He hesitated, then met her gaze. "Still am."
She exhaled a slow breath, for once thinking she might be in over her head with a man.
N¨Ĥomi had thought she could easily handle Conrad, because men had never given her fits before. And she was experienced while he wasn't.
But Conrad Wroth wasn't an average man. He wasn't even a man, really. He was an immortal male who'd never had a female - when he'd clearly wanted to. She sensed a volatile passion inside him, just waiting for release.
How she wished she could be the woman who tapped into it! She'd never lamented the lack of a body as much as she did right now.
"Did you never touch a woman intimately? Never even... kissed a single time?"
His shoulders tensed. "That's enough questions. I've told you I don't want to discuss this subject with you."
He hadn't. "Why not talk about this?" Mon Dieu, no woman has ever even given him her lips. "Does the subject embarrass you?"
"Should it not?" He glanced away and grated, "Would any man want a beautiful woman to know this about himself?"
"If I didn't know better, I'd say comments like that are your way of flirting with me."
He scowled. "My way. As opposed to the regular way a man with more experience would go about it? I think you seek to keep me on edge about this. You like that I'm never able to settle in with you."
"Conrad, that's ridiculous."
"Mais oui. I'll say this plain. If you were able and I were able, I would be seducing you, right at this very moment."
His fists clenched, and his lips parted, exposing white teeth and those sexy fangs. "You love to tease me, don't you?" He rose and strode to the window, glancing out into the tumultuous night. "You shouldn't say things you don't mean."
"I never do." This male was a sexually untutored, six-and-a-half-foot-tall, gorgeous immortal. And she was desperate to have him. There was nothing but truth to that.
"Then you're attracted to me because I'm all that's here."
"That's not so." She rose, crossing to him.
"Isn't it? Then am I similar to the men you used to bed?"
"Not in the least."
"Then why would you want to seduce me?"
She hadn't expected that question. "It's because I've never been with a man like you that I desire you."
His scowl deepened. "A red-eyed vampire?"
"A strong, virile male with large muscles I long to sink my fingers into."
He turned to set his glass on the windowsill, but she saw him swallow. Then he faced her, advancing, looming over her. As she'd done in the shower, she retreated until she reached the wall.
Raising his bound hands over her head, he again surrounded her with his body. "What if I wanted to do the seducing?"
He would. He was so deliciously domineering. "Why are you always caging me in?"
"Maybe I wouldn't, if you weren't always disappearing. You're as tangible as air, and it's so damned frustrating, koeri."
"What does that mean?"
"It means lure."
She blinked up at him. "Your endearment for me is a synonym for bait?"
"You're luring me from madness." Lowering his voice, he said, "The only thing that could possibly tempt me from it."
She nibbled her bottom lip. "Would you follow me anywhere?"
"Into the sun." Conrad was all intensity. These weren't practiced sentiments - these were words he couldn't contain. "You said you'd teach me how to seduce my Bride. I want my first lesson."
She couldn't think. "Lesson?" He was too attractive for his own good. "Oh, yes. Well, if you had your female in a position like this, you could compliment her."
Staring down at her, he said, "So I could tell her that her eyes are striking? That I think about their color all the time?"
"She'd really, really like that. And then you could cup her face, and maybe brush her bottom lip with your thumb."
The muscles in his arms bulged, and she knew he was clenching his fists above her head, wanting to touch her. "And how would I know if she was interested in me?"
"She'd probably wrap her arms around your neck to hold you close," N¨Ĥomi said, but she kept her arms to her sides, her own hands in fists. She yearned to twine her fingers in the too-long hair at his nape, ached to touch him in any way. But she couldn't and never would be able to.
I can never feel those muscles flex as he works my body over the edge. Can never see that exact moment when any control he has deserts him and he's helpless to his own lust.
N¨Ĥomi would never be able to enjoy him - she selfishly didn't want any other woman enjoying him either.
"And then what should I do?" His voice seemed whiskey-roughened and smoothed at the same time.
She felt as intoxicated as if she'd drunk it with him. "You'd meet her gaze, then lean in to brush your lips against hers."
"Brush my lips?" He was getting as caught up as she was, his natural reserve faltering. And she loved it. "What if I wanted to do something harder?"
Harder? Yes! She stopped herself. "But most females would want a measured seduction. You'd have to wait, to prolong it. But when your lady gasped, then you could take her mouth more forcefully."
"Slowly slip your tongue inside, and tease it against mine - hers, rather." She shook her head. "Against hers."
He was rubbing his tongue over his fang, making her want to melt. "Tease?"
"Y-you can drive a woman wild from just a kiss if you do it right. Think, um, slow build."
He moved in even closer, until they were sparking electricity between them. "When would I get to touch her?"
As she stared up at his eyes, she saw them not as blood red, but as the red of flames. "If she moans, you could touch her neck. Maybe run the backs of your fingers from her ear down past her collarbone, then lower to the beginning swell of her breast. And if she likes that a lot, you might try following the same path with your lips."
"And then?" he rasped.
"What does your instinct tell you?"
"My instinct tells me" - his consuming gaze flickered over her ear, then dipped to her collarbone and lower to the swell of her breast - "to keep going down. To do whatever I have to in order to get my lips on your breasts. Her breasts."
Imagining that had N¨Ĥomi subtly arching her back to press her chest up. "How would you kiss them?"
"I'd kiss all around her nipples, dragging my lips over her skin. Would she like that?"
"She'd probably be cradling the back of your head, moaning."
"Then I'd close my lips over one of your nipples - "
"You mean her, your Bride's."
He shook his head slowly. "When I think about kissing anyone, I imagine you. Only you. I can't pretend that this isn't so."
"That pleases me, Conrad. Because I don't want you kissing another woman," she murmured.
"I'd be jealous, wanting to scratch her eyes out for kissing my vampire." He frowned and opened his mouth, but she cut him off. "Je suis s¨Ĥrieuse. Now tell me what you'd do to me next."
After seeming to determine whether she was telling the truth, he said, "I'd take one of your nipples between my lips, sucking it in... ."
"Hard?" She gasped the word.
"Do you like that?" When she nodded, he didn't stifle his groan. "Then I would suckle it hard, licking you with my tongue at the same time."
Her eyelids threatened to slide shut. He was so sexy and manly. All intensity. How could she ever have been attracted to soft, docile businessmen with their yes, darling mentality? "I've fantasized about how your lips would feel on them."
A short, rough sound erupted from him. "I try to imagine what your breasts would feel like from what you'd shown me."
"Do you wish you could touch them, too?"
"God, yes," he quickly answered, then flushed.
"Do you think about them a lot?"
He briefly inclined his forehead near hers. "Some minutes less than others."
She gave a throaty chuckle, and he seemed surprised that he'd amused her.
"What would you be doing while I kissed them?" he asked.
"My hands would be rubbing all along your back."
Her eyes fluttered closed when he drew his hands down to reach for her. His palms were so big, fully covering the outline of her breasts.
She moaned softly when she felt tiny electrical shocks over every inch of them. "I'd sigh from the way your muscles worked beneath my hands. Then I'd clutch your hips to signal that I wanted more of you." He raised his brows at that, and she murmured, "I'd be getting desperate for you by this point."
"So you wouldn't stop me if I" - he swallowed and his voice dropped an octave lower - "if I tried easing my hand up your dress?"
"Stop you? I'd place your hand on my panties."
He gave another groan. "I'd hook my finger under that black lace and pull them aside." He'd clearly been thinking about more than just what her breasts would feel like.
"Conrad, I'd be wet for you."
The deep rumble of his voice had turned to a husky rasp. "I'd be so fucking hard for you."
"Would you want to bite me?"
"Yes," he hissed. "Would you let me?"
If he needed, she would give. "I'd deny you nothing."
"Then I'd take your neck and your breasts. I'd bite your white thighs right above your stockings."
Intense male. She stifled a whimper. "We're doing it again, exchanging comments, bandying."
She shook her head and whispered, "Like sex."
He stared down into her eyes, making her feel like she was drowning in fire. "N¨Ĥomi, you make me want to be blooded. But only by you."
This was Conrad's second sexual encounter, if he counted the time in the shower with her.
The female didn't have a body that he could feel, he couldn't get erect, and yet it was powerful. If they were this way now, he couldn't imagine what it would have been like if they'd met when they'd both been truly alive.
Of course, he'd known there was pleasure to be had. But he'd never suspected the rush, the savage thrill of discovering that a woman wanted him sexually. He'd never known the confidence that if he moved to take a female, she would be wet for him and clutching his hips for more.
She leaned up and brushed her cheek against his. He felt the same electricity but had no perception of her skin. He tried to imagine how soft her flesh would be. "I want to feel you, N¨Ĥomi. I want to be inside you."
She closed her eyes and rubbed her lips near his. "My God, I wish I could be flesh and blood for you."
He groaned at the yearning in her tone. Their situation frustrated him to no end. He wanted her more than he had any other woman - he was convinced that she would have blooded him when she'd still been alive. And he truly believed she would receive him.
But I can't take her... .
With a bitter curse, Conrad dropped his arms through her, turning away. He prowled the room, pausing only to punch the wall with frustration -
He just stopped himself an inch from the crumbling plaster. He shot a glance at her, and she looked like he'd hung the moon. Damn, he could get used to looks like that.
Would she think him ridiculous if he asked her for more? They'd only known each other for a short amount of time. She was experienced and he... wasn't. To hell with it - he had to know. "Would you want to be with me? If you could? For more than sex."
She gave him a sad smile. "You have a destined Bride out there awaiting you."
"N¨Ĥomi, you might be... mine."
At his words, her heart skipped, but she forced herself to ask, "Then why haven't you been blooded? Your heart hasn't started beating, and you still take no breaths. You don't... react to me in a physical way."
"I think my vampire instinct doesn't recognize you as my Bride because you're not technically alive," he said. "I need to know if you're merely playing at this, with me, because I'm here and you can."
"I am not playing with you. But Conrad, even if we had no physical limitations, I don't know that we could make this work between us. We're too different."
"How the hell are we too different?"
"All I've ever wanted is life. I covet it so much I feel like I'll scream. But you... destroy it. And you're so cavalier about it."
"I kill. It's what I'm best at."
"If it was in self-defense or for a cause you believed in, then I could understand. But to extinguish life for money? I could never accept that."
"What if I... stopped? What if I told you that when I'm near you, I want to be a better man? Does that count for nothing?"
"It counts for everything!" She raised her hand to her forehead. "This is a moot point anyway. Unless you know of a way to resurrect ghosts... ?"
"No, I don't. But that doesn't mean there isn't a way. I'd search for centuries if I had to."
Centuries. Hundreds of years more of sliver moons and monthly torture.
"And understand this, N¨Ĥomi - I'll do it whether you want more with me or not. So don't let that affect your answer."
"Conrad, do you really mean that?" Words bubbled up - I need to be with you... I want us to try...
He opened his mouth to answer, then stilled. "Someone's outside." Crossing to the window, he cracked open the drape. And scowled. "Excellent. My sisters-in-law are dropping by."
N¨Ĥomi sidled up to him to peek out. Two petite women were hurrying out from a sports car into the stormy night. "Those are Valkyrie? They're stunning. Is that what Lore women look like?"
"Some. The redhead is Myst the Coveted. She is Nikolai's. Kaderin the Coldhearted is Sebastian's blonde."
N¨Ĥomi had heard so much about those two that she felt as if she knew them -
"I'd planned to kill them, too." When N¨Ĥomi glared up at him, he raised his chained hands. "Past tense. See? Already I'm improving."
Lips thinned, she studied his expression. He seemed earnest.
The Valkyrie began arguing in the muddy drive, drawing N¨Ĥomi's attention back to them. Myst seemed intent on keeping Kaderin from the manor. When the clash turned physical, N¨Ĥomi went wide-eyed. I don't know them at all. "They're punching each other," she said in disbelief. "I figured they were fierce since Kaderin is an assassin, but to hit each other?"
Conrad shrugged. "Nature of the beast, I'm afraid. They like to fight."
"I won't let you do this!" Myst struck out with a jab that connected with Kaderin's mouth.
Kaderin swiped her sleeve over her bleeding lip. "Just like that first Talisman's Hie - still sucker-punching me!"
"I'll do worse. If you turn Conrad over to Kristoff, deep down the brothers will never forgive us. If they wanted him given up, they would've done it themselves!"
With a shove, Kaderin said, "I don't know about you, but I want my husband back!"
Kristoff had imprisoned them? And wouldn't free them until he had Conrad? N¨Ĥomi glanced at him. His expression was inscrutable as he said, "And that answers the question of what has happened to my brothers."
"I want mine as well!" Myst said, returning the shove. "But this isn't the way. For ages, Nikolai has searched for Conrad. All that worry, all that effort, for nothing?"
Apparently, Nikolai was still putting forth the effort - he hadn't turned Conrad over.
"Wait a second." Myst narrowed her gaze. "What in the hell are we doing? We're Valkyrie - we take what we want."
"What do you mean?" Kaderin asked.
"Kristoff won't let our men go? Then Kristoff needs to be taught a lesson. I say we capture the whole bloody castle."
There was a dangerous light to Kaderin's eyes. "Fucking A."
"Just in our coven alone, Regin, Cara, and Annika would spoil for a chance to war with vampires, any vampires. They wouldn't care that they'd actually be helping a few. And I know the inside of Mount Oblak like the back of my hand."
Kaderin's lips curled into a threatening grin. "More fangs for my collection."
Then they were gone as swiftly as they'd arrived.
"Go get them, girls," Conrad muttered.
"Those small women couldn't really start a war?"
"They might be small, but either one of them could lift a train." His tone absent, he said, "Kristoff's sitting across the world - with no idea that hell has just been unleashed against him."
When one is insane, it's best to simplify things.
To get by in life, Conrad had organized his existence into a system of rewards and obstacles to rewards. He'd identified the reward he wanted: N¨Ĥomi in the flesh, his to possess.
The obstacles: his captivity, her lack of a body, and Tarut's possible curse.
Essentially, Conrad had a list of things to do, a short list. Get free, execute Tarut. Figure out how to resurrect N¨Ĥomi.