The moment Gregori lowered her to her feet, Savannah sprang away from him. The single leap put the distance of the room between them. Fear was a growing, living thing, mixing with her wild nature.
Gregori could feel her heart beat, and his own tuned itself to match the pounding rhythm of hers. Her blood called to him. He drew the scent into his lungs, into his veins, so his own blood heated and surged with a fierce, burning need. He drew breath for both of them, struggling to control the raging demon in him, struggling for the calm he needed to keep from hurting her, to keep her from hurting herself.
She looked what she was, young, wild, beautiful, her eyes deep violet with fiery stars, enormous with fear. She crouched in the farthest corner from him, her every thought so chaotic that it took him a few moments to sort the whirling emotions. Grief and guilt for her lost friend. Disgust and humiliation that her body could betray her, that she wasn't strong enough to stand up to him. Fear that he could achieve his goal, make her his mate, control her life. Fear that he would hurt her with his strength, with his own burning hunger. The need to escape was paramount; she meant to fight to the death.
Gregori faced her without expression, without moving a muscle. He searched for a way to defuse the situation. He would never allow Savannah to die. He had risked everything for her. Risked his own sanity, his very soul. He would not lose everything now through clumsiness. "I am truly sorry for the loss of your friend, Savannah," Gregori said quietly, gently, his voice low, a whisper of hypnotic music.
Her eyelashes fluttered. She blinked. His words were clearly unexpected.
"I should have been there much more quickly to save him," he admitted softly. "I will not let you down again."
She moistened her lips and dragged in air. He looked invincible, merciless. He looked like a sorcerer, exuding dark temptation from every pore. His sheer sexuality was overpowering. His gentle voice and perfect calm were at odds with the touch of sensual cruelty about his mouth, the intense burning in his pale eyes, and the implacable mask he always wore.
"I am not such a monster that I would attack you while your grief and fear are so sharp. Relax, enfante.
Your lifemate may be a demon to all others, but you are safe. I want only to comfort you." He felt her tentative mind-touch, seeking the truth of his words. He rarely allowed anyone the intimacy of a mental bond. With her, the melding added to his deep physical ache, the swirling of unfamiliar emotions. But it also gave him pleasure. Intense pleasure.
All Savannah could detect was his need to offer her comfort. His mind seemed serenity itself, a clear, cool pool without a ripple. She felt her body relaxing, his mind calming the chaos of hers. Why was it Gregori she responded to? As he had said, any other male's touch had made her feel revulsion. He just had to be near her, and her mind and body cried out for him.
She rubbed her pounding head. Little hammers seemed to be having a field day in her skull. Gregori moved easily, casually to the nightstand beside the bed. Her gaze stayed glued to him, her face pale, shadows haunting her eyes. He crushed herbs into a crystal bowl, the soothing fragrance instantly filling the room.
"Come here, ma ch§ڲie." His voice was low and compelling. The sound of it washed over her like clear water. "It's almost dawn."
Her gaze shifted uncomfortably to the bed as Savannah noticed her surroundings for the first time. The room was large, spacious, old-fashioned. Candles lit the interior, making it glow softly. The bed was large, a heavy four-poster carved elaborately with roses and twining leaves. It was beautiful, gothic - and frightening. She cleared her throat and rubbed her forehead uncertainly. "I'd like my own sleeping chamber."
The pale eyes drifted over her possessively. "You will not leave my side."
"No?" All at once she was desperately weary, her head hurting, her legs trembling, and she sat down abruptly on the floor. One hand swept through her heavy blue-black hair, shoving it away from her face in an unconsciously feminine gesture. She blinked, and that fast Gregori was standing over her. She closed her eyes when he reached for her. He was strong, enormously strong, lifting her as if she was no more than a child. She buried her face against his chest, unable to summon the strength to fight him.
Gregori savored the feel of Savannah in his arms, her softness cradled against his heavy muscles, the silk of her hair brushing erotically over his skin. Pain raced through him like molten lava; hunger rose. He lay her on his bed, where she belonged. His primitive nature, the hunter, the predator in him, demanded he take her immediately, bind her irrevocably to him for all time. She belonged to him. He knew exactly what he was, a heartless demon, without Savannah sentenced to an endless, lonely existence. He had walked the earth for centuries, a powerful healer, none greater than he, but completely dead inside. He had been so alone. Always alone. Endlessly alone. But now he had Savannah. And he would destroy anyone who attempted to take her from him, anyone who threatened her.
His hand stroked back her hair, soothingly massaged her scalp. His hypnotic voice took on a low chant of healing, removing the pain from her temples, replacing it with peace. He stretched out beside her, his larger, heavier frame dwarfing hers. Instantly his body reacted to her closeness. He was on fire, his need burning in his blood, his muscles, every fiber of his body. He accepted the pain, grateful he could feel it. As he drew her into his arms, he marveled at the perfection in one so small and fragile. She was trembling so much, he could hear her teeth chatter.
"I know what I am, Savannah, a monster such as the human world cannot conceive. But I have always had honor, integrity, and a talent for healing. I can make you two promises. I will never have untruth between us, and I will protect you with my life. I have said I will not take what is mine this night. We have time to calm your fears."
She burrowed her face into his silk shirt, where she could feel the steady beat of his heart, the heat of his skin. It was impossible for him to hide his fierce arousal, and he didn't bother to try, rather fitting her body to the hard length of his. Savannah was far too drained by the evening's events to continue to struggle. She lay in his arms, exhausted, finding a measure of peace from the very one who threatened her.
"You think I'm like other Carpathian women, Gregori, but I'm not," she said softly, uncertain whether she was offering an apology or an explanation.
His mouth brushed the top of her head, the lightest of caresses; his thumb stroked the spot where Roberto had struck her. "You know what happens to the males of our species, Savannah; your father would not have neglected to educate you in something so important. You cannot run around unclaimed. There are others like Roberto, savage, dangerous, driven to madness by the lack of a lifemate."
"He was half your age. Why would he turn renegade and you not?" She turned her head to meet Gregori's pale eyes. A shiver ran through her at the lack of mercy she saw there, at the stark possession burning in the icy silver depths.
"Have you ever wondered why there are so few of us Carpathians?"
"Of course I have. Just because I don't choose to mate does not mean I don't think about the problems facing our people. Gregori, I don't want to be anyone's lifemate. There's no reason to take it personally."
Gregori smiled at her, his perfect mouth sensual and inviting. "I know you are afraid of me, Savannah."
Determined not to be drawn into an argument she could not win, she went back to a safer topic. "The reason there are so few Carpathians is because there are so few women and no female children. Even the male children rarely survive their first year." Savannah involuntarily moved closer to his warmth. He seemed so strong, making her feel oddly safe and comforted on the worst night of her life.
"What of the men? Do you truly wonder why so few survive without turning vampire?" His hand stroked her hair. "Have you ever felt alone, Savannah, truly alone?"
As a child she had lived in isolation, but her parents, devoted as they were to each other, still spoiled and adored her. Her wolf, too, had been extraordinary, filling every empty place in her life. She had never felt alone until she had put an ocean between herself and the healing soil of her homeland. Away from her parents, the wolf, and even her oppressive obligations as a Carpathian female had left her with a gaping hole in her heart. Being surrounded by people, even the affection she felt toward Peter and the members of her crew, did not alleviate the growing emptiness threatening to consume her. Unwilling to share her secrets with Gregori, however, she didn't answer.
"We males cannot survive the growing darkness without our mates, Savannah. Our nature is aggressive, predatory, possessive, even among our own kind. We are destructive and powerful, and we hunger for blood. We need a balance. Most males begin to decline after several centuries, when they no longer see color, experience no true feeling, and can rely only on the strength of their wills to keep our laws. Some choose to end their existence before it is too late, walking into the dawn, the light of day, and allowing the earth to claim them. A good many others choose to embrace the darkness, giving up their souls, preying on the human race. They abuse women and children, hunt and kill for the momentary high, for the power and rush. It cannot be allowed."
"My father and you are the oldest. How did you survive?"
"Your father and I spent our bloodlust years in the midst of wars across Europe. Our energies could be channeled into saving others from ravaging armies. The vampire hunts provided us with more opponents. Between us, we made a pact to seek the dawn before we turned completely. Your father had the responsibility for our people to keep him sane, and later he found your mother, a human with extraordinary psychic talent and so much courage and compassion that she was able to accept our life."
"What of you?"
"The best I can say of myself is that I never abused a woman or child, and that I spent centuries learning the healing arts. But I have the nature of a predator, Savannah, as do all the males of our race. Because I am centuries old, the beast is strong in me." He sighed softly. "The five years I allotted you your freedom have been hell for me and dangerous to anyone I came into contact with. I am very close to turning, and it is too late for me to seek the dawn. It was necessary for the safety of all concerned that I come for you now." His hands tangled in the silk of her hair, crushing strands to bury his face in, to inhale her fresh scent. "I can wait no longer."
The admission was torn from his soul. He could not afford to give her the one thing she asked of him - her freedom. Although he was Gregori, the Dark One, the most powerful among Carpathians, he was not strong enough to give her up. She must become lifemate to the one Carpathian all others feared. And she was so very young.
"Did you ever wonder what it is like for the women of our race, Gregori? To know that by our eighteenth year we must go from our father's keeping to some stranger's?" This time she did open her mind to him fully, called up the memory of five years ago for both of them.
Like any woman-child of mating age, Savannah had found a heady excitement in knowing that she was beautiful and held power over the male of the species. She was pleased when her father summoned all the available males in to meet her. Ignoring her mother's worry, she had flitted among them, innocent of what havoc she was creating. However, somewhere during the gathering she had become aware of its dangerous atmosphere, the press of male bodies against her, the hunger in their eyes, the smell of their arousal. None of them, she realized, knew her or cared about her or cared to know what she felt or thought. They wanted her, yet it wasn't really her they wanted. She felt suffocated, repulsed, afraid. Not one of them had made her feel the things she was supposed to feel.
Savannah had escaped to her room and bathed her face with cool water, feeling sick and somehow dirty. When she turned around, Gregori, the Dark One, was in her room with her. His power emanated from every pore. He carried it casually, the same way he carried his enormous strength.
He was totally different from the others - much more frightening, much more powerful. They seemed like callow youths in comparison. His pale eyes moved over her possessively, and her skin burned at the mere brush of his gaze. He took her breath and turned her body to hot liquid, making her want things she had never dreamed of.
Fear had slammed into her at the knowledge that he could easily steal her very will, make her his so irrevocably that she would do anything to be with him.
You belong to me, no other.
The words were in her head, the bond so familiar and strong, it was terrifying. The mental path was not the familiar Carpathian one but that of a private, intimate bond. He moved, a single ripple of muscle, and her heart pounded in anticipation. His fingers circled her upper arm so that she was all too aware of his enormous strength. It was nearly impossible to breathe. His fingers slid the length of her arm to encircle her fragile wrist like a bracelet. The skimming contact was like a tongue of fire licking along her skin. Every cell in her body suddenly stilled; she held her breath, waiting. Just waiting. He tugged her to him, close, so close, until her body was imprinted for all time by his. Very gently, he tilted her chin and fastened his mouth to hers.
In that instant her entire life, her very existence changed. The earth rocked, the air sizzled, and her body no longer belonged to her. She needed, burned, ached for him. Body and mind, her very skin, was merged with his. There was no Savannah without Gregori and no Gregori without Savannah. She needed his hands on her; she needed him inside her, her heart, her mind, her body, her very soul.
When he released her, she felt bereft, experiencing a terrible emptiness, as if he had stolen a huge part of her and left her a mere shadow. The idea terrified her. A stranger, someone who didn't love her or know her, was capable of taking over her life. It suddenly seemed far worse than giving herself to one of the others. None of them would ever control her or take over her entire life. If none of them could ever love her, at least they wouldn't own her, body and soul. Terrified, she had pleaded with Gregori to let her go, to let her live her own life. His eyes dark with sorrow and heated with something else, he had released her, had agreed to give her more time. Savannah, however, had planned to flee his power forever.
The worst of it was, after her flight to the United States, Savannah had never felt complete again. Gregori had ripped out a part of her with one small kiss. He was never out of her head. When she closed her eyes at night, all she could see was him. Sometimes, if she concentrated enough, she could even smell his wild, untamed scent. He haunted her dreams and called to her in her sleep. Clearly, the risk he posed to her very soul was far too enormous to allow what he was now demanding.
Gregori's hand cupped the back of her head, then slipped to the nape of her neck. "We can cope with your fears, ma petite.
They are not insurmountable." His voice, as always, was calm and unruffled.
Savannah's heart sank. Nothing moved him to mercy, not even her sharing one of her most private and frightening memories. "I don't want this," she whispered, tears burning in her throat. She was humiliated that she had admitted so much and that it had meant so little to him.
"Rest now, little one. We will sort it out later."
She was silent, seeming to accept his command quietly. But Savannah had a few tricks up her sleeve; after all, she was considered one of the world's leading magicians. Gregori might be offering her a temporary reprieve, but when they woke, his appetite would be ferocious. She doubted that even his mammoth self-control would save her then. She would have to make her most daring - and most important - escape ever.
"Savannah?" Gregori's arm drew her tightly, possessively against him. "Do not try to leave me. Fight me, argue, but do not try to leave me. I walk the edge of control. I feel for nothing or no one but you. It would be very dangerous."
"So I am to give up my life so yours can continue." Her tears fell on the back of her hand.
"You cannot exist without me, either, Savannah. It is only a matter of time before the growing emptiness consumes you." He raised her hand to his mouth and touched his tongue to her tears, savoring the taste of her. Then his voice dropped an octave, became purity itself. "Do not deny it. I feel it growing in you. The terrible, aching loneliness."
Savannah's heart jumped at the rough velvet of his tongue rasping across her bare knuckles. She would not allow his natural sensuality to seduce her, no matter how her own body responded to the forbidden call. "How much time do I have before then, Gregori? A century or two? Five? More? You don't know, do you? That's because none of our women were ever allowed to command their own fate. I shouldn't be responsible for your life any more than you should be responsible for mine."
"We are Carpathian, ma petite, not human, despite the way your mother raised you. I am responsible for your life, as you are for mine. It is the way of our people, and the only thing protecting humans from our darkness. Our women are cherished, protected, treated with respect, guarded for the treasures we know they are." The dark shadow on his chin rubbed along the top of her head in a curiously soothing gesture. Little strands of her hair caught in the stubble, weaving them together. "Your mother has much to answer for, filling your head with human nonsense when she should have been preparing you for your true destiny."
"Why do you call it nonsense? Because she wanted me to be able to choose for myself what I wanted? To make my own destiny? To savor freedom? I don't want to be owned."
"None of us can choose, Savannah." His arms tightened briefly, and his warm breath found her ear. "Lifemates are born to one another. And freedom is a word that can mean many different things." His voice was so beautiful and gentle, at odds with his matter-of-fact words. "Go to sleep, and escape your fear for a time."
She closed her eyes as she felt his lips brush her ear, then slide to her neck. She savored the touch, took it into her body, and hated herself for it. "You go to sleep, Gregori. I want to think."
Teeth grazed her skin, right over her leaping pulse. Then his tongue stroked, easing the sharp sensation. "I do not wish you to think any more, ma petite. Do as I say, or I will send you to sleep myself."
She paled. "No!" Like any Carpathian, Savannah knew just how vulnerable she would be when the sun rose and sleep took her body. If Gregori commanded her into the deepest sleep of the Carpathians, she would be completely under his power. "I'll sleep." Deliberately she slowed her breathing, slowed her heart.
Beside her, Gregori concentrated on the entrances to his lair, sealing them with ancient spells. Next he focused on the gates to the wolves' kennels. They swung open, releasing the wolf hybrids to roam and guard the upper stories and grounds of the house. Savannah still thought to escape him. But Savannah had no idea just how powerful he really was. And because he had promised himself he would always give her truth, he could not say the pretty, empty words that might ease her fears. The acquisition of knowledge had helped to keep his mind and body strong in the endless years of empty blackness. He had waited for Savannah, his lifemate, since before her birth. The moment he had touched Mikhail Dubrinsky's woman, Raven, healing the terrible wounds she had suffered at the hands of some misguided vampire slayers, giving his pure, powerful blood to help save her life, he had known she would provide him with his lifemate. That the child growing within her would be his. And he had done everything he could to ensure that outcome.
When the human hunters had tried to kill Raven Dubrinsky, Gregori had saved her and the child within her, sealing the bond between him and the newly conceived female being with his own powerful blood. He had ensured she could not escape him, whispering to her, soothing her, enticing her to stay in his world despite the wounds to her fragile little body. Having gone to such extremes to bind his lifemate to him before she was even born, he would never let her go now.
He pulled Savannah's body as close to him as possible, fitting his larger frame around hers protectively. Roberto traveled with a pack of renegade Carpathians, vampires now, killing, raping, creating mindless human puppets to serve them. If they had all tracked Savannah here to San Francisco, the city would soon become their killing ground. Gregori had to take Savannah to safety, but he knew he would not be leaving the humans of the city to face the threat alone. Aidan Savage, a powerful Carpathian, was in this region, and he would hunt down the renegades and destroy them. Aidan was an able hunter, one feared by the undead.
Gregori stroked Savannah's hair gently. For her sake, he wished he could give her the freedom she so desired, but it was impossible. Instead, she would be chained to his side for eternity. He sighed, then slowed his heart and lungs in preparation for sleep. As an ancient, he had often had to bring Carpathian justice to the renegades, just as he would have expected Mikhail to bring it to him if he had waited too long to claim Savannah and save himself from his own darkness. But he seriously doubted if anyone, even Mikhail, the Prince of their people, could overpower him if he turned vampire. He could not afford the risk. Savannah must remain his. He drew a last breath, taking her scent into his body and holding it there as his heart ceased to beat.
The sun rose above the mountains, rays of light bursting through the windows of the huge, isolated home. Polished oak gleamed. Marble tile glistened. The only sound that could be heard was an occasional soft padding of the wolves as they patrolled the first, second, and basement stories. Outside, too, more wolves moved restlessly throughout the grounds, along the high, heavy fence enclosing them on the property. The fence was more for the protection of any wandering humans than to keep the animals from marauding in the countryside. Their bond with Gregori was strong, the estate and preserve huge. The wolves would never leave of their own accord.
The sun did battle with a thick layer of clouds, valiantly spreading its golden rays throughout the afternoon. The wind began to pick up, swirling leaves in little eddies on the ground. Beneath the earth, the large chamber was silent. Then in that silence a heart began to beat. A rush of air filled lungs. Savannah scanned her surroundings, testing the nature of Gregori's imprisoning protection. Beside her, Gregori lay as still as death, one arm wrapped possessively around her waist.
Savannah allowed relief to flood her body. She had one secret no one other than her wolf knew. Most Carpathian children did not survive their first year. During the critical period when their bodies demanded more than milk but rejected all food and blood, her mother, who had once been fully human and unable to feed on her own kind, had given her diluted animal blood. Although Savannah was small and fragile compared to most Carpathians, she had thrived on her mother's mixture. And, determined to live as normal a life as possible, Savannah had stuck to her unusual diet during her growing years, hoping it might render her different from other Carpathians and able to forge her own future.
At the age of sixteen, Savannah had begun to experiment with the possibility of going out in the sun. Her mother had told her so many stories of life in the sun, across the ocean, stories of freedom and travel. Savannah, in turn, faithfully related each one to her companion, the wolf.
Daringly, she began to wake herself earlier and earlier, slowly exposing her skin to the sun, hoping to build up an immunity Carpathians did not have, forcing them to go to ground in the daylight and come alive only in the night. Sometimes the pain was too much for her to bear, and she would stop her outings for a few days. But Savannah was tenacious when she made up her mind to something, and she wanted to walk in the sun.
Although she was never able to tolerate the sunlight beyond eleven in the morning or before five in the evening in the summer months, her skin had adjusted to the sun's rays. She did have to wear the darkest of sunglasses during the day and in the bright lights on the stage, but otherwise she seemed to escape the terrible Carpathian lethargy the diet of human blood caused. She had sacrificed some of the speed and strength of her race, but she had the freedom of walking in the light, as her mother had described.
Savannah closed her eyes, remembering a time she had sneaked out while her parents slept deep in their underground chamber. The sun was still up, and, feeling particularly pleased with herself, Savannah made her way through the deep forest up to the cliffs.
She began to climb, trying to improve her speed and strength. But she had faltered near the top, slipped, and lost her footing. She'd grasped the rock face, scrambling for a hold, digging deep grooves in the cliff with her nails curved into claws, but she couldn't hold on. She fell but twisted in midair with all the agility of a cat, hoping to land on her feet.
But she had failed to see a broken tree root protruding from the cliff face and pointing up like a sharpened stake. It drove through her thigh, tearing through flesh, muscle, and bone, pinning her in place. Her dark glasses fell from her nose to drop to the forest floor below. Savannah screamed in pain, blood pouring from her wound. For a moment she hung there; then the root gave under her weight, and she landed hard on the rocky ground.
At first she couldn't breathe, the air knocked from her lungs. Keeping her eyes tightly closed against the terrible light, clenching her teeth, she pressed both hands to her wound and sent out an anguished, desperate call to her wolf. Later, she wondered why she had not hesitated to call him, had not thought to call her parents. He answered immediately, waves of reassurance flooding her mind. The wolf was far away but was coming quickly to her aid.
While she waited, Savannah dug her fingers into the rich soil, mixed it with saliva from her mouth, and packed the wound. It hurt, rivaling the glass splinters of sunlight piercing her skull through her unprotected eyes.
she urged, weak from loss of blood.
The wolf loped out of the forest, his own streaming eyes narrowed to slashing slits. He took two incredible leaps to her side, assessed the situation, and trotted to her glasses. Picking them up carefully in his mouth, he dropped them into her lap. Then his tongue lapped at the wound in a curiously soothing gesture. Savannah's arm slipped around the glossy neck, and she buried her face in the thick pelt of soft fur, seeking strength.
For the first and only time in her life, she asked to feed, knowing she would not survive without blood. She was grateful for the strong bond she had with the wolf, enabling her to explain her need without words. The wolf exposed his throat without hesitation. As gently, as reverently as she was able, Savannah had sunk her teeth deep into the wolf, her mind striving to calm his. Her effort proved unnecessary. If anything, the wolf calmed her, giving of himself freely, without reservation. She was astonished that she felt no revulsion in feeding directly from the animal instead of from a cup her mother handed her. Afterward she lay with her arms around the wolf while it continued to lap gently at her wound. She could have sworn that the wolf had somehow gotten into her body, along with its blood, and somehow soothed the terrible wound in her leg. She felt heat and light and energy spreading through her, healing her. She felt no fear, surrounded by the protective, unconditional caring of the wolf.
Her wound had healed miraculously fast, and she never mentioned the incident to her parents because she knew they would be furious with her experiments, with her going out into the sun. They would have been appalled at the chances she was taking. But she never regretted her decision to refrain from using human blood or to expose her skin to the sun's rays. It led to freedom, the freedom that was going to allow her to escape now.
"I'm sorry, Gregori," she whispered softly. "I cannot put my life into your hands. You are far too powerful for someone like me to try to live with. Please find someone else and be happy." She knew she never would be, but she had no choice if she didn't want this potent Carpathian ancient to take over her life. Her teeth tugged at her lower lip. In spite of her resolve, she found herself strangely reluctant to leave him. And he would take her life over; he couldn't help himself.
It was true she would remain alone. She could not return home or even seek out her wolf. She was doomed to walk the earth alone. But something in her, strong and proud, would not allow this man to dominate her, choose her life for her, dictate to her. He had been right; she knew what emptiness was, to be totally alone in the middle of a crowd. She was different. No matter how hard she tried, Savannah would never be human, and she would never be Carpathian. She knew, although she would never admit it to anyone other than her wolf - she had confided the truth to the animal - that she could not possibly be with any man but Gregori. But she would be alone for an eternity rather than be owned by him. She understood that she would never crave another man as she did Gregori; her soul was already in his possession. And she wanted to explain things to him, to make him understand. But Gregori was not a male to heed anyone's logic other than his own.
Gregori was one of the ancients, the most powerful, the most knowledgeable. The Dark One. He was a deadly killer, a true wild Carpathian male. The centuries had not softened his macho attitudes or changed his beliefs. He believed absolutely in his right to her, believed she belonged to him. He would protect her with his life from all harm, see to her every need and comfort. But he would rule her absolutely.
"I'm sorry," she whispered again and attempted to sit up.
A heavy weight in the middle of her chest prevented movement. Her heart lurched uncomfortably. Terrified that she had disturbed Gregori's slumber, Savannah gazed at him. He remained still and silent, without a flicker of life. Savannah took a deep breath and let it out slowly to calm herself. This time she slid cautiously sideways as if scooting out from under something. Instantly a band tightened around each ankle. When Savannah looked down at her feet, there was nothing there, nothing holding her, yet she couldn't move. Something was anchoring her in place.
For a brief moment she considered that some other Carpathian male - or vampire - had tracked them to the lair. But no Carpathian would dare disturb Gregori. Somehow, in his deep sleep, Gregori was controlling her.
Easily. Casually. So certain of his own power, so unruffled by her defiance, he could sleep through it. There was no doubt in her mind that it was Gregori preventing her escape. She lay still and allowed her mind to focus on her ankles, looking for a path, anything that could give her a clue to how the invisible manacles worked and how she might escape them.
You will sleep.
The command filled her mind, low, compelling, iron in velvet.
Instantly her mind clouded, and her heart slowed. Savannah struggled, alarmed, and fought the desire to do his bidding. It was humiliating that he could control her even while he slept. If he was truly that powerful, what would her life with him be like when he was fully awake and aware?
A low, mocking laugh filled her mind.
Go to sleep, ma petite.
It is dangerous to test me this way.
She turned her head. Gregori lay as one dead. How could he be so strong? Even her father, Mikhail, the Prince of Darkness, did not possess such power. Gregori's voice was hypnotic, mesmerizing.
Savannah closed her eyes, exhausted from fighting him. She was overwhelmed with despair.
All right, Gregori, you win his time. All the time, ma petite. There was no bragging, no triumph, just gentle calm.
It was his calm that made her believe Gregori was far more dangerous than she had ever imagined. He didn't threaten or yell or rage. He stated everything quite evenly or, worse, seemed amused by it. A familiar scent filled her lungs as she inhaled one last breath. The wolf, her wolf, filled her mind with comfort, soft fur rubbing against her arm, her cheek. Savannah kept her eyes closed tightly, afraid of destroying the illusion.
I missed you.
She merged her mind with the wolf's.
I wish you were really here with me right now. I have always been with you.
The wolf's mind accepted her, enfolded her, embraced her with warmth. The mind was so familiar, as if she had walked in it a thousand times.
I wish that were true, that you were here with me for real.
The wild scent was strong in her nostrils. For a moment, Savannah held her breath, not daring to breathe. Then, slowly, she lifted her lashes. Beside her, the wolf stretched out, glossy black fur rubbing her skin. The wolf turned its head, revealing its unusual, intelligent gray eyes. Savannah's heart slammed against her chest. A moan of denial escaped. This was no illusion but the real thing. Gregori, with all his powers, could shape-shift. He was her wolf. How arrogant she had been to assume she was the only one who had perfected the art of going out in the sun. She had thought she was capable of resisting the rays because she fed only on animal blood. If only she had consulted her parents. Why had she kept the wolf her secret?
It had all seemed so innocent and fun, to have a wonderful secret from her parents. But she should have recognized those eyes. Not gray, but piercing, slashing silver. And the wolf had been told her every fear, every desire, her every dream. He knew her secret, innermost thoughts. Worse, they had exchanged blood, she by feeding, he by licking her wound. The exchange was not, perhaps, as the Carpathian mating ritual demanded, but their mental bond was strong, unbreakable.
She had been so stupid! An ordinary wolf would never have been so intelligent, so able to communicate warmth and security, so able to comfort her. Gregori had forged a bond between them from her early childhood.
You were lonely. I had no chance, did I? Not even as a child. Not from the moment you were conceived.
No remorse, only that calm, implacable resolve.
She shut her mind to him, furious that he had taken such advantage of her, furious that he could have deceived her all those years. She turned her back to him, remembering how the wolf had come to her rescue even with the sun out, nothing protecting his eyes. Gregori might be the most powerful ancient of all, but he was still Carpathian. He must have endured excruciating pain to come to her aid.
She pushed uncomfortably at the heavy fall of her hair, knowing she should acknowledge that long-ago sacrifice. She wanted to be angry with him, furious. She did not want to feel cared for and protected by her jailer. She didn't want the racing of her pulse, the delicious warmth spreading through her at the lengths he had gone to for her all those years, to ensure a bond, to ensure her safety and happiness. His explanation was so stark and matter-of-fact.
You were lonely.
It was that simple to him. She needed, he provided. The code of the Carpathian male.
I'm sorry you were hurt on my account.
She chose her thought carefully, not wanting him to read her confused emotions. She immediately felt the sensation of a hand brushing down the length of her hair, the gentlest of caresses.
We have a long night ahead tomorrow. You need healing sleep.
This time his command plunged her into the deep sleep Carpathians needed for rejuvenation.
Gregori had sent a sharp, compelling command, not a gentle suggestion but an order she could not refuse. She went under swiftly, mindlessly, without fear or knowledge of what he had done. He had to cut short her adventures and independence. Even now her grief over her human friend and her terror of him and his kind had taken a heavy toll on her. He could not believe that he had allowed her this rebellion against her true destiny. There was just something in him that melted when he was in her mind, in her presence. He had a terrible feeling that when his body merged with hers, he would be lost to all good sense.
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