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Midnight Rising (Chapter Thirty)

Dylan wasn't sure how many hours had passed since Rio took her to his bed. They had toweled each other off then made love again, more slowly the second time, as if to memorize every nuance of the moment and hold it close.

As much as she didn't want to think it, Dylan knew she couldn't stay here with Rio much longer. She had a life in progress back in New York, and not being near her mother at a time when she needed Dylan the most was tearing her up inside.

But God, it felt good to lie in Rio's arms like this.

With her cheek resting against his bare chest, Dylan stroked his soft skin, idly tracing the elegant flourish of one of his dermaglyphs . The markings were just a shade darker than his olive skin tone now, but as she touched them, color began to infuse the intricate patterns, making them blush with a color she was learning indicated waking arousal.

Still another indication of his interest was starting to rouse as well, nudging hard against her belly.

"Keep that up, and you may never get out of this bed," he drawled, his deep voice vibrating against her cheek.

"I'm not sure I want to get out of this bed any time soon," she replied. When she glanced up at him, Rio's eyes were closed, his sensual, wickedly talented mouth curved in a satisfied smile. "I can't remember ever feeling this happy, Rio. It feels like a dream, being with you like this. I know I have to wake up sometime, but I don't want to."

His lids lifted and Dylan basked in the warmth of his dark topaz gaze. "What's happening between us has been…very unexpected, Dylan. Until you walked into that mountain cave, I thought my life was over. I knew it was, because I was prepared to end it myself. That very night, in fact."

"Rio," she whispered, heart twisting at the thought.

"Nikolai left me with a cache of explosives when the Order first discovered the hidden crypt in February. They all returned to Boston, but I stayed behind. I was supposed to seal the cave so no one else could find it. I promised I would, and told Niko I would go home to Spain for a while, once I had carried out my mission." He exhaled a short sigh. "I never intended to leave that mountain. All I had to do was set up the C-4 and detonate it from inside…"

"You were going to trap yourself in there?" Dylan asked, horrified. "My God, Rio. That would have been a long, terrible, lonely way to die."

He shrugged. "I didn't care. I thought it would have to be better than living like I was."

"But you were there for several months before I found the cave. You must have found some hope to keep you from going through with your plans."

His bitter chuckle seemed to scrape in the back of his throat. "I delayed at first because I didn't have the balls to finish it. Then my headaches and blackouts started up again, so bad I thought I was losing my mind."

"Your blackouts – you mean, like what happened to you last night by the river?"

"Yes. They can be pretty bad. I wasn't feeding anymore by then, so starvation only added to the fun. At some point, I lost track of all time."

"Then I came along."

He smiled. "Then you came along." He lifted her hand and kissed her palm, then the pulse point at her wrist. "You have been so very unexpected, Dylan. You bring me a happiness I've never known either."

"Never? Not even…before, with Eva?" Dylan hated asking him to compare them, yet she really needed to know the answer. When Rio was quiet for a moment, her heart began to sink. "I'm sorry. You don't have to tell me. I don't mean to make this awkward for you."

He shook his head, brows pinched together. "Eva was sultry and flirtatious. She was a very beautiful woman. Every male who saw her wanted her – Breed and human alike. I was astonished that she noticed me. Even more so when she made it clear that she wanted to be my mate. She pursued me like she did anything else she set her sights on, and my ego knew no bounds. Things cooled between us a bit after I joined the Order. Eva resented sharing me with my calling as a warrior."

Dylan listened, awash in a very unpleasant state of jealousy for what she was hearing, and regret that she had brought this feeling on herself by forcing him to talk about the woman he'd loved before.

"After the disaster of what happened with Eva, I wasn't looking to open myself up to another woman. But you, Dylan…" He picked up a strand of her hair, following the golden-red light in it as the silky wave curled around his finger. "You are pure flame. I touch you and I ignite. I kiss you and I burn to have more. You consume me…like no other woman before you, and, I am certain, like no other ever could again."

She rose up and kissed him, holding his face in her hands. When she drew back, she couldn't keep from blurting out just how much he meant to her. "I love you, Rio. It scares me to death to say it out loud, but I do. I love you."

"Ah, Dios, " he whispered roughly. "Dylan…I have been falling in love with you since the very beginning. How you could love me, the way I am now, I don't know…"

"The way you are now," Dylan said, slowly shaking her head in wonder, "the way you look at me, the way you touch me, how could I not love you? You, Rio. Just as you are now."

She caressed him with all the emotion she felt for him, letting her fingers skate gently down the rugged left side of the handsome face she would never tire of seeing.

She hardly noticed the scars now. Oh, tragically, there was no reversing what he'd been through. The evidence of the hell he'd survived would always be there, on his face and on his body. But when Dylan looked at Rio, she saw his courage, his strength.

She saw his honor, and to her eyes, he was the most beautiful man she'd ever seen.

"I love you, Eleuterio de la Noche Atanacio. With all my heart."

Something fiercely tender flashed across his features. With a tight sound caught in his throat, he crushed her against him and simply held her there.

"More than anything, I want your happiness," he murmured beside her ear. "I know that your family – your mother's well-being – means the world to you. I know that you need to be with her."

"Yes," Dylan whispered. She drew out of his embrace and met his gaze. "I can't leave her now, Rio. I just…I can't."

He nodded. "I know. I understand that you need to be there for her, Dylan. But there is a selfish part of me that would try to convince you that this is where you belong now. With me, bonded in blood, as my mate."

Oh, she liked the sound of that. She recalled quite vividly how incredible it had been to have Rio feed from her vein. She wanted that again…now, when the love she felt for him was overflowing her heart.

But she couldn't stay.

"I won't ask it of you now, Dylan. But I want you to know that's what I want, to be with you, always. It's what I'm willing to wait for."

Joy erupted inside her at the tenderness of his words. "You'll wait…"

"For as long as it takes, I will wait for you, Dylan." He smoothed a strand of hair from her cheek, and hooked it behind her ear. "You remember I told you I would try to find a way to help your mother once we came back here to the compound?"

"Yes."

"That's why I needed to speak with Tess. She is Dante's Breedmate."

Dylan nodded. "She helped me clean and bandage my cheek the other day."

"Right. She's a healer. Before her pregnancy, Tess was gifted with the ability to heal open wounds with her touch alone. She's healed internal ailments as well. There's an ugly little terrier running around the compound that's alive only because Tess was able to cure about half a dozen things that were killing it. Including cancer, Dylan. I didn't want to say anything to you about this until I had a chance to talk with Tess and Dante first."

Dylan wasn't breathing. She stared at Rio in astonishment, not sure she could trust her ears. "Tess can cure cancer? But only in animals, right? I mean, you're not saying that she could possibly help…"

"Her gift doesn't appear to be limited to animals, but there is a complication. Since her pregnancy, her skills are diminished. She's not sure it could work for your mother, but she told me that she'd be willing to try – "

Dylan didn't let him finish. A hope so bright it was a blinding burst to life inside her as she launched herself at Rio and threw her arms around him in a fierce hug. "Oh, my God! Rio, thank you."

He peeled her off him with gentle hands. "It's not a guarantee. It's only the slimmest possibility, and even that is being optimistic. The odds are very good that Tess won't be able to help."

Dylan nodded, accepting the idea that it was a long shot, yet elated that there might be even a glimmer of a chance to save her mother.

"She would have to be brought here, to the mansion. Dante won't risk letting Tess travel now that she's expecting. And we can't risk letting your mother know where we're located or what was done to her, so if this is what she wants, it will mean scrubbing her memory of the entire thing once it's finished. And that's still no guarantee that her cancer will be cured."

"But it's a chance," Dylan said. "That's more than what she has now. Without that chance, she probably only has a few more months. And if Tess can help her…"

Then that miracle would likely buy her mother years, even decades. At sixty-four and in good health, it wouldn't be unreasonable for her mom to live another twenty-five or thirty years.

At what point would Dylan be willing to abandon her for her own slice of happiness back here with Rio?

She looked at him and saw that the question was one he'd already considered too. He was willing to try to help Dylan's mother because he knew Dylan couldn't bear to lose her, even though he also knew it could mean pushing what he wanted that much farther out of his reach.

"Rio…"

"I would wait," he said solemnly. "Until you're ready, I will wait for you."

She closed her eyes and felt his love pour over her like a balm. That he would give her such a selfless gift – the gift of hope – made Dylan adore him all the more. She kissed him with all the devotion she felt in her heart, needing to be close to him…to feel him inside her in every way possible.

She thought of the bond he'd mentioned – that of blood, something to be shared as his mate. She wanted that. Needed to feel linked to him in that very primal, exclusively Breed way.

"Make me yours," she murmured against his mouth. "Right now, Rio…I want you to make me yours through blood. I want to be bonded with you. I don't want to wait for that."

His low, approving growl made her tingle with anticipation. "It's unbreakable. Once done, it cannot be undone."

"Even better."

She nipped his lower lip and was rewarded with an answering graze of his fangs as he rolled over with her and pressed her down beneath him on the bed. Sparks of amber crowded the smoky topaz color of his irises. His pupils were razor sharp, fixed on her in desire. He kissed her, and Dylan let her tongue play at the tips of his long fangs, dying to feel them piercing the fine skin of her neck.

But Rio drew back, bracing himself over her on his fists. He looked so powerful poised above her, so beautifully, nakedly male. "I shouldn't do this to you," he said softly, reverently. "If you take my blood into your body, Dylan, then I will always be a part of you…even if you decide to live your life without me. You will always sense me in your veins, whether you will it or not. I should give you more freedom than this."

Dylan stared up at him without the slightest reservation. "I want this, Rio. I want you to be a part of me always. My heart will know you forever, whether or not we bond by blood right now."

He cursed softly, shaking his head. "You're sure this is what you want? You're sure that you want…me?"

"Forever," she told him. "I've never been more sure of anything in my life."

His breath rasped out of him raggedly as he straddled her waist and sat back on his knees. He brought his wrist up to his mouth. With his hot amber stare fixed on her eyes, Rio curled his lips off his fangs and sank the sharp points into his flesh.

Blood began a steady run down his forearm, the punctures pulsing with each hard beat of his heart. Very gently, he raised Dylan's head and shoulders up from the pillow and held his wound out to her.

"Drink from me, love."

She felt the hot, wet liquid against her lips, smelled the spicy dark scent of his blood as she drew a breath and covered his bite with her mouth.

The first brush of her tongue across his open vein was electric. Power crackled through her entire body at the first tentative swallow she took from him. She felt her limbs tingle, fingers and toes prickling with a strange, enjoyable heat. The warmth spread, into her chest and stomach, then into her very being. She was melting with the intensity of it, desire starting a swift, steady burn in her core.

And God, he tasted so good.

Dylan drew from him, lost in the pulsing heat he fed her from his veins. She glanced up and found him watching her, his look one of raw need and pure masculine pride. His cock stood fully erect, larger than ever.

Dylan reached for him, stroking him as she suckled hard at his wrist. When she spread her thighs and guided him toward her, Rio threw his head back and hissed, the cords of his neck as taut as cables. He dropped his head back down and she was blasted with amber from his passion-swamped eyes.

It took only the barest flex of her hips to seat him at her core. He entered her on a long, hard thrust, stretching his legs out with hers as he covered her with his body.

"You are mine now, Dylan."

His voice was thick below her ear, not quite his own now, but sexy as hell. He rocked against her as she drank from him, her climax already screaming to a peak.

As she shattered beneath him in that next blinding second, Rio buried his face into her neck and bit down into her vein.

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