“I’m so sorry.” Iona rubbed his warm, bare chest, hating how the pain had torn at him. “But Dr. Murdock is going to help you?”

“He started today.” Eric shrugged the shirt off and turned to show her the deep gouge in his right shoulder blade, the wound already closed and scarring. “I told him to get his scalpel and dig the damned implant out of me. It was so tiny, like a dot. I couldn’t believe something that small caused me that much pain.”

“What did you do with it? You didn’t let him keep it, did you?”

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Eric’s smile was feral. “I crushed it while he watched, appalled that I’d destroy something that unique and expensive. Then I told him to dredge through his memory for any other Shifter he’d done this to, and find them, tell them, and fix them.”

“Good,” Iona said, her anger rising. “Good.”

“He needs to give me a few injections, he said, to put my adrenaline balance back the way it should be,” Eric said. “But it’s a start. I already feel better.”

Iona slid her fingers along the puckered skin of the gouge. “Are you sure there was only one implant?”

“He says so. I told him that if I discovered I had more, I’d come back and break his neck, so I’m pretty sure he told me the truth.”

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“Good,” Iona said again.

Eric turned to face her again, stepping between her parted thighs, hands sliding up her arms. “But I would have died without your touch.”

Iona caressed his chest, not liking that he’d gone through so much. “Are you sure you’re all right?”

“Like I said, as long as I’m with you, I’ll be fine. The touch of the mate, your touch, is what kept me from going insane, no matter how close I came.” His breath warmed her cheek. “The Goddess sent you right when I needed you. I can talk all I want about the science, but you’re what keeps me alive. You always will be.”

She leaned forward and kissed his chest, feeling the heat of his body, the pound of his heart under her lips. “Then I’ll be here. I’ll be here always.”

“That was the plan.” Eric’s voice rumbled pleasantly around her. “Love you, Iona.”

“Love you too.” She slanted him a smile. “If you’re feeling better, then I can do this…” She let her fingers become claws and lightly scratched him down his chest. “And this.” She rocked up, scraping his throat with her teeth, giving him another love bite.

“Mmm. You can do anything you want, love. It’s not mating that hurt me, it was anger, and the need to protect you.” He licked her cheek. “Mating just makes me a little wild.”

Iona slanted a smile up at him. “Are these walls soundproof?”

His eyes flicked to Shifter. “Why do you think I brought you down here?”

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Eric pushed her back to the bed, tearing her panties off her as she went down. He unbuckled, unzipped, and got out of his pants, then climbed over her, naked, trapping her wrists above her head.

“I think we started this way,” Iona said, her excitement rising.

“I held back,” Eric said, a growl in his voice. “I didn’t want to hurt you. I might have if I took you fully before you were my true mate.” He came down to her. “Which you are now.”

“And I always will be.”

Eric’s smile blazed, and the last vestiges of loneliness she’d seen in him vanished.

“And I’ll always be yours, Iona.” He nuzzled her. “Mate of my heart.”

Iona’s smile grew wicked. “Mate of my heart,” she whispered. “With the best ass.” She drew her foot up the back of his leg. “Don’t hold back now.”

Eric’s smile vanished. His weight pressed her down, his kiss hot and raw. He growled as he moved his mouth to her neck, nipping and biting, his c**k hard against her abdomen.

Iona twined her leg around his, urging him. Eric pulled her upright, still on his knees, and holding her hips, he slid her down onto him. She groaned in pleasure as he filled her, her fingers turning to claws to dig into his shoulders. Eric widened her, filling her, winding up her mating frenzy until she wanted to scream with it.

His growls continued, the male Shifter finding his pleasure in his mate. He held her hard against him, Eric kneeling back, their bodies entwined, face-to-face. Eric nipped and kissed her, his c**k high and hard inside her.

Then the joining grew wild. Iona never knew exactly what happened, but they were grappling with each other, licking, biting, laughing, shouting. The mate bond twined around Iona’s heart as their frenzy grew, changing her mating hunger into pure bliss.

“I love you.” Iona was never sure if she yelled it or whispered it.

Eric’s leopard eyes shone hot and green. “I love you, Iona. Mate of my heart.”

She was on her back now, with her mate on top of her, his warm weight making her rejoice. Her mating frenzy floated into the darkness as the mate bond grew, binding her forever to this man, this leader, this protector she loved with all her heart.

The panther inside Iona smiled and gave a little rumble of satisfaction.

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