VALERIAN ESCORTED BRENNA to Shivawn without a word. The warrior accepted her with a frown and a muttered, "Thank you, great king," and then they were off. Shaye had never been so nervous. This was the first time Valerian had ever projected such bleak fury in her direction.

And yet, she was oddly relieved that she'd failed to escape.

"Go back to your duties," Valerian growled to the soldiers watching in the hallway.

His men jumped into motion, looking anywhere but at his naked form. Looking anywhere but at Shaye, who was carted unceremoniously over his shoulder. "Valer - "

"Do not speak," he snapped at her.

"Valerian," she persisted. "I told you I would try to escape. You can't say I didn't warn you. At least I didn't lie to you. We'll always be honest with each other, remember?"

"I gave you what you wanted, Shaye. I did not press you to make love, and yet you ran from me." Valerian still couldn't believe her daring. He stalked to his room and tossed her onto the bed. She gasped. He stood in place, staring down at her. She didn't try to run again, just watched him warily.

Light as she was, carrying her shouldn't have affected him. But he was panting. His arms fell to his sides, and he realized just how quickly he was losing strength.

He needed sex.

He needed Shaye.

He'd felt her watching him during his bath. Had smelled her desire for him. He'd thought victory was within his grasp. And then she'd run. Run! Was the thought of welcoming him into her body that abhorrent to her?

"The time has come," he said darkly.

She scrambled to the far edge of the bed, as if the spell of motionlessness she'd been under had lifted with his words. He continued to stare down at her. Her overlarge shirt gaped open, revealing succulent hints of her breasts.

"Let's talk about this," she said nervously.

"You tried to escape me. The time for conversation is over."

"Couples should always make time to chat."

One brow winged up. "We are a couple now?"

She kept her gaze on his chest, not daring to look down, where he was thick and ready. He watched a tremble sweep through her. In fear? In desire? Something inside him lurched. He sighed heavily. Would she always tie him in knots? He tried a different approach.

"You look so beautiful on my bed, moon, with your hair draped over your shoulders, your legs stretched in front of you. But... "

"But?" she prompted, frowning.

"But you will look even better on me." He let his knees fall on the mattress, followed by his hands. Slowly he crawled forward.

Eyes wide, she tried to scoot back even farther. The wall blocked any escape. "Stop," she said. She sounded breathless. Eager. "Just stop."

"You feel the connection between us, I know you do."

Her teeth ground together, and a flash of something dark settled over her expression. "So what if I do?" she snapped. "That doesn't mean I want to sleep with you."

"Innocent moonbeam, neither of us will be sleeping." His gaze swept over her, and he suddenly wished he possessed the fire of the dragons so he could burn away her clothing. "I know you have never been with a man, but have you ever engaged in love play?"

Stubborn as always, she pressed her lips together. "That's none of your business."

"I do not smell any man on you, not even the faintest hint."

"I - I lied to you earlier, okay." She studied her nails, yawned with exaggeration. "I've been with lots of men. Thousands."

He paused, his hands on either side of her knees. That she didn't try to kick him was more telling than she probably knew. Some part of her wanted him.

Untouched echoed through his mind. His mate was untouched by any man. He would be her first. Her only. He'd be careful with her. "I like that you are virgin, moon."

She flicked a piece of lint off her shirt. "I don't like the fact that you are a male whore, Valerian."

"I am sorry that I do not come to you pure." Nymphs never saved themselves for their mates; they were too sexual, their needs too great. But now he wished to the gods that he'd waited for her. "Perhaps every other woman was merely practice for the day I met you."

She swallowed, bit her lip. Her nipples hardened beneath the shirt, and she could no longer pretend boredom. "That's, like, the corniest line I've ever heard."

"It is true nonetheless." Blood heated to a sizzle inside his veins. Possessiveness and pride stormed him as surely as his army stormed castles. No man had ever sneaked past this woman's cool facade to discover the passion underneath, but he was close. So close to victory. I will give her so much pleasure she will scream with it.

He crawled the rest of the way up her body, placing them nose to nose. "Was I right? Is that why you have denied me? Why you've denied yourself?" he asked, placing the softest of kisses on her lush mouth. "Because you have not known a man?"

Her mouth parted on a gasp - perhaps a sigh. "Don't... don't fool yourself." She ran her tongue over her lips. "I want no part of you. That's why I denied you." Again she sounded breathless. Needy.

"I think you want every part of me."

"You're delusional."

"Or perhaps I'm more perceptive than you are comfortable with."

Her eyes narrowed, hiding the emotion banked in their depths. "Are we going to talk all day or are you going to get this seduction routine over with?"

As she uttered those last words, he reached out and palmed the fullness of her breast. Her eyes closed, her hips arched slightly. A look of divine pleasure blanketed her expression.

"We can get it over with," he said. "But are you sure you want it to end quickly?"

"I... I don't know," she breathed.

"Tell me to leave you right now, and I will. Tell me."

She opened her mouth but said nothing.

"Tell me to leave, Shaye. I will not force you. I will walk away from you."

Again, not a word. Satisfaction speared him. He plucked at her nipple with his fingertips. "Do you hate me when I do this?"

A moan shuddered past her lips. "It feels... it feels terrible."

Gods, he loved seeing her cheeks pinken with arousal. "Just think how much worse it will feel when I suck this hard little morsel into my mouth."

She groaned, a sound so laden with need he responded on a primal level, his muscles clenching, his bones vibrating. When he removed his hand - only for the barest of seconds - her groan became a growl. He slid his fingers under her shirt, gliding over the smooth skin of her stomach, surely the softest, sweetest flesh he'd ever encountered.

Her features clouded with rapture, and she trembled.

"Does this make you shudder in revulsion?" he asked, strained. His fingertip brushed the underside of her breast.

"Utterly," she gasped.

"Me, too. Oh, me, too. See, I'm shaking with the force of my disgust."

"It's the... worst thing... ever," she said, panting. I should make him stop, Shaye thought. Should make him stop... in just a... little while. His fingers were white-hot, searing, and everywhere they touched, a fire kindled below the surface of her skin. He sank more deeply into her, making her gasp.

His body was like a live wire, she realized, and then her mind went blank, consumed only with pleasure as his hand closed over her bare breast. Instinctively she parted her legs, a silent invitation for him to pin her completely.

He didn't accept. In fact, he lifted slightly.

She almost cursed him.

With his other hand, he inched up the hem of her shirt. "If I cover you, I'll take you," he explained. "I need to see you first."

"Yes," she said, wondering who this passionate creature was. Not Shaye, surely. She wasn't concerned with either of their pasts, wasn't concerned with what would happen once the loving was finished as she lifted her hips to make it easier for him. His bare erection rubbed against her. Absolute pleasure. Total sensation.

He hissed in a breath, and she did the same. Despite the clothing she still wore, it felt as if he touched the core of her. "Mmm, yes," she said. "I like. No, hate. I hate."

Her stomach tightened, quivered. Unable to stop herself, she did it again, purposefully this time, and caressed herself against his cock. Valerian sucked in another breath. He jerked her top over her head, freeing her breasts for his gaze.

"I have to taste them. Have to have those sweet little beads in my mouth."

Shaye shouldn't let things go any further, but curiosity was getting the better of her. At least, she was calling the unquenchable desire to feel him slide and pump and grind inside her curiosity. To know and understand how people became slaves to their emotions over this one act.

Valerian closed his fingers over her wrist. "What are you thinking about?"

"Passion," she admitted. "Sex."

"Look at me."

She didn't think to disobey. Her gaze jerked to him, and she stilled, amazed by what she saw. He was drinking in the sight of her breasts as if they were the most beautiful things he'd ever beheld. As if her too-pale skin and her average-size breasts topped his Christmas list.

"I am thinking that I have never seen a more wondrous sight. Your loveliness captivates me," he said, his tone reverent.

"But you've been with a thousand women," she reminded him softly. "A thousand times more beautiful than me."

"None are more beautiful than you, love."

"I'm nothing," she insisted. "I'm - "

"Everything." One of his hands cupped her jaw, and his thumb caressed the side of her face. He forced her to look at him, to see him. "I told you that. You are everything to me."

It was too astonishing to believe and yet, it was everything she'd ever wanted to hear. People just didn't say things like that to her. Tears stung her eyes, and she scrubbed them away. She'd always prided herself on her independence, on her lack of need for another's approval. But until this moment, she hadn't realized how incredible approval could actually be. How powerful it could make her feel.

I have to be cold, she reminded herself - how many times would she be forced to issue the reminder to herself? I have to be heartless. But as her gaze slid over Valerian, she couldn't force herself to rebuke him.

He was poised above her, his big, hard body illuminated by a golden glow of light. Muscles bunched, strength and arousal exuded from him in mouthwatering waves. His stomach was ripped and hard. His penis stretched toward her center, so thick, so hard, reaching for her. The heavy weight of his testicles was surrounded by a sprinkling of golden hair.

The sight of him, this god of beauty and sex, made her breathless. "You - " she cleared her throat " - aren't bad-looking, either," she said. She'd never given a man a compliment before; she always shoved them out of her life as quickly as they entered.

His lips twitched. "I am glad you do not find me ugly, for you are everything I've ever needed."

Inch by agonizing inch, he lowered his head. A gasp of anticipation caught in her windpipe. His mouth closed over her nipple, surrounding it with moist heat. When his tongue flicked back and forth against the pearled bud, her hand tangled in his hair, holding his head in place. He kneaded her other breast with his hand, and the double sensation had her hips writhing.

"Did I not promise you it would feel terrible?"

"Awful, just awful. Don't stop." Wait. She'd meant to tell him to stop. Things were getting out of hand.

"You make me feel feverish, as if my very life depends on you." He sucked hard, and she groaned at the pleasure/pain of it, then he licked away the sting and she moaned at the heady bliss. "When a nymph makes love, he becomes completely absorbed in the act, ferocious and bestial. Nothing else matters except his woman."

Need him the way he seems to need you, she thought, yearning, and something cracked inside her. Something crumbled. The last vestiges of her resistance? Fear? Doubt? They were suddenly gone, replaced by a need to know him, all of him. In that moment he became more important to her than breathing.

Growling, she wrapped her legs around his waist, locked her ankles and jerked him on top of her. All of his weight - blissful. She savored, reveled in the exquisite press of him. Basked in her first true taste of capitulation. No more denying her needs, no more ignoring her secret wants.

"Shaye?" he said, his voice hoarse. He closed his eyes in sweet surrender, his expression entranced, shocked, awed.


He nipped at her collarbone, licked up and down her neck. His hand worked at the waist of her pants. His fingers glided past them, under her panties, and through her fine tuft of pubic hair.

She nearly screamed as she arched her hips to urge him further.

"Most women think this is the most pleasure-receptive place on their bodies." His fingers pinched her clitoris lightly. He was sweating, trying to go slowly when she wanted him fast.

With that one touch, she almost reached the gates of paradise. So close to climax... so close... "They'd be right," she managed on a pant.

"No, they are wrong." He slid a finger through her damp folds and into the very heat of her. "Small," he said, strained. "Tight. Wonderful."

Had she thought she'd neared paradise before? Not even close. Her feminine walls clamped around him, holding him captive. In and out he moved. Slowly. Sheer torture. She gasped and gasped and gasped.

"Some women think this rhythm is the cause of their desire."

"Are they... wrong, too?" Holy hell, she was on fire. Her cells were traveling through her bloodstream at full speed, scorching everything in their path.

"Oh, yes. They are wrong."

He continued sliding those fingers into her, and her stomach coiled, tensed; her leg muscles quivered around him. Orgasm teetered on the sweet brink of arrival. "Valerian," she beseeched.

"Oh, how I like my name on your lips." His thumb brushed her clitoris.

Her head thrashed from side to side. She burned, so hot, nearing explosion. "Show me the most pleasure-receptive place on a woman's body." She had to come. Had to... would die... soon...

"For a kiss," he said, wanting to bargain even now. "I'll give you the world for a single kiss."

Without hesitation, she meshed her lips into his. The moment his tongue collided with hers, his taste filled her mouth. The exquisite sensations between her legs intensified. She unlocked her ankles, letting her knees fall apart and onto the bed, spreading her wide open for whatever he might do.

Lost in passion, that was Shaye. She was exactly what she'd feared: a slave to it, desperate for it. But she didn't care. The kiss was hard and hot and only became harder and hotter. Tongues battled, teeth clashed. Valerian's fingers continued to pump her, as frantic and insatiable as the kiss.

But then, suddenly, he stopped. Stopped the kiss, stopped the motion of his fingers. Her body throbbed, and a sob nearly burst from her lips.

"What are you doing?" she moaned. She tangled her hands in his hair and tried to force his mouth back to hers. Finally she'd allowed herself to enjoy a man, and he stopped?

"Now I will show you where you are most sensitive, where you will verge on climax every time I touch you."

Hmm. Yes. "Hurry."

Sweat continued to trickle from his temples. The lines of tension around his eyes had deepened, bracketing his features. He, too, needed relief, she realized. Did he ache with an almost unquenchable ferocity like she did? Was he desperate, eager? Did he feel like he would blast past the stars if he didn't touch her again?

His lips brushed her softly, once, twice. "Your taste... it's like no one else's. Like nothing I've ever had. It's addictive. I think I would die without it."

Touch me. Make love to me. "Valerian, I'm glad you like how I taste and everything, but you've got a point to prove here and I'm a little disappointed that I have to remind you of that fact."

He uttered a labored chuckle. "You're right. I just need to look at you a moment longer, just need to savor the sight of you. Very soon I will strip you completely. Very soon I will slide your pants over your legs."

As he spoke, that image filled her mind. She could see very clearly that he was stripping her. He was wrapping his hands around her -

"Ankles," he said. "And I bring your foot to my mouth. I lick - "

- the arch, gliding his tongue slowly. She saw it, saw the pictures, more vivid with every second that passed. His mouth moved up her calf, swirling little hearts over her skin before -

" - biting your inner thigh. You pant and writhe, just like you're doing now, and you grow even wetter for me. So wet. I bring your own hand between your legs and watch you touch yourself. You - "

- circle her own finger over her clitoris, watching him all the while. In her mind, his eyes lowered to half-mast and his hand curled around his cock, moving up and down. He told her how much he wanted her mouth to replace his hand, how much he wanted his mouth to replace hers. Then he kissed her but it -

" - wasn't enough. I crave another taste of you, a more intimate taste, and talking about it won't be enough, either. I lower my head between your legs. Your hands grasp my hair, pulling roughly because you're so far gone with need you aren't able to control your reactions."

She couldn't control her reactions now. By this time, Shaye was writhing insatiably. She still wore her pants, but it actually felt as if phantom hands were working at her, as if a phantom tongue was licking her. She was gasping, her breath hot in her throat.

"Valerian, Valerian," she chanted. "Valerian, please."

"Please what?" His voice was rough, so rough. Husky, so husky.

"Please finish me."

"But I like savoring you."

"Show me the most erotic place on my body, damn it. You won't live to savor me if you don't hurry."

"I'll die of pleasure either way." His voice broke with arousal. He pinched her clitoris again, and she nearly jumped off the bed. The decadent sensations were acute, almost painful. "I'm going to taste you here before I love you," he said. "And when I love you, you're going to know the most pleasure-receptive place on my body."

"Your penis?" she gasped out. She was almost beyond speech. It was too much. He was too much. His words, his actions. His very essence.

"No, my - "

"My king," a voice said urgently.

Valerian stilled. He growled low in his throat, and it was an animal sound. A killing sound.

A moment passed before Shaye realized what was going on. There was a warrior standing at the edge of the bed, his eyes on Valerian, his expression concerned. Losing her passion haze, she screamed and scrambled for the bedcovers. Mortification bombarded her as she covered her bare breasts. Yet still she ached for Valerian.

"Turn around, Broderick," he growled. His teeth bared in a fierce, lethal scowl. "I'm close to killing you already."

Broderick instantly turned.

"Leave us, or I will kill you."

"Dragons," Broderick said. He didn't leave as he'd been commanded. "They are approaching, intent on war."