Crouching Vampire, Hidden Fang (Page 7)

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“. . . and then the spirit is bound to the item you picked to be the keeper, and voil¨¤! Instant way to transport them when they can't get around themselves.”

I eyed the small blob of yarn on Allie's palm as we entered my room. It had a slight glow to it, a little shimmer that warned it was not all that it seemed. “That is very handy, I admit. But my spirits don't seem to have any problem traveling around. That is, they can get in a car with me if they want. That sort of thing.”

Allie nodded and tweaked the satin eiderdown on the bed. “Christian might have given you a larger room, but I suppose there's nothing wrong with being cozy. Especially since you and Kristoff have been separated for so long.”

“You're going to have to forgive me, but I'm curious-why did you believe that we're innocent when everyone else didn't?”

Before Allie could say anything, the door to a corner closet was flung open as a small child burst out, a towel tied around his neck in the form of a cape, his hands curved into claws, his fangs bared as he yelled, “I am Dwacula!”

“You'll have to forgive Josef. He likes springing out at people,” Allie said with a motherly smile. He jumped around the room making various gargling noises that I imagined he believed were terror-inspiring. “He and Esme watched one of the old Dracula movies, and he decided that he wants to be a vampire when he grows up.”

“Wise up, childwen of the night!” the boy shouted as he climbed onto a tapestry-backed chair, leaping off with a triumphant yell.

I gave Allie a startled glance. She laughed. “That was my first response, too. Christian was less amused, but you know how the Dark Ones are-they may look modern and sound modern, but they are far too medieval for words sometimes. You should hear him rant when I let Joe watch Buffy . You are innocent, aren't you?”

“Of the charges laid at my doorstep? Yes,” I said, somewhat taken aback by the quick change of subject.

Josef climbed onto my bed and started bouncing on it until his mother plucked him off with a warning.

“I thought so.” She herded the boy back into the closet, telling him, “Go see to your dungeons, pumpkin. I think Van Helsing is in there.”

“Van Helsing!” Josef's face lit up as he struggled with the knot on the towel.

Allie patiently untied it, tossing the towel on the chair as the boy disappeared into the closet, pulling the door closed after him. “He also wants to be Van Helsing. I can't say I blame him after seeing Hugh Jackman in the movie, although they had the vampires all wrong in it, but that happens a lot. Where were we?”

“Um… Kristoff and I are innocent?” Exhaustion swept over me. I plopped down on the bed.

“That's right.” She considered me for a moment. I found it vaguely disconcerting having those odd eyes scrutinizing me so intently, although I had to admit that I liked Allie. There was a sense of down-to-earth straightforwardness to her that I found refreshing. “I know what it's like to have life out of your control, and I don't like being manipulated any more than I can see you do. If you were guilty, you wouldn't be quite so angry, if you know what I mean.”

I nodded. “It just irritates me that everyone can suddenly think the worst of me after what happened. I saved Kristoff's life!”

She toyed with a small vase on the bureau for a moment. “Well, you have to remember that it's not just a matter of whether or not they like you. I think Christian does. He spoke quite well of you when he came home from Iceland.”

“Sebastian doesn't,” I said, making a little face.

“He's… he's a bit scarred yet. He went through some hard times and only recently found his Beloved. But he's Christian's oldest friend, and he is actually a very nice man once you get to know him. He's just a bit suspicious of people at first. Given his history, it's understandable.”

“Do we really smell horrible?” I asked, sidetracked for a moment.

She laughed. “So they say, but I think it's a matter of the man in question. Christian says they get used to it, and he doesn't think of it anymore.”

“It's just rather disconcerting knowing I smell like a pile of garbage,” I answered. “I feel like bathing in perfume or something.”

“Kristoff certainly didn't look like he found you offensive,” she said, a teasing note in her voice.

I looked down at my hands for a moment, not really wanting to discuss the issue of a relationship with Kristoff.

“I'm sorry,” Allie said quietly, her odd eyes seeing far more than I was comfortable with. “I didn't mean to get personal.”

“It's all right,” I lied. “It's just that…”

“You still have some things to work out.”


“Who doesn't?” She smiled. “You should have seen Christian and me when we first met.”

My curiosity got the better of me again. “How did you find each other? I'm kind of amazed that they ever find a Beloved at all, since there's only one for each vampire.”

“Well, there is and there isn't,” she said with a little laugh. “You'd have to ask a woman named Joy about that, but that's just going to confuse you, so we'll move on. The first time I laid eyes on Christian, he was lying naked and covered in blood from a hundred cuts all over his body. It was the most romantic thing ever.”

I stared in horror at her.

She laughed again. “We had a rocky start. Christian was determined to have me admit I was his Beloved, and I wanted nothing to do with him.”

My gaze dropped again. “That's not quite the problem between Kristoff and me,” I said, my heart wincing in pain at the memory of Kristoff looking at his ring.

“I'm sure you'll work out whatever is giving you grief. These guys may seem overbearing and arrogant as sin, but you have to admit there's something to be said for the fact that out of all the women in the world, you're the only one for him.”

I said nothing, not wishing to dwell on it. A change of subject was called for. “Do you think there's any chance that if I worked on Christian, he'd let Mattias and Kristjana go?”

“Well…” She slid me an odd look. “Christian is the head of the Moravian Council. That position has a lot of responsibility with it.”

She waited a moment, obviously expecting me to understand something that wasn't at all clear.

“I'm afraid that I don't see what one has to do with the other,” I admitted.

She sighed and thought for a moment. “He doesn't break rules. He can't, not in his position. And what you're asking for would mean he'd have to do just that. So no, I don't think there's anything you can do that will get him to release Kristjana and Mattias.”

There was an odd emphasis on the word “release” that I didn't quite understand. My brain chased around a hundred different thoughts, all of them ending with the same sad conclusion: If Christian wouldn't let them go, I was going to be damned to Zoryahood for the rest of my life.

“I think you and Kristoff will be comfy here,” Allie said, looking around the room. “I'm sure you'll have him up to speed in no time. He was already looking a hundred times better after dining at Casa Pia.”

I frowned at the thought of Kristoff being held prisoner, starved so callously. “He does look better, but I doubt if he's back to full strength.”

“Probably not.” Allie paused a moment. “Despite what you may think, he wasn't mistreated any more than the two reapers were. Kristoff was offered blood-he just refused to take it. We didn't try to starve him, Pia. You have to understand that for a Dark One to be separated from his Beloved for a short while is bearable. It's not comfortable in the least, not for either person, but it's bearable. But to go two months…” She shook her head. “I can only imagine the pain Kristoff must have suffered, being deprived of you. And I'm sure you didn't have a grand old time.”

I looked down at myself and immediately sat up straighter to lessen the resemblance between me and a Buddha statue. “Unfortunately, I've managed to eat just fine during our separation.”

“That's not quite what I meant,” she answered. “When Christian is gone for more than a couple of days, I start getting headaches. Nothing truly horrible, but a low-grade headache that persists no matter what I take.”

I thought of the headaches I'd been prone to during the last few months. They were so constant, I'd gone to both my optometrist and a doctor to see if I was starting to have migraines. “I've had headaches a lot lately,” I admitted.

“But worse than that is a sense of…” She hesitated, her hands making a vague gesture. “Oh, I don't know quite how to describe it. It's a sense of being… incomplete. As if some part of me were missing. Things just don't seem right, if you know what I mean.”

“I think I do,” I said slowly, noticing for the first time that the vaguely empty feeling inside me seemed to be gone. “It's as if you were hollow inside.”

“Hollow, that's it exactly. And if you're concerned about your other husband's well-being, you're welcome to talk to him. He's confined to a room on the second floor. We don't let him leave unattended-there are wards on the door-but we do take him out for little jaunts about the garden to get a bit of fresh air. He's not mistreated in any way, and I'm sure that goes for the other reaper, as well.”

“A ward?” I asked. “What exactly is that?”

“It's basically a magical symbol that's drawn in the air or on an item. We find it works better than mundane things like locks. The ward allows people to pass through the door to enter the room, but not leave by it.” She got to her feet, opening the door to the closet. “Come out, Van Helsing. There's a vampire downstairs who needs seeing to.”

“Vampiwe!” Josef emerged from the closet with an old-fashioned wooden shoe form. He held it by the long metal skewer that poked into the wooden foot, waving it about as if it were a crossbow. “Shoot the vampiwe!”

“That's right, snuggles. Go shoot Daddy.”

The boy ran out of the room, yelling about vampires. Allie followed more slowly, pausing at the door. “If you need anything, just give me a holler.”

“I will,” I said, still distracted by the idea that I could be so affected by the loss of Kristoff. Just in time I remembered the question I had wanted to ask. “Oh, can I do the keeper thing with any spirit?”

“So long as they're not bound to someone else, you should be able to. Although your ghosts sound like the grounded kind. The kind I summon are unbound.”

“Unbound? I'm not sure I understand.”

“Well, yours can make themselves seen and heard, and can interact with our reality. There are other spirits out there who have to be Summoned to that state. Those are the ones I deal with.”

“How do they get that way?” I asked, thinking of the ghosts who'd been waiting for me in Iceland.

She shrugged. “All we know is that there are several types of spirits. Some bound, some unbound, some present who refuse to be Summoned. Still others, like Esme, refuse to be Released.”

“Sent on, you mean?”


“I know one of those,” I said, thinking fondly of Ulfur and his ghostly horse. “He would have gone on to Ostri, but he stayed to help me.”

“Bind him to a keeper and take him places with you,” she said with a little shrug. “Assuming he wants to go, that is. Keepers are a great way to let them travel and keep them safe. Not to mention out of your hair for those times when you want a little privacy.”

I smiled in response to her sudden grin, and was about to thank her when Christian appeared in the doorway. He held his son on one hip, the small metal skewer that I recognized coming from the antique shoe form sprouting out of his stomach. The glare he gave his wife would have scared me to death if it had been directed at me. “Allegra, would it be asking too much for you to not encourage my son to stake me at every available opportunity?”

“He was being Van Helsing. That's what Van Helsing does. And I didn't tell him to go for your heart,” she answered, patting her boy on the head. “Besides, I thought he was going to shoot you with his pretend crossbow. What a clever little boy you are to make a stake out of the shoe form.”

Christian's expression turned into one of sheer martyrdom as he plucked the metal skewer out of his belly. “That's it. I am destroying your Buffy DVDs. Kristoff, if you ever have children, I would advise you to ban any and all DVDs from your home. Come, Beloved. There are a few things I have to say to Josef, and I believe they will benefit you, as well.”

Kristoff, who had been standing behind him, watched with a horrified expression as Christian tossed the stake onto a hall table before taking his wife's hand. Allie winked at me as she left with him, leaving Kristoff and me alone.

“Pia, are you back?” The door opposite me opened. Magda appeared, rosy and smelling of perfumed bath salts. “That was you I heard. I see you found Kristoff. Hello again. I don't know if you remember me. I'm Pia's friend Madga.”

“Magda and her boyfriend, Raymond, kindly offered to come with me to Vienna,” I explained.

Kristoff made her a little bow, but said nothing.

“Well…” Magda examined Kristoff for a moment, then indulged in a little eyebrow semaphore with me. “Ray's having a quick shower, but he wanted to go out and see the sights. I assume you two prefer to take a rain check on doing the tourist thing?”

I glanced at Kristoff. He didn't look even remotely as horrible as when I first saw him, but his face was still much too gaunt, and more important, I sensed a gnawing hunger in him that had yet to be fully appeased. “I think a rain check will be best.”

“Gotcha. How did the meeting with the fanged ones go?”

I dredged up a somewhat weak smile. “It was… interesting. I'll tell you about it tomorrow, OK?”

“All right, but I'm going to hold you to that. Nice to see you again, Kristoff.”

Magda withdrew into her room with a pointed look at me that warned she would, indeed, expect full disclosure.

I looked at Kristoff. Kristoff looked at me.

“Awkward?” he asked.

“Well… yes. Kind of.”

“If you would prefer I do not share a room with you-“

“Don't be ridiculous,” I said, grabbing him by the shirt and hauling him into the room after me. “It's not like we haven't slept together before. If you're worried I'm going to demand sex from you-“

“Christ, woman, is that all you think about?” Kristoff exploded suddenly, one hand running through his lovely brown curls.

“Sex?” I asked, my stomach contracting at his mistaken belief. I started to protest, but he cut me off.

“No!” He stormed forward, his hands clamping down on my shoulders as I tried to back away. “Why do you persist in deluding yourself that I don't desire you?”

My jaw dropped for a moment before I snapped back, “Why? Maybe the fact that you ran away from me has something to do with it.”

“I explained that,” he said grimly, but there was a heat building in his eyes that immediately made all sorts of hidden parts of me sit up and take notice. “You said you wanted Alec. I was simply giving you what you wanted.”

“What I wanted?” I bit back the scream of frustration that threatened to burst free, saying instead, “Putting my wishes aside for a moment, why on earth would you think that Alec and I had a future? You knew I was your Beloved, not his.”

He released me. I took a step backward, simultaneously wanting to climb all over him and not wanting to be so close to him. The sense and scent and nearness of him were almost overwhelming. My body and mind were fighting a huge war to decide whether I was going to yell at him or jump his bones.

“We were Joined, but hadn't, for lack of a better word, consummated the relationship. Alec might not have been able to feed off you, but if you had set your minds on being together, you could have a life with him with relative comfort.”

“But you couldn't survive for long without me, could you?”

His eyes flickered to the window. “Probably not. But a Beloved can survive the loss of a Dark One. Even if I died, you and Alec could have had a future.”

I was silent for a moment, dozens of thoughts spinning around in my head. Foremost among them was the knowledge that such a noble gesture was made hollow by the fact that he had no burning desire to be with me. He was willing to die to remain true to his long-lost love.

Tears burned my eyes for a moment. I turned away and made myself busy by fussing with the blankets and pillows on the bed. “Well, what's done is done,” I said, ever the pragmatist. I wanted badly to tell him exactly how I felt, but I had already told him I didn't want Alec, and he had responded as I knew he would-a polite refusal to address the issue of any feelings between us beyond those of mere physical compatibility.

“Yes, it's done.” There was a thread of something intangible in his voice. I felt him behind me, not touching me, but near enough that the heat from his body made my back tingle. “Speaking of that night, I have been remiss in thanking you for returning my soul. I apologize for such an oversight. Having a soul again certainly wasn't anything I ever thought would happen.”

“Again?” I asked, curiosity making me turn around to face him. “You had one before?”

His face smoothed out into a mask of indifference that I was coming to recognize meant he was hiding his true feelings. “There are two types of Dark Ones: those born to an unredeemed father, and those who were made.”

“And you were one of the latter?”

“Yes.” He walked over to the closet that Josef had been hiding in and pulled off his shirt, neatly hanging it on an empty hanger. “I was human once.”

“I had no idea. So, you and Andreas and your cousin were all human, but were all turned into vampires?”

“No.” He pulled off his shoes and socks, casting me an unreadable glance. “Andreas and I share the same mother, but we have different fathers. His father is a Dark One.”

“Is? He's still around?”

A rueful smile quirked his lips. “Dark Ones don't die easily. Usually it requires an act of carnage. Yes, his father is still living. In Bavaria, I believe. Andreas does not speak of him much-they are not very close.”

“And your mom?”

“She was human. She died centuries ago,” he said, turning away as he unbuckled his belt.

I spent a moment admiring the lovely muscles of his back before his pants dropped to the floor. I stared at him, my breath catching in my throat at the sight of all that sculpted, delectable flesh.

He hung his pants in the closet and turned around, about to say something, but stopped when he caught me gawking. “What's the matter with you?”

“Nothing.” The word came out rough and ragged. I cleared my throat and tried again. “Nothing at all.”

He put his hands on his hips. I greatly enjoyed the ripple of muscles across his chest as he did so. “You have seen me naked before.”

I shook my head, still staring. I couldn't seem to stop. “No, I haven't. The times we made love were in the dark. I've never actually seen you before.”

“There's nothing unique about me to warrant such an examination. I look like any other man.”

“Hardly,” I managed to get out.

He crossed his arms over his chest. “You're going to insist on staring your fill at me, aren't you?”

“Oh, yes,” I breathed, my eyes huge as I tried to drink all of him in. Kristoff in clothing was mindnumbingly gorgeous. Those silky reddish brown curls begged to be touched. His eyes drew me in and made me want to dive into their glittering teal depths. The cleft in his chin drove me wild with the need to dip my tongue into it. And his mouth was a symphony waiting to be played, but without his clothing, he was…

“Breathtaking,” I said, letting my gaze play over all of him, starting at his beautiful feet, moving up along well-muscled calves to thighs that had my fingers itching to touch. His penis held my attention for a few minutes, but there was more of him to see. His stomach I remembered as having a tiny little softness to it, but that was gone now. I frowned.

“Why are you frowning at my belly?” he asked, looking down at it.

“It was nicer before. You've lost some weight,” I said slowly.

His lips pursed. “I was a bit out of shape. Too much of the easy life.”

“I liked you soft.”

His eyebrows rose.

I blushed, unable to keep from glancing at his nether regions. Although he wasn't fully aroused, it was obvious that my visual examination of him had stirred some interest. “I meant that I preferred you with the tiny little smidgen of softness around your stomach. I love men's stomachs. And sides. There's a part of the flank that drives me… Never mind,” I finished, disconcerted by the odd look he was giving me.

“Are you finished?” he asked politely after a moment.

I nodded, wishing I could turn away from him, but unable to.

He eyed me.

“I'm not taking off my clothes,” I said quickly, tugging my shrug a bit tighter around me.

His face hardened. “I told you that I would be happy to find another room-“

“Now who's perpetuating misunderstandings?” I asked, waving a hand toward the bed. “I have no problem whatsoever with sleeping with you. I'd add, 'assuming you wanted to sleep with me,' but if I did, you'd probably just yell at me, so I won't.”

“Are you going to always be like this?” he asked, a curious expression flickering across his face.

“Like what?”

“Driving me insane? You are, aren't you? You're going to make me spend the rest of my life reassuring you that I want you.”

Unbidden, my eyes went back to his penis. It was showing more than a little interest now. “I never doubted that you enjoyed the times we slept together,” I said carefully. “But there is more to life than sex.”

“Indeed there is. Why won't you take off your clothes?”

My gaze flashed up to his, the blush that I knew was waiting for a chance to blossom doing just that. “I should think that's obvious.”

His eyes narrowed. “You think wrong. What is obvious?”

I looked at the bed. I looked at Kristoff. I looked at the lamps on either side of the bed, assessing how badly I wanted to see him naked against my need to keep him from doing likewise.

An expression of sheer male arrogance filled his eyes. “You're not going to try to make me believe that you're too modest?”

“I am, as a matter of fact, a very modest person,” I said, lifting my chin and trying to look down my nose at him. It wasn't easy, considering he was at least a good foot taller than me. “And you can just stop making that face at me. Yes, we've slept together. Yes, you've felt my body, but that's not the same thing as seeing it.”

“For the love of the saints…” Kristoff marched over to me. I squeaked and tried to get away, but he had me backed up against the wall before I could take two steps. “You are not fat.”


“No,” he said, pressing me against the wall. His body was hot and hard and felt so good I just wanted to weep with the rightness of the feeling of him against me. His breath was just as hot on my lips, his hands sliding around me to grab my behind, pulling me even tighter against him. “You are as you are, Pia. And I do not find you physically repulsive, or repellent, or any of the other unpleasant images you believe I foster. I would have thought the opposite, in fact, was quite evident.”

“Men have those sorts of reactions regardless of whether or not they like the body in question,” I protested.

His eyes narrowed. “Who told you that?”

I freed a hand enough to make a vague gesture. “Everyone knows that. Men are ruled by their pe nises. Women are different. There's a huge market of relationship books that explain the ins and outs of it. So to speak.”

“That's one of the most unfounded and insulting things I've ever heard you say, but I am willing to overlook it if you will forget such a ridiculous idea. Men aren't just sex machines, Pia. We have feelings, too.”

“I never meant to imply you didn't-“

“Yes, you did.” He paused a moment, his mouth so close to mine I had to literally curl my fingers into a fist to keep from grabbing his head. “There may be some people who enjoy sex for sex's sake-both men and women-but I assure you that I am not included in their number. I like the way you look. I like your body. I very much wish to make love to you.”

I searched his eyes, looking for any sign of deceit.

Such a nice image you have of me. I am not lying to you. I couldn't, even if I wanted to, and I don't.

You couldn't? I asked, my toes curling with the sensation of intimacy that speaking thus brought with it.

No. You are my Beloved. I can't harm you, lie to you, or deceive you in any manner. So you can believe me when I say that I do not find you anything but physically appealing.

“Then you must be a truly exceptional man,” I couldn't help saying.

He said nothing, just released my butt in order to strip the shrug from my shoulders. He stared at the front of the sundress for a moment before unbuttoning the bodice, his long fingers brushing gently against my flesh.

I shivered, but not with cold.

“I can assure you that no man would find your breasts anything but magnificent,” he murmured, deftly unhooking the front of my bra to release my boobs.

I clutched his shoulders and moaned as his hot breath swept into the valley between them.

“The memory of them has remained with me the last two months,” he murmured, his mouth closing on one suddenly aching nipple.

“It has?” I asked, gasping as his tongue made a long, slow swipe. “Oh, dear God, do that again.”

He did, releasing my breast to kiss a hot, steaming path over to where my other boob waited impatiently for its turn. “They haunted my sleep. I could taste them, feel them, feel the silky softness of them and the warmth of them in my hands.”

The slight stubble of an evening growth of beard was pleasantly abrasive on my now highly sensitized flesh. I shivered as he rubbed his cheek along the underside of my breast before catching the tip gently in between his teeth.

I moaned again, my fingers digging deeper into his shoulders, my mind filled with the sensations his mouth was generating.

“I do not normally like perfume on my woman, but this one pleases me,” he murmured against my flesh.

“It's not really a perfume. It's an amber oil called Love Me,” I answered, sliding my hands down his back, letting my fingers dance down the swells of muscle.

“Is the name a command or a desire?”

“Whichever you want,” I said, dipping my head to nibble on his shoulder. “I got it in a sample pack.”

“I will get you more,” he said, his mouth moving upward as his fingers continued to unbutton the front of my dress.

I made a noise of protest, uncomfortable despite his assurances, but my objection was short-lived as he leaned into me, his hands sliding my dress down over my hips. I melted, I positively melted against him, shivering from the feeling of his chest rubbing against mine.

I gasped as he suddenly grabbed the backs of both of my thighs, hoisting me up and pulling my legs around him in one move. His mouth closed on mine as he pushed me against the wall, the coldness of the wall contrasting with the heat of his body. He groaned when I suckled the tongue that was twining itself around mine, a deep groan that started in his chest and reverberated out until it thrummed through me.

He moved sinuously against me, his chest hair teasing and tormenting my breasts. I slid my hands up his back and around to his sides.

Touch me , he begged, and for a moment I was flooded with images and sensations that I recognized as coming from him, not me. They stopped almost immediately, leaving me dazed, feeling as if I'd been locked into a dark room, away from a source of blinding light.

I slid down his body until I was standing again, my hands tracing a tantalizing path around to his belly. You've lost too much weight , I murmured to him. I liked you better before.

Some things haven't changed , he answered, willing my hands lower.

I smiled to myself as I stroked a path downward, my fingers wrapping around his erection. At the touch he groaned again into my mind. I had the faintest hint of his feelings, but felt deprived, locked away in the dark when he was enjoying the light.

Share , I demanded as I let my fingers dance down the length of him.

His eyes burned down into mine.

I tipped my head back and nipped the lovely curve of his lower lip, wanting more, wanting all of him, needing him to touch me. Share with me, Kristoff. I want to know what you're feeling.

He hesitated for a moment, and I caught a whisper of thought, of a name.

She's not here. I am , I said, pushing down hard on the little spike of pain that accompanied his thought. Please, I want to know what you're feeling. I want to know just how my boobs haunt you. We're going to have to spend the rest of our lives together. I want to know you.

He groaned again as I found a rhythm he liked, his eyes burning so hot I felt as if they were lighting my skin on fire.

I need more than just sex , I said with a little mental sob, my heart suddenly feeling as if it would shatter. I need you.

And suddenly, the floodgate was opened. I gasped as his emotions, tangled with sensations he was feeling as I stroked him, filled me with a lightness that burned through to my soul. There was sexual desire there, almost indiscernible from the always burning urges of the hunter. I reveled in the sensations, accepting his feelings and giving him everything I had.

His teeth pierced my shoulder, the pain an exquisite moment that lit bright in my mind as he filled me with thoughts that were both carnal and profound, a strange mixture of bodily needs and emotional desire.

Now do you believe me? he asked, his voice just as silky and beautiful when it was spoken only in my head. You cannot doubt any longer that I desire you.

I kissed a path over to his earlobe. His entire body jerked as I bit down on his ear, his head pulling back from me for a moment, an explosion of shock and rapture and sexual need swamping both of us.

His eyes flashed at me for a second before I found myself once more hoisted against the wall, his fingers biting hard into my thighs as I wrapped them around his hips. He growled low in his chest, his teeth piercing the skin of my neck at the same time he thrust hard into my body.

I went into sensory overload, my mind reeling from our shared sensations. His need just fed my own, which in turn drove him harder until we both seemed to spin out of control, my body moving of its own accord against him, straining now not just for my own moment of completion, but for his as well. And when that moment arrived, it pushed me over the edge to the single most profound moment in my life. I exploded in a nova of joint rapture, my mind a whirl of sensation and thought and feelings. Out of the confusing mass came one stark thought that shook me to my very core.

There was no question of having a life without Kristoff. He held my heart just as surely as I held him in my arms. I loved him, with every inch of my being I loved him, and nothing would ever change that.

Without realizing it, I'd slowly shut him out of my mind, not wanting him to see the truth. It was too new a realization, too raw to examine closely.

As his tongue swept over the bite mark, I let my legs drop down, my muscles trembling with the strength of our shared orgasm.

I stared at him silently as he gazed at me, my feminine ego pleased by the somewhat dazed glint in his eyes, but another part wept tears of purest sorrow. I would spend the rest of my life loving a man who might feel a certain amount of affection for me-he was not the sort of man who could make love to a woman as he had without feeling some sort of affection-but I would never wholly hold his heart.

” Dio, ” he said, but it was more a reverential statement than an oath.

I looked away. It hurt too much to look at his bright eyes.

His fingers turned my chin back to make me face him. “What is it?”

“What is what?” I held on to his shoulders, my legs still too shaky to support me.

With a little noise of annoyance he picked me up and carried me over to the bed. I stifled yet another moment of amazement that he could heft me without so much as a grunt.

“What is it you are hiding?”

His mind probed at mine, seeking to penetrate its depths. Just as he had done earlier, I locked away a secret little part of me, the part that acknowledged my love. Despite my desire to shout it from the balcony, to tell everyone I knew that I was madly, insanely, body-and-soul in love with him, I knew that would only bring more grief.

“Everyone has secrets,” I said, paraphrasing what he had said to me earlier.

You are my Beloved. You should not have secrets from me . He followed me down to the bed, his body leaning over mine as he continued to peer into my eyes.

“You and I both know that we're not the ideal couple,” I said, pushing gently into his mind. Quickly he erected a guard over some part of himself. You see? There are parts of you that you don't want to share.

You have not lived the life I have, he answered slowly. You have lived a blameless life. Your soul is not stained as mine is.

I stared at him in surprise, unable to keep from touching him. I rubbed my thumb over the tiny little frown lines between his sleek chocolaty brows until they eased. “What have you done to stain your soul?”

His head dipped down as he claimed me in another toe-curling kiss, his body draped over mine. His tongue was as sweet as ever, dancing around my mouth, letting me reciprocate for a few moments before taking charge again. Kristoff, I noted to myself, liked to be the aggressive one. I didn't really mind that, although I expected that I would have to show him the joys of being on the receiving end .

The events of the past are just that-long gone. They do not matter now.

I thought, but didn't share with him, that they must be important, or he wouldn't feel so compelled to keep them secret.

What does matter is the fact that I've taken too much of your blood. You should have stopped me.

I laughed into his head even as a tiny part of my heart was breaking. “I don't think anything could have stopped either one of us, short of a nuclear explosion, and frankly, I doubt if even that would have done it.”

“Nonetheless, you must rest,” he said, tucking me under the blankets. He flipped off the light and slid into bed next to me. “You must eat extra food in the morning. You will need to replenish the blood I've taken from you.”

“The last thing in the world I need is more food. You're fussing for nothing-I feel fine. You're the one who has to eat more. You're still skin and bones.”

He said nothing, but rolled on his side, pulling me up against him and tossing a leg over me in a protective manner that left me melting like a big puddle of jelly.

I was embraced in a cocoon of warmth, one that smelled like a slightly tangy, sweet Kristoff and the lingering earthier scent of our recent activities.

I felt the change in him. He had accepted me in his life, acknowledged that we were bound together. I did not sense any resentment over that fact, just a recognition of what we both were, and his adjustment to the fact that he now had me to think of, as well as himself. I knew I should be grateful for that, happy that he would no longer be fighting the fact that we were together, but that little dark, hidden spot inside him ate away my pleasure.

That he hid the true depths of his feelings for his dead love said much for his consideration for me. That he held so tightly on to it boded ill for the future.