Paul sat silently in the corner, his uncle very close to him. Colby couldn't help but note the protective posture. In that moment, Julio looked heartbreakingly like her stepfather. She glanced anxiously toward the house. "I want to check on Ginny."
"The girl is fine, sleeping peacefully," Nicolas said. "If you want this done, we do it now."
She tried not to bristle at his abrasive attitude. "I wasn't stalling. I happen to be genuinely worried. This hasn't been the best night of my life so far. You might deal with vampires on an everyday basis, but their existence is news to us." She sent a reassuring smile toward her brother.
He tried a grin, looked down and caught sight of her peach-colored bra still wrapped around his arm. At once his expression changed, became dark and ugly. Paul unwound the lacy garment, holding it away from him with two fingers, up, so everyone could see. It made Colby acutely aware of the fact that she wore nothing at all beneath her thin shirt and that the buttons were missing. Even so, even in the midst of her utter humiliation, her mind tried to reach for Rafael. The moment she realized she couldn't touch him, there was only emptiness and grief. Fear shook her heart.
She followed the movement of her bra as Paul tossed it away from him as if it were something so disgusting he couldn't stand to look at. He suddenly lurched away from Julio and caught up a pitchfork, lunging at Colby in one motion.
Colby never saw Nicolas move, but he was there in front of her, taking the weapon from Paul and dragging him into his terrible embrace. The air rushed out of Colby's lungs as she saw his fangs lengthen, and without preamble he sank the teeth into Paul's neck, her brother going still, under the influence of his mind. She shuddered, feeling as if those sharp fangs were going into her neck. At that moment she hated Nicolas. Hated herself. Hated Rafael. How could she just stand there while some creature she barely knew took her brother's blood so coldly?
What is he doing? Rafael was weak, too weak. She could feel the low pulse of his lifeblood as he stirred in her mind.
His alarm wasn't for Paul. It was for his own brother, for Nicolas. She felt it as if it were her own alarm. She felt the surge of love and warmth that spanned centuries. It flooded her body, took over her heart and soul so that she wanted to reach out to Nicolas, to stop him. What he was doing was dangerous to Nicolas, not to Paul. Nicolas was deliberately ingesting vampire blood when he fought every minute of every day against the beast that already stained his soul and fought for supremacy.
"Wait!" Colby couldn't choose between the two brothers. Her own, or Rafael's. They were intertwined, both bound together now in her mind. Paul's life versus Nicolas's soul. It was a terrible choice.
Do not waste your worry on me, either of you. Nicolas's voice brushed at the walls of her mind. I will hold on and return to our brothers for your sake, Rafael. You share with me the emotions you feel for this woman and this boy. It is enough for me to continue until I reach our home. Go to sleep, Rafael, and allow the earth to heal you.
She actually felt Nicolas's love for his brother through her tie with Rafael. It was a strange shared path. For the first time she could see him as something other than the cold-hearted monster trying to rip her brother and sister from her arms. Nicolas was real to her. She could see him through the heart of Rafael. Memories of Nicolas welled up and she knew it was deliberate on Rafael's part.
How many times had he stepped between humans and death, at risk to his life and soul? How many times had he tried to protect Rafael and their younger brother from the-terrible battles? He had been wounded countless times. He had killed countless times, each time tearing pieces from his soul.
Colby closed her eyes. She didn't want to see it, didn't want to view him as anything other than the emotionless predator she'd first thought him. She was already confused enough. And there was Paul, standing in his embrace while Nicolas took more and more blood, until Paul's face went pale and he sagged in the hunter's arms, dizzy and weak, but still so unnaturally willing to do as Nicolas required him.
She felt the exact moment when Rafael succumbed to his need for rest and healing. He pulled from her mind and left her bereft. She sank down onto a bale of hay and pressed both hands to her churning stomach as she once again watched Nicolas with her brother. He swept his tongue across Paul's neck, closing the pinpricks as if they'd never been. There was no mark. None at all. Her hand crept up to the mark on her neck that never seemed to fade, never went away.
We can leave a mark if we desire, yet not leave evidence if we choose. Nicolas read her thoughts as easily as Rafael; but where, with Rafael, it was an intimacy, with Nicolas it seemed invasive. The cold black eyes swept over her, so different from Rafael. So utterly alone and separated from everything going on around him. Rafael chooses to leave his mark both as his warning and ashis commitment. He will protect you even when he should be resting beneath the earth.
She recognized the mild censure, but for the first time was able to look past that to the terrible burden Nicolas carried. "What do you have to do now, Nicolas?" she asked.
"Push the poison through my pores and rid my body of the vampire's taint." Her brother was still under his enthrallment. Nicolas helped him to sit on the floor of the barn. "Vampire blood burns like acid. The boy would not have lasted very long. There is something here I have never come across before." Nicolas's eyes drifted closed and he sought inside his own body to break down the compound that had infected Paul and now lived within his own veins. "There is something else here, some small parasite that should not be. It is mutated, much like the serpent the vampire used to attack Rafael."
"Where did the vampire come from?" Colby asked, sickened as beads of blood began to push through the pores of Nicolas's skin. It was a sight she would never forget, never get out of her mind. She tried to distract her thoughts, anything to keep from screaming as the blood seeped onto the floor of the barn and stained the hay dark red. She wasn't squeamish-she'd grown up on a ranch-but her stomach lurched all the same.
"Do not look," Nicolas said harshly. "You are going to draw Rafael from his slumber again and his wound is deep. He must be given time to heal."
"I'm sorry. I've never seen such a thing." She needed to touch Rafael. It wasn't just something she wanted. Everything in her reached for him, yet there was only emptiness. She wasn't altogether certain she could stand being away from him and that was alarming, especially with Nicolas telling her his injury was grave and needed time to heal. She wasn't a selfish person, yet it seemed so imperative to disturb him, to call to him so she could feel the brush of his mind in hers.
Nicolas sighed. "He should have converted you and spared you the hell you will have to endure. You must not harm yourself."
"I'm not the type," Colby said, but she was beginning to wonder if that was true. "Is it hurting you?" She couldn't imagine Paul having to go through such a thing.
"Yes." His voice was without inflection. He gestured toward the blood-soaked hay and Julio immediately brushed back everything that hadn't been touched, leaving a circle of bare wood exposed with the bloody hay in the center. Nicolas shoved open the door to the barn and stared up at the sky. At once lightning forked.
To Colby's horror, an orange-red ball streaked toward them, drawn by Nicolas. It incinerated the vampire blood, burning hot for an instant and then simply disappearing as if it had never been. She blinked several times to make certain she wasn't hallucinating.
"This is too bizarre for me " She backed away from Nicolas. "Is Paul going to be okay now? Can I put him to bed?"
"I want to attempt to heal him. The vampire infected him with his blood and his insides are going to feel like someone took a blowtorch to him," Nicolas replied.
Colby could see how pale and weary he was. The lines were deeper than ever in his face and his eyes as cold as ice. She shivered. "You need to feed."
Colby glanced helplessly at Julio. After what Nicolas had done for Paul, she felt she had no choice but to make the offer and it was the last thing she wanted to do.
Julio shook his head. "I will give Don Nicolas blood while you put young Paul to bed. Then I'll help Juan tend to any injuries the cattle sustained."
"Julio, you and Juan must stay here," Nicolas decreed. "Watch the boy, particularly during daylight hours. I have to rest and I will not be able to monitor him."
Colby paused as she reached for Paul. "What does that mean? Didn't you just remove the vampire's blood from him?"
"Until the vampire is dead, Paul will always be tied to him."
Colby wanted to ask more questions, but Nicolas freed Paul from the enthrallment. Her brother got unsteadily to his feet, forcing her to wrap her arm around him and help him out of the barn.
Paul leaned on her heavily. "I feel terrible, Colby."
"I know, honey, you need to sleep."
He clung to her as she led him to the house and into his room. "I'm really scared, Colby. I've never seen anything like that."
"Me either. But we have Rafael and Nicolas and Juan and Julio to help us. We'll be safe. I'll get your boots off, Paul. Just lie down on the bed and sleep."
He closed his eyes the moment his head hit the pillow, not stirring even when she removed his boots and socks. He looked pale, his dark hair standing out starkly against his skin. She brushed the stray strands from his forehead with gentle fingers and bent to press a brief kiss on the top of his head. Paul stirred, touched her wrist. "I love you, Colby."
She hadn't heard him say that in years. "I love you, too, Paulo," she murmured, aching inside for him.
Colby returned to the barn and found Nicolas gently propping Julio against the wall. "Is he all right?"
Nicolas turned to look at her, his gaze sweeping over her so that she had to struggle to keep from shuddering. "Yes, of course. Julio is my familia, under my protection. Ordinarily we do not take the blood of our human companions. He was generous to offer when the need was great."
"Nicolas, Rafael knew the vampire. And the vampire called him by name. I felt sadness in Rafael, more than sadness when they were fighting."
For the first time Nicolas regarded her with more than his cold expression. There was a faint expression reminiscent of Rafael in his eyes as if by struggling to understand their world she had gained a greater degree of acceptance from him.
"We knew one another as boys back in the Carpathian Mountains." Nicolas sat down beside Julio, the first really human gesture she'd ever seen him make. It was odd-she couldn't stop thinking of Rafael as human, yet she never thought of Nicolas in human terms. She watched as he took Julio's wrist and checked his pulse.
"I am fine, Don Nicolas," Julio protested.
"You must drink plenty of water and sleep."
"I have work to do," Julio protested. "I must watch the boy."
"Juan can watch the boy," Nicolas said. "You go to bed."
"Don't worry, Julio," Colby agreed, "I can help watch Paul. I know he might become dangerous and I'll be careful."
"You must do as Juan tells you," Julio instructed.
Juan entered the barn as Julio spoke and he immediately helped his brother up. "I'll take him to the house."
"The guest room is the middle bedroom," Colby said. She wanted to learn more. She needed to learn more, and somehow Nicolas's presence helped to ease the grief that overwhelmed her at times. She watched the Chevez brothers make their way out of the barn. "They're good men."
"Yes, they are, and that is no small compliment," Nicolas said. "I can read their thoughts and know the honor and integrity that lives in these men."
"Tell me about the vampire. Who is he?"
"Who was he, is a better question. The first thing you learn as a hunter is to separate the man you knew and loved as a friend from the monster who battles you with every intention of killing you. Kirja is such a man. His brothers and mine were the best of friends. It is unusual in our society to have brothers so close, yet our two families did. Our parents were friends and we were raised very similar." He gave a soft sigh. "We were very competitive, a little rougher and more defiant of the rules of our society, so we stuck together. Kirja and Rafael were particularly good friends. They were always in and out of scrapes and always competing to see who could do something first. It was a good time, although my memories fade. Rafael and Riordan kept those memories alive for the rest of us." Nicolas dropped his head into his hands, rubbing at his temples.
Nicolas. Rafael's voice once again brushed in their shared minds. You have grown weary. You must rest.
"He sounds so faint, so gone from us." Colby's heart pounded in alarm.
Nicolas lifted his head, leaned back against the wall. You are not resting properly. Shall I command you to sleep, Rafael? Why do you persist in sleeping so lightly when you know you are mortally wounded? The bite was back in Nicolas's voice, making Colby wince.
Those I love are vulnerable aboveground and I want to hear should they have need of me. I begin to see why my lifemate is reluctant to commit her life to mine. It is a form of hell to lie helpless beneath the earth when those you love are in danger. Rafael's voice was a thread of sound, but he was calm, almost peaceful.
Go to rest, Rafael, or I will do the one thing you asked me not to do and break my promise to you.
Colby looked at the lines etched so deeply into Nicolas's face. She had seen him through Rafael's eyes and now she saw those lines as badges, a man bound by honor, a man ravaged by his destiny but determined to continue to protect the people he loved through memories.
You ease his burden, querida. For that alone I will always love you.
Colby closed her eyes to savor his voice, the caress in her mind that slipped through her body and wound around her heart. She ached to touch him. To make certain he was all right. Even now, even with his terrible wounds, he was stroking her mind and body, reaching out to soothe her, reaching out to his brother.
She blinked back tears. She was beginning to fall in love with him. She didn't know how it was happening; he wasn't the kind of man she would have ever allowed herself to look at.
I am the only man for you.
You are too dominating. You like your women to say yes to everything you dictate.
Only when it comes to sex. And when I am right.
Nicolas's breath came out in a slow hiss. "Merge your mind fully with his." It was more than an order; it was a dare.
Without giving herself time to think it through and back out, Colby merged her mind fully with Rafael's. Instantly she was flooded with pain, a great tearing pain that clawed at her insides, her skin, even her mind. She saw more than that; she saw his childhood memories of a small boy running with a friend in the hills, trying to shape-shift, and falling from the tree branches, laughing together. She felt the terrible burden of knowing she would have to kill that friend, rip his heart from his chest, with the memory of that boyhood smile and kinship of centuries weighing on her.
With a small cry, she pulled out of Rafael's mind, staggering back, reaching behind her for support. Nicolas was there, although she hadn't seen him move, easing her down to a bale of hay.
Colby! Rafael's cry echoed hers.
I had no idea you were in such pain. Go to sleep at once and I mean it, Rafael. How could anyone live through such a wound? She pressed her hand to her heart. The vampire had tried to jerk the organ backward through Rafael's body using the serpent's strong jaws and razor teeth.
"I should not have told you to do that," Nicolas said. "I regret few things, but that was not worthy of me. My brother will retaliate."
"What does that mean?"
A faint smile touched Nicolas's mouth and was gone. "He just severely reprimanded me and it was not fit for your ears." He sank down beside her. "In truth, I have not thought of the Carpathian Mountains in years. South America has become our home. I do not even remember what the current prince of our people looks like. He was young when we were sent out to hunt the vampire."
"Was Kirja sent out as well?"
Nicolas nodded. "Vlad Dubrinsky was prince at the time. He was a great ruler and we all looked up to him. He sent all five of us to South America and sent the Malinov family to Asia."
"Five of them?"
Nicolas nodded his confirmation.
"Have all five of them turned vampire?" Colby asked. Why would the De La Cruz brothers hold out so many centuries against the whisper of dark power yet the Malinov brothers succumb?
"I thought them long dead. I have heard nothing of them for centuries. Most of the hunters hear rumors of those who have turned vampire and the Malinov family has never been mentioned. My brothers and I have been so cut off from our people it did not seem unusual. Brazil, our ranch, the rain forest became our world."
"And none of you have wives?"
"Lifemates," he corrected. "We have lifemates and we must find them. You are lifemate to Rafael. My youngest brother, Riordan, has found his lifemate in the rain forest, which shocked us all, but gave us a small hope to continue."
"How do you know for certain? I'm not certain. I feel drawn to Rafael-in fact, obsessed with him. That's frightening for me. I just don't respond to men that way."
"It is not obsession, although I have heard it feels that way. When I touch your mind, I feel your confusion and fear of him. We are all the things you think we are-powerful and dangerous and capable of great destruction-but we are not capable of harming our lifemates."
"Only ruling them?"
"You are not used to being submissive to a male."
"I'm not submissive, it isn't in my character. How can we possibly be compatible? Is it possible there's a mistake?"
"There cannot be a mistake. You restored colors to him, and, through him, to me. I have not seen colors in hundreds of years. You gave him his emotions and, through him, you gave them to me. I could feel what he felt for you, the tremendous love in his heart and his need to protect and watch over you. I want to feel those emotions for myself."
"How can I possibly be his"-she hesitated and then testedt he word-"lifemate, when I was born human?"
"I only know that women who are psychic can be successfully converted to Carpathian and these women can also be lifemates to the males. I have not yet met Riordan's lifemate, but he tells me she is a descendant of the jaguar race."
Colby smiled. "My brother says I can be catty, but I doubt if I have any jaguar in me. I couldn't jump very high when I was playing sports in high school."
"We had school of sorts." Nicolas folded his arms across his chest. "We had to learn to shape-shift first. It was not nearly as easy as we thought it would be."
"That might be kind of cool," Colby admitted. "I like the idea of flying. I used to wish I could fly. Believe me, when you've been on a horse for eight hours, it gets old."
"I remember the first time Rafael attempted to turn into a wolf. It was the very first thing he tried and he was not successful. Part of him was covered in fur and part of him had legs where there should not be legs. We were all there, of course. We all ran together, the De La Cruz brothers and the Malinov brothers. We were all howling and falling on the ground, rolling around like idiots, but then when Ruslan, the eldest of the Malinovs, began laughing and pointing, my oldest brother, Zacarias, went after Ruslan for making fun of Rafael. We ended up in a huge brawl. Mind you, the entire time, Rafael was still caught between man and beast."
Colby couldn't help but laugh as Nicolas related the story to her. He provided very vivid pictures of the incident for her. Rafael looked so young and uncertain, not at all like the dominant man she was tied to. "What about you? What was the first thing you tried to shape-shift into?"
There was a small silence. The mask slipped back over Nicolas's face. He shrugged his shoulders carelessly, but she didn't think it was a careless gesture. "I do not remember."
"You recalled Rafael's first time so vividly." Even to the colors of the trees, the individual leaves, the smells and sounds. She'd heard the hum of insects in his mind.
He stood up. "It was Rafael's memory, not mine. You gave him back those things and he shares with me."
Colby studied his mouth. There was a cruel edge to it, a remoteness in his eyes. "You're very close to turning into one of those monsters, aren't you?" she asked. Her heart ached for him. Ached for Rafael.
"Yes. Without the memories my brother shares with me, I would lose this battle."
"And yet you came to his aid even though you knew if you battled the vampire you would go a step closer. And you took the vampire blood from Paul, when it could have pushed you over the edge. Why did you do that, Nicolas? I wasn't even nice to you."
"You are familia. You are a Carpathian lifemate and must be protected by all Carpathians. And I love my brother. I may not feel it anymore, but I know it is there, buried deep, and I will not allow anything to happen to you."
"I will never forget the risk you took on our behalf, Nicolas, and if it becomes too difficult and you need to see colors and feel emotions, I don't mind so much the sharing of our minds."
There was a small silence. "It is no small thing you offer, sister kin," he said softly. "Carpathian men do not share with others, not even kin. My brothers and I are unusual because we had no choice but to bind together to overcome the call of the beast. I know you fear Rafael's hold on you and you have yet to commit your life to his. Why do you offer this to me?"
It was complicated. She didn't know if it was watching him push the poisonous blood through his pores after taking it from Paul, or watching him give his brother blood, but she was very conflicted. She certainly wasn't going to make a commitment to a life of living underground and sucking blood from living human beings-the very idea made her shudder-but she couldn't leave him so starkly alone any more than she could stop herself from thinking of Rafael.
"You stayed here talking to me because you knew I would never make it through the night without him, didn't you?"
"That's your answer. Nicolas. Maybe I feel the need to protect you for him, just the way you feel it for me."
They were silent a moment. Then he spoke again. "I have a vampire to catch."
"How can you find him?"
"Now that I know who he is, he will be easier to track. I know his ways. It has been hundreds of years, but he had certain patterns, all of us do, and he will keep to some of his."
"Rafael wants you to wait." She had sensed Rafael's concern and it hadn't just been because he was afraid Nicolas would make another kill and be that much closer to succumbing to the insidious whisper for power.
"I cannot take a chance that he will strike against you. He will he locked in the ground during the daylight hours, longer than I will be, but he can use his human puppets to try to kill you."
"You mean Paul."
"I am guessing he has more than one. This vampire is ancient and cunning. He is a skilled fighter and knows all the tricks. A master vampire has no pride to guard, unlike a fledgling or even a slightly experienced vampire. He is willing to run away, to sacrifice pawns so that he might live, and he is called master because he reigns supreme in battle and the magic of our kind."
"Why would he want to live such a terrible existence?"
"The pain and terror he derives from the suffering of others, from killing, gives him a rush. A high. Like a human drug. It is addicting. He lives for that one moment."
"How do you kill a vampire?" She was trying to stall him. It was getting close to dawn. Surprisingly she wasn't tired. She had plenty of time, before the sun became too high, to do the morning chores.
"You don't." His voice was very stern.
"Your women never fight the vampire?"
"In any species there are always exceptions, but our women hold the light to our darkness. They will fight to defend their lives and the lives of our people, but they do not hunt. We have too few women and our hunters are solitary. If we divide our attention to keep a woman safe, it is an additional risk to ourselves."
"I could feel Rafael's resolve. He was willing to die to keep me alive, to keep Paul alive. He knew if he fought the vampire he might be defeated."
"Kirja is a very powerful fighter. He had a reputation for hunting. He has grown in strength since that time. His blood was different and I would very much like to know why. Something is not right here, Colby."
"I still want to know how to kill one. I'd feel better if I knew it could be done."
"Not with a rifle. Juan and Julio could have slowed it down by shooting it in the heart, but it would not kill it. The heart has to be completely removed and incinerated or it will find its way back to its evil host. The body is then incinerated so there is no hope of regeneration. The blood of a vampire burns like acid, Colby, and they can command with their voices just as Rafael and I can. Leave them alone."
"Did Rafael use his voice to seduce me?" She looked him straight in the eyes, needing an honest answer.
"I do not know what Rafael chose to do to bind you to him, but if I had a lifemate, Colby, I would use my voice, my gaze, and everything else at my disposal to make her mine. I would not take any chances. My woman will do as she is supposed to do."
"I hope your woman is an Amazon," she muttered under her breath. She could see she had kept him as long as she was able to. He walked out into the cool of the night and she followed him. "I already feel the need to touch him again," she confessed, rubbing her hands over her arms. "Is it going to be like this all the time?"
She hated weakness in herself, and grieving over Rafael as if he were dead just because he wasn't touching her mind was a terrible weakness.
"Yes. I will help during the nights, but stay close to Julio and Juan during the day. They will help you as much as possible. Remember everything I said to you. You must survive."
"I don't plan on anything else," she assured him.
Colby watched in wonder as Nicolas simply dissolved. At first his human form shimmered, became transparent so that she could see right through him. Tiny droplets of mist formed and he was nothing but vapor, streaking through the air away from her toward the hills. She blinked several times, trying to make her mind accept what she'd just seen.
The moment Nicolas was gone, she let out a sigh of relief. She hadn't realized how tense she was. She needed to be alone, to be with the familiar chores that might make her feel normal again, even if just for a few moments.
She went to the makeshift stable, surprised at all the work the Chevez brothers had accomplished while she slept that afternoon. Sean Everett must have sent both materials and additional men over to get a shelter up so quickly. She sighed again, this time for her pride. It seemed to be going right out the window. She didn't even know what was happening on her ranch anymore.
Colby spent the next couple of hours attending to the horses and treating burns. Most of the burns were nearly healed, and the horses already seemed stable again, a remarkable achievement when they'd been so traumatized. She became aware then that she heard a slight noise, the door to the kitchen open and close. She caught a glimpse of the dog running up the slope and took a deep breath. The day was already starting. Juan and Julio would be up soon, in spite of their need for sleep. And in a few hours she would be going to bed and leaving Paul and Ginny in their hands.
She rubbed her hand over her eyes. Rafael had no right to bring her partially into his world when she had such responsibilities. She was trapped between the two worlds now, with no clear way out of either one and no idea what to do about it.
She forked hay to the horses and filled the water basins with fresh water. The shelter constructed to keep the horses out of the heat was solid and, as the sun came up, it protected her skin as well. All the while she thought of Rafael. Her body ached for him and her mind refused to think of anything or anyone else. Colby had no chance to solve problems when all she could think of was wanting to touch Rafael, to see him, to know he was alive and well. She was disgusted with herself, but it didn't stop the tears tracking down her face or the terrible grief welling up unexpectedly and often shaking her to her very core. She worked steadily, trying to use normal chores to make her feel normal again. It was the only thing she could think to do.
She was just finishing and about to go to the hay field when she heard the kitchen door again. This time Paul's steady footsteps could be heard walking across the yard toward her.
Colby shook off the sudden dread. She needed a few hours alone without worrying about whether or not her brother was suddenly going to turn into a monster in front of her eyes. She didn't want to watch him every minute. She turned to greet him with a determined smile, grateful for her acute hearing.
"You've been crying," he said immediately.
"Feeling sorry for myself, nothing bad," she explained. "What about you? You should still be in bed. Can't you sleep? You aren't hurting, are you?" Colby pushed back her hair. Paul looked fine, but it made her nervous to know that the vampire could still use him. It was difficult to forget the memory of his young face twisted with hatred as he threw her into the herd of stampeding cattle. What did you say to a boy who'd been bitten by a vampire and tried to kill his own sister? How did you comfort him? She was out of her depth.
"I'm fine, I just had too many nightmares. I don't want to sleep, even though I'm exhausted." He handed her a piece of paper. "Ginny already went out for a walk this morning. She took King with her. She said she'd water the garden and make breakfast when she gets back. It's hard to think about things as mundane as breakfast and chores."
"I saw King taking off and thought she'd just let him out and had gone back to bed. She likes to pick berries for breakfast, but I don't like her going off too far with all this going on."
"I could go after her," Paul offered. "I don't like it either."
Colby didn't want Paul out of her sight. "We'll just let her have a short walk and if she isn't back in a half hour, we'll casually walk after her so she doesn't think anything is wrong."
"What about the vampire?" he asked uneasily.
"He can't be up this time of day; the early morning light is too much for him. We should all be safe." And Paul was with her, so he couldn't be used unknowingly. The sun was barely out but her skin felt it. She rubbed her arms. There was an awkwardness between them that had never existed before.
Paul patted several of the horses as they moved restlessly. "I helped put this shelter up yesterday with Sean's men and Juan and Julio." There was pride in his voice.
"It's wonderful." She didn't mention money. Paul needed to feel good about something.
"How are the horses doing?"
"They seem to be recovering fast. I like to see Juan and Julio working with them, whispering in their ears the way Dad used to do." Colby exchanged a smile with her brother. "I love watching them do that."
"Me too," he admitted. "Did they go back to the Everett ranch to get some sleep?"
"No, they're both in the house. I put Juan in Dad's room and Julio in the guest room." She smiled at him.
"I can't believe the horses are so much better already. How do they do that?"
"I think it was Rafael," Colby said. "Every time he's visited with them, they're improved. I think he uses some kind of healing technique on them."
An awkward silence fell over them. Paul pressed his hand to his throat. "I can still feel him, Colby."
"I know, Paul. I'm trying to figure out what we're dealing with here. We can't exactly go to Ben and tell him there's a vampire on the loose-he'd lock us both in a mental ward."
Paul shrugged, attempting a smile. "He's been wanting to do that for years. It wouldn't be anything new."
Colby turned her head, movement catching her eye along the slope just above their ranch. Her eyes were already burning and it was early morning. The sun wasn't even high, yet she could feel the light poised to stab at her. She squinted, shading her eyes. "What is that, Paul? An animal dragging itself?"
Paul swung around, his eyes tracking the slope. Immediately he stiffened. "That's King, Colby. He's hurt." He took off running, streaking across the yard toward the injured dog.