Chapter Seventeen


Look at me--now see yourself through my eyes. Look at you: the most beautiful on this earth.

DOMINIC TO SOLANGE

Dominic reached for Solange. His body burned for her. He could barely reason with needing her touch, needing her soft skin sliding against him. Needing desperately to be inside of her. His soul raged at him to bind her to him, to claim what belonged to him. To unite them for all time. His discipline was at an end and nothing stood between him and the woman he loved.

He lifted her into his arms, cradling her to him. Beloved Solange. She looked excited, sexy and fearful all at the same time. His every protective instinct surged to the forefront. The mixture of sensual woman, as desperate for him as he was for her, combined with innocent inexperience only added to his need to be tender. He had expected, with the intensity of her cat's heat, that she would be very experienced in her lovemaking, but it was clear that she wasn't.

Love was nearly overwhelming, threatening to drive him to his knees. She had no idea of her beauty or her appeal to him. Carpathians saw what was inside. The body was simply a shell. Perhaps because they could shift into any form they chose, the outside mattered little to them. But he could see into her heart and mind, and he'd fallen deeply in love. Solange was exactly the woman for him, with her fierce loyalty, her unfailing courage and her natural sensuality.

He had waited for so long, so many centuries, until all hope for this one woman had faded. He held her cradled against his bare chest, hardly able to comprehend that she was his at last. His body ached for her, hot blood pounding through his groin, his cock a constant, heavy ache that refused to go away. Her skin, all that soft expanse of silk and satin, drove him to the brink of madness. He'd been patient, waiting for her to give herself to him, to trust him enough, but the demons raging in Carpathian males had never quieted, never given him peace, demanding he bind her to him, claim her for his own.

Her hands smoothed over his chest, small, just a whisper of a touch as he laid her gently on the bed. He was so shaken with need, he'd nearly forgotten a bed. He caught her small moan in his mouth as he kissed her, her silken hair bunched in his hand. He allowed himself the luxury of getting lost in the sensations of Solange as he kissed her again and again. Hot silk, a promise of things to come. Her fantastic mouth, moving against his, all honey and spice and uniquely her.

A fever of love and desire raged in his body. Dominic Dragonseeker, perfectly controlled and disciplined, could no longer control his own temperature. He wanted her so much he could barely breathe. Discipline and control were his way of life. It was a unique experience to burn inside and out, to have his heart pounding in his chest and cock, to tremble from sheer need of a woman--need of a lifemate.

He loved the way she looked beneath him, her eyes so dazed and hungry, desire naked on her face. The flush that spread over her body delighted him. Her breasts were beautiful in the candlelight, a temptation he couldn't resist. He lowered his head, his hair sliding over her body so that she writhed beneath him, her nerve endings already inflamed.

Her breathy little whimpers drove him mad, and he wanted--needed--more. His mouth closed around the soft swell of her breast and drew her nipple inside. A tremor ran through her and she cried out, a soft, broken little sound that nearly shattered his last remnants of control. He loved her soft, inviting breasts, and mostly he loved her reaction when he tugged and rolled her nipple with his teeth and fingers. Her body strained toward him, writhed under his assault, and he couldn't help but merge minds so he could feel every sensation pouring through her body. Beneath him, her stomach muscles bunched and her head tossed wildly on the pillow. Her hips bucked, seeking his body.

He suckled, encouraging her soft little moans of helpless pleasure. Heat rushed through her veins and he actually felt the spasm in her womb.

"Dominic." She whispered his name, over and over, her hands fisting in his hair, holding him to her.

The needy sound in her voice drove his temperature up a few more degrees until he thought it might be possible to burn from the inside out. He took his time, lovingly lavishing attention on her breasts, teasing and tugging, his tongue dancing, pulling strongly with his mouth and gently laving, giving tiny nips and easing the sting with a caressing stroke of his tongue.

One hand slid over her flat stomach, feeling the muscles there rippling and bunching in arousal. Her heart drummed beneath his mouth, a frantic, rhythmic beat that called to his blood. Fangs filled his mouth unbidden, the temptation overriding every discipline. He licked along the creamy swell of her breast and bit gently. She went utterly still.

He raised his head to capture her gaze with his. Her cat's eyes had gone from green to golden. His hand covered her sex, the moist heat calling to him as strongly as the beat of her heart. He exposed his fangs, letting her see, knowing the demon in him was close to the surface; his eyes were glowing. Nothing mattered but her acceptance--her total trust.

Solange's breath came out in an explosive rush as he pushed two fingers deep into her hot channel. Her mouth opened, her eyes went wide.

Dominic! Stay with me, kessake. This will be good for you. He soothed her gently, feeling the tremors running through her body. He bent his head and licked at her creamy breast, just along the sweet swell.

His thumb found her clit as he sank his fangs deep. Her body nearly convulsed. He felt the explosion rocking her, her muscles clamping down on his fingers. Her body nearly bowed. The pain of the bite gave way to the erotic ecstasy. He knew he couldn't take much, but he wanted to feast on her in every way. She was delicious, her honeyed, spicy taste filling his senses. His cock throbbed and burned. She writhed beneath him, and the urgent need burned white-hot and bright, raging through his veins like a firestorm. She moaned softly, and his body reacted with savage aggression, filling so full, the ache turning brutally painful.

He swept his tongue across the small pinpricks and kissed his way down her belly, an almost frenzied rush. He wanted control and tried for it, but the moment he gripped her bottom and lifted her hips to his mouth, all he could think was to feast. He forced himself to check her state of mind just once, his gaze locking with hers. Her eyes gleamed with shocked excitement.

Solange drew in her breath at the pure sensuality carved into his face and the hunger in his glittering, ever-changing eyes. There was no denying he was losing control, and although she was scared, her body was thrilled. She felt as if she'd been waiting for this moment forever. He paused, staring at her, his lids half-closed, the thick lashes intensifying the vivid blue of his eyes.

Gaze locked with hers, his tongue slowly swiped through the velvet-soft folds. Her entire body shuddered. Her gasp was loud in the silence of the room. She clutched at his broad shoulders, trying to find an anchor when it was already far too late. He made a sound, a low, primitive growl, before he indulged himself. And it was an indulgence. He feasted on her, drawing the hot liquid from her center with strokes of his tongue. He licked and caressed. He suckled and nipped. His hands controlled her hips as she bucked helplessly, crying for release, pleading with him to stop--to never stop--as he drove her higher and higher until she felt on the very brink of insanity.

The fever raged hot and strong, yet she couldn't quite reach the release she needed no matter how high the pressure built. She couldn't stop from pushing into him, writhing, head tossing, hips bucking, as out of control as he seemed to be. He was making sounds, deep, animalistic growls as he devoured her, licking and sucking, so that her womb spasmed, wept and clenched, spilling more of the hot cream he needed to try to sate the ferocious hunger.

Pleasure rippled through her belly, spread down her thighs and centered in her deepest core, hard, curling waves that shook her entire body and rippled through every muscle and cell. She heard her own desperate cry as he suckled her sensitive clit one last time before kneeling up and over her. "Wait." She could barely get the hissing command out. Her body still shuddered with aftershocks and her mind refused to clear.

Even so, Dominic, always aware of her needs, stilled, his eyes glittering nearly ruby red, lust and impatience stamped on his sensual face. But he didn't move, his breath coming in ragged, harsh gasps as he watched her struggle to speak.

Solange drew a deep breath, trying to clear her mind enough to confess. It was necessary. She should have days earlier.

"Dominic." She was barely able to get his name out, but she had to tell him. He had to know. "I've never been with a man." She couldn't still her restless hips from seeking him, as he knelt so close, only an inch from her hungry body.

He frowned. "Of course you have. You are jaguar. I have seen the images. The man undressed, you . . ." His frown deepened. He obviously didn't want to discuss her past sexual history. "It doesn't matter."

"It does. I'm trying to tell you."

"I do not need to know. I saw the images in your mind, Solange. Each time a different man when your cat was in heat. You were with them . . ."

She closed her eyes, ashamed. "I'm sorry, I know I let you think that, everyone thinks that, even Juliette and Jasmine, but it isn't true. I tried. My cat drove me with her needs, but I couldn't ever let them touch me. Each time, I panicked. The thought of allowing a man to touch me sickened me. It's amazing how vomiting kills the mood for men."

"Tell me you are certain, Solange."

"You know I am. I want you. I want this."

"I need to hear you say it."

She didn't look away from his gaze, her own steady, but she could barely get the words out, her breathing harsh and uneven. She was on fire with need and more than desperate for him. A part of her wanted to yank his hips to hers and just impale herself on him. "More than anything, Dominic, I trust you. I want us to be together in your way. I am afraid, but only of the unknown, not of you or us. I'm certain."

His hands dropped to her thighs and spread them further, lifting them over his arms. He leaned over her, forcing her legs higher, giving him better access. His erection brushed against her sensitive, pulsing entrance, and she cried out as darts of fire raced through her body. She closed her eyes, afraid of what was to come, but so frantic for him to relieve the terrible building hunger that couldn't seem to be sated. She feared she would never get enough of his pleasure. His hands and mouth were so incredible, she couldn't imagine what his body was capable of doing.

"Solange, keep looking at me." His eyes glittered with purpose and resolve. " Te avio p?l?fertiilam--you are my lifemate."

He didn't just say the words to her; he chanted them. The musicality of his voice had always appealed to her. She felt each word as he uttered it in his native language and then repeated it in her language so she could understand what the words meant. Her heart began to beat even faster as she felt the broad mushroom head of him pushing into her.

" ?nt?lam kuulua, avio p?l?fertiilam--I claim you as my lifemate."

The words came from somewhere deep inside of him and resonated deep inside of her. She loved being claimed, belonging solely to him. She wanted him with every breath she drew into her lungs. She needed his pleasure more than she needed her own. And belonging to him was so right.

His hands gripped hers tighter, forcing her to keep eye contact with him. She had never been so excited--or turned on--in her life. She loved looking up at him, feeling the thick, hard heat of him stretching her as he invaded. She felt empty inside and needed to be filled with him--with his essence.

" Ted kuuluak, kacad, kojed--I belong to you."

Her body flooded once again with a tidal wave of pure heat. She felt the slick moisture pooling between her thighs, arousal bunching her stomach muscles. He did belong to her. Every inch of him. And she would see to his care--his happiness and his pleasure. He pushed into her tight folds just another inch, stretching her until she burned, just on the edge of discomfort.

" ?lidamet andam--I offer my life for you."

She would give her life for his, but that wasn't entirely what those words meant--it was so much more. Every aspect of his life was in her hands. She couldn't stop her hips from moving, trying to draw him deeper, even when he felt too big to fit. He seemed to know how desperate she was, but also how stretched she felt. He held still, waiting for her body to adjust to his size.

" Pes?met andam--I give you my protection."

She knew he would always-- always--have her protection in return, and she could live with that. He didn't treat her as if she couldn't take care of herself. He respected her ability to fight an enemy. He protected her always, including waiting for her body to adjust to the invasion of his.

" Uskolfertiilamet andam--I give you my allegiance." Tears burned. Most of her life she had felt alone, fighting for a cause that couldn't be won. She'd taken care of Juliette and Jasmine, and a hundred other women. This man would always be on her side, no matter what, his first allegiance to her. He pushed deeper and stopped when she cried out in shock at the tremendous burning. He felt huge, impossible to accommodate in her tight channel. But still, her body didn't seem to know that, desperate for his invasion.

Once again he waited, breathing deep, fighting for control. His fingers tightened around hers. His eyes were incredible, glowing, changing, beautiful.

Breathe for me. Relax.

She took a breath, following the rhythm of his lungs, making a conscious effort to relax her straining muscles. She'd been more afraid than she'd realized, locking down on him. The moment her body accepted him, he slipped another inch into her.

" S?vamet andam--I give you my heart. Sielamet andam--I give you my soul. Ainamet andam--I give you my body. S?vamet kuuluak kaik ett? a ted--I take into my keeping the same that is yours."

Solange felt the difference deep inside her, tiny threads weaving them together, as if her heart and soul were one with his. He had reached her barrier, the thin strip protecting her, that line no one had ever been allowed to cross to possess her. Tears ran down her face. She was no longer afraid to trust him; she'd made that leap of faith and she'd given herself into his care with no reservations.

" Ainaak olenszal s?vambin--your life will be cherished by me for all time. Te ?lidet ainaak pide minan--your life will be placed above my own for all time." His voice deepened. Firmed.

The intensity of his declaration made her shiver. His eyes glowed a hot turquoise. He bent his head, licked at her pulse and sank his teeth into her as his hips surged, breaching the barrier. The pain was a sharp burning nearly covered by the shock of his fangs. He paused again while she breathed away the stretched, burning feeling. Very slowly he lifted his head again to look into her eyes with their bodies locked together.

" Te avio p?l?fertiilam--you are my lifemate. Ainaak s?vamet jutta oleny--you are bound to me for all eternity. Ainaak ter?d vigy?zak--you are always in my care."

He bent and took her mouth for a brief, heart-stopping moment, and then he released her hands and began to move, a slow, long slide that had every nerve ending rippling with sensation. Fire streaked through her. Solange gasped, her eyes widening in shock.

He pulled back and surged forward, harder, faster, the friction sending lightning arcing over her. She had never dreamt anyone could fly so high or feel so much pleasure. It was frightening, the loss of control, and yet exhilarating. She dug her nails into his biceps, attempting to find a way to anchor herself in the building maelstrom of burning heat.

His body moved again and she tightened her muscles, hearing him gasp.

"You are so tight, Solange, scorching hot."

Was that a good thing? She didn't know, but he shuddered against her, his breathing even harsher than before, and each time she rose to meet him, his hard hands encouraged her. It felt so good, those long, deep strokes of searing fire. She didn't want them to stop, yet she feared burning alive if they didn't. He didn't stop. His first gentle strokes gave way to a harder, faster, pounding rhythm that took her breath and sent her climbing higher than she imagined possible.

He plunged deep and she cried out, a low, almost mewling sound. The pressure grew and grew, never letting up as he merged more deeply and he lost all control. Fire spread through her body. Blazing heat rushed through her veins. Tension stretched her nerves to a breaking point--and beyond--until she strained for release, tears running down her face, a firestorm consuming her. Always he drove into her, velvet over steel, between her thighs, riding her hard, penetrating so deep.

The fierce pace continued over and over until she could only gasp, apprehension filling her, her body no longer her own. She twisted helplessly, writhing beneath him, her head tossing wildly, while he held her pinned, his body taking her higher and higher. She opened her mouth to scream but no sound emerged. Every one of her senses was concentrated between her thighs, centered on the thick, hard force driving deep into her body over and over.

Streaks of fire grew into fiery flames and the tension coiled tighter as the frenzied pounding drove deeper still. Dominic. His name was a keening cry in her chaotic mind.

Let go for me, he coaxed.

Could she fly that high and not die? She opened her eyes and looked at his beloved face. The lines of lust and love carved so deep, the sensuality and fierce intent in his eyes, the perfect mouth, and those hard hands gripping her so firmly. The long hair falling around his face was like that of a fallen angel.

He moved just slightly and the friction against her most sensitive spot sent her mind reeling with pleasure. She gasped, stiffened, her gaze locking with his as her entire body tightened around his cock, clamping down almost violently, gripping and milking while sensation after sensation tore through her body. Her orgasm burned through her core, a firestorm out of control, flaming through her stomach, spreading up to her breasts and down her thighs. She screamed as his cock swelled even more, and he emptied himself, the condom keeping her safe. She could feel the scorching heat, every nerve ending alive with pleasure. Dominic collapsed over the top of her, struggling for breath, holding her tight, her legs still trapped over his arms, his body still locked with hers. He didn't want to ever leave her. The moment he had the strength, he gathered Solange in his arms and rolled over, bringing her on top of him like a blanket, her head on his chest, ear over his pounding heart.

For the first time in his life he felt complete. So many centuries he had felt utterly alone, and now he would never be alone. Holding her felt right. He allowed his hand to slide down the curve of her back to the rounded curve of her buttocks. She was his, and she'd given herself freely, without reservation, opening her mind and heart to him. She'd taken him into her body, his private haven, his sanctuary.

His other hand tangled in her wealth of hair. He loved the feel of her, all silk and satin. Her soft skin seemed to melt into him, become part of him. He moved slightly, feeling the instant reaction of her inner muscles, how they gripped and pulsed around him, clamping down as if she didn't want him to leave her body.

His feelings for her were so overwhelming he couldn't speak for a moment. You know that I love you, Solange. He made it a statement, because there was no way she couldn't know.

He felt her smile. She made an effort to lift her head enough to lap at his pulse, a slow, languid movement a lifemate would make naturally. His body responded with a jerk of his cock. He wanted--no, needed--to feel her bite, to exchange blood in the Carpathian way.

She pressed a kiss over the pounding beat. Yes, I can feel that you love me. Her voice turned shy. I hope you feel how much I love you.

He wrapped his arms around her and held her to him, waiting until she snuggled into him. Thank you for your trust. I will always hold it as a precious gift from you.

She rubbed her chin along his chest, and then nuzzled against his throat. "You say things that turn me inside out, Dominic." She swallowed hard. "I didn't know a man could be like you."

"I am perfectly fine with you thinking that." And he was. His woman was his alone, and he liked that no one else ever saw this side of her. She reserved her trust and faith for him.

"I don't think I'll ever be able to move again," she said, one hand sliding up his chest to curl around his throat. "Does it get better than this? Because if it does, I won't live through it."

He laughed softly. "You will live. I will see to that. Because I intend to repeat this experience as often as possible."

"Of course you do."

"But without the condom. I want to feel every inch of you surrounding me." He allowed his body to slip from hers.

"I told you the parasites would avoid contact with me."

"I refuse to take a chance."

Silence greeted his statement, although he detected a slight moue with her lips.

"Did you just roll your eyes?" he demanded.

She laughed softly. "It could have happened," she admitted.

He rolled her over abruptly, pinning her body beneath his, his expression stern as he looked down into her laughing face. His hands framed her face and he kissed her. It wasn't what he meant to do, but he couldn't help himself. She was so beautiful to him, so miraculous. Solange Sangria Dragonseeker. His.

He loved her mouth, the taste of her, the heat of her, the long, drugging kisses she never pulled away from. She opened herself to him, kissing him back over and over until they both ran out of breath and he collapsed on top of her again.

Her laughter bubbled up and she pushed at his heavy body. "You're crushing me."

"I know, but I cannot move."

She tried to shove him, but laughter rumbled in his chest and he didn't budge. He nuzzled her neck. "Were you trying to move?"

"I'm waking the kitten and he's going to pounce on your bare butt."

He rolled again, with more haste than grace. The thought of the shadow cat's claws getting anywhere near certain parts of his anatomy were enough to scare any man, even a Carpathian warrior.

She smirked. "You're such a baby. Let me up. We really have to wake him and figure out how we're going to feed him."

He reluctantly allowed his arms to slide away, releasing her. Solange stood up on shaky legs, smiling down at him. She robbed him of breath. Her body gleamed with a fine sheen from their lovemaking. He loved that she didn't attempt to cover herself. Her breasts stood out proudly, and he could see the marks left by his teeth and mouth and hands. Her hair was wildly disheveled and her mouth a bit swollen from his kisses. She looked like she'd been thoroughly made love to, but he wanted to see his seed running down the inside of her thighs.

"I love looking at you," he said, sitting up.

"I know," she answered, a satisfactory purr in her voice. She stepped into the pool and rinsed off.

Dominic, fully clothed, waited for her with a warm towel. "I will have to go hunt," he said. "And do some scouting."

"I'll go with you, but I want to take care of the cub first."

"There is no need this evening," he countered. "I can look and figure out the distance you will need to be away from the vampires in order to keep the parasites silent." He rubbed the water drops from her skin, wanting to lick them off. Already his body was stirring. The tight clasp of her body combined with her scorching heat was addicting, and he would never be sated, no matter how many times he took her. And he intended to take her a million times.

Solange dressed in the short emerald green ladder dress. He loved the way the slinky material clung to the outsides of her breasts yet bared them to him. He couldn't resist caressing the light weight just to feel her softness against his palm. His fingers rolled and tugged her nipples until they were hard little beads.

"You're going to make me damp and needy all over again," she warned.

"I want you that way. If I could, I would have you in a continual state of arousal. When this is all over, be prepared to spend a long time that way." His hand crept beneath the short hem to cup her bare mound. His thumb circled her clit with a languid expertise. Her breath hitched in her throat and he leaned over to capture the breathy moan in his mouth. "I love the way you sound," he confided. "You please me, Solange. So much."

"I'm glad, Dominic. Wanting you is very easy."

When she began to ride his hand, he abruptly pulled his fingers away, licking them, his eyes on her face. "Keep wanting me."

"I don't think that's going to be a problem."

He seated himself across the room from her, wanting to watch her with the cub. Its yowl was loud as he waved his hand and removed the sleeping spell. The kitten stretched before lifting his head, its gaze darting around the room until he found Solange. He ran to her fast and rubbed up and down her leg. She dropped her hand into the fur and knelt to nuzzle the mewling creature. "We need to call him something."

Dominic cringed inwardly. "It is probably best to stay detached," he advised.

"He needs a name," Solange insisted.

Dominic sighed. He didn't want to give the animal a name, not when he doubted if he could save the creature. How did one make shadow into substance? She was already half in love with the little bundle of fur and claws, and he couldn't bear to break her heart. She'd had enough heart-break in her life. He'd healed terrible wounds, some even mortal, but this . . . He sighed again.

" H?n s?vamak, if you get attached and I cannot save him, you will mourn the loss."

"Naming him isn't going to make a difference, Dominic," she answered, her eyes betraying sadness. "I'm already in love with him."

The kitten bounced across the room, the strange, purring growl rumbling in its chest. The shadow cat probably weighed around forty pounds, all muscle, but it couldn't keep its solid form. Dominic could see the evidence of rosettes in the sleek black fur, proof that the mages had used a jaguar in their experiments to produce the shadow cat.

"Shadow," he said.

She laughed softly. "Very inventive."

"What would you name him?" he challenged.

"Shadow, of course," she said.

The kitten shoved his face into Dominic's and licked his head, retreated, and then bounced back to bat at him playfully with a paw. He could see why Solange wanted to save the little thing. The cub's face was so cute. He winced at the word.

Her soft laughter rippled through his mind as the kitten gave up on him and bounded across the floor to her. "Adorable. He's adorable."

"You are going to collect all sorts of creatures throughout this life together." He groaned aloud, but deep inside he found he was laughing. He should have known she had a soft little heart. She'd spent a lifetime protecting women and caring for her cousins. Gruff, dangerous Solange melted at the sight of puppies and kittens.

She scratched the cub's ears. "I am dangerous, Dragonseeker, and you'd best not forget it. And don't go telling my cousins your little theories about me." "I have not had the pleasure of meeting them yet," he said, keeping his tone speculative. "I think we will have many long conversations."

She flicked a warning gaze at him. "I've worked very hard at being surly. You are not going to ruin my reputation, especially with my cousin's lifemate."

He raised his eyebrow. "You do not want them to see you all girly?"

She winced openly, gritting her teeth. "I am not girly." The shadow cat nudged her so hard she nearly fell over backward. She had to catch it around the neck to steady herself. Immediately the kitten laid its head on her shoulder and gave his growling purr.

"You are girly, all soft and mushy inside," he teased.

She looked horrified, even as she soothed the shadow cat, unaware of the picture she made, the look of concern on her face as she babied the animal. His heart felt as stupidly soft and mushy as he'd just labeled her. She was so beautiful to him, as complex and mysterious as the most beautiful flower he'd ever seen.

The cat wiggled free and raced around the room, pouncing on anything that looked as if it might be moving. Solange's laughter filled the chamber, soft and musical, her eyes following the kitten's antics as it rushed around the cavern. Shadow widened his eyes and pressed his ears forward, inviting play. He stalked her across the room, with the slow freeze-frame of a cat, and then pounced on her. But she sprang to one side, avoiding the rush. The kitten rolled over and over, his momentum carrying him past her. He stood up a few feet away, shaking his head.

Dominic saw the look building in Solange's eyes, and before he could protest, she had raced across the chamber and ambushed the cat. They rolled together, over and over, Solange in her barely there dress and the cat with lethal claws and teeth.

Heart in his throat, Dominic waved his hand, building the image of clothing, thick and protective, around Solange--heavy cotton jeans and a long-sleeved top with a vest as a shield. The two rolled across the floor, snarling, spitting, rearing up, breaking apart and then coming together in a fierce mock battle, rolling once again.

The kitten backed off, arching its back. With his long tail curled, he sidestepped around Solange and then rolled over onto his side. He kept his tail in a hooked position, indicating he wanted to play. Laughing, she obliged.

Dominic realized she was feeling the kitten out, learning his strengths and weaknesses, trying to get a feeling for what had gone wrong inside of him. Why the middle part of his body was caught in shadow form. He took a chance and went outside his own body, knowing the animal was important to her and that she wanted to save him from a slow starvation. The sibling mages had obviously been present when Xavier had mutated species for his own twisted purpose. Two of the teeth in the cat's mouth were tubes to draw and store blood. The cat had been bred for one purpose--to retrieve blood for the mages. The digestive tract and stomach were scored and lumpy, as if the combination of cat DNA and black magic had fought and scar tissue had built up. The shadow encased the middle of the cat, keeping the insides from working. He couldn't see how it was possible, but if the cat could wait, he could try to give it blood after he had pushed out the parasites.

He felt the cat's muscles bunching, ready for another spring, and exited quickly to reenter his own body. He caught the blur of motion as the cat sprang into the air, over Solange's head. His back claw caught her temple, ripping open her skin and driving her backward into the rocky basin. Dominic's heart nearly stopped when he heard the loud, ominous crack.

Solange slipped to the floor, her eyes glazed over. He was at her side instantly. Blood poured from the back of her skull. He was immediately in her body, not caring that the cat could easily attack his defenseless body. There was no skull fracture, just a very deep and nasty head wound. He repaired it from the inside out before returning to his own body. Lifting her, he made a halfhearted attempt to move the cat with his foot, but when it didn't budge, he took her to the bed.

"Talk to me."

Humor glittered in her eyes. "Ow. Major ow."

Relief flooded. "You took a few years off my life."

"Good thing you're immortal. I must be getting slow. I should have moved my head out of the way. He's clumsy but he's fast--and strong." She looked over at the cat and her smiled turned upside down. "Shadow! Stop that. He's lapping up the blood fast, Dominic."

Dominic turned to stop the kitten, nearly waving his hand to remove the blood, but he noticed a solid spot, right in the middle of the cat, where none had ever been. His heart rate accelerated. "Solange." He stood a short distance away from the cub, making no attempt to stop it from licking up the blood. "Look."

She sat up gingerly. "What am I looking at?" Dominic had already cleaned the blood from her hair and skin and taken away her headache. When he said he would see to her care, he took that literally.

"Your blood acts like some kind of weapon against black magic." Dominic could barely take in the revelation. No wonder Xavier had been searching for her. "Your blood doesn't just kill the parasites. Xavier created the parasites with black magic, and here they are unraveled and rendered harmless, back to their original form." "That's impossible." She stood up, shaking her head. "Check inside of him, Dominic. Make certain my blood isn't going to harm him."

Instantly Dominic was at her side, wrapping a steadying arm around her waist, but his eyes were on the cat's body. He had heard whispers of a blood--royal blood--that could defeat black magic, but in all his centuries and all his travels, the rumor had never been substantiated. Slowly, Brodrick and his ancestors had killed the very thing that could have protected them.

Dominic did as she asked. The massive scar tissue was slowly repairing and the layers of shadow were giving way to the tissue and cells that belonged inside of the cat. He merged his mind with hers so she could see the evidence for herself.

"That doesn't make sense." Solange took a step toward the kitten. Already a good portion of its left side was substance. The fur was thinner and there were still gaping spots where the shadow showed through, but her blood was forcing the magic out.

"Xavier needed your blood to open the book because it was the only thing that could after he put the spell on it. No one understood that," Dominic murmured, more to himself than to her. "Xavier was too clever even for himself. He sealed his book so no other mage could use his spells. He was growing paranoid, already sick and trying desperately to stay alive using Carpathian blood to sustain him. But there had to be younger mages coming up, growing more powerful, so he sealed his book of spells. Then he couldn't open it either. That is why your blood became so important."

Solange shivered. Dominic rubbed his hands up and down her arms to warm her. "Xavier is gone from this world, Solange. He cannot harm you. The mages who created this one"--he waved his hand toward Shadow--"are long gone. They abandoned the ranch next to the De La Cruz property."

She frowned at him. "How do you know that?"

"Carpathians send news to one another upon rising. Zacarias sent word."

Solange knelt beside the kitten, circling his head with her arms, and smiled up at Dominic. "If my blood did this, then I'm happy. I've never been particularly proud of my lineage, but if it can do this much good, then I'll keep it."

Dominic frowned, but didn't say a word. He wouldn't take this moment away from her for anything, not even to explain what would happen during conversion.

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