Authors: Nina Croft
How did you make love to someone when it might be the last time, and you wanted to show her what she meant to you?
Darius stared down at the woman in his arms.
She had been an innocent the first time. He remembered his shock. A two-hundred-year-old virginâwho would have believed it? He'd known she'd led an isolated existence; witches tended to keep to themselves. But it had been a surprise. She'd learned quickly, but still, he'd been careful of scaring her. He'd always held something of himself back. Tonight he wasn't going to hold back anything.
Except no feeding.
He could do it. However much he wanted to taste the sweetness of her blood, he would not. He suspected she didn't trust him, and why should she? Perhaps she believed if the link was strengthened, he would come looking for her. She was right.
They were wasting time. “Let's go to bed,” he said.
She looked into his face and nodded. Rising to her feet, she held out her hand to him as though she was the one leading the way. He took it and stood up. Then lifted her effortlessly in his arms and carried her into the bedroom. He put her on her feet and tugged at the thin straps holding up her dress. “I love this gown,” he said, “but it's coming off.”
He nodded. He was about to remove it when a moment later the dress vanished, leaving her naked but for a crimson thong. She was perfection. Long and slender, but her body honed, with graceful lines of muscle showing beneath the pale skin. He reached out a hand, stroked her shoulder, cupped one small, sweet breast in his palm and ran his thumb over her nipple, watching as it darkened under his touch. She swayed, and he moved his hand lower, tracing a finger along the mark above her left hip bone. It was black, stark against the paleness of her skin, and shaped like a bird, wings outstretched. He remembered the first time he had seen it. He'd known immediately what it was, what it signified. It was the mark of the Morrigan. Still, he'd had to ask.
“Your mother is the Morrigan?”
Gina had nodded, and shock had ripped through himâher mother was a goddess. And not just any goddess, but the goddess of war and pestilence.
Now he rubbed his thumb over the mark and wondered what other blood ran in her veins. “You never told me,” he said. “Who's your father?”
“I don't know, but according to Regan our mother has terrible taste in men.” Gina smiled. “Regan reckons that's where I get it from.”
Darius snorted. “Yeah, and I love your sister, too.” He looked at her. “What's she like? The Morrigan, I mean.”
“I don't know. I've never met her. I told you, she left me with my sisters when I was a baby. I used to wonder what she was like, and I used to pray to her. She never answered, and I gave up praying years ago.”
Her words were a lie, but Gina had no wish to tell Darius that she had spent much of the last week praying. What was the point? There had been no answers; her mother had remained silent, as always. Gina reached down and took his hand in hers, pressed his open palm against the mark. “This is all I have from my mother.”
She was sure he meant to pull away, and panic flared inside her. She wanted this so much it was like a live thing clawing at her insides, ravenous, demanding to be fed. Her hips pushed against him, and his hand relaxed beneath hers. His fingers flexed, then pressed into the flesh of her stomach, sliding over her skin to slip beneath the tiny scrap of satin that was all that covered her. They ruffled through the soft hair, then moved lower, curling upward, probing, searching.
She knew the moment he realized how much she wanted him. His breath caught as his long fingers slipped between the folds of her sex and sank into the hot, slick heat. He went still for a moment, and then leaned forward and kissed her. A slow drugging kiss, his tongue filling her mouth, while his fingers stroked the swollen, sensitized flesh, massaging the hard little nub until her legs gave way, and she clung to him for support. She closed her eyes tight, concentrated on the feel of his fingers moving against her. The pleasure intensified, radiated outward and then exploded in a shower of lights that flashed behind her closed lids.
He laughed softly against her mouth, then drew back, picked her up and dropped her onto the huge bed behind her.
She opened her eyes. He was standing over her, staring at her nearly naked body while he stripped off his own clothes. He didn't bother unbuttoning the shirt, just ripped it open, tore it off and dropped it on the floor. He was beautiful, his chest broad, with a covering of dark silky hair that ran over the muscular ridges of his lean belly and disappeared into the waistband of his pants. He was already hard; she could see the outline of his erection beneath the material. Her mouth went dry, and she held her breath as his hand moved to the fastener. He flicked it open and slowly drew the zipper down. She started to breathe again as he slid his pants down over his thighs and stood before her naked.
His skin was golden, his legs strong columns, his cock long and heavy, springing up from a nest of midnight curls. It twitched and pulsated with life under her hot gaze, and she came up on one elbow, reached out and curled her fingers around it. He gasped, and she tightened her hand, loving the feel of his burning-hot, silky soft skin over the rock-hard shaft.
“Easy, sweetheart,” he murmured, and she loosened her grip, her fingers fluttering up over the long length of him, then down to cup the heavy weight of his balls.
He groaned again, and then dropped down onto the bed beside her. She released her hold, her hands moving to his shoulders to drag him closer. Darius pulled her against him, cupping her buttocks in his palms, then rolling her so she lay beneath him. He bent down, his lips taking hers in a savage kiss of possession, and she opened her mouth, welcomed the scalding thrust of his tongue.
He ripped the thong from her body, and for a moment stayed poised above her. He inhaled, his nostrils flaring as they drew in air heavy with the musky scent of sex. His hands tangled in her hair, and he held her still beneath him.
“I've wanted you for so long,” he said. “In my dreams, in my waking moments.”
She stared up into his face. He was fierce, predatory, his lips drawn back, exposing the sharp whiteness of his fangs, but she knew no fear.
One of his hands moved between them. He parted the folds of her sex with sure, skillful fingers, and her body tightened in anticipation. Then the head of his cock was nudging, seeking entrance to her body, finding it. She could feel herself softening, opening for him. Even so, when he plunged inside her, sheathing himself in one hard lunge, she gasped in shock. He went still above her.
She nodded. He filled her completely, but after a moment, her body adjusted to him. She twitched her hips, and he pulsated inside her, growing even larger, and she moved again. He closed his eyes. When he opened them, they glittered, filled with a hunger he made no effort to hide.
He moved then. The first thrust was a long slow curl of his hips, and she lifted up to meet him. She knew the exact moment when he released the hold he had on his control. Felt it snap. He plunged into her hard and fast, so all she could do was hold on. Her nails dug into his shoulders, and she wrapped her legs around his waist, pulling him closer.
He rode her hard, driving them both toward their climax, ruthlessly taking everything she had to give. With each lunge, the exquisite pleasure rose, until the whole world was reduced to nothing more than the feel of him moving on her, in her.
Already sensitized from her orgasm, each thrust of his cock, each roll of his hips brought an exquisite, dragging pleasure that finally spilled her over the edge.
She shuddered beneath him. Darius went still, staring down into her silver eyes, which glowed with power.
The word echoed through his mind as she claimed him. He gave one final thrust and spilled himself inside her, holding her tight as they both rode the wave of pleasure.
He stroked her, soothing her as the tremors racked her body. When she finally lay still beneath him, he raised himself and kissed her, long and slow.
Still lodged deep inside her body, he rolled onto his side, pulling her with him, tucking her close so he could watch as she lay limp and boneless against him.
While his body was sated, his gums ached with the need to feed, but he had sworn he would not make the future harder for her. If it was easier to forget him, then forget him she must.
She opened her eyes.
“All right?” he murmured.
“I don't remember it being quite so overwhelming,” she said, pulling away from him. For a moment he held on to her, then let her slip away. She didn't go far, just backed up a little and lay watching him.
“What?” he asked.
“Nothing. I just want to look at you.”
Darius rolled onto his back. “Then look,” he said.
She inched closer, rose up on her elbow and let her eyes wander over him. Pulling herself up, she knelt beside him and reached out to touch him on the shoulder.
“You're so hard,” she said, her fingers sliding down to tease the fur on his chest, scraping across his nipples. Darius closed his eyes as her hand trailed over his belly and
ripples of pleasure ran through him. Her fingers stilled, and he opened his eyes again to find Gina staring at him.
He held his breath as her hand hovered over his cock. She leaned over, blew gently, and he had a sudden blood rush to the groin. He could feel himself stirring beneath her gaze, and lay back and enjoyed the feeling.
“It's like magic,” she whispered.
Her fingers touched him, lightly at first, grazing along the hardening length, fluttering over the head, then down to stroke him. It was heaven.
He was hard again now. She leaned over again, her warm breath washing across him. Then she kissed him. He jerked beneath her, and she sat back.
He looked up to find her staring at him in speculation. She leaned down and took him in her mouth. His hips reared up off the bed as she suckled the head. He was almost bursting when she sat back again.
Darius forced himself to remain still, but it was an effort, when every fiber of his being yearned to toss her onto her back and plunge into her again.
After a moment, she moved toward him. He waited, his breath caught in his throat, as she decided her next move. In the end, she flung one long leg across his hips and straddled him. He reached out for her, but she shook her head.
“It's my turn,” she said. “I want to do this.”
He lay back and put his hands behind his head. “I'm all yours, honey.”
She sat back on her heels, placed the tip of his cock at the hot, slippery entrance to her body, and then sank down onto him.
Darius held her steady with his hands spanning her waist while he shunted up the bed, until he was leaning against the headboard. She was wrapped around him, so hot, so tight that he had to fight for control. His arms slid around her to cup one full buttock in each palm, massaging the globes, widening her stance and pressing her down so he was burrowed deep inside her. He rocked her gently against him.
“Oh,” she murmured, her eyes widening as her most sensitive point rubbed against him. She placed her palms on his shoulders and started to move on him, lifting herself, then sliding down, and with each stroke he held her closer, his hips rotating in tiny circles against her. Her eyes drifted closed, and he watched the play of emotions crossing her face.
This time, it was a slow, exquisite buildup of pleasure. Shivers rippled through her body as he ground her hips down onto his. He held himself in check, wanting to give her pleasure. Finally, when he was sure he could control the need no longer, her inner muscles contracted around him and tremors shuddered through her body.
She flung back her head and screamed as the pleasure tore through her. He pulled her hard into him again. She spasmed against him, and he let himself go, his own pleasure ripping through his body, and he burrowed his face in the softness of her breasts and filled her with his seed.
Gina kissed him, tasted the salty tang of sweat gilding his skin, and nuzzled her face into the silky body hair. She could feel the slow, steady thud of his heart beneath her. It soothed her, and she almost started to doze off.
She shook herself awake, not wanting to waste this time they had together. She realized she knew almost nothing about Darius. After he'd abducted her, they'd had three months together, but during that time they'd lived for the present, too busy making love to talk about their past or their future.
She rested her chin on one hand and looked at him. “Tell me about yourself,” she said.
He stroked a hand through her hair. “What do you want to know?” “Everything.” She thought for a minute. “Where were you born? When were you born?”
“I was born in Greece, not far from Athens. Around two thousand years ago.”
She sat up. “You're that old? That makes you almost as old as Regan!” Gina stared at him for long moments, then opened her mouth to ask how he had become a vampire, and closed it again.
She cocked her head to one side, listening, trying to convince herself she'd imagined the sound, but then it came again. The howl of a hound. They had picked up her trail. Despair gripped her.
“What is it?” Darius asked.
He couldn't hear the hounds, but that didn't make them less real. It was over.
“I thought we had longer,” she whispered. “I'm sorry.”
“What is it?” Darius asked again.
She lifted her head. They were so close now. “Can't you hear them?” she asked.
Across the room, the air shimmered and wavered. She held her breath as a portal formed, and a pair of hounds leaped through, snapping and snarling.
Darius shot upright. “What the hell are they?” he said, staring at the creatures standing poised, red eyes glowing, low growls trickling from gaping jaws. They were so close she could smell the fetid stench of their breath.
“Hellhounds,” she said.
They were huge creatures. Bearing only a vague resemblance to dogs, they stood almost shoulder high, with rough russet coats, and a thick black stripe down their backs. Powerful legs ended in long, savage claws. Their heads were misshapen, with pointed ears and razor-sharp teeth.
Darius rolled off the bed in one fluid move. Keeping his eyes on the hounds, he reached down picked up his pants and pulled them on, then placed himself between the hounds and Gina.
“No, Darius!” She stumbled to her feet, clumsy in her need to protect him. He carried no weapons. Even a vampire couldn't last long against the hounds under those conditions.
“Get back,” he snarled.
“They won't hurt me, Darius.”
He ignored her, pushing her behind him. “Can you get me a weapon?”
A moment later, a long silver dagger appeared in his hand. He nodded his thanks, but didn't turn. “Just stay out of the way.”
She frowned, but stepped back. She whispered another spell, and she was dressed, a knife in her own hand. She would intervene if she was needed. The hounds wouldn't harm her; at least she was pretty sure they wouldn't. They belonged to her sister Regan, and they knew Gina.
She bit back a gasp as the first of the hounds leaped for Darius. Its talons raked his shoulder, and the sharp metallic scent of blood filled the room. He growled, his own fangs showing as he reached out and gripped the rough fur of the beast's head. He raised the knife high as the second hound pounced, and he crashed to the floor under the combined weight.
Gina whirled around. Her sister Regan stood at the portal. Gina shot her a furious glare, then turned back to the fight. Neither the hounds nor Darius had taken the slightest notice of the command. The knife flashed crimson now, and one of the hounds was hurled
across the room. It lay quiet, but Gina could see the heaving of its flanks. The other was still rolling on the floor with Darius.
“Regan, call your hound off,” she said sharply. “If you want it to live, that is.”
“Diablo!” Regan snapped.
One minute the hound was fighting for its life, the next it went still. Darius lifted the knife, but something held him back. The animal stared at him, and then whined softly. Darius met its red eyes, and their gazes locked as it backed slowly away. He lowered the weapon.
He rose to his feet, the knife dangling from his hand, but ready if he needed it. He glanced across at Gina, needing to know she was still safe.
A woman stood beside herâtall, beautiful, with Gina's silver witch's eyes and long, dark red hair that hung like a cloak to her waist. Darius recognized her immediately, and a flash of hatred gripped him, only to be washed away by a wave of despair. This was the end. She was here to take Gina away, and Gina would go with her.
He glanced down at himself. He was covered in blood. Some of it was the hound's, but more of it was his own, and he couldn't seem to care. The knife dropped from his fingers and clattered to the floor. What was he supposed to fight?
He caught Gina's gaze and saw the same anguish reflected in her eyes. For a brief second, a savage wave of satisfaction washed through him, but it passed quickly, and he knew he would do anything to take that sadness from her.
He turned away. Picking up his shirt, he used it to wipe the blood from his shoulder. The cuts were deep and stung viciously, but he relished the pain.
“Darius,” Gina said softly. She reached out a hand to him, then dropped it, as though she, too, knew the futility of any gesture at this point. “This is my sister Regan.”
“Oh, we've met,” he said, keeping his voice clear of emotion.
She wrinkled her brow, and he realized she didn't know of his visits to her sisters. “I went to find you, after you'd disappeared the first time. Sheâ¦” he nodded at the redhead, who was bent over the fallen hound “â¦threatened to set the dogs on me.”
Gina frowned. Her sister hadn't told her that Darius had come looking for her all those years ago, but then, why would she? Regan was crouched beside the hound, her hand stroking its huge head. The hounds were the only creatures she had ever known Regan to show affection to. Now she turned to stare at Gina, accusation clear in her face.
“Well, it's your fault,” Gina muttered. “You shouldn't have sent them.”
“You gave the vampire a knife.”
She glared at her sister. “What did you expect me to do, stand by and watch while they ripped him to pieces?”
“Yes,” Regan hissed. She stood up and whirled toward Darius. She raised her hand, and Gina knew she was going to release magic that would destroy him forever. Gina stepped between them.
“Stop it,” she said.
Regan looked at her, but her hand remained poised to strike. “We should have finished this years ago.”
A soft growl came from behind her, and Gina knew it was Darius. She glanced at him. With his whole body radiating tension, he stood poised to leap. Maybe he would make it. Maybe he could get to Regan before she released the magic.
There was no good way for this to end. Gina didn't want either of them to die, and she had accepted her own fate long ago.
She put up both hands, palms out, one facing Darius, one Regan.
“Stand down. Both of you.”
Regan stared at her through narrowed eyes, but lowered her arm. Gina turned to Darius. He nodded once and stepped back. The tension drained from his body and acceptance dulled his dark eyes. She reached out and touched him gently.
“I'm sorry,” she said. She wasn't sure what she was apologizing forâthe hounds, her sister, for coming into his life and ruining it forever.
He looked at her, his eyes bleak. “So am I,” he replied. He walked away from her and sank down on the edge of the bed, the blood-soaked shirt clenched in his fist.
Gina stared at him, trying to imprint his face on her mind. Then she turned back to her sister and drew herself up tall. She knew Regan loved her. She had cared for Gina her whole life, brought her up when their own mother had abandoned her as a baby, but it was time her older sister learned that Gina could be pushed only so far.
“I'm coming back with you, because I know my duty, not because you are forcing me.” Her voice rang cold in her ears. “I'm willing to pay the price for what I did, but know this. If you lay so much as one finger on him, I will disappear.”
Regan watched her carefully. Her eyes flicked from Gina to Darius, as if weighing the risk. “It wasn't hard to find you this time,” she said.
Gina shrugged. “You can send the hounds after me, they can drag me back and you can do what you must. But remember, a payment given freely is of far more worth than one taken.”
“You would force me to do that?”
“Yes.” Gina knew, in that moment, that she spoke the truth. After all, she was the daughter of the Morrigan, goddess of war and pestilence, and a part of her knew that if Darius died she would let the whole world burn, and not care about the consequences.
She allowed the truth to show in her eyes.
Darius looked at her and despair flooded him. A moment ago he'd stood poised, knowing he could take her sister before she could speak the spell. Then there would have been nothing and nobody to stand in their way.
Gina's words had stopped him. He realized now that he had always thought of her as vulnerable. He'd clung to the idea that she needed protection. His protection. In the deep recesses of his mind he'd believed she was going back only because her evil sister was forcing her. She'd spoken of duty, but he hadn't believed it.
Now he saw her clearly. She was strong, powerful. She was going back because she knew it was the right thing to do. She would take on the world to protect him, but she wouldn't be his.
His gaze flicked to her sister. Their eyes met, and he saw the same knowledge reflected in her face, and knew he was safe from her attack. The thought brought him no pleasure.
“I won't touch him,” Regan said. She turned to Gina. “Come now, we must go.” She clicked her fingers, and the hounds came to her, whining softly, nudging at her hands.
Darius forced himself to sit unmoving, not to call out to Gina. He was so used to taking what he wanted, but now he must let her go. He had to be strong for her. At the last moment, as they stood at the portal, Gina hesitated.
“Wait,” she said to her sister. “I need to say goodbye.”
Regan nodded once, then backed away to stand by the portal, the hounds at her side.
He watched as Gina walked toward him. Her beauty tore at his heart.
“What?” he asked. “Tell me what I can do for you.”
She swallowed, then reached out and touched his cheek. “Forget me,” she said.
He shook his head. “I wouldn't even if I could.”
He took her hand, kissed her palm. It wasn't enough, and he tugged her toward him. When she didn't resist, he dragged her closer so she tumbled across his lap. He held her against him, feeling her heart beating against his. Then he lifted her chin, baring the long line of her throat.
He could see her pulse thundering beneath her skin. He kissed it softly. She stiffened in his arms and then relaxed, going boneless and languid. His fangs ached, and he knew she wouldn't stop him, but instead, he kissed up her throat, along her jaw, his lips settling on hers, his tongue slipping inside to taste her. His body hardened against her as hers grew softer.
Finally, he forced himself to pull back and look into her strange eyes one last time. They were soft with longing.
“I will never forget,” he said, and released her.
She rose to her feet, swayed slightly. He reached out a hand to help, and then let it fall. She turned and walked away, glancing back over her shoulder once.
The word echoed through his mind, and then she was gone.
Her sister stood staring at him, hatred stamped on her face. She turned to follow Gina, but Darius needed to make one thing clear. “She's mine, not yours,” he said. Regan paused. She glanced back over her shoulder, and he continued. “When she comes back, we will be together. However long, I'll wait.”
Regan's eyes narrowed on him. He'd always believed her cold, entirely without feelings. Now she allowed him a glimpse of the pain that lay behind the coldness. “You don't understand, do you?”
A wave of foreboding washed over him. “Understand what?”
“Gina is never coming back.”
“You can't banish her forever.”
“Banish her? If she told you that was the payment due, then she lied.” Regan looked at him, and something close to pity crossed her features. “No, Gina's life is forfeit. She dies tomorrow night.”
Shock ripped through him. He stared, unable to speak.
“That is what you have brought her to, Darius Cole. This is your fault.” Regan turned back to the portal.
Darius stumbled to his feet. “Wait,” he said. “There must be some way. Take my life as payment.”
She ignored his words and took the final step.
“Come back,” he screamed. “Tell me what I can do.”
A single word echoed back as the portal closed.