Mikhail, above her head, closed his eyes for a moment to calm his mind. That she could feel unclean. He could look into her heart and soul, see her every secret, know she was light and compassion, courage and gentleness. The things she had seen in her young life should never have been. He waited until his voice was calm and soothing. “And you get these headaches if you use telepathic communication?” At her solemn nod, he continued, “Yet when you heard me, unguarded, in pain, you reached out to me, knowing the price you would pay.”
How could she explain? He was like a wounded animal, radiating so much pain that she had found tears streaming unchecked down her face. His loneliness was hers. His isolation, hers. And she had sensed his resolve to end his pain, his existence. She could not let that happen, no matter what the cost to herself.
Mikhail let out his breath slowly, astonished and shocked by her nature, so giving. She was hesitant to put into words why she had reached out to him, but he knew it was her nature to give. He also knew the call had been so strong because that something in him that reached for her had found whatever it needed. He inhaled her scent, taking her into his body, enjoying the sight and smell of her in his home, the feel of her silky hair in his hands, her soft skin under his fingertips. The flames from the fire put blue lights in her hair. Need slammed into him, hard and urgent and, as painful as the ache was, he reveled in the fact that he could feel it.
Mikhail seated himself across the small table from her, his eyes drifting lazily, possessively over her alluring curves. “Why do you dress in men’s clothes?” he asked.
She laughed, soft and melodious, and her eyes lit with mischief. “Because I knew it would annoy you.”
He threw back his head and laughed. Real, genuine, incredible laughter. There was happiness in him and the stirrings of affection. He couldn’t remember what those feelings were like, but the emotions were sharp and clear and a sweet ache in his body.
“Is it necessary to annoy me?”
She arched an eyebrow at him, realizing that her headache was completely gone. “So easy,” Raven teased.
He leaned closer. “Disrespectful woman. So dangerous, you mean.”
“Mmm, maybe that, too.” She slid her hand through her hair, pushed it away from her face. The action was an innocent habit, incredibly sexy, drawing his gaze to the perfection of her face, the fullness of her breasts, the smooth line of her throat.
“So just how good a chess player are you?” she challenged impudently.
An hour later Mikhail leaned back in his chair to watch her face as she studied the board. She was frowning in concentration, trying to puzzle out his unfamiliar strategy. She could sense that he was leading her into a trap, but she couldn’t find it. Raven leaned her chin on the heel of her hand, relaxed, in no hurry. She was patient and thorough and twice had gotten him into trouble simply because he was too sure of himself.
Suddenly her eyes widened, a slow smile curving her soft mouth. “You are a cunning devil, aren’t you, Mikhail? But I think your cleverness may have gotten you into a bit of trouble.”
He watched her with hooded eyes. His teeth gleamed white in the firelight. “Did I happen to mention, Miss Whitney, that the last person impertinent enough to beat me at chess was thrown in the dungeon and tortured for thirty years?”
“I believe that would have made you about two at the time,” she teased, her eyes glued to the chessboard.
He sucked in his breath sharply. He had been comfortable in her presence, felt totally accepted. She obviously believed he was mortal, with superior telepathic powers. Mikhail lazily reached across the board to make his move, saw the dawning comprehension in her eyes. “I believe what we have is checkmate,” he said silkily.
“I should have known a man who walks in the forest surrounded by wolves would be devious.” She smiled up at him. “Great game, Mikhail. I really enjoyed it.” Raven sank back into the cushions of the chair. “Can you talk to animals?” she asked curiously.
He liked her in his home, liked the way the fire burned blue in her hair and the way the shadows clung so lovingly to her face. He had memorized every inch of it, knew that if he closed his eyes, the picture would still be there, the high, delicate cheekbones, her small nose and lush mouth. “Yes.” He answered truthfully, not wanting lies between them.
“Would you have killed Jacob?”
Her lashes were beautiful and held his attention. “Be careful of what you ask little one,” he cautioned.
She curled her legs beneath under her, regarded him steadily. “You know, Mikhail, you are so used to using your power, you don’t even stop to think if it’s right or wrong.”
“He had no right to touch you. He was causing you pain.”
“But he didn’t know he was. And you had no right to touch me, but you did anyway,” she pointed out reasonably.
His eyes glittered coldly. “I have every right. You belong to me.” He said it calmly, his voice soft, with a hint of warning. “More importantly, Raven, I did not cause you pain.”
Raven’s breath caught in her throat. Her tongue moistened her lips with a small, delicate gesture. “Mikhail”—her voice was hesitant, as she chose her words carefully—”I belong to myself. I’m a person, not something you can own. In any case. I live in the United States. I’m going back there soon and intend to be on the next train to Budapest.”
His smile was that of a hunter. Predatory. For a moment the firelight gleamed red, so that his eyes glowed like a wolf’s in the night. He said nothing, simply watched her unblinkingly.
Her hand fluttered defensively to her throat. “It’s late; I should be going,” She could hear the pounding of her own heart. What was it she wanted from him? She didn’t know, only that this was the most perfect, frightening night of her life and she wanted to see him again. He was utterly motionless, menacing in his complete stillness. She waited breathlessly. Fear was suffocating her, sending tremors through her slender form. Fear he would let her go; fear he would force her to stay. She drew air into her lungs. “Mikhail, I don’t know what you want.” She didn’t know what she wanted either.
He stood up then, power and grace combined. His shadow reached her before he did. His strength was enormous, but his hands were gentle as they pulled her to her feet. His hands slid up her arms, rested lightly on her shoulders, thumbs stroking the pulse in her neck. His touch sent warmth curling in her abdomen. She was so small beside him, so fragile and vulnerable. “Do not try to leave me, little one. We need one another.” His dark head bent lower, his mouth brushing her eyelids, sending little darts of fire licking along her skin. “You make me remember what living is,” he whispered in his mesmerizing voice. His mouth found the corner of hers, and a jolt of electricity sizzled through her body.
Raven reached up to touch the shadowed line of his jaw, to place a hand on the heavy muscles of his chest in an attempt to put space between them. “Listen to me, Mikhail.” Her voice was husky. “We both know what loneliness is, isolation. It’s beyond my imagination that I can be this close to you, physically touch you, and not be swamped with unwanted burdens. But we can’t do this.”
Amusement crept into the dark fire of his eyes, a hint of tenderness. His fingers curled around the nape of her neck. “Oh, I think we can.” His black velvet voice was pure seduction, his smile frankly sensual.
Raven felt his power right down to her toes. Her body was boneless, liquid, aching. She was so close to him that she felt a part of him, surrounded by him, enveloped by him. “I’m not going to sleep with someone I don’t know because I’m lonely.”
He laughed softly, low and amused. “Is that what you think? That you would be sleeping with me because you are lonely?” His hand was at her throat again, stroking, caressing, heating her blood. “This is why you will make love with me. This!” His mouth fastened on hers.