SHIVAWN CROUCHED on the patch of land his father had died on. He'd expected memories to swamp him, pull him under a wave of misery, but surprisingly they didn't. He felt remorse, of course, for the strong male influence he'd lost. But stronger by far was the swell of anticipation for what would be. Alyssa was nearby. He hadn't yet seen her, but he'd at last caught a hint of her delectable fragrance.

A fragrance he planned to surround himself with for the rest of his life. Though he'd blamed her eyes for triggering his nightmares, all this time it had been his eyes that were the faulty ones. He hadn't seen deep enough to the wonderful woman she was.

And, to be honest, he was glad her eyes reminded him of what he'd lost. Glad, because he would never forget how quickly someone he loved could be taken from him. He would not take her for granted again. Besides, those eyes were a part of her and he wanted every part he could get. She was his. His demon, his vampire. His love.

He scanned the area, an area vastly different than he remembered. A village had been built here. Once there had been forest, now there were homes with thatch roofs scattered in every direction. Minotaurs and centaurs worked together in harmony, gardening, pruning, drawing water from wells. Children frolicked and played, laughing in carefree abandon.

Shivawn leaned against the wall, trying to appear inconspicuous. But several females had already gotten a whiff of his nymph scent and were lingering, trying to catch his eye. Lust colored several of their faces, and in turn fury colored several of the men's.

He was a nymph. That was business as usual for him. He was only astonished he hadn't picked up a trail of females on the daylong journey here. Perhaps his scowl had scared them all away.

He'd been forced to self-pleasure what seemed like ten thousand times just to garner enough strength to get here - and for the fight he knew was to come. But he was ready now. He had thoughts of Alyssa in his mind, thoughts that kept him aroused and strong enough. At least, he hoped.

Alyssa rounded the corner of a far stable, kicking stones with the tip of her boot. She wore a long yellow robe, the hood draping her face. He recognized her sensuous stroll, the sweet tilt of her head. More, he knew it was her, sensed it with everything inside him.

His joy, lust and love returned in full measure, stabbing at him fervently. His body shook as he drank her in. Did she think to hide her heritage from the creatures? Most races feared vampires and demons alike. Or had she heard of his arrival and assumed he wouldn't know her if she hid her face?

That was not something he could allow his woman to do.

Her gait never slowed, and she drew closer and closer to him. Was almost within reach...almost...he pushed deeper into the shadows as she stilled, raised her head. The hood fell back and she sniffed the air. Horror blanketed her features, and she stumbled backward.

Unwilling to give her a chance to run, he dove on her, rolling them midair to take the brunt of the fall himself. She was gasping and sputtering, but managed to pull a dagger and hold it to his throat when they finally stilled.

"Stab me if you wish, but know that I'm here because I care for you," he said, holding her tightly to prevent escape.

"You're here for revenge," she spat.

"No. For you."

She pressed the blade deeper and he felt a bead of blood trickle. Around them people watched, no doubt unsure of what to do. "Go about your duties," he called, not removing his focus from Alyssa. Gods, she was lovely. How had he resisted her for so long?

"I won't accept punishment for what I did," she told him. "It was necessary."

Her weight was delicious atop him, but he rolled them over, inserting his legs between hers for better leverage. Her eyes narrowed, and she kept the blade balanced. Thankfully she didn't try and scoot away.

"Why did you come here?" he asked. "To this place?"

"I won't discuss that with you, either. Now get off. I will kill you."

He cupped her chin with one of his hands, tender, gentle. "Sweet, I know who your brothers were. I know you were here that night."

When his words registered, she gasped. Tears sprang into her eyes and she shook her head.

He groaned, hating the pain banked in every hollow of her face. "Do you hate me for killing them?" he asked softly.

 

Her mouth floundered open and closed. "I should."

"That doesn't answer my question."

"No." She sighed, a troubled sound. "Even then, I understood."

His relief was a palpable force.

"I would have done the same," she admitted. "I didn't know them, was only there to watch them, learn about them. So many times I've wished my mother hadn't told me about my family. But my father raped her, and I guess she was afraid there were pieces of him inside of me."

No wonder she had reacted so badly when he'd accused her of trying to rape him. It must have seemed as though he were comparing her to the demon her father was. How she must have suffered, knowing she was the product of such a violent, horrific crime.

"You aren't evil, Alyssa. You're perfect." Pinned like this, he could feel all of her curves, all of her femininity. He'd been with her twice, but he had not savored her. He would never make that mistake again. "Remove the blade, love," he told her gently.

At first, she gave no indication that she'd heard him. Then, with another of those labored sighs, she tossed the weapon to the ground. It landed several inches away, close enough for them to grab if another creature made a play for it. "I'm too tired to fight you anymore."

The glowing dome cast her in reverent light, making her appear otherworldly, a phantom that might slip away from him if he wasn't careful. He could tell her what he felt, but he doubted she would believe him. Most likely she would view every word as an attempt to lure her to relaxation so that he could better punish her. Strike.

He reached for the knife at his back. She cringed. He didn't say a word, just pulled from her and sat on his knees, legs straddling her waist.

"Is this the part where you kill me?" A question without any heat or emotion. "You owe me, after all. For what my family did to yours."

Slowly, so as not to scare her, he lowered the blade and held it to her, hilt first. "Take it."

"Wh-what?"

"Take it."

Suspicions darkened her expression. "Why?"

"I wish you to have my weapon."

"Why?" she repeated, still unsure of his purpose. "Why have me toss mine if you wanted me to have yours?"

"So you realize that what is mine is now yours. We are on equal ground now, as you wanted."

No part of her softened. "I doubt this is your only weapon."

Very true. "The gesture is symbolic then," he said drily.

"I'll reach for it and you'll laugh and then stab me." She shook her head, hair grinding into the dirt. "Sorry."

He tsked under his tongue, trying for a nonchalance that he didn't feel, and stood. He placed the blade beside her and stepped back, holding his arms wide. "If you wish, I will strip here of everything. Know that I don't want to, don't want to place you in danger and not be armed to protect you, but if you wish it, it will be done."

Her slitted gaze circled the growing crowd around them. At the women eyeing him, even inching toward him, reaching out for a touch of his skin.

With a hiss, she grabbed the blade and leapt to her feet. She also snatched her own and held both in her hands when she faced him. "Shall we fight?"

"No. We shall enter that home." He pointed to the small hut he'd been crouched beside.

That gave her pause. "Why?"

"Alyssa. Please. You are armed, I am not. You are warrior enough to subdue me if I do anything you dislike. All I desire is a few moments of your time. Alone."

Indecision played over her delicate face. Once, twice, she opened her mouth to speak but no sound emerged. She glanced at the house, taking its measure, then at Shivawn. Finally she found her voice. "Fine," she said, stomping to the hut and disappearing inside.

He eyed the rapt crowd. Damn, but the females were closing in fast. Like Alyssa, he stalked to the home - a home he'd purchased just a few hours ago - and called over his shoulder, "Stay out no matter what you hear. Enter and you will regret it." Nymph warriors were slow to anger, but when their tempers were roused, all of Atlantis suffered the consequences.

When he closed the door behind him, he wasn't sure what he'd find. Alyssa, ready for battle. Alyssa, ready for loving. What he ended up finding broke his heart into thousands of tiny pieces. She knelt in front of the fire he'd built several hours ago, poking it with a stick. The weapons were forgotten at her feet. Her shoulders were slumped, tear streaks on her cheeks.

"Don't cry, love," he said. "There's nothing to be afraid of. We're here, together, and I own this house, so do not worry about being disturbed."

The only bed was draped with chains, the very chains she'd used on him. He'd put them there, hoping he would not be forced to use them. Had she seen them?

"Now you will chain me, humiliate me and leave me once and for all. Right?"

He sighed. She'd seen them. "No. That is not how this will progress."

Her head snapped up, and she was blinking in surprise. "How then?"

He reached back and tugged his shirt over his head. As he tossed the material aside, a shocked gasp escaped her. "Now I'm going to love you," he said. He unwound the ties at the waist of his pants, loosening them.

Alyssa pushed to shaky legs, scrubbing her face with the backs of her hands. "Wh-why?"

"If you ask that one more time, I just might punish you."

"Aha. So you - "

"No. Hurting you is not my goal." His pants fell, leaving him bare except for his weapons. His erection sprang free, hard and achy. "But if I were to punish you, it would be with a tongue-lashing, then perhaps I would tickle you a bit, then lash you with my tongue again."

She gulped, her eyes impossibly round. "But - but - I don't understand."

One by one he removed his weapons. The blades strapped to his chest and back. The poisoned arrows glued to his side. "What you did to me was deserved. We are even." Not even close. But perhaps, after an eternity of seeing to her needs, they would be. "Do you agree?"

"Yes, but - " She was staring between his legs as though entranced.

He would have laughed if he hadn't been so aroused. He wanted her hands where her gaze was. "What I told you before was true."

"You've told me many things," she said with a tremor.

Gods, he hated to bring this up. "The first time we were together..."

Her cheeks heated to a bright crimson, as if she'd been slapped. From softening female to scorned witch in seconds.

"That was not because of you, Alyssa," he rushed out. "I know that now."

"I don't want to hear this." Stiff, she spun away from him, back to the fire. Imagining him roasting inside it?

He moved to her, placed his hands on her shoulders. He'd thought her stiff before, but she proved him wrong, every muscle she possessed turning to rock. At least she didn't jerk away, even when his erection rubbed the crevice of her bottom. "Every time I was near you," he said into her ear, nibbling on the soft lobe between words, "I saw that terrible night here. I couldn't figure out why, only knew that you were a reminder of it. And with the reminder, my desire was buried under regret. Do you understand?"

She nodded slowly, and he thought he saw a fresh tear glisten on her cheek.

"What do you understand? Tell me."

"That I will always remind you of that night. That you can never truly desire me."

Leaning down, he kissed away her tear. Breath caught in her throat - he heard its cessation. He slowly glided his hands down to cup her breasts. "Wrong. I desire you now more than I've ever desired another." He kneaded, gently pinched at her hardened nipples.

A moan slipped from her. Her hips arched back, rubbing more fervently against his erection.

Shivawn experienced a wave of hope. "Once I knew why, I knew what battle I was fighting."

"Wh-what battle?"

"Thinking of you and that night together, when I should not have. I've separated the two now. All I see, all I desire, is you. And I know you aren't even close to believing me. I know you think I'm merely playing with you to hurt you, but I'm going to do everything in my power to prove otherwise." He was going to have to use the chains, he realized. There was no other way.

Slowly, giving her time to protest, he unhooked the shoulder latch that held her robe together. The bright material floated to their feet. She trembled, but didn't try to stop him.

"Step out of it."

After a slight hesitation, she did. He allowed his fingers to dip into her navel before fanning through the soft curls between her legs. Her stomach quivered.

"Do you feel how hard I am for you?" he asked, his erection nestled against her bottom.

Nibbling on her sumptuous bottom lip, she nodded.

"You know I am a warrior, yes?"

Another nod. She spread her legs, silently asking him to delve deeper, to touch her where was she already wet and hot. His desire was so fierce, he almost caved, almost sank his fingers inside her sheath, but knew he would be lost if he did. So he held steady.

"And a warrior would never willingly bind himself in the presence of an enemy."

At the word enemy, she stiffened again.

He placed a soft kiss on the side of her throat. So pretty. So sweet. So his. Then he moved away from her - gods, the agony - and strode to the bed. Her hot gaze tracked his every movement. Facing her, he sat on the mattress and clasped the chains in his hands.

"Shivawn," she said brokenly. Nervously she rubbed her palms on her naked thighs.

"I'm trusting you not to leave me and lead me on another chase, love."

Careful not to look away, he shackled one of his wrists. With a tug of his arm, he proved it was anchored to the wall. Then he bound the other wrist, motions just as measured, just as precise.

Once again, her mouth floundered open and closed.

"There is no other I would bind myself for. Do you know why, Alyssa? You are my mate. I want no other but you. I would give my life for you. I...love you. Your wit, your smile, your determination, your stubbornness, the light in your eyes when you look at me. The way you move, the timbre of your voice, the curves of your body. Everything. I worship it all. Yes, I once hated vampires. Yes, I still hate demons. Yes, your family destroyed mine. But I'm here, offering myself to you, proof of my devotion."

Those tears free-fell down her cheeks now and she hugged her arms to her stomach.

He'd hoped, been so sure of success...until now. "Am I too late? Is the hurt too great? I know I made you feel less than a woman. That will haunt me for the rest of my days. But I have found pleasure with you, love. That night in the cave, I had never experienced so much. I want to satisfy you now. I want - "

She was in his arms a moment later, placing kisses all over his face. "I love you. I've always loved you."

Thank the gods. Their lips met in a fierce, drugging kiss. Her hands were all over him: his chest, his neck, his arms, his cock. He banded his arms around her, lay down and rolled, tucking her securely underneath him.

"Let me make you feel good." He licked at her neck, careful not to wrap the chains around her delicate skin.

She spread her legs, welcoming him into the curve of her body. "You are."

"I want to give you more. So much more." Because of the chains he could not trail down her body as he wanted. "Scoot up for me, love. I need to lick between your legs. Don't deny me the honor this time. Please."

She was pulling at his hair, trying to get his lips back to hers. "Kiss."

"Soon. If I don't taste you, I'll tumble straight into insanity."

Unsure, she inched upward. Her sweat-soaked skin slid, abraded deliciously against his own. And then her feminine core was right there, his to devour. He did. He licked the pink lips apart and sucked on the sweet little center.

Her hips writhed, her knees dropped further apart and she moaned. "Shivawn."

"This is mine. All mine."

"Yours."

"This is what's going to keep me alive from this day forward." He pumped his tongue into and out of her tight little sheath, taking more of her sweetness down his throat. "And then you're going to bite me and take what you need to live."

She gave a violent shake of her head. "You hate being bitten. I'll find nourishment elsewhere. Oh, gods." Her muscles were tensing, gearing for release. "Shivawn! Don't stop."

"This is heaven, sweet. This is heaven. And I will take great pleasure in giving you my blood. Great pleasure." He sucked her, hard. "There'll be no one else for you. It's my blood for you. I want to give it to you."

She fell right over the edge, screaming in ecstasy, chanting his name. While she hung in the balance between satisfaction and a new flood of desire, he scooted her back under him and entered her, filling her up.

"Mine," he gritted out through teeth clenched in absolute abandon. "All mine."

Her arms wrapped around him as he began pumping. "You're mine, too."

"Always. You feel so good," he praised. "I never want to leave you."

"Don't." She pressed a kiss into his neck, where his pulse fluttered wildly. But she didn't bite him.

"Do it. Please."

"No. Not with you. Already this seems like a dream. I don't want to awaken."

His strokes never slowed. "Do it. Please, love. Please. I'm desperate. I want those teeth inside me, sucking deep and hard."

"Are - are you sure?"

"Beyond."

A moment passed. Her teeth scraped at his skin but didn't penetrate. He increased the fervency of his thrusts, pounding, slamming. "Do it, love! I need those teeth in me like my cock is in you. I need - "

With a growl as fierce as any warrior's, she bit him. Deep, hard. A cut that would mark him for eternity. On and on she drank, and the sensation of her hot tongue on his neck, her teeth in his vein, combined with the knowledge that they were joined in every possible way, sent him over.

He shouted with his release, spurting his seed straight to her core.

Her teeth pulled out abruptly as she, too, cried out in release. Their bodies strained together, spasming. "Never leave me," he gasped out, half-fearing she would bolt afterward. "Never."

"Never," she swore.

Shivawn collapsed on top of her, content and smiling.

   VALERIAN STEPPED into the fire-lit hut and glanced around. It was bare except for a straw bed, which Shivawn lay upon. He was on his back, sleeping, naked. Chained. There were teeth marks all over his neck.

Valerian frowned. The vampire, Alyssa, was curled into Shivawn's side, her hand resting directly above his heart. She, too, was naked and asleep. And if Valerian wasn't mistaken, there was a love bite or two darkening her neck, as well. Frown deepening, Valerian strode to the bed, boots thumping against the twig-laden ground.

Shivawn's eyes fluttered open, as did Alyssa's. Shivawn growled, Alyssa screamed and scrambled backward as he raised his sword.

"Valerian, stop! This - " Shivawn threw himself on top of the woman as best he could with the chains pulling at him.

Valerian smiled but didn't stop. As if he would have hurt the woman. He hit the chains, snapping the links in half. "I see you took my advice and apologized. Good man. Now I will offer an apology of my own for not being able to give you more time with your woman. The army waits outside. We have need of you."

Once, Shivawn would have jumped up and obeyed. Now he growled, "Turn your back. Now!"

As king, Valerian wasn't used to being ordered and did not like it now, but he obeyed instantly. He understood the need to keep a mate's nudity all to oneself. If anyone were to look upon his Shaye in such a state, well, they would lose their eyes.

There was a rustling, some cooing, and Valerian rolled his own eyes. Then there was even some kissing. "Sometime today," he said.

"You may turn."

He did. Shivawn was draped by a blanket and the pretty vampire was covered with a dirty yellow robe, only her face and hands visible.

"We have news of the disappearance. Two of the warriors have been found. Rumor has it they are locked up at the Amazon camp."

"Who was found?"

"A dragon and a vampire," he said, flicking a glance to Alyssa.

She squared her shoulders, plans to retrieve the warrior already swirling in her eyes. "Is my king - "

"No. It is the other." Valerian's attention shifted back to Shivawn. "I want to talk to them and find out what happened, if they know where the others are. If the others are...I want to hear firsthand that Broderick and Jada are alive and well."

"The Amazons never allow armies near their holding," Shivawn said, but he was gathering his weapons.

Valerian smiled smugly. "As if they could turn a nymph away. As if any woman could."

"I'm going with you," Alyssa said, standing.

Shivawn pulled her to him for a deep kiss. "I wouldn't have it any other way, love. We're together, now and always."