Because my disgust ruled me tonight, I withheld my claiming bite from you.
The sounds of the bairns' tiff grew louder, the rocking more pronounced.
Nix told Will, "Lovely. Demonling horns just punctured the roof of our rental vehicle. Hold, please." Then to the children, she said, "I told you Bertil would bite if you pull his legs. Now, cut out that caterwauling or Auntie Nixie will eviscerate you."
Will thought he heard the witch Mariketa saying brightly, "Ha-ha. Auntie Nixie meant to say 'no ice cream.' " Then Mariketa snorted. "You might have overcommitted on younglings, Regin."
The Valkyrie Regin answered, "Dude. Don't you judge me. And where's the fucking fire extinguisher?"
"I've returned," Nix said in a dry tone. "You have much to resolve for yourself, wolf. Don't make me regret placing Chloe in your care."
"Why did you? You're the one who told the witches about her, are you no'? To get her to the auction? If you could find her, then you can find Webb." At least he'd gotten some measure of revenge against the man-Webb's daughter had just been defiled by a Lykae beast.
He winced at his thoughts. You sick prick, that's your mate you're gloating over! He clasped his forehead, squeezing till he thought his skull would cave in.
"Webb has a role to play with the Bringers of Doom; he's not to be touched," Nix said. "And I helped you because I trusted that you would find your feet with this."
"What if I canna?"
"Do you know what's so strange, Uilleam?" she asked, saying his name perfectly. "You have never, in your entire life, done something for which you should truly be ashamed. You think you have, but you haven't. Not until you hurt your own mate, blaming the poor girl for things she can't control."
His mouth went dry. "Will she change?" When Nix didn't answer, he said, "She has spirit and courage. Will she change to become like Ruelle?"
"No. But you won't know that because she'll be gone."
His legs felt weak. "Nix? No!" He sank back against the wall.
"Mark my words, wolf: bury your past, or it will bury you." Click.
An hour after his call with Nix, Will found Chloe sitting on the floor in the pantry, trying to choke down an apple.
Whiskey bottle in hand, he sank down beside her, tugging the apple from her. "That time has passed for you, lass. Never to return."
Her eyes were puffy from crying, her nose red, but luckily no more tears fell. The mere idea of her crying had gutted him. To see her tears . . .
I could no' stand it.
"I can still drink." She reached for his bottle, swigged heartily, gasped.
"Aye, but you canna eat food."
"I can do a liquid diet. Or what about an IV? Something surgical?" With a eureka! expression, she cried, "Artificial insemination!"
Her panic set him on edge. She was this desperate because she'd hated sex with him. Yet another unsatisfied succubus. "Or mayhap you can do as nature intended you to. Your face has healed, your color's returned."
When he reached for the bottle, she absently relinquished it. "Nature didn't intend for sex to be humiliating like that. Some parts were unbearable."
Unbearable? Her words gave him chills. Any male, in a potentially eternal relationship, would react thus. My mate hates sex. He had no call to expect different, but still he said, "It was no' that bad. You got to feed. And I dinna mean to humiliate you." Surely, he hadn't. Slaoightear, his conscience whispered. "You will no' have pain next time. Things will go better between us."
"Next time? Are you listening to me at all?"
Probably not an ideal moment to remind her about the full moon in two nights. His beast would be even more powerful. If Will hadn't built up her strength by then . . .
"Th-there's got to be a way for me to forgo sex. If those witches can camouflage me, maybe they can fix me."
Fix? She felt broken. Because of me.
Ruelle used to blame all her failings on him; had he done the same with Chloe? He cleared his throat. "Mayhap you're no' the one who's broken." Other males would easily love her. If he hadn't been twisted by a succubus, he would have lost his heart to the lass beside him.
"Not broken?" she cried. "Now you're going to screw with my head? To survive in the Lore, I'm supposed to drug and rape men? You think I don't know how wrong that is?"
He'd never expected her to agree with him about the nature of succubae.
"When I started changing, my dad abandoned me. Remember? You were quick to remind me of that. You relished telling all of the Lore how he discarded me like trash." Her eyes watered. "Not to mention how you've reacted to my change."
"I lost everything that day. My career, my remaining family, my friends, my team. You were the only constant in my crazy life. But you did a total one-eighty, bullying and insulting me. You had to get Sheen-wasted tonight to take me to bed." Gazing up at the ceiling, she murmured, "I can't believe my first lover vomited after being with me."
Will scrubbed his hand over his face, embarrassment scalding him. "Your first lover and your last. And he will no' do so next time."
She faced him with an incredulous expression. "You can't control your reaction to me-any more than you can your beast."
"You'll get used to that part of me. You'll have to. It's inseparable from who I am, like a soul. I can understand why you might hate my beast, but you should no' blame it, for it does no' reason."
"You think that's the problem? At least the beast looked at me with yearning, with desire. It's you that's the problem."
"What does that mean?"
"Your beast has accepted me; you never will, and unfortunately you come back. If I ever have sex again, I don't want to open my eyes to see your back as you beat feet for the toilet."
Could this get any more shaming?
"And I might not have any experience, but I know what whiskey dick is."
"What the hell are you talking about?"
"MacRieve junior took a tee-oh right before the beast substituted in."
Aye, it can get more shaming. He drank deep. "Chloe, just know this. Sex for me is . . . complicated."
She turned to him with owl eyes. "Noooo."
"Aye, smart-arse. It has no' always been pleasant or rewarding. Mayhap I thought of a past time. Mayhap it affected me."
"Then tell me about the past time."
"All you need to know is that I'm working through it. It will no' factor in the future."
"You're right about that." When she snapped her fingers for the bottle, he handed it over, watched her take a healthy gulp. "Because I will never have sex with you again!"
He stabbed his fingers through his hair. "Damn it, lass, you're a cambion. If you refuse to feed, I doona know what will happen to you."
Against the rim of the bottle, she murmured, "Maybe I'll die, and you'll be off the hook."
When Nix had said Chloe would be gone, had the soothsayer meant gone, as in left? Or gone, as in . . . lost? His chest constricted, strangling his breaths for an entirely different reason.
"Whiskey," he bit out.
Frowning, she handed it to him. There they sat, passing the bottle, holed up together on the floor in the goddamned pantry. "You think I could be off the hook if my mate died?" He repeated her words: "Have you been listening to me at all?"
"Oh, yeah, because you think you'd have to follow me. But never fear, I'm sure that only applies to beloved mates. Since you hate me, you should get a pass."
"You belong with me," he said simply.
"Tell me why I should stay. Why shouldn't I run, now that I'm healed?"
His lips drew back from his fangs. "Because I will catch you."
"Ugh-you could not suck worse!" She was shaking beside him, her body filled with fury.
Wrong. Everything's wrong. He pulled on the collar of his loose T-shirt, puzzled by how tight it felt around his neck. All my fault.
"You know, sometimes I do this thing where I assess my life's field position, getting a lay of where I am," she said. "I've been in this pantry, evaluating my field position, the most important one of my life."
"And what have you determined?"
"That we can never be happy together. So it's in your best interest to cut ties with me." He opened his mouth to tell her that wouldn't be happening, but she continued, "Don't worry, I don't expect you to let me go. Because you're not a fair man."
No, he wasn't. So why did her words sting so badly?
"In that case, what do you plan to do with me? Keep me here, isolated until I go crazy?" She met his gaze. "You can keep me here for centuries, and at the first opportunity, I will blaze. Do you understand me? I will always look for a way out-because you will never change."
"You speak of change as if it's easy! I'm nine centuries old! I doona alter my course so easily as you might."
"At least it's possible for you-I can't change. Ever. I can accept your beast, but you can't accept things in me that I can't control?" She squeezed her temples. "And not only that, you're constantly treating me with scorn, making me feel like shit about myself!" Her irises glowed green with anguish. "I can't sit around here and let you convince me that I'm nothing but an evil, worthless succubus. I won't do that."
When her eyes filled with tears, his widened.
"You're . . . crying?" He gazed at her in astonishment. She was always so strong, seeming invincible. She'd acted unaffected by his barbs. "This is twice," he said inanely.
He'd never had a mate; he'd never had a mate cry. He and his beast were roiling. "Chloe, look at me."
When she buried her head in her hands and started sobbing, his stomach felt torn apart, as if he'd been stabbed and the knife was steadily turning in his gut.
Twisting with no end, like the second hand of a clock. Tick, tick, tick.
"Get used t-to me crying. Or let me go."
MacRieve pulled her hands from her face. He looked as if her tears were wrecking him-and still, after everything, some part of her regretted causing him pain.
"I canna, Chloe."
She ran her sleeve over her damp cheeks. "Then at least t-tell me why you hate me. I'll figure out a way to make this situation better for both of us. But I can't shoot for a net that I can't see."
His eyes were stark. There was clearly so much going on in his head. Yet he'd rather let her dangle in the dark than share any of it.
"Damn it, answer me, what did I do to you?"
When he said nothing, she snatched the bottle from him and flung it from the pantry. It shattered in the next room. "What-did-I-do?"
"NOTHING!" he roared.
"Then for God's sake, why are you treating me like this?"
He gazed away.
"No, don't you look away!" Clambering up on her knees, she dug her hands into his hair, pulling him back to face her. They stared into each other's eyes, both out of breath. "Tell me!"
"I felt rage toward your species. I know I've been taking it out on you. But I doona know how to stop!"
Did that mean he wanted to stop? The tiniest spark of hope began to burn inside her. She released him, her tears drying. "What happened to you? Tell me."
With a wary nod, he parted his lips. He seemed to be trying to answer her-but only his breath whistled out.
"MacRieve?" What was going on here? He was a powerful, courageous immortal. Yet he'd been rendered mute by whatever had injured him in the past.
He pulled on his collar. "I canna . . . breathe." His voice broke low. "I . . . canna."
Rising unsteadily, she murmured, "I've gotta have a net to aim for, MacRieve."
He said nothing.
That spark guttered out. With a last glance, she left him sitting alone.
I want my mate.
As Will walked the halls of Conall early into the morning, pacing like a resident ghost, that one thought kept surfacing.
He didn't want to sleep alone, to wake up alone. Chloe had gone to bed hours ago, all but passing out from the whiskey. When he'd gone to join her, she'd shaken her head warningly, as if to say Do it and die.
He'd been so busy thinking about how he'd been injured that he hadn't considered-or cared about-how vulnerable and hurt she'd been.
All those years ago, he'd categorized Ruelle's tears as antics. In truth, they'd been tactics.
Chloe's tears had been raw and real. And she'd told him to get used to them.
He assessed his own "field position."
-Watching Chloe cry had hurt him worse than his recent tortures, had taken more from him than Dixon had.
-He'd rather die than cause Chloe more pain. If her eyes glowed green again, it should be because of pleasure. Would he ever see that?
He returned to the hearth, stirring the embers. Short of being seared clean by flames, how could he get right? Nix had said, "Bury your past, or it'll bury you." He knew burying his past wasn't possible. It was too much a part of him. But he could hide the worst of this, if it meant Chloe might accept a life with him.
Will would never be able to give her his all. Yet mayhap he could give her enough?
His phone rang then. Munro. Bracing himself, Will answered.
"I was about to take the lads out to Erol's," Munro said in a measured tone. "Thought I'd check in first."
Fearing the worst? "We arrived without incident. She sleeps now, or I'd let you talk to her. She enjoyed her new clothes and was grateful for them." He scrubbed his hand over his face. "I read your message. You think I should remain here?" And where the hell will you be? Will's recent imprisonment was the longest span they'd ever been separated.
"I may no' like living apart from you"-that makes two of us-"but mayhap that's the way, now that you've got your female? Besides, one of us should manage our family's lands. I've thought about this for years, figuring whoever found his mate first should live there. This is your chance to reclaim your home-and your past."