Authors: Christine Feehan
Ainaak terád vigyázak.
You are always in my care.”
It was strange, but even with flames spreading like wildfire through her veins and little sparks of electricity dancing over her skin, she felt tiny threads binding them together, weaving back and forth between them. Her light shed over his darkness. In any context she would have thought it hokey, but she had studied Carpathian society. She knew lifemates were a reality in their world. Now she knew it applied to her as well.
He moved in her, welding them together, fusing their bodies the way he had their souls. She clung to him, her nails biting deep. Deep inside she felt the tension coiling tighter and tighter. Her gaze clung to his.
“Isai?” His name escaped. A ragged whisper of sound. Breathy. Needy. A little afraid.
“I have you,” he said. “Just let go.”
She knew when she did she would be swept away. Julija would be gone and it would always be Julija and Isai. “I’m terrified.” She was. Of the unknown. Of needing someone the way she would need him.
He leaned down and nuzzled her throat. “Come to me,
. Just let go. You will never be alone again.”
Looking into those brilliant blue eyes, with her body on fire and wound so tightly she was afraid she might shatter, she took a breath and did exactly what he said. The tidal wave was massive, moving through her body, washing from her center outward. The feeling spread through her, ripples of shocking intensity that swept her up into a place she’d never been and never wanted to leave.
She took him with her, so that she felt the hot splash of his seed, triggering even more shocks. Each left her breathless. Amazed. Floating. She
didn’t think anything could ever sate her, not once that horrible spell had been used on her, but somehow, Isai had managed, and he’d been gentle, not rough. He’d destroyed everything Barnabas had ever said about her and her needs for darker, painful sex. She had hated everything Barnabas ever said or did to her, but those nights and days had run into weeks and then months. Perhaps years. She’d been terrified that he was right about her because no matter what he did, or how much it hurt, her body had responded and had been desperate for more.
.” Isai brushed kisses over her wet lashes. “Tell me what is wrong.”
She was sobbing again. He would end up thinking all she did was cry. What could she say? She was so grateful she wasn’t completely messed up? “Nothing is wrong. Everything is right. Is perfect.”
There was no way Barnabas could possibly have conjured up Isai. Or the bliss she’d just experienced with the gentle, caring intimacy of their sexual encounter. Isai made her feel cherished. Treasured. Important. Barnabas made her feel dirty and disposable. A receptacle, nothing more to him.
She couldn’t stop crying, and Isai did the only thing left to him. He kissed her, swallowing her tears, his mouth hotter than a flame. She couldn’t think when he kissed her, and she had to respond. She gave herself up to the wonder of his mouth. When he finally lifted his head, she felt dazed, happily so. His mouth wandered over her chin and down her throat, giving her little kisses, tiny stings as his teeth nipped her, then a velvet rasp as his tongue eased that ache. He kissed his way to her breast and right on the upper curve, he sank his teeth deep.
She cried out, her body clenching hard, grasping and milking at his cock, the erotic act triggering a massive orgasm all over again. She circled his head with her arms, holding him as he drank, his body moving in hers, until she felt she had one endless orgasm that tore through her repeatedly.
When he lifted his head, licking across the two holes to close them, his blue eyes smiled down into hers. She let her head loll back against the mattress, desperate for air when her body seemed incapable of breathing properly.
He waited until the last wave had receded before kissing her again. “I think you are beginning to believe I am real.”
She nodded, afraid to move.
“Just so I am certain, you are, for the moment, perfectly satisfied, because if you need me to continue . . .”
Teasing. He was teasing her. Playing. Couples did that. She’d read about it. Seen it in movies. She’d witnessed it out in the world—just not in her world. “I am more than satisfied,” she assured. “Not that I will complain if you decide you need to make another effort sometime quite soon.”
He smiled, and her heart nearly stopped. He was absolutely gorgeous. She wished she didn’t have so many scars. His fingers pushed at tendrils of damp hair on her forehead and his touch sent butterfly wings fluttering against her stomach.
“Do you mind if I raise the temperature in the pool? I will carry you in. The hot water will keep you from feeling sore.”
She didn’t feel sore. She felt delicious. She’d felt his every heartbeat, right through his cock. He’d stretched her ability to take him, yet there wasn’t a painful spot on her body. “You didn’t hurt me at all. Not in the least.”
“Nevertheless, I intend to take care of you.”
He lifted her easily into his arms, cradling her against his chest, over his heart. His hands on her body were so gentle she wanted to cry all over again. Instead, she turned her face into his neck and enjoyed the way he seemed to glide across the floor to the short distance where the pool she’d created waited for them.
“I did this.” She looked at it with pride.
“You did and it’s beautiful. Nice job.”
She held his praise to her. It wasn’t like she ever got compliments or praise for anything. She would be grateful for anything he noticed. Having him express his approval was huge and she hugged it to her. “I’m glad you like it.”
“Very much. It looks completely natural, as if it has always been here. It is efficient and does not take up too much space. You have a good eye. For someone who had no idea she could do this, you created the pool like an expert, which I suppose, technically you are.”
He floated into the pool with her in his arms and sank into the heat of the water. It felt like heaven, exactly what she needed.
Isai allowed Julija to move out of his arms to the other side of the pool. Before she got there, he waved his hand and she had a comfortable seat, just the right height for the blanket of warm water to hit her just above her breasts. She looked beautiful, all flushed and tousled, as if she’d been thoroughly made love to—and she had.
He’d grown to know her through their telepathic connection. He caught glimpses of her life and it sickened him that he’d been in the world and hadn’t been able to protect her. She blushed when he kept looking at her.
“You have to stop. I can’t think when you’re staring at me like that.”
“I don’t know. A hungry wolf. You look as if you might devour me any minute.”
He flashed a small enigmatic smile at her. “It is a possibility.”
“I’m sorry I doubted you, Isai. Or even acquainted you at all with the likes of Barnabas or my father. I should have believed in my own ability to tell truth from lie.”
“Do not apologize to me, my little mage. They conditioned you to doubt everything. You will soon believe in yourself again and in us.”
She went underwater to rinse out her hair. He watched the strands floating across the top of the crystal-clear pool. She looked like a sexy water nymph. It was difficult to watch her and not have his body react in spite of the fact that he had just had her. One of the cats mewed and pushed against his arm. Without thinking, he bit into his wrist and offered his blood to the animal. The two had to be hungry to ask so soon. He didn’t mind. He wanted his bond solidified.
The shadow cats had shields preventing Anatolie from accessing either one. That gave Isai the necessary time to build the bond, so their loyalty would be absolute. He would also know what they were doing at all times. He couldn’t afford one or both cats to go after human or Carpathian blood. They would have to get used to taking what they needed from either Julija or him.
Julija watched him feed the big male. “He genuinely likes you.”
She sounded surprised, and he deliberately shot up an eyebrow. “I am likable.”
She made a face at him. “I don’t know, he hasn’t felt your hand on his rear.”
He knew she was teasing him, but after discovering the things Barnabas had done to her, he didn’t want anything that even came close to reminding her of that poor excuse for a human being. He let the cat finish and then closed the puncture wounds with his tongue.
“I must apologize to you for my behavior,” he said. “I had no idea you had this man treat you the way he did. I did not mean to resemble him in any way.”
She looked genuinely horrified. “If you think that, you need to look into my mind. I didn’t want you to see the things he did to me, but your ridiculous little spanking wasn’t even in the same league. Believe me, I never thought that at all.”
He stared at her, somewhere between shocked and amused, and with an urge to repeat his “ridiculous little spanking.” His woman had a mouth on her. He let the silence between them grow heavy until she realized
what she’d said. Rather than react the way he expected, with chagrin or at least some tiny bit of remorse, she burst out laughing. He couldn’t help liking the sound. It filled the chamber, a soft, sexy little masterpiece he could listen to for the rest of his life. The sound also made him want to smile. It took a few moments to recognize that the unfamiliar emotion welling up in him was happiness.
He sent a wave of water at her with the flat of his hand. Instantly she retaliated, turning her back and throwing up water with both hands. He cheated, easily building a shield while keeping up a storm of water until she collapsed back onto the seat, laughing. He couldn’t help smiling again.
When the laughter subsided, she eyed him closely. “I really created this pool, didn’t I? No help from you.” She made it a statement, but there was a question in her mind.
“No help from me. Now, when you decide to take to the air, there will be help and you’ll be very careful to do exactly as I say and follow my instructions to the letter.” He meant it. Absolutely. Then she nodded, her eyes going wide, and all sorts of ideas on instructions came into his head, making his cock jerk. He dropped his hand to the growing length, fisting it casually beneath the water.
Her gaze followed the movement of his hand. “Do you think I could do that? Fly?”
“Why not? I think you are going to be able to do more than most of us can, even when you are fully converted. I think your mage blood will remain just as Lycan blood does.”
“A mage is more human than any other species,” Julija pointed out. “I don’t think of us as being more powerful. We’re well versed in the arts, both dark and light, but we appear and are the most human.”
“Simply because you cannot shift into another form?” Her reasoning eluded him.
“We live among humans, side by side. Our children grow up in the cities and towns. Most mages have married humans and turned their backs on their gifts.”
“This does not mean that mages are any more human than
Carpathians. Perhaps it is easier for you to assimilate into their society, but you have to have your own doctors, right?”
She nodded. “Not that I ever went to one.” She ducked her head. “Especially after Barnabas. You can see the ugly scars on me if I don’t build an illusion.”
He dropped his hand from his cock, unfamiliar fury building in his gut. He didn’t like it. The emotion was disturbing in its intensity and the fact that he was a very dangerous individual.
“First, Julija, don’t do that.” He reached across the distance between them and lifted her chin. Her eyes met his and he felt the impact right through the swirling heat and anger churning in his belly. “You have no reason to be ashamed. That is part of their conditioning. They humiliated you and did their best to find a way to bend you to their will. They were not successful. You remember that. You stood your ground. You didn’t harm an innocent.”
Isai allowed his admiration to show in his voice as well as his expression. He detested that her family had done these things to her, deliberately undermined her confidence and misled her so she had no idea who she was or even what she was.
odam wäke emni
. In case you are not up on your Carpathian, it means ‘mistress of illusion.’ You are amazing when it comes to illusion, but it is because your illusions are very real, thanks to the Carpathian in you. They do not have to know you have become aware of that little detail. They are going to come at you and you will be able to defend yourself against any attack because you are both. Do you understand me, Julija? You are . . . extraordinary.”
Her eyes met his with a hint of shyness. That surprised him. His woman wasn’t shy.
“You make me feel extraordinary. I don’t know if I can do all the things you think I can, but I’m willing to learn, if you’re willing to teach me.”
“You know more than you think you do. There’s one more thing we have to get out of the way before we go any further.”
“Two,” she contradicted.
He studied her face. “Two then. You go first.”
“I want to know what your tattoo says. You said that belongs to your lifemate.”
His heart gave a funny little stutter at the mixture of defiance, challenge and possession spilling into her voice. “Only to my lifemate. These words etched into my back are my vow to you.”
He remembered every scar deliberately made on his body and how many times it had to be done to overcome the earth’s healing. The brethren had found that once the cut was deep enough, if they inserted the black color even deeper, the design would last on their skin. The creed of the brethren in the monastery flowed in their ancient Carpathian language from neck across shoulders and down their backs. Their creed and a vow to his woman.
“You are the most important person in my life. You always will be. When I realized I had grown far too dangerous to continue hunting the vampire—”
Her head jerked up, her eyes meeting his. “What does that mean? Why would that be?”
He had forgotten, because she clearly was Carpathian, that there would be gaps in her knowledge. “We hunt our own brethren and we do so without color or emotion. In some ways, the lack of both is good because to kill someone we love and continue this practice over hundreds of years would damage us beyond repair. Still, one cannot live that way forever. At first you hear the whisper of temptation, to kill while feeding. If one does that, there is a rush caused by the adrenaline in the victim’s blood.”
“Really? A Carpathian who had spent centuries being honorable would decide to give up everything in order to feel that momentary rush?”
He nodded. “If you have not felt anything at all for centuries, that rush is a huge temptation. Think of all the males and females who cheat on their partners. It is for a momentary rush. They throw it all away, or at least risk it, for that one moment of nothing but feeling. If a warrior hasn’t had anything in his life but gray nothingness, that whisper of temptation grows louder and louder as the centuries pass.”
Julija leaned back, forgetting nothing was there to support her but rock. He waved to provide a softer cushion for her, doing so without thinking. She looked startled and then she sent him a sweet smile that struck him like a fiery dart.
“Is that what happened? Why you decided to go into the monastery? The whispers were becoming louder?”
“I wish they had continued, but after centuries, and so many kills, they stopped. Killing, even without feeling, takes pieces out of us. Steals what is left of our soul. At least, it feels that way. Each vampire hunt stole more and more of me and then the whispers stopped and there was only silence. Complete silence.”
Her dark chocolate eyes were veiled by long, thick lashes, but he could still read the compassion in them. She turned his heart over. How he thought she wasn’t worthy, he didn’t know. His woman was definitely worthy of being a lifemate. Everything about her screamed courage and compassion.
“I knew then that I had to end my days of hunting. Should I turn, with my knowledge and skills, it would take several seasoned hunters to slay me. I did not want to risk that happening. I had a few ‘friends,’ men I knew I could count on, and I told them I did not want to end my life, that if my lifemate was out there, I was subjecting her to cycle after cycle. Once I died, I would have to be reborn and still find her. Our life cycles could be far apart.”
“Someday you’ll have to explain all that to me,” Julija said. “This lifemate thing is fascinating. After what happened to me with Barnabas, I didn’t think I would ever find someone to share my life with. Now it feels like we’ve always been together.”
“Because we belong. My friends and I decided to go into a monastery. There was one high up in the Carpathian Mountains. The monks were old and slowly dying as no young men wanted that arduous, lonely life. They showed us the simplicity of the way they lived. It was quite beautiful in a way. We cared for them as one by one, they died. While they lived, we were careful of them, but we took their blood.”
“Did they know?”
He inclined his head respectfully. “Yes. We told them what and who we were. They could not communicate with the outside world without our knowledge, so it was safe to tell them. They were good men, very accepting of other cultures and ways, and in our case, other species. They helped us as best they could and in return, we did our best for them.”
“I can hear regret in your voice.”
“For their deaths. Humans die so young. You must have lost human friends.”
“I wasn’t allowed friends. I mingled with them, lived among them, but we were always aloof from them. Even the more modern neighborhoods we lived in didn’t seem to want closeness. No neighborhood barbecues, that sort of thing. That’s probably why my father chose them.”
Isai concurred with her conclusion. “After the last of the monks died, we chose the youngest of us, which is kind of funny because he was nearly the same age, just lacked by a quarter of a century, but we referred to him as the ‘boy.’” He sent her a small grin. “We did not feel, but we still used humor. We did our best to follow the advice of the monks and using humor, whether felt or not, was one of the things that was told to us. Sandu, one of the brethren, was the best at it, but we all practiced.”
“You’re good enough,” she said, as if knowing he was telling her not to expect him to make her laugh, although he wanted to do so. He craved her smile and the sound of her laughter.
“Fane became the gatekeeper,” he continued. “He was the youngest of us, although he was enormously skilled, and we trusted him as our gatekeeper. He was the only one of us to come and go from the monastery. He would find sustenance and then return to feed each of us. It was not an easy job.”
“I can imagine, with so many of you.”
“During our time there, others came and stayed awhile. That helped Fane. Some stayed half a century or more, others less than a decade. If the call to find their lifemate became too strong, they would leave. Not everyone is suited to such an austere lifestyle. Living there was like living without hope, yet at the same time, we were safe from killing.”
“I just can’t imagine what that was like.”
“We lived for our lifemates. I lived for you. We etched our creed into our backs.” He turned around to show her the Carpathian letters flowing down his back.
Her fingers brushed over the first words.
“Olen wäkeva kuntankért,”
she whispered softly. “Tell me the translation, Isai.”
“‘Staying strong for our people.’ We were there behind those heavy gates, the thick walls surrounding us to remind us that the Carpathian people were honorable, and we needed to be strong and fight against the nothingness. That gray void we all lived in. It was like a terrible abyss we had gone into, digging deeper and deeper throughout the centuries until one morning, we looked up and there was no way out. Honor was all we had left.”
Her fingers brushed over the second line multiple times. Lingered. Cooled and soothed when he had felt no discomfort but now, forever, would crave the touch of her fingers.