PROLOGUE

"Sweet, helpless, pregnant, a victim… how can I compete?" The girl spoke softly, with no drama, but Philippe was not fooled.

"You don't need to, Katia," he said to her, his hand passing over her smooth silky hair. "You are his lifemate. There is no stronger bond than that."

She said nothing but her expression spoke volumes. She did not believe him. Not one little bit. Feeling something akin to panic, Philippe grabbed hold of her hands. "Promise me that you will wait here, Katalin. I will keep you safe until Bastien returns but you must stay hidden."

"No," she said, extracting her hands from his grip."I'm tired of hiding. What purpose does it serve?"

"They will take you back to the stake !"

"Let them, " she shrugged belligerently. "Anything's better than this…. this…. non-life."

Philippe's heart broke. The girl was pale and thin and dressed in rags. But more than her physical appearance, he mourned the slow death of her spirit. Being caged here alone for long periods at a time had not helped. And though Bastien had not bound her to him yet, his absence was beating her down as surely as if he had taken a cudgel to her. He looked into her eyes and saw only bleakness there. He could not tell her that she was in danger from more than the pyre. If the wrong people found out that she was lifemate to Bastien Moret… he shivered just thinking about it.

A summons in his head made Philippe wince. "I must go, " he said to her. "But I will return just as soon as I am able. You have food and drink to last you a week. You must stay inside, Katalin, promise me !"

Katia would not and in the end he had to weave wards over the mouth of the cave to keep her inside. He left with her pleas ringing in his head and his heart in shreds.

After venting with a storm of frustrated weeping, Katalin wiped her eyes on her ragged sleeve and drew her knees to her chest. It was time… no it was past time for her to take stock of her situation. and, more important, to do something about it. One thing was for sure, she refused to be a prisoner any longer. She rose to her feet and took the candle that she saved so frugally. She heard water. And where water was coming in it had to be coming in somewhere. Philippe had only warded the cave entrance. That meant there were… possibilities.