Dark Prince (Dark #1)


by Christine Feehan

Chapter One

He could no longer fool himself. Slowly, with infinite weariness, Mikhail Dubrinsky closed the leather-bound first edition. 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 was few, scattered, persecuted - gone. He had tried it all, skifis, 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 race 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 up their souls to become the undead in desperation. There were no women to continue their species, to bring them back from the darkness in which they dwelled. They had no hope to continue. 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 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.

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, onily 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, inteffigent. He allowed his mind to open slightly, testing paths, looking for mental footprintsI have found it to be so, he agreed. He realized he was holding his breath, needing the contact. A human. Who gave a damn? He was interested.

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 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 obedience.

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 intrigued. Feelings. Emotions. They crowded in until he was nearly overwhelmed.

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 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.

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. A human, 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.

The inn was small, at the edge of the forest where the mountain met the timberline. The interior was dark, with onily a few lights glowing softly in one or two rooms and perhaps a hallway, while the humans took their rest. He settled on the balcony outside her second-story window and became still, a part of the night. Her bedchamber was one of the rooms with a light proclaiming that she was unable to sleep. His dark, burning eyes found her through the clear glass, found her and claimed her.

She was small-boned, curvy, with a tiny waist and a wealth of raven hair tumbling down her back to draw attention to her rounded bottom. His breath caught in his throat. She was exquisite, beautiful, her skin like satin, her eyes incredibly large, intensely blue, fringed with thick, long lashes. Not a detail escaped him. A white lace gown clung to her skin, hugged her high, full br**sts, and bared the line of her throat, her creamy shoulders. Her feet were small, like her hands. So much strength in so small a package.

She brushed her hair, standing at the window, looking out with unseeing eyes. Her face held a faraway expression; there were lines of strain around her full, sensuous mouth. He could feel pain in her, and the need for sleep that refused to come. He found himself following every stroke of the brush. Her movements were innocent, erotic. Imprisoned within the bird's form, his body stirred. He reverently turned up his face to the heavens in thanks. The sheer joy of feeling after centuries of enduring no emotion was beyond measure.

Every action with the brush lifted her br**sts invitingly, emphasized her narrow rib cage and small waist. The lace clung to her body, revealing the dark vee at the juncture of her legs. Talons dug deeply into the railing, left long scars in the soft wood. Still Mikhail watched. She was graceful, enticing. He found his hot gaze dwelling on her soft throat, the pulse beating steadily in her neck.

His.

Abruptly, he pulled away from the thought, shook his head.

Blue eyes. Blue.

She had blue eyes. It was only then that he realized he was seeing in color. Vivid, brilliant colors. He went utterly still. It could not be. Males lost the ability to see anything but drab gray about the same time they lost their emotions. It could not be. Only a lifemate could bring emotions and color back into a male's life. Carpathian women were the light to the male's darkness. His other half. Without her, the beast would slowly consume the man until he was complete darkness. There were no Carpathian women left to give birth to lifemates. The few remaining women seemed able to produce only males. It was a seemingly hopeless situation. Human women could not be converted without becoming deranged. It had been tried. This human woman could not possibly be his lifemate.

Mikhail watched as she snapped off her light, lay on the bed. He felt the stirring in his mind, the searching.

Are you awake?

Her question was tentative.

At first he refused to answer, not liking that he needed this so much. He couldn't afford to be out of control; he didn't dare. No one had power over him. Certainly not some slip of an American, a small woman with more strength than good sense.

I know you can hear me. I'm sorry I intruded. It was thoughtless of me; it won't happen again. But just for the record, don't try flexing your muscle on me again.

He was glad he was in the form of a creature, so he couldn't smile. She didn't know what muscle was.

I was not offended.

He sent the reassurance in gentle tones. He had to answer; it was nearly a compulsion. He needed the sound of her voice, the soft whisper brushing in his head like fingers on his skin.

She turned over, rearranged her pillow, rubbed at her temple as if she ached. One hand curled over the thin sheet. Mikhail wanted to touch that hand, feel her warm, silky skin under his.

Why did you try to control me?

It wasn't purely an intellectual question, as she wanted it to be. He sensed he had hurt her in some way, disappointed her. She moved restlessly, as if waiting for her lover.

The thought of her with another man enraged him. Feelings after hundreds of years. Sharp, clear, in focus. Real feelings.

It is my nature to control.

He was exhilarated, joyous, yet at the same time all too aware that he was more dangerous than he had ever been. Power always needed control. The less emotion, the easier the restraint.

Don't try to control me.

There was something in her voice, something he sensed more than named, as if she knew he was a threat to her. And he knew he was.

How does one control one's nature, little one?

He saw her smile even as it filled his emptiness, as it registered in his heart and lungs, sent his blood soaring.

Why would you think I was little? I'm as big as a house.

I am to believe this?

The laughter faded from her voice, her thoughts, lingered in his blood.

I'm tired, and again, I apologize. I enjoyed talking with you.

But?

He prompted gently.

Good-bye.

Finality.

Mikhail took flight, soaring high above the forest. It wasn't good-bye. He wouldn't allow it. He couldn't allow it. His survival depended on her. Something, someone had aroused his interest, his will to live. She had reminded him that there was such a thing as laughter, that there was more to life than existence.

He soared above the forest, for the first time in centuries marveling at the sights. The canopy of waving branches, the way the rays of the moon spilled over the trees and bathed the streams in silver. It was all so beautiful. He had been given a priceless gift. A human woman had somehow managed to do this for him. And she was human. He would have known instantly had she been of his race. Could her voice alone do the same for the other males on the edge of despair?

In the protection of his home, he paced with a long-forgotten restless energy. He thought of her soft skin, how it would feel beneath his palm, under his body, how it would taste. The thought of her mass of silky hair brushing his heated body, the line of her vulnerable throat exposed to him, excited him. His body tightened unexpectedly. Not the mild physical attraction he had felt as a fledging, but a savage, demanding, relentless ache. Shocked at the erotic twist his thoughts began to pursue, Mikhail imposed rigid discipline. He could not afford real passion. He was shocked to find he was a possessive man, deadly in his rages and protective beyond measure. This kind of passion could not be shared with a human; it was far too dangerous.

This was a woman of freedom, strong for a mortal, and she would fight his nature at every turn. He was not human. His was a race of beings with animal instincts, imprinted before birth. Better to keep his distance and satisfy his curiosity on an intellectual level. He meticulously locked every door and window, safeguarded every point of entry with impassable spells before descending to his sleeping chamber. The room was protected from even greater threats. If he gave up his existence, it would be of his own choosing. He lay down on the bed. There was no need of healing soil deep within the earth; he could enjoy mortal comforts. He closed his eyes, slowed his breathing.