Francesca averted her eyes as they walked along the empty streets hand in hand. He was so intensely male, moved so fluidly. She found herself wanting to brush the waves of his hair, smooth the lines from his face. His mouth was so perfect. She glanced at him from beneath her lashes. Her lips tingled, softened, aching to feel his. There was the sound of his voice when he talked to her, soft, sexy, intimate as sin. Gabriel flashed a smile at her and Francesca felt her instant response. He brushed against her while they walked, the slightest of movements, yet it set her heart pounding and sent tiny tongues of fire flicking over her skin. Her palms itched to feel the hard muscles of his body, to run her hands over his chest, his belly. She glanced lower at the material stretched so tight. She ached to stroke and caress, to slide her mouth over him just to see his reaction. To hear his groan.
She could think of nothing else. Her breasts ached and between her legs liquid heat gathered in invitation. Her clothes felt cumbersome, far too tight. She wondered what he would do if she suddenly yanked her blouse off and offered him her breasts right there on the street. All she could think about was Gabriel. His hard body, his hands as they moved over her skin. The way he said the most beautiful things to her. The way he wanted to help a young stranger who didn't know what love was supposed to be. The way he had stepped in front of her body, shielding her before a brute of a man could strike her. Everything about him was extraordinary and she was consumed by a sudden need to hold him, touch him, kiss every inch of him.
A store appeared in front of them, deserted now, long after business hours. "My friend owns this store. She's given me a key and the code for the alarm. I just leave the inventory slip for her and she charges it to my account." Her voice was husky, sexy, a blatant invitation. "We can go in and find a few necessary things for Skyler." Her hand was shaking as she turned the key in the lock.
Gabriel watched her intently with his black velvet eyes as she punched in the code for the alarm system. The store was dark, deserted. The silence was broken only by their ragged breathing. She turned to him, her hand brushing his face. Her hand found his hair unerringly, fingers tunneling in the thick strands.
A soft sound escaped his throat. "Francesca, you have to stop before there is no going back for us. I am no angel as you often persist in thinking me. I can read every thought in your mind and what you are doing to my body is nothing less than a sin." His thumbs stroked caresses over her jaw, traced the outline of her lips.
"Really?" Her hands tugged at his shirt until it was free from his trousers. Immediately her palms slid over his bare chest, her fingers splayed wide to take in as much of his skin as she could. She traced every defined muscle, aching for him. "I've always thought sinning might be an interesting experience." There was invitation in her voice. Blatant seduction.
His hands bunched in her hair, drew her head back so that his glittering eyes raked her face. "I hunger for you, Francesca, hunger.
You cannot touch me with your mind and your body and not expect me to react. It is like a raw craving in my bloodstream and I know it is there for all time. Do you know how many times I dreamed of you? How many times I woke in the night alone without you?"
"I did the same," she said softly, her eyes meeting his steadily. She did not flinch away from the concentration of sheer passion gathered in his gaze. "Gabriel – " She whispered his name, leaning forward to press her lips against his chest. Her mouth swirled heat over his pulse. "You talk too much when I need action." She lifted her head so that her dark eyes laughed at him. "You do action, don't you? My clothes are heavy and troublesome," she added as she leaned forward to flick his flat nipple with her tongue. She stood on her toes to press her swelling breasts tightly against his chest.
Gabriel couldn't bear even the thinnest of materials separating their bodies. He pushed her blouse from her shoulders, tossing it aside in the heat of the moment. His palms slid gently over her bare flesh, tracing the delicate line of her bones, the curve of her breasts. His breath escaped his lungs in a long rush as he cupped the soft weight in his hands, his thumbs stroking her nipples.
The store was silent, mannequins staring blankly through the racks of clothes. Gabriel drew her deeper into the interior of the room, away from the windows, into the shadows where they would have privacy from anyone walking along the street. The heat and hunger of the Carpathian mating ritual was upon him, brought on by his lifemate's erotic thoughts. She was beautiful, inside and out. It was exciting and arousing to know that she wanted him so badly, that she knew exactly what she wanted and would demand it of him.
Her lifemate. Francesca reveled in her right to touch his body, to be able to bring him to a firestorm of need so that he burned for her in the same way she burned for him. His touch on her bare skin was torment and pleasure. When he slowly bent his dark head to find her breast with the heat of his moist mouth, she trembled with an urgency she had never known before. Her fingers crushed his hair, holding him to her. "It's almost too much feeling, Gabriel. I don't know if I can take it."
His hands were shaping her body, pushing aside her clothes while his palms and fingers lingered and savored, stroked and caressed. "Yes you can, you were made for this," he whispered softly. He bent his head lower to lick her flat stomach. "You were made for me." Easily he lifted her to the top of the counter, seating her on the edge. "You were made for long nights, Francesca, long lazy nights of making love." His hands caressed her thighs, and he pressed his palm to her hot wet core, smiled when her body clenched and she shuddered with pleasure. His head dipped lower so that his silken hair brushed her sensitive thighs and a soft moan escaped her throat.
Francesca cried out at the first touch of his warm breath, the first lap of his tongue.
"Do you know what you taste like?"
He asked the question softly, intimately, in her mind. His voice scorched the inside of her mind as his tongue was scorching the core of her body. She could feel her body winding tighter and tighter, pleasure building in force and intensity so that the release rushed over her with such power she could only clutch his hair as wave after wave swamped her.
"Gabriel." She said his name, breathed his name, drew the masculine scent of him into her lungs.
"We are just getting started, beautiful one," he answered softly, raising his head to smile at her.
He was so handsome, so perfect for her, Francesca could feel tears burning in her throat. There in the night, the night that called to something wild in them, he looked at her with eyes burning with desire. Hot. Urgent. Demanding. She had waited so long for his eyes to look at her like that.
And then he was driving sanity from her mind, replacing it with frenzied passion. Francesca could think of nothing but having his body buried deep within hers. Once more his palm pushed against her sensitive core, and then he slowly inserted his finger, all the time watching her face, watching the pleasure wash over her as her tight sheath clenched around him.
"It is not enough." There was a smile in his voice; he bent his head to taste her again even as his finger slowly eased out of her. Two fingers stretched her, pushed deep so that she gasped with pleasure. "And that is not enough." There was pure masculine satisfaction in his voice, on his face.
She could feel it again, the hot pressure, molten lava building and building until her entire body was in danger of imploding. He pushed into her, caressed, stroked, his tongue teased and danced. "This is what I want, honey, more, come for me. I want to see it on your face, I want to know you feel it, too." His voice softened, went husky. "Come for me, my love, just let go."
With a choking cry she let herself be taken over the edge, her body clenching and spiraling out of her control. His mouth heightened the effect, bringing her an endless orgasm that seemed to go on forever and yet was not enough. She closed her eyes and just gave herself up to pure feeling, to the beauty of his hands and tongue in her body doing slow, merciless things that only made the fire hotter. She was writhing now, her hips unable to stay still beneath the assault on her senses. Then he added his mind, thrusting deeply into hers, picturing things he wanted to do before he did them, so that she could feel her body through his mind, the silken heat, the clenching, tight muscles.
Francesca could feel Gabriel's mounting desire, the way his body burned and ached, hardening to the point of pain. His hands were becoming rougher, more demanding, and she reveled in the thought of his own loss of control. "I want you inside me, Gabriel," she murmured softly, a demand. "I want your body in mine. I don't want you to treat me as if I might break either." She said it deliberately, knowing what it would do to his body, knowing he was caught up in the same storm of fire as she was.
She looked beyond him to the bank of mirrors, saw his perfectly formed masculine body, the defined muscles, the long shiny hair, and her body fragmented again, an explosion of such force it rocked her, shook her, so that she cried out with the fury of it. "Gabriel, now, right now."
"On the floor, where I can go deep, I want to be so deep inside you, you will never get me out." The admission was torn from him as he dragged her from the counter and laid her on the thick carpet. He followed her down, needing her so much he was thick and hard and aching with urgency.
Francesca lifted her hips to meet him as he surged forward, penetrating her, filling her, her body slick and wet and hot, coiling around his tightly. Her breath escaped; his left his body. The rush was addicting and complete. Gabriel caught her hips in his hands, and set a rhythm, using hard, sure strokes that drove deeper and deeper to find her soul.
She turned her head to look at them in the mirror, to see the beauty of their bodies coming together in perfect accord. His face was etched with concentration, with ecstasy, with total focus. She knew what he wanted before he did, every small adjustment of her body so he could penetrate even deeper, fill her until they were both gasping with the pleasure of it. She lifted her head, watching him intently as she flicked his chest with her tongue, lapped at a bead of moisture. His hands tightened, his body clenched. Her teeth nipped him gently, scraped in a caress over his skin.
Gabriel threw back his head, his long hair flying out in a silken halo for one moment. His body took hers, harder and faster, on and on, winding her body tighter until she thought they would both spin out of control. She swirled her tongue lazily.
"I will burn up!"
His voice was nearly pleading, a command, a plea, a husky, sensual caress. Francesca rewarded him, sinking her teeth deep to join them together body and soul and mind. White lightning arced between them and set them on fire. Her body was no longer her own, but his to do with whatever he needed, whatever he wanted. His body belonged to her. A fair exchange when she was crying out with her release, soaring into space, riding the waves of the sea.
Gabriel went with her, shouting her name to the heavens, to the silent watching mannequins, into an unnamed place of sheer feeling. Francesca swept her tongue across the two tiny pinpricks, gasping for breath, her heart pounding out the same rhythm as his, shocked at the intensity of their wild lovemaking.
Gabriel held her close to him, bracing himself with one hand to keep his weight from crushing her. "Are you all right?" he asked gently. He brushed her hair with his free hand, his dark gaze searching hers soberly.
"Of course I'm fine. It was beautiful, beyond words. I wanted you, Gabriel. You are so careful of me." She traced his mouth with a fingertip. "I appreciate your consideration, I really do, but I am a strong woman and I make my own decisions. I would not be lying beneath you, your body in mine, unless it was exactly what I desired."
She was in his mind, she could feel his guilt, yet he was a very adept ancient. There was something else there, something she couldn't figure out.
He bent his head and kissed her. Thoroughly. Completely. A kiss that melted her insides and brought unexpected tears to her eyes. "I am amazed at you, Francesca. I thought I would never be surprised in this world again, by anything or anyone, but you are beyond anything I have ever known." He kissed her again, gently this time, leisurely. Reluctantly he withdrew from her, moving away from her to climb easily to his feet. He reached down and drew her up. "The floor must be hard. I think we will need a bed next time." He said the words carefully, as if afraid she would think he was pressuring her.
Francesca couldn't help herself; it was rather exhilarating to have so much power over an ancient Carpathian. She leaned forward and gave him a kiss of her own. Slow and hot and blatantly wanting more. "I will never be able to come to this store again without thinking of this night." She moved away from him, cleaning and clothing herself in the easy manner of her people. There were tremendous advantages to being Carpathian, things she had been unable to do while keeping up the illusion of being human. It was fun, enjoyable, those little details she had tried to keep out of her mind.
"I'll find a few things for Skyler while you try to catch your breath," she teased, flashing him a saucy grin.
He followed her around the store, watching her carefully choose clothing she thought the young teen would be comfortable with. He knew she intended to buy her all the latest fashions, but this first shopping trip was simply to provide comfort. He found a stuffed animal, a fluffy wolf with bright blue eyes, and was immediately drawn to it. "I want to get this for her. It is telling me it needs to go home with us."
Francesca laughed at him. "That is from Dimitri's foundation. He guards the wolves in the wilds of Russia now and writes books with beautiful photographs. He was a child when you knew him, do you remember? A portion of the sales goes to his wolf foundation. He has saved many of our wolf brethren from an early demise or capture."
"It is good to know Dimitri is still with us. He was different as a child. A loner already, long before his fledging days were past, and there was a dark core of violence in him, the mark of a good hunter, yet often a sign of an early turning to the darkness."
"Well, he turned his life in this last century to preserving the wolves in the wild. He is a renowned scientist and his foundation is flourishing. I'm not surprised that you would be drawn to his lifelike stuffed animals. Each one is a work of art."
Gabriel bared his white teeth at her. "I have good instincts." There was a wealth of innuendo in his voice.
Francesca laughed softly and wrote out a quick inventory of their purchases and a note asking her friend to send the items to her address the following evening. She did a quick automatic check of the store before setting the alarm. "I like being with you, Gabriel. Come on."
Gabriel tightened his fingers around Francesca's, making certain there was only acceptance of what had transpired between them in her mind. She had wanted time to adjust to the idea of a lifemate but the chemistry between them seemed to sizzle with the slightest contact. He had intended a slow courtship, to win her gently, not leap on her body every time he looked at her. Her strides were not nearly as long as his, so he consciously shortened the length of each step. It amazed him how right it felt just to walk through the night with her. "If I never have another chance to do this with you again, Francesca, thank you for this walk." It came out before he could censor the words. He glanced down at her bent head. "I do not mean to make you uncomfortable. But I have never done this. Just walking in the night, no hurry, no plan, just drifting along. And I certainly never had the opportunity to have a beautiful woman at my side. It may seem a simple pleasure to you, but it is unique for me."
She glanced up at him, so that he had a quick glimpse of the sweep of her long lashes and then the perfection of her profile. "I'm certain you had plenty of opportunities, Gabriel." He was extraordinarily good-looking in his dark, masculine way, and she knew he would attract women easily. "You can't make me believe you went centuries without…" She trailed off when he stopped abruptly. He was so good at pleasing her, so good at knowing exactly what she needed.
Gabriel caught her chin in his hand, forcing her head up to look at him. "I am a hunter, Francesca, a Carpathian hunter. I did not feel passion as you think I did. There was no desire for a woman. I wanted there to be desire and I merged at times to see what the feeling was like for those humans I occasionally met. But I never wanted anyone until I awoke from the dead and heard your voice." A faint smile touched his mouth briefly, then was gone. "The feelings you produce in me are far different from the ones created by humans. Much more intense and urgent." He dropped his hand away from her. "My words put pressure on you that you do not need at this time and I do not want it to be so. I really wanted to respect the distance you wish to put between us. I had every intention of waiting until you were more at ease with our relationship."
She laughed softly. "You can hardly take the blame for our lovemaking, Gabriel. That was entirely my doing."
A small smile flitted across his face. "I do not know if I can honestly say that is so, but I think you have had enough adventure for several risings."
"You must learn to say days or nights," she corrected gently. "This is the age of computers. It is dangerous how quickly information can be exchanged. You have been away a long time. I know you assimilate information at a rapid rate but technology is making things much more difficult to hide our presence from the world. You are used to a world where the human threat is nearly nonexistent, but that has changed with the age of computers." His hand brushed hers and without thinking she entwined her fingers with his as they began to stroll along the sidewalk.
"I must admit I have never considered humans a threat; they are easily managed."
"You sound very arrogant, Gabriel, although I sense you don't mean to be. Our people are in dire straits, our race all but doomed. I keep up on the news in a roundabout way, so I know what is going on. There are some human women with extraordinary psychic talent who are compatible with our race. The Prince of our people has a lifemate who once was human."
There were several moments of silence. Once again, without conscious thought, Gabriel had reached out to share this new knowledge with Lucian. He touched his twin easily, lightly, as he had done for nearly two thousand years. Lucian was immersed in a complicated text he was finding highly interesting. That always astonished Gabriel. That Lucian had retained his need for knowledge. He had always been a sponge soaking up information. Now he reciprocated, sharing all that he had learned of the modern world, flooding Gabriel with so many facts, he began to laugh.
"What is it?" Francesca asked softly, seeing genuine affection for just a moment in the depths of his eyes.
Gabriel broke the contact instantly, swearing softly in the ancient language. Why didn't he think? It had never mattered before, his ingrained habit of reaching out to his brother. Even after Lucian had turned, he hadn't fought the habit. Why should he bother? The more knowledge they each had, the better the battle. It was very different now. This time it could cost Francesca her life. Gabriel had battled Lucian many times over the last few centuries.
He had inflicted mortal wounds on more than one occasion, yet he had never bested Lucian, never managed to destroy him. He had no reason to think the outcome of their battle would be any different now. He could not afford the luxury of a mistake. Lucian must not know of Francesca's existence.
"What is it?" Francesca repeated, this time shaking his arm. "You went from smiling happily to looking like a wolf, your eyes still and watchful. What happened in so short a time?" Her voice was soft and compelling, a mixture of concern and compassion.
Gabriel shook his head. "I have made mistake after mistake. Resting these centuries has done me little good. It is confusing to wake and feel emotions, to see colors. Everything is vivid and bright. Emotions are violent and raw, hard to keep under control. There is an ever-present craving in my body for yours."
Gabriel was speaking so thoughtfully, so matter-of-factly, Francesca felt he was musing aloud.
"I led that vampire straight to you, you know that." Gabriel raked a hand through the shiny mass of his blue-black hair. "All this time, you successfully managed to hide. Now I have called attention to your presence, and he will not be the only one to seek you out."
He stopped and faced her, his hand curling around the nape of her neck. "I should never have made my claim without your consent. I should have sought your safety above my own needs and desires. I have wronged you in an unforgivable way."
Francesca touched his mouth. His words and the sincerity in his voice were turning her world upside down. She didn't know what she wanted anymore. Away from him it was all so clear, but when he was close and he allowed her to see into his tortured soul, she felt altogether different. "You could not have taken my body so easily, Gabriel, had I not wished it to be so. I was not under compulsion."
His fingers were massaging the back of her neck, his thumbs brushing intimately along the delicate line of her jaw. Each caress sent heat spiraling through her body and little flames dancing over her skin. Lost in his regret, Gabriel didn't seem to notice the way her body responded to his touch. "I woke you with the command to come to me in need. Your body responded to that command and to my deliberate arousal of you. I should have waited until you had time to know me. You should have been courted the way you deserved."
"It wasn't just you, Gabriel. I am no fledging. I recognized the 'push' as I awakened. I am not without power of my own. You couldn't have taken me so easily without my consent. I wanted you. I wanted to feel you, to feel what it was like." She confessed it bravely, taking her share of the blame without hesitation. "You were not forcing my compliance. In any case, sooner or later the Carpathian cycle would have begun and we would have had little choice in the matter."
"I said the ritual words to bind us without your consent."
"Males do so all the time, Gabriel. It is the way of our people and has been so for thousands of years. You have not done anything so unforgivable. This situation is difficult for both of us."
He dropped his arms and swung away from her. "Why do you accept these things so easily, Francesca? Why do you not condemn me as you should? Your anger would go a long way toward…" He shoved his hand through his hair again. "There I go again, wanting it to be easy. I am selfish, sweetheart, very selfish, and I have tied you to me."
"Gabriel? You are distraught. You have need of me?"
The voice came unexpectedly, easily in his head. He fought with himself to keep his mind blank, to ensure that no information went toward that perfect voice. Lucian had always been able to command with his voice. He could make anyone believe anything with that voice. That weapon. Gabriel had never heard anything quite so beautiful. Lucian had retained that gift even when he had lost his soul for all eternity.
When Gabriel refused to respond, the laughter came, a taunt, almost lazy. It chilled Gabriel to the bone. He had to protect Francesca from Lucian's wiles. His twin was cunning and smart. Ruthless. Merciless. Gabriel knew better than any other. He had seen him in action for two thousand years.
Francesca laid her hand on Gabriel's arm. "You are trying to tell me something but you haven't gotten there yet."
"You are with child." He stated the four words clearly, starkly.
Francesca's enormous black eyes went wide with shock. "That cannot be. It is not so easy. Why do you think our race has bordered on the brink of extinction? Our women are able to bear children only every few hundred years. I am a healer. I studied this for many decades, determined to unlock the key to our bodies so that we could conceive more often and be more successful in the carrying. I had wished to be able to understand why we conceive males instead of females but I could not find the answers." She shook her head. "No, this cannot be."
"You know I speak the truth. I knew our women can only conceive every so many years, and that they manipulate that time, but I also knew the chances were very good that, as you had never conceived, you would be ripe to do so and I took full advantage of that."
She stared up at him a moment in silence, in shock. "But I am a woman, a healer. You could never have done such a thing without my knowledge…" She trailed off as she pressed her hands to her flat stomach in a kind of wonder. "It cannot be so." Even as she denied it, she closed her eyes and sought inside herself. There it was. The miracle of life. The thing she had longed for. Cried for. Wanted more than anything. The very thing she had given up ever having. Growing. Changing. Cells dividing. A child. She wanted to be upset. She had given up the idea several hundred years earlier. She was prepared to go to the next world. She was not prepared for such an event.
Francesca raised her head so that her eyes met his. "You really did this?"
"I would like to say I knew you wanted a child above all else. I had read that in your memories. I had also read your resignation and acceptance that you would not. I would like to tell you I did such a thing for you, or even more nobly, for a cause, for the continuation of our race, but the plain truth is much uglier than that. I did it so that I would not lose you. So that you would be tied to this world and not escape me into the next. Until Lucian is dead, I could not follow you. I did not want to be alone anymore. I acted out of selfishness. I changed the direction of your life inadvertently so many centuries ago and now I have deliberately changed it again."
Francesca just stood there, shock registering on her face. "A baby. I had all but forgotten the possibility of a baby." There was no condemnation in her voice, only a soft musing as if she couldn't comprehend such a thing.
"I am sorry, Francesca. There is no real way to make amends." Gabriel rubbed his forehead with the palm of his hand. "There is no excuse and there can be no forgiveness."
She wasn't listening to him; her mind was turned inward. She had longed for a baby, a family. More than anything she had wanted a child. Even if she had chosen to spend the last years of her life with Brice, she would never have brought a child to their union. Her pregnancy was a miracle, and she couldn't quite come to grips with the idea. "A baby. I do not remember what it is like to dream of such a thing. It cannot be, Gabriel. How is this? How did I not know?"
"You are not listening to me, Francesca," he said, his black eyes searching the sky overhead as if it might offer answers. He rubbed his temple. He needed a way out of the mess he had created with his arrogant decision, yet there was none. He had to be honest with her. He respected Francesca too much to give her anything less than the truth. In any case, she was his lifemate and eventually she would read his memories.
He should have waited, taken his time. He could have stopped her from choosing the dawn if there was such a need. But he had taken the attitude that she belonged to him and owed him complete surrender.
Francesca took a deep breath and laid her hand on his arm. She could easily read his inner turmoil, his anger at himself. In truth, she didn't know how she felt, but she didn't like the way his mind was so consumed with guilt.
Gabriel, her legendary hunter.
He had given so much to his people, had always done the right thing. Francesca didn't have it in her to condemn him. "In your defense, Gabriel, it was not a conscious decision on your part."
"Francesca!" Gabriel stepped away from her, unable to bear her touch when he had so wronged her. "You are touching me, yet you do not hear me. You are not seeing what is before your eyes. I do not want to start a relationship with dishonesty between us. Of course it was a conscious decision. I manipulated the outcome of our joining just as I aroused you with more than my body." He shook his head in wonder. "You really are the opposite of me. You cannot conceive of such deception and I cannot conceive of such goodness. See me, Francesca, see me with all my faults. I do not want you to accept me even in friendship merely because I am Carpathian and you are lonely for your homeland. I thought that it would be enough for me just to have you, but I find it is not. You do not know just how wronged you really are.
Lucian himself will be hunting you and I am not certain I can protect you from him."
Her eyes moved over his brooding good looks. "Of course you can, Gabriel. He has no power over you, not unless you allow such a thing." She tilted her head, her long flowing hair cascading down in a shiny raven's wing. "And you are far too hard on yourself. It is true I do not merge willingly or fully with you, but when I touch you I can read you. You wanted me to stay with you but you did not really act out of selfishness. You simply could not allow a Carpathian woman, any
Carpathian woman, to destroy herself. That precept was imprinted on you before you were born. Had I been another woman choosing to meet the dawn, you still would have found a way to stop me."
He looked down at the hand curled over his forearm. Very gently he captured it, brought it to the warmth of his mouth, an intimate, tender gesture that made her heart contract. "You take my breath away, Francesca. If I live another thousand years, I could never find anyone with your natural compassion. I do not deserve you."
A small smile curved her soft mouth. "Of course, you don't. I've known that from the first," she teased, wanting to ease the tension in him. "Come on, let's keep walking. I want to show you some of the sights."
Obediently Gabriel fell into step beside her, retaining possession of her hand. "You have not chastised me, not one word."
"What would be the point? Can I change what is? I cannot change the past. Why would I want to make you feel worse than you already do? Your remorse and regret are genuine. Chastisement will help neither of us. I don't really know what I'm feeling right now. I'll look at it later when I'm alone. All I know is I am very tired and at this moment strangely happy. It is a beautiful night and this city is truly a beautiful one. And there is no other I would rather share it with than you."
He had to look away from her, from the inner beauty shining out of her. Tears were burning in his eyes and he was ashamed. He didn't deserve her, he could never make up the terrible wrongs he had done to her, no matter how hard he tried. He shifted his body more protectively toward her as they walked along the nearly deserted streets swinging their hands together.