Dax held out his hand to her. Riley couldn't look away from his eyes. The flames burned and leapt, a fiery glow that threatened to consume her. Her very core caught fire, burning in answer, burning for him. The combination of his potent masculine scent surrounding her and his glowing eyes mesmerized her. She took a compulsive step forward, needing him just as much as she needed the air to breathe.

She didn't remember moving after that first step, but she stood in front of him, close, so close she could feel the incredible heat of his body. He burned with desire-for her. It was there in his eyes, in those leaping flames, the way he looked at her as if she belonged to him-with him.

He seemed to know her, know everything about her, know exactly what she wanted and needed. He seemed to have found a way inside her soul, her heart. Everything about him appealed to her. His smile made her world light up. He gave her courage and made her a better person. She'd fallen for him like the proverbial ton of bricks.

His hand cupped her chin, turning her face up to his. His gaze burned through her, branded her, stamping his possession into her very bones. The air refused to leave her lungs. She found herself staring up at his chiseled, perfect face, a little lost.

She couldn't hide anything from him. He knew her every innermost thought. She felt vulnerable and exposed, caught in a bright spotlight, but she didn't want to escape. He knew everything about her, what she wanted, who she was, what she stood for. Her deepest fears-and none of it mattered to him. Why should she try to hide that she wanted him with every single fiber of her being? He would know anyway. She wasn't ashamed of it. He was a good man, the only one she'd ever considered giving her body to, let alone her heart.

Dax cupped her face in his hands and bent his head to hers. "You are certain this is what you want, Riley? I'm what you want?"

Even his voice, that dark warm molasses, a slow pouring of molten lava into her veins, sent desire spiraling through her body.

Kiss me. She thought it. Whispered it. Merged her mind with his and sent the image. She needed him to kiss her. She'd been waiting all of her life for Dax to kiss her.

Dax's mouth, that oh-so-perfect mouth, curved into a smile. His white teeth flashed. So straight, but definitely sharp enough to take a bite out of her. Her heart leapt toward his. Her pulse thundered in her ears. As his head came down toward hers, the ground shifted under her feet. Her lungs burned for air. He was so beautiful, this man who was so strong, so fierce, yet protective and gentle with her.

His lips brushed across hers, featherlight, warm, so familiar now, a maelstrom of erotic sensation. She could kiss him forever and it would never be long enough.

Dax stroked a caress down her face, his fingers lingering on her smooth skin. She seemed so young to him. He realized in her world, she was old enough to know what she was doing, but he felt very protective toward her.

"Riley ..." His heart protested, but he couldn't live with himself if he didn't protect her. "You don't have to do this."

"It's what I want," she assured.

She looked at him with stars in her eyes. His belly clenched hotly. She was such a mixture of innocence and temptress.

His thumb stroked back and forth across her stubborn chin. "Once I bind us together there is no going back. It isn't the same as in your world, Riley. You can't choose to be with me to save me from damnation. You have to want to be with me. You have to know what you're getting into. I'm Carpathian, not human. My rules are not always going to be the same as yours. My world is dangerous."

When she would have protested, he laid his thumb over her lips, stilling her. "Riley, I won't be able to take it back once we cross this bridge. You won't be comfortable being apart from me. You can't live in two worlds. Eventually, I'll have to bring you fully into mine with all it entails."

She frowned at him. "Gary told me if you don't claim your lifemate, you're in danger of becoming vampire."

He shook his head. "I will not turn. That is not a consideration in your decision. I do not want you to give yourself to me because of physical attraction, or a sense of duty."

Riley reached up to touch his face, tracing the lines there with a feather-light touch he felt all the way to his bones.

"Silly man. How can I not want to be with you? We fit. Can't you feel it?"

Dax took her hand and pressed a kiss into the center of her palm. "There is no other for me. I know you're the one. But we're talking about a different world. You see one side of me, sivamet. You don't look very carefully at anything else. You don't want to see."

"That doesn't mean I don't know it's there. I'm choosing to enter your world slowly, but I know it's right for me. What do I have to hold me? A career I'm no longer enamored with? I have no family. I feel alive when I'm with you. I want this, Dax, for myself. I hear what everyone says when they sit around the campfire. They're afraid of you, not Gary and Jubal, although even they're leery, but I'm inside your head. I'm safe with you."

He tried one more time, but already his heart sang, his blood surged and he allowed himself to believe. "It won't always be easy. I won't always be easy."

"I'll take one step at a time and as long as you're patient with me, we'll get there," Riley assured.

Dax curled his fingers around the nape of her neck and drew her closer. "You don't lack for courage, do you?"

"Actually I do," she corrected. "You seem to make me much braver."

"It will take great courage to come fully into my world, Riley," he cautioned.

He bent his head to hers because it was impossible to resist her any longer. Every cell in his body cried out for her. His mouth found hers. He took his time, resisting the urgent need sweeping through him like a tidal wave. He kissed her gently, pouring himself into her, his need of her, his love of her, his knowledge that she was his world and he would always, always stand for her.

Her mouth was sinfully delicious. Hot and velvet soft. He could kiss her for an eternity, over and over and never come up for air. The wind played a song over his body, fanning that relentless fire smoldering in the pit of his belly. Crimson-golden flames rose, leaping to race beneath his skin, spreading like a firestorm through him.

Dax sucked her lower lip into the hot cavern of his mouth, groaning softly with need. His teeth tugged her lush lip, biting gently, showing restraint when he wanted to devour her. She was trembling, her breath coming in shallow, ragged gasps. Her eyes, when he pulled back to look at her face, were enormous, watching his every move. He could hear her heart pounding, her blood pumping so fast through her veins it was a wonder her heart hadn't burst.

Riley stared up at Dax. Flames leapt and burned in his eyes. His skin glowed crimson and gold, radiating light, as if deep inside beneath the hard frame, a fire raged. He looked absolutely confident and so beautiful she couldn't believe she hadn't conjured him up in a dream. He was the hottest, sexiest man she'd ever come across. Just looking at him made her weak, desire lashing inside her belly with curling hot licks.

Gently he ran his fingers down her cheek to the corner of her mouth. "I want you so much, Riley, even my deep slumber was disturbed by the thought of the things I want to do to you."

Deep inside, her muscles clenched tightly, arousal teasing her thighs and breasts. His eyes glowed, mesmerizing her. The fire leapt wildly behind the many facets so instead of one, there were multiple flames burning with a mixture of lust and such intense hunger a shiver of fear slipped down her spine.

"There is no one safer in this world from me, than you, Riley," he assured, a hint of tenderness creeping into his voice. "I would never harm you."

He cupped her chin, his thumb sliding back and forth across the small dent there hypnotically. She couldn't look away from him, away from that perfect mouth with his lengthening teeth. He made no attempt to hide his teeth or his desire from her. Her heart slammed hard in her chest.

Dax laid his hand over her breast, exquisitely gentle. "Let your heart hear mine, sivamet. Mine calls to yours, allow yours to answer."

Her heart felt as though it was being squeezed in a vise. His voice was smoky, velvet soft, playing along her nerve endings. And his palm, barely there, curving around her left breast left her lungs burning for air.

"Take a breath," he advised, his voice wrapping her up in sheer seduction.

Riley tried to do what he said, inhaling when he did, exhaling to keep from fainting at his feet. Never in her life had she been so affected by a man. He was so in control and she was both terrified and desperate for him.

I am not altogether certain I'm fully in control, he confessed. The words brushed against the inside of her mind, a slow molasses that poured into every shy and lonely crack, filling her with anticipation. And desperation does not begin to describe how much I want you.

Her gaze locked with his. Those flames burned intensely-for her. Her heart settled into the rhythm of his. Her breathing followed his. He was her anchor as he led her into an unfamiliar world.

"I want this, Dax," she said as firmly as her trembling body would allow. She meant it. The shivering was a mixture of fear and anticipation.

He waved his hand, and in the middle of the field of night flowers, there, in the veils of mist on the mountain where she was born, was a large four-poster bed, draped in white. She recognized the canopy as one from a picture she'd shown her mother from a magazine when she'd been a teen. The bed was just as beautiful as the one in the photograph, the wood a deep golden hue and carved with waves and whorls.

Dax took her hand and led her through the flowers, the scent of him, so potent, surrounding her, making her a little light-headed. Deep inside her most feminine core, the ache was sweet and terrible, as she wound through that narrow trail to come to stand by the side of her fantasy bed.

He bent his head, his mouth finding hers with urgent demand even as his hands slipped to the hem of her shirt. His kiss left her dizzy with need. When he lifted his head, he slowly pulled her shirt off, leaving her standing in her lacy lavender bra. She shivered as the mist touched her skin. Dax stepped back, looking down at her with his blazing eyes, and at once she was warm, the temperature in her body soaring in spite of the cool vapor surrounding them.

He brushed his skin over the swell of her breasts. "You're so beautiful. Your skin is unbelievable, soft and flawless." He breathed the words. "I lay awake, unable to move, my body locked in stone, and I went over and over what I hungered to do to you. I knew every inch of you. I want to taste every inch of you, kiss every inch, claim every inch."

Riley drew her breath in swiftly. Every move he made, everything he said, the way he said it in that hot, sexy voice, even the way he looked at her, made her weak, left her body damp and throbbing. She was more than willing to give herself to him in any way that he wanted.

"Te avio palafertiilam," he whispered softly in his own language. His hand found the scrunchy in her hair and pulled it free from the end of her long braid. "You are my lifemate." His fingers tugged at the weave until her hair cascaded to her waist in a long flowing waterfall of blue-black silk.

The timbre of his voice changed as he spoke in the ancient language. The words sounded like a command, the deep masculine voice coming from somewhere inside of him. As he spoke everything in her responded, a flight-or-fight instinct, yet at the same time, her inner muscles clenched tightly, a spasm of sensuous pleasure she couldn't prevent.

He bunched her hair in one fist, pulling her head back as his mouth came down on hers, demanding entrance. He swallowed her soft gasp as she stroked her tongue along his a little tentatively. He pulled her closer, his other hand shaping her body, smoothing down her back to the curve of her buttocks, his palm sliding over her rounded cheek to press her even closer as he pushed his heavy erection against her. A small keening moan escaped her throat.

A part of her was still terrified of what she was doing, especially when she could feel his lengthened teeth with her tongue, or scraping along her skin ever so gently. She knew he was using restraint, going slow for her, but her body was raging at her, desperate for his possession.

Dax feathered kisses from the corner of her mouth, across her jaw to her chin. His teeth nipped at the small dent there. "entolam kuulua, avio palafertiilam." He said the words against her chin, his voice deep and commanding. "I claim you as my lifemate," he translated as his hands slipped around to unlatch her bra. He drew the lace from her body and tossed it aside. His heated gaze dropped to her exposed breasts, his breath catching in his lungs.

Standing in front of him, half naked, with the way he was looking at her, made Riley feel both wanton and sexy. She reached up and traced the lines in his face, the shape of his jaw and his contoured lips.

"You truly are the most beautiful man I've ever seen," she admitted.

He cupped her breasts in his hands, his thumbs brushing her nipples before he dipped his head and ran a trail of fire from her chin down her throat to the tips of her breasts. His mouth was hotly erotic, tugging and pulling, his tongue stroking, teeth scraping gently. Just when she thought her legs would give out, he feathered kisses down her ribs to her flat stomach.

"Ted kuuluak, kacad, kojed." His tongue swirled around her belly button and then dipped inside her. Those crimson-flamed eyes looked up at her as he translated. "I belong to you."

Her heart stuttered at his declaration. The idea of Dax belonging to her was an incredible rush. She brushed her fingers through his closely cropped hair. She loved how his thick hair stood in spikes, yet felt as soft as down.

Dax went to his knees, hands at the waistband of her cargo pants, undoing the button while his smoldering gaze held hers captive. She couldn't breathe again, the sight of him kneeling in front of her, looking at her as if he was going to devour her any minute sent her body into a melting pool of feminine arousal. With almost languid movements, he unzipped the pants and slipped his hands inside, hooking his thumbs in the waistband to slowly slide them from her body. He took her lacy lavender panties right along with the cargo pants, leaving her body fully exposed and vulnerable to him.

Where had her boots gone? The thought was fleeting. She knew she had them on, but suddenly her feet were bare and she was naked. His teeth sent little stinging caresses from her navel to her hip where his tongue found an intriguing indentation and remained there for a few moments, indulging his whims and driving out any questions she might have had. Who could possibly think while he was kissing and licking her belly and hip bones, his hands kneading and massaging her buttocks?

"elidamet andam. I offer my life for you."

His hands went to her legs, pushing them apart, and he ran his tongue up the inside of her left thigh, while that soft, spiked hair brushed up her right.

She was not going to survive. Riley gripped his shoulders, keening softly into the night. She threw her head back as her body pulsed and throbbed. His mouth left little flames up and down both thighs, his teeth nipping, his tongue easing the sting while she held on to her sanity by a thread.

He raised his head, his hands on her bare hips, his warm breath teasing the vee of curls at the junction of her legs. "Pesamet andam." Still retaining possession of her hips, he stood, fully clothed, making her feel all the more vulnerable and sexy. "I give you my protection." His hands slid to her waist and he walked her backward until the backs of her knees hit the bed and her legs buckled.

Dax guided her down to the bed, helping her to lie on her back. Riley felt caught in an erotic dream. His hands were gentle as he positioned her on the soft silken sheets, but so firm and strong, she felt as if she couldn't move, her body molten lead, heated beyond the ability to do anything but wait in desperation.

Above her, the mist hovered like a white blanket, swirling into shapes of glittering stars, great constellations untouched by the thick ash that still hovered in the air just beyond the clouds of vapor. She knew Dax had created that beautiful outdoor ceiling for her. The wind touched her heated skin, the cool brush against her burning skin only adding to the urgency of need.

He grasped her ankles and pulled her legs apart, exposing her most vulnerable entrance to him. Again, his hands were gentle, but his grip unbreakable should she have tried to twist away. Her gaze jumped to his face.

"Uskolfertiilamet andam." He swept his shirt over his head and tossed it away. "I give you my allegiance."

Riley felt her heart jump toward him in response to his declaration. Something inside of her shifted. She could feel the difference, but there was a roar in her ears, blood pounding in tempo with his.

One hand shackled her ankle, holding her still as he shed the rest of his clothes with a single thought as most of his kind usually did. Her gaze drifted from his face to his broad chest and flat stomach, lower still to his thick, long erection.

Her eyes widened; her skin went from raging hot to ice-cold and then back to hot again. Both fists curled into the sheets to hold herself still as he lowered his head to kiss her calf. His lips felt cool against her skin, but sent those fingers of arousal skittering up her thigh. She nearly pulled her leg away, but his grip held her firm. His mouth moved higher, his kisses interspersed with little nips of his sharp teeth and languid licks from his velvet tongue.

He paused for a moment, his lips against her inner thigh, his hair sliding over her damp opening so that streaks of lightning arced through her. "Sivamet andam." His eyes met hers. "I give you my heart."

Air rushed out of her lungs. Besides being the sexiest man alive to her, the sincerity in his voice-in his eyes-mesmerized her. There was something much deeper, a tenderness, that made her weak. He was handing over his heart into her keeping. The idea of it was humbling to her. Dax was an ancient warrior, a different species altogether, more feral and powerful than the animals and yet he was giving himself into her keeping.

He turned his head, a lazy languid motion, as if he had all the time in the world when she was clawing at the sheet and tossing her head, her body no longer her own.

"Your scent is intoxicating," he whispered against her mound, his warm breath adding to the tension coiling tighter and tighter.

He was killing her slowly. Slowly. Every word he said. Every move he made. His touch. His mouth. His kisses. The feel of his body, so hard and unyielding against the softness of hers. He inhaled deeply once more and she realized that as the flowers in the field had taken on his scent for her, the strange petals held her scent for him.

He lifted his head to look down at her, those red-orange flames tinged with gold now. She could see stark, raw hunger stamped in the lines of his face. So sensual. Her entire body seemed to clench, waiting, anticipating. She held her breath. Her heart seemed to stop.

"Sielamet andam." The flames in his eyes leapt and burned with a fiery glow. "I give you my soul."

She was burning now, her head tossing back and forth on the sheet. She had his heart and soul. His allegiance. She wanted his body as well. Right. Now.

"Please, Dax," she whispered, a plea, a prayer.

"You have to be ready for me, sivamet. I want only pleasure for you for your first time."

"I am ready," she nearly sobbed. Her hands went to his hair, tugging on those silky spikes, trying to bring him over the top of her. Everything in her ached for him, pulsed and throbbed and demanded him. The tension coiled tighter and tighter, the pressure building until she thought her body might just implode.

She felt his tongue swiping over her and she bucked mindlessly. He clamped one arm firmly around her hips to hold her still.

"So impatient. Don't move."

"You're asking the impossible," she gasped.

He lifted his head just enough to give her one look of reprimand. His eyes burned over her, nearly all red now, glowing with a fire threatening to burn out of control.

Riley curled her fingers tighter in his closely cropped hair, holding on for all she was worth. She truly didn't think she would survive the gathering pressure, the intensity of the heat. Beneath the layer of his skin she caught the impression of scales and, like his eyes, his skin was fiery red. The temperature of his body, like hers, had gone soaring, as if both of them had caught fire. The red-gold dust from those scales rained down around them.

His mouth touched her again, his tongue stroked wickedly, and then stabbed deep. She nearly convulsed, bucking, her hips jerking in spite of the restraint of his arm. Her muscles clenched hard. A small keening wail escaped. He began a slow, leisurely assault, tongue and teeth, driving her out of her mind. Sounds escaped his throat, hot and desperate, as if he couldn't get enough of the taste of her. His arms tightened, holding her still as he licked and sucked and took small nips with teeth while she writhed under him, her head tossing and her body spilling more and more hot cream into his mouth. Pleasure gripped her stomach, rising sharply as he pushed a finger into her.

I'm not going to survive. Fear skittered through her mind as her body coiled tighter and tighter. He was so sexy, hot beyond her imagining, and there was no possible way she could keep up.

Hold on to me. His voice was rough with stark lust.

Dax lifted his head, possession in his glittering eyes. Her stomach spasmed as he wedged himself between her thighs, lifting her hips, positioning himself at her entrance. She could feel him tight against her, so hot and thick, velvet over steel. A small sobbing plea escaped. She couldn't wait another moment.

His fingers gripped her hips as he slowly, inch by slow inch, began to enter her. He threw his head back, his face a mask of raw pleasure.

"Ainamet andam. I give you my body."

Dax fought for control. She was scorching, wrapping him in fire, so tight he wasn't certain he would fit. Very reluctantly, her tight muscles gave ground, allowing his invasion, a slow, exquisite submission.

"Sivamet kuuluak kaik etta a ted." He bit out the words while sensations poured over him and into him. He held himself still when his body demanded he pound into her, but she needed a moment to adjust. "I take into my keeping the same that is yours."

He meant every word. Binding ritual or not, the words meant more to him than ties between them. She would be his treasure, cherished, protected and loved above all else. Her heart was his. Her soul. And her body, this beautiful instrument of a pleasure he had never conceived existed. He set his teeth as he pushed deeper, feeling her muscles reluctantly unfolding like the petals of the flowers surrounding him until he was lodged against her thin barrier.

He wanted to give her such pleasure she would never regret her choice. He shifted, blanketing her, the movement causing her to gasp and writhe under him, her muscles gripping him with a fiery passion. He stroked a caress over the swell of her breast. Again her sheath tightened, nearly strangling him with pleasure.

She was saving his soul with her decision, no matter what he'd told her. He might never turn vampire, but her gift was even more important to him because she chose him. She followed him into an unknown world, one of danger when she was apprehensive and fearful. She had put her faith in him, trusting him when he'd been in danger of losing faith in himself and the world he'd fought so hard to maintain. She had no idea what she meant to him, but he would never let her down, and her pleasure was just as important to him as her safety.

Riley's hands found Dax's biceps, feeling the coiled strength there. His hard flesh filled her, stretched her. The slightest movement he made sent streaks of fire racing over her skin and lightning arcing through her body. His lips traced a path over her breast, drawing the creamy, aching mound into the heat of his mouth, suckling strongly, his tongue lashing, and his teeth grazing her nipple. The sensation drove her crazy, pushing her need past desperation.

"Dax, more. I need more." He had to stop the coiling pressure building, always building with no relief.

He raised his head for one moment, those multifaceted eyes glowing fiercely with a thousand flames. He opened his mouth to reveal the long, sharp teeth. Her breath caught in her lungs. The teeth sank deep, right along the swell of her breast, while his hips surged forward, breaching her thin barrier. Pain lashed through her body to give way instantly to near ecstasy.

Riley's body bowed, the soles of her feet finding the mattress for leverage as she rose to meet the thrust of his hips. Her fists doubled in his hair, holding him to her, while her blood flowed into him, locking them together in the way of his species. He was everywhere, in her body, her mind, wrapping himself in her heart, while the scent of him invaded every one of her senses.

As merged as closely as they were, she could taste herself, feel the explosion of pleasure in him as her blood filled his cells and organs. His already large erection grew even thicker, stretching her more. Fire streaked through him, her feminine sheath wrapping him in a strangling, velvet soft, fiery grip, milking and squeezing, as he thrust deep and hard with each stroke, bringing both of them closer to that free fall.

Sensations tore through her, the combination of his pleasure with hers pushing her higher still. Heat seared her, scorched her. The tension just stretched out more and more, with no end in sight. She clutched his shoulders, nails digging into his flesh as she tossed wildly beneath him.

Dax reluctantly lifted his head, watching her blood seep from the two pinpricks over her breast and trickle down the creamy slope to her taut nipple. Her chest rose and fell as he followed that enticing trail, his body slamming harshly into hers again and again as he indulged himself. Finally, he closed the small wounds with his tongue.

"Ainaak olenszal sivambin." He uttered the words in a roughened, husky tone, stilling, refusing to give either of them relief. He was close to growling, the pleasure in his body one he'd never conceived of. "Your life will be cherished by me for all my time."

She was nearly mindless, tightening her muscles to grip him. Through the connection of their minds, she knew he was on the very edge of his control.

He slipped his arm beneath her head, his eyes all fire now, burning over her like a brand. "Be still."

She panted, her hips unable to obey, her muscles clamping around him, desperate for release, her head tossing wildly. She couldn't be still, no matter what he said. She strained upward, but he kept her immobile as he lifted one hand to his chest. With one diamond-hard nail, he opened a thin line along the heavy muscle over his heart.

"Take what I offer, sivamet. Come closer into my world."

Her eyes widened. She stared at him in shock. Still, and it shouldn't have been, he looked so erotic, hot and sexy, there in that open field of flowers, with his hard body and ruby red drops of blood summoning her. She nearly shook her head, but she was mesmerized by the sight.

"Please," she whispered. Her body was on fire. She needed release, but she wasn't certain the plea was for him to take her over the edge. The temptation of tasting him was a dark whisper she was finding hard to ignore. The idea of drinking his blood should have been repugnant, not erotic, but her mouth could already taste him. His scent was everywhere, and her body was hot and needy.

"You have to make the choice on your own, Riley," he said implacably. "This is the way to bring you closer to my world, and you have to know it's truly what you want." Cradling her head in the crook of one arm, he gathered her hips with the other and thrust deep.

Riley could feel his thick, hot shaft like a steel brand spreading fire through her. She knew flames burned in him. She could see the glow beneath his skin, in his eyes, the scorching heat of his body. Every inch of his hard flesh as it buried deep in her sheath spread those flames into her. She caught fire and burned. There was no end in sight. She moved, and he stopped.

A sob escaped. She needed him. Wanted him.

You hunger for me.

A bead of blood trickled over the muscle of his chest to the edge of his flat, hard nipple. Her gaze followed it, her tongue sliding over her lip. He wouldn't let her hide from the truth. Deep in her veins she could feel a throb, every bit as strong as the terrible ache in her body. She remembered the taste of him in the flower and that intoxicating scent of his, amplified a thousand times by the field of flowers surrounding her. She couldn't deny what he whispered was true, but human inhibitions held her back.

I feel your hunger beating at me.

His voice was seduction, let alone that harsh, jackhammer stroke he drove into her and once again stilled. Desperate, before she could think what she was doing, she licked at that thin trail of crimson with her tongue. His taste burst through her like champagne. She followed the trail back to the source, her mouth latching on, tongue dipping and stroking.

His groan was a rough, sexy sound. He threw his head back, whispering to her, helping her now that she'd made the decision. The essence of his life poured into her, filling her, restructuring, nurturing.

"Te elidet ainaak pide minan. Your life will be placed above my own for all time," Dax bit out between clenched teeth. His body shuddered with the effort to hold back. His skin gleamed red and gold, scales showing beneath.

Riley stared up at his face. Lines of sheer lust etched deep, sending spirals of arousal spinning deep. The taste of him hit her hard, an aphrodisiac that added to the firestorm in her body. She would never get enough of him, not his taste and not his body.

Enough, sivamet. You cannot take too much at once. Just enough for an exchange.

She heard his words as if from a great distance. Her blood roared in her ears. She wasn't certain what he meant, but she couldn't stop. Dax was forced to gently insert his hand between her mouth and his chest.

"Te avio palafertiilam." He caught her hips in both hands, sliding her closer, pushing her legs over his shoulders. "You are my lifemate."

With a small sob she fell back, her gaze locked with his. Her body was threatening to explode, so tight she was afraid she'd shatter into pieces. That movement of his body had his shaft stroking and caressing deep inside her. Brushstrokes of white-hot fire. She was so close to that edge, yet she couldn't tumble over.

"Dax." She cried out his name, reaching for him, her mind hazy, needing him to take her over the cliff with him. "Please. I can't ..." She didn't know what she needed from him, only that she was burning from the inside out.

Dax surged forward, a steel spike of living flesh, burying himself over and over. Deep. So deep. She swore she felt him piercing through her stomach. Over and over. So hard. He pistoned into her, driving deeper still until she was certain he found his way into her soul. There was no pause, no moment to catch her breath, just that relentless pounding at her body.

Riley dug her nails into his arms, her head tossed mindlessly, her lungs burned for air. Deep in her mind, she heard herself scream. Her mouth was open, but no sound actually emerged. Her body clamped down hard on his. The orgasm ripped through her, shattered her, melting bones and muscles, burning cells and tissue in an explosion of shocking pleasure. She felt Dax erupting much like a fiery volcano, pulse after hot pulse while her body seemed to shatter into a million pieces.

Dax slumped over her, breathing raggedly, his heart pounding so hard she could hear it. She couldn't move, her body still alive with pleasure, but leaden, her arms so heavy she couldn't find the strength to move her hands into that thick pelt of hair she loved touching.

Dax turned his head into her neck. Ainaak sivamet jutta oleny. The whisper filled her mind. "You are bound to me for all eternity."

Another shock wave of pleasure washed through her. She shuddered, her body climaxing again and again. She could feel something different inside. She was ... more. Evolving. Tied to him. She never wanted to let him go. It seemed as if there were millions of tiny threads weaving them together.

Dax brushed kisses over her eyes. "Ainaak terad vigyazak. You are always in my care."

Her body shuddering, Riley forced herself to find the energy to lift her hand to his face. His impossibly long lashes were wet. She touched the tips gently.

He turned his head to catch her fingers in his mouth, sucking gently before releasing her. "The binding ritual is our version of marriage, only more permanent. It binds your soul to mine. Perhaps I should have waited until you really have more of a concept of what you're getting into. It's no excuse, but I don't want to be alone again, Riley."

"Neither do I," she assured, blinking back tears. "I want this. No matter what happens, Dax, I choose to be with you. You warned me there would be no going back. I'm prepared for that."

He rolled over, taking her with him, so that she sprawled across his chest. Riley buried her face in the junction between his neck and shoulder, exhausted. She was certain when she was alone, she would be aghast at the enormity of her decision, but she clung to him, one hand in his hair while the other smoothed over his chest.

Dax wrapped his arms around her, holding her tightly. "Are you going to sleep?"

"Yes. You can gather the flowers for Gary and Jubal," she said. "I'm not moving for the rest of the night."

Dax laughed softly and brushed a kiss on top of her head. "As you wish, my lady."