Antonietta sat at the piano, her hands curved over the keys. Music welled up inside of her. Poignant. Frightened. A clash of emotions. Her fingers brought beauty and poetry to the chaos, blending notes until the music swelled in volume, unable to be contained in the room with its perfect acoustics. She was blatantly calling to her lover to end her mourning. The music moaned and wept, pleaded and begged. Became soft and lilting as a siren. A melody of enticement.

The doors to her rooms were locked as they had been all day. She would see no one. Not even Don Giovanni could persuade her to open her doors. The seconds had ticked by, as loud as heartbeats. Long. Lasting minutes, hours, days. She couldn't bear to go on without him. Byron. Her dark poet. She had lost him before she had a chance to know him, and the agony was beyond her comprehension.

Grief ravaged her. Ate at her. Blocked out her anger at her cousin. At her family. At Justine. She refused comfort from them all. Only Celt was allowed to remain with her as she wept and threw things in a way very unlike Antonietta. She cried a storm of tears, raged at the heavens that they would allow her cousin access to a gun. Through it all, the dog paced at her side, guided her around the missiles she had thrown, and thrust his head lovingly against her in consolation and camaraderie.

The music shifted into melancholy, the notes taking flight, spilling out into the great halls so the entire household was silent with grief. Even the children spoke in whispers, and Marita shushed them. A pall hung over the palazzo. Antonietta, their lifeblood, their mainstay, the one person constant in their lives, was devastated as she had never been before. Over a man. Worse, over a man they feared. The symphony played on endlessly, an outpouring of tears and anguish, until even the servants were weeping.

Outside, beyond the multitude of colors in the priceless stained glass windows, the storm had long since passed over, yet clouds rolled across the sky, darkening the moon and blotting the stars so that the gargoyles and winged creatures sitting atop the eaves and battlements were shadowed and dark.

Antonietta felt the music rising in her, the relentless, merciless emotions, a volcano erupting endlessly. She was driven to play, unable to stop. And then she felt the weight of his hands on her shoulders. The warmth of his breath on the nape of her neck. The touch of his lips in her hair. Her fingers stilled on the piano keys. There was abrupt silence after the intensity and power of the music. The palazzo hushed instantly, an eerie shock after the hours of passionate sound.

Antonietta sat on the gleaming piano bench without moving, without daring to believe he was there with her, that he had come to her after all the long hours of stark fear and grief. Her heart seemed to cease beating in her chest, her world narrowed to his hands. The heat of his skin. The warmth of his breath. The beating of his heart. Her heart stuttered, found the rhythm of his. Beat in perfect synchronization. She whirled around, her arms going around his neck, her cry muffled by his mouth melding with hers.

Byron tasted her tears, tasted love and acceptance. His lips traveled over her face, her eyes, memorized her high cheekbones, the small dimple, returned to capture her mouth. There was heat and fire and need. The earth shifted out from under them. Her hands tugged at his shirt, desperate to inspect his body, to see with her fingertips. It was almost more than she could bear to wait. She nearly ripped the material covering his skin even as she kissed him back, ravaging his mouth, telling him without words what she needed.

Byron shrugged his shoulders, and the shirt fell away, exposing his chest to Antonietta's inspection. She couldn't stop kissing him. Over and over, frantic, long, drugging kisses. Her fingertips inspected every inch of his chest, every defined muscle, his rib cage, his narrow waist. She found the scar, still raw but nearly healed, and she gasped with alarm into the heat of his mouth.

He nearly killed you. I thought you were dead.

She couldn't speak aloud, her mouth traveled over his jaw, down his throat to his chest.

I told you I would live. I am sorry you were so frightened.

He closed his eyes, threw his head back, his fists bunching in her hair as she tugged at his pants, desperate to take them off of him.

I need to touch you, every inch of you, and know you're alive and here with me. I never want to feel like that again!

Her tongue tasted him. Textures and feel and taste were all important to her and in the aroused state she was in, a mixture of sexual hunger and intense emotion, Antonietta wanted to touch and explore and savor him.

Your shoulder?

His hands left her hair to push her robe from her arms. It floated to the floor, a soft pile of lace. The spaghetti straps of her gown were minute, yet he pushed them off her arms as well so that the gown slithered to the floor.

Antonietta barely noticed, as she dragged his clothes from his body. She rubbed her face over his chest, his abdomen. He tore the tie from her long hair so that it spilled, unbound, around them, silky and teasing his flesh.

"Antonietta." He whispered her name in a husky blend of hunger and need as his own inspection began. The wound on her shoulder was nearly healed, although she was bruised, but the bullet had been spent from tearing through his body. It had lodged in the hollow of her shoulder, a shallow penetration, and Byron had removed it when he attempted to heal her. There was little damage to the muscle, but he leaned down to lap at the bruise.

It's nothing. Nothing at all. I have no idea how you managed to get around me in the narrow confines of the passageway, but you saved my life.

She was moving her hands with loving patience over the ridges of his hips, his buttocks, moving them around to the hard column of his thighs.

"You are distracting me." He barely managed to get the words out. It was too late anyway. Her hands cradled the thick length of him, her fingertips memorizing the feel and shape of his heavy erection with maddening slowness. Flames danced over him. Her fingers were strong and sure, not tentative in the least. She knew exactly what she wanted, and she did it, tracing every inch of him, her fingertips dancing and playing with the same expertise she used on the piano.

The breath slammed out of his lungs. His body tensed, went taut, every muscle contracting in reaction to the caressing stroke of her hands.

I need this, Byron. I need to know every inch of you. You can have later, but give me this.

She didn't wait for an answer. Her teeth nipped his belly, her tongue tasted his skin. She blew warm air over his erection, was pleased when he hardened even more.

He made a single sound, somewhere between torment and ecstasy, when her mouth closed over him, hot and moist and suckling strongly. "Antonietta." His voice was husky, his breath slamming out of his lungs. "

Dio, woman, I cannot believe you." His fingers found her hair, held her to him while his hips found a gentle rhythm he could barely endure. It was sweet torment. Fire burned in his belly and spread through his body until flames were consuming him, and the roaring in his ears joined with the roaring of the inner beast, insisting on his rights.

The need to claim his mate rose sharply, more intense than any sexual appetite. He felt his incisors lengthening, and he turned his head away from the temptation of her soft skin, vulnerable and exposed to him. Flames licked at him, devouring every good intention. "Antonietta, you are in danger." He gasped the warning out, tugged at her hair to raise her head, to acknowledge she had some modicum of self-preservation. He couldn't save her alone. He had waited and needed and longed for her for far too long. She had nearly been killed in front of him, not once but twice. He was at odds with his own nature in trying to court her in the human manner.

Antonietta lifted her head. She looked a sexy siren, a wild, uninhibited temptress, with her long coils of hair cascading around her like a living cloak and her dark, haunted eyes, heavily fringed with long lashes. "Never from you."

A low warning growl rumbled. He kept his face averted. "I am trying to protect you."

"I don't want protection, Byron. I don't need it. I'm a grown woman, and I take responsibility for myself. I know what I want, and I want you. I want you to make love to me." Her fingers never stopped moving, caressing, playing. She kissed his belly, his chest, leaned into him to nibble on his chin.

Byron could feel her there, pressed tightly against him, into him, her body soft and pliant, a willing offering. Her blood called to him, hot and sweet and addicting, a potion made just for him. Antonietta. lifemate. You are mine. I have searched an eternity for you. "I will not go quietly away into the night. Do not think I will, Antonietta. I am not Jaguar. There will not be an easy way to rid yourself of my presence should you decide you are bored."

Her arms circled his neck. She fit her body close into the cradle of his hips. "Now you are trying to scare me by sounding like a stalker. Just make love to me. Does it matter that we may have to talk about our future later?"

She smelled so good. Clean and fresh and tempting. Her head was back, her throat alluring. Byron buried his face against her neck. Against temptation. His tongue found her pulse. Felt the beat. The rhythm went through his body so that he shuddered with the pleasure of it. With the hunger of it. His need was so intense he burned throughout every cell in his body. Teeth teased her skin over her throbbing pulse point. He inhaled her scent. "It matters that you know I tried to court you in the way of your people." He closed his eyes, aching with need.

"I think you did an admirable job." She rubbed her body against his, much like a cat, skin to skin.

His mouth moved over her neck, left a trail of fire, of flames. His teeth scraped gently back and forth, his arms tightened possessively. His body was alive against hers, hard and thick with life and energy and hunger. Matching the hunger sizzling in his veins. His mouth moved, once, twice. Mesmerizing her.

Antonietta's entire body clenched in reaction. Heat spread, built like a wildfire. A firestorm of need and far more emotion than she wanted to admit. There was white-hot pain, instantly giving way to erotic pleasure flooding her body, heart, mind, and soul. He lifted her as if she weighed no more than a feather, as if she were his entire world. She felt like she floated across the room, a dream of passion such as she'd never known.

He murmured to her, the caress of his tongue stealing the ache from her neck as he laid her on the bed, his body blanketing hers. His mouth drifted over her face, her eyes, settled on her mouth.

How could you think I would not love you?

His teeth teased her chin, feathered down her throat to blaze a path of fire to the swell of her breast.

Antonietta cried out, arched into him, craving more. She cradled his head to her while her body rippled in response, tightening in exquisite need. Hunger built, swamping her with its strength, until she was frantic for him to be inside her, frantic for some semblance of relief. "Byron, don't wait." She tried tugging him to her, trying to drag him over her, her hips urging him into her. Byron was patient, taking his time, his hands leisurely exploring her body, memorizing every detail, imprinting her body on his mind for all time.

Antonietta closed her eyes, the pleasure so intense it bordered on pain, as his mouth moved over her belly, lower to explore the triangle of curls. She felt frantic to have him. To feel him deep inside of her. The need was so strong, so intense, her entire body shook. Everywhere he touched her, kissed her, she ached and burned for more.

His hands parted her thighs. She waited, holding her breath, and then the air exploded from her lungs as he tasted her, as he stroked and caressed and brought her body to full life. His name came out in a sobbing plea for mercy. Antonietta had never wanted anyone more. Byron. Only he could complete her. Her fingers found the silk sheets, bunched there, as waves of ecstasy swept over her, through her. She transferred her hold to his hair because she couldn't, wouldn't burn alone.

Byron lifted his head, slid over the top of her, his hips settling lovingly into the cradle of hers, a coming home. She was wet and hot and slick, so tight he gasped with joy as he entered her. One slow inch at a time.

His entire body shuddered with pleasure. He caught her hips in his hands, surged forward to bury himself deep inside of her. A safe haven. His world was changed forever. He no longer walked the earth utterly alone. He would never be alone again. Antonietta changed his world. Brought him light in his unrelenting darkness. He tilted her hips, wanting more, wanting her to take all of him.

Antonietta's body rippled with life, an earthquake that went on and on until she thought she might die of ecstasy. Nothing had prepared her for the strength and intensity of her orgasms with Byron. She hadn't expected such a gift. No previous experience had even come close. She actually sobbed, her senses so heightened, her body so sensitized, his every movement sent whips of dazzling pleasure sizzling through her.

Her world narrowed to one man, one being, his body moving in perfect rhythm with hers. Blood sang in her veins, her pulse pounded in her ears. Music rose in a crescendo as he threw back his head, his body driving deep into hers, long, hard surges meant to weld them together. Two halves of the same whole. Antonietta thought she screamed with the intensity of it, with the dark endless joy sweeping through her. Byron's voice blended with hers, or maybe it was only in her mind, she honestly couldn't tell. There was only the heat and fire and blessed melting together until they were exhausted, two puddles lying in ecstasy on the sheets.