5

Rafael waited until the house was quiet. He couldn't tear himself away from Colby. Though hunger beat furiously at him, demanding fulfillment, he refused to heed its call. He would feed later. He could not leave Colby. He found he had less and less control around her. He wanted her, his body raging for release, needing her desperately, needing to complete the ritual to make her wholly his. It was the only way to chain the beast inside of him. It was growing stronger, roaring for release continually. He felt himself close to the edge of madness and knew he was nearly falling over that precipice. He felt it in his every waking moment. And his brother felt it as well. Nicolas monitored him closely, lending him strength when the beast gripped him hard.

One by one the lights shining through the windows went out. He heard the soft murmured words of good night and he felt lonelier and edgier than ever. When he was certain the residents of the house were asleep, he glided across the yard and gained entrance to the house through Colby's open window.

Nearly insubstantial, Rafael floated across the hardwood floor silently, a dark shadow in the night. Colby was sleeping deeply, her long hair spread out on her pillow, skeins of flaming red-gold silk. One hand was curled into a fist and the other was flung out as if reaching for something. He bent over her, his hot gaze resting on his mark on her neck. He eased his weight onto the bed, his hands finding her beneath the covers even as he deliberately fed her erotic dreams, wanting to arouse her, prepare her body, for she was an innocent. Wake, meu lindo amor, I need you to be with me this night.

Colby stirred immediately, drowsy, lashes fluttering, not quite awake. She looked sexy, a temptress. "Are you here again? I've got to stop dreaming about you."

You cannot help yourself when you know you are mine alone. The words shimmered in her mind so that the sound of his voice wouldn't disturb her further. She shook her head, a faint smile greeting him. She looked so beautiful he bent to kiss her. Colby's skin was incredibly soft and he couldn't resist touching her. Rafael stretched out beside her, slowly, lazily, an unhurried movement. He had all night with her. At once he felt the hidden power of the comforter covering her. His fingers found the symbols and he traced them carefully. They were safeguards, Carpathian safeguards woven into the patterns on the quilt. Where had she acquired such a thing? It was a work of art, rare and precious like the woman it guarded.

Rafael turned on his side, studying Colby. He needed to spend every moment in her company while he could. She was a ray of light in his dark world, sunshine and laughter. He had long ago forgotten even his memories of such things, yet now he clung to the light in her. He didn't know if he had ever felt gentle or tender toward another, yet he felt something close to those things each time he looked at her.

She murmured his name softly, her breath warm against his neck. Rafael's body hardened and thickened even more, until he groaned softly, a protest against the urgent demand he couldn't quite control. He dragged her into his arms and lowered his head to the pillow close to hers. Only her thin pajamas separated him from her soft skin and the haven of her body. I want you, querida. I want you almost as much as I need you. He was aching for her, the words that would bind them together for all eternity in his head, on his tongue, so that he tasted them with every breath he drew.

A smile curved her soft mouth, an invitation. Her body moved restlessly against his. He needed her. There was nothing else in his life. He needed her. With an oath, he wrapped his arms tighter and nuzzled the thin material covering her body up out of his way to expose her breasts to the cool night air. To his hot, burning gaze. She was so beautiful and so vulnerable.

I need to touch you, meu lindo amor, just for a few minutes, allow me to touch you. His voice ached with his need. Ached with his hunger. A velvet soft seduction.

Her eyes opened, emerald green, slumberous, sensual, meeting his black hungry gaze with her own dark passion. Without a word, she turned in to him, slipped her arms around him, her body pliant with surrender.

Colby had no real idea if she was awake or asleep, in the middle of an erotic dream or fantasy, but she couldn't turn away from the desperation burning in those eyes. In her dreams, she could have anyone she wanted, do anything she wanted, she wasn't bound by her responsibilities. She wanted him. Wanted the feel of his skin next to her skin. Wanted his mouth on hers, his hands on her. She had wanted him almost from the first moment she had seen him and in her dreams, she didn't have to be afraid that he would control her.

Rafael's breath caught in his throat at the sight of her lying beside him, her top pushed up exposing her perfectly formed breasts. His hand looked dark against her white skin, his palm on her bare midriff, his fingers splayed wide. She looked delicate, almost fragile, while in contrast his bones and muscles were so much larger. Yet in her own way, Colby was tremendously strong.

The ritual binding words imprinted in him long before his birth, burned in his mind while his body was on fire, painful and uncomfortable. In the room across the hall, the little girl stirred. His hand closed over Colby's breast possessively. His mind sought Ginny's. She was opening her window stealthily, sticking her head out to whistle for the dog. Ginny had nightmares of her parents' deaths, of something happening to Colby. Rafael heard the dog enter the room and immediately sent it a command so that it would stay on the child's bed, giving her comfort, but would not detect his presence in the home. Nothing could stop this. Nothing. His mind and body were clamoring for Colby and he knew he couldn't stop. He shielded both Paul and Ginny from waking, sending them into a deep sleep.

He bent his head to the warmth of Colby's skin, his tongue swirling over her breast, indulging his ravenous hunger for her. He felt her response, the way her body tightened and clenched, the way her blood heated and pooled. His hands moved over her slowly, inch by slow inch, pushing her clothing aside so that he had access to her body. He wanted to know every inch of her, wanted to touch her, taste her, inhale her. His mouth was hot and needy as he lowered his head to take possession of her breast. He suckled there, his hand sliding along her ribs, across her flat stomach to linger for a few moments, brushing his fingers over her skin, tracing the faint outline of a birthmark there. It was intriguing enough to warrant a quick foray with his tongue, before he returned to her breast while his hand drifted lower to find the tight thatch of curls at the junction of her legs. She was moist and hot as he pushed his palm against her. At once her hips arced against him in response.

Colby had dreams of her dark lover, arousing her body, his hands exploring every inch of her, his mouth hot and needy, suckling at her breasts, stroking and caressing until she wanted to beg him for release. His mouth was everywhere, kissing and caressing, knowing her body even more intimately than she knew it. She burned for him, needed him, needed his body buried deep inside hers. She opened her eyes again to look at him. Real. Solid. He was naked, his body strong, his muscles rippling with power. His long black hair swept across her aching sensitive breasts, as his tongue swirled around her belly button. She caught at him with both hands.

"What are you doing?" She whispered the words, her body on fire. "And why am I letting you?" Fear thudded in her heart and mind. She'd never felt so needy, so painfully aroused. She should be screaming, but she couldn't quite shake off the veil covering her mind.

He smiled against her flat stomach. "I am courting you." His teeth nipped along the curve of her hip, found the strange birthmark, and scraped at it with small bites. "Persuading you." His tongue eased the ache. His hands opened her thighs wider, stroking, caressing. His finger found the hot core of her, wet with liquid fire, scorching and tight as he slowly inserted his finger deeper and deeper into her body. "I want my body buried in your body. Is that what you want, querida? Do you want me the same way I want you?" Her delicate muscles clenched around him. Hot. Fiery. Moist with need. Watching her face, he withdrew his finger, carefully inserted two, stretching her a little more, inch by inch. "Tell me you want me, Colby. I need to hear you say it." He needed to hear her say it because he had to be with her, share her body, share her skin and blood and bones.

Colby shook her head, tormented beyond all reasoning. Yes, she wanted him, every cell in her body needed him. Her body was wound so tight, the pressure unbearable so that she didn't think she'd survive without him. But he was demanding everything from her. Not a part of her, everything.

And you will give me everything. It was a growl. A command.

"No." She said the word even as he pressed his fingers deeper, even as her body tightened and threatened to shatter into a million fragments, she struggled to keep who and what she was intact.

Rafael could feel her body's response. She wanted him. She moved restlessly, her head turning from side to side on the pillow, a soft sound escaping from her throat. She tried to protest again. He felt it welling up in her as she struggled away from the rising need. He withdrew his fingers and replaced them with his mouth, his tongue probing deep. She cried out, startled, her body rippling with life, fragmenting, imploding, so that she was shocked at the intensity of the waves of pleasure rocking her. She tried to wrench away, the pleasure shattering her, but he clamped his arm over her hips and held her still, drinking her in. He refused to stop, pushing her further, wanting her need to rise in direct proportion to his own voracious hunger.

Colby struggled against the pulse after pulse of sensation tormenting her body, carrying her away when she needed to be anchored. She thrashed beneath him, unable to tamp down the fire racing through her body enough to breathe. She couldn't catch her breath, couldn't think clearly. Fear clutched at her. The sheet knotted in her fists and she tried to pull away from the assault his mouth was making, his tongue flicking and teasing until her nerves were screaming for release.

"You have to stop," she gasped. Colby was completely losing herself in the firestorm of pleasure rushing through her. He was taking her over. She couldn't get away from his mouth and tongue. Her body just kept winding tighter and tighter, burning hotter and hotter until she knew she would explode. Worse, lust was rising, sharp and deadly, the need so strong it terrified her.

She couldn't hold a single thought, not even to save herself. The pleasure was bordering on pain, the pressure building and building. She never wanted him to stop, she wanted to shatter into a million pieces. She wanted to be whatever he needed, go wherever he led. A low cry of terror escaped her as his tongue picked up the rhythm and pulsed deeper into her body. He was ravenous, driving her over the edge ruthlessly as her body twisted and bucked beneath him. Not once, but twice, three times, until one orgasm ran into the other and her mind dissolved and her body blew apart.

He rose above her, shoving her thighs apart to accommodate him, opening her fully to him. His erection was thick and heavy and intimidating, his eyes like flint as he pressed into her slick entrance. She could feel him there, stretching her, just waiting, when her entire body tensed, frustrated, pulsing and throbbing with need. She had the mad desire to impale herself on him, but he held her hips still with hard hands. His expression was raw hunger, his mouth a merciless slash. "Are you going to say no to me again, Colby? Are you going to deny me what is truly mine?" His voice was rough, harsh, his temper swirling over both of them.

She gave a small tormented cry. Was he giving her one last chance to save herself? How could she say no when she needed him now, when everything in her had to have him deep inside her body?

"Are you?" he insisted.

Colby shook her head. She couldn't speak, couldn't breathe, her body on fire, fear flowing like lava through her veins at the thought of what was to come. He was shattering her and reconstructing her, so that she would always crave him, always need him. A part of her recognized it, but she couldn't stop the dark hunger he was arousing in her.

Never again. It was a decree, bit out between his clenched teeth.

Rafael thrust hard, driving deep into her in one hard stroke, knowing she was too innocent for what he was doing, but unable to stop himself. He had centuries of hunger in him, a dark, ravenous hunger that spilled out of him, erupting into a fever of frenzied pounding. She was hot and tight and gripped him with a fire that nearly drove him mad.

"It's too much. It's too much," Colby cried out, desperately trying to push him off of her. He was going to kill her, driving her body so high, the sensations so electric she was losing herself completely.

He caught her wrists in a vise, pinned them to the bed on either side of her head, his mouth taking hers, tongue driving deep as his hips thrust harder, deeper, wanting more, taking more.

The call was on him now, wild and primitive, a need as old as time to seal them together for all eternity. His lifemate. His other half. The words beat at him, rising from his soul as he buried himself deeply into her hot fiery sheath with the world going up in flames and spinning out of control. She was making little gasping sounds and he could feel her muscles tightening, clenching as he switched into a pounding tempo that only fed his voracious hunger.

The need to taste her grew stronger and stronger, more demanding until his mouth left hers, moved down to the warmth of her neck, traced an erotic path lower to scrape his teeth over the tempting beat of her heart. His body clenched, drenched in sweat and his heart thundered and pounded. The demon roared for release, urging him on. He was trembling with such need he thought his entire body might explode in spontaneous combustion. With a groan, Rafael gave in, sinking his teeth deep.

Colby moaned aloud as white-hot whips of lightning seemed to dance through her body. He calmed her, his mind now firmly in hers. Rafael held her still, possessively, while he indulged his appetite, and his body plunged deeply, wildly into hers. She tasted like hot spice and warm honey. He never wanted to stop; the terrible hunger that had haunted him for centuries was, for the first time, satiated by her. Colby. The blood in his veins. His life. His world.

The demon roared for more, for all of it, insisting he stake his claim. For a heartbeat of time the ritual words welled up, desperate to spill out. It was instinct, something deep within him urging him onward, instructing him in the ritual. At once tiny sparks leapt around him, colors of deep blue and silver, little stars rising from the comforter to leap around him in glittering reprimand. The words beat at him needing to be said, demanding he claim her, but Rafael hesitated, the little stars dazzling his eyes. He would be below ground and she would be running the ranch in the daylight, unable to touch him when her heart and soul, her mind, urged her to do so. She would be in hell, driven to the point of insanity while he slept deep beneath the ground.

Rafael immediately swept his tongue across the pinpricks on her breast and lifted his head, breathing heavily, his teeth clenched as he fought for control. He uttered his command softly to her, holding the enthrallment now. He lowered his body until her mouth was nearly against his chest, wanting her to take enough blood for a true exchange. He slashed a wound across his chest and pressed her mouth to the gash to replenish what he had taken, holding the back of her head so she couldn't escape, his body pinning hers beneath him. The moment her lips moved against his skin, he shuddered and her body tightened, an endless spiral gripping her, gripping him. Little jackhammers seemed to be tripping in his head. Fire consumed his blood. He drove into her harder and faster, his body slick with sweat, with pleasure.

With a small curse he clenched his teeth to prevent the words from slipping through as he stopped her from feeding. He closed the wound on his chest, bent to take possession of her mouth, releasing her from the enthrallment so that his mouth could dominate hers, sweeping every trace of his taste from the silken interior. He surged deeper into her, harder, moving like a piston, claiming her body when he couldn't take her as his species demanded.

Colby began to fight him, an instinctive, almost mindless battle against the pleasure so intense she felt she might not live through it. She didn't understand how her body could be so out of control, hips rising to desperately meet his, gasping sobs pleading with him. For what? For more? Always more. He was taking her apart with pleasure. She could feel her body tighten around his, her muscles clenching until she felt a scream welling up. The orgasm burst over her, endless, mindless, wiping her away so there was no Colby without Rafael. She felt him swell even thicker, until his hands gripped her hips hard and he thrust harshly into the tight, slick folds, over and over, sending her tumbling into another orgasm as he erupted deep into her body.

Rafael lay over her, his veins singing with excitement, with exaltation. He might be sated for the moment, but he wanted more. He would live and breathe to have her again and again, to feel her body coming apart around his. He buried his face in the warmth of her neck, feeling her body shudder, feeling the aftershocks tighten her muscles around him. She was breathing hard, her heart racing. He braced himself with his arms and lifted his body carefully from hers. The way her slick heat poured over him as he emerged from her sent his blood pounding all over again.

Colby touched her tongue tentatively to her swollen lips. Her breasts ached. She was sore between her thighs. She couldn't look at him. Couldn't look away from him. She had no idea having sex could be like that, a pleasure so deep it actually bordered on pain. A hunger so strong it bordered on insanity.

His fingertips brushed her face, her neck, trailed over her breasts. Her nipples tightened, and between her legs she felt an instant throbbing response. Colby turned her face away from him. "What have you done?" She whispered it, grateful for the darkness. "What have you done to me?" Tears burned behind her eyelids. She would never be free of his sexual web. Colby, who had always been free, always been in charge, would be forever addicted to the things this man could do to her body. And that terrified her.

His tongue rasped over the underside of her breast, dipped into her belly button, and traced her birthmark once again in a leisurely foray. He kept his body firmly over hers. She was exhausted and sore, but Colby might try anything. He could feel her fear, alive and breathing in the room with him. "I told you that you were mine."

"I don't understand this." There were tears in her voice. "How did you get here? How did I let this happen?"

He lifted his head, lazy fa├žade gone. "Do not cry." Deus. If she did that, she'd take him apart. He gentled his voice. "Tell me why you fear me so much."

"How can you ask me that? I'm naked in my own bedroom with you and you just crawled through my body as if you owned it. You take control of me somehow. I can't get away from you." She wasn't fighting him. She was lying beneath him like a sacrifice, an offering. She couldn't even manage to summon the energy to do battle because she knew it wouldn't matter. She would never win. Rafael was too powerful and he owned her body and maybe even her soul. "You don't have any idea what you've done to me, do you?"

The despair in her voice raked at him, clawed at his gut. Rafael touched her mind. Colby had thoughts of waiting for the right man. She wanted her first time to be with someone she loved. She had visions of a tender, romantic union.

His hands framed her face. "I know that I was rough, pequena. But I am the right man for you. I felt your pleasure. You were drowning in pleasure." And she had been. Was she disappointed because he was so rough sexually? Damn it, he made absolutely certain he had given her pleasure. Why would she dream of some tame man who would never satisfy her the way he could? If he bent his head and took her breast in his mouth, she would shiver with need. Hunger would flare instantly. He knew it. Why didn't she? Who was this other man she wanted? Rafael could feel the fangs aching to explode but he fought back the urge, struggling to understand. Her sorrow beat at him. Was it so impossible for her to love him? She loved Paul and Ginny. She had loved her stepfather. She even loved Ben. He was beginning to detest Ben.

"I was drowning," she said, her voice quiet. "You've taken me over without my consent, Rafael. I have no pride, no way out. You left me with nothing."

He had been prepared for anger, but not this quiet hopelessness. Colby was a fighter. He could turn anger to sexual need. He had no idea what to do with her as she lay staring up at the ceiling, her heart so heavy he ached inside.

As a young Carpathian he had thought often of what his lifemate would be like. Later, he'd dreamed of having a woman of his own. As the endless centuries passed, he despaired of ever having one. Colby was an unexpected and treasured gift and yet she didn't feel what he felt. She was supposed to love him. Supposed to want him. A part of him stirred with anger, the animal in him that demanded a mate. The man tried to work out what was wrong. She belonged to him. They had shared unbelievable mind-numbing sex, their bodies so compatible, he couldn't imagine anything better. He was already eager for more, yet she was far away from him in her mind. She believed he might own her body, but was determined he would never touch her heart. He had no way to combat that.

What was he doing wrong? "I do not understand what you are telling me. We merged. I felt it. I know you felt it. How could that mean I left you with nothing?"

Colby wanted to turn away from him. She wanted to be left alone to figure out what she was going to do. There was no running away. No pretending it hadn't happened or that it wouldn't happen again. "I have no choice. You left me no choice."

Her sorrow beat at him. He would have preferred her anger.

He could only nod in agreement. Of course he left her no choice. There was no choice for either of them. She was born for him. "You do not object to my touch."

"Of course I object to your touch." Anger was beginning to smolder in the pit of her stomach. It darkened her eyes and little sparks leapt around the comforter.

Heat flared instantly, his jaw tightening. "You lie both to yourself and to me." His hand slid possessively over her breast, tugged at her nipple. He bent his head, watching her face, watching the helpless desire in her gaze, felt her body arc into his mouth. Deliberately he slid his hand between her legs to find her damp. He lifted his head to look at her. "Your body does not lie."

She slapped his face as hard as she could. She didn't have a good angle or a lot of room for movement, but the sound was loud in the room. "What you did to me was the same as rape. I don't care how much you lie to yourself, but it was. And you can do it again and again, but unless you have my consent, which you don't, it is rape when you touch me. I despise you. I despise what you can do to me. I don't want it. I don't even like you, let alone want you touching my body."

Anger was hot and ugly, churning in his gut, welling up like a fountain that she dared to defy him, dared to strike him, worst of all, dared to call him a rapist. Next to vampire, it was the worst condemnation he could think of. He slammed her wrists to the sheets, rising above her, his mouth coming down hard on hers. He meant it as a punishment, but the moment he touched her, the moment his tongue swept inside her mouth, he also swept inside her mind.

There was such pain. She was desolated. She didn't like him, didn't trust him. She had no tender feelings of being his lifemate as he had for her. Shocked, Rafael pulled away from her and sat up, pushing his fingers through his hair. She meant it. She wasn't lying to him. Her body responded, but it was only her body. He had aroused her, knowing she was inexperienced, thinking she wouldn't be uncomfortable when they came together. He had not wanted their first time together to be painful to her, but she hadn't wanted it at all. She hadn't wanted him at all. He pressed his fingertips to his temples.

What had he done? Lifemates were meant to be together for all eternity. Her reactions made no sense to him. He thought of her every moment of his existence. She wanted him out of her life.

Rafael. You are weeping.

Nicolas's voice moved through him, making him aware of the burning in his chest. Rafael touched his cheek and found a blood red tear. He didn't weep. He was a man. A Carpathian. A hunter of the vampire. I understand none of this. It is her pain I feel. I have taken something precious from her.

Her virginity belonged to you. Nicolas was pragmatic about it. She has no choice but to accept you. Convert her, bring her home, and she will eventually come around.

Rafael winced. It hadn't been the taking of her virginity, it had been the taking of her right to choose. He swept both hands through his hair. Was he so close to becoming a monster that he already behaved as one? Is that it, Nicolas? Are we both so close to turning that we cannot behave in an honorable fashion? If that is the case, we no longer belong on this earth.

Colby rolled away from him, her back to him. Her body throbbed and burned and she felt sick with wanting him. How was she going to get through the rest of the night? The rest of her life? She could taste him in her mouth. Feel him in her skin. She ached for him between her thighs. She may not want him, but she needed him the way an addict did a drug. The terrible pressure in her body would never go away without him. It wouldn't matter what man she turned to, Rafael's possession of her would haunt her every relationship. She burned. There was no other word for it. She lay there crying, tears running down her face, despising him, despising herself, but she wanted him buried deep in her body, hard and hot and taking her beyond any place she could go herself. He had made her his whore, pure and simple.

"You are not my whore." Rafael was appalled that the thought had come into her mind. "Where do these thoughts come from?" He laid his hand gently on the small of her back, fingers splayed wide. "I'm sorry, Colby. I did not understand what you were telling me. I did not think beyond my need for you." He was sorry for the pain he caused, for taking her without permission, but try as he might, he couldn't be sorry for possessing her. He ached inside. He wanted to find a way to fix his mistake, but without knowing why she wasn't responding to him other than physically, he had no way of doing so. He wanted more than her physical love. She was his lifemate and she was supposed to love him wholly.

His palm, meant to comfort, burned a hole through her back. Sent electricity sizzling through her bloodstream. Her body ached for his. She buried her face in the coolness of her pillow with a soft, desperate cry of protest.

"Colby," he coaxed softly, "look at me."

"I can't. I can't stop crying. Go away." Her words were muffled.

"You know it is impossible for me to leave you like this. You need me. Let me help you." He swept her hair from the nape of her neck and brushed a kiss there. He couldn't leave, not when she was in tears and her body was screaming for his. Every instinct he possessed demanded he see to her needs. He kissed his way down her spine to the small of her back. "Let me take care of you."

"I can never look at you again. After tonight, I never want to see you again." Colby turned over, her eyes swimming with tears. "I mean it. I'll never be able to face you if I have to have you do this". She needed him. She was terrified to let him touch her. The moment he did, she would be lost. She knew that. She was certain of it.

Rafael didn't wait for her to fully make up her mind. He was already damned either way. If he left her frustrated sexually she would hate him and if he satisfied her she would hate him. His body was already hard and hot and making demands of its own.

"Colby, I am not a gentle man." It was the only way he could warn her. He couldn't find the emotion, even when he wanted it, not when it came to sex. He was dominant and passionate and demanded she follow his lead. He trailed his hand from her lips to her breasts, making her shiver with response.

"There's a bit of news I wouldn't have known," she whispered and closed her eyes as he bent to take her peaked nipple in his mouth.

At once he lifted his head to pin her with his gaze. "Do not look away from me. You have to know that this is not just me taking you, querida. Not without your consent." Her sorrow was killing him. He ached inside. It was a terrible feeling, claws raking his heart and lungs from the inside out. He touched a tear on her lashes, brought it to his mouth.

Even that was sensual. Everything about him, his eyes, his mouth, his smoldering expression. He didn't have to touch her to make her body come alive. "You're taking all my pride, Rafael," she said.

He despised the sadness in her voice. He heard his own cry, deep in his mind, a cry of pain and sorrow as his despair merged with hers. "You accused me of something vile, meu amor. For me, you are the only woman I will ever have in my life. I thought it was a mutual feeling between us." The shock still rocked him.

All the while he talked, his hands moved possessively over her. Large, strong hands that cupped her breasts and teased her nipples. That swirled small circles across her stomach and slid between her thighs. Colby gave in because there was no other choice. She was desperate for his body. If he didn't assuage the terrible hunger building inside of her, she didn't know what she was going to do.

"How can you make me feel this way, Rafael? I'm so afraid, but it's worse without you."

He kissed her throat, his hair sliding over her sensitized skin making her shudder with pleasure. "You do not ever have to be without me, Colby. Lifemate is forever. Tonight, be in my world with my laws. I can do no other than to see to your every happiness. Your health and needs and desires will be forever mine." He kissed his way down the valley between her breasts. "My world was one of darkness until you gave me back life. I know absolutely you are everything to me. You will always be everything. I may command you in bed"-he swirled his tongue around her beloved belly button-"but you command me in all other things."

His voice was a soft seduction in itself. "I can take you places no other man can take you and always I will keep you safe. No man could want you more. No man could ever desire you or need you the way that I do. I am as much a prisoner as you feel you are. The need to be with you is as deep and as elemental as your need to be with me. Find a way to love me a little, Colby."

His tongue stroked and swirled, moved over her skin, his teeth scraping, adding a small bite of pain that only seemed to enhance her pleasure. His hands shaped her body, the pads of his fingers finding every sensitive spot so that she jumped and writhed beneath him, flaming to life. Her blood rushed with a kind of liquid fire. She couldn't find the strength to do more than lie there while he examined every inch of her, tasted every inch, learned a very thorough, intimate knowledge of her body. Tears burned in her eyes for the ache in his voice. There was honesty, even purity in his tone. He meant the things he said. His words, his absolute assurance, frightened her, but it drew her to him, closer to the fire. She tried to hold on to thought, to understand, but his hands and his mouth were destroying her so it was impossible to keep a single thought.

Heat seared through her body, flames danced over her skin, licking every inch of her until she was crying out again and again. His name. For him. Needing him. She crushed his silken hair in her fists, his face a sensual etching above her. He was everywhere. Around her, on her, and, God help her, she wanted him in her. She caught at his hips as he pressed tightly against her and she felt his invasion. Slow this time. Stretching her with incredible fire. He watched her face, watched as she took him into her body, as he pushed through her tight folds, deeper and deeper into her. She was mesmerized by the expression on his face, the harsh sensuality. The raw passion. He sank into her until he was lodged so tightly she felt too full, too stretched.

She couldn't help the way her muscles tightened around him. The action heightened her pleasure, but he gasped and gripped her hips. "You are so tight, Colby. Feel what I am feeling when I take you like this." He merged his mind with hers, and she felt his raging fire. Felt his need for her submission, the need of soft skin sliding against his hard body. The small cries he wrung from her added to what amounted to ecstasy.

He reared back, plunged hard. Colby heard his name echoing through her mind. She screamed it, not aloud, but more intimately.

"More. Give me more," he commanded and began to drive into her.

She had no choice but to obey. Her body had a will of its own, arching her hips, tightening her muscles so that she pulsed around him. His arm caught her hips and held her down while he thrust roughly into her, sending shockwaves through her body. The tension spread, grew, the heat building and building and never relenting. He was merciless, even when she pleaded for release, even when she begged him. Every frenzied thrust wound her body tighter and tighter until she felt the strange hazing in her mind. She wouldn't live through this tormented pleasure.

"Rafael." He was her only refuge in the storm of lust and hunger. She couldn't take it, couldn't survive it. The sensations took her body over and built a raging inferno in her. Her body tightened around his, the orgasm ripping through her, over her, tearing up through her body until she screamed with the release of it. It lasted an eternity, holding her in its thrall, breaking over her like waves as she felt him empty himself, filling her with his hot release.

Tears burned behind her eyes. She jammed her fist into her mouth to keep from screaming aloud. It was bad enough that he'd heard her in her mind.

"Again, Colby, say my name. Know who I am. Know whose body is buried deep inside your body." He whispered the words against the swell of her breast.

"I know who you are," she said.

"And you know I am not some vile rapist. I belong here, inside you, right here in your heart and mind, in your body. I am not ever going to give you up. Look at me, meu amor, know I am telling you the truth. I will never give you up. You have to come to terms with the fact that we belong together."

His eyes burned fiercely, a dark reminder he was a predator she had taken into her home, her body, her life. She sighed, her body rocking over and over, little aftershocks she couldn't control. The things he said didn't make sense, yet she felt their rightness. He believed she felt as he did when he'd entered her room. He was driven to possess her by some law of his people she had no real knowledge of.

"Rafael." She murmured his name, her body so exhausted she could barely think. "I don't understand any of this. I don't know why you believe these things or why they feel right to my body. I'll try, though. That's all I can promise. I'll try to understand. But not tonight. I'm so tired." She turned her head away from him, drifting as he slowly allowed their bodies to separate. She felt his mouth at her breast, his hands cupping her bottom. Each strong pull as he suckled sent more shock waves dancing through her body, but this time she was too worn out to do more than lay quietly, drifting off to sleep as he kissed his way back up her body before allowing their bodies to separate. Strangely, she might have protested had she had the energy. Instead she snuggled close to the protection of his body and slept.

Rafael lay beside her until the gray light was creeping through the bedroom window and he knew he could wait no longer to hunt prey. Reluctantly he slipped from her bed, arranging her exhausted body in a much more comfortable position. He wrapped her protective quilt close around her.

Rafael bent once more to her neck, wanting his mark fresh on her, a brand for the rest of the world to see. For her to see. His ancient blood would flow hotly in her veins calling for him, his scent would cling to her. The mind meld between them would be stronger than ever. He would know where she was every moment. There was nowhere she could go that he would not find her.

To prevent dishonoring himself by sealing them together before he had worked out the safety of her brother and sister, Rafael left her to hunt prey. He must feed soon if he had any hope of maintaining self-control. He would seek the ground as early as possible to prevent going back to her and forcibly taking her for his own.

The moment he stepped outside and inhaled the night, he felt the disturbance. It was subtle. A small feeding of power into the air. A seeking. It was so light he couldn't get a fix on the direction, but he felt the taint of evil. At once he reached for his brother.

A vampire, Nicolas. A powerful, ancient one. It is nearly dawn yet he has not gone to ground and he knows we are near him. His power is subtle, one I cannot get a direction on for the hunt.

Your woman draws him. You must turn her and take her back to our home.

There was weariness in Nicolas's voice, as if his fight with the darkness was becoming too much, lasting too long, and he was slowly succumbing.

You have been using your strength to keep me from the darkness, Rafael guessed.

You are so close. She is not helping by fighting you. Take the woman and let us leave this place and go back to where we belong. I will hunt the vampire while you secure the woman.

Rafael turned the offer over in his mind. With every kill, the darkness stained their souls, took them over until there was nothing left of who and what they stood for. Nicolas was too empty, too long without solace. Rafael had an anchor. If he took possession of Colby, tied her to him for all eternity, he could safely hunt the vampire and rid the area of the danger. Nicolas and he would both be safe from the danger of embracing the life of the undead.

I will hunt this one. Nicolas. He is strong and in hiding, but I have his scent and he will not escape the justice of our people. He is not acting normal. There are no kills, no unexplained deaths. The murdered man was killed by a human, not a vampire. And I met a woman of psychic talent, a strong telepath. She knew what I was. Something is happening here I do not understand.

I will come if you need me.

Rafael wanted Nicolas far from the danger of a hunt. I will call should I need assistance. He broke the connection to his brother and moved swiftly away from the ranch, feeling for the vampire, for a blank spot that would give away the lair of the undead. Evil was in his nostrils, the stench foul and unclean, but he could not pursue what permeated the air. There was no direction. Nothing at all to define a trail. There was only the certain knowledge that a powerful vampire was in the area. Everyone was in danger.

He found sustenance in the small town, drinking his fill to replenish his strength. He would need much in the coming days. And he would need all his courage to face Colby after he changed her life for all time.