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Jacob gasped, both hands going to his throat, tearing at it as if at strong, strangling fingers. His face was first red, then mottled, his eyes bulging. Shelly screamed. A young waiter ran to assist the choking man. People were standing, craning their necks to see.

Raven forced calmness into her slender body. Emotions were running far too high for her to remain unscathed. Release him.Silence answered her. Even with the waiter behind him, desperately working at the Heimlich maneuver, Jacob fell to his knees, his lips blue, his eyes rolling back in his head. Please, I’m asking you, please. Release him. For me.

Jacob suddenly inhaled, a terrible gagging sound, labored and harsh. His sister and Margaret Summers were crouched at his side, tears in their eyes. Instinctively, Raven moved toward him.

Do not touch him!The command was stark, without any mental enhancement, more frightening than if he had forced her compliance.

Raven was besieged with emotion, from everyone in the room. Jacob’s pain and terror. Shelly’s fear, the innkeeper’s horror, the other Americans’ shocked reaction. They were swamping her, beating at her already fragile state. But it was hisall-consuming rage that sent needles shooting through her head. Her stomach heaved, cramped, and Raven nearly doubled over and looked desperately for the ladies room. If anyone touched her, tried to come to her aid, she might go mad.

“Raven.” The voice was warm, sensual, caressing. Calm in the eye of the storm. Black velvet. Beautiful. Soothing.

A curious hush fell in the dining room as Mikhail strode in. He had a hard arrogance, an air of complete command. He was tall, dark, well muscled, but it was his eyes, burning with energy, with darkness, with a thousand secrets, that drew immediate attention. Those eyes could mesmerize, hypnotize, just like the power in his voice. He moved with purpose, sending waiters scurrying out of the way.

“Mikhail, it is such a pleasure to have you join us,” the innkeeper gasped in surprise.

He spared the woman a glance, his eyes sweeping over her buxom figure. “I have come for Raven. We have a date this evening.” He said it softly, imperiously, and no one dared argue with him. “She has challenged me to a game of chess.”

The innkeeper nodded her head as she broke into a smile. “Enjoy yourselves.”

Raven swayed, pressing her hands into her stomach. Her sapphire eyes were enormous, taking up her face at his approach. He was on her before she could move, his hands reaching out for her.

Don’t.She closed her eyes, terrified of his touch. She was already on overload; she would not be able to take the overpowering emotions radiating from him.

Mikhail didn’t hesitate, gathering her into his arms, imprisoning her against his hard chest. His face was a granite mask as he whirled around and took her from the room. Behind them the buzzing started, the whispers.

Raven tensed, waiting for the battery on her senses, but he had closed his mind and all she knew was the enormous strength of his arms. He took her into the night, moving fluidly, easily, as if her weight was of no consequence.

“Breathe, little one; it will help.” There was a trace of amusement in the warmth of his voice.

Raven did as he suggested, too worn out to struggle. She had come here to this wild, lonely place to heal, but instead, she was all the more fragmented. She opened her eyes cautiously, looking up at him through long lashes.

His hair was the color of dark coffee beans, a dark espresso, drawn back and tied at the nape of his neck. His face was that of an angel or a devil, strength and power, with a sensual mouth that hinted at cruelty; his hooded eyes were black obsidian, black ice, pure black magic.

She couldn’t read him, couldn’t feel his emotions or hear his thoughts. That had never happened to her before. “Put me down. I feel silly with you carrying me off like some pirate.” His long strides were taking them into deep forest. Branches swayed, bushes rustled. Her heart was beating out of control. She tensed, pushed against his shoulders, struggled uselessly.

His eyes moved possessively over her face, but his pace didn’t slow, and he didn’t answer her. It was humiliating that he didn’t appear to notice her struggles.

Raven allowed her head to fall back against his shoulder with a slight sigh. “Did you kidnap me or rescue me?”

Strong white teeth gleamed at her, a predator’s smile, a man’s amusement. “Perhaps a little of both.”

“Where are you taking me?” She pressed a hand to her I forehead, not wanting a battle, physical or mental.

“To my home. We have a date. I am Mikhail Dubrinsky.”

Raven rubbed at her temple. “Tonight might not be so good for me. I’m feeling...” She broke off, catching a I glimpse of a moving shadow pacing them. Her heart nearly stopped. She looked around, sighted a second, then a third. Her hand clutched his shoulder. “Put me down, Dubrinsky.”

“Mikhail,” he corrected, not even slowing down. A smile softened the edges of his mouth. “You see the wolves?” She felt the indifferent shrug of his broad shoulders. “Be calm, little one; they will not harm us. This is their home, as it is mine. We have an understanding and are at peace with one another.”

Somehow she believed him. “Are you going to hurt me?” She asked the question softly, needing to know.

His dark eyes touched her face again, thoughtful, holding a thousand secrets, unmistakably possessive. “I am not a man who would hurt a woman in the way you are imagining. But I am certain our relationship will not always be a comfortable one. You like to defy me.” He answered as honestly as he was I able.

His eyes made her feel as if she belonged to him, as if he had a right to her. “You were wrong to hurt Jacob, you know. You could have killed him.”

“Do not defend him, little one. I allowed him to live to please you, but it would be no trouble to finish the task.” Pleasurable. No man had the right to put his hand on Mikhail’s woman and hurt her as that human had done. The inability of the male to see that he was causing Raven pain did not absolve his sin.

“You don’t mean that. Jacob is harmless. He was attracted to me,” she tried to explain gently.

“You will not speak his name to me. He touched you, put his hand on you.” He stopped abruptly, there in the heart of I the deep forest, as wild and untamed as the pack of wolves surrounding them. He was not even breathing heavily, though he had covered miles carrying her in his arms. His black eyes were merciless as they stared down into hers. “He caused you much pain.”

Her breath caught in her throat as he lowered his dark head to hers. His mouth hovered inches from hers, so that she could feel the warmth of his breath on her skin. “Do not disobey me in this, Raven. This man touched you, hurt you, and I see no reason for his existence.”

Her eyes searched his hard, implacable features. “You’re serious, aren’t you?” She did not want to feel the warmth spreading through her at his words. Jacob had hurt her; the pain was so intense, it had stolen her breath and somehow, when no one else knew, Mikhail had known.

“Deadly serious.” He began moving again with his long, ground-eating strides.

Raven was silent, trying to work out the puzzle. She knew evil, had chased it, soaked in it, the obscene, depraved mind of a serial killer. This man spoke casually of killing, yet she could not feel evil in him. She sensed that she was in danger, grave danger from Mikhail Dubrinsky. A man with unlimited power, arrogant in his strength, a man who believed he had a right to her.

“Mikhail?” Her slender frame was beginning to tremble. “I want to go back.”