Contemplating allowing himself to die made Andor Katona feel a coward. He had never believed that sitting out in the open, waiting to meet the dawn and have the sun fry him was an act of nobility. He—and a very few others—had always believed it to be an act of cowardice. Yet here he was, deliberating whether or not to give himself permission to die. The sun wasn’t close, but the wounds he’d sustained battling so many vampires at one time had weakened him.
With the loss of blood, and several near-fatal wounds, the human vampire hunters hadn’t recognized him as a hunter and had attacked while he’d left his body an empty shell so he could try to heal those wounds. A stake close to the heart— they’d missed—didn’t feel so good. They really weren’t very good at their self-appointed task. They’d torn open his chest and more blood spilled onto the battle ground. He’d never thought he’d die in a country far from home—killed by a trio of bumbling humans—but dying seemed a good alternative to continuing a life of battle in an endless gray void.
The three men, Carter, Barnaby and Shorty, huddled together a distance from him, casting him terrified and hate-filled glances. They were trying to convince themselves they’d done it right and he was dying. Of course, they’d expected him to die immediately and now wondered why he wasn’t and what they should do about it. He could have told them they’d need another stake and a much better impaling technique if they wanted him to die. Did he really have to instruct others on how to kill him? That was ridiculous.
Sighing, he tried weighing the pros and cons of dying in order to make a rational decision. He’d lived too long. Far too long. He’d killed too often—so much so that there was little left of his soul. He’d lived with honor, but there had to be a time when one could let go with honor. It was past his time. He’d known that for well over a century. He’d searched the world over for his lifemate, the woman holding the other half of his soul, the light to his darkness. She didn’t exist. It was that simple. She didn’t exist.
Carpathian males lost all emotion and the ability to see in color after two hundred years. Some lost it earlier. They had to exist on memories, and after so many centuries, even those faded. They retained their battle skills—honed them nightly, but as time passed, all those long endless years, even the memories of family and friends faded away. He lived his life far from humans most of the time, working in the night to keep them safe.
Vampires were Carpathians who had given up their honor in order to feel again. There was a rush when one killed while feeding. Adrenaline-laced blood could produce a high. Vampires craved the high, and they terrorized their victims before killing them. Andor had hunted them on nearly every continent. As time passed, the centuries coming and going, the whispers of temptation to turn increased. For a few hundred years, those whispers sustained him, even if he knew the promise was empty. Eventually, even that was lost to him. Then he lived in a gray world of...nothing.
He entered the monastery high in the remote Carpathian Mountains, a place where a very few ancients locked themselves away from the world when they were deemed too dangerous to hunt and kill, and they didn’t believe in giving themselves to the dawn. Every kill increased the danger of turning and he had lived too long, and knew too much to be vampire. Few hunters would ever be able to defeat him, yet here he was, nearly done in by a trio of inept, bumbling human assassins.
He had entered the monastery, taking the vow to be honorable in waiting for his lifemate. Of course, the situation had been made worse by secreting themselves in a place where there was no hope of finding the one woman who could restore emotions and color into their lives—but they had known that. They accepted the truth, their women were no longer in the same world with them.
The whispers of his would-be killers grew annoying. Really annoying. His head was swimming, making it difficult to think. He lay looking up at the sky. Stars were out, but they appeared blurred lights, nothing more. Their light was a dull gray, just as the moon was. He looked down at the blood seeping out of his body, pooling around him from more than a dozen wounds, and that didn’t count the stake. The blood was a darker gray. An ugly mess. How had he gotten here, so far from his homeland and the monastery where he’d placed himself so he wouldn’t give in to the nothingness that surrounded him?
Hope had come to the monks, so they’d scattered, looking once again for the women who might save their souls. When the world was too changed and too vast and they realized once more they didn’t fit and there was little hope, they answered the call of their fellow monk and followed him to the United States. The vampires had grown powerful and Carpathians were behind in the ways of the new world. It had been an effort to catch up when before, he had always found it easy to learn newer, more modern things. That had led him to this moment—considering that he’d outlived his time.
Everything was different. He was forced to live in close proximity to humans and to hide who and what he was. Women were different. They no longer were satisfied having a man care for them. He had no idea what to do with a modern woman. Contemplating his demise seemed so much wiser than trying to understand the reasoning of a present-day woman.
It was difficult to think, although the night was beautiful. The humans kept talking, whispering together, sending anxious looks his way. He wanted them to be quiet and considered silencing them so he could continue to contemplate, but it was finally dawning on them that maybe they should have studied anatomy a little better before deciding on their profession.
Carter ended up drawing the short straw. The others sent him over to figure out what had gone wrong. He was shaking, trembling from head to foot as he approached, clearly terrified of the man they had tried to murder. Sweat poured off the assassin and he wiped it away with the back of his hand as he drew near.
He loomed over Andor, the stink of fanaticism reeking from his pores, his features twisted into mask of hatred and determination. Andor wasn’t quite ready to make up his mind about death. He lifted his hand to push enough air at the man to send him flying backward when a woman rushed out of the darkness and attacked.
The moon was full, scattering beams of light over the battleground. There was no evidence of the vampires he’d killed because he’d disposed of them properly. He wasn’t getting a minute of peace any time soon, not even with a stake sticking out of him and his blood everywhere, not with his supposed savior in the form of a little whirlwind of fury attacking his three would-be assassins. He was going to have to rescue her. That meant living longer. He didn’t like having his mind made up for him.
She moved with incredible speed, an avenging angel, her long hair flying, her hiking boots crunching rock, dirt and the lightning-scorched grass beneath her feet. She bashed Carter with what appeared to be a sauce pot, whirling like a tornado and striking him again. She went under his punch, blocking it upward with one arm that sounded and must have felt like a blow as she clobbered him right in the face with the pot. Carter staggered backward and then hit the ground.
Andor closed his eyes briefly, thinking perhaps he was seeing an illusion. What woman would attack three men with a sauce pot when they’d just staked someone? He sighed again and thought about how much blood he was going to lose when he sat up and yanked out the stake. It would leave a good-sized hole in his chest. On the other hand, he could leave it in...
“Don’t you move,” she hissed, not looking at him, but one slender hand came back behind her, palm toward him in the universal signal to stop.
He went still. Utterly still. Frozen. His lungs felt raw, burning for air. It wasn’t possible. It couldn’t be. More than a thousand years. An endless void. His eyes hurt so bad he had to close them, a dangerous thing to do when she was certain to be attacked.
The other two men who hadn’t the courage of Carter and had backed a distance from him, just in case when Carter did whatever he was considering to remedy the situation—in other words—trying to kill Andor again—they thought themselves safe. Both men might not want anything to do with the big man on the ground, but a woman armed with a sauce pot was an entirely different matter. They separated and circled around, edging up on either side of her while she had been busy smacking Carter with the pot.
“What is wrong with you people?” She was furious, emphasizing each word with a bang of the pot on Carter. “Are you crazy? That’s a human being you’re murdering.”
Andor had been laying in a puddle of his own blood, contemplating death, surrounded by a gray world. Everything was gray, or shades of it. The ground. The blood. The trees. The moon overhead. Even his three would-be assassins. He had no real emotion, feeling detached and completely removed from what was happening to him. The world changed in the blink of an eye. His burning eyes, his lungs that refused to obey his commands. Everything so raw he could barely comprehend what was happening.
Color burst behind his eyes. Vivid. Brilliant. Terrible. In spite of the night, he could see the green in the trees and the shrubs. Varying shades. His blood appeared red, a bright shade of crimson. He made out colors on the three men, blues and true blacks. The moon caught the woman right in its spotlight, the beams illuminating her.
Andor’s breath caught in his throat. Her hair was the color of chestnuts, dark brown with reddish and golden undertones making the thick mass gleam in the moonbeams. Her eyes were large and very green and she had a mouth that he could fixate on when he’d never obsessed or fixated on anything in his very long existence.
The vivid colors were disorienting when he already was in a weakened state. His stomach knotted. Churned. He felt as if he had vertigo. He needed to sit up. To protect her. The colors flashed through his mind, swirling into a nightmare of soundless chaos. At the same time, emotions poured in, feelings he couldn’t sort through fast enough to make sense of or process.
Carter was on the ground cowering as Shorty reached for the woman. She whirled around and bonked him over the head. “Do you have any idea how hard it is for me to meditate when you’re murdering someone?” She glared at Andor over her shoulder. “And you. Laying there, deciding whether or not you’ve had enough of life? What is wrong with you? Life is to be cherished. Not thrown away.”
Shorty tried another misguided attempt to punch her. She hit his hand with the pot so hard even Andor winced at the sound. Shorty howled and stepped back regarding her warily.
“I’m on a journey seeking personal enlightenment and you are disturbing my aura of love.” The pot hit Barnaby on his shoulder hard enough that he covered up and turned sideways to avoid another swipe. He’d made the mistake of trying to sneak up on her from the other side.
“I’m on a path of nonviolence so that my life can be an example to the world of what it would be like living in a better place. Peace...” She smashed the pot against the side of Barnaby’s head as he went at her again and then kicked the side of his knee hard enough to send him to the ground. “Love.” She turned toward Shorty and began to advance on him menacingly. “Embracing nature.”
Shorty grinned at her and shook his head. “You’re a nut.”
“Maybe, but you’re a murderer.” She ducked a punch and bashed his arm, blocking it smoothly with the pot while she stepped in and punched his jaw. Hard.
Andor could see Shorty’s head snap back. She had quite a punch but he was going to have to do something before the murderous pack got serious about going after his woman. He forced his body to move. It wasn’t easy with a stake protruding from his chest, right beneath his heart. When he moved, blood leaked out around the wood. It hurt like hell and he had to cut off his ability to feel pain if he was going to actually move.
“Don’t.” Her voice hissed out at him, a clear command. Annoyed.
No one in his lifetime had ever used a tone like that on him. He gave the orders, not a woman, and certainly not a human. Worse. A human woman.
“Don’t you move. I’ll get to you in a minute.” She turned her head to look at him over her shoulder and her eyes widened in horror. “Oh. My. God.” Her sauce pot lowered and she half turned toward him.
He waved his hand toward Shorty who was coming up behind her fast. Shorty stumbled and fell, almost at her feet, drawing her attention. She smashed the pot over his head. She became a little fury, rushing Barnaby again.
“Why would you do that to another human being?” There was a little sob in her voice, as if just seeing the cruelty of the stake in Andor’s chest hurt her as well. “I’m supposed to be learning to live without anger and you’re torturing and brutally murdering another man. How can I possibly be okay with that? If this is some kind of test, I’m failing. You’re making me fail.” She kicked Barnaby in the chest hard. Her forward snap kick was powerful and it sent the assassin flying back so far, he hit a tree and slid to the ground.
“He’s not human,” Carter shouted. “That’s a vampire.”
She stopped in her tracks. “You’re all crazy. He’s a man.” For the first-time wariness had crept in.
Maybe she finally realized she was out in the middle of nowhere with three madmen who had staked another man. Andor could only hope.
“There’s no such things as vampires.”
The three men got shakily to their feet, and then fanned out, surrounding her.
“We saw him. He called down lightning. Look at the scorch marks on the grass,” Carter said.
“They’re right, in that there are such creatures as vampires,” Andor said calmly. He managed to sit all the way up, both hands supporting the stake. He was weaker than he realized. Maybe he really wasn’t going to make it out of this one. He’d lost far too much blood. “They’re also wrong. I’m not a vampire. I was hunting them. They saw the tail end of the fight.” He had no idea why he was bothering to explain. He had never explained his actions in his life.
“Don’t listen to him,” Shorty said. “Cover your ears. Vampires can beguile you.”
“Beguile me?” She sounded as if she thought Shorty was insane. Her gaze shifted to Andor and she paled. “For God’s sake, lie back down now.”
Her skin looked beautiful in the moonlight. His eyes on hers, Andor reached up to grasp the thick stake protruding from his chest. Her eyes widened. She shook her head, dropped the sauce-pot and ran toward him.
“No. Don’t pull that out.”
Shorty tried to grab her as she ran past him. The thought of one of these men putting their hands on her brought out something in Andor he hadn’t know was lurking beneath the surface. It exploded out of him, a roar of pure rage. It came with the force of a volcano, welling up from somewhere deep and threatening to annihilate everything in its path.
“Do not touch her.” It was a decree. A command. Nothing less.
The mandate froze all three men. She made it past them and was on her knees at his side, her face a mask of worry as she touched the stake.
“Don’t move.” She jumped back up, pulled a cell phone from her jeans and began frantically trying to get it to work. She kept putting her arm up into the air, waving her phone around and moving from one place to another.
“What are you doing?”
“I need just to find one bar. Just one. We’re down in this valley and I can’t get service to call in rescue.” She pushed past Shorty and then stopped. Froze. Very slowly she turned her head to look at the man. He wasn’t moving. He stood, one arm outstretched but he was looking the other way. Not at her. “Um.” She backed away from Shorty. “What’s wrong with you?” She looked at the other two men. Neither so much as blinked. She backed up even more. “Something’s wrong with them.” She turned very slowly to look at Andor.
He could smell her fear. It was beginning to dawn on her that no human being could live with a stake the size of the one he had in his chest. Now the men claiming he was a vampire weren’t able to move. They looked like statues carved of stone. He considered leaving them like that, but it would raise questions in the human world and he couldn’t have that. Not now, when there seemed to be a real war brewing between vampires and Carpathians. More than that, he needed blood if he was going to survive this time, and the three could supply it. He had to survive now. There was no other choice.
“I need your help,” he said quietly.
She shook her head, but she took several steps toward him. “I’m not good with blood. I need to call someone...” Her voice was faint this time.
“There isn’t time. If you don’t do as I ask, I will die and you will have risked your life for nothing. Thank you for that, by the way.” He kept very calm, hoping she would follow his lead.
“When I say I’m not good with blood, I mean I could faint.”
“I’ll deal with the blood. You just do what I tell you and we’ll get through this.”
She looked from the three men frozen like statues back to him. Her gaze dropped to the pooling blood. “You’re bleeding from more than the stake.”
“I told you, before they came, I was engaged in a battle.” Hands covering the gaping wound in his belly, because he could see she really might faint, he had no choice but to lie back. Sun scorch his weakness. She was afraid now, he could see it in her expression and feel it in her mind. He was doing his best to keep her from reading his thoughts. She was clearly telepathic. She had knowledge of his consideration to end his life and she wouldn’t have that if she wasn’t reading him. Keeping her out of his mind took effort.
“Okay.” She moved cautiously toward him, her sauce pot held like a weapon. “I wasn’t kidding when I said I don’t do well around blood.”
For the first time, he caught a note of shame. Of guilt. He didn’t like it. He liked her annoyed. He liked her fighting. He liked her confident. That jarring note put knots in his gut and gave him a need to gather her close and comfort her. It was also getting more difficult to block the pain in his chest. He wanted to grasp the stake and pull it out, but he needed her to have everything ready for him.
“You’re going to need to pack my wounds with fresh soil. It can’t be burnt. If there’s scorch-marks on the ground or grass, it can’t be used.” He closed his eyes. He could feel the beads of blood dotting his forehead and running down his face. When she saw that up close, she might really faint and then he’d have no one to help. It was too late to send out a call.
“What’s your name?” At least, if he was going to die, he’d go knowing the name of the woman who had come to save him.
“Lorraine. Lorraine Peters.” He heard her take a deep breath. She was that close. “And you’re not going to die. We can do this. Are you certain about the soil?” She was already scooping dirt into her sauce pot. “It’s very unsanitary.”
“My body responds to the soil. To the Earth. When you have enough, bring it to me.” He wanted to see her face, but he was afraid if he opened his eyes and looked at her, she would be the last thing he saw. He would take that vision with him to the next life, instead of enjoying time with her after waiting for so many centuries.
Her body jerked hard and Andor realized he was drifting. She might have caught some of his thoughts.
“I am sliding in and out of consciousness and having odd dreams. I think these men put weird thoughts in my head.” It was the best he could do and it seemed to work. She was breathing again. Not even, but still, he hadn’t lost her yet. He tried to keep air moving in and out of his lungs.
“I’m sorry I’m such a baby about blood.” She knelt beside him. “I just don’t see how I’m going to be of help to you. This stake...” She trailed off. There were tears in her voice. Misery.
She wasn’t worried about him being a vampire. She wasn’t thinking about the three men standing behind her as still as statues. She was thinking she was an utter failure as a human being because she couldn’t look at the blood seeping around the stake, or dripping from any number of wounds he couldn’t heal.
“Bring the soil up close to me. I need to mix saliva with it.” He hoped she’d be so intrigued she’d forget about the blood. A sense of urgency was beginning to take hold. He knew he was slipping away. Too much blood loss.
“Andor. My name is Andor Katona.”
“You’ve lost so much blood. You need a transfusion.”
She was still catching partial thoughts, but didn’t realize it. He had to be careful, but it was impossible when he was trying to keep himself alive. Ordinarily, he would open the earth, shut down and try to allow the soil to heal him, but he was too far gone and he knew it now. Anxiety gripped him. After centuries of hunting her, he found her, and he was slipping away inch by inch, or pint by pint of blood loss.
“I can spit,” she offered.
There was a note of hesitancy like she thought he was a lunatic and she was simply indulging him because she was certain he was going to die. He was beginning to think he might.
“Let me.” He didn’t know if her saliva was powerful enough to help with healing. His saliva contained a healing agent as well as a numbing one.
He scooped a handful of the soil, mixed it with his saliva and pressed it into one of the gaping wounds in his belly where a vampire had tried to eviscerate him. Now that she had something to do besides faint at the sight of him covered in blood, she concentrated on helping him pack his wounds.
Andor closed his eyes and tried to conserve his strength. As an ancient, he had built up tremendous power and control. He had never considered that three humans—not very bright ones at that—might bring him down.
“Don’t.” She whispered the command. “Tell me what to do next.”
“I need blood. I’ve lost too much. Pack the soil around the stake. I can’t take it out until I have a transfusion.”
“I’ll give you my blood,” she said, her voice trembling. “But I’m afraid I really will pass out. Just tell me what to do.”
He was starving. Every cell in his body craved blood. Was it safe to take her blood? He would have to stop before he took too much from her and he didn’t know if he still had that kind of control. He had to rely on her. If she was weak, she couldn’t help him. On the other hand, if he was going to release one of the human males from their frozen state, he would need to be stronger to keep them under his power.
He could feel two of his teeth growing sharp. Lengthening. He breathed deep and kept his head turned from hers. “I can help you through it if you let me. I’m telepathic as well. You know we have shields, barricades in our minds so to speak. Trust me enough to let me make it easier for you. I don’t have much more time.”
There was a small silence. He lifted his lashes just enough to see her chewing at her full lower lip with small white teeth. She nodded. “Yes. But hurry. I’m already feeling dizzy. I’m trying not to look but it’s nearly impossible. And my hands are covered in...”
“I’ll take care of it.” He reached for her mind immediately. There was no sense in waiting. She was either going to let down her barriers and he was going to live, or she wouldn’t and he wasn’t going to make it.
He reached for her hand, and just that act sent pain crashing through him, driving the air from his lungs in a brutal rush of agony. Her skin was soft, like silk. His thumb brushed over her pulse, where it beat so frantically. She was afraid of him. Of giving her blood. Of fainting and making a fool of herself. Her phobia of blood made her feel foolish and weak. She detested it and tried very hard to overcome it.
He forced himself to stop reading her and took complete control, using the last of his strength to take over her mind. He was very lucky in that she had taken down her shields herself, giving her trust to him when he had yet to earn it. He didn’t delve deeper into her mind to find out why. He sank his teeth into her wrist.
Her blood burst into his mouth like bubbles of the finest champagne. Nothing had ever tasted so exquisite. So perfect. He knew he would always be obsessed, would always crave her taste. He savored every drop, feeling his cells reach for the nourishment, soaking it up, desperate to replace what was lost.
For the first time that he could remember, Andor had to fight himself for discipline. For control. He didn’t want to stop. He never wanted to stop. He was desperate for blood. Her blood. Very gently he swept his tongue over the two holes in her wrist and turned his head toward the three would-be assassins.
Shorty came to life, one slow inch at a time. His body jerked and he took a step toward the Carpathian. Terror was written on the man’s face. Andor ignored it. He didn’t want to waste his strength on calming the man, after all, he’d help drive a stake through Andor’s chest.
The moment Shorty got to him and knelt obediently, presenting his neck, Andor sank his teeth deep. The blood was good. Not tainted with alcohol or drugs. He took as much as he dared and then sent the man back to his campsite after wiping his memories. He planted an encounter with wild animals, something that would definitely spook him, and make him uneasy enough to want to break camp and go home.
He brought Barnaby close next, instructing him to kneel beside him and grasp the stake with both hands. Andor took the remainder of the soil, mixed it with his saliva, took a deep breath and told the human to remove the stake. Nothing in his long life had ever hurt as much as it did when that stake was driven into his chest. It hurt nearly as much when it was removed.
Blood welled up and he shoved the soil deep into the hole, gritting his teeth, grinding them together to keep from striking out at the helpless man. More blood spilled around the wound, soaking into the dirt. He couldn’t breathe for a moment. Or think. He just lay there, gasping, staring at Lorraine’s beautiful face, telling himself she was worth everything that he had endured, including this.
His vows to her were carved into his back—tattooed there in the old primitive method, the ink made by the monks in the monastery. They had to scar the skin deliberately with each poke from an array of needles. He had the vows in Carpathian going down his back. He’d meant every single word.
Olen wäkeva kuntankért. Olen wäkeva pita belső kulymet. Olen wäkeva— félért ku vigyázak. Hängemért.
He had other tattoos, but none meant as much to him. The code he lived by was scarred forever into his back. He was Carpathian and it took a lot to leave a scar. He had suffered to put those words into his skin, but they needed to be there—for her. The code was simple.
Staying strong for our people. Staying strong to keep the demon inside. Staying strong for her. Only her.
Those last two words of his code—his vow—said everything. Every wound he had suffered in battle, every time he had to kill an old friend or relative, every night that he rose and endured the gray void, was for her. Now he knew her name. Lorraine. He loved the sound of it. He loved the look of her and her grit. She had courage, even if she needed to temper it a bit with wisdom.
While he took Barnaby’s blood, he thought of the monastery and those long, endless years without hope. They spent nights practicing their battle skills and then working on their tattooing techniques. All of those residing in the monastery had become brothers—although they knew they might have to kill the other. The difference was—it would be an honorable way to die.
He sent Barnaby on his way with the same memory of wild animals getting too near their camp. He planted a memory of them all running in different directions and then one by one were making their way back to camp with the idea of breaking it down and heading to their homes. They no longer sought to hunt and kill vampires, nor did they believe in them.
Now that he was a little stronger, he directed Carter, the one who had actually driven the stake into his chest, to start digging into the soil. Andor knew he couldn’t move. He was too heavy for Lorraine to help him get out of the sun. He had to get into the ground, had to have Lorraine pitch her tent right over the top of him.
Carter couldn’t dig very deep without tools. He used Lorraine’s sauce pot. He dug right next to Andor so the Carpathian could shift his body enough to slide into the shallow depression. It was no more than a foot deep, but it was long enough and wide enough for his body, which was saying something. He wasn’t a small man.
He forced Carter to help him and then took his blood before sending him on his way with the same memories as Barnaby and Shorty. It was the best that he could do. Just that small movement had him leaking blood. He needed time to let the soil rejuvenate him enough to gather the strength to begin healing himself. Carpathians as old as he was, were incredibly strong. He could overcome this, he just needed a little luck on his side and Lorraine.
He released her mind and she blinked at him, still kneeling, but now he was about a foot from her in the depression. He should have had Barnaby dig it deeper, but he couldn’t take the time. He attempted a smile at her, going for reassurance, but just looking at her hurt nearly as much as the hole in his chest.
On her, the colors appeared even more vivid. Her hair, with the moon shining down on it was a beautiful mix of hues. Her skin was nearly translucent she was so pale. He knew that was from him taking her blood.
“Are you feeling all right?”
She blinked several times, calling his attention to the sweep of thick, long lashes. “Where’s the stake? How did you get it out?” On her knees, she shuffled closer to him and let out a little feminine gasp that caught him somewhere deep when she saw the hole in his chest packed with soil. It wasn’t a small hole. It hadn’t been a small stake.
“I didn’t want you to have to deal with it. I do need your help. I’m weak. Really weak.”
She looked beyond him and then turned around fast, clearly looking for the three men.
“They left. Ran.”
“Cowards, but I’m glad they’re gone. Still, having them where I could see them made me happier because now I have to worry they might come back to try to kill us.”
“They ran out of here and I planted a suggestion, one that if it takes, means they won’t even remember us.”
“You’re an extremely strong telepath,” she said. “And I can’t believe you’re still alive, but we need to call for help. Get a helicopter to get you out of here. I’m going to have to hike up to the top of the mountain and see if I can get cell service.”
He shook his head. “Are you camping with a tent?”
“Of course.” Her fingers brushed at the stubble on his face. She had a little frown as she rubbed at something along his jaw, determined to remove it. He was certain it was a bloodstain. Her gaze studiously avoided any other part of his body where the wounds had bled, leaving wet, red stains behind.
“How long will it take you to break down your camp and bring everything here?”
She frowned at him. “Not long at all. I camp a lot, but seriously, Andor, I’m not good at taking care of injured people and you don’t seem to realize how bad off you are. We need a helicopter.”
“My body doesn’t respond to regular medicine.”
“Does it respond to a surgeon repairing holes in your body? That gash in your stomach was horrendous. And that stake...” She trailed off, going even paler if that was possible.
“No, I told you, although you’re trying hard to make me human. I hunt vampires. My body make-up is different. I know you thought I was going to die and you humored me by allowing me to put soil in my wounds, but the earth really has healing properties.” Sun scorch him, he was exhausted. “Please. I’m asking for your help. Get your things and come back. Wild animals will find me and I’m helpless.”
She regarded him with a small frown. “I didn’t think about the animals, but, you’re right. I have no idea what to do.” She sank back onto her heels. “If I leave you to hike up the mountain, you could really be in danger. If I stay, seriously, Andor, you could die. You should already be dead.”
He was beginning to really fall for that frown, or maybe he was just so light-headed from the pain. Keeping it at bay was becoming difficult in spite of the infusion of blood. He was still leaking far too much, and right now, blood was at a premium. He had been careful not to leave the three vampire assassins too weak. He wanted them out of the area.
“Just hurry and get your camping things.”
“The scent of blood will draw wildlife. There are bears and coyotes in these mountains. For all I know, there could be wolves, but I don’t think so. I can’t leave you alone.”
“You have to. We need your tent. I can’t be out in the sun. Not even for a few minutes. You have to cover me with your tent and the soil through the daytime. I’ll sleep and hope the soil starts the healing process.” It was going to be a long process at the rate he was going.
He knew the moment he’d won. Her face changed from worry and indecision to determination. “It’s going to take about twenty minutes. I’m not that far from here, but it is a little bit of a hike.” She was already on her feet, anxious to go now that they had a plan.
“Lorraine, thank you for not asking questions and arguing.”
“What would be the use? I can’t leave you, and I can’t raise anyone from down here in this valley. You’re either going to live or die and you’re the strongest person I’ve ever met, so I’m betting you’re going to live.”
He hoped she was right. He didn’t feel very strong. In fact, he just wanted to close his eyes and let the night take him for a little while. Just to give himself a few minutes where he didn’t have to block the pain. It was taking so much strength. He was trying to slow the steady leaking of blood. Once she was back with the tent and had set everything up, he could take more of her blood, but he needed her fit, not weak.
“I’ll need water,” he reminded as she started to turn away.
“I have plenty and there’s a stream not too far from here. I have a filtration system.” She was backing away, her eyes moving over his torn body for the first time since he’d been in her mind. She swallowed hard and shook her head again. “I’ll be back in a few, hang on.”
Andor watched her go. She seemed to take his strength with her. His lungs continued to burn for air, telling him, he needed to shut down soon. There was too much damage to his body. He had destroyed seven vampires. Two were very close to being master vampires. They’d lived long enough that he should have run across them, but he seldom remembered names or even faces of the undead.
He closed his eyes. She would come back, although she really detested the sight of blood. He read the revulsion and the way it made her ill. Her stomach churned and she’d fought not to be sick. She really had to work not to faint. It was a testimony to her courage and tenacity that she’d stuck around to help him.
She was his lifemate. He knew she was, yet he was so wounded he couldn’t bind them together, he didn’t dare. That meant she could still walk away from him and he’d be more dangerous than ever. He could only hope that he had read her correctly and she was everything he believed her to be. She was coming back. She had to, if he had any chance at all on surviving.