A Kiss of Shadows

Chapter 7

THE FRONT PART OF MY BRAIN KNEW I SHOULD HAVE HAD ROANE TAKE ME to my car. There was a packet taped under the driver's seat with money, a new identity complete with a driver's license and credit cards. I'd always planned on simply driving out of the city or to the airport and taking the first plane that caught my fancy. It was a good plan. The police would be contacting the embassy by now, and before dawn my aunt would know where I was, who I was, and what I'd been doing for three years.

The primitive rear of my brain wanted to jump Roane while he was driving eighty on the freeway. My skin felt large and swollen with need. I actually sat on my hands in the car so I wouldn't touch him. The last thing we needed was for me to contaminate him with the Tears. At least one of us needed to be sane tonight, and until I had a shower, it wasn't going to be me.

I mounted the stairs to Roane's apartment, hugging myself, fingers digging into my arms hard enough to leave nail marks. It was all that kept me from touching Roane as he moved up the stairs just ahead of me.

He left the door open behind him, and I followed him into the room. He stood in the center of the large open space. Even in the dark the room was strangely bright, the white walls gleaming in the moonlight. Roane stood a dark figure in the midst of all that silver gloaming. He stared out at the sea as he did every time we entered his apartment, stopped and stared out the bank of windows that made up the west and south walls. The sea rolled out and out from the windows in a gleaming, rushing spill of silver and dark, with a rim of white foam riding like an edge of lace as the waves spilled toward the shore.

I would always be second in Roane's heart because his love belonged to his first mistress-the sea. He would mourn her loss when I was just dust in a grave. There was a loneliness to that knowledge. The same loneliness I'd felt at court, watching the sidhe squabble about insults that occurred a hundred years before I was born, and that the sidhe would still be quarreling about a hundred years after I died. Bitter, a little, but mostly just very aware that I was an outsider. I was sidhe so I couldn't be human, and I was mortal so I couldn't be sidhe. Neither fish nor fowl.

Even feeling isolated, left out, my gaze slid to the bed. It was a mound of white sheets and scattered pillows-Roane had stripped it but had only done a haphazard job of remaking it. If the sheets were clean, he never understood the reason for getting the wrinkles out. I had a sudden image of him naked against those white sheets. The vision was so sharp that it hurt, tightening my stomach, twisting lower things, until it was hard to breathe. I leaned against the closed door until I could move, then straightened. I would not be controlled by chemicals and magic. I was sidhe, a weak, lesser sidhe, but that didn't change that I was the height of all we and men called magical. I wasn't some human peasant with my first taste of faerie. I was a princess of the sidhe, and I would, by Goddess, act like it.

I locked the door behind me, and even the sound of the lock going home didn't make Roane turn. He would commune with his view until he was ready for me. I didn't have the patience for it tonight. I walked past him through the darkened room to the bathroom. I turned the bathroom light on and was left blinking in the brightness. The bathroom was tiny, barely room for the stool, small sink, and the bathtub. The tub might have been original to the house because it was deep and claw-footed and very antique-looking. The shower curtain had been strung on a rail above the tub. The curtain had seals from all over the world on it, with their common names in print by each image. I'd ordered it from one of those catalogs that you always seem to get when you have a background in biology, found it in among the animal-motif T-shirts, candles shaped like animals, books about trips to the Arctic Circle and summers spent watching wolves in remote places. Roane had loved the curtain, and I'd loved giving it to him. I loved having sex in the shower surrounded by my gift for him.

I had a sudden image of his body wet and naked, the feel of his skin slick with soap. I cursed softly and flung the curtain aside. I turned the water on so it would get warm. I needed the Tears off of me before I did something regrettable. I would be safe tonight. No one would be able to show up on my doorstep until tomorrow at the earliest. I could take Roane, fill my hands with the silk of his skin, coat my body in the sweet scented closeness of his body. Who would it hurt?

It was the Tears talking, not me. I needed tonight for my head start if I was to get out of town. The police wouldn't like me leaving town, but the cops wouldn't kill me, and my family would. Hell, California wasn't even a death penalty state.

The dress was ripped enough that I tried to pull the sleeves down over my shoulders like a jacket, but the zipper still held it in place. The front of the dress was soaked thick and heavy with the oil. I'd never known anyone to waste so much of something that even the sidhe considered so valuable. But if I'd died with Alistair Norton, then maybe the sidhe wizard was hoping that no one would know what Branwyn's Tears were. The sidhe were very snobbish about what the lesser fey did and did not know. He, she, or they might have thought with me dead, they'd be safe.

The sidhe, whoever they were, had given Branwyn's Tears to a mortal to be used against other fey. It was punishable by eternal torture. There are a few downsides to being immortal. One of the biggest is that punishment can last a very, very long time.

Of course, so can pleasure. I closed my eyes as if that would chase away the images that came flooding back. It wasn't Roane I was thinking of. It was Griffin. He'd been my fiance for seven years. If we'd managed to get with child, we'd have been wife and husband. But there had been no child, and in the end there had been only pain. He'd betrayed me with other sidhe women, and when I had the bad taste to protest, he'd told me he was tired of being with a half-mortal. He wanted the real thing, not a pale imitation. I could still hear the words stinging in my ears, but it was his golden flesh I saw behind my eyes, his copper hair spilled across my body, the way candlelight glistened along the shining length of him. I hadn't thought about him in years, and now I could taste him on my lips.

For this one night while the oil lasted, it could make a lesser fey, or a human, sidhe. They would shine with our power and give and take pleasure as one of us. It was a great gift, but like most gifts of faerie it was a double-edged one. Because the human or fey would spend the rest of their life longing for that power, that touch. A human could waste and die from lack of it. Roane was a fey without his magic, without his sealskin. He had no magic of his own to protect him from what the Tears could do to him.

I'd known how much I missed the touch of another sidhe, but until this moment I hadn't realized how much. If Griffin had been in the other room, I'd have gone to him. I might have driven a knife through his heart in the morning, but tonight, I'd have gone to him.

I heard Roane in the doorway behind me but didn't turn. I didn't want to see him standing there. I wasn't sure my abused strength of will could take it. The front of the dress was ripped, ruined, but I still couldn't get the zipper myself. "Could you, please, unzip me?" My voice sounded strangled as if the words had to be pulled from my lips. I think because what I wanted to say was, "Take me, you rowdy beast," but that lacked a certain dignity and Roane deserved better than to be left craving something he could never touch again. I could drop my glamour and sleep with him after this night, but every night he touched me in true form would only draw the addiction tighter.

He unzipped me, hands moving up to help slide the dress from my shoulders. I jerked away from him. "My skin is soaked with the Tears. Don't touch me."

"Even with the gloves on?" he asked.

I'd forgotten about the surgical gloves. "No, I guess with the gloves you'll be safe enough."

He lifted the cloth off my shoulders, slowly, carefully, as if he were afraid to touch me. I slipped my arms out, but the cloth was so thick with oil that the dress wouldn't slide. It clung to me like a thick, heavy hand, sucking against my skin as I peeled it down my body. Roane helped me pull the wet cloth over my hips, kneeling so I could step out of it. I was unsteady on the high heels and cursed softly that I hadn't taken them off sooner. I'd closed my eyes so I wouldn't see him as he helped me undress. I touched his shoulder to steady myself on the high heels and nearly fell anyway because my hand touched bare skin.

I opened my eyes and found him kneeling in front of me, nude except for the gloves. I stumbled back from him so violently that I ended up in the tub, on my ass, one hand held out in front of me to ward him off. I was sitting in about an inch of water and fumbled for the faucets to turn the water off. Though I might have been better off leaving it on and crawling under it.

Roane was laughing. "I thought I'd get you unzipped before you noticed, but I didn't know you'd close your eyes." He stripped the gloves off using his teeth, my dress still in his arms. He plunged his naked hands into the oil-soaked cloth, hugged it against his bare chest.

I was shaking my head over and over. "You don't know what you're doing, Roane."

He looked at me over the tub edge, and there was nothing innocent in his big brown eyes. "For tonight I can be sidhe for you."

I sat in the tub like I was about to take a shower in my underwear, and tried to sound reasonable. All the blood seemed to have left my brain and gathered in other places. It made it hard to think. "I can't do glamour tonight, Roane."

"I don't want you to do glamour. I want to be with you, Merry. No masks. No illusions."

"Without your own magic, you'll be like a human. You won't be able to protect yourself from the charm. You'll be

"I won't wither and die for want of sidhe flesh, Merry. I may have lost my magic, but I am immortal."

"You may not die, Roane, but forever is a long time to want what you cannot have."

"I know what I want," he said.

I started to open my mouth, to tell him at least part of the truth, part of the reason that I had to clean myself off and get out of town. But he stood up, and my voice died in my throat. I couldn't breathe, let alone talk. All I could do was stare.

He wadded the dress in his hands so tight that the muscles in his arms strained with the movement. Oil squeezed out of the cloth, gliding in slow lines from his chest, across the flat smoothness of his stomach, trailing ever lower. He was already smooth and hard, but when the oil slid over him, his breath caught in a sharp hiss. He ran one hand down his stomach, spreading the oil in a gleaming sheet across the pale perfection of his skin. I should have told him to stop, should have screamed for help, but I watched his hand move lower, until he cupped himself, slid the oil over the hardness of himself. His head threw back, eyes closed, and words tore in a loud gasp from his strained throat. "Oh, Gods."

I remembered that there was something important I should have been saying or doing, but for my life I couldn't remember what it was. I was thinking things, but not words. Words had deserted me, leaving only images: sight, touch, smell, and finally taste.

Roane's skin tasted overwhelmingly of cinnamon and vanilla, but under that was something green, herbal, a light clean taste like drinking spring water straight from the heart of the Earth. Under all that was the taste of his skin, sweet, smooth, and lightly salted with sweat.

We ended on the bed. My clothes were gone, though I didn't remember them going. We were naked and slick with oil on the clean white sheets. The feel of his body sliding over mine brought my breath shuddering from between half-parted lips. He kissed me, tongue probing, and I opened to him, rising from the bed to force his tongue deeper inside my mouth. My hips moved with the kiss, and he took it as invitation, sliding inside me, slowly, until he found me wet and ready, then he slammed the length of him inside me, as fast, as far as it would go. I cried out under him, body rising off the bed, then falling back against the sheets, staring up at him.

His face was inches from mine, his eyes so close they filled my view. He watched my face as he moved inside me, half-raised on his arms so he could watch my body writhe underneath him. I couldn't stay still. I had to move, had to rise up to meet him, until a rhythm built between us, a rhythm forged of pounding flesh, the thundering of our hearts, the slick juices of our bodies, and the throbbing of every nerve. It was as if one touch was many caresses; one kiss, a thousand kisses. Each movement of his body seemed to fill me like warm water spreading out and out, filling up my skin, my muscles, my blood, my bones, until it was all one rush of warmth that built and built like the press of light as night fades. My body sang with it. My fingertips tingled, and just when I thought I couldn't hold any more, the warmth turned to heat and roared over me, through me. Distantly, I heard noises, screaming, and it was Roane, and it was me.

He collapsed on top of me, suddenly heavier, his neck lying against my face so that I felt his pulse like a racing thing jumping against my skin. We lay there entwined as intimately as man can be with woman, holding each other until our hearts slowed.

Roane raised his head first, propping himself on his arms to look down at me. The look was one of wonderment, like a child who had learned a new joy that until that moment he hadn't known existed. He said nothing, just stared down at me, smiling.

I was smiling, too, but there was a vein of wistfulness to mine. I remembered now what I'd forgotten. I should have showered and fled the city. I should never have touched Roane with Branwyn's Tears on our bodies. But the damage was done.

My voice came soft, strange to my own ears, as if we hadn't spoken for a very long time. "Look at your skin."

Roane glanced at his own body and hissed like a startled cat. He rolled off my body to sit staring at his hands, arms, everything. He was glowing, a soft, nearly amber light as if fire were being reflected through a golden jewel, and that jewel was his body.

"What is it?" he asked, voice low and almost frightened.

"You are sidhe, for tonight."

He looked at me. "I don't understand," he said.

I sighed. "I know."

He put his hand just above my skin. I glowed with a white, cold light, like moonlight caught behind glass. The amber glow of his hand reflected off the white glow, turning it pale yellow as his hand moved just above my skin. "What can I do with it?"

I watched him move that glowing hand down my body, still careful not to touch my skin. "I don't know. Every sidhe is different. We all have different abilities. Different variations on a theme."

He laid his hand against the scar on my ribs, just under my left breast. It hurt like the twinge of arthritis when it's cold, but it wasn't cold. I moved his hand away from the mark. It was the perfect imprint of a hand, bigger than Roane's, longer, more slender fingers. It was brown and raised slightly above my skin. The scar turned black when my skin glowed, as if the light could not touch it, a bad spot.

"What happened?" he asked.

"I was in a duel."

He started to touch the scar again, and I grabbed his hand, pressing our flesh together, forcing that amber glow into my white. It felt as if our hands melded together, the flesh parting, swallowing. He jerked away, rubbing his hand against his chest, but that slid the oil over his hand, and that didn't help. Roane still didn't understand that he'd had only the first taste of what it could mean to be sidhe.

"Every sidhe has a hand of power. Some can heal by touch. Some can kill. The sidhe I fought placed her hand against my ribs. She broke my ribs, tore through muscle, and tried to crush my heart, all without ever breaking the skin."

"You lost the duel," he said.

"I lost the duel, but I survived, and that was always win enough for me."

Roane frowned. "You seem saddened. I know you enjoyed it. Why such gloom?" He trailed a finger along my face, and the glow intensified where we touched. I turned my face from him.

"It's too late to save you, Roane, but it's not too late to save myself."

I felt him lie down beside me, and I moved my body just enough to keep him from lying the length of himself along the length of me. I looked at him from inches away.

"Save you from what, Merry?"

"I can't tell you why, but I need to leave tonight, not just this apartment, but the city."

He looked startled. "Why?"

I shook my head. "If I told you that, you'd be in more danger than you already are."

He accepted that and didn't ask again. "Is there anything I can do to help?"

I smiled, then laughed. "I can't go to my car, let alone the airport glowing like a rising moon, and I can't do glamour until the oil wears away."

"How long?" he asked.

"I don't know." I stared down the length of his body and found him limp, though he recovered quickly, as a rule. But I knew something he didn't. Tonight, like it or not, I was sidhe.

"What is your hand of power?" he asked, though it had taken him a long time to ask the question. He must have truly wanted to know, to ask that which was not offered.

I sat up. "I don't have one."

He frowned. "You said all sidhe have one."

I nodded. "It's one of many excuses the others have used over the years to deny me."

"Deny you what?"

"Everything." I ran my hand just above the line of his body, and the amber light intensified, following my touch like a fire when you breath on it to make it glow. "When our hands melded, it was one of the side effects of the power. Our entire bodies can do the same."

He raised eyebrows at that.

I cupped him in my hand, and he responded, but I spilled power into him, and he was instantly hard, instantly ready. It made his stomach contract, made him sit up, moving my hand away from him. "It felt almost too good. It almost hurt."

I nodded. "Yes."

He gave a nervous laugh. "I thought you didn't have a hand of power."

"I don't, but I am descended from five different fertility deities. I can bring you back to strength all night, as quickly and as often as we want." I leaned my face toward his. "You are like a child tonight, Roane. You can't control the power, but I can. I could bring you again and again until you rubbed yourself raw and begged me to stop."

He'd lain down on the bed as I moved over him, until he was staring up at me, eyes wide, his auburn hair spilled around his face. Tonight, it was almost the same shade as mine... almost. He spoke in a breathy rush. "If you do that, it will be your flesh that gets rubbed raw, too."

"Think if I was not the only sidhe in this room, Roane. Think what we could make you do, and you could not stop us." I spoke the last into his half-parted lips. When I kissed him, he jumped as if it had hurt, and I knew it hadn't.

I pulled back enough to see his face. "You're afraid of me."

He swallowed. "Yes."

"Good. Now you begin to understand what you have called to life in this room. Power comes with a price, Roane, and so does pleasure. You have called both, and if I were a different sidhe, you would pay dearly for them." I watched the fear slide across his face, fill his eyes. It pleased me. I liked the edge that fear could give sex. Not the big fear, where you truly weren't sure you'd both come out alive, but the lesser fear, where you risked blood, pain, but nothing that wouldn't heal, nothing you didn't want. There is a vast difference between a little game playing and cruelty. I wasn't into cruelty .

I stared down at Roane, that sweet flesh, those lovely eyes, and I wanted to scratch nails over that perfect body, sink teeth into his flesh, and draw just a little bit of blood in a lot of different places. The thought tightened my body in places where most people didn't respond to violence, no matter how mild. Bad wiring, maybe, but there comes a point when you either embrace who and what you are, or condemn yourself to be miserable all your days. Other people will try to make you miserable; don't help them by doing the job yourself. I wanted to share a little pain, a little blood, a little fear, but Roane wasn't into any of that. Hurting him wouldn't bring him pleasure, and I wasn't into torture. I was not a sexual sadist, and Roane would never know how lucky he was that that particular mis-wiring was not part of my urges. Of course, there are always other urges.

I wanted him, wanted him so badly that I didn't trust myself to be careful. Roane would carry the desire for this experience to his grave, whenever that would be, but he could carry more than psychological scars away from this night. If I wasn't careful. Even now, even here with him sidhe for this one night, I couldn't drop all my control. I was still going to have to be the one in charge, the one that said what we would do and what we wouldn't. The one that said how far things would go. I was achingly tired of being the one who drew the line. It wasn't just the magic I missed. It was having someone else in charge or, at least, someone equal. I didn't want to have to worry about hurting my lover. I wanted my lover to be able to protect himself so that I could truly do what I wanted to do without fearing for his safety. Was that really too much to ask?

I glanced back at Roane. He lay on his back, one arm flung over his head, the other arm lying across his stomach, one leg drawn up so that he was displayed, in all his glory. The fear had faded from his face, leaving only desire behind. He had no idea how bad things could get in the next few hours if I wasn't ever so careful.

I hid my face in my hands. I didn't want to be careful. I wanted everything that the magic could give me tonight and to hell with the consequences. Maybe if I hurt him enough, Roane wouldn't look back on it as something wonderful. Maybe he wouldn't crave it like some golden dream. Maybe he'd fear it like a nightmare. A small voice in my head said it would be kinder in the long run. Make him fear us, our touch, our magic, so that he would never want the touch of sidhe hands on his body again. A little pain now to save him from an eternity of suffering later on.

I knew it was lies, and still I couldn't look at him.

His fingertips brushed my back, and I jumped like he'd hit me. I kept my hands over my face. I wasn't ready to look again.

"Those aren't burn scars on your shoulders, are they?"

I lowered my hands, but kept my eyes closed. "No."

"What then?"

"It was another duel. He used magic to try and force me to shapeshift in the middle of the fight." I heard, felt, Roane moving along the bed, closer to me, but he didn't try and touch me again. I was grateful.

"But changing shape doesn't hurt. It feels wonderful."

"Maybe to a roane, but not to one of us. Changing shapes is painful, like all your bones breaking at once and reforming. I can't change shape on my own at all, but I've seen it in others. You're helpless for the minutes it takes to change form."

"The other sidhe was trying to distract you."

"Yes." I opened my eyes and stared into the blackness of the windows. They acted like a dark mirror, showing Roane sitting just behind me, body half-lost to sight, glowing like the sun behind the moon of my body. The three rings of color in my eyes glowed bright enough that even from that distance you could see the individual colors: emerald, jade, liquid gold. Even Roane's eyes had lightened to a dark honey brown like glowing bronze. Sidhe magic suited him.

He reached for me, and I tensed. He traced his hand over the rippled skin of the scars. "How did you stop him from changing you into something else?"

"I killed him." I saw Roane's eyes widen in the windows, felt his body tense.

"You killed a sidhe royal?"


"But they are immortal."

"I am truly mortal, Roane. What is the one way for all the eternal fey to die?"

I watched the thoughts flicker across his face and finally saw the realization in his eyes. "To invoke mortal blood. The mortal shares our immortality, and we share the mortal's mortality."


He sat close to me, going up on his knees, but he spoke to my reflection not directly to me. "But that is a very specific ritual. You can't invoke mortality by accident."

"The ritual for a duel binds the two participants together in mortal combat. Among the Unseelie sidhe they share blood before they fight."

His eyes went wider still, until they were like two huge pools of darkness. "When they drank your blood, they shared your mortality."


"Did they know that?"

I smiled then. I couldn't help it. "Not until Arzhul died with my dagger sticking out of him."

"You must have put up a hard battle for him to try and change your form. It's a major spell for the sidhe. If he didn't fear death, then you must have hurt him badly."

I shook my head. "He was showing off. It wasn't enough that he meant to kill me. He wanted to humiliate me first. For one sidhe to force a shapeshift on another is proof that they are the more powerful magician."

"So he was showing off," Roane said. It was the closest he would probably get to asking what happened next.

"I stabbed him, just hoping to distract him, but my father always told me never to waste a strike. Even if you know you face an immortal, strike as if they could die because deathblows hurt more, even if they won't kill."

"Did you kill the one who scarred you here?" His hand came from behind to trace my ribs.

"I shuddered at his touch, and not because it hurt. "No, Rozenwyn is still alive."

"Then why didn't she crush your heart?" His hands slid around my waist, holding me against his body, cradling me. I let myself rest in the curve of his arms, the solid warmth of his body.

"Because her duel was after Arzhul, and when I stabbed her, she panicked, I think. She called the duel won without making the kill."

He rubbed his cheek along mine, and we both watched the colors mingle as our skins touched. "It was the last duel then," he said.

"No," I said.

He kissed my cheek, very softly. "No."

"No, there was one more." I turned my face to him. His lips brushed moot quite a kiss.

"What happened?" He spoke the words in a warm breath against my mouth.

"Bleddyn had been one of the Seelie Court once, before he did something so awful that no one will speak of it, and he was cast out. But he was so powerful that the Unseelie Court took him in. His true name was lost, and he became Bleddyn. It means wolf or outlaw, or did once very long ago. It meant he was an outlaw even among the dark court."

Roane kissed the side of my neck where my pulse beat just under the skin. My pulse sped at that light touch. He raised his face enough to ask, "How was he an outlaw?" Then he began to kiss his way down my neck.

"He was subject to horrible rages for no reason. If he hadn't been surrounded by immortals, he'd have killed people, friends as well as enemies."

Roane's kisses had worked down to my shoulder, then my arm. He stopped just long enough to say, "just rages?" Then lowered his head and kissed until he found the bend in my arm. He lifted my arm so that he could lock his mouth around the fragile skin at the bend. He sucked sudden and sharp on the skin, teeth sinking into my arm enough to hurt, enough to make me gasp. Roane didn't care for pain, but he was an attentive lover, and he knew what I liked, as I knew what he liked. But I suddenly couldn't concentrate on what I was saying.

He raised his face from my arm, leaving a round, nearly perfect imprint of his small sharp teeth. He hadn't broken the skin. I'd never been able to persuade him to go that far, but the mark against my flesh pleased me, made me bend toward him.

He stopped me, asking, "Was it just rages, or were there other things that marked Bleddyn as dangerous?"

It took me a second to remember. I had to sit back from him. "If you want to hear the story, behave yourself."

He lay on his side, one arm flung underneath his head for a pillow. He stretched his body so that I had to notice the way the muscles moved under that gleaming skin. "I thought I was behaving myself."

I shook my head. "You'll make me forget myself, Roane. You don't want that."

"I want you tonight, Merry. I want all of you, no glamour, no hiding, no holding back." He sat up suddenly, peering so close to my face that I started to move back, but he grabbed my arm. "I want to be what you need tonight, Merry."

I shook my head. "You don't understand what you're asking."

"No, I don't, but if you're ever going to have everything, tonight is the night." He grabbed my other arm, pulling us both to our knees, his fingers digging in enough that I knew I'd be bruised tomorrow. That one forceful movement made my heart beat faster. "I've lived for centuries, Merry. If either of us is a child, it's you, not me." His words were fierce, and I'd never seen him like this, so forceful, so demanding.

I could have said, "You're hurting me, Roane," but I was enjoying that part, so instead I said, "You don't sound like yourself."

"I knew you held your glamour in place even when we lay together, but I never dreamed how much you were hiding." He shook me twice, hard enough that I almost told him it did hurt. "Don't hide, Merry." He kissed me then, bruising his lips against mine, forcing his mouth against mine, until if I hadn't opened my mouth he might have cut either his lips or mine on our teeth. He forced me back on the bed, and I wasn't having a good time. I liked pain, not rape.

I stopped him with a hand on his chest, pushing him away from me. He was still above me, eyes strangely fierce, but he was listening. "What are you trying to do, Roane?"

"What happened in your last duel?"

The change of subject was too fast for me. "What?"

"Your last duel, what happened?" His voice, his face was all seriousness while his naked body pressed against mine. '

"I killed him."


Somehow I knew he wasn't asking about the mechanics of the kill. "He underestimated me."

"I have never underestimated you, Merry. Don't do less for me. Don't treat me as less just because I'm not sidhe. I am a thing of faerie with not a drop of mortal blood in my veins. Do not fear for me." His voice was normal again, but there was still an undercurrent of fierceness.

I stared up into his face and saw the pride there, not a masculine pride, but the pride of the fey. I was treating him as less than fey, and he deserved better, but... "What if I hurt you without meaning to?"

"I'll heal," he said.

It made me smile because in that moment I loved him, not the kind of love that the bards sing of, but it was love all the same. "All right, but let's pick a position that puts you dominant, not me."

A thought filled his eyes. "You don't trust yourself."

"No," I said.

"Then trust me. I won't break."

"Promise? "I said.

He smiled, and kissed my forehead, gently like you'd kiss a child. "Promise."

I took him at his word.

I ended with my hands gripping the cool metal rods of the headboard. Roane's body pinned mine to the bed, his groin cupped against my buttocks. It was a position that gave him a great deal of control and kept most of my body turned away from him. I couldn't touch him with my hands. There were so many things I couldn't do from this position, and it was why I'd chosen it. Short of being tied up, it was the safest thing I could think of, and Roane didn't like bondage. Besides, the real dangers had nothing to do with hands or teeth or anything purely physical. Bonds wouldn't really have helped, except to serve as a reminder for me to be careful. I was very afraid that somewhere in the welter of power and flesh I would forget everything but pleasure, and Roane would suffer for it, and I didn't mean suffer in a good way.

The moment he slid inside me, I knew I was in trouble. He was a fearsome thing, holding himself up on his hands so that he could force himself into me with all the strength of his back and hips. I'd once seen Roane punch his fist through a car door to impress a would-be mugger that we weren't worth the trouble. It was like he was trying to push his way into my body and out the other side. I realized something I hadn't before. Roane had thought I was human with fey blood, but still human. He'd been as careful of me, as I had of him. The difference was that I feared my magic would harm him, and he'd feared his physical strength. Tonight there would be no holding back, no true safety net for either of us. For the first time I realized that I might be the one injured, not Roane. Sex with an edge of true danger, there's nothing like it. Add magic that could melt your skin, and it was going to be a very good night.

His body caught a harsh rhythm coming in and out of mine; there was the sound of flesh hitting flesh every time he thrust into me. This, this was what I'd wanted for so very long. He took my body, and I felt the first wave of pleasure. I suddenly worried that he'd bring me before the magic had time to build.

I opened my metaphysical skin as I'd opened my legs, but instead of letting him enter me, I reached up to him. I opened his aura, his magic, like he'd unzipped my dress earlier. His body began to sink into mine, not physically, but the effect is surprisingly similar. He hesitated with his body sheathed inside mine, stopping. I could feel his pulse speeding, speeding, not from physical exertion but from fear. He drew himself out of me completely, and for one heartrending moment I thought he was going to stop, that it would all stop. Then he entered me again, and it was as if he gave himself completely to me, to us, to the night.

The amber and moonlight glow of our skins expanded until we moved in a cocoon of light, of warmth, of power. Every thrust of his body raised the power. Every writhe of my body underneath him drew the magic like a choking shield around us, close and suffocating. I knew that I was trying to draw him inside me, not his organ, but him, like my magic was trying to drink him up. I dug my fingers into the metal rods of the bed until the metal bit into my skin and made me think again. Roane collapsed his body on top of mine, so that the line of his chest and stomach molded against my back, while his groin thrust between my legs. He couldn't get as much power from this angle, but the magic flared between us at the touch of so much skin. Our bodies melded as our hands had earlier, and I could feel him sinking into my back until our hearts touched, fluttering together in a dance more intimate than anything we'd known before.

Our hearts began to beat together, closer and closer until the rhythm was identical and it was one heart, one body, one being, and I no longer knew where I stopped and Roane began. It was in that moment of near perfect unison that I first heard the sea. A soft, murmuring rush of waves on the shore. I floated bodiless, formless in a shining place of light with nothing but the beating of our joined hearts to let me know I was still flesh and not pure magic. And in that shining, formless place, with no bodies to hold us, there was a hurrying, flowing, spilling sound of water. The sound of the ocean chased our heartbeats, filled that bright place. Our heartbeats sank into the waves. We sank deeper and deeper in a blinding circle of light, under the water, and there was no fear. We had come home. We were surrounded by water on every side, and I could feel the pressure of the depth pushing against our hearts as if it would crush us, but I knew it wouldn't. Roane knew it wouldn't. The thought, a separate thought, sent us rising up, and up toward the surface of the invisible ocean that held us. I was aware of how frighteningly cold it was, and I was afraid, and Roane wasn't. He was joyous. We surfaced, and though I knew we were still pressed to the bed in his apartment, I felt the air hit my face. I drew a great breath of air, and I was suddenly aware that the sea was warm. The water was so warm, warmer than blood, warm enough to be almost hot.

I was suddenly aware of my body again. I could feel Roane's body inside mine. But the swirl and rush of warm ocean flowed over us. My eyes told me I was still on the bed, hands holding to the headboard, but I could feel the warm, warm water swirling over us. The invisible ocean filled the glowing light of our two mingled bodies like water inside a goldfish bowl, the ocean held by our power like metaphysical glass. Our bodies were like the wicks of some floating candle, caught in the water and the glass, fire, water, and flesh. Our bodies began to be more real, more solid. The feel of invisible ocean began to fade. The light of our skins began to shrink back inside the shields of our skins. Then the pleasure took us, and the warmth that had been in the water, in the light, crashed over us. We cried out. The warmth became heat, and it filled me up, spilled out my skin, my hands. Sounds tore from my mouth, too primitive to be screams. Roane's body bucked against mine, and the magic held us both, drawing out the orgasm until I felt the metal of the bed begin to melt under my hands. Roane screamed, and it wasn't a scream of pleasure. Finally, finally, we were free. He rolled off of me, and I heard him fall onto the floor. I turned, still lying on my stomach.

He was lying on his side, one hand flung up, reaching for me. I had one quick glimpse of his face, eyes wide and terrified, before fur spilled over that face, and he collapsed in a roil of sleek fur.

I sat up on the bed, reaching for him, knowing there was nothing I could do. Then there was a seal lying on the apartment floor. A large, reddish-furred seal, staring at me with Roane's brown eyes. All I could do was stare. There were no words.

The seal moved clumsily toward the bed, then a seam that hadn't been there opened up the front of the animal, and Roane crawled out. He stood up, holding the new skin in his arms. He stared at me, a look of soft wonder on his face. He was crying, but I don't think he knew it.

I went to hinm, touching the skin, touching him, as if neither one was real. I hugged him, and my hands found his back was whole, untouched, the skin as smooth and perfect as the rest of him. The burn scars were gone.

He slipped the skin back on before I could find words. The seal stared up at me, moving around the room in awkward almost snakelike movements, then Roane stepped out of the skin again. He turned to me and began to laugh.

He picked me Up around the thighs, lifting me up above his head, wrapping us both in the sealskin. He danced us around the room laughing while the tears hadn't even dried on his face. I was crying, too, and laughing.

Roane collapsed on the bed, spilling me across it, lying on top of his sealskin. I was suddenly so tired, horribly tired. I needed to shower and leave. I wasn't glowing anymore. I was almost sure I could do glamour again. But I couldn't keep my eyes open. I'd been drunk only once in my life, and I'd passed out. That was what was happening. I was about to pass out from Branwyn's Tears or just too much magic.

We tell asleep curled in each other's arms, with the skin wrapped around us. The last thing I thought before we fell into a sleep deeper than anything natural wasn't a thought for my safety. The skin was warm, as warm as Roane's arms around me, and I knew that the skin was just as alive, just as much a part of him. I fell into darkness curled between pieces of Roane's warmth, Roane's magic, Roane's love.

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