Sky leaned back against the soft warm sand. Ember lay beside her, his chest burnished a brilliant gold by the sun. Astonishment shot through her that that they were alone together on this secluded island paradise. Nothing to interrupt. Not even her past. She wouldn't let the shadows darken her time with him, although a pang hit her as her gaze strayed to the scars on his side left by his uncle Shade, and the newer scars, emblazoned across his chest and abdomen by her father.

No. I will not let him into this place. This is for only me and Ember.

Gentle waves lapped the beach. Deep turquoise water spread to the horizon, glittering with pinpoints of light as if gold shavings had been cast across its surface. In the distance a black shape lay across the blue like a blanket on the edge of the world. In the deep blue sky, the sun blazed like a benevolent god, shedding rays of warmth and light.

Sky wore a red dress, the wind halfheartedly playing with the hem of her skirt, tickling the skin just below her knees. Ember only wore a loose pair of blue pants, enticing her with what lay beneath, enhancing his gorgeous torso, his incomparable face chiseled out of bronze to match the perfection of their Winged ancestors.

He turned to her and her heart jumped. Desire threaded through her. His golden eyes struck her soul, intense love in them she knew she'd never deserve. She let his love wash over her, making her ache with desperate need.

The breeze swept a black lock of hair over his forehead. She longed to brush that bit of hair back, just for an excuse to touch him; they had barely touched since they got out of the skycar earlier that morning, after they'd flown south from the Portal. She had spread salve over his wounds, and they were healing, a delicate pink rather than a deep angry red, violent slashes branching out, crisscrossing, like a twisted version of a tattoo, branding him with vestiges of her father's lightning.

"You are so beautiful, my nectar."

A small smile tugged at her lips.

"What is it?"

"I am glad you said that, instead of…ambrosia." She almost choked at the word, sickly sweet, sticking in her throat.

Pain crossed his face. "He…said that to you?"

She nodded, not wanting to say more for fear she'd summon the images, the desperate fear she'd soaked in for so long she hadn't known another way to live.

"Then I will never, ever say it, as long as I live. Nectar is okay, though?"

"It reminds me of flowers."

"My gorgeous moonflower, my rare Blue Dion…."

Laughter bubbled out of her. She reached for him and he held her in his arms and his laughter rumbled in his chest in rhythm with hers and he kissed her gently on the temple. Her hair spilled over her face, slicing the rich blue with strands of glistening gold, glittering where the sun touched it. His warm smooth skin against her back…his strong arms around her….biceps pressing into her side, her stomach….his cheek against hers, slightly rough with stubble…. The smell of him, like a deep forest, mingled with the scent of the sea…

She cuddled up against him and he swept back her hair and kissed her on the forehead, the soft pressure of his lips sending thrills through her.

Ah… just to be near him was enough and yet—every touch made her need more of him—every part of who he was mingled with every part of her….

His golden eyes sparked into hers. Their infinite facets tugged at her like powerful magnets. His slightly parted lips enticed her; she needed them pressed to her own. But she dared not go further—not after what had happened last time. She had begged him to hurt her, but it had not erased what her father had done; only made him hurt her against his will. Now, she had to let him know she trusted him, even as a knife of fear twisted through her stomach.

She lifted her hand to his forehead, touched a lock of coal-black hair, lingering in its softness. Slid her fingers down over his temple, over the contour of his cheekbone to his jaw, rested her thumb on his lower lip. He drew in a sharp breath, his body quivering like a taut string.

She leaned her head back, ran her tongue along her lips, offering them to him like a gift to a god. Even if they went no further than this, she needed his kisses.

Sky closed her eyes, sunlight glowing through her eyelids. She waited for a forever-moment, and then his hand pressed to the small of her back, and his arm tightened around her shoulders, and his lips met hers, a feather-touch at first, then a soft pressure, and she leaned into the kiss, her lips moving in a slow rhythm with his. She trembled, wanting to go faster, but at the same time wanting to savor every part of what he was doing, revel in each nuance of touch.

The firm, insistent pressure of his fingers on her back, just above the fabric of her dress. His hand on the back of her neck, slipping into her hair. The prickly stubble of his beard against her fingers. The firm muscles of his back rippling with each movement beneath her palm. His taste—ah, how amazing! Thrills shot through her and she needed him, all of him. Now. The ache inside her grew to an inferno.

"My Ember," she whispered.

"My Sky," he said, pulling away for a second, then consuming her lips again. Love for him surged through her like a building storm. She wanted more of him—all of him. She'd give herself to him, nothing in reserve…

His kiss became more frenzied and she kept pace with him; she needed to not just fall into passion but to pleasure him, give him all he deserved.

She drew back, taking a breath, catching his surprised, wondering eyes, then leaned close, took his lower lip in her mouth, teasing it with her lips. She was gratified with a sharp intake of his breath. She nibbled his lip gently, then thrust her tongue into his mouth, and he gave her a swift, twisting kiss that left her breathless, gasping, laughing into the sunlight.

She leaned back a little, her palm on his chest, against his beating heart. His eyes brimmed with an echo of the longing that ached in her own heart.

All nervousness had fled, like their first time, when he had shown her what making love was really like, and struck lightning away from her to keep her from pain. He had only hurt her when she had asked him to. She owed it to him to show him she trusted him.

She knelt on the soft sand and lifted her hand to the strap of her dress. It was a shield she didn't need. She felt a twinge of apprehension—would she flinch away from him if he touched her with lightning?

But this was her chance to wash away the past. Only Ember mattered. And his love, and hers. It overflowed her heart—she had to act on it.

So she tugged the strap down over her shoulder, then slipped the dress down over her breasts, letting the warm breeze caress them in anticipation of his own superior caresses.

He gasped, his eyes widening, a flush spreading across his cheeks.

Her heart pounding hard, she rolled the dress down over her stomach and stood, shimmied out of the rest of it with a shake of her hips. The dress fluttered down and the wind blew it, and it tumbled away along the beach.

Her heart gave a shuddering thump. She felt exposed, vulnerable—a lot of it not because of Ember at all, but because she was naked outside, and she had always been taught to see her body as shameful, meant to be hidden, enjoyed in secret, painful sessions by a man who lusted after his own daughter.

But no, she was here only with Ember, and he would never hurt her. She had to let him know she trusted him, and to let him enjoy her body as much as he wanted.

He was kneeling there, his lithe strong body glistening with sweat. His eyes were wide with astonished awe, and her heart swelled with gratification. Somehow she pleased him; she could almost begin to think she was beautiful, the way he looked at her.

Emboldened by his appreciation, she ran her hand down between her breasts and over her stomach, displaying herself for him. Her fingers brushed the scars lacing up across her stomach. She jerked her hand away; she'd forgotten all about them. Ember sprang to his feet. She flinched back. Pain flashed through Ember's eyes.

"I'm sorry!" she said.

"Sky, I'm sorry! I'm the one that hurt you. Scarred your beautiful skin." He reached toward her, then pulled his hand back with an apologetic look. "I can never, ever make up for what I did to you."

She couldn't bear the sorrow in his face. "No—Ember—I'm the one that begged you to hurt me. From some misguided idea that it could erase what my father did."

"Of course you would want to erase what he did in any way you could. I just—didn't understand."

"I should've told you."

"It was your right not to tell me. It was my fault for going too far—I saw you weren't enjoying it, but I kept going."

"I asked you to."

"But I lost control."

She stepped closer to him. "It's nothing."

"It's not nothing." His eyes fell to her scars; a deep flush suffused his cheeks beneath his golden-brown skin. "I am so sorry, Sky. If there is anything I can do for you, anything at all."

She grasped his hand. "They'll be gone in a few days. And your kisses took care of the pain."

He closed his eyes, a furrow in his brow. "Sky, I want you—desperately—" She leaned toward him, almost unconsciously, at these words that cut to her soul—"but I…can't risk losing control again. Just kissing you, it's hard to hold back. I don't know if I could if we….went much further."

"You've been holding back your lightning?"

He nodded, not meeting her eyes.

"You don't have to. I like it." When it's not hurting me, she almost said, but thankfully didn't let those devastating words cross her lips.

"I can't trust myself. Not after what I did."

"You held back before."

"I shouldn't have even risked that much. Now that I know I can lose control—and so easily."

"Then I would never have known how amazing you feel." She pressed her palm to his face. "I would still not have any idea that someone else would ever make such great effort to save me from pain."

"What if…what if I do lose control next time?"

"I know you don't want to hurt me and you'll do everything in your power to stop it. If you do—I can be repaired."

"Don't talk like that. You're not synthetic, like an M. Each scar is more pain than you should ever have to bear. If I could somehow erase it from your past and bear it myself, I would. Perhaps…you should hurt me. To at least give you some kind of justice."

She recoiled. "I could never do that. Please, don't ask me to."

"Okay. But if there's anything that you desire, I will do it."

She grasped the back of his neck, kissed him on the lips. "I want you."

"I don't want to keep myself from you. I just don't know if I can trust myself anymore, after what happened."

"I'm sorry, Ember. I ruined it, I ruined this, for us." She swept out her arm to indicate the ocean, the sky, the grand red cliffs building to the height of the eyrie.

"No—it's my fault I don't know if I can control my lightning anymore."

"We have two weeks just to ourselves, don't we?"

He nodded.

"We don't have to rush into anything. Just this much of your touch is enough." She brushed his hand with barest touch of her fingertips before withdrawing. Longing slashed through her.

He lifted his hand to her hair. "It's not like I haven't practiced stormdance for years. Even if I didn't have much practice in lovemaking, I did control it our first time—because I didn't want to hurt you. I forgot myself. That is inexcusable. I want to give you as much pleasure as I can—I want to be with you, love all that you are. I…just have to be careful. If I hurt you—please tell me. Now that I know you don't really want to be hurt, I'll be as gentle as I can. Tell me what you like, the things you want to try. If we can start out slow… just so I can make sure to control my lightning…I can give you one thing at a time, and then work our way to the rest. I need to practice control with you, just so I'm sure I will never hurt you again."

"Okay."

"I'll give you all of myself as soon as I can. Everything of me that you want…before the day is over. This I promise you, my Sky."

He knelt before her in the sand, taking her hand in his, and kissed it. The sun struck his eyes into flecks of brilliant gold. "Tell me what you want, my love."

She swept down to kneel beside him, the sand soft on her knees. "One thing you did…when I was tied to the bed—"

Pain flashed across his eyes. She regretted what she'd said but had to forge forward to atone for it.

"It was amazing. You ran sparks up and down my skin. If you could do it again…."

"I don't know…."

She grasped his arm. "You can do this. It'll be good practice."

"I suppose…if I'm not letting out much lightning…."

She crawled further up from the waves, just to be safe, and lay down on the smooth flat sand. Ember knelt beside her and ran his hand over her temple, lingering at her cheek and chin. "Are you sure about this?"

"Yes. I trust you."

He nodded, his lips pursed. Then he ran his hand down her neck to her chest. Gentle static sparked against her skin. She forced herself to stay still, make it as easy as she could for him. He raised his hand a hair's breadth away from her, sending soft sparks snapping into the space between. She couldn't help but gasp with the glorious pleasure of it.

He withdrew his hand. "Did I hurt you?"

"No, please—keep going. I love this."

He lifted his hand toward her breasts; a shiver of delight and anticipation ran through her. Electricity tingled into her skin as he ran his fingers gently around the contour of her breast, cupping it with his hand, sparks snapping up through her flesh. It amazed her all the more because she'd never thought of lightning as doing anything other than causing pain.

A smile lifted the corners of his mouth and delight poured through her that he was beginning to enjoy this too, to not be so nervous. He drew his fingers softly down her other breast, lightning crackling into it as he massaged it.

A low moan thrummed in her throat. "Ember…please keep going. I love this."

Sparks snapped into her sides from where he grasped her. She needed him, now. But there was also perverse pleasure in waiting, each moment he touched her agonizingly wonderful, throwing her into heights of desire she didn't even know existed.

He kissed down the center of her stomach, his breaths coming in heavy gasps. Hard sparks cracked into her sides; she had to fight not to cry out. It had hurt this time, a little. But she didn't want to let on that it hurt. She turned the gasp into a moan of pleasure and, encouraged, he kissed down to her inner thighs, giving them gentle nips. AH! She could hardly stand this.

He floated his hand over her stomach, lightning tingling into her, flashing from his hand to her skin like a miniature storm. She marveled at the beauty of the blue lace of lightning dancing across her stomach. Some of it snapped into her scars. It hurt, but it was a good kind of pain, like lancing an infected wound. It was worth it to feel the tingles on her unmarred skin, like flicks of cold raindrops.

He lowered his hand to her thighs and the hot sparkling pain snapped into the worst of the scars. She stifled a cry only by biting her tongue.

"Are you okay?" he asked.

"More, my love." She didn't want him to stop. The pain was worth it. Would be worth it when he broke her open with the white-hot light of unbearable ecstasy….

His hand pleasuring her inner thigh with lightning, he kissed her on the lips and, hungrily, she kissed him back, letting him know she needed him, wanted him, all of him, now. Her tongue tangled with his, her lips smashed against his own. She devoured his fire. Ah—fire of pain below—slicing through her—nothing compared to the pleasure racing up and down her skin like wildfire. She was already on fire; the snaps into her scars were nothing.

She gloried in every facet of his golden eyes. Such beauty—a god she didn't deserve, yet would enjoy because she didn't have a choice. He wanted her and so how could she refuse him, if every fiber of her being needed him?

She grasped his back, pulling him toward her. Her own sparks flashed down her arms, cracking into him. He gasped, pulled away.

"Did I hurt you?" she asked.

"No—Yes. It….it wasn't much. It's just that—the lightning against the scars…the skin is tender there."

He sat back on the sand, swept a lock of damp hair back from his forehead.

"I'm sorry—I didn't mean it. I didn't know I had that much lightning."

"It wasn't much. I mean—well, even a little lightning hurts the scars. But I don't mind."

She sat up. "Ember, I don't want to hurt you. I could try to control my lightning. I just…haven't had much practice with it. It flashes out—or it doesn't. It did because, well, I want you so much."

"I don't care about my own pain. But what about you? I…I've been letting my lightning get stronger, because I thought you liked it."

"I do like it."

"Didn't it hurt your scars?"

She bit her lip. "Well…yes." She couldn't lie to him. But that's what she'd been doing—barely thinking about it because she wanted him so much…. "But I'll take the pain if it means—Ember, I can't be without your love any moment longer." She took his hand, kissed him on the cheek, the lips.

He nuzzled her neck. "I won't let out any more lightning, my love. I can do it. I have to. Just—let me practice for a bit. Away from you. If I expend a lot of my lightning first, it will be easier to hold back."

"What about you? I don't know how to hold back my own lightning."

He lifted her hand, kissed it, his eyes blazing into hers. "It's worth the pain. Besides, your lightning isn't as powerful as mine."

Despite herself, the words stabbed into her. Of course his was more powerful! But she felt inferior; she always had, because her lightning was so weak. Even less than most Nobility. She wasn't jealous of him; his lightning was his honor, his pride, his birthright. It had been emblazoned on his DNA for a reason. Her father had not seen fit to give her much lightning at all…She had always been a mere afterthought, unless of course he wanted pleasure—just a body to be used and tossed aside….

She didn't want to hurt Ember with her lightning anyway, so it was probably better this way. She didn't want to hurt him at all though, and that would be impossible once passion was pouring through her. If power was a birthright, control could be taught, after many years of practice. She didn't have that either. She'd thought her lightning had disappeared completely, but he'd broken it out of her with his love. He had given her the means to hurt him….though normally, it probably wouldn't. It was her father's fault (and Shade's) that the scars laced Ember's otherwise flawless skin.

"Maybe…" Reluctance tugged at her. "Maybe we should wait. You don't care about the pain—but I don't want to hurt you. Not even a little bit. Maybe we should wait till you get healed."

"That will take a few days. I don't want to waste that much time…Who knows how much Shade will demand of me when I get back. This is probably the only time we will ever have completely to ourselves. And to…keep away from you that long…just so I can spare myself a little pain…it's not worth it. Besides, maybe I can teach you some control."

"Really? Doesn't that take a long time?"

"Just the rudiments of it, to make it less likely that you'll hurt me. I wouldn't have noticed it if I hadn't realized that if yours hurt me, mine was hurting you worse."

"I don't like the thought of hurting you at all, though."

He gave a brilliant smile. "Your love cancels out any pain. As long as I'm not giving you pain—you've had too much in your life, you don't deserve one bit of it—I want that amazing body of yours. I deserve pain more than I deserve you, but if making love to you gives you pleasure too…then I would never keep myself from you, just because of my own unworthiness."

"I'm the one that's not worthy to touch you—"

He gave her an insistent kiss. "Don't ever say that. You are my goddess." He nibbled her ear lobe and she leaned back in delight, letting him hold the arc of her back, nibble softly down her neck. There was no lightning this time and it made her a little sad. But if it meant making love… And he'd give her lightning again when she was healed.

He lifted her to her feet. "If making love to you always gave me pain, I would choose you, every time. I know you don't want to hurt me. But don't think of it as hurting me. If you're not able to control—just let yourself go, don't worry about it. I am physically stronger; I can take it. And your love is worth infinitely more than any temporary pain your lightning might give me. I probably won't even notice it, as long as I'm sure I'm not hurting you at all."

Ember stepped away from her, the warmth of his touch fading from her skin. Longing twisted inside her to be close to him, to never be without his touch.

He walked to a point about ten feet away from her, an aching, empty gulf. His chiseled body contrasted with the dark red-brown cliffs. On the cliff where no one could reach except birds and skycars, a porch jutted like the prow of a ship from the building hidden in the twists and turns of the rock, the base that Ember's father, Justice, was letting them use for their honeymoon.

Ember closed his eyes, his palms upward. He was motionless except for the breeze playing in his shoulder-length hair. Waves splashed onto the shore in a gentle rhythm. A bird soared against the blue, a wild clear trill floating out over the sea.

Sparks flickered onto his hands, crackling with blue flares of light. He swirled the electric current into a sphere of energy, then snapped it into the air and snatched it in his other hand. As he widened his hands, lightning shimmered up over his body, lines of current blazing from every part of him to pour into the sphere, as if Ember contained a miniature world made of electricity in his hands. Lightning flashed, rippled, as if angry at being contained. Ember's hands shook; the edge of the ball wavered but he forced it into shape, his biceps bulging with the effort.

Sky's stomach turned over, in awe at his power. To know of it was one thing. To see it, in physical form—not just his power, but his control—was astonishing. She felt like falling at her feet before him—and seizing him and kissing him all over, even in the midst of the storm.

The ball began to shiver a bit more and with a swift, elegant motion, he twisted around and hurled the lightning away from him. It slammed into the sand and sizzled into a dance of blue sparks before dissipating into a puff of smoke that drifted away with the breeze.

The sand was black where it had burned.