So...some animals could sense what happened in the spirit realm just as some humans could. She reached out. Her hand met warm, soft flesh, and ghosted through. From behind, a trunk brushed over her arm. Startled, she turned. And found herself face-to-face with the momma.

The female wasn’t scared of her, but intrigued. Momma touched her and sniffed her, and then attempted to play with her hair. Nicola laughed, carefree and overjoyed.

After a while, the creatures wandered off, bored with her.

Koldo approached and gathered her in his arms, tension and warmth radiating from him.

She looked down. Of course she was—not. The dirt and stains the elephants had left behind had completely faded.

“Wearing the robe is like walking around in a shower.”

“In that case, I might never take it off.”

“Let’s see if I can change your mind about that,” he said huskily.

Her blood began to fizz with the same charged need this man always ignited.

He flashed her to the top of a building. A reeeally tall building, with a flat roof. The sun had set, and the moon was high. The wind offered a gentle caress. There was a patch of grass, with jewel-toned flowers planted all around. In the distance, she could see multicolored, twinkling lights. Soft music played in the background.

Koldo turned her around, only to tug her closer to him. “Now we dance.”

“Why would you—” He was giving her all the things she’d said she wanted, she realized suddenly. To travel the world, to pet an elephant. To dance on a skyscraper. What a sweet, sweet man. Tears burned the backs of her eyes and she rested her forehead against his chest. His heart hammered against her temple.

They swayed together, and though it was obvious neither of them knew what they were doing, the moment was perfect. His hands roved over her back, caressing. He played with the fabric of her robe. He combed his fingers through her hair. Every action seduced her, intoxicated her, leaving her trembling, aching.

“Nicola,” he said, the sweetness of his breath fanning over her cheek. “I want you to know...have to tell you...I...love you.”

She stopped, certain she’d misheard, and looked up at him. He peered down at her with hope and need and fierce possessiveness in his eyes.

“I want to marry you in the way of my people.” He dropped to one knee, in the way of her people. “I want to protect you with my name, my status, my fortune and my future.”

He...really did. He loved her. Her. Plain Nicola Lane, who’d spent her life in one hospital or another and endured one tragedy after another. And he wanted to marry her. By the world’s standards, she was unexciting, not worth a second glance. And yet, this man loved her enough to give her the desires of her heart. He loved her enough to let go of his past. To want to build a future with her.

“But I’ll age,” she said, wanting to save him heartache later. “You won’t. And—”

“No. Your life will be bound to mine, and as long as I live, you will live. As long as you live, I will live.”

How...how...perfect. He was offering her a life she’d only begun to dream about.

“I love you, too, Koldo,” she said, voice trembling. She did. She loved him. Loved the man he was, the man he was becoming. The man he would one day be. She loved his strengths and recognized his weaknesses. He was good for her, and she was good for him. “And yes. Yes, I will marry you.”

“I will.” He was the other part of her, a necessary part.

He was on his feet a second later, flashing her to a bedroom she’d never before seen. He flashed her again, and this time she landed on the large bed, Koldo poised over her, a lacy canopy over him.

“So confident I would say yes?” she asked with a chuckle, sliding her hands up his chest.

Her gaze moved over the room. She saw dark velvets and light silks, Victorian furniture and an old-world aura. The scent of roses drifted on a soft breeze. “Where are we?”

“How many do you have?”

“We have sixteen. I’ll give you a tour of each one. Later.”

He lowered his head, pressed their lips together, and...sweet heaven. The need they had for each other once again exploded. They were frenzied, eager for more. For all.

“We won’t stop this time,” he said.

If they did, her heart would finally give out. Not from sickness but from frustration. They’d just admitted their love for each other. Now she wanted to show him.

She tugged at the collar of his shirt, saying, “I want your skin against mine.” Need it.

He helped her out, jerking the material over his head. Her robe was the next to go, leaving her in a bra and panties. A growl rose from him.

“You are more dazzling every time I see you.”

He made her feel that way. As if it didn’t matter how she fixed her hair or whether or not she wore makeup. As if he would like her no matter how much she weighed. “I feel the same about you.”

He lifted to his knees, hastily worked at the waist of his pants. But he had trouble and ended up yanking hard enough to send the fabric flying to the floor in pieces. Any other time, that would have made her laugh. Whenever they were in bed, clothes were destroyed. But one look at him, and she lost her breath. He was intense, determined.

“You make me happy, Koldo,” she said truthfully.

His weight returned to her, pressing into her, thrilling her. “Hopefully as happy as you make me.”

“Let’s see if I can make you happier. Stay just as you are. Don’t move.”

“Why?” he asked, even as he obeyed.

“I want to learn everything I can about the man I love. Everything you like. Everything you want.” They’d done things before, but this was different. This was a commitment, body and soul. She would give him all that she was, and he would know a satisfaction like no other. She would make sure of it.

Her hands roved over the muscles of his chest, even tunneled underneath his arms to the tattoos and the softness of his wings. Then she brought them to the front again, moved lower...lower still. The ripples of his stomach. The hairless calves. The smooth bottoms of his feet. Other than the feathers, there wasn’t a yielding spot on him. He was rock solid, the strength she’d always craved for herself.

And he was silken heat, a smooth whiskey that intoxicated, melting away inhibitions. He was everything. He was light in the darkness. He was...hope.

“Nicola,” he gritted out. “I don’t want to stay just as I am. I want to move.”

The jaggedness of his tone caused her to shiver. “So you like what I’m doing?”

“I love.” A trickle of sweat slid down his temple. “I hate.”

A breathless chuckle left her. “Then I’m doing something right.”

“Very right,” he said on a groan. “And very wrong.” His features were strained, his lips compressed. His desperation was growing, just like her own.

How could she not love this man? He never tried to play it cool, never tried to hide the depths of his feelings or his pleasure or his need. And oh, the smell of sunshine he emitted, a smell her body had begun to associate with pleasure. Now was no different, and stunning need became incomparable hunger.

“Nicola. I can’t... I must...” One second she was poised over him, the next he was poised over her. “This is all right, yes?”

With his weight pressing into her, forcing her to revel in her own vulnerability? “Yesss.”

He was a flurry of movement, smoothing his hands over her, preparing her for what came next, singeing her with the intensity of his heat, wringing gasp after gasp out of her as he gave her what her body so desperately wanted.

“There won’t be anyone else for you,” he said.

Sweetheart. An endearment sweeter even than his touch. “Me, too.”

A masculine purr of satisfaction. “You’re so soft. So warm. So mine.”

“So desperate for you.” For all that he was. Rough or gentle, rushed or slow.

But he stilled and peered down at her, intense and determined. “I want to be man and wife before we come together.”

Melting all over again.... He was so eager to claim her legally, he was willing to put sex on hold. How many men would do that? “Okay,” she breathed. “All right. But hurrrry. Please.”

He kissed her before saying, “I belong to you, Nicola. I pledge my life to yours.”

“I’m glad. Now, if you would just—”

Oh. “I belong to you, Koldo.” She rubbed her knees against his waist, squeezing. “I pledge my life to yours. Now, do you need me to tell you what to do next or—”

“Now and forever. So can we just—”

Suddenly, though Koldo hadn’t moved, she felt split in two, her back bowing off the bed. She hurt. She burned. And the terrible heat spread like wildfire, liquefying her bones, torching her organs. She was no longer one being, but two, and both parts of her were agonized. But as quickly as the sensations had arrived, they were gone, and she sagged on the mattress, panting.

“What was that?” she gasped out.

Koldo braced himself on his elbows. “We are wed now.”