Chapter Eight


Peter Sanders's ashes were buried on the grounds of a mansion Gregori had built for Savannah while waiting for her to come to San Francisco. Savannah's crew and Detective David Johnson arrived for the memorial service, but they were able to keep the actual location, well outside the city, a secret from the majority of the press. Only Wade Carter showed up, having tailed one of the road crew members to do so, but he wasn't allowed inside the gates. His cameraman had refused to come; something about Savannah Dubrinsky's husband scared the hell out of him. That left Wade with the unwieldy camera around his neck and a very uneasy feeling. The grounds were fenced, and wolves ran loose within the compound. With Gregori's supporting arm around her, Savannah spoke quietly to her crew, thanked them for their service, and announced her retirement. They were each presented with an envelope containing a sizable bonus as they left. Gregori spent a few minutes talking with Johnson. The police detective, satisfied there was no more information to be gained, left the residence.

Savannah lingered at the memorial site, staring down at the beautiful marble plaque Gregori had designed for Peter. The tears in her eyes were in part for her sorrow at losing such a good friend, and in part for Gregori's thoughtfulness. He had kept Peter close to them, and he had made this day as comforting as it could have been under the circumstances.

She was turning to go back toward the house when the wolves lifted their heads and howled. Gregori whirled around and caught her arm, dragging her close to him. "I believe it is Aidan Savage," he said softly. "We must go inside, where Carter has no chance to catch sight of Aidan. We do not want to lead assassins to Aidan's door." He hissed a command to his wolves and hurried Savannah toward the mansion.

"I thought you had this place safeguarded," she said.

"With your crew and the police coming to the service, it was too dangerous. Someone could have wandered away from the site and been harmed." His hand brushed her hair tenderly. "I know you are tired. You should lie down for another hour or so. It was too soon for our rising."

She leaned against his hard strength and read the remorse in his mind. "This was never your fault, Gregori, never. I never blamed you for Peter."

His hand caressed her hair. "I know you did not." His attention was on the stirring of the wind, heralding one of their kind. "But if I had not been overwhelmed with physical feelings - lust," he condemned himself, "I would have known the vampire was stalking you that night. I had released Julian from his responsibility; you were in my care."

"Do you have to be so hard on yourself?" she asked with a sigh. "You are not responsible for all Carpathians, nor all humans. If anyone is to blame, it is me for insisting on my freedom. I was thoughtless, not realizing what I was doing to you or even to the unattached males of our kind. I didn't once give a thought to what you would suffer while I was running from myself and our life together. I certainly did not think Peter would be in danger. I should have. I should have known I would be hunted."

His arm swept around her, a tight circle of comfort. "You did nothing wrong, ch§ڲie, " he said fiercely. He was moving her steadily toward the protection of the house.

Rainbow prisms suddenly danced and sparkled through the trees. Gregori shook his head as the light began to shimmer into a substantial shape. "You always were a show-off, Aidan," he greeted his visitor, his voice as expressionless as always. "Let us go inside."

Savannah, touching his mind, felt his affection for the other man. She had heard of Aidan Savage, a hunter of the vampire, but he had left their homeland half a century before her birth to establish residency in the United States. He was one of the few of their kind built like Gregori - tall, like all Carpathian males, but much stockier, with defined, sinewy muscles. Instead of the dark hair of their race, however, he had a long, thick, tawny mane, and his eyes were a peculiar amber flashing with brilliant, glittering gold.

This man's identical twin had guarded her these last five years. Aidan was an imposing figure, so his twin must be also, yet not once had Savannah seen him. Nor had she detected his presence. How had Julian kept himself hidden, with the confidence all males of their race exuded, the power and authority that came with centuries of the hunt, with the acquisition of knowledge?

Gregori's arm moved from around her waist to circle her neck, a male gesture of ownership. Savannah laughed to herself. Carpathian men were not far from the trees.

I caught that, mon amour. Gregori's soft voice brushed at her mind, a low caress that curled warmth in her stomach. He sounded close to teasing, but she noticed he didn't drop his arm from around her neck.

"Aidan, we did not expect you this early. The sun has not yet gone from the sky, and it is uncomfortable to travel in the evening light," he said aloud, once they were indoors.

"I must apologize for missing the service," Aidan replied softly. "But I could not risk it. Still, I wanted you to know you were not entirely alone in this country," he added to Savannah.

"Savannah, this is Aidan Savage. He is loyal to your father and a good friend to me," Gregori introduced them. "Aidan, my lifemate, Savannah."

"You look like your mother," Aidan observed.

"Thank you. I take that as a great compliment," she said, suddenly wishing her mother was there. She missed Raven and Mikhail. "You honor me, to come at this time of the evening to share my grief. I know it's difficult for all of us, but I had to choose a time to accommodate Peter's human friends."

"There is danger for you nearby, Aidan," Gregori warned. "I would have you and your family safe from these butchers. They are human, of the same secret society that hunted in our lands several years ago."

A shadow crossed Aidan's face. He had humans in his family to protect, as well as his lifemate. The amber eyes glowed a deep gold. "The reporter." A soft growl of menace rumbled deep in his throat.

Gregori nodded. "I will find out what I can this night from Mr. Wade Carter. I intend to take Savannah and lead him and whoever his cohorts are far from this city, so that there is no danger to you or yours." They were in the house, free from prying eyes, but Gregori could feel the reporter's evil presence permeating his territory. "I sent a clear warning to you, Aidan." There was a hint of censure in his words, although his voice was soft.

There was a hard edge to Aidan's mouth. "I received your warning. But this is my city, Gregori, and my family. I take care of my own."

Savannah rolled her eyes. "You could just beat on your chests, you know. It probably works just as well."

You will show some respect, Gregori ordered.

Savannah burst out laughing, then reached up to caress his shadowed jaw. "Keep hoping, my love, and perhaps someday someone will obey you."

Aidan's mouth twitched, the golden eyes sliding over Gregori in amusement. "She inherited something besides her mother's good looks, did she not?"

Gregori sighed heavily. "She is impossible."

Aidan laughed, ignoring the warning flash from Gregori's pale eyes. "I believe they all are."

Savannah ducked out from under Gregori's arm and found an overstuffed chair to curl up in. "Of course we're impossible. It's the only way to stay sane."

"I would have brought Alexandria to meet you, but Gregori's warning dictated prudence." Aidan sounded smug, as if he had been able to lay down the law to his woman when Gregori was unable to do so.

Savannah flashed an impish grin up at the man. "What did you do, leave her sleeping while you ran off to play hero? I'll just bet she has a thing or two to say to you when you wake her."

Aidan had the grace to look sheepish. Then he turned to Gregori. "Your lifemate is a mean little thing, healer. I do not envy you."

Savannah laughed, unrepentant. "He's crazy about me. Don't let him fool you."

"I believe you," Aidan agreed.

"Do not encourage her in her rebellion," Gregori tried to sound severe, but she was turning him inside out. She was everything to him, even with her silliness. Where did she get her outrageous sense of humor? How could she ever be happy with someone who hadn't laughed in centuries? She melted his insides. Melted him. He was careful to keep his face expressionless. It was bad enough that Savannah knew he was practically wrapped around her little finger. Aidan didn't need to know it, too.

"Seriously, Gregori, there is no need for you to lead these butchers from my city. Together we can deal with them," Aidan said. "Julian is somewhere close. I feel him, though he will not answer my call."

"Julian is close to turning. You would not want his help. The more kills, the more the danger increases. You know that. Julian will work out his destiny, Aidan. And if it becomes necessary to hunt him, if he does not come to you before the change, you must call me. Julian has grown very powerful. Very dangerous. Do not take chances because you are his brother. One of Mikhail's brothers turned, and when justice sought him, he tried, like any other vampire, to destroy everyone. He would not have spared even Mikhail." Gregori did not add he had been the one to bring justice to Mikhail's brother. It had been such a difficult deed, he became determined never to get close to another as he had to Mikhail and his family. Gregori glanced at Savannah, found her incredible blue eyes on him, and somehow the painful memory was eased. "Julian has always been a dangerous and knowledgeable man," Gregori concluded.

"Like you, healer." Aidan couldn't help but make the accusation. He hated the talk of his twin turning vampire.

Gregori didn't flinch. "Exactly like me. That is the point. You will call for my aid should there be the need." He was staring directly into the other man's golden gaze. His voice was low and compelling, beautiful and haunting.

Aidan looked away from those silver eyes. Eyes that could see into a man's soul. "I will, Gregori. I know what you say is true, although I do not want to believe Julian could turn."

"Anyone can turn, Aidan. Any one of us without a lifemate." Gregori glided across the room because he could not stand the physical distance Savannah had put between them. Her eyes were once again shadowed and haunted, the memorial service filling her with sadness and guilt. He slipped behind her chair, his hands coming down on her shoulders to begin a gentle massage. He needed the contact as much as she did.

Aidan hid his shock. He had known Gregori for centuries, had learned healing arts from him, had learned to stalk and kill the vampire from him. Nothing ever touched Gregori. Nothing. No one. But those cold silver eyes, as they swept over Savannah, were molten mercury, the man's posture clearly protective, possessive, and the touch on her shoulders was frankly tender.

Are you all right, ch§ڲie?

Perhaps you should lie down for a while.

Savannah smiled wanly up at him. She was looking far more pale than he liked. He had hunted that evening despite the early hour, taking enough blood to sustain both of them. But she had refused to feed, as if denying her hunger were some kind of penance for her sins. His hand went to the nape of her neck and massaged gently. Her hunger beat at him, and he knew Aidan could feel it, too.

The Carpathian male was watching him, without obvious censure but with a puzzled expression all the same in his deep golden gaze. Gregori felt it like a knife: he wasn't taking care of his lifemate the way he should.

Don't be silly, Gregori.

Savannah's soft voice swirled in his mind.

You take great care of me. Who cares what anyone else thinks?

"So, healer," Aidan said, "have you made up your mind where you wish to lead these butchers?"

Savannah stirred, twisting to look back at Gregori, her blue eyes suddenly alive. "Do you have somewhere you particularly want to go?"

"You have a place in mind?" he asked. He knew it was a mistake to look into her eyes. He could drown in her eyes. It was like falling over the edge of a cliff.

"Yes. New Orleans. The French Quarter's jazz festival is this week. I've wanted to go for a long time. Now we can go together. Do you like jazz? I love jazz." She flashed a broad smile at him. "I had made plans to go before... all this happened. In fact, I got a place there."

She really wanted to go. It was in her eyes, in her mind. This was important to her. Gregori could feel a terrible dread rising. It was almost impossible to deny Savannah anything. Yet he could not take her to New Orleans, vampire capital of the world, city of sin. The butchers probably had their headquarters there. He stifled a groan. "You have a residence in New Orleans?"

"Don't sound so gloomy. You wanted to go somewhere, lead the society away from the Savages, so where better than the next place on my schedule? No one will think our move the least bit odd or suspicious," she pointed out, "since it was already on my agenda."

Gregori glanced at Aidan and shook his head. "Do you hear the logic of that? She has never been to the French Quarter of New Orleans, but no one will think it odd that she suddenly shows up in a home there."

"Very logical," Aidan agreed. "I can see you have your hands full, and I must return to Alexandria. First, though, I would very much like to visit with the reporter with you." For a moment his face was hard, a cruel edge to his mouth. "I remember what was done to our people by this society."

"This fight cannot be yours, Aidan," Gregori said. "I would not put you and your human family in danger."

Aidan inclined his head. "He prowls out there. I can feel him stalking around the compound." There was an eagerness, a need to do battle.

Savannah knew it was the instinctive, predatory nature of the untamed Carpathian male. "Go now, Aidan," Gregori said firmly.

"It was nice to finally meet you, Aidan," Savannah added. "I hope to meet Alexandria soon. Perhaps when Gregori and I remove the threat of these human butchers, we can get together."

"When Gregori removes the threat," Gregori corrected her, using his implacable, commanding, don't-even-think-of-challenging-my-authority voice.

Aidan nodded his farewell. Then his solid form wavered, began to shimmer, and disappeared out the open window in a kaleidoscope of colors carried on the night breeze.

Savannah reached behind her and took Gregori's hand. "New Orleans. What do you think?" There was a small silence. "It is dangerous there," he said carefully.

"True, but it will be dangerous anywhere we go, won't it?" she pointed out reasonably. "So what difference does it make where we are? We may as well have some fun."

"I prefer the mountains." He said it quietly, neutrally.

She suddenly grinned at him, that mischievous, impish smile he couldn't resist. "When an old geezer marries a young chick, he has to learn to get back into the swing of things. Party time. Night life. Does it ring a bell, or has it been too long?" she teased.

Gregori bunched her hair in his hand and tugged. "Show some respect, b§ڢ§٬ or I might have to turn you over my knee."

"Kinky." One delicate shoulder rose and fell in a sexy little shrug. "I'm willing to try anything once."

He leaned over and kissed her. He had to kiss her; he had no other choice. Once his mouth fastened on hers, he was in trouble. She was heat and light, spice and satin, lace and candlelight. And he was lost. Utterly, completely lost. Gregori jerked himself away from her, swearing in his ancient tongue.

Savannah's eyes were cloudy, dreamy, her lips moist and slightly parted. Her soft mouth curved with that sensuous, mysterious smile he could never quite figure out.

"I have a great idea, Gregori," she told him wickedly. "Let's take a commercial flight."

"What?" He was staring at her mouth. She had a great mouth. A perfect mouth. A sexy mouth.

Mon Dieu, he wanted her mouth.

"Doesn't a commercial flight sound fun? We could take a night flight, mingle with people. It might even throw off the reporter."

"Nothing is going to throw off the reporter. He is tenacious. And there will be no commercial flight. There will be no discussion on this, either. None. If we go to New Orleans, and I am not saying we will, commercial flights are out."

"Oh, Gregori. I was only kidding. Naturally we'll do things your way," she added demurely.

He shook his head, exasperated at himself. Of course she had been teasing. He wasn't used to anyone treating him as Savannah did.

Outrageous woman.

"I need to go out and talk with Wade Carter."

She stood up instantly, expectantly, her blue eyes wide in anticipation. "Tell me what you want me to do. I can probably manage mist. I'm stronger now, using your blood. I can back you up."

Amusement warmed the cool silver of his eyes. "

Mon Dieu.

Savannah, you sound like a cop movie. No, you will not back me up. You are not talking to Carter. You will stay here, safe, where I know he cannot touch you. Am I making myself crystal clear, b§ڢ§ٿ You are not to leave this dwelling."

"But Gregori," she said softly, "I'm your partner now. I'm supposed to help you. If you Insist on tackling this Wade Carter, men I have to help you. I'm your lifemate."

"There is no chance that I will allow such a thing. You may attempt to defy me, but I assure you, it is a waste of your energy." He spoke gently, that mocking male superiority setting her teeth on edge. "I am your lifemate, ch§ڲie, and I will give any order I deem necessary for your safety."

She thumped his chest hard with her clenched fist. "You make me so mad, Gregori! I'm trying very hard to get along with you and your arrogant orders. You don't even change expression! We could be discussing the weather instead of having a fight."

His eyebrows shot up. "This is no fight, ma petite. A fight is where we both are angry and have a contest of wills, a battle. There cannot be such a thing between us. I do not feel anger when I look at you, only the need to care for you and protect you. I am responsible for your health and safety, Savannah. I can do no other than to protect you, even from your own folly. You cannot hope to win. I know this absolutely, so there is no reason to become agitated over the issue."

She thumped him again. He looked startled, then caught her flying fist in his hand and gently pried her fingers open. Very carefully he pressed a kiss into the exact center of her palm. "Savannah? Were you trying to hit me?"

"I did hit you - twice, you scum. You didn't even notice the first time." She sounded very irritated with him.

For some reason it made him want to smile. "I apologize, mon amour.

Next time, I promise I will notice when you strike me." The hard edge to his mouth softened into a semblance of a smile. "I will even go so far as to pretend that it hurts, if you wish it."

Her blue eyes flashed at him. "Ha, ha, ha, you're so funny, Gregori. Stop being so smug."

"It is not being smug to know my own power, ch§ڲie.

I am trying to care for you as best I know how. You do not make it easy for me. I find myself making poor decisions just to see that smile on your face," he admitted reluctantly.

Savannah laid her head on his chest. "I'm sorry I'm so much trouble, Gregori." She wasn't certain if that was the strict truth. She rather liked stirring him up. "I just want us to be partners. That's how I've always envisioned my relationship with my lifemate. I don't want to be some shrinking violet protected from the real world and used as a brood mare to advance the Carpathian race. I want to be my lifemate's best friend and confidante. Is that so wrong?" She was pleading with him for understanding. "They're humans. We can handle them," she said with more confidence than she felt. If Gregori was concerned, there must be good reason. Still, she was determined to go with him, to share every aspect of his existence. She knew the hunt would always be a huge part of his life.

His arm swept around her, held her close to him; his hands stroked her hair. "Humans have managed to kill our kind throughout the centuries. We have great powers, yes, but we are not invincible. I do not want these people touching you. I will see what Wade Carter and his friends have in mind, just what evidence they actually have, and who is in danger. Then we will discuss where we will be going and how involved I will allow you to become with this situation."

She cringed visibly at the word allow, and he wished he could take it back. He tightened his hold possessively and dropped a brief, hard kiss on the top of her head. "You will stay within these walls, Savannah, no matter what happens."

She clung to him for a moment "Don't let anything happen to you, Gregori. I mean it - I'll be very angry with you."

A small smile touched his mouth but didn't light his pale eyes. "I will stay in your mind, ch§ڲie, and you will know I am fine." He hesitated a moment. "You may not like my methods." It was a warning. There was a shadow in the depths of his silver eyes, one he didn't attempt to hide from her.

Her chin lifted. "I may act like a child, Gregori, but I'm not. The preservation of our race always comes first, has to come first. I know it's necessary for you to use whatever means it takes to make that happen."

"I hope you do, Savannah. I hope you are prepared for the reality of my way of life. I can do no other than protect our people. It is not always pretty or clean." He spoke gruffly, his beautiful voice mesmerizing. He stepped away from her abruptly, yet her small fingers retained possession of his hand. "You will stay inside, ma petite.

I will provide safeguards for you. Do not attempt to defy me."

She rubbed the back of his hand against her cheek. "I'll do as you re quest."

He caught her chin firmly, tipped her face up, and fastened his mouth to hers. At once the electricity arced and sizzled between them. White-hot heat enveloped them both. Then Gregori put her from him and simply disappeared.

He moved through space, unseen, with the ease of long practice, a soft wind blowing through the trees. Wade Carter was attempting to scale the west wall. Three of the wolves were pacing beneath him, fangs gleaming in the gathering dusk. Carter's trousers snagged on a rock outcropping, momentarily holding him prisoner. Gregori shimmered, hanging in the wind, insubstantial, then solidified a few feet from the reporter.

Carter's breath exploded out of his lungs. "My God, you really are a vampire! I knew it! I knew I was right."

Gregori could smell the man's fear, his agitation. He perched casually on the wall beside Carter with his easy, lazy grace. "I told you we would meet again soon. I always keep my promises," he replied softly.

The voice seemed to slice right through the reporter's mind. Wade rubbed his pounding temples. He had never been so afraid, never so excited. The real thing was sitting right beside him. He fumbled in his pocket for reassurance, felt for the dart gun. "Why did you decide to show yourself to me?" He tried to keep his voice from shaking.

Gregori smiled at him. There was no humor in that smile, just a white flash of gleaming menace. The cold silver eyes were unblinking, like those of a great jungle cat. Carter found it unnerving. "You disturbed my wife," Gregori answered softly. His voice was beautiful, hypnotic.

Carter shook his head to banish the sluggishness from his brain. "Do you really think you're so powerful that you can get away with killing me?"

Gregori's muscles rippled, a hint of his enormous strength. "Do you really think I am not?"

"I would never have confronted you without support. I'm not alone," Carter blustered. He was fighting to get the dart gun from his pocket, where it was stuck.

"There is no one else here, Mr. Carter," Gregori corrected. "Just the two of us. I thought I might have a look inside your head." His tone had dropped an octave, was soft and persuasive, impossible to resist.

Sweat broke out on Carter's forehead. "I won't let you," he objected, but he found himself leaning forward to look into the molten silver eyes. He was supposed to be protected against a mind invasion! All in the society were protected. Vampires' voices couldn't affect them; the eyes couldn't put them in a trance. No one could read their minds or take away their memories. All of them in the society had undergone extensive hypnosis to resist such an abomination. And they had worked on a formula for more than thirty years. Scientists, good scientists, who had the benefit of vampire blood to work with.

Gregori pushed through the surprisingly strong barrier to inspect the man's mind. He could see the culmination of the secret society's research, their eagerness to find a new specimen. They had extracted blood from several of the victims they had tortured and mutilated some thirty years earlier. Gregori inhaled sharply. They had a drug they were certain could be used to incapacitate their victim, so that they could imprison what they believed to be vampire and study and dissect it at their leisure. The society was larger than any of his kind had believed.

He released the reporter's mind, deliberately allowing the man to know he had been extracting information. Carter swore obscenely and brought up the dart gun. The needle pierced Gregori's skin right above his heart. He felt the penetration, felt the instant release of poison into his blood.

Gregori!

Savannah's distressed cry was in his mind.

Let me come to you.

She was trying to free herself from the invisible wall he'd erected around her, fighting his safeguards.

Be calm, ma petite.

You think I did not deliberately allow this imbecile to inject me with poison? I am the healer for our people. If they have something that can harm us, I must find an antidote.

Savannah pounded on the invisible barrier to get to Gregori. She could feel the hot tears gathering in her eyes, the terrible fear threatening to overwhelm her at her own helplessness. The poison was painful, crawling through Gregori's system, paralyzing him. Cramps and sweating, muscles clenching and locking. She felt it with him and raged at her inability to get to him, to be able to help him, as was her right.

Gregori remained as calm and impassive as ever, studying the chemistry of the compound, as interested as any scientist. He was barely sparing the jubilant reporter any of his attention. He had gone seeking inside his own body, flowing through his own bloodstream to follow the path of the spreading poison.

Carter was nearly jumping up and down. If it had not been for his precarious perch, he would have. Of course, he had no idea how he was going to get such a big man into the car and back to the laboratory. He would have to call for help. But otherwise it had been so easy. The lab techs were right. The poison was perfect! All those years of research had finally paid off. And he was the one to get the glory!

He poked at Gregori's chest with a knife and, drew a spot of blood. "You don't look so tough now, vampire," he gloated. "Not so impressive at all. Are you feeling a little sick?" He laughed softly. "I've heard the older the vampire, the greater the sensitivity to pain." He poked again, slicing downward so that he opened a flowing cut. "I hope so. I hope you take a long time to die when the techs get you. Meanwhile, you just remember who will be playing with Savannah. I have plans for that little whore." He bent close to peer into Gregori's hooded eyes. "Not that this is personal, you understand. It's all in the name of science."

Savannah's burst of strength, fed by her rage at the reporter taunting Gregori and causing him pain, landed her against the invisible wall. The foundation didn't budge. Whatever Gregori had constructed to contain her was stronger than she thought. She pounded until her fists bled, tears streaming down her face. She could feel every cut, every slice the reporter inflicted. She could hear his taunts and threats. She implored her lifemate to allow her to come to him, but silence was her only answer.

None of it seemed to affect Gregori. He felt the pain but simply put it aside during his self-examination. The poison was thick, moving slowly and painfully throughout his system. He began to break down the chemicals to analyze them so that his people could come up with their own antidote to such a thing. Most of his kind could never do what he was doing. But he was a healer, knowledgeable in herbs and chemicals, poisons both man-made and natural. This was an interesting mixture, fast-acting and dangerous. They had used blood they had taken from their victims for a base. The pain had gone from a dull ache to agony in a few short minutes, enough to incapacitate all but the ancients and their most learned healers. As soon as he had the compounds broken down, he broadcast them to Aidan Savage. The hunter had studied the healing arts under him and would be able to utilize the information.

Within his own body he began the. healing process, breaking down each chemical to its natural and separate form and disposing of or absorbing it. Only when the process was complete did he return to his outside surroundings. He had been aware of the reporter poking at and cutting him with a knife, presumably to make him weak from loss of blood. He was bleeding from several different cuts. He could feel the sting of them as the wind tugged at his tattered clothing.

His pale eyes rested on the reporter's face. "Are you finished, Carter, or is there something else you would like to try before I return you to your laboratory?" he asked very gently.

The man gasped, realizing the drug was no longer affecting the vampire. He stabbed wildly for Gregori's heart. In midair the knife stopped abruptly, as if caught by someone with enormous strength. Slowly, inexorably, the tip turned to point straight at Carter's throat.

"No, God, no! Don't do it. I can tell you so much. Don't do it! Make me like you. I can serve you," Wade Carter pleaded as the knife inched closer to his jugular.

Suddenly the knife clattered harmlessly to the ground below them. Instantly Wade fumbled to retrieve the dart gun. But in his hand it lengthened into a hideous scaly shape that began to coil around his arm. Wade screamed, the sound filling the night air and setting the wolves howling in answer.

Gregori regarded him with impassive silver eyes. The eyes of death. "This is my world, Carter, my domain. You walked into it and deliberately challenged me. You tried to hurt what is mine. I cannot allow such a thing." He bent his dark head so his unblinking eyes could hold the other man in their thrall, hold him prisoner. "And understand this, Carter - this is very personal."

He tossed the other man to the ground easily, uncaring that the drop was dangerously high. The snake coiled itself around the reporter's body, effectively tying him so that it was impossible to move. Gregori floated to the ground, snagged the man's shirt, and dragged him through the dirt to his car. "I think we need to pay this laboratory a small visit, do you not, Mr. Carter? You seemed quite anxious for my presence there, and I can do no other than to oblige you and your friends."

No, Gregori, Savannah pleaded.

Let's get out of here. Leave him, and let's go. Break off from me, b§ڢ§٬ he ordered and retreated, pulling his mind from hers.

Savannah could feel his implacable resolve. He had made up his mind to destroy the laboratory, what they had of the drug they had used on him, and all the data on it. He also intended to destroy anyone connected to the society that he found. She could find no rage in him such as she herself felt. No need for revenge. He was cool and ruthless, a machine performing a brutal task for the welfare of his race. Gregori had put aside all emotions and was an anonymous robot set on destruction. He was unswerving, relentless. Nothing could stop him.

Savannah, trapped in her cube of protection, slid to the floor and drew up her knees. This was his life. This was who he was, what he had become over the long centuries, a dark angel of death to those who declared war on his race.

Gregori, the Dark One.

He believed himself a monster without equal. She covered her face with her hands. There was no way to stop him. No way at all. Mikhail, her own father, Prince of their people, the only one commanding Gregori's loyalty, could not stop Gregori from doing what he deemed right or necessary.

Her teeth bit into her lower lip. He wielded so much power. There was no other who could have broken down that deadly poison in his own bloodstream. No other who would have deliberately baited a trap using his own body the way Gregori had. She knew the price he paid. She shared intimacy of his mind as well as his body.

He really could turn off his feelings, leave himself an emotionless machine to do the things necessary to protect his people. But inside, deep within his soul, he believed himself an unredeemable monster. The things he had to do for the preservation of their race required enormous pieces of his soul.

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