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She forced her mind to go blank, to be a slate wiped clean. It hurt, sent darts of pain through her head, made her stomach clench. He was not going to take what she would have given freely.

Why do you fight me when you know I am the stronger? You hurt yourself, wear yourself out, and in the end 1 will win anyway. I feel the toll that this way of communicating takes on you. And I am capable of commanding your obedience on a much different level.

Why do you force what I would have given, had you simply asked?

She could feel his puzzlement. I am sorry, little one. I am used to getting my way with the least amount of effort.

Even at the expense of simple courtesy?

Sometimes it is more expedient.

She punched the pillow. You need to work on your arrogance. Simply because you possess power does not mean you have to flaunt it.

You forget, most humans cannot detect a mental push.

That isn’t an excuse to take away free will. And you don’t use apush anyway; you issue a command and demand compliance. That’s worse, because it makes people sheep. Isn’t that closer to the truth?

You reprimand me.There was an edge to his thoughts this time, as if all that male mockery was wearing thin.

Don’t try to force me.

This time there was menace, a quiet danger lurking in his voice. I would nottry, little one. Be assured I can force your compliance.His tone was silky and ruthless.

You’re like a spoiled child wanting your own way.She stood up, hugging the pillow to her protesting stomach. I’m going downstairs to dinner. My head is beginning, to pound. You can go soak your head in a bucket and cool off.She wasn’t lying; the effort to fight him on his level was making her sick. She edged cautiously toward the door, afraid he would stop her. She would feel safer if she was among people.

Your name, please, little one.It was asked with grave courtesy.

Raven found herself smiling in spite of everything. Raven. Raven Whitney. So, Raven Whitney, eat, rest. I will return at eleven for our chess match.

The contact was broken abruptly. Raven let out her breath slowly, all too aware that she should be feeling relief, not feeling bereft. There was seduction in his hypnotic voice, his masculine laughter, in their very conversation. She ached with the same loneliness as he did. She didn’t allow herself to think of the way her body had come alive at the touch of his fingers. Burned. Wanted. Needed. And he had only touched her with his mind. The seduction was far more than physical; it was some deep, elemental thing she could not precisely put her finger on. He touched her inside her soul. His need. His darkness. His terrible, haunting loneliness. She needed, too. Someone to understand what it was like being so alone, so afraid to touch another being, afraid to be too close. She liked his voice, the Old World elegance, the silly male arrogance. She wanted his knowledge, his abilities.

Her hand trembled as she opened the door, breathed the air in the hallway. Her body was her own again, moving lightly and fluidly, obeying her instructions. She ran down the stairs, entered the dining room.

Several tables were occupied, certainly more than the night before. Ordinarily, Raven avoided public places as much as possible, preferring not to have to worry about shielding herself from unwanted emotions. She took a deep breath and walked in.

Jacob looked up with a welcoming smile, stood, as if waiting for her to join the group at his table. Raven made herself smile back at him, unaware of the way she looked, innocent, sexy, completely unattainable. She crossed the room, greeted Shelly, and was introduced to Margaret and Harry Summers. Fellow Americans. She tried not to let her alarm show on her face. She knew her picture had been plastered all over the newspapers and even on television during the investigation of the last killer. She didn’t want to be recognized, didn’t want to relive the horrible nightmare of the man’s twisted and depraved mind. There would be no discussion of such a hideous thing at dinner.

“Sit here, Raven.” Jacob graciously pulled out a high-backed chair for her.

Carefully avoiding skin contact, Raven allowed herself to be seated. It was hell to be so close to so many people. As a child she had been overwhelmed by the bombardment of emotions around her. She had nearly gone insane until she learned to protect herself, to build a shield. It worked unless the pain or distress was too concentrated, or if she physically touched another human being. Or if she was in the presence of a very sick and evil mind.

Right now, with conversation flowing all around her and everyone seemingly having a good time, Raven was experiencing classic signs of overload. Shards of glass pierced her skull, her stomach roiled in protest. She couldn’t possibly eat a thing.

Mikhail inhaled the night air, moved slowly through the small town, seeking what he needed. Not a woman. He couldn’t bear to touch another woman’s flesh. He was aroused, dangerous in his highly sexual state, and far too close to turning. He might lose control. So it had to be a man. He moved among the people easily, returned greetings from those who knew him. He was well respected, looked up to.

He slipped up behind a young man who was physically fit, strong. His scent spoke of health, veins bursting with life. After a brief, easy conversation, Mikhail spoke his command softly, laid a friendly arm across the other’s shoulder. Deep within the shadows he bent his dark head and fed well. He was careful to keep his emotions firmly in control. He liked this young man, knew his family. There could be no mistakes.

As he lifted his head, the first wave of her distress hit him. Raven.He had unconsciously been seeking contact with her, touching her mind gently to assure himself that she was still with him. Alert now, he finished his task quickly, releasing the young man from his trance, implanting the continuing conversation, laughing amicably, accepting the handshake with ease, steadying the man when he was a bit dizzy.

Mikhail opened his mind, focused on the thread and followed it. It had been years—his skills were rusty—but he could still “see” when he wanted. Raven was seated at a table with two couples. Outwardly she looked beautiful, serene. But he knew better. He could feel her confusion, the unrelenting pain in her head, her desire to leap up and run from everyone. Her eyes, brilliant sapphires, were haunted, shadows in the paleness of her face. Strain. It amazed him how strong she was. There was no telepathic spillage, no way for anyone with telepathic ability other than he to tell she was in distress.

And then the man beside her leaned forward, looked into her eyes, raw longing on his face, desire in his eyes. “Come for a walk with me, Raven,” he suggested, and his hand moved from the table to rest just above her knee.

At once the pain in Raven’s head increased, crushing at her skull, stabbing at her behind her eyes. She jerked her leg out from under Jacob’s hand. Demons leaped, raged, burst free. Never had Mikhail felt such terrible fury. It rushed over him, claimed him, became him. That someone could hurt her like that, so casually, without even knowing or caring. That someone might touch her while she was so vulnerable and unprotected. That a man would presume to put his hands on her. He hurtled through the sky, the cool air fanning his rage.

Raven felt the force of his anger. The air in the room thickened; outside, the wind rose, whirled fiendishly. Branches pelted the outside walls; the wind rattled ominously at the windows. Several waiters crossed themselves, looking with fright out into the black, suddenly starless night. The room was unexpectedly, strangely silent, as if everyone was collectively holding his and her breath.