Mother of Christ. He leapt from the bed, yanking the curtains closed, then rushed back to her, turning her in his arms.
She was scarcely breathing, unable to speak, pink tears of blood tracking from her dazed eyes. Her skin burned as though with fever. He rushed her into the bath, fiddling with the unfamiliar dial until the water streamed out icy cold, then put them both under it. After several minutes, she coughed, breathed deep, then went limp again. He gathered her closer to his chest with the crook of his arm, then frowned. He didn't care if she'd burned. He had burned. Because of her kindred. He merely wanted to keep her alive until he determined with certainty that she wasn't his mate.
The evidence that she wasn't kept mounting. If she had truly been his, he never would have thought, Now you know how it feels. Not when his life's purpose had always been to find her so he could protect her and keep her from harm. He was sick - his mind was playing tricks on him. It had to be...
He kept them in the water until she cooled, then plucked the sodden silk from her body to dry her tender skin. Before he returned her to the bed, he dressed the vampire in another gown - this one an even deeper red. As if he needed to be reminded of what she was.
He drew on his own battered clothes, then prowled the suite, wondering what in the hell he was going to do with her. It wasn't long before her breathing returned to normal, her cheeks pinkening again. Typical vampire resilience. He'd always cursed it, and hated her anew for demonstrating it.
With disgust, he turned from her, his gaze landing on the television set. He studied it, trying to determine how to turn it on. He shook his head at the simplicity of modern devices and cleverly deduced how by selecting a button labeled "on."
Over the past week, it had seemed to him that every inhabitant of every residence on the outskirts of Paris had convened in front of one of these boxes at the close of each day. With his keen sight and hearing, Lachlain had been able to watch from outside. He would drag stolen food up a tree, then lean back to be stunned by the different information inherent in each one. And now he had his own to listen to. After a few moments of button pressing, he managed to discover a static place that only reported news, and it was in English - her language, and one of his, though he was more than a century out of date with it.
As he rummaged through her things, he listened to the unfamiliar speech patterns and the new vocabulary, learning them quickly. Lykae had that talent - the ability to blend, to pick up new languages, dialects, and current words. It was a survival mechanism. The Instinct commanded, Blend. Learn everything. No detail to be missed. Or die.
He studied her belongings. Back to the silk drawer, of course. The underclothing of this time was smaller and therefore preferable to yore. He imagined her in each elaborate scrap of silk, imagined biting them off her, though a couple of pieces baffled him. When he realized where the string was supposed to go and pictured her thus, he groaned, nearly coming in his trews.
Then to the closet to examine her strange clothes, so many of them red in color, so many of them lacking in coverage. The vampire would not be leaving this room in some of them.
He emptied the satchel she'd had with her last night onto the floor, noticing the leather was ruined. In the wet pile was a silver contraption with numbers like the numbers on the - he frowned - telephone. He shook it, and when water sloshed out, he tossed it over his shoulder.
A smaller leather case contained a hardened card that was a "Louisiana Driver's License."
Vampires in Louisiana? Unheard of.
The card had her name as Emmaline Troy. He paused for a moment, thinking back to all the years he'd prayed for just a name, a mere hint of how to find his mate. He frowned, trying to recall if he'd told the vampire his own name the crazed night before...
Her height was listed as five foot four, her weight as one hundred and five pounds - not even sopping wet could she achieve that - and her eyes as blue. Blue was too tame a word for their color.
There was a small likeness of her smiling shyly with her hair braided to cover her ears. The likeness itself was amazing, but puzzling. It was like a daguerreotype, but this one had color. He had so bloody much to learn.
Her birth date was listed as 1982, which he knew was false. Physiologically she wasn't older than her early twenties, frozen forever when she was strongest and most able to survive the future, but chronologically, she would be older. Most vampires had come into existence centuries ago.
And why in the hell would the leeches be in Louisiana? Had they taken over more than just Europe? And if so, what had happened to his clan?
The thought of his clan made him glance up at the vampire, sleeping still as a corpse. If she was supposed to be his mate, she would be his queen and would rule over Lachlain's kind. Impossible. The clan would rip her to shreds at the first opportunity. The Lykae and vampires were natural-born enemies - had been since the first nebulous chaos of the Lore.
Blood adversaries. That's why he was impatiently returning his attention to her things - to study an enemy. Not because he was itching with curiosity about the female.
He opened a thin blue passport book and found another likeness with another smile that looked coaxed, then a "medic alert" card listing her medical condition as "sun allergy and extreme photosensitivity."
As he pondered whether the card was a jest, he pulled out a "credit card." He'd seen advertisements for those on the television - he'd probably learned as much from the advertisements as he did from the grim person who sat and divulged news - and he knew they purchased everything.
Lachlain needed everything. He was starting his life over, but his most pressing needs were clothing and transportation away from here. As weak as he was, he didn't want to remain in a place where the vampires knew she stayed. And until he could sort through everything, he would be forced to take the creature with him. He supposed he needed to figure out a way to keep it alive during their travels.
All those years spent devising ways to kill them, and now he had to figure out how to protect one?
Knowing she would most likely sleep until sunset - and couldn't escape during the day in any case - he left her to make his way downstairs.
The questioning glances he was sure to receive would be met with an arrogant glare. If he showed his ignorance of the times, he would cover it with a gaze so direct that most people would think they'd misunderstood him. Humans always cowered under that look.
Audacity made kings. And it was time to reclaim his crown.
Though he continually found his thoughts returning to his new prize, Lachlain was able to garner much information during his foray. The first lesson he learned was that whatever kind of card she owned - this black "American Express" - denoted extreme wealth. Not surprising, since the vampires had always been rich.
The second? A concierge in a lavish hotel like this could make your life very easy - if he thought you were a rich, but occasionally confused, eccentric. Who'd had his luggage stolen. Though initially, there had been some hesitation on the man's part. He'd asked if "Mr. Troy" could provide any identification whatsoever.
Lachlain had inched forward in his seat, staring him down for long moments, his expression balanced between anger at the question and embarrassment for the man for asking. "No.'' The answer was casually threatening, succinct, subject-ending.
The man had jumped at the word as he might at an unexpected gun report. Then he'd swallowed and hesitated no more, even at the most bizarre demands. He hadn't even raised an eyebrow when Lachlain wanted sunset and sunrise charts - or when he wanted to study them as he devoured a twenty-ounce steak.
Within hours, the man had arranged for fine clothing to fit Lachlain's large frame, transportation, cash, and maps, and had secured reservations for lodging in the coming nights. He supplied every basic essential Lachlain might have needed.
Lachlain had been pleased by what the man considered "essential." One hundred and fifty years ago, humans, with their aversion to bathing, had been an embarrassment to the Lore, who were almost to a species fastidious. Even the ghouls dumped themselves in water more often than nineteenth-century humans. Yet now, cleanliness and the tools requisite to achieve it were essential for them.
If he could get used to the speed with which this time moved, he might begin to enjoy its benefits.
Toward the end of the day, when he'd finally finished all his tasks, he realized he hadn't lost control or had to fight a rage once in the several hours he'd been away. The Lykae were prone to fits of temper - in fact, they spent many years of their lives learning to control it. Couple that tendency with what he'd been through, and he was shocked that he'd felt only a flare or two of anger. To quiet each one, he'd pictured the vampire sleeping up in his room, in what was now his bed. It was in his possession, to do with as he pleased. The knowledge of that alone helped brace him against his memories.
In fact, now that his mind had cleared somewhat, he wanted to question her. Impatient to return, he considered the elevator. Certainly they'd existed when he'd last walked above ground, though back then they'd been an amenity for the indolent rich. They weren't now, and using it was expected. He rode it to his floor.
Inside the room, he removed his new jacket, then crossed to the bed to wait for sundown. He studied her at leisure, this creature he'd been deluded enough to mistake as his.
Brushing aside her thick blond curls, he studied her fine-boned face, the high cheekbones and delicately pointed chin. He traced a finger over her pointed ear and it twitched under his touch.
He'd never seen a being like her, and her fey appearance sharply separated her from the seething, towering male vampires with their red eyes. The ones he would exterminate one by one.
And soon he'd be strong enough to do it.
Frowning, he lifted the hand that rested on her chest. Examining it closely, he could barely see a smattering of scars across the back. The web of fine white lines looked like a burn scar, but it didn't extend to her fingers or past her wrist. She'd been burned as though someone had seized her fingers and held only the back of her hand to a fire - or to the sunlight. And she'd been burned young, before she'd been frozen into her immortality. Typical vampire punishment, no doubt. Vile species.
Before the fury engulfed him again, he allowed his gaze to settle on other parts of her, then dragged the cover from her. She didn't protest, still soundly asleep.
No, she was not what he had normally been attracted to, but the nightgown he dragged up past her navel and down to her waist revealed those small but plump and perfect breasts that had fit in his hands, and her hard nipples that had aroused him so last night.
The back of one finger trailed across her tiny waist, then over the bunched silk and down to her blond sex. He had to admit he liked that and wanted to taste her there.
He was a sick bastard to contemplate these thoughts about a vampire, to find one so attractive. But then, shouldn't he be allowed some latitude? He hadn't seen a Lykae female in nearly two centuries. That was the only reason why his mouth watered to kiss her.
He knew it was nearing sunset. She'd wake soon. Why not wake her with the pleasure she'd forfeited the night before?
When he spread her silky white thighs and settled between them, she moaned softly, though she still slept. Last night, she might have decided her fear or pride was stronger than her desire, but her body had wept for release. She'd needed to come.
With that thought in his mind, he didn't even attempt to start slowly, but fell upon her, ravenous. At his first taste, he groaned from the intense pleasure. He licked madly at her wetness, grinding his hips into the sheets. How could she feel so good to him? How could he be experiencing this much pleasure - as if she was truly the one he'd waited for?
When her thighs tightened around him, he took her with his stiffened tongue, then suckled her small flesh. A glance up revealed that her nipples had hardened into tight points and her breaths came hectic. Her arms fell over her head.
He knew she was close even though she slept. A weird charge came into the air, making him uneasy, making his hackles rise. The taste of her made him forget. He savored her as she grew wetter and wetter against his mouth.
He felt her tense, wakening. "Come for me," he growled against her flesh.
She drew her knees to her chest, resting her feet on his shoulders. Interesting, but he was game if -
She kicked him hard enough to send him across the room.
A stab of pain told him she'd torn muscles in his shoulder. A red haze covered his sight and confused his mind. He roared as he charged her, throwing her to the bed and pinning her down. He freed his trews and gripped himself, about to shove into her, crazed with his rage and lust, ignoring the Instinct's warnings: Her mind won't bend - she'll break. You'll destroy what you've been given...
He saw her fangs as she gasped with fear, and wanted to hurt her. A vampire given to him? Bound to him for eternity? More torture. More hatred.
The vampires had won again.
He bellowed with fury, and she shrieked. The sound shattered the glass lamp and the television and splintered the door to the balcony. His eardrums nearly burst and he leapt back, clamping his hands over his ears to block out the sound. What the bloody hell was that?
A scream so high-pitched he didn't know if humans could hear it.
She shot from the bed, and as she yanked her gown into place, she gave him a look of...betrayal? Resignation? She flew to the balcony, ducking through the thick curtains.
Dark now, no danger. Let her go. He slammed his head and fists against the wall, mad with lust. With hate. Memories of fire and torture stabbed him. The feel of the bone finally giving way under his shaking hands...
If he was cursed to carry those memories, to have that burden, it was little better than still being there, trapped in fire. He'd rather die.
Maybe fucking her regularly, taking his pain out on her, was what he was supposed to do. Of course. He felt himself calming at the thought. Yes, he'd been given a vampire solely for his pleasure, for his revenge.
He stalked to the balcony, assessing his shoulder, and tore the curtain aside.
His breath left him.
The vampire stood scarcely balanced on the balcony railing, her hair and gown whipping in the wind. He swallowed hard. "Come down from there." Why had his chest tightened with such alarm?
She whirled to face him - somehow keeping her balance. She looked hurt, her luminous eyes filled with pain. He resisted the recognition taking hold in his disordered mind.
She whispered, "Why are you doing this to me?"
Because I've wanted what's mine. Because I need you and I hate you. "Come down now," he ordered.
She shook her head slowly.
"You canna die from this. From sun, or losing your head, but no' from a fall." He made his tone casual, though he was uncertain. They were how many floors up? If she was weak..."And I'll easily follow you down to bring you back here."
She glanced over her shoulder down at the street. "No, I might die in my condition."
For some reason he believed her, and his alarm spiked. "Your condition? Because of the sun? Damn you, tell me!"
She turned toward the street and put one foot off the railing.
"Wait!" He tensed to spring for her, not understanding how she could possibly still be balanced. Won't bend. She's broken. "I will no' do that again. No' until you want me to." The wind was picking up, plastering the silk to her body. "When you woke...that was meant to give, no' to take."
She put the foot back and faced him. "And when I refused your gift?" she cried. "What was that?"
If she died...The fear for her brought him his first true clarity since before the fire. Twelve hundred years he'd waited. For...her.
For whatever reason, the world had given a vampire to him, and he'd pushed her to this? Destroy what you've been given. He was devastated by what she was - but he didn't want her dead. Or ruined.
It enraged him even to contemplate the hell he'd just been through, much less to talk about it, but he had to try anything. Have to get rid of this feeling - this dread. "Understand that I've been...locked away for one hundred and fifty years. Without comfort, without a woman. I'd only just escaped a week before I found you and I have no'...acclimated well."
"Why do you act as if you know me?"
"I've been disoriented. Confused. I know we've never met."
"Who are you?"
Just minutes before, he'd been about to claim her - without even telling her his name. "I am Lachlain, head of the Lykae clan."
He could hear her heart speed up with fear. "Y-you're a werewolf? You must let me go."
She looked otherworldly, with her hair streaming about and her skin so pale. She was not of his kind, and he had no idea how to be with her. "I will. After the next full moon. I vow it."
"I want to go now."
"I need you...to get to my home," he said, adding lie to truth. "And I will no' hurt you again." Possibly another lie.
She laughed bitterly. "You were going to force me just then, and I almost died this morning. Of sun." She whispered the word. "Do you know what that's like? The pain?"
He had a bloody good idea.
Her expression suddenly grew horrified, as if she was recalling a nightmare. "I haven't felt the sun on my skin" - she swayed on the rail - "since I was three years old."
Inching closer, mouth gone dry, he said, "I doona ken how to care for you, but you will tell me. And this will no' happen again."
"I don't want your attentions. You...you frighten me."
Of course he frightened her - his rages left even him shaken. "I understand. Now, come down. I know you doona want to die."
She glanced over her shoulder at the waxing moon rising, giving him her flawless profile. A gust pushed her hair across her neck. In all his years, he'd never seen such a preternatural scene as her pale skin against her blood-red gown with the moon glowing behind her.
She didn't answer, only exhaled wearily, swaying.
"Look at me." She didn't - she glanced down. "Look at me!"
She seemed to wake up, her brows drawing together, her eyes bleak. "I just want to go home," she said in a small voice.
"You will. I vow you'll go home." To your new home. "Just help me get to mine."
"If I help you, you swear you'll release me?"
"You won't hurt me?"
"No, I will no' hurt you."
"Can you make that promise? You can't seem to...control yourself."
"Every hour I gain control." Because of her? "And know that I doona want to hurt you." That, at least, was now true. He thought.
"You won't do those...th-things to me again?"
"I will no' unless you want me to." He held out his hand to her. "Do we have an agreement?"
She didn't take it, but after several agonizing moments, she did come down with a bizarre movement. She stepped down as if she were strolling and had stepped from a curb without breaking stride.
He gave her shoulders a shake. "Doona ever do that again." He had an odd urge to squeeze the vampire to his chest, and set her away.
She looked down. "I won't. Unless it's a better alternative."
He glowered at that. "Do we have an agreement?"
When she nodded, he wondered if it was only the position he'd forced upon her that had made her agree, or was it more? He'd thought he might have seen compassion in her eyes for just a brief moment when he'd admitted his imprisonment.
"Then we leave tonight for Scotland."
Her lips parted. "I can't go to Scotland! I was going to direct you. Or at least, MapQuest was," she added in a mumble. "How would you plan to get there without burning me alive?" She was clearly panicked. "I-I can't travel easily. No commercial planes. No trains. The sun..."
"I've secured a car. We'll drive there." He was pleased by how casual he sounded, since a week ago he hadn't known what a bloody car was. "And stop well before sunrise each day. A man downstairs mapped it out for me."
"You know how to drive? You acted as though you'd never even seen a car - "
"No, I doona know how to drive, but I'm guessing you do."
"I've only driven short jaunts from home."
"Ever been to the Highlands?"
"Uh, no - "
"Ever want to?"
"Who doesn't - ?"
"Then, vampire, you'll be going with me."
Emma lifted an unsteady hand to her hair and pulled a hank in front of her face. She stared in horror.
Streaked. By the sun.
He'd left her to shower and dress, and alone in the bathroom, she gaped at the vivid evidence of how close she'd come to dying. Dropping her hair, she slid off her nightgown and twisted in the mirror to assess her skin.
It was unharmed now, pale and healed - unlike the last time. She glanced at the back of her hand, growing nauseated. Thank Freya, the memory of her burn was mercifully hazy as usual.
Though she couldn't recollect specifics, she'd learned her lesson well, avoiding the sun for nearly sixty-seven years, yet near dawn she'd passed out before she could either escape this Lachlain or beg him to shut the curtains.
Shivering, Emma turned on the shower and stepped in, avoiding the broken marble. She still sensed his presence from the night before. She could almost feel his hands skimming over her wet skin, his finger pressing full inside her, his powerful body shuddering and tensing as she'd stroked him.
When she turned in the shower, the water sprayed her sensitive breasts, making her nipples hard - In a flash, the memory of waking under his mouth hit her.
She'd struck out at him with such violence because she'd been confused and frightened. Yet she'd also been nearer to orgasm than she had in her entire life. She was a weak woman, because for the briefest second the temptation to lie there docile and let her knees fall open to accept his fierce kiss had been nearly overwhelming. Even now she found herself wet.
For him. She was bewildered by her response. She wondered how she would react to him if he wasn't debating killing her.
At least now she knew why he was so savage. Besides clearly having issues, he was a Lykae, considered a ruthless menace by even the lowliest in the Lore. She recalled what her aunts had taught her about them.
Each Lykae housed a wolflike "beast" inside, like a possession. This rendered them immortal and made them crave and appreciate the elementals: food, touch, sex. But, as she'd seen tonight and the night before, it also could make a Lykae unable to control its ferocity, a ferocity their kind willingly unleashed during sex, reveling in scratching, biting, and marking flesh in a frenzy. Which had always sounded hellish to Emma - a being cursed with fragility and a deep-seated fear of pain.
How such a handsome façade could mask an ungovernable animal was beyond her understanding. He was a beast in the form of a fantasy. His body, except for the incongruous leg injury, was nothing short of...divine. His hair was thick and straight, a rich, dark brown that she imagined would look golden in the sun. She'd noted that sometime today he'd had it trimmed, and his face was now cleanly shaved to reveal his perfect features. On the surface divine, beneath...a beast.
How could she be drawn to a being that she needed to be running from?
Her arousal was involuntary, shaming in a way, and she was glad when the weight of her exhaustion stifled it. She was flagging by the minute, and the idea of driving to Scotland enervated her even more.
As she slumped against the shower wall, she wondered how Annika was holding up right now. Probably shrieking with worry and fury, ensuring that their hometown of New Orleans got flailed with lightning and that every car alarm in three parishes went off.
Emma also wondered if she really would've jumped. Yes, she thought with a start - if this Lachlain had been the same insane, howling animal of before, if his eyes hadn't slowly warmed to golden, she would've taken her chances.
And she wondered how he'd hurt his leg and where he'd been "locked away" for so long and by whom -
Immediately she shook her head as if to dislodge the questions.
She didn't want to know. Didn't need to know.
Annika had once told her that vampires were cold and dispassionate, able to use their powerful logic as no other in the Lore because they could disregard any detail outside of their goal as incidental.
Emma had a job to do. Period. And when she completed it, she would be awarded her freedom. She just had to keep her eye on the ball. Never played baseball, freak. Oh, yeah.
Didn't matter. Finish the task - get to go on as usual.
As she lathered and rinsed her hair, she mused over her typical week prior to the misbegotten trip. Monday through Friday she did research for her coven and trained before watching a late movie with the more night-owlish of her aunts. Friday and Saturday the witches came over with their Xbox and blenders full of pastel drinks. Sunday night she rode horses with the good demons who often loitered around the manor. If she could tweak just a couple of little aspects about her existence, life could be damn near perfect.