Ivory woke knowing three days had passed and the sun had already sank from the sky. She was used to the way time passed so deep beneath the earth and the rhythms spoke to her, as she had become accustomed to them. It had been disorienting at first, which was when she'd come up with her prism system for bringing a small bit of light into her sanctuary. It rather shocked her that Razvan woke with her. The wolves would, of course, after so many years, but she had thought to go hunting alone and to give herself time to prepare for another in her lair.

She stared at his face, the lines etched there, the way his eyes seemed so compassionate and understanding. His life had been nothing but struggle and pain, yet he seemed, when she touched his mind, to be truly kind. Why then, did her hands tremble? Why did she feel as if butterflies had taken flight and were winging their way through her body whenever she looked at him? She had absolute confidence in her abilities as a warrior, but had no idea how to interact off the battlefield.

Razvan's expression softened when his eyes met hers and he smiled. Her heart jumped in response. His smile was sweet and made him look years younger. "Good evening. You certainly are beautiful to wake up to."

She wasn't. She knew she wasn't. She was in her true patchwork form-her body put together in pieces and a little mismatched here and there. She rubbed at one of the worst offending scars, the one dissecting her collarbone, and was shocked to find the ridge lessened. The healer had done more than heal her wounds. The scars would never disappear completely, but he had helped them to fade to thinner, flatter lines.

"I am not, you know." She could feel color rising under her skin.

It embarrassed her that she no longer knew the civilities. Once, long ago, she had run a warm, happy household. Somehow, seeing that sweet smile on Razvan's face brought bittersweet memories rushing back. There had been so much laughter and love in her house. How could her brothers have turned their backs on everything honorable and chosen to give up their souls? They hadn't suffered the way Razvan had suffered, and he had endured the centuries of torment, being branded a criminal, despised by all those around him, his body used for vile things. Yet, still, he kept his honor.

She had told herself that her brothers had been grief-stricken over her disappearance, but she knew better. Everyone experienced loss. All five of them had turned together-unheard of in Carpathian history. She knew them better than anyone else, and she knew that meant it had been a conscious decision, not one made from too many years of lack of emotion or killing friends who had become vampire. The decision hadn't been made because they were desolate from grief or had waited too long for lifemates. She knew their decision had been reasoned out together. They wanted power. They believed they were smarter, stronger and more deserving than anyone else. Her disappearance had been the excuse they needed to finalize something they had often discussed in the privacy of their home.

"You look so sad, Ivory."

She never thought to hide her expressions in her lair. She didn't hide her true form and now didn't know what to do or how to act. She gave a small shrug. "This is a little awkward."

"Only if you wish to make it that way. I will not intrude where I am not wanted."

Ivory shook her head. "No, do not feel that way, as if I would not want you here. I invited you. After all these centuries, I just am not certain how to act with company."

His smile widened, reached his eyes, warming them into soft velvet. "But then, I am your lifemate, not company. Act as you always have. I am here to learn from you."

That hurt, struck her in her belly like a knotted fist. He wasn't in her lair to be her lifemate in the way a man might claim a woman. She knew that. She wanted no part of that, yet she still felt slighted. It was the perverse reaction of a woman, not a warrior, and she was disappointed in herself. She had set the terms; he was merely abiding by them. She pushed at the fall of her heavy hair, more for an excuse to hide than because it was bothering her.

"I will get more at ease over time." It was all she could think to say.

Ivory watched the wolves as they gathered around him. In spite of his older appearance, he was a handsome man. Now that the earth had revived and rejuvenated him, his frame was filled out and muscular. His hair fell in a long wave nearly to the middle of his back. It was thick and dark, and she knew from three weeks of holding him and feeding him, running her fingers through that soft, thick fall, that many colors made up that heavy mane, not the least of which was gray.

Razvan, instead of towering over the pack and bullying his way into leadership, crouched down in the midst of the six wolves and allowed them to take their time pushing their noses into him and rubbing along his legs and back.

This is Razvan. My mate.

She included Razvan in the circle of communication, knowing when they went into battle together that leadership was essential. Raja had to accept him as her partner and therefore coleader of the pack. He would only do that if she named him mate.

Razvan glanced at her. Ivory willed herself not to blush. She tried to look as nonchalant as possible. Razvan seemed very large in the confines of the bedchamber. His masculine frame filled up the entire room. Every breath she took seemed to draw the scent of him into her lungs. Every breath he took made her ultra-aware of him, the way his heavy chest muscles moved beneath his thin, tight tee; the way his body looked in that brief moment before he'd donned that thin, tight tee.

Raja turned his head and looked at her, giving her an aloof glare, baring his teeth at Razvan. The Dragonseeker shrugged his shoulders.

"I know what it feels like to be displaced, old man," he soothed. "We will get along."

"Offer him your blood."

Razvan stood slowly, his eyes meeting Ivory's. "You feed them Carpathian blood?"

"You do not remember much of our first meeting."


She took a breath, let it out, and then made her confession. "Many years ago, so long now that I cannot remember when it all started, a wolf pack helped me. They found pieces of me and would have consumed them, but I was able to touch their minds, and instead they buried the pieces of me together. In return, I found their descendents and I made certain they thrived. I did not spend much time aboveground in those days. My body just could not handle it. But when I did, the wolves were all that kept me sane. They were my only companions and all I had to trust."

She spoke in a soft, clear voice, as if she was telling a tale she had heard about someone else, as if the horror of those endless years had not been hers to bear. He had his horror locked away in his mind, but somehow hers seemed so much worse.

Something frightening deep inside Razvan lifted its head and roared in rage. He had long ago buried any aggressive feelings. Too many years of captivity, of being unable to do anything about it had pushed rage and anger aside, and then, finally, his emotions had faded into oblivion, so that he forgot the intensity, the sheer strength of feelings.

"That was a terrible time for me. I couldn't be out of the ground for very long, but I went looking for my brothers. I needed them. I could barely function. My mind or my body." She ducked her head and her hair fell around her face, hiding her expression. Her voice remained as steady as ever. "It took me twenty-two years to locate the first of my brothers. I had a few run-ins with vampires along the way and inadvertently began building a reputation for slaying the undead. They began to hunt for me. I still had to spend most of my time in the ground in order to hold my body together."

"You do not have to tell me this if it distresses you," Razvan said.

Ivory shrugged her shoulders and tossed back her hair, her eyes steady. "It matters little now. It was a long time ago. Over the next fifty years I searched for my family, only to find that they had all turned. It felt very much like they had betrayed me."

Ivory felt the lump rising in her throat, threatening to choke her, threatening to humiliate her. She shrugged a second time. "I had the wolves. You understand? They were everything to me. They do not have a long life span in the wild and so each new litter of cubs, each renewal, was my only family. I needed them."

Razvan wanted to hold her, to offer her comfort, but when he took a step toward her, she moved away from him, back toward the other room as if she hadn't noticed. He followed her, moving through the pack of wolves, ignoring Raja's bared teeth as if the wolf was beneath his notice. He couldn't help but be intrigued by the story. He had no idea that wolves could carry Carpathian blood, and he doubted if anyone else had known it either.

"So these wolves are not the original pack," he prompted, watching as she picked up a comb and began running it through her hair. It was a soothing action, not one of necessity.

Ivory moved restlessly to her memorial wall. Her family wall. She touched Sergey's face, traced the beloved lines carved there. "No, several generations were born and died, but they were always with me. Eventually the vampires began trying to find my pack to kill them. They came to think the wolves protected me in some way. Believe it or not, the undead can be very superstitious, especially since they have an alliance with Xavier. He feeds them stories to make them believe he is stronger than they are."

Razvan watched the pads of her fingers move over her brother's face, stroke after stroke, the gentle, loving motion mesmerizing. He could only imagine someone loving him that much, missing him and wanting to save his soul the way he sensed she did her brothers'. He was dead to his own sister, much in the same way he knew Ivory had to have separated herself from her brothers now to keep her sanity, to keep from being overwhelmed by sorrow.

Feeling a driving need to hold her in his arms and comfort her, he did the only thing he could think to do that wouldn't earn him a blow. He stepped up behind her and held out his hand for the comb. "Let me."

There was silence. She held very still, her face turned toward her memory wall, her hand not moving, her breath not flowing. He could feel the faint trembling of her body. A wild creature held captive, unknowing whether or not to accept kindness. Very slowly, she held the comb back over her shoulder, not looking, not letting him see her face.

Razvan's fingers were gentle as he took the instrument from her and began a slow glide through her hair. "How did you come to have your present pack?"

Again there was a brief moment of silence while she tried to accustom herself to Razvan combing her long hair. She cleared her throat. "I still could spend little time aboveground. When I did, it was with the wolves or hunting. My pack had given birth to a new litter of pups. Six of them. Three male, three female. The entire pack was excited, and I more than any of them. The pack's good times were mine." This time her fingers traced the ancient Carpathian text. Siv pide kod. Pitaam mustaakad sielpesaambam . Love transcends evil. I hold your memories safe in my soul.

He realized the importance of that simple statement. She had no other contact, human or otherwise, that wasn't an enemy. The pack had virtually become her family and her friends, her very community and only confidants. She had seen the empty shell of her brother and needed the reassurance of her wall, her home, the words she had come to believe in. He felt the first stirrings of love for her, the beginning, and recognized he was stepping on a path he would not-could not-leave.

"Over the years, while living with the wolves, I realized a few had the ability to communicate with me telepathically. At the time the litter was born, the alpha male and female were both able to talk to me and I was not quite as lonely. I felt as if I had a family again."

She dropped her hand from the wall as if bracing herself. "One evening I rose and went in search of the pack. The vampires had gotten there before me. There was blood everywhere, fur and bones and carcasses strewn over the very meadow where they had done the same to me."

She pulled away from him, paced across the room. He could see her hands were shaking, but she put them behind her back as she turned and faced him. There was guilt and defiance mixed on her face. "I found the cubs in the den. All of them were dying. The vampires had inflicted wounds on them, but hadn't killed them outright, leaving them to suffer horribly before they died, or for other wild animals to finish them off."

She tilted her chin. "I saved them. I crawled into the den and I fed them my blood. I did not think beyond that moment. I just could not bear to lose everyone all over again. I had promised their ancestors that I would look out for them, but because they had aided me, the vampires destroyed the entire pack."

"It was not your fault."

"Perhaps not, but it felt as if it was my fault. I stayed in the den to protect them, burrowing beneath the ground during the daylight hours and staying with them during the nights. I had to give them blood and, at times, I had to take theirs as I couldn't hunt. Raja was the first to turn. I had no idea it was even possible, but I knew the ramifications. No wolf pack could be Carpathian and let loose on unsuspecting humans. They would be immortal, or nearly so as we are. The first was an accident, but the rest, although it broke a moral law, was done with great purpose."

She met his eyes, expecting condemnation. Razvan shook his head. "It seems all of us have chosen a path that perhaps has not always been the wise one. You. Me. The healer. Yet our paths have merged and become the same."

Ivory shook her head. "You are a very different type of man."

"Am I? Perhaps I have been away so long I never learned what a man was supposed to be." He gave her a lopsided half smile that stole her breath. She had never felt the strange girlish fluttering a mere smile from him seemed to generate, but the very feel surrounding him was one of peace and gentleness.

"I was not insulting you. I like that you are different." Maybe a little too much. She had a purpose-they both did-and it required full effort and attention. They didn't dare lose sight of their final objective, nor could she change the course she had set herself on.

His smile heated his eyes and changed the color to warm amber. She could get lost in his eyes if she let herself. Ivory squared her shoulders. "I made the decision to turn the pack based on my need to survive. They were all I had. I have tried to be responsible about it. They stay with me at all times, hunt with me and are given only my blood. They do not have litters, although Raja indicated that should I have a baby, they would be able to provide a pack for my child." Again she found herself blushing, her gaze dropping from his. "As I did not think that would ever be possible, I did not give the idea much heed."

"So all six have been with you . . ."

"Centuries. They live here in the lair, hunt with me and fight with me."

Razvan nodded. "And I have come along and disrupted the peace of the pack."

"It is always difficult integrating a new member, but not impossible. Raja must accept you." Again she looked at him, her gaze steady. "You are my lifemate, whether we claim each other or not."

He didn't point out to her that the male of their species alone had the ritual binding words imprinted upon him before birth. He had been born Carpathian and human, but the words were there, should he choose to bind them together, with or without her consent. He believed the binding was given to the male because his half of the soul was darkness without his lifemate. Once his aunts managed to turn him fully, he had known he must find his lifemate to alleviate the darkness spreading with the passing years. The driving instincts of the Carpathian male were in him, urging him to stake his claim, where the man who was driven to protect those he cared about refused to take a chance with her life.

"Tell me what you think will aid Raja in accepting me." Should the alpha welcome him, then the others would as well.

"I have shared my blood with you repeatedly and called you my mate. We will feed the pack together. You offer your blood to Raja first. If he does not take it, no one will be fed this day."

"Perhaps I could reason with him rather than punish." He had been tortured and deprived of food until he was starving. He could not do that to another living thing.

Ivory padded barefoot into the midst of the pack, scratching ears and rubbing fur, her fingers massaging necks with affectionate familiarity. "The pack leader respects strength."

"Fighting or punishing is not always strength," Razvan said. "Xavier was the cruelest man I have known. Warriors came and went from every species. He defeated them all. Every one of them, yet I will never respect him, nor will I be like him."

There was quiet determination in his voice. Ivory sighed. Razvan hadn't survived imprisonment and torture by being faint of heart. He was stubborn, unswerving and relentless. She had been in his Dragonseeker mind and knew just how unwavering he could be.

"Raja knows I respect you." She pinned the pack alpha with a steely gaze. "I am certain he will accept you." Because if the wolf didn't, she might have a few private words with him.

Raja snorted and then gave her a wolfish grin, his tongue lolling out of his mouth as if he might be laughing. Razvan smiled. With a casual tear of his teeth, he sliced open his wrist and offered it to the big male wolf without hesitation.

Ivory tensed. Raja leaned his head toward the welling blood and sniffed before giving a tentative lick. His mouth clamped on the wrist unexpectedly, teeth sinking deep.

She murmured the binding words softly in the ancient language.

No me elidaban, no me kalmaban-As we are in life we are in death.

Elid elided-Life to life.

Siel sieled-Soul to soul.

Me juttaak, me kureak-Life to life.

Me juttaak, me kureak-We are bound together as one.

Triumph swept through Razvan. He was part of something. He belonged. Ivory's acceptance of him was far more reluctant than the alpha wolf's. The wolf respected her mate. Had fought in battle with him, saw no hesitation and that he was quick to shield and protect Ivory. Ivory might accept Razvan as a warrior-at least one to train-but as her mate, that was something altogether different.

Razvan hid a smile as Ivory turned away from them, frowning a little as she fed the females. She kept her back to Razvan, shutting him out as she talked to the wolves, allowing him to reach for the mind of the wolves himself. He found Raja to be very intelligent, a strong strategist and capable leader. His second in command, Blaez, was a very serious wolf. He liked Blaez's personality very much. And then there was Farkas, the male the vampire had attacked and injured so severely. Farkas's body had been repaired in the healing soil, but craved rich Carpathian blood to complete the process.

Razvan staggered when Farkas finally licked across the wounds to seal them. He sank down beside the wolf. "You do this every night?"

She shook her head. "We are very careful not to rise every night. It is probably unnecessary after all these years, but without three consecutive nights in the soil, my body refused to function properly, so I still am cautious. In truth, I have not had problems in a long while, but I do not care to risk it."

Razvan's brows drew together. "What kinds of problems?"

Ivory sank to the floor beside him as the smallest female closed the laceration on her wrist. "Nothing big. Walking. Running. Coordination mainly. My muscles were cut into pieces and they need to be strengthened."

"You should have told the healer."

A faint, haughty look crept into her expression. "I have never needed the healer or anyone else to survive. If I have need of the soil, it is there for me." She shrugged. "Besides, it is better for us not to be out much. The less we leave, the less chance of a vampire or hunter stumbling across the lair. I have much work to do here. We go out for a hunt and run, and then we stay in a few days. It has worked out well for us. I will need to go out to feed for both of us. It will take a few hours as I have to travel a distance from our lair."

"Not without me."

"There is no need for both to go. Xavier is actively hunting you, using every resource at his disposal. You cannot leave traces for him to find you."

"Not without me," he repeated, his tone mild.

She narrowed her eyes. "That is so silly."

"So was refusing the healer's help, but you had your reasons. I have mine."

"You do not like anyone giving you blood," she guessed, shrewdly. "You are Carpathian. You need blood to survive."

"I am well aware of that."

His tone never changed. Reasonable. Pleasant. Gentle even. She gritted her teeth. Nothing seemed to get to him, and she had deliberately needled him, wanting to shake him out of his stubbornness.

"It is just smarter for me to go alone."

"Perhaps. But we go together."

Her teeth snapped together at that mild tone. "Are you always like this?"

"I do not know. I have not been around any other than Xavier. I did not upset the woman who gave birth to Lara as I am upsetting you. But, like me, she was a prisoner and neither of us could make our own decisions. I am able to make this decision, for ill or not. I go with you."

She stuck her chin out at him. "I am your lifemate. It is my right as well as my duty to provide for you."

"Are you willing to provide solace with your body as well?"

Her heart jumped. Leapt. Took flight right along with a million birds in the pit of her stomach. Even her womb reacted. Which was silly, because he never changed expression, not on his face and not with the tone of his voice. They could have been discussing the weather. "No." The word came out a whisper. Maybe even a question when she wanted to sound absolute and distant. There was just something about him that moved her, called to her, a nameless need, a hunger in his gentle eyes, that stark aloneness that drew her like a moth to flame.

"Then there is no need to provide anything else. We work together toward a common goal. We both wish to pool our vast wealth of knowledge in order to destroy Xavier."

He was right. She knew he was right. It was exactly what she wanted, yet hearing him say it aloud in that calm, matter-of-fact voice made her want to weep.

"You brought me here to learn what I have learned of Xavier and to show me the ways of a warrior. I accept those boundaries."

"Good." She stood up. "That is excellent. We need to go." Her body gave a subtle shift and she stood in front of him in absolute perfection, her clothes revealing her smooth, petal-soft skin.

"Why do you do that? Why not be seen as you truly are. You are beautiful, you know. The lines are your body's badges of courage. A warrior's true tribute. I have never seen anyone so beautiful."

She turned away from him, not wanting him to see how his words affected her. She hadn't been told she was beautiful since she was a young woman, centuries earlier. Why did the warmth in his voice bring heat to her body when he seemed so unaffected by her?

"I do not want the vampires to know they marked me. It is a psychological game I play. When I discovered they were superstitious, it gave me the idea and I have continued to make them believe nothing they do to me can harm me."

His smile was slow in coming, but when it did, she experienced a curious fluttering in the region of her stomach. She took a step backward and spun around. "If you insist on coming with me, I trust you will at least heed my warning to be cautious and leave no trail back to our lair. Xavier is going to send an army to retrieve you, everything he has in his arsenal."

"Which is considerable," Razvan agreed. "And he has your imprint now."

She stilled. Turned slowly. Her gaze locked with his. "What do you mean?" Her mouth went dry.

"You pushed him from my mind, my heart, my body and my very soul. To do that, you shared your light. He cannot fail to recognize you if you studied under him. He will work day and night to wreak vengeance. That is his way, and I will not allow him to succeed. Until he is destroyed, you have me as your bodyguard." His gentle tone was still low, black-velvet smooth, but implacable.

Her heart fluttered along with her stomach, a feminine reaction she abhorred, which probably made her more caustic than she normally would have been. "I am a warrior, and you know very little about battle. I hardly think you are going to be of much assistance in a fight. If anything you will probably be a complete hindrance."

He bowed slightly. "Perhaps that is so. But I will be a powerful bargaining chip."

She went white beneath her already fair skin and her breath hissed out in a long, slow exhale. "Do you think that I would trade my life for yours?"

"No." He didn't look in the least ruffled. "But I would." He gestured toward the thin crack winding upward through the thick walls of rock. "Hunger is beating at me. Let us hunt."

She held out her arms for the wolves to leap onto her, shifting into the form of tattoos.

"Why did you want them fed first when we go to hunt?" Razvan asked curiously.

"Never take a hungry wolf with you when you are trying to leave no tracks. They are allowed to hunt game only once every few days to keep them sharp, but I do not risk wolf tracks or tempting them with human blood. In this form, we leave no tracks, yet they can aid me should I need it."

"I would not mind a wolf tattoo of my own," Razvan said. "It makes for beautiful artwork, as well as having eyes to watch your back."

The admiration in his voice threw her and she bit down hard on her lip to keep herself focused. She didn't want to like him as a person, only to see him as another tool in her war against Xavier, but he charmed her in ways she hadn't expected.

She let her breath out in a little rush again. "You are a frustrating man, Dragonseeker."

"I suppose I am." There was no remorse, only amusement.

Ivory turned away from him before her sense of humor got the better of her. The thing about Razvan, she decided as she began to ascend through the inch-wide crack that zigzagged the way up through hundreds of feet of rock, was that there was an inner peace that radiated outward from him. Nothing seemed to disturb him. But then, how could it?

He had asked Gregori what more could be done to him than had already been done. He didn't fear death. There wasn't much in the way of torture, physical, emotional or mental, that Xavier hadn't subjected him to. He had learned long ago that he couldn't control others or events, only his own reaction to what happened. There was a hidden strength in Razvan, a well of it, deep and pure, that she saw and felt every time she was close to him. But there was also a gentleness she hadn't expected from a man honed in violence and blood.

She had always believed she would need a fierce warrior in order for her to be physically attracted to a male, but she found inner strength appealed to her more than fighting skills. His strength and gentleness tempted her as no other. She looked too long at his eyes, those ever-changing eyes that seemed soft and deep where she might lose herself if she didn't take care.

The night was clear and crisp, snow glistening on the ground, turning everything overly bright. Ice crystals hung from the trees and dazzled her eyes when she scanned the ground.

Be careful not to disturb the snow as you come through the crack. The slightest movement can displace the flakes, and that might lead an enemy to investigate closer.

Ivory touched his mind to see if he was irritated by her instructions. He seemed just the opposite, soaking up her advice and following it carefully. He made no move to take the lead, following her across the sky inland, toward the valley, away from the region where Carpathians dwelled, toward a small farming community at the base of the ice mountains.

You are in his territory. Razvan did not have to name the mage. There was no distrust in his voice, only a mild question.

He will send his armies wide in search of you, thinking you will flee far from him. He prides himself on his long reach and he will assume you will fear him too much to stay close. This will be safer at the moment.

You have studied him.

I went to his school for a short time, Ivory informed him. I loved the work and was good at it. Unfortunately, I also paid attention to him and realized he was not as he appeared to be. In those days, I was rather young and naive and did not know how to hide my thoughts and suspicions.

Razvan's warmth flooded her mind, making her aware that the cold of the night had pierced her, or perhaps it was thinking of the past.

You have learned well over the years. I have observed him at work on a daily basis. I watched the madness in him progress over the years until his mind was no longer functioning properly. There is no reason. He has become a megalomaniac, believing himself a superior being to all who walk the earth. He is particularly bitter with the immortality of the Carpathians and is always experimenting to find a way to destroy them.

A ribbon of icy water cut through the valley, meandering through several wide meadows used for pastures and winding in and out of groves of trees. Ivory followed the same path, staying high, not moving fast, but drifting along, taking note of all movement-the animals, smoke coming from chimneys, any humans-she took it all in and shared with Razvan.

There is always a pattern to movement, she instructed. Animals are important to watch, even the smallest of them. Mice will scurry into the underbrush at the first sign of danger. They see shadows from above. All prey animals do, and their instincts are good. You do not have to be connected to them to use them as a warning system.

Razvan stopped drinking in the sheer beauty of his surroundings and began to pay attention to the things she pointed out. Ivory was the consummate warrior. When she left the lair, everything was all business. All survival. He needed to learn, and she was willing to instruct him.

He scanned the uneven terrain, seeing with new eyes.

Nature is your friend, your ally. Trees tell stories. Look at the area to the south. Just below the mountain near the small farm tucked into the shadow.

The grimness in her voice alerted him to trouble, but he couldn't see anything but glistening snow and dazzling ice and a few bare limbs poking out of an otherwise snow-laden tree. A few tracks in the snow led from a small house to a barn and then around to the back where several smaller buildings housed animals, but he couldn't see anything that might have alarmed her.

What am I looking for?

Something sat in that tree watching the house. It was no owl. If you look closely at the tracks, someone walked out of the house out toward the barn and then around toward the shelter. The strides increased in length and depth, which means they began running. Whatever it is, it is still there. I feel the energy.

Razvan inspected the naked tree branches and then tried to open his mind to the energy fields surrounding him. Information flooded in. As they approached the small farm, the air lost its crisp, fresh scent and began to feel and smell foul. Vampire. His hissed the word.

Tell me what it feels like to you. Reach out very lightly. Let your mind expand to encompass his but do not enter his.

Razvan knew that if his touch was too heavy the vampire would feel his presence and be alerted. If his victim still lived, there would be no hope. The undead would kill and consume as much blood as possible to ready himself for an attack.

Vampires like their blood adrenaline-laced, Ivory explained. They terrify the victims on purpose and keep them alive as long as possible. The blood is like a drug to them and they need the high continually. Can you feel the chaos in his mind?

He could. The vampire's mind raced so fast it was like trying to board a runaway train. Even the sound was chaotic, as if the volume was turned up and down so that one moment noises roared and shrieked and then receded, only to start again.

He cannot keep the sound of the victim's heart under control. He is too excited. This one has recently turned. I doubt if he had time to have been recruited by the league of vampires or by Xavier. Usually at this stage they are left alone because they are too dangerous to approach. They cannot handle the highs they feel.

Ivory circled the house. Two children inside. The vampire knows it, although the man tries to hide the information. His woman is in the barn. She thinks to fight for her man. She has armed herself with garlic, crosses and holy water, but has no real weapon other than farm tools.

There was admiration in Ivory's voice. Razvan liked that about her. Her take on the world was very simplistic. A man and a woman fought together for their family, even against the worst kind of evil. Both knew they probably would die, but they hoped to take their attacker with them and give their children a chance to survive.

His first thought was to send Ivory to get the woman and her children to safety while he took on the vampire. He had no doubt that he could kill a vampire. He had a rudimentary knowledge of how to slay them, but she would have a better chance to save the farmer as well. He needed time to perfect his fighting skills, so he remained silent and left it to Ivory to tell him what she wanted to do.

I would not do what you told me to do anyway. There was a distinctly teasing note in Ivory's voice, although they both knew she was perfectly serious.

Deep inside, in spite of the gravity of the situation, Razvan found himself happy. Little moments like this, shared amusement, things he'd forgotten existed between people, made up joy in life. He'd forgotten that, and he bet Ivory had as well.

You are a bossy little thing, but I like that. I must be a little strange.

A little? She gave a snort and slipped into the barn through a crack in the window frame.

A woman frantically searched through several farming tools, dragging anything with a sharp blade out to a center pile. Tears ran down her face, but she worked fast, her breath coming in soft sobs.

"Shh," Ivory cautioned as she materialized to one side of the woman. "I am a Carpathian warrior come to aid you. Please put down your weapon and do exactly as I tell you. You will have to trust me."

Razvan instinctively stayed in the form of vapor, knowing his presence would only serve to frighten the woman further.

"With your help, I think we have a chance of saving your husband."

Ivory's voice was quiet and calm. She looked regal, a snow princess come out of the world of nature in her long silver wolf coat, so thick and luxurious falling to her ankles. Her hair cascaded in a long blue-black fall and her face looked serene and innocent. Her voice sounded like warm, melting honey. In contrast, she carried a lethal-looking crossbow and the belt at her hip was covered in weapons. But it was the double rows of tiny crosses embedded in her buckles that eased the woman's tensions.

The farmwife made the sign of the cross in the air. Ivory answered her with the same sign and the woman relaxed and tossed her curved scythe onto the pile of tools.