|Home > Christine Feehan > Dark Series > Dark Blood (Chapter 8)|
|Dark Blood(Dark #26) by Christine Feehan|
Zev’s body suddenly seemed starved. He hadn’t even known it until that very moment. He knew that Fen and Dimitri had come regularly to his resting place to give him and Branislava blood to sustain them through the healing process. He shouldn’t be starving but he could feel every cell in his body, every organ reaching for that infusion of life-giving ancient blood.
When he knew he’d taken enough he instinctively ran his tongue over the laceration and to his surprise, the bleeding on Fen’s wrist stopped and the wound closed. That was a neat trick he could have used a few times in the past years.
“Thanks,” he said. “I appreciate all you’ve done for me, Fen.”
Tatijana reached out her hand to Fen. “I knew you weren’t really being mean about Zev,” she said softly.
Fen brought her hand to his mouth. I don’t like this, my lady. I should have found another way. If he dies tomorrow night . . .
Don’t. Don’t think it. Don’t say it. Don’t put it out into the universe. We discussed this. You and Dimitri argued with Mikhail and the entire council of warriors. They believe we have no choice, and if we’re going to save lives, maybe we don’t. The prince would never take such a risk unless he believed there was no other choice.
There’s always another choice, Fen said. Unfortunately none of us could find it. Waking Zev was right there and once that was put out there as the solution, no one went on to try for another one. He sounded bitter.
Fen. She whispered his name into his mind—surrounded him with warmth and love. That’s your love and fear for him talking. You know better. Mikhail had to have looked at this from every conceivable angle before he decided to wake Zev.
I know. Fen scrubbed his hand over his face. You’re right. But look at him. Skyler’s had to stop the bleeding every single time we brought him close enough to the surface to give him blood. And now he’s bleeding all over the place.
She’s here. And she’s taking care of it, Tatijana assured.
But look at the toll it’s taking on her. Fen shook his head.
“Fen.” Zev said his name very softly, but his voice was commanding. “It’s my choice.” He felt Branislava’s fingers tighten around his. “Our choice,” he corrected. “You laid it all out for me, and we both feel strongly that we want to take the chance to try to help out.”
“I don’t have to like it,” Fen snapped. He turned on his heel and was gone.
Dimitri dropped his hand on Zev’s shoulder. “You know how he feels about you. And he’s always been overprotective, much, I’m sure, as you’ve been all your life.”
Zev grinned at him. “It’s different from this side of the fence.”
Dimitri shrugged. “I’m used to it, and I know he gets like that because I matter to him. So I just let him do his thing and then I go my own way.”
Tatijana leaned over to kiss Branislava’s cheek. “I’ll see you next rising?”
Branislava nodded. “Take care of him.”
“You know I will.”
Skyler came back into her own body, pale and trembling after using up most of her energy to do the best she could to heal the gaping hole in Zev’s stomach. Dimitri immediately enveloped her in his arms, sheltering her protectively while he gave her blood to recover.
“Are you all right on your own?” Dimitri asked Branislava.
She nodded. “If we need anything, I’ll call. Thank you, Skyler. Go have fun with your wolves.”
“Before you go,” Zev said. “How do we find out if the things we suspect about my grandmother and mother are true?”
“Mikhail, of course. He can ask the ancients.” Dimitri lifted his hand and, one arm around Skyler, left the room.
Zev made a move to sit up, but Branislava kept a hand on his chest. He capitulated, but he didn’t like lying there, not if they were going to have a serious discussion about their relationship. He placed his hand over hers, holding her captive.
“I know it feels like you have to do your duty and keep me from acting like a wolf among sheep, but, Branka, I have great control and there is no need for you to feel trapped.”
“Our souls belong together. When you say the words of the binding ritual to me, we will be tied together for all eternity and there will be no going back,” she explained. “You have the power. I would not be able to leave you.”
He rubbed her arm, from the back of her hand to her elbow, his touch soothing. “Mon chaton féroce. I do not believe in cages. No matter how much I want you with me, you have to want that same thing. You don’t know me, Branka.”
She nodded. “I thought that until I spent time inside your mind. You’re a good man, but a little frightening. The idea of being with someone so dominant is daunting.” She touched her breast beneath her clothing. “Carpathians do scar, no matter what is said, if the wound is bad enough and isn’t healed in time.”
Her lashes swept down and she looked away from him. His heart turned over. He continued to stroke her arm. He couldn’t hold her. He couldn’t kiss away her fears or take away the fact that they were lifemates and she knew she was tied to him no matter what reassurances he gave her. He couldn’t imagine being in her shoes. Despite the comfort of his pack, he had always been fiercely independent, even as a boy. His dominant nature would never allow anyone else to have control over him, yet this woman who feared his power over her held his fate in her hands. It was a two-way street.
“Branka,” he said gently. Intimately—even tenderly, when he wasn’t aware he could feel such an emotion for anyone. “Look at me. Really look at me. I have been in many battles with rogue packs. Too many times I fought alone and I’ve been wounded time and again. My body is a road map. I’m not afraid of scars on your body or mine. Stop worrying about our future together. Let’s take one day at a time.”
She was silent a long moment and then she smiled at him. “Night. We’ll take one night at a time.”
Zev woke to the sound of the rain pouring down. A song of nature. He wondered how he could hear it when he was so deep beneath the ground, under the house that was intended for his home. He didn’t want to move or open his eyes. He held Branislava in his arms and in the first instant of waking, with the music of the rain and the warmth of her soft body curled next to him, the moment was perfect.
He inhaled the scent of her hair, all that soft silk falling over him. He was naked, skin to skin with her, and he recognized her as he never had before. His body was spooned around hers, protectively, because, even in his deepest sleep, that was his strongest instinct. One thigh was over hers and in his palm he held her breast, a soft, sweet mound that rose and fell with every breath she took.
She was awake, he realized, and just like him, she didn’t move. She didn’t want to chance disturbing that perfect moment, either. He kept his eyes closed, savoring just holding her. He could feel the subtle beat of the earth’s heart beneath him, reaching toward the water pouring down to feed the veins and arteries that ran throughout the land nourishing all life. They were part of the planet’s cycle of life.
“I spent two years allowing the earth to comfort me,” Branislava whispered. “I lay listening to her heart calling out to me. The warmth she provided made me feel whole. I was so cold in the ice cave. Tatijana could just absorb the cold, but I couldn’t. Here, beneath the earth, I feel whole. I’m warm and safe. I didn’t think anything else could make me feel that way.” She moved, turning her head to look at him over her shoulder. “I was wrong.”
He brushed his lips over the top of her head. “Safe isn’t living, Branka.”
She smiled and settled back, her head pillowed on his arm. “No, it isn’t. I heard you, that night we first met. I knew my lifemate was close just by the drumming of the earth’s heart. Mother Earth woke me, nudged me to embrace life. There was an insistence when I woke and I knew. I wasn’t going to join the celebration even though I knew Tatijana wanted me there, but I could already feel you so close. My soul reached for yours.”
She made her confession in her soft, musical voice, the rain her orchestra. He could listen to her for hours, that soft turn of her voice, those perfect notes that somehow reached inside of him and wrapped around his heart.
“But you came.” He nuzzled the top of her head gently with his chin. Her soft hair got caught in the rough shadow along his jaw, weaving them together just as she had woven their spirits. “Knowing what you were facing, you still came, and you danced with me. That was brave of you.”
“I wanted to see you, Zev. I wanted to touch you and to feel how I would respond.”
“What did you learn?”
“That I could be safe with you.”
He heard the smile in her voice, a small teasing note. He growled and moved his head to nuzzle against her neck, his mouth whispering over her soft skin. He felt her sudden stillness, the quick inhale. He bit down on the soft, sweet spot between her neck and shoulder, just hard enough to make her yelp, then laugh.
“You’re not that safe, woman.”
“Zev, I know you want to ask Mikhail to release our spirits before you allow him to try to heal you, but it’s important to me that you don’t. Tatijana and Skyler are Dragonseeker. My mother’s brother, Dominic, is here with his lifemate. He’s Dragonseeker. Our lineage is old and strong.”
She sat up slowly, stretching, the beautiful lines of her body seen only through his night vision, there in the absolute dark of their resting place. She’d opened the earth before he’d awakened, but the house sitting above them protected them from the rain.
She didn’t don her clothes right away but turned toward him, just enough to allow him to see the raised scar running from her left breast to her right. Both ends went up and over the soft curves. He reached out and gently traced the scar, from the tip of one breast down the slope to the valley and back up to the tip of the other.
“I will show you someday, just how beautiful your body is to me,” he promised, regretting that he was so weak.
She took a breath as if he had exchanged air with her, and she was able to breathe again. She nodded—seemed to steady herself—and then she went back to business, braiding her long hair with a wave of her hand.
“If something happens there, the four of us can pull you back. Skyler came up with the idea and talked to Tatijana, asking if it was possible. Tatijana went to Dominic and he agreed that it was. We share the same bloodline and we can weave our spirits together.”
He shook his head. “No. Absolutely not. I forbid that. No, Branka.” Was she crazy? Were they all crazy? If he died, he would take not just Branislava with him, but her sister and Fen, Dimitri and Skyler, and her uncle and his lifemate. “No.” He said it again so she knew he meant it. “There’s no discussion on this.”
“Zev, if you die, there is no life for me. I am unclaimed. If I choose to follow you, I’m lost on my own in a world I have no knowledge of. If I stay here, I will live a shadowed, half-life. It is the only way I know to be certain we don’t lose you.”
He took a deep breath and the pain that had been waiting for an opening slammed into him, robbing him of that first real rush of air. He absorbed the blow and waited for his mind to accept what he had no control over.
“I have the right to fight for my lifemate and if my family chooses to fight with me, that is for them to say,” Branislava said softly, defiantly.
He sat up slowly and imagined that he was clean and fresh, just out of a shower, and fully clothed. It was easier than he thought it would be. “No.” He had to move, had to float to the surface on his own. His body needed a fresh supply of blood, but Branislava had given him more blood just before he’d gone to sleep and she would need to feed this evening.
Branislava followed him up to the surface, fully clothed as well. He regretted that. He didn’t want to end their perfect moment with an argument, but he wasn’t going to take the chance of wiping out the entire Dragonseeker line. The generosity of her family, of Fen and Dimitri and her unknown uncle, a stranger to him, was shocking. His own people would have killed him, sentenced him to Moarta de argint—death by silver—or hunted him down and attempted to kill him, because he was mixed blood. He would defend himself and blood would run in rivers.
They moved through the house in silence. He was just a little ahead of her, keeping his teeth clenched and his body as flowing as possible so there would be no jarring as he moved. Lying in the rich minerals of the earth had helped him tremendously. Branislava stayed close to him, but she remained just as silent. He didn’t trust her silence.
His Branka was home in silence. It wasn’t surrender or submission, it was her place of power, not retreat. She had spent centuries as a prisoner, trapped in the ice caves in the form of a dragon, unable to escape the evil of her own father. She had lived there, with Tatijana, in that cocoon of silence, but her mind had absorbed everything around her. Each victim of her father’s, no matter the species, she had sought to learn from. Language, culture, the passing of history, how to fight, how to survive. Her mind was always busy. Zev was very certain, there in the silence, her mind was very busy now.
Fen and Dimitri met them just outside the stone house. The forest was enveloped in the blue-black color of night. The fast-moving storm had left the trees shimmering with crystal drops and overhead, as the clouds swept past with the wind, stars began to sparkle.
“Everything all right?” Fen asked.
Zev gave her his most fierce, intimidating scowl and shook his head. “Not by a long shot. She has a harebrained idea that her entire family is going to tie themselves to me in order to keep anything from going wrong. Dimitri, that includes your Skyler. In fact, she conceived the idea. I absolutely forbid it.” He glared at Branislava again just for emphasis.