woke to the knowledge that she was a murderess and that she would
kill again. It was the only reason she continued her existence.
It was what she lived for. To kill. Pain and hunger crawled through
her body endlessly, relentlessly. She lay very still with the
earth surrounding her, staring up at the star-studded night sky.
It was bitterly cold. She was bitterly cold, the blood flowing
in her veins like ice water, an acid that burned it was so cold.
me to you. I will warm you.
closed her eyes as the voice slipped into her head. He called
to her on every rising now. The voice of an angel. The heart of
the demon. Her savior. Her mortal enemy. Very slowly she allowed
her breath to seep into her lungs, her heart to continue with
its steady beating. Another endless night. There had been so many
and all she wanted was rest.
floated out of the ground, clothing herself with the ease of long
practice, her body clean, where her soul was damned. The sounds
of the night were all around her, whispers and scents that flooded
her senses with information. She was hungry. She needed to go
into the city. As hard as she tried, she could not overcome the
need for rich hot blood. It beckoned and called to her as nothing
found herself in a familiar part of the city. Her body traveled
the accustomed path before she had even thought where she was
going. The small church tucked into the rising buildings and maze
of narrow streets and alleyways beckoned to her. She knew the
offices and homey bars where the locals frequented and knew each
other by name. The small city within the larger city. The buildings
were stacked on top of each other, some touching sides, others
with narrow pathways between them. She was familiar with each
and every apartment and office building. She knew the occupants
and she knew their secrets. She watched over them, watched over
their lives, yet she was always alone, always apart.
Destiny climbed the steps to the church and stood at the entrance
as she had so many times in the past. With her acute hearing she
knew the building was occupied, that the priest was finishing
his duties and would be leaving. He was much later than usual.
heard the rustle of the priest's robes as he moved through the
church to the double doors. He would lock them, he always locked
them before he left, but it wouldn't matter, Destiny could open
them easily enough. She waited in the darkness, deep in the shadows
where she belonged, watching the priest in silence, nearly holding
her breath. There was an urgency inside her, a desperation. She
returned again and again to the beauty of the small church. Something
drew her, called to her, nearly as strongly as the call for blood.
Sometimes she believed it was where she was supposed to die, other
times she thought repentance might be enough. She always went
to the church when she knew she had no choice but to feed.
priest stood for a moment just outside the doors, looking around
him, his eyes adjusting to the darkness. He actually looked right
at her, yet she knew she was invisible to him. He started to speak,
hesitated, and made the sign of the cross in her direction. Destiny
held her breath, waited for a lightning bolt to strike her. "Find
peace, my child," the priest murmured softly and made his
way down the stairs with his slow, measured tread. She remained
in the shadows, as still as the mountains rising above the city.
She waited until long after he had gone down the block and turned
into the narrow alley leading to the garden behind his rectory.
Only then did she dare to let her breath out slowly, to breathe
When Destiny went to the ornate double doors, this time they weren’t locked. She looked back to the street where the priest had disappeared around the corner. He knew then. He knew she needed his church and he had silently given his permission for her to enter into the sacred, hallowed place. He didn’t know what she was, but he was a good man and he believed all souls could be saved. She pushed open the doors with a trembling hand.
Destiny stood in the doorway of the empty church, wrapped in the darkness, her only ally. She shivered, not from the cold air surrounding her, but from the ice deep within her soul. Despite the pitch black interior, Destiny could see easily, every detail of the church’s beauty. She stared at the crucifix over the altar for a long time, her mind in turmoil. Pain crawled through her as it did every moment of her existence. Hunger was sharp and ravenous. Shame was her constant companion. Destiny had come to this sacred place to confess her sins. She was a murderess and she would kill again and again. It would be her way of life until she found the courage to destroy the evil thing that she had become. She dared not enter, dared not ask for sanctuary.
She stood for a long moment in silence with a terrible unfamiliar burning behind her eyes. It took her a few moments to realize the sensation was tears. She wanted to weep, but what was the use of it? She had learned tears brought the echo of ugly, demonic laughter and she had taught herself not to cry. Never to cry.
Why do you insist on suffering? The voice was deceptively beautiful. Male. Gentle. A soothing blend of masculine exasperation and charm. I feel your pain, it is sharp and terrible and pierces my heart like an arrow. Call me to your side. I will come to you at once, you know I can do no other. Call out to me. There was an underlying whisper of power, of compulsion. You know me. You have always known me.
The voice brushed at the walls of her mind like the flutter of butterfly wings. It whispered over her skin, seeped into her pores and wrapped itself around her heart. She breathed the voice into her lungs until she needed to answer, to hear it again. To call out. To obey. She needed that voice. It had kept her alive. It had kept her sane. It had taught her things, hideous, murderous, but necessary things.
I feel your need. Why do you insist on silence? You hear me, just as I feel you when your pain becomes too much to be borne.
Destiny shook her head, a firm denial against the temptation of that voice. The movement sent her thick mane of rich dark hair flying in all directions. She wanted to rid her mind of the deceptive purity of that voice. Nothing could induce her to answer, she would not ever be trapped by a beguiling voice again. She had learned that lesson the hard way, sentenced to a living hell she dared not think about.
Destiny forced air into her lungs, controlling her emotions, knowing that there was a chance the hunter could trace her through the sharpness of her despair. A movement in the nearby shadows had her whirling around, crouching low, a dangerous predator ready to attack.
There was a silence and then once again movement. A woman moved up the steps of the church slowly, coming into Destiny’s line of vision. She was tall and elegant with flawless coffee-cream skin and hair the color of a raven’s wing. Her hair curled in every direction, a riot of shiny spirals spilling down to her neck, framing her oval face. Her large brown eyes were probing the darker shadows, searching for signs she was not alone.
Destiny used preternatural speed, slipping deep into the recesses of the corner alcove, back away from the church doors, using stillness to her advantage. She froze in place, hardly daring to breathe.
The woman walked to the double doors, stood for a moment, one hand resting on the edge of the open door. She sighed softly. “I came here looking for you. My name is MaryAnn Delaney. I know you know who I am. I know you come here sometimes, I’ve seen you. I saw you tonight and I know you’re here.” She waited a heartbeat. Two. “Somewhere,” she whispered aloud, as if talking to herself.
Destiny pressed her body so tightly against the side of the church her skin hurt. They were both in terrible danger, but only one of them was aware of it.
“I know you’re here, please don’t run away again,” MaryAnn said softly. Despite her thick jacket, she rubbed her arms to ward off the cold. “Just talk with me. I have so much to say to you, so much to thank you for.” Her voice was low, gentle, as if she were speaking to a wild thing, coaxing it to trust her.
There was a terrible tightness in Destiny’s chest. She was choking, suffocating, hardly able to breathe. She waited a heartbeat. Two. Drew deeper into the shadows. She could hear the sound of her own heart beating. She could hear MaryAnn’s heart following the rhythm of hers. She could hear the beckoning invitation of the ebb and flow of blood rushing through veins. Calling to her. Elevating her terrible hunger. Her tongue felt the sharpness of her lengthening incisors. She trembled with the effort to control herself, to stop the inevitable.
This woman was everything that she was not. MaryAnn Delaney. Destiny knew her well. She was compassionate and brave and her life was dedicated to helping others. A light seemed to shine from her very soul. Destiny listened to her often, her lectures, her group discussions, even her one on one counseling sessions. Destiny had appointed herself MaryAnn’s unofficial protector.
“You saved my life. A few weeks ago, when that man broke into my home and attacked me, you came in and saved me. I know you were hurt, there was blood on your clothes, but when the paramedics came, you were gone.” MaryAnn closed her eyes for a moment reliving the terror of waking up to find a furious man standing over her bed. He had dragged her out from under the covers by her hair, punching her so hard and so fast she had no time to defend herself. He was the husband of a woman she had helped escape into a sanctuary and he was determined to get the address from her. He had pounded her into a heap of refuse on the floor, kicking her and then stabbing at her with a large knife. She had the raw scars on her arms where she had tried to protect herself. “I didn’t tell anyone you were there. I didn’t say a word about you to the police. They thought he must have tripped over the overturned furniture and fell awkwardly and broke his neck. I didn’t betray you. There’s no need to worry, the police aren’t looking for you. They don’t know anything about you.”
Destiny bit down hard on her lip and stubbornly remained silent. Thankfully the incisors had receded. She had enough sins on her soul without adding MaryAnn to the list of her victims.
“Please answer me,” MaryAnn opened her arms wide. “I don’t understand why you won’t talk to me. What harm could there be in telling me if you were hurt that night? There was blood all over you and it wasn’t from me and it wasn’t his blood.”
Destiny felt tears burning in her eyes, clogging her throat. Her hands clenched into two tight fists. “It wasn’t my blood. You don’t owe me anything.” The words were strangled, barely making it past the lump in her throat. It was partially the truth. MaryAnn’s attacker had not put a scratch on her. “I’m just sorry I wasn’t there earlier, before he hurt you.”
“He would have killed me, we both know that. My life isn’t the only thing I have you to thank for. You’re the one who leaves me the money for our safe houses, aren’t you?” MaryAnn pursued. “Our women’s recovery programs.”
Destiny leaned against the wall, tired of pain, tired of being so alone. There was something incredibly warming and soothing about MaryAnn. “It’s no big deal, it’s just money. You do all the work. I’m happy to help in some small way.”
“Come home with me,” MaryAnn said, “I’ll make us tea, we can visit.” When Destiny remained silent MaryAnn sighed softly. “At least tell me your name. I feel your presence often and think of you as a friend. What would it hurt to tell me your name?”
“I don’t want the ugliness of my life to touch you,” Destiny admitted softly. The night was enfolding her as it always did, gently whispering to her so that she saw its beauty despite her determination not to see anything good in it.
“I’m not afraid of ugliness,” MaryAnn persisted, “I’ve seen ugliness before, I will again. No one is meant to be alone in the world, we all need someone, even you.”
“You aren’t making this easy,” the words were wrenched from Destiny, almost a sob. “You don’t know how evil I am. There is no redemption for me. I should never have allowed our lives to touch, not even for a moment.”
“I’m very grateful that you did. I wouldn’t be here and I have much to live for.”
Destiny pressed her palm to her mouth, ashamed her hand was trembling. “You’re different than I am, you’re good, you help so many people.”
MaryAnn nodded her agreement. “Yes, I do, and without you, I would never be able to help another woman or child. You’ve done that, not me. I couldn’t have saved myself, I’d be dead right now.”
“That’s twisted logic,” Destiny pointed out, but she found a small smile hovering close in spite of the pain knifing through her. She had heard MaryAnn talk with other women many times, her voice always gentle and understanding, but most of all, MaryAnn always knew the right thing to say to set her clients at ease. She was using that same gift on Destiny. “My name is Destiny.” Her name sounded strange to her own ears, it had been so long since she had heard it. Saying it aloud was almost frightening.
MaryAnn smiled, her teeth very pretty, her smile contagious. “I’m so pleased to meet you, I’m MaryAnn.” She stepped forward and held out her hand.
Before she could stop herself, Destiny gripped the outstretched hand. It was the first time in a very long while she had touched another human being. Her heart slammed painfully in her chest and she jerked away, sliding back into the shadows. “I can’t do this,” she whispered. It was too painful to look into those clear eyes, to feel MaryAnn’s warmth. It was easier to be alone, to hide in the shadows, forever a night creature.
MaryAnn stood quietly, faintly shocked at just how beautiful the young woman hiding in the shadows really was. She was smaller than MaryAnn had first thought, not short, but not tall either. She had lush curves, but her body was sculpted muscles. Her hair was thick, wild, a mass of dark-colored silk. Her face was arresting, her eyes enormous, haunted, long lashed and mesmerizing. A vivid, brilliant blue-green holding shadows and secrets and pain unimaginable. Even her mouth was sculpted and inviting. But it was much more than physical beauty. There was a subtle allure MaryAnn had never seen before in a woman. The voice was musical, mysterious, compelling. Mystical. Everything about Destiny was different. Unexpected.
“Of course you can do this. We’re only talking, Destiny. What’s the harm in talking? I was feeling a little lonely tonight and I knew I had to see you.” MaryAnn took a step toward the shadows that held Destiny, wanting to ease the terrible despair on that beautiful face. She had seen trauma many times, but those enormous aquamarine eyes were haunted beyond anything MaryAnn had ever known. Those eyes had seen things that should never have been seen. Monstrous things.
Destiny allowed her breath to leave her lungs in a little rush. “Do you know how many times I’ve watched you wield your magic on a woman in need? You have a gift for giving hope to someone who stopped believing there was hope. If you think you owe me, you don’t. You’ve saved my life many times over, you just haven’t been aware of it. I listen to you often and your words are the only thing in this world that make sense to me any more.”
“I’m glad then.” MaryAnn pulled gloves from her jacket pocket and drew them over her delicate hands against the biting cold. “You know, at times everyone feels alone and hopeless. Even I do. We all need friends. If you are uncomfortable coming to my home, perhaps we could get a drink at the Midnight Marathon. It’s always a bit noisy in there. Would it really be so terrible to come and have a cup of tea with me? It isn’t as if you’re committing to a long range relationship.” There was an edge of humor to her voice, an invitation to join her in shared amusement.
“Tea? I haven’t had a cup of tea in years.” Destiny pressed a hand to her stomach. Her entire being wanted to bask in MaryAnn’s company, but her stomach rolled at the idea of forcing herself to appear normal. She could only imagine the disgust and horror in MaryAnn’s eyes if she learned the truth.
“Then I would say it’s time, come home with me,” MaryAnn invited softly, obviously pleased.
The wind rushed over the steps toward the doors of the church, flinging up leaves and twigs. Above their heads the clouds began to spin dark threads. There was something more, something in the wind that tugged gently at their clothes and hair, while it rustled alarmingly in the trees and bushes. Almost like a voice softly murmuring to them. Calling, yet whispering, just out of reach. MaryAnn strained to listen, turning her head this way and that to catch the sound.
Destiny leapt at her, her breath coming out in a slow hiss of warning. She caught MaryAnn’s thick jacket by the lapel, at the same time jerking the doors of the church open wider. She thrust MaryAnn inside. “Listen to me,” Destiny stared directly into the other woman’s eyes. “You will not leave this church until morning. No matter what you hear or see, you will not leave this church.” She spoke the command firmly, burying the compulsion to obey her deep.
She sensed the danger behind her and whirled, going low, attempting to jerk her shoulder out of harm’s way. She had spent precious seconds insuring MaryAnn was safe, and despite her incredible speed, long razor sharp nails ripped her arm open, from shoulder to elbow. She was already moving, sweeping with her leg as she did so, scoring a solid hit and rolling away.
The soft familiar voice that so often summoned her swore in an ancient tongue. Call me to you now! It was a command, nothing less, as if he had felt her physical pain and knew she was in imminent danger.
Destiny firmly closed off her mind to everything but the coming battle. She focused completely, watching the undead with an unblinking, predatory stare. She was still, balanced on the balls of her feet, her breath moving evenly in and out of her lungs. Vampire. Creature of the night. Hideous monster. Mortal enemy.
Her assailant was tall and slender with gray-white skin and black hair. His teeth gleamed at her as he faced her. “Call the other woman to us.” The voice was low, musical, gentle, a subtle invitation.
Destiny rushed him, straight as an arrow, whipping a dagger from where it was hidden in a sheath between her shoulder blades, going straight for his heart. The move was totally unexpected. He believed his voice had enthralled her, that she would obey. And she was a woman. The last thing expected of a woman was for her to attack. It was usually that element of surprise that enabled her to be the victor.
The blade sank into his chest, yet he managed to slam his clawed talons into her injured shoulder, raking deep furrows into her flesh as he leapt backward. He dissolved instantly into a greenish vapor and streamed through the night away from the city. Droplets of red mixed with the green, leaving a toxic, venomous trail for Destiny to follow. Deliberately she inhaled the noxious scent so she would know him anywhere.
She heard the echo of that familiar male voice deep inside her mind, her soul, a cry of denial followed immediately by a strange warmth. The wounds in her shoulder burned with an acid quality, but she was used to pain and shut it out. The strange melodic chanting of words in an ancient tongue shimmered in her mind and shockingly provided her with some solace. Still, she couldn’t ignore the blood streaming from her body. She had not fed in several days and needed sustenance. Mixing the rich soil from the priest’s garden with her own healing saliva, she packed the gaping lacerations. Very carefully, deliberately, she braided her hair in preparation for battle. Before she followed the undead to his lair she needed to feed. The city was filled with the homeless, with unfortunate creatures who would have no chance to escape her, even in her weakened condition.
Nicolae Von Shrieder hunkered down atop the massive cliff overlooking the city. He was closer this time than he had ever been. He was certain of it. She was out there somewhere, tired and hurt and vulnerable, fighting her war alone. He felt her pain every moment of his waking hours. When he closed his eyes on the rising sun, he felt gut-wrenching agony crawling through her body, through his body.
Patience. He had learned patience in a hard school. Centuries of living had taught him discipline and patience above all else. He was an ancient with powerful gifts, yet he could not bend her to his will. He could not summon her to him. He had taught her well. Too well.
Far off, he heard the cry of a raptor, a high keening alerting him and he lifted his face toward the stars. Very slowly he straightened, rising to his full height. “I thank you, my brother,” he murmured softly aloud. The wind caught his voice and whipped it out over space, carrying the soft sound through the dense treetops and taking it out further, over the city. “Our hunt begins then.”
He would never forget the shocking moment when she had first connected with him. A child in sheer terror. Her pain and agony had been so sharp, so acute and overwhelming, her young mind couldn’t hold the terrible images and it had reached across time and space to merge with him. Mind to mind. Even as a child, she had been a powerful psychic. The images he received from her had been so vivid, so detailed, he had lived the nightmare with her, through her. The brutal slaying of her parents, the monster draining their blood in front of the child.
He closed his eyes against the memories but they flooded his mind as she so often had. He had been continents away, no way of tracking her, finding her. Yet he lived with her through the repeated rapes, the cruelties, the beatings, through the countless murders she had been forced to witness. She had crawled into her mind seeking refuge and found him there. He whispered to her, distracted her, shared his knowledge with her. A mere child taught to kill. He had no other gift to give her. No other way of saving her.
Those were hideous years, years of hopeless seeking. The world was a very large place when he was looking for one small child. He was an ancient, sworn to protect mortals and immortals alike. A powerful being, a hunter and destroyer of the vampire, sent out centuries earlier by his prince, sworn to rid the world of the very creatures, one of whom had ripped an innocent child from her home and changed her way of life for all time. He had tried to tell her there was a difference between vampire and hunter, but, in his mind, she saw his battles, his kills. She saw the darkness in him, spreading like a stain over his soul. He had no other choice than to give her his years of experience in killing the vampire and with that dark gift, he revealed his own demon, the one crouched and poised, waiting for his moment of weakness.
Nicolae stood completely still, raw power clinging to his muscular frame as he presented his leather covered arm to his traveling companion. The large owl circled overhead once, a lazy spiral, then plummeted fast, talons outstretched. The raptor landed on Nicolae’s forearm and Nicolae bent his head toward the wicked beak. “You picked up the scent of our prey.”
The round beady eyes stared back at him filled with intelligence. The bird flapped its wings, once, twice, as if in answer, then launched itself into the air. Nicolae stared after it, a faint smile in no way softening the hard edge of his mouth. She was hurt. She was chasing a vampire and she was injured.
There was no denying the connection between them, yet she refused to acknowledge him, to answer him. He had no idea how she could be so strong when she lived with such constant pain, but he could do no other than find her. He had never seen her, nor had she spoken to him, mind to mind or otherwise, yet he felt he would know her the moment he laid eyes on her. Now this. She was wounded, on the hunt, and the adversary was a vampire, the monstrous undead.
He turned slowly, his body tall and muscular, a blend of elegance and sinew. The wind tugged at his long hair, black as a raven’s wing, so that he drew it to the nape of his neck and secured it with a leather thong. There was a fluid, animalistic quality to his movements as he stretched, lifted his nose to scent the wind.
It had been many long centuries since Vladimer Dubrinsky, the Prince of Nicolae’s people, had sent out his warriors into the world to hunt the vampire. Nicolae, as so many others, had been sent far from his homeland without comfort of native soil or brethren. He had accepted that he would have no hope of finding a lifemate, but his duty to his people in those dire days had been clear. His barren days had been bleak and filled with battles, with the kill. The darkness had spread slowly, Nicolae fighting it every inch of the way. A new Prince had taken Vladimer’s place and still Nicolae fought on. Alone. Enduring. Deep within him, the inevitable darkness had spread, consumed him until he knew he could wait no longer. He would have to seek the dawn or he would be too far gone, unable to make the decision and he would end up the very thing he had hunted. And then she had entered his life. Back then she had been terrified child in desperate need. Now she was a lethal fighting machine.
Nicolae stood above the city and stared down at the lights twinkling like so many stars. “Where are you?” He murmured aloud. “I am close to you. I feel you near to me this time. Finally, I am in the vicinity of your lair, I know I am.”
She had entered his life so many long years ago. They had lived in each other’s mind while a depraved monster had tortured a helpless little girl. Nicolae had forced himself to feel what she felt, refusing to leave her alone in her living hell. He had made the decision to train her when he could not find a way to get her to speak with him. And he had succeeded, all too well, in teaching her to kill. Violence had been his world, now his entire existence was dedicated to finding her. In a way, she had been his salvation.
Nicolae stepped off the edge of the cliff. Easily. Casually. Dissolving into mist as he did so. He streaked through the sky, on the trail of the vampire, following the owl as it moved quickly through the night.
Nicolae had formulated a loose plan of action. When he found the young woman he would take her to his homeland, take her before the Prince, Vladimer’s son, Mikhail Dubrinsky. Surely the healers would find a way to help her. A vampire had converted her and the tainted blood flowing in her veins was an acid that burned her day and night. The young child had grown into a woman, honed in the fires of hell, filled with the battle experience and knowledge only an ancient would know. Nicolae had imparted that knowledge to her, techniques only one of his kind should have. He had helped to create her, he needed to find a way to heal her.
The scent of the undead was a noxious mixture of tainted blood and foul stench. Mostly it was a blank void as the vampire tried desperately to mask his presence from the hunters. The trail led through the city itself, deep in the underbelly where there were no street- lights and no nice homes. Dogs barked as he passed overhead, but no one took notice. And then he caught the other scent. Drops of blood mingled with the vampire.
It was the woman, he was certain of it. His woman. He had come to think of her as belonging to him and he found, over the years, he was possessive of her. It was strange when there had been no emotion, yet he had little flares of unexpected jealousies and fears on her behalf. Sharing her mind so often made him wonder if he was feeling her emotions, but he had no answers and, in truth, it didn’t matter to him.
He would find her. He had no other choice. She had become his savior, even as he was attempting to save her. He found where the huntress had broken away from the vampire ‘s trail and had gone into the city. Nicolae knew immediately she was seeking blood. She had wounds and she probably had not fed in several days.
He found her prey in an alley between two buildings. He was young and muscular, half sitting against the wall, a small smile on his face. His head lolled slightly when Nicolae bent to examine him, but his lashes fluttered. The man was alive.
Nicolae knew he should be relieved to see she had not killed her prey, only took what was necessary from him as he had so painstakingly drilled into her, but in truth, he wanted to throttle the man. She had lured him to her, with a promise of paradise, with a sexy enticing smile and her victim had willingly followed her.
The owl keened at him impatiently from the roof of a building to his left. They were hunting, it was reminding. Nicolae was an ancient was centuries of discipline and his odd behavior alarmed him. Of course he had considered that the female child might be his lifemate when they had connected so strongly, but over the years, when she steadfastly refused to speak to him, he had decided it must not be so. Yet now, in the midst of his reaction to her male prey, he wondered again. Had he been in her mind so often, become so familiar that even without the sound of her voice, his emotions were returning?
Carpathian males lost all emotions and the ability to see in color by the time they turned two hundred and he had certainly done so. It was a bleak existence relying on one’s integrity to live an honorable existence until a lifemate could be found. Only his true lifemate, the other half of the male’s soul could restore emotion and color to him. All the while the insidious whisper to feel for just one moment beckoned the males. If they succumbed and chose to kill while feeding, they became the very thing they hunted….the vampire.
Nicolae took to the air, streaking away from temptation. Away from the young man who had been close to her. The young man who had felt her body against his body. Felt the warmth of her breath on his throat. Her lips moving sensuously over his skin. The erotic white-hot bite of pleasure/pain. A red haze, treacherous and blazing out of control, slipped into his head, making it nearly impossible to think clearly. Nicolae had the sudden urge to go back and rip out the man’s throat. The desire burned hot and bright, his gut clenching and a strange roaring filling his ears, his mind. He turned in midair.
The owl changed direction, flying toward his face, preventing him from continuing in the direction, beak open wide and eyes staring directly into his.
You said it was forbidden to kill other than the vampire! The feminine voice was frightened, a soft denial, almost pleading. You said never to kill when feeding and never to feed when killing.
His world turned upside down, blind-siding him. Nicolae tumbled through the sky while the gray and dark of the night was replaced with shimmering, dazzling silvers and brilliant color. He could see it like a fireworks display, bursting all around him, robbing him of his ability to breathe, even to see. He closed his eyes against the assault on his senses, struggling to regain control.
The owl struck him hard just as she called to him a second time. Pull up, you’re falling. Pull up now! Fear amounting to terror was in her voice.
Warmth spread, calmed him. Nicolae held the picture of an owl, wings outstretched and moving swiftly upward, in his mind. She had given him life again. Saved him from eternal darkness. Although unnecessary, it was she who had provided the instant change for him, holding him to the sky rather than allowing him to plummet to earth. His lifemate. The only woman capable of preventing him from turning vampire.
At long last she had spoken to him. Years of silence had conditioned him to believe she would never voluntarily speak to him, but when he was in danger from the raging beast within, she had leapt to save him in spite of her every resolve not to. She had filled the bleakness of his gray existence with colors and life.
Where are you? How badly are you hurt? He made certain he kept a ‘push’ out of his voice, embedding no compulsion. Nicolae knew from experience it didn’t work on her, and it simply made her more resistant. He tried it occasionally when he thought she might not be paying attention and might be more susceptible to his persuasion.
Leave this place. I vowed if you ever came here, if you found me, I would give you a chance at life because you saved me. Go away from here. I don’t want to have to kill you, but I will if you force me.
I am not vampire, I am Carpathian. There is a difference.
Her sigh was soft in his mind. So you say, but I have only met the undead with their voices so sweet and compelling. Voices such as yours.
Why would I teach you not to kill your prey if I were vampire? He was patient. He could afford to be patient. She was his world now, the only thing that mattered to him. He had found her, and he would find a way to make her see the difference between the dangerous creature who had chosen to lose his soul, and the warrior fighting to maintain his honor.
I will give you no other warning. If you wish to live, leave this place and never come back.
Again he heard the soft, pleading note in her voice, felt it in his mind. She probably didn’t even know it was there, but he heard and it filled him with elation. Nicolae believed her. She was strong and well disciplined. He had taught her well and she was a fast, apt pupil.
They were connected, mind to mind, so Nicolae felt the sudden stillness in her. Instinctively he knew, she had reached the lair of the vampire. The undead was wounded, doubly dangerous, and in his own lair he would have numerous safeguards and traps.
Get out of there, I am close, I will destroy the vampire. It is unnecessary for you to take chances with your life.
This is my city, my home. My people, under my protection. I don’t share it with the undead. Leave. She closed herself off to him, slamming a mind block, a strong barrier he didn’t bother attempting to penetrate.
Nicolae sped through the sky, the owl keeping pace with him, eyes searching for signs, senses flaring out to test the air for the noxious trail, or for ‘blank’ spaces that would indicate the passing of the vampire. He didn’t bother to attempt to track Destiny, he had taught her too well. Her trail was nearly nonexistent. Without the wound, he would never have caught her scent and she had already dealt with the laceration so that there was no more telltale spoor for him to follow.
That should have told her what she was. Carpathian. Always in complete harmony with nature. Commanding the earth, sky and the water. Protector of living things. The vampire was an abomination of nature, an evil, twisted being incapable of anything other than poisoning nature.
Nicolae glanced at his traveling companion, the large owl flying so strongly beside him as they had been for years. Traveling companions. Hunters. Brothers. Watching each other’s back. I will go into the lair of the vampire and destroy him. It is not safe for you to do so, but should something happen to me, I ask that you take this woman to the Prince. Nicolae had taken over the job of destroying the vampire when he realized his brother was too close to the beast to resist the call of blood.
There was a heartbeat of silence. Two. Nicolae felt the wind rushing through the feathers covering his body and they moved together through the sky. For a moment he thought the other would not speak. He so seldom did these days, preferring to remain in the form of an animal. You give me a task I am uncertain I can fulfill.
You can do no other than see to it she is safely returned to our homeland. She is my lifemate although unbound and converted by a vampire.
Again there was only the silence of the night. Nicolae, I am older by several hundred years. My time is waning. You feel the crouching of the beast. I am the beast. How can you trust my word?
For a moment Nicolae felt his heart jump. Vikirnoff had long battled the bleakness of a colorless existence. He had hunted the vampire for hundreds of years, destroying old friends and with each kill it became harder and harder to resist the need to feel something. If his brother made a kill while feeding, he would be lost for all time. Nicolae closed his mind to the possibility. Vikirnoff was strong and he would endure as long as there was need.
Because, Vikirnoff, I know you. You are a warrior without equal and your honor is everything. You are my brother, the one who came to me to guard my back in my darkest days as I have done for you. Give me your word you will do this should I fail. You would never go back on your word. Not even the beast is stronger than your word. She is one of us. A female capable of producing female children for our race. You can do no other than one last task and then you can go to ground and awaken if you feel the call of your lifemate, or you can choose the dawn. Nicolae was firm. Warrior to warrior.
There was no other choice for either of them. They had stood centuries against the vampire, alone in their territories until both were near the end. Until Nicolae had been connected with a child being physically and emotionally abused. His brother, Vikirnoff, centuries older, had rushed to his side, to insure Nicolae would not succumb to the terrible emptiness when he couldn’t prevent the continued assaults.