That hadn't been the plan Velkan had given her. They were to lie side by side as if dead and then awaken once her father was safely gone and convinced of their deaths. Velkan was then supposed to take her to Paris, where they could be together without fear of her father's reprisal against Velkan. Free of the war that was waged between their families.

She looked to Francesca for the truth, but for once her friend was speechless. "Velkan surrendered to my father?"

"What did you think he was going to do?" Viktor asked angrily.

"He told me we would both drink the potion and that my father would see us dead, then leave us in peace."

Viktor nodded. "And you drank it first."

"Of course, and then I saw him drink it right after me."

Viktor shook his head. "He never swallowed it. Once you were unconscious, he spat it out and placed you in state for viewing. He was afraid that if you were both unconscious your father would behead both of you. So he remained conscious and told your father that you'd died of disease. Your father promised him that once he saw you, he would be content to take Velkan and leave. Velkan submitted to him and had to watch him kill you."

And she had run out on him…

Again, her gaze went to Francesca for verification. "Why didn't you tell me?"

Her gaze sad, Francesca sighed. "You didn't want to hear it. If I ever tried to take his side, you yelled at me, so I learned to drop the subject."

It was true and Retta knew it. She had no one to blame but herself.

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Retta's heart ached as she thought about how many years… no, centuries she'd deprived herself and Velkan of because she'd been stupid and unforgiving. No wonder Viktor hated her. She deserved it.

Clenching her teeth, she looked up at the picture over the fireplace—the one that had been her wedding portrait. Tears gathered in her eyes as she recalled the day it'd been sketched.

The sight of Velkan on the wall, watching her with nothing but adoration on his face. He'd looked like a woodland sprite come to life to stand guard over her.

She blinked away her tears before glancing back at the bed where her husband lay. "We have to get him healed."

"Why?" Viktor asked.

"So that I can apologize."

But getting Velkan healed proved to be easier said than done. The sun damage was hard for even an immortal to overcome. Not to mention they still had the threat of the Order out there wanting them dead. At least here in Velkan's home the Order couldn't get to them.

"You should go rest."

Retta looked up at Raluca's voice. The older woman stood in the doorway with a chiding look on her face.

Retta stretched in her chair to ease her sore and cramped muscles. She'd been by Velkan's side for the last four days while he slept. At first his continued sleep had seriously concerned her, but Raluca and Viktor had assured her that it was natural for a Dark-Hunter to sleep like that whenever he was injured. It was what enabled his body to heal.

True to their words, every day Velkan's skin did seem better than the day before. Now he merely looked as if he had a serious sunburn and the bruises were all but gone.

"I don't feel like resting," Retta said quietly.

"You have barely eaten or slept."

"It's not like I can get sick of die."

Raluca tsked at her as she turned around muttering. "Fine. I'll bring your food here, but trust me. If the prince awakens he will be grateful he doesn't have a heightened sense of smell."

Highly offended, Retta daintily sniffed at herself to make sure she didn't stink.

"Relax. She was only teasing."

Her heart stopped beating as she heard that deep voice. "Velkan?" She shot from her chair to the bed to see his eyes open.

"I thought you'd be gone by now."

She swallowed against the tight knot in her throat "Hardly. I have much to do."

"Such as?"

Retta swallowed against the lump in her throat before she answered. "Apologize to you."

"Why would you do that?"

"Because I'm stupid and pigheaded. Judgmental. Unforgiving. Mistrustful—you can stop me at any time, you know?"

One corner of his mouth lifted to taunt her. "Why should I? You're on quite a roll. Besides, you missed the worst flaw."

"And that is?"

"Hotheaded."

"I learned that one from you."

"How so?"

"Remember that time when you threw your boots into the fire because you had trouble getting them off?"

Velkan frowned at her words. "I never did that."

"Yes, you did. You also gave your favorite saddle to the stable master because it scratched your leg as you dismounted and told him he could have it but, personally, you'd burn it, too."

That one he remembered well. He still bore the scar from it. But what surprised him was the fact that she remembered the incidents. "I thought you banished all traces of me from your memory."

She looked away sheepishly. "God knows I tried, but you're a hard man to forget." When she looked back at him, their gazes met and locked. "I've been so stupid, Velkan. I really am sorry."

He lay there completely stunned by the heartfelt emotion in her voice. There had a been a time when he prayed to hear those words from her lips. A time when he'd pictured this moment.

"Can you ever forgive me?" she asked.

"I could forgive you anything, Esperetta, but I could never trust you again."

Retta scowled at his words. "What do you mean?"

"When you left and didn't return, you proved to me that you had no faith in me as a man or a husband. You were so suspicious of me that you honestly thought I could kill you. Obviously, we had a lot of problems in our marriage that I didn't know about."

"That's not true."

"Then why didn't you come home?"

Because she thought he'd kill her. She really had. "I was young. We lived in turbulent times.

Our families had spent generations killing each other—"

"And you thought that the only reason I married you was to kill you." He shook his head. "You know as well as I do that I was disowned by my family when they learned we'd wed."

It was true. His family had turned them out. His father had sent an army to seal this house and make sure that Velkan would never enter it again.

But the worst had been his father burning everything that had held Velkan's symbol or name.

Even the family crest book that bore the Danesti lineage had been burned and a new one created that left no trace of Velkan's birth.

"I thought that you'd had enough of running from our families. And we both know that had you returned home after killing me and my father, your father would have welcomed you back."

Those black eyes burned her. "I made my decision as to who held my loyalty on the day I bound myself to you, Esperetta. I knew the cost and the pain our union would cause my family and still I thought you were worth it. You spat on me and you spat on the love I wanted to give you."

"I know I hurt you."

"No," he whispered. "You didn't hurt me. You destroyed me."

Tears welled in her eyes. "I'm so sorry."

" 'Sorry' doesn't even begin to fix five hundred years."

He was right and she knew it. "Why did you tie our souls together without telling me?"

His eyes burned her with sadness. "I didn't want to live without you… in either this life or the next. I had intended to tell you what I'd done, but your father ran us to ground before I had the chance. Little did I know that when I sold my soul to Artemis for vengeance your soul would go with mine."

What he didn't say was that she'd caused him to suffer the very thing he'd wanted most to avoid… a lifetime spent without her.

In that moment, she hated herself for what she'd done. And she didn't blame him for not forgiving her.

He'd given her the world and she'd spurned him. Unable to stand the mistake she'd made, she got up. "Are you hungry?"

"Yes."

"I'll get you something to eat. Hang tight." Retta paused at the door to look back to where he lay on the large bed. It was the bed she'd lost her virginity in. She could still see that night so clearly. She'd been terrified and excited. Velkan for all his ruthlessness had left her untouched and in a room down the hallway.

He'd promised to take her the next day to her father's agents and release her. It'd been the last thing she'd wanted. Her father would have sent her back to the convent to live out a life of prayer and hard work—not that anything had been wrong with either of those. But she'd already fallen in love with her dark warlord and she didn't want to go back without a small token.

Her intent had been nothing more than an innocent kiss. But the moment their lips had touched, Velkan had swept her up in his arms and she had submitted to him willingly—even more eager to taste him than he was to have her.

Closing her eyes, she could still remember the feel of him inside her as he clutched her leg to his hip and thrust against her. "I will never let you go, Esperetta," he'd whispered fiercely in her ear.

And then he'd given her a kiss so hot that her lips still tingled from it.

How had she ever turned her back on that? A tear slid down her cheek before she brushed it away and headed downstairs to the kitchen. She scratched Bram on the head as she passed the giant animal that reminded her more of a cow than a dog.

"Good to see you out of that room," Raluca said as she set her tray down that was filled with food.

"I'm only here because Velkan is awake and hungry."

Francesca snorted as she entered the kitchen behind her. "And you're here getting food?

What kind of stupid are you? I'd be in bed with him."

"Frankie!" Raluca snapped. "Please. I am your mother."

"Sorry," she said, but her tone was less than apologetic.

Retta sighed as she straightened up the flower in the vase Raluca had put on the tray. "It doesn't matter what I want. I blew it with him a long time ago."

Francesca shook her head. "You can't blow it with someone who loves you that much."

"I daresay you're wrong. I just wish you guys would let me go home."

"The Order would be all over you now that they know for a fact you're real. You can never go home again."

And she couldn't stay here. How perfect was this?

Raluca gave her a sympathetic smile. "He loves you, Princess. He's hurt, but underneath that is the man who went through a fate far worse than death trying to save you. He won't let something as cold as pride keep you from him."

"It's not pride, Raluca. It's broken trust. How do you repair that?'"

"That's up to you, Princess. You have to show him that you want to stay with him."

"And how do I do that?"

"You close your office and have Andrei and Viktor bring all of your belongings here."

"What if he won't let me?"

"How can he stop you? You're the Lady Danesti. This home is half yours."

Retta smiled as she considered that. But in order to stay here, she'd have to give up everything.

No, not give up. So she couldn't be a divorce lawyer in Romania. She wouldn't be able to keep up her practice too much longer anyway. Some people were already getting a bit suspicious because she hadn't aged.

She looked around the stone walls that somehow managed to be warm and inviting. Stay with Velkan…

Somehow that was nearly as frightening as it had been. But in order to stay, she'd have to reclaim the heart her husband had closed to her. C'mon, Ret, you're made of sterner stuff than this. And she was, too. She wasn't going to walk out on him again.

But as Raluca said, she'd have to find some way to show her husband just how serious she was.

Chapter Five

Velkan ached with a pain that was second only to impalement. His Dark-Hunter powers should have healed him by now… it told him just how severe his injuries had been that he was still hurting from them.

He turned as he heard the door open.

It was Esperetta, and there for a second he was back five hundred years ago when they'd shared this room together, when she had willingly joined him here every night.

Once he'd reclaimed this house after his death, he'd taken great pains in making her room down the hall look just as it had when she'd lived here. But though her personal items were there, she'd never really used it for anything other than dressing. In contradiction to the customs of their time, she'd shared this room with him for sleeping… and for other things the memory of which warmed him completely.




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