No one would ever harm the female in his arms, not even himself.

Chapter 42

When Ellie rose up and tentatively slid down the first time, Lothaire's eyes widened, then grew hooded once more.

Was he as shocked as she was by how right this felt?

Even his irises appeared sharper, their shape more defined, his gaze lucid as it locked with hers.

Connection . . .

In the past, Ellie had never communed with another, had never looked into a boy's eyes and felt something deeper than the need for release.

Now, with Lothaire . . . she did.

This was more than just sex; this was a bond, like a promise between them.

She thought she'd known what kind of man she wanted. Now she realized she'd always needed this vampire lover with his hungry red eyes and his lifetimes of yearning.

He's yearned all this time for me.

When she slowly began to ride him, she cupped his face, leaning forward to kiss him with all the feelings bubbling up inside of her. He met her mouth with a seeking tongue and unyielding lips.

Guard your heart, Ellie. But his possessive kiss . . . who could guard against that?

Or the sensations cascading over her? Her nipples dragged up and down his muscular chest, his hot hands like brands across her ass.

When she drew back, panting for breath, he rasped, "Look at your expression. You're falling in love with me."

She could scarcely think, but for some reason she didn't want him to have that power over her. "I'm not falling in love with you." I might be falling in love with you.

"Of course you are."

Guard your heart! "I-I never said that."

"Ah, but I'm me."

"Lothaire, are you always so danged chatty during sex? I can make tea. . . ."

He gave a pained laugh, then groaned when she twisted her hips.

"Lizvetta!" He pulsed inside her. "More of that."

She was already nearing her peak, but she wanted to see to his pleasure. This wasn't just about her getting off; she needed to satisfy her man. She eased her rhythm.

A mistake.

"Move on me!" He twined her hair around his hand, drawing her back to lick her neck. "Harder, faster."

As if Lothaire would ever allow himself to go unsatisfied.

"I'll have more of you!" He released her hair to palm her breasts. "Given or taken."

She wrapped her arms around his neck, riding him with abandon. Yet as she watched his eyes, their clarity faded.

A growl began emanating from him as his shaft swelled inside her even more. His lips drew back from his fangs. "Need to fuck you hard." He looked wild, his eyes like fire.

Fear coursed through her. "Lothaire-"

He enfolded her in his arms and traced her to the bed-with her trapped beneath him.

When he thrust inside Elizabeth, Lothaire roared to the ceiling from the rightness of it.

He was a born vampire, and she was his fated female-now pinioned to the bed.

Through the haze of inconceivable pleasure, he felt her tense beneath him. No, she can take me. He withdrew for another thrust, plunging into her tight sex.

"T-too hard," she whispered.

"What? I want it hard! You'll give me what I want."

"Please be gentler with me, Leo." She leaned up to kiss his neck with light grazes of her lips. Like a butterfly's wings.

His mortal. So delicate. How easily he could break her little body.

Endgame! This creature is my queen. About to hurt her with my cursed strength.

But how could he keep himself from surging inside her? When each time he did, her channel stroked him-a moist, silken heaven that rubbed over his cockhead like a tongue, then squeezed his aching shaft like a fist. . . .

No one hurts her, including myself.

He gritted his teeth, then rose up on a straightened arm. Caging her in with his motionless body, he glided his thumb over her clitoris. "Work your hips up and down on me." Drawing on his last reserves of control, he kept himself from thrusting, until his muscles began to quake from the effort and sweat trickled down his torso.

Then . . . his Bride began to move beneath him. "Ah, that's it!" He dipped his head to suckle her stiff nipples. "Faster," he growled around a peak, giving it a nip with his fang, spurring her.

"Oh!"

She liked that. Getting so wet. The scent of her luscious sex made him snap, "Harder!" Put me out of my misery.

Her hands flew to his ass, fingers gripping, using him to pull herself up. Her moans grew louder, more urgent.

"You'll give me this whenever I want it . . . let me do whatever I want to you," he grated. "Because you are my Bride, Lizvetta. And I've got many years to make up for."

Between panting breaths, she asked, "I'm really yours?"

"Till the day I die," he said, his voice strained. The burgeoning pressure in his cock lashed him with the need to move his own hips, the vampiric urges he'd denied only growing stronger. Somehow he held himself still.

But he needed to mark her neck. His fangs were dripping for her, as sharp as they'd ever been. "Need to bite you."

"Yes! Do it."

"A true bite. Into your neck."

Without hesitation, she turned her head to the side, offering up that golden skin.

He ached to pierce it. "Try not to hurt you . . ." Must make the bite clean. He bared his fangs above her, pressed the tips against her neck.

They sank in deep, as if she'd drawn him into her.

Perfection.

He felt her screaming, "Oh, God, yes!"

Delirious with sensation, he swallowed the hot rush. Consume her completely. Her blood flowed true, as if straight to his heart, bonding them.

"Lothaire!" She arched beneath him. "I'm . . . I'm coming!" Her nails scored his skin.

He snarled against her, relishing her marks on him. Consume her. When she climaxed, he felt her sex milking his organ, demanding its due.

Take as I give. Take . . .

No. He couldn't take more blood, nor could he plant his seed. Can't spend inside her. As he so desperately needed to do.

Somehow he fought the utter bliss of his bite, the rightness he'd never known. Somehow he released her neck.

Her back bowed once more. Her head thrashed. Coming again?

"Ah, gods, I feel you!" The pressure throbbing in his cock made him throw back his head and bellow, "Lizvetta! I claim you-"

At the last second, he jerked back his hips, just as semen began to pump from him, line after line marking her tender body.

Lothaire collapsed beside her, heart thundering, still languidly thrusting against Ellie's hip.

"You're mine now," he rasped, flicking his tongue against his bite mark.


Dazed. Can't get my bearings. The vampire had her not knowing up from down anymore. And she couldn't be happier.

He rose up on one elbow and brushed her damp hair back from her forehead, leaning down to kiss her at intervals.

When she could manage words again, she asked, "Why did you pull out?"

"I won't let you get pregnant."

She frowned. "You said you wanted heirs."

"We will have no offspring until you're a vampire. Tomorrow Hag will give you a contraception potion to last a month or two."

So high-handed. Not even asking me? "Do I get a say?"

"Just an hour ago, you agreed that I would make decisions for us."

Well, there was that. She cast him a smile. "You're right. Bottoms up on potions."

With an enigmatic look, he said, "I will guide you rightly, if you trust me."

She stared into his gaze. Could she blindly trust a male like him? She forced herself to nod.

"You will also need a cloaking tattoo. I've much to show you outside these walls, Elizabeth."

"What?" she asked breathlessly, because he'd already begun hardening for another round.

"Nothing less than the entire world, beautiful girl. . . ."

At the end of the night, when she asked him for just one more time, he shook his head. "No matter how badly I want you." He dragged her close, until she lay over his chest.

"I'm fine," she said sleepily. "Your mortal can hang with even big, bad vampires."

He curled his finger under her chin, lifted her face. "Let's talk when you wake." He seemed to be really looking at her.

"Your irises are so sharp right now."

"My mind is easy."

She snuggled closer to him. "That makes me happy, Leo."

"You've pleased me this night." He pressed a kiss to her hair. "Above all things, you've pleased me."

It's him. Lothaire for me. Deal with the devil? If this is wrong, I don't wanna be right.

As she drifted off to sleep, she did feel protected, cared for. "I'm glad you chose me."

"I am as well." Then, in a lulling, loving murmur, he said, "But don't ever betray me, Lizvetta."

Once Elizabeth slept, Lothaire remained awake, wanting to enjoy this rare peace.

Her breaths on my chest. Tension easing from every muscle. Warm relaxation.

His mate. Claimed. She was the most exquisite thing he'd ever possessed.

As he threaded his fingers through her glossy dark hair, his thoughts were shockingly clear. Crystalline. I will figure out a way around my blood vows. His situation was merely a puzzle to solve.

And I'm the master of them.

His gaze fell on the diabolically difficult eighteen-piece puzzle among his collection. It would take sixty-five calculated moves to assemble it-without a single misstep.

Easing Elizabeth away with a kiss on her forehead, he traced to his chair.

Sixty-five laughably simple moves later, he held the completed puzzle in his stunned grasp.

Then Lothaire smiled evilly. I'm back. . . .

Chapter 43

I'll never get used to this, Ellie thought as waves lapped at her feet on a secluded beach in France. A balmy breeze danced over her skin, most of which was bared in a string bikini.

For nearly three weeks, Lothaire had taken her to moonlit shores all around the world-after Hag had given her a cool druid-looking tattoo around her ankle.

But that pain had been worth it to see the world. "It's gorgeous here, vampire." Almost as much as you . . .

He was barefooted, shirtless, wearing only low-slung jeans. Sea spray had dampened his hair and misted his chest. In the moonlight, his skin sheened, his eyes glowing.

Though he'd seen her thrilled expression with each locale they visited, his watchful gaze was locked on her face.

"Thank you for bringing me here."

A short nod.

After that first night of mind-blowing sex, Ellie had awakened, sore but happy, expecting things to be different between them. Instead, Lothaire had dropped her off at Hag's again, as if nothing had changed.

Well, except for the sizzling, toe-curling kiss he'd given her before he left. And then he'd returned early, asking her, "If you could go anyplace in the world, where would it be?

"Bora-Bo-"

She hadn't even gotten the words out before he'd traced them there. Whenever she was at Hag's, she read travel magazines, and then he'd take her to whatever destination she'd dog-eared.

Apparently Lothaire had been everywhere. She had yet to stump him in all of their journeys. He'd shown her all the Greats: the Great Wall of China, the Great Pyramids, the Great Barrier Reef. Plus the Maldives, the forests of Asia, glacial floes, and jungles . . .

Now she peered down at the water around her ankles. "Uh, Lothaire, why is the water glimmering?"

"It's phosphorescence."

At each destination, he would teach her new things about the area. He seemed to know everything, and she sensed he genuinely enjoyed teaching her. "Foss fur what?"

He spelled the word, then explained, "Tiny organisms that give off light when disturbed."

"Really?" She splashed for several moments, fascinated.

"You know, this isn't the last time you'll see it."

As someone who'd had time limits applied to her life span-twice-she found it hard to shake the feeling that death lay in wait. "Before we go, can we walk farther down the beach, maybe collect some shells?" She had a shelf at the apartment designated for nothing but sea shells.

"As you wish."

They walked in silence, lost in their own thoughts.

These weeks hadn't been perfect between them, of course. When they did get to sleep together, he had to chain himself to the bed. As he'd explained, "No more unplanned trips for my Bride."

And there were the matters of a bitch squatting inside Ellie and a ring to be found. Not to mention the constant tension she'd sensed in him, as if he was battling some force within himself.

One night after they'd made love, he'd murmured, "I wish I could tell you the things on my mind." Just the fact that he wanted to confide in her meant much. "You could help me see them clearly."

Yet no matter how much she asked, he wouldn't tell her. Maybe he was just growing impatient to turn her into a vampire. Could that explain the strain she'd begun to see on his beautiful face?

She was not so eager to be turned.

The idea of transforming into another species was terrifying to her. How could she not mourn all the things she'd be giving up forever? Her mother's fried chicken, waffles, beer.

Sunshine. She'd asked him, "Do you ever wish you could spend a day lazing in the sun?"

"I can't miss what I've never known."

"But I could."

"We'll see about that. . . ."

Most of all, she would miss her loved ones.

He'd told her, "You'll never see them again, Elizabeth. I am your family now-you took my name the instant I claimed you. Your loyalty is to me alone."

Even if she believed she could wiggle around that proclamation, there were other worries.

She'd learned that there were virtually no female vampires in the Lore-because they'd all died of some kind of immortal plague, one that only affected them. "What if I catch the plague when you turn me?" she'd asked him.

"That should be the last of your worries. Worry about assassins, wars, torturers. But not a sickness."

"Is your world always so violent?"

He'd admitted, "The Lore is a . . . ruthless place."