"She will never lose it." Nïx petted her forehead. "She is all of us. Emma of the three."
"Nïx, what will make you give her to me?"
"What would you do for her?"
His brows drew together at the absurd question. "Anything," he rasped.
She studied him for long moments, then nodded firmly. "You have work to do, Lachlain. Give her new memories to fight the old."
He held out his hands for her, forgot to breathe...until Nïx finally handed her to him. He clutched Emma to his chest, but she didn't wake, and when he glanced up again, Nïx was gone.
Quickly, he crossed to the bed, laying her down. He cut his arm with his battered claws and placed it against her lips.
He sat next to her and shook her. "Goddamn it, Emma, wake up." She didn't. Her lips parted, and he saw her fangs were dull and small.
He sliced his thumb and worked it between her lips, cupping her head with his other hand. Long moments passed. Then she grew very still, as though even her heart stopped.
She took, just barely. After a moment, she raised her hands to his chest, clutching him. He drew his finger from her, and when she latched on to his arm, he threw his head back, closing his eyes with relief.
Even as she drank, he pulled up her nightgown and the bandages beneath to check her leg and side. Already healing.
When she'd finished, she blinked open her eyes and threw her arms around his neck, weakly squeezing him.
"Why did you go, Emma? Was it because of what I said about Demestriu?"
"Had to go. Lachlain," she said, her voice faint, "he's my...he was my...father."
"I know. But that does no' explain why you would take that step."
She pulled back from him. "Nïx told me just before I left for Paris that I was on the verge of doing what I was born to do. I recognized it just as the vampire reached out his hand." She shivered. "I know it's hard to believe, but I-I killed Demestriu."
"I saw. I have the whole confrontation on tape. Lucia's going to get it from Bowe as we speak."
"How'd you get it?"
"Ivo had been taping Demestriu. And I took it from Ivo." At her frown, he added, "When you were in Demestriu's lair, I was already in the castle."
"You killed Ivo?" she asked in a hopeful tone.
"Oh, aye. With pleasure."
"Are you angry that you didn't get revenge on Demestriu?"
"I'm angry that you went alone. I understand it was your fate, but doona leave me like that again." He put his hand behind her head and pressed her to him. Her body had grown so warm and soft.
"How did you find Helvita?"
"I followed you. Emma, I'll always come for you."
"But how can you be right with me? Knowing who I am?"
He made her face him. "I know who you are. I saw everything that occurred, and we have no secrets between us now. And I want you so badly my mind canna comprehend it."
"But I can't understand this. I was his daughter."
"Seeing him with you eased some of my rage. I'd thought he gloated every day about what he'd done to me and for taking my father's life and his ring. He scarcely remembered these things, he was so twisted. And the kindness he showed you at the end...it meant much to me."
"But he took so much from you."
"Lass, he's given to me as well."
She gave him that shy look. "M-me?"
He nodded. "I dinna go mad after those years of hell, but I was just shy of it when I thought of losing you."
She whispered, "I saw it, Lachlain. That hell. I know what happened to you."
He dropped his forehead to hers. "I wish to God...I wish you had no'. That kills me inside, knowing I cursed you with that memory."
"No, I'm glad now that I have it."
"How can you say that?"
Her bottom lip trembled. "I would never want you to go through that alone."
He gripped her shoulders. Brows drawn, he rasped, "My God, I love you."
She gasped. "I love you, too. I wanted to tell you - "
"If you felt the same, then why did you no' come back to Kinevane? To me?"
"Because it was day in Russia."
Welcome realization hit him. "So it would be day in Scotland."
"Exactly. It was only my second time ever to trace - the first was just before I went with the vampire - and I didn't trust myself to land perfectly in the sunproofed rooms. I knew it was just after midnight here."
"I wondered when you'd learned to trace." His tone low, he admitted, "I thought you'd chosen your aunts over me."
"No, I was trying to be smart, cold, logical. And besides, I've decided no one's going to force me to choose anyone over anyone." She wagged her finger at him. "Including you, Lachlain. Not again."
His lips curled. "You're going to keep me on a short chain, are you no'? Especially now that I know what happens when you get displeased with someone."
She play-punched his arm, but when her hand met the wet fabric of his coat, her eyes went wide. "You're hurt. Worse than I thought." She shot to her feet, but he eased her back down.
"Give it time. I'll heal, just as you're doing. Your leg's already better."
"But let me get a bandage for you." She looked him over. "Your hands? Your chest? Oh, Lachlain."
He wasn't ready for her to leave this room, especially not without him. "Doona worry." He kept her hand in his. "Now that I ken that you love me, I'll hold this over you and make you take care of me."
She fought a grin and lost.
"So what else do you see?" He coughed into his fist. "In my memories." This could get tricky.
"They're mostly connected to me," she said, clearly hedging.
Still tricky. Could she see him when he handled himself while imagining his mouth between her legs? "And...?"
"I see things from the past. And I see you admiring my underwear." She blushed.
"Can you ken why this would make me uneasy?"
"It makes me so as well! I think I would die if I saw you with another woman."
"Are you jealous, lass?"
"Yes!" she cried, as if she couldn't believe the question. "While you've been running around growling 'mine,' I've been silently saying it right back at you."
This got better and better. "I think I like you jealous and possessive. But I doona like what's available to you in my mind. What more have you seen?"
So she detailed memories of him on a campaign, of him with her in the hotel room, of him admiring her arse, the necklace. Nothing to embarrass him so far. "Have you seen me kill?"
"Have you seen me release into my own hand?"
Her eyes went wide. "No, but..."
"But what?" When she wouldn't tell him, he nipped her ear. "Tell me."
With her face buried in his chest, he barely heard her whisper, "I want to." Her admission sent a spike of heat through him.
"Do you, then?" His voice had gone husky. As she nodded against him, he realized that though he was injured - had been feeling damn near dead - she could stir him to life. "You've only to tell me what you want."
"But I don't want to see certain things. Like you...with another woman."
"Now, this I am no' concerned with. You take my memories, and none before you were memorable in the least."
"I don't know..."
"I do. Every event you described was pivotal to my thinking of you. I remember all of them clearly, even over so much time." When she frowned, he explained, "I think you wake up too soon. That day by the stream, I grieved for no' having you, but afterward I swore to myself that nothing would stop me from finding you. I vowed that I would no' wait for you - I would seek you to the ends of the earth. And in the hotel when we were together, I promised myself I would do whatever it took to claim you, go to any lengths, even if they were no' honorable. I realized that night that you can make me craven for you."
"A-and the others?"
"The necklace? That entire journey home I slept with it in my hand, renewed in my belief that I'd see you wear it one day. And the night I stared at your arse - and you do have an arse I will be thinking of often - I joined you in the shower. When I took you under the water, you whispered in my ear that you dinna think you could live without me."
"I did?" she breathed.
"Oh, aye, and I thought that I'd give anything to hear it again. So rest easy on that score, love. I think this is like mind reading, and a lot of couples I know do that." He frowned. "Though those are usually reciprocal. Will you share things with me as though I had this talent? To keep no more secrets between us."
"No more secrets, Lachlain."
"And we set about getting past my...our memories?"
She nodded eagerly. "We will - "
"Emmaline!" Annika shrieked. Regin, behind her, rolled her eyes at the sight of them together. "Get away from him!"
Emma gasped, seeming embarrassed to be caught in bed with Lachlain. Then her expression turned defiant. "No."
"You can't mean this. We will discuss this when you're better." To Regin, she said, "Take him from here." Her voice was laced with disgust.
Emma tensed. "Don't touch him, Regin."
"Sorry, Em." She drew her sword and swept to the bed in a blur, her sword point under his chin before they could blink. He tensed, but with his injuries and Emma thrown over him, he couldn't react quickly enough.
"Put - the sword - down," Emma said.
"You're out of your head, kid. Why do you want to be with him when you have nightmares about him?"
Annika added, "You need to move away from this...this Lykae."
"I'm keeping" - her eyes flickered - "this Lykae."
"But the nightmares - "
"Are our business." When Regin pressed forward, Emma bit out, "I said no." She backhanded her with phenomenal speed.
Regin flew across the room. Lachlain shot up, head light, and threw Emma behind him. But instead of attacking as Lachlain expected, Regin wiggled her jaw and smiled brightly. "Sixty-five years I've been trying to teach you to move like that."
All of them were insane but for Emma.
Regin spoke to another Valkyrie on the wardrobe who'd come from nowhere and sat blowing bubbles with chewing gum. "Check her out. She didn't telegraph her punch. Finally, I can relax a little."
Annika clasped her hands. "Emma, please be reasonable."
Emma tilted her head at Annika. "What's going on here? The house should've been ruptured by your lightning."
Lachlain suspected Annika couldn't say a lot about this situation since she was now related by marriage to a full-blooded vampire. "Aye, Annika, why no' tell her why a Lykae does no' look so bad right now?"
When Emma frowned at him, he said, "She's agreed to recognize her sister's marriage to Wroth. I think she's figuring that anything is better than him."
Annika gave him a look of pure spite.
"You know what?" Emma said to Annika. "I can see that you're going to accept this - unbelievable, but I can see it. And I'm going to keep my head down and not ask too many questions - "
"Christ! Garreth!" Lachlain shot to his feet, weak and stumbling. Dragging Emma to his side, half carrying her, he lurched out of the room and down the stairs. Regin and Annika followed, demanding to know what was happening.
Inside the half-basement, they found Wroth alongside Garreth, grappling to hold up the ceiling.
The vampire's voice was incongruously calm when he asked, "What kind of idiot would find this a worthy plan?"
In an astounded tone, Lachlain said to Emma, "Your family's adding in-laws like him?"
The vampire's gaze fell to Lachlain's hand clutching Emma's, and he raised an eyebrow. "Indeed."
Movie!!" someone shrieked, and to Lachlain's great unease, he heard the Valkyrie begin to stir throughout the manor.
Lachlain was exhausted from his injuries and from having to help hold up the house while a suitable Lore contractor was found who could stabilize the damage. He'd barely been able to stumble back up to Emma's bedroom so they could rebandage each other. He'd sunk into her bed, pulling her down with him with the crook of his arm, just minutes before, and had almost fallen asleep with her resting her head on his chest.
Now he stared, arm tightening around her, wishing he had a weapon, as they filed into Emma's room from all corners of the house.
Some had gotten popcorn, none of them eating it. They curled up on the windowsills, on top of the wardrobe, and one even hopped to the foot of the bed after a casual hiss at Lachlain's legs had prompted him to move them.
Lachlain found it disturbing that they were all so insouciant about this. Here a Lykae lay with the youngest member of their household in his arms, in their home. In her bed.
He waited for them to realize this at any moment and attack.
He was as weak as he'd ever been, and they surrounded him like a swarm. Garreth and Lucia were conspicuously absent. She'd returned with the video, but apparently had been so shaken by something that had occurred within the clan that she left directly after. Garreth had followed. Unbelievably, Lachlain was almost relieved when Wroth arrived in the room with Myst, but didn't hesitate to return the bastard's scowl.
Just before the video played on Emma's TV, she plugged in her old "outdated" iPod so she couldn't hear, then buried her face against his chest because of the "scary parts."
Unlike the others, Lachlain had no problem tearing himself away from the screen to think on all he'd learned, because he'd replayed this again and again. Lachlain had first viewed the video beginning with Demestriu's entrance, because Harmann had programmed it to start there. But Lachlain had actually been able to go back and see Demestriu in the hours and even days before Emma appeared. Lachlain had seen Demestriu staring out the window, dropping his forehead into his shaking hands, lashing out in madness - just as Lachlain had done.
Lachlain shook his head. He didn't know how to feel about everything - how to reconcile his past and his losses with what might have been a brief flare of pity. And Lachlain realized now, with Emma here, that he didn't have to know. Not yet. They'd figure it out together.
He turned from his thoughts and studied the Valkyrie's reactions as they watched. They laughed uproariously at the fact that Emma, a vampire, was spooked by the blood on the floor. During the fight, they tensed and leaned toward the TV, eyes wide when Emma shattered the window. "Ballsy," Regin muttered, and others nodded in response though none shifted their gazes from the screen. At one point, Nïx yawned and said, "I've already seen this part," but no one bothered to ask how. And when Demestriu told Emma he was proud, some cried, making lightning split the sky.
Proof that Furie was alive was met with cheers, and Lachlain didn't douse their happiness by saying that at this very moment, Furie was praying to great Freya to die.
When it was over, Emma pulled her earbuds out and peeked up from his chest. The Valkyrie merely nodded at him and Emma the Unlikely and filed out, with Nïx predicting that The Demise of Demestriu would outsell One Goblin's Night in Paris among the Lore.
As Regin exited, she summed up what seemed to be the attitude of the rest of the coven: "If Emma wants the overgrown Lykae bad enough to go drop Demestriu, then she ought to be able to keep him."
Annika alone remained.
"You don't have to decide right now, Emmaline. Just don't do something you're going to regret for the rest of your life."
Emma shook her head, dismayed to see Annika hurting, but resolved in this. "I kept thinking it was about my choice, but it's not. It's yours. You can choose to accept me with him. Or I leave." Lachlain drew her hand into his as though for support.
Annika clearly strove for a calm demeanor and her face was like marble, but lightning fired behind her, belying her efforts. She was torn about this.
"Annika, I'll always run to his arms." There was no defense against that, no argument to refute it - and they both knew it.
Finally, Annika, with her chin up and shoulders back, faced Lachlain. "We don't recognize matehood" - she spat the word - "or whatever you Lykae call it, as a bonding union. You will have to exchange vows. Mainly I'm concerned about the one where the Lykae vows he won't use this union to harm the covens in any way."
Lachlain grated, "The Lykae has a name. And if you'd like Emma to share it, nothing will please me better. I'll make that vow."
She faced Emmaline with one last pleading expression. When Emma shook her head slowly, Annika ordered, "Do not trace him here any more than is absolutely necessary."
As she strode from the room, she mumbled, "Coven's gone to hell on my watch."
Emma said, "Tracing! That's right. Now we can visit whenever we want. Coo-ell. Can we spend some weekends here? And Mardi Gras? And the Jazz Fest? Ooh, I want to watch you eat crawfish!"
With a pained expression, he said, "I suppose on occasion we could run through the bayou as easily as a forest."
Then her face fell. "But I don't know if I want you around all my gorgeous aunts."
He chuckled at her ridiculous statement, then winced when his wounds wouldn't cooperate. "Emma, you shame them. No, doona argue. I have eyes, I can see." He stroked his thumb over her cheek. "And I know none of them can howl at the moon half as good as my wee halfling."
"Cheeky werewolf!" she chided, leaning in to kiss his lips, but she was interrupted by a scream downstairs.
As they frowned at each other, Annika shrieked at someone unseen, "What do you mean, we have a six-figure credit card bill?"
Emma the Unlikely
Emma the King Killer
Emma of the Three
Her own page in the Book of Warriors!
Regin, Nïx, and Annika had taken her - and she'd insisted on taking Lachlain - into the war room, to the ornate, ancient pedestal with the light shining down upon it. They drew it out from under its Plexiglas case and opened it to her page.
Her likeness was painted there and below it, written in the old language, were her aliases and One of W¨®den's Cherished Warriors. Warrior. War-ee-yur. This was so cool as to not be believed. With trembling fingers, Emma brushed the raised writing on the soft parchment.
Slayer of Demestriu, king of the vampire Horde, eldest and strongest of vampires. When she chose to battle him alone.
Emma raised her eyebrows at the implicit rebuke, and Annika lifted her chin.
Queen to Lachlain, king of the Lykae. Beloved daughter of Helen and all Valkyrie.
"Look at my resume!" Tears spilled over. "I look good on paper!"
Regin groaned. "Not the crying. That's so gross."
"And you left room for more!" She sniffled. Nïx handed her tissues she'd had the foresight to bring, and Emma brushed her face with them.
"Well, of course," Nïx said. "Even if you spend a lazy eternity doing nothing more than wallowing about with your wolf, we left room for your heroic, hell-raising kids."
Emma's face flushed, and she felt Lachlain draping a protective arm over her, squeezing her to his side. Chin up, he said, "We've decided no' to have bairns."
Nïx frowned. "Well, I'm not usually wrong about these things when I do see them, but if you both are so set on it, then never let her eat human food, especially not for back-to-back weeks on end, or she'll get knocked up faster than a rabbit after a Druid fertility ceremony!"
Emma said softly, "But I can't...I'm a vampire, and we can't have children."
Nïx and Annika both frowned. "Of course you can," Nïx said. "You just have to take different nourishment."
When Lachlain still looked unconvinced, Annika said, "Think about it - what do all humans do that not all in the Lore do? They eat of the earth and they spawn. The two are not unrelated."
Her heart thudding, Emma remembered Demestriu talking about Helen sharing meals with him just before she got pregnant. "And a Lykae with a...valkire?"
"Can you have little ankle-biters?" Nïx giggled. "Absolutely, and in the most literal sense. You know, you aren't the first time the different factions have had offspring together." She glanced around as if looking for someone in the manor, then waved it away. "Vampires who can walk in the sun, Lykae who can take sustenance from lightning. Valkyrie who run the forests at night with perfect joy." Nïx got an awed expression on her face. "And they're strong. Just look at you."
Emma glanced from Nïx to Annika. "Why didn't you tell me?"
Annika raised her palms, shaking her head. "I never imagined you thought about this at all, much less that you were under this misimpression."
To Lachlain, Nïx said, "When Emma yearns in her heart for children, it begins. She'll have to eat regular food for at least nine months."
Emma smacked her lips and grimaced, not relishing the thought of masticating.
"Doona hold your breath. I'm no' keen to share her."
"Very well. Until then" - Nïx paused to give him a lascivious grin - "honeymoon!"
Emma and Lachlain sat stunned.
Nïx waved an impatient hand. "All this would have come out during the three hour pre-joining counseling that you two are required to do."
That weekend after Emma and Lachlain's small, straightforward ceremony, and the raucous, bizarre party afterward, the members of the coven lounged in the TV room, sprawled over furniture, eyes glued to the television.
Lachlain and Emma sat among them, but he was restless, unable to watch the movie when Emma was making lazy circles on his palm with her fingertip.
Lachlain had invited only Bowe and Garreth to the festivities, though everyone in the clan hankered to meet the wee queen who'd felled Demestriu. But his kind liked to drink and rib and be boisterous, and he could just see the mad Valkyrie, who didn't drink - anything - reacting poorly. The preternatural versus the natural mixed with liquor.
But Lucia had "gone on walkabout," as the Valkyrie called it, or "fled," as Garreth more accurately termed it, and Lachlain had completely understood when Garreth had set out after her. Bowe had accepted, but after absently congratulating him that night, he'd spent an hour huddled in a corner with Nïx. Afterward, he'd been cryptic and preoccupied and had flown out early.
Casting looks that dared anyone to nay-say him, Wroth had audaciously shown up with a laughing Myst by his side. But the coven seemed to treat Wroth with the same indifference they showed Lachlain, who'd mostly been shrugged at as if he'd always been a fixture. Except for Annika - after she'd spotted Wroth, her chin hadn't been lifted quite so proudly, and Lachlain had heard her mumble, "Furie's going to kill me..."
Lachlain shifted restlessly. He thought he was finally strong enough for them to leave tomorrow. He was physically ready to resume relations with his wife, and wasn't eager to do it under this roof.
He stood and offered his hand, and with a shy smile she slipped her hand in his. As they crossed in front of the screen, they barely dodged a volley of popcorn.
He didn't know where he was taking her, maybe out into the night fog. He just knew he wanted her, needed her, right then. She was too precious to him, too good to be true. When he was inside her, with his arms tight around her, he felt less like she'd slip away.
But they only made it to an empty hall before he pressed her against the wall, cupped her neck, and demanded once again, "You'll stay with me?"
"Always." Her hips arched up to him. "You love me?"
"Always, Emmaline," he grated against her lips. "Always. So damn much you make me mad with it."
When she moaned softly, he lifted her so she could wrap her legs around his waist. He knew he couldn't have her here, but the reasons why grew hazy with her breaths in his ear.
"I wish we were home," she whispered. "Together in our bed."
Home. Damn if she hadn't said home. In our bed. Had anything ever sounded so good? He pressed her harder into the wall, kissing her more deeply, with all the love he had in him, but suddenly they were falling, his balance somehow lost. He clenched her to him and twisted to take the impact on his back.
When he opened his eyes, they were tumbling into their bed.
Eyebrows raised, jaw slack, he released her and levered himself onto his elbows. "That was..." He exhaled a stunned breath. "That was a wild ride, lass. Will you no' warn me next time?"
She nodded solemnly, sitting up to straddle him, pulling her blouse over her head to bare her exquisite breasts for him. "Lachlain," she leaned down to whisper in his ear, brushing her nipples over his chest, making him shudder and clench her hips. "I'm about to give you a very...wild...ride."
Yet after everything that had occurred, his need for her was too strong, and he gave himself up to it, tossing her to her back and ripping her clothes from her. He made short work of his own, then covered her. When he pinned her arms over her head and thrust into her, she cried his name and writhed beneath him so sweetly. "I'll demand that ride tomorrow, love, but first you're going to see wild from a man who knows."