After the devastating loss of her entire family, Lorraine Peters heads to the woods searching for peace of mind and anything to quell the anger in her soul. Instead, she stumbles upon a scene of horrific violence, as one man lies helpless in the face of three attackers.
Andor Katona’s existence has been a harsh one, living for centuries as a monk in the Carpathian Mountains. Unable to find his lifemate, he almost welcomes his release from a colorless and unfeeling world at the hands of the vampire hunters who have mistaken him for their prey. That is, until a whirling ball of fury bursts onto the scene, determined to save him.
In one glimpse, in one breath, Andor recognizes Lorraine as his lifemate, but it will take more than their telepathic connection to convince her of their immortal bond. Lorraine is a lethal combination of cunning and courage. So much so that she captures the attention of a master vampire, one who has already lost what was once irreplaceable to him. One who will strike with deadly precision at Andor and his ancient Carpathian comrades in a war to end all wars. . .
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Contemplating allowing himself to die made Andor Katona feel like a coward. He had never believed that sitting out in the open waiting to meet the dawn and have the sun fry him was an act of nobility. He-and a very few others-had always believed it to be an act of cowardice. Yet here he was, deliberating whether or not to give himself permission to die. The sun wasn't close, but the wounds he'd sustained battling so many vampires at one time had weakened him.
With the loss of blood, and several near-fatal wounds, the human vampire hunters hadn't recognized him as a hunter and had attacked while he'd left his body an empty shell so he could try to heal those wounds. A stake close to the heart-they'd missed-hadn't felt so good. They really weren't very good at their self-appointed task. They'd torn open his chest, and more blood had spilled onto the battleground. He'd never thought he'd die in a country far from home-killed by a trio of bumbling humans-but dying seemed a good alternative to continuing a life of battle in an endless gray void.
The three men, Carter, Barnaby and Shorty, huddled together a distance from him, casting him terrified and hate-filled glances. They were trying to convince themselves they'd done it right and he was dying. Of course, they'd expected him to die immediately and now wondered why he hadn't and what they should do about it. He could have told them they'd need another stake and a much better impaling technique if they wanted him to die. Did he really have to instruct others on how to kill him? That was ridiculous.
Sighing, he tried weighing the pros and cons of dying in order to make a rational decision. He'd lived too long. Far too long. He'd killed too often-so much so that there was little left of his soul. He'd lived with honor, but there had to be a time when one could let go with honor. It was past his time. He'd known that for well over a century. He'd searched the world over for his lifemate, the woman holding the other half of his soul, the light to his darkness. She didn't exist. It was that simple. She didn't exist.
Carpathian males lost all emotion and the ability to see in color after two hundred years. Some lost it earlier. They had to exist on memories, and after so many centuries, even those faded. They retained their battle skills-honed them nightly-but as time passed, all those long, endless years, even the memories of family and friends faded away. He lived his life far from humans most of the time, working in the night to keep them safe.
Vampires were Carpathians who had given up their honor in order to feel again. There was a rush when one killed while feeding. Adrenaline-laced blood could produce a high. Vampires craved it, and they terrorized their victims before killing them. Andor had hunted them on nearly every continent. As time passed, the centuries coming and going, the whispers of temptation to turn increased. For a few hundred years, those whispers sustained him, even if he knew the promise was empty. Eventually, even that was lost to him. Then he lived in a gray world of . . . nothing.
He had entered the monastery high in the remote Carpathian Mountains, a place where a very few ancients had locked themselves away from the world when they'd been deemed too dangerous to hunt and kill but didn't believe in giving themselves to the dawn. Every kill increased the danger of turning, and he had lived too long, knew too much to be vampire. Few hunters would ever be able to defeat him, yet here he was, nearly done in by a trio of inept, bumbling human assassins.
He had taken the vow to be honorable in waiting for his lifemate with the other ancients. Of course, the situation had been made worse by secreting themselves in a place where there was no hope of each finding the one woman who could restore emotions and color to their lives-but they had known that. They had accepted the truth: their women were no longer in the same world with them.
The whispers of his would-be killers grew annoying. Really annoying. His head was swimming, making it difficult to think. He lay looking up at the sky. Stars were out, but they appeared as blurred lights, nothing more. Their light was a dull gray, just as the moon was. He looked down at the blood seeping out of his body, pooling around him from more than a dozen wounds-and that didn't count the stake. The blood was a darker gray. An ugly mess. How had he gotten here, so far from his homeland and the monastery where he'd placed himself so he wouldn't give in to the nothingness that surrounded him?
Hope had come to the monks, so they'd scattered, looking once again for the women who might save their souls. When they'd realized the world was too changed and too vast and once more they didn't fit and there was little hope, they'd answered the call of their fellow monk and followed him to the United States. The vampires had grown powerful, and Carpathians were behind in the ways of the new world. It had been an effort to catch up when before he had always found it easy to learn newer, more modern things. That had led him to this moment-considering that he'd outlived his time.
Everything was different. He was forced to live in close proximity to humans and to hide who and what he was. Women were different. They no longer were satisfied having a man care for them. He had no idea what to do with a modern woman. Contemplating his demise seemed so much wiser than trying to understand the reasoning of a present-day woman.
It was difficult to think, although the night was beautiful. The humans kept talking, whispering together, sending anxious looks his way. He wanted them to be quiet and considered silencing them so he could continue to contemplate, but it was finally dawning on them that maybe they should have studied anatomy a little better before deciding on their profession.
Carter ended up drawing the short straw. The others sent him over to figure out what had gone wrong. He was shaking, trembling from head to foot as he approached, clearly terrified of the man they had tried to murder. Sweat poured off the assassin, and he wiped it away with the back of his hand as he drew near.
He loomed over Andor, the stink of fanaticism reeking from his pores, his features twisted into a mask of hatred and determination. Andor wasn't quite ready to make up his mind about death. He lifted his hand to push enough air at the man to send him flying backward when a woman rushed out of the darkness and attacked.
The moon was full, scattering beams of light over the battleground. There was no evidence of the vampires he'd killed because he'd disposed of them properly. He wasn't getting a minute of peace any time soon, not even with a stake sticking out of him and his blood everywhere, not with his supposed savior in the form of a little whirlwind of fury attacking his three would-be assassins. He was going to have to rescue her. That meant living longer. He didn't like having his mind made up for him.
She moved with incredible speed, an avenging angel, her long hair flying, her hiking boots crunching rock, dirt and the lightning-scorched grass beneath her feet. She bashed Carter with what appeared to be a saucepot, whirling like a tornado and striking him again. She went under his punch, blocking it upward with one arm: it sounded as if it must have felt like a blow as she clobbered him right in the face with the pot. Carter staggered backward and then hit the ground.
Andor closed his eyes briefly, thinking perhaps he was seeing an illusion. What woman would attack three men with a saucepot when they'd just staked someone? He sighed again and thought about how much blood he was going to lose when he sat up and yanked out the stake. It would leave a good-sized hole in his chest. On the other hand, he could leave it in . . .
"Don't you move," she hissed, not looking at him, but one slender hand came back behind her, palm toward him in the universal signal to stop.
He went still. Utterly still. Frozen. His lungs felt raw, burning for air. It wasn't possible. It couldn't be. More than a thousand years. An endless void. His eyes hurt so badly he had to close them, a dangerous thing to do when she was certain to be attacked.
The other two men hadn't the courage of Carter and had backed away a distance from him, just in case when Carter did whatever he was considering to remedy the situation-in other words, trying to kill Andor again-they thought themselves safe. Both men might not want anything to do with the big man on the ground, but a woman armed with a saucepot was an entirely different matter. They had separated and circled around, edging up on either side of her while she had been busy smacking Carter with the pot.
"What is wrong with you people?" She was furious, emphasizing each word with a bang of the pot on Carter. "Are you crazy? That's a human being you're murdering."
Andor had been lying in a puddle of his own blood, contemplating death, surrounded by a gray world. Everything had been gray, or shades of it. The ground. The blood. The trees. The moon overhead. Even his three would-be assassins. He had felt no real emotion, detached and completely removed from what had been happening to him. The world changed in the blink of an eye. His burning eyes, his lungs that refused to obey his commands. Everything so raw he could barely comprehend what was happening.
Color burst behind his eyes. Vivid. Brilliant. Terrible. In spite of the night, he could see the green in the trees and the shrubs, varying shades. His blood appeared red, a bright shade of crimson. He made out colors on the three men, blues and true blacks. The moon caught the woman right in its spotlight, the beams illuminating her.
Andor's breath caught in his throat. Her hair was the color of chestnuts, dark brown with reddish and golden undertones making the thick mass gleam in the moonbeams. Her eyes were large and very green, and she had a mouth that he could fixate on when he'd never obsessed or fixated on anything in his very long existence.
The vivid colors were disorienting when he already was in a weakened state. His stomach knotted. Churned. He felt as if he had vertigo. He needed to sit up. To protect her. The colors flashed through his mind, swirling into a nightmare of soundless chaos. At the same time, emotions poured in, feelings he couldn't sort through fast enough to make sense of or process.
Carter was on the ground cowering as Shorty reached for the woman. She whirled around and bonked him over the head. "Do you have any idea how hard it is for me to meditate when you're murdering someone?" She glared at Andor over her shoulder. "And you. Lying there, deciding whether or not you've had enough of life? What is wrong with you? Life is to be cherished. Not thrown away."
Shorty tried another misguided attempt to punch her. She hit his hand with the pot so hard even Andor winced at the sound. Shorty howled and stepped back, regarding her warily.
"I'm on a journey seeking personal enlightenment, and you are disturbing my aura of love." The pot hit Barnaby on his shoulder hard enough that he covered his head and turned sideways to avoid another swipe. He'd made the mistake of trying to sneak up on her from the other side.
"I'm on a path of nonviolence so that my life can be an example to the world of what it would be like living in a better place. Peace . . ." She smashed the pot against the side of Barnaby's head as he went at her again and then kicked the side of his knee hard enough to send him to the ground. "Love." She turned toward Shorty and began to advance on him menacingly. "Embracing nature."
Shorty grinned at her and shook his head. "You're a nut."
"Maybe, but you're a murderer." She ducked a punch, blocking it smoothly with the pot and bashing his arm while she stepped in and punched his jaw. Hard.
Andor could see Shorty's head snap back. She had quite a punch, but he was going to have to do something before the murderous pack got serious about going after his woman. He forced his body to move. It wasn't easy with a stake protruding from his chest, right beneath his heart. When he moved, blood leaked out around the wood. It hurt like hell and he had to cut off his ability to feel pain if he was going to actually move.
"Don't," she hissed out at him, a clear command. Annoyed.
No one in his lifetime had ever used a tone like that on him. He gave the orders, not a woman, and certainly not a human. Worse-a human woman.
"Don't you move. I'll get to you in a minute." She turned her head to look at him over her shoulder, and her eyes widened in horror. "Oh. My. God." Her saucepot lowered and she half turned toward him.
He waved his hand toward Shorty, who was coming up behind her fast. Shorty stumbled and fell, almost at her feet, drawing her attention. She smashed the pot over his head. She became a little fury, rushing Barnaby again.
"Why would you do that to another human being?" There was a little sob in her voice, as if just seeing the cruelty of the stake in Andor's chest hurt her as well. "I'm supposed to be learning to live without anger and you're torturing and brutally murdering another man. How can I possibly be okay with that? If this is some kind of test, I'm failing. You're making me fail." She kicked Barnaby in the chest, hard. Her forward snap kick was powerful and sent the assassin flying back so far, he hit a tree and slid to the ground.
"He's not human!" Carter shouted. "That's a vampire!"
She stopped in her tracks. "You're all crazy. He's a man." For the first time wariness had crept in.