It was shortly after sunset when Acheron knocked on Zarek's door. He'd spent most of the day with Artemis, discussing what needed to be done since the human authorities were now looking for Zarek.
He could still see Artemis lying nonchalantly on her white-cushioned throne, her beautiful face completely disinterested. "I already told you, Acheron, kill him. Only you are blind to the man's character. It's why I wanted him in New Orleans in the first place. I wanted you to see firsthand just how far gone he is."
Ash refused to believe it. He, better than anyone, understood Zarek's nastiness. The need to strike the first blow before it struck you.
So he'd bargained with Artemis for more time for Zarek to prove to the goddess that he wasn't some rabid animal in need of a mercy killing.
But how Ash hated bargaining with her for anything. Still, he wasn't going to sign the order for Zarek's execution. Not yet. Not while there was still hope.
He knocked again. Harder. If Zarek was sleeping upstairs, he might not hear him.
The door swung open slowly.
Ash walked inside, his eyes instantly adjusting to the pitch-blackness. He closed the door with a mental push and reached out with his senses.
Zarek was in the sitting room on his left.
The ex-slave had neglected to turn on the heat so the house had a frigid chill to it. But then, Zarek was so used to the subzero temps in Alaska that he probably didn't even notice the more moderate cold of New Orleans in February.
Heading for the sitting room, Ash stopped as he caught sight of Zarek lying on the floor by the Victorian sofa. Dressed only in black sweatpants, Zarek appeared to be asleep, but Ash knew he wasn't.
Zarek's senses were as honed as his own and the ex-slave would never allow anyone to enter his sleeping area without being fully alert and ready to strike.
Ash let his gaze wander over Zarek's bare back. On the lower part of his spine was a highly stylized dragon. It was the only mark his back currently held, but Ash remembered a time when Zarek's flesh had been covered in scars so deep that Ash had actually flinched the first time he'd seen them.
A whipping boy for Valerius's family, Zarek had grown up paying the price every time Valerius or his brothers had crossed the line.
The scars hadn't been just on his back. They had been on his legs, chest, arms, and face. One facial scar over his blinded left eye had been so severe that Zarek had barely been able to open the eye. The scar on the cheek below that eye had given his face a twisted, misshapen look.
In his human lifetime, Zarek had walked with a pronounced limp and his right arm had barely functioned.
When he'd first crossed over and become a Dark-Hunter, Zarek hadn't even been able to meet Ash's gaze. He'd stared at the floor, cringing every time Ash moved.
Normally, Ash gave newly created Dark-Hunters a choice of keeping their physical scars or having them removed. In Zarek's case, he hadn't asked. Zarek's body had been so badly damaged that he had erased them immediately.
His second course of action had been to teach the man to fight back.
And fight back he'd done. By the time Ash had finished his training, Zarek had unleashed a fury so strong that it gave him incredible powers.
Unfortunately, it also made the man uncontrollable.
"You gonna keep staring at me, Great Acheron, or are you ready to chew me a new one?"
Ash sighed. Zarek still hadn't moved. He lay there with his back to him, his arm tucked under his head.
"What do you want me to say to you, Z? You knew better than to attack a cop. Never mind three of them."
"So what? I was supposed to let them handcuff me and take me to jail where I could wait for sunup in a cell?"
He ignored Zarek's rancor. "What happened?"
"They saw me kill the Daimons and tried to apprehend me. I merely protected myself."
"Protecting yourself doesn't require giving one a concussion, one a set of broken ribs, and another one a busted jaw."
Zarek rolled to his feet and glared at him. "What happened to them was their own fault. They should have backed off when I told them to."
Ash returned Zarek's glare even keel. Zarek possessed the ability to stir his anger even faster than Artemis did. "Dammit, Z, I'm tired of taking shit from Artemis because you can't behave."
"What's the matter, Highness? Can't take the criticism? I guess that's what happens when you grow up noble. You never have to worry about having your behavior censored. Everyone thinks you're perfect. Meanwhile you're free to frolic through your life. Tell me, what made you a Dark-Hunter? Someone scuff your boots and get away with it?"
Ash closed his eyes and counted to twenty. Slowly. He knew ten would never be enough to calm him.
Zarek raked him with that familiar sneer. The ex-slave had always hated him. But Ash didn't take it personally. Zarek hated everyone.
"I know what you think of me, O Great Acheron. I know how much you pity me and I don't need it. Do you honestly think I could ever forget the way you looked at me the first night we met? You stood there with horror in your eyes as you tried not to show it to me.
"Well, you achieved your good deed. You cleaned up your little foundling and made him all pretty and healthy. But don't even think that means I have to lick your boots or kiss your ass for it. My days of subjugation are over."
Ash growled low in his throat as he fought down the urge to splinter the man against the far wall. "Don't push me, Z. I'm the only thing standing between you and a deathly existence so bad it's beyond even your comprehension."
"Go ahead then. Kill me. Do you really think I give a damn?"
No, he didn't. Zarek had been born with a death wish. Both as a mortal man and as a Dark-Hunter. But Ash would never again kill a Dark-Hunter and send him into the agony of Shadedom. He knew firsthand the horrors of that existence.
"Shave your goatee, take the earring out, and keep your damn claws hidden. If you're smart, you'll stay away from the cops."
"Is that an order?"
Ash used his powers to lift Zarek from the floor and pin him roughly against the ceiling. "Stop pushing your luck, boy. I've had it with you."
Zarek actually laughed. "Have you ever thought of hiring yourself out to Disneyland? People would pay a fortune for this ride."
Ash growled louder, baring his fangs at the impudent ass.
It was seriously hard to intimidate a man who had nothing in life that meant anything to him. Dealing with Zarek made him feel like a parent with an out-of-control child.
Ash lowered him to the floor before he yielded to the temptation of strangling him.
Zarek narrowed his eyes as his feet connected with the floor. He walked nonchalantly to his duffel bag and pulled out a pack of cigarettes.
He knew better than to taunt the Atlantean. Acheron could extinguish him in a heartbeat if he chose to. But then, Acheron still held his humanity. He actually had compassion for other people, which was a weakness Zarek had never possessed. No one had ever given a damn about him so why should he care about anyone else?
He lit his cigarette as Acheron turned to leave.
"Talon will patrol around Canal, so I want you to take the area from Jackson Square to Esplanade."
Zarek exhaled the smoke. "Anything else?"
"Behave, Z. For the love of Zeus, behave."
Zarek took a long drag on his cigarette as Acheron opened the door without touching it and strode out of his house.
He held his cigarette between his teeth and raked his hands through his tousled black hair.
He could almost laugh at the order.
It wasn't his fault that trouble always came looking for him. But he'd never been one to dodge anything either. He'd learned a long time ago to take his hits and his pain.
He clenched his teeth as he remembered last night. He'd seen the Daimons on the street as they headed to Sunshine's loft. Heard them talking about how they intended to damage her. So he'd followed them, until he had a chance to fight them without anyone seeing them.
The next thing he knew, he had four bullet wounds in his side and a cop screaming at him to freeze.
At first, he'd intended to let them arrest him and then call Nick to bail him out, but when one of the cops had hit him across the back with his nightstick, all good intentions had gone straight to hell.
His days as a whipping boy were over.
No one was ever going to touch him again.
Sunshine sat outside Talon's cabin, working on the paintings Cameron Scott had commissioned from her. While Talon slept inside, she'd been out here for hours, trying to figure out why she was still here with him in his swamp.
Why she had come out here with him last night when she should have just gone over to her brother's.
Her revelation about their past life together had really freaked her out.
She had been his passive, June Cleaver wife...
Sunshine shivered. She didn't want to be anyone's wife.
Not any more.
Marriage was a losing venture for a woman. Her ex-husband had taught her well that guys didn't want a wife so much as a maid who could provide them with sex on tap.
An artist like her, Jerry Gagne had seemed the perfect match. They had met in art school and she had fallen in love with the moody, mysterious goth chicness of him.
At that time in her life, she had loved him zealously and couldn't imagine a day without him in it.
She thought they were two comfortable peas who could carve out a pod that would last them for the rest of their lives. She'd assumed Jerry would understand her need to create and that he would respect her and give her the room she needed to grow as an artist.
What Jerry had wanted was for her to take care of him while he grew as an artist. Her needs and desires had always taken a backseat to his.
Their marriage had lasted two years, four months, and twenty-two days.
Not all of it had been bad. Part of her still loved him. She'd enjoyed having company and someone to share her life with, but she didn't want to go back to being the one who was responsible for where someone else put his socks-she could barely remember where she put her own socks. Dropping her projects and going to the store because someone forgot to get the eggs that he had to have for his homemade paints.
It was always her plans that changed. Her stuff that could wait.
Jerry had never made any kind of concession to her.
She didn't want to lose herself to a man again. She wanted her own life. Her own career.
Talon was a great guy, but he struck her as a creature like herself. A loner who valued his privacy. They had had a great time so far, but she was sure they weren't compatible.
She was someone who actually liked to get up and paint in the daylight. Talon stayed up all night long. She loved tofu and granola. He loved junk food and coffee.
She and Jerry had kept the same schedule, had all the same likes, and look what had happened. If they couldn't make a go of it, then it certainly didn't bode well for any kind of real relationship with Talon.
No, she needed to get back to her life.
As soon as he got up and they ate, she was going to tell him to take her home.
Talon sighed in his sleep. It had been a long time since he had last dreamt of his wife. He hadn't dared. Thoughts of Nynia had always had the ability to tear his heart out.
But today, she was there with him. There in his dreams where they could be together.
His throat tight, he watched her sitting before his hearth, her belly distended with his child while she sewed clothes for the baby. Even after five years of marriage and a lifetime of friendship, she was able to stir his blood and make his heart swell with love.
Growing up under his uncle's scornful eye and the disdain of the clan, he had only found her to give him comfort. She alone had made him feel loved.
He listened to her hum the same lullaby his mother had once sung to him when he was a very small child.
Gods, how he needed her. Now more than ever before. He was weary of fighting, weary of the demands his people had placed upon him since the death of his uncle.
Weary of hearing the whispers about his mother and father.
He was a young man, but tonight he felt ancient. And cold.
Until he looked at Nynia. She warmed him deep inside and made everything better.
How he loved her for it.
Moving forward, he sank down in front of her chair and placed his head in her lap. He wrapped his arms around her as he was wont to do and felt the baby kick his arm in protest.
"You've returned," she said gently, brushing her hand through his hair.
He didn't speak. He couldn't. Normally he would have bathed the blood from his armor and body before he sought her out, but the grief of the day was still too raw in his heart.
He needed to feel her gentle, soothing touch on his body, needed to know that for the moment she was safe and still with him.
Only she could ease the aching pain inside his heart.
His aunt was dead. Mutilated. He'd found the body when he'd gone to look for her after she didn't show up for the midday meal.
If he lived an eternity, he would never forget the grisly sight. It would live inside him along with the memory of his mother dying in his arms.
"It's the gods' curse," Parth had whispered earlier that evening, not knowing Talon was close enough to hear him speak to his brother. "He is the whore's son. She lay with a Druid to beget a cursed lineage and now we'll all pay for it. The gods will punish us all."
"Do you wish to challenge Speirr's sword for leadership?"
"Only a fool would challenge one such as he. Not even Cuchulainn could equal him."
"Then you'd best pray to the gods that he never hears you."
Talon clenched his eyes shut, trying to dampen the whispers that had haunted him all the days of his life.
"Speirr?" Nynia stroked his face. "Are they all slain?"
He nodded. After he had brought his aunt home, he had gathered his men and ridden after the Northern Gaul tribe. He'd found one of their daggers near her body and had known instantly they were responsible.
"I really am cursed, Nyn." The words stuck in his throat. After a lifetime of trying to prove to others that he wasn't cursed for his parents' actions, he was now cursed because of his own. "I should have listened to you when my uncle died. I should never have taken vengeance against the Northern clan. Now all I can do is fear what their gods will take from me next."
But in his heart, he already knew. There was nothing on earth more precious than the woman he held.
She was going to die.
Because of him.
It was all his fault. All of it.
He alone had brought the wrath of the Northern clan's gods down upon their heads.
There was no way to stop it. No way to keep her by his side.
The pain of it was more than he could bear. "I have offered up sacrifices to the Morrigan, but the Druids tell me it isn't enough. What more can I do?"
"Maybe this is the last. Maybe it will end now."
He hoped so. The alternative...
Nae, he couldn't lose his Nynia. Their gods could have anything but her...
Talon groaned as his dream shifted forward, into the future. He held his wife as she labored to bring their baby into the world.
They were both covered in sweat from the fire and hours of exertion. The midwife had opened a window and let in a cool breeze from the snow that was falling outside.
Nynia had always loved the snow, and the weather had given them both hope that maybe everything would work out. Maybe the baby would be a new chance for all of them.
"Push!" the woman ordered.
Nynia's fingernails bit into his arms as she gripped him and screamed. Talon placed his cheek to hers, holding her close and whispering into her ear. "I've got you, my love. I'll never let you go."
She groaned deep and then relaxed as their son rushed out from inside her, into the hands of the midwife.
Nynia laughed as he kissed her cheek and hugged her tight.
But their joy was cut short as the child refused to respond to the old woman's attempts to wake him.
"The babe is dead." The woman's words rang in his head.
"Nae!" he snarled. "He sleeps. Rouse him."
"Nae, my triath. The child is stillborn. I'm truly sorry."
Nynia wept in his arms. "I am so sorry, Speirr, that I couldn't give you your son. I didn't mean to fail you."
"You didn't fail me, Nyn. You could never fail me."
Horrified and heartbroken, Talon held Nynia close as the midwife washed and dressed their son's small body.
He couldn't take his gaze from the babe.
His son had ten tiny fingers, ten perfect toes. A mop of thick, black hair. His face was beautiful and serene. Perfect.
Why did the child not live?
Why did he not breathe?
Grinding his teeth to stave off the pain, Talon willed the child to wake. Silently demanded his son to cry out and live.
How could something so perfect not breathe? Why couldn't the baby move and squall?
He was their son.
Their precious babe.
There was no reason why the child should not be alive and well. No reason other than the fact that Talon was a fool.
He had killed his own son.
Tears welled in his eyes. How many times had he held his hand over Nynia's stomach and felt the strength of his son's movements? Felt the loving pride of a father?
They had marked the days to the baby's birth. Had shared their hopes and dreams for him.
And now he would never know the boy who had already won his heart. Never see the child smile or grow.
"I am so sorry, Speirr," Nynia murmured over and over again, weeping.
He tightened his arms around her and whispered words of comfort. He had to be strong for her. She needed him now.
Kissing her cheek, Talon forced his tears away and offered her solace. "It's all right, my love. We'll have more children." But in his heart, he knew the truth. The god Camulus would never permit a child of his to live, and Talon would never again put Nynia through this. He loved her too much.
He was still holding her an hour later when all the color had faded from her face. When the last of his hopes had shattered and left him bereft of anything except resounding agony.
Nynia was dying from blood loss.
The midwife had done all she could, but in the end she had left them alone to say their goodbyes.
Nynia was leaving him.
He couldn't breathe.
He couldn't function.
She was dying.
Talon had picked Nynia up and cradled her against him. He was covered in her blood, but he didn't even notice. All he could think of was keeping her with him, making her well.
Live for me!
He willed his own life force into her body, but it wasn't enough;
Silently, he bargained with the gods to take anything else-his life, his lands, his people. Anything. Just leave him his heart. He needed it too much to lose it like this.
"I love you, Speirr," she whispered softly.
"You can't leave me, Nyn," he whispered as she shivered in his arms. "I don't know what to do without you."
"You will take care of Ceara as you promised your mother." She swallowed as she traced his lips with her cold hand. "My brave Speirr. Always strong and giving. I shall wait for you on the other side until Bran brings us together again."
He closed his eyes as tears seeped past his control. "I can't live without you, Nyn. I can't."
"You must, Speirr. Our people need you. Ceara needs you."
"And I need you."
She swallowed and looked up at him, her eyes full of fear. "I'm scared, Speirr. I don't want to die. I feel so cold. I've never gone anywhere without you before."
"I'll keep you warm." He pulled more furs over her and rubbed her arms. If he could just keep her warm, she would stay with him. He knew she would...
If he could just keep her warm.
"Why is it getting dark?" she asked, her voice trembling. "I don't want it to be dark yet. I just want to hold you for a little while longer."
"I'll hold you, Nyn. Don't worry, love. I have you."
She placed her hand against his cheek as a single tear fell. "I wish I had been the wife you deserved, Speirr. I wish I could have given you all the children you wanted."
Before he could speak, he felt it. The last expulsion of breath from her body before she went limp in his arms.
Enraged and heartsick, Talon threw his head back and gave his battle cry as pain tore through him. Tears fell down his face.
"Why!" he roared at the gods. "Damn you, Camulus. Why! Why couldn't you just kill me and have left her in peace?"
As expected, no one answered. The Morrigan had abandoned him, left him alone to face this pain.
"Why would the gods ever help a whoreson like you, boy? You're not fit for anything except licking the boots of your betters."
"Look at him, Idiag, he's pitiful and weak like his father before him. He'll never be anything. You might as well let us kill him now and spare the food to nurture a better child."
The voices of the past whipped through him, lacerating his aching heart.
"Are you a prince?" He heard Nynia's childhood voice from the day he had saved her from the rooster.
"I am nothing," he had answered.
"Nae, my lord, you are a prince. Only one so noble would brave the fearsome rooster to save a peasant."
She alone had ever made him feel noble or good.
She alone had made him want to live.
How could his precious Nynia be gone?
Sobbing, he held her and the baby for hours. Held them until the sun was shining bright outside on the snow and her family begged him to let them make preparations for the burials. But he didn't want to prepare them.
He didn't want to let them go.
Since the day they'd met, they'd never been apart for more than a few hours.
Her love and friendship had seen him through so much. Over the years, she had been his strength.
She was the best part of him.
"What am I to do, Nyn?" he whispered against her cold cheek as he rocked her. "What am I to do..."
Alone, he had sat there with her, lost. Cold. Aching.
The next day, he'd buried her out by the loch where the two of them had first started their childhood meetings. He could still see her waiting for him, her face bright with expectation. He could imagine her running across the snow, gathering up a handful to make a ball so that she could sneak up on him and drop it down his tunic.
He would have chased her then, and she would have run away, laughing.
She had adored the snow so much. Had always loved to tilt her head back and let the white, pure flakes fall onto her beautiful face and into her golden fair hair.
It seemed somehow wrong that she would have died on a day like this. A day that would have filled her with such happiness.
Wincing in pain, he wished that he lived somewhere where it never snowed. Someplace warm so that he would never again have to see this and be reminded of all he'd lost.
Oh gods, how could she be gone?
Talon growled from grief. He was on his hands and knees in the freezing snow, his heart bereft of anything except painful misery.
All he could focus on was Nynia lying in the ground, holding their baby to her breast. Of the fact that he wasn't there to protect her, to warm her. To take her by the hand and lead her wherever she was headed.
He felt a tiny hand on his shoulder.
Looking up, he saw the small face of his sister. Ceara had seen more than her fair share of tragedy.
"I'm still with you, Speirr. I won't leave you alone."
Talon wrapped his arms around her waist and drew her close. He held her as he wept. She was all he had left. And he would defy the gods themselves to keep her safe.
He hadn't been able to protect Nynia, but he would protect Ceara.
No one would harm her without dealing with him...
Talon came awake just before sunset with a sick feeling in his stomach.
He felt so alone.
His emotions were raw and tattered. He hadn't felt like this in centuries. Hadn't hurt like this since the night Acheron had taught him to bury his emotions.
Tonight, he truly felt the solitude of his life. The aching burn of it sliced through his chest, and he had to struggle to breathe.
Until he caught a whiff of something strange on his skin and in his bed.
Patchouli and turpentine.
His heart instantly lightened as he thought of her and the way she stumbled through her vibrant life.
Inhaling her precious scent, he rolled over and found his bed empty.
Talon frowned. "Sunshine?"
He looked around and didn't see her anywhere.
"Would you leave me alone, you walking pair of boots!"
He cocked a brow at Sunshine's voice on the other side of his door. Before he could get up, the door swung open to show Sunshine fussing at Beth and the alligator hissing back in protest.
The two of them struggled in the doorway.
"Let go of my easel, you refugee from a luggage factory. If you need some wood for a toothpick, there's a bunch of it on the porch."
The side of his mouth quirked up at the sight of them battling it out, Sunshine inside his cabin and Beth on the porch.
"Beth," he snapped. "What are you doing?"
Beth opened her mouth, releasing the easel. Sunshine stumbled backward, into the cabin, with her easel in her hands. The gator hissed and snapped at him, swishing its tail and eyeballing Sunshine irritably.
"She says she was forcing you inside before it got dark and something decided to eat you," he told Sunshine.
"Tell Swamp Breath I was headed this way. Why was she..." Sunshine stopped and looked at him. "Oh jeez, am I really having a conversation with a gator?"
He grinned. "It's all right. I do it all the time."
"Yes, but no offense, you're kind of weird."
If that wasn't the pot calling the kettle black...
She shooed Beth out, slammed the door, then put her art supplies in the corner.
Talon watched her with interest, especially since the denim of her jeans cupped her rear rather nicely as she leaned over.
"How long have you been up?" he asked.
"A few hours. What about you?"
"I just woke up."
"You always sleep this late?" she asked.
"Since I stay up all night, yeah."
She smiled at him. "I think you've taken being a night owl to a whole new level."
She moved to sit on the futon beside him and rubbed her paint-stained hands against her thighs, drawing his attention to just how perfectly shaped they were and how much he would love to run his hand up the insides of them to the center of her body...
He hardened at the thought.
"Would you like me to make you some breakfast?" she asked. "There's not much in the kitchen that's not guaranteed to kill or rot you, but I think I could scrounge up an egg-white omelette."
He grimaced at the thought of what an egg-white omelette would taste like. It would probably be worse than the soy cheese.
Jeez, someone needed to introduce this woman to chocolate Reddi-wip shots. And on the heel of that thought came the question of what Sunshine would taste like covered in chocolate-he'd never gotten the chance to do that with her last night.
Oblivious to his thoughts, she continued her tirade. "Haven't you ever heard of bran flakes? Whole wheat?"
"No, I haven't." He trailed his hand up her arm to her neck where he could tease the softness of her skin with his fingertips. Hmmm, how he loved to touch her flesh.
She continued to lecture him. "You know, eating the way you do, you'll be lucky to live another thirty years. I swear there's more nutrition in Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory than anything I found in your kitchen."
Talon just smiled.
Why was he so fascinated by her? He listened to her voice as she lectured him, and instead of being irritated, he actually enjoyed it.
It was nice to have someone concerned enough about him that they would bother telling him what to eat.
"How about I just snack on you for a bit?" he asked.
Sunshine paused mid-sentence. Before she could think to respond, he pulled her across him and claimed her lips.
She moaned at how good he felt. How wonderful he tasted. She could feel his erection under her hip.
Her body melted against his.
The next thing she knew, he had her flat on her back on the futon and was leaning down over her, unbuttoning her sweater as her breasts tightened in expectation of his touch.
"You're very talented at distracting me," she said.
"Am I?" he asked, kissing the valley between her breasts.
"Um-hmmm," she breathed.
Chills shot the length of her body as he nibbled the skin just below her jaw. His hot breath scorched her while he cupped her breast with his hand and kneaded her gently with his fingers.
She ran her hands through his tousled hair, holding him close to her while his braids brushed against her skin, tickling and teasing her. Her body throbbed and burned, craving his blistering touch.
Talon closed his eyes and inhaled the sweet scent of her skin. She was so warm and soft. So womanly. He ran his hand over the bounty of her tanned skin while he teased her neck with his tongue and teeth.
Her hands slid over him.
Oh, he liked how this woman tasted. Loved how she felt under him.
He ran his hand over the black lace of her bra, cupping her gently. She hissed in pleasure, her legs sliding against his. He'd never cared for the sensation of denim on his body before, but when Sunshine was wearing it, he didn't mind at all.
He opened the catch on the front of her bra and released her breasts to his questing hand. He ran his palm over the hard nubs, back and forth, delighting in the way they felt.
He kissed his way down to them.
Sunshine held his head to her and she arched her back. He teased one breast with his tongue, flicking and sucking it until she wanted to scream from pleasure. It was as if he knew some secret way of wringing every bit of sensual ecstasy from the lightest touch.
And as he held her, something strange happened. She flashed back to a time long ago...
She saw Talon holding her just as he was doing now.
Only it was late spring and they were lying out in the woods, beside a quiet lake. She was fearful of being caught and, at the same time, she ached with longing for him.
His eyes were a deep amber and dark with passion as he braced himself above her on one arm and unlaced the top of her gown with his free hand.
"I've wanted you forever, Nyn." His whispered words tore through her as he dipped his head and sampled her freed breasts. She moaned in pleasure at the foreign sensation of a man kissing her there. She'd never allowed a man to touch her before. Never had allowed one to see her body.
Somewhat embarrassed, she still couldn't deny him this. Not when it gave him so much pleasure.
Her mother had told her long ago about the needs and wants of men. About the way they planted themselves inside a woman and took possession of her.
From that moment, she'd known she would never want any man but Speirr to take her that way. For him, she would do anything.
He lifted the hem of her dress up to her hips, baring her lower body to his warm, hungry gaze. She shivered as he nudged her legs apart so that he could look at the most private place of her body.
Her instinct was to lock her ankles together, but she forced herself to comply. She opened herself for him and held her breath as he stared at her with so much longing that it made her ache.
He traced his hand down her stomach, and outer thigh. Then ever so slowly, he ran his hand up her inner thigh, making her burn and shiver at the same time. She closed her eyes and moaned as his questing fingers touched the throbbing virgin flesh between her legs.
Her head swam at the strange feeling of him stroking and teasing her. He spread her legs wider, then slid his fingers inside her where he delved deep, making her body quiver.
She moaned as he moved his hand and placed his body between her legs. She felt his rigid shaft throb against her inner thigh.
"Look at me, Nynia."
She opened her eyes and looked up at him.
The love in his eyes scorched her. "It's not too late yet. Tell me you don't want me and I will go away without any damage being done."
"I want you, Speirr," she whispered. "I only want you."
He leaned down and kissed her tenderly, then slid himself inside her.
She tensed at the pain he caused as he tore through her maidenhead and filled her to capacity. She bit her lip and held him close as he slowly rocked himself against her.
"You feel so good beneath me," he breathed, his voice a deep half-groan. "Even better than I thought you would."
"How many women have you had beneath you, Speirr?" She was horrified by her words, but wanted to know and was too young to realize just how foolish her question was.
He stopped moving inside her and pulled back to stare down into her eyes. "Only you, Nyn. I'm as virgin as you are. I've had other women offer themselves to me, but you're the only one I dream of holding."
Her heart soared. Smiling, she wrapped her legs around his lean, naked hips. She cupped his face in her hands and pulled him down to her until their noses touched.
"Oh, Speirr," Sunshine whispered, holding him close.
Talon went rigid in her arms.
In the last thousand years, no one other than Ceara had ever used his real name. And only one woman had ever said his name the way Sunshine did just now.
It wasn't just what she said, it was the cadence of her voice when she'd said it. The shiver it had sent down his spine.
"What did you call me?"
Sunshine bit her lip as she realized her slip. Oh jeez, he probably thought she was calling him by another man's name. He would have no memory of his former life. Nor should she. She didn't know where these flashbacks were coming from.
All she knew was that they were freaking her out.
Her grandmother was really into past-life regression and had raised her with a devout respect for reincarnation. One thing Grandma Morgan had tutored her well on was that when you're reborn, you always forget your former life.
Why, then, did she remember him?
"I was clearing my throat," she said, hoping he would buy it. "What did you think I called you?"
Talon relaxed. Maybe he was hearing things. Maybe it was what this woman made him feel that was dredging up his long-forgotten memories. Or maybe it was the guilt he felt for wanting her the way he did.
Only Nynia had ever made him really burn like this.
Sunshine was so different. She made him feel even when he didn't want to. Even when he fought against it.
She buried her hands in his hair and pulled him down so that she could nibble his jaw. The feel of her hands on him, the warmth of her body under his...
He lowered himself over her, and buried his lips against her shoulder where he could taste the salt of her skin.
Talon sighed deeply. Contentedly.
Then, to his deepest aggravation, his phone rang.
Cursing, Talon answered it and found Acheron on the other end.
"I need you to guard the woman tonight. Keep her at your place."
Talon frowned. He wondered briefly how Ash knew Sunshine was with him, but the man's powers were nothing if not scary. "I thought you told me to stay away from her."
"Things have changed."
Talon bit back a moan as Sunshine nuzzled his nipple with her teeth. Keeping her here was far from a hardship. "Are you sure I'm not needed tonight?"
"Yes." Acheron hung up.
Talon tossed the phone aside and looked at Sunshine with a devilish grin. This night just got a whole lot better.