I was aware of that the moment I realized you were not vampire and I had condemned you once again to this world. I took the time to see who you are. I know you are not a modern man and it worries you that I will one day rebel against the chains you put on me. Her fingers tightened around his and they locked gazes. If it is what you need - truly need - my obedience to your will in that moment, it will be the most important thing in the world to me. No matter how hard. I meant what I said when I asked you to stay. I serve you out of choice. I want your happiness.

He knew the truth of her words. She was prepared for his dominance, but she also realized things he did not. She had taken into account his feelings for her. He didn't recognize those emotions ninety percent of the time, or acknowledge them, yet she knew they were there and that the feelings were growing each moment in her company.

He tried one more time to let her know what it would be like with him. "I will rarely leave your mind, Marguarita. You will never be alone, never have a thought I do not know. Every breath in your body, I will feel. I will know where you are, who you talk with. There will be nowhere that you can go that I will not be with you."

She smiled at him and let go of his hand to lean forward and pat the neck of her horse. I am growing used to feeling your eyes on me and it's becoming lonely when I am without you in my mind. I had not realized how truly alone one can be until I felt you inside me.

Zacarias took control of both horses, turning them back toward the stables. He wanted to be inside more than her mind. He wanted to see her body without the denim hugging her skin so lovingly. He needed the feel of her hands on him, the hot velvet of her mouth fitting tightly over him. He looked at her, knowing she could see the hunger in his smoldering gaze.

Her answer was that small, mysterious, all too sensual smile that teased his cock into hardness. He urged Thunder forward, needing Marguarita. She'd given him this night, a gift, and he wanted more. Maybe he would

always want more.

Marguarita contemplated Zacarias's thoughts as she quickly rubbed down the horses and led them into their stalls with a small mixture of hay and feed for thanks before turning to face her man. Excitement had been building in her from the moment she'd slipped the lacy underwear on right in front of him. It had been a daring thing to do and made her damp just thinking about it.

The erotic images in Zacarias's head made that dampness grow into distinct wetness. He couldn't fail to scent her welcoming call to him, but she took her time, letting the sexual tension stretch out right there in the stable while she washed her hands and dried them carefully before she turned to him.

How can I please you? She loved the sound of inquiry, that soft submissive questioning. She didn't need a voice or words to indicate she wanted her hands and mouth on him, that she wanted his every desire met - by her.

"I want you to touch me. Explore my body as I explored yours."

His voice was mesmerizing, the command in his tone so masculine. She didn't understand why she felt the need to ease his burdens the way she did, but there was a drive in her to meet his every need. This man had battled alone for centuries. Entirely, utterly alone. He was wounded in places no one could see and in all his lonely life, he had only let one person close enough to see inside of him - her.

Her heart stuttered with pleasure, knowing he found solace in her body, that he found peace. She would do anything to bring him that and she would find her own enjoyment in every act, every compliance.

Just like that his clothes were gone and she was gasping at the size and shape of his heavy erection. He was so thick and long, much more so than she believed possible in a man. She found it impossible not to touch him. Her hands had a life of their own and really, after all, he'd given his permission.

Amusement slid into her mind. "More than permission, my beautiful lunatic, a command. Please me."

She couldn't have refused that teasing note, or the edge of hunger she felt pushing against her mind. Her fingers slid up his thigh, all the while she watched his face and kept her mind firmly planted in his. She wanted to feel his every reaction. She needed to observe him as well. The breath leaving his lungs in a rush was an aphrodisiac. She touched the fiery head, a thick round knob with a single pearl leaking. She used the tip of her finger to spread that lubrication over the head until it was glistening. His eyes burned with heat.

I trust that no one will come near. Even as she expressed her fear, she obeyed the pressure of his hands on her shoulders, sliding down to her knees.

She could feel his pleasure at the mere sight of her kneeling in front of him, hair spilling wildly down her back, her eyes bright, her lips slightly parted. "You are beautiful, Marguarita. I wish to see those wisps of lace covering your body. I thought about them on our ride together and how your body would look covered in those little scraps of lace."

She had known and she'd helped to feed those fantasies with a few of her own. She half smiled, her attention on the heavy erection so close to her face. She wrapped her hand around the thickness and tilted her head toward him. How is it possible that you fit inside me? How could she possibly take all that into her mouth as she saw in his mind?

Her tank vanished as if it had never been and the cool night air teased her nipples through the black lace into twin peaks. She found herself kneeling on something soft and the air teased her bare butt as her jeans and boots went whichever way her tank had. She'd never felt sexier. He was so beautiful to her, his masculine body all hard, defined muscle.

"I just do. I was created for you."

His hand slipped to the back of her head. She felt the breath trapped in his lungs as he urged her forward. She didn't resist, but her hand leisurely explored the size and shape of him, enjoying the texture and heat. She leaned forward and took an experimental swipe with her tongue. He tasted of her favorite tea. He must have tasted it when he'd kissed her in the kitchen and he'd remembered.

Pleased and shocked that he'd taken the trouble to add to her pleasure, she was as honest as possible. I've never done this, Zacarias. I don't want you to be disappointed. She was trembling as she licked around that broad silken head. The moment she felt him shudder, the pleasure that burst through him, it steadied her.

His fist bunched in her hair, and her mind firmly in his, she could see what he needed. The stroking lap of her tongue from base to head to get him wet. She fast was developing a taste for him and the exotic mixture of rich tea and Zacarias. Her mouth slipped over the wide head of him, her tongue swirling, the fit tight and hot.

Without warning he suddenly jerked her away from him by her hair. It hurt, her scalp tender, but it was more upsetting that he rejected her ministrations. His face was an expressionless mask, his eyes glittering almost red.

Ice poured in, glaciers of it, impenetrable barriers locking her out. She was rejected both physically and mentally. He had virtually thrown her away from him without telling her what she'd done wrong. Shocked and humiliated, she sank back on her heels, struggling not to cry.

acarias dragged Marguarita to her feet, clothing her quickly in the garments he preferred, a long skirt and blouse covering the temptation of her body. His fingers closed over her upper arms like twin vises and he forced her to look into his eyes.

"You will do exactly as I tell you, Marguarita. You are my greatest vulnerability, the biggest liability to me. There can be nothing of you within me. No trace. No scent. Nothing. Once I withdraw, you cannot reach for me, no matter how long, or what occurs." He gave her a little shake. "Do you understand me?"

She shook her head, tears swimming. It couldn't matter to him. He couldn't look at those tears and ache inside. There could be only ice and stone, no traces of this woman who had the potential of getting thousands of people, both Carpathian and human, killed. He could have no trace of her in him or on him. He needed to shed the scent of her beloved horses as well.

Marguarita blinked several times, shock and pain in her eyes. He'd put that there, but he couldn't comfort her. He couldn't be part of her. She was not yet Carpathian and she didn't understand the way their world worked. She looked around her, as if coming out of a dream, dazed and confused. He couldn't blame her, his entire body felt as if it had been going up in flames. He'd been very lucky he was so tuned to danger.

The horses reared and pawed the air, slashed at their stall doors and screamed a protest. Marguarita turned toward the horses, her face going pale.

Her breath caught in her throat. Do you feel that? They're afraid - but not of you. There's something else, Zacarias, something deeper. There's a thread, a tendril . . .

He reacted instantly, jerking Marguarita around to face him, half shaking her, his fingers biting into her shoulder like a vise. "Do not try to follow it. It is vampire. The undead has spread his tentacles out and is reaching for you even now through the very animals you love."

I'll sound the alarm and the boys will help fight.

"You will trigger the alarm that tells them to seek shelter. They would be in my way and witnessing a battle will only make them fear me more."

The tears spilled over and fear shimmered in her enormous eyes. Nothing can happen to you. They could help. I could help.

He gave her a little shake. "You will do as I tell you without question. I will take you to the house quickly." He wrapped his arm around her waist and lifted her feet from the ground. "You will stay there until I come to get you, no matter how long that takes. Do not speak to me. Do not connect with me. I expect your obedience in this."

He felt the urgency consuming him, the one that told him the battle was close. He had to weave safeguards over the houses and stables to prevent destruction of life and property, which vampires were prone to do just for fun. Most of all he had to banish every trace of Marguarita from his mind and body, from his heart and soul. There could be no hint of her where the enemy could catch even the faintest of scents.

He flew with dizzying speed, masking them as he took her into the house. He went right on through to the master bedroom; the walls were the thickest there and shoved her into a tight little alcove against the wall. "Do not move. If you do, Marguarita, there will be severe consequences."

She drew up her knees, nodding, wrapping her arms around her knees to hold herself tight. Her face streaked with tears, but the fear in her eyes was all for him, not for what he might choose to punish her with if she disobeyed.

Zacarias couldn't think about the taste of her breath, or how she felt pouring into his mind, he had to shut down completely and become empty, a warrior alone and without anything to lose. He turned his back on her and hurried out to weave his strongest safeguards over every building on the property. It took strength and stamina to hold such strong weaves in the face of the approaching vampires.

He inhaled the night. Three of them. Ruslan would not send his best on the first outright attack, but he would send seasoned vampires. They were coming from three directions, trying to box him in and pick the battlefield. Zacarias wanted them far away from his woman and everything she loved. He took to the air, streaking toward the far end of the De La Cruz ranch, where the rain forest met the clearing, where Ruslan had tried to infiltrate with his poisonous plant and set a trap to aid his advancing vampires.

A game of strategy then. Ruslan was a master at strategy and he would do his best to manipulate Zacarias into a trap. This attack would be the opening gambit to test his strength and resolve. He had stayed too long in one place so Ruslan would assume, since he hadn't moved on, that Zacarias had been mortally wounded in the battle in Brazil. It would have been reported that there were droplets of blood in the air. Ruslan's hounds would have followed that blood trail to Peru, to the De La Cruz hacienda. Ruslan would be thinking his recovery was slow and that he was vulnerable.

Zacarias was vulnerable, but not for the reasons Ruslan believed. He made certain that he removed all scent from his body, and all traces of her from his mind. Loneliness hit hard, nearly unbearable, now that he knew what it was like with her inside of him, filling him up. Without her connection to him, the world went gray and dull. Everywhere he looked, the vivid color was gone. The bright vibrant greens of the rain forest, the bursts of brilliant colors of flowers winding up the trunks of trees, even the hues on the lacy ferns all had disappeared to be replaced by a dreary gray.

Resolutely, he turned his mind away from Marguarita. It took a great deal of discipline to do so. Lifemates needed one another. Once those threads were woven, they were unbreakable, and his mind would forever seek to touch hers. Add to that the need to see in color, the ability to feel only when she was connected to him, and he felt tremendous need. Fortunately, he was an ancient warrior, and his priority above all else was Marguarita's safety.

He turned his back on the human structures, homes that meant so much to them. He had never understood before. He was a nomad, continually moving for self-preservation, not even allowing his brothers to know his resting places or his secret lairs. He had dozens throughout South America, places he could retreat to and rest in when necessary, but now, he understood what a home was. Not the structure. Not the place. The woman.

He took to the sky, a thin stream of vapor, drifting with the slight breeze, riding the drafts, feeling his way, searching for the exact location of his enemy. In the distance, he could see a single black cloud churning madly, heading toward the pasture where the herd was bedded down for the night. Angry red ropes of lightning lit the edges of the black, turbulent cauldron.