"And your brother does? Come on, I can recognize utter hatred when I see it."
"Did you know this was going to happen?" he asked, deflecting the subject.
She narrowed her eyes, but allowed it. "I knew something was off inside me. My senses went haywire a few weeks ago."
"That's common for transitioning halflings."
"I told my dad about it. He said I needed to avoid a trigger, but didn't tell me what it was. He hinted that my mom was an immortal, but again, wouldn't tell me what kind."
"A trigger? It must have been when you and Will had sex."
She whipped her head up. "We didn't. Not all the way. We just fooled around."
Differently than they had yesterday? Oh. Munro could deduce what the trigger had been. She'd . . . fed for the first time.
Judging by Chloe's blushing, she'd deduced it as well. "Your father dinna tell you no' to be with men . . . that way? I would think he'd do anything to keep you from turning."
"He probably didn't think he had anything to worry about. I never had much interest in guys."
"I see. It's no' unheard of for a halfling's powers or . . . appetites to be dormant until some catalyst. I've heard of a human halfling becoming a Valkyrie after a lightning strike."
"I had no idea about any of that. Dad just plopped the Book of Lore in my lap and took off on a business trip. He told me we'd talk when he returned. He . . . he never did. His phone was disconnected." Her voice wavered, which clearly aggravated her. "The next thing I know, I've got Lore creatures in my house and I'm getting kidnapped."
"I'm sorry, Chloe." Munro couldn't even imagine her confusion and fear. Again that protectiveness surged within him. "Considering his hatred of immortals, your father probably believed his actions merciful."
She shrugged, feigning indifference. "So spill about succubae. Give it to me straight. I'm a big girl."
He only had vague reports from others to draw from, and his brother's bitter recollections of Ruelle. "You're a cambion-a human and succubus halfling, which makes you part of the Ubus Peoples. They hail from the Ubus Realm, located on a hidden plane. Males are incubi, females are succubae. No' much is known about your kind. Some say males can fly and females can turn invisible. All we know for certain is that your species draws nourishment from a partner's sexual release."
"So when MacRieve called me a seed-feeder, was that . . . literal?"
Munro pulled at his collar, as uncomfortable with this as she clearly was. It was like explaining the birds and the bees-to his brother's mate. "Some say there's a mystical energy with release, and your species can convert it to a life force." Could this be any more awkward? "In that case, seed could be just an attractant of sorts, kind of the icing on the . . ." He trailed off. "Any metaphor I come up with at this point is just going to sound perverted."
Her cheeks flushed even brighter red. "I get it."
"Others say, well, that the physical, uh, result is what gets converted." He coughed into his fist. "I do know it can be from intercourse or oral sex." Will had once revealed that though Ruelle could feed both ways, she'd never deigned to perform oral sex and had no interest in it herself.
"How often do I have to do that? Months? Weeks?"
"Since you're young, you'll need it more often. I'd guess every day. Mayhap every other."
Her face paled. "That much?" she cried. "What happens if I don't?"
"For a cambion, I doona rightly know. But for a succubus, the longer she goes, the more intense her desire for a male grows. By a certain point, she becomes mindless and animalistic with need." Like the succubae who'd stalked Will, intent on raping him.
Gods, mayhap this was far too much to ask of him.
"Great. Anything else?"
"If you have intercourse with the same male more than three times, you can bind him to you, envenoming him-"
"Like venom out of fangs?" She was aghast.
"No, no, it's a mystical bond. Once that tie is formed, he'll sicken without you." He recalled Will rocking in his bed, covered in sweat. "I understand that it's like heroin withdrawal, but it never gets better."
She gave him an incredulous look. "Then why would anyone have sex with a succubus in the first place?"
"You're bonny. And you can emit chemicals that make males crazed. It's called strewing."
"How do I emit them?"
"From what I understand, it comes from your verra breath. It's scentless, so it's impossible to detect until the result is felt. Even an unwilling male would find it difficult to resist, if no' impossible. Mated males are thought to be immune."
She stopped. "So my new feeding m.o. is to roofie men, then get them hooked on me like heroin, so they'll keep coming back to the dealer? That's just messed up."
He couldn't disagree. He remained silent, giving her time to work through all the angles.
"I'm going to be dependent on guys, really dependent on them, for the rest of my life?" She looked like she was about to be sick. More to herself, she said, "I was making a great living. I had my future planned out." Another group passed them, casting her hesitant looks. "What are you gawking at?" she snapped.
Munro told her, "News spreads fast around here, I'm afraid."
"Well, they need to keep their eyes in their heads."
Before, she'd appeared woeful. With each second that she grew accustomed to all these surprises, her expression grew more mutinous.
Succubae were known to be fawning. They coaxed and beguiled men wherever they went. Chloe looked like she was on the verge of head-butting unsuspecting bystanders.
Munro tilted his head, a flare of hope rising. This female acted like a wee bruiser. She'd made a living as a professional athlete, about the least likely career Munro could imagine for a succubus.
His own innate wariness toward her was fading. Just because she was a halfling succubus didn't mean she'd be anything like Ruelle.
There was a spark in Chloe's eyes, a toughness in her demeanor that was so radically different from Munro's memories of that other creature, so different from any succubae he'd encountered over his long life.
Which meant Munro still believed her a fitting match for Will.
"What about pregnancy?" she asked.
"Full succubae have a few cycles of fertility in a year. I doona know what will happen with you. There's a soothsayer we can contact to determine more, but it will likely take time."
"I'm going to wake up, and this will all be a bad dream." She rubbed her temples. "Is there any upside here?"
"You're immortal now. You could live forever."
"Live forever as an out-of-work, roofie-dispensing, drug-dealing skank? If that's my upside . . ."
"You'll be stronger. You'll regenerate from any wound. Other than decapitation, of course."
She perked up. "Stronger?"
"Take a swing at me." He patted his upper arm.
She shrugged, then launched her good fist.
He gritted his teeth, saying, "Aye. Stronger." The pain was pleasant to him. It meant his newfound sister might survive in the Lore.
She frowned at her other hand. "It's healing really fast."
He rubbed his nape. "You and Will, uh, your morning together would help that along."
Her skin flushed again. "What would happen if I never did that again? I'm a halfling. Maybe I could still exist on food. It used to stave off the worst of my symptoms."
"It might be possible."
She narrowed her gaze. "If it's even remotely possible, I'll make it work." Her hazel eyes flickered then gleamed green with determination. "If I want something bad enough, it'll happen."
Chloe was like the anti-Ruelle. Suddenly, this didn't feel like a tragedy in the making. This might be . . . workable.
At that moment, they heard an agonized roar from the woods. Trees crashed down.
Will. Sorting out his issues.
Chloe gazed up at MacRieve's twin. "That's him, isn't it?" As if she could ever forget that horrifying sound.
"Aye," Munro said, surprising her by telling the truth.
She'd sensed he was well-meaning. And at least he wasn't violent. A huge improvement over the other one.
She still couldn't believe the way this morning had gone to hell. Before that monster had showed-talking to her like it was from Aesop's fucking Fables-she'd been happy, feeling desire and being desired. She'd liked MacRieve, had found him to be a sexy, exciting lover.
I lost everything today. Her dad had freaked at the possibility of her transition. How would he feel about his detrus daughter now? Olympics? Forever out of reach. She'd been paranoid about her drug tests in Florida; now she could only imagine how wonky they would be. Not to mention her newfound strength and glowing eyes.
She wanted to blame MacRieve for all this-he deserved nothing less-but now she realized how inevitable her change had been. Considering the nature of her dreams and her awareness of men, sooner or later she would've found a guy and been triggered-with or without MacRieve.
"Are there any succubae I can talk to about all this?" To say it was a lot to take in . . .
At least now she knew why she'd felt that sense of dread each time she'd even considered embarking on a flirtation. Because, evidently, her first boyfriend could've triggered her with his semen.
Maybe her human half had tried to keep her from going down that path? Chloe was brave, physically at least. But she'd been too cowardly to explore her dread, to try and overcome it. It'd been easier to make excuses.
Too busy. Too driven. Too committed.
So why hadn't she felt dread with MacRieve?
"Chloe, any succubae I've ever encountered have proven to be evil and malicious," Munro said. "I would no' recommend reaching out to them."
She frowned. "So my mom was evil?"
If possible, Munro looked even more uncomfortable about that question than he'd been about the sex talk. "I canna say."
If Dad hated Loreans, why would he ever be with one? "Maybe my dad hates immortals because he was hurt by my mom?" She recalled how he'd peered at that picture of Fiore. Had Chloe's mother forced him to love her?
"It's possible. Though it's more likely that he was already a member of the Order. From what we understand, your father has been at this for decades."
What if her mom had been his prisoner? As usual, her feelings toward her father were in turmoil. Last night she'd been outraged that anyone would want to hurt people like MacRieve and Ronan and other Lore kids.
This morning she'd realized why MacRieve was a danger to society. Had her mother been one as well?
Hunt for the upside, Chlo. After lifelong blood tests, she no longer had to worry about the big C. No, she could potentially live forever.
She grimaced. She was an independent female, yet she was now expected to depend on males to survive-not just for one lifetime, but for eternity.
Another thought struck her. Those "womanly instincts" she'd experienced earlier . . . they were succubus instincts, instructing her how to land the best score. Ugh!
The idea of living forever like that appealed to her not at all.
"We should get you back," Munro said. "My brother will no' like that you're gone."
"He'll be angry? Wonder what that'll be like!"
"Again, he will no' harm you." Munro raked his fingers through his dark hair, reminding her of how handsome the twins were. And what lurked beneath.
"What makes you so certain?"
"He would've already. I have no' seen him so out of control in memory. I think it's much worse because of the timing, coming on the heels of his torture in an Order prison. He's no' been right since he returned."
"He was vivisected, right?" She recalled last night when MacRieve's shaking hand had covered his heart. As she'd kissed his chest, she'd vowed to herself that she'd never let anyone hurt him again. How much had changed so quickly. "He was tortured by my dad's people?"
Golden eyes flickering, Munro admitted, "One doctor showed him his beating heart."
She pressed the back of her hand over her mouth. Even after everything, she felt sympathy for MacRieve. God, she'd never been so confused in her life. After seeing MacRieve's beast, she understood why the Order feared Lykae. But then she gazed up at Munro-serious, grave Munro-and couldn't imagine anyone harming him. "So your brother could get past that to be with me, but my transition makes him want to kill me? You need to tell me why that is."
Munro's expression was stark. "Chloe, it's-"
"Complicated. Got it." She sighed, tempering her tone. None of this was Munro's fault. He was just trying to be helpful. "Look, I can't stay here. There has to be a way for me to get past those creatures at the wall."
"I'm sorry. That's no' possible right now."
"Okay, I might be stuck in this compound, but that doesn't mean I need to be staying at his house. I'm not living with him!"
"No one else would take you in."
"Because I'm a succubus?"
"Because you're Will's mate. His Instinct will demand he keep you close. Even if he hates it at the time."
She'd been as good as abducted again. From the witches' clutches to the Lykae's.
As her situation sank in, Chloe repeated to herself, Rub some dirt on it, rub some dirt on it. But this was so far beyond the realm of I'm just happy to be here.
Some things she knew for certain?
She couldn't change what she was, so to be punished for it by that werewolf wasn't happening.
She'd be planning to escape as soon as possible. In the meantime, she didn't have to live by their rules at ye olde compound.
She refused to be afraid of MacRieve. All her life, she'd faced bigger opponents. When they'd attacked, barreling down upon her on a field, she'd trained herself to stand her ground. Once she'd mastered that, she'd trained herself to strike back. She'd marched into myriad stadiums all over the world, turning herself into a fucking gladiator. Even knowing what horror roiled inside MacRieve, Chloe would not falter.