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"So you're settling in alright?"

"Oh yeah," I smiled into the receiver, rinsing another plate under the faucet.  "Still have a shit-ton of books to unpack, but that's the bulk of what I have left."

"Saving the best for last.  Well done, darling."

At that, I laughed, practically hearing the smile in Tom's voice as I placed the plate in the drying rack.  "Can't argue with that," I said, grabbing a glass from the soapy water.  “Sebastian’s going to need a lot more shelf space for ’em, though.”       

"But I was referring to you specifically, Emily," he said a bit more pointedly, causing me to pause.  "I know that moving from your home state can be quite a big step, and I want to make sure that you really are alright."

The sincerity in his words made my heart swell, and I couldn't help but smile softly.  In the month after Sebastian and I had officially become a couple, we'd spent a great deal of time with each other since returning from London.  He'd asked me to spend that following week with him in New York, not only to enjoy the dynamics of our newly established relationship (vigorously, at times), but also to discuss the possibility of me moving in with him.  After weighing the pros and cons of the situation, I ultimately decided I wanted nothing more than to be with him on a more permanent basis.  It wasn’t long before Sebastian found us an apartment to share, and then I uprooting from my home in Michigan to begin a new chapter of my life in New York.  As his chosen mate. 

And all the while, Tom had been there for me, calling every so often to make sure all was well with my heart and mind.  It was comforting having such a considerate friend, regardless of the distance between us. 

“I know you’re worried about me, Tom, but I really am doing well.  It’s been a hell of a change, of course, but…”  I smiled to myself, setting the clean glass in the rack, “…it’s been worth it.  He’s worth it.  And truth be told…this might sound corny as hell, but being anywhere with him makes me feel like I’m home.” 

“I’m happy to hear that.”

“Thanks.  And hell, my contacts at Marvel were ecstatic when I told them I was moving out here because it means I’ll be more readily available for some of their big city events in New York.  I’ve already got three gigs lined up over the next two weeks; that’ll buy a lot of pizza.”

He chuckled warmly.  “When’s Seb due back, by the way?”

“Probably in the next hour or so,” I said, drying my hands with the dish towel.  For the past two days, Sebastian had been upstate for a couple of high-end photo shoots, and I’d stayed home so I could continue unpacking.  Throughout the afternoon, he’d been texting me updates on his projected ETA, the last message being sent about three hours ago.  “Man, he loved working with those wolves up there.”

“Then you’d have no qualms about him bringing one home, right?”

I laughed again, and that’s when I noticed a shape from the corner of my eye.  Turning my head sharply, I saw Sebastian leaning against the kitchen doorway, his arms crossed over his chest as he simply watched me from afar.  Thanks to his vampiric stealth, I hadn’t even heard him come in, but I automatically smiled nonetheless.  “Speak of the devil...”

“I take it he’s arrived at last.”

“That, he has.”

“Then for now, I shall bid you adieu, darling.  Go take care each other, and we’ll talk later this week.” 

“Will do.  Bye, Tom.”   As the call ended with a faint chime, I was already crossing the room to Sebastian, and he unfolded his arms as I drew nearer.  “Hey you!”  I beamed, practically leaping into his embrace.  God, his strength…My heart was fluttering as he held me close, and I inhaled the incredible scent of his cologne.  “How long have you been standing there?” 

He exhaled audibly as his arms tightened around me.  He really gave the best hugs.  “A while,” he said quietly.    

Something about the way he uttered that…Pulling back, I searched those beautiful blue eyes of his.  “No kiss?”  I said with a playful lilt.

For a long moment, he said nothing, but I detected something in his gaze that caused my breath to hitch gently; an elevated sense of adoration I hadn’t yet seen, one that caused my heart to skip a beat the longer I looked at him.  And then his hands were lightly cupping my face, the tips of his thumbs grazing over the apples of my cheeks.  “You meant that?”  He whispered, cocking his head slightly.  “That anywhere with me is home?”

I brought a hand to grasp his wrist, shivering pleasantly as he circled his face around mine.  Hearing his occasional intake of breath had me closing my eyes, recognizing this as a natural instinct of mated vampires.  In effect, it was his way of imprinting my essence—every curve, every scent, every subtle shift of my features beneath his fingertips—in his mind.  An act that held quite a surprising degree of intimacy, and one that made my heart unexpectedly swell in response. 

“Yes,” I replied, nuzzling my cheek against one of his palms.      

Inhaling deeply, he pulled back, his eyes almost glowing ethereally as he took my hands in his.  Without another word, I followed as he led me away from the kitchen; past the expanse of our living room; through the long hallway to our bedroom...

He willed the bedside lamp on as we entered, and in the muted light of the room, he drew me close, bending down to press his lips to mine in the softest of kisses.  Sighing, I smoothed my hands up his chest, pushing his jacket over his shoulders and hearing the faint rustle as it hit the floor.  I wound my arms around his neck, trying to deepen the kiss, but he kept careful control of his actions, moving his mouth so, so gently against mine. 

When he did nudge at me a bit more insistently, I parted my lips for him, letting his tongue sweep inside, and I whimpered as he thoroughly explored every possible crevice of my mouth.  But the instant I threaded my fingers through his hair, he broke the kiss with a low growl, and I gasped when he spun me around and pulled me against him, the firmness of his chest at my back.

Patience, his mind brushed mine, and then he was dropping a kiss to the side of my neck. 

I could feel my pulse racing as I tilted my head for him, hearing the barest tremor in his breath as he continued to slowly trail kisses over the exposed curve.  Normally, the fact that he was taking his sweet time would have driven me nuts, but I found myself focusing on the warmth of his breath over my pulse; and the strong arms that were encircling my waist; the lightness of his touch as he slipped his hands just beneath the hem of my shirt…Everything about his actions slow; deliberate; filling me with such an overwhelmingly wonderful sense of anticipation.

“I don’t think you realize,” he said lowly next to my ear, “what torture it is being away from you, Emily, even if only for a few days.”  I shivered as his hands slid over my belly.  “Missing your laugh, your scent.  The feel of you in my arms.”  His thumbs hooked into the waistband of my shorts, and my lips parted as he slowly pushed them down my hips.  “The way you surrender yourself to me.” 

A soft sound escaped my throat as they slid easily down my legs, a sudden chill hitting my bare skin.  By now, he was aware that I never wore underwear beneath my pajamas, a fact that he seemed more than willing to take advantage of. 

“I can see it in your thoughts, too,” his hands ran back up my thighs.  “You writhing under the sheets at night, yearning for my touch, invoking the memory of it through your own fingers.”  I blushed hard at that, and hearing his faint chuckle told me he’d sensed it as well.  “I know because I longed for you just as much.”    

Oh God, I thought, swallowing when his left hand started tracing a path down to my core.  Somehow, I managed to whisper, “Did you?”

As his palm cupped my heat, I gasped harshly, then cried out when his other hand seized my breast under my shirt, squeezing until I was arching my back against him.  “Yes,” he practically purred.  “Longed for this,” he slowly dragged two fingers up between my folds, “and so much more.”

Though I was trembling at his touch, that last word he’d uttered managed to cut through the haze of lust in my mind.  It wasn’t just his tone that I’d detected, but also the way his lips were hovering above my neck; his gentle yet possessive mannerisms; the discernible shift in his breathing.  All indicating that it wasn’t only my body that he was craving in that moment…I smiled faintly, angling my head towards him.  “And if I want it, too?”  I asked, bringing a hand to grasp the arm around my chest.    

His hand paused, and then he buried his face in the crook of my neck.  “Then you need only ask,” he rasped, running his tongue over the delicate skin there.

To feed from me.  For the first time.  My heart fluttered beneath my chest.  Despite being together officially for a month, he had yet to take my blood in a manner that was significantly more substantial than a mere marking.  To feed from one’s mate was a highly symbolic gesture, one that represented the purest act of bonding…and it was apparently a choice he was now ready to make. 

“Yes,” I sighed, my hips responding as his fingers continued to stroke long, slow lines over my seam.  “God, please…”

Rubinie,” he exhaled heavily, licking my neck again.  I shuddered, and then I was moaning desperately when he reached down further and inserted two digits into my slick passage.  “So fucking wet for me…”

My head fell back on his shoulder, covering his hand with mine to encourage his attentions between my legs.  “Ahhh…”

“That’s it.  God, I’ve needed to hear your voice,” he said, and I hissed when the fingers of his other hand plucked at one hardened nipple, then the other.  “You have no idea how intoxicating you sound when you’re aroused.” 

I moaned again, my brow furrowing when he began thrusting his fingers at a faster pace.  I tilted my hips back to give him better access, felt the hard bulge of his cock rubbing me through his jeans, bit my lip as he dragged a sucking kiss over my shoulder…

Yes,” he growled, reaching up to turn my face so he could capture my lips once more.  My breath caught in my throat, but I kissed him back fervently, grazing my tongue against one of his fangs until I drew a small amount of blood.  Tasting this, Sebastian groaned deeply in his chest, clamping his hand behind my head to deepen the kiss.       

He wanted me to come; I knew it.  Wanted the ecstasy rushing through my veins before he struck, and based on the way he crooked his fingers as he stroked my inner walls, he intended to make that happen very, very soon.  Breaking the kiss with a cry, I managed to pant, “Oh God…”

“Don’t hold back,” he breathed against my cheek, teasing my clit in time with his thrusts.  “Let go for me.”

That was inevitable.  As the pitch of my moans rose higher and higher, I closed my eyes, picturing how he probably looked in that moment: desire darkening his blue eyes; his upper lip quivering back from his teeth in anticipation; the elongation of his fangs…

I was so worked up by the mental images that the instant his fangs pierced my flesh, my orgasm took hold, an explosion of sensation that had me releasing a moaning scream at the intensity behind it.  In the back of my mind, I could feel him, the steady pulls of his mouth on my vein as he drank—taking sustenance from me—and I reached up to touch his face, silently urging him on as warm waves of pleasure continued to roll through me.  His arm tightened around me, and I gave another quaking moan.  I’d heard that the act of feeding would intensify an orgasm, but damn…Feeling it firsthand, and the way my limbs shook as it just seemed to go on and on…

I wasn’t sure how much time had passed before he finally withdrew his fingers and fangs, and I leaned back against him as his tongue carefully licked over the puncture wounds to seal them.  I was still panting as I looked up at him, watching him suck his fingers clean.  You honor me, he whispered in my mind, smiling down at me as he pulled them from his mouth.  “You really do.”

He kissed my forehead, and in the aftermath of what had just taken place, that was it for my poor knees.  He was already there as they gave out, though, sweeping me up into his arms and holding me steadily.  Once my breathing had calmed, I lifted my eyes to his, bringing a hand to his cheek. 

Te iubesc,” he sighed, pressing a kiss to my palm, and the warmth that surged through my chest was one of the sweetest euphorias I’d ever known.  Smiling softly, I rested my forehead against his.

“I love you, too,” I breathed, and seeing his responding smile made me absolutely melt.  It was the first time we’d ever admitted it aloud to one another. 

His eyes never left mine as he carried me over to the bed, his face still alight as he carefully laid me atop the comforter.  As he stood beside the bed, I licked my lips, entranced as he proceeded to pull his shirt over his head, revealing every inch of that magnificent torso of his.  I could already feel something tightening between my legs once more. 

“Hearing you say that,” he said, already unfastening his jeans, “that being with me is like being home,” he made quick work of discarding them, “is one of the most reassuring things I could ever hope to hear from you.”  I drew in a breath as he removed his boxers, never ceasing to be amazed at the sight of that proud erection standing at attention. 

God, and that’s all for me…

“I cherish it,” he said, sitting on the bed beside me.  “Truly.  And you should know that no matter where I go,” his hands were at the hem of my shirt, and I maneuvered myself to help him remove it, “no matter how far my travels take me, this,” he brought my hand to his chest, pressing it right over his heart, “belongs to you, and you alone.  Always.”

A tear fell from the corner of my eye, and I was unable to suppress my smile as his lips covered mine, a soft whimper sounding in my throat when his knees nudged my thighs apart.  The elation flooding my heart was only heightened by his caresses, his smile, the way he kissed away my tears, the sweet whispers that were echoing inside my mind…When I felt him slide smoothly inside me, my mouth fell open on a sigh, and I held him close as he drove steadily into me over and over again.  He was gentle; loving.  His moans accompanying mine as he sped up; slowed down; his instincts seeming to know just what my body needed at exactly the right time.  As he continued his mental murmurs, it became very clear that he was doing this for me.  Being slightly weakened from the feeding, he wanted to take the opportunity to bring me pleasure.  To show me his appreciation.  His concern.  His love.  And as my back arched with my release, he uttered Romanian praises to me, stealing a fervent kiss before thrusting into me again.  Draping a leg over his hip, I encouraged him to drive deeper, my breath catching every time he buried himself to the hilt, feeling a tremor of excitement when he buried his face in the crook of my neck.  It wasn’t long before he gave a long, guttural moan, and I marveled when he threw his head back, his body stiffening atop mine as he shot deep inside me.           

God, yes, I thought with a faint smile. 

For a moment, he seemed frozen in place, allowing the last vestiges of his orgasm ripple through him before lowering his face to mine.

“My love,” he exhaled, kissing me sweetly.  “My love,” another kiss. Then he was sighing heavily, closing his eyes and resting his forehead against mine.   “Rubinie meu.”

There were few moments in my life that I could truly call perfect, but this was definitely one of them.  Sensing the aura of protection he was emitting around me, I gave a peaceful sigh, reaching up to gently cup his cheek with my hand.