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The dark eyes drifted over her face again, noting the shadows, the fear lingering in her blue gaze. Her heart was pounding, her slight body trembling in his arms. “Go back to what? Death? Isolation? You have nothing with those people and everything with me. Going back is not your answer. Sooner or later you will not be able to take their demands. They continually take pieces of your soul. You are much safer in my care.”

She pushed at the wall of his chest, found her hands trapped against the heat of his skin. He merely tightened his hold, amusement spreading warmth to the coldness of his eyes. “You cannot fight me, little one.”

“I want to go back, Mikhail.” She worked to keep her voice under control. She wasn’t sure she was telling the truth. He knew her. He knew what she felt, the price she paid for her gift. The pull between them was so strong, she could hardly think straight.

The house loomed up, dark, threatening, a rambling hulk of stone. Her fingers twisted in his shirt. Mikhail knew she was unaware of that nervous, telltale gesture. “You are safe with me, Raven. I would not allow anyone or anything to harm you.”

She swallowed nervously as he pushed open the heavy iron gates and mounted the steps. “Just you.”

He allowed his chin to brush the top of her silky hair, feeling the jolt in the core of his body. “Welcome to my home.” He said the words softly, wrapping her up in them as if they were firelight or sunshine. Very slowly, reluctantly, he allowed her feet to touch the threshold.

Mikhail reached past her to open the door, then stepped back. “Do you enter my home of your own free will?” He asked it formally, his eyes burning on her face, over it, dwelling on her soft mouth before returning to her large blue eyes.

She was frightened, he could read it easily, a captive wild thing wanting to trust him yet unable to, run to the ground, cornered, but still willing to fight with her last breath. She needed him almost as much as he needed her. She touched the door frame with a fingertip. “If I say no, will you take me back to the inn?”

Why did she want to be with him when she knew he was so dangerous? He wasn’t “pushing” her; she had too much talent of her own not to know. He looked so alone, so proud, yet his eyes burned over her with hungry need. He didn’t answer her, didn’t try to persuade her, simply stood in silence, waiting.

Raven sighed softly, knowing she was defeated. She had never known another human being she could just sit and talk with, even touch, without the bombardment of thoughts and emotions. That in itself was a type of seduction.

She started across the threshold. Mikhail caught her arm. “Your own free will; say it.”

“My own free will.” She stepped into his home, her lashes sweeping down. Raven missed the look of savage joy that lit his dark, chiseled features.

Chapter Two

The heavy door swung closed behind Raven with a thud of finality. She shivered, rubbed her arms nervously. Mikhail whirled a cape around her, enveloping her in warmth, in his woodsy, masculine scent. He strode across the marble floor to throw open the doors to the library. Within minutes he had a fire roaring. He indicated a chair near the flames. It was high-backed, deep cushioned, an antique, yet curiously not worn.

Raven studied the room with awe. It was large, with a beautiful hardwood floor, each parquet piece a part of a larger mosaic. On three sides there were floor-to-ceiling shelves, completely filled with books, most leather bound, many very old. The chairs were comfortable, the small table, in between the chairs, an antique in perfect condition. The chessboard was marble, the pieces uniquely carved.

“Drink this.”

She nearly jumped out of her skin when he appeared beside her with a crystal glass. “I don’t drink alcohol.”

He smiled the smile that made her heart beat faster. His acute sense of smell had already processed that particular bit of information about her. “It is not alcohol; it is an herb mixture for your headache.”

Alarm slammed into her. She was crazy for being here. It was like trying to relax with a wild tiger in the same room. He could do anything to her and no one would come to help. If he drugged her... Decisively, she shook her head. “No, thank you.”

“Raven.” His voice was low, caressing, hypnotic. “Obey me.”

She found her fingers curling around the glass. She fought the order, and pain sliced through her head so that she cried out.

Mikhail was at her side, looming over her, his hand closing over hers around the fragile glass. “Why do you defy me over so trivial a thing?”

There were tears burning in her throat. “Why would you force me?”

His hand found her throat, circled it, lifted her chin. “Because you are in pain and I wish to ease it.”

Her eyes widened in astonishment. Could it be so simple? She was in pain and he wanted to ease it? Was he really that protective, or did he enjoy imposing his will? “It’s my choice. That’s what free will is all about.”

“I can see pain in your eyes, feel it in your body. Knowing I can help you, is it logical for me to allow you to continue to hurt yourself just so you can prove something?” There was genuine puzzlement in his voice. “Raven, if I was going to harm you, I would not need to drug you. Allow me to help you.” His thumb was moving over her skin, feather-light, sensuous, tracing the pulse in her neck, the delicate line of her jaw, the fullness of her lower lip.

She closed her eyes and let him put the glass to her mouth, tilt the bittersweet contents down her throat. She felt as if she was placing her life in his hands. There was far too much possession in his touch.

“Relax, little one,” he said softly. “Tell me about yourself. How is it that you can hear my thoughts?” His strong fingers found her temples, began a soothing rhythm.

“I’ve always been able to do it. When I was little, I just assumed everybody else could do the same thing. But it was terrible to know other people’s innermost thoughts, their secrets. I heard and felt things every minute of the day.” Raven never talked about her life, her childhood, to anyone, least of all a complete stranger. Yet Mikhail didn’t feel like a stranger. He felt like a part of her. A piece missing from her soul. It seemed important to tell him. “My father thought I was a freak, a demon child, and even my mother was a little afraid of me. I learned never to touch people, not to be in crowds. It was better to be alone, in places of solitude. It was the only way I could stay sane.”

Gleaming teeth bared above her head, a predator’s menace. He wanted to be alone with her father for a few minutes, to show him what a demon really was. It interested him, yet alarmed him that her words could bring about such rage in him. To know she was alone so long ago, had endured pain and loneliness when he was in the world, angered him. Why hadn’t he gone looking for her? Why hadn’t her father loved and cherished her as he should have?

His hands were working magic, slipping to the nape of her neck, his fingers strong, hypnotic. “A few years ago a man was murdering families, small children. I was staying with a friend from high school and when I returned after work, I found them all dead. When I went into the house I could feel his evil, knew his thoughts. It made me sick, the terrible things running around in my head, but I was able to track him and finally led the police to him.”

His hands moved down the length of her thick braid, found the tie and loosened the heavy mass of silk, tunneling his fingers to release the woven strands, still damp from her shower hours before. “How many times did you do this thing?” She was leaving things out. The details of horror and pain, the faces of those she helped as they watched her work, shocked, fascinated, yet repulsed by her ability. He saw those details, sharing her mind, reading her memories to learn her true nature.

“Four. I went after four killers. The last time I fell apart. He was so sick, so evil. I felt as if I was unclean, as if I could never get him out of my head. I came here hoping to find peace. I decided I would never do anything like that again.”