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“Wait,” he breathed, his ears straining at the noise at the end of the hall.

This was it. This was the edge of the knife.

“But who—” the girl in his arms whispered back, filled with questions even with an ugly death hovering not thirty meters away. An ugly death for her, that was. This was a charade that he could end any moment he chose, and not even with a word; all he had to do was let her speak, and the sweet little fool would betray herself.

But if he chose, this also might be the deadliest game of his life, a game he didn’t know if he could win, a game he wasn’t even sure he was playing. Lucien was not adept at understanding his own motives. Or maybe he was just very adept at deceiving himself. The thought would have amused him, any other time; he was an accomplished liar, why shouldn’t he lie to himself as well as everyone else?

“They’re com—” the girl began, as if he couldn’t hear them perfectly well himself, and Lucien silenced her with the simple expedient of covering her mouth with his.

She had kissed him before, once. He still didn’t know what to make of it. The coruscating light of the aquarium, that fluttering brush of her lips, offering—what? He hadn’t expected her to do that. He hadn’t wanted her to do that. Remembering it made his chest hurt.

It hurt now to feel her startled inhalation, and she really would give them away if she kept that foolishness up. One hand slid up to cradle the back of her head, his fingers sinking into hair that was every bit as soft as it looked, holding her in place. Warm. His lips slid over hers in a motion he hadn’t intended to make. Gentle. He was her gentle Lucien, always. One part of him was listening as the men came nearer, and any second he was going to have to choose—

She was kissing him back.

Kissing. Kissing him, with those soft lips like silk and clouds and so many other insubstantial things. The back of his mind made a rapid outline of a lecture on the biological rationale for kissing, the stimulation of hormones, the release of chemicals, all very sound science, and his chest hurt as if her gentle kiss was the stabbing agony of a knife. This was dangerous. This was death. But he didn’t stop. There was probably a geometry to a perfect kiss, the angle, the pressure, the sliding stroke, the sudden wet touch of tongues. Nerves stimulated and tingling, alive. Her lips parted and he tasted her with a slow roll of his tongue, feeling a thrill that tightened his body, a flare of heat as he explored the new territory. All new. Everything here was new.

How his heart was pounding!

It was like he was tearing himself apart with this kiss, trying to come nearer to her even as another part of him was listening to the footsteps approaching, willing them to slow down, turn, go away. They were hidden in a dusty corner of the abandoned office building and the shadows were wrapped tightly around them, but the probability was that they would be seen. And that would be the end.

Not yet. Not yet. This was all part of his plan and he just wasn’t ready to carry out the final step yet, the time was not yet ripe.

Dopamine. Oxytocin, the bonding chemical. They were flooding his unnatural body and he wasn’t prepared to cope with them, that was why he couldn’t stop. His thumbs framed her delicate jaw and his tongue stroked deep, unable to deny this desire for her. Go away. Stop it. Not yet. More. A convulsive shudder wracked him. He had to stop this, or it would be too late, but she lifted her chin and the melting way she swayed into him was unbearable.

Not yet. Please not yet. It was so hard to be quiet, he couldn’t breathe, but he didn’t dare gasp, that would betray them both. Footsteps. Her mouth. She was afraid. Following his lead, trusting him, maybe even wrapped in the same reckless passion. Her body would break so easily if they caught her but it felt so good and he wasn’t ready for it to end yet, he just needed a little more…

“Wait,” he breathed again, meeting her startled eyes. His own eyes were a starry violet when the light struck them, steely black in shadow. He was a beautiful man, but until now it had always been merely a tool, a lure. Seeing his own beauty reflected in her face made something lurch inside him.

Lucien kissed her, kissed her, his arms tight around her slender body, feeling the fragile silk of her blouse shift against the warmth of her skin. The footsteps were going away; some of his attention was still listening to every step, every word being spoken, a schizophrenic sensation that he hated but couldn’t control.

“Lucien, they’re leaving,” she whispered between his kisses, but she was still kissing him back. Why? Why did she have to respond? His hands slid down her sides to grip her thighs, holding her hard against him. She had thrown herself at him, thinking she was saving his life, without any thought for her own safety, much less propriety. Now her legs were wrapped around him and her soft ruffled skirt was riding up, baring smooth skin that demanded to be touched.

Another distant, amused part of himself noted that he was hard.

“Not yet,” he rasped, dragging her against him. “My sweet little fool, you were trying to save me?”

His fingers slid between her legs. Warm. Wet. She gave a startled gasp and he thrust his body against her, his trapped hardness grinding into the fulcrum of her thighs. Was this part of the plan, too? An extra stop on the way to the inevitable end? He had to stop kissing her to gasp in a breath. He couldn’t look at her. His long lashes shadowed his eyes and his gaze fell on the swell of her breasts under her blouse, the sight of her pale, perfect thighs, yielding before the strength of his own body. Her delicacy had always aroused him; there was a sense of masculine power in contrasting her softness with himself.

His hand shook as he pulled at his belt.

“Lucien,” she said again, breathless as his other hand worked her between her legs. Through the thin fabric of her panties, she was wetter by the moment. With a twist, he slipped his fingers inside them to touch her directly, tracing her slippery folds, finding her heated and ready. Of course; she had been frightened out of her wits, certain they were about to die. It was just instinct to feel this drive to reproduce afterward, the phenomenon was well documented.

With a yank, Lucien pulled his trousers open and freed himself, panting. This changed nothing. He could still do what he had to do, he just wouldn’t do it yet. Rising up on his knees, he stripped her panties off her, yanking them down her legs. She might have been speaking; he couldn’t hear past the vast roaring in his ears. His heart was in such screaming agony that tears squeezed from the corners of his eyes.

“This is not an accident.” Kneeling with his knees apart, he cupped the rounded curves of her hips in his hands, guiding her down to him. So beautiful. Her eyes, normally soft and gentle as a doe’s, were filled with desire for him, her lovely face flushed. His voice deepened, rough with lust. “There are no accidents. Everything was always…leading…here.”

With a thrust, he drove his aching length into her.

The explosion of sensation was excruciating. His eyes were wide as he drove into her again, and again, the pleasure so vast and immense that it seemed impossible it could come from such a primal biological urge. The feel of her body. The sound of her voice. The scent of her skin. The sight of her face. It was too much and he wanted more. Bracing her with one hand, he yanked her blouse open, baring the creamy swells of her breasts, cupped in the lace of her bra. The lace was colored. He didn’t know the name of the color; all colors had always been gray to him, until her, but the sight was beautiful.

“Lucien!” She panted. She cried out as he plunged into her again. He was so deep inside her, driving upward from the floor with his powerfully muscled thighs. His mouth closed over her nipple through the lace, closed and tugged, closed and sucked, and when she spasmed on him in answer he thought he could die of the pleasure.

It felt as if he was melting. Like if she held him any harder, if she loved him any more, he would dissolve in her arms like starlight. He had thought to trap her and now he was tangled in her like an insect in a spider’s web, trapped and yet unable to stop struggling, bound more inescapably with every moment. Her mouth on his skin. Her hands on his back. Her wet heat enveloping him. A moan escaped him, a sound he had never made before.

“Ahhhh,” he gasped, strangled. Everything he did to her, she returned, caresses that made him shudder all over, too much, too good, overwhelming. “Don’t…you sweet, sweet…no!”

His hips drove up and her nails raked his back and Lucien threw his head back in mingled agony and pleasure, a gasping groan wrenched from the bottom of his chest. He was supposed to capture her!

“It’s all right,” she breathed, her voice a broken, fluting music in his ears. “Don’t stop, don’t stop, please, Lucien!”

She was with him. Every moment, she was with him, her body moving with his, faster, faster. He was so hot. His hands shook as he held her, devoured her, her breasts freed of the lace and her nipples were pink, shading to red, he had heard of that color but never seen anything so exquisite in his life. He sucked them and they darkened in response to his mouth, tightened, jutting forward.

“Feel me,” he panted, dragging his jaw over the swells of her breasts, that softness. His tongue lashed. His teeth marked her. “Touch me more.”

It must end, it was inevitable. His muscles burned with the effort as he thrust, thrust, thrust, hammering into her. The tangle of shadows that had concealed them was fraying, his light gathering as he mated with the girl that so obsessed him. He couldn’t control it. In the heat of the moment he couldn’t even try. Her arms went around his neck and there was nothing to do but hold on, hold on, he could never let her go.

So much light. He gathered it the way he might have grabbed at a spider’s web, the threads tangling around his fingers, an inescapable prison. His voice with hers, rising together. There was no color in the dark; he knew that better than anyone. The light exploded from him and painted her in color so vivid it shocked him. Color. Beauty. She was the most real thing he had ever seen. Seared indelibly into his memory, carved into his eyes. Her. Her. Her. A moan escaped him as his orgasm burst through his body, and Lucien buried his face in her throat and drowned.

He came in her and the pleasure and agony were so great, he thought he might die. A massive hand gripped his heart in his chest and squeezed, even as he emptied himself into her body in searing white bursts. And still he held on, one big hand on the back of her fragile neck, the other hand holding her hips against his, feeling the mechanisms of her body milking the last of his seed from him. He had never imagined it would feel so right.

“Lucien…” Lips brushed his. Fingers caressed his face. Fool though she was, somehow she always sensed what he needed, and gave it as thoughtlessly as she breathed. “Are you all right?”

“Yes.” He thought his voice sounded normal, at least; soft, gentle, maybe a little breathless. He was tired. For a moment it even seemed possible that he could sleep exactly as he was, kneeling and still inside her, wrapped in her warmth. He nuzzled her neck and her fingers ran through his hair, soothing, loving. It would be pleasant to sleep like this. To dream together. The world was soft around the edges and he fell back on the floor with her on top of him, still fused with her body, and floated in timeless peace.

This would end. It was inevitable.

Just not yet.