WOULD LAYEL COME?

And had he touched that nymph bitch? Delilah had the sudden urge to drive the length of her wooden blade through the nearest tree. Or heart. She wasn't picky. She'd spent more time worrying about him and his actions than about Lily, the next challenge and the frightening days ahead. Sadly, she doubted that would change.

All around her, water cascaded into a dappled pool of liquid crystal. Lily pads floated dreamily and lazy moonlight seeped from the sky. Everything around her evoked peace and romance, yet her heart pounded like a war drum.

Layel had stayed away from her for an entire day. Pleasuring that nasty nymph? How she'd hoped to see him, had looked for him in every shadow; she'd missed him terribly, dark temper, cruel words and all. She hadn't sought him out, though, lost in the wake of Tagart's sickening revelation. He'd had a mate. Obviously he still mourned her.

Delilah couldn't tolerate the idea of Layel thinking of another woman while he touched her. And the nymph?

"Argh!" She was taking a chance - a big one - just to appease her curiosity. At least, that's the reasoning she gave herself. Tomorrow, perhaps, she would believe it. Right now, she wanted to experience possession. Utter, dream-about-forever possession. He wanted Delilah. On some level, he wanted her.

Oh, gods. Would he come?

Layel had considered her a fool for suggesting such a rendezvous, but then he had suggested one, as well. Perhaps she was a fool, but she had to know more of him. The compulsion to be near him, have his teeth in her vein, made her crazed. Wonderfully crazed, and that compulsion only intensified with every moment that passed. Actually, it was now buried so deep inside her she could not find and destroy it. Could only tolerate its ever-growing presence and follow wherever it happened to lead.

Would he never come?

Back and forth she paced, droplets of water splashing her calves. Tendrils of fear drifted through her. She didn't fear him. She was too much a warrior, too well trained, to let him conquer her completely and hurt her in the process. What she feared was liking everything that he did too much. Liking him. Wanting, needing, craving more and being unable to let him go.

That didn't drive her away. Oh, no. She doubted anything could drive her away right now. Nothing and no one had ever fascinated her as Layel did. All he had to do was show up and she would take care of the rest.

Another minute ticked by, then another. She had spent most of the day making more weapons, and now she fisted the two blades at her sides before tossing them down. The razored sticks crisscrossed at her back soon followed. They plopped against each other in the moss. Next came the arrows she'd painstakingly carved.

Without them, she felt naked. Not as naked as she wanted to be, though. With a humph, she sat on the driest rock at the water's edge and unwound the laces of her boots. She tossed them aside as she had her weapons and dipped her toes into the warm, soothing water.

Where in Hades was he?

If he'd changed his mind, she would hunt him down and -

"I should not have come," he said, somehow behind her.

Gasping, she twisted. Not a single sound had given away his presence. Not so much as a blur of movement. But he was here now. Right in front of her. Beautiful, eerily so, those haunted, tragic eyes devouring her in a white-hot perusal. At least he wasn't eyeing her with hatred.

But seeing him, the first stirring of vulnerability overtook her. Suddenly she was unsure about what to do and say, and despised herself for the weakness. What did he think of as he looked at her like that? Perhaps nothing good. He still mourned the death of his human mate, after all. Still defended her honor.

Delilah, he threatened to slay at every opportunity.

"But you are here," she finally said.

He gave a stiff nod. "Here I am. I...did not touch the nymph."

Relief thundered through her, so potent she would have fallen if she had been standing. Thank the gods. Heads would have rolled had he delivered a different announcement. "As if I care," she lied airily.

Clearly, he was not so easily fooled. "You care. You shouldn't, but you do. I, however, only came for your neck."

 

"You need to feed," she said, and the answer suddenly didn't sit well. He hadn't come for her specifically, hadn't come for passion and satisfaction. He'd come for sustenance, nothing more.

"You knew that. I told you so. But need?" He shook his head. "No. I'll never need anyone."

What did that mean?

She hadn't voiced the question, but he answered her anyway. "I want your blood. I do not need it."

"Are you sure?"

He ignored her. "First, you will tell me why you are so willing to help me."

"I don't know."

He studied her, gaze probably taking in details she didn't like him being privy to. How badly she still wanted him, how much she wished she didn't. "You know nothing about me," he said.

She knew he was strong, loyal, resourceful. Kind when he wanted to be, sensual even when he didn't want to be. She knew his kisses were addicting, his body living art.

"And I know nothing about you," he added, stepping toward her.

A tremor slid the length of her spine. Close, so close. She had only to reach out to touch him, but she didn't. She turned back to the water and toyed with the ends of her hair. "No, you don't." Did he even want to? She hoped that he did, but she couldn't be certain.

Another step, and his knees brushed her shoulders. At both points of contact, her skin tingled.

"What happens here can only end badly." Awful words, yet hunger pulsed from his tone, slamming into her and fueling her own.

Sexual desire wasn't new to her. How many nights had she lain awake, sweating, panting, aching and wishing? Countless. How many times had she dreamed of a man to love her? Again, countless. This man didn't love her, but he was strong, beautiful, her secret fantasies come to sizzling life.

Gone was her pride. Gone were her self-protective instincts. With desire this intense, there wasn't room for anything else. They were burned away, rendered ash. She had no defense.

Weak, you are so weak. It was the same kind of weakness she had always despised in others. And for what? For a man. A man who might very well pretend she was someone else while he swallowed her blood. "If your mate were alive - " She felt him stiffen and forced herself to quiet.

"How dare you mention her to me?" he said in a low growl. "How did you learn of her? Who told you? I will rip their throat apart with my teeth." The ugly threat echoed around them. "I should not have come here."

"Wait." I'm pathetic. And yet, a hint of fury blended with her desire - fury and jealousy. Part of her hated his mate to the depths of her soul. Mine, her mind shouted. He's mine. "You're here now. Stay."

He curled his fingers atop her shoulders and squeezed. Cold as he was, she should have experienced a glacial chill. Instead, she burned all the hotter. "What were you thinking? Before?"

"That's none of your concern," she answered with a - gods, how mortifying - blush. If he knew, he would rebuke her. Perhaps try and kill her as he'd threatened.

"Your hands balled as if you were preparing to fight."

"And that frightened you?"

He snorted, and she could almost hear a smile in the sound.

Her chest gave a strange little ache. She wanted to see that smile with an intensity that surprised her. "Some people do fear me, believe it or not."

"I'm sure they do."

Feigning a casualness she didn't feel, she leaned her weight against his legs. He didn't back away, but accepted the weight as his due. She reached back and caressed his legs, up and down, soft and sweet. Her palms burned as she wrapped her fingers around his ankles.

Without any warning, she jerked his feet out from under him.

Caught off guard, he crashed to the ground without even reaching for an anchor, unable to breathe as his lungs emptied. She rocked to her feet, twisted and leapt. Before he could rise, she was straddling his chest.

"You were saying, vampire?"

There was a brief glitter of admiration in his azure eyes, quickly extinguished. "Nice move. Obviously a favorite of yours." No smile as she'd craved, but she could still hear amusement in his voice.

"Thank you. And, yes, I do prefer it."

Slowly he leaned up on his elbows. She flipped her hair over one shoulder, baring her neck, and tilted her head to the side. "Come. I'm tired of waiting for you to begin. Let's get this over with."

He shook his head. "I will not bite you there." Even as he uttered the restriction, he peered at her throat and licked his lips hungrily. "Your teammates will see the wound, and they will not like that you were with me." His voice was thick, almost slurred, as if he'd had too much wine.

"Then where?"

His gaze instantly lowered to her inner thigh.

Another shiver traveled through her.

"Do you like the thought of my mouth there?" he whispered fiercely. Before she could answer, however, he gave another head shake, anger dancing in his eyes. "Never mind. Do not answer. I find that I am more like my men than I thought and I don't want to hear about your desires."

She answered, anyway, for she would not allow him to reduce her to a thing, an object without feeling. When his mouth was on her, he would think of her, and no one else. Know she was hot for him, eager. "Yes. I love it. Dream of it. Crave it."

His pupils dilated, and he sucked in a breath. Against her thigh, she could feel the swift beat of his heart. She blinked her eyes, nothing more, and suddenly she was on her back. He loomed over her, white hair falling like a curtain to brush her cheeks.

"We shall see if you like it after."

"Plan to purposely hurt me?" His scent wafted to her, and there was power in it, something spicy and male. She inhaled deeply, savoring, and their chests brushed, hardness to softness. Her nipples instantly pearled, desperate for contact.

"Spread your legs," he gritted out, ignoring her question.

A command. Though she'd once claimed she would never obey him, she found herself doing exactly as he'd ordered. Her blood was so blistering it had already liquefied her bones.

His heavy weight settled more firmly atop her.

Warm water lapped at her feet, rising higher and higher up her legs, her sides, her shoulders, as if it wanted to caress her. Several strands of hair swished and waved around her, ribbons against her sensitized skin.

"I warned you. Told you to stay away from me. But here you are." Layel crawled backward to his knees. He stared down at her, his face now unreadable. The rest of him, well...there was banked strength in every tensed muscle.

Her stomach quivered. "Here I am. Delilah. Yours." For now. The thought saddened her.

His nostrils flared. His hands hung at his sides, the nails elongated. She imagined them on her body, raking. Stinging a little. Then, of course, he would lick away the pain with a hot flick of his tongue. She would beg for more, so he would turn his focus between her legs, touching...Oh, gods. She shivered as moisture pooled there.

He gave an animalistic growl, pure predator. "Tell me true. No lies. Have you ever before been bitten by a vampire?"

"Yes. It was not pleasant."

His hands moved to her waist and squeezed. In jealousy that he wasn't her first bite? "So you are not addicted to our...ministrations."

"Hardly."

"You say that as though it isn't a possibility - but I assure you that when done right, it can be pleasurable. I wonder, though. Why let me do this here and now if you hate it so?"

Somehow he radiated more of that delicious heat. It surrounded her, dangerous, overshadowing everything in its path and leaving only...a woman. The warrior inside her had long since said goodbye. Would Layel bite her the right way? Make it pleasurable for her?

"Well?" he demanded.

"Curiosity," she told him, giving him the same answer she'd given herself.

"I don't think so."

"All that tells me is that you should think less." She didn't want to tell him the truth, that she couldn't bear the thought of him going to someone else. Possessiveness was as new to her as this all-consuming need.

"Do you want my teeth inside you or not?"

"You talk too much, too."

"Probably," he said, but made no move toward her.

Indecision played over his expression, his first hint of emotion since rising above her. Battle-trained as she was, she suspected he hoped to talk himself out of this. Probably hoped her answers to his questions would aid him in that.

He wasn't going to walk away from her, not after she had humbled herself like this, something she had never done for anyone else, even her sisters. Even Vorik. "If you fail to bite me in the next three seconds, vampire, I'm going to rise. I'm going to leave you here and nothing, not even curiosity, will bring me back."

He gripped her shoulders, pinning them to the ground. But he did not lean into her. "Don't make threats you do not intend to keep. They give your enemy an edge over you."

"One."

He gave her a little shake. "You will not manipulate me, and you will not rush me. Do you understand?"

"Two."

"Look at you." His hands moved slowly, purposefully to her breasts. He kneaded them. Gasping, she fell back and closed her legs against the sudden sharp ache pulsing there. "You can count."

Her jaw tightened. "Three."

She made to rise. He pressed down hard, holding her in place. Riding a crest of fury, she bucked her hips, dislodging him. She worked one of her legs between their bodies and kicked. Her strength must have surprised him, because he propelled backward and landed on his back.

She was on her feet in the next instant. Half of her hair was soaked and dripped down her back, cold, yet doing nothing to dampen the heat of her anger and ever-present arousal. "We are done. I have had - "

She never saw him move.

One second he was on his back, the next he was crouched in front of her, his strong grip banded around her ankles and tugging. Now she was propelled to the ground and when she hit, she hit hard. For a long while, she couldn't breathe, couldn't think, dizzying clouds inside her head.

There was no time to recover from it, either. Layel's sharp teeth sank into her thigh without warning. At penetration, he jerked, moaned. She cried out, fell all the way back. Her hands fisted in his hair - soft, silky - not to push him away but to draw him closer.

He did it right.

He drank and drank and drank, her entire existence centered on his mouth.

"Layel," she found herself chanting. A prayer? A plea? Oh, gods. So good. So damned good. It was as though ambrosia flowed from his teeth into her body, heating her up, stroking her nerve endings to a fever pitch.

"Should not...be so...heaven. Heaven." His tongue laved her skin while he continued to suck.

She arched and she writhed, her head thrashing. "More. Take more." Her neglected leg curled over his shoulder, down his back. His hands gripped her hips again, and this time the nails cut deep. She didn't care. Actually reveled in it. His passion was as fierce as hers.

"Don't want...Can't take...too much."

"Take more."

"Shouldn't." He gave one last, strong pull, and then his teeth slid free.

She moaned in disappointment and realized she would have let him suck her dry. Anything for a continuation of that sweet pleasure-pain. Her legs fell limp, boneless. She was gasping, that rush of whatever it was still in her veins. "I said...take more."

He licked his lips and closed his eyes in an expression of absolute ecstasy. "Any more and you would have been unable to rise for hours."

"Don't care."

"Should."

Oh, gods. She was floating. Desperate, needy. She couldn't force her hips to still. They moved up and down, left and right, seeking completion. "Your fingers, then." If he didn't touch her...Damn it! Her arousal was too intense to control or forget. "Touch me. Please."

There was a long, tense pause. "No."

She gripped her breasts and squeezed, just as he had done earlier. Her nipples throbbed all the more, wanting his hands. A whimper escaped her. Normally she would have hated herself for making such a sound, but now, this moment, she was owned by her passion.

She was used to taking what she needed, when she needed it. Right now, she needed release. Would die if she didn't get it. "Touch me!"

"No!"

"But I hurt." Mewling, pleading.

"I'm sorry," he said, and he once again sounded drunk. His hot gaze locked on her dripping core. "Has a man ever tasted you there? Tongued you deep?"

In my dreams, you have. "A man? No." Vorik had stripped and entered her in seconds, and there'd been nothing but thrusting at that point.

His eyes flared deep, bright blue. "A woman?"

"No. Dreams..." She arched her hips up, up. "Touch."

"Did you like it? In your dreams?"

"Yes." She had. But she wanted more, wanted reality. Many Amazons expounded about the act. My turn, she thought. "Need you. Please."

"Only me, or will anyone do?"

She caught a note of jealousy. Perhaps even, dare she hope, possessiveness. "You. Only you." She slid her hands down her stomach, and her navel quivered. Her fingers pushed past the leather waist of her skirt and dabbled just above the place she needed to be touched. She bit her bottom lip. Would he do it?

With a moan, he brushed her hands aside and replaced them with his own, tunneling under the patch of material. Two fingers slid into her wetness, spreading the moisture. His eyes closed, as if he was savoring everything about her.

"Yes, yes!"

His thumb circled her swollen clitoris. "You're so tight. Have you had a man, Delilah?"

Delilah. He'd said her name. He was here with her, not imagining himself with another woman. She nearly came.

Her gaze lowered to his huge erection, straining so proudly against his pants. She had to touch it, had to taste the head peeking from the waistband, had to taste the seed glistening there.

"Have you?" she asked him, hoping her sarcasm hid how much power he had over her just then.

His lips twitched. "How many have you had?"

"One," she finally admitted.

"I think I hate him."

What a sweet thing to say. She did not allow herself to consider the fact that Layel truly would hate the man when he learned she'd given herself to a dragon. Perhaps he would hate her, as well. Even more than he already did.

"Did you love him?"

"I thought I did. No, not true. I thought I could." How could she broach the subject of his mate without infuriating him again? "You have loved before."

He nodded. "Yes. Two hundred years ago, she was my everything." The moment he spoke, all hint of drunkenness left him. His color remained high, but was no longer soft. Every inch of him hardened. He jumped away from her as if she were poisonous. "Is my everything. Is still."

He said that while Delilah's arousal glittered on his fingers.

Her own sense of possessiveness sparked with renewed life, even while her fervent arousal chilled. "She is dead."

Though he had just fed, his fangs descended over his bottom lip. A lip stained red with her blood. "You will not speak of her. Ever."

"And if I do?" Delilah challenged, jumping up. Boneless as they were, her knees almost gave out. Somehow she managed to remain standing.

"I have dealt with you gently so far. Do not force me to change that."

"Gently?" She laughed, the sound bitter. "You have hurt me at every turn."

He flushed. With embarrassment? Regret? "Speak of her again and I will not only kill you, I will slaughter your entire race."

Far from cowed, Delilah refused to back down. The man had grieved for two hundred years. He might wish he had died with the woman, but he hadn't. And as far as Delilah was concerned, it was past time he began living again. "Like you've done with the dragons?"

He was in her face a split second later, breath hissing over her nose and lips. Despite everything, she wanted to jerk him closer, shove her tongue into his mouth and taste more of him. She might even bite, so fierce was her need.

"You have no idea of what you speak, so shut your mouth. I did not lie. I did not exaggerate. All of you, even the child queen you spoke of so fondly, will die by my hand."

Fury and disbelief fought for control inside her. "My blood is even now coursing through your body and you dare threaten me and those I love? That is low, even for you."

The electric spark in his eyes died. "I am a king. I do whatever I wish, whenever I wish."

A mirror of her earlier thoughts, but she didn't like them coming from him. "Even a king can be made into a slave."

"So you hope to enslave me, do you? Now the truth is revealed. An Amazon to the core. Give the vampire your blood and watch him beg for more. Is that it?"

"That's not - "

He cut her off with a low snarl. "Know now that I will never beg you for anything, Amazon."

Finally she allowed herself to step closer to him. Still she didn't grab him, didn't kiss him. "That's what you said about drinking from me. How did I taste?" she finished with a smugness she wished to the gods she felt.

His eyelids narrowed to dangerous slits. "I think it will be best if we avoid one another. As I've suggested all along."

"I was about to say the same - " Her knees buckled. She collapsed on the ground, her head seeming to fly to the heavens, an ache in her temples. Groaning, she massaged them. What in Hades had just happened?

Layel cursed under his breath and scooped her up.

"Let me go," she managed to say, though it was breathless, insubstantial.

"You don't really want me to let you go, Delilah."

A mortifying truth. "What's wrong with me?"

"I must have taken too much." He might have added, "I've never tasted anything so rich, so good," but she couldn't be sure. The words were more of a rumble than anything.

"Bastard. I've never fallen before." And she did not like that she had now. With this man watching. And though she might like being in his arms, she couldn't forget the hateful things he'd said to her. "Put me down. Now!"

"Whether or not you've fallen before, if I put you down, that is exactly what you'll do. Again."

"That's a chance I'm willing to take."

He dropped her legs first, and she immediately regretted her demand. Until a cool caress of air hit her bottom half, she hadn't realized how warm he'd made her. Still. She planted her feet on the solid foundation and locked her knees, determined to remain upright no matter the cost.

That's when Layel released her completely, tsking under his tongue.

Like a wave in the ocean, she glided forward without the strength to stop herself. Silent, he wrapped his arms around her and held. Simply held. When she heard the strong gallop of his heart, she relaxed. Didn't try to pull away. Just listened. Slowly, so sweetly, his hands stroked up and down her spine.

She'd expected him to push her away. At the very least to say he'd told her so. That he did neither...Would she ever understand this man?

His arms tightened around her, nearly crushing the breath from her lungs. She didn't complain. She liked it, felt safe. The man now holding her was not the same man who had insulted her.

"You confuse me," she said softly.

"I know. I confuse myself." His breath fanned the top of her head, and then he was resting his chin there. "I still think it would be wise to remain at a distance."

"I - " Want you to kiss me. I want you to make me forget what we were fighting about. Convince me we have a tomorrow. "You're probably right."

"Well, well, well," a voice said behind them. "Isn't this nice?"