Authors: Erin Tate
He hovered behind her, arms outstretched and prepared to snatch her should she look as if she was falling. He had failed her once. He would not do so again. She took one trembling step and then two before finally leaning against the wall beside the kitchen.
He stopped beside her but managed to keep his hands to himself. Barely. “Cara?
Czira. No matter their problems, she would always be his
, his heart, and his everything. Always.
“Please,” she whispered.
“Please, what?” he kept his voice just as soft. He would be gentle with her, care for her, and perhaps some day she would forgive him and welcome him with open arms. He would prove his worth as a mate and battle the darkness that stained him.
“I…” She shook her head. “Don’t call me…”
Ah. “I will not pressure you, Cara. I simply call you
because that is what you are. Even as I denied the truth, you remained my
. I will forever beg forgiveness for the pain I caused, and I will prove I am a worthy male, a worthy mate.”
“Rhal,” she sighed, defeated and tired.
“Come. You are exhausted. Let me show you our home.”
She took one shuffling step and then froze. “
“Mates cannot be parted. Especially while you are still injured. I understand you despise me, but I will not be banished. If you do not wish me to share your bed,” he knew she would not, and he forced himself to accept her choice. “I will remain within these walls. Please do not command me to do otherwise for I will simply stay and then you will be forced to yell at me. You do not have the strength for an argument.”
She snorted. “I always have the strength to tell you when you’re wrong. Plus, I’m pretty sure it’s my turn to win.”
He grinned. “No, I believe you won the last time we were—”
Rhal swallowed the rest of his words. The last time they were together she’d left him, hating him for making her love him. He could not deny her anger was justified. He played with fire and instead of burning himself, he burned her.
“Your room is this way.” When she stumbled, he reached for her, one hand cupping her elbow while the other gently grasped her hand. The touch, the small connection, was like a bolt of pain and pleasure. His body reacted to her, hardening in an instant as need pumped through his veins. Yes, he ached for her but could not do anything about it. Not when she was injured. Not when she loathed him. Cara moaned and leaned against him. A quick glance at her features revealed pleasure? Pain? “Cara? What is wrong? Shall I comm Faim? I shall comm him anyway.”
He moved to lean her against the wall once more, but her grip on his hand tightened. “No, I’m fine.”
“No, you are not. If you were fine, you would not have moaned. You need attending.”
She chuckled, the sound low and husky and her face flushed a deeper coral. “I mean it, I’m fine. It’s just… Nothing. Take me to our room, please.”
He would not allow his hopes to rise. He would not. Yet when she still clutched him as they carefully moved into the large bedroom, a tendril wound around his heart. The sun lit the space, the rays casting long shadows. When the brightness glistened on her scales, he realized he was the most blessed male on Earth and Ujal combined. She was glorious, her coloring, the curved lines of her lush body, and the beautiful smile that graced her lips. She paused just inside the room, her attention riveted to the unending ocean.
“It’s beautiful,” she whispered with awe.
She flushed when she found him looking at her and not the sea. He’d been enveloped in the water’s embrace since he was a youngling, and the waves were nothing compared to Cara. Nothing.
She moved forward once more, feet taking her toward the bed, and he carefully assisted her as she lowered to the soft surface. When her weight was finally settled, she released a relieved sigh, but her hand continued to cling to his. He eased down beside her, taking care as he sat.
When the silence stretched, he finally spoke. “
A tear gathered on her lower lash. It grew in size until it finally trailed down her cheek. He followed his instincts and captured it with his thumb. The simple caress had her attention shifting from the sea to him, those coral eyes so intent he wondered if she could see the blackness that swirled within his blood.
His heart broke for her. “No, never be sorry, my mate.” He cupped her cheeks and forced her gaze to remain on him. “I lied to you. It is I who is sorry. I who should apologize. I…” He leaned forward and pressed his forehead to hers, needing to be closer. “You are my world, czira. You are the reason I breathe. You are the female I would have at my side until the end of my days.”
“Then why did you lie?”
Cara always was one to stab at the heart of the matter. “Because I am not good for you. I have done many things, Cara. Things that…”
Make me howl in the night when the demons drift too close.
Her delicate hand pressed against his lips. “Do you
to be mated to me, Rhal? Do you want me?”
Rhal’s scales slithered beneath his skin, and he felt them rush forward. He was powerless to stop their appearance, powerless to stop his inner nature from pushing free with the emotions swirling around him. Did he want her? More than the sea.
“I have ached to make you mine from the moment my eyes met yours. You were not frightened of me; you did not hide nor run. You challenged me, czira. You met my black eyes and did not recoil.” After so many years of that treatment, she did not understand what a gift that was to him.
Her hand covered his. “Rhal… You made it so easy.”
“I am a selfish male, Cara. I have a past so dark, I should never taint others with my presence, but I will not let you go. I tried to be honorable, I tried to save you from a life with me, but now I have you, and I will not let you go. You are
and I will kill any who dares to threaten our mating.”
“Why did you push me away so hard?”
“Because you deserve better. Because hatchlings deserve better.”
Cara shook her head, and he knew what she would say before the words left her mouth. “There is no one better than you.”
The closeness, her scent surrounding him, broke what little control that remained. He couldn’t keep his lips to himself. He tilted his head to the side and brushed his mouth across hers, stealing a quick taste before she could order him from her room.
It was quick, hardly a kiss at all, but it settled his anxiety with that single move. “I do have enough honor not to call you a liar, but I will say you do not speak the truth.” He stole one last kiss and then put space between them. He would not be able to restrain himself if he remained close.
Already his control thinned and his body ached for hers. When his body pulsed with need once more, he eased away from her and stood. “Lay back. Rest. Faim stated you would be tired but would awake hungry later. Is there anything you require?”
“Are you going back to work?” Her voice trembled as if she were about to cry. His strong Cara. She’d shed too many tears over him.
“No, I spoke with Tave. He understands I must be near my mate. I may have to depart shortly at times, but I will have someone sit with you in my absence, so you are not alone.” He ran a hand through his hair. “I would not wish myself on any female, but now you are mine, I will do my best not to bring you pain,
.” His lips tingled with the need to kiss her once more, and he did not restrain himself.
He bent down and brushed them across her head. Then he placed a finger beneath her chin. A gentle nudge had her head tilted back and then he caressed her lips. He ghosted his over hers and, when she kissed him back, some of the ache that’d consumed him since they parted ten days ago untangled. “Rest. I will watch over you.”
Today. Tomorrow. Forever.
Cara woke alone. Not that she’d expected anything less, and yet she’d hoped, hadn’t she?
Yes. She still didn’t know the
behind Rhal’s attempt at pushing her away, but there was time to find out, time to discover each other’s secrets. But he’d claimed her, told her she belonged to him, and she’d never been more at ease. She’d joked with Rina about Tave’s caveman behavior, his constant need to be with her and the way he glared at any other male who got near her.
She’d have to apologize because she found herself loving to hear Rhal snarl the word “mine.”
The low murmur of voices tugged her from her thoughts, and she listened, trying to identify the speakers. She’d know Rhal’s deep tone anywhere and the other two… Male and female. A glance at the clock on the bedside table revealed the time, and she knew
who waited on the other side of the bedroom door.
Time for my medicine.
Or rather, Rhal’s blood.
She heated, imagining her body’s response to the injection, and excitement bubbled in her veins. There was no missing Rhal’s response to her, his cock hard and thick within his pants. She knew she’d be wet and wanting, body craving his touch. The question was, would he want her? Now?
No time like the present to find out.
Cara eased the blanket from her body and slowly pushed until she sat upright. From there, it was another shove until she gained her feet. She swayed slightly, but standing gave her new energy and cleared her mind from the sleep that’d clouded it moments ago.
The longer she remained awake, the better she felt. Her steps were no longer uneasy and tentative, but gradually became stronger. She ran her fingers over the furniture, careful to keep her balance as she moved to the doorway, but by the time she reached the portal, her strength was almost fully returned with the exception of a throbbing ache and tight stretching of her skin.
That could be the only explanation.
She padded into the center of the apartment and found Rhal, Faim, and Sece clustered around the dining table. Rhal’s arm was outstretched while Faim extracted his blood and Sece flitted around him, asking probing questions.
Asking questions and getting
too close to her mate. An unfamiliar rush of jealousy and anger struck her, sinking into her heart, and then it stretched to fill her entire body. Before she could suppress the feelings, she snarled at Sece. “
, back off my mate.”
All three jerked in surprise, and that was followed by a hiss from Rhal as the needle in his arm jolted as well. Cara glared at the doctor and then transferred the expression to Sece when she didn’t get away from her male.
“Sece, move away from Rhal. Have I taught you nothing of a newly mated couple?” Faim growled at his daughter.
“But they’re not really—”
Cara didn’t have to growl because Rhal did it for her. “We
should speak otherwise. Cara is my female.” She didn’t even want to argue with him about essentially calling her his property. Mainly because she felt the same way about him. “If anyone speaks otherwise, they can meet me at the sea’s darkest depths and we will see who returns to the surface.”
That was sexy. Morbid, but sexy.
Sece trembled and shuffled backward until she struck the wall. “I-I-I…”
Cara’s anger fled with the young girl’s obvious fear, and she sighed. “Rhal, tell her you’re sorry.”
Both males were surprised.
“Yes, she’s young and inexperienced and…” The poor girl’s lower lip trembled. “About to cry.”
Rhal huffed and glared at Cara. She raised a single eyebrow. He rolled his eyes. It was normal, familiar like when they’d been together. She was the one who kept his growly anger in check while he made her smile and laugh—even when he wasn’t trying.
“Sorry,” he grumbled and narrowed his eyes at the girl once more. “But you’ll tell anyone who asks that she’s my mate. Mine.”
Cara rolled her eyes. The man was gorgeous, but superstitious as hell and actually thought of the ocean as a living, breathing thing. One capable of conscious thought and able to make decisions. Then again, there were plenty of humans who had deities, and that confused the hell out of the Ujal. She figured they were kinda even.
“Rhal, quit growling at the poor girl.”
His attention returned to her, his face softening when their gazes met. He held out his free hand. “Come closer,
and perhaps I will forget my anger.”
“You just wanna cop a feel.”
“Yes.” That was one thing she could count on with him—the truth.
Or could she? He’d lied before, and he could lie again and—
“Cara. Come.” His harsh words tore her from the circle of heartache she’d trapped herself in. She’d yell at him about talking to her like she was a pet later.
Right now she went to him, sank onto his lap and rested her head on his shoulder. His free arm wrapped around her waist, and he tugged her closer. She kept her attention on Rhal’s arm, holding her breath as blood was withdrawn from her mate, into a small vial. The moment it was filled, Faim withdrew the needle and pressed a small square of gauze to the wound.
Then the two went into action, cataloging the sample before turning to her with a syringe.
“Wait!” She held out her hand to stave them off.
” There was no missing his concern. “This is necessary to your health. I cannot lose—”
“It’s fine. I’m not saying
, I only have a question before they inject me.” She had three sets of inquisitive eyes on her.
. “Um, so last time I got a little,” her face burned and she knew she was blushing. “Uh, ‘excited,’” she even went so far as to use air quotes. “I was wondering if we could,
or if it’s off limits or if we should refrain or—”
A soft pat to her wringing hands had her quieting. “It will do no harm and may even do good though you should not expect your body to suddenly finish its transition. Things have stretched too far, and your genetic code is too unsteady to rush through the final transition. If anything, it will be as if you took three doses today instead of two. You may do as you wish.” Faim glared at Rhal. “But I do not want her returned to medical due to your inability to control yourself.”