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  • Home > Christine Feehan > Dark Series > Dark Blood (Chapter 36)     
    Dark Blood(Dark #26) by Christine Feehan

    Branislava gave him her radiant smile. “You always know the right thing to say.” She took a deep breath. “I’m ready to help you figure all this out. I hope we aren’t the ones who have to try to hunt Xaviero down. I know that’s what’s coming next and believe me, Zev, when I tell you he is extremely dangerous.”

    “I am well aware of that, Branka,” he reassured her.

    “Have you ever met him? The one they call Rannalufr?”

    He nodded his head. “I work for the council. I protect them, and when they issue orders to settle disputes among packs or within packs that aren’t being resolved by the alpha, I go. Council members are guarded at all times. I have to know where they are and who they’re with. The short answer is yes, I’ve met Rannalufr. He seemed a kind older man to me, one who speaks in a low, gentle voice and seemed always to give thought before he answered. I liked him. I think most people who meet him like him.”

    “Does he belong to the Sacred Circle? Is he one of the leaders?” Branislava asked.

    Zev slipped his arm around her waist and once again began walking toward Mikhail’s home. It was up the mountain and just on the edge of the forest. “Yes. Many Lycans belong. Those belonging revere the old ways and hold the lost elders up as examples of how Lycans should be.”

    “Did you ever belong?” she asked curiously.

    “I’ve gone to the meetings, of course. The speakers are usually amazing, Arno in particular, and yes, before you ask, Rannalufr as well. Both are charismatic, but I tend to have problems with anything that narrows my thinking or borders on fanaticism. Things have to be logical to me and living by old rules that no longer make sense is not in the least logical.” He sighed. “I don’t get the progression.”

    “I don’t know what that means,” she said.

    They followed a narrow deer path that wound through the trees, moving deeper into the forest as they climbed uphill.

    “Modern times are moving fast. Technology has changed everything, and it keeps changing at an alarming rate. If the Sacred Circle merely preached morals and how to treat one another with kindness, I might go for it, but they don’t stop there. They have a political agenda and that agenda doesn’t follow the dictates of the countries Lycans live in.”

    Branislava leaned down to smell a night flower. Walking beside him always gave her a secret thrill. He was tall and strong and he made her feel feminine—which she was—and delicate—which she wasn’t. The sound of his voice mesmerized her. Zev never spoke in a booming or loud voice. He was soft-spoken, and yet his tone rang with authority. Everything about him spoke of absolute confidence, and she loved that in him.

    “I still don’t understand.”

    “We have integrated into modern society,” Zev explained. “Each pack, no matter the country, serves in the military for that country and hold jobs just as humans do. We live side by side with them. It isn’t logical to think we can go back to a code that was written long before technology came into being. Our women were once fierce warriors. Look at Daciana. She’s every bit as good as—or better than—the male elite hunters and yet, because many centuries ago the first Sange rau nearly wiped us out by decimating our ranks, the sacred code decreed that all women stay home.”

    “But the council overturned that,” Branislava pointed out.

    “Against much opposition. The leaders of the Sacred Circle were furious and some even talked of forming their own council.” His voice had dropped another octave and he shook his head.

    The moon had risen, beginning to look quite full, although not yet at its peak. A yellow halo surrounded it. Branislava made out his face by the light of the moon shining through the branches overhead. Lines were etched there. Scars. Yet he looked a true example of masculine beauty to her.

    “And you were sent to put them back in line.” It wasn’t a guess on her part, she knew she was right. She was becoming much more adept at reading him.

    He nodded. “I had a talk with them, yes. I can be persuasive when necessary. There cannot be dissention, not when Lycans are so dangerous. We did lose a few packs. They went rogue, which I pointed out to the leaders of the Circle, and they stopped their preaching. It’s okay with the council to discuss each issue and the members are always willing to hear any Lycan out before making a decision, but ultimately, all of us abide by their rulings.”

    They came to a small clearing. A large tree had fallen, the trunk lying across their path. The opening had provided room on the forest floor for shrubs, ferns and flowers to grow in abundance. Branislava flung out her arms and turned in a slow circle. The moon fell across her wealth of red hair, the light setting it on fire.

    “What are you doing?” Zev asked.

    “Living,” she replied, still spinning around like a ballerina. “I’m living right here in this perfect minute. I have you, this beautiful spot, the moon and the night air.” She inhaled deeply, drawing the scent of the forest and her wolf deep into her lungs. “What could be more perfect than this one moment?”

    He stepped close, his arm circling her waist, yanking her to him hard, his feet already picking up the rhythm of a dance, moving to music the night provided. “Making love to you is always perfect. Kissing you is definitely perfect. Dancing with you is sheer perfection.”

    He held her close, listening to the moaning wind playing them a melody of string instruments. The heartbeat of the Earth became their drum, providing a steady beat. He moved her around the clearing, their bodies in perfect synchronization, flowing like water over rocks, gliding first one way and then the other.

    Branislava felt his body move against hers, that rippling of sheer power as his roped muscles played beneath his warm skin. She laid her head on his shoulder, feeling as if she were floating in the clouds. There were moments of perfection and she wanted to recognize and capture each one and hold it close to her heart. She knew, better than most, that there was evil alive and well in the world and it would raise its ugly head soon. She needed this foundation with Zev, these perfect moments to add to their arsenal of weapons. She had to become a weapon just as Zev was already. They needed to be unstoppable.

    “Can anyone join in?” Dimitri whirled Skyler right into the clearing, and then pulled her tightly against him, his smooth footwork guiding her over the twigs and leaves. “We heard your music calling to us and couldn’t resist.”

    Branislava smiled contentedly. Dimitri still carried the scars of his brush with moarta de argint—death by silver. Somehow, Skyler had managed to force the terrible burns to fade almost to invisibility. Still, Dimitri was quite handsome, and he held Skyler in such a loving, intimate, protective hold that they looked as if they were one as they danced around the clearing. Branislava felt their love pouring from them both, as if it were so great neither could contain the emotion.

    Fen and Tatijana dropped down unexpectedly from above. Zev didn’t so much as flinch, so Branislava knew he had been aware of them close by. Fen waved his hand and more instruments joined in, adding to the music of the night. He pulled Tatijana into his arms. She fit perfectly beneath his shoulder and they began to dance.

    The rhythm at first was soft and dreamy so that the men could hold their women close as they moved around the small clearing as easily as if it were a ballroom.

    Before long, another couple showed up. Darius Daratrazanoff strode up, his lifemate, Tempest, beside him. He carried a child that could be no more than two. They moved together without a word, their son between them, as Darius whirled Tempest around beneath the moon. The child’s soft laughter only added to the beauty of the moment to Branislava.

    “Are we having a party?”

    The question came from a group of Carpathians. Branislava vaguely recognized them. They made up a traveling band called the Dark Troubadours.

    “Hey, Andor,” Julian called to Darius and Tempest’s boy. “Can we come and dance with you?”

    Andor waved happily at him, breaking out into a huge smile that lit his dark eyes—Daratrazanoff eyes.

    “Do you mind?” Desari asked Zev and Branislava. “This looks such fun.”

    Julian Savage and his lifemate, Desari, moved gracefully together. She was sister to the Daratrazanoff men. Beside them, Barack and Syndil danced close. Emerging from the trees already moving to the beat, Corrine and her lifemate, Dayan, arrived with their daughter, Jennifer. Clearly she was a child of music. She began whirling and twirling and shaking her bottom to the rhythm.

    “No party,” Zev said, “just holding my woman and doing a little dancing, but you’re all welcome.”

    After a few minutes of dancing with Corrine, Dayan sank down onto the large tree trunk and drew his guitar to him. His fingers danced over the strings and music poured into the night. Barack immediately joined him, playing bass. Syndil listened to the heartbeat of the earth and then called drums to her, joining with the earth to add in her rhythm. Corrine and Jennifer danced together, whirling around the small clearing, the sound of Jennifer’s laughter joining with Andor’s.

    Razvan danced Ivory right out of the forest, his eyes filled with laughter—something one rarely saw in him, unless they stumbled upon a private moment between Ivory and him. She clung to him, laughing with him, her gaze only for him.

    Desari began to sing, her voice rising with the wind, the notes pure, the pitch perfect. The song was one of joy and laughter, adding to Branislava’s perfect moment.

    Branislava looked around her at the people she loved. Her nephew Razvan, who had been so horribly tortured by his own grandfather, Xavier. Ivory, who had been betrayed by Xavier and chopped to pieces by vampires in league with him. Fen and Tatijana, her beloved sister, trapped with her in the wall of ice there in Xavier’s laboratory. Dimitri and Skyler, a young woman made by Xavier through Razvan’s body and then sold into sex slavery by her great-grandfather.

    There was joy here and true happiness. Xavier and his brothers were pure evil and yet somehow, good had triumphed here, and her perfect moment proved it.

    Look at them all, Zev. These people, most of them, are our family. Xavier tried to destroy them all, everyone here, really, and yet we can come together like this, in fun and laughter, an impromptu party with no real reason except you love me enough to dance with me because you know I enjoy it.

    Zev kissed the junction between her neck and shoulder. I would dance with you anywhere, Branka, and enjoy every single moment of holding you.

    Happiness welled up. That was the wonderful thing about Zev. She knew he was telling her the truth. He would dance with her anywhere simply because she loved to dance. She glanced at her sister, held so close by Fen. Fen was a good man and she already thought of him as a brother. The way he looked at Tatijana was beautiful. Tatijana’s gaze met hers and they smiled.

    “I love her so much, Zev,” she whispered against his chest. “I wanted so much for her to escape and to be able to live life, to dance like this whenever possible and to find a man who loved her above all else. I believe my wish came true.” Satisfaction edged her words.

    “I see you are having a party practically on my front step, but I don’t believe I was invited, so I’m crashing.” Mikhail announced his presence.

    He swung Raven around and the two of them came together, moving with a flowing grace to the music. Alexandru ran over to Jennifer and Andor. Jennifer took both boys’ hands and they began to dance together in a circle.

    Zev laughed. “Look what you started, Branka.”

    “And I got us in trouble with the prince. Who knew he liked to dance?”

    “Doesn’t everyone?” Zev nudged her and indicated the couple coming into the clearing.

    Gregori and Savannah joined them, which wasn’t a surprise since Gregori tended to be wherever the prince was. Their two little girls, Anya and Anastasia, ran to join the other children while their parents danced.

    The small area seemed to be transformed, growing larger even, with the brush and shrubbery cleared away, giving the couples a dance floor. The moon looked down on them, adding light while the band played. Stars scattered across the night sky, sparkling like diamonds, giving them a ceiling of beauty.

    Branislava turned her face up to Zev’s. “This is all you, Wolfie; you’re such a miracle.” She kissed her way up his neck, her fingers laced around his nape, beneath the long, thick pelt of hair. “I don’t know how you make everything so wonderful.”

    Fen and Tatijana just happened to be dancing close. Fen gave a little snort of derision. “Wolfie? Did I just hear you call that man Wolfie?”

    “No, you didn’t,” Zev denied, giving him a fierce scowl. “Go away, Fen.”

    “Dimitri.” Fen continued to hold Tatijana close to her sister and Zev while they danced. He waited until Dimitri was very close to him and leaned over. “She calls him Wolfie.”

    Dimitri glanced over at Zev with a wide grin on his face. He opened his mouth to tease him, but caught a glimpse of Branislava’s mortified expression. Tiny little flames were beginning to flicker in her eyes.

    He closed his mouth and raised his eyebrow at his brother. “Really, Fen, you shouldn’t be eavesdropping on private conversations.” It was all he could do not to laugh, but he kept a straight face as he fanned Branislava’s rising wrath.

    “But Wolfie? Come on, bro, that just suits our little brother to a tee. He’s kind of like a big teddy bear, don’t you think?”

    As Fen whirled Tatijana out away from him, he stepped back, his left foot sinking just a little into the forest floor. Myrmica rubra, the fire ant of Romania, swarmed up his leg, biting and stinging.

    Fen waved his hand and the ants calmed instantly, rushing back to the ground and disappearing. He glared at Branislava, who was looking far too innocent. “O jelä peje terád, emni—sun scorch you, woman!” Tatijana didn’t help his cause, covering her mouth and clearly laughing at her sister’s antics.