Authors: Christine Feehan
“Fane, the gatekeeper, left us every night to get blood for us.” Even as the words left him, he remembered the feel of her mouth on his skin. Her teeth sank into him, connecting them, so they shared his vein. So the essence of his life’s blood could flow from him to her.
had done that. He hadn’t done it for her. He’d barely pushed the command at her. She’d been willing, and not once had she questioned his taking of her blood. Not one single time.
“You have a mage mark.” He indicated the mark on her arm. The mark was very distinct. A snake coiled around the belly of a scorpion. The claws and stinger on the scorpion were poised and ready and the mouth of the snake was open, showing fangs, while its raised tail gave warning. “Yet you know about Carpathians and were able on your own to take my blood.”
She nodded. “I studied Carpathians because they are the focus of my family. Carpathians are considered the enemy. Xavier wanted them wiped from the earth. And yes, I am able to take blood directly, although I was careful not to show that particular ability to my family for many years.”
There was reluctance in her voice and her face flamed red. She looked away from him, but not before he caught a glimpse of distress in her. Whatever memory he had invoked was extremely painful to her.
“Can you explain further?” he asked gently.
“I would prefer not to,” she said.
He could see she half expected him to rip her memories from her mind. Instead, he stood up, towering over her. “You really need to lie down. I can feel your exhaustion beating at me.”
She stood as well, and he remained towering over her. He indicated the bed and they both walked to it.
“I am tired,” she admitted. “I didn’t sleep at all last night.”
She would have to get used to that if she was staying with him.
“The light is creeping in and I have to go to ground. I really don’t like
leaving you alone. You’re not unprotected.” He didn’t want her to be afraid, nor did he want to insult her by implying she couldn’t handle being alone when she already had proven she could. “You are powerful in your own right, Julija, and you are aware of that power. Still, if needed, wake me and I will give you mine, as much as possible when the paralysis takes me.”
She nodded. “I’ll be fine. I appreciate the offer. I know it is not given often or lightly.”
She knew far more about Carpathian customs than she was letting on. “Before I retire, do you need food? I’ve put water beside the bed on that little stand. There is what passes for a bathroom in that tiny alcove right there.” He indicated the only corner in the chamber that was somewhat secluded.
“I appreciate it.” She sank down on the bed, suddenly tired. Very tired.
Isai crouched down and began removing her hiking boot. He stripped off one of her socks and did the same to the other one before inspecting both feet.
“I did have blisters, but I was able to heal them,” she admitted. “It isn’t my strongest suit, but I can do it when I have to.”
He massaged her feet for a few minutes. “Get undressed and I’ll pull up the sheets.”
“I can do that part myself.”
“Seriously, Isai. If you’re not prepared to have wild sex, then it isn’t a good idea for me to take off my clothes in front of you.”
His cock jerked at that thought. He wanted her, plain and simple, but now he had a new plan for his little mage. Sex was his backup plan. He could get her addicted since he already was, but he thought perhaps he would win her over faster if he showed restraint in that area. She was right, the moment he saw her body, his discipline would go right out the window. Not to mention, he could feel the effects of the sun on him already. His skin burned, and he was in a cave where the rays couldn’t reach him.
He stood up slowly and took her hand, turning it over, palm up, his
thumb sliding gently over the scars on her wrist. “The shadow cat was extremely large. Is it possible, rather than to kill you, it was sent to reacquire you?”
She looked up at him and there was a hint of fear in her eyes as if she hadn’t even considered that possibility. “How could it do that?”
His thumb slid over the numerous scars on the inside of her wrist. “I am not certain, but it is something to think about. You are their supply of Carpathian blood, right? They need you to continue their longevity. Carpathian blood is not easy to come by and yours is very rich. They hurt you, didn’t they?”
A little shudder went through her body. Her gaze jumped to his and held there. He saw fear. He wasn’t certain whether that fear was for him finding out some of her secrets, because now he knew she had them, or whether he was probing too deeply into memories she couldn’t examine yet.
He brought her wrist to his mouth, his lips whispering a kiss there. She looked confused, but she didn’t attempt to pull away. “
Kislány hän ku meke sarnaakmet minan
, I would very much like you to answer me.”
There was the briefest of hesitations. “Yes.”
The admission was so low he barely heard it, and he was Carpathian, therefore his hearing was acute.
Julija woke to the sound of something scratching at the outside walls of the cave. She lay staring up at the ceiling, her heart pounding. She had never heard the sound before, but she knew what it was. The light in the cave spilling from the crack on the west-facing side of the granite bluff flickered light to shadow over and over as if something paced in front of it, trying to get in.
She forced herself to drag air in and out of her lungs. Very slowly, so as not to make any sound, she sat up and put her feet over the side of the bed. After Isai had gone to ground, she had undressed and gotten under the covers. He had provided an incredibly comfortable bed for her. The mattress was perfect. The weight of the covers just right. The feel of the sheets on her bare skin was luxurious.
She didn’t use magic to clothe herself because creatures made up of magic and flesh and bone were particularly sensitive to any surge of power. She pulled on her jeans, shimmying them over her hips, her bare feet on the floor of the cave. Rather than dirt and rock, her toes sank into a thick carpet. Isai was close, and the sun would sink soon. She was grateful she wasn’t alone. The shadow cats scared her as nothing else could have.
As she drew the tee over her head, she felt a stab of pain go through her brain, like a sharp needle piercing from one side to the other. She went down to one knee, grabbing her head and holding it as if that could help reduce the agony in her brain.
Julija, I command you to return immediately. Your brothers are waiting. They will turn you over to Barnabas and he will escort you home. They will pursue the Carpathian and the stolen book. You should never have warned
Naturally, after the terrible fight they’d had, her father would believe that she had warned the Carpathians and they’d been waiting for the shadow cat. There was no way to convince them otherwise and she wasn’t so foolish as to try. The moment she opened her mouth to defend herself, the shadow cats might have a way to lock on to her energy. They had tracked her there, but so far, they couldn’t get past Isai’s safeguards, let alone her own that she’d added to the complicated weave.
Her name was a hiss of displeasure accompanied by another, particularly vicious jab. The skin on her wrist suddenly split and blood began to drip to the floor.
You will die there, wherever he has taken you. There is no one that can save you from the things I can do to you.
She managed to breathe through the pain, but when she crawled the scant foot to the bed to pull herself up, her face was reflected there. Her skin appeared to be sloughing off. Looking down she could see dark spots opening all over her skin. The pressure on her chest was tremendous, as if an elephant sat there. Her heart stumbled, and the air refused to go in or out of her lungs. She fell to the floor, the thick carpet cushioning her fall and preventing sound from escaping.
Julija stilled the chaos of her brain, the images telling her she would die in agony if she didn’t comply with her father’s demand. She had trained for this day. Was fully prepared. She just had to find a way to get enough air to carry out her plan.
As if Isai had heard her need, dirt and rock spewed into a mini volcano, erupting a few feet from her. He emerged, fully clothed, looking unstoppable. He crouched beside her, lifted her into his arms and took her mouth, pushing air into her lungs. Immediately, the paralysis left her, and she was breathing again.
He grinned at her and winked like a co-conspirator. He waved his hand in the air as if to say, “take over” and then he lifted her wrist to his mouth to capture the ruby red drops dripping from the tear. His tongue slid over the laceration and he licked up the few that were still running down her arm. He didn’t see the dark spots or the skin sloughing off her face.
He turned toward the sound of the frantic scratching. He held up his fingers, indicating two. She nodded in agreement. She was confident in her ability to manipulate illusions, to cast them and repel them, and to send them where she wanted them to go. She lifted her hands into the air and began to form a pattern using graceful movements of her arms, wrists, hands and fingers.
Scatter, dissipate, disperse, dispel,
I bind these illusions that were born by air.
Warrior bird, talons of steel,
Within this pattern turn and reveal.
Fire I call you and command you to burn,
All visible threads so none may return.
Anatolie’s scream of agony resounded through her mind. She bent her head, ashamed. She had always promised herself she wouldn’t use her abilities for anything but good. Hurting another being, even one such as her father, by using her gifts made her feel slightly sick.
Isai wrapped his arm around her waist and bent to brush kisses along the corner of her eye. His hands went to frame both sides of her head. There was a feeling of warmth and the piercing needle was gone, receding with the pain.
“He’s in my mind so he knows how to get to me.”
“You have a shield that is unbelievably strong.”
Her gaze jumped to his face, looked right into those sapphire eyes of his. What she saw there sent her stomach on a slow roll. “But you can get past it, right? I’ve felt you struggle a couple of times when you wanted to, but you didn’t. My father found a way.”
“That gives him access to you that we don’t want. Can you build one he cannot breach?”
Julija liked that he asked—that he thought she could. She hated to disappoint him. “I’ve tried so many times. It’s like he knows everything I’m doing almost before I do it and he knocks it down.”
His hand slid from her shoulder to her wrist and then his fingers closed around hers. Both were ignoring the yowling cats, or at least trying to. Now, the cats sounded desperate, like if they didn’t get to Julija, something terrible was going to happen.
“We can build one together if you trust me enough to allow me to help you.” He pulled her hand to his chin and regarded her intensely with his vividly colored eyes.
“Yes. I’d like help. If I can keep him out, they’ll have a difficult time following, especially if we can get rid of the—” She broke off, her chin jerking up. Her gaze darted back and forth between the crack in the rock and him. “I recognize those yowls. I do. Last night, I heard the same yowl. It was as if one cat was calling to another, telling it something.”
“What are you thinking?”
“I helped several of the cats. I was good to them when my brothers weren’t. There were two cats in particular I went to every night for over a month. The female was far more receptive than the male. I thought the male was going to kill me several times. He had come back so torn up and wouldn’t let me near him at first.”
“You mentioned him.”
She nodded and moved a little closer to the front of the cavern, careful not to get too close to the crack. Even so, the cats became frenzied, scratching at the rock wall to get to her.
“They both needed blood and I gave them mine. I treated his wounds and the whip marks on her. My brothers amused themselves by hurting the things they created. They said they weren’t real, so why not? The cats have substance. They need food or blood to survive. They can be killed. It isn’t right.”
“No, Julija, it isn’t.”
She looked at him over her shoulder, seeing the admiration there. His
expression made her inexplicably happy. She couldn’t help the little burst of joy that spread through her. “I think those two cats are my cats.”
The smile was instantly gone from his face. “Julija,” he said in warning.
“The one that attacked you was probably paired with the one sent after the book. My brothers tended to train them in pairs. If these are mine, we can keep them with us.”
He shook his head. “I am not willing to risk your life.”
“The risk is mine to take. They’re innocent creatures. They didn’t ask for my brothers to shape them into killers.”
, did you just hear what you said?”
He had been calling her “little mage” and the more possessive “my little mage” in his ancient language, but
was an altogether different nickname. It was much more of an endearment, something a male Carpathian might call his love. It literally meant
of my heart
or more loosely translated,
She found she wished she had the time to dwell on that. Had it just slipped out and meant nothing? Or had it slipped out and meant everything?
“I know what I said. There are two of us. We’re powerful and we can stop them together. We’re prepared this time. I know it’s them, Isai. Trust me. Please.”
She could see his decision was swaying in her direction, but he didn’t like it. “Even if they don’t want to rip you apart, they will want to kill me.”
“Then we have to make certain they know you’re with me. That you’re mine. They understand pairs because they were surrounded by them. When one of a pair died the other proved useless to my brothers. It would either go insane and try to attack them or wouldn’t respond.”
“Because they were giving them Carpathian traits. Mixing your blood in with their food,” he guessed. “When a male lifemate dies, the female can hold on if necessary, but her heart and soul are with that male. If a female dies, the male will either suicide or turn vampire. Your brothers, by giving the pairs your blood, created a similar bond.”
The reminder of what lay between them coming out of his mouth so matter-of-factly embarrassed her. She was also shocked at how quickly
he’d figured out what her brothers had done. “That’s exactly right. I was fairly certain that was what happened.”
Isai lifted his hands and began taking down the first few layers of the safeguards. When he reached Julija’s work she stood in front of the crack, softly murmured a greeting to the cats and then began to reverse her spell.
Shadows upon me, be trapped by light.
Return to your darkness, never find sight.
I send you back from whence you’ve come.
Never to cross over or shadows become.
The cats quieted and began to chuff, interspersing the sound with a call to Julija. That was the only reason Isai finished taking down the safeguards. At the last moment, he stepped well back from the entrance and Julija wrapped her arms tightly around his waist, standing mostly in front of him but to one side.
“I don’t like you there. Get behind me,” Isai said tersely as the cats slunk through the very thin crack.
The shadow cats were long and built like sleek panthers. By turns they were black or gray, and they moved with the fluid, stalking steps of a predator. These were no cuddly kittens. Ears back, they showed their teeth, wicked canines very much in evidence. Their eyes glowed somewhere between a ruby red and a strange amber, going back and forth just as the colors on their bodies moved from black to gray.
Julija broke into a smile, she couldn’t help it. She recognized the pair immediately from the scars on them. “Blue and Belle, I missed you.” She kept her voice happy and yet pitched very low.
Isai’s eyebrows shot up. “Bluebell? Like the flower.”
She narrowed her eyes and gave him a look to remind him she was in charge. It didn’t seem to work. He gave her a faint grin in answer, and just that expression warmed the sapphire in his eyes to a hot glow. She felt her stomach do that slow roll and she had to hastily turn her attention back to the shadow cats.
Both cats looked from Julija to Isai. She needed to keep their
attention centered on her. She wanted to step more in front of Isai to shield him just in case either or both cats decided to attack, but she knew he wouldn’t allow it. Twice she tried to be subtle and just take one small step forward, but he moved with her as if he knew what she was thinking. She sent him an exasperated look over her shoulder.
“Seriously? You can see they’re friendly.”
When she turned back both cats were giving him a perfect view of their teeth. “Oh, stop it. He’s a friend. Behave yourselves. Come meet him instead of slinking around acting like you’re going to eat him.”
She crouched low, but as she did, her hand slid down Isai’s arm to his hand. She tried to be casual about it, as if she touched him every single day. Being so close to him was exhilarating. Her blood pulsed through her veins in a rush of heat. She felt so alive, a little scared, but very alive.
His fingers closed around her hand and she actually felt that connection deeper, somewhere in the region of her heart. He had a way of making her feel safe as well as cared for. She was used to doing things on her own, definitely used to facing danger alone. Isai made her feel as if he had her back and would fight for her if anything went wrong.
The female stepped closer, her neck stretched long so she could sniff at Isai’s hand, the one wrapped around hers. Her heartbeat accelerated. The male crouched in an attack position, ready to spring on Isai if he made one wrong move toward the female.
The two cats had to accept him. If they didn’t, if they attacked him, Julija knew she would have to kill them. There was no other choice. They couldn’t be left without direction when her brothers had made certain to make them killing machines needing blood to survive.
Belle, the female, touched her nose to Isai’s hand and then tentatively licked at him, tasting his skin. Julija’s heart was in her throat. There was no way that Belle wouldn’t scent Isai’s rich, pure Carpathian blood. He was an ancient and his blood was very powerful. That would call to both cats. This was the telling moment.
The cat pulled back abruptly and regarded him steadily with her ruby eyes. Julija kept watch on the male, but noted Belle’s eyes continued to change color rapidly, until, thankfully, they were more amber than red.
The cat once again stretched her neck toward them, and this time she laid her head on Julija’s shoulder. Julija immediately scratched under her chin.
“Hey, baby. I missed you, too. You were the one who called the other cat back, weren’t you? I thought maybe I recognized your voice. You know they’re going to be very, very angry at you for running off and finding me.”