Rachel yawned, quickly covering her mouth with her hand. "It's late," he said.
"You've had an exhausting day. You should rest now."
She tilted her head to one side.
"I can always sleep late in the morning.
"Tis not as if I'll miss anything."
He nodded, getting to his feet as she did, and guiding her back along the paths. She trailed one hand through the water of the fountain as they passed, and he watched a little oddly as she did. Then they were at the doors, and he was ushering her inside. He pulled the doors closed behind them. Reached for the lock, one that would have to be opened with a key.
"Donovan," she asked, and he paused, and turned to face her instead. "Have you truly been alone all this time?"
"I deal with others only when I'm forced to."
"Well, that's not exactly what I meant."
She lowered her gaze.
"I ... I mean ... have you been... you know.
Without a woman? All this time? An entire century? " He blinked, gave his head a shake.
"What odd questions you ask, Rachel," he said.
"Why do you want to know?"
She shrugged, and realized she'd been breathlessly awaiting his answer.
"I... perhaps I shouldn't have asked something so personal."
She met his gaze, though, battling the turmoil in her belly.
"But you did say you'd tell my anything I wanted to know."
"I did, didn't I?" His voice was no longer gentle. In fact he seemed angry.
He gripped her arm, his touch careful, but firm and possessive, as he led her onward. And she noticed that he seemed to have forgotten all about locking that door.
But she wasn't sure what had replaced it in his mind, and that frightened her more than anything ever had.
"You didn't tell me, Rachel. Why did you ask what you did?" She lifted her chin.
"I apologized for that," she said.
"I was only curious."
"I think it was something more than that." I took a step toward her, but stopped when she backed away.
"I don't know what you mean."
"Yes, you do. You're playing a dangerous game, Rachel. Perhaps you don't realize how dangerous."
She shook her head.
"I didn't mean" -- "Since you're so curious about sex, I'll tell you. It's very different, sex with a vampire."
Lowering her head, her cheeks flaming, she closed her eyes.
"I don't want to hear this."
"You asked. You'll hear the answer. Look at me, Rachel." Her jaw tight, she did as I asked. And I sent my will into her mind, took control, as easily this time as flicking a switch.
"Come here." She opened her mouth as if to refuse, then blinked in shock as her body disobeyed. Her feet, scuffing the floor, propelled her forward.
"Closer," I told her, and she came. She stood very close to me. Head tipped back, eyes frightened, but aroused, glistening with a titillating mixture of fear and desire as she waited. And I knew why she responded this time when she hadn't before. Because it was what she wanted.
I lifted a hand to her face, touched her cheek very lightly, and trailed my fingers downward. Over her jaw, and chin, and then gently down her neck, pausing to feel the heady beat of her pulse there.
Desire rushed through me. It wasn't supposed to. I hadn't planned it this way.
My fingers trailed lower, touching delicate collarbones, tracing her sternum, and then flitting lightly over one breast. I felt her response, the soft breath she drew, the tightening of her nipple beneath my fingers. But more than that, I felt my own reaction. She'd angered me. her power over me, the danger that power represented. My own apparent inability to remain untouched by her, to resist her allure. I'd meant to frighten her away, to show her how dangerous I could be so she'd stop tempting me with her eyes, and her words, and every damned breath she drew.
Instead, I was only making it worse.
It was a whisper, a plea. I drew my hand away, but my fingertips tingled still. I wanted her.
"Playing on my desires is a risky game, Rachel," I told her.
"Because I can touch your mind with mine." I stared down into her eyes.
"Kiss me, Rachel."
She leaned up, her lips trembling, but parting, as they touched mine.
Then touched them again. I stood motionless for a moment, but then shuddered and bowed over her, taking her mouth, possessing it, invading it, as she pressed her body tight to mine. She tasted like honey. Her effect was like that of some addictive drug, and my craving for her more powerful than anything I'd ever known.
When I finally lifted my mouth away from hers, I was breathless, my heart pounding. But hers was as well.
Drawing a steadying breath, I delivered the final lesson.
"Do you want to know the worst of it, Rachel? The bit of knowledge that will frighten you the most?"
She nodded, only once.
"Even with this power, I couldn't make you do anything you didn't truly want to do. Your will is too strong for that." And with that, I released her, closed my mind off again, broke the connection. She stood there, staring at me, but the fire in her eyes came as much, I thought, from anger as from the desire that still lingered there.
"You... you bastard." It was a whisper.
"I thought I behaved with a great deal of restraint. I didn't want to, Rachel. I don't think you did either."
She looked away.
"Are you enjoying this, Donovan? Trying to humiliate me?"
"I was only making a point. Don't try to seduce me into letting you go, Rachel. I won't be played that way. I won't be manipulated. I may desire you but I'll never care for you. Never. I'm incapable of it.
But if you insist on arousing my desires, I won't be denied. I'll have you.
She glared at me, her eyes snapping with a fire I thought I'd extinguished by now.
"If the only way you can have a woman is by taking control of her mind, then I pity you, Donovan O'Roark." I opened my mouth to reply, only to find myself unable to find words.
"And if you think what you've accomplished is so impressive, you're a blind man." Without another word, she gripped the elastic waistband of her blouse and tugged it over her head. And then she stood there, breasts bared and perfect, plump and firm, swelling toward me like some forbidden fruit of Eden.
She moved closer to me.
"Go on," she whispered.
"Touch me." She gripped my hand, and drew it upward, pressing my palm to her breast.
I closed my eyes as the warmth of her filled my hand. Air hissed through my teeth, and I felt the heat stirring, bubbling up inside me like a volcano, long dormant, about to erupt. I told myself to turn away, to leave the room, but I couldn't. My hand moved, caressed, squeezed. And then my other hand rose to do likewise, and my eyes fell closed as the desire became overwhelming.
Her breath stuttered out of her, her head tipping backward. Exposing her neck, satin-soft and utterly tempting.
Lying before me like an offering to a dark god. An offering I wanted to take.
"So you see?" she whispered.
"This power you have over me... it isn't only you who wields it. I can as well. And if it was seduction I had on my mind, Donovan, I'd have done more than ask a simple question of you."
And with that she took a quick sharp step backward, away from me, and left me standing there, panting, aroused to a state near madness, wondering if she had a clue what she had done.
"You're a fool." I snagged her waist, and jerked her closer, one hand pushing her head backward as my mouth parted.
Her body crushed to mine, I bent over her and sank my teeth into her tender throat. She gasped, stiffened, but then as I suckled her, extracting the precious fluid from her body, she uncoiled. Her body melted in my arms, and her head fell back farther. She arched her neck, pushing against my mouth.
"Yes," she whispered.
I drew away, not sated, only having sampled the barest taste of her. wanting more. Panting with wanting more.
Her hand stroked me, caressing the throbbing hardness between my legs, and in spite of myself, I arched against her touch. But I couldn't do this.
Couldn't take her the way my body was screaming for me to do.
Because there was something more than desire here, something that frightened me. This entire demonstration of mine had backfired, hadn't it? She was the one who was supposed to be frightened. I gazed down into her eyes, and knew she wasn't. Not really. Oh, there was some fear in her eyes, but it only served to enhance the wanting there.
As if she could see the indecision, my hesitation and my need to leave this room, she reached for the skirt, unfastened it, began to push it lower.
I closed my eyes, turning my back to her.
"This... is not going to happen."
"You want it, too."
"Yes. I want to pierce your body with mine and take you. Just as I want to drain every drop of blood from your succulent throat, Rachel."
"You wouldn't hurt me."
I spun around.
"What if hurting you is exactly what I want to do?"
"You don't." She shoved the skirt to the floor, stepped out of the panties, and came to me again, her hands sliding up the front of my shirt.
I gripped her wrists and stared down at her. Naked, aroused, all but begging me to take her. So aroused she barely knew what she was doing. I stilled her hands when she started unbuttoning my shirt.
"Stop it, Rachel."
She froze, blinking up at me. When I released her hands she lowered them to her sides, and I noticed her trembling, head to toe. She turned her back to me, and not knowing what else to do, I left the room.
What had she done?
Oh, God. Rachel flung herself onto the bed, hiding her face in the satin coverlet, battling tears of utter shame.
"It was him," she muttered.
"He made me behave that way. He..." But she knew it wasn't true. He hadn't forced anything on her. She'd acted on her own, except for that one brief interlude when he'd meant to demonstrate his alleged power over her. And she'd had to reciprocate--to salvage her pride by showing him that she had power, too. Feminine power to bend the man to her will.
And she had. Perhaps too much, because he'd lost control. She'd felt it, sensed it. And understood it because it had happened to her as well.
She'd behaved like a well-trained whore. Who was this woman in her body? Not her, not Rachel Sullivan. She'd never act that way with any man. Never.
But he wasn't any man. He was her guardian.
Wasn't he? What if she was wrong?
She had to get out of here. Now, tonight. She couldn't trust herself to remain near him, couldn't think straight this close to him. What was this thing she was feeling, this certainty that he was meant to be hers, now and forever? Was it foolishness? A childish dream? She sat up slowly, wiping her eyes and scanning the room for her clothes.
Heat flooded her face when she spied them thrown carelessly on the floor.
She'd done that. Undressed for him, unashamed, brazen. No, it wasn't her, but some wild woman who'd been living silently inside her. Hiding, and choosing now to emerge--the worst possible time.
No, she had to leave. She tugged on her clothes, paced to the door and cracked it open, just slightly. He was nowhere in sight. But loud, crashing music came up from below--the great hall. Beethoven, she thought. Violent in its power.
She crept into the hall and toward the stairs, then down them only a bit.
Just enough so she could see him in the great hall. He stood near the blazing hearth, head lowered, eyes closed. Utterly still as the music smashed over him.
Licking her dry lips, she moved lower, reaching the bottom of the stairs, not taking her eyes off him until she slipped around the corner. He never moved, never flinched, or even raised his head.
She'd moved in near silence, but somehow she'd expected him to know.
To be aware of her, as if crediting him with some sixth sense he couldn't possibly . Or maybe he could. But he didn't notice her.
She'd planned to make her escape tomorrow while he . slept. But she couldn't wait, not now. He was too confusing. and too angry at her for her feelings.
Her hand rose to touch the spot where he'd fed at her throat, and she felt the tiny wounds there. Not sore, but tingling with erotic awareness, so tender now, so sensitized. Just touching them reawakened the memory of his kiss, his touch. his mouth working her there.
She had to pause, lean back against a cool stone wall and draw deep breaths into her lungs. She wanted him. She desired a man she truly didn't know, though it felt as if she'd always known him. A vampire, but that made no difference to her.
She couldn't stay, because Lord only knew what she might do if she stayed.
If he came to her room again, kissed her again. But he wouldn't. He didn't want to care for her, he'd made that clear.
Straightening, she squared her shoulders, and followed the corridor to the library. Then with one last glance behind her, to confirm he hadn't followed, she went inside. The French doors remained as they'd been before.
Closed, but unlocked, and a moment later she was outside the castle. Free, in his beautiful garden of night.
For a moment she hesitated. It was such a contradiction, a man like him, having a place like this. As S he was capable of appreciating pure beauty.
As if he had the soul of a poet, and not a determined hermit.
Shaking that thought away, she walked around the castle, each step faster than the one before, until at last she was running. Her hair blowing in the night wind as she pushed her muscles to their limits, racing through the darkness along the path, ever farther from the castle and toward the road that led to it. A road that meandered among woods, and later fields, and the village itself. Free. She was free at last.
And that was when she heard the hounds.