Razvan woke to the sound of a woman weeping. He didn't open his eyes. He had heard that sound so many times-that same voice. Natalya. Beloved sister. He whispered her name as his gut tightened into hard knots. He must have betrayed her once again. He didn't remember anymore, thank God. That was the worst of all torments Xavier could inflict on him-using him to attack his sister or his daughter or the aunts.

He felt Ivory's awareness as if she, too, came awake to the sound of that hopeless weeping. Nothing seemed quite as hard to bear with Ivory close-not the pain and not the terrible knowledge of the betrayal of mind and body. Natalya was the one person who had loved him all of his life. She had believed in him in spite of all the times Xavier had tricked and used her through him. Xavier had even used his body to try to kill Natalya. She had nearly killed his body-and he would have welcomed death.

You did not betray her, Dragonseeker. Not ever. Not in thought. Not in deed. Xavier used your body because you protected her.

Ivory was calm. Ivory was peace. Ivory had become his world.

Why does she weep? He could no longer trust what was happening to him, his memories seemed to mix past and present together until his world was hazy and vague. His sanity was Ivory.

For you. For the torment you went through on her behalf. She understands now that you never betrayed her, that you saved her from Xavier. Ivory's voice was a soft caress, pride and respect for him surrounding him.

She had a way of making the world right when nothing really made sense. He didn't fight the pain swamping him. He simply accepted it, but he didn't want Natalya weeping for any reason.

Do not cry for me, sisar-sister. Even trying to communicate telepathically hurt, although he was either getting used to it, or he was healing enough to ease the worst of his suffering.

Razvan? Is it really you? They tell me you live, but when I reach for you, you are different.

I am your brother.

There was a silence. A sob. Natalya forced herself under control. He tricked me, didn't he? Xavier tricked me. You tried to warn me, but I didn't hear you. All those years, and I believed him. It wasn't you at all. It was the personality he fed me so I would continue to create spells for him.

Xavier is a cunning enemy.

I should have known. I should have fought for you as you fought for me. How could I not have known? You are my twin. My brother. How could he have fooled me?

I didn't want you to know. You would have tried to rescue me and you would have failed, Natalya. He is a monster. As long as you were alive in the world and safe from him, whatever I had to give up was worth it.

My love? My respect? My faith in you? The world branded you a criminal and I believed them. Was it worth it?

Your safety was worth any price to me. I do not regret for one moment placing myself in his hands to keep you from him. It was my choice. One I have clung to for many years. Do not take that away from me with regret.

He had never wavered in that decision, even in the most insane hours of his life. He knew what their grandfather would have done to her, and keeping her from Xavier's hands was the one thing, the only thing, that he had managed to do. And whether she-or anyone else-was proud of him, he was proud of himself.

Ivory's spirit moved against his, surrounded his, almost protectively, but she remained silent, not interfering in the exchange between sister and brother.

All those lost years, Razvan, years when you needed me.

He forced a smile into his voice, made certain she knew it was genuine. It was difficult to block the pain from his tone, but he did it to protect her. I needed you free of Xavier, and that is what I got. During the time I was part mage and part Carpathian, the thought of you, my love for you, sustained me. Later, after the aunts turned me wholly in the hope that I might have the chance to escape, the Dragonseeker blood aided my resolve to protect you. You were there for me whether you knew it or not, sister. Do not weep. Do not regret. Live free the way you were meant to.

I have a lifemate.

Xavier had tried to murder her lifemate. Tell me about him.

He is called Vikirnoff and he is a great warrior. You would like him.

What of my daughter, Lara? He nearly choked over her name.

A small child with enormous eyes, watching her mother's decomposing body, chained to an insane father who tore at her little wrist to feed. Lara was one person he was not certain he could ever face.

You protected her as best you could. You endured torment and gave part of your soul to Xavier in order to save her, Ivory reminded. She either understands or she does not. If she does not it will be sad for her that she chooses not to know so great a man.

If he could have held Ivory close in his arms he would have.

We will dance to heal the earth, so that she can better provide her rich minerals for you. Lara is coming to aid us. Lara, Syndil, Skyler and I will dance and sing the healing song for you and your lifemate. It is the only gift we have to give you.

I do not know Syndil or Skyler.

They are wonderful women. Syndil is really close to the earth. When she walks barefoot, plants bloom behind her. She can take an area a vampire has virtually laid to waste and restore it to health. Skyler is young; she turned seventeen just recently.

There was a note, a hesitation in his sister's voice. Something she wasn't telling him. Something she didn't want to tell him. Natalya, better to prepare me than to let me be shocked.

Few things shocked him anymore, but he had the feeling she was going to deliver something he didn't want to hear.

Ivory moved against him again. Heart to heart. Soul to soul. I am with you, Razvan. You will never be alone again.

Ivory's voice was enough to make his heart sing. Love had been lost to him a long time ago. He hadn't believed he could feel such a powerful emotion for anyone, yet there it was. In him. Deep. How could he not love her when she gave him back his sanity? His life? When she embodied the honor and integrity he believed in?

Natalya took a deep breath. We believe you also fathered Skyler. There is another woman as well, a lifemate to one of the De La Cruz brothers. Colby. She lived on a ranch in California before she met Rafael.

He closed his mind to Natalya but there was no escaping Ivory, and the memory of a child in a mine shaft rose up. He had desperately tried to get to her before they had managed to kidnap her and take her back to Xavier. He'd brought the mine down on the vampire before Xavier had taken over his body again. He was grateful the child lived and prospered-but another one? Skyler? How many more? And from the hesitant tone Natalya used, young Skyler hadn't fared well.

Are you certain I fathered these girls?


His heart again jumped out of rhythm with that of the earth and pain swept him away.

Razvan woke to singing and he knew time had passed. The voices were beautiful, soft and melodious, in tune with the earth. As they sang, the pain in his body eased considerably as if the earth could better absorb the terrible wounds in his body and knit him back together.

Isn't their song beautiful? Ivory asked. Her voice was hushed, as if she was afraid she would interrupt the tribute to Mother Earth. They are gifted, these four women. And are they all related in some way to you? Sister? Daughters? I feel a part of you in them, though one, the strongest daughter of the Earth, is different and yet like you in some way.

Razvan felt the melody deep in his bones. Peace had once again slid over him, the knowing that he could not change what fate had already decreed. Acceptance-his only recourse when the world around him made no sense.

Natalya says the young one is my daughter, but the one called Syndil I do not know. She is much older, older perhaps than I.

She feels as you feel. That same calm, at peace with herself in spite of the turmoil around her. She is . . . There was a frown in Ivory's voice as she tried to fit the pieces of the puzzle together. The earth welcomes her as she welcomes me. As a daughter. A true daughter. There are only a few of us.

Is she related to you, Ivory? Razvan could feel the strength in the woman Ivory was speaking of. The earth rejoiced and welcomed her. There was joy in the layers of soil beneath him, joy in the rock beneath the soil. How do I feel that? How am I so connected to the earth? Through you?

Mother Earth has accepted you as her son. She will come to your aid should you have need. She has found you worthy. There was satisfaction in Ivory's voice.

He felt humbled by the earth's acceptance of his torn body and wounded soul; not worthy, but he was grateful.

My body is healing. The dance is rejuvenating the soil and Mother Earth is pouring minerals into our bodies to speed healing, isn't she? He felt that connection strongly now. He heard the beat of the music and the stamp of feet, felt the pattern of the dance as they poured love and healing into the earth itself.

He realized they were all connected, not apart, and for the first time he understood the concept of the prince and why he was so important to the Carpathian people. He connected them in the way the earth did. Mikhail was the very blood of the people.

That's why Xavier wants him dead. To kill the prince might literally kill the species. We have to stop him, Ivory. Whatever else we do, we have to stop Xavier. We cannot be distracted by going after vampires or anything else; Xavier has to be stopped.

Ivory's mind slipped over his, mirroring that exact knowledge, in accord with him. It only mattered that they heal their bodies as fast as possible and then find a way to remove the threat of Xavier from the world.

Time passed. There was often the ceremonial healing of the earth, and each time brought renewed soil, working to repair the mortal wounds. And Gregori came to them nightly. They often protested, knowing they were taking his strength and blood, even his healing energy, but he was single-minded in his purpose, and nothing they said could stop him.

Razvan came to like and respect the man. He was stubborn, tenacious, determined to heal them as quickly as possible. Ivory had been leery of taking his blood at first, a natural reaction when self-preservation had been her way for hundreds of years, but necessity forced her to take what was offered. Gregori and Nicolas De La Cruz were the two Carpathians who came daily to take care of them. Often the prince came along and gave his blood, the richness and healing qualities like no other.

Nicolas had wept when he learned Ivory was alive and Razvan felt the mixture of joy and sorrow bursting through her. She had never thought that she would ever see the De La Cruz brothers again, family to her, adored brothers every bit as close to her real brothers as she had been, yet even they could not prevent the Malinov brothers from turning.

It was Razvan who held Ivory close, surrounding her with his heat, merging his mind and heart with hers to keep her from weeping uncontrollably, to steady her while she renewed her relationship with Nicolas, lifemate to his daughter Lara. It was Nicolas who fed her wolves for her and made certain they were well cared for. Most of the time the wolves snuggled beside them, there in the soil, sleeping the weeks away, waking only to feed when Nicolas arrived, and then sleeping again.

Razvan recognized Nicolas's face from Ivory's meticulously carved wall. Each stroke had been carved with loving care, and he felt that same deep love in Ivory each time Nicolas spoke to her. That man's voice was soft, gentle, almost as if she was still the young girl from centuries earlier. He didn't seem to recognize the fierce warrior in her, only her gentle side, as if he might be blinded to who she was by his love for the child from long ago.

On some level, he realized that it was Nicolas's lack of knowledge of who Ivory was that kept Razvan from the terrible possessiveness a lifemate would feel when other males were close to their female. Ivory loved Nicolas with the love of a sister, but it was Razvan who knew her intimately, her intriguing mind and the wonderful, intelligent brain that worked fast and accurately on any problem. Razvan spent a great deal of time in her mind, going over what she knew of vampires and learning how best to fight them. She was a wealth of information, and as much as Nicolas loved her, he would never see her true value.

He sees me the way you see Natalya. She is a warrior and yet you wish only to protect her and keep her safe. There was amusement in Ivory's voice.

Her tone felt like velvet stroking over his skin. Perhaps little sisters should never grow up, but simply stay young for their brothers. He matched her teasing tone.

I am grown up. A woman. Her amusement faded to be replaced by something altogether different. When we leave this place of comfort and healing-and we will soon to join the real world with its hardships and cruelty-I will miss our closeness. There was real regret in her voice. The thought of going back to her lonely existence after intertwining her mind so deeply with his was disturbing to her.

Han ku vigyaz sielamet-keeper of my soul, you are also, han ku kuulua sivamet-keeper of my heart. We are bound together, lifemates for all eternity. When we rise, ready to fight our enemy, we rise as lifemates. I asked you if that was what you wished and your reply was clear to me. We do not separate. We face the future together, whatever it should bring.

Ivory sighed softly. I am prepared to do that. I just meant... She trailed off and he felt her searching for the right words to express whatever troubled her.

When she was silent for so long, he reached for her mind, his touch as gentle as a lover's caress. Once again he took her into another realm, his mind in hers, leading her away from pain and what they both knew they would have to face when they rose.

His hand slipped into hers and he walked with her, side by side, his body brushing against hers, walking into the night, taking her to his garden, the one place he was familiar with, the one place he loved and could share.

Flowers cascaded down the terraced rock and covered arbors of white. The fragrances mingled, rising above the mazes of shaped hedges and bushes. Trees formed small groves of oranges and lemons with taller evergreen towers on the corners of the stone-fence-wrapped garden. Weeping willows stood at the edges of the blue-green pond, while a few ducks swam lazily, dunking their heads beneath the rippling surface and coming up to shake the water from their feathers.

Ivory looked around her. "You grew up here?"

He brought her fingers to his chest, over his heart. "It was our mother's family home. We lived here for some time after she passed away. And then my father disappeared and Xavier took us away. But this was where we were together and happy."

"It's beautiful."

"I used to believe it was the most beautiful spot in the world, but I think you managed to create that in your home." Razvan looked around him and inhaled to drag the scent of lavender into his lungs.

"Our home," Ivory corrected. "It is our home now."

He felt the instant reaction in his heart to her words. Home. What would that be like, to feel as if he had a home, a woman to share his life with? They had a purpose for living, for suffering the fires of hell: to rid the world of its greatest evil-Xavier. For a short time he could simply be with Ivory, enjoy walking with her through a beautiful garden.

Ivory glanced sideways at him and then quickly averted her eyes, her long lashes hiding her expression.

Razvan stopped to push the long fall of silken hair from her face and back over her shoulder. "You are hiding from me."

Color rose, turning her pale skin to a soft rose. "Maybe. A little."

"I had no idea you were a little shy. You are such a fierce warrior and wholly confident, I thought you would be that way in all things."

She shrugged. "I have little experience with men-most of it long ago and not good."

He grinned at her, a slow, heart-stopping smile that revealed his straight white teeth, and suddenly seemed a little shy as well. "My body has a tremendous amount of experience, but not my heart-and not me. Truthfully, I feel like a young boy on his first date."

She lifted her chin. "It is my first date."

He regarded her steadily, his dark eyes drifting over the exquisite bone structure of her face. His gaze settled on her full lips. "Then we must make it memorable." He couldn't conceive of forgetting this moment, this one time with her, surrounded by the memory of his garden and so close to her that he could breathe the same breath.

She lifted a hand to his face, worn and lined, as if he still couldn't change that look, even in his dreams-even in his memories. He had forgotten what his face had looked like in his younger days, forgotten being a carefree youth. He could only give her what he was now, and hope that it was enough for her.

"You will always be enough for me," she whispered, meaning it. "I had stopped dreaming of my prince long ago."

"What was he like?"

She smiled, her eyes warming. "Tall, of course, with long, black, flowing hair and broad shoulders. He was a great warrior and he rescued me from my tower where my brothers had imprisoned me. He wanted me to ride beside him on his snorting, rearing steed, a sturdy animal that blew smoke through his nostrils and pawed the ground with impatience to rush headlong into battle." She laughed softly at a young girl's dreams.

Razvan made a face. "I am tall, but my hair is streaked with white, and I cannot say I am an accomplished warrior. But I would surely rescue you and take you off to ride beside me anywhere we went, including battle."

Her fingertips went to one particular thick white streak in his hair. She rubbed the silky strands back and forth between her thumb and index finger. "A warrior is not someone who merely fights, Razvan. You have the heart of a warrior and the soul of a poet. I find you fascinating." She dropped her gaze. "And tempting."

There was a moment when his breath caught in his lungs. Tempting? He tempted her? There was no shadow of evil inside his body. Nothing stood between them and she confessed to him that she was tempted by him? Ivory's stark honesty moved him as nothing else could.

His palm curled around the nape of her neck, drawing her closer to him. He could feel the warmth of her breath on his face, could see-not just feel-the softness of her skin. He had more discipline than any man walking the face of the earth, yet he could not stop himself from leaning his head down those scant few inches and closing the distance between them.

His lips brushed hers. Barely touching. Feather-light. His body reacted, clenching hard, tightening, every muscle, every cell coming alive, paying attention to that smallest of sensations.

Ivory didn't pull away from him. They stood in the middle of his garden, surrounded by cascading flowers of all colors, birds and butterflies, bees flitting from one bloom to the next, a place of absolute serenity, and time just seemed to stand still for them.

His hands framed her face and he tilted her head so his mouth could come down on hers again. She sighed into his kiss, her body somehow closer. He didn't know if he moved or she did, or maybe it was the earth shifting under his feet, but her mouth went from warm to hot to burning just that fast.

The sensation opened up an entire new world, one of pleasure, of intense sensation. Where his life had been pain and suffering, her mouth, soft and hot and enticing, swamped him with immeasurable pleasure. It wasn't just a physical sensation, but his mind was merged deeply in hers, feeding off her pleasure, heightening it as she heightened his. His heart was fully engaged, nearly overwhelmed with the feelings that had been growing stronger and stronger from the moment he'd first opened his eyes and saw her face, from the first touch of her gentle fingers as she pushed back his hair.

His tongue swept across the seam of her lips, not tentatively, but not pushing her beyond what she wanted to give. His hands were gentle, in contrast to the hard aggression of his body. Her mouth opened to his and he was inside that soft, scalding cavern of heat and fire. Flames licked at his belly. His groin tightened even more, swelling and hardening, and deep in his belly an inferno raged.

He took his time, as gentle as ever, savoring the reaction of his body as he explored her soft mouth, savoring her reaction, the small breathy moan that nearly drove him insane, the small movement that pressed her soft breasts against his chest and aligned the cradle of her hips with his. Little sparks ignited everywhere and the world seemed to spin away even further.

His hands slipped into that silky fall of hair cascading down her back. Each new exploration of her skin and body added to his rising pleasure, further intensifying it.

You are the most incredible woman ever born. He meant it. He let her see the truth of his statement in his mind, in his heart. He'd never imagined such feelings, of the strength of emotion and the intensity of his physical reaction to her.

His body had been used by Xavier, yes, but he hadn't been present, only witnessing the degradation at a distance. He had never experienced pleasure from the joining, only sorrow and regret when he could recall the emotions. And now that he had emotion in abundance, he felt distaste and shame at the memories, along with sorrow and regret. He hadn't expected . . . this-the wonder and beauty of love blossoming right here in his garden along with his flowers. Had he been in the real world he might have scoffed at the poetry singing in his soul, but here, in his dream, in his memories, the words were perfect, fitting the way he felt.

Her body shuddered against his, and her hands came up to grip his arms. He felt the sudden hesitation in her, the simultaneous urge to pull him closer and push him away. She was as unused to trusting, to sharing herself as he was-maybe more. The needs slammed into them like the vicious punch of fists, overwhelming her. It mattered little how gentle his touch was, the desire burned hot and unexpected, a firestorm out of control.

She stepped back, shaking her head, her fingers pressed against her trembling mouth and his dark eyes blazing with heat. She looked confused and a little shocked, as if she hadn't expected to feel anything other than physical pleasure-certainly nothing quite as intense as what had happened between them. It always surprised him that Ivory, so confident in herself as a warrior, was not as sure of herself as a woman.

He cupped the side of her face and ran the pad of his thumb over her soft, exquisite skin. Abruptly everything in him stilled.

"Ivory, look at your skin."

The lines that had been raised over her body, jagged and thick, were now white and smooth. They were still there, segmenting the seams of her body, but without the thickness that had marked them. The white lines cut through her body much like a jigsaw puzzle, and always would, but now they were smooth and soft, a part of her skin rather than raised scar tissue.

Ivory touched one of the lines just above the swell of her breasts. "This is the combination of the healer, the Carpathian blood and the soil. Amazing. I thought those hideous scars would be there forever."

"They were not hideous." He bent his head and brushed his lips over a smooth white line bisecting her body.

Ivory's womb clenched and she went damp. The brush of his hair against her skin felt like sin. How could he move her the way he did? Crawl inside her heart so that she felt weak when he was close? She had taken such care not to let anyone matter. Nothing could matter but destroying Xavier. It was her one purpose. Her only purpose.

She felt her fingers move in that thick fall of luxurious, striped hair. So dark the color made his eyes a piercing cobalt, so white it played over his lined face, making him look older and much more distinguished than most Carpathian males. She clenched his hair in her fist as her gaze drifted moodily over his face.

Razvan was so serene. Deep inside where there should have been rage at the atrocities committed against him, she found only peace and acceptance. His will was the strongest she'd ever encountered in centuries of battle, yet he felt no compulsion to force it on others. He stood there looking at her as if she was the very moon, a goddess, beautiful beyond comparison, his gaze hungry, his body urgently demanding hers, yet he didn't push her beyond where she was willing to go. There was no ego. No sense of demand in him, simply a quiet strength, a rock she found astonishingly peaceful and sexy.

There was a scant inch between them now. Whether she had moved or he had, she couldn't really say, but it seemed necessary to taste him again. She ached to feel the heat, the sweep of his tongue sliding against hers, the fire that blazed the moment they came together. Her heart had simply melted and her stomach had gone jittery. She knew she was flirting with fire, but right then, at that precise moment with his hair brushing seductively against her skin and his body hard and hot, yet his soul so peaceful, the combination drove her past fear and into a frenzy of need.

She lifted her mouth and took his. For a dazzling moment, the world seemed to go up in flames, shifting away from them so they spun out of control, burning together, hot and wild, mouths fused together, minds welded tight, hearts beating the exact same rhythm. She hadn't known how lonely she was until his mouth moved over hers-until his mind moved in hers. She hadn't known her body could be so alive until she'd felt the skim of his fingers touching her reverently, exploring as if it was imperative to memorize every small inch of her body.

She hadn't known she could be so scared of losing someone again. She pulled away from him, but his hands held her close, not letting her escape too far. Unable to look at him, Ivory pressed her forehead against his chest.

"I had no idea I was such a coward."

He laughed softly. "You are far from a coward, han ku vigyaz sielamet-keeper of my soul. You are an extraordinary woman." His lips brushed the top of her hair, lingered there for a moment, before he dropped his chin on top of her head and nuzzled her.

"I cannot imagine the Carpathian males being so careful with their lifemate's feelings as you are with mine."

He caught her chin and lifted her face to his. "We are not like others. We never will be. We make our own rules and we live by ourselves. Our world is different, Ivory. Never think yourself less because you are careful with your emotions. You are a warrior with a mission, a momentous task that few others would ever try to undertake. Never sell yourself short in any way. I take great pride in you and in the fact that I was chosen to be your lifemate. It is an honor like no other."

He meant it, she knew. She was in his mind and he meant every word. He made her feel special. It was an odd feeling after being thrown away by the Carpathian people, after the betrayal of her brothers when they made the decision to join the ranks of the undead and ally themselves with Xavier for power. It was odd to feel the intensity of Razvan's emotions for her: his pride, the honor he felt, the absolute unwavering devotion to her. He was a selfless man, uncaring what others thought of him, but fiercely proud of her.

Her heart did a jittery slide that seemed to go on forever, a slow turnover, and she knew she was lost. "I am more afraid of what is between us than I was facing the master vampire."

A master vampire who had once, long ago, been her very loved brother. Razvan curled his fingers around the nape of her neck and held her close to him, offering comfort when she didn't ask for it. She would never ask for it.

"I buried them long ago," she whispered, laying her head against his chest and letting the strength in his arms hold her up. Here, in this dream garden, with no one around, she could show weakness, just for a moment, because she knew Razvan accepted her exactly for who she was. "I carry their souls in mine, in the hope that when I go to the next life, what I have done will count for them, and they will be given a second chance. Whether they take it or not is up to them. I had completely reconciled myself to their loss but . . ." She trailed off.

There were no words to express the overwhelming grief and wrenching sense of betrayal when her brother had used the illusion of his earlier self in an attempt to kill her. She knew he would have destroyed her as easily as he would the farmer and his family, Travis and Razvan. She had been completely unprepared for that terrible pain, the heartache she felt at seeing him again.

"I think it would be normal to feel that way. I was prepared for my sister to despise me, and I certainly feel I am prepared for my biological daughters to detest me, but that does not mean it won't hurt." He held her close, surrounding her with warmth. "You have a loving heart, Ivory. You guard it well, but those you let into your life are there permanently, regardless of what happens. I've heard the love in your voice and felt it in your mind each evening Nicolas comes to give us blood. It's the love of a sister and yet it has been centuries since you have seen him, and he has done many troubling things in his life."

"But he is such a wonderful man. He is so in love with Lara, your daughter," Ivory pointed out. "I could love him for that alone. He has not yet completely brought her into this world, although both of them suffer for it. They give so much to the Carpathian people, trying to save the babies."

"She has become sensitive to the light," Razvan agreed. "And she cannot go to ground, but she can live many years without too many problems."

"He worries she will get pregnant in her half-state. Did you catch in his mind exactly what she can do that no other can?"

"She is part mage, and they need a mage to hunt the microbes invading the women's bodies. The microbes kill most of the children."

Ivory frowned and pulled away from him. She looked around the lush garden with its abundance of shrubs and flowers. Water wound lazily along the bed of a pretty little stream, coloring the rocks in sparkling golds and silvers. The ribbon of a waterfall zigzagged along the high rock face forming one wall of the garden. The water shimmered in a long drop. Butterflies flitted and birds sang even under the shine of the moon overhead. It was a dream world.

They could stand together, close like they were, and she could feel the first thrill of love blossoming, the fierce physical pull between them, but even here, the real world crept in. Even here the snake that was Xavier crept in.

"He cannot reach us here," Razvan said. "He no longer has my mind."

"But he can. He colors the world in evil, Dragonseeker. Evil is such a little used word, yet he embodies it. There is no monster in the world equal to him. You saved Lara from him . . ."

"My aunts saved Lara. Even when they might have had a chance to escape, Xavier used my body to plunge a knife into Branislava's breast. They were already so weak, kept drained of blood to feed his insatiable need."

"As were you."

Razvan made no response, just kept pace with her as she went to the entrance of the maze. She took his hand again and drew him inside the labyrinth of tall shrubbery.

"Lara is still dictated to by Xavier. She cannot be wholly converted until he is destroyed." Ivory sighed. "We must find a way to rid the world of such evil."

"It is Lara's choice to remain in the half-world between mage and Carpathian. Her lifemate will protect her, just as I would you. That's freedom, Ivory, true freedom, and thankfully her lifemate understands she needs that above all else. He must trust her enough to know that when he tells her time is over for their safety, or health, that she will listen to him and allow him to convert her and bring her fully into the Carpathian world. He will not let her give too much of herself, nor would any of the Carpathians want her to do so," Razvan pointed out. "Ivory," he stopped her again, standing in front of her to bring her hand to his mouth.

Very gently he rubbed his thumb back and forth over her knuckles-knuckles that had seen too many fights and would see many more. "We have accepted that we will hunt Xavier. And we will not stop until we destroy him. But we will live while we take this journey. Each night we rise, we will live. Every minute. Every moment. We will celebrate our lives and enjoy our journey, good or bad. He cannot have us. He cannot have those we love." He brought her knuckles back to his mouth and swirled his tongue over the scars there. "Do you understand what I am saying to you?"

Ivory took a breath. She felt herself falling forward into the very depths of his eyes, a very non-warrior-like thing to do, but in that moment she didn't care. A slow smile warmed her eyes to liquid gold. Razvan had just given her a key to the way he had survived. He would not ever allow Xavier to truly own him. Whatever path his journey had taken, he had accepted the consequences and was at peace with his decisions, no matter how difficult they might have been.

She brushed back that thick mane of silky striped hair, and then allowed her fingertips to trace the worn lines in his face. Her throat closed on an unexpected lump. "Do you wish for peace, Razvan? Should I have allowed you to slip into the next life?" The lump threatened to choke her. At times he looked so worn, his eyes old, his mind filled with too many memories-none of them good.

"I would not have wanted to miss being with you for the world. Perhaps I spent those long years with Xavier for just this purpose, Ivory. How do we know what we are meant to do? I had years to learn his ways and now each test matters. I do not forget. Ever. Anything you need is stored in my head. And I will quickly absorb all of your battle experience. We will make such a pair as the world has never seen."

He leaned forward and kissed her again, a slow, heart-stopping kiss that robbed her of strength so that she clung to him, shaken by the intensity of her emotions. When he lifted his head, his eyes were warm with love. She saw it, stark and unafraid, a raw emotion he didn't bother to hide from her and it made her ashamed of her own fear.

"We will make a pair such as the world has never seen," she agreed.