Chapter Seven


Detective David Johnson escorted the couple through the crowded squad room to his office. Heads turned, and an eerie silence seemed to follow their progress. He really couldn't blame the men. In all the years of his police work, he had never seen a woman more beautiful or haunting. It was the only word to describe her beauty.

Haunting.

She moved like a song, a whisper, like water moving through space. Flowing. Still, it was embarrassing the way grown policemen were acting like lovesick puppies.

She was a celebrity, the cause of the throngs of unruly newsmen camping on the precinct's doorstep, but he knew it was more than that. Savannah Dubrinsky was the kind of woman who stayed in a man's mind for all time. She was the stuff of dreams. Dreams of hot nights, silk sheets, and lots of steamy sex. A fantasy come alive.

Johnson risked a glance at the man pacing so easily at her side. A dangerous fellow, that one. Dark. Menacing. He moved so silently, no one could possibly detect him unless he wished it. Even his clothes didn't rustle. His hair was long and thick, tied at the nape of his neck with a leather thong. He looked elegant, Old World, like a pirate or a count. His face was arresting, all hard angles and planes, with unusual pale eyes, a slashing silver that gave nothing away. This was a man to be reckoned with. It was in the set of his shoulders, his air of complete authority. Johnson had seen men of power before, men who could make life-and-death decisions every day. This man was a cut above. This man wore power like his own skin. He was power. Johnson felt the hard slam of his heart in his chest every time those peculiar cat-like eyes rested on him. Eyes that were unblinking. Disturbing.

The man's posture said it all. God help the person dumb enough to ever lay a finger on Savannah Dubrinsky. Johnson had been worried about some San Francisco nutcase trying to get to the famous magician while she was in town, but now that he had met her husband, he figured anyone trying to touch her would have to be suicidal.

He stepped back to allow Savannah entrance to his office and was not a bit surprised when her husband somehow managed to insert his solid frame between his body and Savannah's. Johnson closed the door firmly and refrained from giving in to the impulse to pull the blinds. The entire squad was staring through the dingy glass, ogling her.

Johnson had never noticed how filthy his office was, the layers of dust and grime, the greasy, leftover, empty boxes of Chinese food and pizza. The pale woman with her haunting beauty made him all too aware of his grim surroundings. He wanted to sweep the debris off his desk into the wastebasket and out of her sight. To his horror, he actually felt faint color stealing up his neck. He was known throughout the precinct as a cop married to the department, completely cynical, no feelings whatsoever. But his hormones had kicked into high gear and seemed to be working overtime.

Johnson cleared his throat twice, trying not to make an ass of himself. "We appreciate your coming in like this to help us out. Thank you for identifying the body; I know it must have been difficult for you." He waited, but when neither spoke, he went on. "We'd like to clear up a few things concerning that night. We already have statements from security and the drivers who loaded the truck. You both seem to have an airtight alibi, Ms. Dubrinsky. Security saw you leave and saw Peter on the loading dock. Peter never drove out. When was the last time you saw Peter Sanders alive?"

Savannah knew that Gregori had planted the scene in the minds of the security personnel as they had left the stadium that horrible night. "Detective Johnson," she began.

Her voice was every bit as beautiful as she was. "Call me David," he found himself saying to his complete astonishment.

Her husband stirred, a slight rippling of muscles, a suggestion of danger. Those brilliant, slashing eyes settled on Johnson's face, touching him with cold air, the vision of an empty grave, a shiver of death. He swallowed nervously, suddenly glad it was not one of his new detectives assigned to this bizarre case. Johnson could almost believe that this man was perfectly capable of killing someone. What was a woman like Savannah Dubrinsky doing with such a man?

"I picked Savannah up an hour or so after her performance," Gregori informed him softly while Savannah sat with her head bowed, twisting her fingers together. Anguish radiated from her, turning Gregori's heart of stone to mush. He was fully aware of the detective's thoughts and purposely dropped his voice an octave lower. Anyone with half a brain would see he was dangerous; it wasn't easy to hide that kind of thing, and Gregori didn't particularly feel like doing so. "The props were being loaded into the trucks, and most of the workers had already left," he said softly.

Johnson found himself hanging on to every word, listening to the pitch and cadence of the voice. It was like a running brook. This man, this Gregori, was honest, had integrity. Johnson shifted position, leaning across the desk toward the man. He couldn't help himself; it was almost as if he was mesmerized.

"Peter was alive and well at that point," Gregori went on softly. "We talked for a few minutes, perhaps as long as half an hour. The truck with the props was pulling away just as we decided to leave. Peter walked to his car but called back to us that he had left his keys on the loading platform."

Savannah ducked her head, feeling a shudder run through her. She was pale but composed. Inside, she could hear herself screaming in outrage, in sorrow. Gregori appeared not to move, yet his body was touching hers so that his warmth could seep into her skin. It amazed her, the perfectly acceptable tale he wove in his beautiful voice. No one would ever question him. How could they, when he controlled all within hearing of his voice?

"That was the last you saw of him alive?" Johnson asked.

Savannah nodded. Gregori laced his fingers through hers. "Peter was our friend as well as our business associate. He handled everything for Savannah. Without Peter, there is no show. I have many businesses that keep me extremely busy. Peter took care of every detail of the magic shows for us. As you can imagine, this is devastating for my wife. For both of us. We should have waited until he was safe in his car, but I had been away from Savannah for some time, and we were anxious to be off together. The security personnel were still within sight, so we didn't think anything about it."

"You didn't go to the hotel." Johnson made it a statement.

Again it was Gregori who answered smoothly, his voice soft and hypnotic. "No, we went to property we own outside of the city. It was not until this evening that we heard the news."

"Why didn't you check out of the hotel, Savannah?" Johnson asked her directly. It was difficult not to stare at her entrancing beauty.

"We thought we would be meeting Peter back there in a couple of days when we returned to the city, so we kept the room." Her voice was so low, Johnson could barely catch her words. She sounded so sad, he felt a stone weighing on his chest. Johnson pressed a hand to his heart.

Gregori stirred slightly, stroking Savannah's hair and neck, his fingers moving in a soothing massage. She was broadcasting her inner sorrow too loudly, and the detective was becoming affected.

Breathe deeply, mon amour.

We cannot afford to have the policeman suffer a heart attack in our presence. He is very susceptible to you. I can't stand lying like this.

There were tears in her voice, in her mind. She was clinging to Gregori's mind as an anchor, and it made him feel the connection with her was real and solid. Perhaps even unbreakable.

Peter deserved better. That is so, b§ڢ§٬ but we cannot very well tell this man the truth. We would both be locked up as insane.

Gregori leaned forward and stared directly into Johnson's eyes.

You will seek attention for your heart problem after we leave this place. For now you will cease to question Savannah and direct your queries solely to me.

Johnson blinked, his eyes slightly glazed. Had he fallen asleep? He wasn't feeling very well. He wiped perspiration from his forehead. Perhaps he would make a quick trip to the hospital and have those tests he had been putting off. Meanwhile, Savannah looked so distressed that he focused on Gregori. There was something about the man's voice that enthralled him. He could listen to it forever. "No one seems to know of your marriage. We found no record of it," he ventured.

Gregori nodded. "Savannah's career demanded she appear - how should I put this? - available. A single woman is much more of a draw than a married one. We have been husband and wife for nearly five years. The marriage took place in our country. Savannah's mother is from the United States, but her father's homeland is in the Carpathian Mountains. We were married there."

Johnson refrained from saying she looked far too young and innocent for a man as powerful as Gregori. It was nearly impossible to tell his age. "Mr. Sanders was fine with the marriage?"

The silver eyes slashed like steel. "Of course he was." Gregori could see that that question upset Savannah even more. He leaned close to the detective again.

You will cease this line of inquiry.

Johnson shook his head. "We're getting off the subject here. Do you know of any enemies Mr. Sanders may have had?"

Gregori took his time answering, looking very thoughtful. Eventually he shook his head. "I wish we could help you more, Detective, but everyone liked Peter. Well, with the exception of the reporters - he was very good at protecting Savannah's privacy and thereby preserving the mystique of the show. I do not think you will find anyone who would speak ill of Peter."

"He handled the finances for the show, didn't he?" Johnson asked shrewdly.

"Yes, he did," Gregori answered easily. "Peter was a full partner with Savannah. He earned it, too."

"Were there any problems with the books?" Johnson slid the question in, watching their faces.

Savannah looked so pale and filled with sorrow, he felt as if he was tormenting her. No emotion showed on Gregori's face, and Johnson knew nothing he said or did would change that. "I am independently wealthy, Detective, with more money than I can possibly use in a lifetime. Savannah did not even need the income from her show. If there was ever a discrepancy, and I certainly do not know of one, I am certain, as is Savannah, that it would be an honest one. Peter made good money from the shows and would have no need to doctor the books. I am sure you can easily check his bank accounts and our books. You are certainly welcome to do so. Peter Sanders was not a thief."

Savannah lifted her chin. "Peter would never have stolen anything. And if he'd ever needed money, all he would have to do is say so. We would have given it to him, and he knew it."

"It was just a thought. There's no evidence pointing in that direction, but we do have to cover every possibility." Johnson raked a hand through his hair. He hated upsetting the woman. "Sanders was in charge of your security arrangements?"

"We had a man for that," Gregori said smoothly. "Peter gave him his orders and kept him informed of the schedule so the man could do his job."

"Could Ms. Dubrinsky have been the target of some psycho fan?"

Savannah made a muffled sound, tearing at Gregori's heart. Beneath his massaging fingers, she was beginning to tremble. "There is always the possibility, Detective. She has at times received some very perverse fan mail. Peter and Roland, the security man, protected her from most of the unpleasantness. But if there had been any threatening mail on this tour, Peter would have informed me immediately."

Johnson had no doubt Gregori was the type of man to be involved in every aspect of his wife's life. "Do you recall any strange incidents that stick in your mind?"

Savannah shook her head.

"What about any odd, unexpected noises that night?"

Instantly Savannah remembered the vampire's hideous laughter. Gregori intervened immediately. "My wife is very shaken up, Detective, and we still have to make the arrangements for Peter. Her crew is waiting for us also."

"So are the reporters."

Gregori's silver eyes glittered a warning. "She will not be talking to reporters. This is difficult enough for her."

Johnson nodded. "We'll try to sneak you out the back. But those folks have been camped out on our stairs ever since we ID'd the body."

Savannah winced visibly. "Piranhas," Gregori observed.

"They're like vampires," Johnson agreed. He didn't see Savannah shudder. "Once they sink their teeth into a story, they never let go. One in particular, from out of town, has been driving us all crazy. We actually caught him trying to sneak into our files in an attempt to read our reports. He also tried to bribe someone in the coroner's office for information." The detective was aware he was giving out information he should not have been, but he couldn't seem to stop himself. It flowed out of him like water.

Gregori lifted his head, dark hair spilling over his forehead. All at once he looked like a predator, dark and dangerous. Johnson's heart took another hard thud, and for an instant he could have sworn he saw those silver eyes flame a fiery red. Gregori gave the impression of a beast with sheathed claws, waiting, stalking prey. Johnson shivered, then blinked. When he looked again, the man's face was as impassive as ever, the eyes reflecting back his own image. There was a certain masculine beauty to that harsh, cruel face. Johnson shook his head to dispel the image of a stalking wolf from his mind.

"Which reporter was that, Detective?"

"I can't really divulge that information," Johnson said warily. There was something he couldn't quite put his finger on, but he wasn't going to be responsible for some reporter winding up in the hospital. He had no doubt that anyone tangling with Gregori would come out on the short end of the stick.

Gregori smiled at him, a flash of gleaming white teeth. The silver stare fixed on David Johnson's tired eyes. That silver gaze was all at once hot, like molten mercury. Johnson felt himself falling forward, unable to look away. Gregori pushed into the man's mind, past the thin barrier of protection, and searched the memories there. Satisfied he had what he needed, he removed the man's memory of any conversation pertaining to the reporter and implanted the certain knowledge that Savannah and Gregori had cooperated fully and had nothing to do with the Peter Sanders' death.

Johnson blinked and found himself standing, shaking hands with Gregori and smiling sympathetically at Savannah. Gregori's muscular frame dwarfed her slender one as her husband swept her protectively beneath his shoulder. She offered Johnson a wan smile. "I wish we'd had a chance to meet under different circumstances, Detective."

"David," he corrected gently, doing his best not to stare.

Gregori nudged Savannah out of the office. "Thank you for being so careful with Savannah's feelings."

Johnson led the way through a maze of rooms to the back stairs. "If you think it will be necessary, I could have a couple of my men keep an eye on Ms. Dubrinsky for a few days."

"Thank you, Detective, but that will not be necessary," Gregori declined softly, a hint of menace in his velvet voice. His hand found the small of Savannah's back. "I protect my own."

The staircase was narrow and dusty, the carpet worn through in several places. The couple moved down it together in perfect synchronization, like a pair of dancers. Gregori caught at her before she could push open the door. "Someone is outside."

Savannah glanced at the cruel edge to his mouth. "We don't know who it is, Gregori," she cautioned softly.

"Scanning is easy enough," Gregori answered. "That reporter is dangerous, Savannah. He is more than a simple nosy newspaperman."

"You read that detective's mind, his memories, didn't you?" Her fingers curled around his thick wrist, her enormous blue eyes fixed steadily on his face.

Gregori didn't flinch from the accusation. He didn't pretend to look repentant. "Of course I did."

"Gregori," she said softly, "you have that look about you."

His eyebrows shot up. "What look is that?"

"Like you're really hungry and you just discovered lunch."

He smiled in answer, but there was no warmth in his eyes. "Be very careful with this one, Savannah. He is not going to just let it go."

She shrugged carefully. "So let's give him what he wants, and maybe he'll leave us alone." She was afraid she knew what Gregori had in mind. If the reporter couldn't be controlled, if he became a threat to their race, Gregori would have no choice but to destroy him. She couldn't bear the thought of any more needless bloodshed; she wanted a peaceful co-existence with the human race.

"We will try it your way," Gregori conceded, his stomach churning. Why did he give in to her nonsense? Her eyes, large and sad, defeated his good sense every time.

Savannah pressed a fingertip to his lip, tracing the hard edge until it softened, and he took her finger into his mouth in a slow, erotic caress. He needed that connection with her always. She was so young, the ugliness of his life so far removed from her. How could she understand his need to ensure that such ugliness never touched her?

She smiled, a small, secret smile he felt he would never understand. He knew the earth, the wind, the shifting water, fire, air, even space itself. He could command them all, but Savannah eluded him. Completely eluded him. Why did it matter so much that she understand? Wasn't her safety the most important thing in his world?

Savannah shivered at the unexpected heat burning through her body. Gregori had such power over her. When he released her finger from the hot, moist cavern of his mouth, she leaned into him, her hand sliding down his throat to rest on his chest. "I think you should be outlawed, Gregori. You're lethal to women." Her voice feathered over his skin like the touch of fingers.

"Just one woman," he answered, his silver eyes molten mercury. He took possession of her hand; he had to, before his body went up in flames. Bringing her knuckles to his mouth, he sighed as he pressed a kiss against the back of her hand, her fingers, her open palm. "Let us get this over with, ma petite, before I change my mind and turn this reporter to stone."

Her breath caught in her throat, her blue eyes enormous. "You can't really do that, can you?" She was looking at him with a mixture of awe and fear, with maybe a hint of pride thrown in.

Gregori's face was completely impassive, the silver gaze reflective. "I can do anything. I thought that was a well-known fact among our people."

She searched his face, trying to determine whether or not he was teasing her. When she couldn't be certain one way or the other, she turned and pushed open the door.

Almost at once a man placed himself solidly in front of her, and a flash went off. Blinking at the sudden, excruciating pain of the brilliant light in her sensitive eyes, Savannah instinctively put up a hand to cover her face. Gregori turned her into his chest.

You would insist on this. Don't even say I told you so'!

His soft laugher eased the sting in her eyes, but his face was hard and dangerous as he faced the reporter and his cameraman. "Get out of our way," he warned softly.

The reporter's expression was wary. He stepped back, breath exploding out of his lungs. "Wade Carter, freelance reporter. I've been following Ms. Dubrinsky for some time. I'd like an interview."

"You will have to go through her press secretary." Gregori kept moving, his arm protectively around Savannah's shoulders.

The reporter had to give way; he dared not challenge the other man. Gregori looked like a predator. A dark, brooding, killing machine. Menacing. He was showing his true nature to the reporter without hesitation. Carter swore to himself, but his excitement showed on his face. "There's a rumor going around that you're her husband. Is that true?"

"I see no reason to deny it." Gregori kept walking, his arm, thick with roped muscles, curling around Savannah's head, successfully hiding her from the other man's scrutiny. He glanced at the cameraman, who was positioning himself for another picture. "One is all you are going to get. Do it again, and I will remove the camera from you. Forcibly. And I will not return it. Do you understand?"

The man instantly lowered the camera, his face going white. Gregori's voice was low and soft, even gentle, but it held such menace, the veteran of many fracases opted for the better part of valor. "Yes, sir," he muttered, refusing to look at Carter.

"So you don't deny your marriage. Is it true both of you come from the Carpathian Mountains?" Carter sounded eager.

"It is a big region," Gregori said vaguely and signaled their driver to open the door to the limousine.

Carter pushed forward. "Did Peter Sanders know the secrets behind your magic, Savannah?" There was accusation in his voice, belligerence. "No other member of your crew does. Which could make Sanders's death rather convenient, if you have something to hide."

In spite of Gregori's restraining arm, Savannah lifted her head to face the reporter. Her blue eyes smoldered dangerously. "How dare you? Peter Sanders was my friend."

Carter stepped even closer. "You have many secrets, don't you, Savannah, that have nothing to do with your magic show?"

"What is that supposed to mean?"

Gregori's silver eyes flashed.

His mind is protected somehow. I could push past his barrier, but it is complicated, and he would know, and so would whoever has helped him achieve this. This one is very dangerous to you, mon amour.

Do not cross swords with him. Let us leave this place. I will pay a visit to Wade Carter at a later date. He doesn't scare me. He should. He is one of the human butchers, and he has targeted you. That damn mist you dissolve into. Julian was always uncomfortable with that.

"I think you know very well what I mean. Peter Sanders found out just how some of your illusions were performed, and you killed him."

Savannah shook her head. "I feel sorry for you, Mr. Carter. It must be a horrible way to make a living, accusing people of crimes for a sensational story. You can't have too many friends." She ducked into the limousine and the safety of its shadowy interior.

"You haven't seen the last of me," Carter snarled, leaning down to try to catch a last glimpse of her.

Gregori stepped close, his imposing frame exuding power. He smiled at the reporter, a flash of gleaming white teeth. The silver eyes reflected clearly, vividly, in great detail, Carter's own image. But it was an image of death, of a torn and bloody body falling like a rag doll to the ground. Gregori held the man in his deadly gaze. "Nor have you seen the last of me, Mr. Carter," he said softly, a black-velvet menace.

Wade Carter was suddenly weak with fear. He crossed himself, his right hand finding the silver cross at his neck. Low, taunting laughter echoed in his head. He couldn't seem to get it out, not even when the tall, elegant man slid gracefully into the seat beside Savannah. Carter shook his head repeatedly, trying to dislodge the laughter, the threat, from his mind.

He glared after the fading limo, then clapped both hands against his ears. He had no proof that Savannah Dubrinsky was a vampire, just a gut feeling. The things she did on stage were impossible. No other magician had accomplished the tricks she had perfected. She was so young; how could she have learned to do what no one else in her field could do? He had followed her entire tour, trying unsuccessfully to bribe those working for her. No one admitted to knowing a thing.

Every time he had tried to break in to see her props, to study what she did, something had gone wrong. It was eerie. He didn't believe in coincidence. He might have struck out a time or two, but not on every painstaking attempt. He was a professional; his people were professionals. No road crew or security people were that good. Something smelled, and he meant to get to the bottom of it. Maybe the cops believed the current story, but Peter Sanders's death frankly stunk. All the truck drivers and loaders had the exact same story. No two witnesses ever told precisely the same pat story. Details always differed. And it couldn't be a conspiracy; those questioned didn't all know one another. So it had to be something else. Like memories planted in people's minds - something vampires could do.

Savannah suddenly had a husband no one had known about. And he wasn't just any man, someone who could have been overlooked. Savannah's husband was dark, dangerous. A killer. Wade Carter was certain he was a vampire. Positive. He sat down on the steps, his heart beating like thunder. He had actually met the real thing. And the real thing scared the hell out of him. He would have to wire the others to come. What a break, and he was the one to find them. Or him. He didn't honestly know if Savannah Dubrinsky was a vampire, but his research said it was a possibility. He was going to be famous. Very, very famous. And rich. Very, very rich.

"He knows about us," Gregori said softly. "That reporter is no reporter. He is one of them."

"Who are they?" Savannah pushed at her hair, suddenly weary and close to tears.

Peter. It was all her fault. She never should have allowed him close to her, never put him in danger. She had been so naive.

Her world had always been one of boundless love. Her parents protected her, sheltered her. Her wolf - no, her lifemate - had shown her nothing but love during her growing years. None of the ugliness of their lives, none of the dangers, had ever been allowed to touch her.

She glanced at Gregori, the impassive expression, the lines etched deeply into his handsome face. His eyes were so cold and aloof. He had seen far too much horror in his lifetime, knew everything that could happen. He had seen it with his own eyes. "Who are they, Gregori?" she asked again.

His pale eyes moved over her face and brushed her soft mouth, leaving a warmth behind. "There is a dangerous group of humans who believe in vampires and practically make a career out of hunting them down. Despite their obsession with the undead - and over the centuries they have often formed secret societies to pursue their depraved passions - they do not recognize or acknowledge the difference between Carpathians and vampires. To them, we are the same and must be exterminated. Perhaps it is just as well that they do not comprehend they are dealing with two separate entities."

"What drives these people? Have they proof that the vampire exists?" It was nearly impossible to believe; Carpathian renegade hunters were so careful to destroy all evidence of the betrayers.

"Nothing concrete. But the lasting legends and stories and myths keep these humans wondering. And some of the more clever vampires have spent time in society before we were able to hunt them."

"True," Savannah said. She knew her history. In the Middle Ages and just after, the undead had had a field day, living openly among the humans they preyed on. It had taken a huge collective effort to wipe them out before they destroyed any chance at a peaceful co-existence between the two species, Carpathian and human. After the most famous Carpathian vampire hunters, such as Gabriel and Lucien, disappeared, it was Mikhail and Gregori and Aidan and other ancients like them who had hunted down those who turned vampire. Together they had protected their remaining women and had taken measures to ensure that Carpathians and vampires remained figments of human imagination, the stuff of legends, novels, and movies. Their campaign to wipe out all memory, all certain knowledge of their kind had been largely successful, but evidently lapses had occurred.

"A few years ago, before you were born, a society of humans, a secret organization, was formed to investigate and exterminate vampires - the kind of vampires written about in dime novels. We believed these humans posed little real threat to us. None of us expected a repeat of the vampire hunts that swept Europe centuries ago."

There was no sorrow in his expressionless voice, nothing to betray that he was remembering finding his mother's body, but Savannah knew that he was, knew it as surely as if he had confessed it. "The first time they surfaced to do any damage, they murdered your Aunt Noelle. They would have killed another woman, but your own mother, still human, had the courage to save her. The secret society then targeted your mother and father, Raven and the Prince of our people. Once more we thought we stamped out the threat, but they struck again a few years later. They killed several of our people and a few humans. Noelle's son was murdered, and your Uncle Jacques was tortured to the point of madness. Again Raven was attacked, when she was pregnant with you, and she almost lost you."

Savannah reached out to lay a hand on his arm, but she was otherwise careful to keep her sympathy to herself, not wanting him to realize how easily she had slipped into his mind and taken his memories into her heart. She was becoming quite adept at reading him.

Gregori picked up her hand, marveling that anything that small could bring him such pleasure. Just the simple act of touching his arm, her fingers curling around his wrist, could melt his insides, bring him a measure of comfort, of security. It amazed him. Where certain memories always triggered him to go blank inside, to insulate himself so he could face them without flinching, without the beast roaring in rage, that little hand now tempered his fire and fury. He absently traced a safeguard pattern into her palm, hardly aware he was doing so. Even his subconscious wanted to ensure that she was always safe.

The touch of Gregori's fingers sent darts of fire racing through Savannah's bloodstream. Her teeth bit nervously at her lower lip. "You were saying about this reporter... what could he know for certain?" she prompted gently. She didn't want him to stop holding her hand or to stop making that strange, soothing design in the middle of her palm. She wanted the terrible memories holding him in their grip to let him go, to give him back to her. Savannah smiled up at him, her blue eyes clear and steady.

"He does not know anything for certain." A slightly wicked glint appeared in his eyes. "At least not about you."

"What did you do?" she asked softly. "Gregori, you don't have to protect me by calling attention to yourself.

We're a team, aren't we? Whatever happens to you, happens to me."

He looked away from her, out the window. His fingers tightened possessively around her hand. "That may not be so in every case," he answered carefully.

"What are you saying, Gregori? We are lifemates. One can't survive without the other. I may not know everything about lifemates, but I know that."

"That is true, ma petite, ordinarily. And ordinarily, a hunter who finds his lifemate ceases to hunt. Yet Aidan Savage must continue because he is in a land where there are few hunters. Hunters are in more danger from the undead than most Carpathians, so to keep from putting his lifemate in jeopardy, the hunter usually allows other males to take over the task. Aidan Savage does not have that luxury. "

Nor do I.

"And you? Do you intend to quit hunting?" she asked softly, already knowing the answer, already in his mind.

"You know I cannot." He said it gently, his voice soft.

"I am your lifemate, Gregori." Her voice trembled just a bit. "You may have to hunt because you're the very best we have, and our people need you. But if something were to happen to you, I would follow you."

Gregori's thumb feathered back and forth across her inner wrist, lingering on her pulse. It was rapid. "It would be dishonest of me to allow you to think I have such a noble motivation. I have hunted for so many centuries, I do not know any other way of life." His face was impassive, but inside he was holding his breath.

A small smile flirted with her perfect mouth. "If it pleases you to think so of yourself, Gregori, that's fine with me. You are arrogant enough for several males; you don't need me to feed you compliments. But perhaps I might be able to do something about teaching you another way of life. In the meantime, I suggest you educate me in the ways of vampires, since it looks as if we'll be hunting them. And you might also remember you are the greatest healer among us. That is unchallenged by anyone."

"I am the greatest killer, also unchallenged." He tried to give her truth again. She touched his hard mouth. "I will hunt with you then, lifemate."

His heart slammed against his ribs. Her smile was mysterious, secretive, and so beautiful, it broke his heart. "What is behind this smile, b§ڢ§٦quot;

His hand caught and spanned her throat, his thumb brushing her lips in a gentle caress. "What do you know that I do not?" His mind slipped into hers, a sensuous thrust, the ultimate intimacy, not unlike the way his tongue sometimes dueled with her - or his body took possession of hers.

She was familiar with his touch in her mind. She knew he tried to keep its invasiveness to a minimum. He allowed her to set the boundaries and never pushed beyond any barrier she erected, even though he could do so easily. Both of them needed the intimate union of their minds merging, Savannah as much as Gregori. And her newfound knowledge of him was secure behind a miniature barricade she had hastily erected. Wide-eyed and innocent, she looked at him.

His thumb pressed into her lower lip, half mesmerized by the satin perfection of it. "You will never hunt vampires, ma ch§ڲie, not ever. And if I were ever to catch you attempting such a thing, there would be hell to pay."

She didn't look scared. Rather, amusement crept into the deep blue of her eyes. "Surely you aren't threatening me, Dark One, bogey man of the Carpathians." She laughed softly, a sound that feathered down his spine and somehow took away the sting of that centuries-old designation. "Stop looking so serious, Gregori - you haven't lost your reputation entirely. Everyone else is still terrified of the big bad wolf."

His eyebrows shot up. She was teasing him. About his dark reputation, of all things. Her gaze was clear and sparkling, hinting at mischief. Savannah wasn't railing against her fate, of being tied to him, a monster. She was too filled with life and laughter, with joy. He felt it in her mind, in her heart, in her very soul. He wished it could somehow rub off on him, make him a more compatible lifemate for her. "You are the only one who needs to worry about the big bad wolf, mon amour, " he threatened with mock gravity.

She leaned over to stare up into his eyes, a smile curving her soft mouth. "You cracked a joke, Gregori. We're making progress. Why, we're practically friends."

"Practically?" he echoed gently.

"Getting there fast," she told him firmly with her chin up, daring him to contradict her.

"Can one be friends with a monster?" He said casually, as if he were simply musing out loud, but there was a shadow in his silver eyes.

"I was being childish, Gregori, when I made such an accusation," she said softly, her eyes meeting his squarely. "I wanted my own life, with no one to answer to. It was thoughtless and wrong of me. And I was afraid. But I'm not now, and I ask your forgiveness - "

"Do not!" he ordered sharply. "

Mon Dieu, ch§ڲie, do not ever apologize to me for your fear. I do not deserve it, and we both know it." His thumb pressed into the heated satin of her lip. "And do not try to be so brave. I am your lifemate. You cannot hide from me something as powerful as fear."

"Trepidation," she corrected, nibbling at the pad of his thumb.

"Is there a difference?" His pale eyes had warmed to molten mercury. Just that fast, her body went liquid in answer.

"You know very well there is." She laughed again, and the sound traveled down from his heart to pool in his groin, a heavy, familiar ache. "Slight, perhaps, but very important."

"I will try to make you happy, Savannah," he promised gravely.

Her fingers went up to brush at the thick mane of hair falling around his face. "You are my lifemate, Gregori. I have no doubt you will make me happy."

He had to look away, out the window into the night. She was so good, with so much beauty in her, while he was so dark, his goodness drained into the ground with the blood of all the lives he had taken while he waited for her. But now, faced with the reality of her, Gregori could not bear her to witness the blackness within him, the hideous stain across his soul.

For beyond his killing and law-breaking, he had committed the gravest crime of all. And he deserved the ultimate penalty, the forfeit of his life. He had deliberately tampered with nature. He knew he was powerful enough, knew his knowledge exceeded the boundaries of Carpathian law. He had taken Savannah's free will, manipulated the chemistry between them so that she would believe he was her true lifemate. And so she was with him - less than a quarter of a century of innocence pitted against his thousand years of hard study. Perhaps that was his punishment, he mused - being sentenced to an eternity of knowing Savannah could never really love him, never really accept his black soul. That she would be ever near yet so far away.

If she ever found out the extent of his manipulation, she would despise him. Yet he could never, ever, allow her to leave him. Not if mortals and immortals alike were to be safe. His jaw hardened, and he stared out the window, turning slightly away from her. His mind firmly left hers, not wanting to alert her to the grave crime he had committed. He could bear torture and centuries of isolation, he could bear his own great sins, but he could not endure her loathing him. Unconsciously, he took her hand in his and tightened his grip until it threatened to crush her fragile bones.

Savannah glanced at him, let out a breath slowly to keep from wincing, and kept her hand passively in his. He thought his mind closed to her. Didn't believe she was his true lifemate. He truly believed he had manipulated the outcome of their joining unfairly and that somewhere another Carpathian male with the chemistry to match hers might be waiting. Though he had offered her free access to his mind, had himself given her the power, to meld her mind with his, both as her wolf and as her healer before she was born, he likely didn't think a woman, a fledgling, and one who was not his true lifemate, could possibly have the skill to read his innermost secrets. But Savannah could. And completing the ancient ritual of lifemates had only strengthened the bond.

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