Authors: Christine Feehan
Tags: #Fiction, #Fantasy, #Romance
“You do plenty well with your power. You throw people out of your mind at will. Very few people can do that, MaryAnn. It is a very intriguing ability.” His hand dropped to his side between them once again, fingers bunching in her skirt.
“Where does it come from?”
“Many sources. I think all societies had a few who possessed some ability to manipulate energy. Some species were stronger than others, but once they began to mix, over the years, you find both amazing talent and none at all.”
It made sense. She felt the caressing pads of his fingers as he bunched her skirt higher to expose the long expanse of skin along the leg closest to him. He remained lying beside her, staring up at the stars, but his hand slid under the silky material to move along her thigh and hip, shaping her curves.
Everything in her went still. Every muscle clenched in response to that light touch. “What are you doing?”
“Memorizing you. You have such soft skin. It is hard not to touch you.”
He wasn’t trying that hard, not that she could see. She moistened her lips again and tried to concentrate on conversation. “Did you know the jaguar people when there were still quite a few of them?”
“The shifters, especially the jaguar and werewolves, were always secretive societies. They kept to themselves. We all had a ‘live and let live’ philosophy, so we didn’t mix unless someone committed crimes in our territories.
, mage and humans were close. The others stayed away from us and from each other. The other shifters disappeared so fast they are barely a memory. It was obvious that if the society did not take care of its women and children, that it was impossible for that species to continue, but the jaguar refused to acknowledge or learn from the mistakes other species had made. They wanted to keep their animal instincts and live free.”
She was silent a long moment, watching the shimmering mist and the wheeling and dancing of bats as they hunted insects in the night sky. There was a kind of beauty and peace in the strange ballet they performed. Lying there, she could understand why some people preferred the rain forest to the city, especially if they were with a Carpathian who could keep insects and rain from ever touching them.
“Has it been difficult living through so many changes?” He must have seen so much. Learned so much. Suffered so much.
“Longevity is both a curse and a blessing. You see people you care about coming and going while you endlessly remain. War is the same. Poverty. Ambition and greed. But there are such wonders, MaryAnn, wonders worth all the rest.” He turned his head, his dark gaze liquid black in the moonlight. That was what she was to him. Wonder. A miracle. She had no idea. He caught glimpses of her thoughts when she opened her mind to him. She didn’t understand how a man like him would ever look at her, let alone want to spend eternity with her. She had no idea of her own appeal. The light in her shone like a beacon.
Everything about her appealed to him. She was courageous, yet didn’t see herself that way. She had more compassion in her than any other person he had ever encountered. Often, at great risk to herself, she went to the aid of others. There was an innocence about her, yet her eyes were old. She’d seen life at its worst, but refused to give up hope.
“What are you looking for?” She tilted her chin a little at him.
“Acceptance.” He didn’t think to hide himself from her. One never did, not from one’s lifemate. He needed that from her. That she could see him, all of him. He wanted to stand before her with all his flaws and know that she could still accept who he was. It had never mattered before. Now acceptance was everything.
He rubbed the pad of his fingers along her glowing skin. Nothing had ever felt so soft and inviting. It seemed a miracle—another wonder in life—to be able to touch her like he was. To lie beside her with the stars above them and talk quietly together.
“Tell me your worst trait.”
His teeth flashed white in the moonlight. “I think we should start with something good.”
“If we go with the worst, then we get it out of the way fast. We know what it is and whether we can handle it. I’m stubborn. Not just a little bit, either. I’m really stubborn. I don’t like being pushed around.”
“I am always right.”
Her soft laughter teased at his groin like caressing fingers. He had forgotten, or maybe he had just never experienced, perfect enjoyment like being with a woman who could arouse him the way she did. He could listen to that laugh for all time and never get tired of it.
“So you think.”
“So I know.”
“And you expect everyone to do what you say because you’re right.”
She wrapped his hair around her finger. “Since we’re telling secrets, does it bother you to be called Manolito instead of Manuel? I know that ‘little man’ is often used for boys instead of men in some countries.”
“It is a term of affection to my brothers. I do not care, and have never cared, what others think, only that those I love accept me. Does it bother you?”
“Manolito in other countries is a more commonly used name, with nothing else attached to it. I grew up thinking it was a great name with a beautiful sound to it. It’s nice to know your brothers tease you with affection.”
Shadows moved in the depths of his eyes. “Nicolas and Zacarias have not found their lifemates. They only have the memory of emotion, and it is more difficult to maintain with every passing night.”
“I’m sorry, Manolito.” She could feel his worry.
“They will endure because they must.” His hand brushed down her face. “Tell me what’s wrong, MaryAnn. I can see how upset you are.”
She hesitated, pressed her lips together, then sighed. “Whatever is inside of me scares the hell out of me.”
Overhead, the branches swayed with more than birds. She could see small, furry bodies gathering for the night in the trees. Most congregated to one side of the tree, just across from her, while a few of the monkeys settled in branches on Manolito’s side.
“You cannot be anything but who you are,
Never be afraid of what is inside of you. I’m not.”
Her eyes met his. “You should be.”
anolito felt the sudden tension in her. He touched her chin with gentle fingers. “Why would I ever fear what is inside of you? I can see your light shining so bright, there is never a need to fear any part of you.”
She ducked her head so that the mass of curly hair fell around her face. “Maybe you don’t see me as well as you think you do.”
“Then tell me.”
“I don’t know what to tell you. How to tell you. I can’t see it. I only feel it, and it scares me to death.”
He was silent a moment, trying to find a way to help her confide in him. She wanted to. It wasn’t that she intentionally was hiding anything, but she was struggling to come to terms with something she knew or suspected and she wasn’t quite ready.
“Tell me about your childhood,” Manolito said, his dark gaze holding hers, his voice gentle.
She looked uncomfortable, shifting slightly away from him. “I had a normal childhood. You’d think it was boring, but I enjoyed it. My parents are great. Mom’s a doctor, and Dad owns a little bakery shop. I grew up working there and earned most of my money for college. No brothers or sisters, so it was a little lonely, but I had a lot of friends in school.”
His gaze drifted over her face, noting her eyes, the pulse beating so frantically in her throat. “There were things that happened. Unexplained things. Tell me about those.”
Her heart began to thunder in her ears. She felt her breath catch in her lungs. She didn’t want to think of those moments, and yes, there had been plenty, incidents there was no explanation for. MaryAnn pulled away so her body didn’t touch his, just in case he could read her. She felt a shift inside of her, something moving and nudging at her almost in inquiry.
Do you need me? What is it?
She gasped, bit down hard on her lip and tried to thrust the truth back into that deep abyss where she never had to face it. Out here in the rain forest, where everything was wild and it was kill or be killed and she faced enemies unknown in her safe world, she could no longer contain that other being unfolding inside of her.
Manolito remained still, not moving a muscle, sensing her sudden withdrawal, not only from him, but from something that had been close enough for her to see. She had slammed that impenetrable barrier between them again to keep him from seeing it. The moment she withdrew her mind from his, he was aware of that other world he still dwelled in.
The colors around him dimmed significantly and the noise of the rain forest disappeared until silence surrounded him. Strangely, his sense of smell was even more acute, as was his hearing. He not only could detect the position of animals and birds around them, but he also knew
locations. He didn’t need to reach with his mind to find those surrounding him; his nose and ears gave him the information. The longer he dwelled in the shadow land, the more heightened all his senses became—well, almost all of them. His vision seemed different, familiar in the way of when he shifted to animal form, but still, he caught movement instantly. He just didn’t like the graying in the color, as it reminded him too much of the centuries of darkness.
He curled his fingers around hers and held tight. He had been vaguely aware of the land of mists creeping into his mind and vision since he had sent Luiz to ground, but it had been distant, as if he had made his way closer to the world where MaryAnn lived. Now, without her mind merging with his, everywhere he looked the gray was consuming color.
Manolito squeezed her hand in reassurance, although he wasn’t altogether certain who was reassuring who. “You are safe here with me. Whatever it is you fear, share it with me. Burdens are much less when shared.”
He was aware of every detail about her in that moment, and she was very much afraid. He heard her heart, saw the frantic beat of her pulse. She had insisted on standing by him, refusing to leave him alone in the meadow of mists, even when she was unsure of him. He wanted her to know he would do no less.
She shook her head even as she began to speak, obviously not wanting to remember the incident, or speak of it aloud, yet almost compelled to share, needing at least someone to know she wasn’t crazy. “There was one time when I was in high school that I went out for track. My parents really wanted me to play sports, but I had no interest. I’m a girlie girl, always have been, but my dad thought if I got involved in sports I’d be less inclined to follow the latest fashion trends.”
He stayed silent, watching the shadows chase across her face, waiting for her to make up her mind to tell him the entire story, not the watered-down version.
“I showed up for practice and took off running. At first all I could think about was how I was going to fall on my face, or trip and humiliate myself. But then I forgot myself and how uncomfortable it was running and I felt…
” She let her breath out, obviously remembering the feeling. “I wasn’t aware of what I was doing at all, but I outdistanced everyone and ran without thought. I didn’t feel pain at all, only a type of euphoria.”
He brought her hand to his mouth and kissed her fingertips. “Don’t stop,
What else did you feel? Obviously this made an impression on you.”
“At first it was wonderful, but then I began to notice things.” She pulled her hand away, as if she couldn’t bare her soul while touching him. “My bones began to hurt, my joints cracked and popped. Even my knuckles ached.” She rubbed them, clearly remembering the feeling. “My jaw throbbed, and I had the sensation of stretching thinner and thinner. I could hear tendons and ligaments snapping. I ran so fast, everything around me was a blur. My vision changed, my hearing and sense of smell were so acute, I could tell where every single runner was behind me.
where they were, without looking. I could hear their breathing, the air rushing in and out of their lungs. I could smell their sweat, and hear their hearts beating.”
How could she explain to him what had happened that day? How she felt something changing and growing and reaching to get out of her, to be acknowledged and recognized.
wanted out. She moistened her lips and clung tighter to his hand.
“I was different in that moment, completely different, yet the same. I could leap over obstacles without even slowing down. Every sense was alive in me. My body was—singing, as if it had come alive for the first time. I can’t even explain how it felt, every sense so open and gathering information. And then things began to pour into my mind, visions I couldn’t stop or make sense of.”
He brought her hand to his chest in an effort to comfort her. She didn’t seem to realize she was becoming agitated and that her state of mind was affecting the monkeys in the surrounding trees. Wings displaced air overhead as birds stood on branches and beat them, squawking and chirping anxiously. He slid the pad of his thumb over the back of her hand and felt hard knots under her skin as her tension mounted. “What did you see?” Whatever it was had terrified her.
“A man calling to a woman, telling her to take the baby and run. The baby was—
I was lying in a crib, and she wrapped me in a blanket, kissed the man and clung to him. I could hear voices and saw dancing lights outside the windows. The man kissed me, too, and then her one last time and jerked open a trapdoor in the floor. I felt dread and fear. I didn’t want to leave him and neither did she. I think we all knew it was the last time we’d see each other.”
She licked her dry lips. “The infant was surrounded by forest while I was running the track, hearing my heart, my footfalls, smelling the others, and I remember stars bursting around me. But they weren’t really around me at the school; the lights were flashing around the woman and me, the infant in the forest. I could hear something whistle as it went past us, and then the woman flinched, stumbling. The next thing, I was running on the track, yet at the same time the woman was running through the trees with me—the baby.”