Mikhail Dubrinsky greeted Razvan and Ivory from his long, wraparound verandah. The house was large, nestled in the trees, blending into the forest so well that Ivory knew with a certainty that most people would never spot it unless the prince eased the safeguards around it. She was dressed in her warrior garb, with the wolves riding her body as tattoos. She preferred that to having him look too closely at her pack. Razvan stayed close to her, just a step behind, as if he was her guard, rather than her partner. She had tried twice to lag in her step to force him to walk beside her, but once Razvan made up his mind about something, nothing stopped him.

"Good evening," Mikhail said. "Sivad olen wakeva, han ku piwta-may your heart stay strong, hunters," he added in a more traditional greeting.

Ivory murmured a greeting, and glanced over her shoulder to look at Razvan. She couldn't feel nerves in him, or sense that he was in any way distressed over visiting the prince of the Carpathian people, yet he maintained his distance-that precise two steps to the side and behind her pace. His gaze moved restlessly over the house, the grounds, searched the trees and quartered every inch of their surroundings as if he was looking for a trap. His face was sober, mouth in a firm line. He was making her uneasy with the way he was acting, when they should have been safe so deep in Carpathian territory.

What is it? She sent a smile to the prince to cover the fact that Razvan had yet to speak.

I do not know, but he is not alone. We are surrounded.

Well, of course, she'd known there would be others. Gregori for certain would never allow a meeting with the prince and his lifemate without his presence. Now she was more than uneasy.

"You welcome us, yet your people seem to be circling into position," Razvan said.

His voice was hard, harder than Ivory had ever heard him speak. Now she knew why he had dropped back. He expected an attack, not from the front but from behind or either side. He wore a look that told her he meant business, and suddenly their friendly visit wasn't so friendly after all. In that moment she knew he was entirely capable of killing the prince should the Carpathian make a move toward her.

She took a small step back and away from Razvan, moving quickly from woman to warrior. Her bow came up slightly, the arrow angled just enough to cover the prince's heart. "We thought only to thank you for your aid," she said. "Nothing more. We will leave if we are not welcome."

The prince stepped into the open area, away from the long, smooth railing out to where she would have a clear shot at him. He kept his hands out away from his sides. "You are most welcome. My lifemate is inside and wishes to meet you. She cannot get up to greet you properly and had hoped you would have the time to visit with her."

He looked around the surrounding forest and sent out a call to the hunters surrounding his home. These are my guests and they are welcome. There was no mistaking the edge of anger in his voice. "Please, accept my apologies and come inside."

Ivory glanced at Razvan. "It is up to you. If you do not feel welcome here, I have no wish to stay." She did want news though. She needed news. If they were going to effectively hunt Xavier, they needed every detail the Carpathian people could provide.

Gregori came out onto the porch, his arms folded across his chest. "Every time I take my eyes off you, you make yourself a target," he said to Mikhail with a small grin. He lifted his gaze to the Dragonseeker. "When the prince wishes you to visit and guarantees your safety, it is a great honor."

Ivory's eyes flashed a single searing heat. "Only if one trusts the prince."

"Do you?" Mikhail asked, his gaze holding hers steady. "Do you trust me?"

Ivory was silent a moment, studying his face. He was nothing like his brother. And little like his father. She took a breath and felt Razvan move inside her mind. Supporting her. Holding her steady when the past was too close. She felt the brush of Razvan's mind in hers, strong and enduring and totally for her. No one else. Razvan's loyalty was utterly hers and belonged to no one else.


Mikhail stepped aside and gestured toward his front door with a slight bow. "Please enter my home as my honored guests." His gaze slid over Razvan. "Both of you."

Razvan moved up then, past Ivory, his senses flaring out to inspect the occupants of the house. There were two women and several men inside. He halted at the door and glanced toward Gregori.

"Do you think we would prepare a trap in the very home of the prince with his lifemate present?" Gregori hissed, his silver eyes slashing at Razvan.

Razvan didn't flinch under the reprimand. "Tell me you would not be wary of so many distrustful people. Tell me you would not protect your lifemate." His tone was mild, but there was heat in his eyes. "I can feel their suspicion like a weight pressing down on both of us. We need only to give our thanks and leave. We ask for nothing from any of you."

A woman with striped red and gold hair burst from the inside of the house, skidding to a halt just outside the door, ignoring the restraining hand of her lifemate, a tall, imposing warrior with steel eyes and a grim mouth. "Razvan. Please."

Razvan blinked. Inside he crumbled. Went to pieces. His heart. His soul. For a moment his world narrowed to this one woman. The person he had given up everything for. His life. His soul. His sanity. Everything.

"Natalya." He breathed her name, unsteady.

His vision blurred as he stood feeling naked and vulnerable in front of her. It was one thing to talk to her from a distance, in a dream world where he lay beneath the ground safe from the recrimination that must be in her heart. But to have her stand in front of him, his twin sister, the one Xavier had systematically fed false information to and had tricked into giving him spells using Razvan . . .

Ivory surged into his mind. Into his heart. I am with you.

Four words, but that show of unity meant everything to him. She meant it. Ivory stood with him, tall and straight, a warrior without comparison, utterly proud of him. Her fallen angel-her lifemate.

Natalya's eyes swam with tears. "Razvan, please don't leave."

He opened his mouth to speak, but nothing came out. He swallowed the sudden lump in his throat threatening to choke him. One hand came up of its own volition and touched that bright hair. Natalya flung herself into his arms, weeping. He closed his arms around her and held her to him, shocked that after so many years, after so much suffering, the bond between them had not been completely broken.

Ivory stayed in his mind, holding him just as close, easing the terrible weight of responsibility that poured into his mind. He had long ago dealt with and accepted his choices, but to see his sister standing alive and well, healthy and happy, was overwhelming.

He held her at arm's length and looked her over carefully. "You look good, Natalya. Young." So young. He was her twin, yet he was so much older.

You have earned every wonderful line. Ivory slipped her hand into his when he dropped his arms away from his sister. His fingers tangled and clung.

"This is Vikirnoff, my lifemate." Natalya rubbed the tall warrior's arm, the movement mesmerizing, as if she stroked a talisman that held her together.

And maybe, Razvan decided, that's what the man was doing. Ivory was certainly holding him together. "It is good she has you." He meant it. Whatever Vikirnoff might think of him, he was obviously fiercely protective of Natalya. And if the man felt one tenth of what he felt for Ivory, Natalya was in good hands.

Razvan brought Ivory's hand to his chest. She didn't feel comfortable with displays of affection, yet she didn't pull away. She stood beside him, her warmth enveloping him, steadying him, while he pressed her palm over his rapidly beating heart. "This is Ivory-sivam es sielam-my heart and soul." He brought her fingertips to his lips. "Ivory, my sister, Natalya, and her lifemate, Vikirnoff."

It was amazing to him to be able to stand there, free, in Natalya's presence, unafraid that he was providing bait for a trap that Xavier had set. But more than anything he felt pride in the woman at his side. He felt that with her he had everything. She had somehow turned a bleak, hopeless life into moments of pure joy-such as this one.

"It is wonderful to finally meet you," Ivory said. "Your brother speaks of you often. And thank you for aiding our wolf pack, as well as giving us blood when we were in such need."

Ivory followed Natalya and Vikirnoff into the house. Power surged through her the moment she entered. She glanced at Razvan to see if he'd felt that strong ripple of energy. He nodded silently at her, obviously uncomfortable that Gregori was behind them.

Raja has our backs, she assured.

"It was an amazing feat for the wolves to carry four humans through such treacherous terrain with a vampire close on their heels," Mikhail observed.

Ivory shot him a wary glance. "They are special. My family. Thank you for aiding them. Is the little girl still alive? We had no time to prep her for the journey. We had to send them out fast."

"I saw the destruction at the farmhouse." Mikhail went straight to the woman sitting in a large, stuffed chair, her feet resting on an ottoman. "My lifemate, Raven," he said and there was a wealth of love in his voice. "Raven, Ivory and Razvan."

"Thank you for coming," Raven said. "I'm sorry I can't get up, but do please sit down." She sent a quick glare at both her lifemate and Gregori. "It seems I'm being dictated to by both the healer and Mikhail."

"And I so enjoy the opportunity," Mikhail said, unrepentant.

Ivory and Razvan sat in two of the wide-backed chairs set in a circle. Mikhail sank onto the arm of Raven's chair and Gregori seated himself opposite Razvan, his restless eyes moving constantly to sweep the surrounding forest through the windows.

"I think you have enough guards out there," Ivory said. "I counted seven. Did I miss any?"

"Guards?" Raven echoed, looking from the prince to the healer. "What guards?"

It was Natalya who answered. "My brother has been considered the enemy for so long, many, including me, thought him a traitor, and it is difficult for others to believe he isn't."

"You are pregnant with the prince's son," Gregori pointed out gently. "Many think it is a suspicious coincidence that he has arrived when you are close to giving birth."

"But Mikhail would never invite anyone into our home he was not certain of," Raven said. "That's utterly ridiculous."

"And they are suspicious of me as well," Ivory pointed out, unwilling to let the prince get off too easily. "Because I am a Malinov."

"Long thought dead these past centuries," Gregori said. "Yes, some are suspicious, but I have been in your mind, healing you and Razvan. I know what you went through to save the farmer and his family."

"Tell me about the child," Ivory persisted.

"She lives and is well," Gregori assured. "Falcon and Sara took the family in until the child was healed. They are living at the inn now, and we will help them get started again. Just about everything they had was destroyed. Fortunately, the vampire didn't kill all of the animals, as often happens. You must have come along and interrupted him before he could do too much damage to the farm."

"Have you erased their memories?" Ivory asked.

Mikhail leaned forward, frowning. "The parents were easy enough, but the children still have nightmares. Gregori is working to help them. Some are more resistant than others. I'd like you to tell me about your wolves."

Ivory stayed very still. Razvan was just as still inside as she was, sensing this was no idle question. "I made a promise to the wolf pack that helped me and I have always kept it. The summer the pups were born, game was plentiful and it had been a mild winter. The pack had two litters of pups, which sometimes happens in a good year. I helped with the hunting, so my pack was well fed and the alpha pair and the next in the hierarchy mated. The vampires hunted my pack and destroyed them, hoping to find me running amongst them."

Her hand trembled in her lap and Razvan laid his over it, his thumb sliding back and forth in a soothing gesture. Ivory didn't look at him, but she opened her mind to his and let him comfort her where no one else could see. It had been one of the worst moments she could remember, finding the pack dead and dying.

"The pups are all that remain of my original pack. They were badly hurt, but I was not entirely"-she searched for the right word-"sane . . . in those days. I could still barely stand the moonlight and spent most of the hours beneath the ground. I needed the pack for my own survival. I couldn't let them go, and I crawled into the den with them and gave them my blood repeatedly. Sometimes I had no choice but to take their blood. It was a long time-weeks, I do not really remember-before the first turned."

She remembered that moment, the animal screaming in pain, and her shock at what she'd done. "I was careful to make certain they learned to hunt only with me. I feed them and care for them. They do not breed." She lifted her head and looked the prince straight in the eye. "They are my family. We have hunted the vampire for centuries and they have saved my life countless times." She conveyed in that one brooding look exactly what she meant-that she would fight to the death for her pack.

"You can see how they could be troublesome if they began to prey on the human race for food," Gregori said.

She flicked him a cool glance. "No more than when one of us does. We would have no choice but to hunt the wolf and destroy it."

Mikhail held up his hand. "We just needed to know, Ivory. The pack is most unusual, but you seem to have it all well in hand."

Razvan stirred. "It grows late and we have not fed. The pack is fine, but we must hunt before we return home."

He savored the word home. Let it roll off his tongue. The confines of this house were too stifling. He couldn't really remember when he had been in a home, certainly not with so many other people with all eyes on them. Ivory was hiding it well, but she was equally uncomfortable. Neither of them was good at social skills, having been alone for so many years.

"We can feed both of you," Mikhail said. "I really brought you here for a purpose."

Ivory settled back in her seat, but Razvan noticed that her fingers circled her crossbow, and he felt the ripple of awareness in the wolves. "Of course you did."

Mikhail smiled easily. "Our children are dying before they are born, Ivory. I have no time to waste on the niceties. Our greatest minds have tried to find solutions to the problem and finally, recently, we had a breakthrough. We discovered the source of our miscarriages is Xavier. He mutated extremophiles, microbes that attack our unborn children. The microbes are in the soil. Even should we move locations, and of course we considered that, he can contaminate soil anywhere we go. We have to stop him."

"That is our goal," Ivory said.

"Gregori informed me he believes both of you are set on destroying Xavier. He believes if anyone can do so, you two have the best chance. I have a great deal of faith in Gregori, as well as in my own instincts. We would like to aid you in any way possible."

"No," Natalya interrupted. "No, Razvan." She shook off Vikirnoff and stood, hands on her hips. "I've just got you back. You can't go near that man. Not for any reason. You know he's hunting you. You know he is."

Razvan sighed. When she was a child he had never liked it when Natalya was upset, and it was equally bad now that she was a fully grown adult. "I know him better than any other, Natalya," he said, his voice gentle.

"Ivory has studied him and has actually worked with him at one time in his school. She is good with his spells, turning them around. Mikhail is right in that Ivory and I have a better chance of stopping him than any other we know of."

"But it isn't right. You've suffered enough." What she really meant was she'd given him up for years, and it wasn't right for either of them. She wanted him back.

Vikirnoff held out his hand, and after a moment's hesitation, she took it, leaning back against him, obviously trying not to cry.

"Ivory's and Razvan's great sacrifice may be the very thing that saves our people," Mikhail said. "Both knew our enemy in the years we thought him dead. We have only Lara to keep the unborn children alive, and she cannot continue forever. We have four women-Syndil; you, Natalya; Lara and Skyler-who can cleanse the earth. Our species is very fragile right now. Should we manage to remove the threat of Xavier, we still will be fighting the odds to continue. We need Razvan and Ivory. We need every warrior we have to fight in any capacity they can."

"I do not understand what you mean about these extremophiles," Ivory said, frowning. "Before, when we were beneath the ground, I caught images of these things in your minds, but I do not understand exactly what these things are used for. Xavier has bred parasites to enhance the vampire's communication as well as to identify his allies. What do these microbes do?"

"They are in the soil and enter the male's body while he rests," Gregori answered. "During sex he transfers the mutated microbes to the woman, who then transfers it to her unborn child. It is a vicious circle we cannot seem to stop."

"And you are very certain Xavier is the source?" Ivory asked.

It was Razvan who answered. "I witnessed his experiments, all of them. I was present when he cast his evil spells, twisting and corrupting nature for his own dark purpose. He had pools of blood and liquid poison."

Ivory's head came up as if scenting a fresh trail. "You actually heard his spell? He let you? You were there with him?" She tried to quell the exhilaration bursting through her.

"I told you I am not good with spells. That was why he wanted Natalya. She is."

Natalya started to interrupt, to say something, but Mikhail silenced her. Let them speak together. He could see-feel, even-that Ivory was suddenly excited.

"But you have an extraordinary memory," Ivory pointed out. "I have seen it, and you do not forget the smallest detail." She looked to Gregori for confirmation, knowing the healer had spent a great deal of time in Razvan's mind. "We have talked about this, Razvan. If you can remember the precise, exact words of his spells, I am certain that I can unravel them. He used apprentices for the base of most of his spells, and then when they were getting too good at what they did, he got rid of them, because he feared them."

Razvan's hand moved against hers, stroking over her wrist, over the thin white line where a cut had been. I have said I can remember, and yes, I recall even this one, but the remembering will not be easy. He didn't want to relive those days of torture, the sounds of screaming, helpless victims, of women he couldn't help, of his own role, whether knowing or not. If it is your wish, I will do so, he said.

Ivory touched his mind and found that same serene peace in him, the calm of complete acceptance. If she asked him to go back in his memories, she knew he would without hesitation, and love for him shimmered in her heart. Her pride in him rose in her soul. No matter what the others saw when they looked at his worn face, she would always see a hero.

"If you had the spell he used, could you take command of these extremophiles?" Mikhail asked Ivory.

"I might be able to, with enough time. I would have to study the spell. Xavier likes complex spells. And he would need a very complex one for the killing of an entire species and the mutating of another." Ivory shrugged. "I have no idea how long it would take, but so far, when I have studied one of his spells, I have been able to reverse it." Her chin lifted. "I was a very good student."

Now Razvan's thumb pressed into the sensitive skin of her wrist, stroking a caress over her jumping pulse.

"If we have to move from the mountains, we will do so," Mikhail said, "but I doubt if that will solve the problem. Eventually it will spread across our country into other lands. It would be far better if we could eradicate it."

Ivory nodded. "Xavier will make his move against you very soon." She looked at Raven. "You already have a daughter and now, with a son, he cannot afford to let you or your children live. He will come after her."

Mikhail slipped a comforting arm around Raven's shoulders. "We are prepared."

"Is that why your warriors surround this house?" Razvan asked.

Mikhail nodded. "We are all uneasy. The attacks are becoming frequent, picking us apart, one by one, going after the children during the day, using their puppets. They wear us down. It was a shock to have the two of you show up. And, of course, as mentioned earlier, the timing is highly suspicious."

"But not to you?" Again Ivory met his gaze. Steady. Challenging.

He sent her a small smile. "The weight of my people has been on my shoulders a long time, Ivory. I do not have my father's gifts, but I have good instincts. I have to trust them. Few things are certain in this world. I choose to go with my instincts about the two of you and with Gregori's opinion. The combination has rarely failed."

Gregori gave an inelegant snort. "Never, you mean. I do not make mistakes when it comes to your safety."

"I do believe Razvan managed to hold a knife to my throat with you not twenty feet away," Mikhail pointed out with amusement.

Ivory realized the relationship between the two men was one of close-knit friendship and camaraderie.

"I paid him a great deal of money to do that," Gregori said. "I wanted you to realize, as our prince, you shouldn't be chasing vampires all over the country and Razvan agreed to help teach you a lesson."

Raven laughed. "You two are impossible. I can feel our guests' hunger. Perhaps you should do something about that so we can visit," she suggested.

"We are capable of hunting," Ivory said, trying not to sound stiff. It was one thing to take blood when she was helpless, something altogether different when she was fit. She was a warrior, not a child.

"There is no need," Mikhail said. "I offer my blood freely."

The prince smiled at her. Easy. Friendly. Making her stomach knot up. She didn't have friends. She didn't know how to have them. What did he want from her? What was he expecting? The room felt too small. She could barely breathe the air.

It matters little what they want from us, Razvan reassured. We need nothing from them-they need us. Anything we choose to do is our decision. We have no sworn loyalty to this man. We are set on a path and we will continue down it. There is no harm in listening to him. His blood is pure and carries more power than any other. If you do not wish to feed from him, I will do so and feed you later.

She heard the cool resolve in his voice and her stomach settled. She had stayed alive by being aware of everything around her, of avoiding others and taking great care to put herself in the most advantageous position should she need to fight. Razvan was doing the same.

Ivory had carefully chosen the chair they were seated in so that no one could slip up behind them or get too close from either side. Raven and the prince were quite vulnerable right in front of her. She knew the prince had deliberately seated himself in a position of weakness to take the edge off her sharply honed wariness of such situations and, while she appreciated it, she still wanted to leave.

It was difficult to maintain composure when too many hearts beat, the sound of blood roared through veins, emotions seemed too raw around her. When she'd been alone for so long, being crowded into a room-albeit a spacious one-still was uncomfortable. She forced a smile at the prince, inclining her head like a princess. "We thank you for your generous offer."

It was Razvan, more than her, who was uncomfortable with the feeding process. He didn't like taking blood from a wrist, and she felt his instant aversion to the idea when the prince so casually offered his wrist. She took the blood without hesitation, willing to draw attention away from Razvan.

"I offer you my blood, Razvan," Natalya said into the silence. "I wouldn't mind experiencing the bonding process with you all over again."

Razvan went absolutely, utterly still. Ivory felt his instant rejection, his complete withdrawal. His skin went to a pale white, almost transparent, and the lines in his face deepened.

"I am not the prince, but as your sister, I offer to you freely."

Every muscle in his body tensed, although he looked as calm and serene as ever. He simply stood and glided away from Natalya, putting distance between them though a slight smile softened his mouth and his eyes were sad. He inclined his head toward her in a gesture of respect.

"You honor me, little sister, but I cannot accept such a gift."

His stomach churned and bile rose. Ivory slid her tongue over Mikhail's wrist to close the wound and straightened slowly. Razvan looked calm, but she could feel the tension mounting in him.

Gregori frowned. He had given a tremendous amount of blood to Razvan over the past few weeks and had been inside his mind and memories. He sensed the usually serene man was distressed. He rose and walked over to Razvan, blocking the others' sight of him. "It is best for him, Natalya, to take a healer's blood. He is better, but not completely well. His bones must knit stronger than ever."

Razvan said nothing. He didn't trust himself to speak. He simply accepted the healer's offer, grateful the others couldn't witness his shaking hands.

I am with you. You are not a monster, tearing into someone's flesh to get blood. Ivory kept her voice low and steady, reaching to surround him with her presence.

Razvan made no reply, but he did allow her to slip seamlessly into his mind to see the images swirling in chaos. For a moment horror gripped her, as it did him-as it did Gregori-as they shared the sight of a child's wrist being torn into by sharp teeth.

"Xavier has much to answer for," Gregori said quietly.

Razvan again said nothing, but the understanding went a long way toward settling the knots that had pulled tighter and tighter in his stomach. He closed the pinpricks on the healer's wrist and gave him a slight bow of appreciation. Gregori ignored his formality and clapped him on the back.

"It isn't as if we do not know each other," Gregori said.

"Mikhail." Raven's voice was thoughtful. "Have you noticed the resemblance in Syndil and Ivory? They could be sisters."

"I do not have a sister," Ivory assured her. "I had five brothers."

"But you do look alike," Mikhail agreed. "And you have a special affinity with the earth, as Syndil does. She's an extraordinary woman. You will want to meet her."

She was not going to get sucked into the Carpathian community. She could barely function here, unsure of herself, not at all confident, as if everything was off-kilter.

I feel the same. Razvan's voice was gentle in her mind.

What is wrong with us when they are being so kind and welcoming?

We have been too long away from others, he reassured her. Too long in our own company. We need the open spaces and the quiet of our own lair.

She was desperate now to end this meeting and go home, but there was something on Mikhail's mind and he wasn't going to let her leave until he told her.

Razvan took her hand. Both were standing now, the first step toward a graceful exit. Before Ivory could make her excuses, Mikhail spoke again.

"Some time ago, Natalya came to us, to these mountains, to look for answers. Her father stole a book."

Razvan drew in his breath sharply, his fingers tightening with sudden strength around Ivory's. "Our father died for that book. Xavier's master spell book. Xavier sealed the book in the blood of each species. Mage. Carpathian. Lycan. Jaguar and human."

"There was no Lycan blood present," Natalya said. "I saw the vision on my quest to find the book. It was sealed with the blood of the three and must be opened with the blood of the three." She looked to her lifemate. Vikirnoff, why would he lie about this? You saw the vision as I did. Xavier poured the blood of the three. Why would Razvan insist that there were others?

I do not know. But Natalya heard the suspicion in Vikirnoff's voice.

"He murdered a woman from each species and sealed the book," Razvan said. "I saw him. Whether you choose to believe me or not, is up to you."

Mikhail paced across the room. "Lycans hide better than any other species. Their blood is powerful and different. Xavier would have known that. He studied blood and he would never have left them alone. Lycan blood might hide itself, but not human blood."

"Then what happened to the Lycan blood?" Natalya asked. Suspicion crept into her voice in spite of herself. "I saw Xavier perform the ritual."

Ivory flicked her a quick glance and shrugged. "It is probably there, hidden. A secret to help in the protection of the book. If Xavier knew the properties of the Lycan blood, he would know it might hide from others. He could rely on that to keep his book from being opened and used. As for the human blood, Xavier would have no problem hiding anything if he so desired. As for your vision, it is possible he prepared for someone to access it. Xavier put safeguards on everything he did."

Natalya shook her head. She had gone through a horrendous ordeal to recover the book, including watching the death of her father.

"You actually held the book in your hands?" Razvan asked his sister. "You found it?"

She nodded. "Our father left me a message, a way to find it. I brought it to Mikhail."

"I want you to take the book, Ivory," Mikhail said. "No one knows where your lair is. No one has had any idea of your presence for these long years, yet you cannot be that far from our territory. The book must remain hidden and away from Xavier. I entrust you with the book and any knowledge you may gain from having it in your possession."

A gasp went around the room. Even Natalya shook her head. Vikirnoff actually stepped forward aggressively.

"The book was entrusted to you, Mikhail," he objected. "No one else. Forgive me, Razvan, but someone must have a clear head in this matter." Vikirnoff swept his hand toward Ivory. "This woman's lifemate was possessed by Xavier for years. He's been used by Xavier to spy, to trick, to lie and to cause great harm. How do we know he is not tricking all of us even now? Would you take a book so dangerous and put it into the very hands of the man who spent several lifetimes with him? We just met this man." He looked at Gregori. "We have no choice but to take this to the council."

Mikhail drew himself up to his full height. In that moment, he took Ivory's breath away. Power surged in the room, enough that the walls expanded and contracted and there was a shiver of movement beneath their feet. Even his hair crackled with energy.

"I do not ask the advice of the warriors' council, nor do I need to. If you cannot be civil to a guest in my home, then you may leave."

He didn't yell or shout. In fact, his voice was pitched low, but it carried enough weight to take someone down instantly.

Vikirnoff opened his mouth and then closed it, swift impatience crossing his face. "I go on record stating that this is a poor idea and the decision to hand over the book should wait. Until we know these two better, we cannot trust them."

Natalya stood, torn between believing in her brother, and remembering the numerous times it was her brother who had tricked her into giving him information Xavier needed. She shook her head and followed Vikirnoff out of the house.

I am sorry she hurt you, Ivory said, trying to comfort Razvan.

She has reason to worry, Razvan replied gently. Do not be upset on my behalf.

"They should have asked if I wanted the book," Ivory said. "I do not. But I thank you for your confidence in us." Of course I am upset on your behalf. She hurt you whether you acknowledge it or not and you do not deserve that.

"The book may be of some use to you as you try to find a way to reverse Xavier's spell on the extremophiles," Mikhail said, seemingly unaware that they carried on a private conversation, although Ivory was fairly certain he knew.

Do not blame her, Ivory. She was put through so much over the years. Alone and frightened, with Xavier constantly on her heels. For my sake, do not blame her.

Ivory sighed. She would do anything for Razvan right then. If forgiving his sister and her lifemate meant so much to him, then she would oblige. She sent Razvan a small smile before turning her complete attention to the prince.

"I cannot undo the extremophiles mutated state, although I might be able to redirect them," Ivory told him. "But that book will not help. The book is one for twisted spells and is so dangerous, any wielder trying to use it, including Xavier, will only become as corrupt and twisted as the book itself."

Razvan took her hand, loving her all the more for her support of him. "She is right, Mikhail. It is a work of evil. The blood sealing the book was the blood of the women he killed. In death he sealed it. And in death it would have to be reopened. Destroy it, though it will not be easy. Never let anyone touch it but you, and destroy it as soon as you can figure out how. You cannot risk the contamination."

"He would have put other safeguards on it as well," Ivory added.

"You are certain this is the best course with the book?" Mikhail asked. "If the book has information containing Xavier's spell to kill our children . . ."

"I know it is logical to think you might use the book to reverse it, but that book is nearly as great an enemy to you as Xavier himself. Should that book end up in the hands of one of my fallen brothers, you will know war such as you have never seen," Ivory said. "Destroy it." She sighed heavily. "It will not be an easy task, and one I suspect you will not be able to do alone. Look to Razvan's aunts. I know they still sleep, but when they awaken, put the matter before them."

"How do we reverse Xavier's spells if we cannot use the book?" Raven asked.

"Razvan will remember the high mage's spells and I will document them," Ivory replied. "In that way we can have a safe record. As long as Razvan lives and remembers, we can probably re-create the entire book without the corruption."

"You believe you can do this?" Raven asked. She pressed both hands protectively over her unborn child.

"I wish to have children some day," Ivory said, although, truthfully, she didn't believe she would survive the coming battle. "I will do this, no matter how long it takes."