Before he could reach her, one tackled Emma to the ground, the impact wrenching her breath away. Lachlain bellowed with rage. If he couldn't reach her...if she couldn't fight hard enough...the vampire could easily trace her. The two others appeared between him and Emma, baring their fangs. When she dug at the earth to escape, the beast rose up inside Lachlain and he let it free. He'd never wanted her to see it...
Power surged through his body with the turning. Outrage. Protect.
The smaller vampire hissed, "She's his mate!" just before Lachlain attacked, slashing at him. He ripped and bit his body to pieces as he warded off blows from the other.
The mist turned to hard, stinging rain with lightning clattering all around. Lachlain twisted the vampire's neck with his fingers until he'd separated it, then faced off against the demon. It was strong, but coming off injuries. Lachlain's claws were drawn to the wounds unerringly, just as the demon aimed for his leg. From the corner of his eye, Lachlain saw Emma wrestle to get free of the third. She rolled to her back beneath him, then soundly knocked her forehead against her attacker.
The fiend howled in pain and slashed down her chest, leaving deep furrows that gushed blood into the mud. Lachlain roared and leapt for the demon between them. One slash of his claws rent the demon's head from his body, sending both pieces flying in different directions.
The last vampire, crouched over Emma, stared up at him in horror, frozen, seeming too shocked to trace. As Lachlain swung for the killing blow, he saw Emma had squeezed her eyes shut.
Rid of the third, Lachlain fell to his knees beside her. She opened her eyes as if she couldn't help it, blinking up at him, stricken by his appearance, more shocked by him than her wound or the attack. As he grappled for control, he comprehended that she was struggling to speak, choking on her blood and the pouring rain. All the while still edging away from him. She'd run to him before, but after witnessing what he was, she fought him.
Against her weak resistance, he scooped her into his arms. He shook his head hard, breathing in deeply. "I will no' hurt you." His voice was low, broken, and, he knew, unrecognizable.
With a shaking hand, he tore open what was left of her shirt, and as the rain washed away the blood and mud, he could see the damage that had savaged her delicate skin down to the bone. He clutched her to him and roared, needing to kill them again. She whimpered at the sound and, amid the rain, pink tears tracked from her eyes.
That alone was enough to give him the strength to take control.
When he reached the car, he threw open the back door to lay her down on the seat, gently pulling her long hair out of the doorway before shutting her in. He rushed into the driver's seat, then raced down slippery roads for Kinevane, glancing back every few seconds. Dread settled over him when half an hour had passed and she still showed no signs of regeneration. Her wounds continued to bleed freely with none of the closure he should already be seeing.
Never slowing, he bit his wrist open and thrust it back to her lips. "Drink, Emma!"
She turned her face away. He put it against her once more, but she refused, clenching her jaw shut. She could die if she didn't drink.
He'd been so busy hating what she was that he hadn't worried about how she saw him.
He pulled to the side of the road, reaching back to dig his fingers into her mouth and part her teeth. When he dripped blood into her mouth, she couldn't stop herself from latching onto him, closing her eyes and drinking deeply. She stopped bleeding at once. When she passed out, he sped off again.
The drive to Kinevane was a new kind of hell for him. He ran his other arm over his forehead, sweating, not knowing if more would attack or where they'd come from. He didn't know if she was strong enough to sustain this wound. How had she known to run from them?
He'd almost lost her four days after finding her...
No, he'd almost given her away, allowed them to take her to Helvita - which he'd never been able to find. He'd scoured Russia for it, perhaps had just gotten close when they'd ambushed him last time.
So close to losing her... Now he knew he would do anything to keep her.
He could work past his pain and torturing memories because he'd seen tonight how different she was from the others. Her appearance, her movements, everything was different. Her nature wasn't about aggression and killing like the others'. Blood for her - and now for Lachlain - was about life.
Her wounds had begun healing immediately when she drank from him. He could sustain her.
Which was the least he could do, since she'd finally made his life worth living.
Emma woke to the sound of bellowing and cracked open her eyes.
The headlights illuminated Lachlain shoving his shoulder into a massive gate, against the crest in the center. The raised seal was made up of two halves, one wolf on each side facing each other. The wolves were depicted as they might be in antiquity, showing the heads and forepaws, fangs and claws bared, ears forward. Great, Lykae-land. Not in Kansas anymore...
Lachlain was not making a dent in the metal, even with his strength. Mystically protected? Of course. Thank Freya he'd known better than to try to drive the car through.
She watched through heavy-lidded eyes as he prowled in the drizzle, raking his hand through his wet hair as he studied the gate. "How the fuck do I get in?" Once more he attempted to power it open, and once more a gut-wrenching bellow reverberated as if down a valley.
Should she tell him about the intercom? Could she physically? Just as she was debating it, the gate was opened by someone unseen.
Lachlain rushed back into the car. "We're here, Emma!"
Though the heater ran full blast, and the seat warmer as well, she shivered in her damp clothes with a cold like she'd never known. When the gate clanged shut behind them, she rested her eyes, at last feeling safe. At least from more vampire attacks.
She was dimly aware that they drove and drove over a property that must be miles long. Finally Lachlain parked, and leapt out of the car to throw open the back door and draw her out. He held her close to his chest, hurrying into an entranceway that blazed with light, hurting her eyes. He bounded up the stairs, giving orders to some young man following in his wake.
"Bandages, Harmann. And hot water."
"Aye, my liege." He snapped his fingers, and Emma heard someone running to obey the command.
"Is my brother here?"
"No, he's overseas. He...we thought you were dead. When you didn't return and the searches came up empty - "
"I need tae speak with him as soon as possible. Doona tell the elders of my return yet."
Emma coughed, an ugly, rattling sound, and she realized she'd never fathomed what pain was. She willed herself not to look down at her chest.
"Who is she?" the young man asked.
Lachlain drew her in closer to him. "She's her," he answered, as if that made any sense. To her, he said, "You're safe, Emma. You're goin' tae be fine."
"But she's...not a Lykae," the man said.
"She's a vampire."
A strangled sound. "A-are you certain? Of her?"
"I've never been surer of anything in my life."
Her thoughts grew hazy, and blackness beckoned.
Lachlain carried her to his room, laying her in his ancient bed, the first woman he'd ever brought to it.
Harmann followed, then set about starting a fire. Lachlain might feel uneasy with the fireplace at his back, but knew Emma needed the warmth.
A maid swiftly returned with hot water, cloth, and bandages, and another two carried in their bags from the car. Then with pensive expressions, the maids left with Harmann so Lachlain could care for her.
Emma was still weak, in and out of consciousness as he stripped her damp clothing from her and bathed her wounds. Though she was visibly healing now, her fragile, soft skin was still ravaged between her breasts down to her ribs. His hands shook as he washed her.
"That hurts," she rasped, flinching when Lachlain inspected her wounds a last time before bandaging her.
Relief washed over him. She could speak once more. "I wish I could take the pain for you," he grated. His own wounds were deep, yet he felt nothing. The idea of her suffering made his hands unsteady when he began rolling the bandage around her chest. "Emma, what made you run from them?"
Not opening her eyes, she murmured, "Scared."
"Why were you afraid?"
A small movement, as though she'd tried to shrug and failed. "Never seen a vampire."
He finished the binding and forced himself to tie it tight, wincing when she did. "I doona understand. You are a vampire."
Her eyes opened, but they were unfocused. "Call Annika. Number on medic card. Let her come get me." She grabbed his wrist, gritting the words. "Please let me go home...I want to go home..." then passed out.
As he tucked the blanket around her, he ground his teeth with frustration, not comprehending why her own kind would hurt her so. Not understanding why she would say she'd never seen a vampire.
She wanted him to call her family. Of course, he would never let her go back to them, but why not let them know that? Why not find out answers? He dug through her luggage, found the number for this Annika, then called for Harmann.
Minutes later, he was standing beside the bed, holding a telephone with no cord, ringing the United States.
A woman answered, "Emma! Is that you?"
"I have Emma with me."
"Who is this?"
"I am Lachlain. Who are you?"
"I'm the foster mother who's going to annihilate you if you don't send her home right now."
"Never going to happen. She stays with me from now on."
Something sounded like it exploded in the background, yet her voice was calm. "Scottish accent. Tell me you are not Lykae."
"I am their king."
"I hadn't thought you would commit an outright act of aggression against us. If you wanted to rekindle a war, you've succeeded."
Rekindle? The Lykae and the vampires were at war.
"Know this. If you don't free her, I will find your family, and I will sharpen my claws and peel them. Do you understand me?"
No. No, he didn't at all.
"You can't imagine the fury I will unleash on you and your kind if you hurt her. She is innocent of any crimes against you. I am not," she screamed.
He heard another woman in the background say softly, "Annika, ask him to speak with Emma."
Before she could ask, he answered, "She sleeps."
This Annika said, "It's night there - "
From the background again: "Reason with him. Who could be monster enough to hurt little Emma?"
He had been.
"If you hate us, then bring the fight here, but that creature has never hurt any living thing. Send her home to her coven."
Coven? "Why is she afraid of vampires - ?"
"Did you let them get near her?" she shrieked, forcing him to hold the phone away from his ear. She sounded more furious that the vampires had gotten near Emma than she was about him having her.
The one with the reasonable voice said, "Ask him if he means her harm."
"No. Never." He could now say this with confidence. "But you said, 'let them get near her'? You are them."
"What are you saying?"
"Are you split from the Horde? There was rumor of a faction - "
"You think I'm a vampire?"
With that shriek, he removed the phone from his ear more quickly. "If no', then what are you?"
"Valkyrie, you ignorant dog."
"Valkyrie," he repeated dumbly as his breath left him. His weak leg gave way and he sank onto the bed. His hand found Emma's hip and squeezed.
Now it made perfect sense. Her fey appearance, her glass-shattering screams. "Emma is part...that's why her ears..." Christ, she was part shield maiden?
He heard the phone being passed. The reasonable one said, "I am Lucia, her aunt - "
"Her father's a vampire?" he asked, cutting her off. "Who is he?"
"We don't know anything about him. Her mother never told us before she died. They attacked?"
"They will report back. Unless you killed them all?" she asked with a hopeful note in her voice.
"O' course I did," he snapped.
He heard her exhale as though relieved. "Was she...hurt?"
He hesitated. "She was" - immediate and numerous shrieks in the background - "but she's healing."
The phone was passed yet again. Someone said, "Don't let Regin have it!"
"This is Regin, and you must be the 'man' she was with. She told me you promised to protect her. Way to go there, Ace - "
He heard something like a scuffle, then slaps, then Lucia had the phone. "We are the only family she knows and this is the first time she's traveled away from the protection of her coven. She's very gentle in nature, wary, and she will be frightened away from us. We beseech you to treat her with kindness."
"I will," he said, and he meant it. He knew he would never hurt her again. The memory of her eye bursting red just before him, and of her running to him for his protection, were forever seared into his mind. "Why would the vampires attack like that? Do you think her father seeks her?"
"I don't know. They've been hunting Valkyrie everywhere. We've kept Emma hidden from them. She'd never even seen one. Or a Lykae, for that matter." She added almost to herself, "Em must be terrified of you..."
Terrified of him. Of course she was.
"If they have some agenda that includes Emma, they won't stop searching for her. She must return home where she can be safe."
"I can keep her safe."
Annika had the phone again. "You failed to do so."
"She's alive and they're dead."
"What's your agenda? You say you won't harm her, yet you're rushing into war with us?"
"I want no war with you."
"Then what do you want with her?"
"She's my mate." He heard her retch in response, and his hackles rose.
"So help me Freya" - she retched again - "if you have lain one of your filthy animal hands on her - "
"How do I care for her?" he asked, struggling to control his anger.
"You send her back to where she belongs so we can help her heal from you."
"I said no. Now, do you want me to protect her in your absence?"
He heard murmuring in the background, then Lucia spoke, "She has to be protected from the sun. She's only seventy and is incredibly vulnerable to it."
Seventy? Another squeeze of her hip. Christ almighty. The way he'd treated her...
"Like I said, she's never seen a Lykae and will be frightened of you. Be gentle with her, if you have any conscience. She must drink every day, but never straight from a living source - "
"Why?" he interrupted.
Quiet. Then Annika asked, "You've already made her do it, haven't you?"
He said nothing.
Her voice was deadly. "What else have you forced her to do? She was innocent before you took her. Is she now?"
The things he'd said to her...the things he'd done to her...He ran a shaking hand over his face.
And made her do to him.
How could he have been so wrong about her? Because I'd been burning for more than a century. And she's paid for it. "I told you before - she's mine."
She shrieked in fury. "Let - her - go!"
"Never," he bellowed back.
"You may not want a war, but you've got one." Calmer, she said, "I believe my sisters and I will go hunting for Celts' pelts."
The line went dead.
"Your brother's in Louisiana, my liege."
Lachlain's fingers paused on the last button of his shirt. "Louisiana?" After a quick shower to wash away evidence of the fight, Lachlain had called Harmann back to his room and asked where Garreth was. Of all the places in the world. "What in the hell is he doing there?"
"Louisiana is packed with the Lore, and many Lykae live there now. I'd say half your number reside in Canada and the United States. Most in Nova Scotia, but with a number farther south."
This news bitterly disappointed Lachlain. "Why did they leave their homes?" he asked, taking a seat near the balcony. A breeze blew in, smelling of the forest and of the sea that abutted his land miles and miles away. He was actually in the Highlands, looking out over the grounds of Kinevane. With his mate in their bed.
Harmann pulled up a chair as well, shifting into his normal shape, that of a behorned, large-eared Ostrander demon, so named for his extended Ostrander family. "When the clan thought the vampires had killed you, many refused to stay so close to their kingdom in Russia. Your brother assisted them with the journey, then stayed on in New Orleans to help them rebuild what they could."
"New Orleans?" This just got better and better. "Can you no' contact him? It so happens that I've got a coven of Valkyrie, in New Orleans, intent on peeling my family." And Garreth was the last member of his immediate family still living. Demestriu had seen to that - Lachlain's father dead in the last Accession, his mother dying of grief, and his youngest brother, Heath, setting out to avenge them all...
"Valkyrie?" Harmann frowned. "Dare I ask?" When Lachlain shook his head, Harmann said, "Garreth made me vow to contact him the minute I learned anything of you. He was...well, he didn't take the news of your presumed death as we'd hoped, especially after losing so many of his...of your..." He trailed off, then said, "So, of course, I tried to reach him as soon as I closed the gate behind you. But I was told he's gone off by himself for a few days."
Lachlain had a flash of worry for Garreth, being alone and unwarned. Hunting for Celts' pelts. No. No way could they catch him. Garreth was as wily as he was fierce.
"It's imperative that I find him. Keep trying." His brother was the only one he would trust to protect Emma while Lachlain went to mete out his revenge. "I want all the information you've accumulated on the Horde since I've been gone, and anything we might have on the Valkyrie. I want any media that will help me acclimate to this time. And keep my return secret from the elders for now. Only my brother knows."
"Aye, of course, but may I ask what you mean by acclimating to this time? Where have you been?"
Lachlain hesitated, then admitted, "In the fire." There was no need to describe the catacombs. He could never convey how horrific it was.
Harmann's ears flattened, and as often happened when he was distressed, the last shape he'd shifted into wavered over him. For a moment he looked like the young human male he'd presented to Emma before he returned to his wiry, demon frame. "B-but that's just a rumor they spread."