No! She shook her head violently and stepped back to look him in the eyes again. Don't do that. Don't ever do that. You are my choice, just the way you are. I am not asking for changes. I will do whatever you wish.

She wasn't asking anything of him for herself that he could see. In truth, she had asked for the life of a friend. He had saved the man because she'd asked him to, but her motives weren't selfish.

He gestured toward the stable. "Continue. And do not worry about the way you feel. It pleases me that when we are together you are aroused by me."

She smiled at him. I am aroused by the mere thought of you, Zacarias. I don't have to be in your presence. That's how pathetic and obsessed I've become.

He frowned at her. "Not pathetic. I am pleased."

Marguarita studied his face as if seeking something - reassurance perhaps. He was certain she didn't want him going berserk and destroying her horses in a jealous rage.

Again that sweet amusement slid into his mind. It never occurred to me that you would do such a thing.

There it was. Her naivete, her innocence didn't allow her the imagination to see the true depths of the monster she had tied herself to for all time. He refused to lie to her. To look away from her. "I am quite capable of such an action given the right provocation."

She frowned. What would that be?

He squared his shoulders. She had courage and she deserved truth. "Jealousy. A threat to me - to you. To us."

There. It was out between them. The truth of what he was. Let her try to pretend she wasn't appalled, sickened even, wishing she could shun him as the rest of the world did - and should. He watched her expressive and transparent face closely. At the same time, he held himself still inside of her, wanting to know every thought in her head.

Marguarita sighed and brought his hand to her mouth, kissing his scarred knuckles. You have a very skewed vision of who you are and what you're capable of, Zacarias. It's a good thing I can see inside of you. I think you are deliberately trying to frighten me. Do I see that you are capable of great violence? Of course. I have access to your memories - all of them - even the ones you refuse to revisit. Are you capable of murder? Killing for killing's sake? No. Solidly no. Firmly no. All the arguing in the world won't change what I know to be true.

He heard himself groan. He leaned his forehead tight against hers. "I have no idea what I am going to do with you, Marguarita."

Again her soft amusement filled his mind, bringing that heat that kept growing and moving through him, chasing out shadows and replacing them with light.

Fortunately for you, I have all kinds of ideas. Let me take you into the stables, Zacarias. I want to share this with you. It's the one thing I have to give you - a gift. My gift to you.

She made him feel as if he could do anything. Was this love? Was this what he had been searching for all over the world, through centuries, never knowing such a thing really existed? He felt he could endure the warmth of the sun as long as he had her. She had brought colors to real, vivid life. Maybe there was nothing she couldn't do, no miracle she couldn't work. Maybe the horses would accept him into the stable as long as he had her by his side.

"If it means so much to you, sivamet , then we will try."

Her face lit up and he felt everything in him settle again. She took his hand, threading her fingers through his. Let yourself drift with me. Stay inside me. You'll feel what you need to do eventually.

Once again he felt her pouring into him, all that heat and fire, all that fascinating light spreading through him like a million candles. The fire turned molten, spreading slow and thick through his mind and body, until he felt that connection deep. Spirit. He often left his own body and became nothing but spirit in order to heal a fellow warrior. He had done that very thing to save Marguarita when the vampire had torn out her throat those months earlier. He should have suspected, yet it came as a surprise.

Marguarita was entirely human, yet she possessed strong psychic ability.

Her connection with animals - and her first connections with him - had been spirit to spirit. She shed her ego, what and who she was, and became a being of welcoming light. Even for a Carpathian, shedding what he was, shedding his physical body, was a difficult task, yet she did it so smoothly and easily, he hadn't realized what, within him, she was bonding with.

His spirit. He was very aware of it as he never had been. He felt her bathe him in scorching heat, dispelling the deeper shadows that had taken hold. They fled before her as if she would destroy them with her brightness. He felt light. Different. Saved. But he knew his salvation would last only as long as she was connected to him.

He closed his eyes, understanding now what his father had endured through the centuries, trying to find a balance of keeping his lifemate close to him, yet safe from danger. In the end, he had killed her, putting her life in jeopardy by taking her with him on a hunt for a master. He'd known better. Zacarias had pleaded with his father, fought with him. He had offered to go, but leave his mother behind. He had blamed his father for her death. He had been responsible. She should have been kept safe. That was their law; their duty to their lifemates. His father had taken her and had been outmaneuvered. His mother had paid the price and, ultimately, his father had, too.

And you, Zacarias.

"Do you understand now?" he whispered, wanting to save her.

Not all the way, but I'm getting there.

"I will face the shadows and the cold before I will ever allow danger to you." It was a promise. A threat. A declaration that dared her to try to defy his orders.

She didn't give him sympathy, not exactly, more it was a stronger connection, as if she poured more of herself into him. He felt her warmth invade his heart and he caught her shoulders and gave her a little shake.

"She loved him too much. She should never have gone with him."

There is no such thing as loving someone too much, Zacarias. Whatever happened, I know it wasn't because they loved each other too much. I have told you I will obey you, but I cannot stop my heart from loving you. You can't ask that of me.

He let out his breath, unaware he'd been holding air trapped in his lungs. He caught her face in his hands and took possession of her mouth. There was nothing to say. He was already lost. If this was love, he was too far gone to take a different path. He would put her above himself and his own needs. She would never be placed in jeopardy just so that he could shut out the cold, see in color and feel emotion. He could handle being utterly alone if it meant she was out of harm's way. He vowed to himself he would always be strong enough to put her safety first.

He kissed her long and hard, making a thorough job of it. He had nothing to say to her, no way to reassure her. He hadn't expected their connection. He hadn't expected the emotion to be so intense, and he certainly hadn't intended to feel something close to love for her and he feared that was exactly what was happening. When he lifted his head, his gaze burned over her. Her eyes were wide and a little glazed, but she had kissed him back without reservation.

"I will do this with you, but if I say we leave, do not question me."

She nodded her head and took a step through the open door. The horses watched curiously, stamping occasionally, but she'd touched them, spirit to spirit several times and they knew her, were used to that strong connection. They trusted her. Because they felt Zacarias's spirit mixing with hers, the horses were more curious than alarmed.

We breed the best, the horses with even temperaments as well as brio, that elusive quality that shows arrogance and exuberance in every move. Look at them. The way they move, the steps they take, the tossing of their heads. They have steady eyes and beautiful gaits. They are loyal and hard workers. They will place their body between an enraged steer and a fallen rider. They have great courage, Zacarias.

She drew Zacarias farther into the stables. He had never been so close to a horse, not without it rearing and plunging, throwing its rider and running full speed away from him.

People misjudge them because they are not a really large horse. They stand fourteen to a little over fifteen hands in height, which isn't terribly tall, but never underestimate them. They have such noble heads.

He was beginning to feel what she meant about the spirit or brio of the Peruvian Paso. Marguarita approached a stall where a beautiful chestnut-colored mare watched them carefully. She didn't take her eyes from Zacarias, those amazing large, intelligence-filled eyes.

She has a long official name but I just call her Sparkle. Isn't she gorgeous?

Zacarias couldn't look away from the mare. He was within touching distance and the horse wasn't screaming a protest and kicking her stall door, eyes rolling in terror. He found his hand was trembling. He had never understood why he had been so drawn to this species, the horse. He often had watched them running free over the land, manes flying in the wind, their muscles flowing, necks stretched out, and hooves thundering over the earth and it was one of the few things that brought a semblance of peace to him.

He looked down at Marguarita. All those centuries ago, had she been there, a whisper in his soul keeping him from falling into that dark abyss? He didn't understand how it could be so, but that rapt look of joy on her face when she observed the horses, echoed in his own heart. Horses. Simple creatures, yet complex at the same time. Each had their own personality. Most had a wild spirit he understood and now, with his spirit connecting with the horses in the stable, he realized they weren't so far from him after all.

"Thank you, sivamet. You have given me another gift beyond measure."

We are nowhere near finished. There's so much more. Come with me.