"You won't regret this." But even as his fangs sharpened for her flesh, he hesitated. "I dread hurting you. When I think about how I took you last time..."

"I'm afraid I'll try to break away," she admitted. "Or that you will - from the cold."

Each would want to recoil. They'd have to force each other to hold on. "Hang on to me, kallim, because I'll be holding you tight. We do this now, and then we have forever."

She inhaled a steadying breath. "I'm ready."

What would you do for her...? The scent of the supple skin he was about to taste proved too much temptation. He couldn't resist. He laid his bandaged palms on her h*ps and drew her closer.

Her hands rose to clasp his shoulders. "Do it," she whispered.

In a flash, he sank his fangs into her. This time he groaned - in pain. She was even icier than before.

Stabbing cold shot through him. The urge to release her screamed in him, but he held on, squeezing her hips. He felt her little blue claws digging into him as well.

Yet with each of his draws, the pain lessened. At the remembered sense of connection, his eyes slid closed in bliss.

Mine. Forever. Thoughts were a jumbled knot. Slow... slow... Don't take too much this time. This is a gift...

CHAPTER 40

By the time Murdoch released her, they were both out of breath. And Danii was crying.

"Christ, I tried not to take too much - "

"Y-you didn't." But it had still been excruciating.

He winced at her neck. "You're burned."

"It'll regenerate quickly with the cold. Did you even drink enough?" she asked, struggling to disguise how much pain she'd felt. "Do you think this will work?"

"The effect takes time."

"You're already better." With her blood accelerating his regeneration, he began healing almost at once, his battered lips and face soon returning to normal. He unwrapped the bandages from his hands as they mended and flexed his fingers.

But his breaths still fogged.

Minutes passed, then half an hour. She sank onto the bed, and he paced. Another hour had trudged by in anxious silence before he said, "Daniela, why didn't you tell me about the Roman?"

"You saw that?" At Murdoch's nod, she said, "He's in my past."

"You think of me as you do him."

She shook her head. "No, Murdoch. I was angry when I said that. Bewildered."

"But it's true that I took what didn't belong to me."

"We both felt the pull. I could have stopped you. And I've wondered again and again why I didn't. Now I think it was instinct telling both of us the way to be together. If..."

"If this works? It will." He ran his hand over his forehead. "Damn it, if you were brave and strong enough to withstand this - twice -  it's got to work."

"Will you still want me if it doesn't?" she asked quietly.

Reaching for her, he cupped her waist between his hands to tug her to her feet, then gazed down at her with fierce eyes. "Look at me, Daniela. I'm in love with you," he grated. "I want you always, no matter what!"

"Murdoch, I... y-your breaths aren't visible." Was there the slightest blue tint under his eyes?

He frowned. "The temperature doesn't feel as cold in here. It's becoming comfortable."

"Could this truly be working?" Her hand trembled wildly as she reached up to his face.

"Careful," he warned. "Maybe wait a little longer."

"I can't. I have to know." When she caressed his cheek, his eyes went heavy-lidded.

No pain. With a strangled cry, she sagged against him.

"Daniela, are you hurt?"

"I just can't believe this." Tears gathered and fell. She could be with him - Murdoch, the vampire she loved. After two millennia, her constant yearning would end at last.

"Please don't cry." With an audible swallow, he tentatively laid his palms against her face, brushing his thumbs over her tears. No pain.

For so long she'd felt lacking, and the answer had been within her, within them, all along. "I'm crying because I'm happy." She unbuttoned his jacket, pulling it off him to display the chest she'd imagined stroking. Then she placed her hands on him, finding his skin was the perfect temperature.

No pain. His muscles went rigid, tensing to her fingertips. She gave one exploring sweep, then another, until she was rubbing her palms all over him in delight. Only pleasure.

He was still caressing her cheeks. "You're so soft, Daniela. Softer than I ever imagined - and I imagined constantly." He tipped her face up. "I've got to kiss you."

"I'm yours to kiss. I'm yours."

His voice a husky rasp, he said, "You're about to be." He cast her a slow, possessive grin, flashing his fangs - no longer would she look at them with fear. They'd been the means to her and Murdoch's deliverance.

Then he leaned down. "Close your eyes."

She did. After the space of a heartbeat, she felt the lightest brush of his firm lips to hers. The barest contact sent tingles through her. Drawing her closer, pressing her body against him, he slanted his mouth over hers.

His kiss grew unyielding, intent, even as he gently coaxed her lips open so he could stroke a sensuous lick against her tongue. When she moaned, meeting him, lapping softly, he wrapped his arms tightly around her, as if he couldn't get close enough, as if he feared she'd get away.

She clutched his shoulders in turn. Their tongues tangled. Their breaths mingled and grew hectic.

Now this was a kiss - deep, frantic. What she'd long imagined. Hearts thudding, bodies shaking. She whimpered against his mouth as her knees went weak. But he held her steady and safe against his chest as he continued to plunder her mouth.

Too soon, he broke away, leaving her dazed and panting.

"I need to claim you." He pulled her hair to the side and skimmed his lips across the now healed skin where he'd bitten her.

She shivered violently, her ni**les hardening in a rush.

"I never want to be apart from you again," he murmured. "Now I'll be able to stay with you here."

Oh, Murdoch, no. Should she lie to him, act as if that could possibly happen?

When he drew back to meet her eyes, she forced herself to smile, though she knew the Icere would never accept him. Vampires were despised here.

She should just enjoy this miracle. Worry about what to do later.

"What? Something's wrong."

"Uh-huh." Her hands dipped to his pants, untying the waist. "You're not na**d enough," she said, working them past his protruding erection. When he stood unclothed before her, she gripped his gorgeous length.




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