Colby read the hunger in Rafael's eyes, the predatory flame leaping to life. There was a helpless fascination in watching the fangs lengthen in his beautiful mouth, his white teeth gleaming as his head slowly descended to her body. His hips moved, a hard, long stroke that had her gasping even as his teeth teased at her pulse. Her heart jumped, her body tightened around his, her muscles clenching. Her breath seemed to stop. Her body seemed to go up in flames.

His teeth sank into her, a white-hot lance of pain, of pleasure, a whip of lightning dancing through her body, heightening her senses, so erotic she thought her body would fragment into tiny little pieces. His hair brushed her skin like silken tongues, his body was wildly taking hers, the friction so exquisite tears leaked out of her eyes and she could only lay beneath him, her hips rising to meet each frenzied thrust.

He was everything to her in that moment, belonging to her, his body, his mind, his heart and soul. She accepted him as no other ever could. The wild untamed part of him that was pure predator, the man wearing the thin veneer of civilization, the creature of the night who must have blood to survive. And he was accepting of her, of her nature that demanded she care for her brother and sister, shoulder the responsibility of the ranch, of her strange differences, telekinesis, the accidents of her youth, starting fires, the rigid control she placed on herself. Total, unconditional acceptance.

His tongue swept across the tiny pinpricks and he closed his mouth over hers, sharing the exotic taste of her, sharing his need, as the flames began burning out of control, over them, through them. He felt her tightening, clenching, and he roared with his own release, his hands gripping her possessively as her body took his over the edge of all control, all reason. All sanity.

Colby lay beneath him, aware of the combined pounding of their hearts beating out the same exact rhythm. Aware of the thick carpet of green grass under her that had not been there before. Aware of the stars glittering overhead like a canopy of jewels. Aware of his hard body, still joined with hers. She couldn't move, her body so sated, so completely drained of energy she was at peace, serene in the midst of the violence of their coming together. Colby was relaxed despite the earth-shattering sex and the revelations he had so casually made.

It was Rafael who shifted first, easing his body out of hers, moving his weight off of her. His hands framed her face, holding her still as he bent his dark head to hers. He kissed her gently, tenderly. She tasted the edge of hunger in him. A faint smile curved her soft mouth. "Go away before you kill me."

"Again," Rafael said softly, a demand. A command. The need to bring her into his world was a living breathing monster in his mind and body. He knew he wanted her to accept him, but if she didn't, if persuasion didn't work, he would take what was his and damn the consequences. "I want you again."

Colby twisted away from him, pushing up on her hands and knees in the soft carpet of grass in an effort to get up. "You're killing me, I can't, I can't move." Her body was rocking with aftershocks, her breasts aching, her mouth swollen with his kisses.

He moved with blinding speed, a large jungle cat bringing down its prey, his body blanketing hers, his arm circling her narrow waist, dragging her hips back against him. The firm muscles of her bottom were pressed tightly against his heavy erection so that he grew even harder. "I will never get enough of you, not in all the long centuries to come." He bent his head to the smooth line of her back, trailing kisses along her spine.

"This is for all time, querida, can you feel it? How right it is? How perfectly we fit together." Rafael closed his eyes and slowly eased into her, inch by slow inch. It amazed him how tight she was, how hot, how her muscles were so delicate yet gripped him, milking his body with the expertise born of a true lifemate.

Colby gave herself completely, without inhibition, moving with him, meeting each powerful surge and thrust with one of her own. It was impossible to think, to hold anything in her mind when there was only room for pure feeling. Her body had a mind of its own with him, moving in perfect rhythm while the lightning danced and sizzled and electricity arced all through her. It was the first time in her life she had ever been completely out of control, giving herself up to him, pouring everything she was into him, for him, for herself. She felt her body tightening around his, the earth-shattering release a long endless series of shocks, fragmenting body and soul. The only safe anchor was Rafael's arms as he held her tightly to him, his body and soul soaring with hers.

Colby collapsed forward, on her stomach, exhausted, unable to move, her fingers fisting in the carpet of grass. "Since you are very, very old, this can't possibly be good for your health." She turned her head slightly to look at him, her eyes dancing with laughter. "Has there ever been a recorded death from too much sexual activity?"

He lay over her, his head beside hers. His black eyes shimmered with amusement. "I do not think I recall such an event, but if you like, we can try."

Her lashes fluttered. "I can't move. I think I'll stay right here in this nonexistent grass, which by the way, is very cool. Can you make my front lawn, that ugly brownish patch, into this?" She patted the grass with her clenched hands.

He kissed her shoulder, savoring the feeling of her small, soft body beneath his, the imprint of her firm bottom, her narrow waist. He could live forever buried deep within her, her body beneath his. "I can command the earth to move for you, or bring the rain if you need it."

"Let me get my hay in first," she said pragmatically. She turned her head to look at him. "What are you, Rafael, are you a vampire?"

He shifted his weight to lie quietly beside her, his arms locking her to him. There was no fear in her mind. He had deliberately allowed her to see him with his true predatory nature and yet she wasn't afraid of what he might be. He nuzzled her neck. "I am not the undead, Colby; I am Carpathian, and once bound to you there is no chance that I might turn to such an evil creature."

"You think you can become an honest-to-God vampire?" She opened her eyes wider to study his face, although she didn't move a muscle, too tired to make an effort.

"There is such a monster. Our males can turn vampire and prey on the human race, and on our own species. They are wholly evil and must be destroyed. We have hunters in every land." His hand found her bottom, needing to touch her while he told her of his world. His fingers began a slow, soothing massage. "There is a vampire somewhere close by in this region. I've hunted them all of my life, and I feel him. They are capable of murder and the most vile of acts."

"Pete?" She held her breath, waiting. If she hadn't seen Rafael's fangs lengthening, if she hadn't read his mind, she would think they were both insane.

He bent his head and nipped at the soft expanse of flesh so that she jumped beneath his sharp teeth. "Not Pete. A vampire would have killed him... differently. But the vampire is up to something. Nicolas, my brother, is far too close to turning to allow him this hunt. He needs to be back in the rain forest, near my other brothers where we can all aid one another."

"Why would he be close to turning? You mean turning vampire?" Colby couldn't help the sudden memory of Nicolas invading her mind, of his cold eyes and merciless expression. In that moment of touching minds, she knew Nicolas De La Cruz was as close to a killing machine as she ever wanted to get. Her heart slammed painfully in her chest. She had touched Rafael's mind and there was a large part of him that was much the same as Nicolas.

"Colby," he said gently, "I tell you these things to relieve your fears, not add to them. Our males lose emotions and colors after two hundred years. We exist, but we do not live. I was sent out to kill the vampire, yet each time we make a kill, the whisper of darkness calls to us with more urgency. When the kill is made during the taking of blood, we feel. To someone with emotions, that is nothing, but when you feel nothing, century after century, it is everything. I do not want Nicolas to make a kill."

"What about you, Rafael?"

"You are my anchor. You will prevent me from turning. It is much safer for me than it is for Nicolas." He leaned over her. "Why are you believing me so easily? How can you accept the things I am telling you so readily without fear?"

"Because I've touched you, Rafael. I've looked into your mind and touched your memories. You can't hide something that intense from me when you're sharing my mind. I admit I don't understand everything I've touched on, but you aren't a killer of humans. And you are powerful-the things you can do are much more extreme than what I can do." She rested her head on her arms. "In a way, it's very comforting." The feel of his hands moving over her bottom, his fingers massaging her muscles, soothed her deliciously sore body even as deep within her, pooling heat felt sinfully wicked. She was too relaxed, too sated to care.

Lying beneath the stars without a stitch of clothing, with his finger marks on her body and signs of his possession on every inch of her, held a sultry, primitive satisfaction. She could feel the weight of his eyes, the burning intensity that filled that terrible emptiness inside of her. For a moment she thought of what her life would be like after he went away, returned to his own land, and her heart nearly stopped beating. The breath left her lungs in a terrible rush. She went very still. This night would have to last her forever.

His hand tangled in her hair. "Tonight I want to show you my world so you will understand why I have no choice but to do the things I must."

His tone warned her. A soft velvet, but there was steel in it. Something implacable, something immovable.

"Why do I get the feeling I'm not going to like this?" She made a supreme effort and turned over so she could stare up at the glittering stars scattered over her head. When his hand reached for hers, she entwined their fingers together. "You can't be out in the sun, can you, Rafael? That's what the Chevez brothers were worried about this morning when you came to help fight the fire-the sun had come up." She leaned close to brush his shoulder with her mouth. "You suffered to stay and comfort me, didn't you?"

"I had to be with you, Colby." His voice was husky, touching her deep inside as his body had. "I cannot bear your unhappiness. And if you are in danger, I can do no other than see to your safety. Pain is a part of life; you learn much in centuries of living. Pain is momentary, but enduring every moment of a barren existence is intolerable. I cannot go back to such a thing. I was closer to turning than I had believed. I know this because I feel it in my brother Nicolas now. You felt it in him. His darkness when he was so close to you. He frightened you-I read your memory of your meeting with him."

Colby knew he was telling her much more than she was hearing, than she was understanding. She didn't touch his mind, preferring to allow her brain to process the information at its own pace. She didn't want to fear him, not now when her body was vibrating with a thousand sensations, when she was more relaxed and happy than she had ever been in her life. "If I never say it again, Rafael, thank you for this night. Thank you for caring enough to lend us the money to save the ranch. And thank you for accepting me the way I am, for making me feel accepted."

"You sound as if you are saying good-bye to me, Colby." His voice was gentle. "Did you think to wonder why your skin burns in the sun? Why your eyes are so sensitive? Why you need to sleep in the middle of the day?"

She sat up, her palm over the dark brand of his possession. She could hear the sudden beating of her heart, loud in the silence of the night. He sounded as if she were becoming what he was. "Taking my blood would do what? What are you saying?" She pushed down panic, fought to stay calm. There was something terrifying in the way his black eyes moved over her body. She looked around for her clothes, suddenly feeling more vulnerable than ever.

"Taking your blood would not affect you so. We exist on the blood of others. The women you think I sleep with hold no interest for me, other than as prey." He said the words starkly, watching her reaction closely. "If you were in my mind, you know I take sustenance from humans."

She reached for her shirt, feeling more threatened than ever. His hand caught her wrist, held her still. His gaze was very direct, very black as it moved broodingly over her face. "You belong with me, Colby. This night has proved that to both of us."

There was enormous strength in his grip. More than the viselike shackle of his fingers, there was the feeling of restraint, as if she were a prisoner, not a lover. She swallowed the tight knot of fear welling up. "Let go of me."

"A few moments ago you thanked me for the night, now you fear me."

"I have reason to fear you," she pointed out and waited for him to deny it.

His gaze didn't leave her face. "You knew that the first time you saw me, but it didn't stop you from wanting me. Did you ever ask yourself why?"

She made the mistake of struggling. Colby didn't know why she did it. Rafael was the type of man to respond aggressively to a struggle and he was far stronger. She found herself lying in the thick mat of grass, staring up at the stone carving that was his face. She swore she heard a growl rumbling in his throat, and his eyes blazed with fire.

"Do not do that," he hissed. He brought his hand up to span her throat and bent his head slowly to press a kiss to the corner of her mouth. "I would never hurt you, Colby. Never. I am incapable of harming you."

She took a breath. Let it out. Forced her mind away from panic. "I gave you acceptance, Rafael. I acknowledged what you are. Why are you deliberately scaring me this way? What more do you want from me? Do you think I lie in the field with any man who comes along? I've done things with you I never even thought about. I let you do things to me I never considered doing with another man. I even let you take my blood. I watched fangs lengthen in your mouth and let you sink them into me."

His mouth moved to the spot on her neck. His tongue swirled there. "And it was erotic, was it not?" He bent his head to the mark over her breast. "I want all of you. You are giving me only a part of you and I refuse to accept that."

"It's all I have to give you. I'm sorry it's not enough for you, but you knew that I had responsibilities going into this. I told you I wouldn't trade Ginny and Paul's future for anything."

His tongue flicked over his mark on her. He lifted his head, his black eyes glittering. "And what do you think a vampire would do to Ginny and Paul?"

For some reason, unbidden, came the memory of being trapped in the mine with a living, breathing monster. It had been as trapped as she was, pinned beneath the rubble, but clawing at the dirt to get to her. She remembered the sound of it hissing and gurgling, the glowing eyes, demonic in the blackness of the mine. The stench had been horrific, evil permeating the mine shaft so that she was sickened by it. She had inadvertently burned the thing, her fear causing flames to lick over its trapped body so that it screamed horribly. She still woke with nightmares, drenched in sweat, hearing the echoes of those cries. Had it been a vampire? Could she have encountered one in her youth? Ginny and Paul would never survive such a creature.

"I'll protect them," she whispered fiercely. "From you, your brother, the Chevez brothers, and a vampire if necessary. Let me up, Rafael. I mean it."

He didn't move, his wide shoulders blocking the sky, his heavy muscles rubbing along her skin causing every nerve ending in her body to come alive. If it was possible, his eyes darkened more, robbing her of breath. "You do not get to close your eyes to what is between us. I told you I would have all of you and I meant it. If I kissed you and took your body right now, when you are afraid and when you are angry with me, you would let me because you want me. You need me in the same way I need you." He leaned close so that his breath was against her mouth. "You are not complete without me. That is why you let me have your body, Colby. It is the only reason. You need me. You wanted sex to be enough, but it is not enough and will never he enough."

"What then?" She asked him the question quietly, no surrender in her defiant gaze. She would not trade the children for her own life. Whatever he was asking, the price was too high.

"I am going to bring you wholly into my world."

Colby might have been expecting it. She had considered briefly he might ask her, but the way he said it with his hard, implacable resolve was terrifying. Hearing the words said aloud was far different from turning the idea over, however briefly, in one's own mind. For a moment she was paralyzed, lying beneath him like a sacrifice. Her body had betrayed her long ago, soft and pliant, belonging to him, alive beneath his hands, beneath his body, ready for him even when he was holding her captive.

"What have you done to me?" She didn't even recognize herself. He could take her right there, in the midst of her fear with her heart breaking and she would enjoy it. "This isn't love, Rafael. No matter what you think, it isn't love."

"It is love to me." His hands smoothed over her bare skin, shaping her curves, feeling her response to him. "You have my body and my soul. You have all of me. I want all of you. I will not take less."

"What have you done?" she repeated, refusing to give in to hysteria.

"To bring a human lifemate wholly into our world it requires three blood exchanges. The woman must be psychic, which you are."

She stared up at him in horror. "You exchanged blood with me?"

"Of course. You are my lifemate. It is natural. You become the very blood in my veins as I am in yours."

She closed her eyes briefly to block him out. "You gave me your blood?" It was a whisper, maybe even a plea. She didn't want it to be true, yet her eyes had burned in the sunlight and her skin had blistered. Her mind needed the touch of his mind and still did. "Damn you, Rafael, you had no right to give me your blood. You know I have a ranch to run. You don't have the right to arbitrarily make decisions for me. I don't care what you are, I have rights and you just stepped way over them. How many times? How many times did you do that?"

"Do not judge me by your human standards, Colby."

She shoved at the wall of his chest. "Get the hell off of me. Get off me or I'll scream until someone hears and comes running." She was furious, more furious than afraid of him.

"Do you think I will allow anyone to take you from me? I am more animal than man. More monster than guardian. I am capable of things you cannot conceive of."

"And you think telling me this furthers your cause how?" She shoved again. "Get off of me!"

His hand pinned her wrists together and he pulled her arms above her head. "Kiss me, Colby."

"Go to hell, Rafael. I don't care what you do to me. It won't make a difference. I decide my fate, not you."

He bent his head toward her mouth. Colby turned her head away and bit at his shoulder hard. At once heat flared between them. Fire raced through her body. It was maddening and perverse and she didn't want to give in to it. He kissed his way down her throat to her breast. His mouth was tight and hot and he scraped his teeth along her tender skin, lending an edge of pain to the pleasure. Her body reacted with more heat. More fire. With urgent demands. The pressure built fast and sharp deep within her, needing release.

Rafael refused to give it to her, tending her breasts with his hot mouth, massaging with his hands, taking small nips with his teeth and laving with his tongue. He held her down easily while she clawed at his back, her hips frantically trying to align with his body for relief. Deliberately he fed the sexual frenzy in her mind, heightening her pleasure, sharing his own. The way it felt to have her skin against his skin, moving beneath him like satin and silk. The way it felt to take her breast in his mouth, to stroke her body until she cried out for him. He shared the feeling of holding her beneath him, doing as he willed with her body, a body that belonged to him. He shared what it did to him to feel her fingernails in his skin, her hands bunching in his hair, wanting him, wanting more.

He kissed his way down her belly, his hands massaging her breasts, his thigh holding her in place. She sobbed as he plunged his fingers deep into her wet core. She moved against his hand, but he refused to allow her release. She swore at him, tugged at him, but he shook his head, wanting her to know what it was like, the terrible hunger inside of him every time he looked at her. The needs, dark and intense, that bordered on insanity when he grew hard and thick and needed her body under his. He didn't want her to come to him unaware of his demanding nature. He would try to learn tenderness for her, but he knew exactly what he was like and what he would insist on from her.

"Give yourself to me," he whispered, dragging her legs around his shoulders. His eyes glittered like black obsidian as they met hers. Then he lowered his head to her hot, waiting core.

She screamed, clawed at his back, tugged at his hair. "I did. I have," she pleaded when he stopped time after time, keeping her teetering on the edge of release.

"I am taking what is mine," he replied. "There is a difference."

"You're being a bastard," she pointed out and screamed again when he deliberately renewed his attack.

When she was sobbing, certain she couldn't take it anymore, he lifted her legs even higher, holding firmly to her ankles as he thrust hard into her. A deep long stroke of possession. He buried himself deep inside of her, deeper than he'd ever been, forcing her to take all of him. He filled her, pushing through soft, swollen folds, slick with welcome, hot with need. She couldn't move in the position he held her, could only lift her hips to try to meet the hard, deep thrusts of his. Fire raged in his blood, burned in his belly. Thunder roared in his head. She was so hot and tight he thought he would explode. His body was no longer his own, but a part of hers and he shook with the pleasure and pain of their forceful joining.

"I claim you as my lifemate." He bit the words out, gasped them aloud, as he surged into her tight channel, again and again, over and over, never wanting to stop. The fierce conflagration was burning out of control, spreading like a firestorm through him. "I belong to you. I offer my life for you. I give to you my protection, my allegiance, my heart, my soul and my body. I take into my keeping the same that is yours."

He was killing her with pleasure. Waves of it crashed over her, through her. She climaxed so many times, so hard; she shook as the sensations ripped through her. As he spoke she felt a curious wrenching in her heart. Her soul. As if something was weaving them together inside of her. As if his ferocious lovemaking and his words combined together to weld them into one complete person. "Stop!" Panic welled up. He held her ankles tightly, keeping her open to him, shattering her, taking her apart and remaking her so completely there would never be any way to go back to what she had been.

Mercilessly he thrust into her, over and over, ruthless hot hard strokes, each designed to take him deeper, to tie her to him in every way possible. "Your life, happiness, and welfare will be cherished and placed above my own for all time. You are my lifemate, bound to me for all eternity and always in my care."

She saw his face, the sensual lines etched deeply, the conviction and implacable resolve, and knew he had done something terrible. She felt it. She knew it. She saw it in the glittering black of his eyes, in the harshness of his expression even as he drove her out of her mind with sheer pleasure. She felt his body hardening and thickening deep inside of her. He threw back his head and she caught the glint of his white fangs as he cried out hoarsely, pumping into her, filling her, sending her body into a wild orgasm that blasted her entire body into a million fragments.

After a while she became aware of lying in the grass with her legs spread, up in the air, his fingers circling her ankles like vises. She tugged to get free. His breathing was ragged, matching hers. He slowly loosened his hold on her and lowered her legs to the ground before slumping over the top of her.

Colby lay beneath Rafael. Her heart slammed so hard she feared it would break through her chest. Her body continued to ripple with aftershocks, pleasure shattering her so that she couldn't move, but lay sprawled out in the grass afraid of the terrible craving his sexual needs had set up in her. She could never find anyone who would do this to her body and soul. How could she lie awake at night and not feel his hands on her body? Not feel him driving into her over and over again until they were both screaming for mercy? Tears burned, but she didn't know if it was from sheer ecstasy or from a bone deep hunger that only Rafael could assuage.

"Did I hurt you?" He didn't think he could ever find the strength to stand up again. His fingers brushed gently at her tears.

"I don't know. I won't know for a few hours." She was dazzled by the colors in the sky, the stars and the moon and the variations she'd never noticed. Her body sang, still gripped in the aftermath of their frenzied joining.

He lifted his head from her breast and looked into her eyes. "You are a very stubborn woman."

"You are a very pig-headed man." She pushed the silky black strands of hair from around his face. "You don't like anyone saying no to you, do you?"

A small smile curved his mouth. "There is no reason to say no to me. And I especially do not want you saying no to me. You are my woman. My lifemate."

"But that doesn't mean ownership," she told him. Her fingertips were gentle on his face. "You can't force me to love you, Rafael. I need to know more about you. I see into your mind and there are things that don't make sense to me."

"What you see in my mind should not make any difference, querida."

Colby stirred, pushed at his body, annoyed with his arrogance. "You're heavy, Rafael. Move." His fangs had not retracted and she was becoming nervous again.

He kissed her throat and pushed away from her to sit up.

"It is only because you are so small. You need to eat more."

She looked at him from under her lashes. "I can't eat anything lately. Do you have anything to do with that?"

"Yes." One did not lie to one's lifemate.

Take her. Make her yours so we can leave this place and go home. Nicolas was hunting prey. His voice whispered in Rafael's mind. It was obvious he didn't understand why his brother was not simply forcing the woman to do his bidding.

It is complicated.

Nicolas sighed. You forget who and what you are. Do you want the vampire to kill her? To destroy the people on this ranch? If you allow this rebellion to continue, she will be the death of us all. We will be without honor.

Colby managed to find her blouse, although she had no idea where her bra was. "Is he talking to you?"

"My brother? Yes."

She slipped her arms into the shirt, wincing a little. She was sore from the strength of his fingers. Her body still held the stamp of his possession. "What did you say to me? What were those words you said? They sounded suspiciously like a ritual of some kind." She cast him a wary glance as she crawled toward her carelessly discarded jeans. "What exactly did you do?" The buttons were gone from her blouse, so she knotted the tails together under her breasts.

"I bound us together in the way of my people."

He sounded smug. Arrogant even. Colby bunched her panties in her hand and threw them at him. "You ripped these."

"You do not need them." His arms wrapped around her and he pulled her back against his chest as she tried to wiggle into her jeans. Teeth nipped and scraped at her neck. "You should never wear clothes."

"That will go over big with the rest of the world. What ritual?" She leaned against him for leverage as she pulled the jeans over her bottom. She was sensually sore everywhere, inside and out. And of course, his hands had gone straight to her breasts, cupping the weight in his palms through the gap in the edges of her blouse. "Is it ever enough with you?"

"Apparently not. Maybe you should not get dressed just yet."

She turned her face up to his throat and lay against him, savoring being in his arms. In another few hours she would have to work nonstop, but she had the night with him. All she had to do was convince him not to bite her anymore. "As it is, I'm not certain I can walk." She stood up, using his shoulder as an anchor while she tested her legs. It was strange to look at him, to know the things he'd done to her, with her, to know she'd screamed his name, begged him for more, pleaded with him to consume her, and yet not feel in the least embarrassed.

Rafael stood up in one smooth motion, clothing himself in the way of his people. She gave a small gasp and stepped back. "How did you do that? Even your hair looks clean and combed." She lifted a hand to her own hair with a small frown. "I'm afraid I look a bit on the used side. I need a shower and a hairdresser."

"You look beautiful, Colby. You are always beautiful, especially when you are screaming beneath me." There was a wealth of satisfaction in his voice. He held out his arm in front of her, his gaze on her face. His skin rippled, and feathers erupted as a wing developed, a huge expanse of wing much like that of a harpy eagle.

Colby sucked in her breath. "It was you. I let you into my house."

"Into your bedroom." The feathers disappeared, leaving behind muscle and sinew. He leaned close to her, his fangs very much in evidence. "Into your body. I am stealing your heart."

Because he already had her soul. She knew it now with a strange certainty, in the way she knew things, He owned her body and her soul. He wasn't finished or satisfied. He wanted her heart and he wanted her mind. Colby shook her head. "You aren't thinking straight, Rafael. Think with your brain, not overactive portions of your anatomy. Realistically, how do you think this is going to end?" She swept her arm to encompass the ranch and the high mountain peaks. "You love Brazil and the rain forest. You and your brother want to go back. You need to go back. This is my home. It's all I've ever known. I have to hold it in trust for Paul and Ginny. I've fought a good part of my life to keep this ranch running. Do you really think I'm going to walk away from it and run off with a man I barely know because we have great sex together? I may be a ranch girl, but I have brains in my head."

He stepped closer to her, his body posture suddenly aggressive. "You think realistically, Colby. Do you really think I am going to walk away from the only thing in this world standing between me and the loss of my soul? Standing between me and utter darkness? The monster roars at me every rising. Whispers to me in the middle of the night, calls to me when I hunt, and when I take blood from my prey. I will never give you up. I am taking you with me when I return to my homeland. You will come with me as my lifemate whether you agree or not."

She glared at him. "You are such an arrogant savage. Is that the way men in Brazil get their women?"

"No, it is the way Carpathian males get their women. The ritual words to bind them are imprinted on them before birth. Once found, he can bind his woman when she refuses to see reason. It is what safeguards our men and keeps our species alive."

She tasted fear in her mouth. He was serious. And he was closer. She hadn't seen him move, but he was there, a breath away, and there was something terrible in his eyes. She couldn't look away from him, mesmerized by the sheer force of his personality. She swallowed hard and shook her head. "Don't, Rafael. Don't try it. I'd fight you and I can be destructive. One of us might get hurt and I wouldn't want that, not after what we've shared. I don't have the control that you have."

His fingers curled around the nape of her neck with exquisite gentleness. With tremendous strength. She knew he could snap her neck if he desired. "Then do not fight me, meu amor."

A prickle of unease went down her spine. Her mouth felt dry and her heart pounded out of control. She took a step back. He glided with her, almost a dance, matching her every movement.

"Rafael." She heard her protest through the sudden roaring in her ears.

His body jerked. His eyes went wide with surprise. He shoved her away from him with such force that she was literally lifted into the air and flew backward. She saw the blood spraying from his chest. Colby's scream was cut off as she landed so hard it knocked the wind out of her. She lay several feet from him, staring in horror as he turned to face away from her. She saw the gaping hole in his back, the river of blood. She hadn't heard the sound of a gun and she was certain she hadn't done such a thing.