Dark Gold Chapter Eight


The sun sank into the sea with a brilliant explosion of colors. Then the fog unexpectedly rolled in, a white, eerie haze that hung low over rooftops and streets, inching through the dark alleys and parks, until it filled them completely. No wind came to move the veil, and cars had to crawl from block to block.

Midnight. Aidan clawed his way to the surface. Hungry. Ravenous. Eyes red-rimmed and glowing with fierce need. His insides twisted and rolled. Cells and tissues cried out, demanding nourishment.

The loud sound of hearts beating close by, calling, beckoning, nearly drove him mad. His face was pale, almost gray, his skin dry and lined, his mouth parched. Fangs dripped with anticipation, and long, razor-sharp nails tipped his fingers.

For a moment his eyes rested on the lifeless body lying so still beside him in the open earth. Alexandria. His lifemate. His very salvation. The one thing standing between him and the fate his kind dreaded. Because of her he would not turn, would not become vampire, the undead. She had freely given her life for his. She had sealed their fates as nothing else could have, irrevocably bound herself to him for all eternity. She had chosen life for him; therefore, she had chosen it for herself. It didn't matter to him that she wasn't aware, exactly, of what she was doing. It had been done.

She needed blood. Her situation was even more desperate than his. He could not wake her until he could feed her. Her body was depleted, and without nourishment to revive her, she could not remain alive more than a few scant moments.

He smelled blood. Warm and fresh. Beating, surging, ebbing and flowing like the timeless call of the ocean itself. The demon inside roared and raged, desperate for control, yet desperate to save his lifemate. Desperate to feed the gnawing, clawing hunger. A man. A woman. A child. Aidan pulled back from the brink of disaster just in time, controlling himself enough to make the necessary preparations.

Minutes later he sped through the narrow underground tunnel, a blur of speed so fast that even a mouse would not detect his presence. He exhibited no traces of blood or dirt. His clothes were elegant, his hair clean and secured in a thick ponytail at the nape of his neck. He traversed the stone passageway into the basement without mishap. As he placed his hand on the door leading to the kitchen, he detected the presence of the woman entering the room from another door. For a moment his heart accelerated in excitement, and saliva anticipated his repast, but he fought down the responses. With his forehead resting against the door, he concentrated on reaching the woman mentally, on removing her from harm's way.

Marie would find herself inexplicably in the front room, but it would save her from the haunting hunger growing with every step Aidan took. The moment she was at a safe distance from him, he glided through the kitchen and out into the garden.

Instantly the smells saturating the night air assaulted his senses, flooded him, told stories. Only feet away a rabbit crouched, frozen with fear, aware of the deadly predator hunting blood. Its heart thudded wildly. In the houses up the street he knew where each warm body was and what it was doing - sleeping, snacking, making love, fighting. A veil of fog surrounded him, cloaked him, became a part of him.

Three days and two nights he had lain in the ground healing. With a new infusion of blood, he would be stronger than ever. Hunger fought for control, and he snarled and launched himself into the sky, more dangerous than anything Thomas Ivan had ever conceived. He was hunting living, breathing, human prey, and those moving below him were at risk this night that for once he might not stop his feeding in time to spare their lives.

He was a dark shadow winging overhead, invisible to those below. Aidan intended Golden Gate Park, with its rolling landscape and groves of trees, to be his hunting ground. The fog lay heaviest there, waiting for him, covering his advance. He landed lightly, silent feet touching the ground even as the wings were folding.

Only a few yards away lurked a group of men, barely out of their teens, displaying their gang colors, waiting for their rivals, pumping themselves up for a fight. All were armed, a good two-thirds of them were jacked up on drugs, and they were passing around a bottle of cheap wine.

Aidan smelled their sweat, their pores steaming with the adrenaline and fear their loud, belligerent bluster was meant to hide. It was the sound and smell of the blood flowing in their veins and arteries that interested him. He concentrated on them one by one, finding the blood least affected by substance abuse.

Come to me. Come here quickly. You need to be here now. He sent the call easily, his hunger so strong he beckoned several of them. The rest of the group he merely instructed not to notice the absence of the others.

He seized the first man and sank his teeth deep, unable to control the compulsion to feed long enough to be gentle. He gulped the hot liquid, his starving cells soaking it up greedily. It rushed through his body like a fireball, pouring strength into his muscles. He was barely able to prevent himself from taking the last drop of blood and gaining the ultimate power. It was the thought of Alexandria that pulled him back from the brink of such sure ruin. She had freely given her life for his. He could not allow himself, his hunger and his predatory nature, to throw that precious gift away by killing and condemning his soul.

Aidan concentrated on his knowledge of her, the curve of her cheek, the length of her eyelashes. She had a smile as rich as honey. Her mouth was lush and hot, like silk warmed by the sun. He dropped his victim and dragged the next one to him.

The liquid of life poured into him, and he closed his eyes and thought of her. She had eyes like blue gems, stars in their centers. She was brave and compassionate. She would never drop her prey at her feet as he was doing. He caught the third man close, his hunger beginning to ease. He took more care this time.

A sound penetrated his feeding frenzy, and he knew the other gang was approaching, trying to make their way through the thick fog, their cars still too distant to alert those waiting in the park. He pushed away the third victim and reached for the fourth.

It really wasn't fair to allow this gang to fight with several of their men out of commission, he considered. Then a slow smile curved his mouth. Already Alexandria was getting to him. To him, people like these men were without honor, without a code, willing to hurt or brutally mow down even those uninvolved in their conflicts, even women and children. Those without honor had no place in Aidan's world. Yet under Alexandria's influence, he was considering intervening to allow this group of killers an equal chance in their ridiculous battle for power. Not that any of them knew what true power really was.

He dropped the fourth man and reached for the fifth. His hunger was appeased, his full strength restored, but this was for Alexandria. His white teeth glistened for a moment, poised over the exposed throat. The gray, bleak, and empty world was now filled with brilliant colors and exciting smells. Once again it held fascination and beauty. He allowed the knowledge to finally sink in. A true lifemate. Salvation at last. He could feel emotion. He would never be alone again. Never to be alone again. Centuries of emptiness gone in a moment. Alexandria.

With a little sigh that he had to follow a few more rules than he might like, he dropped the last man to the wet grass and sent out a call to the incoming gang. Waves of terror hit them as a group. They fell silent, looking from one to the other. Aidan found himself grinning. Maybe he had to be good, but that didn't mean he couldn't enjoy himself along the way.

The lead driver pulled his car over to the side of the road, dragging great gulps of air into his lungs. He was sweating profusely.

You are going to die tonight. All of you. The fog covers a monster. Death. It is calling.

Just to make his point, Aidan leapt into the sky, his body stretching, contorting, until he was a giant winged lizard with sharp, conspicuous teeth. His tail was long and thick with scales, and his eyes were ruby red. He came out of the fog, right at the line of showy cars, and breathed fire across their hoods.

Doors sprang open, and gang members burst out onto the street, shouts of terror echoing through the fog. Aidan laughed softly as he landed just to the right of the lead car, shape-shifting as he did so. His long muzzle shortened, fangs exploded, and his body compacted itself into lupine muscle and sinew. Fur rippled down his back and arms, emerging in a wave over his skin. He loped after the men, red eyes glowing.

"Wolf! Werewolf!" The scream caromed along the street, and a gun went off. It was impossible for anyone to see more than a scant foot in front of him, but to Aidan the air was perfectly clear, and he knew the exact location of his prey. He chased them for some distance, reveling in his ability to run so swiftly. There was joy in his heart. The joy he had felt some seven hundred years earlier. He was having fun.

"It was a dragon!" a harsh voice yelled as they all ran, their footsteps loud in the darkness.

He followed another voice. "This isn't real, man. Maybe we're having some kind of mass hallucination."

"Well, you stay and check it out then," someone called back. "I'm getting the hell out of here."

The wolf loped closer, scenting the human. The man was slowing down, certain none of this could be reality. The wolf leapt, covering a considerable distance in a single spring and catching the human by the seat of his pants. He got a mouthful of denim, and the man gave a high-pitched scream. Without looking back, he bolted to join his friends, his boots loud on the street as he escaped.

Aidan laughed out loud this time, the sound echoing eerily, carried on the thick bed of fog. He couldn't remember the last time he had had so much fun. The gang members were yelling back and forth, cries of fear. To even the odds a bit more, he concentrated on the cars, rolling them over, one by one, so that each car was sitting on its roof, the wheels spinning uselessly in the air. Then he did the same for the rival gang. They needed to rest in the park for a time anyway.

After assuring himself that neither gang had any fight left in them, he took to the air once more, this time racing back to Alexandria. He landed on the stone pathway in the garden outside the kitchen. A fish leapt in the pond, and the sound of splashing was loud in the night air. The wind was beginning to gently shift, slowly pushing its way through the fog. Tails of the white mist swirled lightly and drifted here and there like veils of lace. The effect was beautiful. It was all beautiful.

Aidan inhaled deeply and looked up at the sky. This wasn't his homeland, but it was his home. The vampire had been wrong about that. Aidan had grown to love San Francisco over the years. It was an interesting city with interesting people. True, he missed his own kind and the wildness of the Carpathian mountains and forests. He would give almost anything to touch the soil of his homeland. The ancient land of his people was forever in his heart, but this city had its own call, its diverse cultures melding and making for an incredible world to explore and enjoy.

Aidan used his keys to open the kitchen door. The house was quiet. Stefan and Marie were asleep in their room. Joshua slept fitfully, obviously uncomfortable at being so long separated from his sister, though Marie had allowed him to sleep in the little sitting room off their bedroom on the first floor. Stefan had kept his promise; the house was locked up tight, its iron grills shut over the windows to protect against invasion.

Aidan's safeguards were holding strong. Spells that were ancient and strong, known only to a few of the oldest of his people, were woven into the doors' intricate stained-glass windows. Gregori, the dark one, the most feared of the Carpathian hunters and their greatest healer, had taught him much - the safeguards, healing, even the ways to hunt the undead. Mikhail, their leader and Gregori's only friend, had agreed to send Aidan to the United States as a hunter once it was known the betrayers had begun to branch out and seek other worlds for use as their killing fields. Gregori trained few hunters; he was a loner and avoided others as a rule.

Julian, Aidan's twin brother, had tried to work with Gregori for a time, but he was too much like the dark one. A loner. He needed the highest peaks, the deepest forests. He needed to run with the wolf and soar with the eagles, just as Gregori had chosen to do. Theirs had not been the way of people, of cities, or even of their own kind.

Aidan moved through the spotless kitchen to the basement door. It suddenly occurred to him how good the kitchen always smelled, with its aromas of fresh-baked bread and spices. Marie, and her family before her, had always made his house a home. He had never really appreciated it before. Their loyalty had remained the wonder of his life, but he had never noticed the way they had made his heretofore bleak life bearable.

He breathed in the scent of his family. Warmth spread through his body, his heart. After centuries of a cold, barren existence, he wanted to fall to his knees in gratitude at the unexpected joy of family. He had never noticed the rustic efficiency of the basement before, either. It wasn't simply a musty, underground space but a bright, expansive room boasting Stefan's rich wood carvings and a well-organized array of tools. Work benches and tables were clean and orderly, garden tools gleamed with care, and to their left were countless bags of rich soil stacked carefully. Stefan. He owed the man so much.

Aidan himself had meticulously cut out the tunnel leading down to his hidden chamber after studying the rock forming the cliff and knowing that the secret chamber would be impossible to penetrate or detect so close to the large body of water. The undead might know he was sleeping close by, but they would never pinpoint his exact location.

Aidan had chosen the site of his home with care. As money was seldom an object when one lived for centuries, he had more than enough for several lifetimes. It was simply a matter of finding the right location and building to his specific needs. He wanted a few neighbors so that he blended in with his new society, but he needed space and privacy, grounds he could roam in and the freedom of the countryside in his own backyard. He needed the sea with its crashing waves and scents and mist that he could manipulate when necessary.

His property, overlooking the ocean on a bluff, was as close to perfect as he could find. He owned plenty of land around the house to use as a buffer between himself and the neighbors, yet there were other houses along the road. He had the privacy he needed if one of the betrayers found him and he had to fight without danger of someone coming upon them.

Setting up a new home in a new land had been one of the most difficult things he had ever done. But now, as he approached his sleeping chamber, that difficulty paled in comparison to what his brave Alexandria faced in her new life. She expected to die, even welcomed death, especially if it meant saving another - him. He had felt in her mind that she was not willing to prey on the human race for nourishment. She did not have a predatory nature or predatory instincts. And she feared she was vampire. No amount of explanation would overcome her distrust. Only time could do that, and he somehow had to buy himself enough of it with her to convince her that neither of them was vampire, neither of them a heartless killer. He needed the time to make her realize she belonged to him, with him, that they could never be apart.

He brought her out of the earth cradled in his arms. Stretching out on the bed, he motioned with one hand and closed the earth and trap door. She did not need to face the evidence of their unusual life all at once. She would awaken in a bed in a chamber. She would have enough to deal with without finding herself virtually buried in the earth itself.

He would have to work fast. The moment she was awake, he would have to seize her mind, before she became aware of what was happening and attempted to resist him. He did not want to start their relationship by forcing her to do something abhorrent to her; still, he had no choice but to replace her huge blood loss.

He took a breath, stroked back her hair, then opened his shirt.

Wake, piccola.

Wake and take what you need to live. Drink what I freely offer. Do as I command.

Beneath his hand her heart stuttered, laboring to awaken as he bade even without sufficient blood to sustain life. His fingernail sliced his chest, and he pressed her mouth to the steady red stream.

He held her mind firmly as her body slowly warmed, as her heart and lungs found a rhythm. With the infusion of his blood, so much more powerful than most, her strength returned quickly. Without warning, she fought him, abruptly becoming aware of what was happening to her. With a small sigh, he allowed her to prevail, deliberately loosening his hold.

She dragged herself away from him, falling onto the floor, trying to spit the blood from her mouth, trying desperately to hate the taste of the sweet, hot fluid building strength in her.

"How could you?" She crawled away from the bed, scrambled to her feet, and pressed herself against the wall, wiping at her mouth over and over. Her eyes were wild with horror.

Aidan was forced to close the wound on his chest. He moved slowly to reduce her fear. Very carefully he sat up. "Be calm, Alexandria. You did not yet take in enough nourishment to restore your strength."

"I can't believe you did this. I'm supposed to be dead. You promised to take care of Joshua. What have you done?" She was gasping for breath, the wall holding her up. Her legs felt like rubber. He had lied to her.

Lied.

"You chose life for me, Alexandria. And I cannot live without you. Our lives are bound together now. One cannot survive without the other." He spoke gently, making no move to go to her. She looked as if she might bolt at the slightest provocation.

"I chose to save your life. We both knew what that meant." She said it desperately, jamming a fist against her mouth to keep from screaming. She could not, would not, live like this.

"I knew what it meant, cara. You did not."

"You're a liar. How can I believe anything you say? You made me the same as you, and now you're forcing me to live on blood. I won't, Aidan. I don't care what you do to me, but I won't take someone's blood." She shuddered visibly and slid down the wall to the floor. She drew her knees up to her chest and rocked, trying to comfort herself.

Aidan took a breath, careful not to react too quickly to her words. She was totally withdrawing from him, her mind blocking him out. Or so she thought. He was familiar with her mind now, and he slowly entered, a slight shadow, ever watchful. "I have never lied to you, Alexandria. You decided that if you saved my life, you would be giving up your own." Deliberately his voice was velvet.

"You were afraid for Stefan."

"Why would I choose to allow Stefan to live and take your life? There is no sense in that. I did not trust myself to stop with Stefan. I had lost far too much blood, and my survival instincts were too strong. You were the only one safe."

He said it softly. His musical, hypnotic voice washed over her, seeping into her and tempering the horror of what she had become, easing a bit of the tension between them. "Why? Why would I be safe? Stefan has been your friend for years. You don't know me. Why would I be safe when he is not?"

"You are my lifemate. I could never harm you. For you I could control myself, and you I could replenish. I have told you this on more than one occasion, but you insist on ignoring the information."

"I don't understand any of this!" she blurted out. "I just know I want away from you. You're confusing me to the point that I don't know if you're putting thoughts into my head or if they're my own."

"You are not a prisoner, Alexandria, but the truth is, you need to remain close to me. There is no way you can protect yourself and Joshua without me."

"I'll leave the city. Evidently it's overrun with vampires anyway. Who would want to stay?" she asked, somewhere between bitterness and hysterical laughter.

"Where would you go? How would you live? Who would take care of Joshua in the daytime while you are forced to sleep?"

Alexandria clamped her hands over her ears in an attempt to block out his words. "Shut up, Aidan. I don't want to listen to you again." She lifted her chin, her sapphire eyes meeting his. Very slowly, unsteadily she pushed her way back up the wall.

He rose slowly, his movements mirroring hers. He looked so powerful, so invincible, she couldn't believe she was defying him. Hunger crawled inside her. The small amount of blood he had given her had merely whetted her appetite. Her starving body cried out, was insistent, impossible to ignore. Alexandria pressed a hand to her mouth. She was evil; he was evil. Neither of them should be alive.

That is not true, Alexandria, not true at all.

He glided slowly toward her, silent, unpredictable, his voice so velvet soft, so very persuasive. She rubbed her forehead. "God, you're in my head. Do you really think I'm going to believe it's normal to talk to one another in our minds? That you always know what I'm thinking?"

"It is normal for Carpathians. You are not a vampire, cara. You are a Carpathian. And you are my lifemate."

"Stop it! Don't say it anymore!" Alexandria admonished.

"I will keep saying it until you understand the difference."

"I understand you made me like this. And that I'm not supposed to be alive. And no one is supposed to live for centuries. And no one is supposed to kill others to survive."

"Animals do it all the time, piccola. And humans kill animals to eat. But in any case, we do not kill when we feed, as vampires often do. It is forbidden, and the act itself taints the blood, destroys the soul," he said patiently. "There is no need to fear your new life."

"I don't have a life." Watching his every move, she inched toward the door. "You took my life away from me."

He was several feet from the heavy stone entrance, she only inches. But even as she jerked it open, his hand was already stopping her. His body, so much larger, so much stronger, was blocking her way to freedom.

Alexandria went still. "I thought I wasn't a prisoner."

"Why do you resist my aid? If you leave this chamber with your hunger as it is, your distress will increase."

Aidan wasn't touching her, but she could feel his heat. Her body seemed to reach for his. Even her mind sought his touch. Horrified, she pushed at him. "Get away from me. I'm going to sit with Joshua for a while. I need to think, and I don't want you around. If I'm not your prisoner, then get away from me."

"You cannot go near the boy looking as you do. You are covered in dirt and smeared with my blood."

"Where's your shower?"

He hesitated, then decided against mentioning she wouldn't need one if she didn't want one. Let her be as human as she needed to be. It cost him nothing. "You may as well use your private bathroom on the second floor. Your clothes are in your room, and everyone is asleep. You will not be disturbed there." He stepped back and gestured toward the passageway.

Alexandria ran through the tunnel and burst into the basement. She had to leave this place. What was she going to do with Joshua? Aidan was dragging her further and further into his world. A world of madness, of insanity. She had to leave.

She had never been on the second floor, but she was so distraught, she scarcely noticed the ornate banister, the plush carpets, the elegance of each room. Marie had done the best she could to place Alexandria's things around, to make her feel more like this was her home. Alexandria peeled off her filthy clothing and stepped into the large glass-doored shower. It was immaculate, as if no one had ever used it.

She turned on the water as hot as she could stand it and turned up her face to the flow, trying not to give in to hysteria. She was not a vampire, not a killer. She didn't belong in this house. Joshua certainly didn't belong here. She closed her eyes. What was she going to do? Where could they go? Slowly she threaded her fingers through her thick braid, loosening the weave so she could wash her hair. Long and fast-growing, it fell past her hips as she massaged the shampoo into her scalp. What was she going to do? She had no idea, and none seemed forthcoming.

Hunger was ever present, gnawing at her until her mind seemed consumed with it. She could taste the spice of Aidan's blood on her tongue. Her mouth watered, and her body cried out for more. Tears mingled with the water pouring over her face. She couldn't pretend this wasn't happening. Worst of all, she could barely tolerate being apart from Aidan. She could feel her mind, of its own accord, reaching for him. Her heart was heavy, almost grief-stricken, away from him. She could not stop thinking about him.

"I hate you, what you've done to me," she whispered aloud, hoping he was listening to her mind.

She dressed slowly, choosing her clothes carefully. Her favorite pair of jeans, worn and faded with two rips in them. She loved the feel of them against her skin. They were so normal, so much a part of her everyday life. Her favorite ivory lace cardigan, with the little pearl buttons that always made her feel feminine.

As she unwrapped the towel from her hair, she looked at herself in the mirror for the first time. She was slightly shocked there was even a reflection. She had a hysterical impulse to call Thomas Ivan and tell him he needed to rethink some of his ideas for his silly vampire games. He didn't seem quite so brilliant anymore. Still, she looked fragile, pale, her eyes too large for her face. She touched her neck. There was smooth, satin skin, no scars, no faded wounds. Lifting her hands in wonder, she studied her long fingernails. She had never been able to grow long nails. Her fingers clenched into fists.

She could not stay in this place. She needed to figure out how to get Joshua to safety. On bare feet she padded down the hallway. There was no need to turn on lights; she could see quite clearly in the darkness. Once again her mind was tuning itself to Aidan's, and she forced it away, out of danger. She didn't want him to know what she was thinking or feeling. She didn't want to acknowledge that she was any different from any other human being. Very slowly she walked down the stairs.

She knew exactly where Joshua was. Unerringly she found her way to the room where he was sleeping. She stood in the doorway and simply watched him, her heart aching for both of them. He looked so small and vulnerable. His bright hair was a curly halo on his pillow. She could hear his soft breathing.

Alexandria approached the bed slowly, misty tears blurring her vision. Joshua had lost so much. She had been a poor substitute for their parents. Not that she hadn't tried, but she had never managed to get Joshua out of the worst neighborhood in the city. It seemed a terrible irony that now, at last, he was in a mansion, surrounded by everything money could buy and going to one of the most prestigious schools around, and the man who had made it all possible was a vampire.

She sat on the goose down quilt and smoothed a palm over its thickness. What was she going to do? The burning question. The only question. Could she take Joshua and run? Would Aidan let her go? She knew, somewhere deep inside herself, that he had allowed her to pull away from him when he was forcing her to feed. He was far more powerful than she could conceive, and he was concealing the full extent of it from her.

She let her breath escape slowly. She had no relatives to take Joshua to. There was no one to help her. Nowhere to run. She leaned close to kiss the top of his head. At once she became aware of the ebb and flow of his blood. She could hear it as it throbbed through veins bubbling with life. She became fascinated by the pulse beating in his neck. She could smell the fresh blood, and her mouth watered with need. She inhaled deeply, her cheek brushing Joshua's neck.

Alexandria felt the incisors then, sharp and ready against her tongue. Horrified, she sprang away from the bed, away from the sleeping child. That she reached the door in a single leap barely registered. With one hand clamped tightly over her mouth, she fled down the hall and through the house, jerked open the front door, and ran into the dark night, where she belonged.

She ran as fast and as far as she could, each step draining the strength from her, sobs tearing at her chest. The fog was now no more than a thin mist, stars scattered across the sky in their timeless pattern. When her adrenaline was spent, Alexandria sank onto the ground beside a wrought-iron fence.

She was so evil. What had she been thinking? That she could just take her brother away and everything would be as it was before? Joshua would never be safe from her. Aidan might have told the truth about Stefan after all. Hunger clawed and bit at her until her very skin crawled with need. Her fingers found the solid weight of an iron bar, and she wildly considered stabbing herself through the heart with it. She pulled at it experimentally, but it was embedded solidly in concrete. Weak from lack of blood, she could never remove it by herself.

Biting her lip hard to stabilize herself, she considered her options. She would never endanger Joshua. There was no way she could ever return to that house. She could only pray that Marie and Stefan would grow to love Joshua half as much as she did and protect him from the insanity of Aidan's life. She had no desire to hurt any human being. And that left her only one option. She would stay here until the sun came up and hope the light would destroy her.

"Not a chance, Alexandria." Aidan's tall, muscular frame appeared out of the mist. "That is not going to happen." His face was a mask of implacable resolve. "You are so willing to die, but you are not willing to learn to live."

She gripped the fence until her knuckles turned white. "Get away from me. I have the right to do whatever I want with my life. It's called free will, although I'm sure the concept's beyond your understanding."

In a lazy display of rippling muscles, he stretched to his full height. A certain elegance clung to him like a second skin. "Now you are trying to provoke me."

"I swear, if you keep using that calm, cool, Alexandria, you-are-hysterical tone on me, I will not be responsible for what I do." She kept her fingers tightly around the bar in case he tried to force her to go with him.

Aidan laughed softly, without humor. It was a masculine, mocking taunt that sent a shiver down her spine. "Do not try me too far, piccola. I will not allow you to meet the dawn. There will be no discussion on this matter. You will learn to live as you should."

"Your arrogance astonishes me. I will not, under any circumstances, go back to that house. You don't know what I almost did."

"There is no such thing as secrets between us. You smelled Joshua's blood, and your body reacted normally. You are hungry. More than hungry, you are starved and in need. Naturally you reacted to the proximity of nourishment. But you would never have touched him. You would never harm your brother."

"You can't know that." She didn't know it. How could he? She rocked back and forth in agitation, lowering her head to her knees to hide her shame. "It wasn't the first time. It's happened twice now."

"I know everything about you. I am in your mind, your thoughts. I can feel your emotions. The hunger you experienced was natural. You cannot neglect the demands of your body. But Alexandria, you could not harm a child. Any child, let alone Joshua. It is not in your nature."

"I wish I could believe you."

She sounded so forlorn, it nearly broke his heart. He hated this, the terrible burden of confusion and misinformation she carried. She had mixed the myths and legends of vampires, her horrifying encounter with the real thing, and his powers all together.

His fingers were gentle beneath her chin. He tilted her head up so that her eyes were held captive by his. "I cannot lie to you, cara, for you can touch my thoughts at will. Merge your mind fully with mine, and know I speak the truth. There is no danger to Joshua. I am part wild animal, a hunter, a very efficient killing machine, I believe were your thoughts. And that is true of me at times. But that is not the case with you. A male Carpathian is responsible for the protection, the health, and the happiness of his lifemate. I am the darkness to your light. You have compassion and goodness in you. You are Carpathian now, but as with all Carpathian women, your true nature is one of gentleness. There is no danger to Joshua."

She wanted to believe him. There was something in the purity of his voice, in the directness of his steady gaze, that nearly convinced her. More than anything in her life, she wanted to believe him now. "I can't take the chance," she said sadly.

"And I refuse to lose you." He bent down, pried her fingers from the fence, and lifted her easily into his arms. "Why will you not allow me to help you? I know this is all a shock, but listen to your heart, your mind. Why did you choose to save me if you thought me evil?"

"I don't know. I don't know anything anymore, except that I want Joshua safe."

"And I want you safe."

"I can't bear to be close to him and have such strong feelings of hunger like I had. It was awful, thinking of blood, looking at his pulse." She pressed a hand to her stomach. "It made me sick. And it scared me, made me so afraid for him."

His mouth touched her hair in the lightest of caresses. "Allow me to help you, Alexandria. I am your lifemate. It is my right as well as my responsibility."

"I don't know what that means."

He could feel the resistance draining out of her. She looked up at him hopelessly. There was no trust in the depths of her eyes, only a terrible sorrow. She couldn't fight his strength or his implacable resolve.

"Allow me to show you," he said softly, his voice low and intense, a black velvet seduction.
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