Canna do this, canna handle this-
The beast rose, roaring free.
MacRieve, you're scaring me!" Chloe cried. He was staring at her with unmistakable revulsion, his face twisted. When he began shaking her, she screamed, "Let me go!"
His fists tightened around her upper arms with such force that she thought they'd break. His eyes turned ice blue and glowed. Fangs protruded from his mouth. Black claws lengthened from the tips of his fingers.
"No' you, no' you!" He lifted her until her feet were dangling, then drew her in close, those huge fangs inches from her lips. His feral gaze bored into hers.
She turned her head away, whimpering with fear. With a roar, he flung her to the bed. She scrambled to the floor with startling speed. Confusion roiled as she backed into a corner.
He swung around to pound his palms against the wood-paneled wall, then slashed those claws straight down. Splinters arced across the room.
When he faced her once more, it wasn't him. Not human, her mind dimly recalled. He's not human. She was looking at his . . . beast. A monster. In its white-blue gaze, she saw madness-and animal cunning.
She shook so hard her head bobbed.
He slashed down the wall again, roaring at the ceiling, "I fuckin' give up! YOU BLUIDY WIN!"
Munro charged into the room. He looked like MacRieve had just moments ago.
Before and after.
"Will? What's set you off?"
MacRieve growled, "Get her out of my sight!"
"What is wrong with you?" Munro gazed at Chloe huddled in the corner, shaking. "Do you want her to die of fright?"
He roared back: "YES!"
Munro's eyes began glowing blue as well. "That's my deirfiur. I will no' let you hurt her."
"She's a goddamned succubus! A seed-feeder!"
Chloe gasped. "Succubus?" She'd read about them. They derived nourishment from . . . sex.
MacRieve's twin scented the air, went motionless. He gazed at her with his brows drawn. "Dear gods."
Chloe was an immortal? A Lorean?
She must've been triggered.
Munro quickly recovered, shoving a snarling MacRieve toward the door. "Outside!" Over his shoulder, Munro told her, "If you value your life, doona leave this room." The door slammed.
She sat dazed. She didn't know what terrified her most: MacRieve's true self-or the revelation of hers.
By the way these two males had reacted, she figured succubae weren't exactly universally beloved. And her mother had been one?
Somehow Chloe managed to rise, then stumble into the bathroom. Her reflection stunned her. Her face was softer, her hair now curling past her shoulders and still growing.
Her irises were glowing a rich green. She'd read that all Lore creatures had eyes that changed with emotion. Me, a Lore creature. So when would they change back?
She pinched up the hem of MacRieve's shirt, flashing the mirror, and found her hips were rounder, her breasts plumper. She dropped the hem, grasping the basin for support, noticing her new claws. They were pink like her nails but had tapered tips and sharp edges.
And even more gut-wrenching than what she'd gained was what she'd lost.
All her scars were gone.
She supposed most girls would be delighted; Chloe was pissed. She'd earned those marks, every one of them, like merit badges.
The one on her ankle had reminded her of the big Brazilian midfielder who'd two-footed Chloe right into the hospital-and how, the next season, that girl had paid.
Now Chloe saw that her knees were smooth, the arthroscopic scar on the right one gone. That type of surgery was like a rite of passage. Even the scar from last night, the one that would've reminded her of all that she'd survived, was missing.
Her badges. Gone.
With a yell, she shot her fist out, breaking the mirror. She gaped down at her lacerated hand. Stupid, stupid. She needed to be figuring out a way to escape this place before MacRieve returned to finish her off. The hatred in his eyes . . .
How could he treat her like this? After what they'd just shared?
All those promises he'd made, all lies! She was furious that he'd been hiding that beast part of himself. Yes, he'd mentioned something in the glade, but she'd thought he was talking metaphorically.
She hadn't known what she was-but he'd known fully what he was. There was a part of him so monstrous that she shook just to recall it. She was glad she had seen it so soon, before she'd fallen for him completely.
The nymphs could have him! At the thought, a pang of loss battled her fury.
That bewildering pang hurt worse than her new wound.
She turned on the water, wincing as she ran her hand under it. As the blood washed away, she saw that her skin had already begun regenerating. Because I am an immortal. She grabbed a small towel and knotted it around her hand.
She'd known something was happening. Little by little, she'd been changing. This shouldn't be such a shock, Chlo. Not like the shock that had hammered her with her first look at the real MacRieve. He was disgusted with her? Mutual. He'd been repulsive. Her beautiful Scot had masked a monster.
Deciding that the creatures at the wall weren't as bad as the thing she'd just been in bed with, she picked out a shard from the mirror, coiling a washcloth around it.
If she ran into that wolf-monster again-such as on her way out-she'd gut it. She knew it was kill or be killed.
And she was no victim.
She hastily dressed, tucking the shard in her back pocket, concealing it with a long sweater. She didn't hear anyone outside the door, so she turned the knob, found it locked. Frustrated, she yanked on it.
It broke off in her hand.
She stared down at it in wonderment. Exactly how strong was she?
Desperate to escape, she used her claws to jimmy open the door, then eased out onto the landing. Downstairs in the great room, Ronan and Ben sat stiffly on the couch.
Ronan flashed her a confused look.
Ben shook his head slowly in clear warning. "Chloe, you need to wait up there for Munro. You canna be near Will."
She faded back into the room. Looks like I'm going out the window.
"If you kill her, you canna ever get her back. . . ."
After an unavoidable exchange of blows with Munro, Will tore through the woods, his brother's parting words replaying in Will's disordered mind.
Munro seemed to think Will shouldn't murder the parasite who had wormed her way into their home and lives. She was lucky his beast had risen. Otherwise she'd likely be dead.
Will had been maddened with rage-yet his beast had accepted Chloe as his, had been tempering Will's actions. Even as Will had craved to kill her, his Instinct had been commanding him -Protect, provide.-
He wondered if his Instinct understood that providing for her meant jeopardizing his entire existence and risking her venom bond.
A succubus just fed off my body. Hatred seethed inside him, so thick he thought he'd choke on it. This couldn't be happening. He'd bloody liked Chloe, relishing her passion, her spirit. He'd thought his life was finally turning around.
I thought I could refashion myself. Now, impossible.
Though he could normally run leagues without getting winded, he couldn't catch his breath. He stumbled, then leaned over, palms on his knees, sucking in air.
Suffocating. The deep pulling him down. Chloe had fed off him. Just like Ruelle.
Her claws had dug into his hips as she sucked him, fed, then teed him up for another round. For another feeding. Because she would never be satisfied.
Why did this keep happening to him? He was right back to Hungary.
No, first he would punish Webb. Now he would have no qualms about using Chloe-
Realization struck. Webb had to have known what she was. He'd found out she was changing, and he'd washed his hands of her. Chloe had been looking for her father because the man had abandoned her. Of course.
He stilled. She would have put that together herself by now. Was she devastated by the betrayal? Stricken? Had she cried?
He roared, slashing through a tree. The need to protect her still assailed him.
Her entire life had been upended. He pictured how she'd been in his room earlier, stunned, defenseless. Aye, she'd been defenseless. Just like Ruelle. Will wondered if he would climb over his mother's corpse to protect this succubus as well. At the thought, he banged his head against a stalwart pine, cracking it, bloodying himself.
Felt good. Necessary. Like that blow his father had delivered. So Will rammed his head over and over.
He'd believed that he had a true connection with Chloe, that she was as aroused by him as he was by her. Instead, she'd been coldly serving him up.
Ruelle must be laughing in her grave.
"Ahhh!" he bellowed, swinging his arm, ripping his flared claws through another tree.
He watched it topple. Felled.
Just like me.
For the second time in three days, Munro climbed the stairs to his brother's room with a heavy heart. I'm going to lose him.
When he and Will had fought moments ago, Munro had come up with many reasons why Will shouldn't kill Chloe. But anticipating Will's rebuttal of each, he'd voiced none of them.
For instance, if Munro had pointed out that Will could only have bairns with Chloe, Will would have comprehended that his offspring would be part incubus or succubus.
Heap yet another worry into this situation, then slow boil.
Munro too had call to hate Chloe's kind. He'd lost his mother and father, and on some dark days, he feared he'd lost his brother that night as well.
But Munro's Instinct was telling him to protect Chloe, his deirfiur, his sister. According to fate, according to all the Lykae believed, this female was Will's future. She was Munro's family.
Make no decisions. He would talk to her, discover more about her. He'd decided that one of the two brothers had to approach this rationally. Straightening his shoulders, he knocked on the door.
She didn't answer. After a hesitation, he entered.
She was sitting at the window, staring out. At the guard Munro had posted below?
Her looks were altered. Her hair was wavy and longer, shining in the morning light. Her curves were more accentuated. Her biological imperative was to feed off men; in a rush of changes, she'd become even more attractive to them.
He frowned at the bloody towel wrapped around her hand. "What happened?" he asked, even as he deduced the answer. "You dinna like your new reflection."
She remained silent, watchful. Probably fearing all Lykae after Will had revealed his beast.
Even Munro had been shocked by the sight. With his ice-blue irises glowing in the darkened room, Will had looked so much like their father had in those last hours. . . . "I'm no' going to hurt you, Chloe. Do you understand me?"
"Why should I trust you? You're twin to that thing out there. Are you like that too?"
"Well, almost exactly."
"You know what I mean. A monster."
"When I lose control over my emotions or my aggression, I would look like that."
She shuddered again. "Is what he said true? Am I a succubus?"
"Aye. That's your scent. I doona know why you've changed. You were human last night. Mayhap you reached a certain age and transitioned. I canna say."
She finally faced him. "Am I immortal?"
"Can I see your hand?"
She unwrapped the towel. The lacerations were already healing.
He exhaled with relief. "It's regenerating. Quickly. You're immortal. That's one less worry, at least." He well knew what it was like to dread a human's fragility.
She gazed up from under a lock of her now-flowing hair. "Why are you being nice to me? I saw the look on your face when you scented what I am."
"Did Will explain what our Instinct is?" When she nodded, he said, "His Instinct tells him you're his mate. Mine is telling me you're my sister. That has no' changed for me, no matter what you are."
"There's that phrase-no matter what you are."
"Has someone else said it?" When she remained silent, he said, "You can trust me. I will help you with this."
"How can I trust you? Obviously, your kind hates . . . mine."
"My family has had a bitter history with succubae. A tragic one."
"That's no' my story to tell," he said cautiously. "It's complicated. Just know that this is difficult for everyone involved."
"Difficult." She gave a harsh laugh. "Did you almost just die at the hands of a monster? 'Cause that was difficult." She stood. "I've gotta get ghost from this place. I'd rather risk the snake men than see that beast again."
"Will's beast will no' hurt you."
"No? You didn't see, but it was bellowing at me, shaking me."
"Unfortunately, that was all Will. His beast rose up to protect you." When she appeared disbelieving, he said, "Can I level with you, Chloe? Those beings beyond the wall would rape you without cease, and you would pray you were still mortal so you could die from it. Here, no one will touch you."
"Not even your brother?"
"Especially no' him. Come take a walk with me, and I'll tell you what I know about your kind." When he waved her toward the door, she hesitated. "Are you no' curious?"
With a grudging look, she complied.
Downstairs, they passed the boys. Ronan, never shy, said, "You really a seed-feeder?"
Munro scolded, "Language, Ronan!"
The boy couldn't use that word, but MacRieve could call her that to her face? "Apparently I am."
"What does that mean?"
"Beats the hell out of me, kid."
Munro opened a french door for her, saying over his shoulder, "If Will returns, tell him we went out for a spell."
Outside, they walked in silence past a couple holding hands. When the pair turned to stare at Chloe, Munro wondered if Ronan had already made the rounds, telling everyone that Will's mate was a succubus.
Chloe gave a humorless laugh. "Yesterday they were all smiles and waves. Now I've got a scarlet S on my chest. That puts things into perspective, doesn't it? They'll accept the daughter of someone they hate like Webb, but not a succubus?"
"They doona know how to react. Lykae doona naturally revile succubae, no' unless they've call to."