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Ashra’s hand trailed across Jaden’s muscled torso. He made it easy for her to be gentle. His body trembled as if he longed for her. His mouth was hungry for her kiss. He arched up against her, as if craving more. His need was like a living creature, wild and aching for her touch.
Eyes closed, Ashra shivered. Only one other person had desired her as much.
And he was dead.
She forced her way through the memories of pale bodies tangled upon cool silk sheets. When her soul-sucking power leeched out, it found no opposition. Images of the human’s life rewound in a blaze of vivid sights, sounds, and sensations.
Ashra looked up at Tera, her smile little more than a barely perceptible curve of her lips. “He fancies himself the protector of the child of prophecy. Was she among those taken tonight?”
Ashra chuckled, the sound without humor. “It’s a pity her genetic heritage wasn’t sufficiently superior to prevent her from being culled.”
“There’s more. Go deep.”
She pushed past the blackness at the start of his memories, expecting deeper darkness. Instead, the colors shifted into shades of ochre and gray. Memories, older than his body, resided in his soul; memories of an Earth long since lost to them—a planet surrounded and nourished by water; images of tall buildings glistening beneath a benevolent sun, and of thriving cities filled with the bustle of humans; memories of quiet and intimate conversations beneath a silver moon, the same silver moon that now graced Malum Turris with its light, though a thousand years older and viewed only from beneath the protection of the dome.
She saw herself as he must have seen her, a much-younger icrathari, still hopeful for the future, never realizing that the Earth they had all known and loved was irretrievably lost. Had she ever looked that vulnerable? Had her smile ever been so beautiful, so filled with love as she looked upon—
“Rohkeus?” Oh, blessed Creator, was that stricken whisper her voice?
Ashra pulled back and stared at the human. Her mouth dropped open. Her heart pounded in her chest, its beat erratic. It couldn’t be. It simply couldn’t be—
She looked up at Tera. The other icrathari nodded.
Rohkeus’s soul reborn…in a human.
Ashra threw her head back and laughed, a despairing sound. Her prince, her love, reduced to a human? Her slender fingers coiled into fists. Her golden eyes glittering, she pushed away from him, though her body trembled from the loss of his warmth. No, the human was not Rohkeus; he could never be Rohkeus.
Steeling herself against the gasp of pain that escaped from his lips as the anesthetizing effect of her kiss faded, Ashra rose to her feet with sinuous grace. “He is not one of us. Not anymore.” Nothing had been more devastating than losing Rohkeus to a human assassin. To see his soul reborn in that contemptible and weak race was an insult to the person Rohkeus had been.
“Should we turn him into a vampire?” Tera asked.
“Kill him. Set Rohkeus’s soul free.”
All around her, the sounds of baying wolves echoed in the night. Trees slapped her face as she ran, and she tripped more than once. She was crying now and mumbling to herself, terrified. She dared not look back, knowing that the wolves were pursuing her. She came out of the woods into a clearing leading to a tall hill. The howls came from all directions. Shadows flew through the woods in her peripheral vision, and Gabby cried out. She fell again, skinning her knee badly on a jagged rock. In her terrified state, she felt no pain, but continued as fast as she could and ran up the hill.
A snarl came from directly behind her, and she instinctively turned and cried out. A wolf was bearing down on her fast. She turned and raised a hand as the beast leapt at her with gleaming claws leading the way.
“NO!” Gabby cried.
To her amazement, the wolf changed form in mid-flight and turned into a naked man. He landed at her feet on all fours and snarled at her.
“Get away from me!” she screamed.
The naked man backed away from her warily, glancing down at his human hands with a look of confusion and shock. More wolves were coming out of the woods. They stopped when they saw the one who had turned into a human in the light of the full moon.
Gabby wasted no time considering her luck and ran as fast as she could up the hill.
“Gabriella Cross, stop!” Michael’s voice rose up over the howls.
Gabby could hardly see through her tears. She didn’t dare look back, knowing that she would find death closing in on her. She reached the top of the hill and ran across the flat expanse of rocky earth.
“Gabriella!” came the voice again.
The wolves were gaining on her.
She darted between two pines blocking her way, receiving many scrapes on her face and arms. Half blinded by tears and slapping branches, she stumbled out from between the trees and suddenly came to a steep cliff. She tried to stop, but her momentum was too great. With a terrified cry she fell forward over the cliff.
She frantically thrashed her arms as she fell to her death. Above, on the ledge, a mournful wolf cried out. The ground was coming up fast to crush her, and Gabby closed her eyes, not wanting to see her death.
Then. Suddenly. Gabriella was weightless.
Strong arms held her firmly. She opened her eyes to find a winged beast staring back at her.
Gabby passed out.