Ivory walked from the barn toward the stable, her head up, her eyes glowing a strange whiskey gold as she approached the building. From his position inside the stable, where he now waited for her, Razvan could see her advancing, each confident stride carrying her closer. She took his breath away. She definitely had an otherworldly quality, as if the legend of the Dark Slayer had come to life and moved with grace and elegance through the snow.

The vampire toying with his victim looked up as the horses, nervous and stamping in their stalls, suddenly quieted. Pigs stopped squealing. The stables went eerily silent.

Ivory flashed a small smile toward the vampire. "I do not recognize you, but I see you have no table manners. Perhaps you wish to taste something much richer." Deliberately, her eyes on the vampire, she set her teeth into her wrist.

Razvan noted the vampire immediately lost interest in the human, dropping him to the floor, where the farmer did his best to crawl away while the vampire was fixated on the sight of those small white teeth sinking into a delicate wrist. Two beads of blood welled up, ruby-red, dotting her smooth, petal-soft skin. The fragrance of her drifted to the vampire mixed with the tempting scent of Carpathian blood.

Razvan watched as the farmer crawled toward a broken board in the wall. Instead of creeping through the hole in the wall, he reached to try to pry loose the board for a weapon. Razvan materialized on the other side of the wall and leaned in, finger to his lips. Taking a cue from Ivory, he sketched the sign of the cross in the air between them, knowing neither a minion sent from Xavier nor a vampire would do such a thing. When the man's eyes cleared and he nodded slightly, Razvan beckoned to him to slide through the ragged hole. As the man crawled into the snow, Razvan took his place, donning the illusion of the farmer's body and clothes.

The vampire shuffled closer to Ivory. He bowed, smiling at her. As further evidence that he was recently turned, his teeth didn't have the spiked points, nor were they stained black. He still maintained his rugged good looks. "What are you doing wandering around alone without benefit of protection?"

Ivory smiled sweetly. "What makes you think I am alone? Or without protection?" Keeping her gaze locked with his, she licked at the blood drops, closing the wound and depriving him of the treat he was so looking forward to.

The vampire shook his head. "You have no protection, lady, or I would feel them near."

Ivory made an elegant, derisive sound that wiped the smile from the vampire's face. "You did not hear me. Why, then, would you think you could hear my lifemate? You were so busy toying with your food, you forgot the most basic of all lessons. It is no wonder that you will not survive this night."

She poured contempt into her voice, yet she sounded very much the lady. Soft-spoken, nonthreatening, delivering the reprimand from princess to peasant. Razvan's admiration for her grew. She mesmerized the vampire without doing anything but talking. The undead had all but forgotten about the lowly farmer. He didn't view the human as a threat at all. Instead, he concentrated his attention on Ivory, wanting her rich Carpathian blood, a treat for a vampire who had recently turned.

The vampire scowled at her. "You dare to reprimand me when you walk the night alone? What are you doing here?" His voice turned wily and what he perceived as suave. "And such a beautiful woman, too. I have need of a lifemate."

"Your youth is showing. So impetuous and wrong. Only those newly turned vampires still believe they can force women to become lifemates. Too bad you will not have the time to grow experienced." She tilted her head to one side and studied him, her gaze sweeping him up and down. "You are new enough that you still have your looks. Looks are wasted on the young."

Before he could reply her hand went to the loops on her holster and she flung six coated arrowheads into his chest in a straight line up and over his heart. Razvan rose to his feet and punched through the chest wall hard, the vampire blood burning over his arm and fist. He had so many scars that he barely felt the bite of the acid as he gripped the heart and began to extract it.

The vampire roared and slammed his head against Razvan's. He tried to dissolve, but the coated arrowheads prevented his chest from shifting to vapor. Raking at Razvan with talons, he tore the flesh from the heavy muscles covering Razvan's chest in an effort to dig through and get to his heart. Razvan yanked his arm back, using more strength than he had thought it would take. The heart was black, but still a normal size.

"Do not look at it. Incinerate it," Ivory said.

Razvan called down the lightning, careful to keep it from striking anything but the vampire and his heart. He bathed his arms and hands in the white-hot energy field. "Controlling the lightning is difficult. I almost missed and nearly hit you."

"I was prepared for it." She sighed and regarded him with worried eyes. "Hesitation can get you killed. You were on him fast enough, but you cannot count him dead until the heart is incinerated. You should have burned that first. A more experienced vampire would have repaired himself while you were still marveling at your work."

Razvan laughed aloud. Killing vampires was dirty work. The fetid breath and claws tearing into his chest and belly had been both frightening and exhilarating. He'd done it. He'd killed his first vampire. It hadn't been a perfect kill, but he had destroyed the undead and saved the farmer. It felt good to do something positive instead of waking up to find that his body had impregnated a woman, or delivered a poisonous blow to his sister or her lifemate. There was no way to tell Ivory how he was feeling, so he didn't try. He flashed her a smile and bowed.

"I will remember."

She was certain he would. He looked so happy standing in that bare, run-down stable with his clothes torn to shreds and his blood streaking his chest and arms and belly. She ran her worried gaze over him. Blood dripped steadily, but there was light in his eyes and in his mind. He made her feel humble with his simple pleasure in doing something she considered a job. He considered it good.

"Thank you for allowing me the experience. It is the only way I will learn to become an asset on our hunt."

Ivory shrugged, feigning indifference when everything feminine and nothing warrior about her was reacting to that look in his eyes. "It was your plan," she pointed out.

He flashed a half grin at her, shrugging modestly. "In the old days, before I realized Xavier was in my mind, I was good at planning battles. I kept myself sane, exploring his weaknesses, and everyone else's as well. The vampires. Carpathians. Even the Lycans. But one day I realized that whenever I discovered that Xavier had a weakness it suddenly would be found and shored up. I was aiding my own enemy."

She wanted to comfort him, to just wrap her arms around him and hold him close; instead she leaned down to casually pick up her arrowheads and place them in the small pouch at her side. Razvan wasn't asking for pity; he was stating a fact. But it struck like a blow, that boyish memory that had to hurt like hell. "You took the vampire down fairly easily. And that's what counts."

"I am grateful you let me practice on him. Thinking it through in one's head is not the same as actually experiencing it. Taking the heart was harder than I expected. I am strong, and yet you make it look easy when it is not. There must be a trick to it that I have not gotten yet. But I will. I do think I had an advantage in that I can barely feel the burn of the vampire's blood anymore."

To Ivory, it was heartrending that he thought the buildup of scar tissue from his vampire blood-coated chains was an asset. She wanted to weep for him. Instead she forced a casual response. "He was hardly worth messing up my fingernails." She waved her hand and the ashes blew from the rickety building. "Come here. Let me make certain there is no poison in the lacerations."

Razvan crossed to her side without hesitation. He caught her hand to examine her fingernails. "You are right. He was not worth messing them up. You have beautiful nails."

To her consternation he brought her fingertips to his mouth and kissed them. "You forget to warm yourself." He blew on her fingers and then drew them into the warmth of his mouth.

Her heart nearly stopped and then began to pound frantically. He was lethal at close range. That gentleness that was so much a part of him surrounded her, mesmerizing her as surely as her voice often captivated those within hearing distance. She took a breath and drew him deep into her lungs. She was tall and she could nearly look him square in the eye, but his shoulders were far wider than hers, even though she was wearing her thick fur coat.

She felt safe with him. Which was silly, and disturbing. She had learned never to trust anyone, yet she had let this man into her life. She didn't need him. She didn't want him. But standing so close to him confused her. Hunters had a certain energy surrounding them; everyone did. His was different. His energy was peaceful, absolutely peaceful. Almost serene. Breathing him in gave her strength in a way she'd never known before. He had a quiet acceptance over his fate, and the lack of need to control everything and everyone around him. In his own way, Razvan was enthralling, charming her without even trying.

Ivory swallowed hard and kept her gaze glued to the deep lacerations running up and down his chest. One particularly long scratch led down to his belly and disappeared into the band of his trousers. She laid her palm over one of the worst lacerations and closed her eyes, feeling for the poisonous brew that would signal parasites. Even though, after the first time, she knew the wounds were clean and merely welling blood, she continued to examine each individual injury.

She liked standing so close to him. The sense of serenity was an aphrodisiac in itself. She had heard of the practices in the Far East that had spread throughout the world, and to her this man embodied the very spirit of Zen. He felt calm. Even the simple pleasure he took in learning was without ego or rush.

Ivory leaned forward without conscious thought, her eyes half-closed, and slid her tongue over the long laceration, the healing agents in her saliva immediately removing the sting and closing the wound.

Razvan went still. "What are you doing?" His voice went hoarse.

Ivory noted the change in his breathing. He wasn't nearly as calm now as he'd been a moment ago, and there was something enormously satisfying in that. Her palm slid down to the next scratch and her mouth followed. Every muscle was defined, jumping beneath her touch, his body radiating heat, smelling of the outdoors on a spring night.

His breath left his body in a rush. She felt the ripple in his taut belly as her mouth skimmed down his chest, lower, following the path of the laceration.

"What are you doing?" he repeated.

"Healing you." Ivory's voice had gone husky-almost liquid-betraying her.

He let his breath out in a long, slow exhale. "Listen to me, Ivory." Razvan caught her wrists in his hands and held her away from him. His touch was gentle, incredibly so, but his grip was unbreakable without a fight. "My body betrayed me over and over. I do not even know how many times Xavier used my body to bring himself not only pleasure with other women, but to deliberately have a child with them so he could use the child's blood."

"I do not understand what you are saying to me." Her eyes met his. Held there.

"I am saying this is dangerous. You are my lifemate and everything in me demands I claim you. Once I weld us together it is for all time. I would not do that to you when it is so dangerous. You seemingly purged Xavier, but I was weak enough once that he managed to place not one but four pieces of himself into me. He used me for abhorrent, vile crimes. There are children in the world who suffered horribly because of my body. I do not know them. I would not recognize them if I saw them."

"You would," she denied, believing her words. "You would recognize them."

"The healer and the prince tentatively accepted me, but only because I was with you. You would live the life of an outcast should you join with me."

Ivory shook her head. "You are so noble, Razvan, always putting others before yourself, but in truth, you have not thought this all the way through." What was she saying? Ivory was appalled at herself, arguing with him as if she wanted him to claim her. When had her feminine nature become so perverse that she wanted him to want her, even though she would never accept his claim? What in the world had gotten into her? She must be far lonelier than she realized. She enjoyed her life. She had chosen her life. She licked her lips, tasting him. Craving him.

"I am sorry. I do not know what got into me." She turned away from him, but he didn't loosen his hold on her wrists, forcing her back to him.

"Do not do that. I would never reject the one person I want in my life. Though you have studied Xavier, you do not know how truly evil he is. If he knew you meant everything to me, that you are the reason I still live, then he would cease trying to find me and turn everything he has to acquiring you. I cannot allow that to happen. You are the one person I would trade my soul for. He cannot know that."

She strained away a second time and he pulled her back, forcing her gaze to meet his, his grip firm, but still as gentle as ever, disarming her.

"I would trade everything, even honor, for you. It is the one thing I have kept intact all these long years. I endured much for honor."

She nodded slowly. "Until I experienced the compulsion myself, I had no idea of the draw between lifemates."

He shook his head slowly, still holding her gaze. "It is more than the draw between lifemates-much more. I have been inside your head. I have studied your home and the drawings you so patiently carved into the rock. Everything about you appeals to me. Every moment in your company only makes those feelings stronger. Perhaps the pull between us is strong physically because we are lifemates, but the pull on my heart and soul is equally as strong."

She drew in her breath. "Thank you for that." She would hold his words to her. They were spoken in truth. She knew purity when she heard it. "We must feed before we return to our lair, and I should erase the memories of the farmer and his wife so they do not inadvertently speak of this and draw Xavier's attention."

"I touched his mind." Razvan brought up each of Ivory's hands and pressed his mouth to the sensitive skin on her inner wrists where he'd been holding her. "The farmer would have fought for you, knowing he was going to die. He is a good man."

"I liked his wife as well. I am glad we found them before it was too late. Very few vampires dare to enter into the territory protected by hunters. This is just outside the hunter's range. I come here often to check, and even here, probably because the vampires disappear when they come this way, this region stays fairly safe-at least until recently, since Xavier has expanded his territories."

Ivory stepped back away from him. She should have been shaken up by his rejection of her blatant advances, but instead, she felt comforted and... cared for. She hadn't felt that way in more than a century. She found herself smiling up at him. His answering smile was slow in coming, but it warmed her.

Ivory paused and allowed her senses to flare out to search the night for other hidden dangers. A fox was close, searching for stray chickens that might have missed the lockdown for the night. A few mice hid from an owl circling overhead. She touched the owl several times to make certain it wasn't something else in bird form, but it was diligently hunting for a meal and not at all interested in what was happening in the human world.

She could feel Razvan's light touch as he followed her lead. The thing that stood out was his absolute lack of ego, which made for an extremely weightless touch, nearly impossible to detect. He would be a huge asset to any hunt just for that alone, but if he could plan battles in the way that he said, the two of them would have an even better chance to stop Xavier.

She touched the few floating clouds last, careful to examine each one to make certain they were genuine. When she went to step from the stable, Razvan stopped her with a touch to her shoulder.

"You did not search below the earth. That is Xavier's realm and he sends every spy through the tunnels the worms dig for him. In a recent battle, he went himself, using my body, to try to murder my sister and the prince. Another time he tried to kill Shea, the sister-in-law of the prince and her unborn child. I would fear the ground more than any other method of travel."

"I can sense the passage of the worms."

"He sends spies in very small forms now. Scorpions and insects have become his allies. He uses others from another realm, such as the shadow warriors he has drawn against their wills from the ranks of the dead, but other much more demonic creatures as well."

"He has never used insects to spy."

"He has always used them, he just mutates them. You are looking for his mutations."

Ivory let her breath out while she processed the information. "That explains a few things. You do know a lot about him."

"I have been with him since my fourteenth year. I have been present for most of his experiments, if not all."

Her eyes widened and her heart jumped. "He allowed you to watch him as he cast and wrote his spells?"

He nodded. "My sister was always good with spells. I have never been good. Once he recognized that, he did not fear my presence."

"But you have a good memory."

"I remember everything down to the smallest detail. That is why I am gifted when it comes to planning battles." He wasn't bragging, he was merely stating a fact.

Excitement coursed through her. "I really want to get this straight. You were present when he conducted his experiments and cast his spells? For his mutations? To bring the shadow warriors under his command? All of it?"

"He likes to brag. He needs admiration. He needs someone to know he is smarter than the rest of the world. He has few students. I can identify the mages helping him. Most fear him too much to be anywhere near him, and they should. He has no loyalty toward anyone. If he needs blood or a body for an experiment and he cannot get anyone else, he will lure an assistant to his death. I was extremely handy to have around. I had Carpathian blood he could drain from me, and he could brag."

A small humorless smile curved his mouth. "For years I was able to disguise my blood and my abilities, until he took me over so completely. I paid for the indiscretion of besting him, as well as for trying to warn my daughter and sister. But it was worth it to know he was not entirely invincible."

"I cannot imagine your life, or how you stayed sane."

Razvan's smile softened into the real thing. "No more than you, hacked to pieces and left for the wolves. Only you would have found a way to persuade the wolves to aid you. Your voice is an amazing asset, but it is your will that intrigues me."

"Some would say I am too pushy and obstinate."

"Some do not know you."

Again her stomach did that fluttery thing she was coming to associate as a very feminine response to him. It didn't upset her quite so much now that he admitted he was more affected by her than she had known.

She turned her attention to the ground, this time paying attention to the smallest insect. There was life beneath the snow, hiding in the richness of the soil and beneath the boulders and roots. She didn't detect even a small hint of evil, but she remained silent, allowing Razvan to examine the ground. He had lived his life with Xavier, and knew every secret experiment, knew his habits. Her excitement at the prospect of working with him, of tapping into such a source of knowledge was growing.

She believed in her own abilities. She had studied Xavier's ways and she believed she could unravel his spells and build counterspells to reverse his evil experiments if she knew the exact spell. If Razvan had really been present and could remember the exact wording, they would have a real advantage.

"I think we are safe," Razvan said, "although that fox is hungry and may decide you look a fine, tasty treat."

"Are you saying I look like a chicken?"

"Well, your feathers seem to be a little ruffled."

She found herself laughing when she never laughed. Razvan was just plain fun. Maybe having someone to share life with made things fun. Whatever it was, she hoped she could hold on to it, even though the prospect was a little frightening, just because she'd never really had much to lose before.

She moved ahead of him, striding across the snow. Razvan followed a step or so behind, gliding to her left. She realized he was allowing the wolves to guard her back and he was taking up a position on her weakest side. Very few would discern that she had a weak side. She practiced all the time, using either hand to throw, shooting the crossbow with either hand and generally working to make both sides even, but she just wasn't quite as quick with the left. He had a good eye for assessing an enemy.

Or a partner.

They were getting used to sliding in and out of each other's minds. From a warrior's point of view, that was a huge asset; from a woman's maybe not as much.

"Why?" Razvan sounded genuinely curious.

She flicked him an under the lashes glance, assessing his expression, but as always he had that same mantle of calm surrounding him. "This is not easy for me. I have unexpected feelings that I have no idea how to cope with." The admission was truthful because she could do no less than be entirely candid with him. He was honest and she needed to meet his integrity with honor of her own.

His smile not only encompassed her, flooding her with warmth, but it made her feel like part of something else-something bigger than herself. "That makes two of us."

The farmer stepped out from his house and into the snow. There was blood on his arms, defense wounds, Ivory saw. His wife came out and stood slightly behind him. The farmer looked very nervous.

Ivory smiled at them to reassure them. "He is gone from this world and we will erase all evidence of his passing."

"You are hunters," the farmer greeted, his voice neutral, neither welcoming nor rejecting. "There have been persistent rumors. We have never encountered a creature so evil." His eyes skittered back and forth, indicating his nervousness.

Behind him, hidden mostly from their view, his wife shuddered. Ivory looked at the small dwelling. Strings of garlic hung in the window. A cross was carved into the door. The farmer's fingers drummed against his thigh over and over.

Razvan stepped up, a casual movement, but slightly in front of Ivory. He bowed slightly toward the farmer. Ivory could feel the stillness in him. His eyes moved over and around the cabin, continually scanning around them. He had been perfectly relaxed before, but now, he felt coiled and ready to strike.

Something is wrong. She kept her expression serene, but she went on alert.

I do not know what is wrong, Razvan mused. Something. Something is off. He paused.

Ivory opened her mind to encompass the farmer and his wife. As a rule, she could easily touch minds and do a quick read, but there were a few people resistant with barriers. A quick, light touch yielded nothing. The wife stayed slightly behind the husband, her face in the shadows. It would be peculiar and unlikely not to be able to read either of them, yet both minds were as if a clean slate.

Both? Razvan questioned. The insects. None are near the house. Yes, they are going about their business, but not even an ant is near the dwelling. He glanced toward the window of the little farmhouse. Inside, Ivory.

Ivory kept smiling, but her mind expanded further, reaching into the house to find the children. A boy and girl. Both terrified. Where was the threat coming from? Why hadn't either of them sensed it? Only a master... She broke off the thought, her heart thudding. She kept her eyes level with the farmer's. If she was right and a master vampire was in that room with the children, if the farmer realized she knew, so, then, would the vampire.

Only a master could keep his presence unknown, she explained. He would control both of them and the children, too, to keep them from betraying his presence. He must have been recruiting the newly turned. A master will often use a lesser vampire as a pawn.

Ivory steeled herself. It had to be Sergey. There wouldn't be more than one master in an area, not even related. They might have formed a coalition, but no master vampire's ego would allow him to be too long in the presence of another without serious infighting. She would have to face him again, unless she was lucky enough that he ran when he realized there were two hunters, not one.

She gripped her crossbow in preparation. What we have to do for a meal is ridiculous.

The fingers tapping on the farmer's thigh turned to a fist. He shuddered and reached for something positioned just out of sight behind a porch post.

The vampire has taken control of them. O kod belso-darkness take it. I do not want to have to kill a good man.

Razvan smiled at the farmer, but stepped back, forcing Ivory to do the same. Are you adept enough to take them back?

From a master vampire? Ivory hesitated. I do not know. Probably not. Even with two of us, Razvan, we might not defeat him. To hear the voice of a master, you must listen with more than your ears or they can enthrall you. Put your arm around me. Stay to my left side and stay free of the coat.

Razvan did as she asked without hesitation, sliding his arm around her waist while smiling amicably at the couple on the porch.

Ivory bowed slightly. "I hope that you both have a long and prosperous life."

He will expect us to attempt to erase their memories. As Ivory explained she took a step back, as if they were leaving. When I go to do it, he will most likely strike at me, at my mind. If you join with me, we will be far stronger and we will have a chance, but we might not live through this. Now is the time to walk away if you wish to fight another day.

But you will fight for these strangers. He made it a statement.

She was not going to allow Sergey to take any more from her than had already been taken. I have to. It was that simple. She no longer knew if she was driven by honor, but she could not walk away from these people and allow Sergey to murder their children and turn them both into the walking dead. I have to, but you do not.

Razvan flicked her one telling glance of reprimand. Tell me what you want me to do.

She allowed a small smile in her mind to warm him, her only offering of thanks when they could both lose their lives. Merge with me. He will strike hard and fast, hammering at me to get in, especially if I can manage to free the couple from him. You will have to hold.

Ivory turned to the couple, lifted her hands to the sky and chanted.

I call to air, earth, fire and water, I ask you to send me the voice of power. Deep within these darkened souls, Send forth my voice so that which is dark may be seen and unfold. Allow what was hidden to now be seen, So that I may cast out that which is unholy and unclean.

As Ivory chanted, Razvan felt the force of the vampire's attempted entry, battering at their shared minds. The blow nearly drove him to his knees, shattering all preconceived notions of power. The sky darkened and the ground shook. Pieces of the roof splintered off into large spears and hurtled down on them. The ground heaved upward, and scorpions poured out of the earth, blackening the snow, a moving carpet of lethal insects.

Razvan instinctively shoved Ivory away from him and took to the sky, going up and over the disintegrating porch roof. The rapidly gathering storm clouds burst, raining acid drops, so that everything the liquid dots hit sizzled and burned. Trees shrieked, the branches trembled, leaves and needles withering under the deadly assault.

Ivory spun away from the swarming insects, rushing the porch, yanking the man and woman up into her arms. The farmer dropped the pitchfork he'd grabbed, shocked that the vampire had controlled him. At least Ivory had managed to break them both free of the vampire's hold, but she felt it was due more to him orchestrating his attack then her strength pitted against his.

"My children," the woman sobbed.

Ivory tried to protect their skin as she carried them to the meager shelter of the trees. The acid rain poured down, burning through the wolf pelts so that the animals shifted and shrieked in pain. The woman screamed as drops sizzled over her arms, but Ivory, with a renewed burst of speed, moved them into the thicker canopy.

"Stay here. We will get the children free of him. My wolves will protect you."

She turned back to aid Razvan in the rescue of the children, streaming through the fiery burn of the rain while her skin burned to the bone.

Razvan streamed down the chimney, and into the tiny room. A boy of perhaps ten lay sprawled on the floor, blood smearing his mouth. The little girl, with a bone-white complexion and eyes too big for her little face, looked to be no more than five. The vampire laughed as he ripped at her neck, his teeth tearing into tender flesh.

The sight sickened Razvan, conjuring up too many memories, the feel of his own teeth tearing into childish skin. His stomach heaved. He had no experience fighting, but he had power and strength and determination beyond anything conceived of by the undead. It mattered not at all to him whether he lived or died, or how much suffering it took to extract the child. The vampire, on the other hand, wanted to live.

Razvan sped across the room like a human bullet, taking his human form at the last possible moment, slamming his fist deep into the wall of Sergey's chest while dragging the child out of his arms and tossing her toward her brother. She landed like a rag doll, broken and sprawled out across the sheep rug.

"Press your hand to the wound on her neck," Razvan snarled at the boy. "Press it hard."

Razvan stared into the vampire's hideous face, the stretched skin over the skull, the pitiless eyes, the jagged teeth stained with the fresh blood of the child. Sergey's lips peeled back in something between a snarl and a smirk. He bent his head and bit down savagely on Razvan's shoulder, the rows of teeth meeting through the muscle, ripping through sinew and bone, tearing at the flesh and devouring great gulps of precious blood. His hand clawed deep through the heavy muscled chest, burrowing relentlessly toward Razvan's heart

Razvan turned his head calmly to look at the boy as if he wasn't being eaten alive by the monstrous demon tearing at his flesh. "Take your sister and go to the silver wolf pack. They will take you to the next village. Ask for a man named Mikhail. He will heal your sister and protect both of you. Run, do not look back."

His voice never changed, never trembled or showed pain. His hand, inside Sergey's chest seeking the blackened heart, was met with razor-sharp intestines, twisting and pulling around his fist, biting deep into the skin, acid blood pouring over him like molten-hot lava, but he was every bit as relentless as Sergey, refusing to back away.

"I do not mind dying, han ku vie elidet-thief of life. What of you? Are you prepared for your final justice?"

The undead did not respond, and instead continued to rip and tear great chunks of flesh from Razvan's shoulder and neck. Ivory burst into the room, firing the crossbow, the first coated arrow hitting Sergey in his eye. She fired as she ran, hitting his throat as his head arched back. The third went into the open mouth, lodging in the throat. Sergey screamed, his voice so high-pitched the glass in the windows exploded. He jerked backward, taking Razvan with him, one arm shifting until it took on the shape of the beak of a hungry raptor.

As the beak clamped down around Razvan's arm, viciously slicing through flesh and bone, cutting it completely in two, the vampire hissed at him. "I will cut you in pieces and feed them to the wolves, and then I will devour those children."

Razvan staggered back. Blood sprayed across the room. Sergey gripped the stump of Razvan's forearm and yanked, drawing the fist from his chest and dropping it on the floor, kicking it away in disgust. The vampire jerked at the arrow in this throat and hurled it toward Razvan with tremendous force.

Razvan moved with blurring speed, his one hand shooting out to catch the metal shaft in midair, reverse it and slam it down hard on the top of the vampire's foot, driving the arrow through the top all the way to the floor.

We have to slow him down. He will go after the children just for spite.

"Get away from him!" Ivory warned.

"Too late," Sergey snarled.

Even as Ivory leapt to cross the distance between them, Sergey whirled, a long sword in his hand. He sliced across Razvan's shoulder and down his chest, carving more pieces. Razvan staggered and went down. Sergey slammed the blade toward his ankle. She met blade with blade, the force going up her arm and through her body as sparks flew and the sound rang in her ear. Razvan was eerily silent, but his hand gripped a knife of his own as he waited an opportunity to aid her.

Sergey laughed, the sound cruelly malicious. "I will chop him up, piece by piece, as they did you, and I will feed them to your own wolf pack. I might let you live, sister dear, just to see you weep for the loss of your lifemate. You must learn who is strong and who is weak. You are on the wrong side. Join me. Let us cut him up together and I might spare you."

Ivory's heart pounded. Her body jerked in response to the sight of her lifemate's body in pieces. There was a hole in his chest and his arm was in two pieces, slices through his shoulder and chest and one leg, his blood a terrible fountain, pouring over the floor.

Ivory knew that the vampire was the vilest of all creatures. The one before her no longer even resembled her brother, although he tried to keep up the illusion with the hope that it would cause her pain and make her hesitate, throwing off her aim. He had deliberately chosen to tear at a child's flesh and to hack Razvan into pieces, bringing forth some of their worst nightmarish memories to make the battle all the more difficult. She gripped her sword harder and stepped between her lifemate and the undead who had once been a beloved brother.

"Kill me, then. But I am taking you with me."