Authors: Christine Feehan
Isai didn’t think it was contrived. For the first time in his existence, probably, Barnabas had been intrigued by his prey. And Julija had been prey to him. The mage had set the stage and begun the biggest illusion of
all and he’d trapped her. Isai could see why. Barnabas was utterly fascinated by her. He enjoyed the conversations they had. She wasn’t trying to impress him. She simply was offering a friendship with no strings. She had no idea she was being groomed by a cruel monster.
Often, you are laughing, but there are times when the conversation turns very serious and you go very still. He does most of the talking and he often touches your hand, almost as if he is reassuring you. What are you discussing?
Sadism and masochism. They were a big part of his class. At first, in class, it was a very intellectual discussion. He said they weren’t even called that anymore by any of the top psychiatrists, but that because we would have a better understanding of the two terms and what they might mean to individuals, he preferred to continue using them.
Here, in the shop, when it was just the two of you, what was he telling you? He clearly is reassuring you about something.
He confessed to me that he was a sadist and that because of that, he was ultimately very lonely. No woman would ever want him for a life partner. I felt terrible for him. I told him I didn’t understand how he could want to hurt someone, how that would arouse him, but that didn’t make me like him any less. In all honesty, I didn’t know how I felt about his admission. Mostly, I think I didn’t fully comprehend what he was saying, that it could be the truth.
Isai allowed the frame to move forward, paying close attention to Barnabas’s expression. He seemed to be totally wrapped up in every word Julija said, her expression. The way she parted her lips, the sweep of her lashes. The man might be the best at illusion, but he couldn’t fake something like that. Not without her feeling it. Julija was too sensitive. She was far more Carpathian than any of them realized—including her.
What did he say?
He thanked me and then said he didn’t know if he was born so flawed or if someone had shaped him into that being. He also said that he could teach others to enjoy pain, to crave it and that in the end they became so devoted to him that they were worthless to him. Again, I said I didn’t really understand. That if he needed to inflict pain, and he found someone who liked pain, then wasn’t that the perfect combination. I was a little shocked when he said no.
Isai could see by her expression that she had been shocked. She’d
showed it openly. She’d also looked so compassionate that Barnabas had actually moved closer to her, taking in her sympathy, consuming her energy just as a vampire might take her blood. He’d been devouring her. And she was addictive. Isai knew. Just being in her presence gave those around her an element of whatever they needed. She had some way of providing for others and Barnabas had discovered that well. Sitting there, in that coffee shop, he’d been bathing in her aura.
It was after this particular conversation that you woke up needing sex.
He made it a statement. This was the defining moment, he was certain of it. He could see that Barnabas not only wanted to seduce her but was hoping she would be the one he could keep—that she wouldn’t break. She would never crave the pain he needed to give to his lover. No doubt the man went through multiple women, training them to like what he dished out, but Julija had never given in to him. No matter what he’d done to her, she hadn’t broken. That had been her downfall. Had she acted as if she was enamored with him, that she had to crawl back to him, he would have left her alone. He had known, right then in that coffee shop, that Julija would be resistant to him. He had made up his mind to have her.
Isai let go of the memory and made one last pass around the lake just to ensure he was right in his estimation that Sergey was nowhere close. Barnabas was their ultimate enemy. Whether or not he called in Sergey for aid was yet to be seen, but at the moment, the master vampire was not close, nor was there evidence of any vampire in the area.
He started back to his woman. His brave woman. She had no idea just how amazing she really was.
Did that help?
The way Julija touched his mind was so feminine. Soft. Pouring into him intimately until he felt her in every part of his body. There in his mind, she stroked gentle fingers over every violent memory, every ugly one, lessening the impact of remembering the many fallen warriors, men he had respected, that he had been forced to destroy. She kept the crouching enemy from swallowing him. What could someone with her light do for Barnabas?
I know Barnabas took your blood. Did you ever take his for any reason?
Yes. There was an accident at the school. In class. I bled severely, and he was worried. He insisted I take his blood. He had a first-aid kit and we were alone. He was trying to help, and I didn’t think anything about it. Why?
Did you speak telepathically to Barnabas?
Again, there was that small silence while she thought about the question, not for an answer, but to try to find where he was going with the query. She wasn’t trying to keep anything from him, there would be no reason to. He found the ledge and the small crack, immediately opening it to allow moonlight into the small chamber.
Julija waited for him, pacing across the floor, her face lighting up when he came into the cave. She threw her arms around him and he pulled her in tight against him, bathing in her pure energy. He allowed himself to feel the difference she made. He had been in a battle, had fought off the bats and destroyed a mage. Ordinarily, he wouldn’t have felt any emotion, or even the exhaustion of his body, but he wanted to know what Julija did to him when he was close to her. Now he knew. He instantly felt rejuvenated. There was joy and he hadn’t kissed her. He’d done little more than gotten close to her.
Julija had a special light to her. It shone brightly on those around her. Barnabas had recognized that she had it and he’d bathed himself in it. He craved it. He had made up his mind to have her permanently right there in that coffee shop, for this very reason. The way she could make him feel without even trying. Imagine if she was giving him
Julija looked up at Isai’s face. There was strain there. He was covered in bites from the bats. Great chunks of his flesh had been torn from his body. He had healed the wounds of the two campers but hadn’t considered stopping long enough to heal his own. He’d addressed the worst of the bleeding, but his clothes were tattered and his body ripped open, in some places almost to the bone.
“Sit down, Isai. Let me take care of you.” She guided him to the chair he’d left for her. He was always remembering her comfort, cognizant of her being raised in what amounted to a human environment.
“You did not answer me. Did you speak telepathically to Barnabas?”
“Yes. Now sit down.” She all but pushed him into the chair. Her hands moved over him looking for more damage. “Are you hurt anywhere else?”
He waved his hand, dismissing the damage done to him. “It is nothing, little mage. I am fine. The two campers were chewed up, but I was impressed with them. Both fought valiantly in spite of the fact that the bats were particularly vicious and neither had ever encountered anything remotely close to them. I was very happy I was able to save them.”
Julija was happy as well. She had felt his anxiety over the two campers
regardless of his ability to feel it or not. Isai didn’t acknowledge his emotions, particularly when he was going into battle. She knew that was centuries-old training and the fact that he hadn’t felt emotions in those centuries. In many ways she was happy about it. She knew it would be much more difficult for him to carry fear, anger and sorrow onto the battlefield.
I call to the power of fire and water,
Combine your elements to provide me with steaming water.
As I wash through gashes, cuts and wounds,
Help me to purge contamination’s doom.
She made certain she removed every bit of blood from his wounds, but she didn’t like the way they looked. She frowned and touched one particularly ugly bite. “Do these things have venom in their teeth or claws?”
“Yes. I will deal with that, Julija.” He made as if to stand.
She put a restraining hand on his chest. “I am your lifemate,” she said as a reprimand, but her voice came out differently than she intended. She sounded sultry, sexy, a husky reminder that they were everything together—that she was his lover. “I’ll take care of you.” It was her right, whether he liked it or not.
Placing one hand on his chest, she closed her eyes and visualized the poison spreading through his body through the various open lacerations.
That which is poison flowing through vein,
I call to your essence, so none shall remain.
Come to my call, reversing your flow.
Exit this body so healing may grow.
At once the venom responded to her call, reversing the journey to his heart to drip from the open wounds. She immediately washed the dark liquid from his body, making certain that not one single drop remained. She visualized a second time, one hand over his heart to feel if a single
vein or artery carried a drop of the venom in it. When she was sure she had managed to get it all, she closed the wounds.
Needle to thread, stitch and sew,
Mending torn flesh so none may know.
That which was damaged, return it to health
So the body gains strength to renew itself.
Next was his clothing, although she was tempted to just remove it all, especially since now he sat back and smiled at her, like a king waiting for his servants to see to his every need. In truth, she didn’t mind being his servant. She liked taking care of him. “Stop smiling.” She couldn’t keep the teasing note out of her voice.
“I like looking at you.”
“You’re ridiculous. You come home all chewed up by some venomous nasty creatures and you don’t think a thing about what those wounds and poison are doing to your body. If I did something like that . . .”
He reached around her and rubbed her bottom. His touch was far too intimate and sent waves of heat rushing through her veins. “I might have to warm this extraordinary part of your anatomy,” he teased.
“I am,” he agreed, his expression sobering. “And addicted to you. Being with you makes me feel better. It strengthens me. Having you talk to me intimately, your mind in mine, opens up something in me that is hard to explain.”
She looked down at him for a long time, her heart suddenly accelerating. He was talking about himself and yet he wasn’t. She took a deep breath. “You’re talking about Barnabas, too, aren’t you?”
Julija couldn’t help herself, she switched her attention from his amazing blue gaze to his wide chest with the heavy, defined muscles. Her palm swept down his perfect skin. She’d managed to make his body once more pure perfection. She wanted to fill her mind with that image, not think about Barnabas. She detested thinking about him. Every time she did, she felt ill.
Isai framed her face with his hands. “
, look at me.”
His voice turned her inside out. She couldn’t. She tried not to feel guilty, but to her, talking so intimately was wrapped up in her feelings for Isai. She felt as if she had betrayed him on some level by ever giving that to Barnabas. She might not have thought that way at the time, she didn’t know Isai or how intense her feelings would be for him, but the guilt was there all the same.
“Julija, look at your man.”
There was no denying that compelling voice. So gentle. Tender even. Her heart seemed to turn over. A million butterflies took wing in the pit of her stomach. With extreme reluctance, she raised her gaze to his.
The moment her eyes met his, the moment she saw the way he looked at her, every negative emotion melted away. Isai didn’t attempt to hide his feelings for her, that stark, raw love that consumed him. She was his everything and he had no problems showing her that.
“Barnabas can never take anything from us, Julija. He simply cannot. He does not even come into our equation. Distance him so that he is nothing more than a bad memory that we are working to eradicate together. To do that, we have to get ahead of him. Figure out his moves and counter them, much like we would if we were playing chess on a board. He is nothing to worry about. Do you understand what I am saying to you? There is you. And there is me. There is us. Our family.” He indicated the cats. “That is enough to worry about.”
She wanted to cry. She was a crier, and that was a bit embarrassing since he was so pragmatic about everything. She was emotional. She loved him all the more because he meant every single word. He didn’t view Barnabas as a threat. He was an obstacle, but not once had Isai thought in terms of insurmountable. He was an enemy that had to be dealt with.
Julija nodded, tears swimming in her eyes. “I can’t believe I almost missed having you. How could I have been so careless?” She stroked the loving lines of his face. “What do you need? What are you looking for?”
“I want to know the reasons Barnabas is so obsessed with you. I think I am onto something, but the more I understand him, the better chance we have of defeating him. He has a master plan, Julija. I can feel it. If he
is the same man, Barna, as the mage working under Xavier all those centuries ago, he is a mage to be reckoned with. Anatolie was afraid of him. Crina tried to curry his favor.”
“Sometimes when he looked at me, I saw someone else in his eyes.” She shivered and rubbed her hands back and forth on her arms for comfort. “Someone very dark and scary.”
Isai didn’t tell her she was crazy. Instead, he stood and wrapped his arms around her, pulling her into the shelter of his body. His chin found the top of her head and he just held her until the goose bumps receded and warmth spread through her body.
When he stepped away from her, he was fully clothed. “It is possible he has a sliver of Xavier in him. Xavier would have been working on how to possess other bodies. He used the body of his grandson ruthlessly, looking to impregnate women so he could have children of Carpathian blood. He wanted immortality. Another way to find it would have been to put pieces of himself in other bodies.”
“I was always taught that weakened one. Anatolie said it was forbidden. Still, I thought he’d tried it on more than one occasion.”
Isai nodded. “It does. Your father may even have a splinter of Xavier in him. Who knows how many times Xavier did such a thing before he realized it weakened him? No one had done those types of experiments before. Xavier had to learn as he went along.”
“What are we going to do?”
“We need to find the book before there is a chance that Barnabas can get his hands on it. Then we need to destroy it. That is our first goal. Finding a way to destroy it. If we can, then we will chance undoing whatever Iulian has wrought. He believed the book could not be found because he’d hidden it with his blood. Unfortunately for him, I am the last of my bloodline now that he is gone. He didn’t know I still lived. He had to have spilled his blood, sacrificing himself to hide it.”
“If only you can find it, Isai, why can’t we just leave well enough alone? If we can’t find it because of Iulian’s sacrifice, neither can Barnabas.” She knew why. She’d argued with him over it, but now that they were here, and she knew Barnabas was so close, she wanted to run.
“You know he will never stop looking.” His voice was gentle. “If we destroy him, Sergey will look for it. One after another will come until it is found. It is best if the book is gone from this earth. This is a place where many people come to view the beauty of the land. We don’t want it to become the hunting ground of the vampire.”
Julija’s heart sank. He was right. The book had to be destroyed. She closed her eyes and when she opened them, she knew he was aware she had an inkling how to get rid of the book.
She shook her head. “I don’t know for certain.”
“Tell me.” It was a distinct order. A decree. He wasn’t going to stop until she did.
“The book was sealed with the blood of every species. Iulian sacrificed his life, using his blood to hide the book. Everything Xavier has ever done has utilized blood in some way or another. He is everything dark and malevolent. So is the book. The spells it contains are ugly, vile and extremely dangerous. To destroy the book, there must be purity of heart and soul.”
Isai frowned. “I do not understand. The only creature on this earth that has purity of heart and soul is an infant. Are you suggesting we need the blood of an infant to destroy this monstrous thing?” Everything in Isai rejected the idea. It was wholly repugnant to him.
Despite his being a man who went without expression, Julija had no problem reading his complete refusal of that conclusion. She smiled up at him, she couldn’t help it. She loved him all the more for his reaction. Anatolie or Barnabas would have just nodded at the idea of killing an infant for something they wanted, and then immediately gone off to acquire one. Her brothers and Crina would have no problem with the idea of sacrificing an infant. But her man . . . She shaped his face with her palm.
“If we sacrificed an infant, Isai, we would be adding to the bloodthirsty monster the book has become. Of course that is not the way to destroy it.”
Relief made him breathe and she realized he had been holding his
breath. “I do not know why such a thing even crept into my mind,” he said. He tugged at her hair. “Tell me what you think.”
“I think we need to decide if we really want to do this thing. Find the book and destroy it. We would have to have it in our hands. It is powerful, Isai, and it will call to the mage in me. I am Xavier’s blood. I bear the high mage mark. The moment that book is anywhere near me, the mark will fight to own what is his. We have exchanged blood numerous times. We will exchange more before it is found. I have to give you blood now before we leave this place. In doing so, I give you mage blood as well as Carpathian. Who is to say how that will affect you?”
In a way she was pleading with him. The Carpathian was strong in her. She knew it was. She felt it now in everything she did. But the mage was equally as strong whether he wanted to believe it or not. She held his light. She hoped that light was strong because she knew the call of the book would be extremely powerful, almost irresistible to a member of Xavier’s bloodline.
Isai paced away from her, then turned back. “Barnabas knows that you bear the mage mark. He’s seen it. Is he aware you also bear the mark of the Dragonseeker? The little dragon that is positioned over your left ovary?”
Julija shook her head, frowning. “No. The dragon fades at times.”
“To protect itself. To protect you. Do you realize that throughout the history of Carpathians, no matter the lineage and how strong it is, including that of the prince and his guardians, every bloodline save one has had those turning vampire or succumbing to the madness strain? Only one has been pure. That of the Dragonseeker. The Dragonseeker represents honor and purity, Julija. The dragon warns you when vampires are near. It also protects your greatest treasure. It guards other Dragonseekers, the eggs you carry in your body.
are purity, Julija. You are Dragonseeker.”
“I cannot possibly have purity of heart and soul, Isai. I am mage and I have all kinds of negative thoughts. I can be petty and want revenge. I would have taken Crina’s life had she in any way threatened you when you could not defend yourself.”
He stepped close to her, cupping her face with gentle hands, his
thumb stroking down the curve of her cheek. “My beloved. You are
hän ku vigyáz sívamet és sielamet
. The actual translation is ‘keeper of my heart and soul.’ I live in darkness. You live in the light. You always will. There is no way that your mage mark will overcome the mark of the Dragonseeker. It cannot happen. It cannot. The mark of the high mage is not a mark against you. Not every high mage throughout history was like Xavier. His father was not. You are purity and honor, Julija.”
She looked up at his face. He believed what he was saying. She wished she could believe it as well, but she knew herself. She’d made so many mistakes. Growing up, when Crina was so mean to her, she’d often taken petty revenge.