“The trouble is not really in being alone, it's being lonely. One can be lonely in the midst of a crowd, don't you think?”
“-She is like the wind, open and free. If I cage the wind, would it die?
-Then don't cage it, Mikhail. Trust it to stay beside you.”
“Someone needs to drag you kicking and screaming into this century.”
“You're the kind of man my mother warned me about.”
“-Mikhail?...Try making suggestions next time, or just plain asking. You go do whatever it is you're doing, and I'll go search you extensive library for a book on manners.
-You will not find it.
-Why am I not surprised?”
“I just want some time, Mikhail, to think things through. It’s frightening, the way I am about you. I think about you every minute; I want to touch you, just to know I can, to feel you beneath my fingers. It’s as if you crawled into my head and my heart, even my body, and I can’t get you out.”
“I'm putting up a great front, then because I feel like I'm breaking apart inside.”
“You are the leader here. Obviiusly your skills are far superior to mine. I don't think I could fit into your life. I'm a loner, not the first lady.”
“If you are a vampire, then a vampire is not the creature of the legends.”
“You know, my love, you are not responsible for my happiness, or even my health. I've had a choice every step of the way, from our very first meeting. I chose you. Clearly, in my heart and in my head, I chose you. If I had it to do all over again, even knowing what I would have to go through, I would choose you without hesitation.”
“Raven stared up at his face, drinking in the strong lines and the way he looked at her with something close to adoration. She smiled at him. “I think you’ve managed to put some kind of spell on me.”
“If I did,” he whispered, “it backfired, and I managed to ensnare myself as well.”
“Mikhail seated himself across the small table from her, his eyes drifting lazily, possessively, over her alluring curves. "Why do you dress in men's clothes?" he asked.
"She laughed, soft and melodious, and her eyes lit with mischief. "Because I knew it would annoy you."
He threw his head back and laughed.
-Mikhail & Raven”
“I need you with me, Raven. You chase away the shadows and lighten the terrible load that threatens to drown me.”
“Just those of us with sisters-in-laws who bounce off walls. I feel like I am watching a Ping-Pong ball. Settle down.”
“You know who I am, what is inside me. If distance separated us, you would still need to feel my hands on you, my mouth on yours, my body in yours, a part of yours.”
“Mikhail pushed a hand through his thick mane of hair. “Our people cannot do without you, Gregori, and quite simply, neither can I.”
“You are so certain that I will not turn?” Gregori’s smile was self-mocking. “Your faith in me exceeds my own. This vampire is ruthless, drunk on his own power. He craves the killing, the destruction. I walk the line of that madness every day. His power is nothing, a feather in the wind compared to mine. I have no heart, and my soul is dark. I do not want to wait until I cannot make my own choice. The one thing I do not want is to force you to seek me out to destroy me. My life has been my belief in you, in protecting you. I will not wait until I must be hunted.”
Mikhail waved a tired hand to open the earth above his brother. “You are our greatest healer, the greatest asset to our people.”
“That is why they whisper my name in fear and dread.”
Beneath their feet the ground suddenly shook, heaved and bucked, rolling perilously. The center of the earthquake was obviously a great distance away, but there was no mistaking the howl of rage produced by a powerful vampire at the destruction of his lair.
The undead had entered his lair confidently, until he found the body of the first wolf. Each turn or passage entrance was marked with one of his minions, until his entire pack lay dead at his feet. The burned bodies of his sentinels, the bats, lay in a mound of blackened ashes. Fear turned to terror. It would not be Mikhail, whose sense of justice and fair play would be his downfall, but the dark one. Gregori— the most feared of all Carpathians.
It had not occurred to the vampire that the dark one might take a hand in this game. Andre hurtled himself from the safety of his favorite lair just as the mountain heaved and the chamber walls collapsed in on themselves. Cracks widened in the narrow passageway, and the rock faces inched closer and closer together. The clap of granite grinding against granite nearly burst his eardrums.
A true vampire making numerous kills was far more susceptible to the sun, and to the terrible lethargy that claimed Carpathian bodies in the day. Andre had little time to find a safe hole. As he burst from the collapsing mountain, the sun hit his body, and he screamed with the agony of it. Dust and rock spewed from his home, and the echo of Gregori’s taunting laughter drifted down with the debris from the earthquake.
“No, Gregori.” There was amusement in Mikhail’s soft voice as he floated into the soothing arms of the earth. “That is a good example of why they whisper your name in fear and dread. No one understands your dark humor the way I do.”
“Distorted, clawed hands hung the bag of precious herbs around the thick, muscular neck of the wolf, and then the animal took off in a dead run, racing the climbing sun as it burned away the thick cloud covering. Fur began to smoke, and blisters rose beneath the thick pelt.
Thunder cracked unexpectedly. Thick black clouds, heavy with rain, blew across the sky, providing Mikhail with dense cover from the sun. The storm rolled in over the forest fast, with wild winds kicking up leaves and swaying branches. A bolt of lightning sizzled across the sky in a fiery whip of dancing light. The sky darkened to an ominous cauldron of boiling clouds. Mikhail bounded into the cave and raced along the narrow maze of passages toward the main chamber, shape-shifting as he ran.
Gregori’s cool silver gaze slid over him as Mikhail relinquished the herbs. “It is a wonder you have been able to tie your shoes without me all of these centuries.”
Mikhail sank down beside his brother, one hand over his burning eyes. “It is more of a wonder you have stayed alive with your ostentatious displays. Remind me to remove my impressionable brother from your disrespectful presence before your winning ways rub off on him.”
“Raven felt his power right down to her toes. Her body went boneless, liquid, aching. She was so close to him that she felt a part of him, surrounded by him, enveloped by him. "I'm not going to sleep with someone I don't know because I'm lonely."
He laughed softly, low and amused. "Is that what you think? That you would be sleeping with me because you are lonely?" His hand was at her throat again, stroking, caressing, heating her blood. "This is why you will make love with me. This." His mouth fastened on hers.
-Raven & Mikhail”
“Raven paced restlessly across the floor of the cabin, sending Jacques a little self-mocking smile. “I’m very good at waiting.”
“I can see that,” Jacques agreed dryly.
“Come on, Jacques”— Raven made the length of the room again, turned to face him—“ don’t you find this even a little bit nerve-racking?” He leaned lazily back in his chair, flashing a cocky grin.
“Being caged up with a beautiful lunatic, you mean?”
“Ha, ha, ha. Do all Carpathian males think they’re stand-up comedians?”
“Just those of us with sisters-in-law who bounce off walls. I feel like I am watching a Ping-Pong ball. Settle down.”
“Well, how long does something like this take? I thought he implied he’d be in and out of the hospital in two minutes, Jacques. What could have gone wrong? Mikhail was very upset.”
“Mikhail did not actually say anything went wrong, did he?” Jacques asked, blankly innocent.
Raven’s large blue-violet eyes settled on Jacques’s face thoughtfully. Jacques squirmed under her suspicious, steady gaze. There was far too much intelligence in her enormous eyes to suit him. He held up a placating hand. “Now, Raven.”
“Don’t you now-Raven me. That brother of yours, worm that he is, male chauvinist unequaled in modern times, told you something he didn’t tell me, didn’t he?”
Leaning back with studied casualness, Jacques tipped his chair to a precarious angle and raised an eyebrow. “Women have vivid imaginations. I think you have a suspicious nature due to your American upbringing.”
“Intellect, Jacques, not imagination,” she corrected sweetly. “My American upbringing made me incredibly intelligent, and believe me, I can spot one of your pathetic Carpathian plots to protect the helpless woman from information you consider would make her fragile little delicate self unnecessarily fearful.”
He grinned at her. “Carpathian males understand the fragile nature of women’s nerves. Women— especially American women— just cannot take the adversity that we men can.”
“I think I should have enjoyed meeting your mother. How a woman could manage to raise two domineering tyrants like you and Mikhail is beyond me.”
His dark eyes laughed at her. “But we are charismatic, sexy, handsome, and always right.”
Raven hooked her foot around his chair and sent him crashing to the floor. Hands on hips, she regarded him with a superior glint. “Carpathian men are vain, dear brother-in-law,” she proclaimed, “but not too bright.”
Jacques glared up at her with mock ferocity. “You have a mean streak in you, woman. Whatever happened to a soft, sweet, Yes, my lord, you’re always right?”
“Try the Dark Ages.”
“You see more than most people,” Mikhail said. “You are a great asset to me, Raven.”
She shook her head, sitting up as well, her long hair sliding over her breasts like a cape. “Not yet, but I hope to be. Send for Jacques. But go feed before you see him. You made me weak with your lovemaking, and if you’ll forgive a little crude Carpathian humor, I’ll expect you to bring me home dinner.”
Startled, he stared at her. For a long moment there was silence, and then they both burst out laughing.”
“You are my life, little one. We will ask Father Hummer to marry us in the way of your people.” His white teeth gleamed at her. His dark eyes were warm with contentment. “I will accept the marriage as binding, and you will erase the word divorce and all of its meanings from your memory. That will please me.” He grinned at her, male amusement taunting her.
Her fingertips traced the hard line of his jaw tenderly. “How do you manage to turn everything to your advantage?”
His hand found the bare skin of her satin-smooth thigh, reveling in all that warm heat. “I do not know the answer to that, little one. Perhaps it is sheer talent.”
“Mikhail stretched out on the bed, his head in her lap. “You are going to turn my well-ordered world upside down, are you not?”
She tunneled her fingers in his hair, enjoying the feel of its silky thickness against the bare skin of her hips and thighs. “I certainly intend to do my best.”
“If I had stayed human, how could you have remained with me as a lifemate?” She pushed her rounded bottom against the cradle of his hips, enjoying the sudden excitement as his body swelled and hardened in response to the pressure. She laid her head back on his shoulder.
“I would have chosen to grow old with you and die when you died.” His reply was husky, and one hand cupped the softness of her breast. Her hair was brushing his body like so much silk, sending darts of pleasure through him.
Raven lifted her head abruptly, swung around to face him, her blue eyes searching the mysterious depths of his eyes. “Do you mean that, Mikhail? You would have stayed with me as I grew older?”
He nodded, trailed his fingers down her cheek in a gentle caress. “I would have aged right along with you. When your breath ceased, so would mine.”
She shook her head. “How can I resist you, Mikhail, when you steal my heart?”
His grin turned her heart over, somersaulted her stomach. “You are not supposed to resist me, little one. I am your other half.”
“Mikhail sat up, letting her go so that he could push the sheet from her slender body. Her mind was blocking out every explanation, refusing to deal with the information he was giving her. Wanting to distract her, he bent to examine her abdomen, his fingers splaying possessively over her skin, touching each white scar gently. “Your wounds are nearly healed.”
She half sat, astonished. “That’s impossible.”
He lifted his hands out of the way to show her the long scars. Her eyes widened in disbelief. Mikhail’s eyes darkened and burned, brushed her bare breasts with heat. Raven’s small teeth tugged at her lower lip, and a red flush spread over her entire body. She clutched at the sheet and dragged it over her.
His white teeth gleamed at her in a predator’s smile, pure taunting male. He leaned close so that his mouth brushed across her ear as he spoke. His warm breath beckoned and enticed. “I have kissed every inch of your body. I have been in every secret corner of your mind.” His teeth skimmed her earlobe, sent a shiver along her spine. “I will admit, the blush suits you.”
“Think, my love. Visualize what I put in your head. Trust me as you have never trusted me before. Allow me to give you this gift. There was no hesitation on her part. With complete faith in him, Raven gave herself into his keeping, reaching eagerly for the vision. The slight discomfort, the strange disorientation as her physical body dissolved, did not faze her. Feathers shimmered, sprouted. Beside her, Jacques stepped back, allowing the smaller female owl to hop onto a tall stone angel before his own large frame compressed, reshaped. Together they launched themselves into the night and soared high to join the other four powerful birds circling above them. One of the males broke formation, circled the female, and dipped close to cover her body with one wide wingspan. Playfully she dropped low to slide away. The other males walled her in, curbing her antics as she learned the joys of free flying. The male owls stayed in close formation, the female in the center, circling above the forest, climbing high into the mist. For a space of time they dipped and swirled, clearly playing, soaring high, plunging toward earth, pulling up to fly through trees and over the heavy blanket of fog. After some time they settled into a leisurely flight, once more with the males protectively surrounding the female. Mikhail felt the night remove every vestige of tension and dissipate it to the four corners of the earth. He would take Raven far away from the village, give her plenty of time to learn Carpathian ways. She represented the future of their race, his future. She was his life, his joy, his reason for existing. She was his hold on all that was good in the world. He intended to see that her life was filled with nothing but happiness. Mikhail dropped lower to cover her feathered body with his, touching her mind, feeling her joy. Raven responded by filling his mind with love and warmth and a child’s wondrous laughter at the new sights and sounds and smells she was experiencing. She raced him across the sky, her laughter echoing in all their minds. She was their hope for the future.”
“Answering heat leapt into her eyes. Raven laughed softly. “You have it all, don’t you? Charm, you’re so sexy you should be locked up, and you have a smile men would kill for. Or women, however you want to look at it.”
He bent to kiss her, one hand closing over her breast possessively. “You need to mention what a great lover I am. Men need to hear these things.”
“Really?” She arched an eyebrow at him. “I don’t dare. You’re already as arrogant as I can stand.”
“You are crazy about me. I know. I read minds.” He suddenly grinned mischievously, like a little boy.”
“Shocked, Raven flung back her head to listen more intently. “The wolves are talking to you! How do I know that, Mikhail? How could I possibly know such a thing?”
He ruffled her hair lightly, affectionately. “You hang out with the wrong crowd.”
He was rewarded with a bubble of laughter. It tugged at his heart, left him open and vulnerable.
“What is this?” she teased. “Lord of the manor picks up seventies slang?”
He grinned at her boyishly, mischievously. “Maybe I am the one hanging out with the wrong crowd.”
“And maybe there’s hope for you yet.” She kissed his throat, his chin, the stubborn line of his blue-shadowed jaw.”
“His hand cupped her face, his thumb caressing the delicate line of her jaw. “Listen to me, Raven.” He brushed a kiss on the top of her silky head. “I know I do not deserve you. You think you are somehow less than what I am, but in truth, you are so far above me, I have no right even to reach for you.”
When she stirred as if to protest, Mikhail held her tighter. “No, little one, I know this is true. I see you clearly, whereas you do not have access to my thoughts and memories. I cannot give you up. I wish I was a stronger, better man so that I could do so, but I cannot. I can only promise you that I will do everything in my power to make you happy, to provide for you everything I can possibly give you. I ask for time to learn your ways, for room to make mistakes. If you need to hear words of love”— his mouth skimmed down the side of her face to find the corner of her mouth—“ then I can say them to you in all honesty. I never believed I would have a woman of my own, a true lifemate. I have never wanted a woman for my own.”
His kiss was infinitely tender, a searing, smoky flame tasting of love and longing. “You are in my heart to stay, Raven. I know better than you the differences between us. I ask only for a chance.”
“If I really wanted you to love me, I should have presented more of a challenge.” She burrowed deeper into a pillow. “My hair is a mess.”
Mikhail sat on the edge of the bed, took the mass of silk in his hands, and gently began to weave the thick strands into a long, loose braid, “If you presented much more of a challenge, little one, my heart would never be able to take it.” He sounded amused.”
“Just when he knew he would walk into the sun without hesitation, he had been sent an angel. A slow smile softened his mouth. His angel refused to do anything he told her. She responded far better when he thought to ask.”
“Luckily, I's learned at an early age that self-preservation was the only way to survive with your soul intact.”
“Cruel thoughts lead to cruel words, and hurt you as much as they hurt their target.”
“I’ve never read anything like this before. I’ve never read anything that could speak directly to my bones.”
“I stopped walking and wrapped my arms tightly around him. "You know I can hear your heart."
"Could you hear it breaking when I accused you of getting my cartoon pulled?" he asked.
I held my head back so I could look him directly in the eye. "I didn't pull it."
"You couldn't have," he replied, "because I did.”
“I remember thinking, sixth grade. We're going to be sixth graders. And Mr. Terupt is going to be my teacher. Our teacher. I thought of Mrs. William's word, MAGIC. I looked at Mr. Terupt sitting with some of my classmates. And I thought, she's right, there will be magic. He's my teacher. The Dollar-Word Man. Terupt (dollar word).
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