Raven pulled her arm away from him and sat down abruptly when her legs buckled beneath her. “You are not...” The name eluded her with an explosive burst of pain. Blood beaded on her forehead and trickled down her face.
Deliberately, the vampire leaned down and ran his tongue coarsely along her cheek, following the path of her blood. “You are ill, my dear. You have to trust me to know what is best for you.”
Raven forced herself to remain calm, to push aside the cobwebs clogging her mind. She had special gifts. She had a brain. Those were two indisputable facts. She was certain she was in grave danger and she had no idea how she had gotten here with him, but she needed to think. She lifted her face to the moon so that it put blue lights in her long, ebony hair. “I’m very confused, I can’t even remember your name.”
She forced herself to look and feel apologetic to appease him if he was capable of reading her mind, and she was afraid he was. “What happened to me? I have a terrible headache.”
He offered his hand, his manner suddenly courtly, far more indulgent now that she was relying on him. “You hurt your head.” He drew her up, slipped his arm around her small waist. This time Raven forced herself to accept his touch without flinching.
“I’m sorry; I’m so confused. It makes me feel silly and afraid,” she confessed, her large blue eyes enormous, her mind innocent and blank.
“I am Andre, your true lifemate. Another stole you away from me. When I rescued you, you fell and hit your head.” His voice was singsong, hypnotic.
True lifemate. Mikhail.This time when the pain beat at her she accepted it, allowed it to wash over her. It stole her breath and pierced her skull. She was careful not to allow any hint of the agony to show on her face or to spill over in her mind. Calling on every ounce of discipline she possessed, Raven focused her mind. Mikhail? Where are you? Are you real? I’m afraid.There was a familiar path and she used it with ease, as if she had always done so.
Little one.The reply was faint, far away, but very real, something to cling to in a world of madness.
Who is with me? What is happening?She made herself lean on the tall man supporting her, kept her mind a jumble of confusion. She found it interesting that her mind allowed her to work on several different levels at once.
Andre is a vampire. He took you from me. I am coming for you.
Something was very wrong. It was all there, if she just reached for it. Raven believed that faraway voice, felt warmth and love enfold her in strong, protective arms. She knew that feeling, that voice. It wasn’t quite right. You’re hurt. How?
Mikhail replayed the recent events in his mind for her. Raven inhaled, feeling as if someone had hit her square in the stomach. Mikhail.
Gregori is turning into some kind of tyrant. I would not dare die.
Memory was flooding in and she was terrified. She made herself compartmentalize her thoughts. The vampire touched only the surface, read what she wanted him to read. She was the shivering, confused woman he expected her to be.
Mikhail’s wounds looked bad to her. He was in the cave, surrounded by others. Gregori was working on the injuries, and Raven was certain he would put Mikhail to ground and she would be left without a lifeline. Raven lifted her chin. The drug might have confused her momentarily, but she could do whatever she had to do. I can handle Andre. Do not worry about me.She used more bravado than she felt.
All at once she had to suppress a surge of relief. Memory, fractured as it had been, came back in full force under Mikhail’s soothing mind touch. Mikhail or Gregori or both would come for her, no matter what else was happening. Mikhail would plug up his wounds and crawl if that was what it took to get to her.
“You are very quiet.” Andre startled her.
“I’m trying to remember, but it makes my head ache.”
They were at the top of a plateau. For a moment she couldn’t make out the stone house built into the side of the mountain. It seemed to shimmer in the silver of the moon, one moment a mirage, then a distinct structure, then gone again. Raven blinked her eyes rapidly, taking in every detail, broadcasting to Mikhail. The trick was in not allowing the vampire to know she was thinking of Mikhail. It was Andre who punished her with pain when he knew her thoughts. Confused by the drug, she had been briefly under his power. Now she was simply sick and dizzy. And very, very frightened.
“Is this our home?” she asked innocently, leaning heavily into him.
“We will remain here long enough to dine, my dear.” There was that curious gloating she was coming to dislike intensely. “It is not safe to remain longer than that. The other might pursue us. You must feed in order to be strong enough to escape.”
Deliberately, trustingly, she curled her fingers around the vampire’s arm. “I will try, Andre, but truly I am feeling sick.”
Raven took a step toward the threshold, felt Mikhail’s instinctive protest. She stumbled unsteadily, fell just outside the door, and lay in a small forlorn heap. With an oath, Andre tried to yank her up, to push her inside, but Raven was limp, unable to move on her own. The vampire lifted her into his arms and carried her inside.
The rock house consisted of a large front room and a hole in the far corner where a ladder led to a lower chamber. The room was cold and dank. Mold grew in the cracks. There was a table and a long church bench. Andre waved his hand to light several candles. Raven’s heart stopped, then began to pound in alarm. Chained to the wall nearest the table, eyes dilated with terror, were a man and a woman. The two were dirty and in ragged clothing. Rips in the woman’s dress and the man’s shirt held the stains of blood. There were bruises on both of them, and the man had several burn marks down his right cheek.
The vampire’s smile was cruel and taunting as he surveyed his helpless victims. “Dinner, my dear, just for you.” He set Raven carefully on the bench as if she was fragile porcelain. Andre slowly glided gracefully across the stone floor, his red, soulless eyes on the woman. He took his time enjoying her terror, laughing at her husband’s impotent raging. As he yanked the woman free of the chain, the man struggled and threatened, cursed Raven. Andre dragged the woman to Raven’s side, forced her to her knees and held her still, one hand gripping her hair so that her throat was exposed.
His thumb slid over the pounding pulse. “Feed, my dear. Feel the hot blood pour into your veins, making you strong again. When you take her life you will have such power as you have never known. This is my gift to you. Infinite power.” The woman sobbed and moaned with terror. Her husband pleaded, swore, fought the chains that bound him. Raven sat up slowly and pushed back her heavy fall of hair with a trembling hand. Andre could have seduced his victims, entranced them so that they welcomed death, but he sought thrills at the expense of human terror. The adrenaline-laced blood was addicting, intoxicating. Everyone seemed to be waiting for her reaction. She could feel Mikhail in her, still and motionless, raging that he was not there to protect her from such a terrible decision.
Her large blue-violet eyes lifted to Andre’s face, expressive, over-bright, as if she was on the verge of tears. Her hand slid soothingly up the woman’s arm. She was extraordinarily gentle, trying to comfort without words. “You doubt me. Why? What have I done? I honestly can’t remember. I would never do such a thing, take a life like this, and neither would you. Why do you test me this way? Have I committed a crime I can’t remember? Why would you be so cruel to me?”
Andre’s face went dark, the red eyes changing to his normal dark brown. “Do not be so distressed.”