His fingertips began to knead the small of her back, and waves of relaxation rippled to all parts of her body. She was unaware of her knees giving way until his arms tightened around her to support her. In response, Annie pressed herself totally against him. She felt him sigh.

The world was reduced to a fragment of time where there was only the two of them, enclosed within the womb-like warmth and safety of the cabin, with a gentle fire to warm the areas of their bodies that weren’t being warmed by each other. The weather could grow cold and despondent outside, but it would never intrude on what they had at that moment: the companionship . . . the trust . . . the intimacy . . .

The promise of something more.

Faintly, Annie wondered if what she was feeling was a result of her injury. Loss of blood and extended bed rest often left people light-headed, didn’t it?

His hands had ceased their ministrations. Now they pressed lightly against the middle of her back.

No, they were holding her more firmly against him, she realized. He was holding her as she was meant to be held. Cherished. Loved.

She was molded to him, hip to thigh, and she felt no shame, no remorse. She belonged there. There was no arguing the fact. She wished she could stay like this forever. This . . . this feeling of happiness, she wanted to keep it. Can it. Bottle it. Preserve it. Whatever it took so that it would never go away and she would never, ever lose it. All because Rion made her feel like this.

Was he holding her tightly because he was worried she would fall to the floor? Why did he touch her like he did? Was it another kind of healing his people could perform?

So many questions, yet she didn’t care if any of them were answered. Not if it meant he would not let her go. Not if it meant he would never leave her.

Leave her.

A cold hand seized her heart inside her chest and squeezed. She shuddered from the thought.  “Rion . . .” She lifted her face to ask him. He shushed her and guided her head back to his chest with one hand. “Rion,” she tried again. “Please. I want to ask-”

“Hush. Your question can wait,” he interrupted again.

Knowing he wouldn’t give her time or the opportunity to ask, Annie tried again by asking outright.

“Will you be leaving me?”

His hands released her to cradle the sides of her face, lifting her gaze until her eyes met his. In the firelight he seemed more golden than the sun.  “Why must you ask?” he demanded softly.

“Because I know you’ll have to, sooner or later. At the next storm, or whenever the next biggest thunder boomer comes.”

Hot tears filled her eyes, and this sign of her weakness embarrassed her. How could she act any more foolish to him, she chided herself.   Mortified, Annie bit her lip and lowered her head.

Rion lifted her face once more as her tears overflowed and rolled down the backs of her cheeks. He watched one drop pass her earlobe.  “Why are you afraid of my leaving?”

“Because . . .” Her throat was caving in on her, making it difficult, if not impossible, to speak. She swallowed hard, dry, and tried again. “Because I don’t want you to leave.”


“Because . . . I’ll miss you.”

Lowering his face closer to hers, Rion repeated, “Why?”

“Because . . . you’re the best thing that’s ever happened to me.”

“I have placed an unnecessary burden on you. I have eaten your food, and created an even greater hardship on you, especially now that you have not been able to go into town and get more supplies to last you through the winter.”

Annie tried to shake her head. “You saved my life,” she insisted.

“As you saved mine,” he reminded her.

He looked deep into her eyes, eyes which had seen sights she would never experience. Eyes which reflected the wisdom of countless ages, and told her the inevitable that would come. Sooner or later, it would come. He did not belong on her world; he was only a visitor, and always would be. He would not stay.

He could not stay.

“Then come back to me,” Annie whispered as tears began to fall fast and warm. Come back to me. The same words he had used to bring her back to the living. The exact phrase he’d spoken to reach her in the darkness and draw her into his amber light. “Come back to-”

His mouth came down on hers with a gentleness that took her breath away. His lips found hers, took them, and Annie found herself drowning in his kiss. His arms enveloped her; his hands touched her in ways that were equally soothing and exciting.

Briefly he broke the kiss to taste her cheeks and her temples.  “Annie . . .”

“Don’t go,” she pleaded. A soft sob escaped her. She pressed her face into the hollow of his throat.

“My Annie . . .”