Authors: Christine Feehan
Tags: #Fiction, #Paranormal, #Horror, #Vampires, #Love Stories, #Occult & Supernatural, #Occult fiction, #Fantasy, #Romance
Mikhail's head snapped around, his black eyes glittering. Lara drew in her breath. She hadn't spoken telepathically to anyone but the aunts in years and she'd been sloppy, allowing the channel of energy to spill over enough to warn Mikhail she was speaking with Nicolas. Annoyed with herself, she bit her lip hard, reminding herself to stay quiet and blend in. One could hide in plain sight if they were adept enough at it.
"Terry, don't worry, we'll be able to make you feel better," Lara assured, still avoiding looking directly at him. She had to go to him at least and hold his hand. What sort of friend was she? She steeled herself, stiffening her spine.
The sight of him writhing in pain triggered memories of her childhood. Healthy, living blood smelled like life, sweet and flowing. Death brought a metallic tang. But tainted blood was rotting, putrid, the stench offensive and sickening. She couldn't get away from the smell, even with all the little tricks her aunts had taught her.
She made a move to get around Nicolas to go to the man on the bed, but Nicolas seemed to move with her, shifting almost imperceptibly. Lara didn't catch how he did it, but when she tried a second time, his solid mass continued to block her way.
"Mikhail and I will do what we can to heal your friend, but you need to stay back until we know what we are dealing with."
Lara opened her mouth to protest, but closed it without speaking. His voice was low, so low she doubted if either Terry or Gerald caught what he said, but there was a tone there, one of complete command. He was enormously strong and she didn't know what powers he had, but she sensed danger. Now, in front of so many others, wasn't the time to test him or his resolve. It would mean pitting herself against him openly, and the aunts had drilled into her not to draw attention to herself. The few times she had done so in the past, she'd met with disastrous results. She let her breath out in a small hiss between her teeth. In the end, she might feel guilty for using the ready excuse, but the blood on the bed sickened her. She allowed Nicolas to dictate to her.
Nicolas kept his smile to himself. She thought she was hiding her displeasure, but her hair swirled with bands of color, red and blond streaks. The red came out when she was upset or angry and right now her hair was streaked with flame. The color of her eyes had gone from green to glacier blue, glittering like ice at him, but she said nothing, simply stepped back as if she was obedient and sweet.
He bent over the mutilated ankle. There was nothing sweet about his woman. She might hide her true nature from the others, but she was a little tigress with claws and fangs, ready to do battle when situations warranted. His life had gone from barren and gray to exciting in the blink of an eye. Her reaction to his high-handedness made him want to find something else to do to make her hair crackle and her eyes glow at him.
There were masses of parasites in Terry's system and Nicolas frowned as he focused on the clogged blood. He glanced at Mikhail.
Have you ever seen anything like this before
Not to this extent. I have sent for Gregori. He is our greatest healer and is this man's only chance at survival intact.
Mikhail glanced back at Lara, deliberately including her in the conversation.
I am sorry. I know he is a friend of yours
Lara's stomach knotted. She pressed a hand to it. This was her fault. She had taken Terry and Gerald with her to find the cave, because she hadn't thought it was real. She had begun to doubt herself. Somewhere deep inside, she had suspected the cave might really be there when she had first gone for a permit after studying the mountain's geology. There had been an excitement she couldn't suppress and she should have known she was on the right track. If she had believed in herself more she wouldn't have exposed her friends to such danger.
Can you save him
It wasn't that Mikhail and Nicolas exchanged a look, both were bent over Terry's ankle, examining the wound, but she felt something pass between them. It wasn't words, not even on a private telepathic path, because Nicolas was keeping his mind open to hers.
Vapor poured through the open window, a steady stream of white mist filling the room. At once the air was electrified. Lara felt the hair on the back of her neck rise. She stepped back, away from the window toward the door. She shouldn't have worried, Nicolas was there immediately, inserting his body between her and the mist and for once, she wasn't offended. She wanted nothing to do with whatever was coming in through the open window.
Energy was something a mage learned to manipulate from birth. She had seen many young mages working on using whatever was available to them for simple or complex tasks. In the years of observing studies and experiments, she rarely had felt the amount of energy pouring into a room, and never had power been seeking another like a magnet and surrounding that one person as it was now. The vapor continued to stack into the shape of a large, transparent man, but the energy raced toward the prince, seeking him out, bathing him in large waves—giving him untold power.
Nicolas, Terry and Gerald didn't seem to notice anything at all. Maybe it was just that she'd always been sensitive to the presence of energy because, as a child, it had been her warning that she was about to be dragged from her chamber and her flesh torn, her blood consumed. She shivered, feeling queasy.
Pressing a hand to her rolling stomach, she backed away from the prince and the man shimmering with transparency. Her skin crawled. Her wrists burned. She felt the sensation of spiders crawling over her skin. Lara brushed them away, coming up against the wall. The temperature in the room dropped significantly and she couldn't stop shivering with cold.
The stranger swung around to look at her, his eyes slashing steel. "Dragonseeker," he said aloud. "The blood runs strong in her."
Bile rose. She choked, barely able to drag in enough air. The walls of the room undulated, curved, formed tunnels, thick and blue around her.
"Gregori, we do not have much time," Mikhail said.
Fear became a monster, blossoming, growing, building inside her until she could barely see straight. She floor shifted under her feet. So much power. The scent of decayed blood so strong. The man on the bed was beyond screaming now, moaning continuously.
Gregori nodded, but those silver eyes continued to bore into Lara, shredding her guards, her very carefully placed shields, seeing right through her to reveal every one of her secrets.
You have much power running through your veins
Her body jerked, her mind flinching away from the invasion. Those light, piercing eyes. She had seen eyes that color on only one other person. Fear shook her. For one moment his face wavered, and she found herself staring at a different face, one all too familiar from her nightmares. Gasping, she whirled around, seeking a way out, but the cold ice walls were too thick to penetrate. She was trapped. Her wrist throbbed and burned.
Lara? What is it
? Nicolas stepped toward her.
Stay out of my head
! Not only did she reject the contact, she threw him out of her mind, slamming a barrier hard and fast, gathering the energy in the room around her like a protective cloak. Her hands rose, an automatic gesture of protection, weaving fast with astonishing expertise.
Wall of light. Shield of gold. Rise up now. Come forth, come hold. Protect using knowledge deep within, meant to protect and abate the sin. Let not the demons from the past, continue harvesting, let them fast.
Thunder roared, shaking the room. A solid wave of light and red-orange flames burst from the barrier of pure energy.
! Nicolas called out the warning, throwing his body in front of Mikhail.
Gregori was already in motion, diving across the room to cover the prince.
Light banded and flashed in waves, bursting into bright rockets, hot flames a towering wall of red-orange, nearly blinding them. The men threw up their arms to shield their eyes. The wall of energy hit all three Carpathian males with the force of a freight train, tossing them as if they were no more than bits of flotsam on the waves of the raging sea.
Gregori and Nicolas took the brunt of the energy, both absorbing it rather than fighting, trying to shield the prince from most of the impact. Even as Nicolas was thrown backward, he was already shifting in midair, leaping to cover his lifemate should Gregori meet the attack on the prince with a death threat. He slammed into Lara hard, power clinging to him in ropes, lighting up the room as he flashed through the air. He drove her backward, taking her to the floor, his larger body blanketing hers.
She tried to roll, but he caught her wrists, preventing her from using her hands to weave spells, slamming her arms above her head and pinning her to the floor. "Lara, look at me."
She went absolutely still beneath him, her eyes unfocused. Her body was ice cold, alarmingly so. Nicolas didn't hesitate. He thrust his mind into hers, following her along the path of her memories.
The smell of decayed blood was strong. The scent mingled with decomposition of rotting flesh. Then he heard the screams. Moans. The continual cry of someone in agony, not just physical, but tormented mental agony. Nicolas ventured down the ice-cold hallway. It opened to a large chamber. Overhead the ceiling was high and long columns reached from floor to ceiling. Splashes of red cut through blue and sprayed across the left wall where a man was chained to the floor. He was naked, convulsing, his eyes glowing with madness while tiny white parasites fed on his flesh. Nicolas recognized him as one of their bitterest enemies—Razvan, grandson of Xavier, the oldest and most powerful of all mages.
Chained beside Razvan was what was left of a woman lying motionless, her face set in rigid horror, her mouth open wide as if she'd died screaming. The parasites fed on her while Razvan desperately tried to beat them off of the body. His hands were bloody from pounding the ice. He looked up abruptly and Nicolas followed his tortured gaze to the tow-headed child with streaks of red in her hair huddled in the corner, her fist shoved in her mouth to keep from screaming. He was no judge of the ages of children, but to him the little girl appeared to be no more than three or four. The child's eyes were on the woman's face and she sobbed softly.
Everything in Nicolas stilled. Deep down rage began and fought its way to the surface. He wanted to grab that child and rush her to safety, but all he could do was save the woman he was holding in real time. He caught Lara's face firmly in his. No child should ever have been subjected to such a thing.
, my soul, come back to me." He whispered the command to her, burying a strong compulsion along with the order itself. "You are safe, Lara. I am your lifemate and I will always protect you to my last breath."
Her cloudy, almost opaque gaze shifted to his face.
"Yes. Look at me. Focus on me. Let me lead you back."
In the ice cave of her memories, he didn't wait for the child to respond to him. With exquisite tenderness he lifted her, covering her eyes, burying her little face against his chest, soothing her with his voice as he turned his back on that horrific scene and walked out.
Lara's long lashes fluttered. The wild, pale blue of her eyes darkened as she looked at him. She drew a breath. Nicolas eased back, pulling her into a sitting position. She looked around her, alarm creeping into her expression.
"Did I hurt anyone?" She ducked her head, refusing to meet his eyes.
"No one was hurt." He kept his voice low and soft, reassuring even as he caught her chin with firm fingers and forced him to maintain eye contact. "No one here would ever harm you."
Her heart beat too fast. He laid his palm over her breast, sending warmth into the glacier cold of her body and slowing her heart to match the even, steady beat of his. She struggled to draw breath into her lungs and he bent his dark head so their breath mingled until hers slowed to a more relaxed, effortless flow of air. Her gaze remained locked with his and he had the impression of tears, but none formed in her eyes.
"I will block the smell for you."
Gregori, do not look directly at her, there is something about your eyes triggering a childhood memory
. "You should have told me it was bothering you. As your lifemate, it is my duty to protect you from such things."
"I'm a big girl, all grown up."
She had felt him then, in her memories, carrying the child that was her from the ice cave. She had felt his comfort and now, even with her lower lip trembling slightly from fear, she didn't move away from his touch. He leaned forward and very gently brushed her mouth with his. He held her gaze for another long moment, his mind moving in hers, making certain the nightmare world of her childhood had receded enough to allow her some peace.
"Are you all right, Lara?" Mikhail asked.
His voice was as gentle as Nicolas's, she decided. He must think she was on the verge of a breakdown. And maybe she was. But Nicolas had blocked the smell of decayed blood and flesh, replacing it with the fresh scent of the forest. She even could feel a slight breeze on her face. Aside from total humiliation, she was fine. She steadfastly tried to avoid looking at the healer, but she knew, like the proverbial moth, she would be unable to help herself.