Looking at her standing so close to him in the cool night air, her beautiful face and tempting curves making his mouth water and his blood streak hot through his veins, Jehan wasn’t sure how the hell he was going to survive a week of seclusion with her. Not without putting his hands or fangs—or any other part of his anatomy—within arm’s reach of her.
One thing was certain. They would have to set some clear boundaries. Rigid boundaries that couldn’t be crossed.
Jehan let his gaze travel the length of her, desire hammering through every cell in his body.
Oh, yeah. To survive the next week alone with this female, he was going to need a lot of boundaries and rules.
She should have said no.
She should have trusted her good sense and left Jehan standing in the middle of the midnight garden alone last night, not helped him set down terms of their own for the ritual neither of them wanted to be part of.
Instead, that next evening, she found herself seated beside him at the head of a long banquet room in her parents’ Darkhaven in front of a combined hundred members of their two families who had assembled to celebrate their send-off and the start of the handfast’s first night.
In less than an hour, she and Jehan would be delivered to the private oasis retreat and left to fend for themselves until officials from both tribes came to retrieve them at the end of the eight nights. Until then, she would be trapped with him in close quarters. Intimate quarters.
Oh, God. She must be out of her damn mind.
Sera reached for her wine glass and drained it in one gulp.
“Pace yourself,” Jehan drawled from beside her. “If you get too tipsy, I’d hate to have to carry you out of here tonight.”
“Like hell you will.” She smiled and spoke under her breath, doing her best to pretend he wasn’t the last male she’d ever choose to spend time with. “And we have a deal, remember? One that specifically states no touching. I expect you to honor that.”
A chuckle emanated from him, so deep it was almost a growl. “Don’t worry, I have no intention of touching you.”
She placed her empty glass back on the table. “Good. Then don’t even joke about it.”
“Trust me, Seraphina, you’ll know when I’m joking.”
She made the mistake of looking at him and found him smirking as he leaned back in his chair. But there wasn’t any humor in his light blue eyes. Only a dark promise that made her pulse skitter through her veins.
According to tradition, he was dressed in a white linen tunic and loose pants. A long, striped sash bearing his blue-and-gold family colors was tied around his trim waist. He looked decadent and confident, sprawled against the back of his seat. As arrogant as a prince accustomed to having the world bend to his whim, even if his title was as musty as the pact that bound her to him tonight.
As for Sera, she had been clothed according to tradition too. Wrapped and knotted into yards of diaphanous red silk that somehow formed a body-skimming gown, she was also dripping in beads and bangles. Painted henna patterns swirled in delicate flourishes and arcs over the backs of her hands and up her limbs.
The dress constricted her breathing and the decorations on her skin made her feel like an offering headed for the altar.
Jehan’s searing gaze beside her wasn’t helping.
Even though they’d agreed to avoid each other as much as possible for the next week, Sera couldn’t forget the heat that had ignited between them in the garden. Or in the moment they’d first made eye contact in the Darkhaven’s salon.
He was attractive; she couldn’t begin to deny that. With his luxurious chestnut hair and impossibly blue eyes, he was heart-stoppingly gorgeous. The fact that his massive, muscular body and powerful presence seemed to suck all the air out of the room only made the handsome Breed male even more magnetic.
The V-neck of his linen tunic was cut several inches down his powerful chest, baring a lot of tawny skin and smooth muscle, and the edges of his Breed dermaglyphs. The color-infused skin markings indicated the vampire’s mood, and right now, the neutral hues of Jehan’s glyphs told her that he’d recently fed.
Not surprising. It was customary for a Breed male about to enter the handfast to slake his blood thirst on a willing human Host before the week began. This to ensure that he didn’t drink from his Breedmate companion and bond to her out of physical need instead of love.
A vision of Jehan drinking from the throat of another woman sprang into Sera’s mind uninvited. His dark head nestled into the curve of a tender neck. His sensual mouth fastened to smooth, pale skin as his sharp fangs penetrated a pounding vein and he began to drink his fill.
Would he gentle a woman with coaxing words and soothing caresses when he took her carotid between his teeth? Or would he spring on her like the predator he was, dominating her with speed and force and white-hot power?
Some troubling part of her she didn’t recognize stirred with the need to know.
Sera groaned. She squirmed in her seat as her pulse thudded faster and erotic warmth bloomed between her thighs.
She wanted to cross her legs to relieve the unwelcome ache, but the skirts of her ceremonial dress were too restricting. Elsewhere in the banquet room, her father was reciting the traditional terms of the handfast. She only half-listened, too distracted by Jehan’s presence beside her and the heat of his gaze on her as she fidgeted and shifted in her chair.
It suddenly occurred to her that the room had gone strangely quiet. Expectantly quiet.
All eyes in the room were fixed on her, and her father was no longer speaking.
Jehan stood up and pointedly cleared his throat. “It’s time for us to go, Seraphina.”
“Oh.” She rose to her feet, eager to escape the weight of everyone’s gazes. Plus, she couldn’t wait to put some much-needed distance between herself and Jehan.
But he wasn’t moving. Why wasn’t he moving?
“Don’t forget the kiss!” someone shouted cheerfully from among the gathering. “It’s tradition to seal the pact with a kiss!”
Leila. Damn that girl.
Sera shot a narrowed glare at her exuberant sibling but her grin showed no remorse.
“Kiss her!” she shouted again.
And then across the room, Marcel called for the kiss too. Someone else picked up the chant, then another. Before long, the entire place was applauding and thundering with the command. “Kiss her! Kiss her! Kiss her!”
Sera turned a miserable look on Jehan. “We don’t really have t—”
Before she could finish, he moved closer and his mouth slanted over hers in a blast of heat. His lips caressed hers, impossibly soft, achingly sensual. His hands held her face, and yes, they were gentle. His kiss was too, but beneath its tenderness was a possessiveness—a raw power—that rocked her.
He mastered her mouth in an instant, and every brush of his lips had her aching to be claimed by him.
Her thoughts scattered. Her knees went a little boneless.
Even worse, the coil of warmth that had gathered between her thighs a few moments ago blazed molten and wild now.
Sera raised her hands to grip his shoulders, if only to keep from sagging against him in front of a hundred onlookers. All the reassurances of their private agreement to spend the next week in separate corners flew away like leaves on the wind as Jehan kissed her. She couldn’t help it. She moaned against his mouth, her pulse quickening, hammering even louder than the cheers of the gathering around them.