She grinned.

His gaze dipped to her mouth. "You want a real kiss now? From your own male?"

My own male. She nearly swayed. Lothaire had never treated her like his Bride; now his gaze upon her was heated and possessive. "I do, Leo, but I'm gonna want it for a lot longer than a week." I want to live!

He cupped her face with pale hands. "I'm keeping you, Lizvetta."

"Do you mean"-Elizabeth's eyes started glinting-"I don't have to die?"

What monster could kill such a one as she?

I'd been planning to. No, worse than death. "You'll never die! Keeping you forever."

Because she would be . . . his queen.

At Helvita, he'd recognized Elizabeth as the Bride fate had chosen for him. Now he gazed upon the cunning queen he'd chosen for himself.

Somehow he would figure out a way around his vows to the goddess. He was Lothaire, after all. He could figure out anything.

"But what about Saroya?"

"I'll take care of her."

"How?"

"The ring's still in play, is it not?" he said. "You will live, and I will take care of Saroya, but in return, you must . . ." He grabbed her shoulders. "I'm ordering you to forget what went on between us before."

"What do you mean?"

"Hag told me you wouldn't be able to get past my treatment of you."

"Ohhh. Like the threats against me and my loved ones? Like the mental anguish and never-ending mockery? Like putting me on death row?"

He scowled. "If you want to live, then all that must be forgotten, just as you've done with your miseries in the past. You told me you've done this before!"

"I have, and I will now. All I ask is that you vow never to hurt my family, by your hand or order. Do we have a bargain?"

"Always with the vows," he muttered. "I add my own condition. In the next few weeks, you do not question me about my plans and actions. You trust me to decide what is best for both of us."

She hesitated. "Agreed."

"Then I vow to the Lore never to harm your family by action or order."

"And I vow to let you decide what is best for us. For three weeks."

He narrowed his eyes at her qualifier, but let it slide. "You also told me you could make me happy." He curled his finger under her chin. "You've got your work cut out for you."

"I've heard-probably just a wacky rumor-that sex makes males happy. You wanna seal this deal, Leo?"

He drew her tightly into his arms. "You think I don't want to claim you?"

She tilted her head up at him. "But you believe you'll hurt me."

"When a human male hurts a female during sex, what happens?"

"I guess she might walk funny."

"I can lift a fucking train, Lizvetta. What would happen to you?" For the first time in his long life, he regretted his strength-though he'd paid so dearly for it. Now it was an obstacle.

Not to mention his vampiric instincts. He was no turned mortal; he was of a different species, a born vampire with no human impulses to temper his predatory behavior. "Imagine if you tried to wrestle with a butterfly, but knew you couldn't dust its wings. It's equivalent to our situation."

She dragged her forefinger down his chest, saying in a sexy drawl, "What if the butterfly rode you like a lazy horse?"

He stiffened all around her. "Continue."

"Instead of grinding on you like I did when we were on the sofa," Ellie said, "I could ride you."

The vampire's interest was definitely piqued. But then he shook his head. "I haven't had sex in millennia. What makes you think I won't lose control?"

"I just know you won't." Ellie had made up her mind that this was going to happen. She believed that she was his Bride-though he hadn't specifically acknowledged the fact yet-which meant she believed he wouldn't hurt her.

Plus, in the back of her mind, she did want to seal this deal. To steal him from Saroya completely. Just guard your heart, Ellie. His jealousy earlier had done funny things to her.

"This is your first time, Elizabeth, and far, far from your last. I cannot risk your being hurt or frightened."

Her hand slipped down to stroke him through his pants, earning a growl. "You haven't scared me in the times we've been together." Much. "All I've felt is pleasure." After a bit of pain.

"I have been denying my instincts with you."

"What do you mean?"

He scrubbed a hand over his tired face. "Vampires don't fuck like human males. The act for us is all about possession, blood, dominion. Those drives will be stronger if I'm inside you. When you become a vampire, I won't have to hold back as much."

"Me? Become a vampire?" Whoa. She'd never thought it would happen to her, only to Saroya.

"When I told you I was keeping you forever, I meant it."

She swallowed at the intensity in his words, the flash of fang. Clearly a discussion for another day . . . "I have an idea. Let's take off our clothes and fool around on the settee. If I trip and fall and land smack-dab on your cock, then it won't be your fault."

"Lose your virginity while on top?"

"I've already kind of lost my virginity."

Had his face flushed? "It would be easier for you if I lay upon your body-once you are turned."

She'd never seen him so torn. Just when she was about to give up, he exhaled a gust of breath. "Can't fight this." He stripped off her top. "Because now my mind has seized on you landing smack-dab on my cock. Can almost feel it already."

With no care for his clothes, he ripped at his belt and pants. When his erection sprang free, he traced her to their customary spot.

While he sat, gloriously naked, on the couch, she stood between his knees, slipping out of her cutoffs. "Are you nervous, Lothaire?"

"It's been a while." He raked his gaze over her. "And I want your first fucking to be . . ."

"Superlative?"

His lips curled into the sexiest grin she'd ever seen on a man, and she briefly forgot how to untie her bathing suit bottom.

She'd suspected Lothaire would crave excitement. Now his eyes were aglow with it, his breaths shallow. One of his legs jogged up and down.

Once she was naked, she crawled over his lap, rising on her spread knees above him.

"I'm going to be inside you," he said, as if he was only now accepting it. His shaft jutted in anticipation, the crown nearly meeting her sex.

"Loaded for bear again?" she teased, making him grin once more.

"I did, in fact, come loaded for bear." He leaned in to ever so gently graze his fangs along her neck. "Only to find a butterfly."

She shivered. He could be so charming, so seductive when he wanted to be.

"I want to kiss you, Lizvetta."

She eagerly leaned forward to press her lips against his.


But he took the lead, turning her back on his arm. With his lips above hers, he forced her to accept the strong thrusts of his tongue, until it felt like . . . sex, like he was screwing her mouth with his tongue.

She gave a yelp against his lips when he delved a finger into her sex from behind, thrusting it in time with his kiss. As he wedged a second finger inside, she thought, He's preparing me.

Again and again, he kissed and thrust . . . harder. Rougher.

No, he's warning me.

Instead he set her imagination ablaze. She'd seen the way he moved; what else could he do with that sinful body of his? What were these drives that he kept talking about?

She and Lothaire had had some touch-and-go moments together, but ecstasy always followed.

When he released her from his kiss, she was breathless, in a haze of desire. "I'm ready, Lothaire."

He'd told her that the phrase deal with the devil came from him; Ellie felt like she was on the verge of selling her soul.

"You truly trust me not to hurt you." Lothaire shook his head hard, wondering exactly when he'd agreed to claim her.

Earlier, she'd told him she was like a sucker punch. Now he realized he might not ever stop reeling.

But there was no turning back from this. Even a better man than he would do anything to possess this lovely creature-with her honeyed skin and sexy tan lines, with her long locks swaying down to tickle her nipples. Those smoldering gray eyes . . .

Much less a vampire who'd coveted his queen for ages.

"I do trust you, Leo. You're my guy," she murmured, gazing up at him from under her lashes. "You're going to take care of me tonight."

How could her words make his chest feel tight? Make him desperate not to hurt her? "Then I can't touch you." He laced his fingers behind his head. "Not till I know I can get through this."

"You make it sound like an ordeal."

It will be. "Just know that you're on your own."

"Fine. I can do this. How hard can it be?"

"As fucking steel."

She arched a brow. "Then we're a perfect match, 'cause I'm feeling hot as a forge right now." Taking him in hand, she stroked unhurriedly, up and down . . . up . . . down, leaving his control ragged.

Barely recognizing his voice, he said, "Begin this, Lizvetta. Mount me."

She nibbled her lip and nodded, lowering herself over him.

When the tip of his cock met her soft, damp sex, he almost spilled against her opening. "Gods almighty, you're tight."

She widened her knees, but was only able to take the head inside. "Lothaire, please . . ."

Don't touch her! If he clamped her hips, he'd wrench her down on his length, tearing her tender flesh. His interlocked fingers tightened until he thought bones would snap. "You're . . . doing . . . fine." He dropped his hands, clenching them by his sides.

Once again, she widened her knees, but she was trapped fast. "I can't get lower. Oh, God, I need to get lower."

He bit out, "And just how had you planned to take me?"

She blinked. "I thought I'd just slide down."

"Then I'll need you slick, I'll need you dripping." He drew back to behold her swollen breasts. Right before his eyes, a flush radiated over her supple skin, teasing him with all the places he could pierce her. "Cup your breasts to my mouth."

When she did, he held her gaze as he nuzzled one nipple. Closing his lips over it, he tongued the peak. . . .

"Lothaire!" As he began to suckle, she undulated, working to impale herself.

Agony. He felt like he would explode, seconds away from pumping into her with only the crown inside. With a groan, he pierced her nipple, a tiny prick of his fang, blood streaming to his lapping tongue. Delectable! Would he ever get enough of it?

She screamed. In pain? No, she was arching her back. "Lothaire, suck harder."

He did, until the suction on her nipple was nearly holding her upright.

When he forced himself to stop, she whimpered, hastily cupping her other breast to tempt him again. "Here."

He stole another taste. Against her breast, wetted from his mouth and her blood, he rasped, "Can't take more."

Clutching his shoulders, she muttered, "Neither can I." Still he hadn't penetrated her. "You really are too big."

She started to crawl off him. To get away from me? His fangs grew even sharper, his instincts commanding him. . . .

Trace her to the bed, pin her down.

Take her blood, flood her with seed.

He gripped her tiny waist, trapping her, just preventing his claws from digging into her skin. "Ah-ah, Lizvetta."

"We don't fit!"

"We will. I won't let you go until I've claimed you." Forgive me. His hips bucked, bouncing her on his shaft, sending her up, then sliding back down.

"Lothaire!" Her voice was a mix of pain and desire. "Let me go!"

"No. Because right now, you are not"-another buck of his hips-"yet"-a more forceful thrust-"mine!" he growled as he hit the top of her sex.

With a choked cry, she dipped her head forward, her body trembling against his heaving chest.

"Look at me. Did I hurt you?" he asked, ignoring the voices in his head, the ones clamoring, Pin her, claim her, make her understand who'll mark her.

Who'll master her.

She bit her lip, her expression grave. "It hurt some, Leo."

No, never hurt you! He shook himself, inwardly chanting, Endgame. Endgame. Elizabeth as my queen. Can't frighten her.

She'd never know the battle inside him as she began maneuvering over his shaft. He splayed his fingers across her ass, feeling her flesh move so sensuously as she tested her body, their tight fit.

Fuck, he was throbbing inside her! No, control yourself! He gnashed his teeth, sweat dampening his skin.

When she gave a cautious rock of her hips, they met eyes, both wondering how she'd react.

Her lids grew heavy . . . a moan slipped from her lips.

He shuddered in response. It struck him that he was actually watching his woman-his-discover this pleasure for the first time. The idea gratified him in ways he couldn't describe.

How long I've waited for this, waited for her.

"Now it just feels better and better." She touched her forehead against his. "Baby, I can feel your heartbeat inside me."

Soon you will in more ways than one. "You can never take this back, Lizvetta. I've claimed you for my own." But not completely. He still needed to bite her neck. Ritual. The mark was a sign of this claiming, the seal between them.

Sink your fangs into her. Make her writhe on them as well.

Just when his eyes locked onto a pulse point in her neck, she whispered, "I never knew it could be like this. Lothaire, I've never felt closer to another."

He dragged his gaze up to hers. Voice thick, he admitted, "Neither have I."

She smiled. "Good."

Don't hurt her. Only gentleness. Don't scare her.

Tonight, Lothaire, you don't get to be a vampire with her.

In Russian, he told her, "Little mortal, you've changed everything."

How can I want you this much? To deny what I am?

Because he was feeling something stronger for her-a bone-deep feeling of possessiveness, of protectiveness.