Then his hand was gone and something far thicker pressed at my center. I shuddered at the first feel of him-so hot, hard, and unbelievably tantalizing that the pleasure made me groan. Vlad's hand brushed my face, smoothing my hair away before sliding down to grasp my hip. Then he thrust forward, the blade of his flesh penetrating deep. Pain sizzled inside me, tearing a sound of another kind from my throat. Instinct made me thrash to get away from the searing ache, but he held me tight. Very slowly, he began to withdraw.

I let out a ragged breath, trying to force myself to relax. The pain wasn't excruciating, but it had cooled my passion. It'll only hurt tonight, I reminded myself.

When Vlad pulled all of the way out, guilt assailed me. Had my thoughts killed the mood for him?

"You don't have to stop," I whispered.

He kissed my neck, his mouth hot against my flesh. "Sweet Leila, I'm not about to stop."

Then he slid down my body before I registered what he was doing. His mouth descended between my legs, tongue a wet, sinuous brand that knocked the breath out of me. At the same time, he caressed my br**sts, those strong fingers squeezing my ni**les with exactly the right amount of pressure.

Pain began to fade under the double assault of pleasure. My back arched and his name hoarsely left my lips as his tongue swirled before probing with deep, spine-searing flicks. He used the same addicting strokes when he kissed me, but these were firmer, faster, making cascades of ecstasy wash over me. His fangs grazed my clitoris, applying pressure in shockingly effective ways. Spirals of bliss twisted in my loins, chasing away the remains of pain and replacing it with aching need instead.

My hips rose, seeking more. His fingers tightened on my ni**les, worrying them into hypersensitive tips while his tongue moved even faster within my depths. My fingers dug into his arms, currents flowing into him with the seething buildup of pleasure. I couldn't stop writhing underneath his mouth, all control gone, my gasps turned into something very close to sobs. Inner muscles clenched with every new stroke, sending shattering sensations through me. Yes, yes, just a little more!

Then his mouth was gone, and a choked noise of frustration left me. Vlad's smile was almost cruel as he rose up, his hips sliding between my legs.

"No. I want to be inside you when you come."

Then he thrust forward, that hot, thick flesh causing a clench of passion along with a whisper of pain. He moved deeper, eliciting more rapture and wounding fullness. I whimpered, and his mouth slanted over mine, swallowing my cry as he sheathed himself to the hilt.

Pleasure gripped me as intensely as the sudden slice of pain. Having him fully inside me was too much and so incredible at the same time. I returned his kiss, panting into his mouth as he began to move with slow yet relentless strokes. His taste was sharper but still intoxicating, drawing me in as completely as those achingly sensual thrusts. Pleasure began to build, edged with slivers of pain that made every sensation more intense. Soon I moved under Vlad's body the way I had under his mouth, gripping his hips with a hunger I hadn't known I was capable of. My gasps became cries, but I couldn't stop those any more than I could stop writhing beneath the excruciating ecstasy of his increasingly harder strokes. Yes. Please, Vlad, yes!

His grasp tightened on my hips before he began to thrust so fast, for a second I was afraid I'd feel only pain. Then that fear extinguished under a flood of blistering rapture that culminated in a climax unlike any I'd ever experienced. My loins convulsed over and over, sending shards of bliss throughout my body until every part of me tingled and vibrated.

Vlad's grip turned to steel, his back arching while a harsh groan left his lips. Then he thrust so forcefully that I cried out, but that cry turned into a moan at the new spasms. He ground against me while his orgasm pulsed inside me like hot honey, those final thrusts making my mind spin away into a million glittering pieces.

After a kiss that stole the rest of my breath from me, Vlad rolled to his side, his tight grip curling me against him. The change in our positions made me suddenly aware of the room's chilly temperature. My front almost burned from its contact with his flesh, but a shiver went up my spine at the brush of cold air on my bare back and legs.

Vlad brushed a kiss onto my shoulder before he pulled the bedspread over us. Then with a snap, the fireplace blazed to life, painting the room in brighter shades of orange and cream. Thanks, I thought, still too out of breath to say it aloud.

His grin was slow and wicked. "My pleasure, I assure you."

I hadn't been thanking him for that. I poked him with my right hand, but only the barest current flickered into him. His smile widened, and then Vlad caught my hand and kissed it.

"Now we know what truly drains your power. This will make traveling with you much easier. No need to pack lightning rods."

"You really are the most arrogant man I've ever met," I breathed, but my sated tone didn't match the words.

He kissed my hand again, his mouth lingering this time. "Yes, I am."

The way he looked at me-possessive, passionate, and unrepentant-made gooseflesh ripple over me. This complex and infamously lethal man was now my lover; a relationship I'd chosen of my own free will. Part of me wondered what the hell I'd gotten myself into while the rest didn't care. I'd relived enough terrible events happening to cautious people to know that prudence wasn't a guarantee for happiness.

I traced my fingers across his jaw to his neck, brushing some of those dark strands aside. Then I ran it over his shoulders, silently marveling that my touch contained no more energy now than static electricity. It emboldened me to keep exploring with my right hand. I dragged it lower, circling my thumb around his nipple and watching it instantly harden.

Was that pain or pleasure? My gaze flew to his. Vlad's eyes were glowing, his lips parted, expression pure sensual expectation.

"No need to wonder," he said in a voice that flowed over me like darkest silk. "If I don't enjoy something, I'll tell you, as I expect you to do the same."

"Okay," I said softly. Strange that all of a sudden, I was very aware of my nakedness, as if Vlad hadn't touched and kissed every part of me.

"Not yet," he murmured, sliding closer, "but I will."

The bedspread slipped off his hips with the movement. My hand had been on its way down there, so that's where my gaze was, too, but when his groin came into view, I gasped. Another glance revealed scarlet smudges on my own thighs. Was this from my lost virginity, or did vampires ejaculate blood? That was one topic Marty hadn't touched upon.

"Our fluids are tinged pink, but they're not pure blood."