He cupped her face, stroking her cheek with his thumb. His voice sounding rough, he said, "Lass, if I have you here for such a short time, I doona want to quarrel with you. For now, let me show you Kinevane." He rose to cross to the thick curtains, opening them wide, then returned for her. Though she stiffened and leaned away, he lifted her into his arms, carrying her across the spacious room to the balcony. "You'll be surprised to know that it's still mine. No Wal-Mart."
Outside she saw the moon rising over a stately castle, lighting its ancient bricks and magnificent lawns. A fog was rolling in and carried a hint of brine.
He pointed off into the distance. "You canna see the walls surrounding the property, but know that whenever you are within them, you are protected."
When he sat her on the railing, her legs immediately threaded through its marble balusters even though he held her hips.
She saw he noted this with a frown but didn't comment on it. Instead, he asked, "What do you think?"
He appeared proud, as he should with a place like this. Amidst the stone frontage of the castle were stunning herringbone formations of brick that framed the windows and matched the walks and even the back of the huge fireplace in this bedroom. The gardens were immaculate, and if the rest of the castle was decorated as sumptuously as his bedroom, then this Kinevane was a testament to luxury. Her Valkyrie sensibilities couldn't help but appreciate it.
"Well?" He looked expectant. He wanted her to like it.
She turned, lifting her gaze above the tree line to regard the moon. "I think I only have a few days left until the moon is full."
When she turned back, she found his jaw was clenched.
She pushed her knotted hair back and it felt gritty. "I want a shower," she said, ducking to glance around his torso, spying out a bathroom.
She squirmed, wriggling her hips from his hands, until he finally let her down.
"I'll help you. You're still weak - "
"A shower. A lone!" she snapped as she strode into the opulent - and modern - bathroom. She rushed to lock the heavy door behind her, having discovered to her horror that her nails were dirty.
She removed the shirt he'd dressed her in - his, she noticed - and stared at the ugly, raised marks winding down her chest. An involuntary moan escaped her as she swayed. For the rest of her life, she would never forget the look in that vampire's eyes just before he'd clawed her. She recalled she'd regretted head-butting him. Now I'm going to get it, she'd thought as his hand swung up above her. Why had she provoked him?
She turned on the shower, waiting until it steamed, then stepped under the water. A red stream ran as dried blood rinsed clean from her hair, and she focused on it, shivering. Three vampires. The red swirled round and round into the drain. Why did I provoke him?
But who was alive now?
She should be dead right now. But she wasn't. She'd survived them.
She frowned. She'd survived vampires. And the sun. And a Lykae attack - all this week. Her worst fears for dozens of years were becoming - she bit her lip - old hat?
"Emma, let me help you."
Her head whipped up. "You should buy stock in a lock company! I said alone!"
He nodded in agreement. "Aye, you usually say that, and I still stay. It's our way." His voice was calm, and though the idea was crazy, he sounded reasonable.
Privacy? You have none... Her hand shot out to a shampoo bottle, her shampoo bottle that had already been unpacked for her stay. She hurled it at him, hard like a dagger throw, end over end. He ducked, just dodging it, and it flew into the next room. The sound of shattering felt like an accomplishment. Why was she provoking him?
Because it feels good.
He raised his eyebrows. "You'll reinjure yourself."
She reached blindly for the conditioner. "Not before you."
When she swooped up another bottle, Lachlain gave a quick, tight nod. "Verra well."
As he closed the door behind him, he thought that not doing exactly as he pleased in his own home was going to take some getting used to.
When he spotted the priceless mirror she'd broken, he remembered it had been at Kinevane for centuries and could've been the oldest one extant anywhere. He shrugged. At least she was getting her strength back.
For fifteen minutes, he prowled the hallway. As he listened in the unlikely case that she called for him, he wondered how to coax her to drink again. If his blood made her stronger, then she needed a surfeit of it. He'd see that she had it.
She was angry, wanting to return to her family, and he understood her need. But there was no way he could send her home. And going with her? When he could never hurt any of them, even to defend himself?
He regretted having to be so hard with her, knowing how much she'd been through, but there wasn't any time for this.
When he returned to their room, she was showered - and dressed as though to go outside. "What do you think you're doing?" he snapped. "You need to be in bed."
"Going out. You told me it was safe."
"Of course it is, and I'll take you out - "
"The whole point is to get away from you. You might be able to keep me here for four more nights, but it doesn't mean I have to spend them with you."
He took her elbow. "Then you'll drink first."
She gave his hand a withering glare. "Let go of me."
"You're going to drink, Emma!" he bellowed.
"Get bent, Lachlain!" she screamed back at him, wrenching her arm away. When he caught her once more, she struck out so fast it was a blur. He barely caught her palm before it cracked across his face.
With a low, menacing growl, he put his hand behind her head and pressed her against the wall. "I've told you no' to strike me. Know that the next time you try, I will retaliate."
She kept her chin in the air, though she prayed his eyes wouldn't flicker. "One hit from you could kill me."
His voice grew rough. "Never hit you." He leaned in and brushed her lips with his own. "Each time, I'll take a kiss as my due."
She felt her nipples harden and grew angered at her lack of control over her body - he seemed to have more control over it than she did. Even with all the confusion and panic of the last few nights, another slow brush of his lips across hers had her wanting him still. Even when she was terrified by what was inside him. What if he turned when they had sex? That thought made her break away.
"I know you want more than a kiss. Isn't that why you're forcing me to stay until the full moon? So you can sleep with me?" Like he'd warned her he would.
"I will no' deny that I want you."
"What if I said we should just get it over with? Tonight? So I could leave tomorrow."
She could sense him weighing his answer. "You'd sleep with me to leave me a few days early?" He sounded almost hurt by this. "Your body for your freedom?"
"Why not?" she asked, lowering her voice to nearly a hiss. "Just think of all the things I did in a shower in Paris for only a phone call."
She thought he flinched before he turned away. He limped to the fireplace, then lowered his head, staring at the fire. She'd never seen anyone gaze at one the way he did. Watchfully. While most seemed to lose themselves in the lulling flames, Lachlain did not. His wary eyes darted and flickered as though a play were being presented inside. "Know that I regret the way I've been with you, but I will no' let you go. For now, you're free to walk the grounds, and you'll be guarded."
Free to walk the grounds. The ones that were dark and should unnerve her; yet she'd been itching to explore them since first perceiving that scent of brine. And didn't she belong out there anyway? Without a look back, she crossed to the balcony, strode up the railing, then dropped off into the night.
The last thing she heard was him rasping, "And I know you'll come back to me before dawn."
Emma immediately sensed things following her as she moved into the mist.
So he'd really sicced guards on her? Considering his intrusive nature, they were probably more like spies. She figured a proud, independent woman would resent the intrusion. Emma? She reasoned that if this place wasn't as safe as he'd told her and vampires did attack again, Emma wouldn't have to outrun them - she would merely have to outrun the spies hiding in the bushes.
Unable to muster the desired outrage at being spied on, she explored for a while before stumbling upon a folly. Clustered all around it were wildflowers, which had bloomed during the day and now looked wilted and dismal. Just missed 'em. Story of my life.
Still, it was nice here, she supposed, with the fog-covered lake in view - or loch - or whatever. It kind of reminded her of home.
She closed her eyes at the thought of the manor. What she wouldn't give to be back there. She'd missed Xbox night last night. Tonight she was supposed to be riding horses through the bayou.
She hopped atop the folly's railing, following it, pacing round and round as she thought of everything that had happened to her. Before her trip, she'd yearned for something more. Now, being forced away, she realized how good she had it. Yes, she'd been lonely, feeling the lack of a partner in her life. Yet now that she had to deal with a stubborn, overbearing male every day, was being held captive by one, she thought partners were spectacularly overrated.
And, yes, sometimes she felt like an outsider - like not knowing where to look or how to act when her aunts shrieked about vampires - but often she didn't. Sure, they taunted her unmercifully, but looking back, she realized they taunted everyone. Like her aunt Myst. Years ago, after the incident with the vampire general, the coven had dubbed her Mysty the Vampire Layer. How do you separate Myst from a vampire? With a crowbar.
Emma's lips parted in surprise. They might treat her differently, but they did not treat her like an outsider. Had her own insecurities colored how she saw them? She recalled her memory of the day her hand had been burned, and now she saw even that differently. At first the memory had hurt her and shocked her anew. Now she remembered two distinct things: Regin had dived for her and shuddered at the close call. And Furie had announced to them all that Emma was just like them.
Emma felt her lips curling. Furie had said that. Their queen.
Excitement began to build in her, and she grew impatient to return home to see it with new eyes. Now she ached to appreciate all the things she'd taken for granted - or had been blind to. She wanted to fall asleep awash in the comforting sounds of bayou insects and her family's shrieks. She wanted to lie in her own blankets piled under the princess bed in her room - not in Lachlain's massive bed. She'd gotten the feeling that those carved symbols told an ancient story and, Freya help her, she sensed that as long as she was in that bed, she was a part of it...
When she skimmed around a column, her palm caught a large splinter. In the past, she would've howled from the pain. Now she sighed. Everything's relative. Compared to having her chest ploughed like a vegetable patch, this was a mere annoyance.
She tilted her head and stared at the sliver, frowning as a memory flooded her. She must have dreamed of him again. Today.
When she'd slept, she'd seen their last...sexual encounter, from his point of view.
As she stared at the small trickle of blood around the white wood, she went awash in the dream, feeling splinters from the headboard digging into his palms as he crumbled it. But he didn't care about the pain. He had to keep his hands there. Had to.
His need to touch her warred with his desire to earn her trust. Emma felt how strongly he'd wanted to put his hands on her - felt the lust welling up in him, the urge to thrust against her - and admitted to herself that if the situation had been reversed, she'd have said, "Screw it," and pawed him.
Now she grew dizzy, overwhelmed by the sheer hunger he'd felt, confused that she saw the hotel's patterned ceiling as he threw his head back, struggling not to come.
But her hair brushed over him, and her hips bucked relentlessly against him, and her breasts pressed into his chest. He felt her sucking him greedily and knew it was over...
She swayed as she suddenly left the memory, then blinked.
He'd acted honorably. He'd kept his word even under that onslaught of need. Now she wanted to go back to that night and give him what he'd desperately needed. But she couldn't, because it was just a dream. Or a memory. She fell from the rail. Instinct landed her on her haunches, yet she sank to the ground just after.
Just like the dream of the necklace.
She was going mad. Like Nïx, who saw things that she shouldn't.
Lachlain, what have you done to me?
There she sat in the wet grass in a strange country with the stars above off-kilter as though the world had dropped a notch. With no one to confide her suspicion to.
Emma didn't return at dawn.
The guards had watched her return to the house and protected the entrances afterward, but it had taken a frantic hour before Lachlain found her curled up, asleep under the stairs in a broom closet. Had she known that the ammonia and polishes stored there would cloak her scent from him?
Now he gnashed his teeth to find her shivering in the dust, his worry turning to ire in an instant. "Goddamn it, Emma," he snapped, scooping her up. What in the hell had she been thinking? He would lay down the rules, and, by God, she would -
Sun flooded the hallway, and he shoved them into a corner, covering her with his body. "Shut the fucking door!"
"My apologies," a familiar voice drawled from behind him as the door closed. "Dinna know there were going to be vampires about. You should have a sign."
Back in the low light, Lachlain turned to find Bowen, his oldest friend. His pleasure at seeing him dimmed when he noticed how much more weight Bowe had lost. Once Lachlain's size, he was now rangy and gaunt.
"And here I was surprised to see you alive, but looks like you've another surprise there." Bowe approached, rudely inspecting Emma as she lay in Lachlain's arms, picking up her hair and chucking her chin. "Wee beauty. Bit dirty."
"From sleeping under the stairs this morning." Lachlain shook his head, incapable of understanding her. "Meet Emmaline Troy. Your queen."
Bowe raised his eyebrows, demonstrating the most emotion Lachlain had seen from him since his mate had left him. "A vampire queen? Fate must hate you." More examination while Lachlain scowled. "Her ears are pointed?"
"She's half-Valkyrie," Lachlain explained. "Raised in a coven of them and kept from the Horde."
"Then things around here just got interesting," Bowe said, but he displayed little interest.
Emmaline shivered and buried her face in Lachlain's chest.
Bowe studied him. "Doona think I've ever seen you look so exhausted. Go bathe your freezing, wee...valkire and get some sleep." Though it was not yet eight in the morning, he added, "I'll help myself to whiskey."
Lachlain was out of his bloody mind, Bowe concluded by late that afternoon.
As he poured another scotch, thinking and drinking, Bowe admitted to himself that he should be the last one to doubt a mate being other, but this was too far-fetched. No two species were greater foes than the vampires and the Lykae, yet Lachlain thought to take one, or a halfling born of one, as his queen?
Wherever he'd been for the last one hundred and fifty years had clearly warped his brain...
Bowe raised his face, briefly distracted by the scents wafting from the busy kitchens. All who worked here were preparing for the rising of the full moon, cleaning, cooking in abundance, readying to vacate the castle. The smells from the ovens were just as he remembered from growing up here. In fact, the kitchens had been his favorite place. Now he frowned, trying to recall the last time he'd eaten. Perhaps he should commandeer the vampire's share of the food. She wouldn't miss it -
Lachlain greeted him with a censorious expression as he finally returned to the study. "Christ, man, you've been at it since morn?"
"Can I help it? Kinevane always kept the best liquor. Nothing's changed." Bowe poured a glass to the rim for Lachlain.
Lachlain accepted it, then sank down behind his desk, somehow appearing more exhausted than before, though his clothes were rumpled as if he'd just woken. And he had a nick on his neck. No. No way he'd allow that depravity. What the hell has gotten into him? Giving it a second thought, Bowe slid the decanter over the desktop to him as well.
When Lachlain raised his eyebrows, Bowe said, "Have a feeling you'll need it when you tell me where the bloody hell you've been that we could no' find you for decades." Bowe noticed he sounded angry. As if he blamed Lachlain for his disappearance.
"You never would have found me. No more than I was able to find Heath," Lachlain said, his voice deadened as usual when he spoke of his youngest brother.
Bowe shook his head, remembering Heath. Hot-tempered to a fault, he'd set off to avenge his father's death, not comprehending that those who set out to kill Demestriu didn't return. Lachlain had refused to believe he was dead. "You were in Helvita?"
"For a while."
"He was no' there?"
Lachlain's expression was bare - pure pain. "The Horde...dinna take him alive."
"I'm sorry, Lachlain." After a long moment, Bowe frowned and broke the silence. "You said, 'for a while.' "
"Then Demestriu decided on the catacombs."
"Catacombs?" There were rumors among the Lore that the Horde had an everlasting fire deep beneath Paris, kept solely for the purpose of torturing the immortals who could never quite die from it. Bowe's gut began to churn, the liquor roiling on his empty stomach.
When Lachlain said nothing, only drank, Bowe's face tightened. "The fire is real? How long?"
"The dungeon for a decade. The fire for the rest."
At that, Bowe had to drain his glass and snatched back the decanter. "How the fuck have you stayed sane?"
"You never did mince words." Lachlain leaned forward, brows drawn as if he was struggling to voice his thoughts. "I was no' when I escaped. I went from one rage to the next, destroying anything unfamiliar, experiencing few lucid thoughts. I still was battling these rages when I found Emma," he admitted.
"How did you get free?"
Lachlain hesitated, then hiked up his pants leg.
Bowe leaned forward to see, then whistled out a breath. "You lost it?"
Lachlain brushed the fabric down. "There was no time. The fires had abated and I scented her on the surface." He swooped up his glass and drew deeply. "I feared losing her after so long."
"You...took your leg?"
Seeing Lachlain about to crush his glass, Bowe changed the subject. "How are you with her?" After what they did to you.
"At first I terrified her. Lost control again and again. But I believe it would have been even worse if she had no' been there. I think I would no' have recovered at all. She calms me, and my thoughts are so focused on her, I've little time to think of the past."
The beauty calms the beast? "And where did you find your Emmaline Troy that you had no' been able to for so long? Where was your wee queen hiding?"
"She was no' born before seventy years ago."
He raised his eyebrows. "So young? Is she everything you'd hoped?"
"Much more than I'd hoped." Lachlain ran his fingers through his hair. "I could never even conceive of a mate like her. Emma's clever, with a mind so tricky and complicated, I know I'll never figure her out. And she's far too beautiful and frustratingly secretive and no' like any other woman I've ever met." He took a swig from his glass, this time savoring it. "The more I understand her phrasings, the more I realize my mate is a witty, droll lass." His lips curled absently, no doubt as he remembered some amusement. When he finally faced Bowe again, he said, "I had no' expected her humor, but welcome it gladly."
Bowe knew something extraordinary was at work for Lachlain even to approach a smile so soon after his torture. If Bowe had been convinced that Lachlain was confused and mistaken about his mate, he was no longer. Lachlain was lost for this Emmaline. Obviously, she was his. "So how do you plan to keep her? Seems her care and feeding would be verra involved."
"She drinks from me. Has never taken from another living being."
Though he'd seen the nick, Bowe was still surprised. "So she does no' kill?"
"Never," Lachlain said in a proud tone. "I'd wondered about that as well, but she's gentle - would never hurt a fly. I had to force her to take from me."
"That's why your leg is no' healing as it should," Bowe observed.
"A verra small price to pay."
"And what's that like, when she drinks?" As Lachlain formulated an answer, Bowe said, "The expression you're trying to hide says much." Christ, Lachlain liked it.
He ran his hand over his mouth. "The act is intensely...pleasurable. But besides that, I believe it bonds us. Connects us. As least, it has me." In a lower voice, he admitted, "I've come to crave it more than she does, I believe."
Lost for her. Vampire or not, Bowe envied him the feeling. "And how is such a young immortal handling the epic destiny of being your queen?"
"She does no' know it."
At Bowe's look, he said, "She would no' be pleased. As I said, I was...I have no' treated her as I should. I have no' shown her respect and dinna bother hiding my feelings about a vampire's nature. She only wants to return to her home, and I doona blame her."
"I'd wondered why you had no' marked her. This is a vulnerable time."
"I ken that. Believe me. I've spent centuries imagining how I would spoil and protect my mate, and yet I've made Emma's life into a living hell."
"Then why were you angry with her this morning, Lachlain?" He narrowed his eyes. "I canna tell you how ill-advised that is."
"I was worried and became angry. I'm no' now."
"You've no' claimed her - you could lose her."
"Is that what happened to Mariah?"
Lachlain knew better than to speak of her around Bowe. Mariah had been Bowe's fey mate who'd died fleeing him.
When Bowe cast him a savage look, Lachlain said, "I ken you never talk about it, but in this case, do I need to know something?"
"Aye. Your Emma's other and will always be so. Doona be stubborn and stupid. And doona try to force her to our ways." Bowe added in a low voice, "Else end up a cautionary tale like me."
Lachlain began to say something, then hesitated.
"What? Ask me what you will."
"How do you do it? Continuing on for so long? Now that I fully understand what you have lost, I doona know that I could."
Bowe arched an eyebrow. "And I doona think I could have my flesh burned from me every day for decades and stay sane." He shrugged. "We all have our petty torments." But the two were not equal and they both knew it. Bowe would gladly go to hell to get Mariah back.
"Do you believe Mariah might...?" Lachlain trailed off, brows drawing together. "You saw her die, did you no'?"