Raven surfaced through layer after layer of sleep, felt as though she were wading through quicksand.You did it again!It was sheer outrage that brought her awake, had her sitting up quickly. She was alone in the bedroom. His bedroom.His mocking, masculine laughter echoed in her mind. Raven threw the pillow against the wall, wishing she could hit him with it. She had lost another day. What was she becoming? His sex slave?The idea has possibilities,he mused.Get out of my head!she snapped indignantly, then stretched languidly, a lazy, feline quality to her movements. Her body was deliciously sore, aching everywhere, an intimate reminder of his possession. She couldn't be angry with him; he made her laugh at his outrageous behavior. How could she mind when her body felt the way it did?When she rose to take her shower, she saw clothes laid out for her at the end of the bed. Mikhail had already been out shopping. Raven found herself smiling, absurdly pleased that he had remembered. She fingered the skirt, the soft, full midnight-blue material, the matching blouse.You didn't buy me jeans.She couldn't resist teasing him.Women do not belong in men's clothing.He was unruffled.Raven stepped into the shower, released the thick braid so she could shampoo her hair.You don't like the way I look in a pair of jeans?His laughter held deep, genuine amusement.That is a loaded question .Where are you?Without realizing it, Raven was communicating a sultry invitation. She touched his mark over her breast with light fingertips. The contact caused her blood to heat, the mark to throb.Your body needs rest, little one. I have not exactly been the gentlest of lovers, have I?There was self-mockery in his tone, guilt in his mind.She laughed softly.I don't have very much to judge you by, do I? There hasn't been a parade of men in my life.Her soft laughter wrapped him in loving arms.If you like, I could always find someone to compare you with.She offered it sweetly.She felt the brush of strong fingers on her throat, curling around the fragile column. How did he do that?I'm so scared, macho man. Someone needs to drag you kicking and screaming into this century.The fingers brushed her face, caressed her lower lip.You love me the way I am.Love. The smile faded from her soft mouth at the word. She didn't want to love him. He already had far too much power over her.You can't hold me here, Mikhail.Obsession might be the right word, not love.Little rabbit. There are no chains on the doors, and the telephone is in working order. And you do love me; you cannot help yourself. I am perfect for you. Hurry up; you need to eat.You're a pain in the neck.As she brushed out her hair, she realized how much easier their telepathic communication was. Practice? Her temples didn't ache from the effort. She tilted her head for a moment, listened to the sounds of the house. Mikhail was pouring liquid into a glass; she could hear it clearly.Raven dressed slowly, thoughtfully. Her telepathic abilities were increasing; her senses were more acute. Was it simply Mikhail's company, or was it something in the herb concoctions he was always pouring down her throat? There was so much she wanted to learn from him. He had great psychic talent.The skirt swung around her ankles with a sexy little swish, and the blouse clung to her curves. She had to admit that the outfit made her feel feminine, as did his choice of sheer lace panties and matching bra.Are you going to sit there and moon about me all night?Night! It had better not be night again, Mikhail. I'm turning into some kind of a mole. And don't flatter yourself; I was not mooning over you.It took great effort to lie blatantly; she was proud of herself.And you think I believe your nonsense?He was laughing again, and Raven found she couldn't help giving in to her own sense of humor.She found her way though the house, marveling at the artwork, the sculpture. Outside, the sun had already disappeared behind the mountains. Raven gave a little resigned sigh. Mikhail had set a small antique, beautifully carved table on the porch outside the kitchen. He turned his head as she approached, a smile warming his eyes, chasing away the shadows. Heat pooled in her abdomen, ran liquid through her body.Mikhail bent his dark head to hers, his mouth brushing hers tenderly. "Good evening." He touched her hair, skimmed his fingers down the side of her face in a long caress. She allowed him to seat her at the table, marveling at his gallant, old-world courtesy. He placed a glass of juice in front of her. "Before I go to work, I thought we could collect your things from the inn." His long fingers selected a blueberry muffin and transferred it to the antique plate. It was exquisite, but Raven was so shocked at his words, she could only stare at him for a moment, her blue eyes enormous."What do you mean, collect my things?" It hadn't occurred to her that he might expect them to live in the same house together. His house.His smile was slow, wicked, sexy. "I could keep providing you with new things."Raven's hand trembled. She put it in her lap, out of sight. "I'm not moving in with you, Mikhail." The idea was scary. She was a very private person, needing large amounts of time alone. He was the most overwhelming being she had ever encountered. How would she ever be able to sort things out with him so near all the time?His eyebrow shot up. "No? You accepted our ways; we went through the required ritual. In my eyes, the eyes of my people, you are my lifemate, my woman. My wife. Is it the way of the American women to live apart from their husbands?"There was that infuriating trace of mocking male amusement in his voice, the note that always made her want to throw something at him. She had an idea he was laughing at her secretly, amused by her caution."We aren't married," she said decisively. It was difficult to ignore the way her heart leapt with joy at his words.Tendrils of fog were drifting into the forest, winding around thick tree trunks, spreading out to hover a few feet from the ground. The effect was eerie, but beautiful."In the eyes of my people, in the eyes of God, we are." There was an implacable resolve, a my-word-is-law in his voice that set her teeth on edge."What about in my eyes, Mikhail? My beliefs? Do they count for nothing?" she demanded belligerently."I see the answer in your eyes, feel it in your body. You struggle needlessly, Raven. You know you are mine..."She stood up quickly, pushed the chair out of her way. "I don't belong to anyone, least of all you, Mikhail! You can't just decree what will be in my life and expect me to fall in with your plans." Raven ran down the three steps to the path winding into the forest. "I need some air. You're driving me crazy."Mikhail laughed softly. "Are you so afraid of yourself?""Go to the devil, Mikhail!" Raven set her foot on the path and began walking quickly before he could charm his way around her. And he could; she knew it. It was his eyes, the shape of his mouth, the little grin he gave her when he was deliberately provoking her.The fog was very dense, the air wet and heavy with it. With her acute sense of hearing, she could hear every rustling in the bushes, every swaying of the branches, the beat of wings in the sky.Mikhail paced himself behind her. "Perhaps I am the devil, little one. I am certain that has crossed your mind."She glared at him over her shoulder. "Stop following me!""Am I not a gentleman, obligated to see his lady home?""Stop laughing! If you laugh at me one more time I swear I won't be responsible for what I do." Raven became aware of the slinking figures then, the burning eyes following her. Her heart nearly stopped, then began to pound. "Fine!" She whirled around and glared at him. "This is great! Just great, Mikhail. Call in the wolves to eat me alive. I find the idea so you. So logical."He bared his white gleaming teeth at her like a hungry-predator and laughed softly, teasingly. "It is not the wolves that would find you delicious."Raven picked up a broken branch and flung it at him. "Stop laughing, you hyena! This is not funny. Your arrogance is enough to make me want to throw up." It took every ounce of self-control she had not to laugh. The beast; he was far too charming for his own good."Your American colloquialisms are very colorful, little one."She threw another branch, then followed it up with a small rock. "Someone needs to teach you the lesson of a lifetime."She looked like a beautiful little spitfire, all sparks and flame. Mikhail drew in his breath slowly, carefully. She was his, all fire and fury, all independence and courage, all heated passion. She melted his heart with it, entered his soul with her soft laughter. He felt it in her mind, although she was being extremely careful not to allow him to see it. "And you think you are the one to do this thing?" he teased.Another rock came flying at his chest. He caught it easily. "Do you think I'm afraid of your wolves?" she demanded. "The only big bad wolf around here is you. Call all your wolves. Go ahead!" She pretended to glare into the secret, dark interior of the forest. "Come and get me. What did he tell you?"Mikhail pried her fingers loose from the branch she held like a club, allowed it to fall. He curved an arm around her slender waist, brought her small, soft body up against his much larger, rock-hard frame. "I told them you tasted like warm honey." He whispered the words with his black velvet sorcerer's voice. Turning her in his arms, he cupped her small, beautiful face in his hands. "Where is all that marvelous respect a man as powerful as myself deserves?"His thumb stroked across her full lower lip, a sensuous caress. Raven closed her eyes against the inevitable. She wanted to cry. Her feelings for him were so strong, her throat was aching and burning. Mikhail brushed her eyes with his lips, tasted a tear, sought refuge in the sweetness of her mouth. "Why would you cry for me, Raven?" He murmured the words against her throat. "Is it that you still want to run from me? Am I really so terrible? I would never allow any living creature, man or beast, to harm you, not if it was in my power to prevent it. I thought our hearts and minds were in the same place. Am I wrong? Is it that you no longer want me?"His words tore at her heart. "It isn't that, Mikhail, never that," she denied quickly, afraid she had hurt him. "You defeat my every good intention." She caressed his face with her fingertips, reverence in her touch. "You are the most fascinating man I've ever known. I feel as if I belong here with you, as though I know you completely. It's impossible in the short time we've been together. I know if I could put some distance between us, I could think more clearly. Everything happened so fast. It's as though I'm obsessed with you. I don't want to make a mistake that will cause both of us pain."His hand cupped her cheek. "It would cause me great pain if you were to desert me, to leave me alone again after I have found you.""I just want some time, Mikhail, to think things through. It's frightening, the way I am about you. I think about you every minute; I want to touch you, just to know I can, to feel you beneath my fingers. It's as if you crawled into my head and my heart, even my body, and I can't get you out." She said it like a confession, her head bent, ashamed.Mikhail took her hand, tugged at her to get her walking with him. "This is the way of my people, the way we feel about a mate. It is not always comfortable, is it? We are passionate by nature, highly sexual, and very possessive. The things that you are feeling, I feel, too."Her fingers tightened around his, and she sent him a small, tentative smile. "Am I right in thinking you're deliberately keeping me here?"Mikhail shrugged his broad shoulders. "Yes and no. I do not want to force you against your will, but as to my wanting you to stay, I believe us to be lifemates, bound more irrevocably than by your marriage ceremony. I would be extremely uncomfortable without you here, both in body and mind. I do not know how I would react to your contact with another man and, quite frankly, I fear it.""We really are from two different worlds, aren't we?" she asked sadly.He brought her hand to the warmth of his mouth. "There is such a thing as compromise, little one. We can move between the two worlds or create our own."Her blue eyes slid over him, a faint smile touching her mouth. "That sounds so good, Mikhail, so twentieth century, but somehow I think it's more likely I would be the one compromising."With his strange old-world courtesy, Mikhail held up a branch for her to pass beneath. The path was a large oval leading back to his home. "Perhaps you are right" - male amusement again - "but then, it has always been my nature to control and protect. I have no doubt you are more than a match for me.""Then why are we back at your house instead of at the inn?" she asked, one hand on her hip and a smile dancing in her blue eyes."What would you do there so late at night anyway?" His voice was pure velvet, more enticing than ever. "Stay with me tonight. You can read while I work, and I will teach you how to build better shields to protect yourself from the unwanted emotions of those around you.""How about for my hearing? Your little medicinal concoctions have increased my hearing to the point of absurdity." She arched an eyebrow at him. "Do you have any idea what else is going to happen to me?"His teeth grazed the back of her neck, his fingers brushed across her breast possessively. "I have all kinds of ideas, little one.""I'll just bet you do. I think you're a sex maniac, Mikhail." Raven slipped out of his grasp. "I think you put something in that concoction to make me a sex maniac, too." She seated herself at the table, calmly picked up her glass of juice, and looked up at him steadily. "Did you?""Drink that slowly," he ordered absently. "Where do you come up with your ideas? I have been so careful with you. Have you felt me giving you suggestions?"She found herself reluctant to drink. "You're always making me sleep." Raven took a cautious sniff of the juice. Pure apple, nothing else. She hadn't had a thing to eat or drink in nearly twenty-four hours, so why was she reluctant?"You needed to sleep," he said without remorse. Mikhail watched her with his brooding, hawklike eyes. "Is something wrong with your juice?""No, no, of course not." Raven put the glass to her lips, felt her stomach clench in protest. She replaced the glass on the table, the contents untouched.Mikhail sighed softly. "You know you must take nourishment." He leaned close. "How simple it would be if you allowed me to help you, but you have said I should not. Does this make sense?"Her gaze slid from his; her fingers nervously fiddled with the glass. "Maybe I'm just coming down with the flu. I've been feeling funny for a few days, dizzy and weak." She pushed the glass away.Mikhail pushed it back. "You need it, little one." He touched her slender arm. "You already are too small. I do not think losing weight is a good idea. Take a sip."She speared a hand through her hair, wanting to please him, knowing he was right. Her stomach insisted on rebelling. "I don't think I can, Mikhail." She raised a troubled gaze to his. "I'm really not trying to be difficult; I think I'm sick."His face, dark and sensual, had a slightly ruthless set to it. He loomed over her, his fingers curling around the glass of juice.You will drink.His voice was pitched low and intense, brooking no argument, making it impossible to disobey. "The juice will stay down; your body will accept it." He spoke gently aloud, his arms protective as he circled her shoulders.Raven blinked up at him, then looked at the empty glass on the table. She shook her head slowly. "I can't believe you're capable of doing that. I don't remember drinking it and I'm not sick now." She turned her face from him, staring out into the dark mystery of the forest. The fog caught the light from the moon, glistened and gleamed."Raven." His hand caressed the nape of her neck.She leaned into him. "You don't even know how really special you are, do you? The things you can do are beyond anything I've ever seen. You scare me, you really do."Mikhail leaned his weight against the post, genuine puzzlement on his face. "It is my duty and my right to take care of you. If you need the healing of sleep, then I must provide it. If your body needs to drink, then why should I not aid you? Why should this frighten you?""You really don't understand, do you?" Raven fixed her gaze on a particularly intriguing wisp of fog. "You are a leader here. Obviously your skills are far superior to mine. I don't think I could ever fit into your life. I'm a loner, not the first lady.""I have great responsibilities, yes. My people count on me to keep our businesses running smoothly, to hunt down the assassins murdering our people. They even think I should single-handedly find out why we lose so many of our children in their first year of life. There is nothing special about me, Raven, except that I have a will of iron and I am willing to shoulder these burdens. But I have nothing for myself; I never have had. You give me a reason to go on. You are my heart, my soul, the very air I breathe. Without you, I have nothing but darkness, emptiness. Just because I have power, because I am strong, that does not mean I cannot feel utterly alone. It is cold and ugly to exist alone."Raven pressed a hand to her stomach. Mikhail looked so remote, so alone. She hated the way he stood silent, straight and proud, waiting for her to rip his heart out. She had to comfort him and he knew it. He read her mind; he knew she couldn't bear that loneliness in his eyes. She crossed the distance separating them. Raven didn't say anything. What could she say? She simply laid her head over his heart and slipped her arms around his waist.Mikhail closed his arms around her. He had taken her life away from her, without her knowledge. She was comforting him, declaring him to be a special man, great in her eyes, yet she didn't know of his crime. She was bound to him, could not be away from him for long. He had no words to explain it to her without giving away more about their race than he could safely do. She thought she couldn't live up to his greatness. She made him feel humble and ashamed of himself.His hand cupped her face, his thumb caressing the delicate line of her jaw. "Listen to me, Raven." He brushed a kiss on the top of her silky head. "I know I do not deserve you. You think you are somehow less than what I am, but in truth, you are so far above me, I have no right even to reach for you."When she stirred as if to protest, Mikhail held her tighter. "No, little one, I know this is true. I see you clearly, whereas you do not have access to my thoughts and memories. I cannot give you up. I wish I was a stronger, better man so that I could do so, but I cannot. I can only promise you that I will do everything in my power to make you happy, to provide for you everything I can possibly give you. J ask for time to learn your ways, for room to make mistakes. If you need to hear words of love" - his mouth skimmed down the side of her face to find the corner of her mouth - "then I can say them to you in all honesty. I have never wanted a woman for my own. I have never wanted anyone to have that kind of power over me. I have never shared with any woman what I have shared with you."His kiss was infinitely tender, a searing, smoky flame tasting of love and longing. "You are in my heart to stay, Raven. I know better than you the differences between us. I ask only for a chance."She turned herself in his arms, pressed her body lovingly against his. "You really think we can make this work? We can find a middle ground?"She really had no idea of the risk he would be taking. Once she lived with him, he could never seek the safety and sanctuary of the earth. He could not leave her without his protection even for a day. From the moment she moved in with him, the danger to him would increase tenfold, as it would to her. The assassins would not differentiate between them. She would be condemned in their eyes. On top of all his other crimes, he was dragging her into a dangerous world.His hand moved to the nape of her neck. So fragile, so small. "We will never know unless we try." His arms closed around her, holding her to him as if he would never let her go.Raven felt the sudden tensing of his body. He lifted his head alertly, as if scenting the wind, as if listening to the night. She found herself doing the same, inhaling deeply, striving to hear deep into the forest. Far away, the faint, distant howls of the wolf pack floated on the breeze as they called to one another, called to Mikhail.Shocked, Raven flung back her head. "They're talking to you! How do I know that, Mikhail? How could I possibly know such a thing?"He ruffled her hair lightly, affectionately. "You hang out with the wrong crowd."He was rewarded with a bubble of laughter. It tugged at his heart, left him open and vulnerable. "What is this?" she teased. "Lord of the manor picks up nineties slang?"He grinned at her boyishly, mischievously. "Maybe I am the one hanging out with the wrong crowd.""And maybe there's hope for you yet." She kissed his throat, his chin, the stubborn line of his blue-shadowed jaw."Did I tell you how beautiful you look in that outfit?" His arm curved around her shoulders, turned her toward the table. "We are about to have company." With unhurried movements he poured half a glass of juice into the goblet on his side of the table, crumbled a small piece of pastry to dust between his fingers, and sprinkled it over both of their plates."Mikhail?" Raven's voice was wary. "Be careful if you use mental contact. I think there is another person besides me who has telepathic abilities.""All of my people have this ability," he answered carefully."Not like you, Mikhail." She was frowning, rubbing her forehead. "Like me.""Why did you not mention this to me?" he asked softly, his voice a whip of demand. "You know my people are being stalked, our women murdered. I tracked three of the assassins to the very inn where you are staying.""Because I don't know for certain, Mikhail. I try never to touch people. Over the years I've taught myself not to have contact, not to allow anyone to touch me." She speared her hand through her hair, a little frown creasing her forehead. "I'm sorry. I should have said something about my suspicions, but I wasn't certain."Mikhail smoothed the line on her forehead with a gentle fingertip, touched her mouth tenderly. "I did not mean to jump down your throat, little one. We need to discuss this at our first opportunity. Can you hear it?"She reached out into the night. "A car.""A mile or so away." He dragged the night air into his lungs. "Father Hummer and two strangers. Women. They wear perfume. One is older.""There are only eight guests besides myself staying at the inn." Raven was finding it hard to breathe. "They came in on a tour together. An older couple from the States, Harry and Margaret Summers. Jacob and Shelly Evans are a brother and sister from Belgium. There were four men from different places, somewhere on the Continent. I really haven't spoken much to them.""Any of them could be with the assassins," he said grimly. He was secretly pleased that she hadn't paid much attention to the other men. He didn't want her looking at other men, not ever."I think I would have known, don't you?" she asked. "I deal with killers more than I would like to admit. Only one of these people has telepathic abilities, and certainly no stronger than mine."She could hear the car easily now, but the dense fog prevented them from seeing it. Mikhail tipped up her chin with two fingers. "We are already bound together in the way of my people. Will you speak vows in the way of yours?"Her blue eyes widened with shock, eyes a man could drown in. Eyes a man could spend eternity staring into. A small, very male smile tugged at his mouth. He had succeeded in shocking her."Mikhail, are you asking me to marry you?""I am not really certain I know how it is done. Should I be on my knee?" He was grinning openly at her. "You're proposing to me with a carload of assassins approaching?""Wanna-be assassins." He displayed knowledge of Stateside slang with a small, heart-wrenching smile. "Say yes. You know you cannot possibly resist me. Say yes.""After you made me drink that disgusting apple juice? You set your wolves on me, Mikhail. I know there's a long list of sins I should be reciting." Her eyes were sparkling with mischief.He pulled her into his arms, against the heavy muscles of his chest, fitting her neatly into the cradle of his hips. "I can see this is going to take some heavy persuasion." His lips moved over her face like a brand, fastened on her mouth and rocked the very earth."No one should be able to kiss like this," Raven whispered.He kissed her again, tantalizingly sweet, his tongue sliding over hers sensuously, pure magic, pure promise. "Say yes, Raven. Feel how much I need you."Mikhail dragged her closer so the hard evidence of his desire was clearly imprinted against her flat stomach. Taking her hand in his, he brought it down to cover the aching bulge, rubbed her palm slowly back and forth across him, tormenting both of them. He opened his mind so she could feel the sharpness of his hunger, the edge to his passion, the flood of warmth and love enveloping her, them.Say yes, Raven; he whispered it in her head, needing her to want him back, to accept him, good or bad.You take such unfair advantage.Her reply held a trace of amusement, was warm honey spilling over with love.The car nosed out of the mist, came to a halt under a canopy of trees. Mikhail turned to face the outsiders, instinctively placing his body protectively between Raven and the three visitors. "Father Hummer, what a pleasant surprise." Mikhail extended a welcoming hand to the priest, but there was a hard bite to his voice."Raven!" Shelly Evans pushed rudely past the priest and rushed toward Raven, although her eyes were devouring Mikhail.Mikhail saw the ripple of dismay in Raven's eyes before Shelly reached her, flinging her arms around Raven and hugging her tightly. Shelly had no idea Raven could read her envy and her sexual interest in Mikhail. He could feel Raven's natural revulsion to physical touch, to the woman's concern, to her fantasies about Mikhail, but Raven managed a smile and returned the hug."What's this all about? Is something wrong?" Raven asked softly, gently disentangling herself from the taller woman."Well, my dear," Margaret Summers said firmly, glaring at Mikhail and reaching for Raven. "We insisted Father Hummer bring us to check on you."The moment the thin, wrinkled hand touched her arm, Raven recognized the push at her mind. At the same time her stomach heaved, rolled, and shards of glass pierced her skull, fragmenting her mind. For a moment she couldn't breathe. She had touched death. She drew away instantly, wiping her palm on her thigh.Mikhail!She focused on him entirely.I'm sick."Mrs. Galvenstein did not assure you Raven was safe in my care?" Mikhail gently but firmly inserted his body between Raven and the older woman. He had felt the older woman's clumsy attempt at a probe when she brushed by him. His teeth gleamed whitely. "Please enter my home and make yourselves comfortable. I believe it is growing rather cold out."Margaret Summers was twisting this way and that, observing the table with two glasses and plates, the crumbs of pastry on two plates. Her eyes pinned Raven, as if trying to see through the material of her dress to her neck.Mikhail's arm curved around Raven's shoulder, swept her into the healing shelter of his body. He hid his smile as he watched Mrs. Summers hold Shelly back until Father Hummer preceded them into Mikhail's house. They were so predictable. He bent his head.Are you all right?I'm going to throw up. The apple juice.She looked up at him accusingly.Let me help you. They will not know.He turned, blocking her smaller frame with his large one. He spoke a soft command, kissed her gently.Better?She touched his jaw, her fingers conveying what she felt.Thanks.They turned together to face their visitors.Margaret and Shelly were staring in awe at Mikhail's home. He had money, and the interior of his home reeked of it: marble and hardwood; soft, warm colors; artwork and antiques. It was obvious Margaret was both surprised and impressed.Father Hummer seated himself comfortably in his favorite armchair. "I believe we interrupted something important." He looked pleased with himself and secretly amused, his faded eyes twinkling every time they met the blackness of Mikhail's fathomless gaze."Raven has consented to become my wife." Mikhail brought her fingers to the warmth of his mouth. "I did not have enough time to give her the ring. You drove up before I could put it on her finger."Margaret touched the well-worn Bible sitting on the table. "How very romantic, Raven. Do you plan on being married in the Church?""Of course the child must be married in the Church. Mikhail is strong in his beliefs and would consider nothing less," Father Hummer said in a mild rebuke.Raven kept her hand in Mikhail's as they curled up together on the sofa. Margaret's faded eyes were as sharp as talons. "Why have you been hiding out, my dear?" Her gaze was darting everywhere, trying to ferret out secrets.Mikhail stirred, leaned back lazily. "You could hardly call it hiding out. We phoned Mrs. Galvenstein, your landlady, and let her know Raven was staying with me. Surely she told you.""The last I heard of Raven, she had gone into the wilds to meet you for a picnic," Margaret declared. "I knew she was ill and I was worried, so I found out your name and asked the priest to escort us here." Her sharp gaze rested on a silver antique mirror."I'm sorry I caused you distress, Mrs. Summers," Raven said sweetly. "I've had a terrible case of the flu. If I had known anyone would be worried, I would have called." She said it pointedly."I wanted to see you for myself." Margaret pursed her lips together stubbornly. "We're both Americans, and I feel responsible for you.""I am grateful for your concern. Raven is the light of my life." Mikhail leaned forward with his predator's smile. "I am Mikhail Dubrinsky. I do not believe we have been formally introduced."Margaret hesitated; then, with a lift of her chin, she placed her hand in his and muttered her name. Mikhail oozed goodwill and love spiced mischievously with a healthy dose of lust for Raven.Shelly eagerly introduced herself. "Mr. Dubrinsky?""Mikhail, please." His charm was so intense, Shelly nearly fell off her chair.She wiggled a lot and crossed her legs to give him a better view. "Mikhail, then." Shelly flashed a coquettish smile. "Father Hummer tells us you are somewhat of a historian and would know all the folklore in and around the country. I'm doing a paper on folklore. Specifically, if there is any truth to the local legends. Would you know anything about vampires?"Raven blinked, tried not to burst out laughing. Shelly was definitely in earnest, and she had fallen for Mikhail's magnetism. She would be very embarrassed if Raven laughed. She concentrated on Mikhail's thumb stroking the inside of her wrist. It helped her feel stronger."Vampires." Mikhail repeated the term matter-of-factly. "Of course the most popular area for vampires is in Transylvania, but we have our own stories. All through the Carpathian Mountains there are extraordinary tales. There is a tour, following Jonathan Harker's route to Transylvania. I am sure you would find it most enjoyable."Margaret leaned forward. "Do you believe there is truth to the stories?""Mrs. Summers!" Raven showed her shock. "You don't, do you?" Margaret's face closed down, her lips pursed again belligerently."I always have believed there is a grain of truth in nearly every story handed down through the ages. Perhaps that is what Mrs. Summers believes," Mikhail said gently.Margaret nodded her head, relaxed visibly, and bestowed a benevolent smile on Mikhail. "I'm so glad we agree, Mr. Dubrinsky. A man in your position should certainly be a man with an open mind. How could so many people over hundreds of years tell such similar stories without some truth to the legend?""A living corpse?" Raven's eyebrows shot up. "I don't know about the Middle Ages, but I'd notice if dead people started walking around dragging off children.""There is that," Mikhail agreed. "We haven't had a large number of unexplained deaths that I'm aware of in the last few years.""But some of the locals tell stories of some pretty strange things." Shelly was loath to give up her ideas."Of course they do." Mikhail grinned engagingly. "It is so much better for business. A few years ago... when was it, Father? You remember when Swaney wanted to drum up the tourist trade and he poked himself in the neck with a couple of knitting needles and had the newspaper take pictures. He hung a wreath of garlic around his neck and walked about town, claiming the garlic made him sick.""How do you know it wasn't real?" Margaret demanded."The pinpricks became infected. It turned out he was allergic to the garlic and he had no option but to confess." Mikhail grinned mischievously at the two women. "Father Hummer made him do penance. Swaney said the rosary thirty-seven times in a row."Father Hummer threw back his head and laughed heartily. "He certainly had everyone's attention for a while there. Newspaper people were flying in from all directions. It was quite an entertaining show."Mikhail grimaced. "As I recall, I had to spend so much time out of my office, I worked day and night for a week to catch up.""Even you had enough of a sense of humor to appreciate his little venture, Mikhail," Father Hummer said. "I've been around a long time, ladies, and I've never once encountered a walking corpse."Raven swept a hand through her hair, rubbed at her pounding head. The slivers of glass were relentless. She always associated such pain with prolonged exposure to a sick mind. Mikhail's hand came up, brushed her temple tenderly, trailed his fingers down her soft skin. "It is getting late, and Raven is still feeling the effects of the flu. Perhaps we could continue this discussion another evening?"Father Hummer instantly rose. "Of course, Mikhail, and I do apologize for barging in at such an inopportune moment. The ladies were very agitated and it seemed the most expedient way to alleviate their fears.""Raven can come back with us," Margaret offered solicitously.Raven knew she would never survive a car ride with the woman. Shelly was nodding her head eagerly, giving Mikhail her best smile. "Thank you so much, Mikhail. I would love to discuss this further with you, maybe take some notes?""Of course, Miss Evans." Mikhail handed her his business card. "I am swamped with work right now, and Raven and I want to be married as soon as possible, but I will do my best to find some time." He was ushering his guests to the door, using his large, muscular frame and his beguiling smile to prevent anyone from touching Raven. "Thank you, Mrs. Summers, for offering to look after Raven for me, but we were interrupted, and I intend to make certain she does not leave me without the all-important ring."When Raven moved to step around him, he cut her off, his body so graceful and subtle, that his movement was not noticed. His hand slid down her arm, shackled her fragile wrist. "Thank you for coming," she called softly from behind him, afraid that if she spoke too loud her head would shatter into a thousand fragments.When their visitors had left, Mikhail dragged her protectively into his arms, his face a mask of dark menace. "I am sorry, little one, that you had to endure such a thing." He carried her into his house and made for the library.Raven could hear soft words in his own language muttered under his breath. He was swearing and it made her smile. "She isn't evil, Mikhail; she's twisted, fanatical. It was like touching the mind of a burning crusader. She believes what she's doing is right." She rubbed the top of her head against the rigid set of his jaw."She is beneath contempt." He spat the words. "She is obscene." Very gently Mikhail deposited her in the comfort of his armchair. "She came to test me, to bring a priest into my home and try to outwit me. Her brush in my mind was clumsy and inept. She uses her gift to mark others for murder. She read only what I allowed.""Mikhail! She believes in vampires. How could she possibly think you're a walking corpse? You have unusual gifts, but I can't see you murdering a child to keep yourself alive. You go to church; you're wearing a cross. The woman is nuts." She rubbed at her pounding temples in an effort to relieve the pain.