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Despite having just been on fire five seconds earlier, a sudden chill prickled at my exposed skin. Tom's words, 'I just can't be with you like that right now' doused the flame like a firehose.

I wasn't really sure what to say, so I flopped onto my back and reached for the covers. Sure, I had a bra on and still wore my black pants, but I suddenly felt very naked. And a little cold.

A warm hand gripped my waist, just as I was about to curl the blanket up around me. Tom turned me to my side, facing him. He'd propped his elbow up and cradled the side of his head in his hand.

I rested my head on the pillow and set my hand on his chest. "Your heart is really pounding," I whispered.

"I want to tell you something, Red."

I nodded. Now my heart thumped with a wave of panic. No, not panic, but fear maybe? Uncertainty?

"I love you, Dakota, and I want to be with you in every way."

I popped my head up. "You love me?" Okay, that was good, but then why didn't he want to make love with me?

"I was pretty much hooked on you from day one, and when I realized you were the Patronus, I knew we'd be together when you were ready."

Tears stung at my eyes. "Oh my gosh, Tom. That is the most fantastic thing anyone's ever said to me."

"I don't want to pressure you, though. Only when you're ready."

"I am ready, but you said you can't." I swallowed the tears down. "Why can't you?"

He ran his fingers through my hair, draping some of it over my shoulders, like my own personal blanket. His forefinger traveled along my collarbone then down to the tip of my bra. I was sure my heart would burst through my chest.

His gaze bore into me. "I'm ready, too, but the Patronus and Melace can't be together until they are wed."

My heart flopped. I cleared the grapefruit-sized lump that choked my throat. "Um, wed? As in-um-marriage?"

"The bond we share as Melace and Patronus goes beyond human marriage. It's more powerful and forever binding." He curled his fingers around the nape of my neck sending gooseflesh over my skin. "It's more than a certificate of paper and a wedding night."

"What is it?"

"An official ceremony, dedicating ourselves to each other and our call to banish evil from the earth." He rested his head on my pillow, his nose inches from mine. His finger traced my lips, snagging on the bottom one. "Remember how I said you have to mentally accept this, then spiritually, then physically?"

Realization dawned on me. "Physically. Meaning, like, making love?"

He nodded. "That's part of it."

"Is that what Smith meant, then? When he said he'd killed us before we united physically? I was trying to ask you about that before, but we got interrupted."

"Yes. That's what he meant."

"Why? What happens then?" I scooted closer so the warmth of his body could chase the chill settling in.

"Remember you got stronger when you admitted to Sean that what we were was bigger than us all? You were able to shoot electricity from your hands instead of having to touch what you wanted to electrocute?"


He palmed my stomach, his thumb caressing the fabric of my bra. "Us bonding, physically, consummates our destinies. Smith must know that and that's why he had us killed before we could complete our bond."

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