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17

Outside, in the cool night air, Rafael abruptly turned to Colby, his hand fisting in her hair, holding her head still as he bent to her, his larger body aggressively caging hers against the side of the building. He was hot and hard and hungrier for her than he'd ever been. "I do not know if I can wait. We have to get out of here before I take you here and now." His voice was a rough whisper, as he slanted his mouth over hers, his tongue sliding over the seam of her lips, tasting her, demanding entrance. He caught her soft moan in his mouth and his temperature soared several degrees.

In the parking lot? Colby didn't care if they were in the parking lot. There were too many clothes between them. She heard her own whimper as he licked at her, his teeth teasing her full lower lip, and then his tongue sank back into her mouth again. His erection was pressed tight against her stomach, her breasts mashed against the muscles of his chest. She was beginning to lose touch with reality the way she always did with Rafael. The hand gripping her hair in a tight fist, holding her still while his mouth dominated hers, was just on the edge of rough. He kissed her like a starving man, drowning in need for her. As if he couldn't wait. Could never get enough. Her body reacted, hot and slick, drenched in need.

The parking lot, the field, who the hell cares? I want to tear your clothes off. Why are you wearing a bra? His hand skimmed lightly up her stomach to cup her breast, his thumb caressing her nipple, teasing and tugging beneath her blouse. Do not ever wear a bra again.

Her breath caught in her throat. She pushed into his hand, lighting back a moan of need. "We can't. Someone will come out here and see us."

He could shield them, but he couldn't do the things to her he wanted to do if they remained at the bar out in the open. With more impatience than finesse, he wrapped his arms around her and took to the air, his mouth still commanding hers. She whimpered, tried to struggle, but he held her still, kissing her until it didn't matter that they were no longer on the ground.

Colby circled his neck with both arms, clung tightly to him, closing her eyes and giving herself up to the shocking sensation of his mouth. Her body melted against his. The heat, created by the thick bulge pressed tightly against her stomach, was generating a wild response in her. The lower half of her body was hot and heavy, pressure building fast. She rocked against him, rubbed along his body, all the while her mouth welded to his. His tongue mated with hers, exploring the velvet interior of her mouth, stroking and caressing until she felt him in every cell of her body.

Rafael had to touch her skin or he was going to go out of mind. He wanted to make it to the hot springs, where the soil was rich in minerals and he could ensure she was safeguarded while the earth healed her body and completed the change. It had all been so important until he saw her. His body hardened until every movement seemed painful and he he had to have her again and again. She was addicting, with her soft skin and her silky hair.

She was such an independent woman, steely strong under all those soft curves, with a will like iron, until he touched her.

And she was his. Completely his. She fought him for so long.

She was still fighting him, but not when he kissed her, not when he had his hands on her. He enjoyed the feeling of his power, of being the one man she couldn't resist. He fed on that, needed it from her.

Somewhere over the mountains, he tore her shirt from her body, wanting the feel of her skin beneath his palm. Colby didn't protest, rather threw back her head, a strangled sound of need escaping, as his mouth trailed down her neck, licking and taking tiny bites that sent tongues of fire racing over her skin and sizzling through her body. She always seemed to do this to him, the moment his body came into contact with hers. Lust rose sharp and dangerous, out of control. His body burned him alive from the inside out, raging with needs and wants he could never get enough of. There would never be enough ways to take her, to have her, and eternity wouldn't be long enough to satisfy him.

Rafael. She whispered his name plaintively, pleading with him to set them down, uncaring that they flew through the air to an unknown destination. She writhed against him, wrapped one leg around his thigh to rub her pelvis over him seeking relief.

With one hand wrapped firmly around her waist, he bent his head to her bare breasts, forcing her upper body backward. Her hair blew in all directions, whipping in the wind, stinging her face, reminding her where she was. "We're going to hit a tree or something. Put us down." Her voice came out husky with desire. Lust poured through her veins, thick and burning with an intensity that left her shaken. "You have to, I need you right now."

The breathless plea in her voice shook him. His mouth brushed her breast, tugged at her nipple. She screamed and arched her body further to give him better access. Fire radiated from her breasts through her entire body and created a throbbing, urgent hunger between her legs.

Rafael heard the pounding of her blood rushing through her veins beneath her satin skin, calling to him, beckoning with erotic promise. His blood pounded with the same intensity, the same beat, throbbing and pulsing through his heavy erection in anticipation. He hungered for her. For all of her. He hungered for his body to be buried deep in her tight, hot channel, his mind firmly in hers and her blood flowing into him like nectar. If he wasn't careful they were going to fall out of the sky and tumble to earth, locked together in a passionate embrace.

He took them to ground, grateful they'd made it to the hot springs. The moment his feet were on the ground, he ripped the offending jeans from her body, tore them into strips, and hurled them away from her. His eyes darkened as his gaze slid over her possessively. "You are so beautiful." Her body was flushed with arousal, with need for him, desperate hunger in her eyes. He could see the wet, slick evidence of her desire glistening between her thighs and it was all he could do not to drop to his knees and feast.

Colby watched as he deliberately removed his clothes the human way. He kicked aside his shoes, his hands going to the waistband of his jeans. She could see the enormous bulge pushing for freedom against the tight material. Her breath nearly stopped when he unbuttoned the jeans and shoved them off of his hips. He never took his eyes off of her, watching her with hungry intent. His face was etched with desire, his eyes black and his mouth a sensual slash.

"Come here to me, Colby." His hand circled his heavy erection, absently stroked, a casual, easy movement bringing him more pleasure.

She went to him, half mesmerized by the size and shape of him, half hypnotized by the stamp of dark sensuality stamped on his features. Her tongue darted out, swept over her lower lip as she watched his hand slide over the thick hard length. His gaze never left her, compelling her forward, drinking in the sight of her breasts swaying as she halted in front of him.

He lifted his hand to cup her face, his touch gentle. He bent his head slowly toward her, his lips drifting down her cheek to the corner of her mouth. His tongue traced her lips. "I love your mouth. I could kiss you forever." His other hand brushed her breasts, sent tiny flames dancing over her skin.

Colby was so conscious of that second hand, traveling lightly over her breasts, the pads of his fingers barely skimming, yet so arousing, moving over her belly, circling her navel until her breath caught in her throat and his fingers tangled in small fiery curls.

"You are so wet and ready for me, querida."

She couldn't stop the small sound escaping, a plea for more. He was barely touching her, yet he was sending her temperature soaring.

The hand cupping her face slid to her nape, reached up and tangled in her hair, pulling her head back to expose her throat. His mouth slid over her pulse. His teeth nipped, a small stinging bite, his tongue instantly swirling a soothing caress. Her body nearly convulsed, every muscle tightening, her womb contracting. "Tell me what I need to hear, Colby." His mouth moved up her chin, teeth nibbling at her lower lip. "Tell me."

"You know I want you." How could she not? His fingers slipped inside of her, pushing deep so that she cried out with pleasure, writhing against his hand, desperate for relief. The fingers withdrew, making her frantic.

"It is not enough for me." His voice was very quiet, whispering over her like a stroke of heat. His tongue teased her throat again, moved lower to the side of her breast. She felt the sharp bite of his teeth, edging pleasure with pain just before he drew the creamy mound of flesh into the hot cavern of his mouth.

Colby caught at his shoulders for support, her knees threatening to give out. "What do you want from me, Rafael?" His fingers thrust deep, so that she rode the edge of a climax but couldn't quite make it over the edge.

"You know."

It wasn't fair to ask for a declaration of love, of commitment, when she was trying so hard to make sense of it all. Rafael didn't believe in fairness. He believed in getting his way, using any means possible. And when it came to sex, she knew she would do anything for him. He knew it too. It was there in the heavy-lidded glittering eyes. His hands were magic and his kiss could shred her self-control. Colby's chin rose a fraction and she flipped her hair over her shoulder, her gaze dropping to his erection. He was huge and hard with need. The moment she looked at him, the moment she moistened her lips, she felt the hitch of his breath.

Her hand dropped to circle the thick bulge, fingers skimming lightly. She licked her lips again, watching his reaction as her thumb glided around the base of the velvet head. He barely took a breath as she went to her knees in front of him.

She allowed her tongue a brief exploration, licking a sensual circle and teasing the base of his swollen head. He shuddered, a rough groan escaping. His fingers sank into her hair, bunched there, and dragged her closer to him even as he thrust into the hot cavern of her mouth. Her tongue curled around him, danced and teased. His fists tightened in warning. "You are pushing me over the edge of my control, pequena."

Her mouth was hot and tight, her tongue flattening to vibrate along the sensitive base of his thick, velvet-over-steel tip. His hips jerked, his muscles clenched with pleasure. His incisors ached to lengthen but he controlled the need. He thrust forward, holding her head, wanting control back but unable to make himself ruin her obvious pleasure. She started a fire in his groin that spread through his belly to every part of his body. Her tongue curled and lapped until he was out of his mind. For a moment demands pushed their way into his mind, but she was inexperienced and not quite ready for all the eroticisms he was hungering for.

Rafael pulled her head back and stared down into her eyes. They were brilliantly green, darkened with passion, with need. He ached with his love for her, with his need for her commitment to him. He drew her with him to the large boulders surrounding the hot springs and simply caught her around the waist and lifted her onto one of the flattest rocks. His hands jerked her thighs apart and pressed into the entrance to her slick folds. She was so hot he was afraid they'd both burn. She tried to push herself forward, to impale her body on the hard length of him, but he held her still.

"You forgot to tell me something. Something very important."

"'This isn't funny, Rafael." How could she want him when he wanted everything his way? "Give me time."

He leaned over her, his hands flat on the boulder, bracing himself above her, his body refusing to enter hers. He just held them both there, on the edge of madness. "I am in your mind. I see what you feel for me."

"Then I don't have to say it, do I?" Colby managed to slide on the rock, but he clamped his arm across her restlessness and held her. Now she was trapped between the hard edge of the boulder and his hips. He gave her an inch, enough to make her scream in utter frustration.

"Because you belong to me. I want to hear you admit it." She was near tears and that would be worse. "Fine. I belong to you but I don't have to like it."

"And you love me." He pushed deeper into her tight folds. "Tell me you love me, Colby."

"You can't command me to love you, Rafael. Isn't it enough that I'm here with you? That I can't keep my hands off of you?" It was humiliating to have him hold her against the rock while she ground her hips against him, nearly begging him to take her.

"Whatever you think, this is me making love to you. Not having sex, making love," he reiterated. He pushed deeper into her body, watching her pupils dilate with pleasure. "I love everything about you, querida. I am not ashamed to admit it to you. I love the way you burn for me and the way my body grows hard and hot and ready for you every time I lay eyes on you. I love the way you take care of your family and even the way you think you can defy me. Stop being a coward and admit you love me."

"Stay out of my thoughts. It's bad enough that you try to force me to do whatever you want. If you need to hear me say it before I even know my own mind, compel me to say it," she said, staring up at the raw intensity of his face. Her heart pounded in fear as they stared at one another, as his eyes glittered with danger.

He sank into her all the way, burying himself so deep he could feel her womb. Pinned against the hard rock, she could only accept the rough thrust of his hips, her body a tight fiery inferno surrounding his. She looked beautiful, her face and body flushed, her lips swollen with his kisses, her eyes glazed with passion. For him. His fingers tightened on her. "You are such a gift, Colby." He could barely take in that she was real, that she was his. That after this night he would always have her. There would be no going back.

He drove hard, surging into her over and over. She was such a tight fit. He could actually feel the way he stretched her folds as he impaled her. She writhed beneath him, trying to lift her hips to meet him, to be slammed back at each furious thrust. The smooth boulder cradled her buttocks but refused to give in so that they came together in wild heat. Every thrust sent agonizing pleasure careening through his body, through hers. He could feel her become hotter, wetter, feel the passion spiraling through her mind until she was dazed with the need for release. Joy surged through him, shaking him with the need to satisfy her. She cried his name, pleading with him, a half sob that had him driving his flesh into hers, branding her as his for all time.

The orgasm tore through her body, encompassing every fiber of her being, taking her heart and soul and mind. Colby felt shattered, fragmented, by the mindless, endless pleasure that rippled on and on until she knew she would never be happy without him. She felt his eruption, the hot jetting release that sent more tremors through blood and bone, through every cell until even her vision blurred. She buried her nails deep into his arms, trying desperately to anchor herself while the world rocked around her.

Rafael leaned his body over hers, his breathing every bit as harsh and desperate as hers. Their hearts beat together, a crazy syncopation as they tried to draw in the night air. Colby lay hack against the rocks, his head pillowed on her breasts. She was beginning to feel the effects of making violent love against hard stone. "Ow."

"Ow?" he repeated and lifted his head to look at her.

She peeked at him from beneath her lashes. It was a mistake. He looked darkly sensual, his face sinfully sexy. His eyes were dark with passion, with possession, and still far too hungry. She shook her head. "We can't. I mean it. This rock is hard. I didn't notice before, but I'm not going to be able to walk."

"And I thought cowgirls were tough." His tongue lapped at her nipple and her small muscles clenched around him. He was still hard, still buried deep inside her, and wanted to stay that way.

"Not this tough." She looked around her. Several small waterfalls poured into the hot springs coming up from the ground, cooling them enough to use as a spa. "I haven't been here in years. It's miles from my ranch and I'm always too busy to get out this way. I'd almost forgotten it was here." Ferns covered the ground and surrounded the large flat boulders forming the ring around the basin. "It is beautiful."

"I thought you might like it." His teeth teased and tugged to feel her reaction.

She pushed at his shoulders. "You have to stop. I can't take any more right now. I think you killed me."

His tongue stroked over her breast, curled around her nipple. He lifted his head and smiled at her. A slow, sexy smile. "Not yet."

"No." She said it firmly, though her blood was already thickening at the wicked glint in his eyes. "I can't move. I think I'll just lie here all night, draped over this rock. You go do whatever needs doing and let me sleep." Perversely, when he slipped out of her, she felt bereft. There was no stopping the small sound of protest.

"You need to get in the spring or you really will be sore." He lifted her as if she weighed no more than a feather, cradled her against his chest, and carried her to the steaming spring. He paused, the same sensual smile teasing her senses. "Unless you want me to lick you better. My saliva acts like a healing agent."

Colby circled his neck with her arms. "I could like you when you act like this, Rafael." She kissed his throat, nibbled her way to his jaw. "Why don't you act like this all the time? Sweet and gentle."

He waited until her lips teased the corner of his before turning his head to capture her mouth. His move was aggressive and commanding, taking possession, his tongue spearing deep and tangling with hers in a wild mating. Her heart jumped and her blood sang. He lifted his head, black eyes glittering at her. "That is why. I know you. Inside and out, I know what you need, maybe better than you do. You like me rough."

Colby pulled back to stare up at his face, etched with stark possession. "Is that what you think, Rafael?" Her tone was very serious. "Is that what you think you read in my mind?"

"You would never respect a man you could dominate, Colby. You are a strong woman and you require a man who can make decisions, not be overwhelmed by the strength of your personality." He answered her just as seriously.

"Rafael, I can't be submissive to you. It isn't in my character-don't you see that as well? I have to have some control, some partnership, or it would never work between us. I could never love you. I know I'm sexually addicted, but I want to be in love with you as much as you want me to be. I just can't make that leap knowing you don't respect my judgment."

"Querida, why would you think I do not respect your judgment? You are in a situation you cannot possibly understand. It makes sense to rely on my judgment until you have gained the knowledge and power necessary to cope with our world."

There was such love in his voice, such a wealth of tenderness, her heart turned over. If he could only be like that all the time. She closed her eyes as his teeth teased her pulse and her body responded with a fresh wave of heat. "I would like to explore this sexual addiction to me. It sounds most interesting."

"Great. Now you're telling me I'm kinky." She leaned back and stared up at the stars. Maybe she was. The things he did to her body were inconceivable with anyone else, but with him, she melted every time he came near her. "Maybe I am, but only when it comes to you."

"I like you kinky," he whispered against her neck. Against c pulse beating in her throat. "I need to taste you tonight, meu amor. Give yourself to me."

"No way." She shook her head even as her body went weak at the sensual brush of his voice. Deep inside, her muscles clenched and her womb throbbed. She could feel heat build-and it had nothing to do with the hot springs. "Last time you got all vampy on me and scared me to death. Sink your fangs into someone else."

His mouth moved down her throat, his tongue lapping at the small dip in her shoulder. His teeth scraped back and forth in a particularly erotic way. She closed her eyes. "Make sure it isn't a woman, though."

He waded into the water so that it lapped around his thighs. Laughter vibrated against her neck, teeth teasing. "I want you again."

"You always want me, you're wearing me out," Colby said.

"Again," he insisted, easing them both down into the arcing water. "Wrap your legs around my waist." His eyes were dark with passion as he took possession of her mouth, licking at her lips, taking teasing bites until she was kissing him back, her arms sliding around his neck, her breasts pressed tight against his chest.

He sat with his back against the side of the natural basin, pulling her down onto his lap, dragging her legs around him so that he could spear into her tight channel as she settled over him. He swore softly, against her neck. "Deus, Colby. You are so hot and tight. It feels like heaven." His hands guided her hips into a slow, rocking rhythm. "That is perfect. You drive me out of my mind."

She started to sit straight, to ride him with a leisurely pace, but his hands slid up her back, pressing her close, keeping her against him. His mouth moved over her shoulder, licked at her, blazing kisses across her skin. "I have to taste you, meu amor. There will be no mistakes this time. Give yourself to me. It will be such pleasure." His sinful voice whispered temptation. "You have no idea how much I need you. No one else will ever need you or love you the way I do. They will never understand your needs or your hunger." His tongue swirled over her pulse, just along the swell of her breast. His teeth scraped seductively. "Give yourself to me."

Steel ran through his arms, yet he held her with a gentle possessiveness, even more persuasive than the way her body was rippling with fire. His breath was warm on her skin, and each tiny bite made her muscles clench and tighten around him. The desire to give him whatever he wanted, whatever he needed, pulsed through her.

"I am not going to shield you, pequena. " His voice was rough with passion and she felt him grow thicker and harder, his hips thrusting upward to meet her lazy ride.

His obvious heightened arousal only fed her own. She cradled his head, his hair a silky slide over her skin. His tongue swirled and her muscles tightened and gripped. She felt the fresh flood of liquid heat, of excitement, burning between her legs. Her heart beat once, twice. His fangs sank deep, white-hot pain lashing through her body to give way to sheer erotic pleasure. She gasped, threw her head back, a soft cry escaping as every nerve ending in her body sizzled to life. She thought she could feel sparks igniting as he thrust deeper. The force began to build and build until she thought she might die of the pleasure. She began to pick up the pace, needing release, but his hands slid to her hips, rocking her gently, preventing a climax, keeping her teetering on the edge of madness.

It was an incredible luxury to hold her naked in his arms, her body riding his while he drank the nectar from her body. She was scorching hot, surrounding him with velvet heat, her muscles gripping him tightly, squeezing and massaging until his head roared with lust and love. Her blood sang in his veins burned through his body until he felt complete. He swept his tongue across her breast, closing the twin pinpricks, his body thickening even more. He found her mouth with his, poured everything he felt for her into his kiss. She tightened her arms around his neck, kissed him back as she slowly slid up and down the hard length him, sending shudders of ecstasy through both of them. "I love you, Colby. You are everything to me." He whispered the words against her lips. His heart was pounding out of his chest in anticipation. She was all soft skin, all heat and fire, a haven for him. Her body was made for his and he took the greatest pride in knowing he could make her scream in pleasure.

His fingernail lengthened. His hand shook with the enormity of the moment. Colby would be his for all time, joined in his world, her life twined with his, the miracle of his species. The ritual words had bound them, but he had been close to the beast. He was always too close to the beast for anything less than a full commitment between them. For one moment time stopped. His heart thundered in his ears. She would hate that he was taking this decision from her. He read her mind, knew she was searching for a way to bridge their worlds. This would anger her, but if he took her to his home, brought her fully into his world, he knew he could make her happy, devoting himself completely to that end. He would have ample time to persuade her to get over being angry with him. He needed her more than any other, and she did love him; she just couldn't admit it to herself or to him, but he read it in her mind.

He bent to press his mouth against her ear, whispering a command to her, rocking her body with small thrusts of his. The water lapped at them with sizzling heat, but it only added to the erotic world he was floating in.

Her mouth traveled down his throat, her teeth nipping his skin, his body swelling, stretching her tight sheath impossibly at the little stinging bites. Fire ripped through him as he slashed his chest with the sharp nail and caught the back of her head to force her to drink. Her body moved subtly, naturally sensual, even under his thrall. Her tongue swept over his chest and he shuddered in reaction. Her mouth moved, drawing the essence of who and what he was into her body. His blood spread through her like molten lava, moving slowly to every cell, invading muscle and bone and tissue, spreading to every organ until she was truly his. He felt the completion of their union and the terrible tension finally faded from his soul.

When she had taken enough for a true exchange, he slowly separated her mouth from his chest, commanding her to sweep her tongue across the slash to close it. He kissed her hard as he removed the hypnotic spell, thrusting his tongue deep into her mouth while he speared upward with his hips, keeping her riding the edge of a climax. He swallowed her soft moan, urging her into a harder, faster rhythm.

Colby wound her fingers in his silky black hair. He made her feel so beautiful, so incredibly sexy, as if he could never get enough of her. He made her feel as if she were the only woman in the world. "Maybe I do love you," she whispered, making the confession against his neck, her tongue tasting his skin. She rocked back, holding her body away from his so she could look into his dark eyes. Insatiable hunger blazed back at her. Possession. Love. It was stark and raw and rough like Rafael, but it was all hers.

Her soft words nearly drove him over the edge. It was a hard-fought battle to get her to admit she might feel something other than pure lust for him. Satisfaction spread.

"Lock your ankles around me, Colby."

She felt his hands on her bottom, lifting her more fully into him. She didn't think it was possible, but he stretched her more, leaving her gasping and calling his name. He took over, setting the pace, pinning her hips while he thrust again and again, driving her right through a violent release. The tight grip of her climax, fiery hot, took the last of his control. His entire body seemed to explode, his own release tearing up from his toes, pulsing through his groin as he emptied himself into her.

Colby collapsed onto his chest, her head resting on his shoulder. His arms slid up her back, held her close. His heart was strong and steady, beating wildly in tune with hers. She was beginning to like the concept of hearts beating together.

She drifted in a haze of pleasure, her eyes closing while the hot water lapped at her sore body and Rafael made her feel safe and loved.

After a time he carried her out of the spring and laid her on her back on a thick carpet of grass. She opened her eyes to look up at the stars while he stretched out, naked, on his stomach, blanketing her. His body was wedged between her legs and he pillowed his head on her stomach. She tangled her fingers in his hair. "I'm so tired, Rafael."

"I know, meu amor. Go to sleep if you like. I want to look at you. I love just looking at you." He bent to press his lips against her navel. His fingers moved possessively over her akin. He loved touching her as much as he loved looking at her. Almost without thought, he sought the outline of her birthmark. For some reason, this time, the outline was more pronounced. He could trace the pattern. Shock rippled through him and he raised his head to stare down at the small fire-breathing dragon. His breath rushed out of his lungs, fingers dug into flesh, along her hipbones. "You are Dragonseeker. Deus! You have the mark of the Dragonseeker clan."

Beneath him, Colby stiffened. He was talking about her birthmark. She reached down in an attempt to cover it, fear spearing through her. He pushed her hand away, locking his arm around her hip to keep her pinned down. "You had to have been born with this mark. I have not seen such a thing in centuries."

"I was told you would kill anyone with such a mark." He didn't sound as if he was going to kill her. There was a silky caress in his voice that made her weak all over. He nuzzled the birthmark, his tongue stroking over the shape and texture of it. She could feel his excitement pulsing through him.

"Who would tell you such a thing? Dragonseeker is one of our most powerful bloodlines. They are Carpathians with skill and cunning and gifted with battle sense as no others and their lifemates often produce female children. We thought the family had died out a long time ago. No Carpathian would ever harm a woman of the Dragonseeker lineage, nor would they wish to harm a warrior of that house."

She lifted her head to look at his black, gleaming eyes. He meant every word. She relaxed beneath the silken heat of his mouth, "Do you remember the woman in the parking lot of the bar? She heard you when you threatened to hurt anyone interfering with your business."

He nuzzled the triangle of curls with his chin, sending a wave of desire rushing through her bloodstream. "Yes, she heard me when I spoke telepathically."

"She has the same birthmark only hers reacts differently. She was taught to avoid hunters and her mark grows hot when one is near, just as it does when a vampire is close by. She told me that an ancestor, Rhiannon, left her lifemate, although she used the term husband, and went off with a powerful man. A war broke out."

"It is true that there was a war, but Rhiannon was kidnapped and her lifemate murdered. She was held captive by a powerful wizard…"

Colby groaned. "I don't know if I want to know this. Vampires are bad enough, Rafael. Please don't tell me there are wizards."

"Call them what you like. Powerful beings trained in the ways of magick. They were well versed in the old ways when safeguards and spells were plentiful and all things of the earth were worshipped and cherished. They were called wizards only to identify their teachings and skills. Rhiannon had begun to study with one of their most powerful teachers. He conspired to murder her lifemate and take her for his own. Most lifemates do not survive the passing of their mate. Her captor must have found a way to keep her alive for a time."

"Natalya claims Rhiannon had triplets, two daughters and a son, before she died. Natalya said that Rhiannon's son was her grandfather. Natalya also suspected that her own brother must be my father."

"What of Rhiannon's two female children?"

"She didn't know what happened to them. It was her father that taught her a hunter would immediately kill anyone bearing our birthmark. She also said the birthmark hid itself from you, that it would hide from hunters and vampires."

"Of course he would say that." Rafael pressed small kisses against the birthmark. "They would poison their children against us. What better revenge than to keep the line from the Carpathian people, when we need them so much?"

"Why would the birthmark hide from you?"

"I suspect it knew how strong the beast in me really was and reacted to that. Most of the times I have spent with you, I have barely managed to control the darkness in me. It would seek to protect you from me as long as I was near embracing the temptation of our darker side, but there is no longer need."

Colby's stomach gave an uncomfortable lurch. Her skin felt oversensitized and something fiery hot swept through her insides, searing every organ in her body. Rafael lifted his head alertly. She could see knowledge in his eyes. Colby pushed at him to get him off of her, the strange wave of heat scaring her. "It hurts to have you touching me." Her insides were suddenly on fire and she felt sick. She pushed at him harder, as the air left her lungs in a rush of flames.

Colby's eyes went wide with shock. Rafael felt the first wash of guilt. It wasn't a comfortable feeling and one he'd only experienced since meeting her. He rolled over, settling next to her, his arm caging her without touching her, his eyes watchful.

"What's happening to me?" Knowledge mixed with her pain. "You know, don't you? What have you done this time?" The breath left her body and she nearly convulsed, her body going rigid as pain gripped her. Nails bit deep into his arm.

"Just breathe, Colby." He hadn't expected the conversion to be so violent. His heart twisted. What if something went wrong?

"Answer me! God, at least you can tell me what you've done to me."

"You are beginning to go through the conversion." Her pain swirled inside of him, mixing with guilt and terror for her.

"I trusted you." Her eyes were accusing, ravaged with pain and betrayal. She gasped the words, half sitting, attempting to twist away from him as she made the accusation. "How could you ever tell me you loved me? Do you think this is love? You wouldn't know love if it slapped you in the face. Love isn't betrayal and it isn't domination, robbing me of free will. I was trying to get to you in my own way and you took even that from me." The pain twisted like a knife inside of her and her eyes clouded. "I trusted you," she whispered again, her voice breaking.

Rafael stiffened. It hadn't been like that. He knew he had to convert her for all their sakes. He wouldn't carry dominance that far. Was he such a monster after all? The next wave was already building, rushing through her like a fireball, scorching skin and organs. She broke into a sweat and blood beaded on her pores. He whispered her name, brought cooling water from the waterfall to bathe her face. She turned her face away from him, clearly not wanting his help as her body went rigid with the next terrible blossoming pain. It swept through her, searing everything in its path.

Fear lived and breathed inside of her. She pushed herself up, tried to crawl away from him, a hurt, wounded animal. He caught her in firm hands, his insides churning with bile. He had done this to her, in his own arrogance believing he had the right to her. He had no idea of the suffering the conversion would cause and it sickened him.

The pain was excruciating. Colby's eyes were glazed and her body writhed. "Did you do this to me so you could take Paul and Ginny?" She made the accusation hysterically. "You really aren't any different from the vampire controlling Paul."

The hurt in her eyes, the suggestion of betrayal shattered his soul. Did she see him like that? Did she honestly believe he could do this to her to get the children from her? His soul shrieked in reprimand, in horror at him for what he'd done. He felt moisture on his face, knew he shed tears, knew he had committed an unpardonable act. She had been making her way to him but his lack of patience could very well have destroyed his fragile hold on her emotions.

He bent over her so she could see he told the stark truth. "I love you more than my own life, more than anything on this earth. I had no idea it would be like this. I swear I am telling you the truth. I am more sorry than you will ever know for bringing you into my world without your consent."

She looked up at his ravaged face, the blood red tears seeping from his eyes, and her heart fluttered with forgiveness for one brief moment. The next wave hit and she turned away from him, writhing and convulsing, the fire burning her from the inside out.

Rafael could only remain helplessly by her side as the conversion took control of her body, forcing her to rid it of toxins, of everything human. His power meant little in the face of such pain. He attempted to take the pain for her, but it was impossible. They had no choice but to ride it out together. He tried to hold her, to comfort her, washing her, rocking her, murmuring as much encouragement as he could to her. All the while he felt he was dying inside. He couldn't take the pain from his lifemate. He couldn't take back what he'd done. He had to go forward now no matter the cost and he was afraid the price was going to be much higher than anything he'd ever considered.

When it was safe, he opened the mineral-rich soil and floated down into the depths of the earth, holding her in his arms. For the first time in centuries he found himself weeping hard, feeling lost and ashamed of his own actions.


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