The Hunted

Chapter Eight

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Chapter Eight

Carlos watched her walk around the clerics' spartan quarters, noting the way she took everything in. He kept his distance, just to be on the safe side. She had a totally destabilizing effect on him, one that he enjoyed and yet feared. This was not the place, and there was too much heat between them - had always been that way... but not here. He owed the old priests that much respect. But damn she was fine... and he'd missed her so much.

"You wanted to talk," he said quietly. "We need to do that, fast, and get you back where you belong."

She didn't answer him, but went toward the refrigerators. "You need to eat."

He shook his head. "Don't. I don't want you to ever see me do that."

Her hand fell from the door, and her eyes held so much sadness that he had to look away. He folded his arms over his chest, leaned on the door frame, then studied the floor.

"No, don't," she said.

He couldn't take it. She was standing there pitying him, knowing what he was, but still not afraid.

"Say what it is that you couldn't say in front of the others... please. Let's not drag this out."

"Then look at me, so I can," she whispered.

Couldn't she understand that just watching her move in that dress was painful, knowing he couldn't have her... shouldn't. He continued to look away, remembering he was in a clerical safe house, and tried to tell her things that were off the too-hot subject. The situation was beyond ludicrous. He still had shaky borders, and to whisk her away to a lair would put them both at risk to other males until he reestablished his line authority.

"You scared me, girl," he said quietly, his words absolute truth.

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"When I came out from behind the clerics in your compound, if I was someone else, I'd have used them as body shields before you could even throw your weight behind your Isis. While you were trying to pull your blade out of an innocent's chest, you wouldn't have had swing time to come at me again. That's why you have to focus through the pain... even when there's a hard loss, baby. You, of all people, cannot afford to ever go blind. Not doing what you do."

"I know, but I... Going temporarily blind isn't the worst thing that's ever happened to me."

He sighed, his gaze now riveted to her. "Yes it is. Ask me how I know." He found a neutral point on the wall that was safe to stare at. "I've put down my own boys... even my brother, D. Buried so many friends... But even while I was still alive, my territory was dangerous, and I couldn't lose focus. It'll change you, no doubt. But that's the only way you can survive this shit. Going blind ain't an option, D."

Her pull was greater than he'd imagined, as she made him look at her again. "I know," he said gently. "We've both lost a part of our hearts to the graves along the way. Regardless. Don't let anybody take you there - not even me."

He shoved away from the place he was leaning and walked deeper into the dining area, just to put more space between them.

"There are so many things we need to discuss, Carlos. If you'll just listen, and stop pushing me away because of what I am."

He let his breath out slowly. She was so naive and still so damned blind it wasn't funny. She didn't even have her Isis on her.

"I'm not blind, anymore," she said quietly, openly reading his thoughts. "I didn't walk through this door naively either. I left my blade for a reason. You're the one that's blind tonight, Carlos. Always have been. That's what's made you vulnerable. Now look at me."

He honored the request against his better judgment, glancing up slowly to allow her gaze to capture his. "Talk to me," he said in a low voice, nervous as hell that she might take him somewhere he couldn't come back from.

Her mouth didn't move. He felt her mind grip his. It wasn't right what she was doing, probing the most erogenous part of him, getting all up in his head until images of laughter and good times created flashes of sensation within him. He was forced to close his eyes. He felt himself smiling as he saw her dancing, dropping a bandanna to start a drag race. "I remember that souped-up Chevy." He laughed as she nodded. "Oh, girl... I miss those times." His voice had become far away and gentle. Please stop.

"I still have it," she murmured. "Kept that old red rag since you gave it to me."

Her admission pleased him beyond measure, then she rocked him with the memory of an argument that entered his mind, stealing the joy, sending a rush of defensive anger through him that was quelled with the touch of her hand on his jaw. He hadn't heard her move toward him. He opened his eyes and saw that she was still across the room. She'd sent the gentle caress from her memory, touching him with her mind - not fair. He nodded. Yeah it was fair, they'd argued from day one about his life, and she'd told him where it would lead... if only he'd listened. Hindsight. Perfect vision.

Carlos sighed. He couldn't argue with her now. It was the truth. Tough, but gentle, that's what she'd always been. Tears filled her eyes as he stared at this woman standing across the room, a vision he couldn't have because of what he was, what he'd become.

But she had mercy in her mind. He heard the beach, waves pounding the shore; smelled salt air chase away the burning rubber and exhaust fumes from the drag race; he saw the sunlight catch her cheek and fire it bronze, red, gold; his finger traced it in the air. Yeah, he remembered that day... when a small thing like a button on her blouse drew his attention. The mental collage she sent was so beautiful, then she put music to it. The last refrain of her slow song from the concert... Remember, baby. His lids slid closed. No, he'd been right. What she was doing to him wasn't fair. This was an outright seduction, and he couldn't do shit about it.

Carlos opened his eyes and looked at her. She moved toward him and stopped so close to him that he could feel the heat rising from her skin.

"When I thought you were gone, I kept those memories of you tucked away to keep me whole," she whispered. "I was so angry at you for allowing yourself to - "

He put a finger to her lips, his mind weeping, trying to let her know that he understood, and no one regretted his path more than he. Picking up the end of the last vision she'd sent, his mind sent her his hopes... the dreams that could never come true. He was standing in a church watching her walk down the aisle toward him, then they were in a house, laughing, wearing T-shirts in bed - he rubbed her tight, round belly as the life they'd created kicked inside it.

"You're right. I was the one who was so blind for so long, Damali. Forgive me. I'm so sorry, baby... you just don't know."

His mouth found hers, and she tenderly returned his soft sweep against her lips. She covered his hands as they trembled against the sides of her face. He backed up an inch, his fingers touching her hair, his eyes searching hers for forgiveness, acceptance.

"I don't ever want to hurt you," he whispered, "and I have already."

"I'm immune," she said, sending a double message with the brief statement. "You can't." Then he watched her take out the silver earrings from her ears and let them fall to the floor. He stared at them, understanding what that meant, but almost not believing.

His hands found her shoulders. He glanced out the window, then he shook his head no.

"I'm not afraid," she said quietly, reading the conflict in his mind.

"I know... that's why I am."

She sealed the small space between them, tilting her chin up to him. The action caused near-delirium. Her skin made his catch fire. The scent of her flooded him and drowned the rational side of his brain. His grip on her shoulders slid to her upper arms and tightened. This was not how it was supposed to go down. This was not how he'd ever envisioned being with her. Not like this, not under heavy guard... not...

Damali put her finger to his lips. "Shush..."

The rush of her voice fractured his resolve as he lowered his head and found her mouth. The sweetness within it drew his hunger, and his tongue found hers, dancing in an urgent duel. His tongue plundered those hidden places, pulling a moan from her, which he swallowed, making him move against her as the sound lit him up inside.

When his hands found her back, he let them revel in the feel of her skin. Delicate knit allowed baby soft flesh to tease his fingers in intermittent patterns. Each vertebra he revered as his hand slid down to her round backside and her shudder of desire entered his body, shaking him to his bones. He had to let her go.

He pulled back. "Baby - "

Her mouth sought his again, harder this time, halting his protest. Her hands found the sides of his face and held him firm until he surrendered. He grabbed her wrists, intent on sending her home, but soon his palms covered her knuckles, his fingers twined with hers, making him lower her arms to guide them to his waist. She felt so good; his hands couldn't touch enough of her. He filled his fists with velvet soft locks, every texture she owned summoning a new wave of need.

He'd known hunger, but tonight she'd driven him to ravenous. What she offered was all-consuming, beyond mere flesh. She offered her mind and her spirit along with her body, and demanded the same in return... He'd never experienced anything so profound. There was no way to resist when her mind opened wide and trapped his with the truth... Carlos, just once. For my first time, I always dreamed it would be you.

There was no decision to be made. All of a sudden she was in his arms and with the speed of thought, he'd taken her down into the lair. He locked the steel door and he'd set her down easy on the hard, clerical cot.

She stared up at him with her big, brown doe eyes, but this was no passive prey. It was innocence with a burn beneath it, seeking. He could feel her desire hunting him as her chest rose and fell with shallow sips of air. She was past the point of guessing what could happen, just like he was. He looked around the room of what had been his prison cell. No, this was not how it was supposed to be with his woman... she deserved way better than this.

He waved his hand and instantly transformed the space around her. She sank into a lush, king-sized bed that became the centerpiece of the room. White silk just for her. Much better. He snapped his fingers, adding appointments; the walls went marble, candles lit, a torch flared by the bed, a gentle breeze blew, and an instrumental version of her song came on. If only he had his own lair, he'd give her cliffs and make the moon her spotlight. He sealed the room's exterior with silence. The clerics didn't need to hear this.

Carlos slowly took off his jacket. "You're sure?" His eyes never left hers. She had no idea what she was getting herself into. He'd waited for this moment for years.

She glanced around the transformed lair then looked back up at him and nodded. "I knew you were a master... had heard about... but didn't know you could do stuff like this..."

He didn't answer her as he dropped his jacket and came to her. She had no concept of what he could do, if she'd let him. Trying to decide where to begin, he garnered patience. She deserved all the pleasure he could give her. He'd stop time until she begged him to let her go.

He nuzzled the hair away from her neck, and she tensed. He planted a gentle kiss against it. Her mind began to close him away. "Don't... I won't bite you." His whisper drew a gasp from her, and he chuckled low in his throat.

She wasn't sure if it was a vamp line, right now she didn't care. He'd said that to her when they'd first met, and right now it meant the world. There was no resistance, any fear had been replaced by something that went way beyond that.

It wasn't a line. Didn't she know what the feel of her skin was doing to him? It was an aphrodisiac, just like her scent. Biting her was the last thing he was thinking about, she'd already taken him back to that first encounter when they'd met - blowing his mind. He rubbed his face against her shoulder, and with that their clothes vanished. She had wandered into a master vampire's lair... an innocent... in a priest's house. Shame on it all, but he was already damned. Natural law superseded any other laws they could levy. He'd tried to warn her... he wouldn't bite her. At least not yet... not till you beg me to.

"I might," she whispered. Shit... what was she saying?

Yeah, she would. But not yet.

He became dull heat, blanketing her, sending pleasure through every cell of her, licking away the sudden smolder he'd put onto her skin followed by a kiss that made it burn hotter. The arch of her neck was gasoline on his open flame. He lowered his mouth to it, like lowering a torch, and let the inferno consume him, then drew back to study her throat and willed himself to save the best for last. Not yet...

Kissing along her collarbone, finding the delicate tips of her breasts, suckling the tight dark pebbles, making her moan and lift her hips until her fingernails dug into his shoulders, he took his time. He knew... soon. Yeah, he felt it all, too. Baby, be patient... you'll want this to last.

Abandoning the soft mounds of flesh to explore each tender underside, his tongue trailed down her belly drawing a slow hiss of air from her as she arched again. I know. The sound of her voice made his hands splay under her rising backside, drawing a harsh gasp from her with each gentle pull of skin, the smell of her unleashing bands of color behind his lids, every shudder almost making him forget this was her first time and that his mouth needed to take her, tease her, totally spend her.

He buried his nose in a downy forest of curls where a stream of pure want spilled from her plump slit. Oh... man... she was so wet it was dissolving his control. And she smelled so damned good, was so swollen, he could hear her pulse between her legs. His moan traveled inside her, quaking her womb, causing her to grab the silk sheets in another hard arch.

It made him mentally tell her the truth. Baby, you don't know how long I've waited for this. Ever since he'd let her sleep untouched on his mother's sofa. You know how many nights I went to bed jonesin' for you, la amante? Losing my mind in my own mother's house...

Gentle caresses sent the message, he opened her with deep kisses, letting her feel the softness of his mouth against the soft slickness of her, preparing her to soon receive the opposite of that. Her fingers raked through his hair, holding him to her, a deep guttural moan aching within him as it pushed its way up her abdomen. He caressed her hips with his palms flat, tracing them, while his tongue drizzled pleasure into sweet folds and flicked at her bud. He let it find the deep cavity that had a throbbing rim, circling it, intensifying the ache, making it flutter with contractions, sending her voice through the roof as he probed gently at the thin skin that was partially blocking him easy entry - refusing to stop until the passageway became newly flooded. Then he drove in his tongue for real, claiming her sweet territory.

She called his name in her mind and it instantly came up from her throat low and deep. That was the sound he'd been waiting to hear. She'd called his name, repeating it like the refrain of a song that soon lost its beat and measure, drawn out on a spasm that choked before it died on a breathless gasp.

Tears filled her eyes and spilled from the corners of them down the sides of her pretty face. He could taste the salt in each fast-running drop the moment they hit the air. When he lifted his head to witness his handiwork in her expression, a sheen of fresh orgasm-perspiration made her skin glisten. He felt her total surrender, saw it glittering in her irises, the torch fire making it dance as her hands again found his shoulders and she slowly closed her lids, tilted back her head to expose her throat. He ran his tongue against his teeth - not this time. Not her first time. No. He'd be gentle.

But it was her ragged breathing that was messing him up, just like her urgent arch had... just like her racing pulse did. He slid his hand down her inner thigh, opening her wider, the rapid thud in her femoral artery a magnet. He was trying so hard to simply love her like a man, and not like what he truly was. She had given herself freely without him having to employ any powers of seduction from the dark side of his being, and that gift deserved to be cherished with the best he could give in return. Pure pleasure.

He studied her face, the tilt of her chin, and allowed his eyes to slide down her throat, her deep breaths burning him. He watched her chest rise and fall, lungs expanding and contracting like she couldn't get enough air - because of him. She was in his bed - his lair. She had gone against family, just for him. She had crossed a prayer line and left a fortress - just for him. He hadn't even called into the night for her, and she knew what he was, but yet she came to him on her own, regardless. And she was writhing beneath him - warm... wet... suffering with a need he understood all too well.

It messed up his reason, her sweet seduction had, and now it was threading its way through the dark crevices of his mind... that place within him that had wanted her like this for so long. He had to honor that request, as well as his own nature. The night was young, and he owned it.

He slid against her like they shared the same skin, swept his cheek hard against the side of her neck, making her shudder, then captured her earlobe with his lips, suckling it, drawing the same pleasure into it that he'd just visited upon the delicate bud between her legs. He could feel her open her eyes with the gasp she'd released, shocked. Yeah, hombre, do her right. The night was young, and so was she. She'd never been with a man before. Don't break the seal on this package too fast - be all-pro. Give her the best.

Her grip tightened on his shoulders as he left her earlobe just before she climaxed, and he breathed a command into the canal of it. "When I call you, come to me. Hear?"

She nodded and shut her eyes tight, her body moving beneath him, trying to capture him within it, but he shook his head no. Not yet. Her response was a series of short pants that he stopped with his mouth, his kiss deep and feral as his tongue scored the roof of hers and concentrated on a single point.

In his mind he could see that agonized strobe of tender flesh within her canal. It hid just behind her cervix, deep, like a glowing ember that had never been properly stoked. He copied its throb into her mouth, using the tip of his tongue to make the transfer, then deepened the French kiss until she almost choked on her own spit when she came hard.

He abandoned her mouth, but not the sensation it carried, depositing points of pleasure along her jugular. Damn right, the road to Hell was paved with good intentions. He wanted every kiss to claim her, every brush of her earlobe to devastate her. He wanted to be able to glance across a crowded room at her and take her over the edge. He demanded an imprint like a maker's mark. A permanent bond. She was his, and he'd rewire her body's circuitry until she only responded for him.

While kissing her shoulder he went into her mind with purpose, a hard-thrust thought, like he was planning to do to the rest of her later, only to be so rewarded by her fantasies that he almost wept and busted a nut himself. Entering her thoughts so fast had felt like he'd just plunged into her up to the hilt. It took him a moment to steady himself through a shudder and her diaphragm-sent moan. Her smooth hands were running up and down his back, sending shivers with them as they slid with his sweat and her legs wrapped around his, then slipped over his hips to anchor around his waist.

No, it wasn't over yet. Sweet torture was divine, didn't she know? He gently pushed at her knees until she released his waist. He chuckled low in his throat as she shook her head to tell him no more, not again, that the pleasure was unbearable. He savored the fact that she was beyond words, even telepathically. Stop? Not hardly. He wasn't finished leaving his brand.

He gathered up everything she'd forbidden herself on a hard inhale, letting the tension in those secret places build like slow thunder, moving down her torso, trailing her belly with his tongue again, collecting and stroking each time she'd whimpered alone in her bed, connecting to every time her hand had cautiously slid down her stomach searching for release alone but denied, years of pent-up want straining to hold out and do the right thing, her pillow her lover. Six years of agony, of night sweats and wet dreams... years of brutal intensity unanswered, her delicate hand a poor substitute for him. Oh, baby, you suffered... want me to kiss it and make it better?

When she nodded quickly, tears streaming down her face, he let it all go with a deep plunge of his tongue, finding her unspoiled opening once more. He sent all of her denied release as a spiral of sudden climaxes bound to shock waves of pleasure, answering each unquenched night he'd endured in the pulse of his tongue.

In a subtle fusion he made both his pent-up agony and hers collide on his deepening kiss and offered her the threat of spontaneous heart failure lick by lick... six years was a long time to want somebody this badly... didn't she know he had the power to make her feel it all at once, in one incredible flash-fire moment? Love her like a mere man, impossible now. She was more than a woman; she was his Neteru. You ready?

This time she released his name in the key of G, perfect pitch, then riffed the scale with one shrill word�"Yes."

Oh... yeah... the night was young, and he was night itself. He was gonna put his thing down hard so she'd never question him again, or tell him no.

Yet her seizure had almost made him forget that it was indeed night, just like her voice had... and her sobs... damn ... he had to remember to breathe. She had scorched him like daylight; her burning response left him near ash. He nipped her inner thigh, but didn't break the skin, determined to finish the brand with authority. But she grabbed his hair, her spine a snap-flex that had her almost sitting up to make him look up at her.

"Oh, fuck it - stop playing, Carlos," she whispered, tears washing her face, her voice coming out fast, harsh, so urgent that it made him shudder.

The expression in her eyes stunned him for a moment, so had the husky demand. It had instantly caused a groin contraction that filled his shaft with hot fluid pressure. He could feel it pearling at the tip and oozing from it in a thin, clear line down to the sheets. She'd made him want to slide inside her so badly his vision was blurring. Damn, he was gonna lose control if she kept talking to him like that. But not tonight. He'd brand her with pleasure, just like she'd branded him with her Isis - a slow, sizzling burn. He would molten-bronze cast that shit before he was finished with her. Make her banish the word no.

He came to her fast, covered her in a hot slide against her, and kissed her hard, then broke from her mouth and held the sides of her head, but didn't enter her. He made her look into his eyes as his fingers tangled through her hair. "I don't want you to bleed, not there." He heard her mind shriek that she didn't care as her pelvis gyrated beneath him. Fuck it, he did. "Uh, uh, I don't want you to ever associate pain with me, not there, baby. You don't want it like that. Neither do I."

Focus. He slid his hand to her back, pressing against it hard to hold her close, giving her a little bit of what she craved, just the tip, and held her pelvis down against the mattress to keep her from moving, to keep himself from moving and in check. He dropped his voice low so she would pay attention. "Let me work it in slow. Trust me."

He had to stare at the wall for a moment to get himself together; her contractions were like a desperate siphon, her voice had unraveled to an agonized wail carrying the word, "Please." When a sob of pleasure ripped through her and she begged him to hurry and put it in hard, he almost did. His breathing was getting ragged, and the point on the wall wasn't working.

Oh... shit... this woman was fine. She was like a piece of rare, passionate art, needed to be displayed proper in the correct venue, mounted right and handled with care, not ruined. But her voice was blowing the lid off his mental black box. It was taking him places that he knew he didn't need to go... not for her first time. But, shit, his possessiveness was loosed, he was a Scorp before he died... and she needed to know what she'd been missing from him all these years. Needed to know one voice, one pair of hands, one set of eyes when she closed hers at night - his. He owned this; her pussy was claimed. She was his territory. Fuck a pillow - never again, not on his watch. Tell me it's mine!

The side of his hot face caught her temple; she arched, nodded, sputtering, sobbing, and answered him righteous.

"Oh, God, yes, Carlos, it's yours."

Exactly.

That was probably his undoing... Especially when she sobbed and told him it always had been his. True he was a vampire, but he was also a man. Her shudder became his sudden shudder, and his kiss against her throat became more aggressive than intended. He almost dropped fang. She smelled so damned good, and the way she felt around him, her legs constricting his waist, squeezing him in the rhythm she was aching for - hard stroke. But no, if he went there, it would be all over way too fast. She was holding him to her, her nails digging into his skin until he could smell his own blood. That's what I'm talking about.

"When I call you like this, for this, don't make us both suffer," he said on a ragged breath. Her gasp was his answer. "I don't care what your family's got to say," he whispered hard against her neck. "This is between me and you."

"I will, I swear," she said, weeping under his hold, her voice a knife to his system, slicing it, cutting away his will. "I can't take it."

He cradled her in his arms, and eased against her, slow, steady, then brought one hand to her hip to still her frenzied movements so she wouldn't hurt herself. Then he stopped and kissed her forehead, her eyelids, the bridge of her nose, her mouth. With his heart full he moved against her in small, smooth increments, letting her adjust to his weight, to his penetration of her body. He allowed himself to fill the tightness until his pelvis touched hers. Caressing her cheek, he nuzzled her temple, and stayed away from her throat - lest he forget. But her mind ravaged his as it begged for him to take her that way as well.

She couldn't stand it. The pleasure was so profound it made her nearly insane. She let her voice go. No shame. There was no way to hold it back anyway.

Each touch set a glowing iron of hot want to her skin... his mouth, oh God, this man's mouth... she never knew. Seconds seemed like hours, and minutes had fused into what felt like days, time had literally stopped as he tasted her ear again while lodged deep inside her not moving, left her writhing, wet, sweaty, dazed, in a fever, and now he wouldn't let her move as he sucked her earlobe and made her feel it in her bud.

Every inch of him that covered her was purely honed strength, and she allowed her hands to travel down his back, dip into the valley of his spine that rose again into his tight ass that clenched on the slow down stroke. Have mercy. Thick muscular thighs pushed against the bed, against her, in a maddening, lazy rhythm designed to spare her, but prolonged the agony of needing immediate release one more time.

Sweet torture, sweet Jesus, this man was finding parts within her, sensitive spots, hidden deep and stroking them with his lazy rhythm, making her beg him to go faster... wanting him to hit that spot he found down deep... shit, he could bludgeon it, just hit it. Her mind pulled him, begged him to keep coming back to that place being kissed by his shaft then gone, returning slowly to pass it again, making her arch, making him hold her hips tighter to slow the pace, the compromise almost shattering his promise to himself that she'd heard through his skin. Hell yeah, she'd come to him for this - any nightójust call. He owned her. Her eyes were crossing beneath her shut lids. Any night, every night, just don't stop. There was no pride when it came to something like this... if she'd only known.

And the feeling... the feeling of those muscles moving beneath taunt skin as they contracted in a dance, a slow salsa, good lord... he had to stop. Oh, lord, he'd better not. Ribbons of light scored her shut lids, a current of electricity tore through her until her body seized and convulsed and the shudders would not end. She couldn't breathe, forgot how to, his face burned her cheek as his head burrowed into her shoulder. The wondrous release shot up the core of her, shook her womb, entered her spinal cord, and imploded at the top of her skull. She was gonna die from pleasure, have a damned stroke. Her stomach muscles pulled her up hard, his weight on her notwithstanding, jerking her, whiplashing her; she could only ride it out holding his hair and his back with her fists till it ended.

And he lay within her, breathing hard, not opening his eyes. She could feel his jaw packed with sudden steel. Then he left her.

Damali opened her eyes and sat up slowly. She stared at him in stunned disbelief. "What's wrong?"

Why had he stopped - not now. The separation from his warmth, especially between her legs, felt like a cold stab up her center that brought her hand to her abdomen to stave off the shiver. His absence left phantom spasms, her rim burning, and her entire canal on fire. Oh yeah, she was beyond shame. What had he done to her? Come back to bed, shit... Carlos. She needed him so badly, tears were standing in her eyes. "Baby, what's wrong?"

He shook his head, his back to her, and held up his hand, unable to form words. His mind was still open. His thoughts sent another hard shudder through her that made her body clench. She wanted him again, needed him one more time... it had been so long, and she'd almost lost him forever.

In her mind she was begging him, trying save some of her dignity by not saying it out loud. Trying not to get on her hands and knees for it. But right now she felt like a junkie craving one more hit. Didn't he know what it was for a woman to wait twenty-one whole years to be with a man... him? Had he any concept of what that was like? Agony. They had a second chance.

"No. We don't," he said quickly without turning to look at her.

One time would never be enough. She stared at him, needing his touch so immediately that she almost cried out for it. Didn't he know how many fantasies he'd fueled, then had answered?

"Baby... listen... I can't. Okay?"

She studied the back that was bronzed in the candlelight and by torches, its every detail quickening her with the need to reach out and touch it. Then she understood. Without the bite, with her, a Neteru, he couldn't finish. The side of her throat throbbed; instant heat seared it and matched the pulse in his shaft. Her hand covered the ache at her jugular and a moan escaped her lips as she stroked it.

"Stop..." His voice was a low, urgent warning. "It doesn't matter. Just leave it alone. I'll be cool in a minute."

"I can't." That was the cold-blooded truth. Stop? Was he mad? She couldn't breathe. "Baby, you don't understand."

"Hell, yeah, I do. You don't understand. I can't come back to you right now without hurting you. Like I said, gimme a minute." He dropped his head back with his eyes closed tight and pulled in a sharp breath that cut the air. "Oh, shit... I'm okay. I'm all right."

Her eyes trailed down his body and she felt his shudder from across the room. Then something strange happened. It began inside of her, as though something dormant woke up. Sudden strength crept through her and made her womb contract. He staggered farther away from her, and she could hear him inhale hard on a strangled gasp. She nearly climaxed again when he did - just seeing him that way, on the border of no control, was like a rush.

"What is the scent?" he murmured, his breaths erratic, pained.

"Me being really ready for you..." She leaned back on her elbows and mentally dared him to turn around. She needed him to. It was a reflex after what he'd just done to her. Her lids lowered to half-mast, her voice dropped to a sultry, provocative octave free of all fear and inhibitions. "Matured... willing... Neteru that is not afraid of the bite. Antibodies that ward off a turn. I challenge you. Just once." Then her voice fractured to a whisper. "Baby, please, I really need that now, too."

He turned around and she could tell he was desperately seeking composure. But his eyes flickered gold, then intermittently red.

"I don't want to hurt you."

"You can't." She'd breathed out the plea. This wasn't up for negotiation. He'd turned her ass out, and wasn't gonna leave her hanging like this. Not tonight. "It's no longer my first time." Pride stripped, she didn't care if he was gonna make her beg - just as long as he came back to bed.

Every desire she ever had became directed toward him. Her mind dredged his and locked in on the scent. "This is what was mixed with ripening Neteru outside Nuit's lair. When I really want you, it's something just for you. Come back to bed."

She'd told the man the truth; she'd been so aroused by the fight, the adrenaline, and the primal rush of it all... if it weren't for certain death, he could have done her right there. "Tell me you didn't feel it, too, in New Orleans."

He closed his eyes for a moment and breathed in deeply through his nose, his will shattered. "I wanted you so bad that night my hands were shaking, girl."

"They're shaking now," she said with a sly smile. "When I call you like this, don't make us both suffer."

"You sure?"

She nodded, watched him stalk back to the foot of the bed and slowly climb onto it, coming toward her on all fours. His eyes never left hers now; a hint of fang was showing as the last of his suave facade crumbled and he went primal.

"I won't be able to hold back this time... you know that? I'm past the point."

She closed her eyes and leaned her head back as he covered her again. "Yeah... I'm counting on that," she whispered, then lifted her hips to take him in.

As soon as he entered her she nearly lost her mind. His hold under her backside was more aggressive than she'd expected, but she met his ardent response by immediately wrapping her legs around his waist again. The sound he released as he sank deep within her was so animal that it opened a new channel in her brain. Sound fused with touch and became liquid heat. She arched hard and found herself above him. Holding his jaw, she forced his head to the side and bent quickly to kiss his neck, making his eyes roll to the back of his head as she delivered the first bite.

Everything in her shook as his moan washed through her bloodstream and pleasure reverberated back through her in an endless recycling ecstasy. Her name started in his chest, got trapped in his throat, and escaped on another groan. She could feel him arch, pull her down against him harder. All gentleness gone, she was beneath him in seconds, part of her hanging off the side of the bed, him plundering her so relentlessly that they both fell. She was laughing and crying at the same time, hysterical it felt so good. She banged her head on the floor and opened her eyes. He stopped, the expression on his face intense, and rose above her. No laughter in his eyes, no flicker of gold, he was over the top - solid red. Yeah, baby, that's more like it. "Hit it like you need to... I can take the bite."

He stopped breathing and closed his eyes slowly, tilted his head, trembling, deciding, as though almost afraid to move. She made the decision for him, arched suddenly, raked his back, and bit him as hard as she could. The breath he'd been holding came out with her name planted in a guttural wail. Beneath her hands every muscle in his shoulders, back, hips, thighs, ass instantly united toward the goal of pure leverage.

On the floor he punished her, trying to cushion her spine with his hands, his arms, unable to stop moving against her. Tears of pleasure were running down his face, his head thrown back, one hand outstretched to save her skull from concussion against cement. His voice was a low rumble, a baritone vibration that she could feel through the floor and her skin, tears and mucous deepening the unintelligible staccato fusion of Spanish and English, stuttering something about "Don't stop" as she moved hard with him, split by "Oh, damn, baby..."

She clung to him, absorbing every deep thrust with searing pleasure, not caring who heard her. He was chanting, "I love you"; she was sobbing the same words. Then her name became mi corazon upon another choked fusion of English and EspaŮol, garbled by paralyzing spasms.

The room soon started losing form and shape as the illusion began to fracture - his concentration singular - total release inside her. She could feel him approaching the edge of sure completion, which only made her tumble over her own, claiming his, merging with it, bonding it with their bodies, their heat, combined chants of release ecstasy, every fiber joined as she heard his gums rip. Her hard contractions sealed him to her, pain at her throat, a blinding strike that turned into a tidal wave of orgasmic pleasure. He threw back his head, breathing hard through his mouth, fangs glistening with blood and saliva.

There was no fear; he was a sculpted work of art that brought nothing but pure Eros. She could see him in the dark, his strength staggering. It was reflex, she bit him as hard as she could once more, and that seemed to make him more aggressive. His jaw collided with hers to forcefully knock her head back, and he took her throat again, then came hard in blinding spasms that he sent into her jugular with the same intensity being unleashed between her legs. His siphon from her throat synchronized with driving rhythm of his hips. She felt herself losing consciousness. He tried to pull out of the bite, but she flattened her palms to his back, and he practically wept at the physical command for him not to stop. She didn't care if she died tonight, as long as she went out like this.

Never in his life... never... What had she done to him... Every shudder, every whimper, every moan riddled his system with sensation after sensation of wondrous release. He felt her multiple orgasms at the cellular level, and as he siphoned the sweet, salty fluid from her jugular, her body siphoned seed from him in equal measure.

Adrenaline, passion, unbridled lust, small doses of her fear filled his mouth, his throat, sweet heat coating his insides, drugging him, becoming an erotic hallucinogen of exploding, exponential groin torture. It took him to near blackout, sent needles of pleasure through every inch of his skin. He pulled out of the bite and cried out just to keep from flat-lining her. Never before... life from her veins... never could he have imagined... the myths the other masters had tried to tell him, but he couldn't comprehend such ecstasy... and that she loved every minute of it was killing him.

Thick saliva, blood, tears became one inside his mouth, consciousness ebbed and flowed as each hard thrust contracted his body with a violent arch followed by another shuddering release from his groin. The combination hurt so good it made him sob. His mind was putty. Control, what was that? She had to stop arching, let him pull out to save his sanity. Woman, I can't stand it... Seconds prolonged on a wail transformed into persistent need - he had no choice, had to keep moving inside her, repeating the unbroken rhythm, repeating the bite, taking more of her than he should while giving her all that he had.

His voice was a muffled plea against her neck. "Baby, forgive me... I can't stop." Didn't she hear him? He'd hollered he couldn't stand it, told her as loud as he could in his mind that he was nearly insane it felt so good, but stop - impossible. Blood was running down his chin. She should have never taken him there, never opened that channel, dredged his mind, soldered him to her body... mentally gave him the scent to her ripened. Never. Shouldn't have made him taste it undiluted on her sweat-slicked skin, in her mouth, riddling her hair, while taking his seed. Oh, shit, she shouldn't have denied him for years, then made him battle for her - not smelling like this in a priest's house.

She was dying in his arms, but he couldn't stop moving against her. Gasping for breath, he, too, was dying from sheer pleasure. His eyes were shut tight, her name had become an agonized chant comingled with a moan on each deep invasion against her womb, sweat and tears ran together and mixed on the bridge of his nose, dripping hot on her face, the sheets, her fingers tangled in his soaked hair, opening his scalp to the coolness of the room till he shivered. Oh, goddamn, don't stop...

Her body would not relent. Her hips moved against him like liquid fire, scorching his barren skin that had waited for her for so long. And she smelled so damned good, adrenaline competing with natural female, working shea butter, almond oils, blood, and something just her.

Without mercy she continued to invade his mind, echoed back a call and response that made him lose control, he was clay in her hands, whatever she wanted from him was hers. Never in his life, not even in death, had he so completely surrendered in a woman's arms. Shit... yeah, he'd come to her whenever she called. Yeah, baby, would cross prayer lines and risk a hollow point bullet for this - just call. Sweet seduction thy name is Damali. Her first time, correction, it was his. Baby, take everything I've got - name it. I don't care! It's all yours.

He was babbling in his mind, yelling, Yes, hollering that shit and thinking it all at the same time. Had she any idea what Neteru did to a man, what she did to him? Turned out, done righteous, and he couldn't even catch his breath he was broke down sobbing so hard. If he had only known it could be like this...

She pet his trembling shoulders as he tried to push himself up to look at what had overtaken him, this creature, this huntress, who had just stripped his cool to the bone - blown his mind.

But he couldn't remove himself from the tight, rhythmic hold her body had on his. As long as he stayed in her, the shared sensations ricocheted between them with each one of her hard contractions. He had to pull out but couldn't; she had him drooling on himself, blind. He heard his mind beg her to stop, it was so damned good, and as he gathered the strength to look down at her, he saw multiple puncture wounds in her neck, blood oozing from them. She wasn't breathing. Her hands fell away from his hair. His vision blurred as another shudder passed through him and finally bled his scrotum dry.

"Damali!" He tightened his hold on her. Her eyes were open and she wasn't breathing. Panic ripped through him. Reality kicked his ass, brought him down hard. His breath caught in his throat. No, Por Dios, not like this! He gathered up her limp body and rocked her against him, still in her. What had he done...

A sudden gasp, then a huge exhale of air escaped her mouth. The sensation passed through him like a ghost. Tears streamed down his face as she clutched his shoulders and inhaled again hard.

He was beyond words. A sob shattered him as he touched her hair, expecting her to pull away. "Baby, I - "

She reached for his cheek and shook her head, then laughed. He just weakly stared at her.

"Daaaayuuum..." she whispered, her voice hoarse. "Carlos, I had no idea." Her hand went to her neck, and her fingers came away with a few drops of blood.

Shame constricted the muscles around his lungs. He hadn't even sealed the wounds when he pulled out - his shit was raggedy, unprofessional, wasn't even smooth, but damn it was good. "Baby... I... couldn't help it... oh, shit..."

She licked her fingers and raised one eyebrow. "I'm a couple of pints low. Dang."

When she chuckled again, he finally laughed, but it wasn't funny. "You need to stop," he argued. "I tried to explain... but. Girl, for real. Now, look. This bullshit is dangerous."

It almost hurt to pull out of her, she felt so exquisite. But they'd just danced on the edge of disaster, and he couldn't have her go out like this. He stood with effort, then scooped her up and laid her on the bed. Yeah, he had to kill Nuit for this. In an odd way, he now better understood where the brother was coming from.

"If I had known it was your first time," she said in a lazy, sexy voice, stretching on the tangled sheets, "I would have been more gentle with you."

Carlos put his head in his hands and finally laughed, mostly in relief. She was definitely dangerous. What was he doing locked in a lair with a huntress? Girlfriend didn't need her Isis to slay him. He glanced around the plain room, remembering exactly where he was. "I need to get you back home." He dropped his hands and shook his head as he looked at her neck. "You sure you're protected?"

"Just like a man, all late and after the fact," she said with a sly grin, shaking her head. "Wouldn't have come over here, if I wasn't."

"Okay. Cool. It's all good," he said, beginning to pace, not sure why. "Uh, I gotta explain some of this to the monks - damn... in their spot. They might have heard us. See, this was raggedy. I don't generally roll like this, D... but my circumstances." He raked his fingers through his damp hair and wiped his mouth again with the back of his hand, smelling her sweet scent all over him. He closed his eyes. This woman was definitely a drug. "You gotta go home. It wasn't supposed to go down like this. I tore up your throat, baby... I've gotta seal the wounds or Marlene will freak. No, see, you gotta go home."

When she didn't answer him, he just stared at her for a moment. "Does it hurt? I'm really sorry... yeah, no, you've gotta go home."

"You sure you're ready for me to go home?"

He opened his mouth and then closed it, not sure what to say. Hell no. But...

"Trust me, it didn't hurt," she said, her gaze intense. "I've never felt pleasure like that in my life." She brought her hand to cover her neck where he'd bitten her, not touching the surface of her skin, but allowing her palm to hover over the bites. "I could actually feel an org - "

"I'm in prison," he said fast. He didn't need her to remind him. "Got people I have to answer to."

"You need me to put on my dress and go get a few bags from the refrigerator? Figured you burned all that energy... and if we have to bar the door, you'll need it. Or, I could just go up there, show 'em my passion mark, tell the old boys to stand down. Explain that I'll be in your lair for a few. I'm over twenty-one and consenting. We're grown. If they see I'm all right, they'll chill." She allowed her smile to broaden and then she tilted her head and pouted. "C'mon, Carlos. I waited a long time to get with you. Tighten me up, one more time before I go home?"

She was insane. He loved her. He was the one that was crazy. "That's no passion mark. It's a real bite that might have killed you. Don't get it twisted. Another pint and - "

"Aw, relax. It was just a love bite." She allowed her voice to drop to a low, sexy timbre. "This was only a passion nick, es verdad."

Yeah, it was true, but that was not the point. This wasn't supposed to turn into a conjugal visit. He glanced around again, half waiting for the door to break open and a crossbow arrow to find his chest. "You're crazy, and I'm taking you home." She also needed to stop trying to seduce him with language.

"Why? Por que, mi tesoro?"

He looked at her hard. "Because you're turning me on. Stop." He couldn't help telling her, it was the truth.

"You sure you want me to stop, baby?" she murmured.

"No." His gaze traveled over her naked body, hovering at her petite breasts, the swell of her hips, and the way they tapered down into long, agile thighs. He looked back up at her intense eyes and the way open desire flickered in them, and for a second, he thought he saw a hint of gold. It did something to him, and he glanced at the steel door. "They'll behead me if I go upstairs, and trust me, I'm in no condition to square off with anybody right now." He lowered his gaze. "And, I broke my word to them."

"No you didn't," she murmured, coming to the edge of the bed. "I did."

He shook his head. Yeah, she was wild.

"I was the one who seduced you, remember? I never promised them I wouldn't deflower you."

"Girl, please," Carlos said, mildly outraged. "You did not seduce me - or deflower me."

"Really?" She issued a lopsided smile. "You went for broke, brother... just like I did. Tell the truth. You've never actually punctured a living throat vein, have you?"

He didn't answer her for a moment. Her directness was embarrassing, stung his pride - he'd always been the teacher; she'd always been the student. He was the damned master vampire, not her. Now everything was upside down, and it messed with his head. She had been his first, he had the real hunger now... and he was faced with going back to cold bags of blood. This was beyond dangerous.

"You made history though, baby." She winked at him.

He cocked his head in question.

"Bet none of the masters ever delivered a bite on a Neteru, the millennium Neteru, at that, and lived to tell about it. And I can guarantee you that they didn't make her sing four-part harmony in the process." She studied her nails, mischief playing around her mouth as she did so. "Hmmm... guess you're still da man. You got skillz." She patted the cot and her tone suddenly became serious. "Come back to bed and finish what you started, por favor. Like you told me, why make us suffer? I'm bitten now, you already broke the skin... so..."

For a moment he was speechless. She'd read his mind without using her gift; this thing that she'd just said, he knew came from old-fashioned female knowing. And it further endeared her to him that she would even care about his pride, would be so gentle with the most fragile part of any man - his ego. But he truly loved the way she'd put a grappling hook in his libido just by the tone of her voice and her devastating stare. Shit. How was he gonna say no to that?

They both knew they were in trouble - she'd get her ass kicked out of the compound, he'd get a stake in his heart. Whateva. The night was young, and she was so damned fine. It was worth the risk, down to the last shiver. Let the chips fall where they may. If they were gonna exterminate him, this was definitely the way to go out.

He walked toward the bed, knowing that was the wrong thing to do. She chuckled, leaned up, and willed him to bend toward her so she could kiss his cheek, and made him laugh. He relaxed and sat down on the edge of the bed, thinking of how long it had been since he'd truly laughed, truly felt joy. She looked so satisfied, so sexy, so positively tempting as she laid back and sprawled out before him in a generous offering so that his body stirred at the sight of her.

"I should take you home before history repeats itself." He sighed and rubbed the nape of his neck, and gave her a sideline glance. "I've already tasted you now, if we go there again, I'll definitely bite you harder. Truth be told, I'm all fucked up, right through here at the moment."

He let his breath out slowly, trying not to let her see him begin to breathe hard again. Oh, man, this woman had almost made him hit the vanishing point by himself. If she kept messing with him, he'd turn her tonight, just so she could go there with him. They had to stop.

"Can you actually turn into mist... or anything else?"

He looked at the sly expression on her face and tried to ward off the shudder the question produced. She had no idea what he could do to her. "Don't even go there," he said, his voice low and husky. "If I shape-shift on you, by tomorrow night you'll drop fangs."

She got on her knees and leaned against his chest. "Teach me everything you know," she whispered, her voice like raw silk.

"Can't do that in one night," he murmured with a smile, his finger tracing her cheek. Sheeit... he had centuries of knowledge at his disposal. She needed to stop playing with this.

"Then I'll take my lessons in nightly installments." Her gaze raked down his body and lingered where it shouldn't have if they were going to leave. "Why don't we start with what you'd really want me to do to you right now?" She kissed his chest, then nipped his stomach and looked up, eyes smoldering. "Talk me through it, just how you like it - so next time I'll know."

She rubbed her cheek against his lower belly, dragging it up his torso, and slowly pulled one of his nipples into her mouth then bit down gently, grazing it with her teeth before she suckled it hard. "Like that? Right there... or lower?" His grip tightened on her shoulders. "Lower?" Her hand slid down his shaft and caressed him in a slow, pumping motion.

She nipped his belly, and darted her tongue into his navel, making him gasp, then looked up at him. "You don't want me to go home, do you?" Her voice was a throaty whisper, as he shook his head no. "Want me to stay to kiss it and make it better?"

He nodded yes, unable to speak for a moment, as her mouth became a wet, hot pulsing sheath around him. His breathing instantly synched up to her rhythm - that's when he knew he was done. She won. Against his better judgment his hand touched her hair and against his capacity to stop himself, his eyes slid shut. Damn she was a quick study. "You ain't fighting fair, D."

"Want me to go upstairs to get you a refill from the fridge?" she asked in a seductive voice, now on her knees on the bed, leaning against his stomach, her breath hot against it. "The night is young, and I figured we could maybe try plenty of stuff together... for the first time?"

Why was she taking him there? But he wasn't about to argue. Baby needed to stop talking and go back to what she'd been doing. "Okay..." His voice was on autopilot. The ceding of power was one word that came out fast on a hoarse breath. Fuck control. What was that around her, anyway?

"All right. Don't move; I'll be right back." She gathered up the rough cotton sheets and swathed herself in them with a giggle.

The bolt on the door slid back. Instant reflex. Yeah, don't go home. Not yet. The night was young. He sat very still, not moving like she'd told him to, just breathing with his eyes closed, willing her to hurry back, por favor. Oh, shit, they were gonna smoke him for sure, if she didn't first.

"How many bags you want?"

"Bring down a case - I don't want to accidentally kill you."

"Uh, Father Patrick," Padre Lopez said, folding his arms against the chilly night air. "It's almost dawn, and uh, do you think we should check on our Neteru? See how the talks are going? She's been in there a long time."

The old seer shook his head. Asula and Lin joined him with a yawn.

"We can only hope that an agreement can be reached by dawn," Monk Lin said.

"I am going to have much to explain to guardian Marlene." Father Patrick sighed.

"I just heard the refrigerator open and close. That must be a good sign," Asula said gently. "He's still taking cold packs."

"She must be all right," Padre Lopez insisted. "If he attacked her, then we would have heard her cry out, si?"

"That's just it," the eldest cleric grumbled. "It was too quiet... means the lair was soundproofed." He held up his hand when Padre Lopez would have spoken. "Which means the talks are going well."

The young man let his breath out in reluctant relief and sat back down. "Then all is well?"

"Uhmmm-hmmm. And Marlene Stone is gonna kill me."

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