Authors: Christine Feehan
Tags: #Fiction, #Paranormal, #Horror, #Vampires, #Love Stories, #Occult & Supernatural, #Occult fiction, #Fantasy, #Romance
Lara nearly choked. "I don't shift."
His eyes gleamed at her, amusement softening the edge of his mouth. "You shifted without even a hint of a problem. I thought you had been doing it every day."
She flashed him her fiercest scowl. "Then why don't I remember?"
"Do you have memory lapses often? Is this something I should be aware of and watch out for?"
"Ha ha ha. You think you're really funny, don't you? I have never shifted in my life and certainly not into mist." And she'd tried, a thousand times, over and over, until she finally believed she had made her childhood up.
"You know how. It is there in your mind."
"It is?" For a moment she forgot she was annoyed with him. She didn't want to revisit memories locked away, to find out, but if she could shift, it would certainly be a useful talent. Her aunts were shifters. They had been trapped in dragon form, but that wasn't their natural form. She should have known they would have provided her with that skill as well as languages, healing and magic. "I didn't know."
"Well, you certainly have the knowledge. You need help, of course, because you are not fully Carpathian, but that is easy enough. You have barriers in place. Protections. I found your own," he said in a matter-of-fact way, but he was watching her closely. "But there are guards made by others. A male's touch. Two women. They did not want you to remember your childhood."
The two women had to have been her aunts—but the man? Her father? She knew no other men. Why would her father put up a barrier to her earlier memories, but allow her to see him feeding off of her? Her stomach lurched and she turned away from Nicolas, unwilling for him to witness more weakness. She often had nightmares, but no one had ever been around to see the results. And the flashbacks—if that's what they were—she'd never seen Razvan chained and a prisoner before.
"I don't understand any of this."
Why was she seeing Razvan as the victim instead of herself? Nothing seemed to make sense anymore, not even her own behavior. Now she couldn't explain why her aunts and someone else—someone she hadn't known had been in her head—didn't want her remembering her childhood.
"I can't imagine why they would erase my memories," she murmured. She couldn't get the sight of the ravaged face of her father from her mind.
"Not erase, protect," he clarified. "The memories are still there for you to discover."
"Was it real? What we saw, was it real?"
He lifted a hand and the candles flickered. The aroma of soothing lavender, honey and lilac filled the chamber. He wanted to make her feel better, but one did not lie to a lifemate. "Your memories have been suppressed, but not tampered with. They are very real."
"You saw it then, the same memory I did?" Triggered by blood and parasites and those horrible silvery eyes. She ducked her head, letting her breath out in a little rush before inhaling the fragrance of the candles.
"Yes. I recognized the marks on him from the chains. My brother Riordan was captured and held by such chains. It is difficult to hold a Carpathian prisoner. I believe whoever is behind this has been perfecting his technique."
And using your father to experiment on first
Lara caught his thought before he censored it. She looked around for a place to sit. Immediately there was a low-slung chaise with soft cushions in front of her. She didn't question how it got there, but sank down onto it, fearing her legs wouldn't hold her up much longer.
"I don't understand this, Nicolas. If your brother had those same chain marks, was he Xavier's prisoner? Tell me about your brother."
"We live in the rainforest in South America. It has been our home for many centuries now and our family is well established there. Riordan was on patrol as we seem to be getting more and more activity…"
"By activity, do you mean Xavier?"
He shook his head, noting that she kept rubbing her temples. He touched her mind to find a headache pounding there. "No, I mean vampires. The jaguar people share the Amazon with us, and the vampires have banded together to try to destroy the Carpathian people. They wanted to rid themselves of one of our allies, so they began corrupting the jaguar species. Riordan stumbled across evidence of their presence and, in tracking them, fell victim to a false call for aid."
Nicolas moved behind her and reached out to press his fingertips against her temples. Lara stiffened and jerked her head away, eyeing him warily over her shoulder.
"Let me," he said softly. "There is no need for you to be in pain."
She held her breath, uncertain what to do, and that was rare for her. Nicolas kept her off balance with his close proximity. They seemed to share the same air. She felt him under her skin and every single cell in her body was acutely aware of him.
"It is a small thing, removing your headache."
And it made her feel small and petty to deny him. She shrugged. "Tell me more about your brother."
"He was held captive in a laboratory."
"It is the same then. They were experimenting on him. Surely it isn't coincidence."
"Mostly they experimented on animals, but once they had Riordan, they chained him to the wall, using chains coated in vampire blood, much as you remembered seeing Razvan chained. The blood burns like acid, burning without mercy. It is very painful. They kept Riordan drained of blood and weak with a poison injected into him."
Lara frowned, almost grasping another memory, one of needles, but she let it slip away.
Nicolas pressed the pads of his fingers over the pulse throbbing in Lara's temples and held them there, infusing warmth and healing energy. He could feel her instant sympathetic and identifying reaction to his brothers captivity. "He is safe and very happy now," he added. "His lifemate rescued him and brought hope to our family, a belief that if it happened to Riordan, if he could find his lifemate under the unlikeliest of circumstances, then perhaps the rest of us could as well. We managed to hold out longer than we ever thought possible."
Because his family carried tremendous gifts, they also were burdened with a far more dangerous element. While all Carpathian males grew dark over time, especially those born warriors, the De La Cruz brothers were born with the darkness already strong in them. They had been consumed by it rapidly, glorying in the training, the battle and hunt and most of all the rush of the kill.
"How does that work?" Lara asked curiously. "The aunts said the seed of the vampire was in the Carpathian male."
"That is one way to look at it. Certainly all Carpathian males are capable of choosing to give up their souls. We wander in barren worlds with only our memories and touching the minds of others who still feel and see the beauty of our surroundings. It is difficult to fight the need for emotion, any emotion."
"Is my father a vampire?"
Nicolas was silent for a moment, his hands dropping to her shoulders to ease the tension from her with a massage. "We do not know what your father is. One moment we think he is dead, and then he pops back up somewhere. He has many faces and has committed numerous crimes against our people, but no one knows for certain what is happening in the enemy camp. You may be our greatest clue. You and your lost memories."
"What do my memories mean? All this time I thought my father was a demon. He took my blood, ripped open my wrist, my neck, my veins. He treated me as if I was nothing but a meal for him. That's what I remember."
"We do not know or understand the time line. Perhaps there was a time when both of you were prisoners together."
"It doesn't make sense that my aunts would suppress my memories of him as a prisoner. What would be the purpose? And you said there was a male's weave in the barrier. I only know of my father and Xavier, but you would feel the taint of evil if either of them had woven a shield. What would be his purpose in leaving me only memories of him feeding on me? Why would they all want me to think my own father was the worst kind of monster?" Lara dropped her face into her hands.
Nicolas stayed behind her, as still as a cat, his hands continuing to massage the tension from her shoulders. "Perhaps the true memories are worse than believing your father was wholly a fiend."
"You recognized him. Is he still alive?"
"We believe he is."
"When was the last time you saw him?"
"He possessed the body of an elderly woman at the inn where you have a room. There was a celebration of sorts and the lifemate of the prince's brother…"
Her breath hissed out in a rush between her teeth and she whirled around to face him. "Say her name. She has a name."
He shrugged his shoulders, unperturbed by her annoyance. "Shea, Jacques Dubrinsky's lifemate, was with child. The elderly woman attacked with a poisoned, barbed needle and would have killed her had not my brother, Manolito, stepped in front of Shea to protect her. Fortunately he survived the attack."
She made a small sound and turned away from him again, the soothing aroma of the lavender and honey unable to combat the news of her father's treachery. "Shea was pregnant and Razvan tried to murder her and her unborn child."
"It appears so."
She shook her head. "I'm so sorry. I didn't think beyond what he had done to me, but I should have."
Nicolas moved, glided really, a blur she barely saw or felt until he was standing in front of her, lifting her chin with gentle fingers. "You are not responsible for anything Razvan has done. He carries his choices on his own shoulders."
She managed a small smile. "Thank you for that. And what of my aunts? Do you know anything at all of them?"
"I am sorry, Lara, but I have heard no news of them being seen alive. If they are truly your aunts."
"Great-aunts," she corrected. "But I always called them my aunts."
He smiled. "I did assume that. If they are your great-aunts, that would make them Rhiannon's daughters. We know Rhiannon had triplets with Xavier. Two girls—your aunts, and Soren, your grandfather. Soren was murdered by Xavier some years ago. No one has ever seen the girls. What do they look like?"
"I only saw them in dragon form. They were weak and sick. Xavier used them for blood, and kept them in a weakened state. He was very afraid of them. Often, if one was unfrozen, he would hold a knife to the other's throat. They saved my sanity, whispering to me when things got very bad, distracting me when I was used for feeding."
"You are certain they were Rhiannon's children?"
"The love story they told me was of their mother, Rhiannon, and her true lifemate. Xavier murdered him and held Rhiannon prisoner, forcing her to have his children, triplets. He believed he could be immortal, living on the blood of the Carpathians. I'm certain the things they told me were true, at least they said they were." She looked at him. "You were able to bind me with the ritual words. How would they know the Carpathian marriage ritual if they weren't Rhiannon's daughters?"
"Dominic, Rhiannon's brother, has sought news of her many years now. We were informed of her death at the hands of Xavier and he has been hoping to hear of his nieces. This news will sadden him."
"They could still be alive," she said. "It's possible. They helped me escape the ice cave, and maybe they managed as well. They were very powerful. Xavier kept them weak, but they were smart. They might have found a way. That's what I've come back to find out. I'm going to hunt for evidence of what happened to them."
Nicolas drew in his breath sharply. "The ice caves are too dangerous. The last visitors barely escaped with their lives. It is not a place you should enter."
She kept her eyes on the water in the pool gently lapping at the ring of rocks. "Have you been down there?" She didn't much care one way or the other what he thought. She intended to go to the cave and find out for herself what had happened to her aunts.
"Not personally, but all Carpathians share knowledge. Vikirnoff and his woman fought shadow warriors, vampire and mages alike when they were there."
She frowned and glanced up at him with a quick flick of her lashes. "His woman? Not that again. Does she have a name? Do women hold so low a place in your estimation that you can't be bothered to learn their names?"
He bent down, placing his lips against her ear. "I think you are trying to pick a fight with me because you are upset over the flashbacks you are experiencing. You have been in my mind enough to know I respect women, and would give my life to protect them." He tugged on her long braid. "I have to see the prince and will get news of your friend. I also need to feed and you must as well. Stay here and relax. I will bring you food and something to drink and we can figure this out together."
The feel of his warm breath against her ear, the mesmerizing brushing caress of his lips sent a shiver down her spine. Her breasts tingled, nipples tightening. She pressed her teeth together in a little snap.
"I do not want anything at all to do with blood."
"I figured that out." He straightened and moved away from her, gliding across the cave floor in that peculiar silence that reminded her of a stalking jungle cat. "Do you feel comfortable enough to stay here on your own, or will being underground trigger more flashbacks?"
She sent him her most fierce scowl. "I'm a caver. I explore caves all the time. I had
small problem for just a moment seeing those disgusting little parasites. I'm fine now.
fine." She deliberately took a slow look around. "It's quite beautiful here."