Dark Gold Chapter Fourteen


The newest hot singles bar was a wild blend of sophistication and sleaze. It made a stab at class by posting bouncers at the entrance to determine who would enter and who would be denied, but it was clear that they took bribes and that any pretty girl was ushered right in. The line was long, but Alexandria ignored it, walking with complete confidence to the door. She had noticed her new effect on people, noticed that her voice enthralled them almost as much as Aidan's did her.

She smiled at the man standing squarely in her path. His head jerked up, and he sucked in his breath audibly. He didn't even hesitate, personally escorting her inside. The music assaulted her ears and vibrated through her body. She felt the crush immediately, the press of bodies against her. Mostly she heard their hearts beating, the rush of blood through their veins nearly overwhelming her.

A tall man in dark leather quickly claimed her, catching her wrist, grinning at his find. He had a scruffy beard and smelled of cologne, whiskey, and sweat. His left arm boasted a tattoo of a black widow spider in the center of her web, complete with red hourglass on her belly and a hint of fangs protruding from her mouth. The man leered at her and dragged her close to him. "I been looking for you all night."

She wanted to feel something besides her rebelling stomach, but he obviously wasn't her type.

She smiled up into his eyes. "It's not going to happen," she said softly, persuasively.

The smile faded from his face, and she could see the latent violence in him. This was a man who didn't like to be thwarted. His fingers tightened like a vise.

"Let go of me." She said it calmly, but she wasn't calm inside. She had somehow counted on enjoying the best of both worlds tonight, thinking whatever creature she had become would protect her from this kind of thing.

The man's laugh was frankly nasty. "Let's go outside, babe." As he made the suggestion into an order by grabbing her wrist, he felt something on his arm. He glanced down and, to his horror, saw his black widow tattoo crawling up his forearm toward his biceps. He could see the fangs clicking angrily, feel its hairy legs on his skin. He froze, then yelled loudly, dropping Alexandria's wrist, slapping and brushing wildly at his arm.

Alexandria saw nothing but took the opportunity to glide away, disappearing into the crowd.

The man stared down at his arm, gasping heavily, his chest heaving. But the only thing he saw was his tattoo. Nothing moved. He raked a hand through his hair, leaving it wild and disheveled. "I've had too much booze, man," he said to no one in particular.

Alexandria slipped through the throng, her head pounding with the beat of the music. Her blood was hot, but her skin ice-cold. Her stomach seemed to rebel at the bodies she brushed against. A stocky man with chestnut hair and a ready smile touched her shoulder. "Dance with me?"

He was lonely, she could feel it, as well as his deep sadness and near desperation to hold another human being. Without thinking she smiled an assent and allowed him to lead her onto the dance floor. The moment his arms surrounded her and he pulled her body against his, she knew it had been a mistake. She wasn't human. She wasn't what he needed. And his illusion was no more desperate than hers. His desperation was no sadder than her own. Neither of them spoke. She knew his thoughts, his terrible sorrow for the loss of his wife some six months earlier. But she wasn't Julia, his wife. She wasn't even the customary, warm body to help him make it through the night. And he wasn't Aidan, and he never could be.

That last thought struck terror into her soul. Why had she thought that? She could find a man. A human man. It wouldn't be this one, but there must be someone.

The man stirred. "Come home with me?"

"It isn't me you want," she said gently, moving to put a few inches between them.

He tightened his hold, pulling her body into his. "It isn't me you want either, but we can help each other," he pleaded, wanting someone to push away the ghosts for a few precious hours.

The smell of his blood called to her. Alexandria's stomach lurched, and she felt bile rise into her throat. She shook her head adamantly. "I'm sorry, I can't do this." When she went to step away, the music changed to a frantic, driving rhythm that seemed to goad the man to clutch at her. As his arm tightened across her back, static electricity seemed to arc from the floor into his arm, jolting him. He swore and released her immediately. Surprised, Alexandria stepped away. "What happened?"

"You shocked me!" he accused.

"I did?" She inched away from him. Had she inadvertently done so without knowing it? Or had it been an accident? She had no idea, but she was grateful for the timely intervention. She ducked into the whirling, gyrating crowd and made her way across the room, the music beating in her head, through her body.

Alexandria found the bar. Several men in suits parted to allow her access. Their greetings were speculative, hopeful. They seemed nice enough. Some were good-looking. Some even seemed legitimately friendly. But she felt nothing. It was as if she was totally empty inside. Dead.

Suddenly wondering what she was doing, what she was trying to prove to herself, she spun around, leaned her back against the bar, and stared down at her shoes. There was no way around it. She had never been a promiscuous person. It just wasn't in her. She wasn't attracted to a man for his looks, and even those who mildly intrigued her, whom she had things in common with, didn't stir her physically.

"You look sad," one of the suits observed. "Do you want to grab a booth and talk? Just talk." He held up his hands, palms out. "I mean it. No come-on, just talk. My name's Brian."

"Alexandria," she said, but she shook her head. He was too nice to lead on. He said he wanted to talk, but she could read his deeper interest easily. "Thanks, but I think I'll go home."

Home. Where was home? She didn't have one. The sorrow was almost too much for her to bear. She looked up, and her gaze was caught on the darkest corner of the room. Golden eyes gleamed back at her. Her heart jumped. She couldn't look away, captivated by the intensity in that unblinking stare.

Aidan moved slowly out of the shadows. Glided. Rippled. Stalked like a great jungle cat. He took her breath away. Tall. Sexy. Powerful. Eyes only for her. Locked on her. Beneath his silk shirt his muscles rippled suggestively. He looked elegant, exuded power, was without equal.

She found herself trembling in anticipation of his touch. Just like that, the mere sight of him had brought her back to life. Like the Red Sea, the crowd parted to allow him through. No one touched him, brushed against him, or jostled him. Even the suits pressing close to her moved aside to allow him entrance into their private domain. Then he was standing in front of her, holding out a hand, his eyes trapping her gaze.

Whether it was compulsion or obsession, Alexandria didn't know. She didn't even care. She couldn't have stopped herself for any reason. She was fighting a useless battle. She needed him, and there he was. She placed her hand in his, and when he closed his fingers around hers and drew her to him, it felt as if she was giving herself away.

"Dance with me, cara mia. I need to feel you against me." His words, his voice, were far too seductive to resist.

Alexandria slipped easily into his arms. She fit perfectly. He was strong and warm, and the electricity was instantly crackling between them. Her head found a niche in his shoulder. Her body found his rhythm easily; she was born for it, his other half. It was black-velvet seduction, pure magic.

This was home. In his arms. She closed her eyes, savoring the feel of his body against hers. The music was dreamy, unbelievable in such a place. Not once on the crowded floor did another touch them. He moved them in perfect syncopation, the heat rising between them with every step. Flames seemed to lick along her skin, move to his, and come back again.

Aidan bent his head to taste her. His lips, soft, hot, brushed her neck, lingering for a heartbeat on her pulse. He felt it jump beneath the moist heat of his mouth, felt it begin to race frantically. "Come home with me, piccola," he whispered urgently, his teeth scraping her skin gently, persuasively, gliding back and forth across her pulse. Her blood sang to him, cried out for him. "Do not torment me any longer."

Her body swayed with his, liquid and pliant. She had never needed anything so much in her life. She made no sound. She couldn't. But he knew her answer even in her silence. He could read it in her enormous eyes.

They moved toward the door, Alexandria barely aware of her surroundings, yet again Aidan protected her from the crush, his body always between hers and the crowd. Outside, the night seemed to greet them, to welcome them, the stars brighter than usual, the air carrying fragrant scents from the ocean.

Aidan slipped an arm around her waist, locking her beneath the protection of his shoulder. She tilted her head to look up at him. "I should have known you would follow me to protect me. What did you do to that poor man in the leather outfit?"

He laughed softly. "He likes black widow spiders. He also likes hurting women. And I do not like other men touching you."

"I noticed."

He stopped her on the street corner, crushed her to him, and lifted her chin. His golden gaze seemed riveted on her lower lip, and she felt her breath catch in her throat. He made a sound somewhere between a moan and a growl and lowered his head. His mouth fastened on hers, and the earth moved beneath her feet. Her body melted into his until there was only Aidan and Alexandria, a part of the night itself.

The surge of hunger, of need, was so strong, so overwhelming, Alexandria clung to him to keep from falling. He wrapped his arms around her, and they were moving through time and space. The wind blew through her hair so that it streamed out behind them in a siren's song, rippling in the clear night like strands of silk.

His mouth moved over hers, consuming, dominating, hungry beyond human boundaries. His tongue explored every inch of the velvet interior of her mouth, demanding her response. Alexandria heard herself moan, the sound low, pleading.

Then the third-floor balcony was beneath his feet. He simply waved a hand, and the glass door slid open. It stayed that way, the breeze from the sea a welcome counterpoint to the heat of their bodies. He followed her down to the quilt-covered four-poster bed, blanketing her body with his own, unable to take the chance she might panic and flee. He could not wait any longer. He could not let her go this time. His hands caressed her soft skin, traced the inviting swell of her breasts, pushed the fabric of her shirt roughly out of his way to expose her body to his golden scrutiny. The cool air felt sensuous on her hot skin, her breasts aching and full under his heated gaze. His hand cupped a breast, held the soft weight in his palm possessively.

"Do you feel the darkness in me, Alexandria'?" he whispered, his voice husky and aching. "It is growing, spreading. Feel it in me." His mouth found her eyes, her temple, the corner of her mouth, her throat. Each kiss was feather-light but left a burning brand, his imprint for all time on her soul. "Give yourself to me. For now. For eternity. Feel the darkness in me, and take it away."

It was the voice of seduction, a need so consuming, so great, she could not possibly refuse. She did feel the dark need in him, his battle to be gentle with her, to allow her some kind of choice. She felt his desire, stark and hungry, to rip the clothes from her and gorge himself in the mysteries of her body. Her own body responded to the urgency of his need with creamy heat.

She moved beneath him, arched upward to offer him her breast. Her eyes closed tightly, and she moaned aloud as he took her into the heat of his mouth. Her arms circled his head, held him to her as every pull of his mouth produced a rush of answering liquid heat from her body.

His body was so hard and heavy, trapped in the confines of his clothes. He pushed them aside, tore at her jeans, wanting every inch of her soft, bare skin against him. Aidan lifted himself slightly, just enough so that he could see her body. She lay naked, her skin flushed with wanting him. His hand spanned her stomach, his palm covering the triangle of tight blond curls, his fingers finding moist heat. Lightning arced through him, through her, and raced through their blood.

He cradled her head in the palm of his free hand, dragging her to his chest. Feed, cara mia. Feed long and deep. You are my other half the half that stands in the light. Be part of me for all eternity. His finger probed the entrance to her tight velvet sheath, finding heat and readiness and need just for him. He could feel tears burning behind his eyes.

He felt her breath over his heart. "I can never go back, can I?" she asked softly in a lost voice.

His fingers moved deeper, a deliberate enticement. He felt hot velvet muscles clench around him. His body was raging for release. "Do you really want to go back, cara, and leave me alone in an eternity of darkness? If you had the choice, would you really leave me?" There was a catch in his husky voice. His hand pushed against her, his fingers probing, exploring, deliberately feeding the fire spreading through her body.

His will was merging his mind with hers fully, completely. She could feel it then, the gathering darkness waiting to claim him, a beast crouched and poised, a cold killer without mercy. There was a red haze, desire beating at him, fire racing through his blood. She could feel his agony, his fear that she would not want him enough to choose him, knowing that he would take her anyway, knowing that he could never stop himself. But he wanted her to want him, to need him that much.

Her tongue stroked over his muscles, a soft caress. Her teeth nipped his skin gently, teasingly. "How could I ever leave you, Aidan? Do you really think I could? I thought you knew everything. Even I knew better. Almost from the very start, I knew better." And she had. She had hidden the secret away from both of them.

His hand explored her thighs, secret shadows and hollows, wringing breathless, mewling cries from her throat. Her hands found the roped muscles in his broad back, her shy touch enflaming him further.

He was doing things to her with his hands, by his touch alone, memorizing every beloved inch of her, bringing her into a firestorm of hunger impossible to sate. She kissed his chest, nuzzled the blond hair there, lapped at his nipple. His body hardened until he thought he might go mad.

He forced her knees apart, giving him better access to her feminine heat. He pushed against her aggressively, needing her desperately. Alexandria felt him, hard and thick, insisting on entrance. He felt too large, too much of an invasion. When she would have hesitated, pulled back, he cupped her bottom in his palm and held her pinned against him.

Trust me, Alexandria. He breathed the words in her mind.

I would never hurt you. Your body has need of mine. Feel it, what it demands of you. We are one body, one heart, one soul, and one mind.

She found the beautiful pitch of his voice impossible to resist. Her mouth moved of its own accord over his chest, seeking and finding the deep pulse. Her tongue stroked, caressed. His hands tightened on her hips nearly to the point of pain. Her teeth sank deep, and his body surged forward to bury itself in hers. A streak of lightning lit the sky. It sizzled and danced, streaked through the open door, a white and blue whip searing them both, welding them together. She cried out with pain and pleasure. His shout, hoarse and triumphant, mingled with hers.

He moved, nearly unable to bear the tightness of her velvet sheath clenching him, so hot and addicting that he wanted to lose himself forever in her. The fiery friction consumed him, became him, until he was riding a crest so high with pleasure that he lost all concept of time and space. Colors danced behind his eyes, vivid and bright. Their scents, musky and fragrant, mingled, a perfume created from their lovemaking. Her mouth on him, erotic and frantic, matched the wild frenzy of his body. He lost himself in pure feeling, burying himself deeper and harder, wanting to crawl inside her so deep that their very hearts and lungs would be entwined, impossible to separate.

Alexandria clutched at his back, afraid she was being swept away for all time. Her tongue closed the wound on his chest, savoring the wild, masculine taste of him. His hands were hard on her hips, holding her still for his invasion. It was more than she could bear, the untamed look of him with his hair spilling down, his face taut with pleasure. She moved her hands down his back to his buttocks, memorizing every inch of him.

A moan escaped Aidan's throat, deep and husky, the sound dragged from his very soul. He lifted his head, his strange eyes molten gold, hot and fierce with hunger. He kissed her eyes, the corners of her mouth, her chin. She felt his breath on her throat, the stroke of his tongue a caress. Her body clenched in reaction, heightening his pleasure even more, until he thought he might die with it.

His teeth scraped the valley between her breasts, so that she ached and arched into him, pushing against his mouth. "You are mine for all time, Alexandria. You know that now." He made it a statement, a command she dared not disobey.

Alexandria smiled against his shoulder at his demanding ways. She had no idea what Carpathian women were like, but her male was about to discover a whole new breed. And then she was crying out with pleasure, her throat working convulsively as his teeth pierced her breast, as his arms tightened possessively and his body took hers with a ferocious hunger beyond her wildest imagination. Wave after wave of pleasure swept through her, whirling her out of herself and into him. He was everywhere she turned, everywhere she touched, inside her body, inside her mind, her very blood his, until they seemed one being exploding upward into the sky.

They lay together, clinging to one another, their hearts pounding out a rhythm of intensity unlike either of them had thought possible. Aidan's tongue stroked her breast, sending a shiver racing through her blood, through his. He framed her face with his hands, brushed his mouth gently, tenderly, across her forehead, and feathered kisses down her face to her chin. For the first time in his long, seemingly endless existence, he felt truly alive, truly at peace.

"You have given me a priceless gift, Alexandria, and I will never forget it. You had no reason to trust me, yet you did," he whispered softly, humbly. "Thank you."

She was staring up at him with wondering eyes, unable to come fully back to earth. He was in her, her body wrapped around his. It seemed impossible that those golden eyes could shine with such intensity, burn with such need, only for her. A slow smile curved her mouth and lit her sapphire eyes to match the glow in his. They simply stared at each other, into each other's soul.

She could feel him, thick, hard, beginning to move, an incredible friction of slick heat, so gentle and tender, she felt as if she were melting into him. Aidan moved slowly, savoring each long stroke, his eyes devouring her face. Her initiation had been a wild frenzy. Now he wanted to take his time, build their pleasure slowly.

His fingers tangled in her hair. His mouth tasted her satin skin, finding the pulse beating in her vulnerable throat. "You are so beautiful, Alexandria, so very beautiful."

"You make me feel beautiful," she conceded.

"I still cannot believe I found you." He suddenly lifted his head and stared down at her. His hips continued the slow, languorous movement. "You are going to get rid of that horror-writing video-game mogul."

She kissed his shoulder, then rubbed her face against the golden hair on his chest. "No, I'm not. He's my boss."

"I am your boss."

"You wish you were my boss," Alexandria teased gently. "I work for him."

"I have enough money for both of us to live comfortably," he protested. Then a trace of laughter entered his voice. "Do you know how sick that man has to be to think up that stuff?"

"What about you? You play his games. Worse, you live weirder stuff than he thinks up." Her chin lifted. "Besides, I want the job. I love to draw. This is the chance of a lifetime, Aidan, something I've always wanted to do."

He did laugh then, lowering his head to kiss her belligerent chin, to plant a row of kisses in the valley between her breasts. "Your lifetime has been extended considerably, cara mia. You can find someone else's fantasies to illustrate, preferably those of a nice elderly woman with no sons and no male secretaries."

She laughed with him, secretly suspecting she would end up doing as he wished and jettisoning Thomas Ivan from both their lives. But for now, Aidan's body was doing incredible things to hers, and she did not care to think about any other man. His slow, rhythmic rocking was taking her breath away and fanning the embers of the smoldering fire somewhere in the pit of her stomach. Her body was moving with his, following his guidance without inhibition. She loved the feel of his hands cupping her breasts, the brush of his chin, his mouth, across her nipples. He was stealing her heart with his tenderness.

"I have already stolen your heart," he teased softly, reminding her he was sharing her thoughts.

"I'm not certain I'm ready for you to know every single thing I think."

"Or feel." His voice dropped an octave, to black-velvet seduction. "Or fantasize."

Her hands found his hips. "You're the one with all the fantasies. I'm just borrowing yours to try them out."

His body surged forward, burying itself more deeply within her. "How am I doing?" He began to move with deeper, stronger strokes, picking up the pace until the smoldering embers were leaping flames. "We have not even started, piccola. I have the whole night to worship you as you deserve."

At the unexpected flash of fire sweeping through her body, she bit her lip, and two small pinpricks of red welled up. Aidan's glittering golden eyes focused there, untamed emotion in their depths. Just that look sent her spiraling over the edge, her body erupting in mind-shattering explosions. Her breathless cry was lost as his mouth found hers, capturing the sound forever. His tongue swept across her lip, a curling caress that impossibly heightened her pleasure.

Aidan's every muscle tensed. He was motionless for a heartbeat, and then he threw back his head and surged forward, burying himself in her, her body's shattering reaction to his overriding his control. It went on forever, the release, the spinning world, yet lasted not nearly long enough. He wanted to be there for all time, with Alexandria locked safely in his arms.

They lay together without moving, without speaking, savoring the moment and each other. Aidan was the first to move, reluctantly shifting his weight. He gathered her close, as if she might suddenly realize what she had surrendered into his keeping and try to run away from him, from what she was.

She stroked his arm as it wrapped possessively around her. "Aidan, I can know your thoughts just as you know mine. And I am still me. I don't intend to be locked away in a closet somewhere."

He propped himself up on one elbow. Wind blew through the room, bringing with it a mist from the sea. He lifted a hand, and the sliding glass door closed instantly. He dragged up a comforter to cover her even as he moved closer to warm her with his body heat. "I did not have the closet in mind, cara. I thought my bed would be far more appropriate." There was a trace of male humor in his velvet voice.

She pushed the hair from her face and looked him in the eye. "I am going to work, Aidan. You've created a life here for yourself and Stefan and Marie. But Joshua deserves a normal existence, too. I don't want his life to change so much that he loses everything familiar to him. I don't want to lose that either. This is all so frightening. You're frightening. I will not lose whatever part of me is left."

"I want you safe, Alexandria. The women of our race are our most precious treasures. Without you we cannot continue our existence. I need to know you are safe every moment of the day."

Alexandria sat up and dragged the comforter over her breasts, suddenly aware of her nakedness. Aidan carelessly threw a leg over her thigh, pinning her in place. "There is not an inch of you I do not know, cara. This is no time to become shy."

She could feel a blush creeping up her entire body until her face glowed pink in the night. The way he had positioned his leg, she could feel his maleness pressed against her, his heat and strength, his growing, hardening need. She knew his words were teasing, but she had never been in a situation like this one, and she wasn't certain how to act or what to feel.

"You're using... this to control me."

He grinned at her unrepentantly, rubbing against her suggestively. "

This?

What is this? Are you saying I would use our sexual relationship to get my way?"

She began laughing again; she couldn't help it. "You would use anything, Mr. Innocence, to get your way, and you know it."

He cupped one breast, his thumb feathering over the sensitized nipple. "Is it working?" His voice brushed over her skin like velvet.

"You can't possibly want me again, Aidan," she protested, pushing herself away from him and the temptation of his body.

His hands caught her waist and drew her against his already hard shaft. He traced the contour of her hips and stroked her bottom. "You are beautiful, Alexandria," he breathed as he rolled her onto her belly beneath him.

"Aidan." His name came out in a breathless protest. His hands were strong - ruthless, even - pinning her in place, his breath on her back, his teeth closing over her shoulder when she tried to squirm free. The position made her feel intensely vulnerable.

Aidan pressed against her, his need to take control as strong as his need to give her pleasure. "You want me, cara mia. I feel it."

"It's too soon."

"Not for your body." Even as he said the words, his hand pushed against her to test her readiness, coming away bathed in liquid heat. "Oh, God, Alexandria, how can I ever resist you?" He needed her all over again. Needed to feel, to be alive, to know she would always be a part of him, his life, that when he opened his eyes and took his first breath each evening, she would be there to give him ever-deepening emotions, and to look at him with something other than fear in her eyes.

Alexandria might have resisted his dominance, but she could not resist his burning need. The intensity of his feelings swept through her mind, and her body caught fire with his. She pushed back against him, consenting, enflaming him further. She was laughing softly, teasing, but her breath caught in her throat when he thrust forward in intimate invasion. Her body tightened around his, holding him, clutching him, rippling with life and heat.

One powerful arm tightened possessively around her waist, his body all at once protective over hers.

"Are we crazy, we two?" he murmured.

"You're the crazy one," she gasped, moving with him, beginning to spin out of control again that fast. "I have work to do, yet you keep me here, locked to you, a prisoner of your passion," she said, panting. He was building the fire fast, with sure, hard strokes, surging into her, his hands holding her beneath him. "I can't believe I'm letting you get away with it." And she couldn't. It seemed impossible that she would be kneeling on a bed stained with her own innocence and loving this man's possession of her, wanting more, wanting him again and again.

When they finally collapsed, holding each other, a fine sheen of perspiration coating their bodies, they were drained, spent, satiated. "I heard you chanting in my head, the first time we..." She trailed off. "The words were in your native language, weren't they?"

"I ensured our bond again," he admitted. "The thought of losing you through my own stupidity was too much. I recited the ritual words as I took your innocence, to bind us together for eternity."

"I don't understand."

"Those words make an unbreakable tie for our males. Once said, the bond is eternal."

She rolled over and blinked up at him. "What are you talking about?"

"When a Carpathian male finds his mate and knows for certain she is the one, he can bind her to him with the ritual words even if he has not yet claimed her body. It is like the human marriage ceremony but much deeper. Our souls and hearts are one half of the same whole, incomplete when apart. The ritual words bind them back together as they were meant to be."

Her gaze narrowed in speculation. "I thought the two were bound by chemistry, by blood."

"They are destined, true, and the bond is begun." He pushed his long hair from his face and retreated to one side of the bed, as if uneasy with the conversation.

"So the woman can still escape if the man doesn't actually say the ritual words?"

He shrugged his broad shoulders, his golden gaze all at once unreadable. "Why would he be so stupid as to not speak them when he knows her destiny lies with him? He would be a fool."

"Perhaps it would be nice if he asked the woman what she thought. Human men at least ask the woman if she chooses to spend her life with him. Perhaps Carpathian women would also like to have a choice."

He shrugged again. "It is the choice of destiny, fate, whatever you wish to call it. The law of the universe. The law of God. We were made this way. The words cannot be revoked. No Carpathian male is going to allow his woman to run around unprotected and unclaimed."

"You people are living in the Dark Ages! You can't just take over someone's life without their consent. It isn't right," she argued, appalled.

"A Carpathian male cannot survive without his lifemate."

"Well, just how many years do you want to live anyway?" she demanded hotly.

His golden eyes flashed briefly with amusement, and his palm slid up her calf to her thigh. "I would go for another century or two as long as all our nights were like this one."

His voice did something funny to her heart, starting that curious melting sensation she so often experienced around him. She wanted to be angry with him, but the truth was, if she could have more nights like this one, she wanted a century or two with him herself.

"I am reading your thoughts," he teased, his voice a deliberate caress.

"It's time you stopped. Don't you have something else to keep you occupied for a while? And don't think you're off the hook with this thing. You just can't go around making decisions that affect my life without consulting me." She regarded him suspiciously. "What else can you do without my knowledge?"

He leaned across the bed and kissed her full on the mouth, lingering to savor the taste of her. "You name it, cara, and I can do it."

She jerked away from him and slapped at the hand that was moving into her tight nest of curls. "Don't be bragging, Aidan. This is not a good thing."

"I think it is an excellent thing. I will need everything in my bag of tricks to keep you in line. I look forward to each minute of it, Alexandria."

"You're forgetting my annoying little habits, and I think they've just begun to multiply."

He groaned. "You are really going to try to reform me?"

"Someone has to do it." Her hand found his. "I'm used to a certain amount of freedom, Aidan. I need it. I could never be happy if you took it away from me."

He cupped her chin in one hand, his gold eyes sweeping intently over her upturned face. "I am aware of the compromises both of us will have to make, Alexandria. I do not expect that they will all be on your side. I ask only that you allow me room to make a few mistakes."

She nodded. He could so easily steal her heart. With a look. A few words. That voice of his, pure black magic. "How can I be so crazy about you and so afraid at the same time?"

"You are in love with me." He said it quietly.

She blinked, shocked, as if she had never considered it.

"That's a little strong, Aidan. You swept me up in all this so quickly, against my will."

"You love me," he asserted calmly.

She made a small retreat, a few inches across the bed. "I don't know you well enough to love you."

"No? You have been in my mind. You have shared my thoughts, my memories. You know everything about me, good as well as bad. And you gave yourself to me. You would not have done so if you were not in love with me."

She swallowed hard. She did not want to face this right now; it was too overwhelming. She tried to be flippant. "It's just the power of sex."

His eyebrows shot up.

"You dance so beautifully?" she ventured hopefully.

"I have been in your mind, too, cara mia. There is no hiding the truth from me." He sounded smugly satisfied.

Alexandria assumed her most haughty expression, dragged the comforter around her shoulders, and kept silent.

"Is it really so difficult to admit to loving me?" His voice was a caress, wrapping her up in safe, loving arms.

"Why is it so important to have this discussion right now? I'm with you, and I'm obviously not going anywhere."

"Because it is important to you. You have this idea that you can't feel love for anyone other than your brother."

"I never have been able to before."

"And you think you feel something for me because I put some kind of magic spell on you. What we have together is not from any spell. Perhaps I did bind you to me in the ways of our people, but I could not have done so were you not already mine. You are my true lifemate. You would have given your life to save me, even when you did not trust me."

Her chin lifted. "I thought I was going to die anyway, and I didn't want to live like a vampire. Remember, I thought you were a vampire and that you had made me one."

"Why would you save a vampire, one so evil?" he countered softly.

She clapped both hands over her ears. "You're mixing me up, Aidan."

He gently clasped her wrists and lowered her hands, leaning to kiss her neck. "You knew, deep down, where it counted, that I was the one. That is why your body responded to mine. Not some ancient spell, not even gratitude for saving you and Joshua. Your body and soul recognized me before your mind and heart had a chance to do so. Your mind was traumatized by all that had happened. And it did not help much when I reacted so fearfully for your safety. How could you know what was in your heart?"

"What I feel for you is so..." She could not find the words to describe the emotions whirling so strongly within her.

"Intense. Deep. Different from what you expected. And because it is so different, you do not recognize it for what it is. You are no longer human with human limitations. All your senses have expanded, so your emotions, too - pleasure, pain, hunger - will all be overwhelming until you get used to them. At first your new hearing was almost unbearable, was it not?"

She nodded. It had been briefly, but she had already forgotten.

"In a short time you learned to tone down your extraordinary hearing or use it only when needed. In time you will be able to use all your abilities easily, just as I do. The intensity between us will grow, as will our bond. But it is not magic, Alexandria. It is love." Aidan's voice was so tender, so gentle, and so certain, she felt her heart somersault.
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