Authors: Christine Feehan
His eyes held hers captive and she found air moving through her
lungs in time to his. Her heart found the exact rhythm of his and beat simultaneously. She had no idea what to expect, but it wasn’t his mind pouring slowly into hers. Nothing had ever felt so intimate. Nothing had ever been so sensual. He found places in her mind, those torn, ugly memories that she couldn’t fix in herself and somehow, he just filled those cracks, the shredded places that kept her apart from everyone else.
He didn’t feel in the least triumphant, but more a part of her. More as if he wholly belonged right there. Once he was in her mind, she knew it would be difficult to be alone again.
He had left his mark on you. A mage mark, not a sliver of himself. He cannot see through your eyes, but he can reach for this mark. It is uniquely his.
Alarms went off in her head.
Don’t try to get rid of it. He will know.
Kislány hän ku meke sarnaakmet minan, I have been dealing with mages from nearly the time I was born. I am well aware that your father will eventually strike at us. First, we will build your shield so when I remove his mark, he cannot retaliate.
Isai, Anatolie is a very powerful mage. In his own right, he might actually equal Xavier in power. He will not tolerate interference. I had no idea he had put his mark on me. He’ll find out about you.
You are not thinking straight. He has taught you to fear him. He already knows about me. The cat returned to your brothers with my blood in its claws.
That was on her. She jammed her fist into her mouth and tried not to rock back and forth like a child. Fear of Anatolie often did that to her, although she’d always kept her terror private and didn’t allow it to stop her from her plans to break away. By choosing not to try to kill the shadow cat, she had put Isai directly into Anatolie’s path.
He has your blood. Do you know what a mage can do with someone’s blood?
The thought was terrifying to her.
Yes. Work with me. You are of that lineage, too, Julija.
She knew he could see the chaos and fear in her mind. The cats sensed it and became mere shadows, slinking through the chamber, red eyes gleaming as they tried to ferret out the threat.
You said yourself I am mostly Carpathian.
That does not make you less, sívamet, it makes you more. You are the best of
both worlds. You hold the power of both. You do not need me to do this for you or even with you, but you have me, and I am willing to be your protector.
She pressed her lips together and signaled for Belle and Blue to return to her. She didn’t want them to become so agitated that they struck out in fear or aggression.
I would much rather we work together.
She knew he was an ancient and a Carpathian male. It was ingrained in them to protect their women and children at all times. She had been raised mage and she would always want to stand by his side to aid in the way she could. She was very aware he could see that in her mind. Another strike against her with a man born and bred centuries earlier in a culture where the men took care of their women.
Soft amusement slid into her mind.
That was the ideal in a man’s mind, but all does not go the way of the male. Some women aided their partners.
He didn’t have to tell her that. He could have kept that admission to himself. Elation swept through her. She forced her mind and body under control.
I built that shield myself using spells I created without the foundation of any known mage invocation. I don’t know how he was able to mark me.
He put the mark on you at birth. He took no chances. Remember, he bred you for your blood, not to be a mage to help him with his plans. He needs you alive. That cat was meant to return you, not kill you.
She knew that, but she hadn’t considered just how much her father and brothers needed her.
He knows I’m after the book. He’ll think we want to use it against him. I want it destroyed.
Is there a way to destroy it?
She was silent for a moment, feeling him in her, waiting. Filling her. Making her feel as if she wasn’t so alone.
I think it is possible. I’m still working it out in my head.
Then let’s find a way to keep him out. Show me the spell you used for your shield. We will weave safeguards around what is in place. The weave needs to come from both of us, so that each safeguard is intertwined. I will cover the mark while we work and then once it is done, destroy his hold on you.
It sounded so simple.
Do you want me to again invoke the spell to shield me from any intruder I don’t wish to give consent to?
Yes. When you reach the end, you will add to your weave one line and then I will until it is done.
Mirror reflect all hostile intent
Black salt repels that which is negative sent.
I sweep away that which would bind
I call to the directions to wall off my mind.
As air is to earth, fire is to water
None may enter, nor shall they bother.
he said softly,
I will weave a strand then you
. He didn’t wait for her response.
Mind to body
Reflective mirror shall hold.
She didn’t hesitate.
Through pain and darkness
Seek to unfold.
He wove the next strand.
That which is pure
Shall remain untouched.
Julija finished the last strand.
Allowing no illusion or falseness to touch.
With her magic he wove his own, so together they were twice as strong.
Isai didn’t wait, he shed his body and entered her mind as spirit only. She felt the intense heat. At once he poured everything he was into pure
light, concentrating the beam on the tiny dark stain her father had placed in her at birth. The light burned right through the darkness.
The moment the brilliant ray hit the mark, Julija felt Anatolie strike at her. He slashed at her mind with what felt like razor blades. She cried out, but the mark was already burned away and with it went the pain.
The last thing she heard was the shriek of fury her father gave just before the last of the mark was gone. There was a moment of absolute silence as if the earth was holding its breath. Isai returned to his body but didn’t leave her mind. They waited. Isai took her hand, remaining kneeling in front of her.
Anatolie struck at her. It was a decisive blow, trying to get into her mind. She felt the contact, as if there was a punch aimed toward her outer temple, but she countered it with a brush of her hand as if she could brush him away. He hit from every angle, over and over. Around them, the bluffs shook, sending boulders crashing down. The cats leapt to their feet with terrified yowls, going from black substance to shadow.
Isai waved his hand to the crumbling chamber, and it remained intact without so much as a small bit of dirt falling to the floor.
Anatolie retreated for the briefest of moments and then struck again, this time at her throat, wrapping hands around her and squeezing. Isai’s hands got there before hers, destroying the illusion by simply covering the hands with his and removing them. The two countered illusions and strikes for the better part of an hour, then Anatolie was suddenly gone.
Julija knew it wasn’t over and she found herself holding her breath again, looking at the man in front of her. Waiting for the axe to fall on them. She heard the snarl almost before Isai.
Isai had given the shadow cats his blood. He felt the difference in them immediately. Pain amounting to agony stabbed deeply at both cats. The two became enraged and looked for a target. He wasn’t the target because Anatolie hadn’t yet gotten Isai’s blood from his two sons. He turned, placing his body squarely in front of Julija’s as he rose, pinning the male cat with a predator’s stare. He reached for the animals at the same time, mind to mind.
The high mage was in a fury. He struck at the two cats, directing them to find Julija and hurt her. Rip her to shreds within an inch of her life. They could take her life’s blood until there was little left. He wanted her alive, but just barely. More, he would not let up on the agony the cats suffered until the job was done.
Anatolie stabbed at their minds over and over, deliberately hurting them, taking pleasure in it. Both cats could feel the mage’s enjoyment of the cruel act. He wanted them to know he liked hurting them, and that he would continue until they did as he ordered.
“Merge with me, Julija,” Isai instructed. He kept his voice very low, soothing even in an effort not to provoke the cats any further.
She did so without hesitation, filling his mind with—her. She was feminine, but very strong. He could feel her power sliding up against his and then merging completely. Her hand bunched in his shirt at the small of his back. He was utterly aware of her, every breath she took, every small hitch as she fought to maintain their connection when her father’s cruelty was torturing the two cats she’d come to care for.
“We are going to concentrate on Blue first. We have to drive Anatolie out of him and build a barrier fast. We will not have much time. He will try to kill Belle, so we will have to be able to quickly get to her and throw him out.”
“Isai, perhaps I should take one cat and you the other.”
“We will be far more powerful together. Your father is extremely formidable. He is already in control. We have to surprise him with speed and attack.”
“Hurry,” she urged. “Isai, what he’s doing is so painful to them. I
that anyone would hurt an animal like that. It’s not right.”
He didn’t point out that hurting her wasn’t right, either, but her father had no problem doing so. Anatolie clearly didn’t consider Julija his daughter, not in the way most fathers would think of their child. She was a possession. He had created her for his use, not out of love. In his mind, he could torture her and use her for feeding because she existed to serve him, just as the cats existed to serve him.
“Blue,” he said very softly, pulling the cat out of his fight to keep from obeying.
The shadow cat was all shadow and red glowing eyes. It took one reluctant step toward Julija, its body shuddering with the effort to keep from attacking her. The black fur was gone as were the roped muscles, leaving only a shimmering transparent shadow, insubstantial, but very lethal.
“We will stop him,” Isai promised.
He took the lead, leaping into the cat’s mind, Julija completely merged with him. He caught Anatolie unawares.
That which is bound, acting in pain.
I call to the heart, to that which remains.
The bond that was forged through evil and spite,
I now clear the cord to give you clear sight.
Bound there were two, now become one.
Separate the evil so no harm will be done.
Immediately the two hurried to weave the spell to build a shield for the cat.
Shadows upon me, be trapped by light.
Return to your darkness, never find sight.
Together they intoned the last of the protections so Anatolie couldn’t cause Blue any more pain.
I send you back from whence you have come,
Never to cross over or shadows become.
Blue shook his head repeatedly, the red beginning to fade from his eyes.
Belle lifted her head and screamed in agony. Anatolie had done exactly what Isai had prophesized. He’d redoubled his efforts to strike at the female, forcing her to comply with his demands. Belle stalked Julija, trying to get around Isai, who kept turning to face the cat, making sure to keep his body between Belle and her intended victim.
Belle began to whirl about in circles, becoming more and more agitated. Discipline allowed Isai to finish the spell to place a barrier in Blue’s mind.
Scatter, dissipate, disperse, dispel,
I free you now from evil’s spell.
The moment the shield was there, he leapt into Belle’s mind and attacked Anatolie.
The cat screamed and launched herself at Isai, mostly to get through him to Julija. Isai caught her in his arms and tossed her back across the
cavern. In her insubstantial form, Belle was light. She nearly hit the wall on the other side of the chamber.
Anatolie fought hard to stay in the cat, directing her back to the attack, lashing at her over and over with stabbing pains through its skull. Belle rushed them again. Blue intercepted, slamming his body into hers to drive her off her feet, giving them a few moments without distraction.
I see you, Carpathian.
Anatolie used the shadow cat to speak. The voice sounded eerie and high-pitched.
“Strained,” Julija whispered. “He’s a good distance away and he’s guessing.”
“Answer him. Take the forefront. I’ll boost your energy, so it seems seamless and easy for you to communicate over such a distance.”
“It is easy,” Julija informed him with a little sniff of disdain.
Father. It is true I am mostly Carpathian, but you made me that way. You insisted on a Carpathian mother and that gave me the power of the mages and the power of the Dragonseeker. For that I must thank you.
As long as she talked to her father, he was distracted from his brutal attack on the shadow cat. That gave Isai time to study her father’s position.
You cannot defeat me, daughter. Come home and all will be forgiven.
I will be punished with pain the way you are punishing these animals for doing exactly as you programmed them to do. They found me and attacked, yet you continue to punish them.
The stabbing pain in Belle’s head eased as Anatolie considered how best to answer his daughter. He wanted her to comply, and harming the cat was clearly making her aggressive toward him.
I don’t want to hurt you or these animals. You need to come home.
Isai kept very still, studying the other man. He didn’t want to give away the fact that he was boosting Julija’s energy and that she had the capability to defeat the high mage in the battle for the cat.
Isai knew Xavier had known the threat to him came from the Carpathian people, nowhere else. He had been the one to befriend them centuries earlier and give them the foundation for their safeguard spells. He had thought to always be their benevolent master, but the Carpathians
weren’t a lazy people. They’d begun to develop the spells themselves, adding to the basics Xavier had taught them. Coupled with their fighting skills and their ability and willingness to pool knowledge, Xavier had begun to fear and envy them.
Xavier’s grandson, Anatolie, perhaps his greatest masterpiece, was no different. He had created Julija to serve him. To serve the other mages. They needed Carpathian blood to keep them alive well past years of longevity. He hadn’t thought that she, with what he considered to be very diluted mage blood, would become powerful in her own right. It had to have been disturbing to him that she was born with the high mage’s mark, but he’d dismissed that as a birthmark only because it suited him. Once he realized that she had the potential to be far more powerful than he was, Anatolie was bound to do everything in his abilities to either get her back or kill her.
You know what will happen if I come home. Crina hates me. She makes my life a living hell. She left me locked up for over a week with nothing to eat and little water to drink. You’ve seen her, and you’ve never stopped her.
Isai hadn’t considered what it would have been like for Julija growing up with her stepmother. The woman had allowed Anatolie to get a Carpathian girl, one they’d taken prisoner, pregnant.
She continually shows me how she killed my mother. You were there, and you did nothing to stop it. I was a little girl and it was a terrifying ordeal for me. You let her, Father. You watched her hack up my mother as she lay helpless from your spells.
Isai glanced quickly over his shoulder at Julija. Her voice trembled, and tears burned in her eyes, clogged her throat and trickled down her face. He knew she wasn’t aware.
Crina had far overstepped her role. She did then and there was no stopping her. Carpathians are our mortal enemy. You know that. She also was jealous. Your mother was a beautiful woman and clearly you remind her of that. If you prefer, I will dispose of her. She has long been a thorn, but she has her uses. If it will make you agree to come home, I will strangle her right now. Or feed her to one of the shadow cats in your brothers’ shed.
Anatolie made the offer callously, so casually, for a moment Isai didn’t
believe what he was hearing. He had a line on him now. Belle had settled since the high mage had begun to try to cajole his daughter into returning to him. Anatolie didn’t seem to understand that a woman like Julija wouldn’t want her father to kill her stepmother for her as if the death would be a gift.
Isai slid the pad of his thumb across the back of her hand in warning. He was about to strike. She might not want to harm anyone, but he wasn’t of the light. Darkness dwelled in him, surrounded him and would for all his days.
In his mind he built an image of everything he knew about Anatolie Brennan. The man was a master of illusion, fitting into his community and yet wreaking havoc on those around him when they got in his way. Isai struck hard, driving his fist through the mage’s chest wall, fingers open and scraping through flesh and bone to get at the heart.
Anatolie screamed, and did the only thing possible: he leapt out of the cat’s mind.
Barnabas will come for you. You will return with him.
Julija still had a hold on Isai, her fingers twisted in his shirt. He felt her body jerk slightly at the threat and then a shiver consumed her.
Isai and Julija immediately built the shield for the female cat, a strong enough barrier that would keep Anatolie out, no matter what he did.
Very slowly, Isai turned to Julija. “Who is Barnabas?”
She lifted her feathery lashes and looked up at him with her dark chocolate eyes. There was fear. Trepidation. Wariness. “He is an old enemy who delights in tormenting me. He will do whatever Anatolie commands. Nothing is beneath him.” There was contempt in her voice.
She turned her head to escape his scrutiny, but he framed her face with his hands and turned her back to him. He studied her set expression. He was still in her mind and she was holding herself very, very still, as if, when she moved, she might shatter.
“Who is this man to you?”
She couldn’t turn her head, but her gaze landed on the center of his chest.
“He is nothing to me.”
That was both truth and a lie. She stepped back away from him and abruptly landed in the chair when it hit her in the back of the knees. Blue
pushed his head onto her lap, sensing she was upset. Belle came toward them, slinking across the chamber, uncertain of her welcome after she had fought to attack them. Julija held out her arms, and the female completed the last few feet in one jump, her black fur once again sliding over the shadowing body, making her whole.
“It is unwise to lie to your lifemate,” Isai cautioned, but he paced across the room, giving her space. She’d already gone through a traumatic situation with her father. He wasn’t about to add to it. In any case, she was unclaimed, and he wasn’t going to force his claim on her. She had deliberately kept quiet knowing she was condemning him to death or worse.
Julija reached up to her throat and stroked one finger over the scar there, the one that covered the terrible gash that had changed her voice forever. “I hate this scar,” she said softly. “Your friend Sandu healed the wound, but it was so severe that it left this scar. Sergey wanted to make certain I was killed, or couldn’t speak, so one more male Carpathian hunter wouldn’t have a lifemate.”
Isai remained silent. She hadn’t needed Sergey to do the very same thing, but he didn’t remind her of that. He could feel sorrow beating at her, but her emotions were all jumbled up. Shame. Anger. Sorrow. All three mixed together. She didn’t look at him but sank her fingers into Belle’s fur and rubbed one cheek down the cat’s spine.
“I thought I was in love once. A long time ago.”
Isai’s heart clenched. Not because she didn’t deserve to love someone, but because whatever had happened scarred her far worse than Sergey’s talon had. He wanted to put his arms around Julija and just hold her to comfort her but from the way she held herself so stiffly, averting her face from his, he knew better. She didn’t want to be touched. She was willing to share her body intimately, but not her feelings. She didn’t want to care about him or have him love her.
She rubbed her chin on Belle’s fur. “I was so alone. And so young. My stepmother was particularly nasty to me and my father was cruel. My brothers had each other, but I couldn’t even have friends. Anatolie made that very clear. In any case, who wanted to bring anyone home when you had the stepmother from hell?”
Isai remained very quiet. She rocked herself gently back and forth, unaware that she did so. That small action told him she needed the comfort she rejected. It took great effort not to go to her. He might not have claimed her, but she was still his lifemate and every cell in his body needed to make things better for her.
“Barnabas taught a seminar on medieval spells, useful ways to combine sex and torture to get your victim to cooperate any way you wish. I was the youngest student and the only female in the class. My father was adamant that all three of us, my brothers and I, go to the seminar. He said the understanding of pain combined with sex and how it could be used against one was needed by every mage. Afterward, Barnabas and I went for coffee. I was upset. The things he taught turned my stomach. He was . . . sweet.”