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Black Dawn (Chapter 16)

I'msorry. Was I interrupting something?" he said, Maggie had to struggle not to draw in her breath sharply.

It was always a little bit of a shock seeing him. And even in a room with Hunter Redfern and thepale and dazzling Sylvia, he stood out. Like a coldwind blowing through the door, he seemed to bringcoiled energy in with him, to slap everyone awakewith the chilly smell of snow.

And of course he was gorgeous, too.

And not awed by Hunter, Maggie thought. Hefaced his greatgrandfather with those fearless yellow eyes level, and a measuring look on his fineboned face.

"Nothing at all," Hunter Redfern said amiably."We were waiting for you. And planningthecelebrations."

"Celebrations?"

"To honor our agreement. I'm so pleased that we've come to an understanding at last. Aren'tyou?"

"Of course," Delos said, pulling off his gloveswithout any change in expression. "When we docome to an understanding, I'll be very pleased."

Maggie had to bite her lip on a snicker. At thatmoment, looking at Hunter's facile smile and Sylvia's pinned-on simper, she had never liked Delos'sdour, cold grimness better.

Idiot, she told herself. When did you ever like itat all? The guy's an icicle.

But there was something clean and sharp-edgedabout his iciness, and she couldn't help admiring the way he faced Hunter. There was a little aching knot in her chest as she watched himstandingthere, tense and elegant, with his dark hair tousled from riding.

Which wasn't to say she wasn't scared. That auraof power Delos carried along with him was veryreal. He had sensed her before, even with Aradiablockingthe signs of her lifeforce. And now here he was, maybe twelve feet away, with only a pieceof linen between them.

There was nothing Maggie could do but sit asstillas possible.

"Sylvia has taken the liberty of beginning thepreparations," Hunter said. "I hope you don't mind.I think we can work out any little details that areleft before tomorrow, don't you?"

Suddenly Delos looked tired. He tossed his gloveson the bed and nodded, conceding a point. "Yes."

"Essentially," Hunter Redfern said,"we are agreed.

This time Delos just nodded without speaking.

"I can't wait to show you off to the world outside," Hunter said, and this time Maggie thought the note of pride and eagerness in his voice was sincere. "My great-grandson. And to think that ayear ago I didn't know of your existence." Hecrossed to slap Delos on the back. It was a gestureso much like the old king's that Maggie's eyeswidened.

"I'm going to make some preparations of myown," he said. "I think the last hunt before youleave should be special, don't you?"

He was smilingashe left.

Delos stared moodily at the fur coverlet.

"Well," Sylvia said, sounding almost chirpy."How's the arm?"

Delos glanced down at it. He was still wearingthe complicated brace thing Maggie had seen him in yesterday.

"It's allriot."

"Hurts?"

"A little."

Sylvia sighed and shook her head. "That's because you used it for practice. I did warn you,you know."

"Can you make it better or not?" Delos saidbrusquely.

Sylvia was already opening the basket. "I toldyou, it'll take time. But it should improve with each treatment as longas you don't use it."

She was fiddling with the brace, doing thingsthat Maggie couldn't see. And Maggie's heart wasbeating hard with anger and an unreasonableprotectiveness.

I can't let her do that to Delosbut how can istop her? There's no way. If she sees me, it's allover… .

"There," Sylvia said. "That should hold you fora while."

Maggie ground her teeth.

But at least maybe she'll go now, she thought. Itfeels like about a century I've been sitting in herelistening to her. And this stool isn't getting anymore comfortable.

"Now," Sylvia said briskly, tidying. "Just let meput your gloves away-"

Oh, no,Maggie thought, horrified. On the shelf beside her was a pile of gloves.

"No,"Delos said, so quickly it was almost anecho. "I need them."

"Don't be silly. You're not going out again-"

"I'll take them." Delos had wonderful reflexes. Heput himself between Sylvia and the wardrobe, andan instant later he was holding on to the gloves,almost tugging them from her hands.

Sylvia looked up at him wonderingly for a longmoment. Maggie could see her face, the creamy skin delicately flushed, and her eyes, the color of

r-drenched violets. She could see the shimmerof her pale blondhairas Sylvia shook her head slightly.

Delos stared down at her implacably.

Then Sylvia shrugged her ft-agile shoulders andletgo of the gloves.

"I'll go see to the feast," she said lightly andsmiled. She picked up her basket and moved gracefully to the door.

Delos watched her go.

Maggiesimply sat, speechless and paralyzed.When Delos followed Sylvia and closed the door firmly behind her, she made herself get slowly offthe stool. She backed away from the curtainsslightly, but she could still see a strip of thebedroom.

Delos walked unerringly straight to the wardrobe."You can come out now," he said, his voice flatand hard.

Maggie shut her eyes.

Great. Well, I should have known.

But he hadn't let Sylvia come in and discoverher, and he hadn't simply turned her over to his guards. Those were very good signs, she told herself stoutly. In fact, maybe she wasn't going to haveto persuade him of anything at all; maybe he wasalready going to be reasonable.

"Or do I have to come in?" Delos said dangerously.

Or maybe not, Maggie thought.

She felt a sudden idiotic desire to get the dust out of her hair. She shook her head a few times, brushing at it, then gave up.

Terribly conscious of her smudged face and slaveclothing, she parted the linen hangings andwalked out.

"I warned you," Delos said.

He was facing her squarely, his jaw set and hismouth as grimas she had ever seen it. His eyeswere hooded, a dull and eerie gold in the shadows.He looked every inch the dark and mysterious vam pire prince.

And here I am, Maggie thought. Looking like…well, like vermin, I bet. Like something fished outof the gutter. Not much of a representative forhumanity.

She had never cared about clothes or hairstylesor things like that, but just now she wished thatshe could at least look presentable. Since the fateof the world might just depend on her.

Even so, there was something in the air betweenDelos and herself. A sort of quivering aliveness that quickened the blood in Maggie's veins. That stirredsomething in her chest, and started her heartpounding with an odd mixture of fear and hope.

She faced Delos just assquarelyashe was facing her.

"I know some things that I think you need toknow," she said quietly.

He ignored that. "I told you what would happenif you came here. I told you I wouldn't protectyou again."

"I remember. But you didprotect me again. AndI thank you-but I really think I'd better tell youwhat's going on. Sylvia is the suspicious type, andif she's gone to Hunter Redfern to say that youdon't want people looking in your closet-"

"Don't you understand?"he said with such sudden violence that Maggie's throat closed, chokingoff her words. She stared at him. "You're so closeto dying, but you don't seem to care. Are you toostupid to grasp it, or do you just have a deathwish?"

The thumping in Maggie's chest now was definitelyfear.

"I do understand," she began slowly, when shecould get her voice to work.

"No, you don't, "he said. `But I'll make you."

All at once his eyes were blazing. Not just theirnormal brilliant yellow, but a dazzling and unnatural gold that seemed to hold its own light.

Even though Maggie had seen it before, it wasstill a shock to watch his features change. His face going paler, even more beautiful and clearly defined, chiseled in ice. His pupils widening like a predator's, holding a darkness that a human coulddrown in. And that proud and willful mouth twist ing in anger.

It all happened in a second or so. And then hewas advancing on her, with dark fire in his eyes,and his lips pulling back from his teeth.

Maggie stared at the fangs, helplessly horrifiedall over again. They were even sharper than she remembered them looking. They indented hislower lip on either side, even with his mouth partly .open. And, yes, they were definitely scary.

"This is what I am," Delos said, speaking easily around the fangs. "A hunting animal. Part of a world of darkness that you couldn't survive for aminute in. I've told you over and over to stay awayfrom it, but you won't listen. You turn up in my own castle, and you just won't believe your danger.So now I'm going to show you."

Maggie took a step backward. She wasn't in agood position; the wall was behind her and thehuge bed was on her left. Delos was between her and the door. And she had already seen how fasthis reflexes were.

Her legs felt unsteady; her pulse was beating erratically. Her breath was coming fast.

He doesn't really mean ithe won't really do it.

He isn't serious….

But for all her mind's desperate chanting, panicwas beginning to riot inside her. The instincts of forgotten ancestors, long buried, were surfacing.Some ancient part of her remembered being chased by hunting animals, being prey.

She backed up until she came in contact with the tapestry-hung wall behind her. And then therewas nowhere else to go.

"Now," Delos said and closed the distance between them with the grace of a tiger.

He was right in front of her. Maggie couldn't helplooking up at him, looking directly into that alienand beautiful face. She could smell a scent like autumn leaves and fresh snow, but she could feel theheat from his body.

He's nothing dead or undead, some very distantpart of her mind thought. He's ruthless, he's beenraised to be a weapon, but he's definitely alivemaybe the most alive thing I've ever seen.

When he moved, there was nowhere she couldgo to avoid him. His hands closed on her shoulderslike implacable bands of steel. And then he waspulling her forward, not roughly but not gently either, pulling her until her body rested lightlyagainst his. And he was looking down at her withgolden eyes that burned like twin flames.

Looking at my throat, Maggie thought. She couldfeel the pulse beating there, and with her chin tiltedup to look at him and her upper body arched away from him, she knew he could see it. His eyes werefixed on it with a different kind of hunger than shehad ever seen in a human face.

For just one instant the panic overwhelmed her,flooding up blackly to engulf everything else. Shecouldn't think; she was nothing but a terrified massof instinct, and all she wanted to do was to run,toget away.

Then, slowly at first, the panic receded. It simplypoured off her, draining away. She feltasif she were rising from deep water into air clear ascrystal.

She looked straight into the golden eyes aboveher and said, "Go ahead."

She had the pleasure of seeing the golden eyeslook startled. "What?"

"Go ahead," Maggie said distinctly. "It doesn'tmatter. You're stronger than me; we both knowthat. But whatever you do, you can't make me yourprey. You don't have that power. You can't control me."

Delos hissed in fury, a reptilian sound. "You are ".

so

"You wanted me scared; I'm scared. But, then, Iwas scared before. And it doesn't matter. There's something more important than me at stake here.Prove whatever you've got to prove and then I'll tell you about it.

"So completely stupid," Delos raged. But Maggiehad the odd feeling that his anger was more against himself than her. "You don't think I'll hurt you,"he said.

"You're wrong there."

"I willhurt you. I'll show you-"

"You can kill me," Maggie said clearly. "But that'sall you can do. I told you, you can't control me. And you cant change what's between us."

He was very, very angry now. The fathomless pupils of his eyes were like black holes, and Maggie suddenly remembered that he wasn't just a vampire, or just a weapon, but some doomsday creature with powers meant for the end of the world.He hovered over her with his fangs showing.

"I willhurt you," he said. "Watch me hurt you."He bent to her angrily, and she could see his intent in his eyes. He meant to frighten and disillusion …

… and he kissed her mouth like raindrops falling on cool water.

Maggie clung to him desperately and kissed back.

Where they touched they dissolved into each other.Then she felt him tremble in her arms and they were both lost.

It was like the first time when their minds had joined. Maggie felt a pulsing thrill that enveloped her entire body. She could feel the pure line ofcommunication open between them, she could feelherself lifted into that wonderful still place whereonly the two of them existed and nothing else mattered.

Dimly, she knew that her physical self was fallingforward, that they were both falling, still clasped in each other's arms. But in the hushed place of crystalline beauty where she really was, they werefacing each other in a white light.

It was like being inside his mind again, but thistime he was there opposite her, gazing at her directly. He didn't look like a doomsday weapon anymore, or even like a vampire. His black-lashedgolden eyes were large, like a solemn child's. Therewas a terrible wistfulness in his face.

He swallowed, and then she heard his mentalvoice. It was just the barest breath of sound. Idon'twant this Yes, you do, she interrupted, indignant. The normal barriers that existed between two people had melted; she knew what he was feeling, and shedidn't like being lied to.

-to end,he finished.

Oh.

Maggie's eyes filled with sudden hot tears.

She did what was instinctive to her. She reachedout to him. And then they were embracing in their minds, justastheir physical bodies embraced, andthere was that feeling of invisible wings allaround them.

Maggie could catch fragments of his thoughts,not just the surface ones, but things so deep shewasn't sure he even knew he was thinking them. So lonely … always been lonely. Meant to be that way. Always alone …

No, you're not,she told him, trying to communicate it to the deepest part of him. Iwon't let you be alone. And wewere meant to be like this; can't you feel it?

What she could feel was his powerful longing.But he couldn't be convinced all at once.

She heard something like Destiny … And shesaw images of his past. His father. His teachers.The nobles. Even the slaves who had heard theprophecies. They all believed he had only one purpose, and it had to do with the end of the world.

You canchange your destiny, she said. Youdon't have to go along with it. I don't know what's going to happen with the world, but you don't have to be what they say. You have the power to fight them!

For one heartbeat the image of his father seemed to loom closer, tall and terrible, a father seen through the eyes of childhood. Then the featuresblurred, changing just enough to become HunterRedfern with the same cruel and accusing light in his yellow eyes.

And then the picture was swept away by a tidalwave of anger from Delos.

I am not a weapon.

I know that,Maggie told him.

I can choose what I am from now on. I can choose what path to follow.

Yes,Maggie said.

Delos said simply, Ichoose to go with you.

His anger was gone. Just briefly, she got theflicker of another image from him, as she had once before seeing herself through his eyes.

He didn't see her as a slave girl with dusty hairand a smudged face and coarse sacking for clothes.He saw her as the girl with autumn-colored hairand endlessly deep sorrel eyes-the kind of eyesthat never wavered, but looked straight into his soul. He saw her as warm and real and vibrant,melting the black ice of his heart and setting him free.

And then this image was gone, too, and they weresimply holding on to each other, lapped in peace.

They stayed like that for a while, their spiritsflowing in and out of each other. Delos didn't seeminclined to move.

And Maggie wanted it to last, too. She wanted tostay here for a long time, exploring all the deepestand most secret places of the mind that was nowopen to her. To touch him in ways he'd never beentouched before, this person who, beyond all logic,was the other half of her. Who belonged to her.Who was her soulmate.

But there was something nagging at her consciousness. She couldn't ignore it, and when shefinally allowed herself to look at it, she remembered everything.

And she was swept with a wave of alarm sostrong it snapped her right out of Delos's mind.

She could feel the shock of separation reverberate in him as she sat up, aware of her own bodyagain. They were still linked enough that ithurther just as it hurt him. But she was too frightenedto care.

"Delos," she said urgently. "We've got to do something. There's going to be trouble."

He blinked at her,asif he were coming fromvery far away. "It will be all right," he said.

"No. It won't. You don't understand."

He sighed, very nearly his old exasperated snort."If it's Hunter Redfern you're worried about-"

"It's him-and Sylvia. Delos, I heard them talkingwhen I was in the wardrobe. You don't know what they've got planned."

"It doesn't matter what they've got planned. I cantake care of them." He straightened a little, looked down at his left arm.

"No, you can't,"Maggie said fiercely. "And that'sthe problem. Sylvia put a spell on you, a bindingspell, she called it. You can't use your power."

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