Like a potent corrosive, his rejection burned through her. But he didn't hate her. She knew better. It was in his eyes, in his voice. She was so attuned to his feelings that it was impossible to be fooled by his stubborn resistance. He liked her, in spite of his determination not to. He wanted her, though it went against everything he'd ever believed in. But she also knew that the conflicting emotions were slowly tearing his soul apart. She sensed his every emotion, even the ones he denied; frustration, confusion, anger, desire. Bringing him here, forcing him to see her as she was, instead of as DPI had painted her, was the same as torturing him. It was cruel to put him through this, especially now that she knew where his hatred originated. To see Cuyler as a woman and not a monster was, in Ramsey's mind, to betray his mother. To side with her murderer.
Maybe she ought to just take him back, let him go.
She twisted the doorknob, freeing the lock with her mind the way Rhiannon had taught her. Ramsey was asleep. He reclined on the bed, his back against the headboard, his head cocked to one side until his ear touched his shoulder. He looked as if he'd sat down there with no intention of going to sleep.
Cuyler walked softly to him. Even in sleep, he seemed strained. A slight frown puckered his brows. His lips were tight. His pain showed in his face, a pain he'd felt for a very long time. For a moment, as she looked at him there, she saw the image of the boy he'd been. A boy whose innocence and mischief had been stolen from him along with his mother. A boy forced to become a man before his time, a man who'd forgotten how to love.
She stared at him, sending silent, soothing messages from her mind to his. She focused her energy on relaxing him into a deeper sleep and chasing his worries from his mind the way an autumn wind chases fallen leaves. Then she leaned closer, clasping his sturdy shoulders and easing him lower until his head rested on the soft pillows and his back wasn't bent so severely. She tugged a blanket from the foot of the bed to cover him. Then she bent and brushed her lips across his, a whisper of a kiss.
When she straightened away from him, his hand reached toward her. He whispered her name.
She ran a hand over his cheek, into his hair. "I'm here. Rest now. Just rest."
His body relaxed again, and he sank back into his deep slumber. Cuyler sighed softly, shaking her head in remorse. She couldn't let him go. Not now. DPI had targeted Ramsey for their vile organization from the second his mother had been killed, she was sure of it. They must have known of his anger, his fury and feelings of helplessness. The guilt even a boy of that age would suffer; that he hadn't been there, hadn't been able to help her. Those ruthless men had stoked the fire of Ramsey's anger, built it into the blazing inferno that was rapidly devouring his soul. They were using a young boy's pain as a weapon against Cuyler and her kind. And she couldn't shake the feeling that they intended to use it against Ramsey, as well. DPI would see both of them destroyed unless she could find a way to fight them.
She understood so much more now. But still not enough. There was no explanation for the connection between her and Ramsey. She sensed the solution to all of this hinged on her discovering the cause of that emotional, mental link. And until she did that, despite the pain it caused him, she had to keep Ramsey here, with her.
Ramsey trudged through the snow, half-blinded by the brilliant sun flashing from its pristine surface into his eyes. He had to find a way out of this mess. He was desperate, and this was his last-ditch effort. There had to be some means of transportation, somewhere. A plane, a snowmobile, something. Clever as she was, Cuyler had probably hidden it a distance from the house to keep him from escaping. He didn't know why he hadn't thought of the possibility sooner.
He hadn't meant to fall asleep. He supposed the stress and sleepless nights were beginning to wear on him. It was only when he woke to see bright winter sunlight slanting through the window that he'd realized just how tired he'd been. Oddly, he felt rested, refreshed even. No dreams, for a change.
But that wasn't right, was it? There had been dreams, just not the usual wildly erotic ones that left him exhausted. He'd dreamed of Cuyler. She'd been leaning over the bed, touching his face, stroking his hair and whispering softly to him.
Her touch had been soothing, her voice like a salve on his oldest wounds. He hadn't wanted her to leave.
He stopped walking and closed his eyes as a shaft of pain bisected his chest.
There'd been a blanket over him when he woke. He didn't remember putting it there. Had Cuyler really come to stand over him, touched him that way, whispered so lovingly, so gently, as he'd slept?
She'd kissed him. Her soft, moist mouth had touched his for the barest instant, and he'd wanted to pull her into his arms, into his bed. He'd wanted to feel her smiling lips caress every inch of him, and then he'd wanted to do the same to her. The hell with the danger that she might go too far. The hell with the fact that they were sworn enemies. He wanted her with a passion above and beyond all of that. Above and beyond everything.
He opened his eyes and drew a deep breath, steadying himself. He had to get away from her. She was bewitching him, using her mental powers to make him forget his life's work, driving him so with desire he'd gladly exchange his every principle for a night in her arms. He was in danger with her, and he had to get out or lose his mind.
But now that he had, he almost wished he hadn't. He'd trudged a couple of miles, he figured, and the scenery hadn't changed in the least. Nothing but white. No trees. No vegetation of any kind. Hardly any hills. He was pretty sure what he was looking at could be described as tundra. He hoped to God he found some form of aid soon. He wasn't exactly dressed for long periods of exposure. Only thin rubbers separated his shoes from the hard-packed snow. His ski jacket was hardly sufficient, and he didn't even have a hat with him. The wind whipped hard out here with nothing to break its progress.
He walked a little farther, then frowned and tilted his head. What was that sound? A motor of some sort growled in the distance. He turned slowly, trying to gauge the source, then realization dawned. A snowmobile. No, more than one. And the sound came from the direction of the house, though he couldn't see it anymore. His first thought was that Cuyler was coming after him, using a machine she'd had hidden somewhere.
But that thought was quickly banished. It was still daylight. She wouldn't even be awake yet.
He blinked slowly as that thought sunk in. She wouldn't be awake. She'd be lying in her bed, behind unlocked doors, thinking she was completely safe up here in the middle of nowhere.
The motors died abruptly. They didn't fade away, but simply cut out. The snowmobiles had stopped, and as near as he could guess, they'd stopped near the house. Someone was there, and with a churning in his gut, Ramsey thought he could guess who.
It made no sense to think DPI had somehow tracked them here. But it made less sense to think some harmless folks had just decided to take a snowmobile ride north of the Arctic circle and happened upon her house. Cuyler was there, alone and completely helpless. Her stories of torture and murder were utter fabrications. He knew that. But they were echoing through his soul all the same as Ramsey started walking back the way he'd come. Then he started running.
He followed his own tracks for several yards, hands shoved deep in his jacket pockets, shoulders hunched against the biting wind. But the tracks got harder and harder to see as he went. He frowned hard, and whispered a little prayer they wouldn't disappear entirely before the house came into view. Damn, he'd been an idiot not to take windblown snow into account. It had been filling his tracks behind him all the way out here.
And then he couldn't see them at all. Not even the tiny depressions he'd been following this far. Dammit to hell, he couldn't see the house. Everything looked the same in every direction. The wind was blowing harder, its bite sharper with every gust. It would be dark soon, and colder than ever. He tried not to think about what might be happening in the house right now, but images danced through his thoughts anyway. Cuyler's warnings about DPI's tactics rang in his ears, no matter how he tried to tune them out. He hadn't believed her. He'd told himself she was just trying to convince him not to take her in. But he now found himself wondering if there was even the slightest chance of truth in her horror stories.
He didn't want to believe that, wouldn't let himself believe it. But the idea that anyone might deliberately hurt her…
Why the hell did it drive him to the brink of madness to consider it? Why?
The motor sounds came to life again. He was closer. He tried to run faster, but the frigid air burned his lungs and throat. They were moving, fast, in the opposite direction.
"Ah, God, no…" He tried for more speed, but he was out of breath. His muscles screamed in protest. His legs gave out just as the house came into view, and he dropped to his knees in the snow, scanning the horizon where the sun hovered, about to set.
And then he spotted them. Three snowmobiles zipping over the tundra in the distance. One pulled something behind it. Something long and narrow that looked like a box. He groaned in anguish as they moved out of sight.
He wasn't sure how long he knelt there. Emotions raced through him, so potent and confusing that he felt dizzy. Hadn't he been determined to take Cuyler in himself? Hadn't he vowed that he'd never stop hating her and everyone like her for what they'd done to his mother?
Why, for God's sake, was he racked with guilt that he hadn't been there to protect her? The frustration was as bad as what had consumed him as a result of not having been there to protect his mother. Why? Why was he kneeling in the snow, burning inside with the urge to go after them, to somehow get her away from them? He cursed softly at the thought of riding in like some knight on a charger to rescue his damsel from villains. It wasn't like that. She was the villain of this piece.
He got to his feet and made his way back to the house, not even bothering to stomp the snow from his shoes as he ran through it and up to her bedroom, already knowing he wouldn't find her there.
The empty bed was rumpled, the drawers and closet gaping wide, clothes strewn everywhere. When he went back downstairs, he found more of the same. The place had been searched, hurriedly and recklessly, before they'd taken her away. Her pewter figurines lay strewn everywhere. Her crystals had tumbled helter-skelter to the floor. The bookshelves had been emptied, her precious fairy-tale stories trampled beneath uncaring feet.
He bent to pick up the first of the vampire books she'd shown him, and bit his lip against the burning in his throat and eyes.
He couldn't hope to hike out of here tonight. He'd die of exposure before he reached help, and then Cuyler would be on her own. He had to wait, though it would damn near kill him to do it. At first light, he'd go, with as many provisions as he could carry. He'd get out of here, somehow. And he'd find her.
After that, he didn't have a clue what he'd do.
For now, though, he had to sit tight and await the cold dawn. He sank into a chair, weak from turmoil, and opened the book in his hands.READ MORE >>