She was crawling out from under the huge tour bus when he first caught sight of her. She was small, like a child. At first he was certain
she was a young teenager. She was dressed in baggy overalls, her
wealth of red-gold hair pulled back into a ponytail. Her face
was grimy, smudged in several places with oil and dirt. She turned
slightly and he could see high firm breasts thrusting against
the bib of her overalls beneath a thin cotton top. Darius stared
at her entranced. Even in the night her hair gleamed like red
flames. It was the fact that he could tell her hair was red that
caught his attention. He had not seen colors in more centuries
than he could count. He had never disclosed the information to
his sister, nor had he discussed his total loss of emotion with
her. Through the long centuries, his younger sister, Desari, had
remained the same as she had always been, laughter came easily
to her. She was sweet and compassionate and everything good that
he was not.
was rather shocking to him to have some little miniature of a
woman in a pair of baggy overalls catch his attention. She had
a sway to her hips when she walked that sent a deep need jolting
him hard. He caught his breath, followed her from a short distance
as she moved around the tour bus to disappear out of his sight.
must be tired, Rusti, you have been working all day," Desari
called out. Darius couldn't see her, but as always his sister's
voice was a blend of musical notes, a symphony that would always
turn heads. "You must grab some juice out of the fridge in
the bus and relax for a few minutes. You cannot fix everything
in one day."
another couple of hours and I'll have this one up and running,"
the little redhead answered back. She had a soft, husky voice
that touched Darius in the very core of his being, sent blood
surging hotly through his veins. He stood for a moment transfixed
in shock by the unexpected and very unfamiliar sensation.
insist, Rusti," Desari said gently. Darius knew that tone,
the one that always insured she got her way. "Please, you
have the job, it is obvious you are just what we need. Knock off
for the night, will you? You make me feel like a slave driver
just watching you."
sauntered slowly around the bus toward the small red-haired woman
and his tall, elegant sister. Beside Desari's tall, slender beauty,
the mechanic looked like a grimy child, yet he couldn't take his
eyes from her. The stranger laughed, a soft husky blend in her
throat that tightened his body to an aching heaviness. From the
distance and angle where he stood, he could see her eyes, a brilliant
green, large, heavily lashed with red-gold. Her face was a perfect
oval, high cheekbones, and a wide, lush mouth just asking to be
disappeared again, walking beside his sister around the back of
the broken down bus to the rear door. Darius simply stood there,
frozen to the spot. The night was upon them, creatures stirring
to life. He allowed his eyes to wander from spot to spot, noting
each separate color. Vivid reds and yellows. Blues. He could see
the silver in the bus with the clear black lettering on the sides.
The little sports car was a bright fire engine red. Each of the
trail bikes secured to the bus were yellow and blue. The leaves
on the trees were vivid green and veined with darker hues.
inhaled sharply, drank in her scent so that he could always find
her in a crowd, always be aware when she was close. Somehow she
made him feel as if he wasn't so alone any more. It was insanity,
of course, he hadn't even met her yet, but just knowing she was
in the world made it a completely different place. Darius had
never told his sister how bleak and empty his life was or how
dangerous he had become. His gaze, when it had rested on the redhead,
had been hot and possessive. Something fierce and primitive in
him lifted its head and roared for release.
came striding around the bus alone. "Darius, I did not know
you had risen. You are so secretive these days." Her large
black eyes wandered over him speculatively. "What is it?
You look..." she hesitated searching for the right word. Dangerous. The description shimmered in the air unsaid
nodded toward the bus. "Who is she?"
shivered at his tone, rubbed her palms up and down her arms as
if cold. "We discussed hiring a mechanic to go on the road
with us. You gave your approval, Darius. You said that if we could
find someone the cats would tolerate, you would permit it. Early
this morning she wandered in. The cats were out with me and neither
of them objected to her."
is it she made it through our safeguards, the barrier that protects
us during the days?" he inquired softly, a hint of menace
in his gentle voice.
honestly do not know, Darius. I scanned her mind for any hidden
agendas and found none. Her brain patterns are very different
from most humans. I could only detect her need for work. Honest
is a mortal." He made it a statement, nonjudgmental, neither
good or bad.
know," Desari said defensively, well aware of the heavy oppressive
weight in the air signaling her brother's censure. "But she
has no family and she has indicated a need for a great deal of
privacy. I do not think it will bother her if we are not around
during the day. I told her because we work and travel mostly at
night, we often sleep during the day. She said it suited her fine
and we do really need her to keep the vehicles running properly.
You know it is true. We can handle a human without much problem."
sent her into the bus, Desari. If she is there, why are the cats
not with you?" Darius asked, his heart suddenly in his throat.
my God," Desari turned completely pale. "How could I
make such a mistake?" Stricken, she ran towards the bus.
was there before her, jerking open the door and leaping in, crouching
low, ready to fight the two leopards for the small body. He froze,
motionless, his long black hair falling across his face. The small
red-haired woman was lazily curled up on the couch with the two
large panthers on either side of her. They dwarfed her in size.
The cats were pushing against her hand seeking attention.
Trine stood up quickly as the man leaped into the bus. He looked
wild and dangerous, and smelled that way too. Everything about
him screamed of danger and power. He was tall and sinewy like
the cats, his long dark hair shaggy and untamed. His eyes, as
black as night, were large and mesmerizing, as penetrating as
the two panthers' stare. She felt her heart jump and her mouth
sorry, Desari told me I could be in here," she offered appeasingly,
trying to move away from the cats as they continually bumped against
her legs, nuzzling and asking for attention. She pretended she
didn't notice, although the cats were nearly knocking over her
small frame with each push. They even attempted to lick her hand,
which she avoided, knowing their rough tongues could take the
skin right off of her.
shoved past her brother's large frame into the bus and stopped
too, wide-eyed and shocked. "Thank God you are all right,
Rusti. I never would have told you to come in here if I had remembered
the cats were locked up."
'That is not something you should ever forget.' Darius
delivered the reprimand in a soft whip of velvet straight into
his sister's mind. Desari winced visibly but she made no protest,
fully aware he was right.
very tame," Tempest ventured hesitantly, touching first one
spotted head and then the other. The slight trembling betrayed
straightened slowly to his full height. He looked so intimidating
with his broad shoulders filling the space in the bus that Tempest
actually stepped backward. His eyes bored straight into hers,
his gaze holding her prisoner, searching her very soul. "No,
they are not tame. They are wild animals and do not tolerate close
contact with humans."
Mischief danced for just a moment in the depths of Tempest's green
eyes. She shoved the biggest cat away. "I didn't realize.
Sorry." She didn't sound it, she sounded like she was making
fun of him.
knew, without a shadow of a doubt, that her life was tied to his
for all eternity. He allowed burning desire for her to flare briefly
in his eyes, was satisfied when she stepped back again. "They
are not tame," he said again. "They would have torn
apart anyone entering this bus. How is it you are able to be here
safely?" He demanded an answer, his voice low and compelling,
forcing the issue, obviously accustomed to instant obedience.
small white teeth scraped across her lower lip betraying her nervousness,
but then her chin went up defiantly. "Look, if you don't
want me here, it's no big deal. It's not like we signed a contract
or anything. I'll get my tools and leave." She took a step
forward toward the door but he was a solid wall blocking her way.
She glanced behind her, judging the distance to the rear door,
wondering if she could make it before he pounced. She was afraid
if she ran, it would trigger his predatory instincts.
Desari objected gently, laying a placating hand on his arm.
didn't so much as turn his head, his black eyes remaining on Tempest's
small face. "Leave us." It was a clear order directed
at his sister, his voice soft and menacing. Even the cats grew
uneasy pushing close to the red-haired woman protectively.
green eyes flashed like jewels, an indication she possessed the
famous red-haired temper. Darius frightened her where no one else
had ever accomplished such a thing. There was a stark possession
in his eyes, a sensual cruelty around his well-cut mouth, an intensity
burning in him she had never witnessed before. She watched her
only ally desert her. Desari was reluctant, but she obeyed her
brother. Without another word, she left the luxurious bus.
asked you a question," he said very softly.
voice sent butterfly wings brushing at her stomach. It was a black
velvet weapon, a sorcerer's tool, very powerful. It sent heat
curling unexpectedly through her body. She felt the color creeping
up her neck and into her face. "Does everyone do everything
waited, as still as a stalking leopard, his eyes unblinking, fixed
on her face. She felt a strange compulsion to answer him, to reveal
the truth. It beat at her head until she rubbed her temple in
protest. Tempest sighed and shook her head. She even attempted
a smile. "Look, I'm not certain who you are, but I think
we've both made a mistake. I saw the ad and thought this would
be something I'd like, traveling with your band around the country."
She shrugged carelessly. "It doesn't matter, I can just as
easily move on."
studied her little face. She was lying to him. She needed the
job. She was hungry and too proud to say anything. She covered
her desperation very well, but she needed work. Not once did her
green eyes waver from his black stare. Her entire body shrieked
moved then, gliding close to her so fast she didn't have a chance
to run. He could hear her heart pound, hear the rush of blood,
of life through her veins. His gaze rested on the pulse beating
so frantically in her neck. "I think this job will suit you
perfectly. What is your real name?"
was too close, too big, too intimidating and powerful. Up close
she could feel the heat radiating from his body, the magnetism
he exuded. He wasn't touching her, but she felt the heat of his
skin against hers all the same. She had an urge to run as fast
and as far as she could.
calls me Rusti," she sounded defiant even to her own ears.
smiled an infuriatingly male taunt that told her he knew she was
afraid of him. The smile did nothing to warm the black ice of
his eyes. He bent his head slowly toward her. She could feel the
warmth of his breath against her neck. Her skin tingled in anticipation.
Every cell in her body went on alert, screamed a warning. "I
asked you what your name is," he whispered into her pulse.
took a deep breath, made herself remain perfectly still, unflinching.
If they were playing a game of chess she was not going to make
a wrong move. "Tempest. But everyone calls me Rusti."
white teeth flashed again. He looked like a hungry predator eyeing
its prey. "Tempest. It suits you. I am Darius, I am the guardian
of this troupe. What I say goes. Desari is my younger sister.
Have you met the others?" He felt an unfamiliar rage rip
through him at the thought of any of the other men around her.
In that moment he knew she made him very, very dangerous, not
only to mortals, but to his kind alike. In all of his centuries
of existence, he had never experienced jealousy or any other emotion
remotely like it. He had not known what rage felt like until that
moment. It was sobering to realize just how much power this small
human woman wielded.
shook her head. She edged away from his intensity, from the way
he made her heart pound in alarm. The more she moved away from
him, the further back into the bus she ended up. Without meaning
to do it, she found herself looking frantically at the rear door
for an escape. When she could see he was too close for her to
escape, she glanced at the big cats. Tempest focused and aimed
her thoughts, a talent she had had since birth, one she would
never admit aloud.
smaller of the two leopards, the one with the lighter coat, moved
between them, pressed against Darius, showed her teeth in a warning
snarl. Darius reached down and laid a calming hand on the cat's
head. Be still little friend. I would not harm this one. She
seeks to leave us. I feel it in her mind. I cannot allow such
a thing. You would not wish it either.
once the cat moved to position itself in front of the door, blocking
the rear so Tempest had no chance of escape. "Traitor,"
she hissed at the leopard under her breath, forgetting herself.
rubbed the bridge of his nose thoughtfully. "You are an unusual
woman. You can talk to the animals."
looked guilty, her eyes shifting away from him. Tempest ducked
her head, pressed the back of her hand to her soft, trembling
mouth. "I don't have a clue what you're talking about. If
anyone's talking to animals, it's you. The cat's in front of the
door. Not only everyone, but everything obeys you, don't they?"
nodded slowly. "Everyone in my domain and that includes you.
You are not going to leave. We need you as much as you need us.
Did Desari assign you a place to sleep?" He not only felt
her hunger, but her fatigue. It beat at him, inside him, so that
his every protective instinct roared to life.
stared up at him, measuring her options.
deep inside herself, she knew he had taken away her choices. He
would not allow her to leave. It was in merciless slash of his
mouth, the implacable resolve on his face and in the soulless
emptiness of his black eyes. She could pretend if she wanted to,
leave it unspoken between them. Not challenge him. Power clung
to him like a second skin. She had been in dangerous situations
before, but his felt entirely different. She wanted to run
she wanted to stay.
reached out, tipped her chin up with two fingers so that he could
stare directly into her vivid green eyes. That was all. Two fingers.
It felt like he had put chains on her, bound them together in
some inexplicable manner. She felt the impact of his gaze burning
into her, branding her his.
tip of her tongue touched her full lower lip. Darius' body clenched,
hot, hard, an urgent demand. "You are not going to run, Tempest.
Do not think you can get away. You need the job, we need you with
us. Just follow the rules."
said I can use this bus to sleep in," she found herself answering.
She didn't know what she was going to do. She was down to her
last twenty dollars. She had been certain this was the perfect
job for her. She was an excellent mechanic, she enjoyed traveling,
she liked being alone and she loved animals. Something about the
ad had jumped out at her, drawn her to this place, these people
as if it was meant to be. It had been so strange, how certain
she was, almost a compulsion she couldn't resist, using up every
penny she had to find these people, so sure the job was meant
for her. Desari made it plain that the band stayed asleep during
the day and she would be completely on her own. She should have
known it was too perfect. Without thinking she sighed softly.
thumb feathered lightly over her delicate chin. He felt her tremble,
but she stood her ground. "There is always a price to pay,"
he observed, as if reading her mind. His hand moved to the thick
abundance of her hair, rubbed silky red-gold strands between his
fingers as if he couldn't help himself.
stood very, very still, like a small animal caught out in the
open by a stalking panther. She knew he was very, very dangerous
to her yet she could only stare up at him helplessly. He was doing
something to her, mesmerizing her, hypnotizing her with his burning
black eyes. She couldn't look away from him. She couldn't move.
"How high is the price?" The words came out strangled
and husky. She couldn't tear her gaze away from his no matter
her much mind screamed at her to do so.
body moved close, closer even still, until his hard frame seemed
to be imprinted on the softness of hers. He was everywhere, surrounding
her, enveloping her so that she was a part of him. Tempest knew
she should try to move, to break the sorcerer's spell he was weaving
around her, but she couldn't find the strength. Then his arms
closed around her, drew her into him and her heart turned over
at the gentleness in a man of such power and enormous strength.
He whispered something soft and soothing. Something compelling.
The whisper of a sorcerer's seduction.
Tempest closed her eyes, the world suddenly hazy and dreamlike.
She felt as if she couldn't move, as if she didn't want to move.
She waited almost breathlessly. His mouth touched her temple,
feathered across her cheek to the corner of her lips, moved across
her ear, breathing warmth, leaving little dancing flames wherever
he touched. She felt torn in two. One part of her knew it was
so perfect, so right, the other urged her to run as fast and as
far as she could. His tongue stroked across her neck, a velvet
rasping caress that curled her toes and sent heat pooling low.
His fingers curved around her nape, drew her even closer. His
tongue stroked a second time. White hot heat pierced her skin
exactly over her frantically beating pulse. Pain sliced through
her, gave way instantly to erotic pleasure.
gasped, found some deep reservoir of self-preservation and squirmed,
pushed at the heavy muscles of his chest. Darius shifted subtly,
his arms tight and unyielding. Drowsiness slipped over her, a
willingness to give him whatever he wanted.
seemed two people. One stood locked helplessly in the dark embrace,
the other looking on in shock and horror. Her body was in flames.
Hot. Burning. Needing. Her mind accepted him and what he was doing.
Taking her blood. Staking his claim on her. She knew that somehow,
knew he was not trying to kill her. Knew he was not anything human.
lashes swept down and her legs buckled. Darius slipped his arm
under her knees and lifted her, cradling her against his chest
as he fed. She was hot and sweet and unlike anything he had ever
tasted. His body was on fire for her. He carried her to the couch,
still feeding, savoring the essence of her, unable to stop himself
from taking what was rightfully his. And she was his, he felt
it, knew it, would accept nothing less.
was only when her head lolled back on her slender neck that he
realized what was happening. Swearing eloquently to himself, Darius
closed the wound with a sweep of his tongue and bent to check
her pulse. He had taken far more blood than she could afford to
give. And his body was an unrelenting savage demand. Tempest was
a very small woman, and not of their race. She could not afford
such a blood loss.
was forbidden. What he was doing was strictly forbidden. He was
breaking every code, every law he knew. Every law he himself had
taught to the others and demanded they follow. He couldn't stop
himself. He had to have this woman. A mortal female could be used
for sex, a simple pleasure of the body, if one could still feel
such things. A mortal female could be used for sustenance, to
feed upon. But not both, and never at the same time. It was taboo.
Darius knew if she hadn't fainted from the blood loss, he would
have taken her body with his. Not once, but again and again. And
he would kill anyone who tried to stop him, who tried to take
her from him.
it happened then? Was he turning? The one thing every Carpathian
male feared, was it happening to him? He didn't care. He only
knew she was of the utmost importance, the only woman he had ever
wanted in centuries of a lonely, barren existence. She made him
feel. She made him see. She brought life and color into his bleak
world and now that he had seen it, felt it, he would never go
back to total emptiness.
her on his lap, he started to tear a ragged wound in his wrist
with his teeth. Something stopped him. It didn't seem right to
feed her that way. With one hand he slowly opened his immaculate
silk shirt, his body unexpectedly tightening even more in anticipation.
One fingernail lengthened into a razor-sharp talon and traced
a thin line across the heavy muscle of his chest. He pressed her
mouth to the dripping wound. His blood was ancient and powerful
and would replenish her quickly.
the same time he reached for her mind. In her unconscious state,
it was relatively easy to take control, to command her to do his
bidding, but he was astonished. Desari was right. Tempest's mind
did not have the normal pattern of a human. It was more like the
cunning intelligence of the leopards he often ran with. Not exactly
the same, but definitely different than the normal human brain.
It didn't matter, he easily controlled her, demanding that she
drink to replenish what he had taken.
of nowhere came an ancient chant. He found himself saying the
ritual words, uncertain where they came from, knowing only that
they must be said. He murmured them in the ancient tongue of his
people first, then repeated them in English. Bending over her
protectively, stroking caresses in her hair, he breathed the words
softly into her ear. "I claim you as my lifemate. I belong
to you, I offer my life for you. I give 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 all eternity and always in my care."
As he uttered the words, he felt a curious shifting in his body,
a release of a terrible tension. He swore he felt the words weaving
tiny threads between her soul and his, his heart and hers. She
belonged to him. He belonged to her.
wasn't right. She was a mortal. He was Carpathian. She would grow
old, he never would. It didn't matter. Nothing mattered to him
except she was in his world beside him. It felt right to him.
She fit with him somehow as if she had been fashioned only for
closed his eyes and held her to him, savoring the feel of her
in his arms. He closed the wound himself, and laid her among the
pillows. Very gently, almost reverently, he washed the dirt and
grime from her face. 'You will not remember this when you awaken.
You know only that you took this job and are now part of our crew.
You know nothing of what I am or that we exchanged blood.' He reinforced the command with a hard push more than sufficient
for a human.
looked so young in her sleep, her red-gold hair framing her small
face. He touched her, his hand possessive, his black eyes burning
fiercely. He turned to regard the large cats. You like her.
She can speak to you, can she not?
He could feel their instant answer, emotional, not in words. It
was more images rising of affection and trust. He nodded. She
is mine and I will not give her up. Guard her well while we sleep
until the next rising.
two cats rubbed against the couch, tried to get as close to the
woman as was possible. Darius touched her face once more, then
turned and left the bus. He knew Desari would be waiting for him,
her gentle doe-eyes would be accusing.
stood leaning against the front of the motor home, puzzled, her
confusion showing on her beautiful face. The moment she saw him
she looked anxiously at the bus. "What have you done?"
out of this, Desari. You are my own blood, the one I love and
treasure." He found he could say it honestly for the first
time in centuries. He did feel love for his sister. It beat in
him real and strong. The relief was tremendous. "But I will
not tolerate your interference in this matter. She will stay with
us. The others will not touch her."
hand went to her throat, her face paled visibly. "Darius,
what have you done?"
not think to defy me. I will take her far from here and leave
you all to go your own way."
soft mouth trembled. "We are under your protection, Darius.
You have always led and we have followed you. I trust you and
I trust your judgment. I know you would never hurt this girl."
studied his sister's face for a long moment. "No, you do
not, Desari, and neither do I. I know only that without her, there
will be blood and death to many before I am destroyed."
heard her swift intake of breath. "Is it that bad, Darius?
Are you so close then?"
is all that is standing between the destruction of mortals and
immortals alike. The line is that fragile. Do not interfere, Desari.
It is all the warning I am capable of giving you." There
was a merciless implacable resolve she had never seen in him before.
had always been their acknowledged leader. He was the strongest,
the most cunning and the most powerful. He had the gift of healing.
They relied on him for his wisdom and expertise. He had steered
them through the long centuries without thought for himself. Desari
could do no other than support him in this one thing asked. Not
asked. Demanded. She knew Darius was not exaggerating, he never
did. Everything he said, he meant. Darius would not know how to
reluctantly, Desari nodded her head. "You are my brother,
Darius. I am with you always, whatever you choose to do."
She turned as her lifemate shimmered into a solid state beside
her. He took her breath away, the sight of his tall, heavily muscled
frame, the striking, molten golden eyes that always reflected
love back to her.
bent to brush Desari's temple with the warmth and comfort of his
mouth. He had caught her distress through their psychic link and
returned from hunting prey. When he turned his gaze on Darius
his eyes were cold and merciless. Darius held that gaze with one
of his own. Two territorial males measuring each other. Desari
sighed softly. "You two promised."
Julian leaned into her, his voice extraordinarily tender. "Is
there a problem here?"
made a sound of disgust, a low rumbling growl deep in his throat.
"Desari is my sister, I have always looked out for her welfare."
just a moment the golden eyes flickered over him, cold with menace,
then Julian's white teeth gleamed in a semblance of a smile. "It
is true, and I can do no other than be grateful to you."
shook his head slightly. He was unused to tolerating the presence
of any other male not of his family in close proximity. Saying
he accepted his sister's new lifemate traveling with them was
one thing, meaning it was quite another. Julian had been raised
in the Carpathian Mountains in their native lands. He had been
forced into a solitary existence, but he had had the benefit of
years of training, of Carpathian adult protection and guidance
during his fledgling years. Darius knew Julian was strong and
protective, one of their most skilled hunters of the vampires.
He knew Desari was safe with him, but he couldn't quite relinquish
his own role as her protector. He had had far too many centuries
of leadership, of learning the hard way, through experience.
and five other Carpathian children had seen their parents murdered
in the classic ritual vampire slayings. A stake through the heart,
the beheading with garlic stuffed in the mouth. It had been a
frightening, traumatic time for all of them. Turks had overrun
the village while the sun was high in the sky, just as their parents
were their most vulnerable. The Carpathians had tried to save
the mortals, standing with them to fight the invasion despite
the fact that the attack had come when the Carpathian people were
at their weakest. There were far too many of the intruders and
the sun too high. The Turks had massacred everyone before help
marauding armies had herded the children, mortal and immortal
alike, into a straw shack and set it on fire, burning the children
alive. Darius had cloaked the presence of the children from the
Turks, a feat unheard of at his age. He noticed a peasant woman
who had managed to escape the bloodthirsty eyes of the soldiers.
Before the marauding army could discover her, he had cloaked her
presence and forced a compulsion on her. He quickly gathered the
Carpathian children who were closest to him and embedded within
the woman, a deep need to take them all with her. To save and
protect them. Darius had a strong will and he was determined he
would not give up those children with him to the cruelty of the
Turks. The woman took them to her lover, a young man who owned
a boat. Sailing in the open seas was rarely attempted as boats
were precarious at best in that century. Tales of sea serpents
and falling off the earth abounded but the Turks cruelty was a
worse fate, so the crew took their vessel far from their usual
route in an attempt to flee the steadily advancing army.
children had huddled together as far from the miserable crew as
they could get, trying to stay out of sight. They were all terrified,
all shocked at the deaths of their parents. Even his little sister,
a mere infant was fully aware of what happened. Darius had kept
them going, insisting they could make it if they stuck together.
A terrible storm had come up, the crew washed overboard, the sea
rising up to claim them as efficiently as the Turks had massacred
the village. Darius had refused to yield his charges up to such
a fate. Although such a young age, he already had an iron will.
Holding the image of a bird in their minds, he forced the children
as young as they were to shape-shift before the ship went down.
He had flown, clutching Desari in his talons, leading them to
the nearest body of land, the wilds of Africa.
had been six years old. His sister had been barely six months
old. The other female child, Syndil, had been a year. There were
three other boys, the oldest four years of age. The continent
of Africa was wild and untamed, a primitive, frightening land.
Darius was responsible for the safety and training of the other
children. He learned to fight, to kill, to hunt. He learned how
to be a complete authority. He took ultimate responsibility for
his group. Carpathian children did not have extraordinary talents.
They had to work, to learn from their parents and those that would
teach them. Darius didn't allow those facts to stop his mission.
It hadn't mattered to Darius that he was just a little boy. He
would not lose the children. It was that simple to him.
had not been easy to keep the two girls alive. Often Carpathian
children did not survive the first year of life. Darius had to
figure out how to provide for them. He had to fight wild animals
and natives. At first, he had waited, certain the other Carpathians
would come and rescue them, but, as time passed, the memory of
the Carpathian race faded. He took the few rules imprinted on
him from birth, what he could remember of his talks with his parents,
and he devised his own code of honor by which to live.
children became much closer than most families and friends. They
were the only ones like themselves in their narrow world. The
few of their kind they had encountered had already turned, becoming
the undead, the vampires, feeding on the lives of those around
them. It was always Darius who had taken the responsibility of
hunting down and destroying the dreaded demons. His group was
fiercely loyal to one another, fiercely protective of each other.
And all of them followed Darius without question.
strength and will had taken them through centuries of learning,
of adapting. He had given them some kind of life. It had been
a shock to discover, a few short months ago that others of their
kind, Carpathian and not vampire, still existed. Darius had been
secretly afraid all males eventually had no other choice. He had
lost all emotion centuries earlier, long before the other males
in his family. He never spoke of it, always afraid the day would
come when he would turn on his own loved ones. Already, one among
them had done so.
glided away from his sister and her lifemate, thinking of Savon.
Savon had been the second oldest boy. They had been great friends.
Darius had relied on him often to hunt and watch over the others.
Savon had always been his second in command, the one he trusted
to watch his back.
stopped for a moment beside a huge oak tree and leaned against
the large trunk remembering that horrible day. A few months earlier
he had found Savon crouched over Syndil. Her body had been a mass
of bite marks and bruises. She was naked, blood and seed seeping
between her legs. Her beautiful eyes been glazed glazed with shock.
Savon had attacked Darius, going for his throat, ripping and tearing
mortal wounds before Darius had time to realize his best friend
had become what all the males feared most. The vampire. The undead.
Savon had brutally raped and beaten Syndil and was trying to destroy
had no choice but to kill his friend and incinerate his body.
He had learned the hard way how to destroy a vampire properly.
They could rise again and again from the most mortal of wounds
unless certain techniques were used. He had had no one to instruct
him, only an eternity of mistakes to correct. Darius had lain
for some time after that terrible battle, deep within the soil,
had been silent these last months, often taking the shape of a
panther and staying with the cats, Sasha and Forest. He sighed.
It was only now that he could feel the deep sorrow sweeping over
him for Savon, his guilt and despair that he had been unable to
see it coming and find a way to help his friend. After all, he
was their leader, he was responsible. And Syndil. She was like
a lost child, with such sadness, such wariness in her beautiful
dark eyes. He had failed her most of all, failed to protect her
from one of their own, thinking in his arrogance that his leadership,
the unity among them would prevent the ultimate depravity one
of their species could experience. He still could not look Syndil
fully in the eyes.
now he was breaking his own laws. Had he made up those laws so
they would have a code to live by? Had his father told him these
things? Had they been imprinted on him before birth as many other
things had been? Had he been better friends with Julian they might
have shared information, but he had always learned for himself,
a private person, answering to no one, accepting the consequences
of his own actions and mistakes.
bit at him and he knew he had no choice but to hunt. The campground
they had chosen to stay in for a few days was deep within a state
park, little used and, right at the moment, empty. The highway
ran close by, but he had put out an invisible warning net, a sense
of oppression and dread, that deterred those humans that thought
of stopping. It wasn't particularly strong, just enough to make
mortals wary. It hadn't driven Tempest off.
thought about that as he shape-shifted on the run, his body contorting,
stretching. Muscles and sinew held the leopard's bones together
in a loose, supple package. Most of the cat's body weight consisted
of muscle, thick ropes and bands of it. Darius loped silently
through the forest toward the more popular campsite situated near
traveled great distances to the deep, clear lake. The leopard
covered the distance quickly, scenting prey. It moved, circled
to stay downwind and sank low in the bushes. Two men fished from
the reed-covered shore, talking to each other in short bursts
paid no attention to the words. In the body of the cat he slunk
low to the ground. Carefully positioning each large paw, he crept
stealthily forward. One of the men turned his head toward the
sound of laughter coming from the campsite. Darius stopped, then
began a stealthy freeze-frame slow motion. His prey turned his
attention back toward the lake and, in absolute silence, the leopard
resumed its forward motion. It edged ever closer, crouched low
in a spring-loaded position, powerful muscles bunched and waiting.
sent forth the call, enveloping the shorter of the two men, drawing
his prey to him. The man's head went up, he turned toward the
leopard waiting crouched in the brush. He dropped his fishing
pole into the lake and began to walk forward, one foot in front
of the other, eyes glazed.
The other man grabbed the sinking pole, twisting around to stare
after his friend.
froze him with a mind block and shape-shifted as the man came
up to the cat. It was the only safe thing to do. He had found
that the cat's hunting instincts made it dangerous to use its
form to feed. The leopard used its sharp canines to pierce and
kill its prey. It had taken several trial and error episodes on
his part as a child to learn what was acceptable. As children
they could not hunt. They had no choice but to use the leopards
and their abilities. Natives had died. Darius accepted the responsibility
of that. It was the only way he could keep the other children
kept the other man calm and accepting with the ease of long practice,
a method perfected long ago. He bent his head and drank his fill,
careful not to take too much. He didn't want his prey sick and
dizzy. Helping the first man to a sitting position in the brush,
he summoned the other one to him.
he slowly allowed his body to reshape. The cat snarled silently,
its instinct to pull the carcasses into the limbs of the nearby
trees. Darius fought the urge and padded on cushioned paws back
toward the tour bus. They traveled together, modern day troubadours,
going from city to city singing in local bars and taverns. Desari
had a beautiful voice, haunting and mesmerizing. Dayan was a superb
songwriter and his voice, too captured audiences and held them
spellbound. It was an interesting life allowing them to travel
from place to place without close scrutiny in the old days. No
one would notice their differences. Now, with the world growing
smaller, it was a much more difficult feat.
Darius made his way back to the campsite and shape-shifted after
he entered the bus equipped with every luxury. Tempest was in
a deep sleep, due, he was certain, to the fact that he had been
greedy in the taking of her blood. He should have tried to control
himself, to deprive himself of the unexpected ecstasy of it.
looking at her made his body ache, a relentless urgent demand
he knew was not going to go away. They would have to learn to
strike some sort of balance. Darius was well aware he was used
to no opposition. Everyone always did as he bid without question.
He could not expect a redheaded human woman to do the same. He
tucked the blanket more closely around her and bent to brush his
mouth against her forehead. His thumb brushed the softness of
her skin, felt the answering jolt in his body.
directed a firm command to the leopards before stalking out. He
wanted her safe at all times. The cats slept the day away as did
Darius and his family. The leopards gave the troupe some semblance
of protection, guarding the bus while they were deep within the
ground. He directed that protective instinct to include Tempest.