"All this to recapture her?" Annika asked. Myst the Coveted, considered the most beautiful Valkyrie, had been under his power. She'd escaped when the vampire rebels took his castle. That situation always enraged Annika. Indiscretions between Myst and Wroth, a rebel general, had occurred.
Until two days ago, Annika had believed Myst had put that vampire and the entire disgusting situation behind her. Yet everyone had heard Myst's heart speed up at the mere mention of vampires in the New World. She'd checked her flame-red hair again and again before joining a group setting out to hunt them.
No, Myst hadn't moved on from the general. Had Ivo been unable to forget his stunning captive?
"Could be Emma," Regin offered.
Annika shot her a sharp glare. "He doesn't even know of her existence."
"That we are aware of."
Annika pinched her forehead. "Where the hell is Nïx?" This wasn't a time for conjecture - they needed Nïx's foresight. "Check Emma's credit card again. Any new purchases?"
Regin logged into the coven's card accounts, and within minutes she had Emma's statement pulled up. "These records are lagging over a day behind. But there were some clothing purchases - how much trouble can she be in if she's clothes shopping? And here's a restaurant bill from the Crillon. Tightwad better be paying her back."
"What would Ivo want with Emma anyway?" Lucia asked. As she did whenever she mulled possibilities, she plucked at the string on her bow. "She may be the last female vampire, but she's not full-blooded."
"If we think logically, the odds point to Myst," Kaderin said.
Annika had to agree. Considering Myst's heart-stopping beauty, how could Ivo not want her back?
"And one other thing that tips the scales in Myst's favor?" Kaderin added. "She hasn't returned from her hunt and she hasn't called."
Settled then. For now. "Try to keep tabs on Emma's movements. We'll begin searching for Myst."
Regin peered around her at all the damage in the manor. "Should I renew the inscription with the witches?"
"Mystical protection can be cracked, as we well know. Only one guardianship is foolproof." Annika exhaled wearily. "We will bring in the ancient scourge." And be forced to pay the wraiths in the currency they desired.
Regin sighed. "Well, damn, and here I was getting attached to my hair."
Gloaming arrived in the countryside of southern Scotland, casting a last light over their inn. As Emma slept, Lachlain sat in bed next to her, drinking yet another cup of coffee.
The majority of his day had been full, by design, so he wouldn't sleep. Now he relaxed next to her, clad in nothing but comfortable jeans that came broken-in like boots might be. He read one of the few contemporary novels from the inn's library and half-listened to the news. He might even have been content - if he had taken her last night. And if he was confident he was about to again.
There'd been no chance of that, even if she hadn't been shaking with emotion the entire drive after his blunt questioning debacle at the restaurant. He'd thought he could anger her into a response, get her nettled as she'd been just that evening over the state of the room. Instead, she'd tilted her head and given him an expression so stark it had torn at him.
By the time they'd reached the inn last night, Emma had been out of her head with fatigue and hadn't even protested when he'd stripped her to her underwear and put them in the bath. Of course, he'd found himself fighting unbearable lust once again. Yet instead of punishing her for it, when she'd gone soft in his arms he'd petted her once more, staring at the ceiling in confusion.
After the bath, he'd dried her, dressed her in one of her gowns - the chit hadn't asked for his shirt again - then placed her in bed. She'd looked up at him solemnly and voiced her concern that he might "wig out" again. When he'd assured her he wouldn't sleep, she'd regarded the floor with longing, actually reaching down to touch it, then passed out.
Now he glanced at the folds in the curtains, and saw no light beneath each one. The last two nights she'd woken precisely at sundown. There was no yawning or shaking off sleep - she'd simply opened her eyes, rising in a floating way, instantly awake as if she'd been brought back to life. Lachlain had to admit he found this foreign trait...eerie. Of course, he'd never seen this before - in the past, any vampire asleep in his presence never woke again.
At any moment now, her eyes would open, and he put aside the book to watch.
The sun set. Minutes passed. She still didn't rise.
"Get up," he said, shaking her shoulder. When she didn't respond, he shook her harder. They needed to get on the road. He thought they could make Kinevane tonight and he was anxious to see his home.
She burrowed down farther in the covers. "Let...me...sleep."
"If you doona get out of bed, I'm going to rip off your clothes and join you there."
When there was no reaction even to that, he grew alarmed and felt her forehead - her skin was like ice.
He drew her up and her head lolled. "What's wrong with you? Tell me!"
"Leave me alone. Need another hour."
He laid her back down. "If you're sick, you need to drink."
After a moment, she cracked open her eyes.
Realization hit and his body tensed. "This is from hunger?" he roared.
She blinked up at him.
"You told me you ate Monday - how often do you need to?"
When she didn't answer, he shook her shoulders.
"Every day. Okay?"
He dropped her shoulders just before his fists clenched. She'd been hungry? His mate had suffered from fucking hunger while under his protection. He had no idea what he was doing...
Goddamn it, he couldn't care for her. Not only had he starved her for two additional days - obviously he'd kept her from hunting - but she needed to find a victim to drink every night. Each night they would go through this.
Did she kill each time as other vampires did? "Why did you no' tell me?"
Her eyelids were drifting closed again. "So you could make another 'bargain'?"
Could he allow her to take from him? Among his clan, being drunk by a vampire was reviled, considered a filthy act. Even if it was done against his will, a Lykae would suffer abject shame. But what choice did he have? He exhaled and said with a heavy heart, "You will drink from me for now on." No vampire had ever bitten him. Demestriu had debated it, arguing with his elders over the decision. For some reason, in the end he'd decided against it, preferring to torture Lachlain instead.
"Can't drink from you," she murmured. "Not straight from a source."
"What? I thought your kind took pleasure from that."
"Never done it."
Impossible. "You've no' drunk another? Never killed?"
She cast him an anguished expression. His question had hurt her?
"Of course not."
She wasn't a predator? There were rumors of a small faction of rebel vampires who didn't kill - of course, he'd dismissed the tales immediately. What had they been called? Forbearers? Could she be one? But then he frowned. "So where would you get blood?"
"Blood bank," she murmured.
Was that a joke? "What the hell is that? Is there one nearby?"
She shook her head.
"Then you've got to take from me. Because I just signed on to be your breakfast."
She looked too weak to take his neck, so he sliced his finger with a claw. She turned her face away. "Put it in a glass. Please."
"Do you fear I'll turn you into a Lykae?" He would never attempt that grueling ritual on her. "Or do you think you'll turn me?" Surely she didn't believe that. The only way to become a vampire was to die while one's blood was in your body. Only humans believed one could be turned from a vampire's bite, while those in the Lore knew one had a better chance of turning by biting the vampire.
"It's not that. A glass..."
He didn't understand what the difference was. Then his eyes narrowed. Did she find the thought of drinking from him objectionable? Galling. She had no idea what he was sacrificing for her. He snapped, "Take it, now," then dripped the blood across her lips.
She resisted for longer than he would've if he'd been starved. Finally she dabbed the tip of her tongue at her lip, then licked there. Her eyes turned silver. To his shock, he went instantly hard.
Her small fangs shot longer. She had sunk them into his arm before he could blink.
With the first draw, her eyelids fluttered closed and she moaned; he went dizzy with sexual pleasure, feeling on the verge of coming. Stunned, groaning, he reached out and yanked her gown down, exposing her breasts, covering one with his palm. He squeezed harder than he'd meant to, but when he stopped she raised her chest into his hand, her hips undulating, never hesitating her sucking.
With another groan he leaned down, opening his grasp to hold her breast so he could take her nipple with his mouth. Licking desperately, his tongue swirled around the throbbing peak. When he drew it between his lips and sucked, he felt her tongue flicking against his skin at the same time.
The pleasure he derived was indescribable, and her every draw intensified it. She clung to his arm so sweetly, holding it between her breasts. As if he'd ever take it away. Her nipple was so hard between his lips.
He placed his hand on her thigh, rubbing upward, but she withdrew her fangs and flung herself away, rolling to her side. He sat on his haunches in shock, trying to compose himself, baffled by his reaction.
"Emmaline," he said in a broken voice as he took her shoulder and turned her to her back. His eyes widened as her wee fangs grew smaller. Her eyes turned blue once more, and she rolled them with apparent ecstasy, falling back, her pale arms over her head. As she stretched and writhed, her nipples puckered tighter. Then she gazed up at him with her full, red lips curling. The lass had a smile such as he'd never known -
Euphoria, that's what he was seeing as her skin pinkened. His erection was growing unbearable - watching her skin warm was incredibly erotic. Every detail of this sordid act with her was erotic. Her face grew softer, her body fuller - God help him - curvier. If possible, her hair shone more.
He vowed she would drink him - only him - from then on.
And, sweet Christ, she needed it every night.
She rose to her knees before him, leaning forward, seeming hungry for something else entirely. Her uncovered breasts were plump and luscious, as if begging his palms to cup them.
"Lachlain," she purred his name as he'd waited to hear for a millennium.
He shuddered and his cock pulsed. "Emma," he growled, lunging for her.
The back of her hand connected with his face. Caught off guard, he flew across the room.
The second time he attempted to rise, he realized she'd dislocated his jaw.
Never taking his eyes from her, Lachlain punched himself in the face in the direction opposite of how she'd hit him. She heard his jaw pop into place as he loomed closer, his expression menacing.
With no shirt on to disguise how strong he was, every sculpted muscle in his chest and torso was visible as it tensed. He looked bigger without clothes on? How exactly did that happen? Yet for some reason she was unafraid. Emma the Lamb was scanning him for something else to dislocate. Vampires were evil. She was a vampire.
And she was on fire with his delicious blood.
He was on top of her before she had time to react, pinning her arms above her head and shoving his knee between her legs. She hissed at him, struggling, making a better showing than before, but she was still no match for him.
"You're strong from my blood," he said as he wedged his hips between her legs.
"I'm stronger just for drinking," she snapped, which was true, but she also suspected his immortal blood, taken straight from his body, was seriously high octane. "I was hungry for anything."
He gave her a patronizing look. "Admit it. You like the way I taste."
She'd tasted power, tasted him, and lusted for more. "Go to hell."
He adjusted his position on her, his chest rubbing over her naked breasts. When he rested against her, she felt his erection hard as steel between them. "Why did you hit me?"
She raised her head aggressively - the only movement she could manage. "For everything you've done to me. For endangering me and for every time you've ignored my wishes." Her voice was different, throatier. She sounded like she should be on the cigarettes-and-curlers end of a sex line.
The list of reasons was endless, from ripping off the Band-Aid that had covered her traumatic memories, to making her go mindless with lust while drinking, to slicing through a thousand dollars' worth of hand-painted Jillian Sherry underwear his first night. She settled on, "For every time I've wanted to strike you and couldn't."
He studied her, clearly not knowing what to make of her. Then the hands that had been pinning her hard cupped over the top of her head. Wolflike. "Fair enough."
Her lips parted in surprise.
"Do you feel better for it?"
"Yes," she answered honestly. If only for a moment, she'd felt powerful for the first time in her life, surging with power. And the next time he forced her into a restaurant, or went rock star on their hotel room, or woke her by kissing down there, she'd smack him again.
As if he read her mind, he warned, "But doona hit me again."
"Then doona break your promises." At his frown, she said, "You vowed that you wouldn't touch me. But you...you touched my breasts."
"I vowed that I would no' touch you unless you wanted me to." He leaned up to run the backs of his fingers down her side. She had to battle the urge to flex and stretch into his touch like a cat.
"Tell me right now that you dinna want me to."
She looked away, distressed by how attractive she found him, by how she had nearly keened when she'd lost the warmth of his hand covering her entire breast. The feel of his hot mouth sucking her nipple...Between them his erection was rigid, straining against her, coaxing her body to grow wet for it. "Make a note now that I will not in the future."
His lips curled wickedly, and her breath hitched at the sight. "Then all you have to do next time is remove your wee fangs from my arm for long enough to tell me no. Long enough for one single word."
She pulled her gown into place, yearning to hit him again. The bastard knew that tonight she could no more have taken her fangs from him than she could have stopped breathing. "You assume I'll drink from you again?"
With a sexy smirk and a rumbling voice, he said, "I'll have to insist."
She turned her face away as the full import of her actions hit her. She'd actually taken living blood. She was officially a leech. And drinking directly from him was like coming home, like something had shifted into place. She feared she could never go back to cold, plastic sleeves. Just what kind of schwag blood had she been drinking before him?
"Why had you no' ever before?"
Because it was forbidden. Yet she'd done just what her aunts had feared of her...
And his blood was a drug she could grow addicted to. She could become addicted to him. He could have that power over her.
No! If he tried to entice her to drink again, she wouldn't be starving and she would have more control to deny herself.
"Get off me, you brute." When he didn't let her up, she raised her hand again, but he caught her wrist.
"Doona strike me again, Emmaline. Mates never hit each other."
"What do you mean by 'mate'?" she asked slowly, the fear she'd ignored returning, making her tone grow desperate. "Like...like Australian for 'buddy'?"
When he seemed to be deciding if he should tell her something, warning bells blasted. "You don't mean like a Lykae mate?" The idea had occurred to her briefly, but she'd easily pushed it away. Because it was ludicrous.
"And what would you know about that?" He was getting angry again.
She remembered Lucia warning her never to walk between a Lykae and his mate. And if another male accosted his female or tried to separate them - get the hell away. They were as bad as a vampire with his Bride, if not worse. "I know you have only one, and that you never separate." She knew if the other was hurt or was in danger, the beast rose up, and reason was lost. She'd seen him lose reason - and never wanted to see it again.
"What's so wrong with that?"
"You can't mean...You do want to separate from me? Right?"
"What if I dinna want to?"
"Oh, God." She scrambled from him until he let her go.
He crooked his arm behind his head and leaned back. "Would it be that terrible to be with me?"
She feared he was acting deceptively casual. "Of course it would! Besides the fact that you can't seem to make up your mind whether to be nice to me or to hate me, and besides the fact that we are...different, you're a bully, you're out of control, and you don't care about how I feel whatsoever, and you do break your promises and we're on the cusp of the Accession and - "
"Now, doona hold back how you feel, lass," he interrupted. When she glared at him, he smirked. "It pleases me that you've obviously given us a lot of thought. Working out all the angles."
She clenched her fists in frustration. "Tell me I'm not your mate, then."
"You're no'. You're a vampire, remember? Think about it. My clan would want to rip you to bits on sight."
She tilted her head, studying him, trying to determine the truth.
"Granted, with all your new curves" - he raked his gaze over her, then shook his head in that way men did, as if he was a goner - "I would no' mind keeping you around as my mistress, but nothing so serious as my one mate."
Why did that comment cut to the bone? "You wouldn't lie about this?"
"Rest easy. I want you, but no' for that." He rose. "Now, unless you want to finish this evening properly with me bending you over the bed, you need to get dressed."
With a gasp, she immediately turned on her heel for the bathroom, then locked the door behind her. She pressed her back and palms against it, body quivering, his blood still affecting her.
She frowned. The paint on the door was glossy and cool, smooth but for the left middle panel. Paint had bubbled there. Fascinating.
When she ran the shower and tested the temperature, the water felt incredible on her hand, tickling her palm. Naked in the water was even better - it was as if she could perceive each tiny drop sluicing down her body. Running her fingers through her wet hair felt lovely. She realized she had energy again.
Clearly, Lachlain's blood was a cocktail full of Ritalin and Prozac. She should be awash in regret over her transgression and unnerved about the future, yet she couldn't seem to muster either. She assured herself it was the pharmaceutical aspects of his blood that brought about this sense of well-being - not the unfamiliar feeling of connection she'd delighted in as she drank.
After the shower, she dried off, making a note to commend the inn for the impossibly soft towels. As she wrapped one around her, it grazed over her nipples. She shivered and flushed, remembering his mouth so hot over her breast.
Shaking her head hard as if to dislodge the memory, she padded in front of the mirror, reaching her forearm forward to wipe the condensation from the cool glass.
I want you, but no' for that, he'd said, and now as she peered at herself she wondered why he wanted her. She tried to imagine how he saw her.
She thought she might be...she might be pretty, now that her color was back and any curves she'd had to begin with had returned - as he'd so rudely pointed out. But it was all relative, wasn't it? She might be pretty, until she stood next to any female in her family. They were fatales, temptresses. By comparison, Emma was...cute.
But they weren't here, and if Lachlain thought she was attractive when she wore conservative clothing and braids in her hair, what would he think when she dressed as she usually did?
She felt nearly liberated, now that he'd convinced her she wasn't his mate, even as part of her wished she was so beautiful he would regret that fact...
She chose her favorite short skirt and strappy heels, and once she'd dried her hair, she left it free again, curling down. If the wind blew it back and someone did see her ears, she didn't doubt Lachlain would think of something to say or do. In fact, he seemed to like that they pointed. Feeling bold, she even wore earrings.
When she exited downstairs to meet him at the car, he gaped at her appearance. She knew she looked as shocked as he did.
Because Lachlain was driving.
He shot out of the car to rush around and toss her in. She supposed she must have flashed a glimpse of her panties in the melee because he growled low, before glancing around to see if anyone else had seen.
When he returned, he slammed his door shut, rocking the car. "What game do you play at, lass?"
She stared at him, speechless.
"You dress like this, when I can barely keep my hands from you now?"
She shook her head. "Lachlain, this is how I usually dress. And you scoff at the idea of me as your mate, so I should be safe."
"But I'm still a male. Who's been long without a woman."
Her heart sank. That's why he found her attractive - because he'd been so long without. He'd probably find a perfumed rock appealing at this point. "Then let me go. If you can drive, then you have no need for me and you can set about finding a woman who's interested in you that way."
"You agreed to stay with me till the next full moon."
"I'll only be cramping your style. And I'm sure there are lots of females out there who would like to be with you."