Through the howling of the wind, a whisper can be heard;
A soft serenade, pine sarnanak, feel my words.
Sound woke her. Elisabeta Trigovise didn’t want to be awake. She wanted to sleep forever, but those weeping notes refused to allow her to succumb to her need to hide from the world. Like the drops of rain drumming softly into the earth, feeding the soil, those notes slipped into her mind with a song of rising. More and more that gentle melody awakened her on each rising, became more insistent that she comply more fully. That she more than just wake to feed and go straight back to slumber.
Where before the song was in her mind, now it sank into her body, her blood and bones, her heart and soul, calling to her persistently and she knew it was the call of her lifemate—one she couldn’t ignore. She didn’t dare ignore. It didn’t matter how terrified she was of him. She had to answer.
There was safety beneath the ground. Solace. No one could get to her. She was alone and no demands could be put on her, but she had known all along it wasn’t going to last. Every rising, each time the sun set, the danger began. She tried to sleep, but they came to feed her. At first many had come. Different ones. That had been frightening, but the blood had revived her, made her stronger and no one had asked anything of her. She was allowed to go back to sleep in the healing soil to repair her body and fractured mind. Now, only he gave her blood.
Elisabeta tried not to waken, but it was too late, the song had played through her mind, those beautiful weeping notes of rain. The sun had set and the moment it did, her body had tuned to it. She was Carpathian, that ancient race paralyzed during daylight hours and needing blood to sustain their lives. There were few of them left in the world and the fight to keep from dying out was made worse by the vampires trying to kill them.
A little shudder went through her body. Elisabeta had been tricked by a friend when she’d been young and naive, and she’d been kidnapped, taken from her home and family and hidden away by one such vampire for centuries. She no longer remembered that young girl, or her family. She’d been reduced to this woman, who hid herself away in the ground, too terrified of everything and everyone to show herself. Sergey Malinov, the master vampire, would come for her and he would use her to destroy everyone who had shown her any kindness because that was what he did. He would never let her escape him. Never.
The moment she surfaced, he would use her, and they had no idea how powerful he was. They had rescued her, and he was angry, whispering to her, trying to get past the barriers and shields they had erected to protect her, but he was there, crouched and waiting to strike. She knew him, knew he was wholly evil. There were children in this compound, this place her rescuers thought safe. No one was safe from Sergey, least of all children.
The world had passed her by while she lived in a cage, with only her sadistic captor for company. One moment he could be falsely sweet, the next, savagely ugly, torturing her, starving her, hurting others in front of her. Leaving her for long periods of time alone so that she thought she would slowly starve to death and even welcomed that end. He was her only company. She couldn’t speak unless he gave her permission. She made no decisions for herself and after centuries no longer knew how to make them.
She had been rescued, put in the healing ground to recover from the wounds to body and mind but there was no recovery from centuries of captivity. She had no idea how to fend for herself. She was terrified of having to talk to strangers. They had told her she had a brother and that he had searched for centuries for her. She had thought of that often, ashamed that when she tried to remember him, her mind seemed to explode with pain, rejecting the idea of her past. She knew they would expect her to remember him, but she didn’t.
She didn’t remember herself as a young Carpathian woman or her parents. Her mind had been fractured and no amount of healing in the earth was going to change that. She wasn’t that same girl that had been taken from her home. She was—nothing. No one. She wanted to remain where she was, hidden away from everyone, but she knew her time was fast running out. Her lifemate had found her. Just thinking of him made her heart pound out of control. She knew better. She knew to control herself. That simple sound would alert him and of course it did.
His voice filled her mind. Calm. Soothing. A masterful voice. One always in control unlike her. Her heart accelerated even more. Panic began to set in. At once the ground above her opened before she could begin to struggle for air. He did that for her. She hadn’t done it for herself and it shamed her that she always had to be taken care of. The least little detail of her life had to be arranged for her because she didn’t know how to do it.
She couldn’t provide herself with clothing and if her lifemate knew, he might be angry. If she spoke without permission, he might be angry. Punishments could be terrible. She didn’t know the rules in this new world or with this man. She only knew what she sensed of him—that he was an ancient, far older than Sergey and much more dangerous. He terrified her on so many levels, but then everything did.
She had been befriended by a woman, Julija, a strong woman who walked her own path, walked beside her lifemate and made her own decisions. Elisabeta had dared to defy Sergey and secretly talked with her. She wanted to be strong like her but knew she never would be. Hundreds of years of captivity and silence, of having someone telling her what to do, of punishments and fear had shaped her into this terrified being she had come to despise. She no longer knew who she was or what she was, only that she had no purpose and she was so tired of being afraid.
She stayed very still and remained silent, terrified of being tricked. She kept her eyes closed tightly, even with the ground above her open, afraid of seeing where she was. She hadn’t been out of a cage in hundreds of years. Open spaces made her feel sick and disoriented. She didn’t know how to process space.
Speak to me, lifemate.
Her heart sank. That was a direct order. The first he had ever given to her. It mattered little that his voice was so different than Sergey’s. He was her master and could torture her, deprive her of food, kill others in front of her. Her heart pounded out of control. What would you have me say?
There was a small silence that terrified her even more. Had she angered him? She really didn’t know what he wanted from her.
Elisabeta, listen to my heartbeat. You are panicking for no reason. We are merely having a conversation. Breathe with me. Listen to my heartbeat and follow with yours.
She made the mistake of lifting her lashes, just for a second. Surrounding her, she could see what appeared to be balconies where people could stand and look down onto the healing grounds where she lay. They could see her. Full blown panic had taken hold and she couldn’t find air. Her body nearly convulsed. She tried to curl into the fetal position, to sink deeper into the healing soil allowing the rich minerals to blanket her body to hide her from any prying eyes.
She sank into waiting arms. Strong arms. She had always fantasized about being held when she needed it most. She longed for human contact—was often desperate for it and now, somehow, she had made her fantasy so real she felt a very hard male body surrounding hers, holding her safe. With her eyes closed tight, she felt him surround her with his warmth, his heat. His breath was in her ear, his chest rising and falling beneath her back.
Breathe with me, pine sarnanak, follow the rhythm of my heart.
Her heart tuned almost automatically to his, before she could do so intentionally. The breath moved in and out of her starving lungs, pulling air into her. The air smelled of rain, of rich soil and unexpectedly of juniper and allspice mixed together. He had called her little songbird. That didn’t seem so bad, an endearment in the ancient Carpathian language. Her heart stuttered a little at the gentleness in the way he treated her.
That’s good, Elisabeta, now tell me, while you feel safe, what is your greatest fear of rising.
She did feel safe. She burrowed deeper, imagining being held in those strong arms, feeling them tighten around her, feeling the warm breath in her ear, so steady. Breathing in and out. His heart rate never faltered. Never rose or slowed but remained that same steady rhythm as if he could always be counted on. Did she dare voice her concern aloud? Already she was terrified that she had been awake long enough to alert Sergey.
He will never give me up. He will use me to kill everyone who helped to take me from him. He’s so cruel. If I don’t go back to him, he will burn this place to the ground with everyone in it right in front of me.
As soon as she gave voice, even if it was only in her mind, panic again began to burst through her. What if Sergey heard? What if he was able to monitor her in spite of the safeguards the Carpathians had so carefully woven around her? She didn’t dare utter his evil name just in case the vampire was able to latch onto that.
A hand pressed into her hair, a soothing stroke down the back of her head. Like a caress. It was so strange, so unusual, such a rare, shocking feeling she’d never experienced, it stopped the welling panic before it could take her over.
Thank you for telling me your greatest fear. I know it frightened you just to tell me. What else has upset you? Be truthful with me, Elisabeta. You will not be punished for telling the truth to me no matter what you say.
Could she believe that? She had to answer him truthfully no matter if she was punished or not. One didn’t lie to one’s lifemate. He would know. She took a deep breath. You did not claim me as your lifemate. You know I am not worthy. I accept that, and I understand. I am not the same woman I was born to be. I have been corrupted by the vampire who took me and held me captive for so many years. I do understand but... She broke off.
It was the truth. She didn’t even know if she wanted to be claimed because she had no idea what she would do as a lifemate. Carpathians only had one. When a man was born, his soul was split in half. He carried all the darkness in him. The light was placed in a woman who was born either at the same time or later. Carpathians males, around the age of two hundred, began to lose their ability to see in color and emotions began to fade. As time went on, if they didn’t find their lifemate, their world became gray and emotions retreated completely.
Men were born with the ritual binding words imprinted on them. Once they found their lifemate, their emotions and color were restored to them. They said the vows to the woman when they found her, binding them together. No man waited, especially an ancient hunter who had lived long and suffered greatly.
Still, she did understand. She was conflicted about her feelings. If he claimed her, it would be another layer of protection for her against Sergey. Ferro Arany was a very dangerous man. She could feel that even beneath the ground. He was older than so many of them and most had been on earth a long time. He was a skilled warrior. She was a little humiliated that he didn’t want her, even if she did understand.
It had been drilled into her almost from the moment of birth that somewhere was her other half and he would be actively looking for her. Always looking for her. To know that he found her and didn’t want her was another blow to her. Although, if he had claimed her, she would have been even more terrified, so that made no sense at all. She just needed to stay in the ground where she could lose herself and not have to face the world she didn’t understand.
I intend to claim you now, pine sarnanak. You are going to leave this healing ground and to do so, you will need my protection. I feel your fear of the unknown beating at me and wish to protect you from that, but most of all from him. He cannot get to you here and he will know, once we are bound together, that he cannot have you unless he destroys our bond. He can only do that if he kills me. By protecting you, and shielding you, this vampire cannot use you to harm anyone here at the compound. You have no need to worry about him using you to that end.
His heart rate never rose. His voice was as calm as ever. He didn’t seem in the least to fear Sergey or to be impressed that the master vampire had outsmarted his four older siblings, and even powerful mages. The vampire led an army against the Carpathians, yet Ferro wasn’t seemingly in the least worried about him.
I do not know what a lifemate does. I have forgotten so much.
He was claiming her to protect her from Sergey. While his last statement brought tremendous relief, it also brought her clarity. He was an ancient hunter. He had spent several lifetimes sacrificing for his people. Binding himself to her would be nothing in comparison to what he had suffered on behalf of the Carpathian people. That made perfect sense to her.
I will have no trouble telling you what I expect from you.
She hoped so, because she wasn’t good at thinking for herself. Julija was trying to help her with that. Julija told her she had a couple of friends who would love to meet her, and they would be as welcoming as Julija, but even that scared Elisabeta. Everything scared her.
Hands circled her arms and began to rub up and down them. You are shivering. There is no need to be so afraid, pine sarnanak. You have only to look to me and I will help you when you feel you cannot find your way.
She wanted to cry, but she had long ago run out of tears. I lost my way a long time ago. I have no knowledge of any way. I cannot talk without permission. I do not dress myself or know how. I cannot do my hair or find my own food. I cannot be out in the open. I am lost, a burden to a man who does not want the responsibility of a prisoner.
Sas, pine sarnanak, I am an ancient, not a modern warrior. I am your lifemate. My soul calls to yours. When you have a question, you are to ask me immediately. That is an order. Do you understand?
You always have permission to talk to me or to your female friends. If the vampire tries to reach you and for some reason, I do not feel him, you must come to me immediately no matter what he threatens. That is an absolute rule. Do you understand?
She swallowed hard. The rules were certainly different, but she felt better that there were rules. She understood structure. Yes. I will obey.
Once she gave her word, she would never go back on it. She liked that he gave her permission to talk to Julija. She wouldn’t have to sneak, and she would have tried to. That would have been difficult. Once he tied them together, he would have been slipping in and out of her mind easily. She wouldn’t always know he was there.
Te avio päläfertiilam. You are my lifemate. Éntöouml;lam kuulua, avio päläfertiilam. I claim you as my lifemate.
Her breath caught in her throat. The ritual binding words. His arms were real. She felt him there, surrounding her but she still didn’t have the courage to open her eyes and look at him, to see what her lifemate looked like. He felt big. All muscle. When her heart began to hammer, his immediately tuned to hers and once more slowed her rhythm.
Ted kuuluak, kacad, kojed. I belong to you. Élidamet andam. I offer my life for you. Pesämet andam. I give you my protection.
His lips slid into her hair, nuzzled the side of her neck right over her pounding pulse. His tongue touched her skin. It felt…erotic. Her pulse jumped. He made her feel things she didn’t know were possible. His arms felt safe when she’d never been safe, not even in her own home.
Uskolfertiilamet andam. I give you my allegiance.
Was that even possible? It was a vow. More than a promise. A vow between two souls. His allegiance was to her. Her eyes burned. More than anything she wanted to be strong for herself. To stand on her own two feet and be a partner to her lifemate. Maybe not the kind of partner Julija was, but at least someone Ferro could be proud of. Not some shrinking ball of terror hiding under the ground.
Sívamet andam. I give you my heart. Sielamet andam. I give you my soul. Ainamet andam. I give you my body. Sívamet kuuluak kaik että a ted. I take into my keeping the same that is yours.
His heart was given to her. His soul. His body. And he took hers in return. Her mouth went dry. She could take it if he took her heart and soul, but her body? Even the vampire hadn’t taken that. He couldn’t. That was all she had left of herself that belonged to her. Her pulse jumped under his lips and he soothed her with a soft brush of his lips. His hands continued to rub her arms gently.
Ainaak olenszal sívambin. Your life will be cherished by me for all time. Te Élidet ainaak pide minan Your life will be placed above mine for all time. Te avio päläfertiilam. You are my lifemate. Ainaak sívamet jutta oleny. You are bound to me for all eternity. Ainaak terád vigyázak. You are always in my care.
His lips wandered down the side of her neck and then he was suddenly shifting his body out from under her, so she lay in a fine mattress of rich minerals with his heavy body blanketing hers. His lips kissed both closed eye lids.
“Are you ever going to look at me and see your lifemate, pine sarnanak?” There was the faintest trace of amusement in his voice.
She pressed her lips together. Only if you command me. I mean, yes. But... She couldn’t. Not yet. As long as she had her eyes closed, she could enjoy his touch. Pretend her world was going to be all right. If she opened them and the world was too big or she panicked, and everything frightened her, he would realize just what he had tied himself to for all eternity.
He didn’t command her to open her eyes. His lips continued a slow travel from her eyelids along her left cheek to the corner of her mouth. Her heart stuttered as he brushed across the curve of her lips and then down her chin and throat. He continued lower over the curve of breasts. For a moment she thought to bring her hands up to cover herself, but it seemed a little silly. Her body belonged to him. She had scars. He had already seen them. He had already seen how thin she was.
His lips moved back and forth in a mesmerizing way, pushing out coherent thought. She didn’t know what he was doing. She was feeling, but she wasn’t quite certain what. She wanted to bring her arms up and touch him, to put her hands in his hair. She could feel it sweeping over her skin, a thick mass sliding over her, sending ripples of awareness adding to the slow heat building in her veins his mouth moving on her body was causing. The scrape of his teeth sent a dark shiver down her spine. Unexpectedly, her sex clenched. In all her years of being alive, that had never once happened. It was shocking. Maybe even a little mortifying, mostly because she didn’t know what it meant.
His teeth sank deep and she bit back a gasp at the shocking wave of pain that instantly turned to erotic pleasure, spreading flickering flames through her body. She could have sworn flames licked at her skin and the insides of her belly, smoldered between her legs and threatened to build an inferno in her deepest core that could never be put out if he didn’t stop.
She couldn’t stop her arms from creeping around him, no matter how hard she tried. She cradled his head to her, needing him to feast on her, to sate himself on her blood. Nothing in her life had prepared her for the way it felt with him taking her blood. He could drain her dry and she would be happy. When Sergey had taken her blood, it had been painful, a terrible, torturous experience. With Ferro, it was a wonderful, sensual shocking encounter. He held her in his arms as if she meant something to him. His mouth moved over her like she was priceless to him.
Again, her eyes burned, when she had no tears to shed. No one had ever treated her the way he did that she could remember. If she had to have a new master, no matter if he turned cruel later, she had this moment, this one moment to hold onto and treasure. Did she believe that he would stay kind to her? No. Not really. She lived with terror for so long she didn’t know how to live without it, but she was determined to hold onto every decent moment life gave her. This one was unexpected—a true gift.
His tongue swept across the pinpricks, closing them and he shifted back and to one side, taking her with him, lifting her as if she weighed no more than a feather and settling her onto his lap. He swept her hair back and pressed her face to his chest.
“Drink, pine sarnanak, you need to take my blood in the way I took yours.”
Her eyelashes fluttered before she could stop them. Curiosity was one of her worst traits. It always had been. Sergey Malinov had known that about her. She had tried so hard to suppress that need to find out every little thing and she still couldn’t help herself at times. Like now. Her lashes lifted and she found herself staring into her lifemate’s face for the first time.
She had known he was dangerous. Lethal even. His face could have been carved from the stone, etched out of the hardest rock known to man. His jaw was set, stubborn, his eyes the color of iron ore, a light almost silvery color, although she could see streaks of the lightest blue and just the faintest jagged lines of rust spread through the irises. His lashes were dark like his hair, although his hair had streaks of silver running through it. He had high cheekbones, an aristocratic nose and a dark shadow along his jaw where most Carpathian men were smooth shaven.
His gaze drifted possessively over her face. He didn’t smile at her, but he bent his head and his lips moved over her eyes, pressing kisses over them.
“You’re very brave, Elisabeta.”
She wouldn’t call it bravery. The moment she opened her eyes and saw his face, saw all that male power, she knew she was in trouble. She’d had to fight her first inclination to hurl herself to the ground and try to burrow into the soil fast. She knew from experience there was no running away. She was always captured, and the repercussions were terrible. Still, the admiration in his voice, that respect was totally unexpected and caught her off-guard.
“Take my blood, pine sarnanak. You are very pale. I can feel your hunger beating at me.”
She was so used to being hungry she barely noticed it anymore if she hadn’t gone weeks without blood. He pressed the back of her head very gently, urging her face toward his bare chest. She transferred her gaze there. He had a thick chest, with heavy, defined muscles. He wore ancient ink, the kind etched into his skin. It was difficult to tattoo a Carpathian. Ink didn’t stay. Carpathians rarely scarred. Ferro had ink pressed into scarring on his chest, arms shoulders and, she was certain, his back.
The back of her head fit into his palm easily and he pressed her close to his skin, to those heavy muscles. At once she caught his intriguing scent and drew it deep into her lungs. Something about the way he smelled got to her on a molecular level. She instantly wanted to taste his skin—no—needed to taste him. Without thinking, her tongue lapped at him. An exotic, perfect flavor burst in her mouth on her tongue, slid down her throat bringing a heat to her belly. She almost keened with delight. Nothing tasted like he did. Nothing.
Her teeth scraped back and forth over his pulse while she contemplated what his blood would taste like. Would it be that good? Would it live up to the promise of his scent? The mere flavor of his skin? He had fed her before, when she was beneath the ground and he slept above her, but he hadn’t claimed her, hadn’t joined them together. Was there a difference? She had been too terrified to notice then. She was terrified now, but...
He groaned. It was just a soft sound, but it went straight to her sex. Like an arrow.
“Elisabeta, take my blood.” He growled the command at her. His voice was velvet soft, but still, it was a growl. An order.
She sank her teeth instantly. Deep. Without preamble. Shocking him. Shocking her. He threw his head back, his hand locking her head to his chest while the other pinned her hip to his, holding her still, forcing her to realize she was squirming on his lap, her bare cheeks sliding over his fully erect cock. She would have been mortified, but already his blood was in her mouth, not just any blood, an aphrodisiac, the finest thing she’d ever tasted in her life.
Ferro would never have enough blood to give to her. Never. She would forever crave his blood. Nothing would taste this good and she knew it. She tried not to be greedy. She’d been trained not to take what she needed. If she tried, Sergey beat her into submission. Twice, she tried to pull back, but Ferro murmured his displeasure and held her to his chest. She continued feeding, grateful he allowed it, grateful for the rich sustenance from a true ancient, but more importantly, the amazing gift a lifemate’s blood provided.
“That’s enough, Elisabeta,” Ferro said finally, gently stroking her hair. “In all the years of my existence, no one has ever tasted the way you do. I hope it was the same for you.”
She reluctantly slid her tongue across the pinpricks to close them and lifted her head away from temptation. She nodded. “It was.”
He continued to stroke her hair. “That is a good thing. I want you to come to me when you are hungry. If you can’t find me, reach out to me, don’t wait until you feel starved. You will need extra feedings for a while.”
At once panic set in. “I won’t be with you? If I’m not with you, won’t I be in the ground? I can’t be on my own. I won’t know what to do.” Her heart rate had gone crazy and her lungs burned for air. She couldn’t do this. She really couldn’t. She couldn’t even look around her, let alone be on her own. Just because he held her and gave her blood, and gave her permission to speak didn’t mean she could maneuver her way through a world she didn’t know or understand.
She clapped a hand over her mouth to keep from blurting out another word. It was already far too late. He could read her mind anyway. She’d gone from appearing half normal or at least she hoped she looked that way, to looking insane. He was stuck with crazy. She did try to crawl off his lap back to the welcoming soil. It was impossible to move when Ferro didn’t want her going anywhere. He simply clamped his arms around her and held her to him.
“You are having another panic attack. Breathe. I am not going to leave you on your own until you are ready. Stay still, pine sarnanak, just breathe while we go over a few more rules.”
She could do that. Rules made her feel safe. She liked rules. He stroked her hair in that soothing way he had, and she found herself following his breathing pattern. She liked that he called her little songbird. It sounded a little like an endearment. He wasn’t making fun of her, or taunting her. He seemed only gentle when he could crush her so easily.
“I know that you are very afraid of Malinov attacking this compound…”
She gasped at his audacity in naming the master vampire. She even put her fingers up to cover his lips before she could stop herself. It was a terrible transgression and the moment she did it, she knew she should be punished. She dropped her hand into her lap and bowed her head.
“I’m sorry. Truly. I shouldn’t have touched you without permission. There is no excuse. Whatever you deem is a fit punishment…”
Ferro caught her hand and returned her fingertips to his lips. “I am your lifemate. You are allowed to touch me when you wish or have need. Sometimes those needs will be for comfort, other times they might be sexual. You just might want to feel close. Whatever the reason, there is no need to ask for permission. I intend to touch you at will.”
She was confused, frowning at him. “But I belong to you. You have the right to touch me when you desire to do so.”
He shook his head. “I belong to you as well, Elisabeta, but we are lifemates, not master and prisoner. Not master and slave owner. Not Vampire and captive. Those days for you are over. He will not get you back. You have every right to say no. To me or to anyone else.”
Elisabeta was more confused than ever. Shocked even. She didn’t understand what he was telling her. It sounded so farfetched she was afraid he was trying to trick her. The inevitable panic begun to well up and she pushed her fist into her mouth, biting down hard on her knuckles. She didn’t understand anything. The cool earth looked so good to her. She understood the richness, the wealth of the soil. The way it surrounded her body and eased the pain in her joints the tiny cage had caused when she couldn’t exercise properly or get enough blood to sustain her. This world she found herself in now was so foreign to her that she didn’t understand even one small part of it.
Ferro stroked more caresses in her hair, soothing her. “We are going to start with simple things. Do you remember how to clothe yourself or is this something the vampire insisted he do?”
That shamed her. “He did if he allowed clothing. He always made decisions.”
“Do you prefer to wear dresses or trousers?”
Her heart accelerated. Was it a trick question? What did he prefer? She’d never worn trousers in her life. Not once. She knew Julija wore them, but they looked as if they might be uncomfortable. Would Ferro want her to wear them?
“Do you want me to wear dresses or trousers?” She countered, trying not to sound as timid as she felt.
“This is about what you want. There is no right or wrong answer, pine sarnanak, only what you would really prefer.”
She couldn’t possible choose. There was no way. She hadn’t made a choice in hundreds of years. Not one single choice. She shook her head, refusing to look at him, refusing to answer.
Elisabeta expected him to be angry, frustrated, to lose patience with her, but his hand continued the gentle strokes in her hair. She realized her long, thick hair—hair that had never been cut—was clean and as he burrowed his strong fingers into it to massage her scalp, the strands slid through his fingers free of tangles.
“I prefer dresses, but I am an ancient warrior, Elisabeta, not at all modern. I have not had time to catch up to this world. I do not want to color your choices with my own. Still, if you prefer me to choose for you at this time, I will show you two different dresses that I really like, and you can decide which one to wear this evening and which you will wear next rising. Is that acceptable to you?”
She would still have to make a choice, but he liked both dresses and, in the end, she would wear both of them. Her only choice was which to wear tonight and which one the following rising. The thought of making that decision was still difficult, but exciting. It was a decision. Her decision. Ferro was letting her choose.
“Yes, I like the idea very much,” she agreed.
“But it is still a little scary to you,” he said.
Of course, he would know. There was no hiding her pounding pulse from him. She bit her lip and nodded slowly, daring to lift her lashes and sneak a peek at his face to see if he was exasperated with her. She wouldn’t blame him if he was. He looked so invincible, as if nothing in the world had ever frightened him. Nothing. How could he sit there so calmly in the middle of the healing grounds, taking his time as if he had nowhere else in the world to be but right there with her, sorting out the terrifying new world she found herself in with her?
“Always remember, when you get very frightened, pine sarnanak, that you have only to look into your mind and I am there with you. You can hear our song. It soothes you every rising. The sound of the rain calling to you to awaken. When you hear that, it is our combined heartbeat. No matter, even if I am holding you, if you wish to soothe yourself first, our song is there in your mind. I will admit, I prefer to be the one to care for you, but I want you to know that you are capable of standing on your own two feet always. The vampire took that from you, but I intend to give it back to you. You are not without your own power, Elisabeta. You will learn, with time, to believe in yourself. To know you’re strong. I want that for you.”
She was his lifemate. More, she had spent centuries tuned to the slightest nuance of her master’s voice. His body language. His breathing. “You do want that for me, but you do not want that for you.” It was utterly daring of her to state what she knew to be truth aloud, to basically contradict him. Had she done so with Sergey; it would have earned her such a beating she wouldn’t have been able to move for a month. Maybe she was testing Ferro’s limit. The truth of his rules.
To her utter astonishment, he nuzzled her shoulder, turning his face into her neck, his breath warm against her wildly pounding pulse. “I am ancient, Elisabeta, and more, I have always thought my woman would obey my every wish. That is what you see in my mind. Having seen what this vile creature has done to my lifemate, I am determined that the two of us will learn more modern ways. We will not be as the others living in this compound perhaps. We will find our own union, but we will not be as I envisioned long ago because I no longer want that for either of us.”
She turned his statement over and over in her mind. He was willing to change. To grow into someone different. She had to find the courage to do the same. She took a deep breath. “I would very much like to see the dresses um…”. What was she supposed to call him? How was she supposed to address him?
“Ferro,” he supplied. “I am your wedded spouse. You will call me Ferro.”
She pressed her lips together to keep them from trembling. He was her wedded spouse. He’d said the ritual binding words and there was no going back from that. Not ever. He’d tied them together for all eternity. For whatever the reasons, they were bound together.
“Say it, pine sarnanak, say my name. I wish to hear how it sounds coming from your lips.” His mouth was against her ear, his breath warm, teasing, wreaking havoc with the blood in her veins.
Elisabeta wasn’t certain she wanted to call him by his given name. “Ferro,” she said softly. “But you call me, pine sarnanak. I think you are kont o sívanak, strong heart, and this songbird will learn to fly because you have a heart big enough for both of us.” She felt very daring to tell him what she was thinking.
Deep inside, she was desperate for it to be true. They were lifemates and she could look into his mind, but she wasn’t brave enough yet for that, nor was she strong enough, if he deliberately kept her out, to push beyond any shield. She had learned, over the centuries, to do so with Sergey, but subtly, so he was unaware. She had the feeling that Ferro would always be aware.
His teeth tugged at her earlobe and then released her just as abruptly, but not before the sudden gentle bite caused a spasm in her sex that sent a shock wave through her entire body.
“Take a look at these dresses. Lorraine, lifemate to my brethren Andor, had several books she called catalogues she allowed me to look through for clothing styles. She has been very helpful.”
Elisabeta tried not to stiffen at the underlying affectionate note she heard in his voice. Up until that moment, Ferro had little expression in his voice. It was by turns, gentle, or soft, or commanding, but there was definite affection for this woman. Another woman. Not his lifemate. She didn’t like it.
His hand waved in the air and two dresses floated in front of her. She tried not to gasp, but—well—they were just a little bit form fitting. She had rarely been seen by anyone other than Sergey, and then he had covered her body in shapeless gowns. She’d never worn anything like either one of them. It wasn’t that they wouldn’t cover her adequately, they weren’t low in the front, and they went to her ankles, both had three quarter length sleeves, but they weren’t the shapeless, boxy dresses she was used to wearing.
One was a soft shade of cool forest green with accents of a lighter green in blocks on the bodice and skirt, the material thin and clingy so she knew it would emphasize her curves. She was thin, and not all that curvy, so maybe her bones would show more than her curves, but it was still a little risquÉ.
The second dress was black with gray accents. It was also made of a soft material she’d never seen before. The bodice came to a vee at the waist and the skirt dropped in a series of lacy ruffles to the ankles. It was the bodice that gave her pause or she would have chosen it immediately. She wasn’t certain how comfortable she would be in a dress that clung to her body that closely.
Ferro didn’t hurry her. He waited patiently. In fact, he seemed more interested in her hair and the nape of her neck then he did the dresses and her dilemma. He kept distracting her with his breath, with his lips moving against her pulse, with the way his fingers on her skin and scalp felt until she felt desperate to stop the unfamiliar feelings, he flooded her body with.
“The black and gray one,” she said. “I’ll wear that one.”
His large hands spanned her waist and he lifted her off his lap and to her feet, setting her to one side. When he stood, he was fully clothed. He waved his hand and she found herself in the long black and gray soft dress. The material clung, just as she knew it would, but there were undergarments, just as soft, providing a buffer.
“You look beautiful, Elisabeta. Are you used to wearing shoes at all?”
She looked down at her feet and shook her head. “I never was allowed to leave the cage for any length of time.”
He waved his hand again. “If these shoes become uncomfortable you are to tell me immediately. That is an order. Am I clear on that?”
She nodded and looked down at the slipper sandals on her feet. They were black and gray to match the dress she wore. She had no idea what they were made of, but it didn’t feel like stiff leather. Whatever it was, they were comfortable, and she wiggled her toes. His hand brushed hers. She looked up at him expectantly.
“Take my hand, pine sarnanak,” he said. “We’re going to walk around the compound together. I want to show you where everything is and where we’ll be staying.”
She blinked, at him, trying to process what he’d just ordered her to do. What he’d just said. He wanted her to let him take her hand. He was going to walk with her and take her outside the safety of the healing grounds. Outside where there were people. Walk. When she didn’t know how. She swallowed hard and tried to remember the mechanics. She’d seen it enough times. She was intelligent. She could shuffle along.
He reached for her hand, curling his fingers around hers, bringing her palm to his chest. “You will be with me, Elisabeta, and therefore, safe at all times. My brethren will be close, and they will protect you as well. Julija, your friend is here with her lifemate. Lorraine, my sister-kin is here and anxious to befriend you.”
She remained frozen, staring up at him, too terrified to move. He brought her fingers to the warmth of his mouth, his strong teeth scraping on the very ends of them, sending spirals of heat dancing through her veins.
“If you become overwhelmed, just look to me. I will shield you. I am your lifemate, Elisabeta. Everyone we come across, including my brothers, will expect me to be old world and overbearing.” He showed her his teeth again, this time looking for all the world like a predator.
“We can communicate as we did this morning, just the two of us. You tell me what you need, and I will provide it. I do not expect you suddenly, after centuries of captivity to know how to speak with strangers or handle situations unfamiliar to you. I am proud of you for just choosing to rise and face your lifemate. I am told I am quite intimidating.”
She glanced up at his face. He was walking her across the healing ground toward the exit, not striding fast, but setting a leisurely pace, enough that she could slide her feet, one in front of the other, not lifting them, her heart beating as if it might fall out of her chest. His tone invited her to find amusement in his statement. She wished she could laugh, but she was too scared. Still, just having him so close, gave her courage. Thus far, Ferro had shown her nothing but kindness. She had to believe he would continue to do so.