Authors: Christine Feehan
He waved his hand, and with a groan of protest, the rock separated just a hair. Paper-thin. A couple of millimeters, no more. He waited. Nothing poured out from inside. The movement hadn’t triggered a safeguard.
“Press your face against my chest. We are going inside. I will shift both of us to get us through.” He gave her the warning but slipped into her mind almost simultaneously so there was no way for her to protest. He simply took her over.
If the opening was only two millimeters wide, they could only be one. He slipped his woman and the cats through the opening and closed the crack behind him. Inside, it should have been pitch-black and difficult to breathe. It wasn’t. A slight touch of cool air came from above and to his right. There were several small openings in the front chamber that told him cracks in the side of the cliff were wider near the top, allowing fresh air and light from the moon in. If the moon could shine in, that meant the sun could.
The chamber narrowed toward the back and seemed to curve. He walked easily upright. The sound of water beckoned him. Just around the corner was a narrow tunnel that branched out in three directions. He chose to follow the sound of water. His woman, although mage and Carpathian, followed the more human ways of washing. Water would comfort her.
The second chamber wasn’t nearly as spacious as the first and didn’t have the light, which he was grateful for. He lit it using sconces high up on the walls. There were crystals embedded on two sides of the granite and the light spilling over them sent out a rainbow of colors.
He waved toward the darkest corner to provide his woman with a bed. Knee to the middle, he gently deposited her right into the center. She rolled onto her side and curled up. He let her for the moment. He needed to thoroughly investigate before he committed to their resting place, and then he had to set safeguards. He left Belle and Blue on guard with his woman while he went to explore.
The caves went back even farther, right into the heart of the series of cliffs. It was cool, but very stuffy the farther he went in, not at all a good environment for his cats or Julija. They shared the first few chambers with bats. He hoped Julija didn’t mind them because there were thousands. He was careful not to disturb them and sent out a message to the cats, they weren’t to, either.
He found Julija asleep in the middle of the bed, right where he’d left her, but Belle had climbed onto the bed and wound her body around his lifemate’s in order to keep her warm. He thanked the cat even as he scooted her off the bed. Phaedra and Comet were already at the front of the chamber, lying intertwined but blocking the entrance. Phantom and Sable, the smallest and youngest of the cats, the two in the worst shape, were in the darkest corner, as if hiding from everyone. Blue prowled around, checking everything.
“Get some sleep,” Isai commanded. “It has been a long night and we have more enemies.” More than anything, they needed to recover the book and find a way to destroy it.
He gathered Julija into his arms. She gave a drowsy murmur of protest and nuzzled his chest. “That is right, little mage, you need to feed. You are so pale you look like a ghost.” His shirt was gone, leaving his chest bare to make it easy for her.
Isai closed his eyes at the first touch of her lips on his skin. Featherlight. Barely there. Yet he felt that touch like a lightning strike through his entire body. Her tongue slid over his skin, and then her teeth sank deep, an erotic bite that flashed fire through his bloodstream and woke every nerve ending.
She connected them together with her teeth, drawing his life’s blood into her. He cradled her in his arms, looking down at her face. Her eyes
were closed, those long lashes like two dark fans lying against her cheeks. Dark hair tumbled around her face. He felt the push of her breasts against his bare chest and had to resist the urge to cup the soft weight in his palm. She was exhausted and as much as he wanted her, as her lifemate, he would always put her needs first.
When he was certain she had taken enough for an exchange, he gently pressed around her mouth so she would stop. Her tongue licked at the twin holes to stop the flow of blood and seal the wounds. She turned her face up to him.
“Your taste is addictive, Isai. I could have fed forever. I imagine the cats feel the same way. You can’t possibly supply all of us without growing weak.”
He kissed his way down the side of her face, from her temple to her ear and farther, finding the pulse beating steadily in the side of her neck. She didn’t fear him or his taking of her blood. She hadn’t liked it when her family had done so, and he wanted to teach her that there was a very big difference between them and her lifemate.
He let his teeth scrape gently over her pulse. Once. Twice. He kissed her there. Back up to her ear. His tongue did a little foray. “You will help me with the cats when you feel as though you can.” He didn’t make it an order. He would never want her to do anything that made her uncomfortable. They all needed time to grow together as a family.
He kissed his way back down to her neck, to that little pulse beating there that drew him. Again, he used his lips, his tongue and finally his teeth to tease her. Her breathing changed. Her breasts grew heavy against him. He bit down, and her body shuddered with the pain and pleasure of the erotic bite. He gathered her closer to him and indulged himself, taking the blood that was the best he’d ever had in all the centuries he’d been feeding.
She was born for him. He for her. Her taste was designed to appeal to him. The essence of her poured into him, turning his body harder than a rock, his cock full with urgent demand. He let that sensation fill him as well. He savored the way he wanted her. It was an exhilarating feeling to hunger for his woman. Holding her the way he could. Feeding on her. He
would never take any of it for granted, no matter how many centuries they would have together. He had been too long without.
It actually took effort to pull back. He made certain he took enough for a full exchange, although perhaps more than was actually needed. She was already Carpathian. Dragonseeker. The lineage was legendary in the world of the Carpathians. He used the healing agents in his tongue to close the twin holes in her neck and then pressed a kiss over the spot.
He sat on the bed, no clothes, back to the headboard, her head on his thighs as he rubbed the pad of his thumb over the snake intertwined with the scorpion.
“Do you hate that I’m mage?”
Isai frowned. “Julija, why in the world would you think such a thing?”
“Xavier tried to wipe out your entire species. My father would very much like to carry on his work.”
“Without Carpathians there would be no vampires. Do you despise me because I’m Carpathian or wish that I wasn’t?”
“Of course not. I think it’s cool that you’re Carpathian. You do wonderful things.”
“I think it is extraordinary that you are mage, and more, that you bear the mark of the high mage. That means you hold tremendous power inside of you.”
She turned her head to look up at him. “You like that I have power? Why?”
There was a note of wariness in her voice. He wanted to smile, there in the darkness, surrounded by the suspicious shadow cats. Each of them had reason to be leery, but still, they were coming together, giving one another a chance.
“I will always know, should we be separated for any reason, that you are strong enough and dangerous enough to take care of not only yourself, but our children. Tariq Asenguard has the compound in San Diego where Elisabeta is being safeguarded. There are a few women who are teaching the others how to defend themselves. In the old days, many of our women were Carpathian and learned from the time they were young how to fight off a vampire if it was necessary. They didn’t hunt, as we do, but if
necessary, they could defend themselves. Now, with some human women becoming lifemates, that is not the case and the fear is we will lose them.”
She smiled at him. “I’m glad you like that I can defend myself.”
“What I do
like is you using yourself up.”
“What does that mean?”
He heard the genuine puzzlement in her voice.
“Julija, you were so exhausted you would have died falling from the cliff.”
“It was more that I haven’t practiced shifting. I didn’t know I could. I think mage first, so I was trying to think of a spell to give me wings. I’ll get the hang of it. I don’t know why I never consider that I might be able to shift. I really thought that everything I did was an illusion, not reality.”
He brushed a kiss on top of her head. “In some ways, it is both. But the illusion becomes reality for us. Shifting is very real and a skill that would be good for you to practice. You want to become very adept at it. The faster you are, and the more images you can hold in your mind in detail, the easier you can call them up when needed, without any real thought. As a child, a Carpathian starts training almost immediately. No one wants their son or daughter to try on their own and end up in the middle of a rock.”
He watched her closely. There was no indication that she was uncomfortable. He had heard that conversion was horribly painful. The impurities and toxins in the body had to be purged. Organs were reshaped. That was an extremely painful process. Sometimes there were convulsions.
He ran his hand down her side, over the curve of her hip to her thigh. She was totally relaxed, her body lying close to his. He kneaded her firm bottom and then traced her ribs.
“You were magnificent today,
. I could barely conceive of your courage.”
“I wasn’t certain I could pull it off, but I knew, even with me taking down Vasile’s safeguards, he would have all kinds of traps laid out. I didn’t look. I didn’t want to know. If I had tried to help you with them, I couldn’t focus on taking his magic. To me, that was the far more important obstacle to remove for you.”
“You chose right. I had no problems with his many monsters.”
She turned her head and lapped at the raw tears in his belly. “They came close.”
“You have to get close to monsters to stop them. Then they have to burn to ensure they do not rise again.”
“You burned them after. You had to have, or I would have seen the flashes.”
“Vasile would have seen them as well,” Isai conceded. “I loved what you did, Julija . . .” He trailed off.
“I hear a ‘but’ in there.”
“I am not certain my heart can take you doing it again. Hunting a dark, powerful mage can be much more dangerous than hunting a vampire. You made it easy for me today, I will admit that—”
“We make a good team,” she interrupted and then yawned.
He rested his hand on her forehead. There was no spike in her temperature. He had been told that in a conversion, the temperature could soar to dangerous heights.
“Yes,” he conceded. “We do. I still do not like the idea of you risking yourself like that.”
“You said yourself that I have power. I have extensive training as a mage. I also watched my father, brothers, stepmother and so many others. I know their work. If I can learn how to utilize being a Carpathian as well and teach you to learn the way the mage works, we would be pretty unstoppable.”
He hadn’t thought of her training him. He had thought in terms of him working with her to learn all the things she could do as a Carpathian. She was right, though. If she taught him how to think like a mage, how to perform their spells, the two of them would be a very dangerous force as well as a huge asset to the Asenguard compound. They would be able to safeguard the women and children from the continual assaults by Sergey and his army of vampires and servants.
“You would share your knowledge with me?” That interested him. Greatly interested him. Sharing knowledge was a Carpathian trait. They learned by simply taking those experiences from one another’s minds.
Taking anything from his lifemate’s mind seemed not only a great idea, but intimate. He had never thought in terms of intimacy.
“You’re my lifemate, right? That means we’re going to spend our lives together. I think the more we both know, the better off we’re going to be. And you have to know, Isai, that I am the daughter of the reigning high mage. By siding with you, I will forever be known as a traitor in the mage community. There will be a price on my head. It will go on century after century, handed down from one mage to the next.”
“Then it will be good that not only do we both know how to handle battling an experienced mage, but that we continue to learn.”
She smiled and traced little symbols over his thigh with the pads of her fingers. “You rescued the cats, Isai. Thank you.”
“I am not certain whether I did the rescuing. Blue did more than I did. He’s a good cat. A strong leader.” He glanced across the chamber to where Blue’s eyes shone at him. The cat was still alert. Still awake. He didn’t know how much sleep they required. He had quite a bit to learn about all members of his new family.
“He is.” She yawned again and tried to hide it behind her hand.
“Try not to go to sleep yet. We have exchanged blood three times. I do not want you to be sleeping soundly and the conversion start to take place. Pain could jolt you awake and then you might not be able to get on top of it.”
“Pain?” Her lashes lifted again, and she regarded him with suspicion. “I don’t like how casually you said that.”
He shrugged. “Pain is simply an inconvenience, one we can cut off when it becomes too bothersome. You have enough Carpathian in you already to shift, which means you can block pain if it gets to be too much.”
“No one mentioned pain to me, or conversion, for that matter.”
“You are my lifemate, Julija. You studied Carpathians.”
“Carpathians do not have to be converted. At the time I was studying, Mikhail had not found Raven and there was no such thing as conversion. Or pain.”
He wanted to laugh. Instead he leaned over her, studying her profile as she lay across his thighs. She hadn’t moved. She was still relaxed in
spite of the conversation. She wasn’t nearly as bothered by what they were discussing as she wanted to pretend. He stroked little caresses into her hair and then across her cheekbone and down the side of her face. Her skin was soft. Her body entirely feminine. She had curves. Lots of them. Beneath all that soft skin was firm muscle.