Sera had considered Karsten a friend for years, but there wasn’t any part of her that mourned his death today even for a second. If not for Jehan’s quick thinking and speed with his blade, she had no doubt that Karsten would have killed her.

He had almost killed Jehan too.

The terror she’d felt at that possibility had nearly gutted her as she’d stood helplessly in Karsten’s grasp. Even now, the reality of how close she’d come to losing Jehan left her physically and emotionally shaken.

But he was alive.

Because of his warrior skills, they both were alive.

“Are you all right, Sera?” His deep, caring voice wrapped around her as they stood inside the villa together. “Is there anything I can do for you?”

She shook her head but couldn’t keep from moving into the shelter of his arms. This was all she needed. His warmth enveloping her. His strong heartbeat pounding steadily against her ear as she rested her head on his muscled chest. She just needed...him.

“You should call your brother,” she murmured. Marcel had left two messages on her phone in the past couple of hours, asking them to contact him as soon as possible. “We should let him know we’ve returned, at least so he can stop worrying that we’re going to break the pact.”

Jehan’s chest rumbled with a sound of disregard. “I should call the Order too, and tell them what I’ll be bringing back to Rome with me in a few nights. But my brother and everyone else can wait. The only thing I’m concerned about right now is you.”

He pulled back and looked at her, a dark storm brewing in the pale blue of his eyes. When he lifted her chin and took her mouth in a slow, savoring kiss, it was easy to imagine that what she saw in his gaze—what she felt in his embrace and in his tender kiss—was something deeper than concern or simple affection.

It was easy to imagine it might be love.

“You’re trembling, Seraphina.” He reached out to caress her face and shoulder. “And you’re cold too. Come on. Let me take care of you.”

Maybe Leila had been right—that there was some brand of magic at work when it came to the pact between their families. Sera could almost believe it now because with Jehan leading her through the villa, his fingers laced with hers, it was far too easy to imagine that everything they shared since entering the handfast was somehow paving a path toward a future together. A future that might just last an eternity.

She hadn’t missed his reference to the life waiting for him at the end of the handfast. She couldn’t pretend that her own life wasn’t waiting for her too.

But for the next few nights, she wasn’t going to let reality intrude.

Jehan brought her into the cavernous bathing room with its towering marble columns and steaming, spring-fed bath the size of a swimming pool. He sat her down on the edge, then crouched down in front of her to remove her shoes. The soft leather flats were caked with sand and spattered with Karsten’s dried blood. Jehan hissed a low curse as he set them aside.

When he lifted his head to meet her gaze, there was doubt in his eyes. “Can you forgive me, Sera?”

“For saving me from Karsten?” She shook her head. “There’s nothing to forgive.”

“No.” His mouth flattened into a grim line. “I mean, for saving myself. For giving him the chance to get a hold of you in the first place.”

Oh, God. Is that what he thought? Is that what weighed on his conscience now?

Sera leaned forward to take his tormented, handsome face in her palms. His anguish was palpable. She could feel the dull pain of it through her empathic gift. “Jehan, when I saw that flash of light as Karsten let the grenade go, I knew it would be lethal to you. I thought I was about to watch you die. If you hadn’t protected yourself, we both would’ve been dead today. You saved me.”

He studied her for a long moment, as if he wanted to say something more. Then he turned his face into her hand and placed a kiss in its center before drawing out of her loose grasp. “Let’s get these clothes off and get you warm.”

He stood up, taking her with him. With careful hands, he undressed her, peeling off the rumpled linen tunic and her bra. Then he drew down the loose-fitting pants and her lacy panties beneath. His gaze drank her in slowly, his eyes crackling with amber sparks.

When he finally spoke, his voice was dark and gravelly, rough with desire. “Earlier tonight, when I saw you naked like this for the first time, I said you were beautiful.”

She licked her lips. “I remember.”

She would never forget anything he said in her tent a few hours ago, nor anything he’d done. Arousal spiraled through her, as much at the reminder as under the intensity of his gaze now.

“I said you were beautiful, Seraphina...but I was wrong.” He cupped her cheek in his palm, then slowly let his fingers drift down her shoulder, his thumb pausing to caress the Breedmate mark on her upper arm. “You are exquisite. The loveliest female I have ever, and will ever, lay my unworthy eyes on.”

She started to shake her head in protest of his self-deprecation, but his kiss caught her lips before she could speak.

All of her desire for him—all of her tangled emotions—rose up to engulf her. She wanted him.

Loved him so powerfully it staggered her.

Only fear held her confession back.

Fear, and need.

She pulled back, breath heaving. Wordlessly, she unbuttoned his shirt and pushed it off his strong arms. Each swirl and flourish of the dermaglyphs that tracked over his powerful chest and muscled abdomen was a temptation to her fingers and her mouth.

She touched and kissed and licked her way down his immense body, finally lowering herself to her knees before him. His lungs rasped with the ragged tempo of his breathing as she unzipped his jeans and slid them down his hard thighs.

His cock bobbed heavily in front of her, the thick shaft and blunt, glistening plum at the crown making her mouth water for a taste. He groaned as she grasped his length in her hands, his muscles tensing, breath hitching, as she stroked him from root to head and back again.

When she leaned forward and wrapped her lips around him, his spine arched and he let out a tight hiss and guttural snarl. She’d never held so much force and power in her hands before, nor in her mouth. She couldn’t get enough. And as his body’s response quickened, it only made her hungry for more. For all of him.

She glanced up as she sucked him and found his fiery eyes locked on her. His pupils were thin and wild, utterly Breed. His broad mouth was pulled into a grimace, baring his teeth and the enormous length of his fangs.

She moaned, overwhelmed by the preternatural beauty of the male staring down at her. His large palm cupped the back of her head, his long fingers speared into her hair as she took the full depth of him into her mouth at a relentless tempo.

“Seraphina,” he uttered hoarsely. “Ah, fuck...”

On a sharp groan, he withdrew from between her lips and scooped her up into his arms as if she weighed nothing at all. He carried her down into the steaming bath, fastening his mouth on hers in an urgent, fevered kiss as he sank to his shoulders in the warm water with her held aloft in his arms.

He tore his mouth away from hers, scowling fiercely. “I’m supposed to be the one taking care of you, if you recall.”

She lifted a brow in challenge. “Is that your charming side talking or your wicked one?”

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