"It's true, and I'll tell you of it another time. Right now, I canna think of it. I've got only four days, four nights, to convince Emma to stay with me."
"She doesn't want to stay?"
"No, no' at all." A vague memory of her trembling in the shower, eyes squeezed shut to what he was doing to her, flashed into his mind. His claws sank into his palms. "I have no' been...good to her."
"Does she know how long you've waited?"
"She does no' even know she's my mate."
Time was dwindling. Lachlain would need her so badly with the coming full moon. He knew about the effect it had on any Lykae who'd found his mate. Lachlain figured if he hadn't scared her away by then, he certainly would on that night, unless she was more used to him.
And no longer virgin. He would never have thought he would be so dismayed to find out his mate was untouched. Emma was so soft and gentle, and the thought of spilling her virgin's blood when she was still healing and he was in the grip of the moon horrified him.
Soon the elders would descend upon Kinevane with their hatred toward her undisguised. He and Emma had to be joined by then. She had to be marked by him so they knew they couldn't harm her.
Yet how could he expect her to face these things with him when he hadn't begun to make up for all that he'd done to her? "I want you to find everything a twenty-four-year-old female would desire in her home - anything that would appeal to her."
If she was truly part Valkyrie, and the rumors of their acquisitiveness were true, then perhaps she could be softened with gifts. Hadn't she been intent on getting to her jewelry? He could give her a new piece every day for decades.
When Harmann picked up the clipboard and pen he always carried, Lachlain said, "Study her clothing and buy her more in similar sizes and styles. Replace anything that has been damaged." He ran his hand over the back of his neck, thinking of all he had to do. "She must be protected from the sun."
"Aye, I thought of that. The drapes in your rooms are thick and will suffice for now, but perhaps shutters? That automatically open at sunset and close at sunrise."
"Get them installed - " Lachlain broke off and did a double take. "Automatic?" At Harmann's nod, Lachlain said, "Aye, then, as soon as possible. I want every window in Kinevane protected, and have porticos built over all exposed doorways."
"We'll begin work on it in the morn."
"And her music player, her...iPod? The vampires destroyed it. She needs a new one - truly needs it. In fact, she seems to like all the things of this time, gadgets, electronic objects. I saw you'd modernized my rooms. The rest of the castle - "
"Is completely modernized. I've retained the full staff here, from cook to maid to guard, and we've kept Kinevane ready in case of your or your brother's return."
"Keep only the most trusted servants on, and tell them who and what she is. Also inform them of what I will do if she is harmed in any way."
Lachlain must have begun to turn at the idea of her being hurt, because Harmann stared, then coughed into his hand. "O-of course."
After an inward shake, Lachlain said, "Are there any vulnerabilities I should know about? Anything concerning finances or encroachment?"
"You're richer than you were before. Exponentially. This land is still protected and hidden."
He exhaled with relief. Lachlain couldn't have found better than Harmann. He was honest and clever, especially with humans, using his shape-shifting abilities to appear to grow old around them. "I appreciate all you've done," Lachlain said - an understatement, for his home and his wealth had all been protected by this being. As always, Lachlain found it ridiculous that shifters were plagued with a reputation for dishonesty, called "two-faced" as an insult for so long that the term had finally migrated to the humans. "I owe you much."
"You've given me generous cost-of-living-index raises," Harmann said with a grin, then tilted his head at Emma. "The little one - she's truly a vampire?"
Lachlain crossed to her and tucked a blond curl behind her ear. "Half-Valkyrie."
Harmann raised his eyebrows at her pointed ear. "You never did like to do things the easy way."
Car alarms still resounded from miles away.
Though Annika had finally been calmed and the lightning that threatened to rupture the manor had quieted, that thing still had her Emma.
She tried to shake the rage free - vomiting energy as she had was only harming the entire collective of Valkyrie who shared power, a dozen of whom sat together right now in this great room. They looked to her for answers she would have to give. Answers Furie should be here to supply.
Regin was back on the computer, accessing the coven's database once more, this time researching this Lachlain.
Impatiently pacing, Annika let her mind wander to the day that Emma had first arrived. The snow outside had been packed so high it covered half the window. Not surprising, in the old country. By the fire, Annika had cradled the baby, falling each second for the golden-haired girl with her tiny pointed ears.
"How are we to care for her, Annika?" Lucia had murmured.
Regin had sprung from her seat on the mantel to snap, "How can you bring one of those among us when they slaughtered my people?"
Daniela had knelt beside Annika, peering up at her, giving her a rare touch - and the stinging of ice from her pale hand. "She needs to be with her own kind. I know this well."
Annika had shaken her head determinedly. "Her ears. Her eyes. She's fey. She's Valkyrie."
"She'll grow to be evil!" Regin had insisted. "Damn if she hasn't snapped at me with her baby fangs. By Freya, she already drinks blood!"
"Trifling," Myst had interjected in a casual tone. "We eat electricity."
The baby had clutched Annika's long braid, as if saying she wanted to stay. "She was Helen's, whom I loved dearly. And her letter begged me to keep Emmaline from the vampires. So I am raising her and will leave the coven if that is your collective wish, but understand - she is as my daughter from now on." She remembered how sad her next words had sounded. "I will guide her to be all that was good and honorable about the Valkyrie before time eroded us. She will never see the horrors we have. She will be protected." They'd all quieted, reflecting. "Emmaline of Troy." She'd rubbed noses with Emma and asked the baby, "Now, where's the best place to hide the most beautiful little vampire in the world?"
Nïx had laughed delightedly. "Laissez les bon temps roulez..."
"Okay, here it is!" Regin said. "Lachlain, king of the Lykae, disappeared for two centuries or so. I'm just going to update the database and say that apparently he's back at the desk." She scrolled down. "Brave and vicious on the battlefield, and he appears to be in every battle the Lykae ever engaged. What was he doing? Trying to earn merit badges? And, uh-oh, careful, ladies, this big boy fights dirty. He'd just as soon end a sword fight with his fists and claws, and hand-to-hand with his fangs."
"What about his family?" Annika asked. "What does he care for that we can use?"
"He doesn't have much of a family left. Damn. Demestriu killed them all."
When she paused, continuing to read, Annika waved her on, until Regin exclaimed, "Ooh, the chicks in the New Zealand coven are evil. They've noted here that though they haven't engaged him, they've seen him fight vampires, and barbs about his family will make him go mindless with rage, making him easier prey for a skilled killer."
Kaderin laid one of her swords flat in her lap, her diamond hone file finally at rest. "He's hurt her, then. If he thought she was one of the Horde."
Regin said, "He'd had no idea she was a Valkyrie. She must be trying to protect us. Boneheaded little leech."
Lucia murmured, "Can you imagine how utterly terrified she must be?"
Nïx sighed. "The Saints aren't going to make it to the playoffs."
Gentle, fearful Emma, in the hands of an animal...Annika clenched her fists and two of the lamps closest to her - just fixed along with the chimney by a Lore contractor today - burst, shattering glass twelve feet into the air. Valkyrie in the way casually sidestepped or lowered their faces, then shook out their hair and resumed whatever they'd been doing.
Not looking up from the screen, Regin said, "It's the Accession putting all these pieces into play. It's got to be."
Annika knew it was so. A protracted imprisonment had just ended for the Lykae king. Kristoff, the rebel vampire leader, had taken a Horde stronghold just five years ago and was dispatching soldiers to America. And the ghouls, led by a fierce and occasionally lucid leader, had begun making a power play by infecting as many people as possible to build their army.
Annika crossed to the window and looked out into the night. "You said Lachlain didn't have much of a family. Then who?"
Regin put a pencil behind her ear. "He's got one younger brother left. Garreth."
"How do we find this Garreth?"
Nïx clapped her hands. "I know this one! I know this one! Ask...Lucia!"
Lucia looked up sharply and hissed at Nïx, but there was no true venom behind it. She answered in a monotone, "He's the Lykae who saved our lives two nights ago."
Annika turned from the window. "Then I'm sorry that we have to do what we're about to do."
Lucia turned questioning eyes to Annika.
"We're going to trap him."
"How? He's strong, and from what I can tell, he's clever."
"Lucia, I need you to miss again."
Throughout the day, Lachlain stayed by Emma's side, sunproofing any hint of a crack in the thick curtains and checking her wounds to make sure they were healing.
He took no chances, though, even lying beside her, cutting the side of his neck and coaxing her to drink from him.
The wee vampire had softly lapped at him, sighing in sleep. She must have bewitched him, because it had felt like the most natural thing in the world.
By afternoon, when he removed the bandages, he found the wounds still tender and raised, but fully closed.
The worst of his worry abated, he mused on what he'd learned.
Now that he knew the truth about everything, he looked at Emma differently, though he had to admit he didn't feel any differently. He'd already accepted her as his mate even when he'd thought she was part of the Horde. Now he knew that not only was she not part of the Horde, she wasn't even exactly a vampire.
Over the long years alone, he'd envisioned his mate in a thousand different lights. He'd prayed she would be intelligent and attractive, prayed that she would be caring. And now Emma, a half-vampire, half-Valkyrie, was shaming even his wildest fantasies.
But her family...He exhaled wearily. Lachlain had never fought against them, thinking them beneath him, and had only seen them from a distance. But he knew the Valkyrie were weird, fey little creatures, swift and strong with lightning firing all around them - firing somehow through them. Rumor had it that they derived nourishment from electricity. As he'd discovered in Emma, they were known to be extremely intelligent. Unlike Emma, they were almost as violent and warmongering as the vampires.
Though the Valkyrie had few known weaknesses, it was said they could be mesmerized by glittering objects - and that they were the only species in the Lore that could die of sorrow.
In a quick perusal of what the clan had compiled on them, he was able to find a tale of their origin. The Lore said that millennia ago, WĘ«den and Freya were awakened from a decade of sleep by a maiden warrior's scream as she died in battle. Freya had marveled at the maiden's courage and wanted to preserve it, so she and WĘ«den struck the human with their lightning. The maiden woke in their great hall, healed but untouched - still mortal - and pregnant with an immortal Valkyrie daughter.
In the years that came, their lightning would strike dying women warriors from all species of the Lore - Valkyrie like Furie were truly part Fury. Freya and WĘ«den gave the daughters Freya's fey beauty and his cunning. They combined these traits with the mother's valor and individual ancestry. This made the daughters all unique, but according to the Lore, one could recognize a Valkyrie if her eyes fired silver with strong emotion.
Emma's had turned when she'd drunk from him.
If this legend was true - and Lachlain believed it was - then that would mean Emma was the granddaughter of...gods.
And he'd thought her beneath him. A strong Lykae king saddled with a lacking mate.
He pinched his forehead, struggling with regret, but forced himself to read on. He found brief descriptions of the Valkyrie he knew were directly connected to her. Nïx was the oldest, and some said a soothsayer. Levelheaded Lucia was an expert archer, rumored to be cursed to feel indescribable pain whenever she missed a target.
Furie had been their queen, living under the same roof as gentle Emma when she'd been a child. Now, the Valkyrie suspected that Demestriu had trapped Furie at the bottom of the ocean for an eternity of torture. Based on Lachlain's experience, he could say without a doubt that she was choking saltwater into her lungs somewhere in the freezing dark right now.
But the entries on Regin and Annika troubled him the most. Regin's mother's entire race had been exterminated by the Horde. Annika, who was known as a brilliant strategist and a fearless fighter, had devoted her life to destroying vampires.
When Emma's family voiced their hatred of vampires, when they celebrated each kill, how could Emma not feel like an outsider? How could she not inwardly flinch? The Valkyrie were all centuries old to her mere decades, and she was what the Lore called "other" - or outside one's species. Emma was other from everything on the entire earth.
Was this the root of the pain he'd discovered within her? Did her family differentiate between what the Horde was and what Emma was? He would have to be careful with that himself. He could curse vampires to hell and not be thinking of Emma whatsoever.
The only positive thing he could find about the Valkyrie was that they'd always maintained an uneasy truce with the Lykae, reasoning that "the enemy of my enemy is my friend."
Until the Accession. When all immortals were forced to fight for survival in the Lore.
This news was a thousand times better than if her family was of the Horde. But it still had its share of problems.
Almost all creatures of the Lore had a mate for life in some fashion. Vampires had Brides, demons had Lovers, phantoms had Kindred, and Lykae had their mates. Even a ghoul never left the troop that had first infected it.
Valkyrie formed no such bonds.
They drew strength from their coven but were completely independent when away from it. It was said that the thing they wanted above all else was freedom. You can never keep a Valkyrie when she wants to be free, his own father had told him. And Lachlain was going to try to do just that.
He would try to keep her though she "must be terrified" of him. And her family didn't even know he'd attacked her. They only suspected he'd touched her as she'd never been touched.
Yet he had. And he would do it again under the influence of the moon. Like all mated Lykae, his need would be so strong then, his control weak. Since earliest memory, when a king was in residence with his queen at Kinevane, all others left the castle on the night of the full moon and the ones preceding and following, so the pair could give themselves up to its pull and surrender to it with abandon.
If only she could feel the same need and aggression, he wouldn't frighten her so badly. He vowed he would lock her away, even as he knew nothing could stop him from getting to her...
It would've been so much easier if his mate had been of the clan.
But then he wouldn't have Emma...
Near sunset, two maids knocked to unpack and arrange her clothing. "Take care with her things," he told them as he rose from her bedside. "And doona touch her." Leaving them wide-eyed, he shrugged through the closed curtains to get to the balcony. He stared out at the setting sun, gazing at their home, the land and hills, the forest that he hoped she would grow to love.
When the sun set, he returned and frowned to find the maids a few feet from the bed, peering at Emma, whispering. But he knew they wouldn't dare touch her, and they were young Lykae who had probably never seen a vampire.
He was just about to tell them to leave when Emma opened her eyes in a flash and rose in that floating way. The maids screamed in terror; Emma hissed and scrambled to the headboard as the two fled.
Lachlain had known this wouldn't be smooth.
"Easy, Emma," he said, striding to her side. "You startled each other."
Emma watched the door for long moments, and then her gaze flickered over his face. Her skin paled and she turned away.
"Your wounds are mending well."
She said nothing, just brushed her fingertips over her chest.
"When you drink again, they should heal completely." He sat beside her, rolling up his sleeve, but she recoiled from him.
"Where am I?" Her gaze darted all around, finally resting on the foot of the mahogany bed. She focused on the intricately wrought carvings, then twisted around to view the headboard, scrutinizing the inlaid symbols there. The room was deepening into darkness, with only the fire lighting it, and the symbols seemed to move with shadow.
Craftsmen had begun constructing this bed on the day of Lachlain's birth, not only for him, but for her. He'd often lain just where she was, staring at the carvings with fascination, imagining what his mate would be like.
"You're at Kinevane. You're safe. Nothing can harm you here."
"Did you kill all of them?"
She nodded, clearly satisfied.
"Do you know why they would attack like that?"
"You're asking me?" She tried to rise.
"What do you think you're doing?" he demanded, pressing her back down.
"I need to call home."
"I called your home last night."
Her eyes went wide with apparent relief. "You swear? When are they coming to get me?"
He was disappointed by how happy the thought of leaving him made her - but he couldn't blame her. "I spoke to Annika, and now I know what they are. What you are."
Her face fell. "Did you tell her what you are?"
When he nodded, she turned away, flushing, he realized, with shame.
He tried to tamp down his anger. "It shames you for them to know you're with me?"
"Of course it does."
He grated, "Because you see me as an animal."
"Because you're the enemy."
"I've no quarrel with your family."
She raised her eyebrows. "The Lykae haven't fought against my aunts?"
"Only at the last Accession." Just five hundred years ago.
"Did you kill any of them then?"
"I've never killed a Valkyrie," he answered honestly. But he admitted to himself that this was probably because he'd never faced one.
She raised her chin. "And what about that thing inside you? What's it been up to?"
Emma still got chills thinking about what she'd seen in the midst of the vampire attack.
Unfortunately for her, she now knew exactly what Lachlain looked like when he changed. It had been like a shaky projector image, flickering over him, illuminating something feral and brutal that had peered at her with absolute possession.
And now she was in its bed.
"Emma, what you saw last night - that's no' what I am." The firelight cast shadows across his face, reminding her. "That's only a small part of me, and I can control it."
"Control?" She nodded slowly. "So you made a decision to attack me in the field and in the hotel room in Paris? You meant to strangle me?"
She thought he stifled a wince. "I need to explain something to you. You know I was imprisoned by the Horde, but you doona know that I'd been...tortured. It affected my behavior, my thinking."
She had known he'd been tortured, just not how. "What did they do to you?"
His expression grew guarded. "I will never burden you with those details. Why did you no' tell me you were part Valkyrie?"
"What difference would it have made? I'm still a vampire, and my aunts are still your enemies."
"No, they're no'," he insisted. "I doona count among my enemies wee fey women who live on another continent."
His dismissive tone rankled almost as much as if he'd admitted to being their enemy. "When is Annika coming for me?"
His eyes narrowed. "You made a promise to me to stay until the full moon."
Emma gasped. "You didn't...she isn't coming for me?"
"No' at this time."
Her lips parted as disbelief hammered through her. "Incredible! Because you're from the past, I'll hip you to some rules. One rule is that when Emma is nearly killed by vampires, she gets a get-out-of-jail-free card from the Lykae's little playdate." She held up two fingers. "Another rule? Now that my aunts know what you are, they will kill you if you don't send me to the coven immediately. Your best bet is to let me go as soon as possible."
"If they can find this place, they deserve to try."
Realizing how resolute he was about this, she felt her bottom lip trembling. "You would keep me from my family when I need them the most?" A hot tear tracked down her cheek. Before, he'd appeared revolted by her tears. Now he looked...tormented, quickly reaching forward to brush it away.
"You want to go home and you will, but no' for just a few days more."
Not bothering to hide her frustration, she asked, "What difference will a few days make?"
"I ask you the same."
She gritted her teeth, fighting aggravation, fighting her useless tears.