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The quilt on the bed was thick and warm, the material soft against her bare skin. She noticed for the first time that she was naked. At once she felt vulnerable and shy; yet again, she felt as if she belonged here with him. Mikhail’s hands slipped from her hair to the nape of her neck, his fingers massaging aching muscles. His touch was familiar, stirring alarming sensations in her body.

“What did you do to Monique and her husband?” Her fingers twisted in the quilt. She tried to ignore the heat of his body as he moved close behind her so that their skin touched, so that the hair on his chest rasped against her back and the hard length of him pressed tight against her bottom. He felt right. He felt a part of her.

Mikhail placed a kiss on a bruise near her throat, then moved to stroke her leaping pulse with his velvet tongue. Her body clenched in anticipation. Her mind seemed confused. “They are safe in their home, loving one another as they should. They remember nothing of Andre and the atrocities he committed against them. They know us as good, close friends.” He kissed another bruise, a feather-light touch that seemed to send a flame licking through her bloodstream. His hands moved to her small waist, slid up her narrow rib cage to cup her full breasts. His mind touched hers, and Raven mentally shied away from him.

“Why do you fear me, Raven? You have seen me at my worst, as a killer, a dispenser of justice for our people.” His thumbs stroked her nipples, a slow, erotic brush that sent liquid heat curling through her. “Do you believe I am evil? Touch my mind, little one. It is impossible for me to hide anything from you. I never concealed my true nature from you. You looked upon me once with the eyes of compassion and love. Of acceptance. Has that all been forgotten?”

Raven closed her eyes, long lashes sweeping down on high cheekbones. “I don’t know what to believe anymore.”

“Kiss me, Raven. Merge your mind with mine. Share your body so that we are completely one being. You trusted me before; do so now. Look at me with the eyes of love, in forgiveness for the things I have been forced to do, for the beast in my nature. Do not look at me through the eyes of one who would wish to destroy our people and us. Give yourself to me.” His voice was seductive, a black magic spell, his hands caressing every beloved inch of her satin skin. He had committed every hollow, every curve to memory. His body burned with need and his hunger was rising. Her hunger, his. Very gently, so as not to alarm her, Mikhail pressed her slender body to the quilt, his muscular frame covering her smaller one like a blanket. She was so petite, so fragile beneath his exploring hands.

“Why have you become my life, Mikhail? I’ve always been alone and strong and sure of myself. You seem to have taken over my life.”

His palms slid up the curve of her body to frame her face. “You are my only life, Raven. I will admit I took you from all you knew, but you were never meant to live in isolation. I know what that does, how desolate life can be. They were using you up; they would have destroyed you. Can you not feel that you are my other half, that I am yours?” His mouth drifted over her eyes, her cheekbones, each corner of her mouth. “Kiss me, Raven. Remember me.”

She lifted long lashes and searched his black, hungry gaze with blue eyes that had darkened to deep purple. There was a burning intensity in the heat of his gaze, of his body. “If I kiss you, Mikhail, I won’t be able to stop.”

His mouth found her throat, the valley between her breasts, lingered for a moment over her heart, his teeth grazing sensitive skin before he returned to her mouth. “I am a Carpathian male, long in the world of darkness. It is true that I feel very little, that my nature revels in the hunt, in the kill. To overcome the wild beast we have to find our one mate, our other half, the light to our darkness. You are my light, Raven, my very life. That does not take away my obligations to my people. I must hunt those who prey on mortals, those who prey on our people. I cannot feel while I do so or madness would be my fate. Kiss me; merge your mind with mine. Love me for who I am.”

Raven’s body ached and burned. Needed. Hungered. His heart beat so strongly; his skin was hot, his muscles hard against her softness. Every touch of his lips sent a jolt of electricity sizzling through her.

“I cannot lie to you,” he whispered. “You know my thoughts; you know the beast that dwells inside. I try to be gentle with you, to listen to you. Always that wildness breaks free, but you tame me. Raven, please, I need you. And you need me. Your body is weak; I can feel your hunger. Your mind is fragmented; allow me to heal you. Your body cries out for mine as mine does for yours. Kiss me, Raven. Do not give up on us.”

Her blue eyes continued to search his face, rested on his sensual mouth. A small sigh escaped. His lips hovered over hers, waited for her answer.

It was in her eyes first, that moment of complete recognition. Tenderness rushed over her and she caught his head in her hands. “I think I’m afraid I made you up, Mikhail. That something so much a part of me, so perfect, can’t be real. I don’t want you to be what I dreamed of and the nightmare to be real.” She brought his face the inch separating them and fastened her mouth to his. Thunder pounded in her ears, in his. White-hot heat streaked and danced, consumed her, consumed him. His mind touched hers gently, tentatively, found no resistance, and he merged them together so that his burning need became hers, so that the wild, unbridled passion in him fed hers. So that she knew he was real and would never leave her alone, could never leave her alone.

He fed on her sweetness, exploring every inch of her soft mouth, building flames until they leaped and roared. He caught her slender hips, so small they fit his hands, dragged her beneath him so that his knee could part her thighs, so that her mouth, so hot and urgent, was roaming over the hard muscles of his chest. Her tongue stroked over his pulse and his body clenched, burned, swelled until he thought he might burst from his skin.

Mikhail caught her thick braid at the nape of her neck, holding her to him, his other hand probing in the silky triangle of curls. She was hot and slick with needing him. He murmured her name softly, pushed urgently against her creamy heat. Her tongue stroked again, a long, lingering caress. Small teeth grazed and his heart jumped; his body nearly exploded. There was piercing sweet pain as she found the spot over his leaping pulse, pleasure hot and wild as he drove into her tight velvet sheath of fire. He cried out with the ecstasy of it, pressed her head to him as he surged forward, driving deeper and deeper, as his blood, rich, hot, powerful, fed her starving body.

He hung on to control by a thread, both hands lifting her hips so he could create a fiery friction that sent her rocketing over the edge, her muscles clamping around him until he gently pushed at her mouth, until she released him and he sank his teeth into the swell of her soft breast. She gasped and cradled his head to her as he fed voraciously, his body hard and demanding as it took possession of hers. The aftermath of his fear of losing her, of his violence this night was poured into her body. The heat built; the flames leapt until their bodies were slick with sweat, until she was clinging to him, her body pliant silk, white-hot heat, until they were one single entity, body, mind, heart, and blood. His cry was hoarse and strangled, mingled with her soft throaty threads of sound as he took them both careening over a cliff, scattering them to the very heavens, to the rolling seas.