The ride home in the car was excruciatingly painful. Mikhail's body craved blood to replace what he had lost. His weakness was growing by the moment, the lines in his face deepening, etched with pain. He was an ancient, and all ancients felt emotions and physical wounds intensely. Normally he would simply have stopped his heart and lungs so that his blood would cease to flow. Then the healer would take over and the others would supply him with what he needed.Raven changed all that. Raven and whatever - or whoever - was watching them. He could still feel the uneasiness washing over him. He knew another studied them from a distance, even as they traveled the miles to his home."Mikhail," Eric hissed as they aided him into the sanctuary of his house, "let me help you."Raven was at the door, taking in Mikhail's pale features. He looked suddenly older than the thirty years she thought him. There were white lines around his mouth, but his mind was serene, his breathing even and relaxed. She stepped back silently to allow them entry.She was hurt by Mikhail's refusal to allow her to help him. If he preferred the company of his people, she was not going to be so undignified as to let them see that it bothered her. Small teeth bit at her lower lip; her lingers twisted together and her eyes were anxious. She just had to see for herself that he was going to be well.They carried Mikhail down to his sleeping chamber, Raven trailing after them. "Shall I call a doctor?" she inquired, already knowing the answer. She sensed they wanted her gone, that she was in the way somehow. Instinctively she knew that Mikhail would not receive the treatment he needed until she was gone."No, little one." Mikhail held out his hand to her.She went to him, lacing her fingers through his. He was always so strong, so physically fit, yet now he was pale and drawn. Raven felt close to tears. "You need help, Mikhail. Tell me what to do."His eyes, so black and cold, warmed instantly when his gaze settled on her face. "They know what to do. This is not my first wound, nor the worst I have received."A small, humorless smile touched her soft mouth. "This was the business you needed to do this evening?""You know I hunt those that murdered my sister." He sounded tired and drained.Raven hated arguing with him, but some things had to be said. "You told me you were just going out, nothing dangerous. It wasn't necessary to lie to me about what you were doing. I know you're the big hotshot around here, but this is what I do. I track killers. We were supposed to be partners, Mikhail."Byron, Eric, and Jacques exchanged raised eyebrows. Byron mouthed the word hotshot.No one dared smile, not even Jacques.Mikhail frowned, knew he had hurt her. "I did not deliberately speak an untruth. I merely went out to do a little investigating. Unfortunately, it turned into something altogether different. Believe me, I had no intention of getting hurt. A careless accident.""You have this penchant for getting yourself into trouble when I'm not with you." Raven's smile did not quite reach her eyes. "How bad is your leg?""A scratch, no more; nothing for you to worry about."She was silent again, her blue eyes moving over his face with a faraway, pensive look, as if she had turned inward.Mikhail felt something twisting deep in his gut. She had that look, the one that meant she was thinking too much again. It was the last thing he wanted when he lay wounded, forced to go to ground at the first opportunity. He did not want her pulling away from him, and there was something in her stillness that worried him. She couldn't leave him. He knew that intellectually, but he didn't want her to want to leave him, to even be able to think about it. "You are angry with me." He made it a statement.Raven shook her head. "No, I'm honestly not. Maybe disappointed in you." She looked sad. "You said there could be no lies between us, yet at the first opportunity, you did lie to me." For a moment her small teeth bit down hard on her lower lip. There was a sheen of tears in her eyes, but she blinked them away impatiently. "When you're asking for so much trust, Mikhail, it seems to me you need to trust me as well. You should have had more respect for me, at least for my abilities. I hunt using a psychic link. I trail using someone else's eyes. Some of you people are very sloppy and complacent. A few of you don't even bother with mind blocks. All of you are so arrogant, it doesn't occur to you that a human, not one of your superior race, can crawl inside your minds. You've got someone out there just like me, fingering your people for death. If I can get inside your minds, she can do it. My advice, for what it's worth, is to take far more precautions."Raven stepped away from Mikhail's placating outstretched hand. "I'm just trying to save your lives, not be vindictive." It was only pride that was keeping her from falling apart. Already she felt the loss of him, of their unique closeness. Somehow she knew there would never be another man, another time in her life when she laughed and talked the way they had and was totally accepted and comfortable. "You don't need to say anything else, Mikhail. I saw your little scratch firsthand. You were right; you weren't alone out there - I was watching. Honesty in my language means truth."Raven took a deep breath, tugged off the ring, and laid it carefully, regretfully, on the small table beside the bed. "I'm sorry, Mikhail, I really am. I know I'm letting you down, but I don't fit into this world of yours. I don't understand it, or the rules. Please do me the courtesy of staying away, of not trying to contact me. We both know I'm no real match for you. I'm leaving on the first available train."She turned and started toward the door. It flew shut with a loud crash. She stared at it, not turning around. The air was thick with tension, with some dark feeling, one she couldn't put a name to. "I don't think it's going to do any good to prolong this. You need help right now. Obviously whatever they intend is some secret thing not to be shown to outsiders. I am just that. Let me go home where I belong, Mikhail, and let them help you now.""Leave us," Mikhail ordered the others. They obeyed reluctantly."Raven, come here to me, please. I am weak and it would take most of my strength to come to you." There was a gentleness in his voice, an honesty she found heartbreaking.She closed her eyes against the power in his voice, the soft caressing tone that rubbed sensuously like black velvet over her skin and crawled into her body, wrapping itself around her heart. "Not this time, Mikhail. We not only live in two different worlds, we have two separate value systems. We tried - I know you wanted to - but I can't do this. Maybe I never could have. It happened too fast and we don't really know one another.""Raven." Heat curled in her very name. "Come here to me."She pressed her fingers to her forehead. "I can't, Mikhail. If I let you get around me again, I'll lose respect for myself.""Then I have no choice but to come to you." He shifted his weight, using his hands to move his injured leg."No!" Alarmed, she whirled around. "Stop it, Mikhail. I'm calling the others back inside." She pressed him back among the pillows.His hand caught the nape of her neck with unexpected strength. "You are the only reason I am living right now. I told you I would make mistakes. You cannot give up on me, on us.You do know me, everything important. You can look into my mind and know I need you. I would never hurt you.""You have hurt me. This hurts. Those people out there are your family, your people. I'm from another country, a different race. This isn't my home and it never will be. Let me call them to you and just let me go.""You are right, Raven. I told you there would be no lies between us, yet I have this need to protect you from anything violent or frightening, anything that can hurt you." His thumb moved over her delicate cheekbone, slid lower to caress her silken mouth. "Do not leave me, Raven. Do not destroy me. It would kill me if you left me." His eyes were eloquent, persuasive, meeting hers unflinchingly, not attempting to hide the raw truth of his words from her, his total vulnerability."Mikhail," she said softly in despair. "I look at you and something deep within me says we belong together, you do need me, and I will never be complete without you. But I know it's nonsense. I've lived most of my life on my own, and I was quite happy.""You were isolated, in pain. No one saw you, knew who you were. No one else could appreciate you or care for your needs as I can. Do not do this thing, Raven. Do not."His hand on her arm drew her inevitably closer. How could she resist Mikhail at his most tempting? It was too late, far too late. His mouth was already finding hers. His lips were cool, tender, so gentle it brought tears to her eyes. She rested her forehead against his. "You hurt me, Mikhail, really hurt me.""I know, little one, I am sorry. Please forgive me."A small smile tugged at the corner of her mouth. "Is it really that easy?"His thumb erased a tear trickling down her face. "No, but it is all I have to give you at this moment.""You need help and I know I can't be the one to help you. I'll go. You can contact me when you feel up to it. I promise not to go anywhere until you're better.""Put my ring back on your finger, Raven," he said softly.She shook her head, drew away from him. "I don't think so, Mikhail. Let's let things be for a while. Let me think things through."His hand caressed her nape, slid over her shoulder, down her arm until his fingers circled her wrist. "I need to sleep tomorrow, really sleep. I want you protected from these people." He knew she would assume he meant that they would drag him.Raven smoothed back the tangle of coffee-colored hair from his forehead. "I'll be fine on my own, as I have been for years. You're so busy looking after the world, you think there's no one who is capable of looking after themselves. I promise you I won't leave, and I promise I will be careful. I won't go hiding in their closets or under their beds."Mikhail caught her chin firmly. "These people are dangerous, Raven, fanatical. I found that out tonight.""Can they identify you?" All at once she couldn't breathe. She was becoming desperate to have his friends take care of his wounds."No way. And there is no way they will know. I found out two more names. Eugene, very dark, a Hungarian accent.""That would be Eugene Slovensky. He came in on the train with the tour group.""Someone named Kurt?" He lay back against the pillow, no longer able to block out the pain in his thigh. It was cutting at his nerve endings like a rusty saw blade going through his skin."Kurt Von Halen. He was on the tour also.""There was a third man. No one spoke his name." His voice revealed his weakness. "He was about seventy, gray hair, a thin gray mustache.""That must be Harry Summers, Margaret's husband.""The inn harbors a nest of assassins. The worst of it was, the midwife told her husband, told all of them that Noelle was not of the undead. How could they believe such nonsense when she gave life to a child? God! What a terrible waste of life." Grief washed over him anew, added to his burden of pain.Raven could feel it hammering at her insides cruelly. "I'm going to go now so they can help you, Mikhail. You're getting weaker by the minute." She bent to kiss his forehead. "I can feel their anxiety."He caught her hand. "Put my ring back on your finger." His thumb caressed the inside of her wrist. "I want you to wear it. It is important to me.""All right, Mikhail, but only so you'll rest. We'll sort it out when you're feeling better. Call your friends now. I'll drive your car back to the inn." She touched his skin.He was cold, very cold. Raven pushed the ring back on her finger. He caught at her again. "Do not go near those people. Stay in your room. I will sleep through the day. You rest, and I will come for you in the evening.""Very ambitious of you." Gently she pushed a stray lock of hair from his forehead. "I think you'll be in bed for a while.""Carpathians heal quickly. Jacques will see you home safely.""That really isn't necessary," she declined, uneasy in the presence of strangers."It is necessary for my peace of mind," Mikhail said softly, his black eyes imploring her to give in to him. At Raven's small nod he pushed his luck. "Before you go, please try another glass of juice. It will go a long way to alleviate my worry for you." He knew by reading her mind that she had tried some juice earlier. Her stomach had rebelled, before the first sip had even passed her lips. He cursed himself for that. He was directly responsible for her body's rejection of human nutrients. Raven was already far too thin. She couldn't afford weight loss."The smell of it makes me sick," she admitted, wanting to humor him but knowing it was impossible. "I think I really do have the flu. I'll try later, Mikhail.""I will help you." He murmured the words softly, his dark eyes clouded with worry. "I need to do this for you. Please, little one, allow me to do this simple thing."Behind her, the door opened and his three friends entered. One stood to the side of the door expectantly. He looked like a gentler version of Mikhail. "You must be Jacques." Raven touched Mikhail's cold hand once before leaving the room."And you are Raven." He was looking at the ring on her finger, not even trying to hide his smirk.She lifted an eyebrow. "I didn't want him upset. It seemed the quickest way to get out of here so you people can help him." She had been unable to use Jacques to "see" Mikhail. His mind shield had been too strong to penetrate. Byron had been an easy target.When she headed for the front door Jacques shook his head and crooked his finger at her. "He wants you to drink some juice.""Oh, give it a rest. I didn't say I would.""We can stay here all night." He shrugged broad shoulders and flashed a quick, lopsided grin. "I would not mind. Mikhail's house is comfortable."She scowled at him, tried to look fierce when something in her was beginning to find the entire lot of them comical. Males thought they were so logical. "You're just like him. And don't take it as a compliment either," she added, when he looked pleased.He grinned again, that lopsided, heart-stopping grin that must break hearts everywhere he went."You're related to him, aren't you?" Raven guessed, certain she was right. How could he not be? He had that same charm, the same eyes, the same good looks."When he claims me." He poured a glass of fresh apple juice and handed it to her. "He wouldn't know." It was going to kill her to drink it."He would know. He knows everything. And where you are concerned, he can get a mite testy. So drink."She sighed in resignation, and tried to force herself to swallow the juice without disturbing Mikhail. She knew Jacques was right about Mikhail. He would know if she didn't drink it, and it seemed so desperately important to him. Her stomach rolled, heaved in protest. Raven gagged, coughed."Call to him," Jacques instructed. "Let him help you.""He's so weak, he doesn't need this.""He will not go to sleep until you are taken care of," Jacques persisted. "Call him or we will never get out of here.""You even sound like him," she murmured.Mikhail, I'm sorry. I need your help with this.He sent her warmth, love. The soft command allowed her to drain the glass, keep the juice in her stomach. She rinsed the glass in the sink and turned it upside down. "You were right. He wouldn't let them treat him until I drank it. He's so stubborn.""Our women come first always. Do not worry about him; we would never allow anything to happen to Mikhail." He led the way out of the house to the car hidden under the canopy of trees.Raven paused. "Listen to them. The wolves. They're singing to him, for him. They know he's hurt."Jacques opened the car door for her. His dark eyes, so like Mikhail's, slid over her. "You are very unusual.""So Mikhail says. I think that's beautiful, that the wolves are calling encouragement to him."Jacques started the engine. "You know you cannot say a word to anyone of Mikhail's injury. It would put him in danger." He made it a statement, but she could sense his deep need to protect Mikhail.Raven liked him all the more for that, felt a bond with him, but she sent Jacques a little frown of reprimand all the same. "You people are so arrogant. You insist on believing that because the human race does not have great telepathic abilities, we're somehow lacking in intellect. I assure you, I have a brain, and I'm perfectly capable of figuring that out all by myself."He grinned at her again. "You must make him completely crazy. The hotshot thing was great. I would be willing to bet it was the first time he was ever called that.""It's good for him. If more people gave him a little trouble, he would be more - " She hesitated, searching for the right word. She laughed softly. "He'd be more something. Amenable.""Amenable? There's a description that we can never use in the same sentence with Mikhail. None of us have ever seen him happy like this. Thank you," Jacques said softly.Deliberately he drew the car into the shadows. "Be very careful tonight and tomorrow. Do not leave your room until Mikhail contacts you."Raven rolled her eyes, made a face at him. "I'll be fine.""You do not understand. If anything happened to you, we would lose him."She paused, her hand on the doorknob. "They will take care of him, won't they?" She didn't want to say it, but she felt as though part of her was missing, a chunk wrenched from her soul. Her mind cried out for contact with Mikhail, just a touch. Anything to reassure her that he was perfectly fine and they were still united."They know what to do. He will heal fast. I must get back to him. Without Gregori, I am the strongest, the closest to him. He needs me right now."Mikhail was weak, consumed with pain, hunger clawing at him along with guilt. He had hurt her, come close to losing her. How could he make so many mistakes when she was all that mattered to him? He should never have told her an untruth over something so unimportant.Raven.He needed to reach out to her, touch her mind with his, feel her, know she was there. Despite pain and weakness and hunger, the worst of it was the terrible aching hole in his very soul. Intellectually, he knew the ritual binding them together had caused this overwhelming need, but the knowledge didn't alleviate his need to touch her mind."Mikhail, drink!" Jacques materialized beside the bed, caught his older brother to him, his face a mask of fury. "Why did you allow him to go without aid, Eric?""He thought only of the woman," Eric said in self-defense.Jacques swore softly. "She is safe in her room, Mikhail. You must drink for both of you. One cannot exist without the other. If you do not survive, you doom her to death, or at best a half life."Jacques swallowed his anger, took a deep calming breath. "Take my blood. I give it to you freely, without reservation. My life is your life; together we are strong." He used the formal words, meaning every one of them. He would have given his life for their leader. The others began the ritual healing chant. They spoke in a hypnotic rhythm, and the ancient tongue was beautiful.Behind him, Jacques heard the murmur of voices, smelled the sweet aroma of soothing, healing herbs. Carpathian soil, so rich in healing properties, was mixed with herbs and saliva from their mouths and placed over the wounds. Jacques held his brother in his arms, felt his strength, his life flow into Mikhail, and he thanked God for his ability to help him. Mikhail was a good man, a great man, and his people could not lose him.Mikhail felt strength pouring into him, into his depleted muscles, into his brain and heart. Jacques's strong body trembled, and he sat abruptly on the edge of the bed, still cradling Mikhail in his arms, still holding his brother's head to make it easier for him to replenish what he had lost.Mikhail resisted, surprised at how strong Jacques still was, how weak he remained despite the transfer.No! I endanger you!He said the words sharply in his mind because Jacques refused to release him."It is not enough, my brother. Take what is freely offered with no thought but to heal." Jacques continued the chant as long as he was able, signaling Eric when he was growing too weak to continue.Eric slashed his wrist without thought, without wincing at the gaping, painful wound, offering his wrist to Jacques, who continued to supply Mikhail with his life's blood. Eric and Byron provided the soft rhythmic words of ritual while Jacques replenished himself and Mikhail.The room itself seemed filled with warmth and love, smelled clean and fresh. The ritual healing signaled a new beginning. It was Eric who called a halt when he could see Mikhail's color had returned, when he could hear the steady beat of his heart and feel the blood flowing freely, safely, in his veins.Byron put a supporting arm around Jacques, helped him to a chair. Without a word he took Eric's place, supplying life-giving fluid to Jacques.Mikhail stirred, accepted the pain of his injury as part of the healing process, as part of the mechanics of living. He turned his head. His dark gaze sought and found Jacques, rested on him like a touch."Is he all right?" His voice was very soft, but commanding all the same. Mikhail was authoritative no matter what the circumstances.Jacques looked up, pale and wan, flashed a grin, and winked. "1 spend a lot of time pulling your butt out of trouble, big brother. You would think a man a good two hundred years older than me would have the sense to watch his own backside."Mikhail smiled tiredly. "You get pretty cocky when I am lying on my backside.""We have four hours till sunrise, Mikhail," Eric said gravely. "Byron and I must feed. You need to go underground. Soon the separation between you and your woman will begin to eat at you. You cannot afford to expend the energy for mind touch. You need to go to ground now before you cannot stand it.""1 will set the safeguards and sleep a few feet above you to ensure your protection," Jacques said softly. He had lost his sister to the assassins; he was not about to lose his brother. He needed the soil himself. Even with Eric and Byron to replenish him, he knew he was still weak and needed the healing sleep.Mikhail lifted an eyebrow. "Five minutes in her company and you are ready to mutiny." A small, weary smile softened the hard line of his mouth.He closed his eyes tiredly, guilt washing over him. It would be Raven who bore the brunt of this night. He would be deep in the ground, far beyond pain, beyond knowledge of separation, beyond grief and the hatred for his species. Raven would be surrounded by the assassins, in danger every moment. More than that, she would have to endure the loss of their mindtouch.Little one.He put a wealth of love in his summons.You are better?Relief.I am getting there quickly. Are you in bed?Always the bed thing. I heard you earlier, your fear for Jacques. I know it was Jacques. You have affection in your thoughts of him. Is he okay too?He is tired. He gave me blood.It was draining to make the contact, to cover the distance, but he needed it desperately for both their sakes.I can hear your weariness. Sleep now. You're not to worry about me, she instructed softly. She ached for the touch of his fingers, the sight of him."Mikhail, you are speaking with her," Eric thundered. "You cannot."Jacques waved a dismissing hand at Eric. "You should have known he would do so. Mikhail, if you wish it, one of us can send her to sleep."It will be uncomfortable for you. You will find itdifficult to sleep, to eat. You will need to be with me. Your mind will seek mine, yet you will be unable to reach me. I do not have the strength to aid you this night in sleeping. Will you allow Eric or Byron to command you?Mikhail didn't like the idea. Raven found herself smiling. He had no idea how much she could read of him. He wanted her safe, wanted her asleep while he was, but he didn't like the idea of another man doing something so intimate as commanding her to sleep.I'll be fine, Mikhail. The truth is, it's hard enough for me to accept that kind of thing from you. I could never accept it from one of them. I'll be fine, I promise.I love you, little one. Those are the words of your people and they come from my heart.Mikhail used a last burst of strength to send a plea to the only human he could trust to ensure Raven's safety.Raven closed her eyes, knowing she had to let him go before his strength was gone.Sleep, Mikhail. In the words of your people, you are my lifemate.She stared up at the ceiling for a long time after he was gone. She had never felt so alone, so completely barren and cold. She wrapped her arms around herself, sat in the middle of the quilts, and rocked herself in an effort to relax. She had spent a lifetime alone, had learned to enjoy her own company as a young child.Raven sighed. It was so silly. Mikhail was going to be perfectly fine. She would take the opportunity to read a book, continue her study of the language. Mikhail's language. She walked barefoot around the room. Paced. She felt cold and rubbed her arms to warm herself.Snapping on the lamp, Raven dragged the latest in paperback fiction from her suitcase, determined to get into the tangled web of deceit and murder spiced with romance. She stuck to it for an hour, reading the same paragraph two and three times. It happened repeatedly, but Raven was determined until she realized she had not comprehended a single word. She threw the book across the room in frustration.What was she going to do about Mikhail? She had no family left in the States, no one who would care if she never returned. After everything that had happened, she still wanted to be with Mikhail, needed to be with him. Common sense dictated that she should leave before it went on much longer. She had no room in her mind or heart for common sense. Raven swept a hand tiredly through her hair. She had no wish to return to the work of chasing serial killers.So what to do about Mikhail? She hadn't learned to say no to him. She knew what love was. She had met a few couples who shared the genuine article. But what she felt toward Mikhail was so far beyond that emotion. It was more than passion and warmth; it bordered on obsession. Mikhail was in her somehow, flowing in her blood, wrapped in her insides, around her heart. He had somehow entered her mind, stolen some secret part of her soul.It wasn't simply that her body craved his, burned for his, that her skin crawled with need for him. She was like a drug addict desperate for a drug. Was that love or some sick obsession? And then there was what Mikhail felt for her. His emotions were so sharp, so intense. The way he felt around her made what she felt seem a pale imitation. Their relationship frightened her. He was so territorial, so possessive, so wild and untamed. He was dangerous, a man who ruled others and was used to having complete authority. Judge, jury, and executioner. So many people depended on him.Raven put her hands over her face. He needed her. There was no one else for him. He truly needed her. Only her. She wasn't sure how she knew that, but she did. There was no doubt in her mind. She saw it in his eyes. They were cold and emotionless when he looked at others. Those same eyes smoldered with molten heat when they looked at her. His mouth could be hard, edged with cruelty until it softened when he laughed with her, talked to her, kissed her. He needed her.She went back to pacing. His customs, his way of living, were so different from hers.You're scared, Raven, she chastised herself. She pressed her forehead against the window-pane.You're really afraid you won't ever be able to leave him.He wielded so much power, used it without thought. It was more than that, if she was to be strictly fair. She needed him. His laughter, the way he touched her so gently, so tenderly. The way he burned for her, his gaze hungry and possessive, scorching, his need so urgent that he was wild for her. His conversation, his intellect, his sense of humor so close to her own. They belonged to each other. Two halves of the same whole.Raven stood in the center of her room, shocked at her thinking. Why did she believe that they were meant to be together? Her mind seemed terribly distracted, chaotic even. Usually Raven was cool at all times, thinking things through rationally, yet it seemed she was almost incapable of that now. Everything in her cried out for Mikhail, just to feel his presence, to know he was near. Without conscious thought she reached out to him and found - space. He was either too far away or too deep in a drug-induced sleep for her to reach him. It left her shaky and feeling more alone than ever. Bereft even. She bit at her knuckles anxiously.Her body moved because it had to. Back and forth across the room, over and over until she was totally exhausted. The weight in her heart seemed to have increased with every step. She was losing her ability to think straight, to breathe. Desperately she reached out again just to touch Mikhail's mind once, to know he was somewhere safe. She found - emptiness.Raven drew her knees up, dragged the pillow to her. There in the darkness, rocking back and forth, grief overwhelmed her. It consumed her so that all she could think was of Mikhail. He was gone. He had left her and she was completely alone, half a person, a mere shadow. Tears burned, ran down her face, and emptiness clawed at her insides. She could not possibly exist without him.All her thoughts of leaving, all her careful calculations didn't matter, couldn't matter. The sane part of her whispered that it was impossible to feel this way. Mikhail couldn't be her other half; she had survived for years without him. She couldn't want to throw herself off the balcony simply because she couldn't reach him with a mind touch.Raven found herself walking across the room, step by slow step, as if someone other than herself compelled her to do so. She flung open the doors to the wraparound balcony. Cold air rushed in, with a hint of dampness. Fog completely veiled the mountains and forest. It was so beautiful, yet Raven was unable to see it. There could be no life without Mikhail. Her hands found the wooden railing, her fingers digging absently into two deep scars she found in the wood. She ran her fingertip back and forth in the depressions, a small caress, the only real thing in a barren world of emptiness."Miss Whitney?"Wrapped up in her own grief, she had noticed no one. She whirled around, her hand going defensively to her throat."Forgive me for startling you." Father Hummer's voice was gentle. He rose from a chair positioned in the corner of her balcony. A blanket was wrapped around his shoulders, but she could see he was shivering from long exposure to the night air. "It isn't safe out here for you, my dear." He took her arm, led her like a child back to her room, and carefully locked the balcony doors.Raven found her voice. "What in the world were you doing out there? How did you get out there?"The priest smiled smugly. "It wasn't hard. Mrs. Galvenstein is a member of the Church. She knows Mikhail and I are close friends. I simply told her Mikhail was engaged to you and that I needed to deliver a message. As I am old enough to be your grandfather, she thought it safe enough to allow me to wait on the balcony until you returned. And, of course, she would never pass up an opportunity to do something for Mikhail. He is very generous and asks very little in return. I believe he made the original purchase of the inn and allowed Mrs. Galvenstein to make much smaller, more reasonable and manageable payments to him."Raven kept her back to him, unable to stem the flood of tears. "I'm sorry, Father. I can't talk right now. I don't know what's wrong with me."He reached his hand over her shoulder to wave a handkerchief at her. "Mikhail was worried this night would be... difficult on you. And tomorrow. He hoped you would spend it with me.""I'm so afraid..." Raven confessed, "and it's silly. There's no reason to be afraid of anything. I don't know why I'm behaving so badly.""Mikhail is fine. He's indestructible, my dear, a great jungle cat with nine lives. I have known him for years. Nothing will keep Mikhail down."Sorrow. It invaded every inch of her body, crawled in her mind, lay heavy on her soul. Mikhail was lost to her. Somehow, some way, during those few hours he was apart from her, he had slipped away. Raven shook her head, her grief so deep and wild she was strangling on it, unable to get enough air to breathe."Raven, stop this!" Father Hummer caught her small, bent figure and guided her to the edge of the bed. "Mikhail asked me to be here. He said he would come for you early this evening.""You don't know...""Why would he have gotten me out of bed at such an hour? I'm an old man, child. I need my rest. You need to think, use your intellect.""But it feels so real, as if he's dead and I've lost him forever.""But you know it isn't so," he argued reasonably. "Mikhail chose you for his own. What you share with him is what his people share with their mates. They take the physical and mental bond for granted. They cherish it, and from what I have learned over the years it is so strong, one rarely survives the loss of the other. Mikhail's people are more of the earth, wild and free like the animals, but with phenomenal abilities and a conscience."He surveyed her tear-ravaged face, the grief in her eyes. She was still laboring to breathe, but he felt her tears lessen. "Are you listening to me, Raven?"She nodded, striving desperately to latch onto his words, to regain her sanity. This man knew Mikhail, had known him for years. She could read his affection for Mikhail, and he was certain of Mikhail's strength."For some reason God has given you the ability to form a mental as well as physical link to Mikhail. With that comes awesome responsibility. You literally hold his life in your hands. You must get beyond this feeling and use your brain. You know he isn't dead. He told you he would return. He sent me to you, afraid you might harm yourself. Think; reason. You are human, not an animal crying out for its mate."Raven tried to grasp what he was saying. She felt as if she was in a deep hole and couldn't claw her way out. She concentrated on each of his words, forcing them into her mind. Deep breathing forced air into her burning lungs. Was it possible?Damn him for putting her through this, for knowing it would happen. Was she really that far gone?Raven brushed the tears from her face, determined to pull herself together. She was determined to push the grief aside enough to let in rational thought. She could feel it eating at her, waiting on the outer edges of her consciousness to consume her. "And why can't I eat or drink anything but water?" She rubbed at her temples, missing the alarm that spread across the priest's weathered features.Father Hummer cleared his throat. "How long has that been going on, Miss Whitney?"The terrible emptiness crouched in her gut, in her mind, waiting to leap, to sink its teeth into her again. Raven struggled for control. She lifted her chin. "Raven; please call me Raven. You seem to know all about me anyway." She was trying to control the trembling. Holding out her hands, she stared at them as they shook. "Isn't this silly?""Come to my house, child. It will be dawn soon. You can spend the day with me. I would consider it a great honor.""He knew this would happen to me, didn't he?" Raven asked softly, beginning to understand. "That's why he sent you. He was afraid I might actually harm myself."Edgar Hummer let out his breath slowly. "I'm afraid so, child. They are not as we are.""So he tried to tell me. But I'm not like them. Why would this happen to me?" Raven asked. "It doesn't make any sense. Why did he think this would happen?""You completed the ritual with him. You are his other half. The light to his darkness. One can't be without the other. Come with me, Raven, back to my house. We'll sit together and talk of Mikhail until he comes for you."