For hours, Malkom tore through the brush, relentlessly searching for his female after she'd disappeared right before his eyes.
He couldn't locate her, couldn't scent her, yet he sensed she was still on his mountain. Which meant she hadn't returned whence she came - the portal where immortals were disposed of.
Which begged the "uestion: Who in their right mind would ever willingly let a woman such as that go?
When he would chase misery and fight an army to possess her?
In the past, he'd had no use for a female, had been pleased not to have one as a liability to protect. But now the knowledge that a creature like her - finer than any he'd ever seen - belonged to him burned in his mind, changing everything.
She's mine. So I will keep her. At last, he would be master over another, would guide another's destiny and marry it with his own.
If he had any doubt they would be a match, he "uelled it, reminding himself that he was the strongest male in this plane; she was the most beautiful female.
She was his due.
He felt about her as he did about his territory. He'd use his strength to protect both.
But not if he couldn't find her. He spied the tracks of that troop of ghouls as they prowled for her still, as well as the deep prints of a deadly Gotoh. The wastelands swarmed with those vicious creatures, difficult even for Malkom to destroy.
Have to locate her....
In fact, there were countless lethal beasts that were native or had been dispatched here that had bred and populated the plane, making it a death trap, even for an immortal. Even for one with her power, if she wasn't wary.
He rubbed his chest, still astounded by the lightning-like force she'd unleashed. Her kick to his testicles hadn't been mildly delivered either.
What was she? Every being he'd ever heard of had been exiled into Oblivion from fabled planes - places of extraordinary rumors that could never be true.
She might be an elemental fey who controlled lightning and utilized cloaking spells. But her ears weren't pointed. She could be a sorceress or a witch. He doubted she was the latter. Malkom had always heard that witches were toothless hags with black hearts, pitiless mercenaries who sold hexes.
Besides, if she could wield those kinds of powers, why hadn't she struck down the demons who'd initially captured her?
He began to suspect she'd had no power then, had leeched it from him, from his release - like a succubus.
With her beauty, she could certainly be one of that kind. If she was a succubus, she would weaken again, unless another demon inhabitant provided her with "nourishment." There were dozens more of them just beyond his mountain territory, all fugitives like him.
Another male touching what's mine. The idea enraged him, and he ran even faster. Never would another know her perfect body.
And she was perfection. By the gods, she'd been blessed. Flashing green eyes. Buxom curves. Pale skin as soft as the priceless silk she wore. At the memory of her taste, he shuddered with pleasure.
Her blood had been like wine.
His wild search for her had almost taken his mind off his transgression this night. He'd drunk straight from a being. He was a vampire in body and spirit - because he could never go back. Malkom knew he could be satisfied only by drinking from her sweet skin every night.
Part of him blamed her for this fall, for making him lose control. After all, he'd never bitten another before her. Not even when the Viceroy willed it, trying to break him. The years of starvation, the torture.
In the end, Malkom's body had been naught but a husk.
He ruthlessly shoved those memories away, filling his mind with images of her. Yet then came the memory of those green eyes glinting with tears - or narrowed with disgust. Even if the female hadn't understood his words tonight, she'd understood his intent. But his mate had felt no answering frenzy for him.
Perhaps his dual nature had clouded her mind, dulling her inherent need for him. Mayhap she couldn't recognize in him the demon he used to be.
She'd fought him. In turn, he'd broken her bones. And now he hazily recalled that he hadn't merely pierced her neck.
Malkom had torn her skin.
He'd harmed the most precious thing he'd ever been given, a woman delivered unto him to safeguard.
Not to ravage.
Never could he have imagined that both his demon and vampire natures would rise to the fore. If he hadn't lost control and spent himself against her...
He understood why she'd run. Since she didn't recognize him as her mate, she believed him to be no different than the demons he'd saved her from. But Malkom wasn't like them.
Somehow he would have to convince her that as his mate, she was his chattel, and by claiming her he would merely be taking what already belonged to him.
But without speaking her language, he could never explain these things....
When the night began to wane, Malkom finally slowed. He gazed round him at the dust-blown wastelands, accepting that he might not find her before dawn.
So he decided he'd do whatever he could to ensure her safety.
To do what he did best.
When he scented the ghouls, he attacked with all the ferocity seething within him.
* * *
A growling sound woke Carrow the next morning. Her head jerked up - has the vemon returned? - but the noise had faded.
Probably her empty stomach.
She rubbed her gritty eyes with the heels of her palms, but she could see little of the area around her. Though the winds had died down, the smoke was still suffocating.
Gods, she was in a bad way, even more exhausted than before. Throughout the night, she'd dozed intermittently in an unsettling slumber, rife with dreams about Ruby and the lives waiting for them back home. She'd been on edge - ghouls had wailed, the sounds chilling her. Then near dawn, they'd abruptly ... stopped.
Carrow's stomach growled loudly, reminding her that no one was bringing gruel to her cell this morning - and that she hadn't really eaten in over a week. Her thirst was even worse, her mouth as dry as the swirling dust.
She rose with a grimace, her every muscle protesting. With her first step, the blisters riddling her feet threatened to burst. Her healing wrist ached, and smoke burned her eyes and nose.
Ignoring her discomfort, she set out, with no idea of where to go, intent only on sating her thirst and hunger. She figured she was s.o.l. on the former - short of locating the water mines. The ones guarded by Slaine.
But she had to try. Hours had passed since she'd had a drop of water, and last night she'd run for miles in this desert climate. Bad enough for anyone, but especially for Carrow, who hailed from a bayou city known for its moisture.
At every turn there, she was inundated with damp gulf breezes, pounding showers, or sultry humidity.
How Carrow yearned to get herself and Ruby back to the city! To return to their wonderful coven and an existence filled with friends, pranks, and revelry.
For most of her childhood, Carrow had been as good as alone, her neglectful mother and father showing no interest in her. Her toys had echoed in mausoleum-like mansions where "lowly" servants were forbidden to speak to her.
Then her parents had turned her over to the coven at Andoain, the hearth and home where she'd met her beloved mentor Elianna and eventually Mari - a place where Carrow had been enveloped by a sisterhood of witches, cherished and protected.
She desperately missed everyone, but especially Mari.
Though Mari was so full of power - more so than any other Wiccan - she couldn't use the majority of it without gazing into a mirror, her focusing tool. Only problem? Whenever she communed directly with a mirror, she accidentally mesmerized herself, unable to break her gaze.
Carrow had nicknamed her Glitch, short for glass witch.
The last time it'd happened, Mari had mesmerized herself so deeply that her Lykae husband had barely broken the enthrallment. Apparently, it'd been a bloody, grueling affair and far too close a call.
If Mari hadn't sent in the cavalry by now, then she wouldn't be able to help without going to the mirror. And if that was the case, then Carrow hoped no help was coming.
Don't do anything stupid, Glitch.
Wait ... had she heard that growling sound again? Not her stomach? The tiny hairs on her nape rose. She scanned around but couldn't see more than a few feet in any direction. Keep moving.
Her powers and her cloaking spell were already faltering, which meant that she was no longer invisible. The beasts she continued to hear could find her now. As could those ghouls.
Would that vampire demon search for her during the day, or would the dim sunlight be enough to confine him to the shadows?
She lifted her gaze to the brown, hazy sky and felt no warmth. With the dust buffeted about, he probably could emerge, especially since he was a halfling of sorts.
But here's hoping the vemon holes up.
Just as she was licking her chapped lips, her stomach growled again. Water, food. Gods, she hated the outdoors! She'd always found it hellish - and that was before the outdoors had been situated in hell. Bizarre plants sprouted in profusion here, all petrified, of course. Nothing was green in this place.
Keep going, Carrow. One stinging foot in front of the other. She found a rock face and tromped alongside it, figuring she could be ambushed only from three sides.
After an hour of following the rock and "hunting," she concluded that there were no Big Gulps to be self-served or juicy berries to be plucked, no mouthwatering steaks growing on trees or ice cream ripe for harvesting.
Half-delirious, she muttered, "I haaaaaate this place."
This was all Slaine's fault. He had to go all batshit crazy on her. Because he'd made her flee, her thirst and every blister on her feet were his fault. Dixon had nailed him dead to rights: brutish, filthy, severely disturbed. I despise his abominable ass!
Urban Carrow shouldn't ever be in a place like this, wouldn't be if not for him. She raised her grubby hands to her tangled hair, plucking free a twig.
Frack, frack, frack.
She noticed her clunky ring was loose on her finger. The Order's gruel diet had done a number on her previously wood-worthy figure. With a weary sigh, she lowered her hands to stare at her emerald ring.
Carrow's parents had given it to her on her twelfth birthday, directly before they'd abandoned her at Andoain.
Her father had visited there once, years later, to get her into college. Upon leaving, he'd absently patted her on the head, saying, "Send us report cards, and we'll continue sending money."
When she'd dropped out - because there was little happiness to be found on campus during finals - she'd sent a letter to her parents instead of a report card. In it, she'd written: "If you're actually taking the time to read this, then go to hell and shove your money up your asses."
Without fail, the next check had come.
I'd never treat Ruby as they did me. Reminded of why she was here, Carrow tried to reason out a game plan.
Since this demon was violently out of control, she couldn't even approach him, much less communicate with him. The Order's plan - witch lures vemon to portal - was laughable.
She narrowed her eyes. Had those mortals known she was Slaine's mate? How could they have? Unless they had an oracle or some sort of immortal stoolie slipping them intel.
Maybe that was why Carrow had been chosen so specifically for capture. It wasn't as if they'd just stumbled across her and decided on a nab. They'd sprung her from County.
If the Order had known, then she surely couldn't trust them.
Yet she had to operate under the assumption that they would let her go. Again she thought, What are two witches to them? And Carrow still had no idea where their island was. The Order wouldn't suspect she had the wherewithal to lead anyone back to the facility.
Because she didn't.
Now, Mariketa on the other hand...
In any event, this plan of theirs needed tweaking. They were fools if they thought Slaine could be controlled. They wouldn't be able to predict his strength - even an immortal like her had been shocked by it.
Carrow raised her fingers to her neck, to her healing bite mark. It fully sank in then that Malkom Slaine had taken her blood. There were repercussions from that act so risky she couldn't bear to think about them yet.
Which meant the demon was even more dangerous than she could ever have imagined.
Malkom yanked off the last ghoul's head, already scanning for something else to kill.
Seven ghouls he'd destroyed this night. With no sign of her still. The drive to mate with her was there, but something else - some unfamiliar feeling - weighed on him.
He felt as if he were losing his mind, knowing she was near, yet finding no tracks, no scent.
Over the course of his search, he'd located only her belongings. Her food, water container, and bag had been scattered in the brush among the demon gang's corpses.
He'd collected all her possessions for her, puzzling over the strange tube of food she'd packed and the peculiar canisters and bottles. But he'd stowed everything near his mine, carrying her full water canteen with him in case he should find her.
Seeing that water container had reminded him that she would already be suffering the dangerous effects of thirst. Dizziness, delirium. Suffering needlessly. Malkom was rich in water.
What he wouldn't give to go back to last night. He wouldn't have frightened her, wouldn't have uncontrollably slaughtered those demons.
He tried to tell himself he wouldn't have stolen her blood, but at the memory of that pleasure, he knew he would be lying -
At last! For hours, he'd been unable to detect her, but now he charged headlong in her direction.
As Malkom closed in, he slowed. Better not to make his presence known - she might turn herself invisible again or blast him with her hands.
So he scaled a cliff to follow her from above. At his first sight of her, relief soughed through him. But he kept a vigilant eye on her, ensuring that she didn't come across one of his many traps or some maurading beast. He followed, observing her behavior, puzzling out the foreign little succubus.
Always observing. But this time he enjoyed it. He could watch her for hours, her expressions were so revealing. And though her mutterings were incomprehensible, he recognized the tones. She was no longer afraid - she was vexed; kicking rocks, then seeming to curse them.
Even when so visibly exhausted, she was still lovely. Satisfaction swelled his chest as his gaze moved from one ex"uisite feature to the next. Her lashes were long, her cheekbones high and elegant. Her lips were full.
Before he'd encountered her, he'd never comprehended why males mused on what their mates would look like, what color hair or eyes they might have. As if a male should care more about his female's coloring than he should a fine horse's! Now Malkom experienced an unknown-before pride that his woman was a black-haired beauty.
Though he might have imagined his fated one would be a match for him - a weary and hardened demoness used to deprivation - she was his opposite in so many ways.
She had no fangs or claws, and her skin looked as if it'd never once seen the harsh sun. Whereas he was the son of a whore, he believed she'd been raised as a noble.
Yet she wore a collar, as slaves did. At the thought of owning her that way, his member stiffened. He imagined selecting her, expending as much wealth as necessary to secure her, then taking her back to his lair to enjoy.
In the past, his discipline had kept him from obsessing over intercourse. Now that there was the possibility of claiming her, his eagerness couldn't be stemmed. He wanted the use of her body at his will, wanted to learn her female form.
If he studied her enough, he could figure out how to pleasure a woman. As it was, he didn't even know where he'd begin touching her. He'd never felt a female's body, much less fondled one's sex.
But he had to believe he could find the key to her desires. One of the earliest lessons he'd learned as a youth was that everyone had a key. Were his woman's ears sensitive? Her neck? He imagined piling up that mane of hair and placing his lips on her nape. Would my hands covering her breasts make her tremble?
She hissed in a breath, her limping more pronounced. Whether noblewoman or slave, she was clearly not accustomed to a place this harsh. She rubbed the back of her neck, pinching the muscles there. At least her wrist seemed to be healing.
Eventually, she hobbled over to a bone tree stump, sinking atop it. With a look of dread, she peered at her boots. As she gingerly drew off the first one, she bit her bottom lip to keep from crying out.
The short black hosiery beneath was affixed to her blisters. As she removed the second boot, he winced for her, but she never made a sound. His female was strong in resolve, if not in body.
When she twined the length of her hair into a knot atop her head, he saw the faint outline of his bite. The night before, she'd sneered the word vampire just before she'd sent blazing shots to his chest. If that was how she saw him, perhaps she hated them as much as he did.
She'd seemed more furious about his biting her than his shoving against her body for release. He understood her aversion. He'd been drunk thousands of times.
It had never grown any easier to take.
Yet it would be impossible not to enjoy her neck again, now that he'd experienced the bliss of it. He narrowed his eyes. Give and take. For years, he'd ceded his blood. I wear my scars - I am owed! Her blood would be a small price to pay for his protection.
Malkom didn't know how she'd gotten herself exiled into these infernal wastelands; he did know that she was damned lucky to have a strong arm to protect her here, considering her fragile nature and inconsistent power.
Perhaps she needed a token to remind her of how much she needed him.