One by one the Carpathian males materialized, their faces masks of condemnation. Raven could feel the human couple’s terror rising, approaching near madness. She staggered to them, wrapping her arms protectively around Monique. “He will save us,” she whispered to them.
“He is like the other,” Alexander rasped hoarsely.
“No, he is good. He will save us.” Raven stated the truth simply, with great conviction.
Mikhail released the vampire abruptly. Andre looked around him, his mouth twisted sardonically. “Does it take an army for you to go on the hunt?”
“You have been sentenced for your crimes, Andre. Should I fail, the sentence will be carried out by another.” Mikhail indicated two Carpathians with his finger and nodded toward Raven. His tall form emanated power and confidence. “You are but a child, Andre.” His voice was a pure tone, pitched low and velvet soft. “You cannot hope to match one who has battled so many times, but I offer you the chance you have worked so hard to attain.” The black eyes glittered with icy fury.
“Vengeance, Mikhail?” Andre asked sarcastically. “How very common of you.” He launched himself, razor-sharp claws extended, fangs dripping.
Mikhail simply disappeared, and the vampire found himself tumbling out of the house on the ground, the savage night closing in on him, the Carpathian males in a huge, loose circle corralling him in. Andre turned in the direction in which the others were looking. Mikhail was standing a few feet from him, a black fury burning in his unblinking gaze.
Aidan advanced on Raven, his glittering eyes golden and piercing as his gaze swept over the mortals huddled behind her. “Come with us,” he ordered abruptly. “Mikhail wishes us to see that you are safe.”
Raven didn’t recognize him, but she did recognize the stamp of confidence he carried, the complete self-possession. His voice was soft and hypnotic, almost mesmerizing. “Did you see where Andre put the key so we can free Alexander?” Raven asked Monique, attempting to move around the other Carpathian male blocking her path.
Without warning, Raven’s eyes widened, and she clutched her side, a strangled cry catching in her throat. She went down hard, curling in agony, a crimson smear across her forehead, trickling into her eyes. Monique threw herself to the floor beside the younger woman. Raven was completely unaware of her. She was no longer within the confines of the house, had no knowledge of Aidan or Byron or even Monique and Alexander. She was outside with the blood-red moon spilling down on her, facing a demon of immense power and strength. A demon whose eyes had glowing red flames leaping in them, whose smile was cruelty itself. He was totally without mercy. He was tall, graceful, supremely confident, and she knew he was going to kill her. There was an animal beauty in the fluid way he moved. There was death and damnation in those soulless eyes. He was absolutely invincible. He had struck her body a mortal wound and glided away with blinding speed. There was no pity and no feeling in him. He was without mercy, relentless, ruthless, and without remorse.
See him as he is, a killer, a stalker of mortals and Carpathians alike.Andre hissed in her mind. Know him for the beast that he is. You see an educated man who controls you with his mind. This is the real Mikhail Dubrinsky. He has hunted hundreds of us, perhaps thousands of his own people, and slain them. He will murder us and feel nothing but the joy of ultimate power.
Andre’s mind was merged fully with hers so that she was looking through his eyes, feeling his hatred and fear, feeling the pain from the blow Mikhail had administered when Andre had attacked him. Raven struggled to break away from the vampire’s hold on her mind, but Andre knew he was going to die and hung on to her with total determination. She would be his last revenge. With every blow Andre received, with every burning wound Mikhail inflicted on him, Raven would feel the same pain. The vampire could at least glory in that pain.
Raven could see his plan clearly, knew Mikhail felt the initial rush of agony overwhelming her. She could barely breathe, but, wanting to spare him, she tried to close herself off from him. But Mikhail was far too strong to allow her such a withdrawal from him. She could feel his utter cold fury, his lack of mercy, his desire for battle, the urge to kill the renegade. She could feel his sudden indecision as he realized what the vampire was doing.
Raven. Hear me.Gregori. Calm in the eye of the storm.
His voice beautiful, hypnotic, soothing. Give yourself to me. You will sleep now.
Gregori gave Raven little choice in the matter, but even so, she gave herself up willingly, gratefully, to the hypnotic voice and went under immediately, removing Andre’s last threat to Mikhail.
A long, slow hiss of air escaped Mikhail’s lungs. He moved, a blur too fast to see. Andre’s body flew backwards under the blow. The crack was loud in the unnatural silence. Andre struggled to his feet, eyes glazed, wildly seeking his antagonist.
“I have won.” He spit a mouthful of blood and pressed a trembling hand to his chest. “She saw you as you are. What you do here cannot change that.” He did not take his gaze from Mikhail’s body, didn’t blink, didn’t dare. It seemed an impossibility for even a Carpathian to be that fast. There was something terrible in those black, merciless eyes. Without Raven awake and aware, there was not a shred of pity or compassion.
Andre took a cautious step backwards, focused his mind, and aimed. Fiery light crackled and snapped, then hit the ground where Mikhail had been. The noise was tremendous; the blow shook the earth. The whip of electricity sizzled and retreated, leaving a patch of blackened, scarred earth behind. Andre screamed as something snapped his head back and a huge gash opened around his throat, spewing bright crimson blood in a fountain.
The fourth blow opened Andre’s chest, smashing through protective bones and muscle to the heart. Those black, merciless eyes stared into Andre’s without pity as Mikhail ripped the heart from his chest. Mikhail contemptuously dropped the still pulsing organ to the ground beside the lifeless body, ensuring that the vampire could not rise again. He stood over his fallen enemy, fighting to control the beast in himself, the wild surge of triumph, the addicting rush of power that shook his body. He felt none of his earlier wounds, only a sheer joy in the night, in his victory.
The wildness in him grew dangerously, spread like molten fire. The wind whipped up and carried a scent. Raven.
Mikhail’s blood surged hotly; his fangs ached and hunger grew. He scented the humans, the one that had touched his lifemate. Bloodlust shook him, and the Carpathians stepped farther back, as the power seemed to radiate from Mikhail’s body, as the need to kill nearly overwhelmed him. The wind swirled around him in a constant eddy, and Raven’s scent remained elusive and faint. Raven.His body clenched, burned. Raven.The wind whispered her name and the turbulent storm raging in him began to ease.
Mikhail’s mind reached for the light, the path back from the world of violence. “Destroy this thing,” he snapped tersely, to no one in particular. He gathered energy from the sky and bathed his hands in it, removing the tainted blood from his body. He moved with blinding speed back inside the ruins of the vampire’s lair, materialized out of thin air, and loomed over Monique, who was holding Raven’s lifeless body in her arms, rocking her.
Raven became aware of her surroundings slowly. She was on a bed, her body without clothing. Mikhail was behind her, his hands tangled in her thick, damp hair. She recognized the feel of his sure fingers working to braid her hair, his movements calm and deliberate, very matter-of-fact, putting her at ease despite her shadowy memory. She appeared to be in an old castle that was small and inevitably drafty. The bedchamber was warm, and Mikhail had flooded it with the essence of soothing herbs and the romance of flickering candlelight. He had cleaned them both so that their bodies only smelled of each other and the scent of the herbal soap he used. He took his time braiding the length of hair while she tried to orient herself to her new surroundings. Mikhail touched her mind, found it confused, desperately holding on to sanity. She was afraid of him and even more afraid to trust her own judgment. Raven studied each corner of the room, each wall, every detail, while her heart pounded frantically, the sound loud in her ears. The room was beautiful. A fire glowed in the fireplace; long, tapered candles emitted a light fragrance that mingled with the soothing scent of herbs. A well-worn Bible lay on the small end table beside the bed. She didn’t really recognize anything, yet it was all strangely familiar.