Authors: Christine Feehan
Tags: #Fiction, #Paranormal, #Horror, #Vampires, #Love Stories, #Occult & Supernatural, #Occult fiction, #Fantasy, #Romance
He lifted his face to the swirling clouds laced and heavy with snow. This was his last night. He was done with his fight. He had served his people and his family with honor, held fast through the centuries and hunted more of his fallen comrades than most. Tomorrow he would walk into the sun and end his long, barren existence.
He was far from his home and his brothers. His oldest brother, Zacarias, would be unable to stop him from such a distance, in fact, wouldn't sense his end until it was far too late to stop him. He wondered how long it would take for the sun to burn him clean. A long time with the stains on his soul, but still, his brothers wouldn't have to share the intensity of the suffering of his last few minutes of life.
He shivered, grateful for the cold on his face and skin, grateful he could feel physical sensations. Emotions—he had lost those so long ago they were a distant memory, or maybe not really his memory at all. Three of his brothers had found lifemates and shared their newfound emotions with him. In some ways their happiness made it so much harder to bear being so alone.
He had come for one last walk through the village before meeting with Mikhail Dubrinsky—prince of the Carpathian people. He'd traveled far to deliver a warning, yet now, he wasn't certain it was safe for a face-to-face meeting—especially in the close confines of the local inn. Already heartbeats were loud, bombarding him with the need for rich, hot blood. Sharp teeth pushed against the inside of his mouth and saliva gathered in anticipation of the feast.
It wouldn't take much to let himself taste—just for a moment, one time—the hot rush of adrenaline-laced blood that would give him a glimpse of lost emotion. And a woman… He would love to feel a woman's soft skin, inhale her scent, pretend for just a moment he had someone who belonged to him, would look at him with love—genuine love—not that greedy heat that came the moment a woman knew his material wealth.
If he could feel regret, it would be not for the countless times he had to destroy an old friend, not for the many souls he'd freed and laid to rest, but that he'd never felt the true need for a woman. He'd never held a woman he loved in his arms and worshipped her with his body.
The whispers in his mind grew stronger, tempting him with the things he had never known in his long life.
Women had been attracted to his looks, his power and his money. He had used them for sustenance, but he'd never been able to know what it was like to feel the pleasures a woman could bring his body, the peace she could bring to his mind. One taste. Just one. He could sink his teeth into soft skin and feel the flow of life, hear the quickening rhythm of her heart beating in tune with his. She would fear him, his domination, his complete supremacy over her. Life or death. He had that power.
His heart slammed hard in his chest. His body stirred to life. He scented prey. A fragrance beckoning to him. Calling out from the beauty of the night. He had only to take that one last taste and he could experience everything before the sun rose and burned him clean. He turned his head and saw her standing in the shadows. The breath left his body in a rush.
Her skin was pale and flawless. Her hair was pulled back in a long, thick braid. Her eyes were wide, large and sparkling, glowing slightly. She seemed to be waiting for someone. A man? A low growl rumbled in his chest and he felt his body react to the thought. Detached as he was from his actions, he found it all interesting. He had never felt threatened by man or beast or monster, yet looking at this young woman, he knew he would fight to the death for a chance to taste her blood, to feel the softness of her skin, to hear her heart match the rhythm of his.
For the first time in his long life, he actually had erotic images of his own, not drawn from someone else's mind. They rose up to taunt him. This woman writhing and moaning, pleading with him to give her everything. He wouldn't feel a thing when he took her offering, but maybe, if he took her life at the same time, he would have that one moment…
Her head snapped around and her gaze locked on him. There wasn't the instant look in her eyes he had come to expect—woman spotting attractive male. She looked like a predator, gaze burning, mouth firm. Her body was all woman, dressed in layers of clothing, a high-necked dark sweater with long sleeves that covered her wrists. A pair of dark leggings that ran into serviceable boots covered shapely legs. A wraparound skirt was cinched at her small waist with a wide leather belt and hugged the fitted leggings but gave her ease of movement and a long, warm cloak hung from her shoulders to her knees.
There was something familiar about her, as if they may have met before. Try as he might, he could not look away from her. Always with women he had the upper hand, drawing them to him with his looks and dangerous air, yet he had the feeling this woman wasn't at all consumed with desire for him.
Again he had a visceral reaction deep in his gut. A need for her to want him.
Come to me now. Offer yourself to me
. There was shame in using the gift of his voice to entrap and enthrall her, it would have made the fantasy better to have her come to him of her own accord. Afterward he might even be able to convince himself she wanted him, but not like this, with compulsion.
Her body jerked. Her chin went up and the bright eyes smoldered.
As if she knew
. She began to walk toward him. He moved into deeper shadows, his heart pounding. He could already taste her in his mouth, feel her soft skin sliding against his. His blood surged hotly.
She was of average height and his size dwarfed hers, but she had womanly curves and looked strong. She moved with fluid grace, not at all stumbling and halting as if fighting a compulsion. For a moment the clouds parted and light spilled across her face. His gut knotted.
Stop! Go back. Get inside
. He had to save her. His hands shook—actually shook—and damn him forever to hell, his body stirred, hot and hard and aching for her, when in all his years he had never had such a response. Her life—her very soul as well as his—was in danger. Even as he warned her, he took a step toward her. Wanting her. Needing her. If he touched her, if he got too close, they would both be lost.
A frown flitted across her face. She pressed her palm to her body, down low and halted, looking confused.
Lara stared hard at the tall, wide-shouldered man coming toward her. He was the most classically beautiful man she'd ever seen in her life. His face was raw masculine beauty, his eyes so dark they were nearly black, yet when he turned a certain way, they glowed like rubies, causing a chill to race down her spine. He moved with unbelievable grace, his body flowing, ropes of muscles rippling subtly like a giant jungle cat on the prowl.
She didn't have reactions to men, no matter how hot they were. Her body remained as cold and as frigid as the ice chambers she'd spent the first few years of her life in, yet looking at this man, everything changed. Her breath quickened. Her pulse raced. Her stomach somersaulted and even her womb reacted, clenching hotly. But so did her birthmark. And her birthmark heralded the arrival of one thing—vampire.
The problem was, the mark seemed to have a short in it. One moment it burned with scorching heat and the next it went cool and lifeless. She had the blade of her knife up against her wrist, concealed by her long sleeve, the handle securely in her fist. She wasn't taking any chances, no matter how hot he was.
And then there was his voice. Velvet soft. Pure seduction. A night melody of dark promises, one moment beckoning, the next rejecting. The first time he spoke his command she had been certain he was a vampire drawing her to him to allow him to feed on her. The next moment he seemed to be trying to warn her off, yet he continued forward, his black eyes drifting over her face as if he owned her.
Nicolas couldn't stop walking toward her—as if he, not she, was the one under compulsion. He was going to have to call to Mikhail for help to save her. But he was so far gone, it was possible he would engage in a battle with the prince over her. And Mikhail couldn't be risked, not if their species was to survive.
! He warned her again, his voice low and firm, but he failed to bury a compulsion in his tone. As much as a part of him wanted to save her, the other part, standing off detached and greedy for one moment of true life, of
before he ended his existence, couldn't quite be noble enough to help her escape.
She turned her head, her gaze searching the shadows and rooftops for danger. He was almost on her when she turned back to him. Up close she was so beautiful. Breathtaking really. Her skin looked exquisite. Her scent was faint and alluring, drawing him. He felt almost in a trance, if that were possible for one such as him.
His fingers circled her wrist like a bracelet, light, yet made of steel.
She moved then, whirling around, into him, her elbow connecting with his sternum. Nicolas barely felt the blow that would have rocked a human. Suddenly his arms were locked around her and his face was buried in the thick mass of her hair. It was soft. Heaven.
The blood in her veins ebbed and flowed like the tide, pounding through her, making him know he and she—were alive. Not existing, but living. Standing there in the beauty of the night with the scent of the forest surrounding him as he took his last feast.
The whispers in his head turned to a possessive roar. This one was his alone. He didn't hesitate, he lowered his face to her shoulder, nuzzling the sweater aside to expose the bare flesh of her neck and the pounding pulse there. He made no effort to calm her, or put her under a compulsion. The adrenaline in her blood would heighten the experience, give him a rush of feeling so that he would always retain this moment. He sank his teeth deep and took the essence of her being deep inside him.
"Let go of me, you bastard," Lara snapped, shocked at the sudden pain, shocked that after all those years of swearing to herself no one would ever—
—take her blood by force, she was locked in the arms of a vampire.
As a child, she had been used solely for food. Her father and great-grandfather had ripped into her veins and taken from her as if she were nothing, not human, not Carpathian and certainly not mage. She had been a food source and nothing more.
Rage swept through her. Shook her. Took her by surprise. She had never been so angry in her life. And yet, after the initial bite, the dark, erotic seduction made some part of her want to be a part of him, made her want to succumb to the fire and heat—to give her life for his.
Clenching her teeth, she fought the sensation of need and desire pulsing through her body. She wouldn't go that easily, or give in. She had no idea a vampire could be so cunning. One minute triggering an alarm, the next warning her off and then the bite. The absolute seduction of that bite.
She gripped the knife in her fist and tried to get a little room in order to move her hand toward his ribs, but she was facing away from him and it was difficult to feel where he was when lightning sizzled and crackled in her veins, robbing her of her ability to think.
Nicolas was so far gone in the ecstasy of her taste and shape and feel that it took a moment to register that she had spoken.
Let go of me, you bastard
. The words echoed in his mind, burst through his subconscious and took a hold of his heart.
Emotion flooded in with dizzying speed. Fast and sharp and jumbled so that it was impossible to sort anything out. The love he felt for his brothers came tumbling into his heart and mind. Anger. Rage that he had been following an honorable path yet had been so close to turning. Shame. For the near brush with the monster he had been hunting for centuries. More shame for the sins he had yet to confess to the prince—sins committed against the leader of their people. Not in action, but in their hearts and minds of Nicolas and his brother. Joy for the woman in his arms who would save him from a fate that would have dishonored not only him, but his family as well.
So much to try to sort out all at once. And all while his body was hard and hurting, his groin so full and thick the material of his clothes caused physical pain. He wanted her. Needed her. Had to have her. The taste of her was unlike anything he'd ever experienced. This woman. His lifemate. The woman he had searched for across several continents, the woman he had spent centuries looking for. The only woman who could restore his emotions.
He opened his eyes and her hair dazzled him. There in the darkness it burned bright red, but as he watched, his eyes played tricks on him, so that waves of colors glowed metallic and coppery. He couldn't find the strength of will to pull away from her, to stop the sweet fire sliding down his throat, tying them together in the way of his people. Somewhere, far off, he could hear his own mind screaming at him that he was losing his mind, that he had found her too late and that he was killing her, but he couldn't stop.
Pain ripped through his left side, startling him out of his trancelike state. He jerked his head up without swiping his tongue across the twin pinpricks at her pulse to close the wound. Blood trickled down her neck into the earthy tones of her sweater. He could see the garment, a dazzling color, hues of browns and gold, with red drops scattering and pooling in the yarn.
Color, after centuries of shades of gray. Beautiful, amazing color. He looked down at his side from where the pain emanated. The handle of a knife stuck out of his ribs. She stepped back away from him and spun to face him. Her eyes were twin jewels, burning bright, a deep emerald, not just green, but actually emerald. Even as he watched, the color swirled and changed, going from deep green to arctic blue. The blue was the color of the ice glaciers, clean and pure and ice-cold, but burning with intensity and fire.