Marguarita shook her head, never taking her gaze from his. I am not afraid of you, Zacarias. I fear letting you down, but never that you will harm me. Her eyes never wavered, locked on his, forcing the truth into his mind. He feared losing her. He feared turning vampire. He - feared.

Zacarias groaned out loud. Sun scorch her. She really was going to have him on his knees. She had reduced him to this. He hadn't known fear, and now it consumed him. He'd never had anything worthwhile to lose. Certainly not his own life. But Marguarita with her soft body and her bright light and her mind filling his with life was worth everything to him. A treasure he wouldn't - couldn't - lose.

He knew he would hold her too tight. He would smother her. He didn't belong in a world where women made decisions for themselves, wore male clothing and dared to look at a predator such as he with such terrifying courage.

A slow smile lit her amazing eyes. That sparkling champagne turned to a warm, inviting chocolate. You are not prehistoric, silly. Just as I have to learn about your world, you have to learn about mine. It's an adventure we're going on together and I'm looking forward to it.

She made everything so simple when he knew it wasn't. He knew what he was and even if she found a gentle side to him, he would rule her with an iron hand. A human woman could have no idea of the dangers in the world he lived in. Every vampire around the world would seek to target her at Ruslan's insistence. Ruslan knew the shadows in him. He might not know how it worked, but he would know that Marguarita made Zacarias incredibly vulnerable.

His hand slipped to the nape of her neck, his fingers curling around that fragile stem. He could hear her heartbeat. The air in her lungs. He inhaled her feminine fragrance, and she his. He bent his head slowly toward hers. She didn't look away. She didn't flinch. His woman, with more heart and courage than good sense. His fingers slipped around to the front of her throat. He could feel her pulse beating into the palm of his hand.

He could crush her by simply tightening his fingers, but she leaned into him, trusting him in that disarming way she had that sent his heart melting into a puddle at her feet. His breath hissed out in annoyance and still she didn't recoil from him. He bent his head to hers. She stared directly into his eyes and it was him falling into her, not the other way around. He could feel that now-familiar heat grow scorching hot, burning through his veins, spreading like a wildfire, roaring in his belly and settling into a fireball in his groin.

His mouth took hers. There was no gentleness, he was too far gone for that, caught up in the tangle of emotions he needed to sort out. He fed his addiction to her, craving the taste of her, needing her submission, her surrender, needing her to give herself to him without reservation. She had turned his world upside down. Brought memories best buried deep to the surface. She had placed him in an intolerable position as a hunter.

I wish I could say I was sorry for wanting you to stay with me, for stopping you from seeking the dawn. I should be sorry and I'm ashamed that I can't let you go. I need you to stay with me.

Her voice was soft and a little sorrowful, turning his heart over. Her slender arms crept around his neck and she leaned her entire body into the shelter of his. It was a form of paradise to a man who had never known happiness. Or joy. There was joy just in holding her. His tongue danced with hers, probed and explored and claimed her. His teeth tugged on her full lower lip, biting down gently, just enough to feel her breath catch before kissing her again and again. He took his time devouring her. He kissed his way down her neck, leaving dozens of little bite marks, tiny stings he eased with his tongue and half a dozen strawberries he left just because he could.

He raised his head and waited for her lashes to lift so he could look into her eyes. So she would know he meant what he said. "I would not have missed being with you for the world. Whatever happens in the nights to come, Marguarita, never think that I will ever regret any moment spent with you. Hopefully it will be hundreds of years, but if not, I will not regret that you kept me alive."

Thank you for that.

She smiled at him, her lips swollen from his kisses, her neck and throat red with his marks of possession, and happiness shining in her eyes. She took his hand. Come meet the horses.

He didn't have the heart to tell her there would be no meeting her beloved animals. He scanned the ranch to ensure no vampire was near and went out into the night with her. Stars glittered overhead and the moon spilled her silvery light across the grass.

Zacarias reluctantly followed her toward the stable. It was a long, well-built building. As he approached, he could hear the horses stamping and blowing, dancing in their stalls, aware that a predator was near. At the entrance, there was no doubt that he was wreaking havoc with the even-tempered animals. Several reared and plunged, raked the air with their front hooves and tossed their heads, eyes rolling.

Zacarias caught her arm. "No farther. You will not go in there with those animals."

He felt her mind expand, reach out and connect with the horses. It was a strange sensation, not unlike what he experienced when he took the form of another creature but even more so, as if they were joined not only in mind, but in spirit.

You smell like a predator to them. You are not evil to them. Or tainted.

She had found his fears once again and he tried not to react with anger. He didn't ever look that closely at the why of the animals not accepting him. They didn't. It was a fact. Anything else he simply pushed away. What did it matter - the why ? He didn't know if it was true that he feared they found him evil and tainted, but if she saw that in him - it was most likely there. She was uncovering secrets he kept even from himself. The more she found, the more reluctant he was for her to find more, yet he couldn't live without her mind connecting completely with his and that gave her access to everything he was - everything he had been.

"It does not matter why they will not accept me, only that they will not," he pointed out.

She tightened her fingers in his. They will accept you just as they do me.

After all, we're one, aren't we?

His heart jumped and inwardly he cursed himself for being such a fool. It was impossible. He knew the horses wouldn't let him near and yet somewhere inside of himself - he believed in her.

acarias tugged Marguarita to an abrupt halt, by the simple act of ceasing to move. They stood together at the open doors of the stable. The horses were rolling eyes and tossing heads, watching the door in mounting terror.

You smell menacing. I find it quite sexy, but the animals are afraid. Give me a moment to calm them so they can connect with you in the same way I do.

The soft amusement, the caressing "I find it quite sexy" slid into his mind like massaging fingers over his body, but he refused to give in to her. Danger was danger, no matter where or who the threat came from. He locked her to his side.

"I will not allow you into that building with the horses riled up. You saw what happened to your friend Ricco."

She rubbed her cheek against his arm much like a cat. It would be easier for me to calm them inside, close to them. It would only take a moment.

"I said no." There was steel in his voice, in his heart.

He would give her the moon if she asked. He'd walk through fire, but this - this - never. She could plead with him, look at him with her incredible eyes and it would only serve to harden his resolve. Her safety was paramount. At the moment, he wanted to throw her over his shoulder and haul her back inside where no harm could come to her.

Amusement teased his senses. He felt his cock stir and his nerve endings come alive. That little whisper of laughter, not heard, but felt, never failed to arouse him.

Were you alive during the caveman days? I could see you dressed in animal fur, hauling your woman into the cave by her hair.

Her teasing would always be erotic to him. When a man had never had such things, they became treasures when he found them. Laughter had never been a part of his world, certainly not teasing. She didn't fight his commands. She didn't pout or get angry. She laughed softly and rubbed along his body with hers, just as if she felt those snapping electrical sparks in the same way he did.

"Do not tempt me, my beautiful lunatic. Dragging you to your bed by your hair is not out of the question." His voice came out gruff, husky even, not at all menacing like he intended.

Her soft laughter teased his groin into semifullness. The sweet ache permeated his body, his temperature going up a few degrees. He was Carpathian and always in control, but what she did to his body was so exquisite, he allowed the sensations to pour through him, savoring every ache, every degree of mounting desire.

I want you to stay in my mind very quietly. Feel the way I pour myself into the horses. I do it very slowly, a soft warmth, like this . . .

His entire body shuddered as she came inside of him. Not just his mind, but invaded his soul. Her presence was far more intimate than she intended, but already, that same hunger and need was clawing at her, just as it raked at him. Her presence was light, almost delicate, but with him, very sexual.

"I would prefer that only I feel this connection with you - in fact I demand it."

A dark swirling shadow rose to the surface. His teeth lengthened and something deadly rose with the shadow. He made no attempt to hide it from her. She had to know what she had tied herself to. Life was full of unexpected moments, and this was a surprise to both of them, but no less lethal.

Everything in him stilled. For the first time that he could remember, he felt the predator rising. He felt the deadly menace spreading and growing and the ice building to cover his emotions, to obliterate all feeling, making him a much more efficient killer.

Of course I don't feel that way about anyone - or anything else. The only sexual feelings I've ever had have been toward you. I don't know what you've done to me, but the feelings are very strong and hard to control around you. When I'm inside you, I can't help but want to be with you in any way. I'm sorry if that upsets you. I promise to try to do better.

She struggled to give him the correct impressions in her mind and heart. She was very sincere, and very concerned for him. Again, there was no fear, no pulling away. She didn't flinch or look at him with contempt or anger.

Her palm moved up his chest. She looked him straight in the eye. Whatever you need, Zacarias, I will provide. If that means we wait to do this, until you understand you are my one and only, then that is what we' ll do. Just tell me.

He could feel her intense need to show him the truth, even though it embarrassed her a little. The sheer courage in her, the way she kept her word, giving herself to him fully and without reservation in every situation no matter the cost to her, astounded him.

Zacarias knew how much she loved the horses. He could feel the joy in her when she spoke of them or thought of them, yet she was willing to turn around and walk back to the house with him if that was what he needed. She humbled him with her gift. With her serenity. With her efforts to put him first. She simply stood in front of him, quietly waiting his decision.

Zacarias drew her into his arms and buried his face in the thick mass of her hair - the hair she'd left wild and messy just for him. How small a thing was it for him to allow her to calm the animals, especially if he was the one making them edgy and perhaps even dangerous?

"You shame me, Marguarita."