|Home > Christine Feehan > Dark Series > Dark Blood (Chapter 37)|
|Dark Blood(Dark #26) by Christine Feehan|
“Having trouble there, Fen?” Mikhail asked. His features appeared relaxed, much younger. Laughter welled up and spilled into his usually somber eyes.
“Blasted Dragonseeker women have this penchant for revenge, Mikhail,” Fen said. “You need to talk to them about it.”
“Not me,” Mikhail hastily denied. “I’m not getting on their bad side.” He danced away laughing.
Fen laughed, too, bringing Tatijana close to him. “Your sister is a fiery little thing. Imagine taking offense just because I overheard her calling Zev that ridiculous nickname.”
“Imagine,” Tatijana echoed, snuggling closer. “At least she didn’t set your hair on fire.” She smoothed her hand over his long, very thick and distinctly silver hair with black strands woven into the waves falling down his back. It was secured at his nape with a leather cord, but hung nearly to his waist. “I’d hate to have you bald and scorched.”
Fen caught her closer as if for protection. “She wouldn’t dare.”
I would dare, Branislava assured him.
Fen couldn’t help the laughter welling up. He and Branislava burst out laughing at the same time. Zev and Tatijana, then Dimitri and Skyler joined in.
Branislava felt as if she were at a family celebration. It felt right. Normal. Beautiful. Perfect. She had never once imagined she could have such fun and happiness, not when she was freezing and frightened, there behind that wall of ice.
More dancers showed up. To her surprise Zacarias De La Cruz led Marguarita onto the forest floor with the others dancing. She should have known he would be a graceful dancer. He held his lifemate close, very lovingly, not at all appearing to be the dangerous, dark predator she knew him to be.
Nicolas, Zacarias’s brother, came behind him, leading Lara, his lifemate. Branislava’s heart leapt with joy. Lara, her great-niece, looked beautiful and happy, glowing even, obviously happy with her lifemate. Lara had been the one to return to the ice caves, searching for her aunts, but she’d been a little girl, a child when they’d helped her to escape, and she hadn’t even been certain her childhood had been real. Still, she had come to free them from their horrible prison. It was good to see her so happy.
Rafael and Colby, another De La Cruz brother and his lifemate, came into the clearing with Juliette and Riordan, the youngest brother. Laughing, the men whirled the women into the flow of dancers. Last came Manolito De La Cruz, with MaryAnn. They were of mixed blood like Dimitri, Fen and Zev, carrying both Lycan and Carpathian blood. They were considered Sange rau by the Lycans and under a death sentence, while Carpathians believed them to be Hän ku pesäk kaikak—guardian of all. MaryAnn laughed softly as Manolito spun her around and drew her in close to him again.
“This is so wonderful,” Branislava said. “Look at the children. Listen to them laughing.”
In her world, deep beneath the ice, neither she nor Tatijana had ever had the chance to be a laughing child. Little Lara had also been used by Xavier for food. Even Razvan, taken control of by Xavier, had fed on her. No doubt that, like Branislava’s and Tatijana’s, Lara’s arms and wrists were covered in scars.
Branislava wanted to replace every ugly moment of her own childhood with special moments such as this one. Shea and Jacques’s son Stefan had joined the circle of laughing children. She looked around for Falcon and Sara’s children. Usually, where one child was, the others always followed.
“Sara is about to give birth and the children wanted to stay close to her,” Zev said. “Gregori just gave me the news that she’s in labor. She was human before Carpathian and she’s much more comfortable using a human delivery. Shea’s a doctor and she’s with her, that’s why Jacques is here alone with his son.”
“Are there complications?” Branislava was suddenly anxious. In between the attacks by the Sacred Circle army there was little time for fun or rejoicing. A baby born would add to the beauty of the night.
“If there were complications, Gregori and Skyler would be called immediately. Probably you and Tatijana as well,” Zev assured. “Close your eyes.”
She did, her head pillowed on his chest, directly over his heart. Immediately she had the sensation of floating through the clouds, her body light and airy. His scent, that masculine, keeper of the forest scent combined with his feral, predatory smell filled her lungs and sent heat rushing through her veins. She would always want him, whether they were alone, or in the middle of a crowd. The feeling filled her with happiness.
She had seen ballroom dancing in Tatijana’s mind. The two of them had replayed the dances over and over, committing the steps to memory, but the actual sensation of dancing with Zev, floating over the forest floor and up into the clouds was far more amazing than the dances she’d envied so much.
Eventually, Zev and Branislava found a place off to the side where they could sink into the soft grass and watch the other couples. She snuggled close to him. One of Ivory’s wolves poked his head over her shoulder while another lay beside her, watching Ivory and Razvan’s every move. Branislava sank her fingers into the thick, soft fur. She loved every tactile feel she could find; when locked in the form of a dragon behind a wall of ice, she’d never had the opportunity to know much other than cold and pain.
She had learned patience and acceptance—they all had. They had no other recourse, but now that she was free, she couldn’t stop touching things, wanting to experience everything for herself. Tatijana was the same. Sitting so close to Zev, the grass under her, the stars over her and his arm holding her close, a wolf in her lap, she experienced true happiness.
Branislava put her head on Zev’s shoulder, forcing the wolf standing behind them to use Zev’s other shoulder. “I love watching the children. Look at little Anya dancing. She’s got the moves, doesn’t she?”
Zev followed Branislava’s gaze to the little girl wiggling enthusiastically. Her sister was just as wild, both clearly feeling the beat of the earth and Syndil’s drums more than the guitar. “They’re beautiful. We’ll have to have twins. Little girls. I can just imagine the trouble they’ll get into with you as a mother and Tatijana as their aunt.” His heart swelled at the thought of his child, or children, growing in her.
Branislava laughed softly. “Or you for a father. I refuse to accept all the blame. I can imagine what kind of a bossy boy you were.”
He had been bossy. He’d often taken over leadership of any activity and other children always followed. Later, when he was barely seven and allowed to hunt with his father and the pack members, he was usually given a key position. “It was a relief to my father and the others in the pack hierarchy when I was sent to the elite school,” he admitted. “They sent me when I was just a boy, but I could come home on visits. Eventually, the visits were further and further apart.” There was regret in his voice. “My personality was too alpha, and it was difficult to have more than one alpha in the same pack, even if I was a boy.”
She rubbed her cheek along his arm, like the kitten he often referred to her as being. He thought he actually heard her purr, but when he looked at her, she had her eyes closed.
“I love you the way you are, Zev. Fen and Dimitri are both alpha males and they get along with you very well,” she murmured, her voice loving.
He wanted to smile at her. She was his fierce kitten, coming to his defense even when there was no need. He was who he was and he’d accepted it long ago. Perhaps the ferocity of his Dark Blood had driven him to be the fierce wolf that he was. Intelligence played a large part, he knew that, but one also had to be willing to walk fearlessly and alone into extreme danger with utter confidence.
“I had no idea when I crossed that rogue pack path a few short weeks ago,” he said, nuzzling the top of her head with his chin, “that I would ever have such a gift handed to me. I won’t lie, which would be impossible anyway, I had certain urges to be with a woman, but I never once thought about having a partner in life. Not one time. I didn’t think it would be possible to find a woman who could accept me the way I am. Or one who would be willing to be by my side fighting rogue packs, hunting vampires or protecting council members.”
Zev threaded his fingers through hers and brought her hand to his mouth, teeth scraping gently back and forth over her knuckles. He felt her answering heat, her body nearly glowing with the rush spreading through her veins. How could he not enjoy the instant acceptance of his attention to her? If he touched her, he knew she would be damp and ready for him. It didn’t take much for him to ignite the fire that always smoldered in her.
“I love that you belong to me,” he whispered against her ear, his teeth teasing her lobe.
Fen whirled by with Tatijana. Don’t set the grass on fire, you two, he cautioned.
Both Zev and Branislava looked down hastily to make certain there were no flames or sparks to catch the vegetation on fire. The ground was cool to the touch and the foliage remained unscorched. They looked at one another and laughed like children.
“He’s so mean,” Branislava said. “For a minute there I actually fell for it and believed him. Can you imagine if we set the forest on fire with everyone dancing? Especially the prince? Gregori would have a few things to say to us.”
“It would be worth it,” Zev said firmly.
“True, but behave yourself anyway. Maybe we need a couple of the wolves to sit between us,” she suggested, but she didn’t move.
Gregori and Savannah sank down beside them. Gregori’s lifemate looked happy. The moment she was sitting, her two little girls rushed her, flinging their little bodies on top of her. She toppled over backward, dragging them both with her, laughing as they hugged her tightly. Both popped up quickly and hurried over to pet the wolves. Neither touched them until they looked to Gregori for permission, although clearly they were already communicating with them.
Gregori indicated Ivory and Razvan. “Those two are their pack leaders. If you want to play with them, you need to ask politely. And if they say no, don’t pout. If they say yes, thank them immediately.”
Alexandru ran up and flung himself in Gregori’s lap. Instantly Gregori’s arms wrapped around the boy, holding him close. He dropped a kiss on top of Alexandru’s head. “Are you having fun?”
Alexandru nodded and circled Gregori’s neck with one small arm, leaning in to whisper something in his ear. He pointed to the wolves and Gregori’s daughters.
“They’re asking permission of Ivory and Razvan right now,” Gregori assured, keeping an eye on his daughters as they raced through the crowd to the two wolf keepers.
Branislava hid her smile behind her hand. Stern Gregori was certainly far more than the prince’s protector and right-hand man. His normal dangerous mask was completely replaced around the children and lifemate. She imagined Zev just like that with his children—and with her. To others he might appear very frightening, but his family would always know the real man, just as Savannah and her children did. Apparently the prince’s son did as well.
She watched Anya and Anastasia run up and tug on Razvan’s pant leg. He immediately stopped dancing and crouched down to eye level with both girls. Ivory leaned down to hear what was said. Branislava noted that although Gregori appeared to have his attention on Alexandru, his gaze flickered often to his daughters.
Razvan looked up at Ivory. Alexandru held his breath. Razvan said something and Ivory nodded. Both girls clapped their hands, smiling, but sobered as the couple continued to talk to them. They nodded over and over, and then turned. Branislava caught Gregori’s instant frown, but he smiled when they turned back, clearly thanking the couple. She noted that both Razvan and Ivory communicated with their wolves. As Razvan turned back to take Ivory into his arms, two more wolves peeled off his back and loped over to the two sitting patiently on the sidelines with Branislava and Zev.
Alexandru jumped down from Gregori’s lap and hurried over with the girls to pet and love on the wolves.
Branislava noted that Mikhail and Raven danced close to Ivory and Razvan, clearly thanking them for giving the children the opportunity to be with adult wolves. She knew that wolf pups were often brought in for the children to learn how to treat them, but Razvan and Ivory’s wolves were part of a hunting pack and usually stayed apart from the other Carpathians.
Branislava watched the girls approach the wolves. They did so slowly, hands extended toward the animals to allow them to smell. Alexandru wiggled his way between the two girls so that Anastasia moved over. She leaned close and whispered in his ear.
Branislava felt her heart turn over at the sight of the two little heads pressed so close together. Clearly Anastasia was instructing Alexandru on how Ivory and Razvan had told the twins to approach the wolves. The prince’s son was very solemn as he extended his hand to the alpha wolf first. He bowed his head as if showing his respect.
“They’re beautiful,” she told Savannah. “Truly beautiful. When Alexandru walked over and stood between the twins, there was a moment when I thought the ground rippled. Did you feel it, too?”
Savannah exchanged a look with Gregori. She nodded slowly. “Yes. The three are powerful together, even at their age. It’s a little disconcerting.”
Gregori reached out and took his lifemate’s hand. “They’re intelligent and have good spirits, all three of them. It will be an adventure raising them, but they’ll be fine.” He kissed her hand. “We’ll be the ones with gray hair.”
Zev laughed. “I was just telling Branislava that we needed to have twin girls.”
Fen and Tatijana sank down beside them. Fen gave a snort of derision. “You’ll be the only Carpathian with gray hair.”