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Dark Prince (Drak #1)
Author: Christine Feehan

Dark Prince (Drak #1)


One

 

He could no longer fool himself. Slowly, with infinite weariness, Mikhail Dubrinsky closed the leather-bound first edition with a calm finality. This was the end. He could no longer bear it. The books he loved so much could not push away the stark, raw loneliness of his existence. The study was lined with books, floor to ceiling on three of the four walls of the room. He had read every one, committed a great many to memory over the centuries. They no longer provided solace for his mind. The books fed his intellect but broke his heart.

He would not seek sleep at dawn, at least not the healing sleep of renewal; he would seek eternal rest, and God have mercy on his soul. His kind were few, scattered, persecuted—gone. He had tried it all—skills, physical and mental, every new technology. Mikhail had filled his life with art and philosophy, with work and science. He knew every healing herb and every poison root. He knew the weapons of man and had learned to become a weapon himself. He remained alone.

His people were a dying species, and he had failed them. As their leader, he had been committed to finding a way to save those he looked after. Too many of the males were turning, giving their souls to become the undead in desperation. After two hundred years, the males of his species lost the ability to see in color, to feel. They relied solely on will, integrity, and memory to keep them honorable. The temptation to kill while feeding was an ever-present danger for his kind. For those few precious moments, when they fed, if they killed, they would feel the rush, a hot flashing through the body, enveloping the brain, taking over the mind so they could relive it again and again. It was called arwa-arvomet, és jelämet, kuulua huvémet ku feaj és ködet ainaak—literally, to give one’s soul, honor, and salvation, and get pleasure that ends and darkness forever. All Carpathians recognized the trading of soul, honor, and salvation for momentary pleasure and endless damnation.

There were no women to continue their species, to bring them back from the darkness in which they dwelled. Female children had been few and far between. And then women began losing babies before their birth time. He should have seen the decline, found a way to prevent it. Without women, without children, they had no hope of continuing.

The males were essentially predators, the darkness growing and spreading in them until they had no emotion, nothing but the dark in a gray, cold world. For each it was necessary to find his missing half, the lifemate that would bring him forever into the light. With no women and no children, lifemates were a thing of the past, and the males turned more and more to sielet, arwa-arvomet, és jelämet, kuulua huvémet ku feaj és ködet ainaak—trading soul, honor, and salvation for momentary pleasure and endless damnation.

Grief overwhelmed him, consumed him. He lifted his head and roared out his pain like the wounded animal he was. He could no longer bear to be alone. Yet how could he feel pain? Or grief? Why in the last few hours had he felt such complete despair when he couldn’t feel? Was he finally losing his mind, along with all hope?

The trouble is not really in being alone, it’s being lonely. One can be lonely in the midst of a crowd, don’t you think?

Mikhail became still, only his soulless eyes moving warily, a dangerous predator scenting danger. He inhaled deeply, closing his mind instantly, while all senses flared out to locate the intruder. He was alone. He couldn’t be wrong. He was the oldest, the most powerful, the most cunning. No one could penetrate his safeguards. No one could approach him without his knowledge. Curious, he replayed the words, listened to the voice. Female, young, matter-of-fact, highly intelligent. He allowed his mind to open slightly, testing paths, looking for mental footprints.

I have found it to be so, he agreed. He realized he was holding his breath, needing the contact. A human. Who gave a damn? Something—no, someone—had penetrated the depths of his pain and interested him enough to respond. Who could speak telepathically other than one of his kind? The puzzle made no sense, but it mattered little to him. He was interested. Caught. Intrigued.

Sometimes I go into the mountains and stay by myself for days, weeks, and I’m not lonely, yet at a party, surrounded by a hundred people, I am more lonely than ever.

His gut clenched hotly. Her voice, filling his mind, was soft, musical, sexy in its innocence. Mikhail had not felt anything in centuries; his body had not wanted a woman in hundreds of years. Now, hearing this voice, the voice of a human woman, he was astonished at the gathering fire in his veins.

How is it you can talk to me?

I’m sorry if I offended you.

He could clearly hear that she meant it, felt her apology.

Your pain was so sharp, so terrible, I couldn’t ignore it. I thought you might like to talk. Death is not an answer to unhappiness. I think you know that. In any case, I’ll stop if you wish it.

No! His protest was a command, an imperious order given by a being used to instant submission. He felt her laughter before the sound registered in his mind. Soft, carefree, inviting.

Are you used to obedience from everyone around you?

Absolutely. He didn’t know how to take her laughter. He was fascinated. Feelings—emotions—poured into his mind and body until he was swamped, overwhelmed, until he could barely breathe through the hundreds of years of a stark, barren existence.

You’re European, aren’t you? Wealthy, and very, very arrogant.

He found himself smiling at her teasing. He never smiled. Not for six hundred years or more. All of those things. He waited for her laughter again, needing it with the same craving an addict felt for a drug.

When it came, it was low and amused, as caressing as the touch of fingers on his skin. I’m an American. Oil and water, don’t you think?

He had a fix on her now, a direction. She would not get away from him. American women can be trained with the right methods. He drawled it deliberately, anticipating her reaction.

You really are arrogant. He loved the sound of her laughter, savored it, took it into his body. He felt her drowsiness, her yawn. So much the better. He sent her a light mental push, very delicate, wanting her to sleep so he could examine her.

Knock it off! Her reaction was a quick withdrawal, hurt, suspicion.

She retreated, slamming up a mind block so swiftly, he was astonished at how adept she was, how strong for one so young, strong for a human. And she was human. He was certain of it. He knew without looking that he had exactly five hours till sunrise. Not that he couldn’t take the early or late sunlight. He tested her block, careful not to alarm her. A faint smile touched his well-cut mouth. She was strong, but not nearly strong enough.

His body, hard-corded muscle and superhuman strength, shimmered, dissolved, became a faint crystal mist seeping beneath the door, streaming into the night air. Droplets beaded, collected, connected, formed a large winged bird. It dipped, circled, and swept across the darkened sky, silent, lethal, beautiful in its deadly deception.

Mikhail reveled in the power of flight, the wind rushing against his body, the night air speaking to him, whispering secrets, carrying the scent of game, of man. He followed the faint psychic trail unerringly. So simple. Yet his blood was surging hotly, no memory, but real excitement. A woman, young, full of life and laughter, a human with a psychic connection to him. A human filled with compassion, intellect, and strength. Death and damnation could wait another day while he satisfied his curiosity.

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