He would no longer fool himself. Slowly, with infinite weariness Mikhail
Dubrinsky closed the leather-bound first edition with a curious
finality. This was the end. He could no longer bear it. The books
he loved so much could not push away the stark, raw loneliness of
his existence. The study was lined with books, floor to ceiling
on three of the four walls of the room. He had read every one, committed
a great many to memory over the centuries. They no longer provided
solace for his mind. The books fed his intellect, but broke his
He would not seek sleep at dawn, at least not the healing sleep of
renewal, he would seek eternal rest and God have mercy on his soul.
His kind was few, scattered, persecuted-gone. He had tried it all,
skills, physical and mental, every new technology. Mikhail had filled
his life with art and philosophy, with work and science. He knew
every healing herb and every poison root. He knew the weapons of
man and had learned to become a weapon himself. He remained alone.
His people were a dying race and he had
failed them. As their leader, he had been committed to finding a
way to save those he looked after. Too many of the males were turning,
giving up their souls to become the undead in desperation. There
were no women to continue their species, to bring them back from
the darkness in which they dwelled. They had no hope to continue.
The males were essentially predators, the darkness growing and spreading
in them until they had no emotion, nothing but the dark in a gray,
cold world. It was necessary to find their missing half, the lifemate
that would bring them forever into the light.
Grief overwhelmed him, consumed him. He
lifted his head and roared out his pain like the wounded animal
he was. He could no longer bear to be alone.
trouble is not really in being alone, it's being lonely. One can
be lonely in the midst of a crowd, don't you think?'
Mikhail became still, only his soulless
eyes moving warily, a dangerous predator scenting danger. He inhaled
deeply, closing his mind instantly while all senses flared out to
locate the intruder. He was alone. He couldn't be wrong. He was
the oldest, the most powerful, the most cunning. No one could penetrate
his safeguards. No one could approach him without his knowledge.
Curious, he replayed the words, listened to the voice. Female, young,
intelligent. He allowed his mind to open slightly, testing paths,
looking for mental footprints. 'I
have found it to be so,'
he agreed. He realized he was holding his breath, needing the contact.
A human. Who gave a damn? It was interest.
I go into the mountains and stay by myself for days, weeks, and
I'm not lonely, yet at a party surrounded by a hundred people, I
am more lonely than ever.'
His gut clenched hotly. Her voice, filling
his mind, was soft, musical, sexy in it's innocence. Mikhail had
not felt anything in centuries, his body had not wanted a woman
in hundreds of years. Now, hearing this voice, the voice of a human
woman, he was astonished at the intensity, the gathering fire in
'How is it you can talk to me?'
sorry if I offended you.'
He could clearly hear she meant it, felt her apology. 'Your
pain was so sharp, so terrible, I couldn't ignore it. I thought
you might like to talk. Death is not an answer to unhappiness. I
think you know that. In any case, I'll stop if you wish it.'
His protest was a command, an imperious order given by a being used
to instant obedience.
He felt her laughter before the sound registered
in his mind. Soft, carefree, inviting. 'Are
you used to obedience from everyone around you?'
didn't know how to take her laughter. He was intrigued. Feelings.
Emotions. They crowded in until he was nearly overwhelmed.
European, aren't you? Wealthy, and very, very arrogant.'
He found himself smiling at her teasing.
He never smiled. Not for six hundred years or more. 'All
of those things.'
waited for her laughter again, needing it with the same craving
as an addict for a drug.
When it came, it was low and amused, as
caressing as the touch of fingers on his skin. 'I'm
an American. Oil and water, don't you think?'
He had a fix on her now, a direction. She
would not get away from him. 'American
women can be trained with the right methods.'
He drawled it deliberately, anticipating her reaction.
really are arrogant.'
loved the sound of her laughter, savored it, took it into his body.
He felt her drowsiness, her yawn. So much the better. He sent her
a light mental push, very delicate, wanting her to sleep so he could
Her reaction was quick withdrawal, hurt, suspicion. She retreated,
slamming a mind block so swiftly he was astonished at how adept
she was, how strong for one so young, strong for a human. And she
was human. He was certain of it. He knew without looking that he
had exactly five hours to sunrise. Not that he couldn't take the
early or late sunlight. He tested her block, careful not to alarm
her. A faint smile touched his well-cut mouth. She was strong, but
not nearly strong enough.
His frame, hard-corded muscle and superhuman
strength shimmered, dissolved, became a faint crystal mist seeping
beneath the door, streaming into the night air. Droplets beaded,
collected, connected, formed a large winged bird. It dipped, circled
and swept across the darkened sky, silent, lethal, beautiful in
its deadly pretense.
Mikhail reveled in the power of flight,
the wind rushing against his body, the night air speaking to him,
whispering secrets, carrying the scent of game, of man. He followed
the faint psychic trail unerringly. So simple. Yet his blood was
surging hotly, excitement real. A human, young, full of life and
laughter, a human with a psychic connection to him. A human filled
with compassion, intellect and strength. Death and damnation could
wait another day while he satisfied his curiosity.
The inn was small, at the edge of the forest
where the mountain met the timberline. The interior was dark with
only a few lights glowing softly in one or two rooms and perhaps
a hallway, while the humans took their rest. He settled on the balcony
outside her second story window and became still, a part of the
night. Her bed chamber was one of the rooms with a light still proclaiming
she was unable to sleep. His dark, burning eyes found her through
the clear glass, found her and claimed her.
She was small-boned, curvy, tiny waist and
a wealth of raven hair tumbling down her back to draw attention
to her rounded bottom. His breath caught in his throat. She was
exquisite, beautiful, her skin like satin, her eyes incredibly large,
intensely blue fringed with thick long lashes. Not a detail escaped
him. A white lace gown clung to her skin, hugged her high, full
breasts, and bared the line of her throat, her creamy shoulders.
Her feet were small like her hands. So much strength in so small
She brushed her hair, standing at the window,
looking out with unseeing eyes. Her face held a far-away expression,
there were lines of strain around her full, sensuous mouth. He could
feel pain in her and the need for sleep that refused to come. He
found himself following every stroke of the brush, innocent, erotic.
Imprisoned within the bird's form, his body stirred. He turned his
face up to the heavens reverently in thanks. The sheer joy of feeling
after centuries of enduring no emotion was beyond measure.
Every action with the brush lifted her breasts
invitingly, emphasized her narrow rib cage and small waist. The
lace clung to her body, revealing the dark vee at the junction of
her legs. Talons dug deeply into the railing, left long scars in
the soft wood. Still Mikhail watched. Her movements were graceful,
enticing. He found his hot gaze dwelling on her soft throat, the
pulse beating steadily in her neck. His.
Abruptly he pulled away from the thought, shook his head.
had blue eyes. It was only then that he realized he was seeing in
color. Vivid, brilliant colors. He went utterly still. It could
not be. Males lost the ability to see in other than drab grays and
shadows about the same time they lost their emotions. It could not
be. Only a lifemate could bring emotions and color back into a male's
life. Carpathian women were the light to the male's darkness. His
other half. Without her, the beast would slowly consume the man
until he was complete darkness. There was no Carpathian women left
to give birth to lifemates. The few remaining women seemed able
to produce only males. It was a seemingly hopeless situation. Human
women could not be converted without becoming deranged and having
to be destroyed. It had been tried. This human woman could not possibly
be his lifemate.
Mikhail watched as she snapped off her light,
lay on the bed. He felt the stirring in his mind, the searching. 'Are
Her question was tentative.
At first he refused to answer, not liking
that he needed this so much. He couldn't afford to be out of control,
he didn't dare. No one had power over him. Certainly not some slip
of an American, a small woman with more strength than good sense.
He understood none of what was happening and with his new intense
emotions, he feared for any coming near him, any opposing him until
he was certain he was in complete control.
know you can hear me. I'm sorry I intruded. It was thoughtless of
me, it won't happen again. But just for the record, don't try flexing
your muscle on me again.'
He was glad he was in the form of a creature,
he couldn't smile. She didn't know what muscle was. 'I
was not offended.'
He sent the reassurance in gentle tones. He had to answer, it was
nearly compulsion. He needed the sound of her voice, the soft whisper
brushing in his head like fingers on his skin.
She turned over, rearranged her pillow,
rubbed at her temple as if she ached. One hand curled over the thin
sheet. Mikhail wanted to touch that hand, feel her warm silky skin
under his. 'Why
did you try to control me?'
It wasn't purely an intellectual question like she wanted it to
be. He sensed he had hurt her in some way, disappointed her. She
moved restlessly as if waiting for her lover.
The thought of her with another man enraged
him. Feelings after hundreds of years. Sharp, clear, in focus. Real
is my nature to control.'
He was exhilarated, joyous, yet at the same time all too aware he
was more dangerous than he had ever been. Power always needed control.
The less emotion, the easier the restraint.
'Don't try to control me.'
There was something in her voice, something he sensed more than
named, as if she knew he was a threat to her. And he knew he was.
does one control one's nature, little one?"
He saw her smile even as it filled his emptiness,
as it registered in his heart and lungs, sent his blood soaring. 'Why
would you think I was little? I'm as big as a house.'
'I am to believe this?'
The laughter faded from her voice, her thoughts,
lingered in his blood. 'I'm
tired, and again, I apologize. I enjoyed talking with you.'
He prompted gently.
Mikhail took flight, soaring high above
the forest. It wasn't good-bye. He wouldn't allow it. He couldn't
allow it. His survival depended on her. Something, someone
had aroused his interest, his will to live. She had reminded him
there was such a thing as laughter, that there was more to life
than existence. He had power beyond imagination, knowledge beyond
imagination and as centuries passed, his nature had sharpened and
defined, both sides of it, good and bad. It took tremendous control
to walk the line, a lonely, sterile existence.
He soared above the forest, for the first
time in centuries marveling at the sights. The canopy of waving
branches, the way the rays of the moon spilled over the trees and
bathed the streams in silver. It was all so beautiful. He had been
given a priceless gift, a treasure unbelievable. A human woman had
somehow managed to do this for him. And she was human. He would
have known instantly had she been of his race. Could her voice alone
do the same for the other males on the edge of despair?
In the protection of his home he paced with
a long forgotten restless energy. He thought of her soft skin, how
it would feel beneath his palm, under his body, how it would taste.
The thought of her mass of silky hair brushing his heated body,
the line of her vulnerable throat exposed to him, excited him. His
body tightened unexpectedly. Not the mild physical attraction he
had felt as a fledging, but a savage, demanding relentless ache.
Shocked at the erotic twist his thoughts began to pursue, Mikhail
imposed rigid discipline. He could not afford to arouse real passion.
He was shocked to find he was a possessive man, deadly in his rages
and protective beyond measure. This kind of passion could not be
shared with a human, it was far too dangerous.
This was a woman of freedom, strong for
a mortal and she would fight his nature at every turn. He was not
human. His was a race of beings with animal instincts, imprinted
before birth. Better to keep his distance and satisfy his curiosity
on an intellectual level. He meticulously locked every door and
window, safeguarded every point of entry with impassable spells
before descending to his sleeping chamber. The room was protected
with even greater threats. If he gave up his existence, it would
be of his own choosing. He lay down on the bed, there was no need
of healing soil deep within the earth, he could enjoy mortal comforts.
He closed his eyes, slowed his breathing.
Mikhail's body refused to obey. His mind
was filled with pictures of her, with erotic taunting scenes. A
vision of her lying on her bed, her body naked beneath white lace,
her arms out-stretched to greet her lover. He swore softly. Instead
of his body taking hers, he pictured another man. A human. Rage
shook him, raw and deadly.
Skin like satin, hair like silk. His hand
moved. He built the picture with deadly precision and purpose in
his mind. He paid every attention to detail, even to the silly polish
on her toenails. His strong fingers circled her small ankle, felt
the texture of her skin. His breath caught in his throat, his body
tightening in anticipation. He slid his palm up her calf, massaging,
tantalizing, moved up farther, her knee, her thigh.
Mikhail knew the precise moment she awakened,
her body on fire. Her alarm slammed into him, her fear. Deliberately,
to show her what she was dealing with, his palm found the inside
of her thigh, stroked, caressed.
body ached for his, for his touch, for his possession. He could
hear the frantic pounding of her heart, feel the strength of her
mental struggle with him.
another man touched you like this?'
whispered the words in her mind, dark, deadly sensuality.
Tears glittered like jewels in her lashes, in her mind. 'All
I wanted to do was help you. I said I was sorry.'
His hand moved higher because he had to,
found heat and silk, tiny curls guarding treasure. His palm covered
the triangle possessively, pushed into the moist heat. 'You
will answer me, little one.There
is still time for me to come to you, to put my mark on you, for
me to own you,'
he warned silkily. 'Answer
'Why are you doing this?'
'Do not defy me.'
voice was husky now, raw with need. His fingers moved, probed, found
her most sensitive spot. 'I
am being exceptionally gentle with you..'
'You already know the answer is no,' she
whispered it in defeat.
He closed his eyes, was able to calm the
raging demons knifing pain through his body. 'Sleep,
little one, no one will harm you tonight.'
He broke contact and found his body hard, heavy, bathed in perspiration.
It was far too late to stop the beast in him from breaking free.
He was burning with hunger, consumed with it, jackhammers beating
at his skull, flames licking along his skin and nerve endings. The
beast was unleashed, deadly, hungry. He had been more than gentle.
She had inadvertently released the monster. He hoped she was as
strong as he believed her to be.
Mikhail closed his eyes against self-loathing.
He had learned centuries ago there was little point. And this time
he didn't want to fight it. This was not simply a strong sexual
attraction he felt, it was far more than that. It was something
primal. Something deep within him calling to something deep within
her. Perhaps it was his self-imposed isolation for so long, perhaps
she craved the wildness in him as he craved the laughter and compassion
in her. Did it matter? There would be no escape for either of them.
He touched her mind gently before closing
his eyes and allowing his breath to cease. She was weeping silently,
her body still in need with the effects of his mind touch. There
was hurt and confusion in her, and her head was aching. Without
thought, without reason, he enveloped her in the strength of his
arms, stroked her silky hair and sent warmth and comfort to surround
am sorry I frightened you, little one, it was wrong of me. Go to
sleep now and be safe.'
He murmured the words against her temple, his lips brushing her
forehead in gentleness, brushing her mind with tenderness.
He could feel the curious fragmentation
in her mind, as if she had been using her mental capabilities to
follow some sick and twisted path. It was as if she had raw, gaping
wounds in her mind that needed to heal. She was too worn out from
their previous mental battle to fight him. He breathed with her,
for her, slow and even, matching her heartbeat until she relaxed,
drowsy and worn. He sent her to sleep, a whispered command, and
her lashes drifted down. They fell asleep together, yet apart, she
in her room, Mikhail in his sleeping chamber.
The pounding on her door penetrated the
deep layers of sleep. Raven Whitney fought the thick fog forcing
her eyes closed, making her body heavy. Alarm spread. It was as
if she had been drugged. Her gaze found the small alarm clock on
the bedside table. Seven o'clock in the evening. She had slept the
day away. She sat up slowly, feeling as if she was wading through
quicksand. The pounding on her door began again.
The sound echoed in her head, thundered
at her temples. "What?" She forced her voice to be calm,
although her heart was slamming against her chest. She was in trouble.
She needed to pack quickly, run. She knew how futile it could be.
Wasn't she the one who had tracked four serial killers following
the mental path of their thoughts? And this man was a thousand times
more powerful than she. The truth was, she was intrigued that another
person had psychic abilities. She had never met anyone like herself
before. She wanted to stay and learn from him, but he was far too
dangerous in his casual use of power. She would have to put distance,
perhaps an ocean between them to be truly safe.
"Raven, are you all right?" The
male voice was filled with concern.
Jacob. She had met Jacob and Shelly Evans,
a brother and sister, last night in the dining room when they had
first come in off the train. They were traveling with a tour group
of about eight people. She had been tired and the conversation was
Raven had come to the Carpathian Mountains
to be alone, to recover from her last ordeal of following the twisted
mind of a depraved serial killer. She had not wanted the company
of the tour group, yet Jacob and Shelly had sought her out. They
had been wiped from her thoughts very efficiently. "I'm fine,
Jacob, just a touch of the flu, I think," she assured, far
from fine. She shoved a shaky hand through her hair. "I'm just
so tired. I came here to rest."
"Aren't we having dinner?" He
sounded plaintive and that annoyed her. She didn't want any demands
on her and the last thing she needed was to be in a crowded dining
room surrounded by a lot of people.
"I'm sorry, another time, maybe."
She didn't have time to be polite. How could she have made such
a mistake as she had last night? She was always so cautious, avoiding
all contact, never touching another human being, never getting close.
It was just that the stranger had been broadcasting
so much pain, so much loneliness. She had known instinctively that
he had telepathic powers, that his isolation far exceeded hers,
that his pain was so great he was considering ending his life. She
knew what isolation was. How it felt to be different. She had been
unable to keep her mouth shut, she had to help him if she could.
Raven rubbed her temples in an attempt to relieve the pain pounding
in her head. It always hurt after using telepathic powers.
Pushing herself up she moved slowly to the
bathroom. He was controlling her without contact. The thought terrified
her. No one should be that powerful. She turned the shower on full
force wanting the steady stream of water to clear the cobwebs.
She had come here for rest, to clear the
stench of evil from her mind, to feel clean and whole again. Her
psychic gift was draining to use, and physically she was worn. Raven
lifted her chin. This new adversary would not frighten her. She
had control and discipline. And this time she could walk away. No
innocent lives were at stake.
She pulled on faded jeans and a crocheted
sweater in defiance. She had sensed he was Old World and would frown
on her American clothes. She packed quickly, haphazardly, tossing
clothes and make-up as fast as she could into the battered suitcase.
She read the train schedule in dismay. There
was no service for two more days. She could use charm to beg a ride
from someone but that meant being in the small confines of a car
for an extended period of time. It probably was the lesser of two
She heard male laughter, low, amused, mocking. 'You
would try to run from me, little one.'
Raven sank down onto the bed, her heart
beginning to pound. His voice was black velvet, a weapon in itself. 'Don't
flatter yourself, hotshot, I'm a tourist, I tour.'
She forced her mind to be calm even as she felt the brush of his
fingers on her face. How did he do that? It was the lightest caress,
but she felt it down to her toes.
where were you thinking of touring?'
He was stretching lazily, his body refreshed from his sleep, his
mind once more alive with feeling. He was enjoying sparring with
from you and your bizarre games. Maybe Hungary. I've always wanted
to go to Budapest.'
'Little liar. You think to run back to your
United States. Do you play chess?'
blinked at the strange question. 'Chess?'
Male amusement could be very annoying. 'Chess.'
'Yes, do you?'
' Play with me.'
She began to braid her heavy mass of hair. There was something captivating
in his voice, mesmerizing. It tugged at her heartstrings, put terror
in her mind.
must feed first. And you are hungry. I can feel your headache. Go
down to dinner and we will meet at eleven tonight.'
'No way. I won't meet with you.'
'You are afraid.'
It was a clear taunt.
She laughed at him, the sound wrapping his
body in flames. 'I
may do foolish things occasionally, but I am never a fool.'
'Tell me your name.'
It was a command and Raven felt compelled to obey it.
She forced her mind to go blank, to be a
slate wiped clean. It hurt, sent darts of pain through her head,
made her stomach clench. He was not going to take what she would
have given freely.
do you fight me when you know I am the stronger? You hurt yourself,
wear yourself out and in the end, I will win anyway. I feel the
toll this way of communicating has on you. And I am capable of commanding
your obedience on a much different level.'
'Why do you force what I would have given,
had you simply asked?'
She could feel his puzzlement. 'I
am sorry, little one, I am used to getting my way with the least
amount of effort.'
'Even at the expense of simple courtesy?'
"Sometimes it is more expedient.'
She punched the pillow. 'You
need to work on your arrogance. Simply because you possess power
does not mean you have to flaunt it.'
'You forget most humans cannot detect a
'That isn't an excuse to take away free
will. And you don't use a 'push' anyway, you issue a command and
demand compliance. That's worse because it makes people sheep. Isn't
that closer to the truth?'
'You reprimand me.'
There was an edge to his thoughts this time as if all that male
mockery was wearing thin.
try to force me.'
This time there was menace, a quiet danger
lurking in his voice. 'I
would not 'try', little one, be assured I can force your compliance.'
His tone was silky and ruthless.
like a spoiled child wanting your own way.'
She stood up, hugging the pillow to her protesting stomach. 'I'm
going downstairs to dinner, my head is beginning to pound. You can
go soak your head in a bucket and cool off.'
She wasn't lying, the effort to fight him on his level was making
her sick. She edged cautiously toward the door, afraid he would
stop her. She would feel safer if she were among people.
name, please, little one.'
It was asked with grave courtesy.
Raven found herself smiling in spite of
'So, Raven Whitney, eat, rest, I will return
at eleven for our chess match.'
The contact was broken abruptly. Raven let
out her breath slowly, all too aware she should be feeling relief,
not feeling bereft. There was seduction in his hypnotic voice, his
masculine laughter, in their very conversation. She ached with the
same loneliness as he did. She didn't allow herself to think of
the way her body had come alive, needed the touch of his fingers.
Burned. Wanted. Needed. And he had only touched her with his mind.
The seduction was far more than physical, it was some deep elemental
thing she could not precisely put her finger on. He touched her
inside her soul. His need. His darkness. His terrible haunting loneliness.
She needed too. Someone to understand what it was like being so
alone, so afraid to touch another being, afraid to be too close.
She liked his voice, the Old World elegance, the silly male arrogance.
She wanted his knowledge, his abilities.
Her hand trembled as she opened the door,
breathed the air in the hallway. Her body was her own again, moving
lightly and fluidly, obeying her instructions. She ran down the
stairs, entered the dining room.
Several tables were occupied, certainly
more than the night before. Ordinarily, Raven avoided public places
as much as possible, preferring not to have to worry about shielding
herself from unwanted emotions. She took a deep breath and walked
looked up with a welcoming smile, stood, as if waiting for her to
join the group at his table. Raven made herself smile back at him,
unaware of the way she looked, innocent, sexy, completely unattainable.
She crossed the room, greeted Shelly and was introduced to Margaret
and Harry Summers. Fellow Americans. She tried not to let her alarm
show on her face. She knew her picture had been plastered all over
the newspaper and even on television during the investigation of
the last killer. She didn't want to be recognized, didn't want to
relive the horrible nightmare of the man's twisted and depraved
mind. There would be no discussion of such a hideous thing at dinner.
"Sit here, Raven," Jacob graciously
pulled out a high-backed chair for her.
Carefully avoiding skin contact, Raven allowed
herself to be seated. It was hell to be so close to so many people.
As a child she had been overwhelmed by the bombardment of emotions
around her. She had nearly gone insane until she learned to protect
herself, to build a shield. It worked unless the pain or distress
was too concentrated or if she physically touched another human
being. Or if she was in the presence of a very sick and evil mind.
Right now, with conversation flowing all
around her and everyone seemingly having a good time, Raven was
experiencing classic signs of overload. Shards of glass piercing
her skull, her stomach roiling in protest, left-over, she was certain,
from her prolonged exposure to the serial killer. She couldn't possibly
eat a thing, concentrating instead on appearing to enjoy the conversation
at their table.
Mikhail inhaled the night air, moved slowly
through the small town seeking what he needed. Not a woman. He couldn't
bear to touch another woman's flesh. He was aroused, dangerous in
his highly sexual state and far too close to turning. He might lose
control. So it had to be a man. He moved among the people easily,
returned greetings from those who knew him. He was well respected,
looked up to.
He slipped up behind a young man physically
fit, strong. The scent spoke of health, veins bursting with life.
After a brief, easy conversation, Mikhail spoke his command softly,
laid a friendly arm across the other's shoulder. Deep within the
shadows he bent his dark head and fed well. He was careful to keep
his emotions firmly in control. He liked this young man, knew his
family. There could be no mistakes.
As he lifted his head the first wave of
her distress hit him. Raven.
He had unconsciously been seeking contact with her, touching her
mind gently to assure himself she was still with him. Alert now,
he finished his task quickly, releasing the young man from his trance,
implanting the continuing conversation, laughing amicably, accepting
the handshake with ease, steadying the man when he was a bit dizzy.
Mikhail opened his mind, focused on the
thread and followed it. It had been years, his skills were rusty,
but he could still 'see' when he wanted. Raven was seated at a table
with two couples. Outwardly she looked beautiful, serene. But he
knew better, he could feel her confusion, the unrelenting pain in
her head, her desire to leap up and run from everyone. Her eyes,
brilliant sapphires, were haunted, shadows in the paleness of her
face. Strain. It amazed him how strong she was, there was no telepathic
spillage, no way for anyone with telepathic ability other than he
to tell she was in distress.
And then the man beside her leaned forward,
looked into her eyes, raw longing on his face, desire in his eyes.
"Come for a walk with me, Raven," he suggested and his
hand moved from the table to rest just above her knee.
At once the pain in Raven's head increased,
crushing at her skull, stabbing at her behind her eyes. She jerked
her leg out from under Jacob's hand. Demons leapt, raged, burst
free. Never had Mikhail felt such terrible fury. It rushed over
him, claimed him, became him. That someone could hurt her like that,
so casually, not even knowing or caring. That someone might touch
her while she was so vulnerable and unprotected. That a man would
presume to put his hands on her. He hurtled through the sky, the
cool air fanning his rage.
Raven felt the force of his anger. The air
in the room thickened, outside the wind rose, whirled fiendishly.
Branches pelted the outside walls, the wind rattled ominously at
the windows. Several waiters crossed themselves, looked with fright
out into the black, suddenly starless night. The room was unexpectedly,
strangely silent as if they were all collectively holding their
Jacob gasped, both hands going to his throat,
tearing at it as if at strong, strangling fingers. His face was
first red, then mottled, his eyes bulging. Shelly screamed. A young
waiter ran to assist the choking man. People were standing, craning
their necks to see.
Raven forced calmness into her slender body.
Emotions were running far too high for her to remain unscathed. 'Release
Silence answered her. Even with the waiter behind him, desperately
working at the Heimlich maneuver, Jacob fell to his knees, his lips
blue, his eyes rolling back in his head. 'Please,
I'm asking you, please. Release him. For me.'
Jacob suddenly inhaled, a terrible gagging
sound, labored and harsh. His sister and Margaret Summers were crouched
at his side, tears in their eyes. Instinctively Raven moved toward
not touch him!'
The command was stark, without any mental enhancement, more frightening
than if he had forced her compliance.
Raven was besieged with emotion, everywhere
in the room, from everyone in the room. Jacob's pain and terror.
Shelly's fear, the innkeeper's horror, the Summer's couple shocked
reaction. They were swamping her, beating at her already fragile
state. But it was his
all-consuming rage that sent needles shooting through her head,
hammers beating. Her stomach heaved, cramped, Raven nearly doubled
over, looked desperately for the ladies room. If anyone touched
her, tried to come to her aid, she might go mad.
"Raven." The voice was warm, sensual,
caressing. Calm in the eye of the storm. Black velvet. Beautiful.
A curious hush fell in the dining room as
Mikhail strode in. He had a hard arrogance, an air of complete command.
Tall, dark, well-muscled, it was his eyes burning with energy, with
darkness, with a thousand secrets that drew immediate attention.
Those eyes could mesmerize, hypnotize, just like the power in his
voice. He moved with purpose, sending waiters scurrying out of the
"Mikhail, it is such a pleasure to
have you join us," the innkeeper gasped in wondrous surprise.
He spared her a glance, his eyes sweeping
over the buxom figure. "I have come for Raven. We have a date
this evening." He said it softly, imperiously, and no one dared
argued with him. "She has challenged me to a game of chess."
The innkeeper nodded her head as she broke
into a smile. "Enjoy yourselves."
Raven swayed, pressing her hands into her
stomach, her sapphire eyes enormous, taking up her face at his approach.
He was on her before she could move, his hands reaching out for
She closed her eyes, terrified of his touch. She was already on
overload, she would not be able to take the overpowering emotions
radiating from him.
Mikhail didn't hesitate, gathering her into
his arms, imprisoning her against his hard chest. His face was a
granite mask as he whirled around and took her from the room. Behind
them the buzzing started, the whispers.
Raven tensed, waiting for the battery on
her senses, but he had closed his mind and all she knew was the
enormous strength of his arms. He took her into the night, moving
fluidly, easily, as if her weight was of no consequence.
"Breathe, little one, it will help."
There was a trace of amusement in the warmth of his voice.
Raven did as he suggested, too worn out
to struggle. She had come here to this wild, lonely place to heal,
but instead, she was all the more fragmented. She opened her eyes
cautiously, looking up at him through long lashes.
His hair was the color of dark coffee beans,
a dark espresso, drawn back and tied at the nape of his neck. His
face was that of an angel or devil, strength and power, a sensual
mouth that hinted at cruelty, his hooded eyes were black obsidian,
black ice, pure black magic.
She couldn't read him, couldn't feel his
emotions or hear his thoughts. That had never happened to her before.
"Put me down, I feel silly with you carrying me off like some
pirate." His long strides were taking them into deep forest.
Branches swayed, bushes rustled. Her heart was beating out of control.
She tensed, pushed against his shoulders, struggled uselessly.
His eyes moved possessively over her face,
but his pace didn't slow, and he didn't answer her. It was really
humiliating that he didn't appear to notice her struggles.
Raven allowed her head to fall back against
his shoulder with a slight sigh. "Did you kidnap me or rescue
Strong white teeth gleamed at her, a predator's
smile, a man's amusement. "Perhaps a little of both."
"Where are you taking me?" She
pressed a hand to her forehead, not wanting a battle, physical or
"To my home. We have a date. I am Mikhail
Raven rubbed at her temple. "Tonight
might not be so good for me. I'm feeling..." she broke off
catching a glimpse of a moving shadow pacing them. Her heart nearly
stopped. She looked around, sighted a second, then a third. Her
hand clutched his shoulder. "Put me down, Dubrinsky."
"Mikhail," he corrected, not even
slowing down. A smile softened the edges of his mouth. "You
see the wolves?" She felt the indifferent shrug of his broad
shoulders. "Be calm, little one, they will not harm us. This
is their home, as it is mine. We have an understanding and are at
peace with one another."
Somehow she believed him. "Are you
going to hurt me?" She asked the question softly, needing to
His dark eyes touched her face again, thoughtful,
holding a thousand secrets, unmistakably possessive. "I am
not a man who would hurt a woman in the way you are imagining. But
I am certain our relationship will not always be a comfortable one.
You like to defy me." He answered as honestly as he was able.
His eyes made her feel as if she belonged
to him, as if he had a right to her. "You were wrong to hurt
Jacob, you know. You could have killed him."
"Do not defend him, little one, I allowed
him to live to please you, it would be no trouble to finish the
No man had the right to put his hand on Mikhail's woman and hurt
her as that human had done. The inability of the male to see he
was causing Raven pain did nothing to take away his sin.
"You don't mean that. Jacob is harmless.
He was attracted to me," she tried to explain gently.
"You will not speak his name to me.
He touched you, put his hand on you." He stopped abruptly,
there in the heart of the deep forest, as wild and untamed as the
pack of wolves surrounding them. He was not even breathing heavy
as if he had not covered miles carrying her in his arms. His black
eyes were merciless as they stared down into hers. "He caused
you much pain."
Her breath caught in her throat as he lowered
his dark head to hers. His mouth hovered inches from hers so that
she could feel the warmth of his breath on her skin. "Do not
disobey me in this, Raven. This man touched you, hurt you, and I
see no reason for his existence."
Her eyes searched his hard, implacable features.
"You're serious, aren't you?" She did not want to feel
the warmth spreading through her at his words. Jacob had hurt her,
the pain was so intense it had stolen her breath and somehow, when
no one else knew, Mikhail had known.
"Deadly serious." He began moving
again with his long ground-eating strides.
Raven was silent trying to work out the
puzzle. She knew evil, had chased it, soaked in it, the obscene,
depraved mind of a serial killer. This man spoke causally of killing,
yet she could not feel evil in him. She sensed she was in danger,
grave danger from Mikhail Dubrinsky. A man with unlimited power,
arrogant in his strength, a man who believed he had a right to her.
"Mikhail?" Her slender frame was
beginning to tremble. "I want to go back."
The dark eyes drifted over her face again,
noting the shadows, the fear lingering in her blue gaze. Her heart
was pounding, her slight body trembling in his arms. "Go back
to what? Death? Isolation? You have nothing with those people and
everything with me. Going back is not your answer. Sooner or later
you will not be able to take their demands. They continually take
pieces of your soul. You are much safer in my care."
She pushed at the wall of his chest, found
her hands trapped against the heat of his skin. He merely tightened
his hold, amusement spreading warmth to the coldness of his eyes.
"You cannot fight me, little one."
"I want to go back, Mikhail,"
she worked to keep her voice under control. She wasn't sure she
was telling the truth. He knew her. He knew what she felt, the price
she paid for her gift. The pull between them was so strong she could
hardly think straight.
The house loomed up, dark, threatening,
a rambling hulk of stone. Her fingers twisted in his shirt. Mikhail
knew she was unaware of that nervous, telltale gesture. "You
are safe with me, Raven. I would not allow anyone or anything to
She swallowed nervously as he pushed open
the heavy iron gates and mounted the steps. "Just you."
He allowed his chin to brush the top of
her silky hair, feeling the jolt in the core of his body. "Welcome
to my home." He said the words softly, wrapping her up in them
as if they were firelight or sunshine. Very slowly, reluctantly,
he allowed her feet to touch the threshold.
Mikhail reached past her to open the door,
stepped back. "Do you enter my home of your own free will?"
He asked it formally, his eyes burning on her face, over it, dwelling
on her soft mouth before returning to her large blue eyes.
She was frightened, he could read it easily,
a captive wild thing wanting to trust him, yet unable to, run to
the ground, cornered, but still willing to fight with her last breath.
She needed him almost as much as he needed her. She touched the
doorframe with a fingertip. "If I say no, will you take me
back to the inn?"
Why did she want to be with him when she
knew he was so dangerous? He wasn't 'pushing' her, she had too much
talent of her own not to know. He looked so alone, so proud, yet
his eyes burned over her with hungry need. He didn't answer her,
didn't try to persuade her, simply stood in silence waiting.
Raven sighed softly, knowing she was defeated.
She had never had another human being she could just sit and talk
with, even touch, without the bombardment of thoughts and emotions.
That in itself was a type of seduction.
She started across the threshold. Mikhail
caught her arm. "Your own free will, say it."
"My own free will." She stepped
into his home, her lashes sweeping down. Raven missed the look of
savage joy that lit his dark, chiseled features.