"Exactly?" he repeated. That earned him the expected eye-roll, at least. She shoved at him until he sat up, then curled her knees into her chest, frowning.
"Yes, exactly, Gabriel. Love is the something wrong."
He shook his head, not sure what exactly he was hearing. "Are you saying ... are you still upset that..."
Then Rowan did look at him, and what he saw in those exotic, otherworldly eyes stunned him into shocked silence.
"I think I love you, damn it. And I don't have a clue what to do about it."
Please tell me that did not just come out of my mouth. Please ...
Rowan stared at Gabriel in horror.
She hadn't meant to say it out loud. She hadn't even meant to think it, but the realization had just sort of landed on her all at once. All she'd wanted to do was enjoy her triumph, not to mention the tall, dark, and handsome spoils of that triumph, without raining it by getting all introspective again. And really, the whole thing had gone off even more beautifully than she'd imagined. The look on Gabriel's face, not to mention on the faces of those annoying creatures ogling him, had been priceless. Their dance ... she'd never danced with any man quite like that before. It had been perfect. It hadn't even bothered her that he'd hauled her out in his arms when she'd planned on dragging him out. She had won. Gabriel was hers. Life was good. And then he'd had to ask what she'd said, and she couldn't bring herself to say the words. All she could think of was talking about weddings, and rings, and of what he might see in her eyes when she told him. And suddenly, she knew.
She loved him. There it was, just like that. As though it was the simplest thing in the world, instead of the absolute worst thing that could happen. Being mated was one thing, and bad enough in its way. Love, though ...
Rowan winced, as much at her own muddled thoughts as at the expression on Gabriel's face. He looked absolutely floored. It was a look she might have enjoyed putting there had it not been for the subject involved. But it was out now, and there would be no taking it back.
Strangely, she wasn't entirely sure she wanted to. That might depend on Gabriel, she guessed. This was all new to her. To Gabriel as well. That much was painfully obvious.
"I don't think I can discuss this with you unless you stop looking at me like I've grown a third eye," she said.
"You love me?" he asked, sounding as though he'd recently sustained some sort of head injury.
"Yes. I ... yes, I love you." She nodded, hoping it would get easier to say as time went on. Right now, it was a little like chewing on shards of glass. It hardly seemed possible; her kind did not take mates, did not love the men they took. But they had once, she reminded herself. They had loved men, Wolf shifters like Gabriel. And now the two were united once again. She would try to focus on that right now, and deal with the numerous impossibilities later.
Gabriel's eyes were glazed. "Really?" Rowan arched a brow. "Yes, Gabriel. Really." "You actually love me, you're serious?" She looked at the ceiling and prayed for patience. "You're being an ass, Gabriel." She was just beginning to wonder whether she had made an even bigger mistake than she'd thought when a beautiful grin lit Gabriel's face like the sun after a storm. His eyes, those forest-colored eyes, glowed with a fierce joy that took her breath away. And despite everything, her past, her misgivings, the terrifying uncertainty surrounding her future, her doubts about Gabriel vanished like so much smoke. This was right. No matter what was to come, this was right.
He grasped her hands, then touched her face, smoothing her hair from her eyes, his hands roaming restlessly as though he was afraid she would suddenly disappear.
"You love me," he said softly. "Thank God, then. Thank God for that."
She smiled. "I prefer to thank the Goddess."
"Whatever," he growled on a laugh, gathering her against his chest, touching his forehead to hers. "We can save the theological arguments for later. I'd like to bask for now, thanks."
But as she snuggled into his embrace, and Gabriel began to trail soft kisses down her jaw, Rowan's pleasure clouded. She had given him her heart. Was she not entitled to his? He must have felt her stiffen, because he immediately pulled back to look at her, concerned. He rubbed a thumb across her cheek, frowning.
"What's this, now? Don't be sorry already. I can be much more irritating than this, I swear."
"No, no," she said. "It's just ... I thought ..." She trailed off, searching for the right words. And she found them, to her surprise, in her past, on the night she had refused a man who had said he was incapable of giving her the one thing she would demand from a marriage.
"Will you love me?" she asked, her voice soft, afraid to hear the answer. Would a man who was still, in his heart, a warrior give her such a precious gift? Or would he say, as Lucien had, that he could give her anything but? That his kind were incapable of such a weakening emotion?
Gabriel's eyes cleared at once. "Rowan," he said, his voice rough. "I'm sorry. I just assumed you knew
She shook her head, heart thudding painfully in her chest. What should she have known? That only Drakkyn women were capable of love? That Gabriel would never be able to give her his heart?
"I've loved you almost from the moment I saw you." He grinned as he remembered. "I mistook it for annoyance at first, but it wasn't long before I figured it out."
"And were still annoyed," Rowan guessed, sliding her arms around his neck with a relief so great she was dizzy from it. He loved her. She loved him. Such a simple thing that meant everything.
"Only sometimes," Gabriel replied, nuzzling her hair. "Like when you're burning up my bed and then locking me out of my own room. Or when you decide to climb trees to get away from me. Or when ..."
"Stop," Rowan laughed, nipping his ear. "That's a great deal more than sometimes."
"And yet I still love you," Gabriel sighed, pressing a kiss to her temple. "I may be insane, but I'm happy. Or I will be once we've taken care of our dragon friend and you and I are properly wed."
Wed. The word sent chills of both fear and anticipation through her. She would be breaking with tradition to do it, but then it was a tradition that had started when the arukhin had been lost to them. And that was the least of the problems that now faced them. Gabriel made it all sound so easy ... she wished it were truly so. Rowan drew back, placing a hand on either side of his handsome, beloved face, so open and excited. She knew that there could be no more secrets between them if she were even to try and accept him as her one mate. For them to have a chance at a future, there was a fight ahead of them. One he was going to have to let her lead.
"I'll take you as my mate, Gabriel. As my husband. But there are things that may change your mind, things I can't compromise on."
He cocked his head to one side, listening. "Such as?"
Rowan took a deep breath and then blew it out. "Such as the fact that I am still Dyana of the Dyadd Morgaine, whoever might be left. I have a responsibility to them. I can't stay on Earth. And I can't demand that you leave here when your family is here. So where does that leave us?"
His look was unreadable as he considered her. "I've been thinking a lot about that, actually-what we would do if you decided to open your eyes and embrace the wonder that is me." He smirked, and she couldn't help but return it, despite her apprehension. "And I want to be wherever you are. I've never really been sure where I belong, you know. And I've been looking for something, something I didn't even understand, for years. But I've found it." He traced a rough thumb down her cheek, eyes warm and full of what he felt for her. "I'm not about to let that go."
She shook her head, hardly daring to believe it. "You'll be giving up everything."
"Nope. I'm gaining everything. And it's not as though I have to give up my family, Rowan. Not as long as they have the Stone of Destiny. Anyway, I love them, but vacations with them are quite enough."
She didn't know what to say. She had doubted him, and fought him, and here he was ready and willing to leave behind his entire life just to be with her. There weren't words enough to encompass the tumultuous swirl of gratefulness, guilt, and, above all, love so overwhelming that it threatened to rob her of her wits entirely. So instead she drew him to her, putting every ounce of that feeling into a single, soul-searing kiss. His lips were warm and soft beneath hers, and it was so tempting to simply succumb and let only passion come through. But she was gentle, rubbing her mouth against his, catching his breath in dozens of tiny sips until she could stand it no longer, and had to have more.
He wound his fingers in her hair, his soft groan as she let him taste her with his tongue sending lazy ripples of pleasure coursing through her entire body. Her hands were restless, as though they might be able to imprint the memory of each part of him in her mind forever simply by moving over them. She rubbed his broad shoulders, his strong back, stroked down his arms over muscles that jumped at her light touch. And all the while, she let herself drown in his kiss, sliding her tongue against his in a slow, seductive rhythm.
Two halves of the same whole. Gabriel had been right.
Rowan finally drew back, but only reluctantly. She knew she could lose herself now, could take the pleasure and leave the rest until later. But she wanted to be honest where she hadn't been, wanted to tell Gabriel what she needed to. Even if it angered him.
He isn't Lucien, she told herself firmly, and knew it was true. No matter what she ever did to him, this man would never hurt her or hers. She had to believe that he would also understand that there were some things she needed to do on her own.
"Well, you can't stop now," Gabriel said, his voice a low, sexy growl. He tried to pull her back to him, but stilled when Rowan put a hand to his chest.
"There's something else," she said.
"More than that we'll be making an interdimensional move?" He wrinkled his nose. "You're sure it can't wait until morning?"