Chapter Twelve


Julian Savage was a great hunter, perhaps second only to himself. If Julian had kept a residence here and had not destroyed the master vampire, it could only mean the vampire left whenever Julian returned to town. The master vampire obviously sacrificed others of his kind without a qualm. Vampires often ran together for strength against the hunter, but there was no bond of loyalty to hold them together.

Gregori waited among the trees along the riverbank. He could hear the dull, zombie-like growls of the two attackers as they made their way through the water after him. Their boat was powered by an engine that sputtered and whined loudly, but they made no attempt to hide their presence. It was typical of the ghoul, the unswerving dedication to carry out the vampire's orders. They had no other purpose, no other life. They were ghouls, servants, puppets, once human but now needing the vampire's tainted blood to continue existing, sleeping in sewers and shallow graves to escape the deadly sun. Vampires usually killed the victims they fed on, but sometimes, when they needed servants to perform tasks for them in daylight, they shared their tainted blood, binding the victims to them, robbing them of their mind and soul.

But these puppets were still very dangerous. They were enormously strong, cunning, and difficult for the ordinary Carpathian male to kill. Nearly impossible for humans. He winced, imagining Savannah trapped by these two abominations. She was a fledgling, incapable of killing these creatures. Maybe he should have killed them from a distance - Gregori had long ago learned every art of killing in his world and that of the humans - but he wanted to ensure that no others were caught in their battle. And he wanted the vampire who had sent them to understand he was picking up the gauntlet.

The boat had jammed in some tree roots thrusting up out of the dark, murky waters. Gregori made no attempt to hide from the zombies. He waited, his body relaxed, the fog curling around his legs. The light mist fanned his face and spread like a fine blanket across the night.

The two puppets awkwardly climbed from the boat, splashing water in all directions. Gregori inhaled, felt the sudden disturbance in the air. The vampire thought his trap was sprung. All Carpathians could detect one another when they were within a certain range. The vampire must have known the moment Savannah had entered his domain, but he had not detected Gregori's presence. Gregori walked among his own people unseen when he wished it. Cloaking himself had become as natural to him as breathing. The vampire, who had run from Julian, clearly thought he was dealing with a lesser Carpathian. A novice.

The two huge ghouls were clumsily making their way up the embankment. Twice the red-haired man fell into the water, sending droplets spraying while he tried to regain his footing. The two zombies separated, moving in from either side.

Know this, evil one.

Gregori sent out the strong mental call. He felt the sudden hesitation in the air as the vampire became aware that the heavy fog, the unusual mist, and the boiling clouds were not a natural phenomenon. The vampire held back, worried. The elements were perfectly recreated and few could produce such a work of art.

You have issued your challenge to me, and I have accepted. Come to me.

Gregori's voice was low and mesmerizing. Beautiful. There was no other like it. And none could resist when he chose to wield its deadly power.

The vampire fought the compulsion, the hypnotic order, but his frame wavered out in the fog above the water. His face was a twisted, evil mask, eyes glowing red, receding gums revealing jagged, sharp teeth. Talons curled on his hands, razor-like and wicked looking. He hissed venom, frightened and furious that one could call such as he forth against his will. There was nowhere to hide from the voice; it whispered, and he was forced to emerge fully into solid form, unable to continue an illusion.

For centuries he had been a bloated spider, weaving his evil web, keeping a low profile and running when it was necessary. "Gregori, I cannot believe one such as you would choose to hunt so meager an opponent as myself," he said, fawning and simpering as if they were old friends.

"Are you calling yourself Morrison these days?" Gregori's pale eyes shifted to the zombie on his left, inching closer, his every moment carefully orchestrated by the vampire. "When we were young, you were Rafael. You disappeared some four hundred years ago."

The jagged teeth, stained brown from centuries of consuming human, adrenaline-based blood, flashed in a grotesque parody of a smile. "I went to ground for nearly a century. When I rose, the world was much changed. You were the Prince's sanctioned killer, feeding on our kind. I left our homeland, driven out by your fever, by your own bloodlust. This is my sanctuary now, my home. I have not asked for more. Why do you come here uninvited to plague me?"

Gregori began to focus on the air itself, to build the charge he needed, gathering it into a ball of crackling, fiery energy just out of sight in the cauldron of clouds. "You do not own this city, Rafael, nor can you dictate to me where I can and cannot go. You put your servants on Savannah's trail. You knew she was my lifemate, yet you deliberately sought her. I can think of no other reason than you wished your centuries of depravity over. You were seeking the dark justice of our people."

The first ghoul lunged at him, bellowing loudly, his movements lumbering. Gregori simply vanished, one sharp nail raking the tainted neck, severing the jugular. The ghoul howled and spun in circles, the spray of red droplets shining black in the night. The noise continued, high-pitched and shrill, echoing across the water, startling wildlife and fowl. Snakes, disturbed by the commotion, plopped from the trees into the water. Far off, in the bayou, alligators slithered down the embankment to slide silently into the murky depths. The screams continued as the vampire's puppet spun this way and that, looking for his intended victim.

Gregori watched dispassionately from where he stood a few yards from the pathetic creature. "Finish him off, Rafael. You created him; you can allow him the dignity of death."

The vampire was feasting his eyes on the spray of blood, saliva dripping down his chin in anticipation. Casually he reached out and caught some of the gushing blood in his palm and licked at it greedily. The creature crawled to him, begging and pleading, imploring the vampire to spare his life. Rafael kicked the creature away from him. The body, still thrashing hopelessly, landed in deeper water and began to sink.

Swearing to himself, Gregori lifted his hand and directed the ball of fire into the man's body. A ghoul could rise again and again and be used by its creator if not properly disposed of. This one would terrify those who lived along the river if Gregori didn't cremate him, rendering him useless to the vampire.

Rafael leapt back, horrified at the sight of the orange ball of flame that passed directly through his work of art and instantly exploded the body into a burning conflagration. He hissed, his head undulating like that of the reptile he was.

Gregori regarded him coolly. "I was mistaken. You are not the master. You are one of his expendable minions, a lower slave to fawn at his knees and curry favor. You cannot be Morrison."

The vampire's eyes glowed red hot, and his lips drew back in a snarl. "You think to ridicule me? You believe the one called Morrison is more powerful than me? I made Morrison. He is my servant."

Gregori laughed softly. "Do not attempt to masquerade as one of the ancients, Rafael. As I recall, even as a student you put no effort into learning the necessary guards to keep you safe." He tipped his head to one side. "This was your idea, not Morrison's, correct? You provoked me by sending that ridiculous excuse for a vampire, Roberto, after Savannah, and you put Wade Carter on her trail. The one they call Morrison now is too smart for that. He would want no part of challenging me."

The vampire's eyes glowed with hot fury. His hiss was venomous, his head undulating faster, an enthralling rhythm used to hypnotize a victim. "Morrison is a fool. He is no master." It was difficult to understand the words with the vampire growling and hissing as he said them. Saliva, tainted with his corrupt blood, spewed from his mouth and dribbled down his chin onto the front of his once elegant, faded white silk shirt.

Gregori shook his head slowly. "You wanted me to hunt Morrison. You were using Savannah to draw me out to rid you of your master."

The second ghoul struck from behind, creeping in a stealthy manner up to Gregori, then swinging a huge tree branch at the back of his head. At the last possible second, Gregori spun around, his arm shattering the thick limb, so that splinters and twigs showered down to the muddy banks of the river. He continued on with his smooth motion, a powerful ballet dancer, fluid and strong, his claws ripping out the exposed throat, nearly decapitating the vampire's servant with his casual strength.

The vampire erupted in a howl of rage that carried like thunder through the thick fog. The mist was dense, the tendrils of fog winding tighter and tighter around legs and waists, moving higher to trail in a loose coil around their chests. It seemed almost alive, living and breathing like a crouching beast, gaining strength as it moved.

Gregori smiled pleasantly at the vampire, taking care to step far away from the body now flopping helplessly in the mud. "You are like a peacock, Rafael, raising your feathers and strutting. You must have had centuries to build such a hatred against Morrison." His voice was beautiful, seeping into the vampire's body, turning the strength, built on the deaths of so many others, to water. That voice whispered of power. Real power. Invincible. Merciless. Relentless. "Morrison is the one who allowed you to survive the hunters, sending you from the city. It has been the way he has survived the hunters, leaving when they arrive in the vicinity he occupies."

"Running," Rafael said contemptuously. "He runs even when we are strong. We should own this city. Together we should drive off and kill any hunter who dares to come here. But he runs like the rabbit he is. I despise his weakness."

Gregori pointed to the thrashing ghoul, and a bolt of lightning slammed from the cloud to the ground, driving through the very heart of the puppet and leaving behind only blackened, useless ashes.

"You think you are so powerful," Rafael snickered. "I have killed so many, you are nothing. Nothing compared to one such as me."

Gregori's silver eyes glittered, pale and cold in the black night. Red flames flickered through the silver. He seemed to grow in power and stature. "I am the wind heralding death, the instrument of justice sent by our Prince to carry out the sentence pronounced on you by our people for your crimes against mortals and immortals alike." His voice was purity, beauty, the tones painful to the vampire, like spikes being driven through his head. Yet he had no choice; unwillingly he moved closer, needing to hear the sound of such purity and beauty again.

As the vampire took an involuntary step forward, something tightened around his calves, his thighs, then reached higher to coil around his chest, squeezing slowly. The pressure was steady, relentless. In horror, the vampire looked down to see the tails of fog moving, alive, like a huge, thick python, sliding in an ever-tightening ring to imprison his body. "Fight me!" Rafael screamed, spraying blood and saliva into the mud and water. "You are afraid to fight me."

"I am justice," Gregori said softly, his voice implacable in its resolve. "There can be no fight, no battle, as there can be only one outcome. Mental or physical bout, or simply a match of our wits, there can be only one end. I am justice. That is all."

A rush of wind, and the vampire never saw the Dark One move. The speed was so incredible, the vampire could not follow the blur of motion. But the vampire felt the impact. Hard. The jolt shook his entire body. He stood there, locked in the strange fog's embrace, looking down at the hunter's outstretched hand. Lying in the palm was his own pulsating heart. The vampire threw back his head and howled in rage and horror. The black empty void that was his long-lost soul was gone, rising with his foul stench into the night air like smoke. His teeth snapped and gnashed at the impassive hunter.

Gregori stood his ground, his mind carefully blank. This was his life. His reason for existing. He was the dark justice necessary for his people to survive, to continue their existence in secrecy. He stood there in the night, utterly, completely alone.

Gregori, I am with you always. You are never alone. Look for me in your heart, in your mind, in your very soul. Look at your hero now. See what I really am. I kill without thought. Without effort. Without remorse. Without mercy. I am the monster you named me, and I am without equal. Someday I will pay the ultimate price.

Savannah's soft laughter whispered over his skin. It was a gentle, cleansing breeze drifting through his mind.

And who is stronger than my lifemate? No one can kill you. You think death is the ultimate price? No, Savannah. Someday you will know what I am, and you will look at me in horror and revulsion. When that day comes, I will cease to exist.

Gregori watched the vampire begin to fall. He moved then to complete the distasteful task of ensuring that the nosferatu could not rise again. Fiery sparks rained from the sky, the size of golf balls, striking the vampire, coating him in flames. On the muddy bank, at a distance from the burning body, Gregori incinerated the evil one's heart.

It is done, lifemate. Come home to me.

Savannah's voice was low and compelling, soft, seductive, not in the least concerned with his insistence that she see that he was a killer. That he would always be a killer.

This is where you belong. Not alone, never alone. Can't you feel me reaching for you? Feel me, Gregori. Feel me reaching for you. Needing you.

He could feel it, in his mind, in his heart. Her voice touched him in some secret, deep place he kept locked away even from himself. She was everything beautiful in the world, and, God help them both, he could not bring himself to give her up.

I need you, Gregori.

The whisper came again. This time there was a new urgency in it. She swamped him with her desire, with rising heat and sudden fear that he would leave her alone.

Gregori? Answer me. Don't leave me. I couldn't bear it if you did. There is no chance of such a thing, ma petite.

I am coming home.

It was the only home he had ever known, the only sanctuary he had ever had: Savannah. She whispered to him, soft and sensuous, a dream of his for so long that she was a part of his soul. She whispered to him of unconditional, total acceptance. He launched himself skyward, his body dissolving into the mist, to become part of the moving fog he had manufactured.

Yet a kind of fury seethed in him, raged, consumed him. He had created this impossible situation with Savannah by his tampering with nature. He knew it could not continue. He was more than unstable in this state. She had to know the truth. What had he been thinking? That he could hide it from her and the rest of the Carpathian people for centuries? She was becoming stronger every day. She needed the closeness of a mind meld with him, and he could do no other than allow it.

Gregori had been so certain he could keep part of himself away from her for his own selfish purposes, but her happiness was now of the utmost importance to him. She needed to know the truth, that he was not her true lifemate. He would clean up the society of human butchers, hunt the master vampire, and then choose to meet the dawn. He had no choice. Savannah deserved to be complete.

Scanning automatically some distance from the house, Gregori was already aware of Gary's presence in one of the upstairs bedrooms. The man was under Savannah's hypnotic suggestion to sleep. Gregori could tell she had secured him for the night, but he reinforced the command with one of his own. His safeguards were deadly. If Gary woke before they rose and came looking for them out of curiosity, he would die. He reached through the layers of sleep and penetrated the man's mind.

You will remain as you are until I awaken you. If something goes wrong and you awaken early, you will not try to find us. You would die. I would be unable to save you.

That was not strictly true - he might be able to protect the human - but he wanted to impress the danger into Gary's subconscious mind. Anyone would be curious about where they might be sleeping, and Gary more than most.

The heavy white fog nearly concealed the little house. He paused to examine Savannah's safeguards, carefully working each one backward until he had unraveled them and it was safe to enter the house. Mist streamed inside and collected in the entryway until he was once more real and solid. The house was warm and welcoming, bright and somehow beckoning. The sheets were gone from the furniture, and a fire was dying down in the screened hearth so that red embers danced low and threw shadows on the far wall.

Gregori moved immediately to the spiral staircase. He could feel her, knew unerringly the exact spot where she waited. He didn't need to scan for Savannah; his body would always find her, his mind would always know her location. He went down the stairs slowly, dreading to face her.

The basement was completely transformed. Candles were everywhere, flickering on all levels, lighting the darkened interior of the room. Shadows intertwined intimately from every corner of the room. A variety of herbs were crushed, some lit, filling the air with the scent of woods and flowers. A huge, old-fashioned bathtub stood in the center of the room, wide and deep, with clawed feet. Water shimmered invitingly, steam rising from the surface.

Savannah came to him instantly, her face lit up with some emotion he dared not name. She was in a man's silk shirt and nothing else. The buttons were open so that the edges gaped to reveal her high, full breasts, and narrow rib cage. Another step and her tiny waist and flat stomach, the triangle of tight ebony curls, showed for an intriguing moment before the long tails of the shirt brushed back into place. Her long hair cascaded loose and moved around her like living, breathing silk. With every step she took, he caught glimpses of satin skin.

At once the dull roar started in his head. Heat exploded through his blood, and his body tightened with alarming urgency. Every good and noble intention seemed to go up in flames. She smiled up at him, her slender arms sliding around his neck. "I'm so glad you're home," she whispered softly, her mouth finding the pulse in his throat. He could feel the heat of her body, her soft breasts crushed against him.

Gregori closed his eyes, summoned his iron will, and shackled her wrists in an unbreakable grip. He dragged her arms down and held her away from his raging body. "No, Savannah, I cannot keep up this deception any longer. I cannot."

Her long lashes veiled her blue-violet eyes for a moment, concealing the secrets locked in their depths. "You can't deceive me, Gregori. It is impossible. You of all Carpathians should know that." She twisted her wrists, a small feminine movement that accomplished her release instantly.

Gregori examined her skin for bruises, afraid that in his desperation he had used far too much physical strength. Savannah ignored him, her hands going to the buttons of his shirt. "If you wish to discuss this matter with me, fine, but maintaining the heat in this tub is taking energy I would rather spend otherwise." The soft amusement in her voice was as effective as her fingertips brushing the bare skin of his chest. She pushed the shirt from his broad shoulders and allowed it to float to the floor.

"Savannah." Her name was a groan for mercy. "You have to listen to me this time. I will never find the strength to make this confession again."

"Hmm," she mused, clearly distracted. Her fingers were working on the buttons of his trousers. "Of course I'll listen, but I want you in the bath. Do it for me, Gregori, after all the trouble I went to for you."

Gregori closed his eyes against the flames licking along his skin. His body raged at him, fiercely aroused. Her hands whispered over his hips as she slipped the trousers down his legs, her fingernails lightly raking his thighs. He stepped out of them, all too aware that he could not hide the demands of his body from her.

Savannah smiled that infuriating, secret smile of hers and took his hand to lead him to the tub. He stepped in and sank into the steaming waters. The sensation of heat over his skin increased his sensitivity to pleasure. Savannah stood behind him, her hands loosening the leather thong at the nape of his neck. The light, lingering touch of her hands in his hair was sending waves of fire dancing across his skin.

Savannah poured warm water over his head, soaking his hair thoroughly. She rubbed shampoo between her palms and began a slow, soothing massage of his scalp. With her fingers busy in his hair, she leaned over him, the softness of her breasts whispering against his back. "So, lifemate, what is this terrible secret that tears at you?"

It was easier to say it with her out of his sight, with the comfort of her hands on his scalp. "You are not my true lifemate. I manipulated the outcome with knowledge I had acquired over the centuries."

"I already know you believe this, Gregori," she acknowledged softly. "But I also know you are wrong." There was purity and honesty in her voice.

His throat was raw and burning. "You cannot even see what I am, Savannah. I could never hide what I am from my true lifemate. I try to show you, but you cannot see reality. You have an illusion in your mind, and nothing can replace it."

Her fingertips deepened the massage, never faltering from their purpose. "And you are supposed to be our most learned ancient. My love, you are the one with the illusion of yourself. And, I might add, of me. Yes, I'm young - compared to you, a child - but I am first a Carpathian. And I am your true lifemate." Her hands fell away, and he was instantly bereft. Warm water took their place, rinsing away the shampoo.

"I remember before I was born, a terrible pain, both my mother's and my own. You came to me when I would have chosen to free myself from the pain, and you surrounded me with your comfort."

"Savannah." He moaned her name again, covering his face with his hands. "With my will, I bound you to me."

"You gave me your blood to save my life, you healed my wounds, and you talked to me of the wonders of the night, of our world. When I was just beginning to crawl, you came to me in the form of a wolf. We shared our minds constantly, nightly. As I grew, we reached for each other and shared all that we were."

"You accept me only because I did these things."

"That is the illusion, Gregori. I have been in your mind. I see what you are, perhaps better than you do. It took me a little time to put things together, because I was afraid of our bond, how strong it was. I was afraid of losing who and what I was to a stronger personality." Her hands began to soap his back. She made small, lazy circles with the suds. "I didn't put it all together at first. My memories from before my birth and my memories of my beautiful wolf, my companion that made me so complete. I didn't think about how easily and naturally we merged our minds. I didn't think about why I never needed or wanted anyone else. It didn't come to me until I realized how completely I merged with you, slipping in and out of your mind. Neither of us noticed it. You didn't even notice it. You failed to notice that in those years of my childhood, you had a semblance of peace in the time you spent with me. But I felt it. I saw it in your mind. It is there now, for you to examine in your memories. That was why it was so hard for you when I left the Continent and ran away like the child I was. You see colors, Gregori. You have not seen them in centuries. I see how vivid and brilliant they are to you. Only your true lifemate could provide such a thing for you. Your silly guilt is blinding you to reality."

Warm water streamed down his back. Savannah moved around in front of him to kneel beside the tub. As she bent forward, her silky hair framed the perfection of her face. The shirt parted to reveal enticing glimpses of her curves. The rosy tip of one breast tempted him. He found it hard to control the direction of his gaze. She soaped his chest. "I am with you on the hunt. With you on the kill. In your mind, sharing your thoughts. No other could ever do what I do because I am the only lifemate you have. I am a shadow in your mind, so familiar to you, you do not know I am there."

She poured water over his chest, then rubbed the soap between her palms again. Tilting her head to one side, she gazed lovingly at his harshly set face. "You go perfectly blank when you hunt. I know this not because you tell me, but because I am there with you in your mind. What do you want to feel? Sadness? Remorse? You have hunted for nearly a thousand years. You have been forced to kill friends and relatives. You have been isolated and alone for years, without your lifemate. It was impossible in that barren world to feel anything, at all. Only your code and sense of honor and your loyalty to my father kept you going."

Savannah's hands searched below the surface of the water, found the thick, hard length of him, and began a slow, intimate massage. Her fingers were magic, sending waves of pleasure surging through him. "I would not want you to think of anything while you hunt, especially not of me. I would hope that would be too distracting." Her smile was frankly sexy, her hands moving with recently acquired skill. "You can't feel at such times, Gregori. It would slow you down, cause you to make a mistake. Do you really think you can change a thousand years of training? You programmed yourself centuries ago."

His body was raging at him, the beast inside writhing in need. His silver eyes opened wide to look at her. Hot. Hungry. Wild. Untamed. She smiled at him and sat back on her knees, her secret smile turning erotic. Savannah stood up and allowed the shirt to slide from her shoulders to the floor. "I'm with you in your mind, and you don't even know it, because I'm your other half, and I belong there. Who else but a true lifemate could have called you back from the darkness when it spread like a stain across your soul? You would not have answered anyone but me. Who else could go with you on a hunt, when all of your senses are on full alert, and you not be aware of it?"

His breath was audible in the stillness of the room. She moved back, her body a sensuous invitation, blue-black hair caressing her creamy skin. Gregori stood up, ignoring the water streaming off him. He wanted her, and she belonged to him. As he stepped from the tub onto the floor, she inched backward. Her eyes were half closed, desire in her mind, her body calling to his. She moved restlessly, one hand pushing at the silky fall of hair sensitizing her nipples into hard peaks.

"Come here," he growled, his body so heavy with need that he was afraid he would explode into fragments if he took one step.

She shook her head slowly, her tongue deliberately moistening her full lower lip. "I only want my true lifemate. I hunger tonight. My body is hungry." Her hand drifted slowly, enticingly, over her satin skin, and his eyes followed the graceful movement while his body raged at him.

Gregori covered the distance between them in a sudden surge, catching her up, the momentum taking them to the wall. He held her prisoner there, his mouth fastened on hers, commanding her response, feeding, devouring, his hands claiming her body for his own. "No one else will ever touch you and live," he snarled, his mouth burning a trail of fire down her throat to her breast. He fed hungrily, his teeth grazing the creamy fullness. "No other, Savannah."

"Why, Gregori? Why can no other touch my body like this?" she whispered, her mouth on his skin, her tongue lapping at his pulse. "Tell me why my body is only yours and your body is only mine."

His hands cupped her bottom, brought her hard against him. "You know why, Savannah."

"Say it, Gregori. Say it if you believe it. I won't have lies between us. You have to feel it in your heart as I do. You have to feel it in your mind. Your body has to burn for mine. But most of all, in your deepest soul, you have to know I'm your other half."

He lifted her, set her up high on the rim of the sleeping chamber, his hands parting her thighs. "I know I burn for you. Even in my sleep, the sleep of our people where there can be no thought, I burn for you." He bent his head to taste her, his wet hair bathing her inner thighs as he dragged her body closer to him.

Savannah cried out at the first touch of his mouth, the rush of hot desire turning her into a liquid, living flame. She bunched his hair into her fists and held him to her. "Say it, Gregori," she bit out between clenched teeth. "I need to hear you say it."

I am saying it, lifemate. Can you not hear me?

He didn't lift his head, wanting to feel her body pleading for his, needing to feel her press harder into him, trying to alleviate the building pressure. She tasted like wild honey and spice. Addicting. Her response was addicting, the way she moaned and writhed, pushing into his assault. She was rippling with life, with fire, and he took her higher and higher until she cried out for mercy. Only then did he lift her into his arms. "Put your legs around my waist." He slid her down his burning body until he held her poised over the hard, burning length of him.

The feel of her, moist and hot and so ready, set the jackhammers tripping in his head and his body clenching with need. Still he held her, poised at her hot, beckoning entrance so vulnerable to his invasion. "Put your mouth on my neck, Savannah," he ordered. "Drink from me as I take you."

"Hurry," she pleaded, a little catch in her voice. Almost blindly she obeyed him, her tongue caressing the pulse beating so strongly. She pushed aside his wet hair, and as he thrust upwards, stabbing into her tight, velvet sheath, her teeth pierced his skin, so that he flowed into her, body and soul and mind.

Gregori cried out hoarsely, already in ecstasy, taking his lifemate as he was meant to, without reservation, without restraint, without barriers between them. Her mind was filled with wild images, and his mind matched and inflamed hers. He didn't have to compartmentalize his thoughts or worry she would find something that would take her from him. He allowed himself to simply feel intense pleasure. Flames, arcing electricity, white-hot lightning, the friction building and building.

She had always been in his soul; this time he took her there, needing the freedom of her total acceptance, her unconditional surrender, her complete faith and trust in him. Savannah swept her tongue across his neck, closing the tiny pinpricks. She arched away from him, offering her perfect breasts to his mouth. "Now you. Feed. Take me into your body the way I take you."

She was small and light in his arms, so little compared to the size of his body, yet when he thrust into her, his hips frenzied, burying himself deep, driving as close to her soul as he could get, her body accommodated his. First he took her mouth, tasting the power of his blood from her lips. Then his teeth scraped along her throat, lower, to find the valley between her breasts.

Savannah was riding him now, her body finding a perfect rhythm with his, urgent, frenzied, her hands catching his head to force his mouth to her.

I need you.

There was such an aching plea echoing in his mind, he waited no longer. He felt his incisors sharpen, lengthen, as they sank deep into her breast.

She cried out, her body clenching around his, rippling with such intensity, with such a firestorm of pleasure that she felt her self exploding into fragments. Savannah dug her nails into his shoulders for an anchor as his hips thrust into her, wild, untamed, uninhibited. Then they were both exploding together, Gregori lifting his head to cry out hoarsely, unable to contain the savage pleasure burning inside him.

Savannah clutched at him, her head on his shoulder. He waited a heartbeat to make certain he was still on earth. Something moved between them, and he saw the thin trickle of blood running down to her stomach to drop on his own body. He bent his head and closed the pinpricks on her breast with his tongue.

"I love you, Gregori," she whispered softly against his throat. "I really love you. The real you. Do you understand?"

He waved a hand to extinguish the candles, plunging the room into complete darkness. With Savannah's body locked around his, they sank into the embrace of the waiting soil, the richness of their homeland. Instantly peace settled into their beating hearts, into the wildness of their minds.

"You are mine for all eternity, Savannah, until we grow weary of this existence and choose to go together to the next." Reluctantly, he freed his body from hers, bent his head to remove the thin trail of red marring her skin. Gregori settled her into him so that his head rested beside her breast.

Her arms crept around his damp hair, cradling him to her, the sleep of their people calling to her. He shifted her slight body so that he could drape one leg over her thighs possessively, so that his hands could shape the length of her body at will, know it was imprinted there in the soil beside his.

The chamber door slid noiselessly shut to seal them inside at his thought. The safeguards were many and all of them deadly. Anyone disturbing their rest would be in mortal peril. Gregori stroked her long hair, contented. At peace. "You are so small, ma petite, to bring such pleasure to a man." The warmth of his breath teased her nipple, and his tongue followed in a slow, leisurely caress. "I have made love to you each time I have taken you into my arms. There can be no other for either of us, Savannah."

She stirred with drowsy contentment, the slight movement bringing her breast against his mouth. Her hands stroked his hair gently. "I am not the one who worries, lifemate. I know there is no other."

His tongue made another lazy, contented curl around her creamy skin. "One who has gone centuries in utter darkness takes a long time to believe he will not lose the light. Go to sleep, Savannah, safe in my arms. Let the soil heal both of us and bring us peace, as Julian knew it would."

She was silent for a moment, but his mouth feeding at her breast was causing little aftershocks, rushes of liquid heat. "I will if you behave." There was soft laughter in her voice, an acceptance of anything he wanted.

He wanted her to sleep and silently pushed at her mind, helping her to grow more tired, but he couldn't quite give up her body yet. He spent a few minutes gently, tenderly, nuzzling her breast. She held him while she drifted in a hazy, erotic dream.

"Sleep now," he commanded softly and gave them both up to the healing soil and the rising sun.

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