Chapter Nine

The night was dark and moonless. Clouds covered the stars and added an air of mystery and menace to the evening. The car pulled up in front of what looked like a deserted warehouse on the bay. There was no one on the docks. The water looked murky, almost oily. Gregori stepped out of the car and listened to the waves slapping at the pier. He scanned the area with the ease of long practice.

Inside the large building three men talked in low tones. Gregori waved a hand at the reporter, and Wade Carter slumped back behind the wheel of the car, his eyes glazed. The wind stirred, and an eddy of leaves and twigs whirled together in a bizarre dance where Gregori's solid form had been. Then the night was silent again. Unnaturally so.

Gregori entered the building through a crack in a yellowed window. He streamed into the room and wound his way through a collection of burners and beakers filled with various chemicals. On the far side of the room were three tables. Bolts of steel held manacles for ankles and wrists. There were three dissecting tables, where the society's "scientists" could leisurely carry out their experiments on their victims. There was a splash of blood on one of the tables. Gregori hovered over it to examine its composition. To his relief, it was not one of his people.

In one corner of the warehouse was a bank of impressive computers, high-tech equipment, and rows of file cabinets. Three desks formed a loose semi-circle closing off the area.

The three men were playing poker, obviously waiting for someone else. He streamed across the table, a cold wind that blew the cards in every direction. The men dived for the flying cards, looking all around for the source of the unexpected disturbance. Uneasily they looked at one another, then back around the large warehouse.

Gregori summoned Wade Carter to the door. The reporter pushed it open and entered, walking with the familiar gait of a zombie, a vampire's human puppet, with heavy, deliberate steps, head down, one foot in front of the other. He jerked to a halt in front of the card table exactly as a marionette would. A puppet on strings.

"So where is he, Wade'?" the largest man, in a white coat, demanded. "You'd better have something important to pull Morrison away from his party tonight. It was a big do - he's getting funding for his favorite charity."

The others laughed. "Yeah - us," a dark-haired technician added. "Damn, Wade, I hope you brought us a woman. I'm in the mood for some fun tonight." He cupped himself crudely. "I've been looking forward to getting my hands on that magician you claim is a vampire. She's hot, really hot."

The man in the white coat peered at the reporter. "So where's this vampire'?"

"Right behind you," Gregori said softly, gently.

They whirled around, and his shape shimmered, first that of a man, solid and real, then contorting and crackling, bones and sinew popping as his face lengthened into a muzzle, and fangs filled his hungry jaws. Muscles and fur rippled, and the beast lunged forward, straight at the white-coated man's throat.

The man screamed but had no chance to run before the black wolf was on him, tearing at his throat. Splashes of crimson cascaded through the room, a bright arcing fountain. The other two men stood, horrified, frozen in place, unable to look away from the raw, gaping wound that had once been a throat.

Then, galvanized into action by the sight of the thick, red river of blood, they turned as one and ran for the door. The wolf leapt, crossed the distance easily, and brought down the dark-haired technician. Claws tore at the soft stomach, digging into intestines, but the savage muzzle bore in low and mean, ripping deliberately at the prize. Blood spurted, erupting in a volcanic burst. The man howled horribly, clutching himself far too late to save his life, let alone his manhood.

The last victim had reached the door when the wolf leapt onto his back. One quick snap of the powerful jaw and the neck was broken. The wolf backed up and surveyed the dead and dying. Then he trotted over to the bank of computer terminals and slowly regained his own shape.

Gregori's hunger was a living thing, filling him with need. The dark compulsion of the kill was on him. Beast or man, it didn't matter; it was his nature, his destiny. But he fought back the hunger, even with the smell of blood all around him. The computers had to be destroyed. Every disk. Every document.

Gregori gathered himself and began to summon the energy necessary to send bolts of electricity through the machines. They exploded, bursting from their cases, melting into the desks they were sitting on. Behind him the beakers shattered, spilling their contents onto the floor. Flames began to lick greedily at the dry wood. He waved a hand, and the file cabinets tumbled over, the papers they spilled feeding the fire until it danced high and spread throughout the room.

Wade Carter stood unmoving beside the card table. He didn't seem to notice his fallen companions or the fire rapidly consuming the contents of the warehouse. Gregori assured himself he had destroyed everything in the laboratory before turning his attention to the reporter. Thick smoke was swirling around them as he took hold of the man and dragged him close.

Hunger spread and gnawed, became a living, breathing thing. Gregori bent his dark head and found the pulse in Carter's throat. "You have attempted to condemn my race to death, deliberately tried to bring my lifemate to this place of horror. For that and all your crimes against my people, I sentence you to death." He murmured the ritual words as his teeth pierced the skin and sank deep into the artery.

Hot blood poured into shrunken cells. His body, so hungry, his energy and strength drained from his great effort and from his encounter with the poison, embraced the dark liquid of life. He drank voraciously, insatiably. His prey remained still beneath his hands while he drained away the life.

Gregori, stop!

Savannah implored.

You cannot take his life like that. Please, for me, stop.

Gregori growled, his silver eyes glowing red, reflecting the flames from the fire. Reluctantly he lifted his head, watching impassively as the blood pumped from Carter's wound and the man slumped to the ground. He released Carter's shirt, his gaze still riveted on the steady trickle of blood spilling onto the warehouse floor.

Come home to me. Get out of that awful place.

He could hear the distant wail of sirens, the murmur of a gathering crowd. Still, he remained to ensure that the life force was gone completely from each of those in the laboratory. He had a name now, a place to start hunting. Morrison. Someone who could raise funds. Someone who mingled with society.

Gregori! Come home to me now.

Savannah was insistent. He could hear the fear in her voice. She had been taught since birth that only a vampire would kill in the act of feeding. It terrified her to think that Gregori might break that sacred rule. That he had done so at some time in his past. More than once.

Your monster returns, he sent back to her in the emotionless voice he almost always used. He became smoke, the dark whirling wind that blew through the burning laboratory, and rushed out into the night air. He allowed himself to drift upward, watching as the humans on the ground raced around hooking up fire hoses. A stretch limousine arrived and parked a short distance away from the warehouse. A rear window slid down partway, but the occupant remained inside. Morrison.

Gregori drifted higher. He was returning to Savannah his true self, not the fraud he had allowed her to believe in. After his centuries of the hunt, after dispensing dark justice so many endless years, did she really believe he could feel emotion when he killed? Remorse? Vengeance? Mercy? He felt nothing, and he never would. It was simply a job, one he did well, without pride or fear.

He did not want to see the fear in her eyes. The condemnation. But he could not pretend for the rest of eternity. She had to know him for the brutal monster that he was. Her monster. She had to understand that he was far more dangerous than she thought him, that certain things would not be prudent to do. But he did not want to see the fear once more in her eyes. With a soft sigh he began the journey back toward the mountains. He traveled slowly, smoke on the wind, dispersing the air he moved through evenly so as not to alert the vampires to his presence. He felt the weight of his age, the kills, the blood on his hands. Savannah would look at him and finally see her terrible fate.

Once within the compound he waved a hand to dispense with the safeguards, freeing Savannah from her invisible prison. She was sitting, her knees drawn up to her chest, her chin resting on top of her knees. Her large blue eyes fastened on the stream of smoke as he approached her. Gregori took shape at her feet, his tall, masculine frame looming over her.

She stood up slowly, her enormous eyes never leaving his face. It was Savannah who closed the inches separating them, who circled his waist with her slender arms. She laid her head against his chest, over the steady beating of his heart. "I was so afraid for you, Gregori." There were tears in her voice, trails on her face. "Never leave me alone like that again. It's better to be with you, even if I'm in danger." Her hands were moving over him, slipping under his shirt to explore his skin to assure herself he was unharmed. "I could feel how much pain you were in, how the poison he used did so much damage."

Her hands touched his throat. Stroked his thick hair. She touched him everywhere. She had to touch him. She couldn't help herself. She found each raw wound Carter's knife had made. Her breath caught in her throat, and she lowered her head to gently soothe each cut with healing saliva.

Gregori caught both her arms and set her a few inches away from him. "Look at me, ma ch§ڲie. Really look at me. See me for what I am." He gave her a slight shake. "Really look at me, Savannah."

Her blue-violet eyes searched his pale ones. "What do you think I see, lifemate? You are not the monster I named you. Not the monster you named yourself. You are a great Carpathian, a great healer. You are my other half." Her eyes flashed at him. "Don't think you're going to get away with this nonsense you pulled, leaving me trapped to wait alone within these walls. Never again. I mean it, Gregori. From now on, I go with you."

His hand bunched her hair behind her head tightly. He dragged her closer. "Never into danger. Never." He lowered his head to find her mouth, to claim what was his. His heart was bursting in his chest. Her eyes had been clear - shadowed with worry, perhaps - but free of fear. He held her head pinned perfectly still while his mouth moved over hers, while he devoured her sweetness and made his demands. Savannah held nothing back, accepting his domination, returning his kiss with the same hunger he was communicating to her. He gathered her into his arms, crushing her body to his. "Never, Savannah. Never will I allow you to be in danger."

"How do you think I feel about you?" she demanded. "Look into my mind, see what I had to go through while you dealt with the poison." She touched his wounds with gentle fingers. "When he was doing this to you."

"The poison would have consumed you, Savannah, had you been injected with it. I relayed the elements of the toxin to Aidan. He will ensure that those in our homeland are aware of this new danger. We can develop an antidote with what we now know." His hands were moving up and down her back, over her hips, cupping her firm bottom, pressing her close. His body was aching and full, and her caressing hands only inflamed him more.

"It could have been lethal for all you knew, Gregori," she said. "You had no idea what was in that poison." She pulled at his clothing, tearing his shirt open to get at his chest, inspecting every inch of him, tasting his skin, the offensive wounds Carter had left behind.

"I am a healer, Savannah. I can neutralize poison." Her hands were inflaming him, pouring fire into his body.

She pushed at his trousers anxiously, her palm sliding around his heavy fullness. The beast in his nature, already so close to the surface, broke free and took her to the floor, ripping the clothes from her body as he did so.

He pinned her down, one knee shoving hard between her legs to give him access.

But it was Gregori's silver eyes that captured and held her gaze. It was Gregori who caught her hips in gentle hands and Gregori who tested her readiness with his probing fingers. "You are mine, Savannah. Only mine," he said softly as he surged forward, filling her. He wanted to tell her he loved her, but he couldn't say the words, so he said them with his body. Again and again he buried himself deep within her. Hard and fast. Slow and tender. He took his time, wanting it to be forever, hiding his face so that she couldn't see the unexpected moisture in his eyes.

Her body was made for his. Tight. Hot. Silken. Her skin was satin, her mouth hungry. He wanted her to take away the long, endless centuries, the emptiness. He wanted her to fill that emotionless void in his soul. That black empty spot, utterly bleak and hopeless. And she did. Somehow, with a miracle of total, unconditional acceptance, she did. She gave herself freely, without reservation, accepting his domination, his body taking hers.

He felt her ripple with pleasure again and again, with white heat, velvet gripping him tightly, finally taking him over the edge to soaring into space with her. She clutched him, her nails digging into his back, her mouth pressed against his shoulder, her small cry of satisfaction muffled against the heavy muscles of his chest.

Gregori held her tightly, nearly crushing her. He still did not believe she was actually with him. He couldn't believe she could possibly accept him. He had killed so many times, broken their laws. Felt no remorse. Felt nothing at all. She was so compassionate. So young. So filled with beauty and life. He buried his face against her neck. "You must feed, b§ڢ§٦quot; he reminded her in a neutral voice.

Her stomach lurched. She had been with him, in his mind, when he had fed on the reporter. Blood was a necessity; she accepted that. She even accepted that Wade Carter had to die to preserve their race. But she didn't want his blood. Her tongue touched her lower lip carefully, her heart pounding. Very cautiously, she moved, and immediately she felt the hardness of the marble-tiled floor. She hadn't noticed it before; in fact, it had enhanced their lovemaking, allowing Gregori to drive deeply into her. Now she felt bruised and sore, her hips aching. "This is uncomfortable, Gregori," she ventured.

He rose with one fluid movement and took her with him, cradling her in his arms. "I am sorry, ma petite.

I should have taken more care with you."

She touched his jaw with gentle fingers. "Promise me you will never leave me like that again. Next time let me go with you."

Her eyes were eloquent, pleading, so much so that he had to look away. "Do not ask me for what I cannot give you. I would give you the moon if you asked, ch§ڲie, but I cannot allow you to place yourself in danger. Not for any reason. Not even to help me."

Her slender arms wrapped around his neck. Her body pressed tightly against his. "I don't know if I can survive that again," she said softly into his throat. "I was so terrified for you."

"Your hunger beats at me. I want you to feed."

"I can't," she admitted reluctantly, fearful of his reaction. "That man..."

He was silent, carrying her down the hall to one of the bedrooms. "Yes, you can, and you will because I wish it." He lowered her to the bed.

She stared up into his pale eyes, eyes that held her captive, commanded her, even as they roved possessively over her body. He cupped one breast, filling his palm with her softness, his thumb feathering across the rosy tip, bringing it to a hard peak. "Gregori." Her voice was a soft plea.

"You will do as I wish, Savannah." He was implacable. His dark features were set, almost cruel.

She tried to look away from him, but he caught her chin in his hand and held her still. "Now, Savannah. Feed now. You did not do so this morning, and we have the night ahead of us. You will feed."

She swallowed hard, her stomach rebelling. "I can't, Gregori. He's dead. I just can't."

"You mean I killed him." He said the words softly.

"No, I know he was a threat to our people. I know he tried to kill you. I know there was no choice. But I can't." She tried to wiggle away from him. She suddenly wanted her clothes on, self-conscious of her nakedness.

"You will feed," he said again. This time his voice was a whisper of sound, so compelling, so hypnotic, she found herself leaning close to him. She could feel the heat from his body, feel the warmth of his breath.

Feed, Savannah. Come to me now.

He dragged her closer to him and pressed her against his chest. "I am your lifemate. I can do no other than to see to your needs."

Savannah could taste him, the salt from his skin. His hunger, her hunger - she couldn't tell where one left off and the other began. He was whispering in her mind, words impossible to understand, the music of them echoing through her body. His grip was impossible to break, the hand on her nape pressing her to him. There was no escaping his iron will. She didn't even want to, her mouth already moving over his skin.

Gregori closed his eyes as her teeth pierced deeply. The pleasure-pain was sensuous, her bare body irresistible, but he clamped down on his insatiable hunger. He had already been selfish, taking her on the tile floor, impatient and needing her in the midst of his own uncertainty. Now he cradled her head to him, feeding her until her pale skin was once more glowing and healthy. Then slowly, reluctantly, he allowed her to escape the compulsion.

Her blue eyes blinked, awareness suddenly in their depths. She pulled away abruptly, rolling away from him to scramble for her clothes. "You really are scum, Gregori. You have no right to force me when I've said no."

He watched her look around for her tattered clothes. She sank back down on the bed with a tired sigh. "I seem to have no clothes again."

"Easily fixed, Savannah," he said softly. Fashioning clothes from air and the elements was as old as time, as easy as anything he had ever done. She looked so upset, he wanted to gather her into his arms and hold her, comfort her. She was still disturbed that he had willingly ingested poison. That he had broken their laws by killing while feeding. But mostly she was upset that he had forced her to wait for him while he ventured into danger instead of allowing her to help him. And she was distressed that he had forced her to feed under compulsion.

Gregori handed her soft jeans and a cotton shirt, his silver eyes watching her closely. "I am what I have been shaped to be over these endless centuries, Savannah," he said carefully.

She pushed wearily at her hair. Everything was happening so fast. Her world changing, turning upside down, unfamiliar and out of her control. Peter. The vampire. The human hunter. The poison. Being imprisoned by her own lifemate. She bit her lower lip in agitation, holding up the shirt to cover her breasts. "You can choose to be different, Gregori. Anyone can."

He touched her mind, a slight brush, and knew she was close to tears. He cupped the side of her face, his thumb brushing her cheekbone. "I do not choose to allow you to place your life in danger, mon amour.

That is not something that will ever change."

"But I'm to live with you placing yourself in danger," she countered, her blue eyes flashing at him.

His white teeth gleamed, a predatory smirk. "I was never in danger. Wade Carter thought he was protected, but Carpathian children have stronger barriers against predators."

"The point is, you couldn't know that, Gregori. You went out there and let him shoot you with that dart gun without even knowing what it was. And you made sure I couldn't help you."

He took the shirt out of her hands and slipped it over her head. "I was never in danger, Savannah." He said it quietly, patiently, his voice black velvet.

She bent her head, long hair tumbling down to hide her expression. It didn't matter. Gregori was in her mind, easily reading her thoughts. She was confused, afraid, sad. It pressed on her like a terrible weight on her chest.

Gregori lifted her as if she were a baby and tugged on her jeans, encasing her bare, slender legs. He sat on the bed and cradled her in his lap. Very gently he rocked her back and forth. "I am sorry I frightened you, ma petite.

I would not do so for the world. But you have to realize that you are tied to a man of power. Many things that might endanger our kind do not work on me. I am capable of many things that have never been done by others of our race. I know my own capabilities." He stroked her hair, a gentle, soothing caress.

She turned her face into his throat, hot tears spilling over. "I don't know your capabilities." Her voice was muffled, the tears clogging her throat. She tightened her fingers in his thick mane of hair, hanging on to him almost desperately.

He dropped his head protectively over hers. "You need to have more faith in my strength, Savannah. Have faith in me. I am not about to throw away my life now that I have found you. Believe in me, in my power and abilities."

She burrowed closer, as if trying to get inside him.

Gregori tightened his arms, sheltering her close. "I know what I can and cannot do, mon petit amour.

I did not take any unnecessary chances." He held her to him, inhaling her scent, their combined scents, counting himself lucky that she felt so strongly for his safety. "I am very sorry I frightened you," he repeated into the silken strands of her hair.

"Don't do it again," she ordered, nuzzling his throat. Her mouth moved over his skin and left behind a living flame.

Gregori's body reacted, stirring to life. He could feel her discomfort, the sore spots on her hips and back because of his own carelessness. He laid a palm over her hip and sent himself seeking outside his own body. At once, Savannah could feel soothing heat easing sore muscles, speeding to heal bruises. She could hear the ancient healing chant in her mind, Gregori's beautiful voice flowing into her.

She lay passively in his arms, staring up at sensual features etched and carved by time, at masculine Carpathian beauty. He was power and strength. He was her lifemate. She studied him, examining every inch of his face.

Gregori suddenly smiled at her, a genuine smile that warmed the cold steel of his eyes to molten mercury. "What is it you are seeing?"

She touched his chin with a fingertip. It was a nice chin. Stubborn. Determined. Nice all the same. "I'm seeing my lifemate, Gregori. I don't want anything to happen to you." Her hands framed his face. Very slowly she lifted her mouth to his. She kissed him slowly, thoroughly. Completely. Her tongue swept into his mouth, explored, teased, tempted. When she lifted her head, she rested her forehead against his. "Don't ever do that again. Don't leave me alone and helpless without you."

He actually felt the wrenching deep in his heart. She was turning him inside out. She wasn't condemning him as she should have, she was making herself sick with worry. He found her neck and trailed kisses along the slim column. His teeth scraped her shoulder. "So you like jazz."

Savannah raised her head, her blue eyes searching his. "I love jazz," she said softly. He could see the anxiety in her, the sudden hope.

"Then I guess we cannot miss the famous festival in New Orleans," he found himself saying, just to take the shadows from her eyes.

She was silent a moment, her fingers twisting in the blanket. "Do you mean it, Gregori? We can go?"

"You know how much I love crowds of humans," he said, straight-faced.

She laughed at him. "They don't bite."

"I do," he said, the words low and soft, his silver gaze at once possessive. Just the heat from her smile wreaked havoc with his body. He had had her only a few minutes before, yet he was hungry all over again. Fiercely hungry. His body reacted urgently, savagely, and he allowed it, making no effort to conceal his great need.

Savannah's breath caught in her throat at the sight of his arousal. This power, at least, she had, and the depth of it amazed her. Her fingers brushed his skin deliberately. He trembled beneath that light touch. She trailed her hand along his flat belly, and she felt him suck in his breath. Her fingers wrapped around the hard length of him, and she felt him shudder with pleasure.

He caught her head in his hands, dragging her closer. He was full with need, hurting with it. "I am going to hate New Orleans," he whispered against her silken hair before she began lowering her head.

Her breath warmed the velvet tip of him, sending fire racing through his blood. "Maybe we can think of something interesting to make it more enjoyable for you," she ventured. Her mouth was satin soft, moist and hot.

Gregori pressed his hips forward, forcing her back on the bed, his knees on the thick blanket above her. She was so beautiful, her flawless skin like cream, her thick hair spilling around her slender shoulders.

Sitting up, she slowly peeled off the cotton shirt, baring her full breasts to his silver gaze. She looked lush and sexy in the dark of the night, a mysterious, erotic gift to him.

"You think you might make New Orleans more bearable for me then?" His eyes were saying more than his mouth, touching her here and there, dwelling on every curve of her body.

Her hand spanned his flat stomach and lingered there. "I'm sure I can be inventive enough to make you forget your dread of crowds. Take off my jeans."

"Your jeans?" he echoed.

"You put them on me, and they're definitely in the way. Take them off." Her hand was wandering lower, her fingers walking lightly over his clenching muscles, a deliberate persuasion.

His hands made quick work of unfastening her jeans and tugging them down her legs. She kicked them aside and leaned forward to press a kiss onto his stomach. Her hair slid over his heavy fullness, a silken tangle that nearly drove him out of his mind. "Sometimes your orders are very easy to follow, ma ch§ڲie," he murmured, his eyes closing as her mouth wandered lower.

He cupped her breasts in his palms, his thumbs caressing the tips into hard, beckoning peaks. His hips thrust forward almost against his own will, his body taking on a life of its own. Her fingers dug into his buttocks, urging him deeper into her, then slid down to caress the thick columns of his thighs. Her fingernails raked his skin gently even as she arched her body to allow him better access to her aching breasts.

He burned for her in his body and his mind. There was a dull roar in his head, a rush of pleasure that washed over him and took with it every vestige of sanity. Outside, the wind began to pick up. It sang at the windows and brushed the thick walls, heralding a storm.

Neither heard or cared. The storm was raging inside as he pushed her down, his mouth finding every inch of her body, every shadow and hollow, caressing and inflaming. Creating fire. Creating a storm. Gregori moved over her, her soft skin against his palms, his mouth hot on her skin. She drove away his demons, the terrible sights and hideous deaths. She took away the loneliness and replaced it with such pleasure, he wasn't certain he would survive it.

Her inarticulate cry was muffled with his own mouth as he entered her, burying himself deep. She was velvet soft, fiery hot, exquisitely tight, surrounding him, gripping him in molten heat. He whispered to her in the ancient language, words she couldn't understand, but he meant every one of them, words he had never said before, never felt before. She might never really know him, yet he was branded by her for all time. He was hers alone. He worshipped her. And the only way he had of showing her was with his body, his strength, his knowledge, his expertise.

His body took hers, a demanding possession that went on and on. A bolt of lighting sizzled and danced across the sky. The earth moved beneath them. None of it mattered. He took his time, over and over, ensuring her pleasure first and foremost. She was clinging to him, with him, as he finally allowed himself release. He never wanted to stop, afraid that if he let her go, she would somehow slip away forever.

Gregori swore softly and rolled over to force his body away from hers. She was making him crazy. Desperate. He was going to kill them both with his insatiable appetite. Already his fingers were curling in her hair, bunching silken strands in his fist.

Savannah heard the soft, hissing words flowing from his mouth, and her heart stood still. He had just shaken her entire world, set it on fire, and now he was angry. She turned her back to him so that he could not see her hurt. "What did I do wrong?" she asked in a small voice.

Gregori tugged on her hair to force her back to him. "You make me feel alive, Savannah."

"Do I? Is that why you're swearing?" She turned onto her stomach, propping herself up on her elbows.

He leaned into her, brushing his mouth across the swell of her breast. "You are managing to tie me up in knots. You take away all my good judgment."

A slight smile curved her mouth. "I never noticed that you had particularly good judgment to begin with."

His white teeth gleamed, a predator's smile, then sank into soft bare flesh. She yelped but moved closer to him when his tongue swirled and caressed, taking away the sting. "I have always had good judgment," he told her firmly, his teeth scraping back and forth in the valley between her breasts.

"So you say. But that doesn't make it so. You let evil idiots shoot you with poisoned darts. You go by yourself into laboratories filled with your enemies. Need I go on?" Her blue eyes were laughing at him.

Her firm, rounded bottom was far too tempting to resist. He brought his open palm down in mock punishment. Savannah jumped, but before she could scoot away, his palm began caressing, producing a far different effect. "Judging from our positions, ma ch§ڲie, I would say my judgment looks better than yours."

She laughed. "All right, I'm going to let you win this time."

"Would you care for a shower?" he asked solicitously.

When she nodded, Gregori flowed off the bed, lifted her high into his arms, and cradled her against his chest. There was something too innocent about him. She eyed him warily. But in an instant he had already glided across the tiled floor to the balcony door, which flew open at his whim, and carried her, naked, into the cold, glittering downpour.

Savannah tried to squirm away, wiggling and shoving at his chest, laughing in spite of the icy water cascading over her. "Gregori! You're so mean. I can't believe you did this."

"Well, I have poor judgment." He was grinning at her in mocking, male amusement. "Is that not what you said?"

"I take it back!" she moaned, clinging to him, burying her face on his shoulder as the chill rain pelted her bare breasts, making her nipples peak hard and fast.

"Run with me tonight," Gregori whispered against her neck. An enticement. Temptation. Drawing her to him, another tie to his dark world.

She lifted her head, looked into his silver eyes, and was lost. The rain poured over her, drenching her, but as Gregori slowly glided with her to the blanket of pine needles below the balcony, she couldn't look away from those hungry eyes. She nodded, accepting his will for them that night.

Following the desire in his mind, she focused on picturing the necessary image. And her body began to contort. There was a curious wrenching, a strange, disorienting feeling, and then her skin rippled with glossy blue-black fur as her body rapidly changed. Soon a small, blue-eyed wolf stood in the rain, watching as a huge black wolf nudged her, his tongue lapping a rough caress along her muzzle.

Savannah turned and trotted through the dense vegetation, exalting in the freedom of the wolf's body. Gregori glided beside her, close and protective. The wind sang, and the trees rustled. She could hear everything, feel everything, the night itself calling to her. She began to run as her body was meant to, with long, loping strides, her neck stretched forward.

She felt wild. No longer human. Free. She ran fast, swerving in and out through the trees. Gregori kept pace, occasionally touching her sleek body with his muzzle or nudging her flank or shoulder to turn her in the direction he wished to go. Savannah flushed out a rabbit, then chased it for the sheer joy of it before turning along a little-used path through heavy brush.

She scented others of her kind. Wolves running free. Several males, three females. The huge wolf at her side bared his fangs and nudged her away from the scent. Savannah resisted his efforts and trotted around him, lured by the wild call. Gregori growled, fangs exposed, his large body bumping, then blocking hers, effectively stopping her. He pushed her toward home.

She gave him one look that said it all. He had proposed the run, the shape-shifting; now she was demanding that he quit messing with her fun. He began nudging her harder. She would be exhausted with the night's activities. He wanted her to start back.

When she refused, he nipped her small flank, a reminder of who was in charge. She snapped at him but ultimately obeyed, and they loped back together through the forest.

Once at the house, they shimmered back into human form, and Gregori caught her hand and pulled her inside. Water streamed off her naked body and dripped from her hair. She glared at him. "You have to be bossy no matter what you are, don't you?"

He enveloped her in a towel and dried her off until her skin was rosy. "I take your health and safety seriously, Savannah." He was clearly unrepentant.

She shivered a little and pulled the towel around herself, suddenly unnerved by all the changes in herself. She was only twenty-three, not even a quarter of a century old. She had spent the last five years living exclusively in the human world. Now her wild nature was calling to her. Gregori was touching something untamed in her, something to which she had forbidden herself access. Something wild and uninhibited and incredibly sensuous.

Savannah looked up at his dark, handsome face. It was so male. So carnal. So powerful.

Just looking at him made her go weak with need. One glance from his slashing silver eyes could bring a rush of liquid heat, fire racing through her. She became soft and pliant. She became his.

Gregori's palm cupped her face. "Whatever you are thinking is making you fear me, Savannah," he said softly. "Stop it."

"You're making me into something I'm not," she whispered.

"You are Carpathian, my lifemate. You are Savannah Dubrinsky. I cannot take any of those things from you. I do not want a puppet, or a different woman. I want you as you are." His voice was soft and compelling. He lifted her in his arms, carried her to his bed and tucked the covers around her.

The storm lashed at the windows and whistled against the walls. Gregori wove the safeguards in preparation for their sleep. Savannah was exhausted, her eyes already trying to close. Then he slipped into the bed and gathered her into his arms. "I would never change anything about you, ma petite, not even your nasty little temper."

She settled against his body as if she was made for it. He felt the brush of her lips against his chest and the last sigh of air as it escaped from her lungs.

Gregori lay awake for a long time, watching as the dawn crept forward, pushing away the night. One wave of his hand closed and locked the heavy shutters over the windows. Still he lay awake, holding Savannah close.

Because he had always known he was dangerous, he had feared for mortals and immortals alike at his hand. But somehow, perhaps naively, he had thought that once he was bound to his lifemate, he would become tamer, more domesticated. His fingers bunched in her hair. But Savannah made him wild. She made him far more dangerous than he had ever been. Before Savannah, he had had no emotions. He had killed when it was necessary because it was necessary. He had feared nothing because he loved nothing and had nothing to lose. Now he had everything to lose. And so he was more dangerous. For no one, nothing, would ever threaten Savannah and live.


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