The memory of his damp body so warm against hers flashed in her mind. She regretted giving that up, a realization that made her even angrier.
He sat stiffly in his seat, his body tense, as she dialed up her "Angry Female Rock" playlist.
"What is that?" he asked, as though he couldn't help himself.
He pointed at the radio. "That plays music."
"Plays my music."
He raised his eyebrows. "You compose?"
"I program," she said, plugging in the earbuds - and shutting him out - with infinite satisfaction.
A couple of hours into the drive, Lachlain directed her to an exit for the town of Shrewsbury.
"What do you need here?" she asked as she unplugged her earbuds and took the exit.
As if uncomfortable to admit it, he said, "I have no' eaten today."
"Figured you didn't break for lunch," she answered, surprising herself with her snarky tone. "What do you want? Fast food or something?"
"I've seen those places. Smelled them. They have nothing that will make me stronger."
"This isn't exactly my area of expertise."
"Aye, I know. I'll let you know when I scent someplace," he said, directing them along the main thoroughfare to an outside market with shops and restaurants. "There should be something near here."
She spotted an underground parking garage - she loved those, loved anything underground - and drove inside. Once they parked, she said, "Will you get it to go? Because it's cold." And because vampires could be lurking anywhere while she waited outside the restaurant. As long as she was putting up with his Lykae b.s., she might as well get a little vampire protection.
"You will be coming in with me."
She gave him a blank look. "What purpose would that serve?"
"You stay with me," he insisted as he opened her door and stood in front of her. She noted with unease that he was looking over his shoulder and scanning the street, eyes narrowed.
When he took her arm and steered her, she cried, "But I don't go inside restaurants."
"You do tonight."
"Oh, no, no," she said, beseeching him with her eyes. "Don't make me go in there. I'll wait right outside - I promise."
"I'm no' leaving you alone. And you need to get used to this."
She dragged her feet - a useless gesture against his strength. "No, I don't! I never have to go into restaurants! No need to get used to it!"
He stopped, facing her. "Why are you afraid?"
She glanced away, not answering the question.
"Fine. You go in."
"No, wait! I know no one will notice me, but I...I can't help feeling like everyone would watch me and see that I don't eat."
He raised his eyebrows. "No one will notice you? Only males between seven years old and death." And still he pulled her along.
"This is cruel, what you're doing. And I won't forget it."
He glanced back and had to see the alarm in her eyes. "You have nothing to worry about. Can you no' just trust me?" At her glare, he added, "On this."
"Is it your intent to make me miserable?"
"You need to stretch yourself."
When she parted her lips to argue, he cut her off, his voice like iron. "Fifteen minutes inside. If you're still uncomfortable, we'll leave."
She knew she was going either way, knew he was merely giving her the illusion of choice. "I'll go if I get to pick the restaurant," she said, making a bid for some control.
"Deal," he answered. "But I get one veto."
The minute they emerged onto the public walk, amid all those humans, she wrested her hand from his, her shoulders shot back, and her chin jutted up.
"Does that keep people away?" he asked. "That arrogance you don whenever you go about?"
She squinted up at him. "Oh, if only it worked on everyone..." Actually, it did on everyone but him. Her aunt Myst had taught her to do this. Myst kept people so busy thinking she was a snobby, heartless bitch with the morals of an alley cat that they never got around to thinking she might be a two-thousand-year-old pagan immortal.
Emma glanced at the walk and found several restaurant choices. With an inward evil grin, she pointed out the sushi place.
He surreptitiously scented the air, then glowered at her. "Vetoed. Choose again."
"Fine." She pointed out another restaurant that had an upscale club attached to it. She could almost tell herself it was a bar. She'd been to a few of those. After all, she lived in New Orleans, the world's leading manufacturer of hangovers.
He obviously wanted to reject her choice again, but when she raised her eyebrows, he scowled and grabbed her hand once more, dragging her along.
Inside, the host greeted them warmly, then strode over to assist her with her jacket. But something occurred behind her, something that had the host returning to his podium, paler, and left Lachlain alone at her back.
She could sense him tensing. "Where's the rest of your blouse?" he snapped under his breath.
The back was completely cut out and only a bow-tied string held it together. She hadn't thought she'd be removing her jacket, and if she did, she'd thought her back would be glued to taupe leather right now.
She looked over her shoulder with an innocent expression. "Why, I don't know! You should send me outside to wait."
Lachlain glanced at the door, clearly debating leaving, and she couldn't help her smug expression. He narrowed his eyes, then rasped in her ear, "All the better to feel their gazes on you," while the back of his claw traced up her back.
Is your blouse Azzedine Alaia?" the girl showing them to their table asked Emma.
She answered, "No, you could say it's very authentic vintage."
Lachlain didn't care what it was; she'd never wear that damned unfinished shirt in public again.
The bow that swayed low across her slim back as she glided along was like a magnet for the gazes of every male in this place. Lachlain knew they were imagining untying it. Because he himself was. More than one man elbowed a friend and murmured that she was "hot," earning a killing look from Lachlain.
It wasn't only the men who openly stared at her as they passed. The women looked at her clothes with envy and remarked to each other that she dressed "cool."
Then more than a few of them eyed him with blatant invitation.
In the past, he might have enjoyed the attention, possibly accepted an invitation or two. Now he found their interest vaguely insulting. As if he'd choose any of them over the creature he followed so closely!
Ah, but he liked that the vampire noted their looks as well.
At the table, Emma paused, as if to make a last show of resistance, but he seized her elbow and assisted her into the booth.
When the girl left, Emma sat with her back stiff, arms over her chest, refusing to look at him. A waiter walked by with a sizzling plate of food and she rolled her eyes.
"Could you eat it?" he asked. "If you had to?" He'd begun to wonder if it was possible, and now prayed it was.
In an incredulous tone, he asked, "Why do you no'?"
She faced him with an arched eyebrow. "Can you drink blood?"
"Point taken," he said evenly, though he was disappointed. Lachlain loved food, loved the ritual of sharing meals. When he wasn't starving he savored it, and like all Lykae, he never failed to appreciate it. Now it hit him that he would never share a meal with her, never drink wine with her. What would she do at functions within the clan - ?
He stopped himself. What was he thinking? He would never hurt them by bringing her to their gatherings.
She finally leaned back, clearly resigned to sitting there, giving a polite expression to the boy who briefly appeared to pour them water.
She tilted her head at the glass, as if wondering what would be the best course of action with it, then exhaled a long, wearied breath.
"Why are you always so tired?"
"Why do you ask so many questions?"
So she got braver in public? As if these humans would stop him from doing anything he wanted. "If you drank as recently as Monday and you haven't a mark on your body - I would've seen it - then what is the condition you spoke of?"
She drummed her nails on the table. "And that would be yet another question."
Her answer sounded distant as a thought arose, a thought so abhorrent he fought it. He closed his eyes, gritting his teeth, and shook his head slowly as it hit him.
Oh, Christ, no. Was she with child? No, it couldn't be. The rumors had it that vampire women were infertile. Of course, the rumors had it that there weren't supposed to be any female vampires left whatsoever. But here she was.
What else could it be?
Not one, but two vampires under his care, in his home, delivered like a blight among his people. And some leech was going to want them back.
All the tension he'd felt during his long, crazed day came back redoubled. "Are you with - "
The waiter appeared just then, and Lachlain rushed through ordering, having never glanced at the menus he shoved into the man's hands, sending him away.
She gaped. "I can't believe you ordered me food!"
He waved her statement away, asking, "You're with bairn, are you no'?"
She tensed when the boy returned to refill her water glass, then frowned at Lachlain. "You switched our glasses?" she whispered when they were alone again. "I never saw you!"
"Aye, and I'll do the plates as well," he explained quickly. "But - "
"So I just pretend to eat?" she asked. "Then eat a lot for me. Okay? Because I would have a good appetite - "
"Are - you - with - bairn?"
She sucked in a breath as though scandalized, then said in a rush. "No! I haven't ev - Um, I haven't even a boyfriend."
"Boyfriend? You mean lover?"
She blushed. "I refuse to speak with you about my love life."
Relief flooded him. The day for him turned just like that. "So you doona have one." He liked the small sound of frustration she made - especially since it came instead of a denial. No current lover, no vampire bairn. Only him and her. And when he claimed her, he would do it so hard and so long that she wouldn't be able to recall another before him.
"Didn't I just refuse to talk to you about this? Do you have a talent for ignoring my wishes?" To herself, she mumbled, "I swear, sometimes I feel like I'm getting punk'd."
"You want a lover though, do you no'? Your little body's greedy for one."
Her lips parted in shocked silence. "Y-you speak so bluntly just to provoke me. You like embarrassing me." She gave him a measuring look that gave him the feeling she was making mental tallies of every time.
"I could satisfy you." Reaching under the table, he snaked his hand up under her long skirt, touching her inner thigh, making her jump back in her seat. He found it amusing about her that she could be surprised, even shocked, so easily when most immortals developed a blas®¶ attitude about everything. He supposed she was right - he did enjoy embarrassing her.
"Remove your hand," she said between gritted teeth.
When he rubbed his hand higher, circling his thumb over her soft skin, instant heat shot through him and he grew hard for her for the hundredth time this night. Her eyes darted around the room.
"Do you want a lover? I ken you canna lie, so if you tell me you doona, I'll remove my hand."
"Stop this..." She was blushing furiously. An immortal who blushed at every turn. Incredible.
"Do you want a man in your bed?" he murmured, his thumb stroking higher until he found the silk she wore. He hissed in a breath.
"Fine!" she said in a strangled tone. "I'll tell you. I do want one. But it'll never be you."
"Why no' me?"
"I-I've heard about your kind. I know that you get mindless and savage, scratching and biting like animals - "
"What's wrong with that?" When she made that frustrated sound again, he said, "It's the females that scratch and do most of the biting as well. Should no' be so new for you, vampire."
At that, her face grew cold. "The next man I take into my bed will accept me for what I am and won't look at me with disgust just for the way I'm forced to survive. I want a man who goes out of his way to make me comfortable and content instead of the opposite. Which means you've disqualified yourself from the competition from night one."
She didn't understand, he thought as he slowly drew his hand away. Fate had settled them like this. He was stuck with her. Which meant there'd be no other competitors for either of them ever again.
Once Lachlain had stopped groping her under the table and the food arrived, he started his slow, sensuous love affair with his meal. He clearly relished every bite, so much that it almost made her want to eat as well instead of only pretending to.
At the end, Emma had to admit that their dinner filled with shifting plates and food flying - from Emma's clumsy silverware activity - wasn't unpleasant.
After the waiter cleared their plates, Emma saw the woman at the table next to them excuse herself after her meal. That's what human women did. When finished eating, they drew their purses into their laps and patted them, then went to the bathroom to reapply lipstick and check their teeth. As long as she was pretending...
But Emma didn't have a purse. Her purse had been ruined when she'd been thrown to the muddy ground by this Lykae across from her. She frowned, but still moved to stand. "I'm going to the ladies' room," she murmured.
"No." He reached for her legs, which made her jerk them back under the table.
"Why would you do that? I know you doona have those needs."
She sputtered with embarrassment. "Y-you don't know anything about me! And I'd like to keep it that way."
He leaned back, hands behind his head, expression casual, as if they weren't discussing something so personal. "Do you? Have those needs?"
Her face flamed. She didn't. And as far as she knew, other vampires didn't either. Valkyrie didn't, because they didn't, well, eat.
"Your blushing answered me. So you doona." Did nothing embarrass him?
She was alarmed to see he was getting that analytical look, the one that made her feel like an insect pinned by the wings beneath a microscope.
"How else are you different from human females? I know your tears are pink. Do you sweat?"
Of course she could. "Not for ninety minutes a week, as my country's surgeon general recommends." Good, she'd lost him. But not for long...
"Is it pink as well?"
"No! The tears are an anomaly. Okay? I am just like other women but for those things you crudely pointed out."
"No, you're no'. I watch the advertisements on the television. During the day, they're all about women. You doona shave, but your skin is smooth where they are. I went through your belongings and found that you doona carry the supplies with you as they do."
Her eyes widened as it hit her - what he meant. She stiffened, about to leap from the booth, when he stretched his leg out and dropped his heavy boot beside her, trapping her.
"There were rumors that vampire females grew infertile. Once a vampire male finds his Bride he does no' stray, so your species was depopulating. Is that no' why Demestriu tried to kill all of the females within the Horde?"
She'd never known this. She lowered her gaze, staring at the table as it appeared to wobble. The waiter had made a valiant effort to tidy up after her, but there were still crumbs. Crumbs from her. Because she was a freak who couldn't handle silverware and apparently couldn't have children either.
She'd never had a monthly cycle because she was infertile?
"Is that true?" he repeated.
She murmured, "Who knows what Demestriu was thinking?"
His voice less stern, he said, "So you are no' wholly like them."
"I guess not." She pushed her shoulders back. "But I still have a hairstyle I want to check and tales of a date gone bad that I want to recount, so I will be going to the restroom now."
"Come directly back to me." He bit out the order.
She dared a glare at him, then hurried away.
The restaurant shared its facilities with the bar, so she had to wind around men loitering throughout. It was like a video game maze fraught with opponents - any of whom could be vampires - but a time-out from humiliation seemed worth the risk.
Inside the sanctuary of the ladies' room, she crossed to the wall of sinks to wash her hands. She stared into the mirror, shocked anew at how pale she'd grown. Her cheekbones were sharp in her face from the weight she'd so rapidly lost. She was simply too young and too weak in general not to suffer immediate consequences from thirst. Hell, she was a walking homage to vulnerability.
She'd known she was weak. Had accepted it. And she'd accepted the fact that she couldn't even defend herself with a weapon. She could scarcely wield a sword, her archery was laughable - as evidenced by everyone laughing at her when she practiced - and her fighting? Well, she didn't exactly have the madskills going on.
Yet she hadn't known she could never have children...
When Emma returned, and Lachlain stood and helped her to her seat, she noticed that while she'd been gone, he'd dug his claws into the table. Nothing like the hotel, merely five precise, deep indentations haloing the visible heat from his palm that was just receding.
He sank into the booth once more, his brows drawn as though deep in thought. He looked like he was about to say something, then seemed to think better of it. She'd be damned if she'd fill this groaning silence.
When her attention remained on the marks, he placed his hand atop them. He clearly didn't like that she stared, no doubt thinking she harkened back to the days - or, rather, this evening - of his destruction.
She wondered what had happened to make him do this. He'd probably spotted that club-kid girl with the sheer blouse and visible nipple piercings and felt the call of the wild.
Or was it possible that he regretted his humiliating questions? So much that he would react by absently digging into the table? She shook her head.
He wouldn't regret humiliating her - not when he so obviously enjoyed it.
"What do we know?" Annika asked. She took a deep breath, wincing as her healing ribs screamed in protest, and glanced over the Valkyrie who were present. Lucia, Regin, Kaderin, and others, waiting to act, waiting for the direction Annika would have to give.
Nïx was conspicuously absent, having likely wandered onto the neighbor's property again. Regin was on the computer, accessing the coven's database, researching Ivo and any other vampire sightings. Her brilliant face illuminated the shatterproof screen more than it did her.
"Hmm. That would be only two measly things for certain," said Regin. "Ivo the Cruel is seeking someone among all the Valkyrie. And he still hasn't found her, whoever she is, because the encounters haven't stopped. Our sisters in the New Zealand coven write that they're 'chockablock' with vampires. What does chockablock mean? No. Really."
Annika ignored the last. She was still furious with Regin for abetting Emma. Because of her, Emma was now running around Europe with a - what had Regin called him? - a hottie. On top of this, Regin had had the nerve to accuse Annika of "smothering." It wasn't as if Annika didn't want Em to meet a man, but she was still so young and they knew nothing about this male other than the fact that he was strong enough to take down a vampire. Regin had actually thought to make Annika feel better by saying, "Dude, I could tell - Emma wants him in the worst way..." Annika inwardly shook herself, focusing on the situation at hand. "We have to determine Ivo's purpose."
Kaderin said, "Myst just escaped his dungeon five years ago. He could want her back."