Raven hesitated. The idea of learning more about Mikhail was tempting. Very tempting. "I think now that I know what is happening to me, I might be able to handle it on my own. It's very late, Father, and I already feel ashamed that you've had to sit in the cold and watch over me."Father Hummer patted her wrist. "That's nonsense, girl. I enjoy these little errands. At my age, one looks forward to the unusual. At least come downstairs and spend some time with me. Mrs. Galvenstein keeps a fire going in the parlor."Raven shook her head vigorously, an instinctive act of protection for Mikhail. The inn held many of his enemies within its walls. She would never place him in danger no matter how difficult a time she might be experiencing.Edgar Hummer sighed softly. "I can't leave you, Raven. I gave my word to Mikhail. He has done so much for my congregation, the people in this village, and asks little in return." The priest rubbed his jaw thoughtfully. "I must stay, child, in case it grows worse."Raven swallowed hard. Margaret Summers was asleep somewhere in the building. Raven could guard herself, even her most intense grief, but she could easily read Father Hummer's natural worry. If she could do it, Margaret could. Making up her mind, Raven caught up her jacket, brushed at the tears on her face, and led the way down the stairs before she changed her mind. The most important thing for her at that moment was to protect Mikhail. The need was elemental, part of her soul.Once outside, Raven zipped her jacket to her chin. She had changed to her faded jeans and a college sweatshirt the moment she had returned to her room. Fog was everywhere, thick, only a foot or so from the ground. It was very cold. She glanced at the priest. His English might be a bit halting, but intelligence and integrity shone on his weathered features and in the faded blue of his eyes. He was cold from the time spent on the balcony. The priest was too old to be dragged from the warmth of his cottage to do such a task in the middle of the night.She pushed back stray tendrils of hair as she forced herself to walk calmly through the village. It should have been peaceful, but she carried the knowledge that a group of fanatical people was murdering those they believed to be vampires. Inside her heart was aching and heavy. Her mind needed the reassurance of a mind touch with Mikhail. She glanced at the older man beside her. His walk was brisk, his manner restful, soothing. This was a man long ago at peace with himself and those around him."You're certain he's alive?" The question slipped out before she could stop it, just when she was so proud of herself for appearing normal."Absolutely, child. He gave me the impression that he would be gone this day until nightfall without the usual means of contacting him." He grinned at her, a conspirator's grin. "Personally, I use his pager. Gadgets fascinate me. When I visit him, I play on his computer as often as I can. Once I locked the thing up and it took him a while to figure out what I did to it." He was absurdly pleased with that. "Of course, you understand, I could have told him, but it would have taken all the fun out of it."Raven laughed; she couldn't help herself. "At last, a man after my own heart. I'm glad someone besides myself gives him a hard time. He needs it, you know. All those people bowing and scraping. It's not good for him." Her hands were freezing so she shoved them into her pockets."I do my best, Raven," the priest admitted, "but we don't need to be telling him. Some things are best kept between us."She smiled at him, relaxing just a little. "I agree with you on that. How long have you known Mikhail?" If she couldn't reach out to him, touch him, maybe she could soothe the gaping raw wound of emptiness by talking about him. She found she was beginning to feel angry at Mikhail. He should have prepared her for this.The priest looked toward the forest, toward Mikhail's home, then raised his eyes heavenward. He had known Mikhail since his own youth, when he'd been a green priest, sent straight from his homeland to a tiny village in the middle of nowhere. Of course, he had been moved around since, but he was semiretired now, and they let him go where he wanted, the place he had grown to love.Her blue eyes were sharp as they studied him. "I don't want to put you in the position of having to lie, Father. I find myself doing enough of that for Mikhail, and I'm not even certain why. Lord knows, he doesn't ask me to." There was sorrow in her voice, regret, confusion."I wouldn't lie," he said."Is omission the same thing as a lie, Father?" Tears made her eyes luminous, sparkling on her long lashes."Something is happening to me, something I don't understand, and it terrifies me.""Do you love him?"She could hear the sound of their footsteps loud in the silence of the predawn hours. Their hearts beat steadily, their blood pumping in their veins. As she passed houses, she could hear snoring, creaks, rustles, the sound of a couple making love. Her fingers sought and found Mikhail's ring as if it was a talisman. She covered it carefully with her palm, as if she could hold Mikhail there.Did she love him?Everything in her was fascinated, exhilarated by Mikhail. Certainly the physical chemistry between them was powerful, explosive even. But Mikhail was a mystery, a dangerous man who lived in a world of shadows she could not possibly comprehend. "How do you love what you don't understand, what you don't know?" Even as she asked the question, she could see his smile, the tenderness in his eyes. She could hear his laughter, their conversations that went on for hours, their silences that stretched companionably between them."You know Mikhail. You are an extraordinary woman. You can sense his goodness, his compassion.""He has a streak of jealousy, and he's more than possessive," Raven pointed out. She knew him, yes, good and bad, and she had accepted him the way he was. But now she realized that although he had opened his mind to her, she had only glimpsed parts of him."Don't forget his protective streak, his deep sense of duty," Father Hummer countered with a small smile.Raven shrugged, finding she was near tears again. It was humiliating to her to be so out of control when she knew the priest was right. Mikhail was not dead; he was somewhere in a drug-induced sleep and would get in touch with her the moment he was able. "The intensity of what I feel for him scares me, Father. It isn't normal.""He would give his life for you. Mikhail would be incapable of harming you. If I know anything of him, I know that you can enter a relationship with him knowing he would never be unfaithful, never raise his hand to you, and always put you first in all things." Edgar Hummer said the words with complete conviction. He knew the truth of it as surely as he knew there was a God in heaven.She swiped at the tears with the back of her hand. "I believe he wouldn't hurt me; I know he wouldn't. But what of others? He has so many special gifts, so much power. The opportunity to misuse such a talent is tremendous."Father Hummer pushed open the door to his cottage and waved her inside. "Do you actually believe that is what he did? He is their leader by blood. The lineage goes back far in time. He is called their prince, although he would never admit it to you. They look to him for leadership and guidance, just as my congregation often comes to me."Raven needed something to do, so she built a fire in the stone fireplace while the priest brewed a cup of herbal tea. "He's really a prince?" For some reason that dismayed her. On top of everything else, she was contemplating a commitment to royalty. Those things never worked out."I'm afraid so, child," Father Hummer admitted ruefully. "He is considered the last word on everything. Perhaps that is why he tends to look and act as though he might be an important person. He has many responsibilities, and as long as I've known him, he has never failed to meet any of them."She sat back on the floor, pushing the heavy fall of hair away from her tearstained face. "Sometimes when Mikhail and I are together, it feels as if we're two halves of the same whole. He can be so serious and brooding and so alone. I love to make him laugh, to bring life into his eyes. But then he does things..." Her voice trailed off.Father Hummer set a cup of tea beside her, taking his familiar place in the armchair. "What kinds of things?" he prompted gently.She let her breath out slowly, raggedly. "I've been alone most of my life. I've always done whatever I wanted to do. When I want, I pick up and move. I travel quite a bit and I value my freedom. I've never had to answer to anyone.""And you prefer that way of life to what you could have with Mikhail?"Her hands shook as they circled the teacup, absorbing its warmth. "You ask tough questions, Father. I thought Mikhail and I could come to some sort of compromise. But it all happened so fast, and now I don't know if the things I'm feeling are entirely my own. He's always with me. Now, all of a sudden, he isn't, and I can't stand it. Look at me; I'm a mess. You didn't know me before, but I'm used to being alone; I'm completely independent. Could he have done something to make this happen?""Mikhail would never force you to love him. I'm not certain he could do such a thing."She swallowed a steadying sip of tea. "I know that. But what about now - why can't I be away from him? I like being alone, I value my privacy, yet without his touch, I'm falling apart. Do you have any idea how humiliating it is for someone like me?"Father Hummer lowered his cup to the saucer and regarded her with troubled eyes. "There is no need to feel that way, Raven. I do know that Mikhail said when the male of his race meets his true lifemate, he can say ritual words to her and bind them together as they were meant to be. If she is not the one, neither is affected in any way, but if she is, one can't be without the other."Raven put a defensive hand to her throat. "What words? Did he tell you the actual words?"Father Hummer shook his head regretfully. "Only that once said to the right woman, she is bound to him and can't escape. The words are like our marriage vows. Carpathians have a different standard of values, of right and wrong. There is no such thing as divorce to them; it isn't in their vocabulary. The two people are virtually two halves of the same whole.""What if one was unhappy?" Her fingers were twisting together in agitation. She remembered hearing Mikhail say something unusual. The memory was hazy, like a dream."A Carpathian male will do anything necessary to ensure the happiness of his lifemate. I don't know or understand how it works, but Mikhail told me the bond is so strong, a male can't do anything else but know how to make his woman happy."Raven touched her neck, her palm lingering over her pulse. "Whatever he did must work, Father, because I'm not the type to throw myself off a balcony because I've been away from a man a couple of hours.""I guess we should both be hoping Mikhail is getting a taste of his own medicine," Father Hummer said with a small smile.Raven's heart slammed hard in her chest, her body shrieking in instant protest. The thought of Mikhail suffering in any way was terribly upsetting. She tried to conjure up an answering smile. "Somehow I think he's safe from feeling anything."The priest studied her shadowed, grief-stricken face over his teacup. "I think Mikhail is very lucky to have found you. You're strong yourself, just as he is.""I'm putting up a great front, then" - Raven wiped at her eyes with her knuckles - "because I feel like I'm breaking apart inside. And I'm not very happy with Mikhail.""Nor do I think you should be, yet your first instinct is to protect him. You were horrified by the idea that he might be suffering as you are.""I don't like to see anyone in pain. There's something sad about Mikhail, as if he's borne the weight of the world on his shoulders for far too long. Sometimes I look at his face and there's such sorrow there - not in his eyes exactly but etched into his face." Raven sighed. "I guess I'm not making any sense, but he needs someone to take the shadows away.""That's an interesting assessment, child, and I must say, I know what you mean. I've seen the very same thing in him. Taking his shadows away." He repeated the words aloud, musing over them. "That's it exactly."Raven nodded. "Like he's seen too much violence, too many terrible things, and it's pulled him deeper and deeper into darkness. When I'm close to him I can feel that. He stands like a guardian in front of some evil, malevolent gate and holds monsters at bay so the rest of us can go about our lives and never know we were even threatened."Father Hummer's breath caught in his throat. "Is that how you see him? A guardian of the gate?" Raven nodded. "It's an image very vivid in my mind. I know it probably sounds melodramatic to you.""I wish I could have said those very words to him myself," the priest said softly. "Many times he has come here seeking comfort, yet I never knew exactly what to say. I prayed God would send help to him to find his answer, Raven, and perhaps he sent you."She was trembling, constantly fighting the torment in her head, the need to touch Mikhail, the idea that he might be gone from Earth. Raven took a deep, calming breath, grateful for the priest. "I don't think I'm God's answer to anything, Father. Right now I want to curl up into a little ball and cry.""You can do this, Raven. You know he lives."Raven sipped at the tea. It was hot and delicious. It put some warmth back into her insides, but it could never hope to heat the terrible emptiness, ice cold and grasping, that was devouring her soul. Slowly, inch by inch, that black hole was growing.She tried to concentrate on other things, to enjoy her conversation with this man who knew and respected, even had great affection for, Mikhail. Raven took another drink of tea, struggling desperately to hang on to her sanity."Mikhail is an extraordinary man," Father Hummer said, hoping to distract her. "He is one of the most gentle men I have ever met. His sense of right and wrong is tremendous. He has a will of iron.""I've seen that," Raven acknowledged."I'll bet you have. Mikhail is a man few would want to have as an enemy. But he is also loyal and caring. I saw him restore this very village nearly single-handedly after a disaster once. Every person in it is important to him. There is a greatness in Mikhail."She had drawn up her knees and was rocking back and forth. Breathing was so difficult, each separate breath was agony to draw into her lungs.Mikhail! Where are you?The cry was wrenched from her heart. She needed him, just once, to answer, to touch her. Just once.Black emptiness yawned back at her. Deliberately she bit down hard on her lower lip, welcoming the pain, concentrating on it. She was strong! She had a brain. Whatever was consuming her, convincing her that she could not bear to go on without Mikhail, would not defeat her. It was not real.Abruptly Father Hummer got to his feet, then drew her up beside him. "Enough, Raven. Let's go outside, tend my garden. Once you feel the dirt on your hands, breathe in the fresh air, you will feel so much better." If that didn't work, he would have no choice but to fall to his knees and pray.Raven managed laughter through her tears. "When you touch me, Father, I know what you're thinking. Is a priest supposed to hate getting down on his knees?"He released her as if she had burned him, then began to laugh himself. "At my age, my dear, with my arthritis, I feel much more like swearing than praying when I kneel. And you have uncovered one of my greatest secrets."In spite of everything, they both laughed softly as they went out into the morning sunlight. Raven's eyes watered, protesting the glare. She had to close her eyes against the pain slicing right through her head. She clapped her hand over her eyes. "The sun is so bright! I can hardly see and it hurts to open my eyes. Doesn't it bother you?""Mikhail may have left a pair of sunglasses here. He tends to do that sort of thing when he loses a chess match."The priest rummaged through a drawer, returning with a pair of dark glasses, specially crafted for Mikhail. The frames were too large for her face, but Father Hummer fastened them with a band. Slowly Raven opened her eyes. The frames were surprisingly light considering just how dark the lenses were. The relief to her eyes was instantaneous."These are great. I don't recognize the name.""One of Mikhail's friends makes them."The garden was beautiful. Raven sank down and buried her hands in the rich, dark soil. Her fingers curled around its richness. Something heavy eased in her heart, allowed a little more air into her laboring lungs. She had an urge to lie down full length in the fertile bed, to close her eyes and absorb the earth into her skin.It was Father Hummer's garden that got her through the long hours of the morning. The noonday sun sent her seeking the sanctuary of his cottage. Even with the protection of glasses, Raven's eyes burned, watered, ached in the power of the sun. Her skin seemed ultrasensitive, burning and reddening fast, although she had never sunburned before.They retreated together and managed two chess games, one interrupted while Raven concentrated on fighting her private demons. She was grateful for Father Hummer's presence, uncertain she could have survived her separation from Mikhail. Without him. She drank herbal tea to counteract the terrible weakness in her body from lack of food.The afternoon hours seemed endless. Raven managed to stave off the yawning emptiness with only a few bouts of weeping. By five o'clock she was exhausted and determined that for her own pride she had to manage the last couple of hours on her own. Mikhail would call for her in two hours, three at the most, if he had spoken the truth. If Raven was to live with herself, recover any of her independence and dignity, she had to face those last hours alone.Even with the sun so much lower in the sky and clouds beginning to move across the horizon, sunlight still hurt her eyes despite the dark glasses. Without them, she would never have made it through the village streets back to the inn.Fortunately the inn was relatively quiet. Mrs. Galvenstein and her people were in the midst of preparing dinner and setting up the dining room. None of the other guests were present, so Raven was able to escape unnoticed to her room.She took a long shower, allowing the hot water to beat on her body, hoping it would drive out her terrible need for Mikhail. She braided her damp, blue-black hair into a long, thick tail and lay down on her bed without a stitch on. The cool air fanned her skin, hot from the shower, traveled over her, soothing her. Raven closed her eyes.She became aware of the sound of pottery chinking together as the tables were set. Without conscious thought she latched onto that. It seemed a good way to keep misery and grief at bay, to explore this new capability. Raven found that with a little concentration she could turn the volume down low, even off, or she could hear insects beating their wings in the pantry. There was the sound of mice scurrying around in the walls, a few in the attic.The cook and the maid argued briefly over the maid's duties. Mrs. Galvenstein hummed off key in the kitchen as she worked. Whispers drew Raven's attention, the whispers of conspirators."There is no way Mikhail Dubrinsky or Raven Whitney are undead," Margaret Summers was saying hotly. "He may know these people, but he isn't a vampire.""We have to go now." That was Hans. "We won't get another chance like this again. We can't wait for the others. I have no intention of waiting until dark.""It's already too late." Jacob's voice was whiny. "Only a couple of hours until the sun goes down. It will take an hour just to get there.""Not if we hurry. It's trapped in the ground," Hans insisted. "By tomorrow it will be gone.""I still think we should wait for Eugene and the others," Jacob complained. "They have experience.""We can't wait," Harry Summers decided. "Hans is right. The vampires know we're after them and are probably moving their coffins every day. We can't miss this opportunity. Gather the tools quickly.""I still think that Dubrinsky guy is one of them. Raven is completely under his spell. Shelly told me they were engaged," Jacob protested."I am certain of it, as was my father before me. I am convinced he was a young man when my father was born," Hans said grimly."I tell you, it is not so." Margaret was adamant."It is strange, the effect he has on women, and the lengths they go to protect him," Hans said suspiciously, effectively silencing the older woman.Raven could hear the sounds as the assassins gathered their deadly equipment. Had Hans and Jacob convinced Harry Summers to kill Mikhail? Or another of Mikhail's people? She rolled off the bed and dragged on clean, faded jeans. As she dressed in thick socks and hiking boots, she sent a call to Mikhail. Again she found a black void.Muttering a few choice swear words, Raven jerked a soft powder-blue chambray shirt over her head. She didn't know the local police or where to find them. And who would believe there were vampire hunters anyway? It was ludicrous. Father Hummer? He certainly couldn't chase around the mountains at his age."I'll put this stuff in the car," Jacob was saying."No! It will be faster on foot. We can cut through the forest. Put it in the knapsacks," Hans insisted. "Hurry, hurry, we don't have much time. We must go before they waken and are at full strength."Raven looked around the room hastily for a weapon. Nothing. When she helped the FBI with a case, the agents accompanying her carried firearms. She took a deep calming breath, kept tuned to the group as they left the inn.There were four of them for sure: Margaret, Harry, Jacob, and Hans. She should have suspected Jacob. The night she had attempted to eat dinner with them she had been so sick; she should have realized it was her body's natural reaction to the demented minds of killers. But she had put it down to an overload of emotion from everything that had happened to her.Yet Jacob had touched her. He couldn't have taken part in Noelle's murder or Raven would have known. Harry and Margaret might have convinced him there were vampires around; they were fanatical, dangerous people. Raven knew Shelly wasn't involved. She was sitting on her bed, writing her papers for school. There might be a chance to appeal to Jacob, make him realize just how insane a vampire hunt was.Catching up the dark glasses, Raven slipped out of her room and moved noiselessly down the hall. It was necessary to guard her thoughts and emotions with Margaret Summers close by. Since knowing Mikhail and using telepathic communication with him, Raven was finding it easier and easier to focus her talent.She waited until the group had disappeared onto the path leading into the forest. Her heart jumped, nearly stopped for a moment, then began to pound. Her mouth went dry. The path led to Mikhail's home; she was certain it was the same footpath he had used the first time he had taken her to his house. He was helpless, wounded, in a drug-induced sleep.Raven began to jog, careful not to catch up with the assassins, or get too close. She would defend Mikhail with her life if need be, but she wasn't overanxious for a confrontation if she could avoid it.Darker, more ominous clouds floated across the blue sky.The wind began to pick up, just enough to signal a slow-approaching storm. Leaves blew across the footpath in a steady stream, lighter branches swayed and dipped as she passed.Raven shivered in the cooler air, fear clutching at her.Mikhail! Hear me!She sent the imperious demand in desperation, praying as she got closer that she might penetrate whatever barriers the drugs had erected.She heard the sound of ragged breathing and stopped, shrinking back against a broad tree trunk. Harry Summers had fallen behind the rapidly moving group, stopping to catch his breath. Raven watched as he huffed and puffed, dragging air into his lungs.They were climbing higher into the mountains. With a sigh of relief, Raven realized they had taken a fork in the footpath and were now moving away from Mikhail. She sent up a silent prayer of thanks and began to pace behind Harry. She moved with the stealth of one of Mikhail's wolves, astonished that she could do so. Not a twig snapped beneath her feet, not a single rock rolled. If only she had their strength. She was so weak from lack of food, exhausted from lack of sleep.Raven lifted her chin. These people would not commit another senseless murder. It didn't matter that the intended victim was not Mikhail - she had to try to prevent whatever they were going to do. Harry was slowing her down, resting every few minutes. She considered slipping through the trees and getting ahead of him, but that would put enemies both at her front and her back.Half an hour later Raven glanced anxiously up at the sky. There were thick stands of trees in places, long stretches of meadow in others. That forced her to slow down even more. She didn't dare get caught out in the open. And now the wind was increasing enough to send splinters of cold blasting through her. In her haste to follow the group she had forgotten her jacket. The sun was still a good hour from sinking, but the gathering clouds had dimmed its light. Storms often gathered quickly in these mountains and raged for hours. Over the next ridge, Raven halted abruptly.A meadow spread out before her covered in green grass, beds of herbs, and fields of wildflowers. A house was tucked into the trees surrounded by lush bushes. Harry had joined the others a yard or so away from the house, circling an area of ground. Harry held a wooden stake in his hand, Hans, a heavy hammer. They were chanting, sprinkling the ground with water from an urn. Jacob was clutching a shovel and a pick ax.The first wave of nausea hit Raven, then a peculiar sensation, a wave of pain starting in her lower back, spreading around to her abdomen, tightening every muscle. Not her own pain. It belonged to another. She tasted fear in her mind, her mouth. Desperation. Raven was locked mind to mind with another.Sheneeded to get to the surface so her baby could be born."It's the devil's harlot, she gives birth," Margaret screamed, her face a mask of revulsion and hatred. "I feel her fear. She knows we're here and she's helpless."Jacob sank the pick ax deep into the soft earth. Hans began a frenzied digging. The terrible clinking of metal on rock sickened Raven. It provided background music for the depravity of their fanatical minds.Raven imagined she could hear the very earth scream in pain and outrage. She fought for a calming breath. She needed a plan. The woman must be caught in one of the many mineshaft criss-crossing the area, or an underground cellar of some kind. She was in pain, in labor, afraid for her life and the life of her unborn child.Raven caught the mental footprints, followed them, blocking out everything else and concentrating on bringing the woman into focus. She waited until the contraction subsided and very gently sent a probe.The woman with the assassins can hear your thoughts, feel your pain and fear. Guard yourself and any communication with me carefully or we're both in danger.Shock - then nothing. Tentatively the woman responded.Are you one of them? No. Are you trapped? They're digging up the earth.Panic, fear, then the emptiness while the woman struggled for control.Ido not want my baby to die. Can you help me?Us? Please help us!Another contraction seized her, took her into its grip. "She's trying to contact someone!" Margaret shrieked. "Hurry!"Mikhail! We need you!Raven sent the call hopelessly. What was she going to do? She was too far away to get help, the authorities, a rescue team. She needed someone, anyone, to help her figure a way to save the woman and her unborn child.I must surface, the woman said in despair.I cannot allow my baby to die. My lifemate will attempt to fight them off while I give birth.They will kill all of you. Try to hang on. Can you hold out for a half-hour, an hour? We II have help after that.They will get to us first. I feel them above me, disturbing the earth. They have death in their minds.I'll try to buy you some more time.Who are you?The woman was calmer now, determined to stay in control now that an outside source was working with her.Raven took a breath, let it out. What was the most reassuring way to answer? Raven Whitney would hardly inspire confidence.I am Mikhail's woman.The woman's relief spilled over and Margaret shrieked again, whipping the men into a digging frenzy. Raven stepped out of the timberline, began a slow saunter boldly across the meadow, humming to herself as she walked. Harry spotted her first. She heard his curse, his whispered orders to the others. Jacob and Hans stopped work, Hans looking uneasily up at the sky.Raven waved to the group, flashing an innocent smile. "Hi, everybody. What are you doing? Isn't it beautiful up here?" She turned around in a circle, arms outstretched. "The flowers are brilliant, aren't they?" she continued gushing. She was very careful to keep a good distance between them. "I'm so mad I forgot my camera."The four assassins exchanged nervous, guilty looks. Margaret was the first to recover, sending Raven a serene, welcoming smile. "How lovely to see you, dear. You're a long way from the inn.""I thought a hike and some fresh air would be good for me. Are you hiking, too?" Raven didn't have to pretend to shiver as she ran her hands up and down her arms to warm herself. "It looks like we're in for another storm. I was just thinking of turning around when I spotted all of you." She turned her head toward the rambling stone house. "I would love to live this far out in the mountains, surrounded by nature." She looked directly at Hans, smiling guilelessly. "Your place is wonderful. You must love it up here."They all looked confused and guilty, as if they had no idea what to do. Jacob was the first to recover. He dropped his pick ax and started purposefully toward her. Raven's breath caught in her throat. She was as indecisive as they were. She didn't dare run and give herself away, but she didn't want Jacob to get his hands on her either.Raven stepped back, allowing the smile to fade from her face. "Have I interrupted something?"At that moment the woman trapped beneath the earth had another swelling contraction. It rippled through her body like a strong wave, and the woman's pain radiated out from her. Instantly Margaret locked eyes with Raven.There was only one thing to do and Raven did it. Gasping in horror, she ran forward toward the group. "Oh, my God! There's someone trapped in a mineshaft and she's in labor! Margaret! Is that what's happening? Has someone gone for help?"In her headlong flight she deliberately chose a path away from Jacob and toward the left, to the timberline side of the others. She stumbled to a halt on the edge of the digging site. The air was heavy, sluggish, almost difficult to breathe. She recognized a pale version of Mikhail's safeguards. The pregnant woman's lifemate must have thrown up a barrier hastily in an attempt to slow the progress of the fanatics."It will be all right," Margaret said calmly, as if she were talking to a child. "That thing down there is not human."Raven's head came up, blue eyes wide with shock. "Can't you feel her? Margaret, I told you I have certain abilities. I wouldn't make up something like this. There's a woman trapped down there and she's having a baby. There are mines all through this area. She must have gotten trapped in one of them. I can feel her fear.""She's not human." Margaret walked carefully around the site toward her. "I'm like you, Raven. We are sisters. I know how painful it was for you to hunt the serial killers you brought to justice, because I have done the same thing."Raven swallowed a lump of fear. Margaret sounded so sweet and refined. But she reeked of the sour smell of fanaticism. The faded eyes blazed diabolically with it. Raven's stomach heaved. Maybe she could reach Jacques. "Margaret, you must feel her pain, her fear." Raven's mouth was dry, her heart pounding. "You know who I am, what I'm capable of. I would never make a mistake in something like this."Hans went back to work with the shovel, muttering a warning to the others. The wind tugged at their clothing, raked at their bodies. The clouds darkened to an ominous charcoal, began to roil as the wind shrieked through them. Lightning arced from cloud to cloud and thunder rumbled in warning."This is undead. A vampiress. She feeds off the blood of our children." Margaret crept closer to Raven.Raven shook her head, pressed her hands into her stomach. "You can't believe that, Margaret. Vampires are pure fiction. This woman trapped down there is very real. Vampires don't have babies. Come on, Jacob! You can't believe this nonsense.""She's a vampire, Raven, and we're going to kill her." Jacob indicated the knapsack lying open with the sharpened stakes. His eyes were overbright with anticipation. He looked eager to do the task.She backpedaled. "You're all crazy."Please! Help me! Call him!The desperate cry was edged with terror and pain. Raven reacted immediately.Mikhail! Jacques! Help us."The she devil is calling to her," Margaret reported.Please, call Mikhail. He will come for you, the woman wailed."Stop her," Margaret screamed. "The vampiress speaks to her, begs her to call for help. Don't do it, Raven. She tricks you. Don't call Dubrinsky."Raven spun away from them, took off running, sending out a frantic call into the stormy air for Mikhail, for anyone. She made it into the trees before Jacob caught her, locking onto her legs just below the knees and slamming her hard into the ground.The fall knocked the wind out of her, her head spun, and for a moment she lay still, facedown on the forest floor wondering what had happened. Jacob flipped her over roughly, straddling her, his boyish good looks twisted with lust and the urge for domination. She caught the sickening chemical odor of cocaine emanating from his pores.Mikhail!She sent the call like a prayer, knowing what Jacob had in mind, knowing she wasn't strong enough to stop him.The wind increased. Far off, a wolf howled, and another answered. Farther away, a bear growled irritably."You think you're so damned smart, selling yourself to the highest bidder, so innocent and untouchable." Jacob gripped the front of her chambray shirt, jerked hard, and ripped the material right down to her small waist. Her full breasts spilled out, instantly drawing his attention. Roughly he grabbed her, bruising soft flesh.I'm sorry.The trapped woman's cry was edged with guilt. She had failed to guard her mental cries, had allowed Margaret Summers to hear her calls to Raven.Mikhail! Please!Raven's hopeless plea went out again.You must hear me. I need you. God, please help me. Help that poor woman.Jacob roared, slapped her once, twice. "He's marked you. My God, you're one of them." His hand closed over her throat, threatening to cut off her air. "He's impregnated you like the others. I knew it was him."He raised his hand above her and Raven caught the glint of shiny metal. Jacob stabbed down, his face a mask of fury and hate. Pain sliced low and wicked through her abdomen; blood gushed warm. Jacob pulled the dripping knife from her flesh and raised it again.