Argonauts was housed in a towering building of glass and chrome, and as Grace rode the elevator up to the forty-third floor, she brooded, thinking the company should have been housed in a hut of shame and greed.

Did Jason Graves actually think he could lock her brother away and go unpunished? Her hands fisted at her sides. Underneath her anger, however, were tendrils of fear that refused to leave. She remembered how cold and sick Alex had looked.

"I'm scared, Darius," she whispered.

He remained curiously silent. Solemn, actually.

Grace turned toward him and blinked. Though some color had returned to his cheeks, the lines around his lips were taut, and there was a new hollowness to his cheeks. She didn't like to see this hard, strong, extraordinarily capable man weakened in any way. Not because it made him less able to help her, but because she cared about him. Darius. About all the things that made up who he was. Seeing him distressed was worse than experiencing it herself.

The realization rocked her because it meant... Oh, God. She didn't just care about him. She loved him. Grace groaned, and Darius cast her a sharp glance. She offered him a forced half smile. Of all the silly things to do. To fall in love with this mighty warrior like a jumper from a plane. No parachute. No landing mat. Just... splat.

When she'd told Darius she wasn't ready for him, she'd meant it. He was too intense. Too stubborn. Too much everything. So how could this have happened?

Don't worry about that right now. Just feed him. Get his strength up . Her hands shook as she dug in her purse and pulled out a tin of mints. Keeping her focus away from his face-she did not want him to know what she was thinking-she reached down and grasped his hand. His palm was warm and dry, thick and rough.

He jerked away from her touch.

Before she had time to react, he was reaching out and stiffly relinking their fingers. "Don't do me any favors," she snapped and tried to tug her hand away. She'd just realized she loved him, and he didn't want her to touch him. "Just so you know, I didn't want to hold your hand. I wanted to give you a mint."

"Be still," he said, at last deigning to speak with her.

"Let go of-"

"Close your mouth, or I will close it for you. With my own."

Eyes narrowed, she lifted her free hand and stuffed several mints in his mouth, effectively shutting him up. Close her mouth, would he? His nose wrinkled as he chewed, but his grip on her hand strengthened.

Someone behind them chuckled, reminding her that two men carting briefcases and files were in the elevator, as well. She darted a gaze to them and gave each one a quick, forced smile.

Not about to heed Darius's warning, she whispered to him, "When we get there, let me do the talking. I don't want anyone to know that we know what's going on."

He frowned. "I will allow you to do the talking, since these are your people," he said loudly, uncaring about their audience. "If they do not answer to my satisfaction, however, I will be forced to act."

"You can't threaten everyone who refuses to answer your questions," she told him, still maintaining her sense of quiet. "Or you'll end up in jail-or a dungeon-or whatever you call it."

"Sometimes, sweet Grace, your innocence amuses me. As if I could be held in a prison." His frown deepened. "Will this contraption go no faster? We have wasted enough time already." With his free hand, he jabbed his finger into the wall of buttons.

The elevator stopped on the next floor. As well as the next... and the next.

"The stairs would have been faster," one of the businessmen muttered, his voice laced with irritation.

Grace flashed him another smile, this one apologetic.

The man glared at her, as if it were all her fault. As if she could control a six foot five hulk of a warrior who-Oh, my God! Darius was displaying his fangs again, this time at the poor, innocent businessmen. When the elevator stopped yet again, the two scurried out with fearful gasps-but at least they were alive.

 

"Did you see that?" one of them said. "He had saber-teeth."

When the doors closed, leaving her and Darius alone, silence gripped them in a tight fist. Over and over the elevator halted. When someone tried to enter, Darius gave them the same scowl he'd given the businessmen and every one of them retreated and waved them on before the doors closed.

After the fourth jostling stop, Grace's stomach threatened to rebel, and she tugged Darius from the elevator and onto the floor. Twenty-nine, she realized with dread.

"Excuse me," she said to the first person she saw, an older woman who carried a tray of vanilla scented cappuccinos. "Where are the stairs?"

"Down the hall. Last door on your right."

"Thank you." Only when they were inside the empty stairwell did Grace speak again. "Perhaps now is a good time to tell me about your dragon peculiarities," she said, chewing her lip nervously. Her voice echoed from the drab walls. "I need to be prepared... just in case."

As they climbed, she retained a firm hold on his hand.

He didn't ask her to release him, and she allowed herself to think it was because he needed the contact as much as she did, that they were connected in some intangible way and the physical contact strengthened that bond.

"Dragons can fly," he said on a sigh.

"With wings?"

"Is there any other way?"

"There's no reason to be snide. There's no bulge in the back of your shirt to indicate the presence of wings or any other type of... " She searched her mind for the right words, ending with, "Flying apparatus."

"They are hidden in long slits of skin. When the wings emerge, the skin is retracted. Perhaps I will show you. Later. When we are alone."

There was a promise of something in his voice, something hot and wild and erotically wicked, and she pictured him without his shirt, pictured her fingertips tracing down the muscles and ridges of his back. She shivered. His scent chose that moment to surround, envelop, and submerge her, awakening her to a deeper level of need.

She had to change the subject before she did something foolish, like ignore the outside world and her responsibilities and drag him home. "Are there humans in Atlantis?" she asked.

"Some. Years ago the gods brought humans to our land to remind us of our humanity. Not long after their appearance, the vampires ate most of them."

"Gross." She spied a peek at him through the shield of her lashes, then quickly refocused on the stairs before she tripped. "Have you, well, have you ever dated a human woman before? Not that you're dating one now," she rushed on. "I just meant-" She compressed her lips together.

He jumped right to the heart of the matter. "By dated do you mean bedded?"

"If the question doesn't offend you, then yes."

"Are you sure you wish to hear the answer?"

Yes. No. She sighed. She really wanted to know. "Yes."

"There's only one human I would willingly bed, Grace, and I have plans to do so." One of his fingers heatedly caressed her palm.

Oh. Ribbons of pleasure wound around her, and her lips lifted in a soft smile she couldn't stop.

By the time they topped the forty-third floor, Grace's thigh muscles burned with fatigue. She'd always dreamt of being a perfect size six, but the torture required for such a task was getting to be too much. Exercise... how she was coming to loathe the word. It was a thing more foul than low-fat ranch dressing.

Darius held open the door, and she swept past him, finally releasing his hand. She stepped inside Argonauts, the carpet beneath her feet a plush burgundy wool. Her gaze scanned the offices. On the wall hung Picasso, Monet and Renoir. Guards manned several corners, and security cameras roamed in every direction. A small rocky waterfall filled the center of the waiting area, and an expensive, exotic perfume floated on the air, drifting like clouds over the sun on a perfect spring day. Both were peaceful, and both mocked her.

That bastard! There was no doubt in her mind how Jason Graves afforded these things. A surge of rage boiled deep inside her. When Alex had first begun working for Argonauts, he'd barely made enough money to pay the rent on a little efficiency in Brooklyn. The past few months he'd brought home substantially more and had moved to his decadent new apartment in the Upper East Side.

Argonauts, too, had moved from their small offices in Brooklyn to here.

Yesterday, or even an hour ago, she had thought this success was because of recent mythological discoveries. Now she knew the truth. Jason Graves afforded these luxuries through the rape of Atlantis.

She stalked to the reception desk. Three women manned phones and computers. The first, the one Grace approached, had short black hair and heavily but perfectly made up features. She wasn't pretty in the traditional sense, but attractive all the same. She frowned with impatience at Grace, then dropped her jaw in awe when she saw Darius. That damn sex appeal of his!

"One moment please," the woman said into her mouthpiece, speaking to a caller. To Darius, she said, "May I help you?" Her voice was cultured, ritzy.

Grace fisted her hands to keep from unleashing her claws.

"We will see Jason Graves now," he said.

So much for doing all the talking, she thought with a mental sigh.

"What's your name, sir?"

"Darius en Kragin."

The woman's fingers flew over her keyboard, her long, oval nails tapping away. Without glancing up, she asked, "Which company are you with?"

"I come on my own behalf."

She finished her typing, read over the computer screen, then leveled him with a stare. "Mr. Graves isn't in today. He's out on business."

Grace rubbed a hand down her face. She was tired of delays and was completely out of patience. "When do you expect him back?" she asked more sharply than she'd intended.

"End of the week. Possibly beginning of next. If you'll leave your name and number, I'll make sure he receives the information when he returns."

Unwilling to wait that long, Grace said, "What about his assistant? Is he in?"

"That would be Mitch Pierce," the woman said. She propped her elbows on the desk, linked her delicate, tapered fingers, and perched her chin in the cradle her hands provided. "And yes, he is."

Mitch... another Argonaut who had helped her in the jungle. She contained a scowl. "We'd like to see him. Today."

Arched brows and a superior smile met her words. "Do you have an appointment?"

Grace opened her mouth to say no, but stopped herself. Admitting she didn't have an appointment was the fastest way to get shown to the door. However, she'd be caught in a lie if she said yes. Not knowing what else to do, she traced her bottom lip with her fingertip and pretended to mull the question in her mind. I probably look like an idiot .

Thankfully the receptionist grew tired of waiting and said, exasperated, "I'll see if he can fit you in. What's your name?"

"Grace Carlyle."

One hand rapped at her computer while the other punched a series of numbers in the telephone pad. After requesting Mr. Pierce's schedule, she hung up and glanced at Grace. "He'll see you within the hour. You may wait through the double doors on your left."

"Thank you," Grace said. Trying unsuccessfully to suppress her triumph, she ushered Darius into the waiting room. They were alone in the room. A round, glass table occupied the center and was piled high with books and magazines; along the farthest wall sat a couch and several chairs. All elegant, and all expensive.

During their wait they endured several peek-in visits from security guards. She flipped through a few magazines. (According to the current Cosmo love quiz, she and Darius were not compatible.) In one of the magazines, there was a feature article about Jason Graves, his recent discoveries, and his recent accumulation of wealth. The article told how he had purchased an apartment building on the Upper East Side and allowed all of his employees to stay there-which was where Alex lived. That she'd known. Jason himself stayed in the penthouse. That she hadn't.

Darius spent the short time splayed out in his seat, his hands locked behind his neck. He kept his eyes closed. She suspected he was gathering his strength and mentally preparing himself for the coming confrontation.

Finally a woman, slightly older and less hostile than the receptionist, entered and said, "Mr. Pierce will see you now. If you'll follow me... "

Grace jumped to her feet, Darius right beside her. They shared a glance before exiting. Side by side, they strode down a hall and around a corner. The woman stopped and swept her hand out in front of her. "Last door on the right," she said.

Gliding past her, Grace eyed every door she encountered. She didn't see Alex's name. Where was his office? "I'm so ready to nail the Argonauts to the wall," she muttered to Darius.

A genuine smile played at the corner of his lips. "I had not realized before what a bloodthirsty wench you are. Try to contain your bloodlust long enough that we might question this Mitch."

"Bloodlust?" she gasped, then realized he thought she literally meant to nail Mitch to the wall. "I meant-oh, never mind." Whether she meant it or not, the idea had merit. "I'll try to contain myself."

At the end of the hallway loomed a single door. The nameplate in the center announced Mitch's name in bold, black letters. "That's the one," Grace said, smoothing her shirt and jeans. She didn't know what she'd say or do when she saw him.

Darius didn't bother knocking. He simply shoved open the door and strolled inside.

She followed right on his heels. Mitch sat at a large mahogany desk. There was no clutter, no papers scattered around him. He was as average looking as Grace recalled, with broad shoulders and lean limbs, pleasantly attractive with slightly gray hair that gave him a distinguished air. Only one thing about his appearance captured her interest. Sweat beaded atop his brow.

He was nervous.

Very interesting. Her gaze cataloged the office, taking in the sea of wealth and indulgence. Art, vases, glass and wood figurines. Carpet so light her feet felt as if they were traipsing on clouds.

With a visibly forced air of nonchalance, Mitch folded his hands together-hands that were shaking slightly-and propped his elbows on the desk surface. There was something about his eyes, something she hadn't noticed before... they were beady and shallow. Greedy. He offered them a pleasant, if false, smile. "It's nice to see you again, Grace," he said. "You look well after your trials in the rain forest."

"Thank you." Bastard. She didn't offer him the same compliment.

"Please, have a seat." He coughed and flicked a nervous glance to Darius. "Did you really feel it was necessary to bring a bodyguard?"

"He's a friend," she said. "He's staying with me for a while."

"I see. Well, again, please have a seat."

Darius crossed his arms over his massive chest, stretching the material of his black shirt taut over his muscles, silently communicating his refusal. Only a fool would underestimate his capabilities.

Mitch used a plain white handkerchief to wipe at his brow. Obviously he was no fool.

Grace remained beside Darius. She only prayed his dragon fangs were retracted. Watching Mitch pee his pants was not how she wanted to begin this meeting. The only time she might, might , be glad to see those fangs was in bed. While he was naked. Looking down at her. Moving into her.

For God's sake, concentrate.

"Very well, then," Mitch said. "How may I help you?"

"Where is your leader, Jason Graves?" Darius demanded.

"Out of town. Still in Brazil, I'm afraid. I'm more than willing to help you with anything you might need." Mitch laughed nervously.

"I want to know why you had a man following Grace." He stressed the word had , making it clear Patrick would be following them no more.

With an audible gulp, Mitch leaned back in his seat. Too lost in his apprehension, he didn't try to deny it "I suppose you cornered the man. May I ask what he told you?"

"He would tell us nothing," Darius lied. "Only that you had sent him."

Mitch's shoulders relaxed. "We did send someone to follow Grace, but we did that for her own protection. We feared something had happened to Alex, and we didn't want the same fate to befall Grace."

"You say 'feared,' as in past tense," Grace pointed out. "Do you now know that nothing has happened to him, then?"

"No, no. That's not what I meant." The smile he gave her was weak. "As I told you, we've still got men looking for him, both in Brazil and here. I came back because someone has to oversee the company. Don't you worry, though. We'll find him and bring him home safely."

"I'm sure you will." She gripped the edge of her jeans tightly and twisted, wishing it was Mitch's neck instead.

"Is that why you're here?" he asked. "To inquire about our progress with Alex? You should have called me. I could have saved you a trip."

"I'm here because I'd like to search his office, if I may."

"Oh, uh, I'm afraid that's impossible," he said, his smile slipping. "Only Argonauts' employees are allowed in the offices. Client confidentiality, and all that." He laughed shakily. "Are you looking for employment, Grace?"

Her brows raised. "Are you offering me a job, Mitch?"

He paused. "We're always in need of good employees."

Probably because you kill them all , she thought snidely. She heard Darius suck in a breath and wondered belatedly if she'd actually said the words aloud.

"On your way out," Mitch added, his demeanor unchanging, which meant he hadn't heard her comment, "ask the receptionist for an application. If you're anything like Alex you'll make a fine addition to our staff."

"I'll be sure to do that." Regarding him sharply, she tilted her chin to the side. "I'm curious. If you suspect something bad has happened to Alex, why haven't you called the police?"

"We don't want to involve the U.S. authorities until we have more concrete information."

Like a body ? she mused. "What have you done to locate him?"

"Jason can give you more details about this when he returns. Perhaps you should contact the police on your own."

Her eyes widened as a thought occurred to her. Mitch wanted her to go to the authorities. Why? What possible good could that do him? Unless... could they be planning to make her look like a fool, an overly concerned sister? Or worse, guilty of a crime? Blame the sister. Of course. That would be the reason they'd let her leave Brazil, the reason they kept her alive and didn't wave her in front of Alex as an incentive to talk.

The realization rocked her. She owed Darius. Big-time. He'd saved her from making a huge mistake, from playing right into Jason's hands.

"I haven't yet, no," she told Mitch. "Perhaps I will."

"That might be wise," he said, for the first time offering her a genuine smile. "There's only so much we can do." He paused for a breath. "Would either of you care for a drink?"

How casually he reverted to pleasantries. How may I help you? Would you like a drink ? Suddenly Grace wanted to stomp her foot, to shriek and rail that she knew they had her brother hidden and locked away. She wanted to leap across the desk, magically will on a pair of brass knuckles, and smack Mitch right in his beady eyes. Too, she wanted to find the medallion and offer it on a silver platter. Just return my brother, she inwardly screamed.

It depressed her that she could do none of those things. If they suspected that she knew the truth, they would kill Alex. If she found and gave them the medallion, they would kill Alex. Destroy the evidence of their misdeeds, so to speak. Either way, he died.

Never in her life had she felt more helpless.

"No drink," she said, surprised at her calm tone. "I do have some questions for you, though. When was the last time you heard from Alex?" If she kept him talking long enough, perhaps he'd slip and inadvertently disclose crucial information.

"I believe I've already answered this question. A few weeks ago," Mitch said. "He called to let us know he was entering the jungle."

"What is the name of the man your search team found? The one who had last seen Alex? He was gone when I woke up on the boat, so I didn't get a chance to talk to him." And now she knew why.

Mitch gulped. "I, uh, can't recall."

She gave her jeans another hard twist. "Didn't Argonauts fund Alex's trip? Shouldn't you have records with the names of the men you hire?"

"We didn't fund the trip," he offered quickly. Too quickly. "Perhaps Jason can tell you the man's name when he returns."

"In the jungle, I wanted to stay and look for Alex, but you said he'd already purchased a ticket back to New York. Do you know which airline?"

"I can't recall." He chuckled, the sound strained. "I'll be honest with you, Grace. I'm not sure where he is, and I'm no longer sure he took the flight. I wish I could help you, but... " He shrugged. "He could be anywhere."

"Do you now suspect foul play?"

"We certainly hope not. We don't even want to consider that possibility until we absolutely must."

Grace racked her brain for another question, another comment, but came up blank. She glanced at Darius. His expression was blanketed, stoic, yet she had the distinct feeling he yearned to stalk across the room and beat Mitch into the carpet. Obviously Mitch received the same impression; he shifted uncomfortably in his chair.

With Mitch's complete attention centered on him, Darius strode casually about the office, lifting vases and figurines as if they were no more important than dust mites. His fingers pinched at them, dismissed them, then replaced them on their perches with complete disregard. Mitch tensed, gulped. However, not a single protest oozed from his mouth.

"I do not like you," Darius told him, weighing a jewel-studded goblet in his palms. He offered the words with a kind of still repose, a natural assurance only the most confident of people possessed. "You remind me of a blood-sucking vampire."

Mitch pulled at his plain blue tie. "There, uh, are no such thing as vampires."

"Nor dragons, I'm sure," Darius answered.

All color drained from the man's face, showcasing the thin hollows of his cheeks. His gaze widened, and he transferred his attention between Darius and the goblet. "That's right," he said brokenly, reaching out instinctively for the artifact.

Darius tsked under his tongue. He tossed the cup in the air, caught it, then tossed it again. When he caught it for a second time, he said casually, "Since you are an unbeliever, you'll never have to worry about being eaten alive by a dragon." He arched a brow. "Will you?"

On a strangled gasp, Mitch shoved to his feet, his chair rolling behind him as he anchored his palms on his desk surface. "Set that down before I call security. All I've done is try to help, and this is how you treat me. You may show yourselves out."

"I have seen these objects before," Darius remarked, staying right where he was and giving the goblet a few more tosses.

"In Archeologist Digest , I'm sure." Mitch cast a desperate, fleeting glance to Grace.

She struggled not to glare at him.

"Now, please," he added. "I have work to do, and I'm sure you don't want to take up any more of my time."

After replacing the goblet, Darius palmed a vase boasting a colorful array of dragons etched around the edges. "Where did you find this?"

A pause. A cough. "Madrid. I really need to get back to work."

"I would swear on my life it belonged to a friend of mine. Perhaps you have heard of him. His name is-or was-Javar ta 'Arda. He gifted his wife, Teira, with a vase identical to this one on the eve of their mating."

"Perhaps you should put that down." Mitch nervously licked his lips. "I meant it when I said I'd call security. I don't want to, but I will."

Darius returned the vase to its perch, letting it wobble ominously at the edge. "As I was saying a moment ago, I do not like you. But Grace has asked me not to kill anyone today. Still," he added after a loaded pause, "there is always tomorrow."

With that, he strode from the office. That's my man , Grace thought proudly.

"Have a nice day, Mitch," she said, flicking him one last glance. His features were so pallid he resembled a ghost-or vampire. He was reaching out, racing around his desk in his haste to save the vase from annihilation.

As she chased after Darius, she heard the shatter of porcelain, the howl of a man. Both buoyed her spirits, and she bit back a smile.

Lost in the intensity of his thunderous emotions, Darius stared straight ahead as he and Grace strode toward her home. "Do you think Alex is okay?" she asked, her voice so low he had to strain to hear.

"For now. He has something they want. Otherwise, they would have killed him long ago."

That kept her quiet for a long while. "Where do you think he's being kept?"

"Atlantis."

She paused midstep, before jumping back into stride. "But you checked. You said he wasn't there."

"He wasn't. Then. The vision of Alex confirmed that, for he was here on the surface. However, after meeting the cowardly Mitch I suspect he has already been moved."

"How do we find out where he's being kept in Atlantis? Interrogate Mitch? Break into Argonauts?"

"No," he answered. "We are more likely to find what we need in Jason Graves's place of residence." But more than that, breaking into Jason's home would supply him with a better understanding of the man he would soon fight.

Oh, yes. Fight Jason he would. His anticipation grew with every second that passed.

"You're right." Grace brightened and curled her lush, rosy mouth with anticipation. Her features were so lovely his chest hurt when he looked at her. "Since he's out of town ," she sneered the word, "today is the perfect day to let ourselves into his apartment."

"We will go tonight, when the shadows can hide us."

"After that are you," she faltered, "are you going home?"

"I must obtain the vests first."

They neared Grace's door, and she withdrew a key. "I want to go with you when you return."

"No. Absolutely not."

Her eyes narrowed.

"Get inside. Now." He gave her a gentle shove past the entrance. "There is something I must do before I join you." A dark storm churned inside him. He needed some type of release, needed to plan his next move. But more than that, he needed some sort of distance from Grace and his growing feelings for her.

He did not give her time to ask him any more questions. He simply closed the door in her stunned, beautiful face. "I will be right here if you need me," he said through the wood.

Perhaps it was his imagination, or perhaps he was seeing more clearly than ever before, but in his mind's eye he watched her fingertips caress the slat of wood, watched her press her lips together, and her gaze sadden. She didn't know what was happening within him and that worried her. This was not the first time she'd worried for him, and each time it touched him deeply, softened him somehow.

He waited until he heard the lock click in place before he stepped away and began pacing back and forth through the hallway. He would have liked to explore this New York, but the binding spell prevented any great distance between him and Grace. Occasionally humans strode past him and gave him a curious stare, but no one stopped and questioned him.

I want to go with you , Grace had said.

He blanched at the thought of taking her back to his home, even as joy flooded him. How he would have loved to splay Grace upon his bed, her naked body open and eager for him. He craved the reality of that.

The thought of being without her left him cold.

And the acknowledgment of that coldness left him reeling.

Tomorrow he would have to leave. He had moments of utter strength, and moments of utter weakness. No matter what he learned or didn't learn, no matter what he acquired or didn't acquire, he would have to return home in the morning, or he didn't think he'd have the strength to transport himself to the mist. Yet he still had so much to do.

He still had to kill Grace.

Could he, though? Could he harm her?

Darius didn't have to think about it. No. He couldn't.

The answer sliced through him as sharply as a blade. He could not hurt sweet, innocent Grace in any way.

She captivated him on so many different levels. He was coming to depend on her in a way he'd once considered impossible, craving the emotions she made him feel with the same ferocity he'd once hated them. Without her, he was not fully alive.

He'd watched her stand up to that man, Mitch, and he'd felt pride. She hadn't backed down. She'd questioned him without revealing her hurt, without crumbling under the need to administer justice. She was a woman of strength and honor, a woman of love and trust.

His woman.

Silently his boots pounded into the carpet. He drew in the rich scent of food that seemed to encompass this entire building, this city, and steered his mind on to his own home. Javar and all of the dragons of that unit were dead. Dark sorrow wove through his blood as he at last admitted the truth. He'd known it beyond a doubt the moment he spied the treasures of Javar's home displayed so mockingly inside Argonauts.

His friends were dead, he repeated in his mind. They'd died by guns, most likely. Guns... and vampires. Perhaps the Book of Ra-Dracus had even helped. No matter what had happened, no matter what had been done, he would have vengeance.

This was what came of allowing humans to know of Atlantis; this was what Javar warned him of.

While Javar had not been an easy man to know, he had been like a father to Darius. They had understood each other. When Teira entered Javar's life, the man had softened and the bond between tutor and student had deepened, ever as it widened. What a senseless death. A needless death. He'd lost no one close to him since the murder of his family. And now trickles of pain, both past and present, rose within him like a tide of water, seeping insidiously past his defenses and eroding the very fabric of his detachment. A sharp ache stabbed him, and he gripped his chest.

Deny your tears and keep the hurt inside you, boy. Use it against those who mean us harm. Kill them with it.

Javar had said one variation after another of those words. He wouldn't want Darius to mourn him, but mourn him Darius did. He would not have survived those first years without Javar, without the purpose his tutor had given him.

He should have killed the human man, Mitch, Darius thought dispassionately. He should have killed both human men. Mitch and Patrick. They each had knowledge of the mist, had most likely entered and had played a part in Javar's death. Had he destroyed them, however, he felt certain Grace's brother would have been killed in retaliation.

More than that, he hadn't wanted Grace to view him as a killer. Protector, yes. Lover, most definitely. But ruthless slayer? No longer.

He could only guess at how she would react if she fully beheld the beast inside him. Tremble with fear and disgust? Run from him as if he were a monster? He didn't want her scared of him; he wanted her pliant. Welcoming. He just wanted her, all of her. Now... and perhaps always.

He'd come so close to losing control with the one called Patrick, and it had required a conscious effort to calm himself. Coming face-to-face with the man who had run his fingertips over Grace's sleeping body had infuriated him. Only he was allowed to touch her. Only he, Darius, was allowed to gaze at her luscious curves and imagine her stripped and open, ready and eager.

She belonged to him.

He wished to give her the world, not take it from her.

He wished to fill her days with excitement and her nights with passion. He wished to protect her, honor her and devote himself to her needs. He could not let her go, he realized now. Not ever. He needed her for she was his heart. His emotions had never been mild where she was concerned but as unstoppable as a turbulent storm.

I'll never be able to harm her . The admission solidified inside him. His deepest male instincts had known since the beginning. The woman was a part of him, the best part, and hurting her would destroy him .

There was a way to have it all, he decided. A way to keep her from harm, a way to keep her for himself and still honor his oath.

He had only to figure out what that was.