"And you doona count yourself among that number? Even after tonight?"
She nibbled her lip, recalling how she'd licked his tan, smooth skin as she'd taken his exquisite blood, and briefly lost her train of thought. "I just don't understand why you want me to stay," she finally managed to say. "You needed a driver. You no longer do."
"No, I can drive, but I want two other things from you."
She sighed and moved to sit with her back against the car door. When she crossed her legs, he stared at them as though enthralled. She snapped her fingers in front of him. "Let's hear them."
With a growl, he tore his gaze away and met her eyes. "I want you to go to Kinevane so I can settle our debt and reward you for your help. It was hard on you to drive, and now I ken your hunger made it worse than I thought."
"Reward me how?" She was suspicious and didn't bother hiding it.
"Money or gold. Or gems. I've been collecting jewels my entire life."
He emphasized the last words, catching her eyes, but she didn't know why.
"You can have your pick."
She raised her eyebrows. "You'd give me some antique jewelry, like out of a gold-filled treasure chest?"
"Aye, exactly." He nodded in all seriousness. "Priceless jewels. As many as you can wear."
"And they'd be mine?" Would she finally own something irreplaceable? "So I'd have mementos from my jaunt with a real-live, certifiable" - she cast him a too-pleasant smile when she said the word, but he didn't get it - "Lykae?" She doubted her aunts could top that escapade.
"Aye, yours. Though I doubt you'd classify them as 'mementos.' "
She shook her head. "This is all a moot point. If you've been gone for a hundred and fifty years, then you won't have a castle with a treasure, no matter how cool it sounds."
"What do you mean?"
"Lachlain, have you ever heard of a Wal-Mart? No? Something like that is probably on top of your castle right now."
He frowned, then said, "No, no' possible. Kinevane is the source of our kind and is protected from the outside. No threat has ever penetrated its walls. Even the vampires canna find it." His tone held more than a hint of smugness. "Nothing is atop it now, I promise you."
Her eyes narrowed. "Say you're correct and I get to make my score. Males who give jewelry expect sex."
"That's the second thing." His voice went low and he cupped the side of her face. "I'll be getting you into my bed."
Emma's witty retort? A dropped jaw.
"I-I can't believe you just put that out on the table," she eventually sputtered, ducking away from his hand until he dropped it. "Obviously, now that I know your agenda, I'm not continuing on with you."
"I see." He gave her a solemn expression. "You must have a verra real fear that I can succeed."
She shot him an impatient glare. "Hey, there are your hands - let me play right into them."
After a moment, the corners of his lips quirked at her comment. "But it's true. If you're confident I will no' succeed, then my 'agenda' is nothing more than an idle musing."
"So the game becomes, who gets what they want first."
"I suppose you could say that. Do you think you can reach your goal before I start enjoying you?"
She stifled a gasp and crossed her arms over her chest. For all he'd put her through, he owed her recompense. She'd earned every piece of jewelry she would separate him from! "You know what? I'm going to agree to continue. Mainly because I know you won't let me out of my promise anyway. But I'm also going to clean out your stash. And don't say I didn't warn you."
He leaned forward, far too close for comfort, putting his face directly beside hers to say in a low voice, "And I'm going to have your legs wrapped around me and your cries in my ear before the week is out. Count yourself warned as well."
She jerked away from him, her cheeks heating as she groped for a reply. "Then...then let's see your prowess with driving!"
He drew away from her slowly, only taking his eyes from her face for a last look at her legs, then put the car in gear. As he pulled out onto the street, she prepared herself to be amused, strapping her seat belt in place, waiting for him to screw up.
But - of course - he drove perfectly.
He was always analyzing everything she did - why would she think he hadn't been watching her drive? "When did you learn how?" Her question was sharp.
"Practiced in the parking lot when you showered. Doona worry, I could see the entrance at all times."
"I'd told you I would not leave."
"That's no' why I was watching. You look annoyed about this. If you want to drive...?"
"It usually takes people longer to learn."
"It usually takes humans longer to learn." He patted her knee, making the gesture patronizing. "Remember, I'm preternaturally strong and intelligent."
He slid his hand higher and got it slapped away. "And preternaturally arrogant."
When Lachlain had seen her tonight outside the hotel, looking curvy in a sinfully short skirt, with her hair shining and full, his heart had hammered in his chest for her. He'd seen her sexy little shoes and imagined the heels digging into his back when she wrapped her legs around him. Her eyes were bright, her skin glowing.
He was stunned to realize that even the moon had never held his gaze so completely.
And she was staying with him by choice, lured by jewelry. Which was already hers.
He'd spent his entire life acquiring the pieces in anticipation of giving them to her, never having imagined a mate quite like her.
As Lachlain drove down the roadway, he felt optimistic for the first time since his capture some fifteen decades ago. No matter what had happened, he'd escaped his enemies and could go about building his life again. With Emmaline - who wasn't the killer he'd thought her. Who was unique among all the many vampires he'd encountered in his long life.
She was unique among all the females he'd ever seen.
He couldn't decide if she was fey or a siren in appearance. Her wrists, finely wrought hands, and collarbone appeared fragile, the pale column of her neck so delicate. Her face was ethereal, exquisite. In other places, especially now that she'd fed, she was all woman with her generous, sensitive breasts and soft hips.
And she had an arse that made him hiss "mercy" under his breath.
He glanced down at his arm, smirking slowly at her wee fang marks, disbelieving his reaction to her bite. Knowing his beliefs and aware of how sick others would find it, he reasoned he must be depraved - because he'd reveled in it.
It was as if she'd opened up a new sexual venue that he had never imagined. As if all there'd ever been was straight fucking, and then out of the blue, Emma had said, What if I lick and suck your shaft into my mouth. He shuddered, his erection pulsing.
Though it should be a mark of shame to be hidden, he found he liked to look at her bite because it reminded him of this foreign, secret pleasure - and that she'd never drunk from another. Only to him had she delivered that dark kiss.
He wondered who had taught her not to. Her family? Were they truly Forbearers, different from the rest of the vampires, forced to live in Louisiana because they were split from the Horde? He didn't see answers forthcoming. She was the most tight-lipped female he'd ever encountered, and after his blunt questioning debacle in the restaurant, he planned to refrain for a while.
But he was her first and would be her only, and that made him proud. He fantasized about the next time she would drink. He'd get her to take from his neck, freeing both of his hands so he could pull aside her lacy undergarments and finger her wetness. Once she was ready for him, he'd work her down his length...
He stifled another shudder, then turned to ask her for the tenth time if she was thirsty yet, but he saw her curled up in the seat, looking soft and relaxed under his coat. He'd spread it over her, partly because he thought it would make her more comfortable and partly because it made him more comfortable not to see flashes of her thighs. She leaned her head against the window, staring out with that thing attached to her ears, and didn't seem to realize that she sang softly. He didn't want to interrupt her. Her voice was beautiful, lulling.
She'd said she did nothing well, which meant she didn't believe she sang well, since she couldn't have lied. He wondered why she wasn't more confident in herself. She was lovely, her mind was sharp, and deep down she had fire. No, not too deep down. She had, after all, dislocated his jaw - at the first opportunity.
Perhaps her vampire family had found her too sensitive or introspective and had been cruel to her. That thought made fury fire in him, made him relish the idea of killing anyone who'd treated her ill.
Lachlain was aware of what was happening. He was siding with her, beginning to consider all things in terms of them. Somehow the bonding with his mate had begun with a bite.
How much longer till we get there? Emma was tempted to whine.
Now that she had some energy again, she was getting restless in the car. At least, she told herself that was why she'd begun squirming in the seat. Not because she'd melted under his coat, still warm from his body and surrounding her with his delicious scent.
She stretched, pulling out her earbuds, which apparently in Lykae was code for "Interrogate me," because the questions, they came a-calling.
"Earlier you said you've never killed, never drunk another. Did you mean you've never taken a man's neck even during sex? Accidentally bitten him, even in abandon?"
She exhaled, pinching her forehead, disappointed in him. She'd been almost comfortable around him this night, but here came the sexual questions, the innuendo. "Where did this come from?"
"Nothing to do while driving but think. Have you?"
"No, Lachlain. Happy? Never went dental with anybody's arm but your own." When he immediately parted his lip for another question, she snapped, "Anybody's anything."
He relaxed a little in the seat. "Wanted to be sure."
"Why?" she asked, exasperated.
"Like being your first."
Was he for real? Was it possible he was asking these questions not to embarrass her, but because he was being a...a male?
"Does blood always make you react the way you did tonight - or was it taking from me that made you so wanton?"
Nope. Just to embarrass her. "Why is this important?"
"I want to know whether, if you were drinking blood from a glass - in front of others - you would behave as you did."
"You just couldn't let me go a few hours without tormenting me?"
"No' tormenting you. I need to know."
Emma was really beginning to hate speaking with him. Then she frowned. What was he getting at? When would she drink in front of others? She did at home, but that was from a mug or a margarita glass at a party. Not in a bed, partially undressed while a male licked her breast. Her heart sped up, anxiety erupting. Lachlain would never take her among his friends and family as she drank blood like wine, so why was he asking?
Was he making sordid plans that included her? She was struck once again by how little she truly knew about him. "I've heard about Lykae appetites and, uh, your openness with your sexuality" - she swallowed - "but I wouldn't want to be that way in front of others."
He frowned at her briefly, then a muscle ticked in his cheek. Immediately she sensed his building anger. "I meant in a social situation where others drank. I would never even contemplate the other."
She flushed. Now her mind was in the gutter, cruising past his mind's station there. "Lachlain, I'm no more affected than you would be from a glass of water."
He met her eyes, giving her a look so primal it made her shiver. "Emma, I doona know what you've been doing in the past, but know that when I take a woman into my bed, I will never share her."
You doona seem to care that we had to stop tonight," Lachlain said over his shoulder as he triple-checked the blankets he'd strung over the hotel window.
After midnight, the skies had opened up, rain pouring, making their journey slow going. He'd said Kinevane was perhaps two hours away. Emma had known dawn was in three.
She tilted her head, aware that he was deeply disappointed. "I was game to go on," she reminded him. She had been, shocking herself. Emma didn't usually que sera, sera in matters solar.
After a final inspection of the blanket barrier, he allowed himself to sink down into the room's plush chair. In a bid to keep from staring at him, Emma sat on the edge of the bed, remote in hand, and began to scan the movie channels.
"You ken I would no' risk continuing." When he'd said he wouldn't let her be burned again, Emma supposed he'd meant it.
Still, she didn't understand how he'd prevented himself from rolling the dice with this one drive tonight. If she had been kept away from her home for one hundred and fifty years and she was within two hours' driving distance, she would have dragged the unwitting vampire along.
Lachlain had refused, instead finding them an inn, not of the caliber they'd enjoyed, he said, but he'd "sensed it was secure." He'd felt comfortable enough to get two adjoining rooms because he planned to sleep, and as he'd promised, he wouldn't do it around her. A quick calculation told her he'd gone nearly forty hours without.
Even so, he seemed uncomfortable having to divulge his need to sleep. In fact, it was only because his attention had wandered as he'd peered around them with narrowed eyes - which he'd been doing with increasing frequency - that he'd spoken of it. He'd absently admitted that he would have just gone without, but his injury was not healing as it should.
Injury, meaning his leg. The one that looked like a human's leg just after a six-year-long cast came off. The injury that she found herself thinking about, imagining scenarios for.
He had to have lost it. Her bite on his arm, which she'd caught him peering down at with an almost affectionate expression - an expression that she might prize even over a rare hug - was rapidly healing. Yet he continued to limp. He must be completely regenerating it.
She glanced up at him, realizing that as she'd been contemplating his leg, he'd clearly been doing the same to hers, staring at her thighs, getting that...that wolfish look in his eyes. She pinched the hem of her skirt, endeavoring to hop up and wiggle it down. His gaze was glued to her actions, a low, barely audible growl rumbling from him for long seconds. The sound made her shiver, irrationally made her want to exaggerate her movements so he'd enjoy them more.
When sane Emma blushed at her thoughts and tugged the corner of the cover over her, he gave her a brows-drawn expression of deep disappointment.
She looked away, picking up the remote once more as she cast about for a handle on this bizarre situation. She didn't need to be in a hotel room with this Lykae when both of them were lucid and when she was getting in the habit of falling asleep against his naked body in a bathtub each night. She cleared her throat and faced him. "I'm going to watch a movie. So I guess I'll see you at sunset."
"You're kicking me out of your room?"
"That about sums it up."
He shook his head - her desires ignored without even a thought. "I'll stay with you until dawn."
"I like spending time by myself, and for the last three days, you've allowed me none. Would it kill you to leave the room?"
He appeared confused, as if her wanting to be away from him was sheer craziness. "You will no' share this...movie with me?"
The way he'd phrased his question almost made her grin.
"Then after, you could finally drink again."
The urge to smile faded at his sexy, gravelly words, but she didn't look away, too fascinated by the heated way he studied her face.
He continued to ask her to drink, reinforcing her belief that he'd enjoyed it as much as she had. Though it had baffled her, she'd felt his erection - hard to miss, that - and had seen the desire in his eyes. Desire just like she saw right now...
The moment was broken by the sound of some woman screaming her way to ecstasy. Emma gasped, and swung her head around to the TV. She'd been inadvertently pressing the remote and had somehow wound up on Cinemax. This late at night, Cinemax meant Skinemax.
Her face was hot with embarrassment as she frantically worked the remote, but even the regular channels seemed to delight in showing Unfaithful or Eyes Wide Shut. Finally, she landed on something without sex -
Oh, shite. An American Werewolf in Paris.
In full gory attack scene.
Before she could change it, he shot to his feet. "Is this how...is this how humans see us?" He sounded aghast.
She thought about other werewolf movies - Dog Soldiers, The Beast Within, The Howling, the oh-so-subtly-titled The Beast Must Die - and nodded. He was going to see these things sooner or later and he would learn the truth. "Yes, they do."
"Do they see all the Lore like this?"
"No, um, not really."
She bit her lip. "Well, I've heard the Lykae never concern themselves with PR, while the vampires and the witches, for instance, throw money at it."
"And this PR works for them?" he asked, still watching with a sickened look on his face.
"Let's put it this way - witches are viewed as powerless Wiccans. Vampires are seen as sexy...myths."
"My God," he murmured, sinking onto the bed with a long exhalation.
His reaction was so strong, she wanted to delve. But delving meant being subject to the same. Just then, she didn't care. "So the werewolf appearance there...it was all wrong."
He rubbed his bad leg, looking weary. "Damn it, Emma, can you no' just ask me what I look like when I change?"
She tilted her head at him. His leg clearly hurt him, and she hated to see anything suffering. Apparently even crude and rude Lykae, because to take his mind from his pain, she asked, "So, Lachlain, what do you look like when you change?"
His expression was surprised, and then he seemed not to know how to answer. Finally, he said, "Have you ever seen a phantom mask a human?"
"Of course I have," she answered. She did live in the most Lore-rich city in the world.
"You know how you can still see the human, but the phantom is clear, too? That's what it's like. You still see me, but you see something stronger, wilder, with me."
She turned toward him on the bed, lay on her front, and bent her elbows to prop her chin up, ready to hear more.
When she waved him on, he leaned back against the headboard, stretching his long legs in front of him. "Ask me."
She rolled her eyes. "Very well. Do you grow fangs?" When he nodded, she said, "And fur?"
He raised his eyebrows. "Christ, no."
She had many befurred friends and took offense at his tone, but decided to let it go. "I know your eyes turn blue."
He nodded. "And my body gets bigger, while the shape of my face changes, becomes more...lupine."
She grimaced. "Snout?"
He actually chuckled at that. "No. No' like you're thinking."
"Then it doesn't sound that different from you now."
"But it is." He grew serious. "We call it saorachadh ainmhidh bho a cliabhan...letting the beast out of its cage."
"Would it scare me?"
"Even older, powerful vampires cower."
She bit her lip, contemplating all he'd said. Try as she might, she couldn't imagine him as anything other than hot.
He ran a hand over his mouth. "It's getting late. Do you no' want to drink again before dawn?"
Embarrassed by how badly she wanted to, she shrugged and studied her finger tracing the bedcover's paisley design.
"We're both thinking about it. We both want to."
She murmured, "I might, but I don't want what comes with it."
"What if I vowed no' to touch you?"
"But what if..." She trailed off, her face heating. "What if I forget...myself?" If he kissed her and stroked her as he had before, she had no doubt she'd soon be begging for him to bend her over the bed, as he'd put it.
"It would no' matter because I'd put my hands on this cover and I would no' move them."
She frowned at his hands, then nibbled her lip. "Put them behind your back."
He clearly didn't like that. "I would put my hands" - he glanced around, then spread his arms over the top of the headboard, palms down - "here, and I would no' move them. No matter what occurs."
"Aye. I vow it."
She could try to convince herself that mere hunger compelled her to walk on her knees over to him. But it was so much more than that. She needed to experience the sensuality of the act, the warmth, the taste of his skin beneath her tongue, the feel of his heartbeat speeding up as though she'd pleasured him by drawing greedily.
When she knelt before him, he leaned his head away, exposing his neck, beckoning her.