No one has to be your master. He’s wrong about that. I’ll help you as soon as I can return. It shouldn’t be much longer.
They are pushing me to rise.
There was a little sob in Elisabeta’s mind, but not in her voice.
I can hold out against them. I did learn to use silence and to be stubborn when I didn’t want to do something. I don’t believe they will beat me.
No, they won’t beat you. Why do I get the feeling you are not telling me everything?
There is always more to tell. You haven’t told me everything. What is this quest?
Julija tapped her chin with the pad of her index finger. Would Elisabeta worry too much about her if she didn’t explain? Probably. Elisabeta had been shaped into a pleaser. She nurtured others—even those who were evil. Sergey had taken all the sweet compassion Elisabeta had for others and amplified and twisted those traits into what he wanted from her. It was possible Elisabeta had always had a submissive nature, but her self-esteem would have been high and her ability to read others and trust them would have developed as she grew older as well.
Elisabeta didn’t hurry her decision or try to persuade her one way or the other. Like Julija she was just happy to have a real friend, someone to talk with and bounce ideas off of.
Do you remember hearing the name Xavier? He was the high mage and offered classes for Carpathians to learn spells for safeguards.
Yes, of course.
Xavier was secretly conspiring to bring down the Carpathian people, along with every other species of power. He’s pretty much succeeded with the Jaguar race. He turned the men against the women and they have all but died out. The werewolves remain strong, but a war was barely averted between Carpathians and werewolves. That alliance is still shaky at best. Mages are regarded with suspicion by all species.
Elisabeta gave a small gasp.
As if the vampires weren’t enough.
The vampires, under the Malinov brothers, have been forming armies, as you well know. Sergey has slivers of Xavier in him. At least two, perhaps three. He has a sliver of his brother in him as well.
I know this, but how do you?
The same way as you do, Elisabeta. I can feel even the vampires. When Sergey got close to me, even to kill me, I felt Xavier in him. Xavier’s presence is very distinctive and I’m a direct descendant.
Xavier kidnapped Rhiannon.
She disappeared. No one could find her. I thought, after Sergey had taken me, that perhaps one of his brothers had her. It was years after for me, but maybe she was still alive, and we’d find each other. I didn’t want to be alone.
The last was said shamefully.
That is a very natural feeling.
Especially given that Elisabeta was still a young girl. In Carpathian years, she was very young. Again, Julija wanted to wrap her arms around the woman and comfort her. Had anyone ever done that for her?
It was Xavier who had taken Rhiannon. He wanted to be immortal. He was able through spells to keep her from calling out for aid, or to help herself. He had three children with her. Triplets. Soren, Tatijana and Branislava.
Poor Rhiannon. I had no idea Xavier was such a monster.
He kept the children and killed Rhiannon, feeling safer without her conspiring to find a way to kill him. He seemed to have tried to raise them somewhat as his children, but Rhiannon had already told them the truth. He imprisoned the two girls in an ice cave after they had shifted into dragons. At first, he did the same with Soren, but he wanted to use him, so he punished the two girls if their brother went against him. Soren quickly fell into line.
Elisabeta gave a delicate shudder.
Watching someone you love get punished for your sins is very difficult. I was fortunate in that for a long time, Sergey didn’t allow anyone else near me. When he finally did, I found it was a nightmare. He liked the results because I could take his beatings for myself but detested when he hurt others.
Julija knew Sergey had employed that method often with Elisabeta, making her watch him destroy entire families and claiming it was her fault. The human puppets he created ate the flesh from living beings, mostly children. Elisabeta would do anything Sergey asked of her as long as he stopped them.
Xavier kept Soren separated from his sisters unless he needed to punish him. He allowed him to be with a mage, one of Xavier’s choice. She gave birth to a son, and they were told the baby died at birth. The infant was given to another mage to raise away from Soren and the birth mother was killed by Xavier in front of Soren because she had “failed” them. A few years later Soren married a human, I think her name was Samantha, another experiment, and Sergey didn’t want any children to be more powerful than Soren’s firstborn. They had twins, Razvan and Natalya.
Xavier is every bit as bad as Sergey.
I think they are close in their depravity. Soren’s firstborn son, Anatolie, was raised to be a powerful mage, one that would aid Xavier in wiping out their enemies. Anatolie married a mage woman of Xavier’s approval. It wasn’t a love match because I don’t think either knows how to actually love. They had twins, boys. The boys were to be their greatest asset, including giving blood to keep Xavier alive.
Mages have longevity,
But they aren’t immortal.
Technically, neither are Carpathians because they can be
killed. Still, to accomplish what they wanted, Xavier had to
live, to be immortal. The twin boys were far more mage than Carpathian and their blood didn’t sustain the
others. The three mages conspired to find a Carpathian female.
They set the Malinov brothers on a Carpathian family, killing
the male first and then the female. They took the
girl. She was no more than sixteen. She gave birth
to me. I’m mage and Carpathian. I fed them all with
my blood. Apparently, my blood did sustain them.
Elisabeta breathed her name. She had given blood to Sergey nearly every day of her life since she was seventeen. She knew what it felt like to be used cruelly.
Julija stared up at the constellation. It was directly over her now and she felt as if a thousand eyes watched her. She stayed very still, part of the landscape. She was high up in the Sierras in a particularly rocky area. Large cliffs rose above her and more were below. Her “rocks” were just a few of many. She was usually very confident in her illusions but for some reason, maybe the conversation, she was a little anxious.
Xavier had this book of spells. He had recorded every dark spell possible. It was truly evil and held the means to destroy every species. The book was sealed until Xavier could get in place the powerful mages he needed to aid him. Soren stole the book and hid it in a bog. Xavier sent his demon warriors after him and tortured him to find out where it was. Soren’s daughter, Natalya, saw the entire thing in a vision and was able to find the book. In her vision from holding the ceremonial knife, she saw Xavier sacrifice a dark mage, a Jaguar and a Carpathian. The Carpathian was Rhiannon. Natalya thought that provided the entire seal. From things I’ve overheard, I believe she didn’t see anything more because she didn’t have access to all of Xavier’s prized ceremonial knives.
Elisabeta was silent a moment, trying to comprehend everything Julija was telling her.
Natalya got to the book before Xavier.
That is correct. The book was given to the prince of the Carpathians.
Unfortunately, no. It couldn’t be opened, which is a good thing, and it can’t be destroyed so easily. But the Carpathians thought it safe with Mikhail.
Elisabeta might not want to strike out on her own, but she was intelligent. She put it all together very fast.
The shadow cats your brothers bred. They were bred specifically to get the book.
Exactly. My brothers took the cats to various countries to train them, so no one would put together what they were planning. They had other mages and humans set up just in case they were caught and in a couple of countries, that did happen, but my brothers were able to get away without ever being seen or suspected. When they were able to get the perfect cat, they sent him to get the book.
Something went wrong.
That guess was easy enough. Julija had told Elisabeta that she was on an important quest, one that was necessary, and now she was saying she wouldn’t make it back at the three-week mark.
A Carpathian warrior, one who had just lost his lifemate.
Julija’s heart contracted remembering how she’d felt the warrior taking the woman into his arms and holding her. How he’d brushed her eyelids and mouth with kisses so gentle they were soul stirring.
His name is Iulian Florea. His intention was to meet the dawn and then all of a sudden, he changed his mind. I had the impression of the book. For a moment I thought he was going to try to bring his lifemate back to life. I didn’t want him to try. I knew, even if he could do it, anything coming from that book would be pure evil.
He took the book?
He wounded the shadow cat and took the book. I followed him here. I could feel his presence, that’s how I tracked him, but now I can’t.
She was suddenly very uneasy. The constellation remained right over her as if somehow spotlighting her. She had the urge to throw back the sleeping bag and run. The need to flee was so strong she found herself gripping the edges of the bag. The compulsion strengthened. She forced herself to breathe through it.
She couldn’t tell Elisabeta that she’d been discovered. She didn’t know who it was that had found her, but it didn’t really matter. Iulian, her brothers and any of their many allies, vampires and their puppets, or Carpathian hunters. They knew she was in the race to find the book. Even if she got there first, none of them would ever let up until they got her. The sensible thing to do was to join Elisabeta and help her. If the Carpathians already had gotten word she was mage and a traitor, she would look innocent helping one of their own.
Julija couldn’t abandon her mission. She wanted to, but it was impossible. She couldn’t allow her brothers to get their hands on that book. Not now, not ever.
Isai Florea stared up at the stars from where he sat on a boulder looking up at the clear night sky. It was beautiful. Without the lights from the city of San Diego, one could get lost in the beauty of the overhead display. After having been locked away from the world for so long, being thrown back into a society he didn’t understand—nor would they understand him—so many people and so many homes crammed together gave him a sense of not belonging.
He was given the unexpected duty of hunting for his own brother. He hadn’t realized Iulian was alive. He’d searched for him for centuries, long before he’d sequestered himself in the monastery, high in the Carpathian Mountains. He’d been certain Iulian was long gone from the earth just as everyone he’d ever cared about was.
He was grateful he didn’t have emotions, not when he was chasing after his only living relative. Not after finding out his brother had stolen something so incredibly evil as Xavier’s deadly spell book.
What would be the purpose? Had Iulian figured out how to open it? It didn’t matter one way or the other, he’d stolen something of great importance from the prince of their people. That was all Isai needed to know
to begin tracking him. More, the little mage everyone had talked about, Elisabeta’s friend, wasn’t all she’d seemed. She was either hunting Iulian to take the book from him or had aided him in stealing it.
Isai kept his concentration mainly focused on the constellation in the sky. That long sweep of stardust spread through the bright stars. He had re-created it to perfection, every detail, every particle. In doing so, he could see the land below it, miles of wilderness set in valleys and high peaks. He identified campers, not ones on the main trails, but those venturing outside the normal trails within the range.
He was new to the Sierras, but he had studied the topography and devoured everything he could read or hear about the range. That also helped him to find the places he was certain his brother would go. The mage—she was different. He knew very little about her. He’d attempted to speak to Elisabeta, but she remained in the healing grounds, refusing to acknowledge anyone. Isai shrugged. Had he gone through what she’d been put through, he wouldn’t want to talk to anyone, either. Nor would he ever aid someone hunting a friend.
He felt it then. A sudden shift of energy. Subtle. So subtle he thought he might be mistaken, but when he stayed very still and allowed all his senses to expand, he felt it again. A steady flow. It wasn’t some natural phenomenon the range of mountains had produced. This was created by some
, not something. The energy was coming from somewhere and the wielder held great power. The flow of energy never wavered, not for one moment.
Isai couldn’t help but admire the efficiency. He focused completely on the energy to trace it back to the caster. Feminine. The flow held a light hand. Delicate almost. He found himself wanting to bathe in that flow of energy. In the sheer beauty of the work. It was unusual for him to react to anything, not like this. It was as if he was drawn to the flow, a compulsion to put first his hands and then his arms in, close his eyes and let the energy consume him. Move into him. Through him. Submerge him completely.
Abruptly he pulled back. The mage then. She held power if she could get an ancient who was part of the brethren from the monastery to fall
under her spell, especially from a distance. There were few that could best him. He wasn’t arrogant in thinking that, it was simply a fact. Perhaps she was with Iulian. The moment the thought occurred, his heart did a strange stuttering and he immediately found he needed to physically find the flow of energy again and reach for it with his hands.
He took to the sky. One leap and he was shifting, becoming part of the night sky, moving slowly across the atmosphere as part of the constellation he had created. Following the energy was easy enough, and without his physical body he could give in to the compulsion to become part of that very vivid flow.
Looking down, he saw cliffs, great mountains rising, bare of most vegetation, the rocks pushing upward to create beautiful formations. One kept drawing his attention back. He could almost see the shimmer of power emanating from what appeared to be three smaller rocks atop a bare slab.
His heart did that strange stuttering he’d experienced just moments earlier. He’d found her. He examined the slab of rock carefully. There was no evidence of Iulian. The night was still young enough that if his brother was traveling with the mage, he would be close. Perhaps he’d gone off to find a camper, so he could take their blood.
Making up his mind, Isai simply dropped out of the sky, right through the illusion the mage had woven for her safety, and straddled the sleeping bag, trapping her inside. Her eyelids flew open and he found himself staring into wildly furious dark chocolate eyes.
She clamped her lips together tightly and glared at him. She had expressive eyes, so he got it. She wasn’t happy with him sitting on her. He had muscle and no fat. She was very petite. Even beneath the sleeping bag he could tell she was small boned, so he could crush her. That didn’t stop him from sitting there.
“I can sit here all night. In fact, if I get tired, I’ll just lie down on top of you. You’re in a great deal of trouble, just in case you thought you’d play innocent.”
He made certain to keep her hands trapped. Mages had a way with
spells. He knew most and could counter them. When he had come out of the monastery to reenter the world, learning new spells had been the first thing he made a point of doing. Mage spells. He had always been adept, and he knew advances had to have been made while he was locked away. He had studied everything the other Carpathians knew.
She glared at him, her long lashes sweeping down and then back up to allow him to see her fury wasn’t abating.
He couldn’t help himself. She looked . . . delicious. That was a first for him. He had no real emotions, no real feelings and that included sexual. None. Yet straddling her, he felt a stirring in his body. He went hot. He controlled temperature easily and instantly regulated it. That did nothing to stop the rush of heat through his veins. Flames, a fire racing through his bloodstream to pool in his groin. An ache that fast became an urgent demand and then a real pain.
Isai stared down at the furious little face. Her skin was very soft. Her face oval. Cheekbones high. Her mouth was generous, lips full. Teeth very white. Eyes that dark chocolate color.
He turned his head away from her to stare out over the cliff into the mist, his breath catching in his throat. It couldn’t be. This mage. This treacherous woman? Nothing could restore color or emotion to him but his true lifemate—a woman who held the other half of his soul.
He had been born centuries earlier. Far, far before this time. At birth, his soul had been split in two, giving him all the darkness, giving his other half all the light. He had lost all emotion and color after two hundred years and had begun the search for the one holding the other half of his soul. Endless centuries of . . . nothing. A gray, desolate world of violence. Time passed and more . . . nothing.
He was feeling emotion now, and the first of it, rather than wonder, was anger. A slow, smoldering rage that boiled in his gut when he looked at the stubborn woman. There was no telling her actual age. Mages had longevity and aged extremely slowly. Undoubtedly, she was born in the wrong century. More than one wrong century. She was mage, a mortal enemy of his people. Already she had proven her treacherous nature.
More, she kept her lips pressed together, denying him when she so obviously knew he was her other half.
He leaned down very close, taking in the delicate scent of her. She smelled like peaches and cream. Like heaven. Strands of her hair caught in the dark stubble on his face and his stomach did a slow roll at the feeling of silk against his skin.
His lips brushed her little shell of an ear as he admonished her. “I am your lifemate. Your lord. You belong to me. It does not matter in the least that you fight me on this. You will learn obedience, and you will learn treachery is a very dangerous game to play.” He punctuated each word with his tongue, touching her skin, claiming every spot he licked.
He didn’t want her answer. He only wanted one thing and he took it. With no warning, he sank his teeth into her neck. She cried out, the sound like music, shattering the silence of the night. Bright colors struck at him, glowing and shimmering behind his eyes. Her blood filled his mouth, delicate and pure, a ruby drink designed for his taste alone. It was perfection. Exquisite. The tang beyond anything he’d ever experienced.
He knew he was changed for all time. Addiction took hold. He would always need this. Waking. Sleeping. Every moment he thought of her. Her taste would be in his mouth, on his tongue. His muscles, organs and bones would cry out for her blood. She had been created just for him and he was nearly drunk—no, euphoric—at the idea of a lifemate. Especially one who would give him trouble at every turn. He would enjoy being with her nearly as much as he would enjoy taking her blood.
It took effort to connect back with reality and realize she was struggling, trying to push him away from her.
You will obey.
He pushed the command deep into her mind. There was a shield there. A very effective one. Her psychic shield was strong, but it hadn’t been formed with a lifemate in mind. Nor had she been prepared for a Carpathian warrior as old and as skilled as he was.
Fuck you and the bird you flew in on.
There was pure defiance as well as a hidden note of fear. Good. She would need both to survive and he was going to make certain she did.
That is unacceptable language for my woman to use, especially on me.
In one smooth move, he rolled her over forcing her facedown on the hard rock, trapping her arms beneath her. One silent command and he had stripped the bag from her body, leaving her in her jeans and tee. He brought his hand down hard on her bottom. Over and over. He wasn’t gentle about it.
“You are getting off lucky in spite of your cries and pleas. You helped steal from the prince of the Carpathian people. That isn’t even your worst crime.” He put a little more power into his smacks on her rounded bottom. “You deliberately tried to deny me, your lifemate, what is
to me. I’ve lived a life of honor. I’ve risked my life to save every species over and over, century after century. You knew, just looking at me, and yet you childishly and stubbornly refused to open your mouth and give me back emotions and colors.”
She sobbed softly, no longer struggling or trying to get him off her back. She lay beneath him, accepting his punishment, her small body shuddering. Abruptly he rolled her over again and pulled her into his arms, looking down at her tear-streaked face.
You will take my blood now.
He pushed firmly past her strong shield to force her obedience.
She tilted her head up, her hands going to his shirt. It was already open in preparation and she swept the two edges apart as she pressed her mouth to his chest, right over his heart. Her lashes were wet. Her incredible skin was splotchy red from crying. She hiccupped twice, as if she couldn’t quite stop crying, but struggled to do so. He thought she was beautiful. Treacherous, but beautiful.
She turned her face to his chest, nuzzled there. He felt the slow lick of her tongue like a flame against the heavy muscle of his chest. His entire body shuddered with need. Craving coursed through him, hot, almost completely feral, a sexual hunger he’d never experienced before. Heart pounding, he brought up one finger to open his chest, to give her a way to take his blood, but before he could, she bit down, her teeth unerringly finding the vein.
He threw his head back at the pleasure/pain that instantly roared
through his body with the force of a freight train. Every cell in his body, every nerve ending focused completely on his woman. For such a little thing, she wreaked havoc with his mind, body and soul. So easily.
Her hands stroked up his chest. She shifted in his lap, turning more fully toward him, drinking his blood, making her own demands. Her own claims. He hadn’t ordered her to do more than take his blood for an exchange, but she was definitely going beyond that.
One hand teased at his flat nipples, sending a searing flame through his bloodstream, igniting some explosive chemistry between them. Her other hand slid down his belly to fumble at the waistband of his trousers. He obliged her, waving clothes away from both of them. His breath caught in his throat. Her body was beautiful. She might be petite, but she was a woman and her body proclaimed her as such.
She had taken enough for a true blood exchange.
It will never be enough.
Obey me in this.
He pushed more command into his voice, but he didn’t physically stop her. He wanted to see what she would do.
She pulled back, licked at the ruby drops running from the twin holes in his chest her teeth had made and then she began pressing little kisses down his chest to his belly button. One hand pushed at him to insist he lie back. He didn’t. He leaned for her, but he wasn’t putting himself in a vulnerable position. He might want her with every breath he drew, but he didn’t trust her.
She stretched out, lapping at his stomach and then his groin, licking the broad, flared head of his cock until he thought he might lose his mind. Still, he let her. How could he possibly stop her when every lash of her tongue felt like a whip of lightning wrapping around his desperate, aching cock?
He ran his hand down her back to her sore buttocks. His handprint didn’t show on her skin, but the marks of his punishment did. He rubbed, hoping to take away the sting, but the heavy brush of his palm, the kneading of his fingers, seemed to inflame her more. Her mouth engulfed him.
He threw back his head and let the feeling take him. Euphoria. Nirvana. Her mouth was a tight, hot, wet fist, attempting to suck him dry. He gathered the thick swath of hair away from her face, so he could watch
her devour him. Her lips were stretched wide and it was the sexiest sight he’d ever seen—and he’d watched many such performances, many supposedly more erotic, but not to him. He could get off just looking at the sight of her with her lips stretched so wide and his cock in her mouth. Streaks of fire raced through his bloodstream. He wanted to do some exploring of his own.