"I hope. Why do you think this is happening?"
"Why do you?"
"I, uh, well, the thing is that...I drank directly from him," she finally confessed. "I fear it's related to that."
"Emma, I've heard that all vampires can take memories from the blood, but only some can interpret them and see them. Looks like you just found a new talent."
"Great. Why couldn't I be good at underwater origami or something?"
"Have you told Lachlain?"
"Not just yet. But I will," Emma added in a rush. "It's not like I could not tell him, right?"
"Right. Now, on to a much, much more important subject... Did you get the gold necklace you saw him buy?"
I think your queen misses her coven," Harmann remarked when Emma had been at Kinevane for her second week.
"Aye, I gathered as much," Lachlain said, glancing up from papers strewn all about his desk. Missing her family was a blight on her happiness, but one soon rectified. As would be her marked dread of meeting other Lykae. She'd told him she was "shooting one in three with Lykae" and "wouldn't take that to the track." They were arriving in just three days. "But what makes you say that?"
"She dragged a maid into her drawing room to play video games. Then they painted each other's toenails. Blue."
He leaned back. "How'd the girl react?"
"Scared at first, but growing more comfortable. They all are. She could actually win them over." With a proud smile, he confided, "She calls me Manny."
"She didn't even ask me to do impressions." Harmann frowned to himself, and muttered, "They always ask me to do impressions."
"Does she have everything she needs?" he asked, though he knew she was growing content. When happy, she'd sing softly, absently. Oftentimes, he heard her voice lilting up from the "lunarium," as she called it, while she tended her garden. He could almost wager she liked the jasmine better than the jewels.
"Oh, yes. She's, uh, quite the talented, efficient, and, dare I say, aggressive shopper."
Lachlain had noticed her purchases himself and suspected he stood a little taller now that she was filling their home with things she liked or needed, making it her own. He found it deeply satisfying to see it taking shape. Did he even pretend to know why she needed hundreds of bottles of nail polish? No, but he liked that when he kissed her wee toes, he never knew what color they'd be.
For his part, Lachlain was healing, feeling stronger every day. His leg was nearly back to normal and his power was returning. His own sense of contentment - even in light of everything that had happened - was shockingly strong. And it was all because of her.
The only blight on his happiness was the fact that he would soon leave her, which was unbearable in itself, but now she'd begun insisting on going with him. She'd told him that she would go and fight by his side and "not let all this considerable badassness go to waste," or she would return to her coven.
She refused to remain behind at Kinevane. He knew he could talk her from her ultimatum. Surely, she could be brought to see things logically. Yet every day as she got stronger, he was a bit less confident. If she remained resolved in this, his choices would be to give up his revenge or possibly lose her to her coven. Both were untenable, in his mind.
He and Harmann finished speaking of some other business details, and shortly after Harmann scuttled off again, Bowe rapped on the door.
"You know where the scotch is," Lachlain said.
Bowe had apparently just come from the kitchen and was licking his thumb of something sweet-smelling on his way to the bar. When he poured one for his host, Lachlain emphatically shook his head.
Bowe shrugged and lifted his own. "To creatures that are other."
"They do make life interesting." Lachlain realized Bowe was almost not in evident pain. "Are you relieved?"
"Aye. Spotted her tending her plants downstairs, and when I saw you'd claimed her, I was glad for you." After a swig, Bowe observed, "You marked her a bit...hard, did you no'?"
"By the way, do you know what 'heroin chic' is? She said I should be aware that it's so last year." When Lachlain shrugged, baffled, Bowe turned serious. "The elders want to know what happened to you. Have been pestering me."
"Aye, I understand. When they come here, I'll tell them everything. I need to anyway so we can begin this."
"You think it wise to leave her so soon?"
"No' you, too," he snapped.
"Just want it noted that leaving her behind is a risk I myself would no' take. And they've no' found Garreth anyway."
Lachlain ran a hand over his face. "I want you to go to New Orleans. Find out what the hell is going on."
"Have to check my schedule." At Lachlain's look, he said, "All right. Leaving in the morning. Now, would you like to view the latest in vampire intelligence?" He tossed a file on the desk. "Courtesy of Uilleam and Munro, who look forward to seeing you soon."
Uilleam and Munro were brothers and two of Lachlain's oldest friends. He'd been pleased to hear they were doing well, though both still had not found their mates. Probably a good thing for Munro, since ages ago a clan seer had once predicted he would have a harridan for himself.
Lachlain scanned the file, astonished by the developments within the Horde in the last one hundred and fifty years.
Kristoff, a rebel vampire leader, had taken Mount Oblak castle, one of the five Horde strongholds. Lachlain had heard rumors of Kristoff, had heard he was Demestriu's nephew, and now members of the clan had uncovered the entire story.
Kristoff was the rightful king of the Horde. Just days after he'd been born, Demestriu had attempted to have him killed. Kristoff had been smuggled out of Helvita, then raised by human guardians. He'd lived among them for hundreds of years before he learned who he truly was. His first rebellion had been seventy years ago and had ended in failure.
"So the legend of the Forbearers is true?" Lachlain asked. They were not merely abstainers. The Forbearers were Kristoff's army, an army he'd been secretly making since antiquity.
"Aye, he's created them from humans, stalking battlefields for the bravest warriors who'd fallen, sometimes turning entire families of worthy brothers. Think of it, you're a human lying in the dark nearly slain - I'd consider that a bad day - and then a vampire appears, promising immortality. How many do you think really listen to the conditions of his dark offer - eternal life for eternal fealty?"
"What's his agenda?"
"No one in the Lore knows."
"So we canna predict if Kristoff will be worse than even Demestriu."
"Is it possible to be worse than Demestriu?"
Lachlain leaned back, mulling the possibilities. If this Kristoff had taken Oblak, then he'd want the royal seat of Helvita as well. It was possible that Kristoff could kill Demestriu for them.
Yet there was another twist. Oblak had been the hold of Ivo the Cruel, the second in command of the Horde. For centuries, he'd had his sights on Helvita and the crown, and he'd apparently survived the taking of his castle. He'd been eyeing Helvita when he had his own holding; now robbed of it, he must be aching for Helvita. Would he make a play for it, even knowing the Horde had never recognized a leader without royal blood?
Three unpredictable powers, three possibilities. Lachlain knew Ivo's vampires were stalking Valkyrie all over the world, obviously searching for one among them, but was Ivo doing Demestriu's bidding or acting alone? Would Kristoff take the offensive and seek out the target who was clearly so important to the Horde?
Though there was speculation, no one could say with certainty who this person was.
Lachlain feared he could. One or even more of these factions were searching for the last female vampire.
That night Emma lay under his arm as he slept. He held her like a vise, as if he dreamed she was leaving him. When, in fact, he was going to leave her. Uneasy, she ran one fang along his chest and lapped for comfort. He groaned softly.
After kissing the mark she'd just drawn from, she drifted into a fitful sleep full of dreams.
In one, she saw Lachlain's office from his eyes. Harmann stood at the door with a pensive expression, clipboard in hand.
Lachlain's voice rang in her head as though she were there. "There's no chance of it, Harmann. We will no' have bairns," he said.
Expeditious Harmann had wanted to make preparations for the arrival of children, because as he'd said, "If you have vampire little ones, they will need special amenities. We can't begin preparing soon enough." He appeared anxious, as though he was already behind.
Lachlain believed he and Emma would have had incredible children - brilliant lasses with her beauty, and braw, wily lads with his temper. He might have felt a whisper of regret, but then he pictured her upstairs sleeping in his bed. How she would sigh in contentment when he joined her, and how he could coax her to take blood from his neck in her sleep.
She'd never known this - why was he doing it?
She heard his thoughts: Must make her stronger.
When he watched her sleeping, he often thought, My heart lies vulnerable outside my chest.
Emma flinched with shame. Her weakness made him worry about her constantly, worry so much that it even made him ill sometimes. He was so strong, and she was a liability.
He hadn't told her he loved her, but his heart hurt - she felt it - with love for her, for his Emmaline.
Children? He would give up anything for her.
Could he give up his revenge? If he did, he would become a shell of himself...
The dream changed. Lachlain was in a dark, foul place that smelled of smoke and sulfur; his body was a knot of agony that she felt. He tried to stare down the two vampires, with their red, glowing eyes before him, but he could scarcely see from his own battered eyes. The vampire with the shaved head was Ivo the Cruel. The blond, tall one she knew through Lachlain's hatred was...Demestriu.
Emma's body tensed at the sight of him. Why did he seem familiar to her? Why did he stare into Lachlain's eyes as though he were seeing...her?
Then came the fire.
Emma raised her face to the warmth of the rising moon as it filtered through the trees. She and Lachlain sat on opposite sides of a small fire he'd built to warm her further. The breeze that wisped through the great forest of Kinevane was chilly.
She knew others would enjoy such a romantic situation - two people alone, a fire crackling in the Highlands - but she was on edge and Lachlain clearly was as well. His gaze was locked on her every movement, no doubt scrutinizing her for a hint about what she'd dreamed.
She would love a hint, too.
Near sunset, she'd shot up in bed with hot tears streaming down her face and the entire castle quaking under an onslaught of lightning. Face drawn with panic, Lachlain had clasped her arms, shaking her and yelling her name.
Yet she didn't remember the dream. Nïx had told her that people couldn't remember what they couldn't handle. So what had been so bad that Emma had almost toppled a castle with lightning, then wiped it from her memory? All night, she hadn't been able to shake an underlying feeling of dread. Just how heavy was this other shoe she sensed was about to fall?
"What do you think of that makes your expression so serious?" he asked.
"Why no' relax and enjoy the present?"
"As soon as you let go of the past," she countered.
He exhaled wearily and leaned back against a tree. "You ken I canna do that. Can we no' speak of something else?"
"I know you won't speak of the...torture. But how did Demestriu come to capture you in the first place?"
"Demestriu faced my father in the last Accession and slew him. My younger brother Heath could no' handle the rage he carried. He obsessed on the fact that Demestriu took our father's life - and then stooped to steal his ring, which had been passed down since metal was first forged. Heath told us he'd rather die than feel that way. He set out for Demestriu's head and that damned ring, uncaring if we followed or aided him."
"He wasn't scared? To face him alone?"
"Emma, I believe in times of adversity there's a line that is sometimes drawn, a line that separates your old life from your new. You cross the line, you'll never be the same. Heath's hatred made him cross the line, and he could never go back. He'd sealed his fate to one of two outcomes: Kill Demestriu, or die trying."
His voice went low. "I searched everywhere for him, but Helvita is hidden mystically, like Kinevane is. I used everything I'd ever learned about tracking, and I believe I got close. That's when they ambushed me." His eyes were faraway. "Like a nest of vipers they rose up, attacking, then tracing, so I could no' retaliate. There were too many." He ran a hand over his face. "I later learned that they had no' taken Heath alive."
"Oh, Lachlain, I'm so sorry." She sidled over to kneel beside his outstretched legs.
"It's the way of war, I'm afraid," he said, tucking her hair behind her ear. "I'd lost two brothers before Heath."
How much pain he'd endured, most of it at the hands of Demestriu. "I've never lost anyone I've known. Except Furie. But I can't believe she's dead."
He stared past her to peer into the fire.
"She might wish it so," he finally said, but before she could speak, he asked, "Is Furie the one who burned your hand?"
She gasped, staring down at it when he cradled it in his own. "How did you know someone burned it?"
He ran his fingertips over the back. "It seemed to explain the pattern of scarring."
"When I was three, I almost ran into the sun." Emma supposed she hadn't learned her lesson as well as she'd thought. Every day here, she secretly returned to a hidden shaft of light and exposed her skin to it. Did she plan to book a cruise to St. Tropez anytime soon? No, but each time she could withstand it longer, and maybe in a hundred years she could walk in the twilight with him. "Furie ordered it done."
His face turned hard. "They could no' have found another means to teach you? The day a child is hurt so in this clan will be a day of reckoning."
Emma flushed, embarrassed. "Lachlain, the Valkyrie are...different. Violence doesn't affect them like others, and their beliefs are not like yours. Power and fighting are what they revere." She left out shopping, suspecting it might detract from the point she was trying to make.
"Then why are you so gentle, lass?"
She bit her lip, wondering why she kept letting him think she still was. No longer. Tonight she would tell him about the dreams, and of her new decision...
"Lachlain, if you leave on your quest without me, then know that I'm going to resume mine."
He ran his hand over his face. "I thought you wanted to go to your coven."
"I've realized I don't have to think of my life in terms of either the Valkyrie or you. I began something and I want to see it done."
"Never, Emma." His eyes flashed blue. "There is no way in hell you'll return to Paris - to search out a vampire - when I am gone."
She raised her eyebrows. "Seems like you won't be here to have a say."
He grabbed her arm and pulled her to him. "No, I will no'. So I'll do what men did with their women in times past. Before I go, I will lock you away until I return for you."
Her lips parted. He was...serious? The time capsule was deadly serious. Two weeks ago, she would have made excuses for his behavior and placed herself in his shoes. She would have convinced herself that he'd been through so much and deserved some latitude.
Now, she cast him the look his words deserved, twisted from his arms to stand, then walked away.
Lachlain stared long after she'd gone, debating whether he should go to her. He sometimes felt like he crowded her, overwhelmed her even, and decided to let her be alone now.
That left him - and the fire. Though he was improving, he was still uneasy every time he was near one. She could never know this. And so she could never understand why he couldn't allow Demestriu to live -
A loud groaning sounded. He leapt to his feet, every muscle tensed. The unfamiliar sound echoed again from miles away.
He stood, head cocked, trying to make it out. Then...realization.
Like a shot, he sprinted down the path, spying her just ahead.
"Lachlain!" she cried when he swooped her into his arms before racing for the castle. He was dragging her into their room minutes later.
"Stay in here!" He charged across the room, retrieving his sword. "Doona come out for any reason! Promise me."
Some being trespassed on the grounds of Kinevane - and in a fit of groaning metal and screams had somehow taken down the massive gate to do it.
If it got past him...
"But, Lachlain - "
"Goddamn it, Emma. Stay here." When she still protested, he snapped, "Did it ever occur to you that on occasion you'd be right to be afraid?"
He slammed the door on her shocked face, then tore off to the front entrance. There he stood tensed, waiting, clutching his sword -
The front door to Kinevane Castle was kicked down for the first time in history.
He looked at the kicker - a blond woman with glowing skin and pointed ears. He glanced at the fallen door, then back at her.
"Pilates," she explained with a shrug.
"Let me guess. Regin?"
When she smirked, another Valkyrie passed in front of her, marching up to him, raking her gaze over him. "Hubba, hubba," she growled with a wink. "Emma caught herself a wolf." Her eyes zeroed in on his neck where Emma had drunk earlier, and she tilted her head. "Hmmm. You wear her bite like a badge you've earned."
"And you must be the soothsayer - "
"I prefer predeterminationally abled, thank you." Her hand shot out, ripping a button from his shirt, so fast it was a blur. She'd taken the one closest to his heart, and for a moment her face turned very cold. She'd made a point - she could have gone for his heart.
Then she opened her hand and gasped in surprise. "A button!" She smiled delightedly. "You can never have enough of these!"
"How did you find this place?" he demanded of Regin.
"A phone tap, satellite imaging, and a psychic," she said, then immediately frowned. "How do you find places?"
"And the barrier?"
"That was some serious Celtic cujo mojo." She jerked a thumb over her shoulder at their car. "But we also packed the most powerful witch we know, just in case." A nondescript woman waved brightly from the front seat.
"Enough of this." He stalked toward Regin. "You'll be leaving our home. Now." He raised his sword, but a blur swept past him. He twisted around and found another one perched on the grandfather clock, having landed so gracefully that the chains were undisturbed. She had a bow pulled taut, an arrow trained on him. Lucia.
Didn't matter. He wanted these creatures gone - they'd come here with one objective. He charged the door. An arrow tore through his sword arm like a bullet, exited with a rip, then buried itself a foot into the stone wall.
Severed tendons and muscles in his arm made his hand go limp. The sword clattered to the ground. Blood seeped down to his wrist. He wheeled around and found her with three arrows notched at once, bow horizontal, aiming for his neck. To take off his head.
Regin said, "You know why we're here. So don't make this get ugly."
Brows drawn, he followed her gaze down until he saw a razor-sharp sword inching up between his legs. Another Valkyrie that he'd never even seen enter wielded it from the shadows.
"Better hope Kaderin the Coldhearted doesn't sneeze with her sword like that," Nïx said with a chuckle. "Kitty-Kad, do you feel allergyish? I dunno, you look twitchy to me."
Lachlain swallowed, then chanced a glance over his shoulder. This Kaderin's eyes were blank, no feeling - only pure intent.
Lachlain had known they were vicious, but to see it, to feel it with an arrow through his arm and a sword tucked against him...
He would never let Emma near them again.
Just then, Cassandra crossed over the flattened door, warily eyeing the Valkyrie.
Lachlain snapped at her, "Why are you here now?"
"I heard talk of these...creatures cruising through the village, pumping bass and whistling at men on the street, before turning for the castle. Saw the gate mangled and thought you might need some help..." She trailed off, eyes widening at the sword.
Regin said, "Where is she, Lachlain?"
Nïx added, "We're not leaving without her. So unless you want permanent houseguests of the destructive sort, just hand her over."
"Never. You're never to see her again."
"A lot of nerve saying that when you're about to bloody Kaderin's sword," Regin said with a smirk. Then her ears twitched and her voice suddenly turned saccharine. "But what do you mean, you don't ever want us to see her again?"
"Never. I doona know how she became what she is after growing up in your vicious coven, but you'll no' get a second chance to twist her."
Regin visibly relaxed at his words. Lucia dropped down and strode to the door, casually, as if she hadn't just shot him and as if she weren't mere feet from a Lykae itching for a kill and two seconds from turning.
"Lachlain?" Emma murmured from the stairs. He twisted his head around, saw her brows drawn. They'd wanted him to repeat his decree for her benefit. "Had you always planned to keep me from my family?"
"No, no' until I met them," Lachlain explained, as though that made it better.
She surveyed the room, then her aunts. Just what had they done since that door had been kicked down? She could only imagine -
And what the hell was Cass doing here?