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He shook his head. “No. I didn’t love her and I’m not just saying that. I was infatuated with everything she represented. She came along at a time when I was feeling like a hundred years of fighting had made no difference in this world at all. She gave me the chance to feel like I was a part of uniting our races.” He brushed his lips over hers. “I never came close to feeling what I feel for you with her. You, Cassie Moore, I love. I’ve loved you for far too long to have never told you.”

“I love you, too,” she whispered and pressed her lips to his again. He kissed her, a deep, passionate kiss, sweeter for his confession, with the relief of no longer denying what she was to him. Sweetness that quickly turned to torment, as the taste of her salty tears touched his lips. Cass was crying. She never cried. His gut clenched with the very real possibility, the deserving possibility, that he’d wronged her for too long, that he was too late to save what they might have been.

“What is it?” he asked, brushing away the dampness from her cheeks.

She wrapped her arms around him and held him, her body melting into his, telling him silently that she sought solace in him, rather than seeking escape. “What is it, sweetheart?” he prodded gently, caressing her back, holding her, giving her the time to deal with whatever she was struggling with.

“I just,” she eased back so that her cheek was pressed to his. “I’m afraid of losing you and… I’m afraid of losing Nico, too.”

Yes, Troy thought. He was afraid of that, too, and it ate him alive to think of what it would do to her if Nico was truly betraying his race, betraying her with it. And he knew how selfish he had been back in the apartment to tell her to deal with this with Marcus. Damn it to hell, he was a bastard over and over with Cassie.

“Look Cass,” he eased her back so she could look at him. “We can’t be sure it’s Nico from what I’ve discovered about him, but we aren’t writing him off either. There was always a part of me that felt off with Sarah. Always. That’s how I started looking into some of her activity and discovered she was spying for the rebels. I have never, ever, felt that way with you or Nico. I should have trusted myself and my instincts.”

“Thank you,” Cassie said. “I love him. He’s my only family, and I know there has to be an explanation for his actions.” Her fingers curled on his chest. “But Troy, Nico… I need to tell you -”

“What I need is you,” he said, his teeth scraping her lip, sensing whatever she had to say was going to be heavy and he wasn’t ready to hear it yet.

“I need to tell you this,” she whispered.

“And you will,” he said. “Just not now. We need some time together, Cass. For the first time in a year, I don’t want to think about what comes next. I just want to be with you.”

She ran her fingers over his mouth. “This is big, Troy. This -”

He covered her mouth with his. His tongue stroked hers with a demand he couldn’t feel sorry for. A demand that for just a few hours, she let the world fade away, the uncertain future with it, leaving just the two of them.

He could feel her resistance though; the tension in her, the worry, and he rejected those things. He deepened the kiss, pushing her shirt upward, filling his hands with her bare breasts, teasing her nipples. The sound of her moan as she wrapped her arms around his neck, merged with the thunder rumbling overhead, and lightening flickering in its wake, telling of a storm that was brewing. But the storm was already here, the storm that was the wolf inside him, he couldn’t escape. He’d promised her he would fight to survive this and he would. For her, he would. But he could only do so unless he became a danger to others, to her. Right now, this time with her was all he could be sure of. Her pleasure was all he could fairly promise her without limitations. And if that is all he could have, he wanted everything she would give him. The rest he would take.

He eased one hand lower, over her back, pressing inside her leggings to caress her bare ass, pulling her solidly over his hips, her heat pressed to his cock. She rocked into him, and her hand traveled down his chest then over his hip, and up his back.

“We should go inside,” she panted.

“Not yet.” He slid the hand on her backside around her waist, seeking and finding her clit, teasing it. She made a soft sound of pleasure and he added softly, “We still have more to do here.”

His fingers explored the intimate folds of her body, spreading the slick wet proof of her arousal. She wrapped her arms around his neck, clinging to him, as he pushed inside her with one finger, and then the other. He curved his hand around the nape of her neck, under her silky mass of chestnut hair. His mouth slanted over hers, and he kissed her deeply, making love to her with his mouth even as he caressed her inner wall, stroking her, searching for that sweet spot that would drive her over the edge. Determined to find, and enjoy, every little pleasure zone on her body before he let the real world back in.

She moaned and panted, tearing her mouth from his to bury her face in his neck. Troy’s mouth settled at her throat as well, the scent of her pouring through him, igniting lust and setting his nerve endings on fire. He could hear her heart beat, feel the pulse of liquid through her veins, damn near taste it on his tongue. He wanted inside her, and he wanted her blood, her life, her pleasure, inside him.

His incisors extended, the hunger engulfing him, his teeth scraping her lobe, her neck. He felt no fear of losing control. Her blood had changed something in him, given him more control. Or maybe it was simply he

r – that she was here with him, that she believed in him; that forced the wolf into submission, that allowed the vampire to dominate her pleasure.

“Do it,” she pleaded, tilting her head to give him better access. “God please, just do it.” Troy sunk his teeth into the delicate flesh just below her ear. Cassie gasped with shock, then moaned with the pleasure that followed. Her release was instantaneous, her body spasming around his fingers. The sweet spicy flavor of her blood exploded inside his mouth, pouring through him and warming every cell of his body, just as her love had his heart. She completed him. He knew that now. Ravenous need overcame him with that knowledge, a need to claim her. He burned to make her his, to make sure she knew, without any doubt, who she belonged to, who he belonged to. But deep down, he knew he had no right, that the red virus inside him could still steal her from him, and him from her.

Cassie collapsed against him with release and he licked the wound to seal it. He wrapped her in an embrace, burying his face in her wet hair. Only then did he realize it was raining.

“Now we go,” he said softly.

He stood up with her in his arms, and shot into action, using his vampire speed. Not more than a few minutes later, they stopped on an enclosed balcony, overlooking a mountain in a one-story stucco house.

“Where are we?” Cassie asked, still in his arms, her legs wrapped around his waist.

“Marcus gave me the okay to use his Vegas home,” he said, shoving open the sliding glass door and entering. “And you deserve better than the dump I had you in.” He left the door open behind him and walked towards the bathroom in the far corner of the massive master bedroom. He set her down in front of the shower and began undressing her. If he lost her, if he lost this battle with the beast within him, he was determined that her memories of him would be of pleasure, not the pain he knew he’d caused her.

***

Cassie let Troy drag her against him inside the shower, the warm water pouring over them. He kissed her and she let him, but she wasn’t prepared to make this all about her pleasure. She fully intended to show him that love wasn’t just taking, and that they were so much more than that together. The wolf in her wasn’t shy about how to make that happen either.

Cassie pushed him back against the wall, wrapping her hand around the thick jut of his erection. “Your turn,” she said, tugging his lip with her teeth.

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