Raven woke sobbing, her hands curling around Mikhail's neck, clutching him to her, hot tears spilling onto his chest. He dragged her closer protectively, holding her as tight as he dared without crushing her. She seemed so fragile and light, so ready to fly away from him. He let her cry, his hand caressing her hair with soothing strokes.When she began to quiet, he murmured softly to her, tenderly, in his own language, words of reassurance and hope. Eventually she lay, worn out and exhausted, in the sanctuary of his arms. "It will take time, little one, but give our ways a chance. There are wondrous things we can do. Concentrate on the things you would enjoy. Shape-shifting, flying with birds, running free with the wolves."Her small fist jammed into her mouth to stop a strangled sound somewhere between fear and hysterical laughter. Mikhail brushed the top of her head with his chin. "I would never leave you to face any of this on your own. Lean on my strength."She closed her eyes against another wave of hysteria. "You don't even understand the enormity of what you've done. You've taken away my very identity. Don't, Mikhail! I feel your protest stirring in my mind. What if you woke up no longer Carpathian, but a human. No longer able to run free and fly. No special powers, no healing earth, no more ability to hear and understand animals. Everything that was ever the essence of you would be gone. To survive you had to eat meat." She felt his instant revulsion. "You see, the very thing Carpathians consider disgusting. I'm afraid. I look into the future and I'm so terrified I am unable to think. I hear things, sense things. I..." She trailed off before making any admissions. "Don't you see, Mikhail, I can't do this, not even for you."He stroked her hair with loving fingers, trailed a caress over the soft skin of her face. "You have known for a short time. Your sleep was deep and undisturbed." He did not tell her she had been given blood twice more during her sleep, that her body had gone through the rigorous change, ridding itself of all human toxins. He felt she had to absorb certain aspects of their lifestyle slowly. "Do you wish us to seek eternal rest?"Her fist thumped his chest. "Not us, Mikhail, me!""There is no you or me. There is only us."She took a deep, calming breath. "I don't even know what or who I am anymore.""You are Raven, the most beautiful, courageous woman I have ever known." He said it sincerely, stroking back her silken hair.Her body was tense, almost rigid with wanting to deny his tranquil statements of fact. "Can I exist without blood? With juice and grains?"His hand found hers, laced their fingers together. "I want it to be so for you, but it is not. You must have blood to live."She made a sound, a small denial, hunching away from him, withdrawing into herself. It was too far-fetched, too frightening to really comprehend. She wanted to believe it was a nightmare.Mikhail sat up, let her go so that he could push the sheet from her slender body. Her mind was blocking out every explanation, refusing to deal with the information he was giving her. Wanting to distract her, he bent to examine her abdomen, his fingers splaying possessively over her skin, touching each white scar gently. "Your wounds are nearly healed."She half sat, astonished. "That's impossible."He lifted his hands out of the way to show her the long scars. Her eyes widened in disbelief. Mikhail's eyes darkened and burned, brushed her bare breasts with heat. Raven's small teeth tugged at her lower lip and a red flush spread over her entire body. She clutched the sheet, dragged it over her.His white teeth gleamed at her in a predator's smile, pure taunting male. He leaned close so that his mouth brushed across her ear as he spoke. His warm breath beckoned and enticed. "I have kissed every inch of your body. I have been in every secret corner of your mind." His teeth skimmed her ear-lobe, sent a shiver along her spine. "I will admit, the blush suits you."Raven found herself holding her breath, heat coiling deep within her. She pressed her forehead against the heavy muscles of his chest so that he couldn't see the answering flare in her eyes. "Mikhail," she warned, "there is no way you can change what I feel by seducing me. I know I cannot handle this.""I hear your thoughts, little one. You have closed your mind to all possibilities." He whispered the words like a terrible seduction. "I will give you what you wish. I no longer can bear your unhappiness." His hand moved up to his chest, right below her chin, hovered over his heart.Her stomach clenched at the sudden knowledge of his intention. The sweet odor of hot blood mingled with his wild, masculine scent. Before she could stop him, before she could voice a protest, his life's blood was streaming freely down his chest. Instinctively she clamped both hands over the wound, applied pressure.Eyes wild with fear, Raven cried out frantically. "Stop, Mikhail. Don't do this." Tears welled up, spilled over. "Please tell me what to do to save you." There was desperation in her voice."I can't, Mikhail. Stop this; you're scaring me!" She pressed as hard as she was capable, but the blood continued to flow between her fingers."Your tongue has the power to heal; so does the saliva in your mouth." His voice was dark, hypnotic. He leaned back as if his strength was waning. "But do not counteract my choice unless you live also, because I refuse to go back to a world of darkness."Frantically she bent her head to his chest, swept her tongue over the edges of the wound, sealing the gap as if it had never been. The revulsion was in her brain, but not in her body. Something wild lifted its head; her eyes went slumberous and sensual. Heat coiled, spread. Her body hungered, craved. The call was so strong within her. She wanted more, needed the erotic ecstasy only he could provide.Mikhail's hands were in her hair, bunching, dragging her head back, exposing her throat. His mouth moved over her soft skin, her frantic pulse. "Are you sure, Raven?" He whispered it so sensually her body went liquid in answer. "I want you to be completely sure. You must be certain this is your choice."She circled his neck with her arms, cradled his head. "Yes." The memory of his mouth moving against her, the white-hot pleasure piercing her very soul made heat pool low and wicked in her abdomen. She wanted this, even needed this."You give yourself to me freely?" His tongue tasted the texture of her skin, flicked across her pulse, and traced down the valley between her breasts."Mikhail." His name was a plea. She feared that he was waiting too long and might not be able to live, to breathe, to merge completely with her.He lifted her easily, cradled her in his arms. His tongue lapped her nipple, once, twice. Raven gasped, arched closer to him, her body scenting the wildness in him rising to match, to conquer the wildness in her. She seemed to float through the air, every nerve ending raw with hunger and need. The sweet scent of blood called to her.She smelled fresh air and opened her eyes to discover the night. It whispered to her with the same sensual power as the ebb and flow of Mikhail's blood. Trees swayed overhead; the wind cooled her body, yet fanned her need."This is our world, little one. Feel its beauty, hear its call."It was all like a dazzling dream, as if they were drifting with the faint mist, a part of the night itself. The stars overhead played hide and seek through the canopy of leaves and branches. The moon was elusive, wandering behind floating clouds. Everywhere Raven heard the sounds of life. It was in the sap of the trees, the rustle of small animals, the beat of wings, the echoing, savage cry of a night hunter as it missed its prey.Mikhail raised his head and called, a wild sound of joy. It was answered. Raven could feel the rapture in the wolves' rejoinders. It filled her heart and in her, the wildness grew.He carried her through a maze of paths, deep into the mountains until they were at the entrance of a downward sloping cave. "Hear it," he ordered as he passed into the murky shadows. "Hear the earth sing to you."Impossibly she could see rich veins of minerals curving on either side of the narrow walls just as if the sunlight were pouring into the tunnel. She could hear the rush of water echoing through the many chambers. Bats called to one another and the earth welcomed it all.Mikhail was sure-footed, striding through the maze of tunnels without hesitation, every step taking them deeper underground until they were in a huge steam-filled grotto. Water ran in a frothy fall down to pour into a series of pools. Crystals gleamed like jewels all around them.He took them into the farthest pool from the fall, where the water bubbled up like soda and was warm and fizzy against their skin. He sank into the water, with Raven cradled in his arms and steam rising around them.The bubbles nibbled at sensitive skin, danced and teased like so many fingers, foamed and caressed like the lapping of tongues. With lazy, languid movements, Mikhail began to wash her slender body, her small feet, her calves, her thighs. Raven moved against his hands, closed her eyes to give herself up to pure sensation. Carpathian blood flowed hotly in her veins. Carpathian needs and desire warred with the human limitations and taboos her brain insisted on.His hands slid in a tender, loving caress over her flat stomach, his fingertips reverently tracing each scar, wiping away the last traces of the poultices and blood. He paid careful attention to each rib, her back, and finally, her face and hair. Mikhail was so gentle, he made her want to cry. He had not touched her anywhere intimately, yet he had begun a slow fire in her blood, a melting in her body. She ached for him. Needed him.Raven opened her blue eyes; they were slumberous, sexy, darkened with desire. She tilted her head to look up at him and then moved to rinse his body. She had no intention of being so kind. Her every stroke was designed to tease, to inflame. Fingertips delved into the dark tangled hair veeing toward his flat belly, slid tantalizingly over the heavy muscles of his chest, rinsing every drop of blood from his skin. So much. It worried her, and she wanted him to feed, to replace what was lost.Some small part of Raven recognized that the thought should be appalling to her, yet with her body needing his so desperately, she craved his mouth on her, felt hunger herself. Her hands wandered lower, moved across his flat belly, dipped over the ridge of his hipbones.Raven felt his swift intake of breath, the tensing of every muscle. A low growl rumbled deep in his throat, sent darts of fire leaping in her blood. Her fingers sought the hard evidence of his arousal, teased and enticed, her fingertips dancing intriguingly, her palm sliding and gripping, testing the weight of him.He groaned at the effort it took to control himself. This time she was going to participate in the ritual. There would be no way she could argue that she had not known what she was doing. He spread his legs wider to support his trembling body as she touched his shoulder with her tongue, followed a droplet of water that ran in a bead from his neck to his chest.Raven's body clenched, grew heavy, ached, and burned. Her tongue slid over his heart in a lazy, sensual pattern. Her blood leaped and sang to match his. All the time her hands caressed, teased, promised. Her long hair, masses of silk, brushed his body as she followed little beads of water, lower, lower still. She felt him shudder as she tasted him, his body thrusting to meet her silken mouth. The feeling of power was incredible. His hands bunched in her hair; low, aggressive growls escaped from deep in his throat. She found his thighs with her nails, raking lightly, driving him wild, wanting him crazy for her, wanting him mindless with passion.Mikhail dragged her up, closer. His hands found the firm muscles of her bottom, cupped, massaged. "I claim you as my lifemate." He whispered the words, a black magic incantation, centuries old. His hand moved up her spine, around to the fullness of her breast, down satin skin to find the thatch of midnight black curls.Raven cried out when his fingers found her beneath the bubbling water, found her and began a slow, torturous exploration. Her mouth was open against his chest, her breath short and coming in little gasps. The craving grew, the fire built; something wild and abandoned in her fought for freedom. She could hear their hearts beating as one, hear his blood, hers. She felt her body pulsing with life, with need, with such hunger that she needed all of him to fill her and make her complete. She needed him in her mind, his erotic, insatiable appetite, the incredible lust he had that made him burn and ache for her. She needed his body possessing hers, taking hers wildly, without reservation. And she needed his... blood.His hand cradled the back of her head; he was moving her to the waters' edge. "I belong to you; I offer my life for you. Take what it is you need, what it is you want." His whispered words opened up the door to a terrible craving. His fingers were moving aggressively, his body pressing hers to the earth, half in and half out of the water.Raven felt the soft dirt beneath her, his hard body imprisoning hers. There was a ruthless stamp to his dark features, a merciless slash to his mouth, and burning hunger in the depths of his eyes. When she touched his mind there was savage, primitive arousal, the animal drive to claim, a Carpathian male's ruthless, implacable resolve to possess his mate. There was also a love so intense, she could barely conceive of it. Tenderness. A male's adoration for the only one he could ever want.Mikhail tugged her knees apart, saw the sudden admission of commitment to him deep within her eyes. She was hot, pulsating with need, with her body's invitation. He thrust hard, driving deep, burying himself in her hot core. Her spicy feminine scent mixed with his masculine one, drifted up to become part of their desire. His tongue and teeth glided over her throat, down to capture one aching breast. His hands moved over every inch of her, inciting, exploring, claiming. He was rough, his teeth finding her soft skin, his tongue easing every ache. He could not seem to get close enough. Her tight heat coiled around him, clenching and burning, feeding his wildness.His body moved in hers. Long, deep, filling every part of her, building the friction, then deliberately easing the rhythm. She was making little keening noises, her body begging for release, velvet muscles gripping him hotly.Frustrated, Raven, moved frantically against him, urging him closer, deeper, faster, harder. Her blood was like molten lava and she needed more of him. All of him. She hungered for a deeper mating, hungered for his mouth feeding at her, burning her, branding her, welding them together for all eternity."Mikhail," she was pleading.He lifted his head, dark eyes burning with hunger. "I belong to you, Raven. Take what you need from me as I will take it from you." He pressed her head to his chest, his gut clenching hotly as her tongue slid over his muscles. There was a moment, heart-stopping, intimate, as he felt the tentative scrape of her teeth. White-hot pain, blue lightning erotic pleasure. He swelled even more, huge and hard and inflamed as her teeth sank deep.Mikhail threw back his head in ecstasy, and a growl of pure pleasure escaped. His body pinned hers to the ground, surging powerfully, building, building while her body spiraled around his, gripping and clenching, climaxing again and again. Mikhail held on to his control. The ritual would be completed and the exchange made voluntarily. Bunching her hair in his hand, he repeated the words that would bind them together. "I give you my protection, my allegiance, my mind, my heart, soul, and body. I take into my keeping the same that is yours. Your life, happiness, and welfare will be cherished and placed above my own for all time. You are my lifemate, bound to me for eternity, and always in my care."He tugged at her hair, forced her head away from him, observed through half-closed eyes, hungry and watchful while she closed the pinpricks, her tongue sending flames dancing over his heated body. Mikhail kissed her with every ounce of male dominance he possessed. His mouth burned over her throat, rested on her frantic pulse. His hands tightened on her small hips. His body rested in the hot feminine mystery of hers. He waited.She turned her head, offered her throat. "Take what is yours, Mikhail. Take what you require." She murmured the words breathlessly in an agony of anticipation and need. She was trembling with suspense, with the craving of Carpathian erotic hunger.As his hips thrust powerfully forward, his teeth sank deep. She cried out, wound her arms around him, arching up as he drank his fill, as his body drove wildly into hers, staking his claim, his right, taking them beyond the boundaries of the earth. Her body gripped his tightly, insistently. Mikhail abandoned any pretense of control and took her as he wanted, driving on and on until she was so wild and hot and crying for him, until her little keening whimpers and the sweet spice of her blood took his raging body over the edge. He emptied himself into her, for the first time in his life feeling totally sated, totally content. They lay joined, their hearts pounding, their lungs laboring, little aftershocks rippling and rocking them. Mikhail rolled them over so his hard length was cushioning her slender body. Her breasts were soft and warm nestled in the tangle of hair veeing down to his stomach. Her head was pillowed on his chest.Mikhail stroked her hair, letting his overwhelming love for her spill out and surround her. He sensed how fragile the moment was and didn't trust the inadequacy of words. His mind was a warm, safe haven of love and he shared it willingly.The intense pleasure blocked out reality for a long while. Raven could only revel in her body's powerful reaction. Every tiny cell was alive and shrieking in joy. It didn't seem possible that she could experience such rapture.She moved a slow hand to push her hair aside. The small movement sent her muscles clenching around him. Mikhail. Who was this man who had so easily taken over her life and her body? Raven lifted her head and studied his face. So handsome. So dark and mysterious. His eyes held so many secrets; his mouth was so sensual, it took her breath away."Tell me what I've done, Mikhail."His eyes were fathomless, watchful. "You have given your life into my care. Rest assured, little one, you are safe in my hands."She touched the tip of her tongue to her suddenly dry lips. Her heart pounded in alarm at the enormity of her decision. She had the taste of him in her mouth, the smell of him on her body, his seed trickling along her leg, and they were still locked together, her body clenching sensuously, hotly, around his."What do I taste like?" His voice was low, compelling. It whispered against her skin like the brush of fingers. The brush of fantasy.She closed her eyes tightly, like a child wanting to shut him out. "Mikhail." Her body rippled, tightened at the sound of his voice, at the erotic question he whispered.He eased out of her, retained his hold so he could cradle her close as he slid back into the foaming pool. "Tell me, Raven." He kissed her throat, tiny little kisses, each as potent as wine.Her arm wound around his neck, her fingers finding his thick mane of hair. "You taste like the forest, wild and untamed and so erotic you make me crazy." The admission broke from her like the confession of a grave sin.The bubbles fizzed and burst against their sensitized skin, foamed on their most intimate parts. Mikhail leaned back, taking their weight, securing her on his lap. Her rounded bottom brushed against him, sent sweet fire streaking through their blood. "You taste like sweet, hot spice, addictive and so sensual." His teeth grazed the nape of her neck, sent a shiver of excitement down her spine.Raven lay quietly in his arms, her mind reeling under the impact of what she had done. She would never get enough of Mikhail. There was a wildness between them that could never be sated. Raven was unable to piece it all together; her brain simply refused to acknowledge what she might have become. She had no idea what he meant when he said they "fed." The impressions were there, but she only had knowledge of what Mikhail shared with her. Was sex always involved? He had said no, but she couldn't imagine taking blood deliberately. She closed her eyes tightly. She couldn't do this with anyone else. She couldn't imagine taking blood from a human.Mikhail pressed her head to him, his fingers soothing in her hair. He murmured softly, his voice pitched low and compelling. She needed time to adjust to her Carpathian blood, the intense emotions and urgent needs. She had willingly participated in the mating ritual. She had made the blood exchange without his silent compulsion. They were irrevocably bound and there was no reason for her to suffer needless human recriminations and fear of the future. Let her mind accept this new reality slowly.Mikhail was brutally honest with himself. After waiting several lifetimes for this woman, he didn't want her with anyone else. He had never thought of feeding as an intimate thing; it was a simple necessity. But the idea of Raven biting into another man's neck, taking his life force into her body, was abhorrent to him. Every time he gave her his blood, he felt sexual excitement, an overwhelming need to protect and care for her. He had no idea what other Carpathian men felt for their mates, but he knew any man near Raven would be in grave danger. It was just as well her human mind refused to allow her to accept their way of preying on humans.Raven stirred in his arms, stretched languidly. "I was thinking of something upsetting and you took it away, didn't you?" There was a hint of a smile in her voice.He allowed her freedom, watched her sink beneath the foaming water, surface a few feet away. Her large eyes were moving over him with definite laughter. "You know, Mikhail, I'm beginning to think my very first assessment of your character was correct. You're arrogant and bossy."He swam toward her with lazy, easy strokes. "But I am sexy."She backpedaled, sent a spray of water at him with the flat of her hand. "Stay away from me. Every time you get near me, something crazy happens.""Now might be a good time to take you to task for placing your life in danger. You should never have followed the assassins from the inn. You knew I was unable to hear if you called for help." He kept swimming toward her, as relentless as a shark.Raven took the coward's way out and waded out of the pool, flinging herself into the next large one. The water was cold on her heated skin. She pointed a finger at him, her soft mouth curving. "I told you I was going to try to help you. In any case, if you dare to lecture me, I'll have no choice but to go into just how unethical it was to bind me to you without my consent. Tell me - if I hadn't followed the assassins and Jacob hadn't stabbed me, I would have remained human, wouldn't I?"Mikhail rose out of the pool, water streaming off his body. Raven's breath caught in her throat. He looked magnificent, so masculine and powerful. In one fluid leap, he launched himself into the air, jackknifed, and cut cleanly into the deep pool. She found her heart beating frantically, her blood singing for him. He came up behind her, his hands pning her waist, dragging her close, his powerful legs keeping them afloat."You would still be human," he agreed, his voice a black magic spell that could send heat coiling through her despite the cold water."If I had stayed human, how could you have remained with me as a lifemate?" She pushed her rounded bottom against the cradle of his hips, enjoying the sudden excitement as his body swelled and hardened in response to the pressure. She laid her head back on his shoulder."I would have chosen to grow old with you and die when you died." His reply was husky, and one hand cupped the softness of her breast. Her hair was brushing his body like so much silk, sending darts of pleasure through him.Raven lifted her head abruptly, swung around to face him, her blue eyes searching the mysterious depths of his eyes. "Do you mean that, Mikhail? You would have stayed with me as I grew older?"He nodded, trailed his fingers down her cheek in a gentle caress. "I would have aged right along with you. When your breath ceased, so would mine."She shook her head. "How can I resist you, Mikhail, when you steal my heart?"His grin turned her heart over, somersaulted her stomach. "You are not supposed to resist me, little one. I am your other half." His hands settled around her neck, urged her close to him until his mouth found hers and they melted together, sinking beneath the cool waters of the natural pool.Half the night was gone when Mikhail carried her back to their home. Raven hastily wrapped herself in one of his shirts. "Do you realize I don't have any clothes here?" She couldn't quite meet his eyes, blushing every time his dark gaze brushed her body. She could still feel the imprint of his body on hers, the strength of his possession. "I need to get back to the inn. All of my things are there."His eyebrow shot up. Now was not the time to tell her she really wouldn't need clothes. Her personal things would help ease the transition. He reached a lazy arm for his own clothes. "I'm sure Mrs. Galvenstein will deliver your things for us. I will call and make sure it is done immediately. I will be going out for a short time, Raven. There are a few loose ends that need to be taken care of. You will be safe here."Her chin lifted in challenge. "I'll throw something together and come with you. I never want to go through another day like the one I had when I couldn't reach you. It was hell. It really was, Mikhail."At once his dark eyes touched her face with gentleness. "I never wanted that for you. Gregori placed me in a healing sleep, little one, and I could not answer your call. That was not supposed to happen. I sent Father Hummer to you, thinking I would be asleep, but if there was great need, I would surface enough to reassure you.""But it didn't happen like that."He shook his head. "No, Raven. Gregori sent me into a healing sleep. One does not surface when Gregori has elected otherwise. He did not know about you, about your need for my touch. It was my failing, not his, and I am sorry.""I know," she acknowledged. "You can see why I can't be without you now. I'm afraid, Mikhail, afraid of everything, myself, you, what I've done here.""Not this time, little one," he said very gently, wishing it could be otherwise. "It is essential to find the other assassins. I cannot let any danger come near you. You will be safe here. I am not asleep; I can touch your mind with mine and you can just as easily reach for me if necessary. There is no need for fear.""I'm not the stay-at-home-and-be-safe type," she objected.He turned, large, powerful, his face an implacable mask. Mikhail looked menacing, invincible. Raven stepped backwards involuntarily, her blue eyes darkening to a deep sapphire. Instantly Mikhail took her hand and brought it to the warmth of his mouth. "Do not look at me like that. Your life was nearly taken from me. Do you have any idea what it was like for me to awaken to your cry? To feel your fear, know that disgusting excuse for a man hit you? To feel the blade slice into your body again and again? You nearly died in my arms. I breathed for you, kept your heart beating. I made a decision I knew you might never forgive me for making. I am not ready to take a chance with your life. Can you possibly understand that?"She could feel his body trembling with his intense emotion. His arms wrapped around her, dragged her to him. "Please, Raven, let me just keep you in a cocoon, at least until I get that sight out of my mind." His fingers tunneled into the thick mass of blue-black hair. Mikhail molded her slender form to his larger frame, held her close as if he could shelter her from any further harm.Raven wound her arms around his neck. "It's all right, Mikhail. Nothing is going to happen to me." She nuzzled his neck, seeking to reassure him, to push his fear away, as well as her own. "I guess both of us are going to have to make some adjustments."His kiss was tender and very gentle. "You need to take it easy. Six days of sleep and healing were not enough.""Six days? That's incredible. Has anyone ever analyzed your blood?"Mikhail released her reluctantly. "None of us can go near a human medical facility. We take care of our own."Raven picked up a brush, idly began to use long strokes to smooth the tangles from her damp mane of hair. "Who was the woman trapped in the ground?"His face closed down, all traces of gentleness gone as if they had never been. "Her name is Eleanor. She gave birth to a male." His tone was devoid of emotion.She sat cross-legged on the bed, tilting her head sideways as she brushed her long hair. "You don't like her?""She betrayed you. She allowed that devil woman to overhear her and I nearly lost you." He was buttoning his shirt, and the sight of his long, lean fingers performing the simple task fascinated her. "You were under my protection. What that means, Raven, is that all Carpathians must put your safety above their own."Her small teeth tugged at her lower lip. She sensed, beneath his emotionless mask, a relentless, merciless fury directed toward that unknown woman. Mikhail's feelings for her were ferociously intense and unfamiliar to him. Just as Raven was having difficulty adjusting, so was he.She chose her words carefully. "Have you ever seen a woman give birth, Mikhail? It is painful and frightening. For the woman to be in control, she needs a safe environment. She feared for the life of her unborn child. Please don't judge her so harshly. In her circumstances I would have been hysterical."He cupped her face in his large palm, his thumb caressing her soft, satin skin. "You have such compassion in you. Eleanor nearly cost you your life.""No, Mikhail. Jacob nearly cost me my life. Eleanor tried as hard as she could. There is no blame, or all of us must share in it."He turned away from her. "I know I should have kept you by my side. I should never have sought the refuge of the earth's healing powers. It took me too far from you. Gregori thinks only of my protection."In the mirror, Raven could see pain etched clearly on his face. "There was a moment, little one, when I awoke to your cry, and I was encased in the soil and powerless to help you. Only my fury fed the storm. As I clawed my way to the surface, I felt every slice of the blade, and I knew I had failed you. In that moment, Raven, I faced something so terrible, so savage and monstrous in me, I still cannot examine it too closely. If he had slain you, no one would have been safe. No one." He made the admission in a tight, controlled voice, his back rigid. "Not Carpathian, not human. I can only pray that if such a thing should ever happen again, Gregori will slay me immediately."Raven stepped in front of him and framed his face with her hands. "Sometimes grief brings things out in people better left hidden. No one is perfect. Not me, not Eleanor, and not even you."A faint, self-mocking smile touched his well-cut mouth. "I have lived centuries and endured vampire hunts, wars, and betrayals. Until you came into my life, I have never lost control. I never had anything I wanted so much; I never had anything to lose."She pulled his head down to her, pressed little healing kisses to his throat, his strong jaw, to the hard corners of his mouth. "You are a good man, Mikhail." She grinned impishly, her blue eyes teasing. "You just have too much power for your own good. But don't worry; I know this American girl. She's very disrespectful and she'll take all that arrogant starch out of you."His answering laughter was slow in coming, but with it the terrible tension drained out of him. He wrapped his arms around her and lifted her off her feet, swinging her around, crushing her to him. As always her heart jumped wildly. His mouth fastened on hers as he whirled them across the room to land on the bed.Raven's laughter was soft and taunting. "We can't possibly again."His body was settling over hers, his knee nudging her thighs apart so he could press against her soft, welcoming body. "I think you should just stay naked and waiting for me," he growled, stroking her to ensure her readiness.She lifted her hips invitingly. "I'm not sure we'll know how to do this in a bed." The last word was a gasp of pleasure as he joined their bodies.His mouth found hers again, laughter mingling with the sweet taste of passion. His hands shaped her breasts possessively, tunneled in her hair. There was so much joy in her heart, in her mind; so much compassion and sweetness. His eternity would be filled with her laughter and her zest for life. He laughed aloud for the sheer joy of it.