Authors: Christine Feehan
He could imagine how anyone remotely nice would appear sweet after the way her family had treated her. He remained absolutely still, afraid if he drew attention to himself in any way, Julija would stop sharing. She didn’t want to, and he couldn’t imagine why she’d decided to tell him about the man when she had made it clear she didn’t want to revisit what had to have been a difficult and painful time in her life.
Isai didn’t like the way she’d met Barnabas. Why would her father insist she attend such a seminar? That made no sense to him.
“We ended up dating for several weeks. Just meeting and going for coffee or a drink. I really liked him. He liked animals and just about everything I liked. We would sit and talk for hours. Oddly, I wasn’t attracted to him sexually, but I wasn’t that attracted to anyone. That didn’t seem to matter to him. He treated me like a friend and never once pushed beyond that boundary.”
He could have told her she wasn’t physically attracted to other males because she held the light to his darkness. Her body was waiting for his. He remained silent.
“In any case, somewhere along the line, I suddenly was on fire, desperate for sex.” She rubbed her chin along the cat’s spine again, her hands still in the fur. “I burned day and night. I was scared, because to go from being reluctant to have sex to thinking of it every waking minute, I knew a spell had to have been cast. That, or I was drugged, or both.”
She fell silent for a long time. Her hands trembled as she petted the cat. The animal was far too big to remain in her lap. He knew the weight on her small frame wasn’t good for her, but he kept silent, feeling privileged that she’d told him as much as she had about her past.
“I went to Barnabas because I didn’t know anyone else that I trusted. I told him what was happening to me and that I feared it was a spell or drug. I had no one else in my life to turn to and he listened carefully and didn’t make fun of me. Or laugh. He was so caring.”
For the first time, Julija looked up at him and there was accusation in her gaze. That mixture of shame, sorrow and anger. He didn’t like her viewing him like that, but again made the decision to remain silent. What was the use of defending himself simply because he was a man? He needed to know what he was fighting against.
“I let him talk me into being with him. I don’t know what I was thinking. I just wanted the burning to go away, and he was always amazing and sweet when everyone around me was cruel and ugly.” A sob escaped, and she jammed her fist into her mouth as if that could stop the flow of tears.
The air stilled in the cave and all at once it seemed impossible to breathe. Julija coughed, one hand going defensively to her throat. Isai waved his hand to send a small, cooling breeze through the chamber. He could see the fine sheen on her skin. Tremors rocked her body.
Isai couldn’t stand it. She was suffering needlessly. He wanted the explanation for her treachery, for her refusing to allow his claim on her, even more than he wanted his next breath, but her misery and grief were genuine. He couldn’t have that. He was so close to understanding her. So close, but there were things far more important than his understanding. Just her physical reaction told him she had a reason for refusing him.
“Julija.” He kept his voice low and compelling. “There is no need to continue. I do not want you reliving something that clearly is extremely disturbing to you.”
She shook her head, her gaze jumping to his and then back to the other side of the chamber. “You aren’t Barnabas and you deserve better. You definitely deserve a lifemate better than me.”
He started to remind her that there was only one lifemate, that she carried the other half of his soul, but there was no use. She was too far gone to another place—a place he didn’t want her to go.
“The whole thing was a setup. My father despised the fact that I refused to kill using my gifts. It’s a requirement in our family. Sacrifice animals. Sacrifice people. Sort of a rite of passage. He was deeply disappointed and embarrassed to have a daughter with the high mage’s mark refusing to kill.”
She rocked back and forth, a self-comforting motion that broke Isai’s heart. Twice she wiped her face along Belle’s fur and both times he was certain he caught the gleam of tears.
“All along, Barnabas was setting me up, with my father’s full approval. The tactic was to be really nice to me. Gain my trust. Become my friend. None of those things were hard for him because I didn’t have any friends. No one was ever nice to me. He became . . . everything.”
Isai winced. He didn’t like hearing that another man had been her everything, even if it was false. He should have found her. He should have redoubled his efforts instead of going into a monastery. Whatever she was going to tell him—and it was bad—was on him. It was his failure as her lifemate.
“I guess once he accomplished phase one, winning my trust, he was able to introduce the need for sex. By the way, that is a permanent spell. At least, so far, I haven’t been able to reverse it. I think he made it that way, so I would have to turn to him no matter what throughout the years. I didn’t. He is into extremely cruel, torturous sexual practices and he claimed he needed a subject to demonstrate on for his class.”
Isai pressed his fist tightly against his thigh. He didn’t want to hear anymore. What he did want was to go find Barnabas and let him know just how he felt about the things she’d told him already. He knew the mage was coming after them, her father had threatened her with him.
“He was still very much the Barnabas he was pretending to be that first time. Then when I said I wasn’t certain I wanted to continue the relationship, that I didn’t think it was fair to him, everything changed. He took me prisoner. He had a dungeon and kept me down there. It was a
very ugly medieval place and he took great delight in torturing me. He would then initiate sex as if expecting me to be grateful. When I didn’t do as he ordered—killing small animals—the tortures got worse.”
Blue pushed his nose into her and rubbed, a soft chuffing of inquiry repeated over and over until she finally blinked, pulling herself back from the past to look up at him. “I wish I could say things got better, but they didn’t for a long, long time. No matter what he did to me, pain, humiliation, and he did it all. Stripping me in front of his class and teaching them whip techniques and quite a few other instruments of torture. He would have sex with me during and after. All the while he told me it would stop if I just obeyed him and killed whatever it was he had there. Sometimes an animal, sometimes a human. Once a mage. I refused.”
Julija looked down at her hands. “I knew, even if I did as he wanted, as my father wanted, it wouldn’t end. It was never going to end. Barnabas derived pleasure from my suffering. So did my father and brothers and especially my stepmother. It was a very ugly time in my life that lasted for several years.”
He gave her the endearment gently. His heart dropped. Clenched. His gut twisted. Knotted. His lifemate had been tortured and abused. Used for several years in order to get her to comply with her father’s demands.
She shook her head. “I can never be your heart. Not ever. I did things that were so wrong. I might not have had a choice, but eventually, the body is taught to respond automatically. I was ashamed of my reactions. I hated myself for years.” She looked away from him. “You secluded yourself in a monastery because you believed suiciding was wrong and cowardly. I realize that is your personal belief and you don’t visit it on others, but the fact remains, you don’t believe in it, and I did contemplate ending my life.”
She fell silent, her head bowed as if he would condemn her.
“You think that I would judge you? That I would somehow sit in judgment on you because you were kidnapped and tortured over and over with no hope of escaping? No father to protect you? No lifemate to free you?”
The tip of her tongue moistened her dry lips. “I told you. There were
times when my body cooperated.” It was a confession, nothing less, and she couldn’t look at him. “My brain screamed no, but . . .”
“Julija, you are in no way to blame for the vile crimes committed against you. It is a wonder you were able to have sex with me.”
sex all the time,” she admitted softly, color creeping up her neck to stain her face. “I burn night and day. I knew you were my lifemate and you couldn’t harm me, so it was safe to enjoy myself. But then I felt as if I was using you.” She mumbled the last, still unable to look at him.
Isai waited in silence. It took her a long while before she raised her gaze to his. “You are blameless in this matter, Julija. Entirely blameless.”
“Barnabas terrifies me. He will come around, and every time he does, he tries to get me to come to him. He casts his net, but I was able to build a resistance. Still, he terrifies me on many levels.”
“I am here now. This man will not get to you again.”
Her eyes met his and he saw stark fear there. “Barnabas is invincible. With my father’s backing, he is even more so. We don’t want him to catch up with us. We just have to find the book and return it to the prince or find somewhere safe for it if we can’t destroy it.”
He wasn’t going to argue with her. That wasn’t his way. He understood her much better now that he knew what had transpired. She didn’t trust with good reason.
“There’s something else. Since I’m telling you everything, I may as well let you know, he didn’t leave me without scars. He wanted me to always know who I belonged to.”
“I have seen your body.”
She shook her head, one hand going defensively to her throat, as if she could protect herself from the rip of Sergey’s talon, or any other damage another chose to inflict on her.
Isai felt something brutal and vicious in him rise, but he remained expressionless, even serene, on the outside. “You do not belong to this man, Julija. He has cast a spell, in fact it sounds as if he has cast more than one. We will defeat him together. You are incredibly strong. They made you fear Barnabas because they don’t want you to know how powerful you are.”
“He terrifies me, Isai.”
“I can see it on your face. Look at me,
.” He waited until her overbright eyes met his. “He has done everything he can to conquer you. He’s used torture and sex as well as a combination of both. He’s used humiliation. He’s used spells. This man has done everything he knows how to do to defeat you and he has not. You may not know it, but he knows you are a danger to him.”
“I wish that was the truth.”
For the first time Isai could see hope pushing through despair on her face.
“I need you to know, I have not been entirely honest about my appearance. I have some scarring on my back and thighs. Pretty bad scarring, even on my arms. Sergey added to what Barnabas did. I covered those with an illusion.”
“Why did you do that?” He kept disappointment out of his voice. “There was no need. Did you think I needed you to have the appearance of smooth skin? I want the real woman. I want Julija, not an illusion of her.”
“I wear clothes, so no one sees my back or the back of my thighs. There’s some scarring on my breasts and one particularly bad scar on my left thigh.”
“Julija, I want the real woman,” he reiterated. “A lifemate, no matter age or appearance, is always the most beautiful woman possible to a Carpathian male. I do not know what women think when their lifemate claims them, but for the male, she is everything. He does not look at other women. There is only his lifemate.”
She bit down on her lip for a moment. “I heard the prince had a sister who was not with her lifemate.”
“It happens. There is a sickness that runs through certain lineages. It is in the prince’s lineage and a few others as well. It is not in mine and I can assure you, there is no other woman I find more beautiful or sexier than you. Whether that is reciprocated is another matter altogether.”
Julija pressed her lips together. “I should have known. I don’t think it’s vanity. That wasn’t the reason I didn’t want you to see, although I
prefer looking my best around you. It’s just that if you saw the scars you would have asked me how I got them. I needed to find a way to tell you in my own time.”
“I appreciate that you did. If you hold Belle any tighter, you might strangle her.”
She looked down at the squirming cat she had a death grip on. A ghost of a smile lit her eyes briefly as she forced herself to let go. “I’m surprised she didn’t bite me. Shadow cats were raised to be vicious.”
“Your brothers used torture on your cats, various tortures, perhaps not sexual, but torture the same, which Barnabas taught in his class. You are not vicious, and neither are the cats.”
Her dark eyes searched his face carefully. “Isai, I don’t want you to think I’m always perfectly nice. I’m not. I have quite a few very negative feelings built up.”
“I am very happy about that. I do not wish to have a lifemate who is all forgiveness. I intend to destroy this man, Barnabas, as well as your family. If you do not have ‘negative feelings’—whatever that is—you would not support me in this endeavor.”
She made a face at him. “Sometimes, when you talk to me, the way you phrase something is so very off-putting, I’m not certain how to respond.”
“‘Yes’ is the proper response,” he teased.
He actually got a smile from her and that helped to reduce some of the coiling tension in him. He hadn’t realized that just getting her to smile could light up his world. He didn’t know how, after what she’d gone through, she could be the woman she was. Courageous, strong and someone who would reach out to another woman in the way she had Elisabeta. He even understood that friendship a little better.
“I don’t want you to take any chances, Isai. Before we do anything else, we have to recover that book. We can’t take the chance that it will fall into Anatolie’s hands. Or my brothers’ hands. Or Barnabas’s.” She gave a little shudder when she indicated the last.
“Would they know how to open the book?”
“They would reverse the order in which Xavier closed it. He sacrificed
a life from each species. There is some controversy over whether he only used dark mage, Jaguar and Carpathian, or whether he had a second ceremony before or after that one. That will cause problems, but they aren’t insurmountable if you’re willing to kill a lot of people.”