"Conrad." She wriggled her chest when he grew a fraction too rough. "A little lighter."

He froze. When he eased his grip, and she stilled, he said, "I can be gentle with you."

Releasing her, he softly rasped her nipple with the back of his fingernail, then dragged the pad of his finger over it. She moaned sharply when he did it again. "Better?"

She found herself nodding against his shoulder. Somehow the assassin was gentling his callused hands on her - such a contrast to his ruthless fighting tonight.

Back and forth came the rasp of his nail and the maddening drag of his finger, over and over, until her nipples ached so badly they pained her.

"Tell me - say you like it."

"Uh-hmm, I like it."

In a husky voice, he said, "I can feel them throbbing, koeri."

She moaned again, arching her back. He responded by leaning down, his hot mouth suckling her, those firm, cruel lips pulling on one peak, then the other. As he inched his hand up her leg, he began slowly grinding against her hip.

Nuzzling her damp nipple, he said, "Spread your legs, N¨¦omi. I want to touch you inside... learn you." Even as she ached for his touch, she grew nervous. Though she wasn't a virgin, he could still accidentally hurt her.

He tugged on her knee with a wildly quaking hand.

"Part your thighs for me." After hesitating, she... did. "Ah, that's it. Let me see you there." With a last lick over one of her stiff nipples, he relinquished her breasts to sit up above her. When he stared at her between her legs, he exhaled in a rush, and his shaft jerked in his excitement.

This aroused her even more. As she reached her arm around him to smooth her hand over the glorious muscles of his back, he ran his forefinger along her sex.

She needed to kiss him, to lick his body, to get her legs wider for him -

His big finger entered her.

She squirmed and moaned from the filling sensation, as he delved deeper, inch by inch. When he could go no farther, she cried out.

He stilled. "Have I hurt you?"

"No, oh, God! N'arr¨ºte pas!"

He began thrusting his finger inside her, grating, "Tight. So tight." She'd never felt or imagined any man so hard, yet he took his time learning her body. But in the back of her mind, she wondered if his claiming her as fiercely as the others had predicted might be better than this seething need, barely contained - and building.

Slow build, she'd told him. But where did it end?

"Conrad, please... "

"Will you come like this?"

"Yes, and soon."

With his lips parted around ragged breaths, he watched his finger slipping in and out of her glistening sheath.

"Conrad, yes, yes... " she whimpered, seeming mindless with lust. She leaned up to lick his chest.

He was stunned by how slick she was getting for him, how hungrily her flesh milked his finger. "It's perfect," he bit out, his tone sounding awed even to him.

He'd never known a woman could become this abandoned.

Not just a woman. My woman.

Unfamiliar urges racked him. He had the strongest need to pin her to the bed, so she couldn't get away from him. He had the need to tell her how much she was pleasing him. He bent to murmur at her ear, but his words turned to an agonized hiss when she rocked her hips on his finger.

"Higher... with your thumb," she panted.

Groaning at how swollen her little clitoris had gotten, he circled it with his thumb.

She moaned, "Yes, Conrad... "

With the finger inside her, he could tell when her sex tensed, readying to come. He wanted to make her come, needed to so badly. Just from his fingers.

The idea of giving her his cock to glove like that made him wild, but he wanted to feel what it would be like when she orgasmed.

She was shuddering, quivering, so close. Then, with her nipples tight and pointing, she stiffened, her eyelids sliding shut on a wordless cry. Her legs fell open wide. It was everything he could do not to spill against her hip as she clenched his finger, coming wetly around it, again and again. Amazing... .

Now he was dying for her to do that around his shaft. As soon as the tension left her body, he knelt between her legs.

Her expression was partly dazed, but still hungry, and her hips undulated as if she ached for him to fill her sheath. Seeing her open to him like this...

He laid his hips to hers. Leaning over her on straightened arms, he thrust to enter her, but she rocked down at the same time. He yelled out when the head slipped along her damp folds. She went wild, head thrashing on the pillow.

Sweating, gritting his teeth for control, he tried again, but she rolled her hips once more. He gripped her hips to mount her, but pinning her to the mattress only made her arch her back, rubbing her stiff nipples against his chest.

"Still, koeri! Or I'll spill against you!"

"I don't care," she moaned.

"Are you... are you about to again?"

"Yes, yes!" When his cock slid up over her mound, she fisted the sheets, arching even more sharply, rubbing up against his shaft. "Conrad," she cried out, jerking beneath him. When her big breasts quivered...

To his shame, the throbbing pressure exploded against his will. "Ah, God, you're making me come!" With a yell to the ceiling, he ejaculated against her, pumping hard jets out onto her belly and breasts. He'd never known such ecstasy... grinding against her clitoris, he bucked uncontrollably as it continued on and on.

Once he'd finished at last, he buried his face in her hair. Staggered by the pleasure he'd just received, he breathed in her scent.

Then he realized what he'd done. He'd tried to claim his Bride, and instead had humiliated himself by losing his seed before he could even enter her. Tightening his jaw with frustration, he hammered his fist into the mattress.

Yet then... she was kissing him. Happily. "We have all night, mon tr¨¦sor ador¨¦. By the fifth or sixth time, I'll bet you can last as long as you please." She nipped his earlobe, then sucked him there before murmuring, "Get a towel, darling... ."

Reluctantly he rose and headed for the bathroom, feeling as if she might as well have sent him on a years-long hunt for the grail. That was how difficult it was for him to leave her. He still dreaded she'd disappear.

He couldn't imagine how she'd become embodied since the last time he'd seen her, and burned to know. The situation was enough to make anyone start doubting his sanity. Again.

He knew that just days ago she'd been... dead. Now, she was blooming with life.

Yet with all his memories, he'd certainly seen stranger things in the Lore, and he had time to discover her secret. For now all he wanted was another chance to get inside her - and another chance to make her climax again.

The tales he'd heard had always made pleasing a woman sound impossible, fantastical even. His shoulders back, he reminded himself that he might not have claimed her properly, but he had made her come more than once on his first try.

Recalling her abandon made blood surge to his groin. Though he'd spent his seed till his body felt emptied, his shaft was already hardening before he'd even gotten a wet towel.

Five or six times? At least, koeri.

But when he returned, she was already sound asleep. Her lips were parted delicately, her lashes thick on her pink cheeks. Her arm curled beside her head, the back of her hand against her ear.

Any disappointment at having to wait was dimmed by the thought of how exhausted she must be after a night like this. Recently embodied, attacked, and likely intoxicated. Her lips had been wine-reddened, her mouth sweet with it.

Leaning over her, towel in hand, he cleaned her skin with gentle strokes, marveling at how she was formed. She had a strong, lithe body. A dancer's body - that had responded to his touch as if it'd been trained to. Nothing had ever felt so right to him.

My Bride, he thought, his chest filled with pride. No vampire has a more beautiful one, he decided easily.

Once he'd wiped her off, he studied her at his leisure. On his hands and knees over her, he gazed down. He feared he'd soon grow obsessed with her breasts. How they quivered and how soft they were. How her nipples had budded as if demanding his mouth on them.

With a groan, he stroked himself, still surprised by the unfamiliar stiffness. But he vowed the next time he came it would be deep inside her body and to the sound of her cries... .

He'd always regretted not having sex at least once in his lifetime. Curiosity had plagued him - now it tormented. Taking her would be mind-blowing.

Yet he was still too new to sex to predict how he'd react. Mind-blowing. He didn't know if that would work out well for the insane vampire.

And how could he keep from hurting her little body when he did it? Tonight he'd felt her inside, had discovered how tight she was - there was no way he could fit into her without causing her pain.

He tried to push aside the doubts. Ignoring the ache in his shaft, he lay back and dragged her warm body to him. He exhaled with pleasure when she slid her smooth leg up over his knees and draped her arm over his chest - exactly as he'd imagined them sharing this bed.

He knew he would be unrelentingly aroused through the night, but he would savor it, relishing her touches, the way she was already squeezing his chest in sleep. All night he would get to enjoy the scent of her hair. He could feel her heart beating against him, and he eventually lost himself in the soothing rhythm... .

Near dawn, he shot upright in bed. Leaning over her side, he planted his hand across her body, caging her in protectively, eyes darting.

No one was there - just the wind.

She murmured in French and turned to him trustingly. His Bride was now so fragile, so... mortal. No longer was she invulnerable to harm. He would be endangering her just by keeping her with him.

The Woede now knew he had a weakness. They would be relentless trying to capture her. In their minds, she equaled Rydstrom's crown. Conrad would gladly give them the damned information if he could pull it up, but they'd never believe he wasn't simply withholding it - not until they were threatening her.

Before, Tarut's curse had constantly shadowed him - now it had become a thousand times more imperative to destroy the demon.

Conrad had been given his dream. Was some force out there even now seeking to take it from him? If he even remotely believed in the power of the curse, then how fair was it to stay with her? Or was the damage already done? If he deserted her now, then he could be leaving her vulnerable to attack... .

In any case, Conrad wouldn't consider her safe until he was in possession of Tarut's head.

Forcing himself to set her away, he traced downstairs. He knew a crude protection conjuring that would guard her at least while she was here. By the front doors, he dipped his fingertips in the crumbling plaster, using it as chalk to inscribe the ancient lettering. Once he felt confident no trespassers could enter their home, he returned to the bed.

Conrad would remain here only until sunrise. After that, he'd begin providing all the things she apparently lacked: food, clothes, women's things...

As he pulled her back into his arms, he thought back over the hectic night. In the past, N¨¦omi had looked at Conrad like he was a hero and had called him a protector, even though she knew many of his sordid secrets. She'd told him she believed in him.

Tonight he hadn't disappointed her.

He'd never forget the absolute conviction in her eyes when she'd said, "Now I understand what you were." She'd been so sure of him that she'd already appeared proud.

But she didn't know of his secret fantasies of taking her neck in a frenzy.

I'm the worst threat to her.

Even in the midst of the mind-numbing pleasure she'd given him tonight, he'd experienced fear for her, for the dangerous things she made him feel.

If you care for her, you'll let her go now, his long-dead conscience whispered. And yet he found his arms squeezing her closer to him. Mine.


When he returned from errands that morning, Conrad heard the shower going. He made out her soft sighs under the sound of the water.

Tossing away the bags of items he'd purchased for her, he postponed his plans to discuss how she'd been changed from ghost to mortal. In seconds, he had his clothes off, then silently traced into the tiled stall with her.

Her eyes were closed, and she was leisurely exploring her body. Licking drops of water from her lips, she cupped her breasts, as though relearning them.

Making himself as quiet as if he were hunting, he stared, riveted. Her raven hair was pulled over her shoulder, draping her pale breast, her hard nipple peeking through it.

He didn't think he breathed as her fingers skimmed down her flat belly and her legs parted for them. But he had to wonder if she would hear his heart slamming inside his chest.

When her dark nails glinted in the light as she began delicately stroking her sex, he bit back a groan and fisted his suddenly aching cock. She focused on her clitoris, briefly slipping her finger inside, as if to gather moisture for her rubbing.

He marveled at the expression of building ecstasy on her face. He wanted to see her look up at him like that when he entered her. Abandon. Never in all his years had he seen anything as awing as this female pleasuring herself.

But even as he realized that he could watch her and learn how she liked to be touched, he resented that she hadn't waited for him.

He'd satisfied her last night, so why hadn't she? Perhaps he needed to remind her why she should have.

When her moan turned nearly constant, he stopped her before she could come.

Just before she climaxed, she heard Conrad rasp, "Ah-ah."

Her eyes flashed open. He was in here with her, and she'd never heard him?

At once, her gaze was drawn downward to his jutting erection. The last time they'd been in the shower together, his manhood had been splendid. Erect, it was mouthwatering. She knew from last night that he'd grow so slick along that wide head... .

Yet when she reached to stroke his length, he seized her wrists behind her, yanking her body into his.

They were both breathing heavily as the hardened peaks of her breasts rubbed against him, and his stiff penis pressed against her belly.

"Why didn't you wait for me?" He had that intense, dangerous air about him.

"I woke... the sheets were rubbing over... my nipples." She shivered.

"If you have these needs, I want to satisfy them."

"I didn't know when you were returning," she said. "But you're here now." She leaned up on her tiptoes to kiss him. What started as her gentle foray soon blazed into a searing kiss. He crushed her lips beneath his as their tongues twined again and again.

When they broke apart, both out of breath, she murmured, "Conrad, I need you to make love to me."

At her words, his shaft pulsed against her.

"I think I'll die if you don't."

Instead, he released her wrists and cupped her ass in his hands, lifting her. Before she could say a word, he'd turned his back to the water and raised her to his mouth as if she weighed no more than a doll. Cradling her with splayed fingers, he eased her back so she could lean her head against the tile. She buried her fingers in his thick hair as she held on to him.

Running his face against her thighs, he abraded her with the stubble on his lean cheeks, and she loved it. Everything felt magnified. Each drop of water that splashed her skin heightened her pleasure.

But would he enjoy taking her with his mouth? He'd never done this before, had never tasted a woman.

When his tongue first dipped to her flesh, he gave a harsh groan against her. Pressing his mouth to her core, he thrust his tongue inside her, licking her deeply, thoroughly.

"Yes!" With a cry, she jerked her legs, tightening them on his shoulders. But he held her fast.

"I'll never get enough of this," he grated, settling back in to suck and lick. As his fingers clutched her ass almost painfully, his strong tongue snaked over her throbbing clitoris again and again.

"There!" she cried, then moaned, "Conrad, right there."

Flicking... suckling... hard. When she came with a scream, undulating to his mouth, he set in with a frenzy. He never allowed her to take a breath before he was making her moan for another orgasm, forcing her body to strain for release once again.

Even more powerful than the first, this climax overwhelmed her. Her eyes flashed open in surprise as she melted against his greedy tongue, helplessly rubbing her flesh against it.

Once it was over at last, she had to push at his head, because he was still slowly laving her, lingering with low growls.

When he finally let her slide down his body, he held her steady. She felt how hard he was, yet he still made no move to take her. His expression was inscrutable, his shaft visibly pulsing with need.

"Don't you want to make love to me?" Naturally, she was all about living in the moment and was eager to fully experience this virile, compelling male.

But now there was something more.

She also wanted to join with him, because for the first time in her life she wanted to give herself to a man she... loved.

I'm in love with Conrad.

Though she'd never fully admitted it before now, her feelings weren't new. They'd been growing since the first night she'd seen him in all his wildness.

"Conrad, do you want to?"

He shook his head.

"Oh." Her face fell. "I see." Then she frowned. "No, I don't see."

"I fear hurting you," he said, his breaths still ragged from what they'd just done. The way she'd rocked to his mouth to give him more... He stifled a groan. "I felt how tight you are. I've thought about this all morning and do not see how I can spare you pain. I... can't give you pain."

She tilted her head at him. "You'd forgo your chance to be inside a woman because of consideration for me?"

He grated, "Of course."

Her lips parted, and she laid her palm against the side of his face. "You're such a surprise, vampire. Such a wonderful surprise." Her hand trailed down his body. "Honestly, I've never been with a man as big as you" - she cupped the underside of his shaft, making him buck to her hand - "in all respects. But if you make sure I'm prepared, everything will be fine."

He ground his teeth. I don't know how! He could do as he'd done last night, but would that be enough to prepare her? He'd barely fit his finger inside her, even when she was wet.

She must have sensed his thoughts, because she licked a drop of water from his chest and said, "If you take me to bed, I'll show you exactly what I need - "

Conrad had her swooped up in his arms before she'd finished the sentence. Not bothering to dry off, he traced to the bed and laid her in it, following her down. Water dripped along their sides.

Her lips curled. "I guess you like that idea, then?"

He nodded. If she could show him how to do this... God, to finally be inside her.

As he leaned over her on his knees, she lightly grasped his forefinger, using it to slowly stroke her sex, from the opening up to her clitoris and back. Once she guided it inside her, he began thrusting with it.

Soon she murmured, "J'ai besoin de deux." She needed two of his fingers inside her.

He swallowed, but began working another finger in. Her knees fell wide open, her wetness growing. "Perfect, Conrad." With both of her small hands, she pressed his palm firmly against her until his fingers were seated deep. Eyes heavy-lidded, she whispered, "Spread them inside me."

He did, shuddering with pleasure when her back arched.

"Now in and out... "

He thrust his spread fingers. "This way?"

"Ah, yes! More... "

He gave her more.

"Conrad, now."

"Are you ready?"

"I don't... care. I need... "

As much as he wanted to replace his fingers with his cock, he had to be sure. He caressed and delved inside her, until she grazed her teeth against his shoulder in frustration. "Are you still worried?" she asked, panting.

"I still do not see that we can... fit."

"This is supposed to be enjoyable, darling. Let me show you how well we'll fit." She nudged his wrist, and he removed his fingers. Once she'd gotten him to turn to his back, she crawled over him, straddling his hips.

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