|Home > Christine Feehan > Dark Series > Dark Blood (Chapter 18)|
|Dark Blood(Dark #26) by Christine Feehan|
She found it. The shadow was wedged in a valley, the mark a vicious swipe of black that ran partially up a ridge. Everything in her stilled. She was disconnected from her body, but that didn’t stop the sensation of shock and horror from rushing through her. She recognized the mark. She’d seen it a hundred times. She knew who made it.
Branislava found herself back in her own body swaying with weakness. She pushed herself up and rushed off the verandah into the cool forest, into the miracle of clean, purified air. She kept running, her footfalls silent on the thick carpet of vegetation. Time passed, and she realized she wasn’t alone. Zev paced beside her, not speaking, not asking questions, just allowing her to run for her life. Run for her freedom. Just run.
She stopped abruptly and with a small sob, threw herself into his arms. There was safety there. Goodness. Zev might have to kill, but he regretted having to do so. She couldn’t detect evil in any part of him.
Just the sight of that lesion in Damon’s brain—that portal for evil with the distinctive signature—was terrifying to her. Pure evil had a way of insidiously trickling into lives and taking hold or wrenching the life away from a good individual and forcing obedience. Shadowing was such an abomination, removing free will.
She shuddered and Zev pulled her closer, held her tighter, pressing her face into his shoulder while tremors wracked her body. She inhaled the clean masculine scent of him and took solace in his integrity and compassion. Zev was an alpha male, at the very top of a predatory food chain and yet he didn’t abuse his power. Never once had he tried to take away her freedom. He worried about her, but he didn’t cage her.
Branislava brushed her mouth over his throat and burrowed even closer, grateful he didn’t ask questions of her. She wasn’t certain she could even speak. Her heart had accelerated to the point that she feared it would pound right through her chest. Her breath came in ragged, gasping staccato bursts, her lungs raw and aching.
Zev stroked caresses down the back of her head, soothing her in silence, breathing evenly, allowing her to follow his breath, his heart, at her own pace. She closed her eyes and let herself relax into him, allowed herself to be safe in his arms. The moment she did, her heart automatically began to adjust to the slower, steadier beat of his. Her breathing evened out, following that calm, composed rhythm of his.
Bronnie. Tatijana reached out to her. Are you all right?
Give me a minute. I need just a minute. Make my excuses for me.
She needed Zev. She needed the comfort of his arms and his unfailing cool, the composed commander she could count on. He could take charge and think through every battle, every crisis. And this was a crisis.
She lifted her head to look at him, to look into his eyes, searching, she knew, for reassurance. It was there, his wolf’s eyes meeting hers steadily. He waited, not asking questions or forcing her to speak, just as she knew he would.
She locked both arms around his neck and went up on her toes as she pulled his head down to hers. He didn’t hesitate or ask her what she was doing.
Zev’s lips brushed across hers and a million butterflies took wing in her stomach. She hadn’t expected that reaction, but it was a welcome distraction from the panic gripping her. She closed her eyes, her lashes fluttering for just a moment as his mouth coaxed hers, with little kisses, his tongue running along the seam.
His gentleness brought tears burning behind her eyes. In all those years, trapped in the body of a fire dragon, freezing in an ice-cold world, she had never once imagined having a man treat her with such respect or love. It was a gift. Wondrous. She opened her mouth, and the world stood still.
He kissed her with absolute confidence and command, sweeping her with him into another realm altogether, pushing away fear and replacing it with something else unexpected. Tenderness.
Fiery heat welled up from her center, surged through her body, and rushed through her veins. She had tamped down the fire in her for what seemed like ages, until the fire dance with Zev. He seemed to “get” her. To know who she was inside. He wanted her to be herself, and kissing him was like taking her first real breath. Knowing she was truly alive. His mouth was a haven to be lost in. Fire consumed her, reducing her to ashes, allowing her to rise like the phoenix reborn.
He tasted exotic and wild, a feral, untamed wolf, bent on devouring her. Bent on loving her. She felt surrounded by love when she’d never thought to know that emotion between a man and a woman.
There was desire. Lust even. Zev was a man of strong appetites, but the strongest emotion, the strongest connection was love. She tasted it in his kiss. Felt it in the way he held her. She let go of those last fears of imprisonment and gave herself up to him. She gave herself up to the fire roaring through her body, the flames dancing higher and higher, fanned by her lifemate.
When he lifted his head and rested his forehead against hers so they could both catch their breath, she stared into his nearly glowing, mercurial silver eyes. The eyes of the wolf.
“Claim me, Zev. Right here. Right now. Bind us together,” she whispered, needing him desperately. She wanted him, yes, but right then, knowing what and who they faced, she wanted to be a part of him. She wanted their souls to be one. “Claim me.”
Zev took a deep breath and tried to think past the sudden roaring in his head. She was offering him her life. Her loyalty. Pledging her love. She was everything he wanted and she was gifting herself to him.
He rubbed her arms soothingly, wanting to do the right thing by her. His every instinct was to claim her fast, to bind her soul to his so that there was no escaping and no way for any other to tear them apart, but that felt too much like imprisoning her. Without the ability to undo the bind, in the end, once she was no longer so terrified, would she still want him? Or would she become resentful?
“Branka, you’re very afraid. Whatever you found put you in a panic. I want you more than anything. I want us to be lifemates, but more, because there is a huge part of me that will always be Lycan, I want you to love me and choose me for yourself. You haven’t had time to even get to know me. We’re in the middle of a war, and each time I think we have the time for you to be alone with me, so we can talk things out, we’re interrupted.”
“Silly wolf.” Branislava stroked his face with her fingertips. “I don’t need words to get to know you. I have your actions to tell me who you are. I would never make such a decision lightly. I will have to face my worst fears, the demon of nightmares, and when I do, I want to be connected to you, because of your strength and determination. You’re a man who suffered a wound no other would have survived. Do you know why you survived? It wasn’t all of us who worked to save you. It was your own determination because you were protecting me. That’s the truth, Zev. You saved yourself against impossible odds.”
“I want you to be very, very certain. The ancients flooded me with all kinds of information, history and culture. The truth is, in the back of my head, I probably knew it all, I just had to have them point the way to access those long-ago memories imprinted on me when I was born. I know once I bind you to me, there’s no going back. No escape.” He forced himself to use that word so she would hear it.
Branislava nodded. “I see what you fear, but I am Dragonseeker, above all else, I am of that bloodline. I know what I am doing and I assume responsibility for my decisions. We are intensely loyal, just as you are. My soul cries out to yours. My mind seeks yours. My body burns for yours. But Zev, if you believe nothing else, believe that my heart belongs to you alone. There is no going back for me. I made that choice when I wove our spirits together. I made that choice when I stayed with you in the ground and when I returned to you when you asked me in the cave of warriors. I made that choice when I fought beside you and I am making the choice now when I ask you to bind me to you. I love you and want to be with you.”
Zev felt a curious melting sensation in the region of his heart. The tight knots he hadn’t even known existed in his belly unraveled. Branislava was a grown woman and she spoke her mind. He couldn’t find hesitation in her mind at all. There was only resolve—and love. He felt surrounded by it and the wolf in him sang with happiness. The Carpathian felt that age-old need, that bond of blood that connected his people for centuries from ancient to modern times. He needed to bind his lifemate to him.
The words came from his soul, not just his heart. “Te avio päläfertiilam.” He used the ancient words of his ancestors, the sacred language imprinted on him from birth, carried in the bloodline of both Dark Blood and the house of Tirunul. “You are my lifemate. Éntölam kuulua, avio päläfertiilam. I claim you as my lifemate.”
Somehow in uttering the words, he actually felt as if thousands of strands of silk began to weave them together soul to soul. He wrapped his arms around her tightly, holding her to him, willing her to feel the same wonder and joy that filled him.
“Ted kuuluak, kacad, kojed. I belong to you.”
She kissed his chin. “Ted kuuluak, kacad, kojed. I belong to you, Zev, now and for all eternity.”
“Élidamet andam. I offer my life for you.”
“I offer my life for you,” she repeated, looking into his eyes.
His heart gave a small stutter. “Pesämet andam. I give you my protection. Uskolfertiilamet andam. I give you my allegiance. Sívamet andam. I give you my heart. Sielamet andam. I give you my soul. Ainamet andam. I give you my body. Sívamet kuuluak kaik että a ted. I take into my keeping the same that is yours.”
Branislava pressed kisses along the underside of his jaw and down his throat, murmuring the ritual binding words back to him, her voice soft, but firm. Zev felt love bursting through him, an overwhelming, perfect emotion completely tied to her. He knew what it meant to belong, and he was grateful he belonged to her.
“Ainaak olenszal sívambin. Your life will be cherished by me for all my time.” He knew what the word cherish meant. He’d never cherished anything in his long life until Branislava had come along. Whatever they faced, however bad, he wanted this time with her, and he vowed to make every minute count, to make her feel valued as the treasure she was.
“Te élidet ainaak pide minan. Your life will be placed above my own for all time.” He found that as he uttered each declaration, he felt the bond between them growing stronger.
Zev closed his fist in her hair and pulled her head up to his. Her lips parted. Those perfect lips he’d spent a lifetime dreaming about. He lowered his head to hers, his mouth claiming her even as his soul claimed her.
Te avio päläfertiilam. You are my lifemate. He kissed her over and over, devouring her molten fire, feeling an answering firestorm building in his body.
His mouth drifted down her chin, lower, down her throat to the soft swell of her breasts beneath the thin material of her dress. His teeth scraped gently, persistently back and forth over that pulse calling to him.
Ainaak sívamet jutta oleny. You are bound to me for all eternity.
His teeth sank deep and she arched against him, crying out. She buried her hands in his hair, clasping his head as he drank from her very essence. There was that addictive taste. Her honeyed cinnamon bursting through him, yet this time, there was heat, as if deep inside that smoldering fire was building, waiting for him to ignite a firestorm of passion.
Ainaak terád vigyázak. You are always in my care.
Zev swept his tongue across that sweet swell of her breast and lifted his head. He knew his face and eyes bore the stamp of a predator, but he hoped she could see—and feel—the love in him. His body raged at him. He wanted her with every single cell. That was there for her to read as well. He didn’t bother to attempt to hide the way he wanted her.
He was a rough man, demanding, and he wanted her in every way he could conceive, but he hoped she would always feel safe with him, that she would know he would put her pleasure above his own first.
Branislava smiled at him and slowly unbuttoned his shirt, running her hands over his bare chest. A tremor went through his body. She leaned forward and licked along his heavy muscle, swirling her tongue over his flat nipple before nipping at his skin with her teeth.
His cock jumped and thickened beyond anything he believed possible, stretching the material of his trousers. His hands dropped to the buttons to ease them open, desperate for relief. The material was far too painful. He figured the night air might help to ease the urgency of his need, but the moment he released that heavy erection, he felt as if he’d opened the cage of a raging monster.
The small droplets of mist touching his sensitive skin only added to the pleasure building in his body. Branislava dropped one hand down to stroke a caress over his shaft and then slide her thumb across the large head, before closing her fingers around him. At the same time, her teeth drove deep.
The sensation was almost too much. Pleasure ripped through him, bordering on pain it was so finite and exquisite. He felt the wolf rising, a howl of pure bliss as she took his blood into her. He needed to feel her skin beneath his hands, all that soft silky skin.
Get rid of your clothes, he whispered into her mind, half command, half entreaty.
Before the thought had completely pushed from his mind to hers, the long flowing dress was gone and she was naked against him. He found he liked the feel of her bare while he was nearly fully clothed. They were deep in the forest, the mist surrounding them, enclosing them in a blanket of privacy, and Branislava stood completely naked feeding from him, offering her body to him.
Zev ran his hands down the smooth line of her back to her buttocks. She felt firm and strong as he gripped tight, massaging her firm cheeks and the sensitive bundles of nerves hidden beneath that flesh, half lifting her against him. He didn’t want to wait. He wanted her right there. Right then. He felt as if he’d waited centuries for his woman and he knew nothing he could imagine would match the red-hot fire in her body.