Twilight Vows

Chapter 11


Ohe didn't realize the time until he went still, and his eyes fell closed. It wasn't like death, this slumber of his. More like a very deep sleep.
She'd told him she was like him. Only now did she realize how much.
She hadn't loved, either. With one exception. Since her parents had died there had been, only one being she'd truly loved. And as she'd grown older, she'd convinced herself that love had only been a dream.
But the love for that dream angel had remained.
And now she knew he was real. Her savior, her dream, was real. And damp with his own blood, in torn, dirty clothes. He'd watched over her as a child. Taken care of her more than once. She could do no less for him.
But she could never tell him. He must never know how much she'd loved him in her youth. The fantasies she'd had. Because he was afraid of love. She'd never known anyone so afraid.
Slowly, Rachel got up off the set tee and headed to her own rooms.
She found clean washcloths and soft towels, and fetched a basin of warm water. Then she returned to Donovan. He'd object to her caring for him this way if he were awake. But he wasn't awake. She took off his shirt, moving him carefully, half afraid doing so would jar him awake, or worse, start him bleeding again. She eyed the bandaged wound. No red trickle emerged. Good.
But her gaze slid slowly upward, over his flat belly, and muscled chest.
His dark nipples intrigued her.
Her throat went dry. She looked away. Dipping the soft cloth into the water, squeezing it out, she pressed it to his skin. But she could feel him underneath it. Taut and hard. Masculinity was like an aura emanating from his flesh. Almost a scent, it drew her. She leaned closer, over his chest, her face near enough so she could feel the heat rising from him and touching her. Closing her eyes, she inhaled deeply. And something stirred down in the pit of her belly. Something she knew, recognized, because she'd felt it before. Whenever this man was near her she felt it.
But she had no business feeling desire for a man incapable of feeling anything beyond desire in return.
She felt it all the same.
"God, help me," she whispered.
"But I do want you, Donovan O'Roark."
She closed her eyes, tried to get herself under control. Dipping the cloth in the now pink-tinted water, she squeezed it out again, and carefully took away her makeshift bandages from his wound, to clean it properly.
Then she squinted, dabbed the blood away, and looked again. It. it was smaller.
It was shrinking. Amazed, she watched as, in slow motion, the wound's edges pulled together like some kind of experiment in time-lapse photography. It took several minutes, but bit by bit the skin seemed to regenerate.
Leaving a pucker, and then even that smoothed itself out and faded away.
Blinking in shock, she washed the spot clean, searching for traces of the tear, but it was gone. Gone. In something like awe, she drew her fingers over the new, healthy skin.
"It's unbelievable," she whispered, and flattened her palm against his warm flesh. When his hand fell atop hers, she jumped and quickly looked up at his face.
But his eyes remained closed, his breathing shallow, barely discernible. But his hand closed around hers in his sleep. A sleep in which he'd told her he was beyond responding to any stimulus. He'd been wrong.
And now the hand of this man, who claimed he didn't need or want anyone in his life, clung to her own, and for the life of her, she wouldn't have taken hers away.
I woke to a feeling of warmth spread upon my chest. And then as my senses sharpened, I knew that warmth was her.
Rachel was on the floor, her legs curled beneath her, while her head rested upon my chest. Her lips. barely touching the bared skin of it. One arm spanned me, hand on my shoulder. Her other hand was tucked beneath her, held tightly in my own.
I flexed and relaxed my fingers, to confirm what seemed unlikely. But it was true. I was the one holding her hand like a lover. Not the other way around.
I couldn't lie like this. not for much longer. Her soft breaths whispering over my skin were driving me to the edge of madness. I was hungry. And she was too near. Too. Her fingers spread on my shoulder, then kneaded like a happy cat's claws. She moved her face, as if burrowing, only my chest didn't give, and her lips brushed over it like fire. The groan that rose up from the depths of me was a rumble.
A warning. The same rumble one might hear from a volcano as the pressure within builds. An eruption was dangerously near.
She stirred, satin hair tickling my skin as she sat up, batting huge dark eyes at me, myopic until she blinked the sleep haze away and brought me into focus. Then she smiled.
"It healed," she told me.
"I told you it would."
"I know, but seeing it with my own eyes. twas amazing, Donovan." I nodded, trying to ignore the fresh-wakened glow in her cheeks and the moisture making her sleepy eyes gleam. The tousled hair. She must look just like this when she's been thoroughly satisfied by a skilled lover, I thought. Just like this.
I tried to sit up. She noticed, and got off me so I could, and I instantly regretted the loss of her so near. But when she got to her feet, it was to press her hands to the small of her back and arch.
She grimaced, groaned and rubbed, so I realized she'd spent a horribly uncomfortable day on the floor when she'd had a bed fit for a queen only yards away.
"Rachel, why on earth didn't you go to your room?"
She kept her hands where they were, fingers massaging herself. But her head came up fast.
"An' leave you here by the front door, unconscious and unprotected? Not likely!"
I lowered my head. The smile that wanted to come to my lips was a dangerous one, I knew. No sense encouraging her foolish notions.
"You'd already locked the door."
"Mamey Neal could make quick work of that lock, and '{wouldn't be the first time."
I went still, sought her eyes, but she kept them averted.
"You say that as if you know."
The bastard.
"What lock was it he made quick work of, Rachel?" ' "The one on my room at the pub. Eight years ago, before I left for the States."
Her voice didn't break at all. Mine would if I spoke again. It would break or emerge as the growl I felt building up. I'd kill the bastard. I'd rip out his heart and-- "You're lookin' rather murd'rous, Donovan," she said softly, studying my face.
"An' truly, there's no need. Mar- they's a thorn in my side, but a harmless one. He'd never have gone so far if he hadn't had a wee bit too much ale.
An' I daresay he sobered up some about the time I shoved him out my window."
I blinked, then slowly reached out, hooking one finger under her chin and tipping her head up so I could see her face. She seemed to be telling the truth.
"You pushed him out your window?" '"Twasn't hard.
Mamey didn't have much balance that night anyway, as I recall. So he kicks in my door and starts groping at me like a ruttin' buck, going' on about marriage and love and other such nonsense. I simply turned so his back was to the window, and gave him a bit of a shove. "
I couldn't help it. I smiled.
"But your room is on the second floor."
"Aye. He broke his arm in two places when he landed. Good for him our main road isn't paved, wouldn't you say?"
I felt an odd feeling welling up for Rachel Sullivan, in the center of my chest.
"No man alive ever got so much as a kiss from me without my consent, Donovan. Tis not something I'd tolerate." My gaze faltered.
"Are you trying now to take the blame for what I did before?"
"I'm only saying you spoke true when you said that if I hadn't wanted it to happen, it wouldn't have. And not only because I'd have prevented it, but because you would."
I met her eyes, my own narrowing.
"Don't start again tonight crediting me with qualities I don't possess."
She shrugged.
"I'm starving. Aren't y" -- She broke off there, bit her lip, and sent me a quick, hot glance. Her trembling hand shot to her neck, but the wounds there were gone now. Would have healed with the daylight. As if they'd never been there.
"Do you ... would you..."
"Don't." I looked away, forcibly, from her tender throat.
"Why don't you go to your rooms, Rachel. You must want a shower, a change of clothes."
"But... how do you get... What I mean is, where do you...?" I looked at her again, unable to help myself.
"I don't kill, if that's what you're asking. I have stores. Cold, stale, sealed in plastic bags." I swallowed hard, as one of my hands rose up to stroke her hair, arranging it behind her shoulder. My fingers touched the soft skin there. Felt the pulse thudding endlessly, the river of her blood, flowing there. Warm, living blood. "You ... you drank from me ... before."
"I shouldn't have done that."
"It was..." She swallowed hard, but her eyes heated, and the flame singed me.
"It was ecstasy," I finished for her.
"I know. That's the danger, Rachel. That's the allure. What makes us so clan e what could end in your own destruction."
She lifted her chin.
"You'd never hurt me." "Don't be so sure of that, Rachel." I turned away.
"But I am sure of it," she said to my back. I'd been walking toward the kitchens, but I stopped then and stood motionless.
"Perhaps you're the one who needs convincing She moved forward very slowly. When she slid her palms slowly up the length of my back, curling her fingers on my shoulders, I stiffened, inhaled sharply.
"I'm not afraid of you, Donovan. I've no reason to be and you know it, I think. But you're afraid of me, aren't you?"
"Don't be a fool."
"I'd only be a fool if I were asking' you to trust me," she said, and she moved her hands slowly, caressing my neck, fanning her fingers up into my hair.
"Or to love me. But I'm not, Donovan. I'm not asking' for anything like that."
She was, she knew she was. All her life she'd dreamed of this man. He was meant for her, she knew that. Somewhere deep inside her, she'd always known.
She'd never been with a man. Even believing her guardian angel, her immortal Donovan O'Roark to be a fantasy, she'd saved herself for him. Only for him.
He didn't turn, didn't speak.
She lowered her hands to her sides. Defeated. Maybe her dreams were as foolish as she'd once convinced herself they'd been. Maybe she'd been wrong after all.
"I'm sorry. I thought ... I thought you wanted me, too." Turning away, she went to the stairs, climbed them slowly, and found the haven of the rooms he'd created for some fantasy woman--a woman he must have dreamed of. A woman he'd never let in.
I stood where I was for a full minute. No longer. I ached for her, craved her with a force beyond endurance. And she was right, I feared her too. She could destroy me, if I gave her the power. I went to the foot of the stairs, gazing up them, wanting with everything in me to go after her. I wanted her.
It wasn't love. It wasn't trust. It was only need. a need I knew she felt as well. I put my foot on the first step. Closed my eyes, swallowed the trepidation welling up in my throat. Told myself this was a bad idea. Very bad. I took another step, and another. And I could hear the shower running now. In my mind, I could see her standing beneath it, wet and beautiful, utterly naked, mine for the taking. What man alive would deny her?
"Not me," I whispered, and the words emerged deep and throaty.
"No, not me."
I took the rest of the stairs by twos.