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  • Home > Christine Feehan > Dark Series > Dark Blood (Chapter 11)     
    Dark Blood(Dark #26) by Christine Feehan

    “That’s incredible. I’m a wolf and I can do that, but didn’t think anyone else could.”

    She shrugged and put her feet up on the railing. “I love music, Zev. I love all the various instruments and the sounds they make. I love to hear voices singing in perfect pitch.”

    He smiled at her. “And you love to dance.”

    “I do. Tatijana does as well. It felt like freedom to me, floating around the dance floor in your arms. I felt as if we were soaring above earth in the clouds.”

    “I can see I’ll have to study dancing. I wouldn’t want to trip over my own feet.” He lifted his face to the breeze. Across from the house, mice scurried in the brush drawing the attention of an owl sitting silently above them in a particularly old and wide tree. It was dense with branches and needles that appeared silver whenever the moon shone through.

    “That’s impossible and you know it,” she said, laughing softly. “I’ve seen you in a fight with your sword and knives and you’re like a beautiful dancer, flowing around your opponents in the most graceful, fluid way I’ve ever seen. Even Fen admires your abilities,” she added.

    “I was very lucky to meet that man,” Zev said. “He was very adept at hiding that he was a mixed blood. He managed to live a good century or more among the Lycans.”

    “Tatijana told me.”

    Branislava lifted her hands to her hair, an idle move, but one that lifted her breasts beneath the material of her dress. Now that they were relaxing at home, she had donned a long gown, one from another era. The corset hugged her breasts and ribs and the material flared over her hips to fall to the ground. The top was white eyelet lace and a panel ran down the front of the dress surrounded by a rich crimson material.

    She had been in the form of a fire dragon for centuries and he wasn’t in the least surprised to find she was attracted to the color red. She seemed extraordinarily feminine to him, preferring dresses to trousers.

    He enjoyed sitting across from her, there in the night, just looking at her. “You could take your hair down,” he suggested.

    Her hands settled in the thick mass of red-gold silk. “It will be all over the place. It’s a little on the wild side,” she confessed in a little rush. “It isn’t straight, but wavy and curly and straight all at once. And it grows so thick there’s very little I can do with it.”

    “I’m well aware of that,” he admitted. “I love your hair.” Especially when it was wild and messy. He thought of it as bedroom hair to go with her bedroom eyes. With it down, she looked sultry and inviting. Every time she had it up, or in a long braid, his fingers itched to pull the pins out and just let it fall in cascade, like a flowing waterfall down her back. She might not like all that wild hair, but he was particularly fond of it.

    She pulled out pins and the mass of silk tumbled around her face and down her back in waves of red gold. She shook her head with a small smile as if she thought he was just a little bit crazy. “There it is. A big mess.”

    “You look amazing. You always look amazing. What makes you happiest?”

    “Freedom.” There was no hesitation. She jumped up, stretched her arms wide and spun in a circle. “I have space. Look at all this space. I can fly up to the clouds or run in the forest with the wolves. I can leave and go into a city.” She gave a little shudder. “Not that I want to, but the point is, I could.”

    “I’d love to show you the forests of Russia. And the cities there are beautiful,” Zev said. “Like you, I couldn’t live in one, I need the forest, but some of them are really extraordinary. I chased three rogues through France and while I was in Paris, after my duty had been done, I visited the museums and the artwork was almost beyond my comprehension.”

    “I have seen some paintings in books as well as the memories of tourists and a few of the villagers,” Branislava murmured. “But not in person.”

    “When this is all done,” he said, “we’ll travel a bit, if you feel up to it, and see some of the world.”

    “The first time I was ever away from Tatijana was when she went with Fen to get Dimitri,” Branislava admitted. “I stayed behind because there were so many Lycans here and we feared there might be an all-out war.”

    He regarded her with a somber gaze. “You are a warrior.”

    She shrugged her shoulders. “I’m Dragonseeker. The one thing for certain Tatijana and I learned in the ice caves was how to fight in a battle. Xavier tortured many warriors of all species and all of them shared information with us in the hopes that we could find a way to escape. Sometimes that was all we had to hold on to, the two of us planning battles and talking mythical scenarios to keep our minds active. I don’t yet know many things, but I know how to fight if it’s needed.”

    She looked so beautiful to him, there in the scattered moonbeams. Her hair fell around her, looking like living silk, long waves that emphasized her small, tucked-in waist. She moved with grace and he could imagine her as a dancer, but the idea of her in combat, especially against a wolf in Lycan form, half-man, half-wolf, was a little terrifying to him. She was almost dainty with her small bone structure and soft curves, far too feminine for him to think of her wielding a sword or a knife.

    “I have excellent skills with most weapons. The modern ones are a little more difficult, because Xavier rarely brought in humans. They didn’t last long or amuse him much when he tortured them. Their blood didn’t help his ultimate goal, which was to be immortal.”

    Branislava wrapped her arm around one of the stone columns at the edge of the verandah and stared out into the dark of the trees. Zev noticed her hand trembled as the memories of her childhood and life settled over her. He pushed himself out of the chair, testing his strength. It was definitely coming back to him. He was far more tired than feeling as if he had been wounded or was ill.

    He moved behind her and instantly felt the heat he equated with her. She seemed so cool when one talked to her. Low key. Quiet. But he was beginning to know her. Merged as he was so often with her, their spirits tied together, it was impossible not to see glimpses of who she really was—that person she kept safe from those around her.

    Her reasons were all tactical. The realization swept over him, stunning him. She truly was a warrior. That fiery, passionate woman who she kept hidden was ready for warfare, for combat, just as he was always prepared for it. In a secret part of his mind, he hoped, when she was prepared to come to him, that she’d always be just as ready for their lovemaking.

    He wrapped his arms around her from behind, locking his hands at her waist and drawing her back against his body. “Have you ever felt safe?”

    She didn’t pull away, but rather relaxed into him, keeping her gaze on the night. “In the ground after we were rescued. I could feel Mother Earth surrounding me, holding me in her arms, all that wonderful heat after that icy cold. I felt safe there. I stayed much longer than I should have and it made me feel as if I were a coward.”

    She looked over her shoulder at him, her eyes meeting his. “I’m not.”

    “I can’t imagine that you would be.”

    “I’ve never really interacted with people. We spoke to the prisoners in the ice caves telepathically. Sometimes we had to build a bridge for them, but we didn’t really have conversations like this one. Both Tatijana and I have gaps in our knowledge. We try to learn as fast as possible, but reading information or taking it from memories is not always interpreted the way the event actually happened.”

    A wolf called, this time closer to the house. The night carried the mournful note. Zev frowned. “Did you hear that?”

    Branislava nodded. “That wasn’t one of Skyler and Dimitri’s wolves. Or Ivory and Razvan’s pack.”

    “It wasn’t one of the local packs either,” Zev said, putting her gently aside and slightly behind him. He stepped up to the very edge of the verandah. “But he’s hunting and he’s calling to his partner.”

    He reached for Dimitri. Did you hear? That is no neighbor of ours.

    We heard. Dimitri’s voice was grim.

    “Fen, Dimitri and Skyler as well as I were put on a hit list by the Lycans. They have sent assassins to hunt us down and kill us.” He turned to look at her over his shoulder.

    Branislava was no longer in her elegant dress. She wore trousers and boots, and a soft shirt under a leather vest. Her belt was slung low on her hips, holstering an array of weapons. She was ready for war.

    He had never hunted with her on the ground before, and he was a little reluctant when he didn’t know her skills. In the air, with her dragon, she was precise and had mad skills, but hand-to-hand combat was altogether different.

    She sent him a look from under her long lashes. “Try me.”

    It was the voice rather than her look that convinced him. Her tone vibrated with determination and even a hint of eagerness. She was a predator beneath all that cool beauty and her fiery nature demanded action.

    “I’ll follow your lead,” she added.

    “Let’s do it then.” He stepped off the porch. For the first time he used his Carpathian abilities to acquire his weapons. His long coat swirled around his ankles, the entire inside decorated with weapons, most of his own making. His belt held more weapons, as did his boots. A silver sword hung at his waist. He pulled on thin gloves to keep the silver from touching his skin. He was mixed blood, both Lycan and Carpathian, and silver burned when he touched it.

    We’re coming to you, Dimitri, from the south. That’s where I pinpointed the wolf’s position. We’ll make a sweep and see what turns up. Let your wolves know we’re hunting with them.

    He isn’t alone, Dimitri warned. He was calling to a partner.

    Yeah. I got that. Is Skyler in your line of sight? He was mostly worried about Dimitri’s young lifemate. She had amazing skills and the Lycans belonging to a mysterious group who wanted war between the species had particularly targeted her for death.

    He tried to keep the note of worry from his voice. The Carpathians were fairly new in their dealings with the Lycans and they tended to underestimate them. Because of an order centuries earlier by their council, Lycans avoided Carpathians as much as possible and the two species hadn’t interacted.

    They’ll be military trained with weapons, most likely guns, he warned, including Branislava in the circle of information. Don’t forget, they’re fast and strong and they hunt in packs. This one could have more than one partner. The one you see is not the one to worry about.

    He gave the advice to Dimitri, but he was more concerned with imparting the information to the two women, although both had fought Lycans before. Still, he was worried. Dimitri had fought with packs and against them at various times throughout the centuries. Dimitri knew wolves and he would know how best to fight them. He was also a mixed blood, a Hän ku pesäk kaikak, guardian of all, which meant he could utilize both Lycan and Carpathian gifts. He was fast and intelligent and enormously strong.

    Lycans can leap great distances, never assume you’re safe if you take to the air, he added, unable to stop himself from reminding Branislava, although she’d done battle with the rogue packs before.

    Branislava moved in silence, staying directly behind him. He realized she was following exactly in his footsteps, choosing the same path. There wasn’t so much as a whisper of her clothing brushing against the leaves. Not a single twig or leaf snapped or crackled beneath the soles of her boots. She might as well have been a ghost floating through the night toward her destination.

    Zev was Lycan raised and Lycan in his mind. He knew forests and how to travel through them in silence, but she astounded him.

    You gave me the knowledge, she said. I’m in your mind and your ways are ingrained in you. I simply have to absorb that vast collection and I’ll be up to speed. I refuse to be a liability to you when we hunt.

    He felt pride in her. Her confidence level as a hunter was far stronger than when she was in a social setting. He understood why. As a prisoner, she had never really had a chance to learn the niceties that most learned as children growing up. She had learned battle tactics from prisoners, but not how to interact socially.

    Her behavior made sense. She remained quiet, absorbing the knowledge of those around her, learning quickly. She appeared to be no threat whatsoever to anyone. All the while she was honing her skills for combat. In that time, she was also trying to learn how to behave in social situations.

    Unfortunately, she had met—and recognized—her lifemate. He had been mortally wounded, and all her plans of slowly absorbing the culture and society of Carpathians and humans alike had gone out the window in her efforts to save him.

    His every sense was on full alert. He could hear the slightest movement, the mice scurrying in the vegetation, the various creatures that made their home in the underbrush. The insects continued to drone but he expected that. Wolves didn’t disturb the natural order of the night. Still, he was uneasy and certain they were closing in on their quarry. He slowed his pace even more, inching his way through the brush, his gaze continually sweeping his surroundings, examining above, below and to both sides of them as well as in front of them.

    He took two more steps and a frond attached to a very large fern moved slightly, a small jiggle. The wind was above them in the canopy, not moving through the forest around the large trunks. There was no legitimate reason for the branch to move as it had.

    He stopped abruptly, but she didn’t run into him. When he glanced at her over his shoulder, her gaze was fixed on the same branch. Pride welled up. Branislava knew what she was doing. She knew what to look for.

    Zev held up his fist without thinking, sinking low in the brush. She obeyed the silent signal to halt, crouching even lower almost simultaneously with him. There was no sound, no whisper of movement. She was very good and he found himself giving her the respect he would a fellow woodsman.