Chapter Ten


Gregori stared with dismay at the small, two-story house enclosed in wrought-iron latticework and sandwiched between two smaller, rather rundown properties in the crowded French Quarter of New Orleans. He inserted the key in the lock and turned to look at Savannah's face. It was lit up with expectation, her blue eyes shining.

"I have definitely lost all good sense," he muttered as he pushed open the door.

The interior was dark, but he could see everything easily. The room was layered with dust, old sheets covered the furniture, and the wallpaper was peeling in small curls from the walls.

"Isn't it beautiful?" Savannah flung out her hands and turned in a circle. Jumping into Gregori's arms, she hugged him tightly. "It's so perfect!"

He couldn't help himself; he kissed her inviting mouth. "Perfect for torching. Savannah, did you even look at this place before you bought it?"

She laughed and ruffled his thick mane of hair. "Don't be such a pessimist. Can't you see its potential?"

"It is a firetrap," he groused, but he was studying the heavy draperies and the narrow staircase leading both upstairs and to some lower sanctuary.

"Come with me." Savannah was already hastening toward the stairs. "Let me show you the big surprise, Gregori. This is why I bought it. It isn't just a fantastic house with a great garden."

"Garden?" he echoed. But he followed her. How could he not? She was radiating joy. He found himself just watching her, every movement she made, the way her head turned, the way her eyes danced. She was so beautiful. If she wanted a claustrophobic little house in the middle of the French Quarter, if that made her happy, he would not deny her.

The stairs, very narrow and steep, wound downward in a spiral to an unexpected basement that ran the length of the house. New Orleans was built on water-logged ground below sea level. Even the dead had to be entombed above ground. New Orleans made him edgy. There was no earth to burrow into in an emergency. No easy, natural escape. New Orleans presented problems he didn't want at this time.

Gregori peered at the basement's cement walls, its solid floor. He paced the length of the room, circled the perimeter, moved to the center, and closed his eyes. He inhaled deeply. There were shadows of others in this room, of those who had come before.

"Do you feel it?" Savannah asked softly. She placed a hand on his arm, her fingers curling halfway around his wrist.

He stared down at her small hand. He could feel that touch through his entire body. Yet her fingers couldn't even circle the thickness of his wrist. He found himself aware that she did that often, wrap her fingers around his wrist, connecting them. And that little gesture seemed to melt his heart.

Gregori forced his attention back to the present. So Savannah felt the presence, too. One who had been here before them.

Julian.

Julian Savage had lived in this house. Why? What kind of security had he established here? For Julian must have steered Savannah toward this house when he had become aware of her desire to come to New Orleans.

Gregori slipped an arm around her shoulders. "What do you know about the former owner?"

"Just that he wasn't here for long periods at a time. The real estate agent told me that the house had been in the man's family for nearly two hundred years, that it's actually one of the oldest homes in the Quarter."

"But you never actually met him?" Gregori prompted. "No," Savannah replied.

"Julian Savage was the former owner, though it is hard to imagine him ever living here. He is a loner, as untamed as the wind." He paced the room again. "If Julian gave up this sanctuary, one he had for nearly two centuries, it can mean only one thing. He is choosing the dawn." He said the words dispassionately, without expression, but inside he felt that curious tearing he was becoming so familiar with. Emotion.

Sorrow. So many of his kind gone forever. Julian was stronger than most, more knowledgeable. He hated losing Julian.

Savannah stroked his arm. "We don't know that, Gregori. Maybe he just wanted to give us a wedding present. Don't assume the worst."

Gregori tried to shake off his melancholy, but he felt he would barely be able to breathe in this crowded, closed-in neighborhood. "Other people's houses are right on top of this one," he said. "I think they could take one step and be in our living room."

"You haven't seen the courtyard yet, Gregori. The house opens up to a courtyard in the back, and it's immense and in quite good shape." Savannah began heading up the stairs, ignoring his grousing.

"I hate to think what you would call bad shape," he muttered as he followed her upstairs.

"I wonder why everything is so dusty," Savannah said. "I had the real estate people come in and clean and get things ready for our arrival."

"Do not touch anything," Gregori hissed softly, and very gently he caught her shoulders to put her behind him.

"What is it?" Instinctively she lowered her voice and looked around, trying to see if there was some danger she had been unable to sense.

"If people came and made up the bed and prepared the house for your arrival, then they would have removed the dust too."

"Maybe they're incredibly incompetent," she suggested hopefully.

Gregori glanced at her and found the hard edge of his mouth softening. She was making him want to smile all the time, even in the most serious of situations. "I am certain any company would work overtime trying to make you happy, ma petite. I know I do."

She blushed at the memory of how he did so. "So why all the dust?" she asked, deliberately distracting him.

"I think Julian left us a message. You have remained with humans so long, you see only with your eyes."

Savannah rolled her eyes at the reprimand. "And you've lived in the hills so long, you've forgotten how to have fun."

The pale eyes slid over her, wrapping her in heat. "I have my own ideas of fun, ch§ڲie.

I would be willing to show you if you like," he offered wickedly.

Her chin lifted, blue eyes challenging. "If you think you're scaring me with your big-bad-wolf routine, you're not," she said.

He could hear her heart beat. Smell her scent calling him. "Perhaps I will think of something to change that," he cautioned her. Gregori turned his attention back to the room. Dust was thick on the walls, the fireplace, the tiled floor. He hunkered down, touched the minute specks lightly, and studied the layout from all angles. His eyes glowed red in the darkened interior.

Savannah stepped backward until she was pressed against the wall. Her attention was on the man, not on what he was doing. She watched the way his body moved, the rippling of his muscles beneath the thin silk shirt, the fluid way he seemed to flow from one area to the other. The way he tilted his head, the way he raked a hand impatiently through his thick mane of hair. He was of another world. Elegant. Dangerous. Deadly. Yet when he turned his head and his perfect mouth smiled at her, he looked sensual instead of cruel. His eyes were cold and lethal, seeing everything, missing nothing, but when he turned his gaze on her, the cold steel warmed to molten mercury. Hot. Exciting. Sexy. Almost sinful.

She blinked to bring the room back into focus. There was a subtle change. The dust seemed to shift position under Gregori's hand. He moved his arm gracefully, as if he was conducting an orchestra, and patterns began to emerge on the walls and on the floor. Lines shimmered into ancient letters and symbols. Once Gregori unlocked the secret, the hieroglyphics took shape rapidly, fashioned with the dust particles.

"This is beautiful. It's in the ancient language, isn't it?" Savannah said softly in awe. She moved in a small semi-circle, not wanting to disturb the air. "How did you know to bring it to life?"

"The way the dust had settled was all too arranged. It lay in a design waiting for us. It is an art few are aware of. I had no idea Julian knew it." Gregori sounded pleased. "Your father is quite good at this, but I have seen few others who have mastered it."

"Is my father good at everything?"

Gregori glanced up at the odd note in her voice. "He is the Prince of our people. The oldest of our kind. Yes, he is good at everything he does."

Unlike her, Savannah thought. "And you've known him all your life."

Gregori turned the power of his silver eyes directly on her face. "Your father and I have lived over a thousand years, b§ڢ§ٮ

Why would you think you should have the knowledge of the ancients? You are a beautiful, intelligent fledgling, and you learn quickly."

"Maybe I can never live as you want me to. Maybe I was born too late." There was an ache in her voice, betraying her lack of confidence in herself. The silver stars in the centers of her eyes deepened the blue to a vivid violet. Her anxiety was easy to read.

He went to her immediately and framed her face with his hands. "You have a lifetime to learn the things your father and I have learned. It took us a lifetime. We had none of your responsibilities at such an early age. We were able to wander the world, to live freely. We had no overbearing, dominating lifemate we had to live with." His thumbs caressed her delicate jaw. "Do not, ch§ڲie, ever think you cannot measure up to my expectations."

"You might get tired of teaching me things."

His hand spanned the slim column of her throat so that her pulse was beating into the center of his palm. "Never. It will never happen. And I have much to learn from you. There has been no laughter in my life. You have brought that to me. There are many things you have brought to my life - feelings and emotions I could never experience without you." He bent to brush her mouth with his. "Can you not feel that I speak the truth?"

Savannah closed her eyes as his mouth took possession of hers, as his mind merged firmly with hers. There was such an intimacy in sharing his thoughts and feelings. Gregori was intense in his hunger and need. There were no doubts in him, no hesitation. He knew they would always be together; he would accept nothing else. If something ever changed that, he would choose to follow her into the dawn.

Gregori released her slowly, almost reluctantly. She stood very still, looking up at him, her blue eyes studying his face. "We can do this, Savannah," he encouraged her softly. "Do not get frightened and try to run from your fate. Stay with me and fight."

A small smile touched her mouth. "

Fate.

Interesting word to use. You make it sound like I've been sentenced to prison." She took a deep breath and made herself relax. "You're bad, but not quite that bad," she teased him.

His white teeth gleamed, his predator's smile. "I am very bad, ma petite.

Do not forget that if you wish to be safe."

She shrugged casually, but her heart leapt in response. "Safety is not a concept I strictly adhere to," she answered, her chin up.

"That is a double-edged sword for me."

Savannah burst out laughing, her natural sense of humor bubbling up. "You bet it is. I don't intend to make things easy for you. You've had your way for far too long. Now teach me how to do this. It's fascinating." She waved an arm to encompass the shimmering script.

Gregori caught her arm to hold her still. "To release the pattern to our eyes is very simple. First study the pattern, then simply reverse it. Hand movements spread the molecules in the first place. Disturbing the air in reverse brings the designs back to where they were originally placed."

"Who taught you such a thing?"

"Many arts have been lost through the ages. Buddhist monks in Tibet had this one at one time to communicate without others knowing. We are one with the earth, with the air, with space. To command and move it is not so difficult." His hands began moving again, and Savannah was fascinated with the beauty and grace of his rhythm. "Do you know the ancient language? Read it? Write it? Speak it?" he asked her.

"A few words only. My mother was just trying to learn it from my father when I left for America. I never had a chance to learn."

"One more thing for me to teach you, ch§ڲie, and we both will enjoy the experience." His silver eyes were eloquent.

"I can speak the healing chant. I think I was born knowing it. My father drilled it into my mother all the time."

Gregori was moving carefully throughout the room. "The chant is as old as time, as old as our race, and very effective. It is imprinted on us before our birth and has saved many lives. Your mother had to learn it quickly, as every voice is needed." His voice was a whisper, as if his very breath might disturb the ancient message shimmering in the air.

Savannah loved the sound of his voice, the black velvet that slid into her mind, into her heart. "What does it say?" Her voice was as soft as his.

"It is from Julian," he said. "He has brought justice to two vampires that had recently taken up residence in this town, so that you would not be in any danger."

"See? There's no danger at all. We can enjoy the festival." She smiled brightly. "That is not all he had to say." His voice was neutral.

Savannah's smile faded abruptly. "Somehow I knew you were going to say that. It looks like a lot of work for a simple sentence or two. Over by the window there it looks as if he left us a map."

"He has several safe places scattered around the city, even in the bayou, to ensure our safety. Below, in the basement chamber, is a secret place we can escape to if need be. He left a present for us."

She watched his face, her eyes on his. "And?" she prompted softly.

"There are members of the human vampire-hunting society here. Morrison's name has cropped up again. Apparently, Julian stumbled on evidence of the group some time ago. They set up shop here in New Orleans because so many rumors of vampires persist. They believe there must be activity here to warrant their interest. Julian has given me some places to start looking. Names. Businesses. A local hangout where the members try to get information."

Savannah let her breath out slowly. "Well, so much for the jazz festival. We wanted them to follow us, but instead we walked into the lion's den. I must have a gift for attracting these weirdos."

"You probably do," Gregori said seriously. "It can be an asset as well as a curse. Your mother was a human psychic. Perhaps she passed on something of her gift to you."

Savannah stood in the center of her house, her long lashes concealing her expression. Gregori made his way back to her. She looked small and vulnerable next to his powerful frame. He tucked a stray strand of her blue-black hair behind her ear. "Savannah," he breathed, "do not look so upset. We wanted them to come after us, did we not? This is not the end of the world. We can still enjoy the jazz festival while we are here."

Savannah shook her head. "Let's just go, Gregori. It sounded good at the time, but now I don't like the idea quite so much."

Gregori regarded her set features for a long moment, examining her pale face. The hard edge to his mouth softened. The silver eyes lost their remote coolness, warming to molten mercury. There was a curious shifting in the region of his heart. "You are trying to protect me again, Savannah." He shook his head. There was no smile on his face, but it was in his heart all the same. No one had ever thought to shield him; no one had ever considered the danger he was in as a hunter. Yet now, this small, fragile woman with her enormous eyes was wrapping herself so tightly around his heart because she genuinely wanted his safety. "I do not need protection from these people. They must be dealt with. If it has to be on their ground, so be it. Julian has provided me with enough information that I am not walking into this thing blind."

"They already suspect us, Gregori, because Wade Carter told them he was bringing a specimen. And they passed that information on to this Morrison person. They'll be looking for us. For you."

"Then we can do no other than oblige them. I will work on an antidote for their poison. I do not want to chance your being injected without first protecting you."

"Our basement is the perfect place for a Boris Karloff-type laboratory." Her quick smile was already lighting up her eyes. She could take his breath away with that smile.

Gregori lifted a hand and made a small movement to disperse the dust particles. A breeze started, slow and easy, but built into a whirlwind that raced through the building. By the time the wind had died down, there was nothing left of the shimmering message Julian had left them, the room was clean, and the peeling wallpaper was smooth once again. "Come with me, Savannah. We will see what else Julian left for us." He held out a hand to her.

She laced her fingers through his and followed him down the spiral stairs. She did not want to imagine why Julian would give up a house he had had for two hundred years. It couldn't be that he was giving up his life. What if his own twin could not talk him out of it? She swallowed hard, remembering how close she had come to losing Gregori. Where was Julian's lifemate? Did she exist? There were so few women for their men.

"I want you to stay right here by the stairs while I study the room." Gregori made it an order. It was wrapped up in his mesmerizing voice, but it was an order all the same.

"If Julian left us a present, Gregori, there's no need to worry that it would be some kind of trap," she pointed out, slightly annoyed.

He lifted his head, the silver eyes slashing at her. "You are altogether too trusting, b§ڢ§ٮ

You should have learned long ago to use your own senses, never to rely on another. That is the way our race has survived."

"We have to trust each other, Gregori," she protested.

"We are often forced to hunt our own brothers. That is why most males choose not to share blood, even to save lives. It makes them easier to track if and when they turn vampire. Also, remember that vampires are known to be the best deceivers in the world. No, ch§ڲie, we do not trust any other male without a lifemate."

"What a terrible way you have had to live," she said softly.

"Exist," he corrected. "It is not living to be isolated from and shunned by your own race even while they need you desperately. I shared my blood when necessary, but few were willing to exchange with me."

As always, she could detect no self-pity, no emotion whatsoever. Gregori accepted his way of life. He would never trust anyone all the way. Her teeth tugged at her lower lip. Did that include her? Was a part of Gregori always going to be held away from her? She was so young and inexperienced. She wished she was an ancient woman in full power so she could aid him as he deserved.

He glided through the underground chamber, never touching the floor. Gregori examined every inch of the walls. There are two entrances, one leading to a separate chamber hidden in the thickness of the walls, and the other a tunnel constructed with pipe and cement to keep out the water. "The tunnel most likely leads to the outside."

"A bolt hole," she said. "The courtyard?"

He shook his head. "I doubt it, Savannah. Julian would want to head away from the property and people." It seemed inconceivable to him that Julian would want to be in the city to begin with. The Julian Savage he knew was as solitary as he was. He preferred the high places, the mountains. Solitude.

"So is it booby-trapped?" she asked with a hint of sarcasm.

"I almost wish it was," he said, trying to maintain a straight face. "I do not think I will live it down that you are right in this instance." When she raised her eyebrows and waggled them at him, he gave her satisfaction. "No, it is not." He passed a hand over the smooth wall nearest the courtyard.

A hidden door slid open noiselessly to reveal a chamber large enough for two people to lie in. The interior was beautifully carved with ancient inscriptions. Julian Savage was clearly an artist, the etchings soothing and appealing to the eye. Savannah knew little of the language, but she could tell that what had been wrought was a safeguard of some kind, with healing symbols woven in. The entire effect was one of peace and sanctuary.

Gregori was staring at it, his face impassive but his eyes warm. The real surprise lay beneath a white sheet. Gregori lifted a hand, and the sheet rolled aside.

Savannah's breath caught in her throat, and she stared in astonishment at the richness of the treasure. Soil, lush and dark. The soil from their homeland. The chamber was filled with it, a good six or seven feet deep. Gregori plunged his fingers into the earth. The coolness washed over him, welcomed him. Savannah's hands, too, sank deeply into the earth. It had been five long years since she felt the richness of their soil, felt its healing properties. It whispered to them of comfort, of peace.

"How did he do this?" Savannah smiled up at Gregori, pleased her house had such secrets.

His arm circled her shoulders. "Great patience." A faint smile softened his mouth. "Remember the caskets sent over from Europe when New Orleans was wracked with yellow fever and death? It was rumored for years that they contained vampires, but many obviously contained simply soil from our homeland. Clever of Julian to manage it."

"I wonder how often he stayed here," Savannah ventured softly, letting the soil slide through her fingers. What she really wondered was how much of New Orleans history Julian Savage had been involved in. Humans had long believed that the legendary vampires of their imaginings were rampant in New Orleans. Had Julian's activities over the past two centuries fueled those rumors? "Do you think that human society headquartered themselves here to hunt him?" she asked.

"That society is becoming a pain in the neck. I need to get word to Mikhail that we did not stamp them out as we thought we had. They seem to be back and stronger than ever. Every thirty years or so they crop up to give us problems."

"Julian must have only discovered them quite recently or he would have told you about them when he was reporting in to you about me." There was a bite to her voice. She was still annoyed that Gregori had had someone watching her. Even more than that, she was annoyed with herself for not sensing another of her kind.

"Julian never exactly reported in to me," Gregori said dryly. "He is not the kind of man to answer to anyone. Julian is like the wind, the wolves. Totally free. He goes his own way. He watched over you, but he did not send me reports. That is not his way."

"He sounds interesting," Savannah murmured.

Instantly Gregori could feel his muscles tighten. That black, nameless rage that made him so dangerous boiled in his gut. He would always live with the fear that he had stolen Savannah from another. That some other Carpathian male held the secret to her heart. That he had condemned another to death or, worse, to becoming the undead, because he had stolen Savannah. Since Gregori had manipulated the outcome of their joining, perhaps there was some other whose chemistry matched hers perfectly. His silver eyes were cold and lethal, small red flames leaping in their depths. "You do not need to find Savage interesting. I would never give you up, Savannah."

"Don't be an idiot, Gregori," she said impatiently. "As if I'd even want some other beast just out of the cave when I've almost got you trained." She held out a hand. "Come on, you have to see the courtyard."

His larger hand swallowed hers. She always seemed to know what to say or do to ease the terrible weight crushing his chest. Though he often wanted to shake her, to kiss her into submission, he also wanted her to be as sassy as she was right at that moment. She was turning his world upside down.

He followed her upstairs, helpless to do anything else. Thick double doors opened onto the courtyard. Savannah was right. It was impressive. The garden was bigger than the house itself. Plants grew everywhere, a wild collage of green lace and bright blooms. Spanish tile covered the ground in a patchwork patio. Benches and chairs were scattered among the plants and trees, shaded from the sun. Long lounges were arranged in the open, beneath the stars and moon.

Bats dipped and wheeled, feasting on insects in the air. Fragrance from the flowers muted the oppressive pollution from the narrow streets, but nothing could drown out the noise. Music from all directions clashed with the clatter of horse hooves on cobblestones, car horns blaring, and voices raised in laughter, in merriment.

Gregori sorted out the sounds, listened to snippets of conversation, and got a feel for the rhythm of the neighborhood. It would take a few days for him to become comfortable in this environment. He would have liked a chance to explore it on his own beforehand to ensure Savannah's safety. "We need to take a walk," he said abruptly. "I want to see all the entrances and exits, get to know the faces and voices that belong here."

Savannah pushed open the iron gate and stepped out onto the street. A young couple standing on the porch next door stared at them curiously. Savannah sent them a smile and waved happily. The woman raised an arm in answer.

Do not act so friendly, Savannah. You are a celebrity. We will have enough attention drawn to us. They are our neighbors. Try not to scare them to death, will you?

Savannah took his arm, grinning up at him teasingly. "You look as fierce as a member of the Mafia. No wonder our neighbors are staring. People tend to be curious. Wouldn't you be if someone moved in next door to you?"

"I don't abide next-door neighbors. When humans consider building in the vicinity of one of my homes, the neighborhood is suddenly inundated with wolves. It works every time." He sounded menacing.

Savannah laughed at him. "You're such a baby, Gregori. Scared of a little company."

"You scare me to death, woman. Because of you I find myself doing things I know are totally insane. Staying in a house built in a crowded city below sea level. Neighbors on top of us. Human butchers surrounding us."

"Like I'm supposed to believe that would scare you," she said smugly, knowing his only worry was for her safety, not his. They turned a corner and headed toward the famous Bourbon Street.

"Try to look less conspicuous," he instructed.

A dog barked, rushed to the end of its lead, and bared its teeth. Gregori turned his head and hissed, exposing white fangs. The dog stopped its aggression instantly, yelped in alarm, and retreated whining.

"What are you doing?" Savannah demanded, outraged.

"Getting a feel for the place," he said absently, his mind clearly on other matters, his senses tuned to the world around him. "Everyone is crazy here, Savannah. You are going to fit right in." He ruffled her hair affectionately.

She stopped abruptly, her smile fading, her hand slipping from his arm. Gregori's head went up alertly, automatically scanning the area for enemies. "What is it?"

Savannah did an about-face and turned the corner, walking slowly up the street.

Savannah, you will answer me. What is it you sense that I do not?

Gregori caught at her arm, physically stopping her. His fingers shackled her wrist, his body all at once close and protective.

Answer me, or I will force you to go back to the house. Shh. I'm trying to concentrate. I've never really done this before.

Even in her mind she was very distracted.

Gregori merged with her so that he could feel her thoughts, know whatever it was that she was feeling. It was a compulsion of sorts, not one their race commonly used, a drawing toward some place. Of power? He tried to tune it in. Not power. To evil. Something very evil.

Once more his hand tightened on her wrist and brought her to a halt. There were several homes on the street, but farther down the block the residences gave way to stores. One was a voodoo shop. He concentrated on that, listening intently to the conversation between a tourist and one who worked inside. There was a suggestion of power, of magic, but certainly not the taint of evil.

Two buildings down from the voodoo shop.

Savannah's voice brushed at his mind.

It is not on Julian 's list, Gregori answered, but he believed her. He felt it through her. Raven Dubrinsky had obviously passed on her psychic talents to her daughter.

They linked hands and strolled casually along the street, seemingly enjoying the night air, mingling with the tourists and those who made their homes there. The majority of the revelers were in the heart of the Quarter, along Bourbon Street, farther down, lining up to get into Preservation Hall. Savannah and Gregori moved along the narrow walkway, pausing to allow a horse-drawn carriage to pass. The occupants of the conveyance were laughing and listening to the sing-song voice of their guide describing points of interest with a few local myths thrown in.

Two young men drinking beer on the steps of a closed bookstore across the street fixed their eyes on Savannah. Even from that distance Gregori could see their instant fixation, the obsession she so easily produced in men. It was in the way she moved, her flowing hair and enormous eyes, her aura, at once innocent and sexy. There was no hope that they would not recognize her. She embodied magic and fantasy.

Gregori sighed heavily, his gut tightening. She was going to drive him crazy and maybe get some innocent drunk killed. The two men had risen, whispering excitedly, working up their courage to approach her. He could hear them pumping each other up. He fixed his silver eyes on them and concentrated briefly. He wiped their thoughts away and planted in them an urgency to leave the area immediately.

"Do me a favor, ch§ڲie. Try to look plain and uninteresting."

Savannah laughed softly in spite of her growing sense of dread. "Get over it already," she suggested.

"You are more than disrespectful, woman. I cannot remember a single time in my existence when anyone spoke to me as you do."

She rubbed her cheek along his shoulder in a small caress. Gregori's breath seemed to still in his throat.

"That's why I do it. You need someone to give you a little trouble." Her teasing tone slid over him, into him, the tiny threads that tied them together multiplying every moment.

"I would not mind a little trouble. You are big trouble."

They were in front of the building Savannah had mentally pinpointed as the source of the disturbing emanations. It was closed, the windows dark. Gregori could feel movement inside, sense the presence of several men within the walls.

Savannah clutched at him, her eyes filling with tears. "Something horrible is happening in there, Gregori. There is - " She broke off as his hands closed like a vise around her upper arms.

Gregori gave her a little shake. "Hang on, ma petite. I know exactly what is going on. She is not one of us."

"I know that. I'm not entirely incompetent." There was a mixture of anger and tears in her voice. "She's human, but they think she's vampire. Gregori, she's just a child. You can't let them harm her. I can feel her pain."

"She is older than you, b§ڢ§٬ and she parades around in a black cloak with her incisors cosmetically altered. She put herself in the hands of these madmen through her own stupidity." Gregori sounded disgusted.

"She doesn't deserve to be tortured because she likes to play at being a vampire. Let's get her out." Savannah's blue eyes flashed fire at him. "We both know you're going to save her, so quit grousing, and let's get to it."

"I will not allow such a thing, Savannah," he said softly. His voice was a beautiful blend of iron in a velvet glove. "Do not try my patience too far, ma petite. I assure you, there is no chance of your winning a battle between us."

"Shut up," she snapped rudely, exasperated with his domineering ways. "I know you're not going to leave the girl in there. I can feel her terror, Gregori, and it's making me sick."

"I knew you were going to be trouble the moment I laid eyes on you," he said softly. "I will not risk your safety for some woman who masquerades as a vampire. She chooses to pretend she is like them. I intend to help her, but not with you alone on the street."

Her breath hissed through her teeth. "I am at full strength, Gregori. I can be invisible should I choose to walk among the humans unseen. I don't need to cower in my house because you're afraid for me." Her chin lifted at him belligerently. "I am the daughter of the Prince. I can manage to do a few things others of our kind can do."

His hand caught and spanned her throat. "I will do almost anything for you, Savannah, but how I must complete this task is distasteful." He found himself explaining, as she had requested, when his every aggressive male instinct told him to simply force his will on her. He could not bear for her to believe he thought so little of her abilities. "I do not want you to witness the depravity in these men's minds, nor do I wish you to witness the wind of death whirling through their midst. You cannot have it both ways. You want me to save this woman. I will do so. But not within your sight. Go home and wait for me there."

Savannah shook her head. "When will you get it through your thick skull that I'm your true lifemate? Me. Savannah Dubrinsky, daughter of the Prince. We shared our minds from before my birth. You can't hide from me what you are, who you are. Even in the midst of blood and death, even with the beast at work, I will always see your true self."

"Do as I command you. And know this. If for any reason you choose to disobey my orders, you will be putting the woman's life in jeopardy. I will always see to your safety first. That means if I am distracted by your defiance, I will see to your obedience."

"You are the most stubborn Carpathian male alive," she said, exasperated, but she caught his head between her hands and dragged him down to capture his mouth with hers. "Be safe, lifemate. That is my command to you. Be certain you do not disobey my order."

She turned and glided away, back the way they had come, without so much as a glance over her shoulder. Her hips swayed gently, erotically. The rising wind played with her long hair. Gregori watched her, unable to tear his gaze away.

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