Dark Legend (Page 10)
“How long do you think you can keep avoiding me?” Brice demanded as he came up behind Francesca.
“Don't flatter yourself, Brice,” Francesca said exasperated. “This isn't the best time to confront me. I just had a little visit from a very unsavory reporter. He was making me out to be some kind of nutcase. I suspect I have you to thank for that.”
Brice had the grace to look ashamed even as he tried to shrug her accusation off casually. “I only told the truth. You examined my patient. At the time she was terminally ill. There is no question that was so. It was fully documented and I have all the records to prove it. Afterward every blood test came out clean, Francesca. She's completely cured. I didn't do it and I have no idea how it was done.”
“So you just gave me up to reporters, the freak miracle worker. You made sure my privacy was completely destroyed. Is that supposed to make me look upon you with favor?” Francesca tossed her head, her thick curtain of blue-black hair flying. “I'm busy avoiding your reporters, Brice. I don't have time for a little chat.”
“Francesca, it didn't happen like that. Come on, you know me better than that. I admit I like to grab the headlines, but it wasn't me who talked to the reporters.” He caught her arm, bringing her to a halt. “Stop running, Francesca, you're wearing me out. It wasn't me. It was the girl's parents. Her name is Chelsea Grant. Her father is a United States senator. I mentioned you to her mother without thinking. There was no hope for Chelsea. None. Her parents knew that. I wasn't the only doctor who had examined her. I was only one in a long line of opinions. Mrs. Grant had you investigated. Several former patients were only too happy to be able to talk about you and the miracle you worked for them.”
Francesca glanced down at the fingers trapping her arm. There had been a time the brush of his fingers had warmed her heart; now he irritated her. Was she so shallow that her feelings could change so easily, so quickly? Or had she somehow deceived herself about his true character because she had been so lonely? She had wanted to share her life with someone once before she allowed herself to die. Now Francesca could clearly see how important headlines were to Brice, how important pleasing a senator's wife really was to him. “Important enough to sell me out,” she mused aloud. “You wanted her to owe you a favor.”
“I'm sorry, Francesca, I wanted the best for my patient. And yes, she happens to have parents who could smooth my way to the hospital I want. A place where my skills can really make a difference.”
“I thought you cared about these kids.”
“Of course I care about them, I've dedicated my life to them. You haven't learned that it's okay to want to make a decent living. You have money, Francesca. You have more than enough, although you're giving it away at an alarming rate. I need to make a living. It's as easy and as heroic to help a rich sick child as it is to help one that's homeless.”
“Like Skyler,” Francesca said softly. “She can't do a thing for your career. You didn't want her in your life so you tried to make certain she wasn't in mine. That is beneath contempt, Brice. That child needs a home and I can provide her with a good one. For you to try to keep me from taking her home was absolutely unforgivable. How could you do such a thing?”
“Damn it, Francesca. You're the one who's changed, not me. You knew I wanted certain things. This isn't about me, it's about him. Gabriel. What is he, exactly? A government spy? A mob boss of some kind? Is he holding something over your head? Over the judge's? Are you all afraid of him? Don't think I haven't noticed something's not quite right about him. Was he in prison for a crime? Where has he been all the years he was gone?”
“You heard what the judge said. He has all he needs to know about Gabriel. His life is a matter of security. It's classified.”
Brice bit back an explosion of swear words. “Is that what he told you? And you just believe him? Don't you see, Francesca? He could be a criminal of the worst sort. You're too trusting. He just waltzes back into your life after dropping off the face of the earth and you accept him. The judge accepts him. Your attorney accepts him. My God, don't you see? He's not like us.”
“No, he's not. He's good and kind and has no ulterior motive when it comes to Skyler.” Francesca's dark eyes were flashing fire at him. She was so beautiful Brice found himself reaching for her, wanting to take her into his arms. He must have blinked because she moved so fast he didn't actually see her move, but his arms dropped empty to his sides.
“That's a hell of a thing to say to me. I wanted Skyler to get better. I was the one who asked you to look at her in the first place. Her father had no money. Don't forget that, Francesca, while you're so busy condemning me. And don't think for one minute your precious Gabriel has no ulterior motive when it comes to Skyler. His motive is you. He wants you and he'll use anyone to get you. Is Gabriel holding something over your head? Are you afraid of him? Is that what it is? You can tell me. I can help you. He can't be so powerful we couldn't fight him together.”
Francesca almost burst out laughing. Brice had no concept of what power really was. The two of them and an army could not defeat Gabriel. “No, Brice. I'm not afraid of Gabriel, but thank you for asking. I'm grateful you would want to help me.”
“Why have you taken him back into your life without so much as a fight?” Brice demanded. “He just showed up on your doorstep and you let him in. Why? Why didn't you take some time to get to know him again? Don't you see what a mistake this is? I'm your friend and I can see him more clearly than you. He's dangerous, Francesca. I mean really dangerous. He's a criminal of some sort. He reeks of it.”
Francesca shook her head wearily. “I don't want to fight with you any more, Brice. I can assure you Gabriel is no criminal. If the judge has information on him and is willing to allow Skyler to stay with him, you must accept that he is a good man. You know he's no criminal. You're just angry because I've allowed him back into my life. I don't know what I'm going to do about Gabriel, but it's for me to decide. I've never deceived you, not once in our relationship. I never told you I loved you, I never committed to a relationship with you.”
“You've always known how I felt. I haven't changed. I'm sorry I'm jealous. Just spend some time with me.” His voice suddenly turned cajoling, appeasing. “Come home with me. Spend the night.” Brice bent over her, his mouth hovering close. His face was suddenly filled with a kind of crafty, greedy lust, his eyes flat and unfamiliar.
Francesca's heart slammed in alarm. It was all she could do not to jerk away from him. She was very aware of his suddenly strong grip on her upper arms as he drew her body into his. He seemed different somehow, a stranger, not at all like the Brice she thought she knew. Could she have been so wrong? Had she been so desperate for companionship that she had overlooked his true character? It didn't make sense. It wasn't in Francesca to make a scene and it was ingrained in her to act human at all times. She stood very still, like a deer caught in the headlights of a speeding car. Just as his lips were about to touch hers, he coughed, both hands going to his throat as he began to choke. His eyes glazed with instant alarm.
“What's wrong?” Francesca deliberately touched his arm to read what was happening in his body. Was it Gabriel? She didn't feel the surge of power his presence should cause, but he was an ancient. She had no real idea of his true power. All she could tell was that Brice's airway was blocked. She couldn't tell what was wrong. His throat seemed swollen, almost as if he was having an allergic reaction to something.
Brice went limp, his eyes rolled back in his head, and his knees buckled so that he began to topple to the floor. Francesca easily caught him with preternatural strength, easing him to the floor, reaching to open his shirt, frantically seeking to find if his airway was open.
She reached for him almost automatically.
He was there instantly in her mind, a soothing calm in the eye of the storm, assessing the situation. Francesca was attempting to breathe for Brice, but no air could make it through his passageway. When she tried to enter his body using pure energy and light, there was some obstruction she could not pass. Gabriel was grateful that she had suspected him only fleetingly, had turned instantly to him for aid. She was beginning to trust him far more than she realized.
“Lucian, I know you are there.”
Gabriel was very calm.
“You are killing this man. Let him be.” “You do not fight your own battles.”
Itwas a taunt, a reprimand. Francesca renewed her efforts to enter Brice's body to heal him, but the obstruction was like a brick wall. Sharing Gabriel's mind enabled her to “hear” the exchange between the twin brothers.
“Who is this man that you do not remove him when he causes you such annoyance? You have grown soft, Gabriel. You expect to hoard these two women when you cannot even destroy your enemies?”
The voice was beautiful. So beautiful that Francesca had to try to block it out. It was compelling without the vampire even trying to make it so. She was frightened to think what power he wielded so easily.
She whispered it on their own private mental path. Brice had been without air for far too long.
At once she heard the soft, beautiful laughter echoing in her mind.
“She is begging for the life of this worthless human. Your woman, begging for the life of another male. What does that mean, brother? You cannot even keep your woman.”
It was shocking to discover that the private path used between lifemates had been so easily invaded by the vampire. It was unheard of. Her heart began to beat loudly. She felt very vulnerable and she was desperate now to save Brice. Gabriel, however, remained as calm as ever, completely unruffled.
“Keep this between the two of us, Lucian. You are becoming rather tedious with these displays. Showing off for women is beneath you. Are you so afraid, then, that I am not paying enough attention to you? I will come to you at once if that is your desire.”
Hewas searching for a path to locate the vampire.
All at once, Brice coughed and choked, gasping for breath. Francesca felt the unmistakable ripple of power. It filled the spaces around her, vibrated in the air, and then it was gone. She shuddered, sitting back on her heels beside Brice, her hand on his shoulder, her large dark eyes anxious. “Should I call someone?”
“Water,” he croaked, his voice strangled and hoarse. His hands groped their way to his neck rather weakly.
Francesca could feel Gabriel's frustration as he realized that once again the vampire had slipped away before he could pinpoint his exact location. Since there was nothing she could do to help Gabriel, she hurried to find a cup of water for Brice, nearly spilling it as she helped him into a semi-sitting position.
“It was Gabriel,” he accused, his voice rasping. “I felt his hands on my throat strangling me.”
“Brice, it was not Gabriel. He is nowhere near this hospital. You were choking. I cleared your airway so you could breathe.” She made the suggestion calmly and clearly.
Brice's eyes flashed at her. “It was Gabriel. I even smelled him. It was his hands around my throat and he tried to murder me. I saw him. I know I did and you're trying to cover up for him.”
“There is no use trying to persuade him otherwise, Francesca.”
Gabriel said it softly, matter-of-factly, not bothered by Brice's opinion of him.
“Lucian is far too powerful for you to overcome the compulsion he has buried in this man. I have seen him destroy an entire army. When we hunted together he often ordered a vampire to rid the world of its existence using only his voice and it was done without a fight. The vampire ended his existence without so much as a struggle. You know vampires will do anything to continue their life, yet Lucian is able to control them with only his voice. You have no idea of his power. Allow Brice to think what he wishes. I will have established a perfect alibi with the judge. It will not be hard to do so.”
Francesca climbed slowly to her feet, turning her full attention to the problem at hand. “You may think anything you wish, Brice, but remember when you accuse Gabriel of this terrible crime, you are also accusing me of aiding him by my denial. I was here with you, I helped you. What motive would I have for lying to you?”
Brice shook his head, rubbing his sore throat and neck. “I know he's evil, Francesca, and I know you have to do as he tells you. I know you wouldn't want me hurt. He's making you say and do the things you're doing. You're afraid of him, aren't you? You probably did save my life, but you're covering up for him because you're afraid. If you'd just tell me what he's holding over your head, I could help you.”
Francesca sighed, swept a hand through her long silken hair impatiently. “I thought you knew me, Brice. Really knew me. If I was afraid of Gabriel and thought him capable of outright murder, if he was threatening me in some way, even with so trivial a thing as blackmail, do you think for one moment I would expose Skyler to such a person? Never. I could never, under any circumstances, be persuaded or induced to place her in jeopardy. If you know nothing else about me, you should know that. And if Gabriel had tried to strangle you, you would be dead. I would not be able to fight him off, nor would anything induce me to protect him if he had attempted to murder you.”
“I don't know what he's done to you, but you can expect a visit from the authorities, because I intend to press charges against him.” Brice massaged his neck and throat, coughing several times.
“Do whatever you think you have to do, Brice,” she said softly. “Obviously you think me capable of being an accomplice to murder.” Regally, she turned and swept down the hall toward the double doors, leaving Brice to stumble unsteadily to his feet by himself.
“I do not know where Lucian is, Francesca.”
Gabriel's voice was as calm as ever but she was beginning to know him well enough to hear he was worried.
“Do not leave the hospital until I am once again with you. I am on my way.” “What if that's just what he wants? What if he is using me to lure you out where he can harm you?”
There was real fear in her voice.
“He has never defeated me in battle, sweetheart. You should have more faith in your lifemate. Lucian is a very unusual vampire, just as he was an unusual Carpathian. There is no other like him. It does no good to try to second-guess him. He always does the unexpected. He could just as easily have attacked you or Skyler. He is intelligent far beyond your imagining, just as he is more powerful than the legends have told. To guess what he is up to is impossible, but he has found you and he has found Skyler. I do not want you to set one foot into the night without me by your side.”
For some reason, Francesca was annoyed. “
I am not about to allow this vampire to change my life, Gabriel. This is my city. There is much I do here, much I love. Over the centuries there have been many vampires who have come and gone. For that matter, there have been many Carpathian males, yet I live on and do as I please.” “Lucian likes games, Francesca. His mind craves action at all times. He is not one you can 'play' with and expect to win.” “I will not live my life in fear of him.”
She said it defiantly, both to him and to the vampire if he was monitoring their conversation. She didn't think it was possible, but then she had not thought it possible that anyone but Gabriel could “hear” their private path. All Carpathians communicated on a common mental path, but this was different. Gabriel was her lifemate. Their path was an individual, very intimate, personal one. No other should have been able to penetrate their private communication. Lucian was indeed powerful and unique. As she emerged into the darkness of night that was her world, into the fresh air where she could breathe without the stench of human suffering, Gabriel materialized beside her, his strong arm encircling her slender waist.
Francesca's heart nearly stopped, his presence was so unexpected. “I thought you were establishing an alibi somewhere.”
“It is not so hard, honey, to send vivid images to those humans I have touched already. The judge and I have spent a pleasant evening together in his home. He plays chess, did you know that? Naturally I was the victor, but it was a close game. He believes I drank his favorite brandy with him and conversed on all sorts of subjects. As he resides alone, it was not at all complicated to plant the memories in his mind.”
“There was another murder?” Francesca asked unnecessarily. “It was Lucian, wasn't it? What is he doing? What does he hope to gain?”
Gabriel shrugged easily, the movement a subtle ripple of power. “He seeks to draw me into his web. Do not worry, honey, he will not defeat me at the scene of one of his kills. He may be high and powerful from one of his kills, but I know his ways. I know the way he does battle, how he thinks and moves and plans. He will be far more clever than an ordinary vampire. He has a master plan. This is just beginning, rather like the opening moves in a chess game.” He bent his head to inhale her fragrance, needing in that moment to bury his face in the warmth of her neck. He could feel the age-old call of her pulse, her blood, the essence of life calling to him. His body was hard and aching and his hunger intensified.
Francesca was shocked at how her body was responding to his. Every cell was alive. Inside, heat was spreading at the mere sight of him. Even with the vampire stalking them and Brice out to blacken Gabriel's name, all she could think about was Gabriel's hard body, the heat of his skin, the softness of his long hair, the perfection of his mouth.
“Stop it.” There was a husky sensuality to Gabriel's voice. The words were low and his hand bit into her ribs just beneath her breast so that every step they took she could feel the brush of his thumb against the underside of her swelling flesh. “I am trying to be the hunter, the legend you have named me. Do not tempt me. I am not nearly as strong as I would like to think.”
She smiled up at him, her long lashes concealing the sudden hunger in her eyes. She liked the way she felt beside him, safe and protected. Cared for. She had been so alone for so long. Let him hunt another time.
Gabriel stopped abruptly and caught her chin in his hand. “I was alone, too, Francesca. All those empty years. Totally alone. You are cared for now. And safe. And protected. You are my reason for existing, the air I breathe.” His thumb feathered along the side of her face. His black gaze burned over her, needing. Needing. He took her breath away whenever his eyes moved over her so possessively.
“I want you.” She said the words in the same low tone he had used. She wanted him on fire, unable to resist temptation. She no longer wanted him in control. It was contrary of her and she knew it was wrong of her. He had a job to do, she shouldn't distract him, she shouldn't seem to know that he needed to be with her in the same way she needed to be with him. She knew she was playing with explosives, but it didn't matter to her. The world was caving in around her and she wanted his arms and his body and the hot flames only he could ignite. She wanted him no longer thinking and in control; she wanted him needing her beyond anything else. Beyond hunting Lucian.
He made a sound low in his throat, easily reading her every thought. “You are not making this easy, Francesca. We are in an open place and it is becoming difficult to take a step without pain.”
A slow smile tugged at her mouth. Her hand brushed his chest, dropped lower to caress the inviting bulge that was already hard and thick. Her long fingernails raked the fabric, teasing him, deliberately arousing him further. She took the lead toward the river, her body enticing him with every step. Her breasts were aching and swollen with need and her hunger was rising sharply. Inside her mind were hot, erotic pictures. “It isn't as if we will not know if someone comes along,” she whispered softly. Francesca reached up and began to slowly unfasten the buttons of her blouse as they approached the shelter of some trees.
Gabriel watched in complete fascination as the edges of her blouse slowly parted to reveal her creamy breasts thrusting so invitingly toward him. Her smile was pure seduction. “You think to resist me, lifemate?”
“We are not in a safe place,” he replied, but his black gaze was burning over her naked skin so intensely, her nipples hardened in response. He had scanned the area just as she had. He knew they were alone, and the knowledge didn't help his discipline at all. He knew that if someone came along the river, he was perfectly capable of shielding their presence.
She dragged the shirt from his shoulders, wanting to see the ripple of power in his hard muscles. Her hand moved over his skin, her fingers imprinting the memory of him on her brain for all time. “I want to feel what you're feeling,” she said softly. “I want to know what I can do to your body, to your mind.” Her hands went to his waistband and with deliberate slowness she opened the material so that he spilled out thick and hard and throbbing with fullness and need. At once the warmth of her hands cupped him, her fingers committing him to memory.
Gabriel groaned with pleasure, allowed her mind to fully merge with his so that she could feel the intensity of his enjoyment, the lust rising sharply in him, the hunger threatening to consume him. Her long silken hair brushed his sensitive tip as she found his chest with the warmth of her mouth, her soft lips following the path her fingers had taken. Another groan escaped as she moved ever lower, so slowly he thought he might die before she touched him.
Her lips moved over the hard length of him, her tongue tasting him, gently at first. Then her mouth, hot and tight, took him to a place he had never imagined, took her there with him. Francesca could feel every pleasure she gave him, knew exactly what he wanted, what he needed. Her hand found the tight muscle of his buttocks through the material of his trousers and urged him deeper into her, reveling in the power she wielded in that moment. She reveled in the fact that he could do nothing but thrust his hips helplessly, his fists clenched in her silken hair. It felt like nothing she had ever experienced, hot and sexy and so erotic. It seemed incredible to have such power over a legendary being.
He muttered her name, his head thrown back, his voice husky with need. He dragged her up to him, fastening his mouth to hers, hard and relentless, dominating, hungry, intensely masculine.
He kissed her until he was drowning in her, merged so deeply he didn't know where she started and he left off.
Francesca. His life. The air he breathed. His arms tightened possessively. His lips drifted from the heat of her silken mouth to her throat, down lower to find her creamy breast, soft and full and inviting. His lips closed over the hard peak, pulled strongly, a torment for both of them.
She circled his head with her arms, cradled him to her. “Tell me this is real, Gabriel, this is us, you and me, not the Carpathian heat rising between us.” There was a plea in her voice, an aching need for it to be real.
“Only you, Francesca,” he whispered fiercely. “Look into my mind and see the truth; it is there for the taking. I want you and only you. For yourself, not just your beautiful body. For me there will never be another. No other could satisfy this desperate craving. A craving as old as time itself. Beautiful and magical.” His hand wandered over her skin, pushed low into the waistband of her jeans. “I look at you and remember the endless centuries, all those wars and battles, my people turning undead and the countless times I was forced to destroy them. You are the reason I did it, the reason I endured it. Just you. Not some noble purpose, but somewhere on this planet I knew you might be, a child just beginning and it was necessary to keep you safe.”
His palm moved along the curve of her hip as he pushed her jeans aside, traveled down her soft skin following the slender line of her legs. “I thought of you every time I made a kill, when my life was dark and bleak, without hope. I thought of you in a village or town somewhere, high in the mountains or down in a valley. I whispered to you that I was coming, that no harm would find you as long as I existed. And I continued to exist, century after century.” Gabriel closed his eyes as his hands moved over her body, savoring the feel of her, the perfection of her, committing every curve to memory. To carry with him always. For all time. For all eternity. “For you, Francesca, I continued to exist for you.” To carry with him wherever he went after his death.
Francesca felt tears burning behind her eyes, shocked that his words could move her so deeply. The feel of his mouth drifting over her breast, the heat of his breath as he whispered beautiful things against her skin were as compelling as any black-magic spell he could have used. “You make me ashamed that I gave up all hope,” she whispered, tears in her throat, as she cradled his head to her.
He lifted her easily with his enormous strength. “I do not want you ever to feel such a thing,” he chastised softly. “You are the strength in my mind, the iron in my will, you are so brave and beautiful, inside and out, and I do not deserve one such as you. So many centuries of living alone, cut off from your people – for someone else it would have been a living hell, yet you managed to do good with your life.”
Francesca clasped her hands around his neck, threw back her head as she wrapped her legs around his waist, and settled over the hard length of him. Her hair fell in a dark curtain of silk, enveloping them in a private world. She wanted this, the union of their bodies, so perfect in the night air. The night where they belonged, where their people lived and thrived. She held him to her, rode him, at first slowly, savoring the hot slick feel of him filling her with his strength, sending pleasure coursing through her slender body. She clutched him, trembling with ecstasy.
She bent her head slowly, seductively toward his throat. He had fed well this night, and she was shaking with her longing to have every part of him, to consume him in her own fiery need, in the fires of her dark desire. He whispered her name, his arms like iron bands, holding her close. He closed his eyes as her breasts moved over his chest, as her tight sheath enveloped him, clutching with a hot velvet friction. Unbelievable pleasure. Her teeth sank deep into the side of his neck and white-hot lightning lanced through him, through both of them, welding them together.
He began to move then, taking the lead, picking up the pace, surging deeper and deeper, striving to find the very core of her. Her hair was sliding over his skin, sensitizing him even more. She seemed to be his world, his breath, his blood, his body, his every pleasure. The rush built like a fireball, a firestorm out of control. He felt her gasp, close the pinpricks with her tongue, a sensuous caress, her body clutching at his, milking him until he wanted to shout his joy to the heavens. To feel this. To experience this. The love that welled up in him overflowed. His body was exploding into the universe, following hers, stars shooting in all directions and colors whirling like a kaleidoscope.
He held her to him, their hearts beating as one, their bodies united. They belonged together. He stood there in the darkness holding her close. “I love you, Francesca. I really do.”
She went very still, her head buried against the warmth of his neck. “Gabriel.”
“I do, Francesca, very much, more than I ever thought it possible to love anyone. I did not know how strong such an emotion could be. I am not asking anything of you, sweetheart, do not think that. I only want you to know what I feel. I want to say the words to you aloud. And just so you know, I love your body, too.”
She laughed softly. “I was the one who seduced you.” She wanted to make that very clear. “Time and again.”
“It was not for lack of wanting, lady, and you well know that. I was being a gentleman.” Very gently he allowed her feet to touch the ground. “And I told you first that I loved you. Just remember that when you are being smug.”
Francesca stretched sensuously, turning her face up to the stars. “Take me home, Gabriel. Set safeguards for Skyler and take me home. I want to spend the rest of this rising making love to you.” She grinned at him mischievously. “And you remember when you're being smug, I was the one to make the suggestion first.”
“It is only fair that you spend time with your lifemate. Soon our home will be filled with others. I think it is time you stayed with me and admitted you made a terrible mistake looking at that poor excuse for a human man.”
“He is not as bad as he is looking at the moment.” There was genuine puzzlement in Francesca's voice. Without giving any more thought to Brice, Francesca straightened her clothes, her body very close to Gabriel's.
“It is all right with me that you showed poor judgment in this one small area before my arrival,” he said with a straight face. “After all, you showed your common sense in all other things.”
Francesca began laughing so hard she had to fling her arms around Gabriel's neck to keep on her feet. “I can't believe you're such a schmuck after two thousand years. I would think you'd have a clue how to talk to a woman.”
He bent his dark head to hers. “Sweetheart, do you want to hear me talk to you?” His voice was softer than the night sky. At once her dark eyes found his. He was looking at her with hunger. Nothing else described it.
“Because I very much want to talk to you.” His hand cupped her breast, his thumb moving gently, insistently over the hard peak of her nipple. “Can you hear what it is I am saying to you?”
Francesca shivered and wrapped her arms around him. “Let's go home, Gabriel. Skyler needs a few more days in the hospital and I want every minute we have alone with you. Every minute.” Her mouth found his, every bit as hungry as his eyes.