"What is this?" Razvan looked over Ivory's shoulder, his body watched her work.

He had awakened that evening with the feeling of her fingers caressing his skin. The wonder of having Ivory in his life, in his bed, his soul merged with hers, was beyond anything he could ever have imagined. Their lovemaking had been gentle and tender and then turned ferocious and wild.

Hunting had been fun together. They had watched the rising moon burning across the snowcapped mountains, pouring silver across the midnight blue skies to spotlight the sparkling snow layered across the meadows and hanging in the trees. They flew through the sky together, high above the trees, wing tip to wing tip, the wind ruffling feathers, both caught up in the freedom of the owls soaring, wheeling and dipping, performing acrobatics just for fun because they could.

Somersaulting with her, talons linked, Razvan knew that everything he needed was here, in this one woman. She had saved him with her smile. With her inner beauty. Her soul. She had become his own personal miracle. He wasn't altogether certain the earth had healed him. She had. With the colors she had provided, bringing life to his world. With the joy she had restored, so that each moment meant something to him. She had replaced the shadows in his eyes, in his heart, with love. She had replaced the darkness in his soul with light.

He swallowed hard, his chin nuzzling her shoulder as he peered at the book she had open as she studied her books in her workroom. He could see she had written in the ancient text and he read the words to himself, frowning over them.

The mage walks forth as the Hell Gate closes Lightning strikes with his first order Energy spirals from his fingertips A spell does form upon his lips Tall and dark, handsomely slender His silver eyes burn like lighted embers A power, a presence one cannot explain A drawing feeling that will not leave the brain A longing, a yearning that burns like fire To be wanted and taken with heated desire The mage walks forth unfolding his arms His victim comes quietly, succumbed by his charms The embers of passion burst forth in flame As the mage draws heart's blood from deep within Consuming all, leaving no remains The victim languishes in untold pain The mage, having taken body and soul, Now turns from the broken to seek one who is whole The pattern is set, the ending the same The mage needs heart's blood to be whole and remain

Razvan's stomach lurched, and just like that his world spun away from him, collapsing into images of blood and screams and death. He dropped his arms and stepped back, turning away from her. "Why would you write such a vile thing? Why would you give him such honor as to set him down on paper and give him to history?"

Ivory turned at his low tone, caught his arm and stepped in front of him. His eyes were filled with horror. Nightmare memories. His were not the nightmares that evaporated because the mind played tricks, his were made of true memories that would last an eternity. She had inadvertently conjured up the images of his past.

"It is not to memorialize him. I have to hold his image when I work. The image I saw, so that I know him, so that I am never tricked as I work on his spells. He is evil. He will always be evil. He chose to be evil. And I have to keep my mind clear at all times. Razvan, I am sorry I hurt you with the image of him, but it is my protection."

He wrapped her braid around his fist but he remained silent, drawing in breath, matching the rhythm of his heart to hers.

"When I work with his spells, Razvan, it is dangerous. I cannot tell you how dangerous. You said you were not good with spells. Well, I am, but to be so, I have to form the words in my head, conjure up the images to go with them, and I cannot make any mistakes when I am working with his spells."

He took another deep breath, visibly fighting to get his control back. "I still do not understand."

She gestured around the room. "This is my fortress. Solid rock. He cannot come here. He cannot trace me through the solid rock, but if I make a mistake, if I forget for one moment who and what I am dealing with, then I make myself vulnerable."

He frowned. "Even here?"

"He is utterly evil. The first line says it all. 'The mage walks forth as the Hell Gate closes.' He is not entirely earthly. He has visited hell and returned, needing the blood of others to survive."

His frown deepened. "I lived with him for hundreds of years. He is evil, yes, but he is not a demon. He is mage."

She nodded. "Yes, he is mage. There is always a balance in the universe. Where there is good, there must also be evil. One can use the earth's natural elements to weave for good. It is done all the time for healing and other things our people need. One can also weave spells for evil, calling upon demons and bargaining with them."

"I know that he does that. I have seen foul creatures in his caverns, but I have never seen portals to another world or another realm that even a mage can walk through."

"No, I am certain he would not be foolish enough to allow anyone to know what happened. He wants to appear all-powerful to everyone-even to himself. He needs that illusion. As far as I can tell, as far back as when I attended his school, he was using apprentices to write spells and then he used those spells as the base for his own. He can no longer come up with new spells, I am certain of it. Each mage has a rhythm, a twist in how they cast and what they use, a signature, if you will. Xavier's spells cover a multitude of other mage's spells."

Razvan ran agitated hands over his face and then through his streaked hair. "What else have you learned by studying him?"

She ran her hand down his arm to soothe him. "I know it is disturbing to speak of him."

The feeling of her fingers on his skin shook him. As long as he lived, he would never get over the wonder that she had been chosen for him. "Your description fits him so well. I lived with him and thought I knew him better than anyone living, yet . . ." He gestured toward the book and her flowing, obviously offensive words. "Yet you managed to convey the very essence of him."

"I hope you are right, Razvan. I am staking both our lives on this." She took his hand and tugged until he followed her out of the room. They sank into the chairs in the memory room. "I have to know you are with me on this, Razvan. It will not be easy and I cannot have you hesitate when we confront him."

He leaned back in the chair and regarded her steadily. "You never have to worry that I would hesitate. We are in this together. It is my choice. I made it when you asked me to live. I knew then we would go after him."

She allowed herself a sigh of relief. She shouldn't have doubted him. He had the courage to be whatever she needed. He found no shame in following her lead. No hesitation in accepting their destiny. He was more of a man than any other she knew.

"You know what I think, Razvan? I believe Xavier has to find another body. He was not merely possessing you, leaving pieces behind in you to stay in control. I believe he was looking for a host body and a way to enter it, to claim it completely and make the body his own. He wanted to be Carpathian. You were born with Dragonseeker blood running in your veins, known to be one of the most powerful lineages, if not the most powerful. He coveted that bloodline. That is why he went after Rhiannon. And that is why he drank the blood of her children and grandchildren. He craves a body from the Dragonseeker bloodline."

"No Dragonseeker has ever turned." There was no pride in his voice. It was merely a statement. "I would not allow him to make me the first."

She smiled at him, her smile lifting him back from the shadowy place that he had dropped into. "No, you did not. And you saved all of us. No one will know what you did, but I know, Razvan. If he had acquired a Dragonseeker body as was his goal, there is no way to judge the harm he would have done."

He took her hand, played with her fingers, shaking his head a bit. "It is my stubbornness."

"It is your immeasurable courage," she corrected. "It is not as if anyone could have endured as you did."

He brought her fingers to his mouth and bit gently. "You will make me blush."

She doubted that. He had no ego. None. He simply accepted his life and lived in the moment, focusing his entire attention on what he was doing and giving his best to whatever task was at hand. She did a little blushing thinking of how he focused so completely on her when they made love. Nothing else was in his mind but giving her pleasure. It was an intoxicating, exhilarating experience, and one she was already addicted to. She lost herself in him so completely, and found herself wanting to give him that same complete focus.

"My entry in that diary is the formula with which we will defeat him."

Everything in him stilled. "We are going to bait a trap."

She kept her eyes steadily on his. "Yes, we are. He needs a body. And he needs heart's blood. Dragonseeker blood."

"You are going to ask me to put myself in his hands once again."

His voice was strictly neutral and his mind was firmly closed to hers. Her heart contracted. There was no expression. No condemnation. No judgment whatsoever. He merely waited her answer, his fingers still on hers. Sometimes, like now, his courage terrified her. His belief in her shocked her.

"You would put yourself into his hands if I asked you to, wouldn't you?" she said, her stomach knotting.


She shook her head. "I could not ever conceive of putting you anywhere near where that evil mage could get his hands on you."

For the first time he stirred and something crossed his face so swiftly she couldn't quite catch it, but it made her nervous. "Just what or who is the bait?"

"I now have Dragonseeker blood running in my veins. When I open them and leave tracks, he will be unable to resist. I am a woman and he will think me easily controlled."

He sat back in his chair, his lips drawn into a tight, implacable line. Tiny embers smoldered in the depths of his eyes, but again, he went silent-waiting.

"I have thought this through, Razvan," she hastily explained. "It is all there. He will come for me, darkly handsome, taking your form, using his mind to draw me to him. He will want to seduce me, and he will open his arms to bring me in close to him."


"You know I am right. This is the way."

"No." Razvan rose and called to the pack. "I am taking the wolves running. Would you care to join us?"

"We need to discuss this."

"There is no discussion. Are you coming?" He moved away from her with swift, long strides, snapping his fingers and calling to the pack.

Ivory stood for a long moment, unsure whether to be angry or happy that he would be so protective. No one had wanted to protect her, not since she was a young girl and her brothers and the De La Cruz family had surrounded her with love. Ten men doting on her had made her feel like a princess-a smothered one at times, but still a princess. Razvan had gone through so much with Xavier. He just needed to get used to the idea.

She was astonished when she saw him spread his arms as she did, and Blaez and Rikki leapt onto his back, merging into his skins as tattoos. For one moment she found herself a little upset. The pack had never been divided. They were her family.

"The pack is not divided," Razvan said. "We are a family."

He was back to his usual calm. Matter-of-fact. Or maybe he always had been. Even saying an adamant no to her, he had not raised his voice or sounded upset, just implacable.

She nodded in agreement. "Yes, we are. It is a good thing for both of us to carry the wolves. They will guard our backs."

He flashed a small, tentative grin, removing the years from his face until he looked almost boyish. "It is amazing to be so accepted by them."

She felt that peculiar wrenching in the vicinity of her heart that he often produced in her. His simple pleasure touched her. "Where are we going?"

"I want to go to the place where you found the soil for our bedchamber."

"The cave of gems."

He nodded. "The soil is pure, so we know that Xavier has not had a chance to spread his poison everywhere. I would like to find how far the infection has spread, how large of an area there actually is. I cannot believe this would be the only place. Once we know how to look, we can send word to other Carpathians to check their soil."

"You believe we can cleanse it?"

"I absolutely believe you can," he said.

She tried not to feel a ridiculous glow, but there it was, a silly ember that spread through her body like heat. It truly was frightening how she reacted to him. Embarrassed, she held her arms out and allowed the remainder of the pack to merge with her skin before scanning above them to ensure there was no way anyone could observe them leaving their lair.

They went out into the night, streaking fast through the dark, clear sky. Stars glittered high overhead, spreading a fantasy blanket over them, wrapping them in beauty that never failed to move Razvan. Ivory felt it through him. The wonder. The majesty. The miracle.

She had never looked at her surroundings that way, but with Razvan, she saw everything through new eyes. He felt as if he was sailing across the moon, sliding down a comet, playing hide-and-seek through the constellations. He raced through the scattered bits of vapor rising off the ribbon of a river and she experienced all of it with him. She had flown as an owl thousands of times, but never once had it been so fun or exhilarating.

The owls glided on silent wings over the snow-covered ground as they crossed above a meadow, the female moving into the lead, dropping low to gain the protection of the forest for as long as possible. They flew fast, banking sharply around the trees and through the branches, so soundless the rodents still scurried below, unaware of the danger above them.

They broke from the forest just as the floor dropped away to a valley running between two long mountain ranges, far from the ice caves of Xavier and miles away from the Carpathian village. The owls changed color to make it more difficult to be seen. Razvan went snowy white, while Ivory was darker white with a few dusky spots on her wings, indicating a female.

Let the owl guide your thoughts, Ivory cautioned. Anyone scanning might find one of us within the owl's body if we are not careful.

She had been careful every day of her life since the moment she had clawed her way out of the earth a century after the brutal attack on her. He didn't respond, although he wanted to. He found the warrior in her sexy. Instead he brushed her with warmth and then simply let go of his self, merging deeply within the owl so, should an enemy be seeking them, their adversary would never suspect anything but owls winging their way across the valley.

The moment he allowed the owl completely to the forefront, he was astonished at the bird's ability to hear and see. The thick white plumage, soft and dense, extended to his toes, covering and insulating his body. Soft fringe on the flight feathers muffled the sound, allowing him to soar ghostlike across the sky.

Ivory dropped low, skimming close to the ground now, and Razvan followed, enjoying every second of the silent flight, watching the wind ruffle his mate's feathers as she glided along mere feet above the ground, making them smaller targets. She suddenly rose sharply, wings beating powerfully to bring her high, up toward a peak and then plunging over the other side, talons outstretched as if hunting prey.

Just before they hit the ground, Ivory moved in his mind with a sharp command. Shift.

He landed on his feet, crouching low instinctively on a small outcropping nearly at the very base of the mountain. Ivory did another slow, careful scan of the area and Razvan followed suit.

"This place is sacred. I was directed here by Mother Earth, to this place of immense power. There are magic metals here, and gems for any occasion. The soil is rich and has never been used by any other than me."

He bowed low, a gesture of respect. "Thank you for bringing me."

"You are my lifemate." Ivory said it casually, but inside her stomach knotted.

This was her favorite place, just as his garden had been his. She wanted him to feel the same way about it as she did, to love the spectacular cave, the feel of the soil, to see the beauty of the gems and realize the richness of the metals. Most of all she wanted him to realize the honor they both had been given by their earth mother. No one had ever walked inside the cave before her, and no one would find it after her.

Ivory couldn't believe how nervous she was as she floated just above the stones covering the entrance. She wanted to leave no tracks, and disturbing the snow would do so. She made certain she took a detailed picture in her mind so everything could be arranged exactly as it was before they moved the twin stones opening into the long narrow tunnel that led to the caves beneath the ground.

Razvan realized what she was doing and immediately followed suit. He had a photographic memory. If she wanted the area pristine, he would make certain it was left that way when they were gone.

Ivory floated the two small rocks away to reveal a crawl space low to the ground. They both shifted into vapor and poured into the narrow opening. Ivory wove safeguards to hide the entrance while they were inside and then proceeded along the curving tube, following its direction down into the warmth of the earth. The crawl space was no wider than a small man's shoulders, but in their present form, they traveled fast.

The tunnel began to widen and the ceiling became high enough for them to stand, but Ivory, conscious of disturbing the natural balance of the ecosystem, remained as vapor until she got down into the cave itself. The cave was quite large and wide, terraced with many levels.

She left off her shoes when she shifted to her natural form, letting her feet sink into the rich soil just to absorb the feeling.

"Hurry, Razvan, like this. It is so wonderful-like heaven."

She flashed a quick smile his way, but Razvan could tell it was a bit tentative. That always moved him. His confident warrior always became a little nervous when she was having fun or being a woman. He stayed just inches from the soil with his bare feet. "I do not know about this, Ivory. I have been in heaven, you know."

She looked up with a small frown, realized his meaning from the look in his eyes and then she blushed. He loved that-the sweep of color moving up her neck and creeping under the porcelain of her skin when he teased her.

"Put your feet in the soil," she said, shaking her head at him.

He floated to just in front of her, keeping his feet hovering above the enticing richness of the dark loam. His body bumped against hers. "I cannot quite settle. I am new at this you know."

"You are always up to something when you give me your little-boy smile." The one that melted her entire body and left her weak and breathless and ready to do anything he wanted right there on the spot. In a kind of desperation, she gripped his arms and yanked him down. His body slid along the length of hers, sending a shiver of excitement spiraling through her.

Razvan's bare feet sank into the rich soil nearly up to his ankles. His fingers curled around her arms as they stood with only a breath between them. "Ivory!" Excitement shook him. "This is such a find."

Pleased, she shrugged. "It is not really my find. I was given the location by the earth when I was deep beneath the layers and fighting for my life. I crawled here. Inch by inch."

She swallowed the dark memories of those difficult days and leaned into him, unconsciously seeking the shelter of his heart. She hadn't realized until that moment how much she already relied on him. It both frightened and elated her that Razvan had become so important to her so quickly.

"I would crawl as far as I could when there was no moon to burn my skin," she explained. "In the first attempts to rise for a few hours and start the trek, even the smallest light hurt my skin. The pack would guard me and then I would sink beneath the soil and recover until I could manage to gather the courage and endurance to go farther."

His arm swept around her and he brushed kisses over the top of her head. She wasn't asking for sympathy, she simply was giving him the facts. Everything he was rebelled at the images of her crawling on her hands and knees, dragging herself over the rough terrain on her belly, using elbows and knees to propel herself forward. He hadn't been there to aid her and the thought of her enduring such agony without him to help her left him sick.

He traced the thin white lines segmenting her body, the one around her throat, the one over her upper arms and down the swell of her breast. He tipped up her chin, using two fingers, waiting until her lashes lifted and he was looking into her eyes. "I love you."

Her womb clenched. Her heart stilled. She could see it in his eyes. Feel the emotion surrounding her, swamping her, lifting her up. Her mouth opened, but nothing came out. He shook her with his love. His slow smile made her tremble and she veiled her eyes again as his mouth descended to take possession of hers. The earth trembled beneath their feet.

Ivory tangled her fingers with his as he lifted his head. "I want to show you something. This place is a treasure trove of gems, but more importantly, metals."

Razvan looked up at the terraced walls with the veins of silver and gold. Along the walls and scattered throughout the dark soil, he could see evidence of sparkling gems.

"Iron. Not from ore, but from a meteorite. It is in its purest form, straight from the skies, Razvan. The protection properties are tremendous. And lead is here as well. I have been experimenting with lead to aid in lengthening the endurance of my coating with protection spells. I can make our weapons of natural metals that do well with magic so we can easily transport them. The coating is essential when we fight vampires."

"Amazing," Razvan agreed. "This place is beyond important, Ivory."

"It was entrusted to me and I have to keep it safe."

"I agree." He crouched down even as he was looking around at the various properties she pointed out to him. Scooping up a handful of soil, he let it slide through his fingers. "This soil is not contaminated."

"Why would it be?" Ivory said. "Xavier has no idea it exists. No one does."

"The microbes are in the ground, Ivory. They do not stay in one place. They spread. That is what he sent them out to do, spread to far lands and contaminate. That, coupled with the fact that they are nearly impossible to destroy, is why Xavier used them. You can bet he sent his microbes across the sea to every continent. Xavier is a very thorough man."

"How do you know they are not here?"

"I lived in the ice caves in the middle of the experiments for more centuries than I care to remember. I feel them."

"Like Natalya said Lara does." She spun around to look at him. "But she is still mage; they believe she feels them because she is mage."

He shook his head. "No, she can hide her presence from them because she is mage. That is why they cannot convert her. She is the only one who can at this point."

"You are thinking that you can find a way to aid your daughter."

He nodded. "We can find a way," he emphasized. "I cannot do it without your help. She cannot be converted and lives a half-life in order to keep the unborn children alive. If we can find a way to rid the soil of the mutated microbes, she can be converted."

"Razvan . . ." Her voice was gentle. "It is most likely the microbes have not found their way in yet. It is probably only a matter of time. As I understand it, extremophiles can live under pretty much any condition, no matter how harsh. If there was a way to destroy them . . ."

"You said yourself, you can reverse what he did."

"Yes, but not destroy the ones already in the ground. I can stop them, but it will take time. Years even."

Ivory hated to disappoint him. He was looking at her as if the moon waxed and waned with her. She laid a hand on top of his head. "We will find a way to help her."

"It is here, Ivory. The answer is here," Razvan insisted. "In this cave. Life began in microbe form. There is something in this soil that protects against the invasion of the mutated microbes, I am certain of it."

She sank down beside him, feeling the healing earth move around her as if to cushion and blanket her with its warmth. Whenever she came to the cave she felt as if she'd come home. She'd spent a lot of time beneath the ground here, covered in the rich soil, absorbing the healing properties through her skin.

She scooped up a fistful of dirt and allowed it to run through her fingers like water, feeling the individual properties as the substance moved over her skin. Was it only her imagination because she wanted to do this for him so much, or did she really feel as if there was something different, an element in the soil she was missing?

"You said there is always a balance of good and evil, Ivory," Razvan reminded.

"Yes, but I deal with what is natural. Xavier twists what is natural into something evil. The microbes started out good, not evil, or at least neutral. They were not put on this earth to harm Carpathians. Xavier changed them for his own evil purposes. Had they been naturally poisonous, I would have no doubt that the cure would be close to them, as is always the case with nature. I can reverse his spell. I am certain I can, given the time to study it. But to find something to destroy what he has wrought . . ."

"It is here," Razvan insisted stubbornly. "I feel it."

She looked around her. She had utilized the precious metals and called the gems to her for her weapons and her warning system. She had used the soil for her bedchamber, painstakingly transporting it until she had a full basin. Occasionally she replenished the soil with new, fresh earth, although the healing properties had always remained as powerful as within the cave itself.

She believed in feelings. Ivory was very tuned to the earth after spending so many centuries deep within its rich beds of healing soil. If the metals and gems were the very veins and blood and bones of the earth, perhaps the organisms were her heart and soul.

Razvan had experienced the same connection to the earth. Mother Earth had accepted him, attached her veins to his and encased him in her gems and minerals to save his life. She flowed in his veins in the way she did Ivory's. Perhaps, with his newfound life, he was closer to the soil and could feel the minute differences in ways Ivory hadn't explored yet, but that still didn't make sense. She'd spent centuries in the earth, hooked to the ebb and flow of the earth's lifeblood and she couldn't detect what he thought he felt.

"Clear your mind of everything," Razvan suggested. "Sit like this." He lifted his left foot and placed it on his right thigh and tucked his right foot onto his left thigh.

Ivory sat facing him, assuming the position without question.

"Spine straight, relax your shoulders. That is right." He nodded his approval. "You want to make an oval with your hands, left hand on top of right, with your thumbs together and your middle joints of your middle fingers together. Let go of yourself. Similar to what you do in healing, but mind and body as one, and just let information flow into you. Take it in and let it out. Do not try to hold on to anything. Just be still. Breathe. Match the flow of my breath and then let yourself forget that, too."

Ivory did as he asked, giving herself up to the moment. To the cave. To the earth. It was not only the connection to the earth, she decided later, it was this-Razvan's stillness, his peace, the way he was one with everything around him-that allowed her to first feel the presence of the organism.

She drew in her breath and slowly lifted her palm, using her body like a divining rod. She slowly turned and found that she'd picked up the existence of the life-form in every direction, as if the soil was saturated with it.

"It is everywhere," she said, letting her breath out, a little shocked at the widespread dispersion. "I have to figure out what it is."

"Can we take a sample?"

"We have an entire basin full," Ivory reminded. "We sleep in it every day."

Razvan frowned and ran the soil through his fingers again. "I think we should take a new sample, to make certain it was not contaminated in any way by us."

"I always ask permission before I take anything from this cave," Ivory warned. "If the answer is no, we go with what we already have. The earth has been more than good to us and we cannot allow greed to creep into our hearts, not even for a good cause."

"The earth is a mother, Ivory, she saved us. She will want to save the children of her people," Razvan reasoned.

Ivory smiled. She loved the way Razvan had such faith. Where had it come from? He had been tortured by his own grandfather. His people had believed the worst of him, yet he still had faith in the goodness of the world.

Razvan caught her looking at him with that look on her face she reserved only for him. Tender. Loving. Proud. She probably didn't even know she had that particular look, but it made him soft inside whenever that expression crossed her face, no matter how fleeting. It was enough for him that she knew him and understood why he did the things he did. No one else had to know, only Ivory.

Ivory lifted her hands and closed her eyes, using a melodic voice to plead their case. She was startled when Razvan joined in, harmonizing in his deeper male voice.

Mother, oh Mother, we come to you for aid. Hear our children, hold them close, never let them fade. Mother, oh Mother, our children are dying Catch our tears, we plead with you, stop our crying. Listen to our plea, see what is in our hearts. Hold us together, don't let us fall apart. We ask for the life in the soil to bring strength to our young Heal their wounds, protect our special ones.

Around them the ground shimmered and the gems sparkled bright. Above their heads columns of stalactites hummed, vibrating with the tune of their harmony.

Ivory bowed her head in gratitude and Razvan slid his hand almost lovingly through the soil before they lifted their voices in thanks.

Mother, oh Mother, you are great indeed Your gift is so precious, we're humbled by thee.

Razvan scooped up handfuls of the precious material and, forming a silken pouch, poured it into the bag. "How much will you need?"

"Enough to conduct several experiments just in case it is not an easy answer." She couldn't keep the excitement from her voice. Usually there were no easy answers, but this time, they might have just gotten plain lucky. If there was a life-form that kept the mutated microbes at bay, or better yet, actually destroyed them, she should be able to find it fairly quickly. It wasn't as if she had a lot of combinations to choose from.

Razvan's fingers settled around her wrist and he pulled her to him. "You are a miracle to me, Ivory, whether you think so or not. This place"-he swept one arm in a circular motion, taking in the giant cave-"this may save my daughter. She has been through so much, and as always, you seem to be the key to my happiness. If I can ease her suffering and that of her lifemate, I will feel as if I at least partially redeemed myself."

"Xavier possessed you, Razvan," she reminded gently. "I shared your memories and saw what he did. The fault was not yours."

He shrugged and tucked stray tendrils of hair, which had pulled loose from her braid, behind her ear. "I should have been more careful in my wording of things. I grew up with a mage. I know that words carry power, yet I continued to make mistakes that cost those I loved dearly."

"You were fourteen years old the first time he took you, and you gave up your life so your sister would be safe. You were a child, Razvan," she said.

His smile was gentle. "You are so fierce in your defense of me, han ku kuulua sivamet-keeper of my heart, yet you should be called han ku meke piramet-defender."

"I am the keeper of your heart," she said, "and I will defend you to the death, Razvan. You are an extraordinary man and I am proud to be your lifemate." She ducked her head, embarrassed as always when she showed too much emotion. "We should go back to our home so we can study the soil and see if we truly have your answers."

He caught her chin and took a kiss. Just one. But he savored her, the taste and texture of her, savored the scent and feel of her. When he lifted his head he smiled. "Palafertiil-mate."

Just the way he said that single word made her weak inside. Soft. Tender. Sexy. She smiled back at him. "That I am."