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"This doesn't look good, Colby," Ben said as he walked over to where she was sitting on a large, round boulder. "I'm sorry, honey, I know you loved that old man. I should have listened to you." He put his hand on her slender shoulder, an awkward attempt at comforting her.

"It isn't your fault, Ben. He must have already been dead when I reported him missing." Colby rubbed her pounding temples as she looked up at the sheriff. "It wasn't an accident, was it?"

Ben sighed heavily. Colby had always been as transparent as glass. He could see her grief, the heaviness in her as if the weight of the world was on her shoulders. "We're treating it like a homicide until we know different. I took pictures of the scene; we've finished that finally. I know it's been a long morning for you, but we had to get this done before we could move the body."

"I can read the signs, Ben. He didn't fall off that cliff. He was hit from behind. The blood splatters aren't consistent with a fall. And his body isn't beat up enough. His knees hit the dirt first, like his legs went out from under him." A sob welled up out of nowhere and she looked away from him, pressed a hand to her soft, trembling mouth.

Ben swore softly. "It looks bad. You and the kids need to be careful, Colby. I don't know what's going on, but I don't like it."

Ignoring his outstretched hand, Colby jumped down from the rock and paced away from him, swiping at the tears running unchecked down her face. "Who would do something like this to him, Ben? He was in his seventies. He couldn't hurt a fly. He didn't have any money. Why would someone do this?"

"Go home, honey, let me take care of this. You need to be with the kids." Ben was suppressing his own anger. This hit far too close to home. Someone had murdered Pete, there was no denying the fact. Ben had examined every inch of the cliff. Someone had been up there all right, and they'd started a small rockslide to make it look as if Pete had slipped over the edge, but he lay right where he had been killed. Ben would have staked his reputation on it. Colby was a good tracker and she was right about Pete going to his knees before he fell backwards.

Ben had examined the old man's fingernails. There wasn't a speck of dirt to indicate Pete had clawed at the mountainside if he had slipped. And the patterns of blood splatters just weren't consistent with Pete falling and hitting his head. The body had been torn up by the birds, which didn't help the crime scene, but Ben had found other disturbing lacerations on Pete's body that he hadn't discussed with Colby. There were teeth marks-human bite marks-as if someone had tried to cannibalize the body after Pete was dead. He was certain the bites were made after death. It was bizarre and terrifying when they rarely had major crime in their area. Colby had to have seen those disturbing bites, but he wasn't going to force her to admit it. Ben swore again as he glanced at Colby's small figure. "Go home, honey, I'll call you when I know more."

Colby nodded, suddenly shivering. What had Tony Harris and the other ranch hand really been doing on her property? What were Everett's rider and one of the Chevez brothers doing so far from the homestead? Had one of her neighbors actually murdered Pete? Who would benefit from such brutality? She shoved a hand through her hair, dreading telling Ginny and Paul.

"Colby, you can't do anything more for him. Go on home. You're just torturing yourself by sticking around." Ben was adamant. "It will be a few days before the body is released. I promise I'll call you and help with the arrangements. in the meantime, stick close to the house-no more riding around in the middle of nowhere by yourself."

Colby nodded slowly, turning heavily, her shoulders slumping in defeat. Ben was right, she couldn't bring Pete back and there was no sense in putting off telling the kids. Paul probably already knew; he had a scanner. He would have seen the sheriff and his crew coming onto the ranch. She swung into the saddle and resolutely started home.

Deep beneath the earth, locked in the rich soil, Rafael lay helpless to comfort her. The blood tie ensured he could touch her mind and know her thoughts at will. She needed him, needed him to hold her, to comfort her. She was trying to be very brave for her brother and sister. She was weeping. Deep within her heart, in her soul, she was weeping. Her sorrow was so strong it had penetrated his rejuvenating sleep, waking him to share her suffering. His chest hurt, the weight of her anguish pressing like a heavy stone into his heart. He ached for her, ached to hold her, comfort her.

It was a singular experience for him to feel for another being. Real emotion. He had forgotten the feeling. It humbled him to think of her and her lone fight to keep her word to her stepfather. She was alone and afraid. She was fighting an unseen enemy. She didn't know what they wanted, or why they were attacking her, but she was valiantly ready to defend her ranch and her beloved brother and sister. Rafael concentrated on keeping the link open between them. Her mind was complex. It had natural safeguards, barriers he was still working to break through. But she was the one. His lifemate. Her blood called to his. Her soul cried out to his.

Rafael shared her heart and soul. His duty was to see to her health and happiness above all other things. Above his own happiness. He was beginning to understand what that meant. Trapped by the high price of his immortality, he lay waiting, needing to be with her, helpless to comfort her. Right now it mattered more that he comfort her, than that he possess her. He needed to hold her safe in his arms. He learned many hard lessons while he lay in the ground. And he learned each of the lessons from his unknowing lifemate.

She spoke softly, lovingly to her brother and sister, a world of confidence in her voice when deep inside her mind Rafael could hear her frightened screams. She took time with each of them, answering questions, reassuring them, endlessly patient when she knew she had a long list of chores that had to be accomplished before nightfall regardless of the tragedy. Through it all she continually asked herself if she could have found Pete sooner, if she could have somehow saved his life.

She worked hard, one task at a time, treating each job the same whether the chore was difficult or easy, whether she enjoyed it or hated it. She was quick and efficient and always thinking ahead, mentally checking off the list. To Rafael it was the longest, most difficult period of his life. He lay helpless, trapped in the earth, his body weak, his great strength drained, while somewhere above him Colby, exhausted from lack of sleep and his taking of her blood, worked the afternoon away.

She had to use her unique talents to start the old tractor and keep it running as she worked one of the fields. It was draining to use mental powers to keep machinery working. Her head was pounding as she went from the field to the corral of restless horses. Her young brother joined her to help hold the wildly bucking horses.

Rafael went back and forth between absolute admiration for her and a slow burning rage. She was a woman. Young. Vulnerable. Why was she alone and unprotected? Why was she working at a job that demanded so much, both physically and mentally? He felt every bone-wrenching fall as she hit the ground. Every jarring crash against the fence. It was dangerous. Incredibly dangerous. It would stop. He would never allow her to continue when he could make her life so much easier. He bided his time, waiting for the setting of the sun.

Colby was beyond exhaustion, stumbling in the waning light through the barn to stare with a grim frown at the tack. Most of it needed cleaning or mending. Paul's job. Probably passed on to Ginny some time ago and long forgotten. Someone had to do the mending soon or it was going to go downhill like everything else on the ranch.

"Downhill," she murmured aloud, leaning one hip against the doorjamb. "Downhill fast." The entire ranch was going downhill fast and she couldn't keep up with all the work. She was one person and there was just so much time. She hadn't been hungry all day and had skipped her meals, using the time to make up for the hours she had spent with Pete's body. She seemed to be terribly thirsty all day, yet she wasn't hungry at all and the thought of food sickened her.

For a moment she listened to the sound of young voices laughing, coming from the porch. She was tempted to call them to help her, but they sounded so innocent and young she didn't have the heart after such a terrible day. The kids were grieving for Pete, and if they could find a few moments to laugh together, she wasn't about to take that away from them. Pete's death was there in her mind, tearing at her, and she crushed down the sudden overwhelming urge to join them. To feel young and carefree for one moment, however brief again.

With a little sigh she moved through the large barn to the tiny room at the far end. It was very dark in the tack room with no window to allow the last rays of light in. The weight of the world seemed to be on her shoulders and she found she was walking stooped over. Annoyed at giving in to feeling sorry for herself, Colby straightened her shoulders resolutely, taking a step toward the light switch.

A hand shot past her head, flicking the switch, illuminating the small tack room. Colby gasped, turned quickly to face the intruder, although her body already knew exactly who was there. Rafael. She had closed the door behind her and she had been positive no one was in the small room when she entered.

"What are you doing sneaking around in my barn?" she demanded, desperately hoping he couldn't hear the frantic pounding of her heart. For some reason the mark on the side of her neck began to throb and burn. Defensively she placed her hand over it as she looked up at him.

He was unbelievably intimidating. Large, muscular, his broad shoulders filling the small room until there was only Rafael. More than that, he exuded a dark sexual snare she couldn't quite break free of. His eyes were filled with dark promise, full of need and hunger. For a moment that hot gaze rested thoughtfully on her palm covering his brand on her neck. A slow smile softened the edge of cruelty to his mouth, his black eyes dwelling on the pulse beating frantically in the vulnerable hollow of her throat.

"I am honing my skills," he said very softly, gently, almost teasingly, so as not to frighten her. "You look a wild thing, on the verge of flight." She tilted her chin, a gesture he found himself unconsciously watching for.

"Which skills?" Colby asked suspiciously. She was trembling so hard she put her hands behind her back so he wouldn't see when he seemed to notice every little thing about her. Colby twisted her fingers together to hold them still. It was annoying to act like the proverbial country bumpkin any time he was close to her.

Rafael took a step forward, gliding easily over the straw-strewn floor. Colby had the impression of a giant jungle cat stalking her, silent on any surface. His black eyes burned possessively over her small, slender figure. She actually shrank back against the wall, staring almost helplessly up at him. Just seeing him made her want to burst into tears. She couldn't fight his steely authority. Not now. Not tonight. He was overpowering and she just wasn't in any condition emotionally to stand up to him.

"Mr. De La Cruz," she said, trying to find her voice, "I've had a particularly rough day today. I really don't want to do battle with you."

She intended to sound firm; he read that in her mind. Instead she sounded so infinitely weary his heart turned over. He wanted to gather her into his arms and shelter her by his heart. "I heard," he replied in his most soothing voice. "I do not intend to fight with you, querida."

His eyes were no longer ice cold and hard, but smoldering with such a dark intensity she felt as if he was actually physically touching her when he directed his gaze to her. His accent twisted its way right into her senses, embedding deep so that she was breathing him into her lungs. It was terrifying the way her body reacted to him. To his looks. To the sound of his voice. "Which skills exactly?" she persisted, needing words to destroy the disturbing electricity building up in the small space of the room. It seemed to be arcing and crackling between them, jumping from his skin to hers.

He really seemed to be touching her, his strong fingers caressing her skin. His hands hung loosely, innocently at his sides. The sensation was so real she found herself blushing wildly. "Your sneaking-up-on-women skills?" She tried a severe frown. Already her traitorous mouth was dry. She rubbed her palms down the sides of her faded jeans, touched a piece of straw with the toe of her boot to studiously avoid looking at him. It would have been a great time for an earthquake, the earth opening and swallowing her.

His laughter was soft, inviting. He moved a step closer, very deliberately forcing Colby to backpedal hastily. "So far you are the only woman I have ever had to sneak up on." Colby backed right up until she was nearly against the wall. Rafael reached out with a casual hand and pulled her away from the metal hooks to safety.

"Did you have anything in particular you wanted or did you just come over here to irritate me?" She scowled at him, doing her best to look intimidating. She could readily believe he never had to sneak up on women. Any woman. They probably just threw themselves at him.

His smile widened, revealing amazingly white teeth. "Is that what you think I do, pequena, irritate you?" He leaned closer still, resting one hand on the wall beside her head, effectively imprisoning her. "I would not have described your reaction to me quite so."

Colby held her breath as his heavily muscled frame brushed tantalizingly close to her smaller one. Her legs felt weak, her breasts ached, every nerve ending leapt to life, tingling with awareness. The heat of his body was astounding. She thought the room temperature might have shot up a few hundred degrees.

His hand gathered up tack from its storage place on the wall. Colby could have sworn he laughed softly as he turned to sit on a bale of hay, but when he looked up, Rafael's expressionless mask revealed no emotion whatsoever. "Are you going to stand there, or are you going to help me?" he asked, patting the hay beside him.

She stared at him as if he had grown two heads. His hands were busy on the leather, his fingers sure and deft. She watched him, counting the beats of her heart. Finally, reluctantly, Colby took the two steps bringing her to his side. "You're going to help me with the tack? What's the catch, De La Cruz?"

"I think it would be a good time to start calling me Rafael," he said quietly.

Colby hesitated a moment then sat down, careful to avoid touching his body. Even so, she could feel the heat radiating out to her. Body heat. "Rafael, then," she repeated with a sigh, "what's the catch?" She caught the bridle he dropped in her lap, desperate to do something to distract her attention from him.

"Is that your philosophy on life?" he replied mildly. "There always has to be a catch? A most interesting way to live. It is an American tradition?"

She reprimanded him with one look from under her long lashes. "You know very well there is no such thing. It's occurred to me more than once over the years that there's a price tag on almost everything."

His black eyebrow shot up. "Including simple friendship?"

She didn't look at him as she worked the leather, her fingers sure and quick. "I don't think you know what simple means. What is it you want from me, De La Cruz?"

"Is it so difficult to use my name?" he asked softly, the sound of his voice washing over her, brushing at her insides and causing a melting sensation in the region of her stomach.

"I don't believe in fraternizing with the enemy." She glanced at his perfectly chiseled features and just as quickly looked away. "You are the enemy, Rafael." Deliberately she used his name to prove she wasn't afraid of him. It was a mistake. It created a further intimacy between them in the small room. "You want my sister and brother. You want the ranch." Her eyes suddenly locked with his. "Mostly you want to go home and I'm in your way." She stared intently at him as if seeking something beyond what he was telling her.

Rafael felt the sudden surge of power in the room. It was strong and focused. He knew immediately she was reaching for the information in his mind, seeking answers to the sudden change in him. Joy surged through him, but he kept his triumph buried deep. He reached casually for the next piece of equipment, his arm deliberately brushing her body. "That was true a couple of days ago. It no longer is so."

"What has changed?" There was a wealth of skepticism in her voice.

"I met you." He said it softly, meaning it. Everything had changed. He was going home, but he was taking her with him. Nothing else mattered to him, he would have her, whatever it took. He should just take her. He had enough power to kidnap her, get her to his home territory, yet his very feelings for her prevented him from doing so. She looked sad, weary. He wanted to sweep her into his arms, close against his body, and comfort her. Rafael was a vampire hunter, a man of swift decisions and action. After more than a thousand years of living, he found himself in new territory. "I am very sorry about your friend. Sean tells me you were very good to the man. I am sorry, I do not know his name."

"Pete. Pete Jessup." Her throat constricted, but she fought her way through the emotion and continued. "He was a very good friend to me. I'm not sure I can run the ranch without him. He couldn't always do the work, but he gave me very valuable advice. Everyone thought he was a charity case, but Pete knew so much about running a ranch; he'd worked on ranches all of his life and he was willing to teach me." He had provided companionship to her as well as advice.

She hung up the bridle she had been working on and found another ragged piece to avoid looking at him. She was embarrassed and slightly ashamed she had come out with such private information. Rafael De La Cruz was dangerous to her. In such close proximity she could feel his need to comfort her, to protect her, and that was dangerous to her peace of mind.

"You are a woman, Colby, you should not have to run a ranch." He said it so quietly, so gently, the words almost didn't register.

For a moment she sat there beside him until the words sank into her brain. Rafael felt it again, the swift surge of power, filling the room until the walls were nearly bulging outward in an effort to contain it. Colby struggled for control of her temper. She shoved a hand through her thick hair, taking several deep breaths while she battled with herself. "I think it would be best if you left, Rafael," she finally suggested. "I appreciate the attempt at friendship, but we are never going to be friends."

His black eyes glittered at her, fathomless, holding a thousand secrets. "I think we will learn to be very good friends." His smile was frankly sexy, his teeth very white. "It will be necessary for you to lose the chip on your shoulder first."

In spite of everything, the terrible day, her worries over the ranch, even who he was, Colby found herself wanting to smile at his choice of words. Both her brother and Ben Lassiter often accused her of exactly the same thing. "I do not have a chip on my shoulder." When his black eyes continued to stare steadily at her she shrugged. "Okay, maybe a small one where you're concerned. I don't like you."

He leaned close to her so that his thigh rubbed against hers. "Do you flatter all men, or am I the only one so privileged?"

"I'm sorry, that was rather rude. I'm usually not rude." She rubbed her forehead. "At least I don't think I am. Okay, maybe I am sometimes. What are you doing here?"

"I am courting you." He sounded very old-fashioned.

Her vivid green eyes jumped to his face. "Courting me? Whatever for?"

He turned the power of his black eyes on her face. Mesmerizing. Hypnotic. Sexier-than-sin eyes. "Why do men usually court women, Colby? I think you can work it out for yourself." His voice was velvet soft and slightly husky, the accent giving him a tremendous advantage.

Colby could feel her skin burn. Little flames seemed to be licking along every nerve ending. She sent him a quick reprimand from under her long lashes. "I think you are so used to women falling all over you that you can't stand it when one doesn't. I'm a practical person, Rafael. Men like you do not court women like me."

His black gaze slid over her from head to toe like a whisper of velvet, leaving her skin on fire and slow color creeping into her face. "See, right there, that's what I'm talking about," she accused. "You've spent your life seducing women, and I just think of men as friends, colleagues. You wouldn't know how to relate to a woman as a friend. And I wouldn't know what to do with one who wanted to seduce me."

His teeth were whiter than ever, his smile slightly mocking. "I do not think you quite understand the situation you find yourself in, pequena. I am courting you as a man would his bride, not looking for a mistress to spend a few nights in my bed. You do not have to know what to do with seduction. I have enough knowledge for both of us."

The breath rushed right out of her lungs and she gaped at him, silently appalled. For a moment she could only stare at him. "Do you even hear yourself when you spout this nonsense?" She leapt up to put a couple of feet between them so she wouldn't wring his neck with the bridle. "Is that supposed to be a compliment, that you would choose me to be your bride and not your mistress? How many mistresses do you have exactly? Is there a set number after you're married or do you just wing it?"

She looked so beautiful she robbed him of breath. There was a steel thread running through her small soft body, a fierce pride, hard-earned. He looked at her and saw himself through her eyes. What had he done with his life? She knew nothing of him other than the image they had so carefully cultivated of powerful, rich playboys.

Who did he love? Members of the Chevez family had lived with him for centuries, running his affairs during the daylight hours; his own brothers, loved only through dim memories-he felt it now, that intense, protective emotion; but Colby had seen him cold, uncaring. She had seen he had little interest in others. People were thought of in the same vein as his cattle, his property. It was necessary to protect them, but it was his duty, a matter of honor, nothing more. Women were to be seduced, fodder, really, easy prey for a man as alluring and as seductive as Rafael. Colby Jansen was looking at him as if he were a rather useless ladies' man. She thought him handsome, sexy, but rather cold and cruel. Useless. There was the slightest curl of contempt in her mind when he managed to slip past her guard. A Latin lover. She thought his life one of endless parties and women. Rafael's long fingers tightened on the old leather.

Colby knew what it was like to love fiercely, passionately, protectively. She worked hard without complaining, without thought for anything but those she cared about. Rafael found he wanted desperately to be one of those few she counted as her own. Taking her to his lands and claiming her would not earn him her genuine love. She was his lifemate, and her body had all the responses to him of a lifemate, but her heart and mind viewed him as a rather useless individual. He found he didn't like her assessment of him at all and, more importantly, that her opinion mattered to him.

Rafael and his brothers had been sent from the Carpathian Mountains in times of turbulent war and massacres. It had been long after they had lost their ability to see in color, to feel all emotion, but they had served their prince to the best of their abilities in keeping with their rigid code of honor. It was all they had left to them in a gray, barren world of endless existence. But through the long, long centuries, memories dimmed and more and more the darkness had crept up on them.

Colby's eyes suddenly flashed fire at him. "And have you forgotten my rather unfortunate parentage? As I recall, I was the reason the Chevez family could not find it in their so-called hearts to accept Armando back into the family fold. I believe I am illegitimate. A De La Cruz shouldn't associate with someone like me, let alone court me. It might ruin your good name."

His black eyes went from a sheer black intensity to icy cold so fast she shivered. "Where would you get an idea like that?" His voice was very soft, yet carried a wealth of menace. He didn't move, but all at once he was far too close, looming over her.

Colby stood her ground, but suddenly it seemed to be shifting out from under her. "I read the letter. The letter from the family patriarch ordering Armando to get rid of my mother and me before I brought disgrace to the name of De La Cruz. It was in my mother's drawer. I found it after she died."

He stared at her a long moment hearing the hurt she tried so hard to hide. Feeling her hurt. "Ah, I see. That does explain quite a bit. Just to set the record straight, my brothers and I have our own strange reputations; we do not much care what others say of us or anyone else." He waved a graceful, dismissing hand and Colby had to believe him. He was too casual, too arrogant and sure of himself to worry about what another might say gossiping. "Old Chevez was a man much taken with his position in the community. He believed if he brought disgrace to us we would retaliate against his family in some way. It was not so."

Rafael sighed. "We did not intervene when we should have," he admitted heavily. He ached inside her, for that young girl who had found a letter written by a proud old man who didn't understand the ways of the new world.

She could have sworn there was a fleeting tenderness in his expression when he looked at her. "Somehow I don't think that old man would have listened to you," Colby conceded, slightly ashamed of herself. "Maybe your father, but certainly not you."

He had forgotten for a moment to be careful about time sequences. He was always pointing it out to his brothers, to be cautious about talking of things in the past as if they had all been present and had lived it. He chose his words, his voice very soft.

"I am sorry your familia was hurt by the pompous attitude of an unbending man. When he died, and Armando's brothers discovered the letter, they would not rest until they had come in person in an attempt to right this terrible wrong. To their credit, they did not know Armando had married and had children. They didn't know his wife was killed in a plane crash or that he was injured so severely. Had they known, or had my brothers or I known, we would have come at once." That was true. The De La Cruzes considered Armando a member of their family. Had they been informed of his need, they would have come in full force. They should have known, should have cared enough to monitor him from a distance. Rafael would have to live with that knowledge.

"That makes me feel much better, but I'm still not letting perfect strangers run off with my brother and sister." Even to her own ears she sounded defiant.

"You did not really read the entire letter the lawyer sent you, did you?" he asked gently, his black gaze on her face.

She shrugged carelessly and lifted her chin. "I read as much as I needed to and skimmed the rest of it. The ranch is in my name; it belonged to my mother. Did the Chevez family know that? It has been in my mother's family for a hundred years. I am not going to hand it over to them. Armando recovered all the acres lost over the years and managed to turn a run-down property into a thriving business. It is his legacy to his children and I intend to hold it for them. I loved him. He deserved better than he got."

Rafael nodded slowly, his eyes never leaving her face. "So did you, querida. The Chevez family wanted you to accompany Ginny and Paul. They are relatives, Colby, and they are not responsible for the terrible tragedy their avo precipitated upon the familia. They are doing their best to make amends." There was the gentlest of reproofs in his voice. "They do not need this ranch, as they are wealthy in their own right. Each of them has property and they manage our lands as well."

Colby swept a hand through her hair. "I'm tired and it's been a rotten day. I will admit you've helped me enormously and you took my mind off Pete's death, but I really think you should go, Rafael." She had reached a point where she was aware of nothing else in the room but his well-muscled masculine body. Her blood seemed to surge and pound with heat and fire. Her entire body was restless and unfamiliar. She didn't want to know this side of him. Not the kind and gentle side. It was so much easier to resist him if he had a heart of ice.

He had come to her in her dark hour while she was alone and tired and vulnerable. He had offered his help with his melodic voice. His voice alone could soothe the heaviest heart. She didn't want to like him or the Chevez family. That would mean she would have to be fair and reasonable.

Rafael could sense the weariness in her. Her body was sore and tired, muscles aching. She had been up so early, searching for her lost friend, and the day had dragged on endlessly. She was hanging on by her fingertips, wanting to crumple somewhere safe where no one could see her. He stood up slowly and carefully replaced each piece of tack back in its original place on the wall.

When he turned his head to look at her, Colby stopped breathing. His eyes were black and hungry. Alive with raw need. She stared at him rather helplessly, frozen to the spot like a hypnotized rabbit. Unable to move. She had never seen eyes so alive, so hot and hungry with an intensity that frightened even as it drew her like a magnet. How had she ever thought him cold? Rafael reached out slowly, shackled her wrist, and drew her slowly, relentlessly to his side.

At once it was there, the electricity, sparking and crackling, sizzling hot. She barely came up to his chest and had to tilt her head as close as she was to him. He merely bent down, his black gaze never leaving her small, pale face as he came closer and closer. She could see his long thick eyelashes, his seductive mouth. Her heart began to pound a rather frantic rhythm, matched the exact same beat as his. His hand slid up her back in a long slow caress. She watched his mouth coming closer to hers.

"I can't do this," she whispered softly aloud, even as she moved closer to his beckoning heat. He was fire; she was ice, like the looming mountains surrounding them. Two halves of the same whole. "I can't do this," she repeated more for herself than for him. A last attempt at self-preservation. Her body was melting against his, boneless and pliant like so much hot silk when she needed to remain aloof, the ice princess, as some of the cowboys labeled her.

I need to do this. The words shimmered in her mind, shimmered between them, in his heart and soul, in hers. He needed it more than the air they were breathing, more than the blood that gave him life. You need to do this. Rafael's palm curled around the nape of her neck. His fingers were warm and strong and firm, dragging her inexorably, relentlessly closer to him. He brought her across the last scant inches separating them. I need this. Stark, raw truth. She didn't trust him, the rake, the playboy. Worse, she saw him as the man trying to seduce her to get her brother and sister and the ranch. It hurt, the image she had of him uppermost in her mind, it hurt more than he cared to admit, yet at that moment it didn't matter to either one of them.

There was a difference between wanting something and desperately needing it. Rafael needed the feel of her silken mouth and her soft, pliant body. He fastened his mouth to hers, a melding of hot velvet and even hotter silk. Whatever it was that was between them seemed far stronger than either of them. A molten heat thickened their blood and set their hearts pounding frantically. The earth seemed to shift beneath their feet and he gathered her even closer, protectively, possessively against him.

She felt small and fragile to him, yet a living, breathing flame. His every good intention seemed to go right up in a fire raging so hot it seemed to sweep aside his very sanity. His mouth moved over hers, dominating, exploring, whisking them both into a world of raw sexuality. He fed on her sweetness, wanted to devour her, taking her into his own body and locking her in his soul for all time. She had a passionate nature and she gave herself up to the sheer erotic pleasure.

His hands moved over her body possessively, needing to take in every inch of her skin. He swept aside the neckline of her shirt so that his mouth could blaze a trail of fire along her neck, lingering for a moment to swirl his tongue over the temptation of her pulse. His hand moved up her narrow rib cage beneath the thin material to cup her lace-covered breast even while his mouth found the ripe offering.

His mouth was hot and moist right through the lace, his tongue coaxing her nipple to a hard peak, the lace scraping erotically along with his teeth, teasing, driving her wild so that her body was pulsating with a terrible need. She circled his head with her arms, tears close, as the waves of sensation rippled through her. Stark pleasure, hot need, a drenching liquid response she couldn't prevent. It was shocking to Colby and totally unexpected. And unacceptable. She made a sound like a frightened animal, shocked that in his arms she was no longer a thinking person. He could so easily sweep aside her beliefs. She didn't even know if she liked him.

"Rafael." Her voice ached with need. Came out breathless and sexy, not at all as she intended. "Stop." She managed to get the word out. One word. Her body didn't want him to stop, she wanted him to go on and on forever, to set aside the warnings of her brain and just take her up into the flames. She had never experienced such total pleasure, had no idea anything or anyone could make her feel like he did.

"You do not want me to stop." He whispered it, a sinful temptation against her breasts, the warmth of his mouth enticing her.

God help her she didn't want him to stop, not ever. Colby summoned her strength and pushed at him. "I need you to stop. I can't do this." She caught her shirt, pulling it down to cover her full aching breasts. Tears glittered, turning her eyes to a deep emerald. "I'm sorry, I don't know what got into me. I've never done this. You have to go." She could never face him again. Never.

"Colby." He said her name very softly. His voice seemed to start a fire in the pit of her stomach, the flames spreading rapidly. It terrified her. Totally terrified her.

Colby stepped back away from him and turned and ran as if Rafael was the devil himself. She raced across the yard to the safety of her porch.

He listened to her speaking to her brother and sister. Rafael stood in the shadows and watched as they went inside.

He stood alone in the darkness. Alone. As he had always been alone. Inside that house was color and life, emotions, passion. Inside that house was life. His world. He stood in the dark where demons belonged, uncertain if he could control the darkness gathering inside him, spreading rapidly. She was hurting inside, a raw aching wound, unsure of herself. And he knew he couldn't leave her that way.

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