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“Gods! Don’t make me come.”

 

She laughed, pulled off and licked his sac. “When have I ever listened to you?”

 

“Vixen.”

 

“Why can’t I make you come?”

 

“Because I want inside you.” With a growl, he dropped to his knees, as well. She could taste his seed. Later. He hadn’t lied to her. More than anything, even more of that ecstasy, he wanted inside her, and he didn’t want to have to wait for it. “Spread your legs for me.”

 

The moment she obeyed, he had two fingers buried deep. More wet heat. And to his delight…“You’re ready for me.” Never had he been more proud that he’d brought a female to this point. And that he’d done so with kisses, only kisses….

 

She trembled, had to grip his shoulders to remain upright. “I’m ready for you every damn time I see you.”

 

And she didn’t like it, he could tell from her tone, but he could only bask in the admission. “It’s the same for me.”

 

At first, she blinked, as if she couldn’t allow herself to believe him. So vulnerable she appeared, so—dare he wish?—hopeful. Then she placed a sweet kiss on his lips and breathed him in. “Don’t say things like that,” she whispered.

 

“Why not? I spoke true.”

 

“Because they affect me.”

 

Headier words had never been spoken. “Let’s finish this before I combust, sweetheart.”

 

“Please.”

 

He was sweating, panting, as he settled back on his ass, reached out and cupped hers. He jerked her onto his lap, forcing her to wrap her thighs around his waist. As her hands tangled in his hair, he lifted her, placing her eager core at the tip of his erection.

 

“Ready?” he asked hoarsely. This was it. The moment he felt he’d been waiting forever for.

 

“Ready.”

 

He thrust up and she pushed down, and then he was all the way in, surrounded by the very thing he had defied his king, his sovereign, to possess. It was better than he remembered, better than he could have imagined. He couldn’t pause, couldn’t give her time to adjust. Over and over he pushed in, pulled out, too overwhelmed by pleasure to do anything but ride out the storm. Perhaps it was the same for her. Her nails scored his back, and her moans rang in his ears.

 

Gods, he was close. On fire. Burning. Desperate. He reached between their bodies and pressed his thumb against his new favorite place.

 

“Atlas,” she shouted, her inner walls suddenly milking him.

 

She was climaxing, lost to all that he was, and the thought drove him over the last bit of the edge, as well. He jetted inside her, lost to all that she was, the most intense orgasm of his life claiming him.

 

An eternity later, his spasms stopped. Together, they fell backward, onto the softness of the fur. He kept his arms around her, unwilling to let her go. Now…always?

 

Yes, always, he thought, and his eyes widened. He wanted her always. Wanted more of this. Had to have more of this. When he’d forgiven her completely, he didn’t know. When he’d softened, he didn’t know, either. He only knew that she’d become an important part of his life. Perhaps she always had been; he’d just been too foolish to realize it.

 

What the hell was he going to do?

 

They could be together each night after his shift, but they’d never have privacy, and her pride would soon chafe at his amorous attentions, all while he refused to set her free. It would have been the same for him when the situation had been reversed. Besides, she was too precious to hurt in that way. But the problem was, he couldn’t be without her. He’d proven that already.

 

Damn, he thought next, suddenly sick to his stomach. Damn!

 

He’d finally found the one woman for him, but they were doomed.

 

CHAPTER NINE

 

SHE LOVED HIM, N IKE THOUGHT. Again. I’m hopeless.

 

He’d just…he’d been so amazing. He’d whisked her away, given her everything she’d craved: food, water and his body. Gods, had he given her that delectable body. She’d savored every moment. Savored his taste, his touch, the feel of him pounding inside her.

 

Four days had since passed, but she craved more. Always she craved more. She’d spent the time locked inside her cell, pacing, trying to think of ways for them to be together. If he still wanted her, that is. Atlas had come by at least once a day to make sure she was properly fed and that her basin of water was filled, but he’d never said a word to her. Actually, they hadn’t spoken since leaving the tent.

 

At the time, she’d felt too raw, too exposed. She’d feared her feelings for him had been shining in her eyes. He was everything she’d ever wanted in a mate. His strength matched hers. She would never have to worry about hurting him. He was witty and charming. He was a protector, a warrior. He was deliciously vengeful, she knew firsthand.

 

She smiled, wishing she could reach between her shoulder blades and feel his name. She was certain the letters would be as hot as the man himself. But…

 

Why hadn’t he spoken to her?

 

Why didn’t you speak to him?

 

Because she hadn’t known what to say. Did he still want her? Did he feel anything for her? How would she react if he didn’t, which was most likely the case? Part of her wanted to take anything he would give her. The other part of her knew her pride wouldn’t allow her to do such a thing. But there at the end, when they’d returned to Tartarus and he’d closed the bars to her cell, she had thought she’d glimpsed regret. Regret that he had to seal her inside. Regret that they couldn’t spend more time together—in bed and out.

 

Nike tugged at her collar and screeched. Damn this. She was the epitome of strength, yet was as helpless as a babe. How could she win a man’s heart when she couldn’t even win her own freedom?

 

ATLAS HEARD A SCREECH of frustration and knew immediately who had uttered it. Nike. His Nike. His beautiful Nike. He’d deliberated about what to do, how they could be together, for four days. Well, the time for thinking was over, it seemed. She was close to her breaking point. She’d tasted freedom; being sequestered now had to be a thousand times worse than before.

 

He hated that she was locked up, and he knew they could never be together while she was. He also knew they could not be together if he released her. She would most likely run, and he would most definitely be punished.

 

Maybe she loved him, maybe she didn’t. Maybe she’d stay with him. Or try to. She liked him and was attracted to him, he would go so far as to say. After everything that had transpired between them, she wouldn’t have slept with him otherwise. But love? He wasn’t sure.

 

And it didn’t matter, really. He loved her. Perhaps he always had. He’d never felt so strongly about a woman. He’d never wanted to spend his every waking minute with someone before, had never wanted to cuddle someone into his side for every sleeping minute. He’d never wanted to eat every meal together. To talk and laugh about their days. To spar, verbally and physically. But he did with her.

 

And since they couldn’t be together, no matter what way things panned out, there was only one thing to do.

 

Dread. That’s what he felt as he pounded up the stairs and to her cell. Also…relief. She was banging a fist into the wall, plumes of dust forming around her. The sight of her nearly undid him. He wanted to kiss her, put his fingers all over her, sink inside her. Harden your heart. Do what is needed. His hand was shaking as he lifted the sensor.

 

She heard the slide of the bars and turned. A gasp parted her beautiful lips. Without a word, he held out his palm.

 

“What—”

 

“Just take it.”

 

She frowned as she accepted.

 

Still silent, he pulled her along the same path he had just taken. The same path they’d taken those four days ago. No one tried to stop him this time. In fact, as he passed the guard’s station, the two gods on duty rolled their eyes.

 

Outside, with the clouds all around him, he whirled on Nike. He still wanted to kiss her, but knew that if he did so, he would not be able to let her go. And he had to let her go.

 

“Atlas,” she said with a seductive grin. She tried to wrap her arms around his neck. “Another outing? I’m glad.”

 

He shook his head and placed his fingers on the designated indentations in the collar. Cool metal met his touch. Then he leaned down and fit his lips over the center.

 

Her grin fell away. A tremor moved through her. “Wh-what are you doing?”

 

“Be still.” He drew in a deep breath, held it…held it…and then slowly released it. As that breath slithered through the inside of the collar, the metal loosened…finally splitting down the center and tumbling to the ground. Such a simple thing, the removal. Touch and breath. Yet only an uncollared god could do so, a fact that had to taunt the incarcerated. Perhaps that’s why the bands had been designed as they had.

 

Eyes wide, she reached up, felt her bare neck. “I don’t understand what’s happening,” she said. They were the same words she’d spoken before. He hadn’t had an answer then. He did now. He loved her, but he could never tell her that.

 

“Go,” he said. “Flash somewhere. Maybe earth. And whatever you do, stay hidden. Do you understand me?”

 

“Atlas…no.” She shook her head violently, even fisted his shirt. “No, I can’t. When they discover I’m gone for good, and they will, you’ll be charged with a crime. You’ll be locked away, placed with the Greeks who hate you. Or, if you’re lucky, you’ll be killed.”

 

She felt, he realized, both amazed and saddened. She cared for him, which meant she would suffer without him. If anything, that only increased his determination to save her. She did not deserve a life behind bars.

 

He forced his expression to harden. Forced himself to jerk away from her. “I can’t stand to look at you anymore. I’ve had you, and now I’m bored with you.”

 

Her arms dropped to her sides as if weighed down by rocks, but she quickly pulled them around her middle. “Then keep me locked up and stay away from me. You don’t want to do this.”

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