“Nola…sweet…” He approached her slowly, as if she were a trapped animal. “What did they do to you?” There was horror in his tone. He crouched beside her, reached out and smoothed her hair from her damp forehead. Then he froze. “How is this possible? I’m touching you. Feeling your warmth.”
“Yes. Happened just after you’d left.” Any other time, she would have been mortified for him to see her like this: broken, helpless, naked but for a sheet covering her lower half. Her relief at seeing him alive and well, however, was simply too great.
“I will destroy the gods for this. How dare they do this to you! Allow you to feel only when you will be injured. The cruelty such an act requires… I will find a way to raid the heavens and I will—”
“No, no. This is a blessing. I’ve had time to think, and I believe I know what’s happening. Each time I admit something about you, like the fact that you did not deserve what was done to you, and that I trust you, I’ve been given back a piece of my life.”
His brows furrowed together, and a spark of hope entered his eyes. “Can you pass the camp boundary now?”
“No. My sisters carried me there, meaning to toss me out after my whipping, but that invisible wall blocked them.”
Fury replaced the hope. “We didn’t hurt your sisters—I knew you would hate it if we did, but now I wish I’d sliced each and every one of them to pieces. They abandoned camp or I would see to it now.”
“You’re here now. That’s all that matters.” And it was. “But…how long will you be able to stay?” Her nervousness returned. His king would want him back. And the Amazons would one day come back. This was not the first time their camp had been taken. They always came back. Angrier. Far more brutal. “You can’t remain forever, and I can’t leave. We’ll be forced to separate again and—”
“It’s all right. It’s all right, sweet. Do not worry yourself. Think only of healing. I’m here, and I’m not leaving without you. No matter what. You freed me. I will find a way to free you.”
The burst of strength her nervousness had given her drained, and she expelled a breath. “As long as I have you, I’ll be all right.” The words flowed freely. Talking about her feelings was becoming easier.
“Yes, you will.” He stretched out beside her and angled his head, displaying his neck to her. The scent of him filled her nose. Dark spice and tree dew. She inhaled deeply, savoring. “Drink,” he said.
“Wh-what?” Even when they’d been trapped on that island, he had not let anyone drink from him. Not from his wrist, and certainly not from his neck.
“Drink. I know biting and blood are distasteful to your kind, but you will heal faster if my blood flows inside your veins. I have watched others of my kind do this for their mates who were not vampires.”
“No, you don’t understand. I don’t mind drinking from you. I just don’t want to disgust you. I know you do not like such things being done to you.”
Precious little lights flickered in his eyes. “I want to give you everything, Nola. Even this. With you and no other. I need this, so please. Please.”
Please, this proud, strong man had said. How could she deny him? She cried out as she edged toward him—pain, so much pain—and sank her teeth into his neck, hard as she could, cutting past skin and hitting vein. Blood instantly trickled down her throat.
Once, the thought of doing this would have been distasteful to her, as he’d claimed. But this was Zane. She wanted him inside her. Any part of him that she could get. And like him, she wanted him to have everything she had to give.
“I never thought to allow someone to take from me again,” he said, petting her head. “I—I have to tell you something. Something that may make you hate me. But you deserve to know.”
Nothing could make her hate him. Nothing.
He did not give her time to tell him that. “The demon queen,” he continued. “I was her slave for many centuries. Her…bedmate. Willingly. She took from me whenever and however she desired. Her methods sickened me, but I allowed them because she had something—someone—my compliance was supposed to purchase.”
Nola released his neck. “I—”
“No. Do not speak. Keep drinking. There is more I must tell you, but my courage will abandon me if your mouth is gone from me.”
She sank her teeth back into his neck, the warmth of his blood spinning through her, lighting her up from the inside out.
“When she died and I was freed, I thought to never endure such things again. You, though, I think I would allow to do anything to me. It has been that way from the first. I don’t understand it, either. Your presence doesn’t drown out the memories or take away my revulsion for this act. My…need for you simply overrides it. Even though I fear you will find me, a dirty demon whore, unworthy of you. I am unworthy of you.”
“No,” she said, wrenching away. Blood trickled from the side of her mouth. “You are perfect. Wonderful.” She snuggled into his waiting embrace, head cradled in the hollow of his neck. The action pained her, but only a little. She could feel the flesh weaving together on her back. “Never say otherwise.”
“You…you do not wish to leave me now?” So hesitant. So unsure.
“If you are a demon whore, then I am an Amazon whore. When I was a child, my mother mated with a man and left the Amazon camp to live with him. They had no money and so they…sold me, time and time again,” she said, heat spreading over her cheeks. “I know the desire to never again be touched by another. Except you.”
“Oh, sweet. I am so sorry for what you endured. And you are not a whore. Never say such a thing.”
That gentle tone brought tears to her eyes. “If I cannot, you cannot.”
“Agreed.” He wrapped his arm around her, careful of her injuries. “You once told me your family had destroyed you, that you had killed them for it, but until now, I had no idea they’d done such things to you.”
She flattened her palm against his chest, exactly as she’d wanted to do all these months while watching him. His heart beat fast and hard. “Maybe we remind each other of what we were like, before. Unafraid, untainted. Maybe we see the future in each other and the past ceases to matter.”
He didn’t reply, which disappointed her. Instead, he settled her onto the blankets and sat up. Old fears surfaced. Did he not want a future with her? Was that what his silence signified? Did he—
He traced a fingertip along her spine, and she shivered. “All healed,” he said huskily. “And now, all mine.”
Thank the gods. She wasn’t sure what she would have done if he’d rebuffed her as she’d once done him. You should not have doubted him. Even for a moment.
She wouldn’t. Not ever again.
“Make love to me, Zane.” She’d never been with a man of her choosing. Never given herself completely. She was suddenly desperate to know what that was like. With this man. Only this man, who was surely a gift from the heavens, even amid her curse. “Please. Let us join.”
ZANE FLIPPED N OLA TO HER back so that she was peering up at him. A gasp escaped her, but she didn’t try to scramble away, even though he loomed above her, dressed in his blood-splattered battle clothes while she was naked.
Her breasts were small but firm, perfectly tipped with hard pink nipples. Her stomach was flat, her skin sun-kissed and smooth. He could see every ridge of her ribs and knew she hadn’t eaten since his departure six days ago. Damn her sisters! Had she not already been through enough torment, without her tribe adding to it?
He was going to burn away the images of what they’d done to her. Burn away the memories of the men who had used her. He would replace both with thoughts of himself. He didn’t care what he had to do to accomplish it.
“Have you ever experienced pleasure in the act?” he asked.
Up and down her chest rose with the force of her breathing. “A few times. Perhaps a little. But it was…”
“Say no more. I understand.” And he did. Even when you hated the person you were bedding, your body sometimes reacted.
“You?” Nola asked.
“Long, long ago.” He only prayed he remembered how to please his woman. With the demon queen, he hadn’t cared to try. He’d simply endured. Never had a female’s enjoyment been more important to him. “If I scare you, do something you don’t like, tell me.”
She nodded, nervously licked her lips. “You tell me, as well.”
It was his turn to nod. Rather than suck on her nipples as he desired, he lifted himself off her, reached behind him and tugged off his shirt. He tossed the material aside. His boots and pants quickly followed, leaving him as bare as she was.
Nola’s gaze traveled the length of him, and fire leapt inside her turquoise eyes. “Zane…”
“No. You won’t hurt me. I just wanted you to know I like what I see. You are beautiful. So pale and strong.”
Her trust emboldened him, as did her praise. Gently he eased atop her. Skin against skin, hardness against softness. They moaned in unison. Contact with anyone else, even his king, was hell. Contact with Nola was heaven. Her legs opened, allowing him a deep cradle.
“I want to kiss you now,” he rasped.
Only when she whispered her consent did he lean down and press his lips against hers. Softly at first, barely even a touch. But the sweet scent of her was in his nose, her nipples hard against his chest, her thighs pliant against his, and soon he had to have more. He licked at her, and her lips eagerly parted. His tongue glided past teeth to intertwine with hers.
He’d had her blood, but he’d never had her mouth. To his delight, this was even better. Sweeter, headier, not for living or healing or even to relieve hunger, but simply for pleasure. It was addictive, and he wondered how he’d gone without this for so long.