Stolen from her home at a young age and tormented for centuries, Elisabeta Trigovise is scared to show herself to anyone. Even though she has been rescued and is now safe within the Carpathian compound, she has lived in fear for so long she has no idea how to survive without it. She wants to answer the siren call of her lifemate—but the very thought terrifies her.
Before he found Elisabeta, Ferro Arany was an ancient warrior without emotion. Now that his senses have come alive, he knows it will take more than kind words and soft touches to convince the fractured woman that they are partners, not master and prisoner. For now, he will give her his strength until she finds hers, allowing the steady rhythm of his heart to soothe Elisabeta's fragile soul.
But even as she learns to stand on her own, the vampire who kept her captive is desperate to claim her again, threatening the song Elisabeta and Ferro are writing together.
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Through the howling of the wind, a whisper can be heard;
A soft serenade, pie sarnanak, feel my words.
Sound woke her. Elisabeta Trigovise didn't want to be awake. She wanted to sleep forever, but those weeping notes refused to allow her to succumb to her need to hide from the world. Like the drops of rain drumming softly into the earth, feeding the soil, those notes slipped into her mind with a song of rising. More and more that gentle melody awakened her on each rising, became more insistent that she comply more fully. That she more than just wake to feed and go straight back to slumber.
Whereas before, the song was in her mind, now it sank into her body, her blood and bones, her heart and soul, calling to her persistently, and she knew it was the call of her lifemate-one she couldn't ignore. She didn't dare ignore. It didn't matter how terrified she was of him. She had to answer.
There was safety beneath the ground. Solace. No one could get to her. She was alone and no demands could be put on her, but she had known all along it wasn't going to last. Every rising, each time the sun set, the danger began. She tried to sleep, but they came to feed her. At first many had come. Different ones. That had been frightening, but the blood had revived her, made her stronger, and no one had asked anything of her. She was allowed to go back to sleep in the healing soil to repair her body and fractured mind. Now, only he gave her blood.
Elisabeta tried not to waken, but it was too late, the song had played through her mind, those beautiful weeping notes of rain. The sun had set, and the moment it did, her body had tuned to it. She was Carpathian, that ancient race paralyzed during daylight hours and needing blood to sustain their lives. There were few of them left in the world, and the fight to keep from dying out was made worse by the vampires trying to kill them.
A little shudder went through her body. Elisabeta had been tricked by a friend when she'd been young and na•ve, and she'd been kidnapped, taken from her home and family and hidden away by one such vampire for centuries. She no longer remembered that young girl, or her family. She'd been reduced to this woman, who hid herself away in the ground, too terrified of everything and everyone to show herself. Sergey Malinov-the master vampire-would come for her and he would use her to destroy everyone who had shown her any kindness because that was what he did. He would never let her escape him. Never.
The moment she surfaced, he would use her, and they had no idea how powerful he was. They had rescued her, and he was angry, whispering to her, trying to get past the barriers and shields they had erected to protect her, but he was there, crouched and waiting to strike. She knew him, knew he was wholly evil. There were children in this compound, this place her rescuers thought safe. No one was safe from Sergey, least of all children.
The world had passed her by while she lived in a cage, with only her sadistic captor for company. One moment he could be falsely sweet; the next, savagely ugly, torturing her, starving her, hurting others in front of her. Leaving her alone for long periods of time so that she thought she would slowly starve to death and even welcomed that end. He was her only company. She couldn't speak unless he gave her permission. She made no decisions for herself and so, after centuries, no longer knew how to make them.
She had been rescued, put in the healing grounds to recover from the wounds to body and mind, but there was no recovery from centuries of captivity. She had no idea how to fend for herself. She was terrified of having to talk to strangers. They had told her she had a brother and that he had searched for her for centuries. She had thought of that often, ashamed that when she tried to remember him, her mind seemed to explode with pain, rejecting the idea of her past. She knew they would expect her to remember him, but she didn't.
She didn't remember herself as a young Carpathian woman, nor did she remember her parents. Her mind had been fractured, and no amount of healing in the earth was going to change that. She wasn't that same girl who had been taken from her home. She was-nothing. No one. She wanted to remain where she was, hidden away from everyone, but she knew her time was fast running out. Her lifemate had found her. Just thinking of him made her heart pound out of control. She knew better. She knew to control herself. That simple sound would alert him, and of course it did.
His voice filled her mind. Calm. Soothing. A masterful voice. One always in control, unlike her. Her heart accelerated even more. Panic began to set in. At once the ground above her opened before she could begin to struggle for air. He did that for her. She hadn't done it for herself and it shamed her that she always had to be taken care of. The least little detail of her life had to be arranged for her because she didn't know how to do it.
She couldn't provide herself with clothing, and if her lifemate knew, he might be angry. If she spoke without permission, he might be angry. Punishments could be terrible. She didn't know the rules in this new world or with this man. She only knew what she sensed of him-that he was an ancient, far older than Sergey and much more dangerous. He terrified her on so many levels, but then everything did.
She had been befriended by a woman, Julija, a strong woman who walked her own path, walked beside her lifemate and made her own decisions. Elisabeta had dared to defy Sergey and secretly talked with her. She wanted to be strong like her but knew she never would be. Hundreds of years of captivity and silence, of having someone telling her what to do, of punishments and fear, had shaped her into this terrified being she had come to despise. She no longer knew who she was or what she was, only that she had no purpose, and she was so tired of being afraid.
She stayed very still and remained silent, terrified of being tricked. She kept her eyes closed tightly, even with the ground above her open, afraid of seeing where she was. She hadn't been out of a cage in hundreds of years. Open spaces made her feel sick and disoriented. She didn't know how to process space.
Speak to me, lifemate.
Her heart sank. That was a direct order. The first he had ever given to her. It mattered little that his voice was so different from Sergey's. He was her master and could torture her, deprive her of food, kill others in front of her. Her heart pounded out of control. What would you have me say?
There was a small silence that terrified her even more. Had she angered him? She really didn't know what he wanted from her.
Elisabeta, listen to my heartbeat. You are panicking for no reason. We are merely having a conversation. Breathe with me. Listen to my heartbeat and follow with yours.
She made the mistake of lifting her lashes, just for a second. Surrounding her, she could see what appeared to be balconies where people could stand and look down onto the healing grounds where she lay. They could see her. Full-blown panic had taken hold and she couldn't find air. Her body nearly convulsed. She tried to curl into the fetal position, to sink deeper into the healing soil, allowing the rich minerals to blanket her body and hide her from any prying eyes.
She sank into waiting arms. Strong arms. She had always fantasized about being held when she needed it most. She longed for human contact-was often desperate for it-and now, somehow, she had made her fantasy so real she felt a very hard male body surrounding hers, holding her safe. With her eyes closed tight, she felt him surround her with his warmth, his heat. His breath was in her ear, his chest rising and falling behind her back.
Breathe with me, pie sarnanak, follow the rhythm of my heart.
Her heart tuned almost automatically to his, before she could do so intentionally. The breath moved in and out of her starving lungs, pulling air into her. The air smelled of rain, of rich soil and unexpectedly of juniper and allspice mixed together. He had called her "little songbird." That didn't seem so bad, an endearment in the ancient Carpathian language. Her heart stuttered a little at the gentleness in the way he treated her.
That's good, Elisabeta. Now tell me, while you feel safe, what is your greatest fear of rising?
She did feel safe. She burrowed deeper, imagining being held in those strong arms, feeling them tighten around her, feeling the warm breath in her ear, so steady. Breathing in and out. His heart rate never faltered. Never rose or slowed but remained that same steady rhythm, as if he could always be counted on. Did she dare voice her concern aloud? Already she was terrified that she had been awake long enough to alert Sergey.
He will never give me up. He will use me to kill everyone who helped to take me from him. He's so cruel. If I don't go back to him, he will burn this place to the ground with everyone in it right in front of me.
As soon as she gave voice to her concerns, even if it was only in her mind, panic again began to burst through her. What if Sergey heard? What if he was able to monitor her in spite of the safeguards the Carpathians had so carefully woven around her? She didn't dare utter his evil name just in case the vampire was able to latch on to that.
A hand pressed into her hair, a soothing stroke down the back of her head. Like a caress. It was so strange, so unusual, such a rare, shocking feeling she'd never experienced, it stopped the welling panic before it could take her over.
Thank you for telling me your greatest fear. I know it frightened you just to tell me. What else has upset you? Be truthful with me, Elisabeta. You will not be punished for telling the truth to me no matter what you say.
Could she believe that? She had to answer him truthfully, no matter if she was punished or not. One didn't lie to one's lifemate. He would know. She took a deep breath. You did not claim me as your lifemate. You know I am not worthy. I accept that, and I understand. I am not the same woman I was born to be. I have been corrupted by the vampire who took me and held me captive for so many years. I do understand but . . . She broke off.
It was the truth. She didn't even know if she wanted to be claimed because she had no idea what she would do as a lifemate. Carpathians only had one. When a man was born, his soul was split in half. He carried all the darkness in him. The light was placed in a woman who was born either at the same time or later. Around the age of two hundred, Carpathian males began to lose their ability to see in color and emotions began to fade. As time went on, if they didn't find their lifemate, their world became gray and emotions retreated completely.
Men were born with the ritual binding words imprinted on them. Once they found their lifemate, their emotions and color were restored to them. They said the vows to the woman when they found her, binding them together. No man waited, especially an ancient hunter who had lived long and suffered greatly.
Still, she did understand. She was conflicted about her feelings. If he claimed her, it would be another layer of protection for her against Sergey. Ferro Arany was a very dangerous man. She could feel that even beneath the ground. He was older than so many of them, and most had been on earth a long time. He was a skilled warrior. She was a little humiliated that he didn't want her, even if she did understand.
It had been drilled into her almost from the moment of birth that somewhere was her other half and he would be actively looking for her. Always looking for her. To know that he had found her and didn't want her was another blow to her. Although, if he had claimed her, she would have been even more terrified, so that made no sense at all. She just needed to stay in the ground, where she could lose herself and not have to face the world she didn't understand.
I intend to claim you now, pie sarnanak. You are going to leave these healing grounds, and to do so, you will need my protection. I feel your fear of the unknown beating at me and wish to protect you from that, but most of all from him. He cannot get to you here, and he will know, once we are bound together, that he cannot have you unless he destroys our bond. He can only do that if he kills me. By protecting you, and shielding you, this vampire cannot use you to harm anyone here at the compound. You have no need to worry about him using you to that end.
His heart rate never rose. His voice was as calm as ever. He didn't seem to fear Sergey in the least or to be impressed that the master vampire had outsmarted his four older siblings and even powerful mages. The vampire led an army against the Carpathians, yet Ferro seemingly wasn't worried about him.
I do not know what a lifemate does. I have forgotten so much.
He was claiming her to protect her from Sergey. While his last statement brought tremendous relief, it also brought her clarity. He was an ancient hunter. He had spent several lifetimes sacrificing for his people. Binding himself to her would be nothing in comparison to what he had suffered on behalf of the Carpathian people. That made perfect sense to her.
I will have no trouble telling you what I expect from you.
She hoped so, because she wasn't good at thinking for herself. Julija was trying to help her with that. Julija had told her she had a couple of friends who would love to meet her, and they would be as welcoming as Julija, but even that scared Elisabeta. Everything scared her.