Her breasts seemed fuller. Her ears were uncovered in public, with only her long, freed hair to conceal them. She felt as though she'd gone out without a bra - she felt a little...naughty. When the sudden urge came to taste her lips, she did. He clenched his hands in response.
She wanted one thing from him, and if he could give it to her, shouldn't she risk the rest? She'd risked the shower with him for the same reason, and he hadn't hurt her then. No, in the end, he had kept his promise -
The spell was broken when a Ferrari, reeking of burned clutch, screeched to a stop behind the Mercedes. Two European starlets with perfect bodies clad in tight dresses spilled out. Perplexing, but Emma grew dismayed knowing he would appraise them just as he had her. The leggy blondes with bubble breasts spotted him and stopped in their stilettoed tracks, finally recovering enough to giggle loudly in a bid for his attention.
When it wasn't forthcoming, they pouted, and one "dropped" her lipstick to roll by his feet. Emma gaped as the woman bent down before him, then checked for his reaction.
Between her and Lachlain, she was the only one watching the scene - he'd never taken his gaze from her. But she had the impression that he was well aware of their antics. His eyes bored into hers as if saying, I'm looking at what I want. She shivered.
Having been completely ignored, the two finally gave up and shot Emma venomous looks as they passed. As if he was hers? As if she was keeping him from them? She was a prisoner - more or less! "You can have him, kitties," she hissed for their ears only. They blanched before scuttling away. She might be a coward against Lore creatures, but with humans she could hold her own in the tabby arena.
Now, how would she fare traveling with a wolf?
Lachlain had watched as Emmaline glided through the lobby, moving too gracefully to truly look human. He'd been struck by how wealthy and coolly composed she appeared - like an aristocrat. One would never imagine her timorous nature, because she seemed to have donned a cloak of confidence.
Then she'd changed.
He didn't know what caused it, but her gaze turned heated. She gave the impression that she needed a man - and he'd responded. Everything in him responded. But others had, too. Though she seemed unconscious of it, her sensual walk and movements lured every male gaze to her. In mid-conversation, they turned and stared, enthralled. Even the women did. Lachlain pinpointed each of their focuses. The women stared at her clothing and shiny hair; the men ogled her breasts, lips, and eyes, their hearts and breaths speeding up at her mesmerizing beauty.
Did each of those fools think he'd be the one to give her what she desired? Fury fired in him. She'd told him with a steady gaze that deep down he was a monster. She'd been partly correct, and right now that beast wanted to kill every male that dared look at her when he had not claimed her. This was a vulnerable time, and the Instinct was screaming at him to get her away -
Realization hit him. Female vampires had always been born beautiful - as a defensive and predatory tool. They manipulated with it and used it to kill. This one was at work even now, doing what she'd been born to do. And he'd been reacting just as she'd known he would.
When she stood before him, he cast her a black look. She frowned at his expression, visibly swallowed, then said, "I'm going to go with you. And I won't try to run or escape." Her voice was silky and seductive, a voice made for wicked murmurs in bed. "I'll help you, but I'm asking you not to hurt me."
"I told you I'd protect you."
"You told me the night before that you might kill me."
His scowl deepened.
"Just please, um, could you try not to?" She looked up at him with those blue eyes that appeared so guileless.
She thought to use her wiles to handle him? To gentle the beast inside him? He couldn't even control it -
An odd, chill wind blew, batting a curl against her cheek. Her eyes narrowed. A second later, they widened and her hands flew to his chest. He glanced down and saw her shell-pink claws go from curling to straight - like little daggers.
She'd perceived a threat. His eyes scanned the area; he was feeling something, too. But it was fleeting, and his senses weren't as keen as they normally were. Not yet. In any case, a menace of some sort near her wasn't surprising. As a vampire she had many blood enemies - a fact he'd once applauded. Now he would have to fight them because he would destroy anything that sought to hurt her.
Instead of telling her that, he removed her hands from his chest with an expression of distaste. "I'll bet you're better off with me than alone out here."
She nodded, agreeing. "Then can we go?"
When he gave her a tight nod, and drew away from her to go to the passenger side of the car, the valet opened the driver's door and helped her in. Lachlain cringed at not having assisted her, then grew angered over his chagrin.
After a brief grappling with the door handle, he joined her, sinking into the plush seat. The interior was luxurious - even he would know that - though it was strange that the accents in the car looked like wood but didn't smell organic.
She peeked at the back seating of the car, no doubt noticing the cache of magazines he'd had the concierge amass for him, but without even a questioning glance she faced forward. "I can get to London" - she pushed a button that said OnStar - "but after that I'll need help."
He nodded, watching as she hurriedly adjusted her seat far forward before strapping a harness over her front.
At his look, she explained, "It's a seat belt. For safety," then reached down to move a lever to D.
So help him, if that stood for "drive" and that was all it took to engage this machine, he was going to fall out. When she glanced at his seat belt, he raised his eyebrows and said simply, "Immortal."
He knew he'd irritated her. She moved her foot to the longer of two pedals on the floor, stomping it, and the car surged forward into traffic. She glanced at him, no doubt hoping to have startled him. Not possible - he could already tell he was going to love cars.
Her tone defensive, she said, "I'm immortal, too, usually, but if I get in a wreck and get knocked out till morning, that sun allergy card my aunts make me cart around won't do jack. Okay?"
"I understood fifty percent of that," he observed calmly.
"I can't afford this car," she retorted, clenching the steering wheel as she directed the vehicle around other cars.
Why this concern about money? Who would dare withhold funds from her? The vampires had always been wealthy and had just begun investing in seep oil when he was imprisoned. Obviously, the market had grown. Not surprising, since everything their king, Demestriu, touched turned to gold. Or died.
Thinking of Demestriu made rage flare, nearly choking him. Pain radiated through his leg, and he clenched his hand on the handle above his head, crushing it.
She gasped, then locked her gaze straight ahead, murmuring to herself, "How much can a handle cost? Really."
Her unnecessary worry over something that would have no bearing on their life irritated him. His wealth - their wealth - was in his, their home. They need only get to it.
Their home. He was returning to Kinevane, his ancestral estate in the Highlands, with his woman. Finally. And if she weren't a vampire, he might feel pleased about that fact.
Instead of slighted.
He wondered how the clan would react to the incredible insult of her presence.
How fast are we going?"
"Eighty kilometers an hour," Emma answered in an offhanded tone.
"How long is a kilometer?"
She'd known he was going to ask that. Sad but true - she didn't know. She was just matching the dial on her speedo to the kilometer-an-hour limit posted on the signs.
Many of his questions over the last half hour were making her feel stupid, and for some reason she felt it vital that he didn't think that.
The questions accompanied the stockpile of news magazines he'd acquired, no doubt from "the man downstairs" who'd mapped out this journey. Emma had seen Lachlain flying through them, realizing he was reading them that quickly because he would ask her for definitions every few pages. Acronyms seemed to stump him, and though she'd nailed NASA and DEA and PDA, she came up short on MP3.
After he'd read the magazines cover to cover, he took up the car manual and the questions resumed. As if she could define "a transmission."
Even with her limited assistance, she could feel him learning, could perceive how intelligent he was. And his questions indicated that he was deducing much, reasoning out his own answers as he soaked up knowledge in a way she'd never imagined was possible.
The rental car's copy of French traffic rules followed the manual, but he skimmed it, then tossed it away as if unimpressed. At her look, he explained, "Some things doona change. You still put on the parking brake on a hill, horse carriage or no."
His arrogance, his easy dismissal of things he should be awed by, rankled. A car would terrify her if she'd never been in one until she was an adult. Not Lachlain. On the road, he was too pleased with himself. Too comfortable in the leather seats, too curious about his window and air controls, flicking them on and off, up and down, and mauling the German technology with his huge paws. If he'd been locked away for so long, then shouldn't he be discombobulated?
Shouldn't he still be shaken? She believed nothing could shake his colossal arrogance -
Great, he's found the control for the moon roof. Her patience was ragged. Open...close. Open...close. Open...
Every minute closer to dawn found her more tense. She'd always been so cautious before. This trip to Europe had been her first real independence and only allowed because her aunts had provided so many safeguards. Yet Emma had managed to run out of blood, get kidnapped, and be forced out into the world with no precaution against the sun other than a car trunk, heading for who knew where...
And still all this might be safer than not going with him. Something had been back at the hotel - possibly vampires.
Just after they'd gotten into the car, she'd thought about telling him that her life might be in danger. Two reasons prevented her. For one, she didn't think she could stand it if he shrugged and gave her an "I should care about this why?" look. And secondly, she'd have to explain what she was.
The Valkyrie were enemies of the Lykae as well, and she'd be damned if she allowed herself to be used as ammunition against her family. In fact, she didn't want Lachlain to discover anything about her to use against her. Luckily, she didn't think she'd revealed any weaknesses in her conversation with Regin - weaknesses like her critical need for blood. She could just imagine him saying, "I could find you some blood" - he would clap and rub his hands together - "right after shower time!" Besides, she could make it the three days it would take to get to Scotland. Surely.
She closed her eyes briefly. But the hunger...She'd never been tempted to drink from another, but with no alternative in sight, even Lachlain was starting to look good. She knew exactly where she would tap that neck. She would dig her claws into his back to hold on to him for a little reverse-mainline...
"You drive well."
She coughed, startled, wondering if he'd caught her staring and rubbing her tongue against her fang. Then she frowned at his comment. "Um, how would you know?"
"You seem confident enough. Enough to take your eyes from your path."
Busted..."For your information, I'm not a particularly good driver." Her friends complained of her indecisiveness and her habit of letting everyone in front of her to the point of standstill.
"If you're no' a particularly good driver, then what do you do well?"
She gazed down the highway for many moments, contemplating an answer. Being good at something was relative, wasn't it? She liked to sing, but her voice couldn't compare to the pipes on a siren. She played piano, but twelve-fingered demons schooled her. She said honestly, "I'd be lying if I said I did anything particularly well."
"And you canna lie."
"No, I can't." She hated that. Why couldn't vampires have evolved until they could lie without pain? Humans had. Now they merely flushed and felt uncomfortable.
A few more go-rounds with the moon roof control followed. Then he drew some slips of paper from his jacket pocket. "Who is Regin? And Lucia, and Nïx?"
She glanced over, her jaw dropping. "You collected my private messages from the front desk?"
"And your dry-cleaned clothing," he replied in a bored tone. "Which sounds like an oxymoron to me."
"Of course you did," she said sharply. "Why wouldn't you?" Privacy? You have none, he'd sneered. He'd eavesdropped on her speaking with Regin - as though it were his right.
"Who are they?" he demanded again. "They all order you to call except for this one message from Nïx. It makes no sense."
Nïx was her befuddled aunt, the oldest of all Valkyrie - or the proto-Valkyrie, as she liked to be called. She had supermodel good looks but saw the future more clearly than she did the present. Emma could only imagine what Nucking Futs Nïx had said. "Let me see it." She snatched the missive, placing it flat against the steering wheel, then took a quick glance at the road before reading:
- Who's there?
- Emma who? Emma who? Emma who? Emma who?
Nïx had told Emma before she'd left for Europe that on this trip she would "do that which you were born to do."
Apparently, Emma was born to get kidnapped by a deranged Lykae. Her fate sucked.
This message was Nïx's way of reminding Emma of her prediction. She alone knew how badly Emma wanted to earn a real identity, to have a page in the Valkyrie's revered Book of Warriors.
"What does it mean?" he asked when she wadded it up and dropped it at her feet.
Emma was furious he'd seen that message, furious he'd seen anything that might give him insight into her life. The way Lachlain observed and learned, he'd have Emma pinned before they made the Chunnel.
"Lucia calls you 'Em.' Is that your nickname with your family?"
That was it. Enough. Too much delving, too many questions. "Listen, uh, Mr. Lachlain. I got myself into a... situation. With you. And to get out of it, I have agreed to drive you to Scotland." Hunger was making her irritable. Irritability was making her heedless of consequences, and that occasionally passed for bravery. "I have not agreed to be your friend, or...or share your bed, or reward your invasion of my privacy with more information about myself."
"I will answer questions if you will."
"I don't have questions for you. Do I know why you were locked away - and, hello, vague much? - for fifteen decades? No, and honestly, I don't want to know. Where you appeared from last night? Don't wanna know."
"You're no' curious why all this has happened?"
"I will try to forget 'all this' when I leave you in Scotland, so why would I want to know more? My m.o. has always been to keep my head low and not ask too many questions. It's served me well so far."
"So you expect us to sit in this closed compartment the entire way in silence."
"Of course not."
She clicked on the radio.
Lachlain finally gave up fighting not to stare and openly studied her, finding it disturbingly pleasing. He told himself it was only because he lacked something else to occupy his mind. He'd run out of reading material and was only half listening to this radio.
The music was just as bizarre and inexplicable as everything else in this time, but he'd found a few songs that irritated him less than the others. When he'd voiced the ones he preferred, she'd appeared shocked, then mumbled, "Werewolves like the blues. Who knew?"
She must have felt his gaze because she peeked over at him with that shy look, nibbling her lip before glancing away. He scowled to find that one look from this vampire made his heart speed up, like those laughable humans' had.
Recalling the way the men reacted to her and knowing how rare she was among vampires, Lachlain realized that she must be wed. He'd been uncaring before. He'd said, "His loss," in reference to any husband, and he'd meant it, because a marriage wouldn't have stopped him. But now he wondered if she loved another.
In the Lykae world, if she was his mate, then he was hers as well. But she wasn't Lykae. It was possible that she could hate him forever - that he would have to keep her imprisoned forever - especially after he meted out his revenge.
He planned to exterminate every one of those leeches, which meant the people who'd given her life.
Again he questioned fate, questioned his instincts. There was no way they could be together.
Even as he thought this, his hand itched to touch her hair. Even as he thought this, he wondered what her smile would be like. He was like a randy lad, ogling her thighs encased in tight trews, eyes slowly following the raised clothing seam that ran between her legs.
He shifted positions again. He'd never been this desperate to tup. What he wouldn't give to toss her on the back bench in this car and take her thoroughly with his mouth, readying her, then pin her knees to her shoulders to receive him. Damn it, it was what he was supposed to do.
Thinking of taking her, he was reminded of last night when he'd touched her inside. He shook his head, remembering her tightness. She had been long without a man. He would split her in two at the first full moon. If he wasn't regularly fucking her before then...
She hissed in a breath when an oncoming car's light beam was stronger than the one before it. She rubbed her eyes, then blinked them several times.
She looked tired and he wondered if she was hungry, but doubted it. The vampires he'd tortured could go weeks without blood, feeding only so often - like a snake.
But to be certain, he asked, "Are you hungry?" When she didn't answer, he said, "Are you or are you no'?"
"It's none of your concern."
Unfortunately, it was. Providing for her needs was his duty. And what if she needed to kill? For Lachlain's kind, finding one's mate was an imperative. For the ghouls, propagating by contagion was an imperative. Would her vampire nature crave killing so badly that she wouldn't be able to control it? And what would he do? Facilitate her? Protect her while she dragged down some unsuspecting human? Another...man?
Christ, he couldn't do this. "How do you drink?"
She mumbled, "Liquid goes into my mouth, whereby I swallow it."
"When was the last time?" he snapped.
As though he'd dragged the answer from her, she sighed, "Monday, if you must know," then peeked over, clearly noting his reaction.
"Just Monday you did it?" His voice conveyed a disgust that he didn't bother to hide.
She frowned at him, but then another bright light caught her eyes. She winced and the vehicle swerved before she righted it. "I need to concentrate on staying on the road."
If she didn't want to discuss it, he wouldn't press. Not tonight.
Having escaped the congestion of the Paris streets, they'd picked up speed on the smooth autoway, and as Lachlain watched the fields pass, the feeling was akin to running. The pure enjoyment of the experience dimmed the rage that always simmered deep inside him. He would be able to run soon. Because he was free and healing.
He deserved just one night of this, one night without having to think about blood and aggression and death. He wondered if that was even possible with a vampire seated next to him.
A vampire disguised as an angel.
Tomorrow. Tomorrow he would have to demand the answers he dreaded knowing.
Val Hall Manor
Just outside of New Orleans
"Is Myst back?" Annika shrieked as she ran through the doorway. "Or Daniela?" She clutched the thick door, sagging against it as she scanned the darkness outside. The light of the gas lamps made the oaks quaver in shadow. She turned to find Regin and Lucia in the great room just off the entry hall, painting each other's toenails while watching Survivor. "Have they returned?"
Regin arched an eyebrow. "We thought they were with you."
"Hibernating in her room."
"Nïx! Get down here!" Annika screamed to her sister as she slammed the door and bolted it behind her.
To Regin and Lucia, she said, "Is Emma back yet?" She put her hands to her knees, still gasping for breath.
They shared a glance. "She's, uh, she's not coming back right now."
"What?" Annika shrieked, even though at this moment she was grateful Emma wasn't here.
"She met some hottie over there - "
Annika held up her hand. "Got to get out of here."
Lucia frowned. "I don't understand 'got to.' Sounds like you want us to leave?"
"There's a plane about to crash, isn't there?" Regin asked, her confusion genuine, her amber eyes curious. "That is so gonna hurt."
Lucia's brows knit. "I might run from a crashing plane - "
"Go...something's coming..." They didn't understand - the idea of fleeing so foreign. "Now..." She'd sprinted all the way from the city.
"We're safest here," Regin argued, her attention back to her toenails. "The inscription will keep anyone out." She looked up sharply, and then a sheepish smile spread over her features. "But, I, uh, I might not have renewed the inscription spell with the witches."
Lucia said, "I thought we were on auto-renewal. They charge our credit - "
"By Freya, I mean now!" Annika yelled, finally able to stand upright.
Taking their half-mother's name in vain? Eyes wide, the two scrambled up, lunging for their weapons -
The front door burst in.
A horned vampire stood in the doorway, eyes red and scanning Regin's and Lucia's faces intently. This was the one Annika had been unable to defeat. Only her knowledge of the maze of streets downtown had saved her. Now it was in their home.
"What is that, Annika?" Regin asked as she slipped a dagger from her arm sheath. "A turned demon?"
"Not possible," Lucia said. "That's supposed to be a true myth."
"Has to be." Annika had barely fought him off, and she killed vampires routinely. "Never seen one so powerful." The only reason she'd come back was to see if any of the older Valkyrie were here. The older ones could vanquish him. Regin and Lucia were among the youngest.
"Is he one of Ivo's minions?"
"Yes. Saw Ivo giving orders to this one. They're searching for someone - "
Two more vampires traced behind him just as Lucia readied the bow that was like an extension of her.
"Just go," Annika hissed. "Both of you - "