"I doona understand."
"I've heard that the most twisted vampires have subjugated that need. Blood is all they desire, and those are the ones that decimate villages and drink to kill with such greed..." She stared past him. "To not be able to was terrifying for me. Every day I feared I would be like them."
"No' able to." He brushed her hair back from her forehead. "I dinna know. I thought you had some kind of Valkyrie control over yourself...I dinna know it was involuntary."
She must be using a gallon of blood blushing tonight.
"It's no' surprising you could no'."
She looked at him with hurt.
"No, no, if you were young and dinna know how and then it dinna happen...you would start to feel pressure each time."
She nodded, stunned he saw so much. That was exactly what had happened.
"You will never be like those vampires. Emma, you are nothing like them."
"How can you be so certain?"
"You are kind and gentle. You feel compassion. I would no' want you so strongly if I dinna know you are these things."
"But the Instinct forces you to want me. You said before that you had to keep me with you."
"Is that what you think?" He cupped her face. "The Instinct guides me to what I want and need. It directed me to the one woman I could make a life with. No matter what, it would always be you for me, but without the Instinct, I would never have recognized you as my mate because you are other. I would no' have given us a chance - and never forced you to."
"You say all of this like my mind's made up."
His expression grew grave, his eyes bleak. "Is it no'?"
"Well, what if it wasn't?"
He palmed the back of her neck, his eyes flickering blue. "You canna speak lightly of this."
"Has it never happened?" she whispered.
She wriggled from his grasp, curling up against the headboard. "I thought you said his mate died."
"She did. As she ran from him."
"Oh, my God. What did he do?"
"He became void of feeling, more a walking corpse than Demestriu even. You would doom me to that."
"But if you want to build a life with me, mine involves my family. You said you'd take me there. Why not now? Just get it over with."
"I have to do something first."
"You're going to get revenge, aren't you?"
"It's that important to you?"
"I canna be right without it."
"What Demestriu did to you must've been awful."
A muscle ticked in his cheek. "I will no' tell you, so doona play to find out."
"You always want me to tell you my secrets, but you won't share one that affects both of us."
"I will never share this."
Giving him her side, she hugged her legs tighter to her chest. "You want your revenge more than you want me."
"I will no' be what you need until I set this right."
"People who go after Demestriu don't come back."
"I did," he said smugly, with all his considerable arrogance.
Could he be lucky twice? He couldn't not come back. "So, do you plan to leave me here when you go mete out your retribution?"
"Aye, I would trust your safety only to my brother Garreth."
"Leaving the little lady back at the keep?" She laughed, but it was a bitter sound. "Sometimes I'm stunned by what a time capsule you are." He frowned, obviously not understanding her. "Even if I could be convinced to kick my heels up here, this plan has a flaw. The coven is busy with their own difficulties, but there's only so much time before they will come for me. Or worse."
"What do you mean, or worse?"
"They'll find a way to hurt you. Find a weakness and exploit it like a scourge. They just won't stop. Isn't there a group of Lykae living in the next parish over? My aunt, the one I love best in the world, could attack them with a viciousness that would stagger you."
He ground his teeth. "You know what bothers me most about what you said? I should be the one you love best in the world. Me."
She gasped at the words and the surprise feeling that flashed through her all the way to her toes.
"And of the other, if anyone in my clan is weak enough to be captured or killed by wee fey...women, then they needed to be culled from the pack anyway."
That statement brought her crash-landing back into the conversation. "They are small and fey looking. They also kill vampires regularly. My aunt Kaderin has destroyed more than four hundred of them."
His lips curled. "An auntie tells you tales."
"Did they sign a paper right before she worked their heads off?"
She sighed, and when she didn't answer, he leaned forward and squeezed her foot. "When Kaderin kills, she snaps out a fang - to be strung with the others. The line runs the length of her room."
"All you're doing is endearing her to me. Remember, I'll see every one of them dead."
"How can you say that when I am one? Or part of one. Whatever you want to call it! One of them is my father." He opened his mouth to speak, but she said, "You can't spare him only. Because I don't know who he was...or is. That's why I was in Paris searching for information."
"What of your mother?"
"I know more about what she was doing a thousand years ago than I do about when she was pregnant with me. We do know that she lived in Paris for some time with my father. Just the fact that I insisted on traveling alone should tell you how important it was to me."
"Then I will help you. When I return and after you see your family, we will solve this."
He was so assured it would be done. So says the king.
"What was your mother's name? I know the names of about twenty or so Valkyrie. Even know some legends told around a fire. Was she another bloodthirsty witch like Furie? Does she have a trailing name like Myst the Coveted or Daniela the Ice Maiden? The beheader, perhaps? The castrator?"
She sighed, weary of this. "Her name was Helen. Just Helen."
"I never heard of her." He grew quiet, then said, "And your last name? Troy? At least your aunts have a sense of humor."
Her gaze flickered over his face.
"Oh, no. No' going to believe that one. Helen of Troy was human at best. Most likely a myth or a character in a play."
She shook her head. "Nope. She was Helen of Troy by way of the country of Lydia. She's no more a myth than my aunt Atalanta in New Zealand or my aunt Mina, of Dracula legend, in Seattle. They came first. The warped stories come after."
"But...Helen? At least that explains your looks," he muttered, clearly shocked, then frowned. "Why in the hell would she stoop to a vampire?"
She flinched. "Listen to your disgust. Stoop to my father, you mean." She grasped her forehead with her fingers. "What if he is Demestriu? Have you ever thought about that?"
"Demestriu? I know that is no' the case. I will help you find your father - you will have your questions answered. I vow it. But you are no' his."
"How can you be so sure?"
"You're gentle and beautiful and sane. His issue would be like him." His eyes grew blue. "Malevolent, filthy parasites that belong in hell."
A chill crept up her spine. To hate so deeply...it would have to spill over to any vampire. "We're kidding ourselves, Lachlain. This will never work between us," she said, in a tone that even she recognized was utterly defeated.
His brows drew together at her words as if astounded she felt that way. But how could he be?
"Yes, it will. We've trials to overcome, but they will be overcome."
When he said it like that, when she couldn't sense even the minutest hint of doubt, she almost felt herself believing disparate beings like themselves could make this a go. Almost. She ventured a reassuring expression for him, but didn't think she pulled it off.
He suddenly rasped, "Christ, lass, I will no' argue with you when I've been too long to find you." He reached forward to cup her face with both hands. "Let's speak of this no more. I have something I want to show you."
He lifted her from the bed, setting her on her feet, then began leading her to the bedroom door though she was naked.
"I need to put on a nightgown!"
"No one's here."
"Lachlain! I'm not walking around willy-nilly naked. Okay?"
His lips curled as if he found her modesty endearing. "Then go put on the silk I'll soon be ripping from you. You've no respect for your clothing."
She glowered, crossed to her dresser, and chose a gown. When she turned back, she found he'd slung on a pair of jeans. She'd realized that about him - he'd begun trying to make her feel more comfortable. Of course, he still often insisted that she "stretch herself."
He led her downstairs, then past the gallery, until they approached what had to be the end of the castle. There he covered her eyes with his hands, leading her into a room that felt moist and smelled decadent and lush. When he removed his hands, she gasped. He'd taken her to an ancient solarium, but now the light it captured was the moon's, illuminating all that grew within.
"Flowers. Blooming flowers," she breathed, staring in disbelief. "A night garden."
Emma turned to him, bottom lip trembling. "For me?"
Always for you. All things for you. He coughed into his fist. "All your own."
"How did you know?" She ran to him, leaping up into his arms. As she hugged him tightly - she really was getting to be a strong wee lass - she whispered her thanks in his ear, with little teasing kisses, easing the empty, feral desperation still clinging to him. He'd been stunned to realize how convinced she was that they would end.
After last night and today, he'd hoped their bond had been cemented. For his part, he was lost for her. Yet she dared envision a future without him? When she scrambled down, he reluctantly released her.
He simply had to use every means at his disposal to convince her. As she flitted back and forth among the plants, gently skimming her fingertips down the slick leaves, he wanted to convince her right then and there. When she brought one bloom to her lips and brushed it over them, closing her eyes in bliss, his gut tightened with want. He forced himself to lie back on a long chair, but felt like a voyeur as he watched her.
She crossed to a marble counter lining one of the glass walls and stood on tiptoe against it to reach the hanging plants strung above. Her short shift rose with each of her reaches, flashing him glimpses of her white thighs until he could take it no longer.
He stalked up behind her to clench her hips, and she stilled.
In a breathy voice, she asked, "You're going to make love to me again, aren't you?"
In answer, he lifted her onto the counter, tore off her shift, then pressed her naked body back into the blooms.
So I'm, uh, like a queen now."
"All hail Queen Emma!" Nïx cheered. "Is your coronation the reason you couldn't call for five days?"
"Or perhaps it was being hung up on repeatedly the last time I tried?" Emma didn't mention that two days ago she had called and found Nïx wasn't lucid. "Besides, I'm serious," Emma said, shaking her nail polish bottle. The color was I'm Not Really a Waitress red.
"So am I. And who are your people? Hopefully not all the other vampire Valkyries, or you'll have no one to tax. Or are they the Lykae?"
"Yep, I'm like queen of the Lykae." She hopped onto the bed, then stuffed cotton between her toes. "Aren't you going to congratulate me for fulfilling my destiny?"
"Hmmm. How do you feel about it?"
At the surprise fluttering of disappointment, Emma accidentally painted a stripe on her toe. She frowned, feeling as if she should have done something. As it was, her fate was no more than a quirk of the same. A quirk that had made her the queen of someone great. "I went from co-ed to queen. I'd have to be happy, right?"
"Uh-huh," Nïx said in a noncommittal tone.
"So is Annika there?"
"Nope. Out working on, er, a pet project."
"How's she taking this?"
"Luckily, she's up to her ears with work. Otherwise she'd be more of a wreck since 'a dog has her Emma.' "
Emma winced. "Will you not tell her that I'm here voluntarily?"
"Right. She'll believe that over the other options. A. You're delusional. B. He's terrified you into submission."
Emma exhaled, then said, "What's going on around the coven?" She hoped Nïx could talk for a while.
Since Lachlain had king stuff to do - land disputes, punishments for bad behavior, overarching improvements for the region - Emma had time, even day time. They'd discovered that, like Lachlain, she now needed only four or five hours of sleep in a twenty-four-hour span.
Though the nights were for them alone - each sunset they sent everyone away so they could have the run of Kinevane, literally - the days could get boring. He'd been concerned about that and had asked her if she could content herself by "buying goods via the computer." She'd batted her eyelashes up at him and answered, "I'll endeavor for you."
"You're far too far behind, Em," Nïx said. "You'll never catch up with this soap."
"Come on, gimme dish."
Nïx sighed and Emma heard her shaking her own polish. The Valkyrie loved painting their nails, since it was the only way they could semipermanently change their appearance.
Polish shaking meant Nïx was settling down for a long talk. This afternoon Lachlain was taking a break from meeting with Lykae and the Lore creatures that seemed to surround Kinevane and the village in droves, but only to read numerous abstracts on the computer. He abhorred the computer, and his big hands, which were so skilled with her, were clumsy on the keyboard. He was on his third one.
"Very well. Dish as follows..." Nïx said as though put out, but Emma knew she loved to gossip. "Myst and Daniela never returned from their vampire hunt. Myst could be out tomcatting, for all we know. Now, Daniela is more of a mystery. For her to go walkabout for a while? Odd... Oh! Speaking of walkabout - Kaderin's gearing up for the Talisman's Hie."
The Talisman's Hie was the equivalent of an immortal Amazing Race, with the winner garnering power for their faction in the Lore. Kaderin the Coldhearted always won. "I guess it's silly to ask if she's excited," Emma said. Centuries ago, Kaderin had spared a young vampire's life and lost her two sisters because of it. She'd wished to be unfeeling, to never let emotion sway her judgment, and some power had unexpectedly granted her wish, thereby blessing - or cursing - her forever.
"No symptoms of excitement. But I did find her at the window, forehead and palm pressed against it, staring out into the night. As though she had feelings. As though she longed."
"I used to do that," Emma murmured. She'd yearned for more, ached for something unknown. Had it always been for Lachlain?
"But no longer. I suppose things are going well with your Lykae?"
"Nïx, I think I...like him." When he wasn't doing king stuff, they watched TV with him propped up at the headboard, her lying between his legs, her back to his chest. They watched soccer, which he loved. She watched the ball, everyone did, but he really, really watched the ball - much like he watched her legs whenever she crossed them.
He enjoyed adventure films, but he especially liked science fiction, because, as he said, "Everything in those movies gets explained as if everyone else knows as little as I do."
So she'd made him watch every Alien movie. Most of the goriest scenes were accompanied by his dialogue: "Ach, that's no' - that's just no' right... Bloody hell, this canna be right."
"He's a bit stubborn and aggressive, but I can wiggle around that. Though I'm not planning on bringing him home for dinner anytime soon."
"Smart. There'd be all those attempts on his life. Plus, we don't eat."
Emma edged off the bed to hobble on her heels over to her polish remover. "Why hasn't Annika sent a retrieval party?"
"Now, don't feel slighted - I'm sure she will soon - but right now she's focused on finding Myst. She figures if Ivo is looking for a Valkyrie, it'd have to be Myst. Remember, she was in his dungeon only five years ago? And had that incident with the rebel general?"
Like Emma would ever forget. Myst herself had confided to Emma that she might as well have been caught freebasing with the ghost of Bundy.
"See," Nïx said, "other Valkyrie like the forbidden fruit as much as you do."
"Yes, but Myst stopped herself," Emma said. Unlike my own mother. "She got past it."
Nïx chuckled. "Just because you slept with the Lykae doesn't mean you can never leave him."
Emma blushed and tried to say lightly, "Yeah, yeah, I gave it up."
"So. Do you wuv him?"
"Would you run into his arms?" Nïx asked. Her aunts believed that a Valkyrie would always know her true love when he opened his arms to her and she realized she would forever run to get within them. Emma had thought it a quaint legend, but her aunts swore by it.
"We've only been together for two weeks." The only thing she knew for certain was that he made her happy. Because of Lachlain, she could now determine that she enjoyed - in addition to getting gifts from vending machines and popping bubble wrap - showers big enough for two, stripping to his riveted gaze, drinking straight from the tap, and night-blooming flowers. Oh, and daily gifts of priceless jewels.
"Do you enjoy it there?"
"It's a sweet setup, I'll admit. For all that the maids still show up each day with jumbo crucifixes, jumpy movements, and eyes red from crying over the short straw that drew them vampire duty." Yesterday, she'd just stopped herself from raising her clenched hands above her head and chasing one of them around the room groaning, "I vant to suck your blood."
"If that's your only complaint... Or are your memory dreams a problem? I'm assuming the ones you spoke of were Lachlain's memories."
"Yeah, I can see things from his eyes, smell scents he smelled." Just the thought of those memories made her mood turn serious. "In one dream, he was buying this gorgeous gold necklace, and when he picked it up, I felt the metal warming in my hands. I know, I know, it's crazy."
"Are they all old memories? Or do you experience what he remembers about you?"
"They all seem connected to me somehow, and yes, I've heard him thinking to himself about me."
"Nice things, I hope?"
"Very nice things. He...he thinks I'm beautiful." In her dream just today came the memory of him watching her pad into the shower one night, his eyes glued to the ribbon swaying down from the string waist of her Strumpet & Pink thong. Back and forth.
She now knew he liked her elaborate lingerie, liked that he alone knew what was beneath her clothing. Back and forth went the ribbon. He growled so low she didn't hear him.
She has an arse men should write sonnets to...
Her toes still curled to think of that one.
"How welcome that must be for someone so irrationally insecure as you."
It was. "There's only one drawback - "
"Seeing him in the past with another woman?"
"Bingo. I think if I saw that, I'd lose it. I fear that I will see that." To know his thoughts and his pleasure as he touched another?
"You know, I never see what I truly don't want to see."
"Like the death of a Valkyrie." Nïx had never been able to. She could predict much about their charges, could often see the Valkyrie's upcoming injuries, but never to the point of death. To Cara's great despair, Nïx couldn't see Furie's fate.
"Yes. It's likely that you will never see these things because your mind knows you might not recover from it."