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“Tell me, Andre. I can’t bear not to know. Did the other one force me to do something you can’t forgive?” She bowed her head as if ashamed. Her voice dropped even lower. “Take my life, Andre. Take your wrath out on me, not this poor, undeserving woman. I will leave if you do not wish my life bound to yours, although I have nowhere else to go.” She met his eyes so that he knew she meant it. “Take my life now, Andre.”

“No, Raven.”

“Then answer me: why this test? Is it because I’m not wholly like you, because I can’t go to ground or shape-shift? You are ashamed of me and wish to punish me.”

“Of course not.”

Raven put her arm around the woman. “I seem to recall, although I’m not certain, that you said you would hire reliable servants. Is this woman the one you spoke of?” Suddenly her face clouded. “Is she your mistress?” She sounded near hysterics, but her hand was still very gentle on the woman’s arm.

“No! No!” the woman protested, but there was confusion and dawning hope in her eyes. “I am not his mistress. That is my husband. We have done nothing wrong.”

Andre was clearly at a loss. He had taken Raven in a desperate attempt to save himself. If he forced her to kill, then she would become as dark and as lost as he. Something inside him shifted and turned as he stared down into the innocence in her eyes. “The woman speaks the truth, Raven. She is nothing to me. A servant, if you wish her.” His voice was lost and lonely, almost uncertain.

Raven reached out for his hand. His mind was a masterpiece of evil, rotted and twisted. Yet Raven felt sorrow for him. He had once been good, no different from Mikhail or Jacques, but in the dark isolation of his existence he had turned down a wrong path. Andre desperately wanted to feel, to be able to face the morning sun, witness a sunset again. He wanted to look in the mirror and not see his receding gum line and the ravages left by his depraved existence. It was an impossibility; no true vampire could ever face himself in the mirror without experiencing tremendous pain. Raven was his only hope and he clung to it. He wanted a miracle. Because she had been human, he had no idea of what she was capable or incapable of doing.

“Forgive me, Andre, if I have done something to cause you to doubt me,” she said gently, compassion welling up so that she wanted to cry. She could not save him, even if she did not belong with Mikhail. No one could. He was far too depraved and bloated with his false sense of power, far too addicted to the adrenaline in a terror-stricken kill. She hated herself for deceiving him, but her life and the lives of the human couple clearly hung in the balance.

His hand stroked her silky hair. “I am not angry with you, my dear, but you are weak and need nourishment.”

The woman stiffened, her face a mask of fear. She stayed very still, waiting for Raven’s reply. Raven looked confused. “But I can’t feed.” Deliberately she allowed Mikhail’s name to shimmer in her mind, and then she was clutching her head in agony. “I don’t know why; I can’t think. I think the other did something to make me this way.”

Andre dragged the woman up by her hair. “I will return in a few minutes. You see to it Raven comes to no harm.” His eyes were flat and cold. “Do not try to leave this place. I will know.”

“Andre, stay,” Raven whispered, fighting for him in spite of herself.

He swung away from her and sped out, away from the light, back toward the world of death and madness he was familiar with.

The woman clutched at Raven. “Please, let us go. He is evil; he will kill us, make us his slaves until our fear no longer amuses him.”

Raven pushed herself upright, desperately fighting dizziness. “He will know. He can see in the dark, smell you, hear your very heart beat.” The room was so cold and musty smelling, so depressing. The air itself was stale and told of death. With Raven’s sensitivity she could almost hear the screams of the countless victims who had been brought to this place, chained to the stained walls. She was every bit as frightened as the human woman was. “Who are you?”

“Monique Chancellor. That is my husband, Alexander. Why did you help me?”

“Guard your thoughts, Monique. He can read them.”

“He is nosferatuunclean. The vampire.” It was more of a statement than a question. “We must leave this place of death.”

Raven rose unsteadily to her feet, hanging on to the back of the chair, the table, to make her way to the door. She stared up at the stars, gazed slowly over the landscape in each direction, taking note of every rock wall, the cliffs rising behind the house. She studied the dwelling itself, the windows, the doors, the structures of the walls, paid particular attention to the wide open spaces leading to the house.

“Please, please.” The woman clawed at her. “Help us.”

Raven blinked to bring her into focus. “I’m trying to help you. Stay calm; keep out of his way. Draw as little attention to yourselves as possible.” She closed the door, having accomplished what she had hoped to do. Mikhail and Gregori would know as much detailed information as she could transmit.

“Who are you?” Alexander demanded suspiciously. He had pulled at his chains so much, she could see his wrists were raw.

Raven rubbed her pounding temple, a growing nausea gripping her stomach. “It isn’t a good idea to have open wounds around him.” She could smell blood and her body, desperately weak, needed nourishment. Raven ignored the woman sobbing quietly in a corner and went to the man to see if she could find a way to ease his discomfort. As she bent to examine his wrist, his other hand whipped up to clutch a handful of her hair, yanking hard enough to bring tears to her eyes. He dragged her back against his chest so that both hands could grip her throat, fingers digging into soft flesh.

“Alexander, stop, what are you doing?” Monique cried.

“Monique, get the key to these cuffs,” Alexander ordered, his powerful fingers crushing Raven’s windpipe so that the room began to spin.

Raven could feel his fear, his frantic attempt to save his wife and himself. He was afraid she was a vampire, cruelly playing with them for some perverse enjoyment. Raven couldn’t blame him, but his hands were squeezing the life out of her.

Raven!The cry was close, a ripple of fury moving through her mind.

Alexander’s hands were torn from her throat; there was a loud popping noise signaling broken bones. He was slammed into the wall behind them, held so that his feet dangled helplessly four feet from the floor. Monique screamed as the air rushed from her husband’s lungs. He began to strangle, his eyes bulging honibly.

Release him, Mikhail! Oh, God, please. I can’t bear to be responsible for another death. Ijustcan’t.Raven sank to the floor, drew up her knees, and huddled there, rocking. “Please,” she whispered aloud. “Release him.”

Mikhail fought his kiffing rage, managed to suppress it enough to release the human from his mind assault. He hurtled through the air, tracking Raven easily. He was barely aware of Gregori keeping pace with him to his left, of Aidan and Byron slightly behind him, of Eric and Tienn and a few others struggling to keep up some distance behind. None of them mattered. He had hunted vampires over many centuries and he had always felt a twinge of reluctance, of pity perhaps. There was none now.

Mikhail kept his fury tamped down so that it seethed and boiled like magma in a volcano, so that it sought to escape in any direction it could, needing a violent, explosive release. If he allowed it to seep out, the very earth, the winds, the creatures in the mountains would react. It would be a clear warning to the vampire. He felt no pain and he was well fed; Gregori had seen to that personally. The combination of their ancient blood was powerful beyond measure. Even so, a spot of blood soaked through the white feathers on the owl. Instinctively, Mikhail shifted and circled to stay downwind so that any passing breeze could not carry that scent to the vampire.