Dark Legend (Page 17)

The moment he entered the house, Gabriel knew something was wrong. There was an oppressive feeling of danger. Some menace disturbed the usual tranquility. Automatically he touched Francesca and found her filled with fear. But the fear was for Gabriel and their unborn child, not for herself. Gabriel glided through the upper story, his feet barely touching the floor. There was blood oozing from the deep scratches on his arm, and the puncture wound in his side was throbbing with each movement. The pain in his ribs took his breath away. He was tired, his great strength drained.

Naturally Lucian would choose this time for their battle. He knew Lucian was in the house; there was no other explanation. Only Lucian was powerful enough to conceal his presence from the air itself. As Gabriel continued through the house, he shut off his emotions, his fear for Francesca and Skyler, his doubt in his ability to defeat his brother, the pain of his wounds, and his fatigue. He became the emotionless robot he would have to be to defeat the greatest, the most powerful vampire ever in existence.

The large living room was empty, but he caught a glimpse of Santino and Drusilla lying together on the floor of their bedroom. He didn't bother to check if they were alive or dead; it wouldn't make a difference at this point. He accepted that he could do nothing for them until he had taken care of his greatest task. Lucian must be defeated. Gabriel scanned the house for Skyler's presence, and found her in her room seemingly fast asleep. He could sense Francesca's hand in that; there was a very feminine feel to the power that clung to Skyler's room. It was like Francesca to think of the girl even in her own moment of stark terror. If she could help Skyler sleep through this nightmare, then she would do so.

Gabriel scanned farther, checking the underground chamber where Brice slept fitfully. The vampire's tainted blood was still in his system, poisoning him, making him restless despite the healing herbs and the deep sleep he had been placed in, but he was not in danger from Lucian. Those safeguards were intact.

Gabriel continued moving through the house, making no attempt to hide his presence. Lucian was expecting him. He moved slowly into the drawing room. Francesca was seated in a high-backed armchair facing his twin. Lucian was in the shadows, his face hidden from Gabriel, but he stood tall, shoulders wide, his clothes, as always, immaculate.

“We have a visitor, Gabriel,” Francesca announced, her voice matter-of-fact. “Skyler thought he was you when he came to the door.”

Gabriel nodded. He merged with Francesca to “see” her memories, not wanting to ask questions in front of Lucian. Skyler didn't know she had allowed their enemy entrance into their home. Lucian, a powerful ancient, had easily changed his thought patterns and aura to those of his twin. He hadn't revealed his true identity to Skyler and neither had Francesca. Francesca had put her under compulsion to sleep in an attempt to save her from what was to come.

“Did he touch you, harm you in any way?” “He asked me questions.”

.

Therewas a note in Francesca's voice that Gabriel couldn't define.

“Personal questions about myself. He did not come near me, but stayed in the shadows where I could not see him ortouch him. He did not attempt to take my blood or the blood of any residing in this house.”

“I trust your greetings are satisfactory and are over now,” Lucian said in his beautiful voice. It seemed to send out a wave of purity and goodness.

“You are welcome in our home, brother,” Francesca said suddenly, softly. “Please come in and sit with us for a visit. It has been long since you and your brother have had an occasion to visit in a tranquil setting.” She gestured toward a chair, her movements graceful.

Francesca had a way about her – her voice, the way her body moved, her very presence – that soothed and made those near by feel at peace. She was wielding her magic now, her greatest gift, in an attempt to reach Lucian. She knew it was hopeless. Once a Carpathian male had chosen to give up his soul, he was lost for all time. There was no going back. Even Francesca, with her great healing powers, could not do the impossible. Gabriel ached to gather her in his arms and hold her to him, both as comfort for himself and for her.

“You wish us to be civil before our battle.” Lucian looked around the room. “This does seem a place of peace rather than war.” He lowered his voice so that it became a compulsion. “Come here to me then, sister, and share your strength with me.”

Gabriel inserted his body between his twin and his lifemate immediately. He crouched low, his stance that of a fighter. Behind him, Francesca watched with sorrow-filled eyes as the tall, elegant man approached them. He came out of the shadows, looking what he was, a dark, dangerous predator. His black eyes glittered dangerously. They were graveyard eyes, eyes empty of all emotion. Eyes of death. He moved with an animal grace, a ripple of power.

“Stay back, Lucian,” Gabriel warned softly. “You will not endanger my lifemate.”

“It was you who brought her to danger, Gabriel,” the voice said softly. “You should have done what you vowed so many centuries ago. Now you have brought more pawns into our game. I did not have anything to do with that.” The voice was sweetly reasonable. “I see you are injured. I trust that will not prevent you from doing your duty and destroying me.”

..

“You were the one who destroyed the ancient undead.”

“What do you mean? Lucian killed the vampire?”

Francesca's voice was in his head, her voice thoughtful.

Instead of answering her mind-to-mind, Gabriel chose to throw Lucian off guard with his answer. “Lucian prevented the vampire from injuring me further and he used his voice to weaken him. I could not hear the murmuring, but I know he was there. He created a massive storm and eventually it was Lucian who destroyed the undead while I took to the air above the battle scene.”

Lucian shrugged his broad shoulders and turned his empty black eyes on his twin. “You made me a promise, Gabriel, and you will now carry it out.” The voice was a whisper of velvet, a soft command.

Gabriel recognized the hidden compulsion even as he leaped forward to strike, closing the distance to Lucian so fast even Francesca could not see him moving. An eternity too late, with his lifemate's cry of denial loud in his mind, he whipped his razor-sharp clawed hand at his twin brother's throat, even as it registered that Lucian had opened his arms wide in acceptance of the kill.

Lucian had given him a direct shot at his chest and jugular.

No vampire would ever do such a thing. The undead fought with their dying breath to kill everyone and everything around them.

To sacrifice one's life was not the act of a vampire!

The knowledge came too late. Crimson droplets sprayed the room, arced over the heavy curtains. Blood poured in a steady stream from the gaping wound. Gabriel tried to go back, to reach his brother, but Lucian's power was far too great. Gabriel was unable to move, stopped in his tracks by Lucian's will alone. His eyes widened in surprise. Lucian had so much power. Gabriel was an ancient, more powerful than most on earth. Until that moment he had thought himself Lucian's equal.

Gabriel looked helplessly at Francesca. Her eyes were drowning in tears.

“Help him. Save him for me. He will not allow me to aid him.” “He wants to end his life. I feel his resolve.”

Francesca moved, a slow subtle glide of grace and tranquility. “You must allow us to aid you,” she said softly. Her voice was crystal clear, soothing. She had a tremendous gift for healing; if anyone could prevent Lucian's death, she could. “I know what you have done. You think to end your life now.”

Lucian's white teeth gleamed. “Gabriel has you to keep him safe. That has been my duty and privilege for many centuries, but it is ended. I go now to rest.”

Blood was soaking his clothes, running down his arm. He made no attempt to stop it. He simply stood there, tall and straight. There was no hint of accusation in his eyes or voice or in his expression.

Gabriel stood very still, his eyes alive with pain and sorrow for his twin. “You did this for me. For four hundred years you have deceived me. You prevented me from making the kills, gave me no chance to turn. Why? Why would you risk your soul this way?”

Small white lines of strain were beginning to appear around Lucian's mouth. “I knew you had a lifemate. Someone who would know told me many years ago. I asked him and knew he would not tell an untruth. You did not lose your feelings and emotions early, as I did. It took centuries. I was a mere fledging when I ceased to feel. But you merged your mind with mine and I was able to share your joy in life and see through your eyes. You made me remember what I could never have for myself.” Lucian suddenly staggered, his great power draining away with his life.

Gabriel had been waiting for the moment when Lucian would weaken and the hold on him would loosen. He took advantage, powering through the barrier, leaping to his brother's side, sweeping his tongue across the gaping wound to close it. Francesca was at Lucian's other side, her small hand on his arm, gentle and soothing. She slipped her hand into Lucian's to connect them. “You think there is no more purpose to your existence.”

Lucian closed his eyes tiredly. “I have hunted and killed for two thousand years, sister. My soul has so many pieces missing, it is like a sieve. If I do not go now, I may not go later and my beloved brother would be forced to hunt and destroy a true vampire. It would be no easy task. He must remain safe. Already I could not walk quietly into the dawn. I relied on his aid. I have done my duty on this earth. Allow me to rest.”

“There is another,” Francesca whispered softly. “She is not like us. She is mortal. At this moment she is very young and in terrible pain. I can only say to you, if you do not stay she will live a life of such agony and despair as we cannot imagine. You must live for her. You must endure for her.”

“You are telling me I have a lifemate.”

“And that her need of you is great.”

“Skyler is not my lifemate. I merged with her repeatedly to spare her suffering when she was alone and the terrible nightmares invaded. But she is not my lifemate.” Even as he made the denial, Lucian was not resisting as Gabriel's lifemate began to work on the savage wound.

“Nevertheless, I am not telling an untruth to hold you to this earth. I cannot tell you where she is or how I know, but she exists in this time period. I feel her sometimes and I know, now, she belongs with you. Allow me to heal you, my brother,” she insisted softly, “if not for your sake or ours, for your lifemate, who has great need of you.”

Gabriel filled the room with healing herbs and began the ancient healing chant. He cut his wrist and pressed the wound to his twin's mouth. “I offer my life freely for yours. Take what you need to heal. We will put you deep within the soil and guard you until you are at full strength.”

Lucian was reluctant to take Gabriel's blood when his twin was already so depleted from his wounds. Gabriel pressed his wrist tight to his brother's mouth, ensuring that he fed. He was determined to save Lucian's life. He could not believe what his twin had suffered for him. He should have known, should have realized everything Lucian had done was for his protection. Lucian had always taken on the most ancient and skilled of their enemies, always inserted his body between Gabriel's and death.

“Do not feel such guilt.”

Francesca's voice was gentle in his mind.

“It was always his choice. He made each choice with full knowledge of the consequences. You would never have agreed. Do not lessen his sacrifice to ease your guilt.”

Francesca smiled up at Lucian as she applied precious soil from her homeland that she kept for dire emergencies. She had it stored with the numerous herbs she grew for just such an event. “You aided Skyler on more than one occasion. I thank you for that. And you brought to justice the men involved in harming her so that Gabriel would not have to do so. I could not understand, at first, why my lifemate had such trouble with the idea of destroying a creature he believed to be a vampire, but I understand now. A part of him knew you had not turned. Not his conscious mind, but his soul.”

Gabriel helped to lower Lucian to the safety of the couch. Even as he aided his twin, he could feel his own great strength draining. They were in desperate need of blood. He glanced at the serenity of Francesca's face and at once felt better. She always knew what was needed and he could trust her completely with his life and with that of his brother.

“I need to heal your wound, Lucian,” she informed Gabriel's twin gently.

Lucian closed the laceration in his brother's wrist and looked into Francesca's eyes. “I am no gentle man. I have killed so long, I know of no other existence. Tying any woman to me, Carpathian or mortal, is sentencing her to live with a monster.”

“Perhaps a monster such as yourself is needed to protect her from the monsters who would destroy one such as she. Your first duty is to your lifemate, Lucian. You can do no other than find her and remove her from danger.”

“The darkness is already in me; the shadows are permanent now.”

“Have faith in your lifemate,” Gabriel counseled, “as I have in mine. You were strong enough to sacrifice your life for mine. You are strong enough to live while you hunt for this woman of yours.”

Francesca signaled to Gabriel and closed her eyes, shutting herself off from their conversation and all that was around them. She separated herself from her body and went seeking outside of herself into the body so mortally injured. She made the repairs with all the skill of a superior surgeon. All the while Gabriel chanted the healing words and the scent of the herbs filled the air.

Francesca removed herself from Lucian's body and immediately entered Gabriel's. She was not about to allow her lifemate to suffer needlessly. She meticulously attended every wound, every laceration, pushing out the poisonous cells the vampire had injected through his minions and repairing all damage from the inside out. It took time to repair his ribs, his lungs, the battle scars so deeply entrenched in his body. She was swaying with weariness when she emerged.

At once Gabriel put his arm around her. “Rest, honey, I will go out to hunt this night to replace the blood we need.”

Francesca gave him one swift look of censure with her enormous black eyes. “I do not think so, Gabriel. You will stay right in this room. I am the healer and you will follow my instructions in this matter. You and Lucian will stay here where you both are perfectly safe in your weakened condition and I will return soon with the blood you need so desperately.”

She rose with a little swish of her hips, a very feminine gesture of impatience with the male of the species. She looked quite haughty. Gabriel didn't dare look at Lucian to see his expression. He watched her leave, his features carefully expressionless. It was only when he was certain she had left the house that he turned his head to meet his twin's black gaze.

“Do not say it,” Gabriel said with quiet menace.

“I said nothing,” Lucian pointed out.

“You raised your eyebrow in that obnoxious way you have,” Gabriel replied. “You are already in enough trouble with me without adding a sneer to your sins.”

“She is not like the women I seem to remember from our youth.”

“You did not know any women in our youth,” Gabriel told him. “Francesca is a law unto herself. She had hidden from the Prince of our people for as these long centuries.”

“She hid from me,” Lucian admitted. He slid farther down into the cushions of the couch, his large frame drained of its life-giving fluid. “I sensed her close on more than one occasion and often led you here in the hopes of discovering her, but she was always out of reach.”

Gabriel was inordinately proud of Francesca for that.

When Lucian hunted the undead, none was successful in hiding from him, yet Francesca had done just that over several centuries. Lucian shook his head tiredly. “If she had not been so successful, we would have found her long ago and you would have been safe.”

“And then you would have chosen to end your life and your lifemate would be without the one she needs so desperately,” Gabriel pointed out rather smugly, Lucian's empty black eyes gleamed for a moment, moving over his twin in a kind of warning. Gabriel grinned at him like a little boy. “You hate it when I am right.”

“She is with child,” Lucian said suddenly, his eyes closing. His long lashes softened the lines of strain in his face. “She cannot enter the doctor's body without endangering both of them, even with your aid. You know it is so.”

“Yes, I know,” Gabriel admitted. “There was no reason to tell her when I did not know if I would return to her. She gave me her word she would call Gregori in to aid her if I had failed to come back to her. Gregori would never have allowed Francesca to place herself or the child in jeopardy.”

There was a small silence. Lucian had slowed his heart and lungs because his body was crying out for blood. Gabriel sighed. “You should not have done it, Lucian. You are correct, I was close to turning. I believe I felt Francesca's decision to withdraw from this world. She was able to find a way to live partially as a human. Her intention was to grow old and die in this time period. She had been experimenting, seeking ways to become more human for several centuries.”

“She is an extraordinary woman. I was astonished by her strength and ingenuity.” Lucian's voice was very low, a mere thread of sound. “You are the only reason I continued my existence, Gabriel. If not for you, I would have chosen to end my time in this world and go on to the next a long time ago. I did not believe there was ever hope for me. I lost my ability to see in color, to feel emotion almost immediately. I did not last the two hundred years our males usually have as fledglings. For years I used your emotions, but then you, too, lost them, and there was only one way for both of us to survive. I had to convince you I was a danger to the world or we both were lost. If you did not believe I was too dangerous to allow others to hunt me, you might have turned. And if that had happened, I knew I would not be able to destroy you.”

Gabriel smiled. “You could have destroyed me. You are far more powerful than even I imagined.”

“I would not have destroyed you, Gabriel. You are the one who sought to keep our vow. I would never have allowed anyone to kill you.”

“You would have, Lucian,” Gabriel said softly, knowing it was true in his heart. “You never have stepped aside from our chosen path and you never have gone back on your word of honor. You would have kept our vow.”

“Your belief in me is greater than my own.” Lucian lifted his head tiredly. “She returns to you, brother. She will attempt to replenish me as she believes I am in the most need. Take the blood and then give it to me. I have discovered you have a few flaws, and jealousy is one of your worst.”

Francesca found the brothers stretched out on the couches in her drawing room, a small smile on Gabriel's mouth, Lucian devoid of all expression. She started toward Lucian, but her lifemate stopped her.

“Come to me, my love. I will feed and then care for my brother. We will have to utilize the soil beneath the chamber where the doctor rests.”

If Francesca wanted to argue with him, Gabriel couldn't find it in her mind. She went to his side instantly, leaning her body into his, her hands moving over him as if to assure herself he was in one piece. She was careful to stay clear of his wounds, although she passed her palm over the multitude of deep scratches and bite marks, leaving behind a soothing balm. Whether it was in his mind or real, Gabriel didn't know and didn't care. She made him feel alive and whole. She made his world right again.

He gathered her close, inhaled her fragrance. He could hear the blood flowing in her veins, beckoning to him. Her scent mixed with the heady temptation, and the untamed beast in him rose quickly, his need and that of his brother great. Gabriel bent his dark head to her slender neck, tasted her satin skin, the warmth of her pulse. His mouth drifted down the warm column to the hollow of her shoulder, his teeth grazing her skin gently.

Francesca felt the shiver run along her spine. Gabriel had a way of doing that to her no matter what the circumstances. His arms tightened around her as he fitted her body more closely into his. Despite the measure of his need, he knew they weren't alone in the darkened room and he wouldn't take sustenance from his lifemate in front of his brother. It was far too intimate a ritual for that. He moved her backward into the privacy of the heavy draperies. His mouth wandered lower, traveling over her shoulder toward the creamy swell of her breast, pushing the thin material of her shirt out of the way as he did so.

Instantly Francesca felt alive again. She had been holding her breath the entire time he was gone, her heart pounding with fear, but now it was pounding with excitement. There had been something wrong all along with the picture of Lucian as a vampire. He had intervened too often to protect Gabriel and those Gabriel loved. He had come to Skyler to soothe her, rather than harass and frighten her. She was ashamed of herself for not putting the pieces of the puzzle together much quicker.

Her head went back, her slender arms cradling Gabriel's head to her as the white-hot whip of lightning danced through her bloodstream. His teeth had pierced deep and he was feeding. A kind of drowsy contentment took the place of her leaping pulse. It was edged with sexual excitement; she couldn't have Gabriel touch her like this and not want him, need

him, even crave his body in hers.

Gabriel dragged her closer, his hands moving over her, pushing her shirt farther from her shoulders to feel the heat of her skin. She was soft and warm, a haven in his world of dark, dangerous battles. He closed the tiny pinpricks with a sweep of his tongue and allowed his mouth the pleasure of tasting her skin for just one moment. He found the slope of her breast, the deep valley, drifted upward along her collarbone to her soft, vulnerable throat.

Beneath his palm her heart was beating with the same rhythm as his heart. Her mind was filled with desire for him, her body with liquid heat. “I am home.” He whispered the words against the corner of her mouth. “Really home.”

Francesca smiled as he kissed her face, her small dimple, her chin. “Of course you are, my love. Now kiss me and give your brother what he needs so that later you can give me the things I need.”

Her voice was no more than a warm breath in his ear, but Gabriel's entire body tightened at her words. His mouth settled over hers, rocking the earth beneath their feet, whirling them together into another world, a time and place where they were alone with the heat of their bodies and pleasure uppermost in their minds.

Lucian coughed discreetly. “

I am trying not to share your mind, Gabriel, but you are close and your combined emotions fill this small room. I have been long without feelings and the temptation is strong.”

Gabriel pulled away from Francesca instantly, his black eyes glittering, but she was laughing, her face washed with color like a teenager.

“We were being thoughtless.”

She pointed it out gently even as she adjusted her clothing and moved around him.

Gabriel loved the way she moved. Silent, very feminine, a symphony of motions that could rob him of breath. In his mind he heard a soft sigh, his twin's reminder to get on with the job. Francesca was bending over Lucian, touching the wound on his throat and neck, her fingertips gentle, her manner tranquil. Gabriel knew she was providing another healing session. She could not touch someone who was hurt or in need and not provide solace of some kind.

Lucian attempted a wan smile, although he did not open his eyes. “You are the miracle my brother has named you in his thoughts.”

“Has he named me a miracle?” Even her voice was soothing and tranquil to Gabriel's ears. He wanted to touch her, bask forever in her beauty, in her serenity. After the chaos of a bleak, gray world filled with violence, she was a miracle.

“Yes, and for once, he was right.” There was an edge of weariness to the beautiful pitch of Lucian's voice and it alarmed Gabriel. He had never heard his invincible twin sound so utterly drained of strength.

“I am right at all times,” Gabriel corrected, moving at once to his brother's side. “It is a peculiar phenomenon Lucian finds difficult to live with, but all the same…”

Lucian opened his eyes to regard his brother with an icy stare clearly meant to intimidate. “Francesca, my dear sister, you have tied yourself to one who has a much inflated opinion of himself. I do not remember a time when he was right about anything.”

Gabriel moved to the couch, seating himself beside his brother. “Do not listen to him, my love, he practices his intimidating stare in the mirror on a daily basis. He thinks to silence me with his glare.” Very carefully he slit a long, deep gash in his wrist and pressed the life-giving fluid to his twin's mouth. “Drink, brother, that you may live. I offer to you freely for you and your future lifemate wherever she might be.” Deliberately Gabriel reminded his brother of the woman waiting for him somewhere in the vast world.

He could feel Lucian's weariness beating at him. He was tired of the empty bleak existence he had lived for over two thousand years. His body cried out for blood; his eyes saw only the shadows, gray and dark; there were no emotions other than the few he borrowed when he merged his mind with Gabriel's. He had lived without hope, had sacrificed repeatedly that Gabriel would not have to kill, giving him respite from the endless battles.

Lucian took the ancient blood reluctantly, sparingly. He had spent his entire existence looking out for his brother and he wanted him strong and healed. Lucian felt his shriveled cells welcoming the fluids, building and growing in strength and power.

Once more he closed his eyes, not wanting the renewal of life. For so long he had been set on his future, but now it was necessary to make a switch. What if Francesca was wrong? How could she possibly know such a thing? She had no blood tie to this mythical woman. Was she simply saying whatever it took to keep him on earth?

“She could not,” Gabriel assured him, weariness creeping into his voice. “Francesca could not possibly tell an untruth. If she says there is a lifemate in need, then it is so.”

“And how do you know this?” Lucian asked Francesca.

A small smile curved her soft mouth. “I wish I could tell you, but in fact I cannot. For some time I have felt a connection to another being. She is very young, perhaps a few years older than Skyler, and she is experiencing great trauma, but her spirit is strong. She is far away, perhaps in another land, but as I touched you to heal you, she appeared in my mind. She is a part of you, Lucian. That is all I can tell you. I wish it was more.”

Lucian closed the wound on his brother's wrist, careful of his twin's health. “Do not feel you have failed me, sister.”

Francesca looked startled, her eyes flying to Gabriel. Her lifemate laughed softly. “He would have you believe he is so powerful he can read the thoughts of all Carpathians, but in truth, he is reading my thoughts and I am merged with you. He can feel your emotions through me.”

Lucian raised his eyebrow. “Do not be so certain, brother. You do not know if I can read minds or not.”

Francesca began laughing. “I can see the two of you are going to be obnoxious. Gabriel is right, Lucian, I would not lie to you about something so important as a lifemate. I am certain I am not wrong. This child cries out in the night. I feel her pain and sorrow even stronger than I felt Skyler's. She is connected to us as no other has been. We must put you deep within the soil to heal. You must be strong before you begin your journey of discovery.”

“First I will take care of your doctor friend. You cannot do so.” Lucian made it a decree. His black eyes glittered for a moment, sheer ice and menace.

Francesca glared at him, her black eyes sparkling. “I will do what is necessary.

You have no say in it.” Lucian's empty eyes turned on his brother, one eyebrow arched.

“You will allow this lunacy?” “These things are difficult.”

Gabriel shrugged his broad shoulders as if to say Lucian didn't know anything about women.

Francesca tossed her thick braid over her left shoulder. “I realize you were born many centuries ago, Lucian. I should have not shown such impatience. Women no longer do whatever a man decrees.” Her voice held a faintly haughty tone.

“Francesca!”

The look in Gabriel's black eyes was something between laughter and censure. He could not remember anyone ever speaking to Lucian in such a way.

She turned away from her lifemate, trying desperately not to laugh. The two men were very old-fashioned in their manners. Courtly. Elegant.

Sexy.

That thought crept in unbidden and was hastily censored. She shared Gabriel's thoughts, knew it was in his mind to prevent her healing Brice until he had removed all traces of the tainted blood himself. Right now, Gabriel needed the healing earth, as did Lucian. Both ancients were wounded and weak.

“I have noticed for some centuries now, it is the women who take care of all the little details. I will ensure that Brice sleeps this day until the new rising. It is necessary to prepare the earth for your brother. He is in great need, despite his belief in his own omnipotence. Do not worry, I do have brains and have managed quite well without guidance of any kind for centuries. I will be able to handle all the details by my little lonesome while you poor boys rest.”

“But you will not go near Brice,”

Gabriel said, trying to make it more of a statement than a command.

Francesca swept past her lifemate and glided down the hall toward the kitchen and the underground chambers. Of course she wouldn't risk her unborn child trying to heal Brice without aid. Did they think she was a dolt? The two of them could sleep in the underground chamber together!

“I will not be sleeping with my brother, woman, believe me. I will be sleeping right alongside you where I belong.”

Thistime there was distinct laughter, a drawling male amusement in the deep timbre of Gabriel's voice. His voice always held that lazy, sexy note she couldn't ignore.

“Do not count on your charm to get you out of this one. “

Francesca opened the earth, a section of deep rich soil large enough to accommodate Lucian's powerful frame.

“I am much gratified to know you find me charming.” “Was I thinking that? I do not think so. I believe what I was thinking was how irritating the males of our race are and I am certain I had good cause to hide my existence from them all these centuries.”

Deliberately Francesca kept her voice as haughty as ever. Teasing him. Loving him. Wanting to be alone with him. Gabriel.

“You were thinking about making love to me, not sentencing me to a lonely bed.” “You think much of yourself, sir.” “Only by reading your thoughts. I find I like the way you view me far better than the view I have of myself.”

Francesca scattered healing herbs across the dirt floor and added precious soil from her homeland from the small treasure box she had guarded over the centuries. The soil was what Lucian needed more than anything else.

“It is ready.”

Gabriel reached for his twin, helping him to his feet. It felt right to be with Lucian again. They moved the same way; their expressions were totally alike. It suddenly occurred to Gabriel that perhaps Francesca couldn't tell them apart.

“Do not be so silly. You are part of me, the other half of my heart. You think the silliest things, Gabriel.”

The whisper of her voice was an invitation. It heated his blood as nothing else ever could.

Gabriel guided Lucian past the chamber containing Brice. The twins touched the mind of the sleeping human at the exact same time, sharing the knowledge without thinking about it, a well-rehearsed action.

Francesca stepped to one side to allow Lucian into the narrow opening leading to his sleeping area. “Sleep well, brother.”

Lucian looked down at her with his empty black eyes. “I thank you for your kindness to me, sister, but most of all for the way you care for my brother.” He said it sincerely.

There was pure magic in his voice. Francesca found herself smiling up at her lifemate's twin. She believed him far too powerful for his own good, but she knew he loved his brother, and that reassured her as nothing else could have.

Gabriel locked his arm around her waist the moment Lucian had floated to earth and the soil had closed over his head. “Alone at last. I did not think it would ever happen.”

She gave him her snootiest look. “You seem to forget poor Brasilia and Santino. They deserve an explanation of tonight's events. I protected them as best I could and I suspect Lucian probably did also, but Santino is not one we control. We gave our word to Aidan. Besides, you went out and got yourself hurt. That was uncalled for.”

He leaned down to nuzzle her neck, inhale her fragrance. “I love the way you smell. The moment I entered our house, it was filled with your presence and I knew I was home.”

Francesca's hand crept up to his face. “I love you very much, Gabriel. I do not appreciate gray hair at this stage in my life when I am about to become a mother.”

“You would look very sexy with gray hair,” Gabriel replied, holding her hand to him so that he could turn his face and press a kiss into the center of her palm. “And I would like to go upstairs and see young Skyler before the night is gone. You can see Santino without me.”

She bit his palm, a little nip of reprimand. “You will not go without me, and you will not leave all the tiny details of our life to me.”

He managed to look innocent. “Was I doing that?”

Francesca laughed, her heart light and happy now that he was beside her and they were safe within the walls of their home.

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