Monk. Bounty hunter. Vampire slayer. Andre Boroi has spent centuries battling the undead, holding out against the dark with honour. But now, gravely wounded by master vampire Costin Popescu, Andre will be easy to track - his spilled blood marking the killing trail for Popescu and his hungry band of underlings. Andre's only chance is to disappear into the gray mist of the Carpathians.
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Christine Feehan is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of the Carpathian series, the GhostWalker series, the Leopard series and the Sea Haven series. She lives in northern California.
From the Hardcover edition.
The mountain range was high. High enough that Andre could reach the lonely, craggy places others avoided. The higher up he went, the more fog swirled, enclosing him in a soft, wet, gray veil. He was the “Ghost,” and he could easily disappear into the cool gray world he knew so well. He never used a last name if he could help it because the only name that mattered to him was not his own, and unless he found a lifemate, he would not chance ever dishonoring it.
Situated a couple more miles up, almost at the very top of the mountain, was the monastery, the one that had been there for centuries. Built on the precipices, the monastery was shrouded in mystery and the ever-swirling clouds. It was a sacred, protected place and few knew of its existence, although word had gotten out over the years that such a place existed. Only the bravest ever attempted to go there. Had he been inclined, he could have sought sanctuary there to recover from his latest battle.
The monastery, known as the Retreat in the Veil of Mists, held a virtual army of ancient Carpathian hunters—men who had not yet sought the dawn, but who, like Andre, could no longer trust themselves around others. They stayed strictly to themselves, avoiding all humans, all battles, and lived their lives simply until they were able to let go and seek the dawn.
For men who had lived centuries with honor, it wasn’t easy to let go of life. Even without emotion and color, some felt it was cowardly, and without sustaining a mortal wound in combat, they couldn’t just lie outdoors and allow the sun to take them. It felt . . . wrong . . . to too many warriors. Andre would have been welcomed among them, yet he had been too long away from others. He had thought to go there, but in the end realized he couldn’t even accept the sanctuary and the camaraderie he might find there.
Andre didn’t bother to stanch the flow of blood coming from various wounds. He knew he should. It was a trail leading straight to him. Still, it was also an invitation, pure and simple. Anyone who came near him was going to die. He would awaken—that was if he awakened at all—starved for blood, his body writhing with the craving, with the need, and that was the most he’d feel or ever could feel.
One didn’t take blood from the ancients, not unless the need was dire, and certainly not without permission. Andre wasn’t the type of Carpathian who ever asked for asylum or permission, not even from his own kind. He would find what he needed as he always had done on his own. His way.
Some things were a matter of honor. Andre had lived more centuries than he cared to count. He’d held out against the darkness with honor and served his people, hunting the vampire over several continents. He’d battled the undead so many times he honestly couldn’t keep count of the numbers any longer, nor did he care to. There seemed so many more of them and so few hunters. They were losing the war.
He had searched centuries for his lifemate—the one woman who could restore his ability to feel real emotion. The one woman who could give him back color and life. He hadn’t found her. He had long ago given up the idea that she could possibly be in this time realm. Had she been somewhere on this earth, he would have found her by this time.
The relentless whispers of temptation to kill and feel something, if only for a moment, no longer tempted him. For centuries he had carried that burden, but now it too was gone, and that was bad, because at least he’d felt something. Now there was only a dark gray void and endless weariness.
He wouldn’t go to the monastery to rest because, among other reasons, he no longer trusted himself to be around anyone, humans or Carpathians. Once he realized how far gone he was, he knew, in order to preserve his honor, he would have to allow the sun to take him. That had been his intention until Costin Popescu had attacked him. Popescu, the name Costin had assumed was a joke. Son of a priest. Costin was anything but that.
Andre turned to survey the waning night. Light streaked through the gray, and already he could feel the first prickles of warning on his skin. That didn’t matter to him, either. It only served to alert him to the rising sun. He didn’t need the caution, he’d been alive too many centuries not to know the exact moment of sunrise and sunset anywhere he happened to be.
Had the master vampire Popescu attacked him man-to-man, vampire to Carpathian, as he would have in the old days, Andre would have been more than happy to go to his death with honor as long as he took the vampire with him. Battling a master vampire was very dangerous. They had immense power. Coupled with experience in battle, it made for a very fair fight.
The world had changed too much for Andre’s liking. He no longer belonged and he was well aware of that fact. He’d never been a man to be around others. He preferred the high places or the wild places, anywhere he didn’t run into masses of people. Or even a few. He wasn’t civilized. He wasn’t tame. He had his own code, and he lived by it.
Even vampires had changed. There was no longer honor in that battle. In the old days, vampires hunted and killed alone. Now, master vampires had begun recruiting lesser vampires, and they ran in packs. Costin Popescu had four following him, doing his bidding. Two were probably eager enough to follow Andre’s blood trail. The rich ancient Carpathian blood would draw them straight to him. The other two had been around a while and Popescu had taught them a thing or two about battling an ancient hunter. Fortunately, he had managed to kill one of the more experienced followers, leaving Popescu with just three pawns in his little army.
Now, Andre couldn’t go quietly to the dawn and rest as he should have been able to because he was honor bound to rid the world of Costin Popescu and his band of bloodthirsty underlings.
Andre found the narrow entrance to the cave he intended to use to rest and heal. He’d used this particular cave before. It wasn’t easily accessible. One had to stumble upon the entrance to actually see it, and very few ever came up the jagged cliffs to this height. He had used this cave for a resting place since he was a boy.
He still remembered the glittering gems, crystals of every color sparkling across walls in the various chambers. Sometimes a gleam of light burst through the narrow chimney and lit the interior walls with veins of precious minerals. He used to come back to the cave in the hopes of seeing that beautiful sight, the one that he thought he’d burned into his memory, the one he’d been so certain would never fade. He lost his emotions far earlier than the normal two hundred years, and the loss of his ability to see in colors followed quickly. The cave, like everything else, was gray.
He had made the underground chambers a home in his youth, long after he’d lost all family members. Everything that meant something to him from his earlier days was stored in an underground “vault” he’d fashioned out of rock, deep beneath the chamber where he often rested. A few centuries earlier, when he realized he would be the last of his family line, he had sealed the vault and only returned to the caves when necessary.
He sighed as he stepped inside the cool, narrow opening. He had to set safeguards. Popescu’s minions wouldn’t be able to be out in the sun, but it would be suicide not to ensure no one found him while he slept. He didn’t have that luxury until he rid the world of the vampires preying on civilians. He lifted his hands and began the complicated but very necessary ritual of putting safeguards around his resting place.
He’d lost a tremendous amount of blood and unexpected weakness hit him as he began to open the earth. Perhaps he had waited too long. His injuries were severe and maybe, just maybe, fate would take a hand and he would not rise again.
Teagan Joanes sat on her sleeping bag in her small travel tent with her heart pounding. She’d made a huge mistake. Huge. She was an experienced traveler, and when she went hiking in other countries she always checked out the guide carefully. She knew better than to go off alone without a buddy in any foreign country. She had never, not one single time, considered it would be unsafe to travel into the mountains with a man she had known for over three years.
They were friends. Good friends. In the United States, at the university, she had tutored him, studied with him, ate lunch and dinner with him while they studied. He was from another country and very good-looking, with a deep accent, so therefore popular with the women on campus. He dated a lot. All the time. Rarely the same girl more than twice. Their relationship had been strictly friendship. He never made a move on her, not once. She’d always felt comfortable with him. What happened?
Teagan tried desperately to think what she could have done or said to make Armend Jashari think for even a minute that she suddenly wanted more from their friendship. They’d continued their relationship online, messaging back and forth every few days, just to keep in touch, but there hadn’t been a hint of anything sexual. When she needed to visit the Carpathian Mountains it had been natural—she thought—to tell Armend she was coming.
He volunteered immediately to be her guide into the high country, and of course she’d accepted. She was comfortable with him. Correction. She had been comfortable with him. Now, the bad vibes had become really scary.
She slept dressed in her jeans and a tee, just to be safe. Now, she pulled on her boots quickly, hearing him prowling around her tent. He was working himself up, she could see that with his pacing. She hastily rolled her sleeping bag and fixed it to her pack, all the while wishing she could exit her tent without being seen.
She trusted her instincts, and right now they were screaming at her to run for her life. Without preamble, her tent door was ripped back and Armend launched himself into her space.
Teagan narrowed her eyes at the man who crawled into her tent. Her guide. Her friend, so she thought. He wasn’t acting the least bit like a guide or a friend, more like a spoiled rich kid who was entitled to take anything he wanted, including her.
“What do you think you’re doing?” she demanded in her most haughty, how-dare-you, you’re-going-to-die-if-you-come-one-step-closer-to-me voice. Most of the time, the voice didn’t work. She wasn’t tall and threatening in the least, but she could back the voice up whenever necessary, and right now she was afraid it was going to be very necessary.
“You want this. You’ve wanted me from the first day you ever saw me three years ago,” Armend snarled at her. “Don’t pretend. You’ve been panting after me all that time and then you decided to come over here and ask me to guide you into the mountains.”
“You offered, Armend,” she felt compelled to point out. “It was your idea.”
“You wanted me to guide you.”
“You were my friend and I thought . . .” She trailed off. She had never considered this would happen, but she should have.
“I know what you want. Stop playing hard to get.”
“We went to college together, Armend,” she said, keeping her voice low. She didn’t want to agitate him or set him off. Sometimes logic worked. The tent was small and there wasn’t a lot of room to maneuver. “We had classes together. We ate lunch and sat outside and talked. I thought you were my friend.”
He rolled his eyes. “Women and men aren’t friends. Did you think I wouldn’t notice the looks you gave me?” His accent was thick and it thickened more with passion.
Armend Jashari had been sent to school in the United States. His parents were very wealthy in a land where few people had much. Clearly Armend had grown up believing he could do anything he wanted, including keeping coming at a woman when she unmistakably said no.
“I apologize for any misunderstanding that happened between us. I honestly did think we were friends. I have a very good reason for coming here, which I explained to you, and I thought you understood. It seemed a natural thing to do, contact a friend who was familiar with the mountains I needed to explore. I didn’t mean to lead you on, or give you the idea that I was interested in being anything more than your friend,” Teagan said.
She had never flirted with him. Not once. Armend hadn’t given her any indication that he wanted more than friendship during the entire time he was at school with her. She was young to be in the master’s program in geology. Armend was a good five years older than she was, and on top of that, she looked extremely young. Like a boy. Armend had treated her more like a younger sibling, He spent a great deal of time with her, but he dated a lot of women—women who looked like her sisters rather than looked like her.
She had three sisters. All were tall, with womanly curves and the faces of models. She had come along ten years after all of them. All three were athletic, beautiful, intelligent and now married with children. She was . . . Teagan. She could see Armend being attracted to her sisters, but she wasn’t five foot ten and she didn’t have full breasts and curved hips. She didn’t attract men like her sisters did. And she definitely didn’t lead men on.
“You aren’t really here looking for a certain type of crystal or stone,” Armend objected. He inched forward.
Teagan picked up her one cooking pot. She used it to cook everything when she was hiking—which was often. The pot was black from spending so much time in flames. “Don’t you dare come any closer.”
“You’re a tease. A bitch,” Armend snarled. His face turned ugly, and he clenched his fingers into tight fists. “I came all the way up here for a pity fuck. That’s what you are to me. My boys laughed when I showed them your letter. They’re camping a couple of miles from here and waiting their turn.”
She kept her expression blank. He had friends camped close by? She was in the Carpathian Mountains alone with him. She’d trusted him to guide her up the mountain in order to find the exact crystal or stone she needed. It was imperative she find it. She was on a quest—a mission—and she needed the crystal. She’d know when she found it. Her body was a tuning fork for such things. The moment she stumbled on the trail she’d track it to its location, but she had to feel a hint of it first. She’d come prepared to spend a month in the mountains, knowing sometimes it was very difficult to run across the faint sign that would allow her to find what she needed.
“I guess I should thank you for thinking of me, but really, Armend, a pity fuck is out. I don’t want you to touch me, let alone get that personal. So pity or not, that’s out of the question and off the table. Get out of my tent.”
“You’re just a stupid little virgin, aren’t you? A cock tease.”
She raised an eyebrow, gritting her teeth. She had a temper and he was pushing very close to it. He was definitely going to attack her, and she might as well prod him into it so she was ready for him. “There isn’t anything stupid about me, Armend. I’m far more intelligent than you’ll ever be. I had to tutor you, remember? You never would have gotten through any of your classes without me.”
He flung himself on...
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