Riley woke just before sunset. How she knew it was only minutes away, she wasn't certain, but there was no doubt in her mind exactly when the sun would sink from the sky. She thought the continual drone of the insects might have woken her, the sound seemed so amplified in her head she clapped her hands over her ears. Birds flitted overhead in the trees, the squawking and chattering much louder than normal as they prepared for a long night of predators hunting them. Everything was so much louder, including several of the men's snoring.

Her hand hurt, and when she lifted it to inspect it, it was quite swollen. A spider, or some insect had clearly bitten her and she had an allergic reaction. She couldn't remember having allergies to bites, but in the rain forest, she knew the insects could carry all sorts of venom. She would have to do something about it. Her first aid kit was in her backpack.

Annoyed, she sat up in her hammock and surveyed the campground. Her body was deliciously sore in places she hadn't known she had. Her heart was pounding a little bit too hard at the enormity of what she'd done-giving herself to Dax. She wasn't irritated with anyone but herself.

She had to be honest, she'd practically thrown herself at him. He'd even tried to talk her out of it. In truth, counting actual days, she'd barely met him, but she felt as if she knew him better than she'd known anyone in her life. Sharing his mind, she learned so much about him.

Riley bit down hard on her thumb, scraping her teeth back and forth along the nail, trying to reconcile her staid little life with her behavior in the rain forest. Was she going to go all stupid and regret such an amazing, incredible, hot first time? It wasn't as if she was in high school. She was a college professor for heaven's sake. If she wanted to have sex with the hottest vampire hunter in the rain forest, she certainly didn't have to be ashamed of it.

Was she ashamed? Hell no. She would never regret giving herself to him, but it hadn't been just her body. With a little sigh she shoved long tendrils of hair that had worked their way out of her braid away from her face. She blushed at the memory of Dax pulling out the thick weave, at the memory of his hands in her hair. He had been the one to braid it again, right after he'd collected the flowers for Gary. She'd remained sprawled out naked on the bed, too exhausted to move. Again she felt the color rising into her face.

If it had been just sex she'd had with Dax, she wouldn't be so nervous. She'd given him her heart and soul. Basically she'd jumped off a cliff and had no idea if there was a safety net. He'd shatter her if he didn't feel the same way about her that she felt about him. And there it was. The entire problem. He professed to feel the same way, and last night, she'd been in his mind and had been so certain, but today, she could hardly bear being away from him.

The separation clawed at her. She found she couldn't turn her mind away from him. She felt as if she were holding her breath, waiting for his arrival. She detested that the women in her family were so close to their mates that they wanted to be with them every moment. She had made herself into an independent woman, well educated, able to take care of herself. She spent time with friends and truly enjoyed their company. She wasn't dependent on a man for fun, or for her livelihood. Her ancestors had all died within weeks of their husbands-even her own mother.

Riley had been so determined she would never be the same way and yet ... she was obsessed with Dax. She needed to see him. She rubbed her hands over her face again, trying to think clearly, to assess the situation. There was no going back and if she could, she knew she wouldn't. She was in love with him, more than in love. The moment his mind had shared hers, she was lost. There was no being alone ever again. She had only to reach for him and he was there. His devotion to her was easy to read. Dax didn't attempt to hide his need or his admiration of her. For him, there truly was only Riley.

She pulled the first aid kit from her pack and picked through it until she found the allergy cream. So why was she upset? She had no real idea of what she was getting into and she always, always, had a plan. Her mind just worked that way. She needed stability. A goal. She didn't fling herself headfirst off a cliff and have no idea how she was going to land. She didn't give herself to a man. No, not a man-a Carpathian who considered humans a food source. Ever since she'd set foot in the rain forest, things had been out of control.

She smeared the cream over her swollen hand, sighing as the wind shifted, slightly teasing her face, telling her she wasn't alone. "Weston," she greeted without turning her head. Carefully she put everything back in the first aid kit and stowed the kit in her backpack. "I thought we had an agreement. You were going to stay away from my sleeping area. I like privacy."

"I wanted to talk to you, before the others got up."

Riley sighed and turned her boots upside down to make certain nothing had crawled into them in the middle of the night. She had to admit Don Weston sounded conciliatory, but still, she braced herself, grateful she had the gun Jubal had given her. She even went as far as to feel for it where it was hidden in her sleeping bag on the hammock. "Sure, what is it?"

"Look, I know you don't like me. And I have to admit, you have a good reason. I drink too much when I have to go out to these places. I hate the wilderness. I hate everything about it, especially the bugs. I know I was a jerk, but it was supposed to be harmless fun and it gives me a certain image." Weston scowled and toed the buttress root of the tree closest to him. He glanced over his shoulder toward the other men and lowered his voice even more. "This is going to come as a big shock to you, but I've got a couple of sisters ..."

Riley's head went up and she stared at him, very surprised. She couldn't equate this man with a mother let alone sisters. "I never suspected."

Weston looked back toward Mack Shelton and pushed at the rotting vegetation with the toe of his boot. "Yeah, I have sisters, and I keep them away from my friends."

"So that's why you came with us up the mountain instead of turning back with the professor. It seemed so out of character for you," Riley said.

He scowled at her, shrugged and gave a little sigh. "Let me just get this out. This man, Dax, I know you all said you knew him from before, but I don't think you really know what he's like. I talk a good game, and maybe I don't come off as someone you'd trust all that much, but men like that ..." He trailed off, shaking his head.

Riley slipped the gun from her sleeping bag to her backpack. She began to take her hammock down, needing something to occupy her hands while she listened to Weston's revelations. Besides, as soon as Dax arrived, they'd be on the move again.

"He's all charm and looks great, but he's dangerous. I've seen a few men like him, and they explode into vicious fighters when they're crossed. He's not the kind of man I'd want my sisters dating, that's all."

Riley shoved her hammock into her backpack, took a breath and turned around to face Weston. He was trying to warn her, which was sweet in a way, but he was far too late; she was already lost. She knew Dax was dangerous to her, but not in the way Weston obviously meant.

Electricity arced over her skin and sizzled in her veins. He was close. Dax. Very close. Her entire body instantly tuned to his. His scent drifted to her on the evening breeze, all the spice and masculinity, the outdoor, wild scent she recognized as Dax. She took a breath and breathed him into her lungs.

At once she felt wholly alive and unbelievably sensual. She was aware of her breasts tingling, her nipples growing taut, the smoldering fire in the pit of her stomach she'd only been dimly conscious of flaring to life. How did he do that? She hadn't even laid eyes on him yet.

She forced her attention back to Weston, managing a smile. "I appreciate the warning, Don. I'll be careful."

How careful? Do you think to resist me now?

The words shimmered into her mind. There was an edge to Dax's voice that both frightened and thrilled her. His fingers slipped over her injured hand. At once the sting was gone. His hard body brushed against hers from behind. He pushed his hips close so that his heavy erection was imprinted against her body. Strong fingers stroked caresses over her right breast. Her stomach tightened. Her thighs ached. How could he do that when he wasn't even visible?

How is it that you are always surrounded by men, sivamet? I find I do not like this habit of yours, always to be with other men.

Now his breath was warm against her neck. His tongue licked along her leaping pulse. Strong teeth bit down on her neck, right over that now pounding pulse. The bite stung, but his tongue eased the ache.

Um, I am traveling with them, she felt compelled to point out. Deliberately she pushed her buttocks back into him. Or hadn't you noticed?

Happiness burst through her. He had come. Her stomach settled down, her heart quit pounding. She found herself following the rhythm of his lungs.

How many others have warned you about me?

Sharp teeth grazed the side of her neck a second time and her womb spasmed. Her knees went weak. He definitely wasn't happy to find Weston alone with her in her private little sanctuary cautioning her about Dax. She poured into his open mind. Her hunger for him. Her secret amusement that Weston, of all people, would try to counsel her.

You find him sweet. The last word was uttered with sarcastic contempt.

His teeth bit down a third time, hard enough to take her breath away. But there was that clever tongue, bathing the small wound in healing, numbing saliva. His teeth scraped back and forth over her pulse. Her body went weak in anticipation, weeping in welcome for him. She waited, closing her eyes, needing his erotic bite.

"Riley, are you all right?" Weston asked, a hint of concern creeping into his voice. "I really didn't want to upset you. I felt it was important that someone say something to you."

She startled, forgetting for a moment that Don Weston was still close by.

Answer him so he goes away. He's very uncomfortable in the role of protector. And he lusts after you. He can barely keep his hands off you. It is best for his health if he puts distance between you immediately.

You can't possibly be jealous of Don Weston. That trait seemed so out of character, almost petty, and beneath Dax.

There is no reason to be jealous of a man you do not have regard for. Dax sounded a little arrogant.

It was difficult to think straight with his body so close to hers. His intoxicating scent enveloped her, heightening her awareness of him. He only came to warn me. He's never once tried anything he shouldn't.

His teeth, scraping rhythmically back and forth over the pulse in her neck, were very distracting, making it nearly impossible to think clearly. His hands slid up her body, inside her shirt, to cup her breasts. He stood behind her, unseen, his heat surrounding her, his heavy erection pressed tightly against her and all she could think about was having him again and again. Was it possible to fall in love with a man's body?

He is not a good man. He envisions himself as one, but he makes himself believe women want him because he feels he's entitled to them. Sooner or later, he will do harm to a woman and that woman will not be you. There was no mistaking the menace in his voice. I am a hunter of evil. Human or Carpathian. It does not matter to me. It is my duty to destroy evil where I find it.

A shiver of fear slithered down her spine. She had known all along that Dax was dangerous, she didn't need Weston to tell her that. He could go from old-world courtly to explosive violence in seconds.

He has sisters.

Dax bit down right in the sweet spot between her neck and shoulder. His body felt as hard as a rock, unyielding, his arms strong, surrounding her. Heat rose around her, seeping from his body to hers. Pressure coiled tighter and tighter in her most feminine core, hunger rising sharp and terrible, an ache only he could assuage.

If I tell you what goes on in his mind when he's around his sisters, you would not be championing him.

"I'm fine, Don," she managed to get out, her voice far too husky. "Thanks for the warning, I'll be very careful. But I do have to pack fast; we need to make the river today."

The smell of food made her slightly nauseous. The others were finishing up breakfast and breaking camp. She really wanted to yell at Weston to leave so she could be alone with Dax before the others were ready to go. She needed to be alone with him. She bit down hard on her lip. She was a grown woman who had no business acting so wantonly.

You're making that up, aren't you? Surely Dax couldn't know such a thing about Weston.

Night fell in soft shades of dove gray, dropping around her like a blanket, but she was still out in the open with only a few trees and that thin veil of protection to shield her. No one could see what Dax was doing, and so far she had managed to retain some semblance of decency, when all she really wanted to do was strip off her clothes and impale herself on Dax.

Dax's heavy erection burned like a brand along the curve of her buttocks. His hands began a slow, deliberate massage of her breasts, fingers tugging and rolling her nipples while his mouth blazed fire up and down her neck. She had to stifle a moan of sheer pleasure. Sensation swept through her like a tidal wave.

Believe me, sivamet, I wish that I was. He is a very depraved man. He just hasn't made the last leap to his full potential.

The moment Weston shuffled off, she allowed her head to loll back on Dax's shoulder, weak with need. Dax's mouth went back to her neck, teeth scraping along her pulse. Her blood surged hotly, every nerve ending screaming for him to bite down. Her breath came in ragged gasps of pure need.

She had no control when it came to Dax. The moment he spoke, or even was near her, her body went up in flames and she threw all decorum out the window.

No one can see. I'm shielding you from their view. Even if they walk over here, they will not be able to see you.

His hands slid down her flat belly to drop to the waistband of her cargo pants. She thought to protest, her eyes flying open, looking around her, but his palm cupped her mound, his thumb finding that hot little button craving attention.

You have to stop. I won't be able to be quiet, she gasped, the tension in her belly winding tighter and tighter. He had barely touched her and she was already so close ...

The little sounds you make are music to my ears. I need to hear them, he whispered wickedly, his teeth tugging at her earlobe. No one will hear but me.

He slipped one finger into her slick heat, his thumb stroking and thrumming, playing relentlessly, driving her higher and higher so fast she couldn't catch her breath.

A keening cry escaped. She felt his burst of satisfaction and a second finger joined the first, stretching her. Teeth sank deep into her neck. The flash of pain tightened her muscles so they clamped down hard on his fingers. Pain gave way to a flood of sensual pleasure so overwhelming she would have fallen had he not been holding her up.

Give me what's mine.

The command filled her mind, nothing less than a demand. His mouth on her, drawing the essence of her life into him, his fingers claiming her, his hand at her breast, tugging on her nipples were all too much. Her body erupted with strong waves, racing up to her breasts and down her thighs. She nearly sobbed his name as the ripples of pleasure flashed through her. His tongue slid across the pinpricks on her neck, to seal the two small holes he'd left.

The moment she could stand on her own, he stripped off her shirt, solidifying right in front of her, his hands already lifting her breasts to his mouth. His mouth was hot, on fire, suckling strongly, his tongue dancing over her nipple. His chest was bare, his skin nearly glowing, all hard mahogany. She cried out, a soft, strangled cry caught in her throat as his mouth tugged and pulled at her breast, teeth skimming her nipple, delivering a tiny sting of pain and easing it instantly with a velvet tongue.

Riley's heart pounded as Dax lifted his head to lock his gaze with hers. She could see the smoldering heat there, the stark hunger. He lifted one hand to his own chest. Her stomach clenched. Her mouth watered. Holding her gaze, he drew a line over his chest with one diamond nail. His hand went to the nape of her neck while the flames in his eyes leapt and burned. He put steady pressure on her until she bent her head to tentatively flick her tongue over the ruby beads seeping from that thin line over his heart.

The moment she tasted him, she knew she was lost. There would never be enough time to spend with him. He made her feel alive. Her body sang when she was with him. Her sense of smell, her vision, everything was so different-so more. She craved him. Was addicted to the taste of him. The world around her faded away, leaving only Dax and his hard body and exquisite taste.

She slid her palm down his chest to his flat, washboard stomach. She absorbed each defined muscle with her fingertips. Women dreamed of a man built like him-and he was hers. He'd given himself into her keeping. Her hand moved lower to find that impressive bulge. Boldly she rubbed gently, reveling in the ability to touch him.

His mind poured into hers, sharing the pleasure her hands and mouth gave him, sharing erotic images in his head. She gasped at what she saw there, at how it made her burn even more for him.

Enough, sivamet. You do not want to be sick. You have to come into my world slowly. I do not want there to be complications. To ensure her obedience he slipped his hand between her mouth and his chest.

How could she slow down when she was already on the wild ride? She didn't want to slow down at all, she wanted to burn for him. Go with him wherever he went. Horrified at her obsessive thoughts, Riley stepped back-or tried to. Dax simply glided, his movement fluid.

He caught her chin, forcing her head up. I woke to your doubts beating at me. You are no more obsessed with me than I am with you. I cannot ever betray you, Riley. You are mine in this life and in all the lives given to us. It will still not be long enough for me.

His confidence was a turn-on to her. She'd never met a man who could be so completely in charge without being overbearing.

I know this is right, Riley assured. I know you're what I want. She had to look away from those burning eyes to admit her failings. She looked down at her boots. It's hard to believe that I'm the one you really want out of all the women in the world. You haven't really seen any other woman besides me. Wait until you go into a city. Your world was different than it is now. There are so many beautiful women in the world for you to choose.

Dax smiled down at her, once more forcing her chin up so that her eyes met his. Her heart nearly jumped from her chest there was such tenderness there.

There is only one Riley and she is mine. He bent his head slowly to hers.

Riley watched him come to her, his eyes blazing into hers, his perfect, chiseled lips slightly parted, his warm breath and then his mouth on hers. She gave herself up to his kiss, letting the world tumble away. He kissed her again and again and she found herself melting into him, her body going soft and pliant. His hands skimmed down her spine to the curve of her buttocks to lift and press her tight against his erection. Her breath caught in her lungs, still slightly shocked that he would want her so much he would take her right there out in the open.

Did you doubt I could go long without having you again? Again there was an edge to his tone, as if her uncertainty on awakening reflected on his integrity in some way.

I hoped you couldn't. Although ... She looked back toward camp. The others were finishing their evening meal and packing to travel.

Dax leaned forward and took her right breast into the heat of his mouth. His fingers tugged and rolled the nipple of her left breast. Her body arched, pushing deeper into the scalding heat. Temptation beat at her. Moisture gathered between her thighs. Clearly, her body was his. There was no resisting that hot mouth and wicked hands.

He lifted his head, and the dark desire burning in his eyes was exhilarating. Step out of your jeans. His fingers continued to roll and tug at her nipples.

I have my boots on. She dropped her hands to the waistband of her pants, prepared to at least get them off of her enough to assuage the burning ache between her legs. In any case, she wasn't certain she wanted to be stark naked out in the open even when he assured her she couldn't be seen. It seemed so indecent.

And sexy. You're so sexy.

She had to admit, it was sexy. He made her feel that way, as if he couldn't wait to have her, as if he had to have her or he wouldn't make it through the next moment. Still, being out in the open with people so close, shielded only by a few trees and a swirling fog ... so wrong. The cool air hit her body, raising goose bumps. She looked down and her boots and jeans were gone. A slow smile curved her mouth.

You're the sexy one. In my world, the women would say you are hot. He was. She'd never been around any other man who could drive out all sane thought until she was only pure feeling.

She was naked standing in just a little grove of trees. She should have been covering up, but instead, her nipples grew harder than ever as she thrust them into his palms, evidence of her desire pulsed between her thighs and arousal teased her thighs and breasts. If Dax could remove clothes so easily, she had no more doubts that he could hide them from the others. She wanted him any way she could have him.

Dax made a sound, a rough and intoxicating growl that sent a spiral of lust teasing her stomach. He bent his head once more to her breasts, cupping the weight of them in his hands, and lifting them to his mouth.

She cradled his head to her, eyes wide open just because she had to see him-she loved watching him. Everything about Dax was sensual, his heavily lidded eyes, the heat glowing beneath his skin, the hot pull of his mouth on her breast. She stood naked, the wind on her body, her skin singing, her blood surging hotly, and a burning ache between her legs. She should have felt exposed and vulnerable in front of him. She didn't have a stitch on, her body open to his, but he made her feel beautiful and his. She loved feeling as if she belonged to him.

Of course you belong to me. Your soul is the other half of mine. You were born for me, as I was born for you.

His hands were everywhere, sliding over every inch of her skin, his mouth devouring her until she couldn't think straight. Long, drugging kisses had her body weeping with need. She wrapped her arms around his neck, tightening her hold on him, feeling possessive, feeling enraptured.

Dax lifted her, until her body slid sensually against his. "Wrap your legs around my waist," he whispered into her mouth.

I'm too heavy. She was tall and very curvy, not at all the average cover model, and she didn't want him to hurt his back.

His laughter vibrated through her like a hot mineral spring. The bubbles found their way inside her bloodstream, bursting and sizzling as she complied with his order.

Now you're just being silly. There was tender amusement in his voice.

His mouth was on hers again, demanding now, the kisses growing wild and possessive, sending flames rolling through her. He kissed her as if he was a starving man, as if she ensured his survival-and maybe she did. His tongue stroked along her lips, pushed into her mouth to tangle with hers. Electricity sizzled through her veins, little shocking waves that left her breathless and needy.

Deliberately he allowed her to feel the edge of his strength, as he held her easily against his chest. Wrap your legs around me. Hook your ankles. His fingers found her entrance slick with moist heat. You're so ready for me.

How could she not be ready for him? I'll always be ready for you, she whispered into his mind, allowing him to see him as she did, so perfect, so sexy she could never resist him.

I love how wet you get for me, but then I want to taste you. Devour you. Lick every inch of you until you're giving everything up to me.

His voice was low and dark, a blend of rough and dangerous that sent another wave of heat curling through her. She laced her fingers together at the nape of his neck and leaned into him, biting at his shoulder because everything he said just made her more impatient for his possession. When he groaned, she turned her face into his neck and bit at him gently. His body shuddered.

Hold on.

Now his voice was hoarse with need. She held on tightly as he lowered her body oh, so slowly. She felt the velvet head, hot and thick pressing tight against her entrance. She tried to press down hard, but his hands refused to allow it. He entered her slowly, inch by deliberate slow inch, holding her absolutely still, while he pushed deeper through her resistant muscles.

Dax groaned as pleasure burst through him. He'd known heat and fire for centuries, but the scorching burn of her fiery, tight sheath was nearly his undoing. He lowered her slowly, savoring the resistance, the way her body gave way to his invasion. Her soft little broken, gasping cries nearly drove him insane. I want a long slow ride, sivamet.

He could feel every tight muscle gripping, as he stretched her. The head of his cock was so sensitive, the feeling as close to ecstasy as he figured he was ever going to get. He pushed deeper, giving himself up to the building explosion.

Her eyes stared into his. Glittering. Wild. So much intensity. So much emotion-all for him. He was in awe of her. There was no way to conceal who he was from her, his mistakes. His guilt. His failure. He was a hunter of one of the most lethal monsters on earth and yet she had such faith in him she had bound herself to him. It was humbling and at the same time exhilarating.

She could make him lose control with just those small movements of her body. Those little panting cries. Her mouth curved, a sensual siren, tossing her head, lifting her hips at the guidance of his hands, her sheath suckling at him, wrapping his shaft in white-hot flames.

Riley rose slowly, her hands on his shoulders for leverage, the friction causing him to shudder, fight for his own control. She threw her head back and lowered her body with equal slowness, impaling herself on him, gripping and teasing as if her muscles were fingers fisting his shaft tightly. She threw her head back as she rose again, dragging over him, deliberately making small circles as she lifted herself, driving him wild.

"Is this what you wanted?" she asked, teasing innocence in her voice. She found the rhythm, that perfect, excruciatingly slow rhythm that made her body tighten in anticipation.

His growl sounded more animal than human.

She took her time, finding that if she squeezed her muscles and did slow circles as she rose and fell, his pleasure, along with hers heightened more. Electric sensations sizzled up her belly to her breasts and down to her thighs. Tension vibrated through her body, coiling tighter and tighter, her womb shuddering with her imminent orgasm. Just when she thought she couldn't take any more, that the friction was going to drive her insane, Dax made a rough sound in the back of his throat and flexed his fingers on her hips before gripping her hard.

Dax took control, slamming her body down on him hard and fast, lifting her and dropping her again and again, his velvet spike a piston, tearing through her with a fiery, driven purpose. Her body trembled, and she thrust back, impaling herself as the mind-numbing sensations ripped through her. Her body grasped his, gripped tightly, dragging over him, sending the fiery fingers squeezing in a brutal, erotic grip.

His entire body shuddered, his shaft erupting in a fiery release flooding her sheath so that a series of intense explosions rocked her. Riley held Dax tight for an anchor as her body continued to pulse and throb while she tried desperately to calm her heart and still her gasping breath. She had no idea sex could be so all encompassing.

I'm crazy about you. She made the admission in her mind, feeling shy and exposed.

I'm so in love with you there isn't any way to express it adequately, he returned with his absolute confidence.

Personally, I think you did quite well.

Riley buried her face in Dax's neck, her hands stroking his back possessively. Her body was damp with sweat and she knew she smelled like sin and sex, but it didn't matter. She clung to him, reluctant to let him go, her heart beating with the same rhythm as his. She knew she should put her legs down, but she wanted to hold him as long as she could, be connected physically as long as possible.

"I can't believe you were able to do that and have the strength to hold me up," she whispered. She didn't have the strength to speak in a normal tone.

"There are advantages to being Carpathian," he said smugly. Dax turned his head to brush kisses in her hair. "Your friend is coming this way."

"Can you keep us from his view forever? Maybe we should just stay this way, locked together for eternity," she murmured.

Dax laughed softly, the sound in her mind rather than heard. "Insatiable woman."

"I am." She pressed kisses over his pounding pulse, unrepentant, playfully nipping with her teeth. "I'm trying to distract you."

"You don't find hunting vampires exhilarating?"

She lifted her head to stare into his laughing eyes. He looked so much younger and carefree when he laughed, yet it was so rare for him to do so. Very slowly she dropped her legs until she was standing. The movement shifted him inside of her, sending another ripple of pleasure through both of them.

"Fine, we'll go hunting. But this was much more fun. I don't think the two things are comparable." She gave him a little pout as he slipped out of her.

His mind stroked hers with caresses as with a wave of his hand she was fully clothed, clean and fresh. He was reaching for her pack as if they'd just finished gathering her things when Gary walked up. Dax shifted slightly, positioning his body just a little in front of her to give her time to recover.

"Good evening," Dax greeted. "I trust there were no incidents while I slept."

Gary shook his head. "Everything was quiet. Were you able to find the flowers? To bring enough back so that we can plant them in the Carpathian Mountains?"

Riley laughed at the eagerness in his voice. "We brought you back an entire sack of seeds and roots as well as the flowers intact. I packed them in the soil so they should make the trip, although how you'll get them through customs I don't know."

"I have friends that will do that," Gary said. "I just need to get the flowers to them. They know how important it is. They never have trouble getting anything they want."

Dax looked up, his gaze pinning Gary's. "Carpathians? Your friends are Carpathians?"

Gary nodded. "Yes, they provided us with weapons and gear for this trek. They're our emergency contact. They were waiting to hear from us," Gary said. "We need to make it to a clearing ..."

"You called them already? When did you do this?" Dax asked. His voice was very low. Smoldering. The last word ended in a long, slow hiss.

Riley stiffened, her heart skipping a beat. He sounded ... scary. Gary seemed to be used to the sudden change in Carpathian males. He didn't blink.

"We knew they would already be looking for us. As soon as we could get a call out to let them know we were alive, we did. We called at sunset." Gary shrugged casually. "They'll be sending a helicopter to pick us up. They're aware of the injury to the professor, and they'll deal with the others as well."

"What did you tell them about me? About Mitro?" If anything, that low voice, warm as molasses, dropped another octave lower.

"That you were with us, of course, and that a dangerous vampire was on the loose." Gary removed his glasses and looked Dax straight in the eye. "I exchanged blood with you voluntarily. Would you be more comfortable reading my mind? You can get the information a lot more efficiently."

Dax shook his head. "I appreciate that you would allow me to invade your privacy, but until I need to 'see' who we're talking about it isn't necessary. This is more than one Carpathian hunter?"

"The De La Cruz brothers," Gary explained. "They were sent to South America centuries ago. Did you know them?"

"We had lineages, not surnames. I do not recognize such a name. Show them to me."

Gary pictured the images of the De La Cruz brothers in his head in the best detail he could muster. It had been centuries since Dax had been in the Carpathian Mountains, so it was reasonable that he might have missed the hunters sent out by Vlad.

Dax slipped past the barrier in Gary's head to study the images. A black scowl added to the uneasy feeling in the pit of Riley's stomach. She didn't understand how Gary wasn't affected by the tension in the Carpathian hunter.

Unexpectedly, Dax's multifaceted eyes flicked to her face. She felt the impact instantly. At once warmth poured into her mind. She had the sensation of arms surrounding her.

You're connected to me, Riley. He is not. He reads what I want him to read.

She studied Dax's face. There was no black scowl, no expression whatsoever. Gary had no cause to be concerned that anything was wrong because Dax appeared to be matter-of-fact.

What's wrong?

I am a hunter. I have to hunt my own people. I see shadows of darkness where others do not. Mitro had a lifemate and that did not stop him from choosing evil. I do not want to take you into an even more potentially dangerous situation.

Dax directed his attention to Gary, but shifted his body subtly, so that Riley felt his warmth enveloping her. The energy that had felt so intense, much like the volcano's pressure building in the ground, was gone.

"I recognize only one of them. The one you think of as Zacarias."

Gary frowned. Dax's tone was still low, and as mild as ever. The darker energy was gone, yet Gary caught something of Dax's misgivings. Riley found it strange, but Dax had been in his mind and maybe left an echo behind of his earlier irritation.

"I know he's considered very dangerous, but if you're worried he may turn," Gary said, astute enough to know Dax's main worry, "Zacarias has a lifemate. He is safe as long as she lives."

Riley glanced up at Dax. He didn't change expressions, but she knew Gary's assurance hadn't swayed him in the least.

Jubal came up to them, Gary's pack in hand. "We'd better get moving," he said with a nod of greeting to Riley and Dax.

"We'd better leave then," Dax said, effectively terminating the conversation about the other hunters, "if we're going to make the clearing in time to start transporting people to safety. How big is the helicopter they're sending?"

"I don't know, but I doubt it will take all of us on the first trip," Gary said.

Riley crouched low and sank both hands into the soil, feeling for the vampire. He had been making his way steadily toward the river and leaving, in his wake, death and destruction. Nature shrank from the abomination that was the undead. Around her, the world faded, leaving her in another environment where she could hear the whispers of the rain forest. The trees spoke, grateful for her presence, willing to share information.

The uneasiness that had plagued her earlier was gone-a dark dread that seemed to be a part of her ever since her mother had died. Now, with her hands buried in the comfort of the soil where she was once again close to Annabel's spirit, she realized that terrible dread was the vampire's blood calling to hers.

Horrified at that sudden revelation, she jerked her hands from the soil and sank back onto her heels, shuddering with distaste. An ice-cold frisson of revulsion slid down her spine. She had known she was connected in some way to Mitro, but she thought the connection was in the earth, the soil, not in her own body.

What is it, sivamet?

The warmth in Dax's voice, as it poured into her mind, helped to steady her.

I need a minute. She couldn't look at Jubal and Gary. They'd helped her so much, stood by her, and all the time, her blood called to the vampire.

"You two take the others and start out," Dax ordered. "We'll catch up."

Jubal glanced down at her, but Dax shifted, gliding in front of her without seeming to have moved. Jubal looked up at the Carpathian, and something flickered in the depths of his eyes that instantly had Dax coiled like a snake ready to strike.

"You okay with that, Riley? Catching up with us?" Jubal asked, in spite of the gathering tension.

"Yes, thank you Jubal for asking," she answered. Gary and Jubal have looked after me all this time, Dax. There's no need to get upset because he shows concern for me.

I have never been questioned before, Dax said. I find it difficult to be in the company of anyone other than my lifemate for prolonged lengths of time. I have never spent this much time with others, and it is wearing.

Riley hadn't considered that. Of course it was difficult for him, he'd spent centuries alone. Even before the volcano, he'd been a hunter of vampires, spending months, even years on his own with no one around. The world was a changed place for him. He had fought for hundreds of years for the protection of his people and then, while he was locked in a volcano, his species had nearly gone extinct.

Jubal lifted his hand and walked away in the direction of the river, shepherding the others to follow Miguel. The professor was carried out, the remaining porters taking turns with the others as they made their way steadily into the rain forest. Within moments, the trees and foliage had swallowed them.

Dax waited until they were gone before crouching down beside her. "Arabejila's blood runs strong in you. Mitro believes she lives, which is to our advantage."

She nodded her head. "I understand that, but I didn't realize it wasn't only the earth telling me where Mitro has been. I can feel my blood reaching for him." She took a deep breath, forcing herself to look him in the eye. "It's disturbing. I want my blood to call to you, not him. It makes me feel dirty."

Dax gathered her into his arms. "Han sivamak," he whispered tenderly. "My beloved. My blood and your blood are forever connected. Our hearts, our minds and our souls are inseparable. As for Arabejila's blood, as we traveled together, we often were forced to exchange blood. Her blood is why Mother Earth accepted me and granted favors to me. My connection to Mitro is not as strong, but it is there."

Riley slipped her arms around his neck. "You always know the right thing to say to me to make me feel better. Let's go find him, Dax. The sooner we find him, the faster we can get on with our life together."