"I’m sorry," she breathed, pulling back.
But he didn’t let her go far. He pulled her back to him and gave her a kiss so sizzling that it melted her completely. With a teasing laugh, she nibbled his lips. "You’re still hurt."
"You’re worth a little pain," he whispered before he buried his lips against her throat.
Retta groaned as chills spread over her, and her body heated up immediately. It’d been way too long since they’d been together. She’d all but forgotten how good this felt. How good Velkan felt. Leaning back, she pulled him with her until his weight was pressing her into the bed. Still his lips didn’t leave her neck as he unbuttoned her shirt. His eyes were dark with hunger as he cupped her breast while his thumb slipped beneath the lace to touch her skin.
She shivered at his hot touch as she pulled his shirt from over his head.
His skin was still burnt and angry looking, but even so, she’d never seen anything more exquisite. He was so lean and ripped that she could see the outline of every muscle on his chest. And she remembered the first time she’d seen him nak*d. He’d been hesitant, afraid of hurting her. And she’d been stunned by the size of him. By the contrast of his masculine body to hers. Where she was soft, he was hard. Where her skin was smooth, his was chafed by battle scars and calluses. And his scent…
It was warm and masculine, all-consuming.
Shivering, she reached around and undid her bra, then let it fall to the floor.
Velkan could barely breathe. He still couldn’t believe she was allowing him to touch her. Not after all the anger she’d spewed. All the insults that had gotten back to him over the centuries. If he were smart, he’d send her packing. But how could he? No matter the anger, he knew the truth..
He still loved her. He still wanted her.
She was everything to him.
And she might change her mind…
That would be too cruel for words. Cruel even for the daughter of Vlad Tepes.
Her eyes dark with longing and passion, she moved from the bed to divest herself of her pants. Velkan thought he was going to die as she reached for her panties. His breath came in short, sharp bursts as she licked her lips, teasing him, exciting him. The tips of her fingers went beneath the black satin fabric.
"Do you want me to leave?" she asked as she hesitated while he waited for her to lower that damned skimpy piece of fabric.
What, was she insane? Or just plain cold?
"Hell, no," he growled.
Smiling, she slowly pulled the panties down her legs until she could step out of them. In that moment, it was a struggle not to come from the sheer pleasure of seeing her nak*d alone.
Damn, but she had the hottest body the gods had ever gifted to a woman. Granted her br**sts weren’t very large and her h*ps were a bit wide, it didn’t matter to him. There was no woman more perfect.
Retta loved the power she felt as he watched her with hooded eyes. Even so, she could tell how eager he was. But that was nothing compared to how badly she wanted a taste of him.
She pulled the covers away from Velkan’s body, then crawled back onto the bed between his legs while never breaking eye contact with him. Her mouth dry, she finally dropped her gaze down the bulge in his pajama bottoms. She could have sworn she heard him whimper.
But still he didn’t move while she moved her hand so that she could cup him through the flannel. He hissed as if it were sheer torture, and yet she knew by the look of relief on his face that he was enjoying it immensely. It still wasn’t enough. Her heart hammering as her entire body burned for him, she dipped her hand into the slit of his pants to seek him out. His skin was so hot and smooth as she touched his cock. He was already wet and leaking. She brushed against the tip of him, making him arch his back as if he were being tortured on the rack.
Laughing in delight at his response, she pulled her hand away so that she could taste the salty sweetness of him.
Velkan was absolutely on fire as he watched her lick the tip of her finger. But that was nothing compared to how he felt as she reached for his waistband to pull his pants off. He lifted his h*ps to accommodate her even though her slowness was starting to piss him off.
He wanted to savor this, and at the same time he wanted inside her so badly that he could barely contain himself. It was all he could do not to seize her and whip her under him.
But his patience paid off as she tossed his pants over her shoulder, then dipped her head down to take him into her mouth.
The sight of her hair fanning out over his lap while she tasted him was almost more than he could suffer. She looked up at him and met his eyes with nothing but raw hunger in her gaze… He had to grind his teeth to keep himself from his orgasm. But it was hard and he didn’t want this over so quickly.
He had to lean back and stare at the ceiling just to control himself, and even so he still felt the moist heat of her mouth as she tongued him from hilt to tip.
Retta groaned deep in her throat as she saw Velkan clutching the sheet in his fists. He lifted his leg between hers, and when his thigh touched her core she almost came from the sheer pleasure of it.
But that wasn’t what she wanted. She wanted to make amends to him for all the centuries she’d allowed her unfounded fears and stupidity to keep them apart. She owed him so much and she wasn’t going to leave him until he knew just how sorry she was for what she’d done to both of them.
Her body throbbing, she slowly kissed her way from his c**k to his navel. Then she moved to his nipple so that she could lave it while he sank his fingers deep inside her. Closing her eyes, she savored his touch as she moved herself so that she straddled his hips.
He moved his hand and cupped her face before he kissed her, and in that moment every bad thought she’d ever carried for him melted and she couldn’t remember what about him had ever made her flee. Closing her eyes, she savored his tongue and mouth. Savored the feeling of his hands on her face before she lowered herself onto him.
Velkan shivered as she took him in all the way to his hilt. He’d dreamed of this moment for the last five hundred years. And all those dreams paled in comparison to this one moment in time. He inhaled the sweet fragrance of her skin as she rode him slow and easy.
This was all he’d ever wanted in his entire life. Esperetta in his bed. His body inside hers.
He growled deep in his throat as she continued to ride him, driving both their pleasure onward. She nipped and licked the pad of his finger as he gently traced the curve of her lips.
Needing to touch her, he dropped his hand down so that he could cup her breast in his hand and let her hardened nipple tease his palm. He lifted his h*ps to drive himself even deeper into her.
Retta smiled and took Velkan’s hand into hers while she gave them both what they needed.
The look of pleasure on his face only added to her own. It felt so good to be back with him.
So natural. For the first time in centuries, she honestly felt like she was home.
And she was never going to leave it again.
That thought swept through her an instant before her body shuddered and spasmed. In a glorious flood of ecstasy, her body splintered. Crying out, she leaned forward over Velkan as he quickened his strokes, heightening her pleasure even more.
And when he came, he whispered her name like a breathless prayer. That gave her more hope than anything else that he’d forgive her.
Her heart pounding, she laid herself on his chest while he held her close in the firelight.
There was no sound in the room except their breathing and the sound of his heart thumping under her cheek. Closing her eyes, she inhaled the scent of them and caressed the muscles of his arm.
Velkan lay quietly as he felt every inch of her body pressed against his. He loved the sensation of her flesh on his. Of her hand gliding over his arm. But he knew this couldn’t last.
He knew he couldn’t trust her.
No matter what he felt right now, the past stood strong in his mind. And it was a past he didn’t want to relive. Learning to get through each day while that pathetic part of him had kept watching the road, thinking, no, praying, she would come back to him.
She might be with him now, but she didn’t trust him. She never would. And that burned through him like a stringent poison.
"What are you thinking?" she whispered.
"I’m wondering when you’ll be on the next flight out of here."
"I’m not leaving, Velkan."
"I don’t believe you. You have a business to run. A life to get back to."
Retta grew quiet at that. He was right… and he was wrong. "I’ve had other businesses in the past that I had to walk away from. I can leave this one as well. I belong here, with you."
He didn’t say anything, but the doubt in his eyes tore through her.
"Will you at least give me another chance?"
"Being your wife."
"Do you think that could make you happy? I’m stationed here in Romania. In the backwoods of the world that you’ve embraced. You wouldn’t be happy without all the conveniences you’re used to. Besides, Dark-Hunters aren’t married. They’re not supposed to have any kind of emotional ties whatsoever."
"Then we’ll get our souls back and be free."
"And if I don’t want that?"
She was taken aback by his question. "You’d rather stay in Artemis’s service?"
"I’m immortal, and I’m an animal, remember? I live for war."
"You would choose that over me?"
His black eyes burned her. "You chose much less than that over me."
Retta looked away, ashamed. He was absolutely right. Her heart heavy, she slid herself off him. Her gaze fell to the areas of his body where his skin was still blistered from his rescue of her. "Then I guess there’s no future for us."
He let out a tired sigh. "We were never meant to be, Esperetta."
She ground her teeth in frustration. "Then do we divorce?"
"Why bother? Death has already separated us."
Not true. Stupidity had separated them, not death.
Retta scooted from the bed and gathered her clothes before she dressed without another word to him. She didn’t know what to say. "So that’s it then?"
She nodded as she opened the door to the hallway. She hesitated. "I have to say I’m surprised."
"Your cowardice. I always thought you had more guts than this."
He turned in the bed to give her his back. "Then we’re even?"
"I misjudged you, too. I once thought you were worth dying for."
The door slammed shut in her face.
Retta stood there staring at the wood, her mouth agape, his words ringing in her ears. She glared at the door, half-tempted to kick it in and beat him. But she wouldn’t give him the satisfaction of it.
Fine. If he wanted to play it that way, so be it. Far be it from her to argue. As he’d pointed out, she had a life in America. Lifting her chin, she turned and walked toward her room down at the end of the hallway.
And with every step she took, more tears gathered in her eyes as pain filled her. Her heart broken, she opened the door to find Raluca in her room, shaking her head at her.
Retta cleared her throat. "Don’t give me that look. You don’t understand."
"I do understand." Raluca crossed the small distance between them and held her hand out to her.
Needing to feel comfort, Retta took Raluca’s hand and then gasped as a spike of hotness tore through her. It ripped her from this room out into a lightless void that was searing and frightening. She heard winds howling in her ears as something whipped against her body.
She held her hand up to protect her eyes as a sudden light pierced the darkness.
No longer in the manor, she found herself in the small cottage where she’d taken refuge with Velkan after their families had learned of their marriage. His family had disowned him and her father had vowed to see Velkan dead. And it’d been her father who’d found them first.
Completely disembodied, she stood in the corner where she could watch Velkan, who was kneeling beside her comatose body. Because they were in hiding, he didn’t wear the armor of a warrior. He was dressed in a simple tunic and hose. To her utter shock, there were tears in his eyes as he held her hand in his and kissed her fingertips. She’d never seen him look so vulnerable.
"I won’t let anyone hurt you," he whispered, lowering her hand from his face. "Raluca will see you safe for me. Please don’t be angry that I’m leaving you. It’s the only way I know to free you to live the life you deserve." He rose up so that his lips were only an inch above her own.
"I love you, Esperetta.’ Always." And then he pressed his lips to hers before he tore away with a growl.
Still, she saw the lone tear that slid from the corner of his eye, down his whiskered cheek.
He brushed it away before he turned and opened the door to their cottage.
There before him was her father with his army. Dressed in armor, her father wore no helm to cover his stern, chiseled features. His long black hair brushed his shoulders as he narrowed his black eyes on her husband. She winced at the rage that contorted her father’s face.
Never once had she seen this side of him. To her, her father had only been loving and indulgent. Kind. Velkan drew his sword and stood there as if to take all of them on.