Rudy Romanov was heavily drugged. The scent was a stench in Mikhail's nostrils. The idea of taking contaminated blood into his body was repulsive to him, but it was necessary. He would be able to read Romanov's thoughts at will. Raven had sent him off with complete trust and faith in his love for her. Though every cell in his body demanded Romanov's death, Mikhail could not betray her confidence in him."Allow me," Gregori said softly, easily reading Mikhail's desire. "There is great risk to your soul," Mikhail pointed out."The risk is well worth the continuation of our race. Romanov is a danger we cannot afford. We should be concentrating our efforts on finding women to continue our race, not fighting off vampire hunters. I believe it is only a handful of human women, women with great psychic ability who can mate with our males.""On what do you base this theory?" Mikhail asked softly, a thread of menace creeping into his tone. Experimenting with women was an unforgivable crime.Gregori's silver eyes narrowed, glittered. The black emptiness was growing in Gregori, a dark stain spreading over his soul. He made no effort to hide it from Mikhail. It was as if he wanted to show Mikhail just how desperate the situation was becoming. "I have done many dark, ugly, unforgivable things, but I would never use a female for experimental purposes. I must be the one to take Romanov's blood if you insist on the continuation of his life." Gregori was not asking.The two Carpathians moved easily through the narrow halls of the psychiatric ward of the hospital. The humans experienced a cold sensation, nothing more, as the two passed unseen through the building. They streamed through a lock hole, a flow of vapor like a heavy tinted fog, swirling through the room to wrap around Romanov's body like a shroud. Romanov cried out, fear gripping him as the mist wound around him like a snake, slithering over his ribs, his wrist, curling around his neck and beginning to wind tighter and tighter. He could feel it on his skin, a vice that continued to twist his body like a corkscrew, but as Romanov clawed at the vapor, his hands passed right through it. Voices hissed hideously, whispered, threatened, so quiet as to be mere threads of sound in his head. He clapped his palms over his ears in an attempt to stop the insidious murmuring. Saliva dribbled from his slack mouth; his throat worked convulsively.The mist separated, one part trailing to a comer and hovering just above the floor. The other slowly thickened, shimmered, began to take shape, until it formed a muscular, broad-shouldered man with pale eyes of death. Rudy began to shake uncontrollably, backing into a corner, making himself as small as possible. The apparition was too vivid, too menacing to be anything but real."Romanov." Gregori's fangs gleamed white in the darkened room. "What are you?" The words came out a hoarse croak.The pale eyes glittered, narrowed to unblinking slits. "You know." The pale eyes stared into Rudy's, stared deeply. Gregori's voice dropped to a low black velvet assault. Hypnotic. Mesmerizing. Compelling. "Come to me; feed me. Become my servant until I see fit to give you the curse of darkness."There was dawning comprehension in Romanov's eyes, horror, and what amounted to terror. But he inched closer, moving his shirt away from his jugular. Gregori whispered again, his voice so seductive, so compelling, a tool of power. "You will serve me now, come at my bidding, inform me when it is necessary." He bent his dark head slowly.Romanov knew his soul was lost. He could feel such power in the stranger, immense strength, and the ability to do things no human could imagine. Immortality. The seduction beckoned him. He went willingly, turning his head to expose his throat. Hot breath, piercing pain as the fangs sunk deep. Romanov could actually feel his life's blood flowing like a river from his body. The pain was intense, a burning hell he was helpless to stop. Nor did he wish to. A curious languor swept over him; his eyelids were far too heavy to lift.The mist thickened in the room, wrapped around Gregori, streamed between the Carpathian and his prey. Reluctantly, with a growl of protest, Gregori lifted his head from his feeding and contemptuously allowed the limp body to slump to the floor.You nearly killed him,Mikhail snapped.He deserves death. He is rotten and empty inside, already corrupt. He wants endless nights, helpless women, the power of life and death over mankind. There is much in him like his grandfather and father. He is a hollow shell with worms eating what good is left in him. His mind is a maze of deviant desires.He cannot die this way, Gregori.It was a hiss in Gregori's mind, a sign of Mikhail's displeasure.As it is, we have enough attention directed at our people. If Romanov dies from severe blood loss...I am not so careless.Gregori shoved the body aside with his foot.He will live. It was his grandfather that began this...His name was Raul; do you remember him? He was demented as an old man, vicious as a young one. He beat his wife and went after young girls. I stopped him once.Mikhail was suddenly thoughtful.And earned not only his hatred, but also his suspicion. He watched you after that. Spied on you every chance he got, hoping to find something to condemn you. Something gave you away a gesture, the way you spoke; who knows? He passed his suspicions on to Hans.Gregori gave the body another push with his foot.Romanov used a fax machine to send copies of the evidence to several individuals. The originals are in his house, under the floorboards in his parents' bedroom.Gregori watched as Rudy Romanov attempted to crawl away from him.Sooner or later they will come.Gregori's body shimmered, dissolved, so that mist swirled in the room, long snakelike ribbons of fog where the Carpathian had been. The vapor approached Romanov where he cowered close to the floor, streamed close to his head, his throat; then the mist poured from the room, leaving Romanov sobbing helplessly.Mikhail and Gregori glided through the corridor, swiftly, silently, hurrying into the night's freshness. After the depravity of Rudy's mind, they needed the connection with the earth again. Once outside, Gregori forced the drugs through his pores to rid himself of the poison. Mikhail watched him do it, marveling at his ease. Gregori was quiet on the journey to Romanov's cottage. Mikhail respected his need to breathe in the night's scents, to feel the ground beneath his feet, hear the music of the wolves, the night creatures calling with their soothing rhythms.In the safety of the Romanov home, Gregori made his way unerringly to the papers crudely hidden beneath the floorboards. Mikhail took the old photographs and the bundle of papers without even glancing at them. "Tell me everything in his mind."Gregori's silver eyes glittered dangerously. "A man named Slovensky, Eugene Slovensky, is a member of a secret society dedicated to wiping out vampires. Von Halen, Anton Fabrezo, and Dieter Hodkins are the so-called experts who investigate and mark victims for kills. Slovensky recruits, and confirms and records kills."Mikhail swore softly, eloquently. "Another vampire hunt will destroy our people."Gregori shrugged his massive shoulders. "I will hunt and destroy these men. You take Raven and go far from this place.I feel your protest, Mikhail, but it is the only way, and we both know it.""I cannot trade my happiness for your soul."The silver eyes moved over Mikhail, then sought the night. "There are no other choices left to us. My only hope of salvation is a lifemate. I no longer feel, Mikhail; I fulfill my needs. There are no longer desires of the body, only of the mind. I cannot remember what it is to feel the things you feel. There is no joy in my life. I simply exist and do my duty toward our people. I must have a lifemate soon. I can only hold out a few more years; then I will seek eternal rest.""You will not seek the sun, Gregori, not without coming to me first." Mikhail held up his hand when Gregori would have protested. "I have been where you are, alone, the monster in me struggling for dominance, the stain on my soul dark. Our people need you. You must remain strong and fight the monster crouching so close."Gregori's silver eyes glittered dangerously in the darkened room, pale and menacing. "Do not overestimate my affection or loyalty. I must have a mate. If I feel something, anything - lust, possession, anything - I will take what is mine and dare anyone to take her from me." Abruptly Gregori's large frame shimmered, dissolving into water crystals, and streamed from the house out into the welcoming arms of the night.Let us leave this house of madness and death. Perhaps it is the tainted blood I took into my body speaking.With a sigh, Mikhail followed Gregori into the night. The twin ribbons of vapor glinted in the moonlight, joined the tendrils of fog rippling several feet above the forest floor. Anxious to return to Raven, Mikhail streamed through the trees toward the clearing that separated the houses from the deep forest. As he flowed past the priest's cabin and into the meadow, his mind rippled with uneasiness. The warning jarred enough that he retreated back to Father Hummer's home and, in the shelter of the trees, took back his human form. His mind touched Raven's. Nothing threatened her."What is it?" Gregori materialized beside Mikhail.They scanned the immediate area for danger. It was the soil that told of violence - trampling boots, droplets of blood.Mikhail raised stricken eyes to Gregori's pale ones, and they both turned simultaneously to look at the cabin of his old friend."I will go first," Gregori said, with as much compassion as he was capable of interjecting into his voice. He stepped smoothly between Mikhail and the entrance to the priest's home.The neat little cabin, so comfortable and homey, had been destroyed, ransacked. The simple furniture was broken, the curtains askew, old pottery dishes smashed. The priest's precious books had been torn, his pictures slashed to ribbons. Father Hummer's herbs, so carefully kept in tins, lay in a heap on the floor of the kitchen. His thin mattress was in scraps, his blankets shredded."What were they looking for?" Mikhail mused aloud, wandering around the room. He stooped to pick up a rook, curling his fingers around the familiar chess piece. There were bloodstains on the floor, on the old carved rocking chair."There is no body," Gregori pointed out unnecessarily. He reached down and picked up a very old leather-bound Bible. The book was well worn, the leather shiny where the priest's fingers had so often held it. "But where there is stench, there is a trail." Gregori handed Mikhail the Bible, watching as their prince wordlessly slipped the book under his shirt, against his skin.Gregori's broad, muscular frame bent, crackled. Glossy fur rippled along his arms, claws burst from his fingernails, and fangs exploded into a lengthening muzzle. The huge black wolf was already springing for the window, changing on the run. Mikhail followed, leaping through the trees, circling back, nose to the ground. The scent led away from town toward the deep forest. The trail climbed higher and higher into the mountains. The direction took them away from Raven and Jacques. Whoever had taken Father Hummer wanted to be alone with him to do his dirty work.Mikhail and Gregori raced at a ground-eating run, shoulder to shoulder, dark deadly purpose in their hearts. They ran noses to the wind, lowering their muzzles occasionally to the trail to assure themselves that they were following the priest's scent. Their powerful muscles rippled along their backs, their hearts and lungs working like well-oiled machines. Animals scurried out of their path, hunkered down in terror at their passing.A pungent, unfamiliar odor marked a tree on their present course. Mikhail broke stride. They had crossed the boundaries of Mikhail's wolf pack and entered another's territory. Wolves frequently attacked intruders. Mikhail sent out a call, allowing the wind to carry their message in an attempt to locate the dominant pair.With the smell of the priest's blood, it was fairly easy to follow the trail. But a strange uneasiness began to grow in Mikhail. Something was eluding him. They had covered miles at a dead run, yet the trail never changed. The scent was not fresher, not fading, simply the same. A slight noise above them was their only warning, a curious grinding like rock against rock. They were in a narrow ravine, with steep walls rising on either side. Both wolves immediately dissolved, became tiny droplets of fog. The shower of rocks and boulders from overhead pelted uselessly through the insubstantial mist.Simultaneously, Mikhail and Gregori launched themselves skyward, bodies forming as they landed with catlike grace on the cliff above them. There was no priest and certainly no attacker. Mikhail glanced uneasily at Gregori. "No human could have done this.""The priest did not walk this distance, and no mortal carried him," Gregori said thoughtfully. "His blood was used as a trap then, to draw us here." Both were scanning, using every natural weapon they possessed. "This is the work of a vampire.""He is clever enough not to leave his own scent for us," Mikhail observed.A pack of wolves boiled from the trees, red eyes fixed on Mikhail. Snarling and snapping, the animals sprang for the tall, elegant figure standing with casual grace so close to the edge of the cliff. Gregori was a whirling demon, flinging animals down the ravine, snapping bones as if they were match-sticks. He never made a sound, and his speed was supernatural - so fast he seemed to blur.Mikhail never moved from his spot, sadness filling his soul. Such a waste of life. A tragedy. Gregori was able to destroy life so easily, with no feeling, no regret. That told Mikhail, more than anything, just how desperate his people's plight really was."You take too many chances," Gregori growled in reprimand, materializing beside Mikhail. "They were programmed to destroy you. You should have made certain you removed yourself from harm's way."Mikhail surveyed the destruction and death surrounding him. Not one body had gotten within ten feet of him. "I knew you would never allow such a thing. He will never rest now until he destroys you, Gregori."A faint, wolfish grin touched Gregori's mouth. "That is the idea, Mikhail. This is my invitation to him. He has the right to challenge you openly if he so desires, but he is betraying you to mortals. Such treachery will never be tolerated.""We need to find Father Hummer," Mikhail said softly. "He is too old to survive such a brutal attack. The vampire will not keep him alive once the sun begins to rise.""But why this elaborate plot?" Gregori mused aloud. "He must have known you would not be caught in the ravine or by the wolves.""He delays me." A flicker of fear touched Mikhail's black eyes. Once more his mind sought Raven's. She was teasing Jacques.Suddenly Mikhail inhaled sharply. "Byron. It is well known in the village that he is Eleanor's brother. If Eleanor, her child, and Vlad were targets, it stands to reason that Byron is also." Even as his body bent, contorted, and feathers sprouted, shimmering iridescent in the faint light beginning to streak across the sky, he was already sending a sharp warning to the young Carpathian male. The powerful wings beat strongly as he raced the sun to go to the aid of his brother's best friend.Gregori surveyed the mountains, his pale eyes moving along the shadowed cliffs above the forest. He stepped off the edge of the cliff, his body shape-shifting as he plummeted toward earth. Wings beat strongly, lifting him into the sky, straight for the jutting rock surface rising above the treetops. The entrance to the cave was a mere slit in the rock wall. It was easy enough to unravel the safeguards. In order to squeeze through the narrow opening, Gregori dissolved into mist and streamed through the crack.The passage began to widen almost at once, twisting and turning through rock. Water trickled from the walls on either side. And then he was in a large chamber: the vampire's lair. He had the scent now. A glint of satisfaction appeared in Gregori's silver eyes. The vampire would find no resting place here. The undead would find that no one made a threat against the prince without merciless retaliation from Gregori.Raven paced restlessly across the floor of the cabin, sending Jacques a little self-mocking smile. "I'm very good at waiting.""I can see that," Jacques agreed dryly."Come on, Jacques" - Raven made the length of the room again, turned to face him - "don't you find this even a little bit nerve-wracking?"He leaned lazily back in his chair, flashing a cocky grin. "Being caged up with a beautiful lunatic, you mean?""Ha, ha, ha. Do all Carpathian males think they're stand-up comedians?""Just those of us with sisters-in-law who bounce off walls. I feel like I am watching a Ping-Pong ball. Settle down.""Well, how long does something like this take? Mikhail was very upset."Leaning back with studied casualness, Jacques tipped his chair to a precarious angle and raised an eyebrow. "Women have vivid imaginations.""Intellect, Jacques, not imagination," she corrected sweetly.He grinned at her. "Carpathian males understand the fragile nature of women's nerves. They just cannot take the adversity that we men can."Raven hooked her foot around his chair and sent him crashing to the floor. Hands on hips, she regarded him with a superior glint. "Carpathian men are vain, dear brother-in-law," she proclaimed, "but not too bright."Jacques glared up at her with mock ferocity. "You have a mean streak in you." He suddenly came to his feet; his dark eyes were instantly sober, restless. "Put this on." Out of nothing he fashioned a heavy cardigan."How do you do that?" It seemed like magic to her."A Carpathian can make anything natural of the earth," he informed her in a slightly distracted tone. "Put it on, Raven. I am beginning to feel trapped in this cabin. We need to get out into the night where I can smell trouble coming."Raven pulled the warmth of the cardigan close around her and followed Jacques out onto the porch. "The night is almost over," she observed.Jacques inhaled sharply. "I smell blood. Two humans; one is familiar to me.""Father Hummer," Raven said anxiously. "It's his blood." She started down the stairs, but Jacques, more cautious, caught her arm."I do not like this, Raven.""He's hurt, Jacques. I feel his pain. He is not a young man.""Perhaps. But how is it he is up here? This cabin is very remote; few know of its existence. How does the priest come to us nearing our weakest hour?""He could be dying. Mikhail trusts him," Raven said staunchly, her heart already going out to the priest. "We have to help him.""You will stay behind me and do as I say," Jacques commanded, forcing her resisting body behind him. "I gave Mikhail my word that I would guard you with my life, and this I intend to do.""But..." Raven swallowed the rest of her protest, easily reading his resolve."Scent the wind, Raven. You are Carpathian. Do not always believe the obvious. See with more than your eyes and your heart. I have called Mikhail. He is far from us but will return with all speed. And the dawn approaches." Jacques had moved off the small porch to the grove of trees, turning slowly in a full circle. "There is another."Raven tried, inhaling the night air, scanning in every direction to find hidden danger. She felt uneasy, but she could only detect the slow approach of the priest and his human companion. "What am I missing, Jacques?" Then she felt it, too, a feeling of disturbance in the natural harmony of things, a power that was out of balance with the earth.She saw Jacques catch his breath sharply; his black eyes, so like Mikhail's, glittered with sudden menace. "Get out of here, Raven. Run. Get out fast. Do not look back. Find shelter from the sun and wait for Mikhail.""I can help you." Terror was rising. Something terrible threatened them, something Jacques feared. Raven could not find it in herself to run away and leave her brother-in-law to face danger alone. "I can't go, Jacques."You do not understand. You are more important than I am, than the priest, than any of us. You are our only hope for the future. Leave this place. Do not make me fail my brother.Indecision warred with her conscience. Father Hummer limped into view, far more frail than she remembered him. His face was battered and swollen almost beyond recognition. For the first time he looked every one of his eighty-three years."Go, Raven!" Jacques hissed, again making a slow circle, never once looking at the advancing priest. His eyes were restless, moving constantly, searching, always searching.You must leave now.Another man came into view. He looked remarkably like Eugene Slovensky, but his hair was blonder and he was obviously younger. He moved up behind the priest and with the flat of his palm on Edgar Hummer's back, shoved viciously.The priest stumbled forward, fell on one knee, tried to rise and fell full length, his face in the dirt and vegetation. The blond viciously kicked him. "Get up, damn you, old man. Get up or I'll kill you where you lie.""Stop it!" Raven cried, tears glistening in her eyes. "Father Hummer!" Impetuously she rushed down the stairs.Jacques sprang forward and cut her off, intercepting her so fast that he was merely a blur. He shoved her roughly back toward the porch.It is a trap, Raven. Get out of here.But Father Hummer!she cried to Jacques in protest."Come here, lady," growled Slovensky's look-alike. He bent, grabbed the priest by the collar, and dragged him to his knees. A wicked-looking knife gleamed at the priest's throat. "I'll kill him right now if you don't do what I say."Jacques turned then, red lights beginning to glow in the depths of his dark eyes. He growled a low rumble of warning that sent shivers along Raven's spine and drained the color from the priest's assailant.Around them the wind picked up, hurtling leaves and twigs against Jacques's legs. A creature seemed to materialize from nowhere, hit him hard in the chest, picked him up and drove his body into a tree trunk.Raven screamed.Mikhail! Where are you?I am coming. Get away from there.Jacques and his undead attacker crashed from tree to tree. Claws slashed; fangs ripped and tore.Branches cracked under the weight of their bodies. The two locked in mortal combat were shape-shifting continually. The vampire, strong and high from a fresh kill, flung himself at Jacques, beating him down, inflicting draining cuts all over his body.Run, Raven. It is you he wants, Jacques warned.Go while you can.She could hear Jacques breathing heavily, see his growing weakness. Raven had never actually attacked another human being in her life, but it was clear Jacques was in trouble.Hurry, Mikhail.There was desperation in her message. Dawn was streaking across the sky when she leapt on the vampire's back, trying to drag him from Jacques.No, get back!Jacques's cry was sharp, imperious, and laced with terror.No, Raven!Mikhail echoed the command from a distance.No, woman, do not!Gregori's voice whispered fiercely in her head.Not understanding, but certain she was in deadly peril, Raven tried to jump off. The vampire clamped one hand around her wrist in a viselike grip and turned his head, triumph in his glowing eyes. Sharp teeth bit into her wrist, and he was gulping dark, rich blood. It burned and hurt like a red-hot brand. Her flesh was ragged and gaping, his fangs tearing at her.Mikhail and Gregori mentally struck together at the vampire's throat. Although such an attack was not very successful against one of Carpathian blood and they were still some distance away, their combined assault closed off the undead's air momentarily. Jacques struck the vampire with renewed ferocity, driving him backward, dislodging Raven so that she fell free. Blood sprayed in a shower of crimson droplets across the forest floor, and for one moment both fighters froze, distracted by the red shower, turning almost in unison toward her."Close that wound!" The vampire snarled, his voice gruff.Raven, you will bleed to death.Jacques struggled for calm, wanting her to understand the seriousness of the situation.The vampire struck, claws ripping at Jacques's stomach so that he was forced to bring his hands down to protect himself. The vampire's head contorted, lengthened to a long muzzle, and lunged like a wolf at Jacques's exposed throat, ripping and tearing.Raven screamed and threw her body at the vampire, beating wildly at his head and shoulders. Contemptuously he dropped Jacques's body so it lay broken like a rag dell in the rotting vegetation. He dragged Raven's wrist to his mouth, his eyes smiling into hers, and deliberately ran his tongue across the wound to close it. Her body and mind rebelled at the hideous contact, her stomach heaving and protesting the unclean touch."Remember, mortal, she is mine," he commanded Slovensky. "I will come for her this night. Get her out of the sun." The vampire released her and launched himself skyward.Raven spit into her hands and stumbled forward toward Jacques's motionless body. "That vampire killed him," she screamed hysterically. As her hands touched the forest floor she scooped up handfuls of dirt. "Oh, God, he's dead. You let that thing kill him!" Using her slender body as a shield so no one could see what she was doing, Raven packed the wounds in Jacques's throat with the soil and her healing saliva.Drink, Jacques, now, so that you can last until Mikhail and Gregori arrive.Her wrist over his mouth, Raven continued to sob dramatically, thankful for once that men often thought women hysterical in a crisis.Mikhail! Jacques is mortally wounded. He is in the sun.She sensed the approach of the human male and twisted her wrist gently in warning. Jacques was so weak; feeding blindly, he nearly missed the signal. His loss of blood was enormous.With great dignity Raven covered his head and her handiwork with her cardigan and bent as if kissing him good-bye.Don't let me down, Jacques. You must live. For me, for Mikhail, for all of us. Don't let them win.Even as she sent the words to him she could detect no pulse, no hint of his heart beating.Slovensky gripped her shoulder and yanked her to her feet. She was deathly pale, dizzy, very weak. "Enough crying. You give me any trouble and I'll kill the priest. If you harm me, the vampire will kill the priest." He shoved her down the trail.Raven lifted her chin, regarded him coolly with red-rimmed eyes. "Then I guess, for your sake, it's imperative you keep Father Hummer in excellent health, isn't it?" Raven knew from touching the man that he didn't believe for one moment that the priest was an advocate of the devil or one of Mikhail's servants. He had seen the vampire's power and craved it, believed he would soon be rewarded.James Slovensky could easily see the contempt and the knowledge in her large blue eyes. He didn't like the picture reflected there and gave her a shove toward the trail.It took every ounce of her control and determination to make her way over the uneven ground. She had never known such weakness. She couldn't even help Father Hummer. It took total concentration to put one foot in front of the other. Once she sat down hard, shocked to realize she hadn't tripped over anything. Her legs had simply given out. Not looking at her captor, Raven pushed herself up again. She didn't want him touching her. She was cold, inside and out, afraid she might never be warm again.Feed on the priest, the vampire ordered, rage smoldering in his tone.Raven blinked, finding herself looking around even though the voice was in her head. The vampire had established a blood bond with her, could monitor her at will.Go to hell.She contended herself with the childish retort.His laughter taunted her.You gave your blood to Jacques. I should have guessed. He will not live; I made certain his was a mortal wound.Raven summoned up contempt, flooding her mind with it. It was becoming difficult to think clearly, and she had fallen too many times to count. Her captor thrust her into the back seat of a vehicle beside the priest and began to drive at breakneck speed down the mountains. Raven rolled over, grateful that the windows had been blackened and the interior was dark. Lethargy was taking over; her body felt like lead.Feed!The vampire was sharply imperious.Raven was thankful that she could defy him. She couldn't sleep, didn't dare until she knew Jacques was safe. Mikhail and Gregori were racing the sun, powerful wings beating strongly as they flew toward the old cabin. They would burrow deep into the soil the moment they were able, taking Jacques with them.Raven.The call was closer, filling her mind with love.You are so weak.Save Jacques. Come to me tonight, Mikhail. The vampire knows my thoughts. He thinks he is safe, that I can be used to trap you. Don't let him be right.She tried desperately to send the words clearly to him, but her brain was sluggish."Raven?" Edgar Hummer touched her forehead, finding her ice cold. Her skin was so pale, she seemed nearly translucent, her blue eyes sunken, like two bruised flowers pressed into her face. "Can you talk? Is Mikhail alive?"She nodded, surveying his swollen face with dismay. "What have they done to you? Why would they beat you this way?""They say they're certain I know where Mikhail keeps all of his spare coffins. According to Andre...""Who is Andre?""The treacherous vampire in league with these killers. He is a true undead, feeding on children, destroying all that is holy. His soul is lost for all eternity. As far as I can tell, Andre appears to be deliberately perpetuating the vampire myths. He claims that Mikhail is the head vampire and if they succeed in killing him, those under his influence will be returned to mortal existence. He must have established a blood bond without their knowledge and he uses it to give them orders."Raven closed her eyes weakly. Her heart was struggling to pump without necessary blood; her lungs cried out for oxygen. "How many of them are there?""Three that I've seen. This one is James Slovensky. His brother Eugene is their supposed leader, and their muscle man is Anton Fabrezo.""Two of them stayed at the inn with the American couple. We thought they had left the country. This Andre must be a lot more powerful than anyone suspects."Her voice was fading, her speech slurring. Father Hummer watched as she tried to lift her arm to push her hair away from her face. Her arm seemed too heavy; her face seemed too great a distance away. He did it for her with gentle fingers.Raven!There was anguish in Mikhail's voice.It was too difficult to answer him; it required far too much strength. The priest shifted so that her head could fall against his arm. Raven was shivering with cold. "I need a blanket back here for her.""Shut up, old man," Slovensky snapped. His eyes continually searched the sky through his windshield. The sun was up, but heavy clouds dimmed the sky, hiding the light."If she dies, Andre will make you wish you had died too," Edgar Hummer persisted."I need sleep," Raven said softly without opening her eyes. She didn't even wince when Slovensky's jacket landed on her unprotected face.Mikhail had to get out of the sun. Without dark glasses or any substantial protection from the rays, his skin and eyes were burning. He landed on the low branch of a tree and changed to human form as he jumped the remaining seven feet to earth. Jacques's body lay in the sun, a cardigan covering his neck and face. Without looking to see the extent of his brother's injuries, Mikhail lifted him and glided above ground toward the network of caves a mile away.A huge black wolf burst from the clearing to join him, loping easily beside him, pale silver eyes gleaming with menace. Together they raced through the narrow passages until they found a large, steaming chamber. The black wolf contorted, fur rippling along muscular arms as Gregori shape-shifted to his true form.Mikhail laid Jacques's body gently on the rich soil and lifted away the covering. He swore softly, unshed tears burning in his throat and eyes. "Can you save him?"Gregori's hands moved over the body, the vicious wounds. "He stopped his heart and lungs so that he could conserve his blood. Raven is weak because she fed him. She mixed her saliva and the soil and packed it in tight. It is already beginning to heal the wounds. I will need your herbs, Mikhail.""Save him, Gregori." Mikhail's body rippled with thick, glossy fur, bent, stretched, took shape as he ran along the maze of passages upward out of the bowels of the earth. He dared not think of Raven and how weak she was. The heaviness was invading his body already, demanding he go to ground, that he sleep.Summoning his immense strength and a will honed to iron over hundreds of years, Mikhail burst into the open at a flat run. The wolf's body was built for speed and he used it, running flat out, eyes narrowed to tiny slits. Paws hit the ground; back feet dug into soil to leap rotting logs. He never slowed, racing through ravines and over rocks.The overcast sky helped to ease the effects of the sun, but his eyes were streaming as he approached the cabin. The wind shifted, bringing the foul stench of sweat and fear.Man.The beast snarled silently, all the pent-up rage in him exploding into white-hot fury. The wolf skidded to a halt, body low to the ground, once more the predator.The wolf kept downwind, gliding through thick brush to creep up on the two men waiting in ambush. A trap for him. Of course the betrayer would know Mikhail would rush to aid his brother. The vampire was cunning and willing to take chances. The betrayer had lain in wait, feeding Hans Romanov's fanaticism. It was probably the undead who had commanded Hans to murder his wife. The wolf slunk low on its belly, crawled forward until it was within feet of the larger of the two men."We're too late," Anton Fabrezo whispered, half rising to stare down the trail in front of the cabin. "Something sure happened here.""Damn truck, it would have to overheat," Dieter Hodkins complained. "There's blood everywhere and smashed branches. There was a fight, all right.""Do you think Andre killed Dubrinsky?" Anton asked."That's our job. But the sun's up. If Dubrinsky's alive, he's somewhere sleeping in his coffin. We can check the cabin, but I don't think we're going to find anything," Dieter said with irritation."Andre isn't going to be happy with us," Anton worried aloud. "He wants Dubrinsky dead in a big way.""Well, he should have provided us with a decent truck. I told him mine was breaking down," Dieter snapped impatiently. He believed in vampires, and that it was his holy duty to exterminate them.Dieter stood up cautiously, surveying the landscape carefully. "Come on, Fabrezo. Maybe we'll get lucky and Dubrinsky will be in the cabin already laid out in his coffin."Anton laughed nervously. "I'll drive in the stake; you cut off the head. This vampire-killing stuff is messy.""Cover me while I scout it out," Dieter ordered. He took a step through the thick foliage, his rifle cradled in his arms. The bushes directly in front of him parted and he was face to face with a huge, heavily muscled wolf. His heart nearly stopped, and he froze, unable for a moment to move.Black eyes glittered malevolently, streaming and red-rimmed. Sharp white fangs glinted, glistened with saliva. The wolf held him with those black eyes for a full thirty seconds, striking terror in Dieter's heart. Without warning it lunged, jaws wide, head low, caught one booted ankle and crushed down with incredible power, breaking through leather and bones with a loud, sickening snap. Dieter screamed and fell. The wolf instantly released him and sprang back, regarding him with impersonal eyes.From his position in the bushes, Fabrezo had seen Dieter Hodkins go down screaming, but he couldn't see why. The terror in Hodkin's tone sent fear spiraling through him. It took a minute for Anton to find his voice. "What is it? I can't see." He didn't try to see either, sliding further down in the bushes, holding his gun up and ready, finger on the trigger ready to spray anything that moved. He wanted to yell at Dieter to shut up, but he remained quiet, his heart pounding in alarm.Dieter tried to bring his rifle into firing position. Between the pain and the terror those black, venomous eyes were inducing, he couldn't quite get the barrel around fast enough. Those eyes were far too intelligent, held rage and fury. That death stare was very personal. And it was the eyes of death that mesmerized him. He couldn't look away, not even when the wolf lunged for his exposed throat. At the last he didn't feel a thing, suddenly welcoming the end. The deadly eyes staring into his changed at the last moment, suddenly saddened as the wolf made the kill.The wolf shook its shaggy head and eased into the bushes behind Anton Fabrezo. He could hear the heart thudding with terror, bursting with life. He could hear the blood rushing hotly through the body, smelled fear and sweat. Joy washed over the wolf, the need for blood, for the kill. Mikhail pushed it down, thought of Raven, her compassion and courage and the need to kill vanished. The sun broke through a small hole in the heavy cloud cover and a thousand needles pierced his eyes.I need those herbs, Mikhail. The sun is climbing and time is running out for Jacques. Finish it now.