smile at his pronunciation. “Physics is the study of matter—basically all tangible things—and how it behaves. The planets, the stars, a rock, water, you, me—it’s all matter. It can be as small as atoms under a microscope or as large as the universe. Physicists try to figure out why matter behaves in different ways and what that means. Once you figure something out about matter, and you can prove it applies to all matter, it will become a law of physics. Like gravity.”

“Gravity?”

“Gravity is an invisible force that pulls matter together.”

His arms tighten around me, pressing me against him. “Gravity.”

“Something like that.” I smile.

“And chemistry?”

“That’s the study of how different elements can combine to make other substances, and more importantly, how matter reacts with energy. It’s the basis for most of the scientific breakthroughs since the earliest humans existed.”

“Ah, I know this one. You’re an alchemist.” He nods. “We have one in the winter realm, a member of my court. You and Branala should meet and discuss your magics when we arrive.”

“Not magic.” I find myself staring at the dark hair along his jaw. So masculine. What would it feel like against my skin, especially in sensitive spots? I shake my head. Where are these thoughts coming from? “I mean, it’s science. Not magic at all.”

His plump lips split with a grin, and I swear his dark eyes sparkle in their depths. “Like gravity? Science.” He leans closer, his lips within a breath of mine. “Pulled together by an invisible force.”

I don’t move away and can’t seem to stop staring at his mouth. “This isn’t, um…” What was I saying? I can’t think when he looks at me like this, like there’s nothing else in the world but the two of us. Heat rockets along my skin, and my nipples tingle. The ache from my backside fades as my core tightens, the rocking of the horse doing nothing to stop the sensation.

“I want you.” He strokes his thumb down my cheek, his voice deep and hypnotic. “Can I have you, little one?”

I close my eyes when his thumb brushes my lower lip.

“I’ve thought of taking you so many ways. Every night as you lie next to me, your sweet arousal perfuming the air. I want to taste you, to make you moan and quiver as I press my tongue deep inside you.”

I grip the saddle so hard my nails hurt.

“I would have you writhing for me, little one.” His hand slides down my waist. “I would kiss every bit of this beautiful body. And then I’d take you, thrusting so deeply that you will feel me in your soul and know you are mine.” When his fingertips graze my panties, I bite my lip to stop from moaning.

“Would you like that? Would you like to be fully mine?” His fangs have lengthened, but their tips don’t frighten me. Just the opposite. I want to feel them grazing along my skin.

“Leander.” I’m breathless, my mind fuzzed, my body fully awake and needy.

His fingers delve lower, teasing beneath my panties. When he strokes the skin between my thighs, I let out a low sigh.

“My little one is already wet for me.” He presses his cheek to mine, his mouth tickling my ear. “You feel the bond.”

I feel … something. But lust is probably a more accurate word for it.

“Leander.” Gareth clears his throat. “Best to not tempt the feral.”

Leander turns quickly and snaps his teeth at his friend. “She’s mine.”

“Hey,” I say softly.

He meets my eyes again, his gaze so intense it’s like staring into a volcano.

“Hey, let’s just slow this down a little.” I pull his hand from my panties. “We got a little carried away, that’s all.”

“You feel it.” He presses his palm to my chest. “In here.”

“I don’t know what I feel.” I take a deep, shuddering breath. “I just need to focus on getting back home, not—”

“With me, you are home.” His fangs retract, and he loses some of the wild quality in his eyes. “I am your home, Taylor.”

“You keep saying that, but it doesn’t change anything. I don’t belong here.”

Gareth seems to relax, though Beth wrinkles her nose in disappointment. I guess she was looking forward to the mating show. Not happening. I don’t care what my body says, my brain is in control and it says no. Or at least, not yet.

They canter ahead of us again, cutting a path across a ravine and up a slight hill.

Undeterred, Leander keeps his grip on me, his body taut at my back. “What of your parents?”

“We’re not going there.”

“Where?”

“I mean we aren’t going to talk about my parents.”

“Why not?”

“What about your parents?” I counter.

“My father was a bladesmith. My mother was a high fae noble that ran off with him.”

“Ran off with him?” Interesting.

“She happened to meet him as he was delivering a sword to King Shathinor.”

“He was the king before you?”

“Yes.” His tone sours. “His evil was not so apparent back then. My father served him as did everyone else in the winter realm.”

“Was he mad when your mom eloped?”

“She was the daughter of one of his old rivals for the throne. He pretended to be furious, of course, but only to cow my grandsire. And they didn’t elope. There was no official mating ceremony.”

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