November 9th, 2005
Zeraac’s Miracle

Zeraac picked up another photograph, Kaylee as a toddler, dressed up and in the arms of her policeman father, his uniform and expression giving the image a cool feel. It was the last picture in which he appeared.

Ariel took it from him, surprising him by putting it down so the image lay flat against the wood of the bookcase. “Colin was killed almost a year ago, while he was undercover, investigating a suspected mafia leader involved in selling weapons and drugs. The man’s name was Alexi Sulemanov. The district attorney had a witness to Colin’s murder, Alexi’s girlfriend—a teacher named Krista Thomas—but she disappeared. And so did Alexi. They’re probably both back in Russia, enjoying the good life now. Or maybe he killed her and fled the country.”

Zeraac’s fingers circled Ariel’s wrist. “Alexi is dead.”

She stilled, turning so she could meet Zeraac’s eyes, probing them for the truth she heard in his voice. “How can you be so certain?”

“My brother—” Zeraac paused, uncertain how to proceed, how much to reveal. If they succeeded in getting Ariel and Kaylee to Winseka, they would soon encounter Krista as well as the other human bond-mates who now called the bridge city home.

“Your brother…” Krista prompted, her body language warning that suspicion would soon make her draw away from him, widening a gap he desperately wanted to close until there were no secrets between them.

“My brother, Adan, is involved in law enforcement. The man who murdered your husband was killed by Adan’s partner, Lyan d’Vesti, in a cabin where Krista was being held prisoner. But rather than free Krista from fear, she knew Alexi’s death would only make his family members want to avenge him, striking out at both her and those she cared about. She sought protection and my brother and his partner offered it.”

Ariel could think of nothing to say. Her emotions were a confused jumble, her mind scrambling back to those moments when they’d been sitting in Peter’s police car. Zeraac couldn’t have known who she was then, and yet, it seemed more than coincidence that his brother knew of Alexi, had offered his protection to the woman who’d witnessed Colin’s murder.

She rubbed her forehead and Zeraac’s hand was instantly there, making small, soothing circles against her skin. And she let him do it, let him push away her feelings of confusion and her half-formed questions, let him ease her mind with his gentle touch.

In a perfect world, Alexi Sulemanov would have been tried and convicted, sent to jail where he would suffer for all the misery he’d caused—but in the real world, she suspected his money would free him from paying for his crimes.

“I’m glad Alexi’s dead,” she said, leaning into Zeraac’s touch, not resisting when he lifted her into his arms and moved to the couch with her, sitting down and settling her on his lap, the hard ridge of his erection pressed against her buttocks. She closed her eyes, going lax against him, savoring his warmth, the security she felt when he was near. “But he didn’t take Colin away from me. Or from Kaylee. The disease did that, a long time ago.”

Zeraac acknowledged the comment by cupping her face and lowering his own, by whispering a soft kiss against her lips, teasing her with the gentle press of his mouth to hers, by the light stroke of his tongue. She whimpered and shifted, her arms going around his neck, her mouth opening under his, inviting him to deepen the kiss, to offer more of himself.

“Ariel,” he whispered, his heart thundering in his chest, his body shaking slightly with the need to lose himself in her sweet scent and feminine flesh. There was no way he could turn away from what she was offering, especially now, when he knew she was his to claim as a bond-mate. His tongue delved into her mouth, dueling with hers even as he maneuvered them so she was lying underneath him, his thigh wedged between hers, his body moving against hers.

She whimpered into his mouth, pressing herself against him and eating at his mouth as though she was starving for the touch and taste of him. And he responded by pushing his hand underneath her shirt and the strange article of clothing that covered her breasts, by tweaking and tugging at her nipple, masculine pride surging through him at how responsive she was, how her body arched into his.

Pleasure ripped through Ariel. Longing. Desire. The need to be held, touched, loved by a man. Not just by any man. By him. He’d taken her emotions by storm. Awakened a part of her that slept deeply.

“Zeraac,” she whispered. Wanting him to take charge. To take responsibility. To make her forget—at least for a little while. And yet even as she thought it, a part of her pulled back, knowing she wasn’t ready to go any further with him.

“Easy,” he whispered, as though sensing the beginnings of her panic and uncertainty. “Only this, Ariel. Just this.”

She closed her eyes, unable to stop a soft whimper from escaping as he settled more heavily on her, the feel of his erection making her vulva swell, her clit ache for more than a clothing-shrouded rub, one body against another.

His hand speared into her hair, holding her in place as his tongue dueled with hers, pressing and retreating, coaxing and commanding, making her feverish with desire.

Tears of need escaped and she widened her legs, encircling his hips and pressing into him, rocking against him, her clit so engorged that she wanted to push her jeans down and beg him to suck it, to lave it with his tongue, to give her release.

But the words remained trapped in her throat and she let them stay there, accepting something less and grinding against him, arching into him until his hand moved from her hair, joining the other one under her shirt, both going to her nipples and as if sensing her desire for just a little pain with her pleasure, tightening on them, the extra stimulation enough to make her climax underneath him.

With a husky laugh Zeraac finally had to lift his head so that they both could breathe, and almost immediately the spell was broken. Heat rushed to Ariel’s face. Guilt. And he knew her thoughts were on Kaylee.

“I…can’t,” Ariel started, but Zeraac leaned in and stopped her with a kiss, exploring her mouth in a leisurely fashion this time, gentling her, calming her as though the fury of what had just happened between them had not left him hard and aching.

When he lifted his lips from hers, his gaze was tender, soft. “I ask nothing more than just to be able to kiss and touch you.”

Her face filled with uncertainty and embarrassment and something much more precious to Zeraac—trust and caring. “I’ve left you…hurting.”

He laughed, unable to resist brushing his mouth against hers again and saying, “I’ll survive. A little pain beforehand only heightens the anticipation and deepens the satisfaction.”