She swung around, her back to the sink, her face so expressive his heart clenched down hard like a vise. This time, when the pain flashed through his body, he made a conscious effort to feel it, to allow it into his mind. Her eyes swam with tears, turning all that beautiful dark to a fathomless pool. It was impossible to fully comprehend the jumble of impressions in her chaotic mind, but she was upset and he'd somehow managed again to be the one to upset her.

Zacarias sighed. Females were difficult at best; one never knew what they were going to do from one moment to the next. They were without logic or reason. At least this one was. He hadn't been around any others for any significant amount of time so maybe others were different, but this woman made no sense to him.

"Stop that," he ordered abruptly, pressing his palm hard over his heart as if he could heal the ache her tears caused.

Stop what? She looked confused.

He watched both fascinated and horrified as one tear tipped over her feathery bottom lashes and ran down her face. His heart stuttered. "That," he snarled.

He stepped close, crowding her. Waves of distress poured off of her. There was no sound, not even a small one, but he was aware of every tiny thing about her and deep inside where no one else would ever see, she was weeping.

Acidic poison from vampire blood could not kill him. Torture. Mortal wounds. He had endured them all and survived, but this . . . this silent weeping by this woman for him - and God help both of them, it was for him - was too much. He might dissolve into a puddle at her feet. Entirely unacceptable and disturbing that she could wield such a powerful sword against him.

He dragged her against him, his body without give, with no soft edges to it, so that the air rushed out of her lungs and she had to catch at his arms to steady herself. He needed to hold her to him, without a clear idea of why, but he couldn't look at her tear-drenched eyes another moment. One hand passed over her face, wiping away all evidence. He brought his palm to his mouth and tasted her tears.

You can't order me not to cry.

"Of course I can. And by all that's holy, this one time, you will obey me." Palming the back of her head, he pressed her face tight against his chest.

At first she was tense and stiff, but within moments, as the heat of his body seeped into the cold of hers, she went soft and pliant in his arms. He should have allowed her to step back away from him, but it was easier to maintain some semblance of control over her when he held her. In truth, his arms had become an iron cage and he wasn't altogether certain if he was consciously or subconsciously holding her to him, but found he couldn't drop his arms. He brushed his hand down the length of her hair.

Few modern women seemed to have long hair anymore. A long-ago memory surfaced as he buried his face in those silken strands. Women walking by in long dresses, chatting, vessels of water in their hands as they made their way back to camp. He had noted them because they seemed so happy. Three days later when he retraced his steps looking for where he'd lost the trail of the vampire, the same women lay in a torn and bloody heap in the mud, their eyes staring up at the red moon, their faces like wax, their hair in twisted dirty hanks.

Don't. Marguarita suddenly wound her arms around him and held him to her.

The gesture was so unexpected and shocking he nearly stepped away from her. He had held her captive, but now, although she was far weaker than a male Carpathian, she seemed to have taken him over.

Please don't remember. It hurts you. I know you say you don't feel it, but you do. It washes through you and settles deep inside you. Just don't remember anymore. Not right now.

He rubbed his chin on the top of her head. Strands of hair tangled with the heavy shadow on his jaw, almost as if her hair could weave them together. "Why are you so upset?"

You accept your own death so easily. You look forward to fighting a master vampire. You would have burned in the sun. You just act like nothing touches you, but it's destroying you from the inside out. All those deaths. You think they don't affect you, but they do. You see your own death, not because you fear becoming vampire, but you can't live with the pain of who and what you are anymore. And you aren't like you see yourself, not really.

Her fist clenched and she hit his chest in a small rhythmic drumming. He doubted she even knew what she was doing, or surely she wouldn't dare to strike him. It was hardly more than a tap so he chose to ignore her indiscretion, puzzled by the things she said. He covered her fist with his palm and pressed until she became still.

"I do not feel, Marguarita, as much as I would like to. I have even lost my memories. These things you speak may have existed in another lifetime - long ago - but I no longer have recollection of them."

That's not true, Zacarias. I swear to you, it is not the truth. I am inside of you and I see the battles, the memories, and I feel the pain. The sorrow is so intense and overwhelming, unlike anything I have ever experienced - and I have lost both of my parents and know sorrow. I can't make something like this up. I wouldn't.

How could she feel his pain when he didn't feel it? Was she simply projecting her own feelings onto him? The connection between them grew stronger each time they used it, but still, it would be impossible for her to feel what he did not.

"Show me," he whispered against her ear. "Show me what you see in me."

One minute he was Zacarias De La Cruz. Carpathian warrior. Hunter. Alone. He was ice inside. Brittle and cold. Glaciers moved in his veins. And then she poured into him like warm thick honey, filling up every empty space inside him. Finding every dark corner, every secret tear and rip inside his mind. That warm honey spread through the ice, finding every broken connection, building bridges, filling the holes, restoring broken connections.

Electricity sizzled, arced and snapped in his head. He felt her every breath. Inhaled with her. Her heart beat and it was inside his own chest. She was inside of him until everything he was, everything he was about was filled with Marguarita, filled with all that warmth. With her blinding light. The heat melted the ice encasing him, melted faster than any barricade he could throw up to stop it.

He blinked rapidly, feeling her holding him close, filling more and more spaces with herself until for the first time he was complete. He wasn't alone. Stars burst in his head, opened like a primordial mix, rushing at him so fast at first he couldn't grasp what he was seeing.

acarias's brothers crouched among the rocks, shock on their faces. Riordan was little more than a newborn babe, but there was nothing young about his awareness or intellect. He stared with the same shock and horror at the approaching vampire as his older brothers. Above them, dark storm clouds churned in the sky, nearly obliterating all the stars, but the full moon shone bloodred, right through the towering, turbulent clouds.

Spread out, behind him. When I tell you to run, get out of here and do not look back, Zacarias commanded. You are responsible for Riordan, Manolito. Fall back with him. Nicolas and Rafael, protect them. All of you, get out of here.

We will help you, Rafael said, his voice shaking.

You cannot do this alone, Nicolas stated, sorrow dripping from each word.

Run, Zacarias. Run with us, Manolito pleaded.

Zacarias heard their protests, but when he gave an order, they knew to obey. Their mother lay dead, her body torn and bloody, crushed against the rocks. There was no time to mourn her or think of her as she was in life. His father had arrived too late to save her, but the vampire who had made the kill lay in strips beside her, the body literally torn apart. The sheer savagery shown in the killing should have warned Zacarias before his father turned around to face them, but still, those jagged teeth and red-crazed eyes were a shock.

His father's hands were raised toward the mountains where the boulders were set so precariously. The ground shook. Zacarias hadn't expected the attack on his brothers and he was that second too late in countering. He threw a shelter around the boys to protect them from the avalanche even as he raced into the attack. He knew his father hadn't expected aggression and it was the only thing left to him. His father was far older, stronger, more experienced, but he was a newly made vampire and wouldn't be used to the high the kill had given him.

His father was skilled in battle, a legendary hunter whose name was whispered in awe, but he'd taught those same skills to his oldest child. Zacarias was still considered young as a Carpathian, but he'd fought vampires and battles often. He'd already begun to lose his emotions, colors had long since faded from his vision and he wasn't even close to the age when that should have happened.

He struck through his father's insubstantial form, stumbling forward. The blow took him hard in the back and sent him flying forward into the pools of blood from his mother's body. He skidded across the gore facedown, landing nearly on his mother's head. Her lifeless eyes stared accusingly at him. He planted his hands to lever himself up only to find they were buried wrist-deep in her blood. His stomach lurched. His heart nearly stopped.


With Nicolas's warning filling his mind, he rolled, dissolving at the last moment, remembering that he could. His father's fist slammed deep into the ground, right through his mother's lifeless body.

Zacarias was shaken to the very core of his being, and he had to pull himself together if he was going to survive. And if he didn't survive, neither would his brothers. He breathed away his mother's blood covering his body and the sight of her eyes staring at him, accusing him of trying to kill his own father. Not his father. Vampire. The undead. An evil, foul creature who would destroy everything and everyone in its path. Even now, the very grass withered beneath its feet. It. Vampire. Not father. Not the man he loved and respected above all others.

Zacarias felt the familiar coldness sweep through him, the chill he'd noticed early, even as a young boy, but now it was a glacier consuming him, pouring into his body, icing his veins. When other boys were carefree, running and playing, he had been quietly observing ways to kill, to battle, to outwit. His senses were acute, his reflexes faster. He had soaked up information, worked on concealing himself even from his parents. He had practiced over and over his ability to sneak up on others and observe them for hours without being seen. He had known even then that he was different, that the cold seeping into his veins gave him an edge others didn't have, he had known, but he had fought that knowledge.

He reached for the cold this time, instead of working to stay ahead of it. He embraced the shadows within himself, allowed, for the first time, the darkness to take him. It settled over and into him, fitting like a glove, that pure predator being. He'd always known it was there waiting to take him. He had fought that path, desperate to stay whole, but he knew there was no other option if he was to survive and survival was essential to protect his brothers. He chose that being for himself in order to choose life for his brothers.

He moved with the turbulent wind, sliding in behind the vampire in silence, gathering his strength, as stealthy as the most seasoned of hunters. The undead looked around and, not seeing or hearing any threat, spat on the ground and turned his attention to the four boys caught in the cage of rocks. He showed his teeth in an evil smirk.

"He has left you to me. I will tear off the head of the little one and feed him to you, limb by precious limb, before I devour you alive."

Nicolas and Rafael stood, two young Carpathians, shoulder to shoulder in front of their younger siblings.

Deliberately Zacarias sent a small rock rolling behind him. The vampire spun to face the sound, presenting a full-frontal target.

Look away, Zacarias ordered his brothers. All of you, look away. Do not watch this! Nicolas, cover Riordan's eyes. None of you witness this.

With his heart in his throat, with tears burning a hole in his soul, he shifted, assuming his physical form with blurring speed, then drove his fist into his father's chest, using every ounce of strength he possessed. He stood toe-to-toe, looking his father straight in the eye as he smashed through bone and muscle and grasped that beating organ. His father tore at his flesh, digging great chunks of skin and muscle from him, but Zacarias closed down all feelings of pain and all emotion so that he could save his brothers and his family's honor.

The sound was horrendous, a terrible sucking blended with his father's scream of pure agony. The vampire hissed promises, begged and pleaded for his life, raged and snarled vows of vengeance and death on the children, promised to tear off his brothers' heads and feed them to him. Spittle and acid burned over his skin as he dragged the heart from his father's chest and flung it a distance away.

His father grasped Zacarias's forearms, staring at him with shocked,blood-filled eyes. "Son," he whispered. "My son."

A silent scream welled up. It took every ounce of courage he possessed not to put his arms around that torn body and hold his father to him. Zacarias watched the man he loved most in the world teeter and fall, first to his knees in front of him and then fall facedown in the mud. He stepped back and called the lightning from the sky.

He was more shaken than he knew. The first bolt of sizzling electricity missed the pulsating organ. The heart rolled, and landed in his mother's blood. The sight was so loathsome, he steadied himself and sent the next bolt slamming directly into his father's heart, incinerating it.

Zacarias bent double, no longer able to block the excruciating pain, a sheer physical reaction he could no longer control. His scream of denial tore up from his churning belly through his shattered heart to break the blood vessels in his throat. He didn't feel his wounds, some to the bone, or the acid burning through his skin left behind by the vampire blood, only the agony of his parents' deaths, of the kill forced on him by fate, by destiny. Of the loss of all innocence, of being thrust into a role he'd been born for but did not want. He didn't want to ever face the knowledge that all that darkness consumed him - remained inside of him.

"Zacarias." Nicolas was there, wrapping an arm around him, trying to pull him away from the scene of death.

Zacarias stepped away from him, afraid of tainting his brother with the shadows that were now solidly a part of him. Grimly he incinerated the bodies of his mother and father, the vampire, before taking care of the acid on his skin.

He turned to study the pale faces of his brothers. "None of you will ever think of this again. You will not dishonor our father or me with this memory, do you understand? Not ever. You will not think of it or speak of it again. Do your crying now, because when we walk away from here, it is done. Finished. Tell me you understand. Each of you. Say it. Swear it on the life of our mother."

His brothers each swore to him they would obey his wishes and reaffirmed their allegiance to him. Only then did he leave them to let them mourn while he went a distance away and sank into the earth and cried for the last time in over a thousand years.