Savage hesitated outside the door to the crowded bar. He had
come to this city for one last errand before he would choose
eternal rest. He was weary of the centuries of living in a stark,
ugly, gray world. He had one last goal to accomplish, one more
thing asked of him by his Prince and he could choose to meet
the dawn with an easy mind. It wasn't that he was on the verge
of turning, he could hold out longer should he choose. It was
the bleakness of his life.
could not refuse this errand. In the long centuries of his existence,
he felt he had given only a small amount of aid to his dwindling
race. It was true that he was a vampire hunter, one of the more
powerful. It was considered a great thing among his people,
but he knew, as did most of those that were successful hunters,
it was the killer instinct that made him so brilliant at what
he did. Gregori, healer and second to the Prince, had sent word
to him to warn this woman, this singer, that she was on the
hit list of a fanatical society of human vampire hunters. It
was often mortals that suffered the zeal of sick fanatics like
those involved in this society.
knew why the task had been given to him. Gregori was determined
not to lose him. The healer could read what was in Julian's
mind, realized that he had chosen to end his barren existence.
He also knew once Julian gave his word to protect the human
woman from the society of killers, he would never stop until
she was safe. Gregori was buying time for him. It would do no
good. He had spent many lifetimes, century after century, separated
from his people, even his own twin brother.
was a loner even in a race made up of untrusting males. His
species, the Carpathian race, was dying out, their Prince desperately
attempting to give his people hope. Julian had no choice but
to remain solitary, choosing to run with the wolves, to soar
with the birds of prey, to hunt with the panther. The few times
he walked among the humans, it was to fight a war in which he
believed strongly. He had spent most of his time walking alone,
always solitary, passing through lands unseen, undetected even
by his own kind. He stood very still, reliving the memory of
his childhood folly, that terrible moment he had stepped upon
a path that had, for eternity, changed his life.
had been but twelve summers. Even then the terrible unquenchable
thirst for knowledge had been on him. He had always been inseparable
from his twin brother, Aidan, yet that day he heard a far off
call. A drawing he couldn't resist. He had been filled with
the joy of discovery back then and he had slipped away, following
the lure of an unspoken promise. The network of caves he discovered
were honeycombed and deep within the mountain. He met the most
amazing wizard. Personable, handsome, so willing to impart his
knowledge to a young eager apprentice. All he asked in return
was secrecy. At the age of twelve, it had been an exciting game
back, Julian always questioned if he had really known the truth,
if he had wanted knowledge and secrets so much he had deliberately
ignored warning signs. There had come the day when the truth
hit him in the face with all its stark ugliness. He had arrived
early and hearing screams, rushed into the lower caves to discover
his young, handsome friend was the most loathsome of all creatures,
a true monster, a cold-blooded killing machine. He was a vampire.
At twelve Julian did not have powers and skills, he was no fighter
to save the hapless victims as the vampire drained their blood
and maliciously turned on the boy who had so admired him.
memory was etched in Julian's mind for all time. The blood.
The screams. The horror. The moment when the hand gripped him,
dragged him close to smell the fetid breath, the taunts and
laughter. The teeth tearing into his body, painful and vulgar,
but worse, he wasn't given death as the vampire had given his
other victims. He remembered the way the vampire had slashed
his own wrist and forced it to Julian's mouth, had brutally
forced him to accept that tainted blood, to exchange blood with
the most unholy of creatures.
shame had not ended there. The vampire had used the small boy
as his eyes and ears. He had eavesdropped on the Prince or the
healer when Julian was near to them. He had taunted Julian endlessly
that he would destroy Aidan using Julian to do so. Julian had
known it was true, he had felt the darkness spreading within
him, at times had felt the vampire's eyes looking through his
own. Several times Aidan had escaped death by a marginal breadth
from a trap Julian later recognized he had set himself, the
vampire using him, overcoming his resistance.
then, so many centuries ago, Julian had made a vow to lead a
solitary life and keep his people and his beloved twin safe.
He had lived on the fringe of their society gaining strength
and knowledge until he was old enough to strike out on his own.
He did his best to live his life honorably, did his best to
fight the gathering darkness and the continual assaults the
vampire made on him. He had hunted and killed countless vampires,
but the one who had fashioned his life so brutally always eluded
was taller and stockier than most of his race. Where most had
dark hair and eyes, he was like a Viking of old with long thick
blond hair tied at the nape of his neck with a leather thong.
His eyes were a strange amber, a molten gold, mesmerizing and
haunting. His eyes held a smoldering fire, a hidden danger and
a piercing intelligence. He could hypnotize his prey easily
with the direct stare of his eyes. He moved like the predatory
animal he was, fluid, muscles rippling beneath sleek skin. He
could be as still as the mountains and as patient and unyielding.
Relentless. Merciless. He was the rush of the wind, could move
like water flowing through a channel. He had tremendous gifts.
But he was always alone.
his younger years he spent much time in Italy and still lapsed
into the language when he spoke. For awhile, when he felt the
need for company, he chose to live in New Orleans in the French
Quarter. Recently he had given up his home there, knowing he
would never return. At long last, after this one last task,
his duty and honor would be satisfied. He saw no reason to continue
heard the conversations, so many of them, from the interior
of the bar. Excitement. Most of the patrons seemed to be beguiled
by the troupe of performers they were waiting to hear. The band
was intensely popular, so much so that recording companies were
screaming for deals. But the band refused to sign with anyone.
They traveled the old-fashioned way, town to town, city to city,
with their own people and performing their own songs. The lead
female singer's voice, described as hauntingly beautiful, along
with the oddity of the troupe had drawn unwanted attention.
inhaled deeply, caught the scent of blood. Instantly hunger
beat at him reminding him he had not fed this night. He stood
outside, unseen by the humans clamoring to get in, by the security
guards at the entrance. He would go in, deliver his message
and get out. Hopefully the woman would listen and his duty would
be done. If not, he would have no choice but to endure the terrible
solitary existence until she was safe. And he was tired. He
no longer wanted to endure.
moved then, weaving silently through the crowd. At the door
were two men, both tall and dark. One had long hair and looked
liked someone to contend with, looked vaguely familiar. Julian
was a wind, a rush of cool air as he glided past, hidden from
all sight, yet walking confidently among the crush of humans.
The guard with the long hair turned his head alertly, black
eyes searching restlessly, even resting on Julian briefly, although
Julian was invisible. The guard was clearly uneasy. Out of the
corner of his eye, Julian saw him turn his head, this way and
that before his icy gaze swung back to follow Julian's progress
through the crowded bar.
white teeth flashed, a predator's gleam. He knew he was unseen.
The guard had radar senses well tuned, unusual for a mortal.
The band had an interesting security guard, one worth his weight
in gold. That might come in handy should there be an actual
attack on the woman. The cold air he pushed before him moved
the pressing bodies in the crowds, parting it easily so that
he didn't even have to slow down. He walked toward the back
rooms. As he did so the humorless smile faded from his face,
leaving the familiar hard edge to his mouth. There was a hint
of cruelty there, the cold mask of the hunter. He smelled them.
The enemy. They had reached her before he had.
silently, eloquently, Julian moved with his preternatural speed
to the dressing room. He was too late. She was gone, already
making her way to the stage with the band. Two beautiful leopards
with spotted fur were curled up in the corner. Simultaneously
their heads swung towards him all, senses alert. The animals
were much larger and heavier than most in the wild. The yellow-green
eyes fixed on him betrayed the superior intelligence of the
cats. It was unusual to see two leopards together as they were
generally solitary creatures. Like Julian.
is she, my friends?" he asked softly. "I have come
to save her life for you. Tell me where she is before her enemies
male cat crouched, snarled silently, exposing long, sharp canines
that could grab, hold, and puncture its prey. The female crouched
even lower, well within her ability to spring. Julian felt the
familiar camaraderie, the sense of brotherhood he always did
when he encountered a member of the Panthera
pardus family. He had no time to wonder why, when he reached for the
leopard's mind, he couldn't control either easily. He succeeded
in confusing them, slowing their reaction time. The male cat
began its move, a slow stalking, head down, eyes fixed on him.
It moved in the intense freeze-frame, slow motion manner preliminary
to the explosion of speed preceding the kill. Julian didn't
have the time to try to control the animal, nor did he want
to chance having to kill such a beautiful, rare specimen. He
slipped out of the room, closing the door firmly and headed
toward the sound of thunderous applause.
band began to play, the opening to the first song. He heard
the woman's voice then. Haunting, mystical notes that shone
like silver and gold in the air, that hung there shimmering
with fire. He actually saw the notes in the air, saw silver
and gold dancing in front of his eyes. Julian stopped dead in
his tracks, shock ripping through him. He stared at the hallway.
The tattered wallpaper was edged with small red lines and was
a faded cream-colored. It had been well over eight hundred years
since Julian had seen anything in color. His heart jumped in
Hope. He felt emotion. Real emotion, not remembered. Colors
were so vivid they nearly blinded him at first. The sounds of
her voice played through his body, touched him in places he
had long forgotten. His body tightened, need slammed into him
hard. Julian stood frozen to the spot. The colors, the emotions,
the physical lust rising so sharply could only mean one thing.
The singer possessing that voice had to be his lifemate.
was impossible. Totally impossible to believe. The men of his
race could spend an eternity hunting for the one woman that
was their other half. Male Carpathians were predatory, with
the instincts of dark, hungry killers, cunning, quick and dangerously
lethal. After a short time of growing, of laughter and adventure,
it was all gone as they lost the ability to feel, to see in
colors. There was nothing left but a solitary barren existence.
Julian's existence had been unbearable, even in his childhood,
with Aidan, his twin running beside him, a twin who would have
made the long centuries possible with the inevitable closeness.
He knew he was locked to Aidan through their blood tie and every
moment he spent in his company increased the danger to Aidan.
Their very closeness endangered his brother. Julian had fled
his people, never telling any of them, not even his beloved
brother the terrible truth. He had done the honorable thing,
as he had only his honor left to him. The Carpathian stood numbly
in the narrow hall, unable to believe that his lifemate was
close. Unable, in that dazzling moment of emotion and color
to believe that he could possibly deserve such a thing.
Carpathian males turned vampire after centuries of a life filled
with no hope. Without the emotions, power seemed the only thing
left to them. Rather than becoming a danger to mortals and immortals
alike, others chose to end their barren existence by walking
into the sun. Only a handful actually found their other half,
the light to their darkness, the one that could make them complete.
After nearly a thousand years of a bleak existence, after making
the decision to meet the dawn before the demon within struggling
for control conquered him, Julian could scarcely believe he
had found his true lifemate.
voice, throaty, husky, erotic, held the promise of satin sheets
and candlelight. It played over his skin like fingers, tantalizing,
enticing, sinfully sexy. It mesmerized the audience, anyone
within hearing distance, it haunted and captivated. The notes
danced, pure and beautiful, weaving a spell of enchantment around
Julian, around every listener.
knew nothing of this girl, this woman. Gregori had sent Julian
to warn the singer that she was in danger, on the hit list of
the society. The Prince wished her and those traveling with
her protected if necessary. The society was a group of mortals
who believed in vampires. They often targeted those they suspected
of being vampires. This singer, Desari, with her haunting voice
and unusual, eccentric ways had come under suspicion. Most of
the society's victims were humans who had done nothing wrong,
were no more different from anyone else. Once the hit squad
had been sent out, the victim was killed and a stake driven
through their heart. Or worse, some victims were kept alive
to torture and dissect. Julian listened to the beautiful voice.
She sounded like an angel singing, her voice not of the earth.
A voice meant for him.
scream, high and piercing, interrupted the beauty of the song.
It was followed by a second scream, then a third. A single shot
rang out, then a volley of bullets thudded into flesh and musical
instruments. The building shook with the force of feet pounding
across the floor as the patrons raced to get out of the line
moved so quickly he blurred as he shimmered into a solid mass.
The place was in complete disarray. Mortals were fleeing the
bar as fast as they were able, running over each other in the
process. People were yelling in terror. Tables and chairs were
smashed and broken. The three members of the band lay in a blood-splattered
heap. Band instruments were turned over, shattered. Security
personnel were exchanging shots with the six men who were firing
weapons into the crowd as they tried to escape.
it all, Julian went straight for the stage. He pushed aside
a male body and found the still form of the only woman in the
group. She was sprawled on the stage, her long slender legs
bent at awkard angles. Her hair was blue-black, masses of it,
waves of silk spreading out like a veil. Blood pooled under
her, thick and sticky, staining her royal blue dress. He had
no time to examine her features further, the worst wound was
mortal and would kill her unless he did something. Instinctively
he fashioned a quick barrier, blurring the stage from watching
eyes. In the pandemonium, he doubted if any could see.
lifted her easily into his arms, found a weak pulse and placed
his hand over the wound. Blocking out the chaos around him,
he sent himself seeking outside his body and into hers. The
entrance wound was small, the exit wound quite large. The bullet
had torn through her body, ripping internal organs and tissue.
He sealed the wounds to prevent further blood loss before taking
her deeper into the shadows. With one lengthening fingernail,
he opened a wound in his chest.
are mine, cara mia, and you cannot die. I would not go quietly
to my death without avenging you. The world could not conceive
of such a monster as I would be. You must drink, piccola, for
yourself, your life, for me, for our life together. Drink now.' He gave the command with a firm compulsion, not allowing her
to squirm away from his iron will. He had chosen to destroy
himself rather than wait until it was too late and he had become
one of the very monsters he had spent centuries of his life
hunting and destroying. For tying her to him, Julian might deserve
death a hundred times over, but he would take what destiny offered
a single moment of time, everything had changed. He could feel.
He could see the brilliance of the colors in the world. His
body was alive with needs and desire, not simply the always
present gnawing physical hunger. Power and strength ran through
him, sang in his veins, flowed through his muscles and he felt
would not die. He would never allow such a thing. Never .
Not after centuries of complete loneliness. Where there had
been a yawning black chasm, an abyss of darkness, there was
a connection. Real. Felt.
blood was ancient blood, filled with healing strength, filled
with power. His life flowed into her, forging a bond that could
not be broken. He whispered to her in the ancient language.
Ritual words. Words that would make their hearts one, words
that wove the tattered remnants of their souls back together,
and sealed them irrevocably for all time. For one moment time
shimmered into a standstill as he struggled to do the honorable
thing, but. He struggled to give her up, to allow her to live
without the terrible burden he carried. He wasn't strong enough.
The words were wrenched out of his soul, somewhere deep where
they had been buried. 'I
claim you as my lifemate. I belong to you. I offer my life for
you. I give to you my protection, my allegiance, my heart, my
soul and my body. I take into my keeping the same that is yours.
Your life, happiness and welfare will be cherished and placed
above my own for all time. You are my lifemate, bound to me
for eternity, and always in my care.' Julian felt tears burning in his eyes. Here was another dark
sin for his soul. This time against the woman he should protect
above all else. His mouth brushed the top of her silky head
once. Very softly he issued the command that she cease to drink.
He was already weak from lack of feeding. Healing her wounds
and giving her a large volume of his blood only weakened him
further. He inhaled her scent, took it into his lungs, his body,
imprinting her on his mind for all time.
warning was nothing more than a brush of fur against a chair,
but it was enough. Julian sprang away from the unconscious woman,
whirling to meet the new threat, his snarl exposing gleaming
white teeth. This was a huge leopard, a good two hundred pounds
of lethal killing machine. It sprang at him, the strange inky
eyes fixed on him with malevolence. The beast was in the air
coming right at him. Julian leapt into the air to meet the heavy
male, shape-shifting as he did so, his body stretching, contorting,
golden fur rippling over heavy muscle as he took another form
to meet the threat.
met in the air, two large male cats in their prime, at full
strength, rending and tearing, claws and teeth, experienced
fighters that drove in mean and low, reaching up for the throat.
The heavy black male was determined to fight to the death. Julian
wanted to put it in a submissive position, hoping to save its
life. The black male arched its back in a half circle, moved
its legs laterally, sideswiping at Julian, displaying the flexible
spine of the leopard. Julian felt the rake of razor-sharp claws
ripping into his sides, and he lunged for the exposed throat
of his opponent. The black panther, obviously an experienced
fighter, twisted away at the last possible moment to avoid the
dangerous canines. Even as it sprang away, Julian's switchblade-like
claws managed to score four long furrows on its belly. The panther
hissed softly, hate and defiance, with renewed determination,
a superior intelligence that promised retaliation, vengeance
reached for the beast's mind. The red haze was a killing frenzy,
a need, a determination to rend and tear, to destroy. Agilely
he sprung away. He did not want to kill the beautiful animal,
and the truth was, for all his fighting experience, this creature
was enormously strong and skilled. It did not respond to his
many attempts to seize control of its mind.
swore as the panther crouched protectively over the woman's
body, then began once more moving toward him in the slow motion,
freeze-frame manner of the stalking leopard. The strange inky
eyes never left his face in the unnerving, unblinking stare
only the leopard with its superior intelligence could produce.
The cat meant to kill him and Julian had no choice but to fight
to the death or flee. He had given the woman precious blood
he didn't have to spare and now the four long furrows torn deep
into his side were dripping the liquid of life onto the floor
in a steady stream.
cat was too strong, too experienced, a killing machine. He was
not going to risk it. His lifemate couldn't die and her fate
was tied to Julian's. He sensed no animosity toward her from
the large panther, rather the need to protect her. From Desari's
mind he picked up memories of love for the animal. Julian forced
himself to back away, his golden muzzle snarling, his eyes blazing
defiance, not submission.
black panther was clearly torn between following him and finishing
the job, or staying with the woman. Picking up that information
from the panther reassured Julian even more. He backed away
another two steps, not wanting to blunder by harming something
that his lifemate loved. The attack came from behind him. Something
tipped Julian, some whisper of movement that had him springing
aside so that the second leopard landed where he had been.
screamed in rage. Julian bolted, leaping for the bar, then a
table, his powerful back legs digging into the smooth surface
to get a good take-off. The third cat blocked the entrance.
Julian hit it squarely, knocked it off its feet with his superior
weight. Instantly he was gone, dissolving into thin air.
mist he streamed out into the night. He didn't fool himself,
part of the droplets streaking toward the ocean fog was his
blood. The cats could track him if he didn't put enough distance
between them immediately. It took tremendous energy to hold
his image, energy that was fast leaking out into the night air.
Julian summoned his energy to close the wounds in his body to
prevent further blood loss.
bewildered, he went over every move inside the bar. Why hadn't
the cat responded to his control? He had never failed to control
an animal. The mind was not like any other he had ever encountered.
In any case, he should have easily defeated a panther, but he
was not certain he could have. The black male was far bigger
than any leopard he had ever encountered in the wild. And the
other cats had been working in unison, something not natural.
Julian was positive the large panther was somehow directing
the actions of the other two.
turned his attention back to the most immediate threat to his
lifemate. Somewhere, six mortals were out there, six humans
who had dared to attempt to kill an innocent woman. Her only
crime was possessing a voice from the heavens. He could not
rest this night until he had tracked them down and insured they
would never get close to her again. He had the stench of them
in his nostrils. Humans would take care of his lifemate until
he returned to her. Her blood would be suspicious but he could
rectify the damage at the hospital when he went back for her.
His job was to defeat the assassins, bring Carpathian justice
to them, removing the danger to her as fast as possible.
gave a fleeting thought to his need for blood, the wounds he
had sustained and to the danger of the mysterious panther perhaps
tracking him, but it didn't matter. He could not possibly allow
the assassins to go free. He turned back inland, streamed toward
the bar, rising high to mingle with fog. He hoped to avoid detection
from the superior sense of smell the leopard had, but if it
found him again, so be it. He would not be so worried about
preserving its life the next time it dared to challenge and
threaten him. As he moved through time and space he touched
the mind of his lifemate to insure she was coming out of her
unconscious state. She would need to heal, but she was alive
and being cared for. Pandemonium reigned at the bar, with police
and medical vehicles everywhere. He was certain the cats would
be locked up securely.
found the first body not ten yards from the back of the bar.
It was in the thick brush. Julian shimmered into solid form,
pressing his hand to the dripping claw marks marring his side,
not wanting any evidence of his presence. The assassin's neck
was broken. There was no sign of a struggle. Julian found the
second body a few yards ahead, tucked back in an alley. It was
sprawled against the wall, half in and half out of a puddle
of oil. There was a hole in the man's chest the size of a fist
where the heart should have been.
stiffened and glanced carefully around him. The assassin had
been killed in a manner consistent with a ritual slaying of
the undead. Not the human version of stakes and garlic, but
the true manner of a Carpathian. He studied the body. It had
the look of Gregori's work, yet it wasn't. Gregori would not
have wasted his time on the vengeful death. He would have stood
at a distance and simply killed them all in one stroke. This
was retribution, pure and simple. A personal hand in each death.
own brother, Aidan was a hunter and often followed the undead
from State to State as there were few Carpathians capable of
successfully destroying the vampire in the United States. Julian
would have felt his twin's presence, would have known his work
the instant he saw it. This was different from the impersonal
work of Carpathian hunters, yet somehow very close to it.
now, he sought out the others. Bodies three and four were side
by side. One had buried his own knife deep within his throat.
The other had his throat completely ripped out. It looked as
if an animal had done the damage, but Julian knew better. He
found the fifth body only a yard from the two. This one had
seen death coming. The horror was on his face. His eyes stared
obscenely skyward, even as his own hand gripped the gun that
he had used to shoot himself, the same weapon used on the singer.
Julian found the sixth assassin lying face down in the gutter.
There was a pool of blood surrounding him, thick around his
neck and throat. He had died hard and painfully Julian
stood for a long moment, thinking. This was a message, a clear
and concise message to the assassins sent after the singer. Come
and get us if you dare. A challenge from one who was a dangerous adversary. Julian sighed.
He was tired and his hunger was becoming a gnawing, biting demand.
He could not allow this challenge to stand, to place his lifemate
squarely in danger. If the society knew exactly what had happened
to their assassins, it would bring the entire organization down
on her immediately.
took a few moments to gather the bodies together into the secrecy
of the alley. With a little sigh he gathered the energy from
the sky and directed it toward the bodies lying in the puddle
of oil. Instantly there was a flash of fire and the stench of
burned flesh. He waited impatiently, masking the scene from
all eyes, even the police searching just down the road. When
the bodies were little more than ashes and small, smoldering
remains, he directed the fire out.
launched himself skyward and streaked away from the scene, the
grotesque, grisly ashes clouding the air with their obscene
presence. Well out over the ocean, he scattered the ashes over
a long area, watching the choppy waves, made hungry by a flick
of his hand, devour them for all time. This would be a huge
blow to the society of killers. Losing six assassins, not having
a clue as to their whereabouts or what happened to them, would
have the society crawling into a hole to recoup. Julian knew
it would likely take the group months to recover.
turned inland toward the small cabin he had tucked away in the
mountains, his thoughts once more turning toward the strange
behavior of the leopards. If he didn't know better, he would
swear the large black panther was not really a cat, but a Carpathian.
It was an impossibility. Every Carpathian was known to one another.
They could detect one another easily and all had a standard
path of mental communication they used. While it was a true
a few of the ancients could mask their presence from others,
it was a rare gift and Julian was more knowledgeable than most.
A part of his mind was continually locked to his lifemate monitoring
her to insure she was well cared for. A part of him detested
the weak moment that had thrust her directly into a new path
of danger. Mortal danger. By claiming her, Julian had turned
the eyes of the undead, his mortal enemy directly on her, marking
her as surely as he had been marked.
softly in his mind, Julian turned his attention to the problem
of the strange animal guarding her. Admittedly, Julian was a
loner, but he knew every Carpathian alive. The black panther
reminded him of someone, its method of fighting, its fierce
intensity and complete confidence in itself. Gregori.
The dark one. He shook his head. No, Gregori was in New Orleans with his lifemate,
Savannah. Julian had personally watched over Savannah, seen
to her protection until Gregori had fulfilled his vow allowing
her five years of freedom before claiming her as his lifemate.
Gregori was not the undead. His lifemate assured that. No Carpathian
would hunt another that had not turned vampire. It could not
possibly be Gregori.
Julian solidified at the entrance to
the cabin and pushed open the door. Before he went in, he turned
and inhaled the night, seeking the scent of any prey that might
be nearby. He needed blood, fresh, hot blood to heal his wounds.
When he looked down and saw the tears in his side and chest,
he cursed, feeling a certain savage satisfaction in knowing
he had scored against the huge cat. Carpathian or not, the thing
had not gotten away scot-free.
had traveled the world. He had centuries to indulge his curiosity,
his thirst and need for knowledge. He had spent considerable
time in Africa and India studying the leopard, inexplicably
drawn there time after time. He believed they were of superior
intelligence, cunning and deadly. Leopards were wildly unpredictable
and had mood swings that made them all the more dangerous.
had to be an unusual group of humans who had befriended the
cats, who could get the required permits to travel with them
in the United States. Even among hand-raised leopards, Julian
questioned such unusual behavior, the coordinating of their
movements to bring down a strange animal in their midst, especially
when chaos was all around them, chaos and the smell of blood.
huge black panther had not even licked at the woman's wounds
once or attempted to sample the blood of the other two fallen
band members. The scent of fresh blood should have triggered
the instinct to hunt, to eat. Leopards were notorious scavengers
as well as hunters. Something was off kilter. The leopards were
definitely protecting the singer.
sent himself into his own body, seeking the lacerations, sealing
them off this time from the inside. The healing took more energy
than he could afford. He mixed an herbal drink, one that promoted
healing. Drifting out onto the porch, he drained the liquid
quickly, forcing his body to hold onto the unfamiliar nourishment.
took a few minutes to gather the necessary strength before making
his way into the forest. He was seeking the rich soil that would
aid in the healing of a Carpathian's wounds. He wanted a perfect
blend of vegetation and dirt. He found it beneath the thick
layer of pine needles on the far side of a knoll. Moss and soil
mixed with the healing agent in his saliva, packed in his wounds.
At once the pack soothed the terrible burning of his wounds.
was interesting to him, analyzing the different feelings and
emotions pushing in. With the passing of time, those Carpathians
capable of emotions found that everything they experienced was
much deeper and far more intense than at a young age. Everything.
That included pain. All Carpathians learned at a young age to
block things out if it was necessary, but like everything, it
took energy. Julian was tired and hungry. His body cried out
for nourishment. His mind was tuned to hers. His lifemate. Her
mind was in chaos, turmoil now, but she was alive. He wanted
to reach out and reassure her, but he knew it would only make
her more upset.
closed his eyes and leaned one hip against the solid tree trunk.
A leopard. Who would ever have thought a leopard would score
such a blow? Had he been so distracted by the presence of his
lifemate that he had been careless? How could an animal have
out-maneuvered him? It couldn't have been an animal. And what
of the assassins and the way they were killed? Julian had supreme
confidence in his own abilities. Few of the ancients could defeat
him in battle. There was only one. Gregori.
shook his head to try to clear his thoughts. The way the cat
battled, so relentless and the way it thought were all too reminiscent
of the dark one. Why couldn't he shake that thought when he
knew it was totally impossible? Could an ancient have hidden?
Gone to ground for a few hundred years and emerged undetected?
In any case, Gregori had no relatives living.
tried to recall what he knew of Gregori's family. His parents
had died during the time of the Turk invasion of the Carpathian
Mountains. Mikhail, the prince and leader of the Carpathian
people had also lost his parents the same way. Entire villages
had been destroyed. Beheadings were common, and bodies writhing
on stakes, left to rot in the sun, were a normal occurrence.
Small children were often herded together into a pit, or a building
and burned alive. Scenes of torture and mutilation were a way
of life, a harsh, merciless existence for Carpathians and humans
Carpathian race was nearly decimated. In the horror of those
murderous days they lost most of their women, a good number
of their males and most importantly, they lost nearly all of
their children. On the day Gregori and Mikhail lost their parents,
the Carpathian race had suffered the most violent and shocking
blow of all. The children had been rounded up along with mortal
children, village after village, driven into a straw shack and
set on fire. All had been lost that day. Mikhail had lost his
parents but his brother and sister had been left behind with
him, far from the danger. Gregori had not fared as well, he
had lost a brother around six years of age, and a new baby sister,
not yet six months. Julian took a deep breath and let it out,
going over each and every male Carpathian he had encountered
over the centuries.
had been two ancient hunters, twins, legendary, the thing of
myths, and they had disappeared without a trace some five hundred,
maybe six hundred years earlier. He inhaled sharply at the thought
of that. It was believed one had turned vampire. Could he still
be alive? Could Julian have escaped relatively unscathed from
one so powerful? He doubted it.
searched every corner of his mind for information. Had there
been a child he didn't remember? Any Carpathian, male or female
coming from Gregori's bloodline would be far too powerful to
miss. If there had been a chance that a relative of Gregori's
existed somewhere, anywhere in the world, Gregori would have
moved heaven and earth to find them. Julian had taken on the
responsibility of searching for any surviving Carpathians unknown
to his people in his travels. He had searched out new lands,
rid those places of the undead when he came across them. There
were rumors of Carpathians unknown to their people, yet he had
never found them.
dismissed the matter and sent forth his call, luring his prey
in close to him. He had no intention of wasting valuable energy
hunting when he could so easily draw quarry to him. He waited
beneath the tree, the light breeze carrying the sounds of four
people. He inhaled their scent. Teenagers. Males. They had all
been drinking. He sighed again. It seemed that was the favorite
pastime of young mortals. Drinking or drugs. It didn't matter,
in the end the blood was the same.
could hear the conversation as they stumbled almost blindly
toward him. None of them seemed to realize they were even moving
through the forest as they conversed. They had come camping,
to enjoy swimming and fishing in the lake. None of the boys
had permission from their parents.
white teeth gleamed in the night. A slightly mocking smile.
So the boys thought it was funny to make fools out of two people
who loved and trusted them. Their species were so different.
Julian had accepted long ago that his race was more predatory
beast than man. Yet a Carpathian male would never harm a woman
or child, never be disrespectful to those that loved and protected
them or taught them. They cherished one another. Was it because
they were so few? Because their very existence was so precarious?
He hoped it was more, that they were different in their nature.
waited, his intense eyes molten gold, easily piercing the veil
of darkness. His mind continually strayed to his lifemate. Every
Carpathian male knew the chance of finding a lifemate within
their dwindling race was nearly impossible. The odds were completely
stacked against them. Their numbers being repeatedly decimated
by the vampire and witch hunts in the Middle Ages and during
the bloody Turk and Holy Wars. To complicate matters, the small
number of remaining women had not given birth to a female child
in years. The few children that were born in the last few centuries
nearly all died within the first year. No one, not even Gregori,
their acknowledged greatest healer, or Mikhail, the prince and
leader of their people, could find the answer to either of these
and Gregori had developed a theory that it might be possible,
under perfect circumstances, to turn a mortal woman. Many had
tried in the past, but the female had become a deranged vampiress,
feeding on the lifeblood of human children, preying on unsuspecting
males and always killing their victims. The women had to be
destroyed to protect the human race.
and Gregori had discovered a rare group of mortal women who
possessed true psychic ability that could survive conversion.
Those women could be turned with three blood exchanges. They
were capable of producing female children. Mikhail had made
such a match and his daughter, Savannah, had been born as Gregori's
lifemate. A new surge of hope had spread through the Carpathian
males. Julian had traveled throughout the world, granted, he
did not spend long period of times among the human population,
preferring the wilds of the mountains and the freedom of the
open spaces, but he had never come across any women possessing
such rare abilities in his extensive travels.
had not believed the way the others had, not even when his own
twin brother had found such a woman. Julian knew he was a cynic,
that the darkness in him had been there since birth, already
calling out to the undead. As his ability to feel had diminished,
the stain spread across his soul. He had accepted it, as he
accepted the ever changing universe. As he accepted the sin
of his youth and his own self banishment from his people. He
was of the earth, the sky and mountains. He was a part of it
all. As he neared the time where he was dangerously close to
the change, he accepted that too. He knew he was strong, he
was willing to walk out into the sun before he transformed into
a demon with no soul. For so long he had no hope, he had nothing
to hold out for.
everything had changed. One heartbeat, one instant. She was
out there, wounded, hunted. At least she had a decent bodyguard.
And her cats. They were obviously protecting her. His grim smile
faded, leaving his golden eyes cold and hard. He could not get
it out of his head that the huge male leopard had not been what
it seemed. If there was another male, a powerful Carpathian,
that Julian wasn't aware of, he did not want the man anywhere
near his lifemate. And what of the way the assassins had been
dealt with? That was not the human way, more that of a Carpathian
hunter. But one he had never seen in all of his travels, and
he knew every hunter's sign.
teenagers were traipsing closer, their voices overly loud in
the stillness of the night. One stumbled repeatedly, having
consumed far too much alcohol. They laughed raucously and from
the deep woods, the golden eyes watched them, the white teeth
gleamed. Julian stepped out slowly from behind the trees. His
face was hidden in the deep shadows. He smiled at the boys.
"You seem to be having a good time tonight," he greeted
of the boys stopped abruptly. They could not make him out in
the dark. They were suddenly aware they were somewhere deep
in the forest, far from their campsite without a clue how they
got there or how to get back. They exchanged puzzled, alarmed
looks. Julian could hear their hearts beating overloud in their
chest. Julian prolonged the suspense of the moment, his teeth
gleaming, allowing the faint red haze of the beast to be reflected
in his eyes.
of the boys managed to turn before his legs stopped working
and they were all frozen to the spot. Julian emerged from the
shadows. "Has anyone ever told you it can be dangerous
to be in the forest at night?" He deliberately deepened
his foreign accent. His beautiful voice purred with menace,
with a danger the boys could feel moving through their bodies.
are you?" One of them managed to croak. They were sobering
eyes were glowing a feral red, the beast, always crouching so
close to the surface, fought for release. He allowed hunger
to sweep through him, the terrible emptiness, the biting, gnawing
craving that was never fully sated, could never be sated until
he was with his lifemate in every way. He needed her dwelling
in him to anchor the raging beast. He needed her blood flowing
in his veins to stop the horrendous craving, to bring him back
for all eternity into the light.
of the boys screamed and another moaned. Julian waved his hand
to silence them. He didn't want them terrified, only scared
enough to remember fear. It was easy enough to take possession
of their minds. He erected a veil to cloud the memory and stepped
forward to drink his fill. He needed a large volume of blood
and was grateful there were several so he insured none of them
would be too weak. In each boy he planted a slightly different
memory, wanting confusion to reign. At the last moment, smiling
sardonically, Julian planted a firm command in each boy to blurt
out the truth to their parents every time they intentionally
sought to deceive them.
melted into the shadows and released the teenagers from the
thrall paralyzing their mind and body. He watched them as they
stirred to life, all sitting or lying on the ground. They were
dizzy and scared, each remembering a close call, an attack that
came out of the deep forest, but all remembered it differently.
They argued briefly, but without much spirit. They just wanted
to go home.
made certain they made it back to their camp without incident,
then, as they huddled together around the campfire, he began
mimicking the long, hunting cries of the wolves. He answered
as each member of the pack would do before gathering for the
search. Laughing, he left them throwing things helter skelter
in their car and racing away from the terror of camping.
much better with the soil pressed into his wounds, and the biting
hunger appeased for the time being, Julian slowly returned to
the cabin. Beneath the wooden planking of the floor was a small
crawl space. The dirt there was soft and rich. With a slight
wave of his hand he opened a plot deep within the earth. It
beckoned to him, the soothing peace of the ground, calling to
floated to his resting place and lay still, his arms crossed
lightly over his wounds. He pictured her as he settled into
the soil. She was tall and slender, her skin creamy white. Her
hair was luxurious, shining like a raven's wing. It was masses
of curls and waves, falling in a shimmering cascade below her
waist. She had small, delicate bones, classically beautiful.
Her mouth was luscious, perfect, sexy. He loved the way her
mouth had been, even in her unconscious state. She had a perfect
found a smile softening the hard edge of his chiseled lips.
A lifemate. After all these centuries, after never believing.
Why in the world would he be chosen for such a thing? Out of
all the Carpathian males he knew, men who religiously followed
the rules, why would he find a lifemate? He was dangerous and
practically an outlaw. Even Gregori named him as such. He spared
a thought for the mortal woman stuck with him.
took three blood exchanges to convert a human. It would be necessary
to insure she was a psychic. Excitement beat at him. A lifemate.
The world was beautiful and mysterious, a wonderful intriguing
place when it had only been barren and dark.
seemed that this woman preferred to sing in front of a crowd.
Things would have to change. Crowds would be impossible. What
was her name again? Desari. She often used the nickname Dara.
Something, some recognition shimmered for a moment in his mind.
Ancient. Persian. Dara.
From the dark one.
felt his heart jump at the connection. Could such a coincidence
be just that? Gregori was always referred to as the dark one.
Always. By everyone. As had his father before him. The bloodline
was pure, ancient and very powerful. Why was her nickname Dara?
Was there a connection? There had to be. But how?
shook his head slowly discarding the idea. No Carpathian lived
unknown to the others of his kind. And certainly no Carpathian
female could do so. Since the decimation of their ranks the
females were guarded, given from father to lifemate at an early
age to insure the continuance of their race. Every unattached
male around the world would be following her, pressing his suit.
And Mikhail would have her under the mantle of his protection.
put the puzzle aside for the time being to take out and study
at another time. He closed his eyes and concentrated. Ordinarily,
it was required to take blood from one he wanted to keep track
of, but Julian had studied and experimented for many years.
He could do incredible things, even for one of his kind. He
built the image of her in his mind, focused on every detail
imprinted in his mind.
aimed and thrust his will into the night. Seeking. Seeking.
Drawing. Commanding. Come
to me, cara mia, come to me. You are mine. No one else can ever
do for you. You want me with you. You need me. Feel the emptiness
was implacable in his pursuit. He ruthlessly applied more pressure. Find
me. Know that you are mine. You cannot bear another's touch,
cara mia. You need me with you to fill the terrible emptiness.
You are no longer happy and content without me. You must find
sent the imperious command, his entire focus bent on finding
her on a mental channel. He did not stop until he was absolutely
certain he had connected with her, that his words had penetrated
any barriers separating them and found their way to her soul.