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Volume IEdit

Raven had just left him and he could feel her presence, even here, as he stood in front of his grandmothers house. What else did Raven want? Hed screwed her; hed fed from her. That was all there was to the thing.
But when it came to Damali, the distraction Raven presented got on his last nerve. He could feel his shoulders relax as soon as Ravens vapor essence vanishedgood riddance. He needed a few moments alone to get himself together and to develop a plan before something else jumped off.
The attraction to Damali was unfinished business long before any new vampire madness had occurred. The Vampire Council wanted her, Nuit wanted her, he wanted hereverybody had an agenda. Fact was, he didnt start this mess with the so-called, Neteru, but hed damned sure finish ithis way. What was a Neteru anyway? Hed heard the definition, but what did it really mean?
All he knew was that, she was supposed to be his woman, but was so stubborn that they always fought about everything. Then shed flip the script on him and try to give him a conscience. It was way too late for that. But wanting her, well that part had never changed. Think. If he was all-powerful now, there had to be a way in. Hed already conquered her heart, and her body was Hed seen her first, had to tap it once, had to be the one to break her in; the Universe owed him that much. Carlos smiled and remained invisible. That had to be a part of the deal. No way he could just walk from her.
Suddenly he became very still and allowed his mist form to blend further into the night. Who was he fooling? He needed to stop playing with his own mind. Damali was way more than some conquest. Had been since the day he laid eyes on her. A man didnt hang around hoping, protecting some woman just for mere conquest. The thought was sobering. Girlfriend had more than his nose open, always did she had his heart, and that vulnerability frightened him almost as much as what hed just witnessed.
Day one, her eyes and voice had slayed him. Day one, her gentle but fiery spirit had awakened something within him that he didnt even know existed and hed been willing to wait for her on her own terms yeah hoping and praying and being more strung out by her than any product hed ever moved. But tonight, his sweet addiction transcended the emotional or spiritual connectionat the moment it was physical and complicated by everything he was trying his best to forget. All of it was linked. She was like a pair of handcuffs, a merger of mind, body, spirit that he couldnt break away from to save his life. He needed to get real and deal with that.
The more he cared about her, the more he wanted her, and the more danger she was in, the more intense his secret claim on her became which only stoked the physical ache to hold her in his arms to the point of being unbearable.
Think, hombre. Frustration almost made him materialize in the middle of the street as he began slowly pacing, feeling trapped by the effect she had on him. Denial was useless. He was crazy about her. Prayer lines would keep him out of her guarded compound, for now, but shed have to leave the safety of it at some point and patience had always been his virtue. Shed already made him wait five years for her. Timing and strategy was essential. But he, oddly, didnt want to turn herjust love her hard they way hed needed to for years. Communication through touch. All he wanted was to just get next to her and explain all this madness. Carlos chuckled sadly. That was not all he wanted, but even if he couldnt make love to her, just a moment to stare into her eyes to let her know shed been so right about everything, might be enough if he could make her know that no matter what he did or had to do, he wasnt a monster well, at least not toward her. Hed never be that to her just like hed never allowed her into his predatory lifestyle while living. She had to know that. Yet, even that was probably not all true, either.
It was too confusing. He wanted the total package from her, and keeping all of those things in separate compartments was nearly impossible now that she was broadcasting her hidden feelings in hot, wireless fidelity. Had he only known it was like that for her. Missed opportunities were twisting a knife in his groin. Memory lane was a wicked bitch. Focus.
Carlos closed his eyes and listened to the stillness around him, reaching out for her. Damali was asleep now. Good. Her breaths were deep, long, and steady, sending vibrations past the compound walls heavy REM. Just sleep, baby. Just a few minutes alone together, he wouldnt bite her, he had that much control he was almost sure he did, didnt he? He was a Master, theyd said, right? He had to pull himself together.
But mid-thought something happened. A mental door opened and Damalis dreams came through it full force. Carlos cocked his head to the side. Raven had simply taken the edge off the heat, but Damalis dreams were dousing it with gasoline. She didnt care if he bit her? She didnt even know hed turned! She was fantasizing that he had? Could take a siphon? The temptation made his hands shake and he thrust them into his pockets, considering. Her mental torch made his desire flare again, but this time it was nearly out of control.
That, he did not expect. And he definitely had no idea how strong Damalis innermost thoughts were. Okay, he was beginning to gain a healthy respect for this being called a Neteru. Incredible But she still had no concept that he was out there in this situationin this condition, so close but yet so far.
He felt mild panic surge within him, as he became painfully aware that he couldnt get inside her head without her consent or get past the barriers the Guardians had erected. She was too strong for that. But if she was ripening, was jonesing for him like that, the Wi-Fi signal was in the air and his kind had principality over the airwaves, possibilities still existed. He shuddered. No. He couldnt make her what he was. Shed just called him by name in her mindit was an invitation, the only thing he needed to cross a mental threshold. Damn, if hed only known she felt like that while he was living.
Stunned by that new reality, he stopped pacing for a moment. Aint that a bitch Okay, he could walk this off. Damned barriers that her mother-seer had put around her were worst than Latex! This was crazyshe could think beyond the walls, but he couldnt psychically siphon her? Couldnt deliver a dream-state passion nick? He wasnt gonna turn her, just nick her. Ohman that old doll, Marlene, was no joke. If he wasnt so messed up, he would have laughed. But it wasnt funny. He sipped air refusing to give up the struggle. Shed opened her legs for him and had rolled over on her stomach had called him by name in her sleep was writhing against the sheets like she wanted to move against him. Aw hell no, he wasnt walking away from that. Couldnt. It wasnt an option. She had him wide open in the middle of the damned street! Baby, why didnt you tell me?
And why did Damali have to shudder and release another hard gasp in her sleep shit Carlos could feel his shirt sticking to him as sweat beaded on his brow, a trickle of it rolling down his temple. He opened his eyes and began pacing again.
His first night out as a newly turned vamp and the most fundamental skill at his disposala dream seductionhad backfired on him? If Nuit or the old boys ever got wind of this novice shit hed never hear the end of it. Worse, yet, theyd call him a punk and would think they didnt have to negotiate with him. This was dangerous. Made no sense. Just like the way her skin felt like butter and the way she smelled that fragrance she trailed, and her voice made absolutely no sense Same way it made utterly no sense that The Light would send something that hot to hunt the darkness. But, then again, theyd also made the sunand that shit burned, too, like a mutha. He suddenly laughed to keep from crying.
Carlos rubbed his hands over his face, trying to will away the next shudder that was about to claim him. He needed to feed, had to shake this thing, had to get this woman out of his nose. Had to distance his heart. But how was that possible when he could smell her in his palms as they slid down his damp face? He could literally hear the pulse between her thighs thud in his ears. And he immediately stood very, very still as she arched, convulsed, and woke up breathless. Only then did he start breathing again.
All right. Hed been schooled the hard way. Pull her out of the damned compound. Period. Dont screw with her barriersthe Guardians had some formidable shit around her. Dont go in without a plan, no more freelancing without a strategy. This little incident would stay tightly confined within the black box of his mind. He was cool. It was all good. Was just doing a test run at the wall. He needed to put up his own barriers against her. He couldnt let a woman make him act like this. He had a rep to maintain. But right now, he was putty in her hands in her mind.
Carlos raked his fingers through his hair as she stood and went to the bathroom. Cool water splashed against her flushed face. Water he studied the possibilities, being a water sign, a Scorp. Now he was really bugging. In that joint, it was probably Holy water in the pipes and hed fry. For a few seconds he allowed the thought to wash over him Oh, yeah, she had him over the top to where he was ready to risk his own survival to be with her. Insane. Dracula went out the same wayassassinated by old man Van Helsing and a young boy, messed up by a two hundred year old love jones for some woman. But it was his woman. Only took two Guardians to hit a wise Master, with some years under his belt, that had lost perspective. Brother was old school, too, and got smoked. Tonight, he could dig it. Yeah, Id come out of my lair, too, for that. Carlos shook his head. He wasnt even twenty-four hours old, and didnt stand a chance against a full team around Damali.
He chuckled at the hopelessness of it all. If he could just be a drop of water right now, though, running out of that tap He looked up at the moon and put his trembling hands behind his back. This was ridiculous. The shakes would stop in a few. The hard-on would go down if he thought about something else. Use logic, use fear, use the fucked up position youre in, use reality to get your head together, he told himself. He just had to breathe slowly. Find a point out on the dark horizon to stare at and chill. But one thing for sure, he now had respect for the power of the Neteru.
His gaze went to his mother and grandmothers house. Hell his old lover, Juanita, was visiting trying to be helpful, being a good girl and grieving with them like a wannbe wife. How many times had he told her it was over, that she needed to move on and let sleeping dogs lie? Now why did she have to be over there tonight? Poor substitute, but she beat a blank.
Yeah, baby, come on outside and help a brother take the edge off.


Volume IIEdit

Time is relative. Freedom makes time flow like a river; it lives and moves like blood within a vein. Being trapped coagulates it, clots it, makes it stand still just like I am now trapped in a house behind a prayer line with freakin monks.
They dont understand. They have no idea what its like to have so much power just making your muscles twitch to release it, having to hold back everything that you are while the night whispers your name.
I can hear my name on the wind, teasing me, begging me to come out and play. And I can still smell her Baby, come to me.
I beat death and annihilation. Did they think that would tame me? Are they so stupid to think that being injured would stop the burn?
Yeah time its only a matter of time. One night. One glorious, endless night and itll be all over. Damali, stop crying, baby Im coming for you real soon.


Volume IIIEdit

Immediately after the sun
Liquefied bones, evaporated soft tissues, retinas first scorched then melted away. Beyond pain to a place where his screams had abated to shudders, then even that transitioned into the trembling ooze of what was left of his body. Primordial essence hardened and dried by the glare of the suns torch. There had been no mercy, and yet, the insistent solar torment would not relent.
The Chairmans bitter laugh echoed through his charred remains. That bastards voice would live on within him forever. Torture till the end of time. There was no escape. Each tear that dropped upon his fragile pile of ashes felt like rolling thunder Damali, mi corazon, please dont cry I have enough tears in my soul for us both. Just live. A stab. White hot searing silver she was trying to end the misery that could not be ended. Her Isis plunged into nothingness; there was no heart left for it to pierce. I would have done the same for you. Te quiero! But her wails vibrations that wracked agonized regret through ashen cells. Por Dios! Make it stop! 
Hands, too many hands, causing more pain, lifting thinning him out, drifting, then a sudden pull to a lit gold obelisk that split his consciousness like a lightening strike in the darkness. Confusion. Suction into the object. Cold thud. His head hit marble. His hands and feet were bound, spread eagle. Opalescent swirls. No true light, no true darkness. Seven massive figures, all male, peered down at him, each a varying hue from near onyx to copper.
Woven beads connected by gold filaments covered their massive chests, turquoise, amber, coral; colors hit the back of his skull. Thick, sculpted abdomens defined by each muscle hidden beneath taunt, gleaming skin surrounded him. Biceps and forearms laden with quiet, dangerous strength waited in repose folded over barrel torsos. Short skirts of sheer gold fabric left no illusion that they were potent males. Tree trunk thighs seemingly carved from granite stood wide legged in battle preparedness. 
He was blind but could see from his minds eye. They were gonna kick his ass
Then immediate clarity came to him as an eighth entity parted the seven and stepped forward with a hooked, silver gleaming dagger in his fist.
The torture had only begun.
Placid, dark brown eyes stared at him with serene expressions, then began to slowly evolve into glittering silver-gold that eclipsed first their irises and finally overtook the whites of their eyes. He studied their chiseled features, determined to remember each of his tormentors, should they ever meet again. Strong jaw lines pulsed. Chins lifted, held high with thick plaited, kinky beards wrapped in gold thread. Dreadlocks in gold bands held back black and silver locks. A sculpted, pattern shaved natural cut made the hair of the knife bearer sit high like a crown. Hands like sledge hammers made tents before poised, thick mouths, deciding his fate.
The one holding the dagger cocked his head to the side. Another nodded. 
Mark him.
Carlos braced himself, his nails futilely digging into the marble to try to staunch the eminent pain. He glanced at the knife, and then quickly down at his wrists. He was bound by nothing but their willsthere were no chains. His eyes immediately sought the blade as a strong hand grasped the hair at the crown of his skull and yanked his head to the side, exposing the original mark Nuit and The Chairman had simultaneously made on his throat long ago.
Rites of passage, a deep, resonant voice murmured, blending into indecipherable, low intoned chants coming from the other seven entities standing around the one holding the dagger.
A blinding blade strike. Liquid silver burn ignited his skin. He could feel his jugular vein fill with heat and begin to send the excruciating sensation into every connecting capillary and artery in his neck. Heat from the cut was being dragged zigzag along his throat like a box-shaped serpent. The hand was cutting slowly, carefully, calmly as he cried out, extending the torture, sending more silver heat into his bloodstream to burn him from the inside out. Then the hand pulled back.
Panting and drenched with sweat, Carlos looked at his torturer.
The entity smiled a sly half smile. Choose.
Again, confusion entered his mind with the pain, but instantly, a rough, massive hand had grabbed his member, pulled hard and raised the blade.
Oh, shit, oh shit, oh shit, take the fangs!
Another swift strike scored his base, went through the major vein down to muscle and contracted his scrotum with sudden agony. It hurt so badly, he couldnt even cry out, could only arch and convulse as the blade made the same lazy, zigzag pattern that it had on his neck, and then the hand released him.
The feel of warm wetness oozed from him, the scent of his own blood scored his nostrils making him need to vomit from the trauma. 
What had they done to him! This was so fucked up that, if he ever got topside he would put a hallowed earth shell to his own skull. No problem. He couldnt even look down to witness the extent of the damage, didnt wanna know. No matter, at least as a Councilman he deserved a hearing, a trial, some shit, Por Dios, not this not a freakin outright neuter! He didnt even do Nuits foul ass like this! He took the SOBs fangs, but damn he let him go to ash as a man!
All resistance left him. After what theyd done, why even try to escape? Go back to Damali like this, hell no. This was the Sea of Perpetual Agony, just knowing. Sobs so hard that he thought his Adams apple would crack rang out as his body began to slowly knit back together just so they could probably do it all over again.
It is done, a deep, baritone voice thundered. You are marked by Ausar.
As soon as the voice had spoken, the pain in his groin went to his upper jaw and his could feel his incisors burning within his mouth, sending shards of pain up into his gum line, behind his eyeballs, and into his very skull. Visceral liquid silver was eating him up internally. Sweat poured from his body creating seizures, and then everything went black.
Conceal him, a distant voice said.
Forget, another booming voice thundered.
Forget? Oh, bullshit. Not ever.
From a distant place in his mind, he could hear wings, feathered flight not the flapping of thick skin like those of the Harpies. Warmth light peace no pain. Blinding light that didnt burn. It called out to him. The restraints that had bound him dissolved and he sat up and stared at the bright beacon.
Yeah all right, Carlos muttered, resigned. Might as well.


Volume IVEdit

Moments After The Light, Sitting next to Damali in the sun...
Whatever The Light had done to him, he couldnt allow Damali to touch him right now. It just brought back too many memories.
He could still feel the horrific cut in his mind, even though he could no longer feel the dead appendage. Theyd gone through skin, fibrous muscle, the main vein, all the way through to sever delicate duct work and had left him ruined. He could still hear the tear of gristle-like tissue reverberating in his ears as a taunt. A shiver slipped down his spinenails down a blackboard. He could no longer see the faces or images of the entities that did the foul deed; theyd gone back into the shadows within the recesses of his mind. But the rest of it lingered, the sensations echoing.
Forget, yeah right. That might have been good advice, but unfortunately his mind was too strong for that. Sad reality was, his brother went out almost the same way. Only critical differenceAlejandro wasnt around now to put him out of his misery. At least hed done that right. His younger brother and all his boyz had gone into The Light and stayed there. However, as a cruel parting thank you for all the wrongs hed committed, The Light must have spewed him back and had left him all messed up, nonetheless.
So, for the sake of his sanity, at the moment it was best to just be still, allow the pain in his soul to dissipate, and to quietly sit beside Damali until he sorted it all out and decided his next move. The question why rang in his head like a gong. It didnt make sense. Scratch strategy. There was no way to work this. He needed space. A private place to just lose his fucking mind.
The agony in his groin had stopped, but it now took up residence in his very soul. But she wouldnt stop touching him, stroking his back, not understanding what he couldnt put into wordsget off me! But she wouldnt stop the touches trying to heal whatever was wrong with her hands tracing his shoulders. She wasnt hearing his mental cries to let it be why? Even that connection to her was lost?
Her hands were gentle fire; Damalis soft caress made him want to weep just thinking about the pleasure they could ignite something he might never be able to give her again. Not after what theyd done.
Theyd all told him to keep his hands off of her, why didnt he listen? Both sides had been adamant that he not get her pregnant. But even they had to know that was easier said than done; their solution was cold. Brutal ice; he couldnt have come up with a more sinister way to get a mans attention himself.
Then again, he wondered if The Lights tough sentence had anything to do with the trauma hed inflicted upon a priest? Now that made sense. A body for a body, and fair exchange was no robbery it was the law of the streets, and the law of the vampire nations but he thought Heaven might have a little more mercy than that. Then again, what defense did he have? There was no argument, hed given a virgin cleric a glimpse of what it was to be a man a man with a woman, and now theyd taken away that from him. The irony was splitting his skull.
Lopez would forever have the images of Juanita burned into his brain. Hed forever have Damalis carved into his, and neither of them could address all the sensations torturing their minds. Lopez wore a collar; he wore some unfathomable, crippling mark. It was fair, but it was ruthless.
Please, baby, dont touch me right now. Just let me breathe.
Her wails and prayers had been answered; he was back. But she hadnt been careful about what shed prayed for. Hadnt been specific and had left a loophole in cosmic law. Yeah, he was back, but not as what shed known. And what was he gonna tell his woman when he didnt even understand it all himself? Seven years like this, like the original sentence Father Patrick had handed down when theyd first found himor was it worse than that, like permanent? What was the extent of the damage? Shit.
There was no way he could withstand even glimpsing into Damalis big brown eyes that were filled with hope, relief, and something else he didnt wanna see. Raw emotion. He kept his gaze fastened on the sky, searching it for a sign, an answer, while his mind slowly unraveled. He couldnt look at hernot now.
Her tears shimmered with the future glistening in them probably from her thinking theyd beaten the odds one more time. Her beautiful battle-smudged face held a resolute expression of hard victory that said theyd won the war and had lived to see another dawn, and therefore it was gonna be all right. Under any other circumstances he would have been on his feet, laughing out loud, living in the profound moment, and swinging her aroundhigh fives in order. But she only had half of the facts.
Yes, he was alive, but in this condition, it was only a half life. What, be with her and live as her brother? This was bullshit. What was he supposed to do; watch her stricken expression once he told her, and then just go on as her neutered compound drone? And he knew her so well, the depths of her love, shed suck it up in his presence and later find a quiet place all alone to scream and cry until she was limp. Thats where he was at right now, so he could dig it. They might as well have cut out his heart. Perhaps they had. Correction, they did.
It was all so crazy. Hed even told Jose out of his own mouth to be with her and make her happy if hed died. He did diea thousand deaths with the slice of one blade and he knew his woman. Carlos cringed. When she pulled her hand away from his back, he began breathing again.
Near madness, he wanted to laugh at the cruel twist of fate. Hed sent her to Jose on a silver platter, just like hed jettisoned a li'l somethin somethin to Yonnie, just in case. But in the transaction, hed played himself all way around this time. He wasnt supposed to come back. His distant line brothers werent supposed to respond to their DNA call. Her prayers werent supposed to be half answered. He was supposed to be dead, and half was. And he knew his woman too well; shed never let it rest.
Shed try to make it better, and that would only make it worse. Hed feel that compassion in her touch, in her hugs and it would eventually begin to corrupt into pity. Shed tell him it didnt matter, that there was so much more to him that she loved sweet liar that she was. He knew how this would go, for a while that would be her truth, until enough time passed and her body would wake up hungry and remember, then remind her how much she was lying to herself. Then she would be compelled to lie to him. But he loved her so much, what would he be able to say? Nada.
That gorgeous, passionate, profoundly awesome creature deserved to live more than a half life deserved to be held, caressed, gentled till she moaned, then loved hard and righteous so hed have to turn a blind eye, pray that shed at least be discrete, and let her go where she had to when the night called her like it used to call him.
That was the bitch of it. They hadnt completely stripped his mind like theyd stripped his body and pride. Neither Heaven nor Hell had been able to get into the black box that secured his knowing of her within it. Both sides had left him every private moment with her unblemished. And given what he knew about what theyd shared, the night would definitely call her.
Carlos closed his eyes to the bright horizon. Then take this from me, too, he almost sobbed aloud, but didnt. Knowledge was power, but he never wanted to know up close and personal, anything about something like this. Instead of a silent mental purge, the black box in his head opened with visceral force, sending fast frames of memory into his agonized brain.
It came back in hard flashes. Damali. Sweat laden salsa nights, her voice a crescendo bouncing off his lair walls. Damali. Her hands were instant liquid heat down his spine. Damali was every element in his universe. She was a will-dissolving phenomena. Shed taught him that Dananu was only a word game; her sultry murmurs put his old language to shame. Damali. That was what sent his kind into the sun--her. There was no negotiating anything when she begged him sweetly and breathed requests for more of him over his tongue with a kiss.
Jesus, what was he gonna do? Her arch was a lightening strike of sanity-eclipsing pleasure. Made him drop fang just to look at her. Her scent produced delirium, her skin like butter, the seal of her body against his, melted wax. Her throat marked by him and only him; her body wired to respond to him and only him. Taught by a master until she mastered him, mind-lock like a motherfucker, his woman was bad. Brought the panther out in him. Loved it on all fours. Then could go good girl in a minute, made the missionary position a religious experience.
Dont take that from us, Im begging yall, please
Oh, God, Damali Her gasp, hed miss the way it cut his skeleton as he entered her paradise found until he was lost making his back work to her choked whispers of his name. He remembered working so hard he forgot about dawn, didnt care, just vaporized on the fucking spot in her arms took her with him as pure mist, cause he couldnt let her go or pull up.
What was he gonna tell this woman who had siphoned his vampire seed, him calling her name while he was in her to the hilt, and then transformed that into new living creation? Her passion was so strong that it had even ignited the dead. She was life. Pleasure. Healing. Redemption. Hope. Belief. His next breath. His every breath. His heartbeat. Shed given him that, too, by sharing hers. She was the employer of every sensory awareness hed owned and it only worked for her like that. Yeah, he was marked, but first by her. To the marrow.
He was at his best and his worst when he was with her. He could only hope shed felt the same way. But there would still be that night when shed silently slip away from his side and disappear only to return the next day with tears in her eyes and no words. He would have nothing to say, either. It would never be spoken upon; they would both know the deal. Thered be plenty of remorse on both sides, but no anger. Just very quiet tears. How could he deny her what was only natural when he loved her so much, especially when hed taught her that self denial, like that, was a crime and a sin? Yet it would be the beginning of the thing shed never had a black box in her head which would slowly become a wall between his soul and hers. He also knew that like he knew his name.
Awakened nature was a force to be reckoned with; and Damali was that, too. After time and tension, shed instinctively go to Jose for comfort and so much more and her Guardian brother would be the one to inherit all the treasures hed once privately heldthats who would pillage his black box and steal her every diamond tear drop. Jose would have her in his arms, would encircle her every ruby ounce of blood, as she naturally bled all over his shoulder when she couldnt take it any more. Then the natural loser of her invaluable treasurehim, yes, he would then be the outsider with his hand pressed to the top of an abandoned box a black glass wall that he couldnt see through. But it made sense; it was the way of the world was the natural order of things.
Yeah. Nature, theyd killed that in him. So, she and Jose would do what was only natural, would share what shed lost for the cause in quiet, understanding conversations; they were already friends and after that, Jose would eventually heal her by never leaving her side as a friend, and would be handsomely rewarded by the priceless sound of her laughter, her voice, the gold threads of her joy, the sterling friendship that went even deeper into an untapped, virgin mine. There, in the mine of her sweet soul, hed dredge and pick up more precious stones to be set into her music, their music, creating a new rhythm that shed respond to, while what they once shared would tarnish to become only tense exchanges of discordant civilities. Breathing was next to impossible.
Because he knew, after that, Jose would then rightfully inherit every amber stroke of her supple skin. Every glistening smoky topaz of her eyes as she neared the edge of release and fell over it until her sweat pearled on her beautiful body. And he couldnt even be mad about it. His passionate tresora did not deserve to live like a nun. He just wished Jose would have left him as ash so he never had to know or see it. To be robbed was one thing, disinherited another, but to witness ones treasure being thoroughly enjoyed by another man because you were no longer man enough to do sothat was unbearable. He could not stay with the Guardians and watch it all go down.
Carlos opened his eyes. The glare of the solar rays became blurry, but he refused to let a single tear fall. This humiliation was way too private. This abomination of his body was a discussion for one-on-one when he and Damali got home. The truth needed to be swift to end all pretenses, and he had to have a place to explain to her how time would indeed rob them when it was all said and done. The facts had to be delivered without bullshit or recriminations. Because, if they stayed together, everything theyd had would become murky as the lies built each time she had to quietly slide out to do what she had to do then Hell would own his black box. Jealously would hand it to them with a sly smile.
And while she tried to sustain their relationship on life support, holding it in The Light by grasping some sentimental memory to keep what had been alive, shed smother it in a death gripwhich would send that section of his guarded black box heavenward to live with weeping angels while the truth would sit squarely between them on earth in the gray zone. The unsaid, like the undead. There, but not, always siphoning life from the relationship. Invisible lethal nicks. Smooth invasion done without a trace leaving what had once been hot and vibrant, shivering and pale in the cold light of day.
The box itself was that truth, a coffin, and the empty box would be robbed of what it once contained. Made useless. Like him until neither of them remembered V-point or St. Lucia. All the laugher would be gone, their conversations flat-lined to the mundane. Secrets between them would vanish, become mist. Stolen glances would be turned into glares. Whispers transformed into sarcastic hisses. Soft murmurs changed into barks and snaps. Names would be said with sudden strikes of anger, not with impassioned pleas of dont stop.
By then both their mental boxes would be filled with the sludge of recent pain, the dirt dug from the grave of not addressing it head-on. Hed seen his parents go there. It was ugly. No. He was out before it came to that. It would be a parting gift to her and himselfher freedom from guilt to live fully; along with the salvation of his shredded pride.
He almost laughed out loud, but didnt. Couldnt. The Chairman was a crafty, old sonofabitch. All this time he thought hed been brought back. Carlos shook his head and finally allowed the tears to stream down his face. He was still in Hell. What had he been thinking? The shit hurt so much it had made him stupid. This was all an illusion. The old bastard had beaten him and won, and he knew how the game down there was played break the body, then torture a mans mind with his worst nightmare till he hollered and gave up his soul.
His most agonizing torture hadnt been getting his bloodied guts ripped from his abdomen by Harpies Obviously, the Chairman had finally figured that out. His Achilles heel was having his entrails inadvertently tangled in a knot by Damalis soft hand and yanked from him by her tender pull all because he couldnt be to her what hed been. That was his worst nightmare, the thing that slithered through him so hard and fast that it nearly broke him. It was so simple that it really was almost laughable. Almost. Why didnt they think of that before?
Carlos squinted. Nice representation of the sun. The fire, the burning part, yeah, Hell could duplicate that. Hellfire pain was their specialty. Fatigue, you could count on it. Mirages, pleaseany time, anywhere. Angels well they probably had battled some a time or two, especially the Chairman. The imagery was deep; he had to give the old boys in the chamber that. Castration? Lightweight, truly, given where he was incarcerated now. Just kinda messed with his mind for a minute, thats all. At least the physical pain had stopped for a few.
Now that he was clearer, he was sure that wasnt even Damali sitting next to him, was probably a lead henchmen, or the Chairman, just waiting to twist the knife one more time.
What looked like Damali glanced at him and offered him a tender smile. Thats when he knew for sure. The Chairman was fucking with him royal; it was gonna be a looooong bid. Carlos drew back, tried to quickly gather Dananu in his mind, but failed. His legs felt like lead. He couldnt stand without help. Oh, yeah, this was Helltheyd siphoned all his vamp powers, all his best, lightening swift, battle moves. He couldnt even bulk to defend himself. If he couldnt even stand unaided, then yeah, awight, he had to admit that theyd truly kicked his ass on round one. But if another beat down was coming, he would stand on his own and wouldnt be no punk.
She was about to say something, but that wasnt his boo, so he wasnt listening to shit. Good imitation, but nope. He wasnt crazy, wasnt no fool. He strained trying to remember the negotiation syntax so he could ward off what this imitation of Damali was about to say. But the words failed him. Theyd stripped the language. Damn! Worse yet, hed opened his own black box!
I know theres so much twisting your head around right now, baby, the entity representing Damali murmured softly. Well get to that real soon, and get it all out. Just you and me, I promise.
Aw maaaan Harpies hadnt gotten it, but this one mighta got some of it and was promising to go into his head again to try to get some more. Sheeeit shed told him as much with a sweet, knowing smile. Yeah, awight, well see on round two.
He watched in abject horror as the illusion slowly reached for his face and cradled his cheek in her palm. His natural instinct was to rip the entitys arm from the socket. But he needed to lay, be strategic, and think, heal, gather more strength. If he couldnt feed to regen, then he had to be cool and conserve what he had. The only thing he wanted to know was, how in the hell did they work with silver? Humans at sub levels?
Carlos glanced around at the team wondering. Paranoia had a stranglehold on him. Did the Chairman transport him to a darkened lair, built up this much illusion around him, and have human helpers administer silver torture? He wouldnt put it past him. It would be nothing to pull off something that slimey but wait, that didnt make sense, either. Hed burned by daylight. Once ash, that was it. Unless this was part of the whole Sea of Perpetual Agony bid, where your own mind made your soul wail in confusion. Mind games. Okay, lets play. He got it; he was straight.
Carlos jerked his attention around as the entities posing as Damalis squad started moving closer toward him. The big, six foot eight one had to go down first. His gaze quickly scanned the group and then narrowed on the one whod been jacking with his mind the mostthe one in drag as Damali.
Cut manhood or not, if he was still a vamp and if they were still fucking with him, with a good feed that could regen but in the meantime, he would whup their asses for even taking him there.
Carlos smiled as the entities stopped advancing and the illusion-caster covered her mouth, stifled a sob, and turned away. Thats right, dammit. Back up. Think about your next move very carefully, now that Im clear. Act like you know.
Even down here, power was power and he was a Councilman that could still snatch a bone out of their asses while injured. He got to his feet and staggered a few steps to get out of their immediate lunge range. Their tears didnt make sense, though. Not for master destroyers, even in a mental war. He hesitated, unsure.
What was that all about?


Volume VEdit

New Orleans...

He brushed Tara’s damp, dark hair away from her face and kissed her gently, impatiently waiting for her to open her eyes. Like every time before, he hoped that this time when she came out of a V-Point, the familiar shadow that always haunted her smoky irises would be gone.

Her eyelids fluttered, her expression was sated… mellow…she was beautiful and she was now his. Even if just for that brief moment before she reawakened in his arms, no other man could lay claim to her.

“That was fantastic,” he whispered, staring down at her.

She smiled, but it contained the sadness he’d hoped he could forever banish.

“Why does he always wake up with you?” he murmured, tracing the line of her jaw. There was no harshness in his tone, just deep hurt.

She closed her eyes and cupped his cheek. “Because we’re still connected.”

He rested his forehead against hers, shut his eyes tightly, and spoke to her through his teeth in a harsh whisper. “Should I have broken that connection by sending him into The Light by snatching out his heart? What do I have to do? Tell me.”

He felt her tense; the visceral response contracted her entire body beneath him.

“We’ve already done that,” she murmured, stroking his face. “Allow me to grieve as a widow for a while.”

He relaxed and felt her also do the same. Being lodged inside her while having this conversation, wore on him no end.

“But he didn’t die within you—you still love him.”

She nodded. “Yes. And I also love you.”

“I can’t understand that. I deal in absolutes.”

“I know,” she said quietly. “Most men do.”

“Then make me understand it. I’m begging you to do that.” He propped himself up on an elbow and stared down at her.

She drew a shuddered breath and took her time to respond as though choosing each word with care. “He is like a distant star to me now, unreachable… a bright light that died in the galaxy years ago for reasons that I can’t fathom from where I stand. The cosmos had a chain-reaction plan that my spec of existence couldn’t control. But I can still see his flicker… can still enjoy his luminance from a distance, knowing that what I am seeing is the light of the past traveling through space to me. But I also know that, if I ever went to its original source, I would weep… because it burned out long ago. Rider and I are finished, even though he’s still alive.”

“Him still being alive means there’s always the chance that—”

“No,” she said quickly. “The sacred has been violated; I’m now his greatest danger—either because you’ll kill him in a jealous rage, which is an act of passion… or because I will do so through a passion bite. The only logical reconciliation is that we remain dead to each other. That’s the way it has to be—the way I have to think about it so I can exist. It’s the same for him. So, let me grieve, Yonnie. I am a widow that has remarried. I cannot go back, yet until I have enough memories to pattern over the past, I cannot fully go forward.”

“I don’t want you to go to him, now that you’re mine. Swear it by blood oath.”

She cradled his face with her palms and her voice remained tender. “I can’t go to him.”

He withdrew from her body, rolled off her, and stood. “Because you don’t trust yourself.”

Her lack of reply sent him to the bar across the room for a black bottle. “And, as your husband—an eternal throat-mate, how am I supposed to deal with that?”

Everything in the room suddenly felt like it was an eerie reminder of the multiple levels of conflict he existed on. He was a vampire, a Master, but had selected a mate that he could not sway even with supernatural prowess. He was once a fugitive of the Antebellum south and abhorred all that it represented, and yet he chose to build his lair there—appointing it with the lush decadence of the French Renaissance era as a final laugh at the very ones that had once beaten him. He was stronger than her ex-husband… a mere human who was rapidly aging, and he could end the mortal’s life with ease, but wasn’t strong enough to endure eternity with Tara hating him for it… so he’d let the bastard live. He’d taken a wife, but had not left the region where he’d met his mistress, Gabrielle. He was indebted to a man that had elevated him to awesome dark power, but would not indulge in taking a body upon the orders of that same blood-brother who was oddly now in The Light.

Yonnie opened the bottle, his eyes on Tara, her voluptuous body sprawled across crimson sheets that were still tangled from ardent lovemaking. The wall torches and candles made her toffee skin glisten, just like it sent shards of flickering color across her thicket of velvety hair, and made her dark eyes smolder.

“Break the connection,” he ordered, filling two goblets. “Do it soon.” He took a deep sip of blood. “I never want to go to V-Point with you again having him on your mind.”

“He’s not on my mind when I’m with you,” she murmured and stood.

His straightened his back when she came near and gently touched his chest.

“I only feel his heartbreak after.”

He stared at her. “Break the connection.”

“I don’t know how to,” she whispered. “You’re the Master… maybe—”

“I’ve tried!” he shouted, hurling the goblet across the room. The deep red stain splattered the armoire and wall, and oozed down it like burgundy tears. “It’s beyond dark powers—it’s because you’re still in love with the sonofabitch! The darkness cannot break a pure love connection, and you know that!”

“I can no more change my love for Rider than you can change your love for Carlos.” Her voice was soft, seductive, melodic, and reasonable. Her words were delivered like a silken noose, strangling his jealousy.

“I don’t have to listen to this shit. Don’t change the subject, Tara.”

“Carlos is your brother, a chosen connection from the old empire, but also more—a true friend. Tell me, Yonnie, can you stop loving Carlos? Did you stop feeling a sense of connection to him when he burned to ash in the sun? Didn’t you mourn the loss of your past with him when you thought he was dead, but also grieve all that could have been in the future… so much so that, when you first encountered him again you remained in denial that he had become this millennium’s male Neteru—yet you still call him Mr. Councilman, out of respect, out of love, because that is what he will always be to you, no matter what. If I’m wrong about that, and you know how to disengage from something so profound that even our dark realms cannot fathom it, share your secret with me. Tell me how to stop loving someone who has meant so much to you.”

He stormed away from her and began pacing by the huge Rice bed, and then suddenly broke off one of the posts in a loud crack that made her flinch.

“If I put a stake through Rider’s heart, since you nearly turned that motherfucker, would that do it, Tara?” He flung down the splintered wood with such force that it plunged into the floor and remained there as a vertical warning. “Even a cathedral didn’t fry him, nor did daylight! His own team wouldn’t put him out of his misery,” he bellowed. “Did you want him to live? Be one of us! Be yours forever—then why don’t you go to where he is now and make it permanent?”

She wrapped her arms around herself and spoke quietly through glittering tears that only made her eyes more beautiful.

“I would never turn him,” she whispered. “He’s begged me to do that for years, and I never will. I want him to live as a human, and never be one of us. He’s a man with a good heart—”

“Then what the fuck am I to you, Tara?”

“A man with a good heart.”

He closed his eyes and was breathing hard. If he slapped her the satisfaction would be temporary but the damage eternal.

“I love you,” she whispered. “What happened back there to Rider wasn’t your fault, and I don’t hold you accountable—kill him, and I will. We both know that. The decision is ultimately yours. I don’t have enough power to stop a Master from committing a human assassination. Any night, that’s your option. But the fact that you’ve spared him is testimony to me that you care about me beyond measure. It speaks volumes to me about the depth of your character, and that is what I love. The fact that I’ve made my decision to be with you and not with him is something you should honor.”

“He is in my fucking lair!” Yonnie bellowed, toppling furniture with his thundering voice. “In my goddamned bed every time I’m with you!”

“He isn’t in bed with us when I’m with you. I have never called his name in my mind when you were loving me.” She kept her tone even, soothing, yet devoid of emotion. “I have respected you to the utmost. I have valued you and your position as my eternal. At least know that. But if making love to me upsets you this way, then I won’t willingly come to you when you summon—even as your throat mate, because I can’t go through this aftermath each time. Then our interactions will become limited to a Master’s rape of his estranged throat mate. Again, you have choices that I have no option but to abide by, so choose well. Hurt Rider and we’re done for all time. That’s an absolute you can count on.”

Her eyes flickered with the slightest flash of red and then burned back to their normal, serene brown. He knew she’d quietly drawn a line. There was no other option, beyond one that was foolish and that would provide only transient satisfaction.

Yonnie raked his hair with his fingers and stalked away from her. He did know that what she’d said was true; she hadn’t moaned for another man while in his arms—but it was the principle of it all. To be sure, he’d dredged her mind so hard the first time he was with her that it had made her nose bleed. He’d listened for her voice to give him evidence of fraud. He’d studied her eyes to see if they contained a ruse. He never found those things in her, though her honesty was brutal.

“Why can’t you feel about me the way you do about him?” he finally asked, sitting down heavily on the side of the bed.

She came to him and sat beside him and then laid her head on his shoulder. “Imagine the woman who has been traumatized by losing a beloved spouse. For a time, he will be risen in her mind to sainthood… she will forget all his wrongs until enough time has passed. New experiences must layer upon the old, Yonnie. This is like building a new civilization upon ancient and majestic ruins. Soon, the new city becomes the standard, is vibrant, exists in the present… the arcane passes away, but will always be revered and have historical relevance. You have lived long enough in two hundred years to have experienced some of this, yes?”

He stroked her hair and pulled her to him, and let out a long, weary sigh. “You’re romanticizing Rome. It was decadent, had intrigue, drama—”

“But it was also great, and a force to be reckoned with in its glory.”

He leaned her back against the jumble of satin sheets and studied her face. His finger traced the plumpness of her lush bottom lip. “Don’t compare me to him.”

“I never do,” she whispered.

He hesitated, not sure of her vague meaning that could be taken multiple ways.

“Feed from me. Replenish yourself, and build over Rome tonight, okay?”

She ran her index finger down his jugular and he watched feed length fangs present themselves within her lovely mouth with a shudder.

He shook his head no. “A lover’s bite.” He traced his jugular and reopened the original wound that she’d marked him with to show her what he meant. “Remember that one? The first breech of skin delivered in pure passion? Take the vein like that for me, baby.” His vision blurred as tears came to his eyes and his voice became gravelly with emotion. “In more than two hundred years no female ever marked me there. You were my first,” he whispered. “I was your virgin… be responsible with my dead heart, Tara.”

He covered her body, blanketing hers with his as her fangs receded to a lover’s length. She was so soft, a supple compilation of curvaceous flesh that almost felt warm to the touch. As her mouth covered the open wound, a hard shudder passed through him and produced one within her.

“When he eventually dies and goes into The Light, promise me you won’t commit the ultimate vampire atrocity of exterminating yourself,” he whispered against her temple. “I love you so much. Stay with me forever… if I allow him to live as your distant star.”

She didn’t answer or commit, just slowly bit down, causing his lids to slide shut and his eyes to roll beneath them in sheer ecstasy.

Volume VIEdit

Alaska.

Tara glanced around the new lair gaping with quiet appreciation, her gaze soaking in the splendor Yonnie had created just for her. Everything was made of clear, crystalline ice. the bed, the sofa, the chairs, the long dining table, and he'd skillfully made a fire burn beneath a high frozen mantle. Tall vases made of ice captured budding pussy willow branches, white orchids, and white roses that were held in state within their chrysalis-like frost encasement.

Firelight dappled the shining surfaces making golden-orange and red hues glitter as though amber and ruby jewels. Thick, polar white pelts were strewn over the bed, sofa, and chairs, just as a massive bear pelt covered the snow-dusted floor before the inferno. Within her keen vision, the fine, powdery flakes seemed like crystal lace flecks that also caught the firelight, but didn't melt. Compelled by sheer awe, Tara allowed her hand to gently touch the bizarrely beautiful bedpost, which appeared to be a massive, twist of frozen, braided, stalagmites that had simply grown up from the floor toward the ceiling.

"I can see my breath but it's not cold," she murmured, allowing awe to paint her words.

Yonnie smiled, quietly pleased, and then gave a brief nod toward the ceiling and ice-crystal wall across the room. "Up this high in the mountains, the hawk cuts like a razor, the wind is rough, and the air is too thin-but I tried to make it comfortable so you'd like it inside. might even stay with me here a while. Despite the cold, the Northern Lights are beautiful, though. just like you."

Tara shyly looked away toward the roiling colors displayed in the night sky, becoming rapt as she stared at the throbbing magentas, swirls of pinkish-blues, and endless array of gold tones. It was nice of him to ask, even though by rights he could have commanded her to stay. That made all the difference in the world, just like the hopefulness in his voice did.

"You didn't have to do this just for me."

"Yes, I did," he said, materializing a black bottle for her and calmly opening it.

For a moment, neither of them spoke as he poured the ruby substance into long-stemmed, ice flutes. The issue was implicit-yes he did need to do this-or he'd wind up in a death match with his boy, Carlos. Yes, he did need to bring his woman high up in the mountains, thousands of miles away from his blood brother, who was in the midst of a hard Neteru apex. His boy didn't have to worry about lower level gens messing with him, especially with Damali as his woman, and they definitely had a whole squad of Guardians who could throw down.

No. This was best. A little space and distance. Plus, he and Tara both needed to get the image of Carlos as a new Chairman, who'd done some foul shit, out of their heads. They had to remember that that was the evil version of their boy-not the real deal. But sometimes illusions were hard to shake. That was why the dark side excelled in the use of them to bend the mind.

Yonnie studied the black bottle as he poured, inhaling the sweet aroma of life that wafted up from it. He'd almost battle-bulked on Carlos the moment his apex scent had filtered into his lair from Malibu, and were it not for the fact that they were family, he might have snapped. Nightfall demanded that he and Tara needed to be where they couldn't smell it. Yeah, some things in his world were basic and didn't require lengthy discussion.

Yonnie unbuttoned his full-length black mink coat and slowly approached Tara, two flutes casually held in one hand in a loose grip between his fingers. But he watched her eyes, intensely aware of the slow smolder behind her dark, smoky irises and then he stepped behind her, handing her a blood flute as he enfolded her in his arms. She yielded to his embrace without tension, and just that subtle thing caused anticipation to rush through him, giving him wood so hard so fast that he winced against her hair. He caressed her ear with his nose; theirs had been a very delicate dance over time. Never sure. Her black mink coat drew him to briefly rub his cheek against her collar, remembering how silky her real coat felt when she shape-shifted into wolfen form. He was rewarded by her touch, her free hand capturing his in a gentle squeeze that transmitted pure appreciation.

"You know, in the dead of winter," he murmured near her ear, "it stays dark twenty-four seven."

He could feel her smile as she brought the flute to her mouth.

"I could get used to that," she said in a low, sensual tone, and then took a sip. She craned her neck to turn and directly stare at him. "It's warm!"

He chuckled. "Yeah. it is, isn't it? Caribou-the herd just flushed for a hunt and pumping adrenaline."

She fully turned and hugged him, and laid her head on his shoulder. "Thank you for everything, Yonnie," she said on a breathy whisper. "I know I haven't exactly been-"

"Don't go there," he said quietly, pulling back to look into her now flickering eyes while slowly shaking his head no. The soft red glow deep within them had lit like a tiny ember and was now beginning to consume the larger frame of brown in a slow blaze. When she was like this, she was so beautiful. Hell, even when she wasn't gently yielding, she was still gorgeous and she still messed him up.

"I'm sorry that I hurt you before."

"Shush," he murmured, tracing her cheek with his thumb. "The past is the past. We've both done crazy shit. All I know is you had my back when the new Chairman was yanking vertebrae out of it. Feel me?"

Tara nodded and captured his hand to stop him from tracing her cheek just so she could kiss the center of his palm. She had done it so slowly, so sensually, then licked it while gazing at him with such open devotion that, it caused his eyes to briefly slide shut. In reflex he let his head drop back for a moment, took a deep breath, and then lifted his head to stare at her. Whew. Tara?

"You were ready to do daylight for me." Yonnie carefully brought the ice flute to his lips, attempting to suppress the tremor Tara had sent through him. He took a long, slow swallow, polishing off the contents of his flute, then flung it across the room and watched it shatter against the fireplace. "Then you bled out Gabby's house, but spared my old friend. and brought me back from the edge of extinction with the blood in your veins. That was the second time you saved my life-do you realize that? The first time you found me a safe lair. now this."

When tears glistened in her eyes, he lowered his mouth to hers, kissed her tenderly, and then pulled back again, stroking her dark, velvety hair. "So, this winter wonderland ain't nuthin'. It's the very least I owe you. a private art gallery opening, featuring little bit of Heaven's best watercolors presented at night, framed by midnight. the Aurora Borealis in your eyes. that's what you give me, Tara-a little bit of daylight to hold inside."

She brought the goblet to her lips and quickly drank down the warm, sticky crimson it held, then flung the flute away to splinter with a crash. Yonnie's irises went from warm brown to solid red the moment the ice shards exploded against the mantle. Witnessing what he could no longer hold in check simply let her know the calm brown in his eyes had been illusion from the door. She was deeply flattered, profoundly touched, and thoroughly turned on.

Stepping back she dropped her coat to the floor, revealing her unclothed body. All she had on now were her black stiletto heels. The look in his eyes told her that he was moved beyond words. To pay homage to his theme, she allowed her shoes to slowly frost over and turn into clear ice as she walked out of the pool of mink at her feet to stand before him. That was the least she could do, after he'd gone to such lengths to impress her. Fair exchange was no robbery. Yonnie had defended her against an insane new Chairman that had temporarily stolen Carlos's form.

Men didn't understand that for women the past and the present and the future were one. It was all a part of the whole, until infinity. She watched Yonnie dissolve his coat and clothes with a slow blink. Yes, he was a wise Master, indeed, to bring them here. There was a distant scent locked in her sinuses that had the potential to make her crazy, but it wasn't the one that Yonnie most worried about.

Tara allowed her gaze to rove Yonnie's handsome, pecan-hued face, and the thicket of natural, kinky hair that framed his head like a soft crown. "Let's start at the beginning, as though tonight is our first night. No history," she murmured, struggling within to keep her fangs from cresting. Her line of vision slowly descended his throat, making him swallow hard as she fused a caress into each glance, her eyes taking in his well-defined chest, tight brown nipples, and sculpted abdomen, until her hot gaze caused him to quietly shudder as it dropped lower.

From her peripheral vision she saw that fangs now filled his mouth. She briefly closed her eyes and took in a deep stabilizing breath through her nose. What males of their species would never understand was the connection familiar. Carlos was family, like a little brother, not a competitor. All Carlos's apex could do for her was ensure that the nearest vamp male would benefit from his condition. She stared at Yonnie-he was the nearest male vampire, and a Master, too, and also so much more than just that to her now. But Rider's scent trapped in cellular memory, and unlocked by a Neteru apex, was definitely a dangerous thing. This alternative was best. Alaska and its gorgeous Northern Lights display was a haven.

She could feel Yonnie waiting for her to set the pace this time; his Master's patience wearing her will thin. But she respected his discipline and the fact that he was honoring her request to make this their first night. So, in fair trade, she gave him the truth of the recent past.

"I owe you," she finally said, closing the gap between them. Her skin was on fire within the ice palace he'd created. She slid against him, forcing him to grasp her by her upper arms and briefly close his eyes again. "Remember. I was the one who was insubordinate, because I thought that monster was our Carlos." She nipped Yonnie's jugular and drew a tight gasp from him. "Had I only listened to you."

She kissed him hard and climbed up his body, her arms about his neck, her legs locked around his waist, as he staggered backward toward the bed. "You could have saved yourself," she said, her words fusing in a soft moan. "You could have turned me over to him and sacrificed me to his insanity-but you didn't. You almost bled out for me."

Animal pelts cushioned their fall. The velvety textures of warmth surrounded them. Yonnie dragged a fang along the path of her jugular as she arched beneath him, the crown of her head digging into the furs.

"For two hundred years I was by myself, never feeling like this, Tara. don't you know by now that if anything happened to you that would bleed me out?"

Yonnie's tender words followed by his punishing kiss scored her conscience. Fate had been cruel to all three of them. Rider had released her in Tibet-she'd felt it. Tonight she had to let Jack Rider go, had to banish his scent, overwrite the memories with her new reality, her new lover. her new husband. But how did one blot out thirty some years in a single night? She dredged her mind as Yonnie's touch stung her skin with ecstasy, desperately trying to remember all of Jack Rider's faults, every one of his affairs, anything that would release her from the bondage of that soon to be retired love.

"That's not how you imprint over the past," Yonnie whispered into her ear, his hand gliding across her naked hip. "Dwelling on his faults will just make you remember all of him, the good with the bad, then eventually you'll justify his flaws as you remember your own." He kissed her neck. "Don't work your mind so hard, baby. Let it flow tonight. I got what you need."

Stunned, Tara opened her eyes, her breathing shallow.

Yonnie kissed her softly. "I'm a Master, remember? I can sense these things."

"I'm sorry, I wasn't trying to-"

He smiled and took her mouth and then placed a delicate kiss between her ample breasts. "You let him live there in peace," he murmured over her heart. "Don't blot him out-that was a life experience that you own."

"But."

"Shush." Yonnie crooned, capturing one of her nipples between his lips and gently suckling it. When she arched and moaned, cupping the unattended breast in her palm, he intensified the sensation. Every touch sent small pleasure spasms through her until her pores leaked liquid want.

"You imprint stronger, more recent, vivid memories right next to the weaker image," he murmured against her skin, sending hot shards of pleasure through her to evaporate any trace of perspiration that had claimed her. "Let's make some new memories tonight."

Before Tara could draw a breath, he quickly captured her mouth, then broke away slightly winded, and watched the pleasure that he'd sent across her tongue implode in her belly and ooze out from her fingertips in heat waves as she wailed.

"You cause a Master eclipse to blot out the haunting shadows of past," he said in a low, sensual rumble as his body slid down hers. "Your problem is you're too repressed, baby. Let go. let it all go, and give in to just how jacked up you are behind getting apex in your sinuses."

She was trembling, on the verge of seizure, trying her best not to loose the part of her that she swore she'd never give into-being a female vampire severely affected by Neteru male apex scent. It was humiliating to be so out of control. Her kind prided themselves on the mastery of the mind. And that she'd been so transparent, so unable to focus her own illusion patterns that, Yonnie had read her like an opened book. The lights in the sky made her feel like she was hallucinating.

"I didn't want to make you angry," she sputtered as Yonnie rimmed her navel with his tongue. "You deserved better. it's not just the apex, it's. you!"

Her words trailed off with a knifing gasp as he opened her with his tongue and sent that sensation throughout her limbs.

"Why would I be mad when I'm benefiting like this?" he said in a low chuckle against her wet slit, finding her bud with the tip of his tongue. "The apex is just adding a little positive topspin to our relationship." He suckled her, his hands caressing her thighs while his tongue drew a panting whimper. "And I am soooo happy that you were finally trying to imprint me over everything that came before me," he murmured into her soft folds, the low resonance of his voice sending depth charges of pleasure within her. "Tell the truth-you've been suffering like this half the night, ever since the scent t hit the air?"

"Yes," she moaned, tears slipping from the corners of her eyes as she writhed beneath him. "I'm so ashamed."

"Don't be," he said with a half smile, blanketing her. "An opportunity like this happens once in how many hundred years when they make a male Neteru?" Yonnie's half smile became a full grin as he stared down at Tara. "And this one is my boy-won't come hunting us. and you're in my bed. granite gates timed to shut down an hour before dawn. Where's the shame? Technically, vamps ain't even supposed to know the definition of the word."

His eyes searched hers, hunting for the truth in them behind her glistening tears. The smile left his face as the gravity of the heat between them began to consume him. She licked her lips, and by instinct he pulled a manicured nail down his jugular, opening a vein as he entered her hard. The strike she delivered was brutal and immediate, causing him to arch as she became moir aggressive. His hair was suddenly in her fist, just as the pelts beneath them were in his. She'd sent so much pleasure into the bite that he almost ejaculated when she pulled out of it to breathe.

Moonlight washed her body in Northern Lights, her mouth stained crimson, her luscious hips moving, frenzied, firm breasts bouncing, nipples taut, aching, sending that acute throb down his shaft, clenching his ass, his thighs, his sac on fire, her _expression pained, crying out in ecstasy, her voice broken pants keeping time with his thrusting. Oh, shit, this was the kinda night that made legends live, eclipsed pasts, and turned wet dreams real. Her next bite sent him into pleasure seizure. He could feel himself beginning to deconstruct, destination V-Point.

"Be my avalanche and completely let go," he begged against her throat in a hissing whisper through his teeth. "Sweep me away in a million ice crystals-blue-white powder. falling, thundering, unstoppable hunks of me and you. Just us frozen in the present. no past, no projecting into the future, just right now."

He bit her with such intensity that her womb contracted on every siphon pull, her eyes wide and glassy, _expression frozen in a silent wail of unspent ecstasy trapped in her throat-then she shattered into a million pieces of crystalline vapor only to find herself at the top of a precipice hurtling down, free falling, every cell spitting open and freezing in pleasure shock. a powerful force thundering between her legs, within her lungs, smothering her in gratification, leaving her gasping, sputtering, bowled over, blown away, quick sliding, open-mouth hollering, nails dragging down nothingness to stop it, but not wanting it to ever end. The sonic boom implosion at the bottom of the summit made her pass out from pleasure shock. She didn't even feel her cells knit back together. But the moment she came to, she held Yonnie tightly and sobbed against his chest.

He could barely catch his breath as he nestled them both deep against the fur pelts. He kissed her face and the crown of her head as he held her close and tried to stabilize his breathing. She had never before really allowed him to take her all the way out on a thunder run like that-never just closed her eyes and fully trusted where he'd lead her. If an apex in the distant air would open her up like that, then fine. By any means necessary.

Profoundly moved, he gently rocked her as she wept through heavy gulps of air. He made quiet shushing sounds to calm her while she got it all out of her system. all the pain, all the disappointment and loneliness of being what they both were-vampiri. Cheated out of life and trapped in death. But in his mind, at least he'd shown her how to work with the hand she'd been dealt to the bone.

"Now do you see why I wasn't angry?" he finally said, smiling into her hair as her tears abated. "Remorse and guilt are a waste of energy-which could be better spent like this." He pursed his lips against her tousled, velvet black tresses and pulled her in closer. He was no fool; this rare opportunity had been a gift and he'd damn sure use it to permanently blot Jack Rider out of her mind. "Let me know when you wanna make another run down the slopes," Yonnie murmured, flopping back with Tara against his chest and closing his eyes.

She nodded, and began to gently rub his muscular abdomen. "If I had only known."

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