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Authors: Christine Feehan

Dark Blood (7 page)

BOOK: Dark Blood
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Fen brought her hand to his mouth.
I don’t like this, my lady. I should have found another way. If he dies tomorrow night . . .

Don’t. Don’t think it. Don’t say it. Don’t put it out into the universe. We discussed this. You and Dimitri argued with Mikhail and the entire council of warriors. They believe we have no choice, and if we’re going to save lives, maybe we don’t. The prince would never take such a risk unless he believed there was no other choice.

There’s always another choice,
Fen said.
Unfortunately none of us could find it. Waking Zev was right there and once that was put out there as the solution, no one went on to try for another one.
He sounded bitter.

Fen.
She whispered his name into his mind—surrounded him with warmth and love.
That’s your love and fear for him talking. You know better. Mikhail had to have looked at this from every conceivable angle before he decided to wake Zev.

I know.
Fen scrubbed his hand over his face.
You’re right. But look at him. Skyler’s had to stop the bleeding every single time we brought him close enough to the surface to give him blood. And now he’s bleeding all over the place.

She’s here. And she’s taking care of it,
Tatijana assured.

But look at the toll it’s taking on her.
Fen shook his head.

“Fen.” Zev said his name very softly, but his voice was commanding. “It’s my choice.” He felt Branislava’s fingers tighten around his. “
Our
choice,” he corrected. “You laid it all out for me, and we both feel strongly that we want to take the chance to try to help out.”

“I don’t have to like it,” Fen snapped. He turned on his heel and was gone.

Dimitri dropped his hand on Zev’s shoulder. “You know how he feels about you. And he’s always been overprotective, much, I’m sure, as you’ve been all your life.”

Zev grinned at him. “It’s different from this side of the fence.”

Dimitri shrugged. “I’m used to it, and I know he gets like that because I matter to him. So I just let him do his thing and then I go my own way.”

Tatijana leaned over to kiss Branislava’s cheek. “I’ll see you next rising?”

Branislava nodded. “Take care of him.”

“You know I will.”

Skyler came back into her own body, pale and trembling after using up most of her energy to do the best she could to heal the gaping hole in Zev’s stomach. Dimitri immediately enveloped her in his arms, sheltering her protectively while he gave her blood to recover.

“Are you all right on your own?” Dimitri asked Branislava.

She nodded. “If we need anything, I’ll call. Thank you, Skyler. Go have fun with your wolves.”

“Before you go,” Zev said. “How do we find out if the things we suspect about my grandmother and mother are true?”

“Mikhail, of course. He can ask the ancients.” Dimitri lifted his hand and, one arm around Skyler, left the room.

Zev made a move to sit up, but Branislava kept a hand on his chest. He capitulated, but he didn’t like lying there, not if they were going to have a serious discussion about their relationship. He placed his hand over hers, holding her captive.

“I know it feels like you have to do your duty and keep me from acting like a wolf among sheep, but, Branka, I have great control and there is no need for you to feel trapped.”

“Our souls belong together. When you say the words of the binding ritual to me, we will be tied together for all eternity and there will be no going back,” she explained. “You have the power. I would not be able to leave you.”

He rubbed her arm, from the back of her hand to her elbow, his touch soothing. “
Mon chaton féroce.
I do not believe in cages. No matter how much I want you with me, you have to want that same thing. You don’t know me, Branka.”

She nodded. “I thought that until I spent time inside your mind. You’re a good man, but a little frightening. The idea of being with someone so dominant is daunting.” She touched her breast beneath her clothing. “Carpathians do scar, no matter what is said, if the wound is bad enough and isn’t healed in time.”

Her lashes swept down and she looked away from him. His heart turned over. He continued to stroke her arm. He couldn’t hold her. He couldn’t kiss away her fears or take away the fact that they were lifemates and she knew she was tied to him no matter what reassurances he gave her. He couldn’t imagine being in her shoes. Despite the comfort of his pack, he had always been fiercely independent, even as a boy. His dominant nature would never allow anyone else to have control over him, yet this woman who feared his power over her held his fate in her hands. It was a two-way street.

“Branka,” he said gently. Intimately—even tenderly, when he wasn’t aware he could feel such an emotion for anyone. “Look at me. Really look at me. I have been in many battles with rogue packs. Too many times I fought alone and I’ve been wounded time and again. My body is a road map. I’m not afraid of scars on your body or mine. Stop worrying about our future together. Let’s take one day at a time.”

She was silent a long moment and then she smiled at him. “Night. We’ll take one night at a time.”

 

*dpgroup.org*
4

Z
ev woke to the sound of the rain pouring down. A song of nature. He wondered how he could hear it when he was so deep beneath the ground, under the house that was intended for his home. He didn’t want to move or open his eyes. He held Branislava in his arms and in the first instant of waking, with the music of the rain and the warmth of her soft body curled next to him, the moment was perfect.

He inhaled the scent of her hair, all that soft silk falling over him. He was naked, skin to skin with her, and he recognized her as he never had before. His body was spooned around hers, protectively, because, even in his deepest sleep, that was his strongest instinct. One thigh was over hers and in his palm he held her breast, a soft, sweet mound that rose and fell with every breath she took.

She was awake, he realized, and just like him, she didn’t move. She didn’t want to chance disturbing that perfect moment, either. He kept his eyes closed, savoring just holding her. He could feel the subtle beat of the earth’s heart beneath him, reaching toward the water pouring down to feed the veins and arteries that ran throughout the land nourishing all life. They were part of the planet’s cycle of life.

“I spent two years allowing the earth to comfort me,” Branislava whispered. “I lay listening to her heart calling out to me. The warmth she provided made me feel whole. I was so cold in the ice cave. Tatijana could just absorb the cold, but I couldn’t. Here, beneath the earth, I feel whole. I’m warm and safe. I didn’t think anything else could make me feel that way.” She moved, turning her head to look at him over her shoulder. “I was wrong.”

He brushed his lips over the top of her head. “Safe isn’t living, Branka.”

She smiled and settled back, her head pillowed on his arm. “No, it isn’t. I heard you, that night we first met. I knew my lifemate was close just by the drumming of the earth’s heart. Mother Earth woke me, nudged me to embrace life. There was an insistence when I woke and I knew. I wasn’t going to join the celebration even though I knew Tatijana wanted me there, but I could already feel you so close. My soul reached for yours.”

She made her confession in her soft, musical voice, the rain her orchestra. He could listen to her for hours, that soft turn of her voice, those perfect notes that somehow reached inside of him and wrapped around his heart.

“But you came.” He nuzzled the top of her head gently with his chin. Her soft hair got caught in the rough shadow along his jaw, weaving them together just as she had woven their spirits. “Knowing what you were facing, you still came, and you danced with me. That was brave of you.”

“I wanted to see you, Zev. I wanted to touch you and to feel how I would respond.”

“What did you learn?”

“That I could be safe with you.”

He heard the smile in her voice, a small teasing note. He growled and moved his head to nuzzle against her neck, his mouth whispering over her soft skin. He felt her sudden stillness, the quick inhale. He bit down on the soft, sweet spot between her neck and shoulder, just hard enough to make her yelp, then laugh.

“You’re not that safe, woman.”

“Zev, I know you want to ask Mikhail to release our spirits before you allow him to try to heal you, but it’s important to me that you don’t. Tatijana and Skyler are Dragonseeker. My mother’s brother, Dominic, is here with his lifemate. He’s Dragonseeker. Our lineage is old and strong.”

She sat up slowly, stretching, the beautiful lines of her body seen only through his night vision, there in the absolute dark of their resting place. She’d opened the earth before he’d awakened, but the house sitting above them protected them from the rain.

She didn’t don her clothes right away but turned toward him, just enough to allow him to see the raised scar running from her left breast to her right. Both ends went up and over the soft curves. He reached out and gently traced the scar, from the tip of one breast down the slope to the valley and back up to the tip of the other.

“I will show you someday, just how beautiful your body is to me,” he promised, regretting that he was so weak.

She took a breath as if he had exchanged air with her, and she was able to breathe again. She nodded—seemed to steady herself—and then she went back to business, braiding her long hair with a wave of her hand.

“If something happens there, the four of us can pull you back. Skyler came up with the idea and talked to Tatijana, asking if it was possible. Tatijana went to Dominic and he agreed that it was. We share the same bloodline and we can weave our spirits together.”

He shook his head. “No. Absolutely not. I forbid that.
No
, Branka.” Was she crazy? Were they all crazy? If he died, he would take not just Branislava with him, but her sister and Fen, Dimitri and Skyler, and her uncle and his lifemate. “No.” He said it again so she knew he meant it. “There’s no discussion on this.”

“Zev, if you die, there is no life for me. I am unclaimed. If I choose to follow you, I’m lost on my own in a world I have no knowledge of. If I stay here, I will live a shadowed, half-life. It is the only way I know to be certain we don’t lose you.”

He took a deep breath and the pain that had been waiting for an opening slammed into him, robbing him of that first real rush of air. He absorbed the blow and waited for his mind to accept what he had no control over.

“I have the right to fight for my lifemate and if my family chooses to fight with me, that is for them to say,” Branislava said softly, defiantly.

He sat up slowly and imagined that he was clean and fresh, just out of a shower, and fully clothed. It was easier than he thought it would be. “No.” He had to move, had to float to the surface on his own. His body needed a fresh supply of blood, but Branislava had given him more blood just before he’d gone to sleep and she would need to feed this evening.

Branislava followed him up to the surface, fully clothed as well. He regretted that. He didn’t want to end their perfect moment with an argument, but he wasn’t going to take the chance of wiping out the entire Dragonseeker line. The generosity of her family, of Fen and Dimitri and her unknown uncle, a stranger to him, was shocking. His own people would have killed him, sentenced him to
Moarta de argint—
death by silver—or hunted him down and attempted to kill him, because he was mixed blood. He would defend himself and blood would run in rivers.

They moved through the house in silence. He was just a little ahead of her, keeping his teeth clenched and his body as flowing as possible so there would be no jarring as he moved. Lying in the rich minerals of the earth had helped him tremendously. Branislava stayed close to him, but she remained just as silent. He didn’t trust her silence.

His Branka was home in silence. It wasn’t surrender or submission, it was her place of power, not retreat. She had spent centuries as a prisoner, trapped in the ice caves in the form of a dragon, unable to escape the evil of her own father. She had lived there, with Tatijana, in that cocoon of silence, but her mind had absorbed everything around her. Each victim of her father’s, no matter the species, she had sought to learn from. Language, culture, the passing of history, how to fight, how to survive. Her mind was always busy. Zev was very certain, there in the silence, her mind was very busy now.

Fen and Dimitri met them just outside the stone house. The forest was enveloped in the blue-black color of night. The fast-moving storm had left the trees shimmering with crystal drops and overhead, as the clouds swept past with the wind, stars began to sparkle.

“Everything all right?” Fen asked.

Branislava nodded.

Zev gave her his most fierce, intimidating scowl and shook his head. “Not by a long shot. She has a harebrained idea that her entire family is going to tie themselves to me in order to keep anything from going wrong. Dimitri, that includes your Skyler. In fact, she conceived the idea. I absolutely forbid it.” He glared at Branislava again just for emphasis.

She reached out to take the wrist Dimitri offered, her gesture casual. Every muscle in Zev’s body coiled for action, a red-hot rage sweeping through him. The reaction of his wolf was completely unexpected and he was unprepared for the wildness rising in him. He tasted the hot burst of blood in his mouth, took in the scent of his enemy, his vision banding with colors.

Stop it.
Her voice was low, but carried a command.
I’m feeding from Dimitri. Your brother-kin. It is natural and right and you need to think with your brains not your . . . um . . . you know. You need to put Wolfie back in his cave.

Her laughter bubbled up, infectious and beautiful, spreading through him like a tide of joy. Once again it was her humor that saved him. He found it impossible not to laugh with her.
Wolfie? Really? I probably am thinking with my . . . um.

The wolf receded, and he felt stronger for keeping it at bay when he was so obviously vulnerable to the very ugly trait of jealousy. He had refused to even acknowledge that he could feel such a petty emotion, but there it was, intense and demanding. She was right, he definitely had been thinking with his . . . um. He laughed again, grateful she’d freed him from his own failings.

Not failings. We aren’t tied together. Your reaction is primal. You’re a predator, Zev, a very lethal one, and your instincts are what have always saved you. Your instinct is to protect me and to keep all other males away from me. That’s natural.

Zev took Fen’s offered wrist, savoring the life-giving substance flowing into his starved cells and injured organs.
Dimitri is insanely in love with his lifemate. I don’t think he notices other women are alive. More, I’m in his head. He thinks of you as a sister. It isn’t natural.

Her laughter stroked over him like a caress.
Just know that until you claim me with the ritual words and tie our souls together, that will most likely be your reaction. Wolfie will come flying out all in a primitive caveman sort of rage, snarling at everyone, me included.

Great.
What if a member of the Lycan council stared at her with hungry eyes? He nearly groaned. That wouldn’t work, either.
Woman, you’re going to be the death of me.

Or your savior,
she murmured softly.

“Don’t you dare go against my wishes,” he snapped aloud, all humor vanishing abruptly, his wolf giving him that razor-sharp, low, fierce tone of the alpha.

She enveloped herself in silence. He realized Dimitri had made no comment about Skyler and her crazy scheme. It was impossible to tell from Dimitri’s stone face whether or not he agreed with his lifemate’s insanity. Dimitri was logical, and what the women had proposed was not the least bit logical.

“You ready for this?” Fen’s tone was grim.

“As ready as I ever will be,” Zev said, shooting Branislava another warning glance.

Branislava sent him an enigmatic smile and took to the air. He had to admire her smooth, easy takeoff. She leapt, a graceful dancer’s leap, shifting as she did so into a small owl. Everything about her was fascinating. Everything. He loved the sound of her voice, the way she moved, her sense of humor and her vulnerability. He wasn’t so enamored with her stubborn streak.

Fen caught him up in strong arms, making him feel weak. It was a little humiliating to be carted around as if his injuries were so severe that he couldn’t take baby steps.

Your injuries are that severe,
Branislava reminded.

What was he going to do about her? If he asked Mikhail to remove the weave of spirits between them, she would be hurt beyond anything he might be able to repair. He took a deep breath. He had to stay alive. There was no other choice. Whatever Mikhail and Gregori planned to do to heal his wound, he had to be strong enough to survive it—for Branislava. He was
not
going to take her chance at a life away from her.

She’d been locked up, a prisoner her entire life, and now that she was free, he was determined to see to it that her life was filled with happiness. She needed to live. Resolution settled deep in him. He wouldn’t risk the others, no matter what, but Branislava was already tied to him. He still didn’t know much about lifemates, but if he couldn’t stand being away from her, then it stood to reason that she would have a difficult time without him.

Fen took him to another cave. This one was completely different than the chamber of warriors. Everything in the cave was soothing, from the colors of the formations inside to the deep pools of water. One was quite hot, the other cool and inviting. The cave was large, but not even close in size to the warrior’s chamber.

The walls were ringed with Carpathians, some he recognized and others he didn’t. Tatijana, Skyler and Dimitri stood close to the circle where Mikhail and Gregori waited for him. Beside them was a very tall man with wide-set shoulders and long dark hair. His eyes were striking, a strange, almost metallic green, piercing right through a man when he looked at you. He had scars from burns running up his neck to his face. This had to be Branislava’s uncle. Beside him was a much shorter woman who looked as if she’d be more at home in the wildest jungle than a healing cave. He felt exactly the same way.

Mikhail stepped forward to greet him, clasping his forearms. “Well met, brother-kin,” he said. “We owe you a great debt of gratitude. This can’t have been an easy decision.”

Zev felt power running through the prince like a strong current of electricity. “If it prevents a war, it is the only one.” He gripped the prince’s forearms with the same strength, trying to convey that he was ready for this.

Mikhail nodded in approval before stepping back to allow Gregori to greet him as well.

To his surprise, Gregori afforded him that same warrior’s tribute, clasping his forearms. “I greet a friend and brother,” he said formally.

Zev returned the strong grip. “Let’s get this done.”

Gregori nodded his head. “Fen tells me he believes you are the last remaining Dark Blood. If that is so, you are strong enough to endure anything, Zev. Your bloodline is revered by our people. It is legendary.”

BOOK: Dark Blood
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