Munro asked, "Will, did you . . . ?"
"Aye." When Munro let out a relieved breath, Will admitted, "It dinna go well. There were, uh, some issues. But I want to get past them."
"Are you prepared to take her venom bond?"
Will swallowed audibly, hoping the sound didn't carry over a transatlantic call. "I've accepted that I have no choice but to do so. I canna lose her. Damn it, I need your thoughts on this."
"Tell me what happened."
Will was so desperate for help that he relayed everything that had occurred, stinting on few details. He told his brother what Nix had said.
"You've much to make up for, Will. I agree with Nix that you need to win Chloe."
"How?" He'd lost some serious ground tonight.
"It's verra simple," Munro began. "In the morn . . ."
By the end of the call fifteen minutes later, Will felt somewhat heartened. At least he had a plan. He made his way up to the master suite, back to his mate.
Pausing in the doorway, he watched the moon stream through the windows, bathing her beautiful face in silvery light.
Her nose was no longer red from crying. Her eyes weren't puffy. Unlike Ruelle, his Chloe did not cry prettily-because her grief was sincere.
He crossed to the bed, sitting beside her. When he brushed the locks from her forehead, she cracked open her eyes.
"What're you doing?" she asked, her words slurring. " 'S'not time for my special shot yet."
Not a promising beginning. "Chloe, what would it take to start anew with you?"
Hopelessness settled over him when she murmured, "More than you've got."
Yet then he reminded himself, She has no' seen all I've got.
I feel amazing, Chloe thought bitterly as she tromped down the steps that morning. She had energy again, wasn't even sore from the night before. Because of him.
After she'd vented in the pantry and returned to bed, the whiskey had hit her like a tsunami. Before she'd passed out, she would've sworn the entire keep had been spinning.
Later in the night, MacRieve had awakened her. She barely remembered what they'd talked about, but she thought he'd mentioned "starting anew." Then he'd stroked her hair and tucked her in, much as he had those first two nights at the compound. She'd missed it.
She'd missed the side of MacRieve she'd first known.
What would she encounter when she faced him today? Surly and abusive or charming and sexy?
She strode into the kitchen, then stopped short.
MacRieve was shirtless in a pair of low-slung, broken-in shorts, drinking orange juice straight out of the jug. Her lips parted, her gaze lovingly taking in all his rigid muscles, then sliding lower to that ink-black goody trail. She wanted to nuzzle it like he'd done between her legs last night-
No, don't think about that!
He finished his drink and swiped his forearm over his mouth. "We've got a busy day planned."
She blinked to attention. "Doing what?"
"You're to go running with me."
She arched a brow. "Running?" Exploring the Scottish countryside? Her new gear upstairs was just waiting for her.
Then she remembered her situation. Her next play wasn't running with him; it was running from him. "Why don't you go by yourself? I could kick back and watch TV." Escape. "Then we could meet up later." Never see each other again.
The thought brought on another pang. Did Dojo Dummy still want him?
"And leave you to flee? No' likely." He set down the jug, moving in closer to back her against the counter, until she could feel the heat emanating from his bare chest and bask in his tempting scent. His voice was husky when he said, "I'm never letting you go, lass."
His nearness piqued her desire, one that had nothing to do with hunger.
"Do you remember what I said early this morning?" he asked.
"I want to try this again with you. I'm offering an olive branch. Will you take it?"
She shook her head, saying, "Fool me once. MacRieve, you were all I had and you turned on me. What if you find out something else that you hate about me?"
"I was wrong. I am apologizing. I want a chance to win my mate back."
"Give me one good reason why I should trust this." Again she felt like she was running with a cleat and a climbing boot. Would she ever feel on-kilter with him?
He leaned down to say at her ear, "Because for a time last night, you liked me moving inside you verra much."
Her cheeks heated. "Right. Now, if only you had liked it, whiskey dick."
He drew back with a scowl. "Stop saying that, woman! I dinna have-never bluidy mind." He clamped the counter on either side of her, caging her in, peering down at her with intent golden eyes. "Doona mistake what happened. Being inside you felt incredible. And whether the beast was at the fore or no', I still came so hard my ballocks begged for mercy."
"Must've been nice. For you. Not so much for me. Out of those dozen orgasms you promised, you were twelve short."
A flush spread over his chiseled cheekbones. "I'm keen for a rematch tonight."
"Ha! Your last attempt at-goal went way wide. Not even close. As a matter of fact, you got red-carded out of the game."
With his smoldering gaze boring into hers, he grated, "I want-back-in."
Her lips parted at the double entendre. His eyes were promising her a hot, thorough taking.
She feared hers were begging for it. She darted her gaze away.
He tucked her hair behind her ear. "I've been up all night, thinking about us."
"Is there an us?"
"I want there to be."
"MacRieve, I haven't even agreed to go running with you, much less to being the verbally abused half of your us."
"I vow to the Lore that I will never speak to you that way again." He said this as solemnly as a groom would a wedding vow.
At length, she said, "I'll go, but only because I'm jonesing for a run." She ducked under his arm, then headed toward the stairs, muttering over her shoulder, "Need to change."
As she hurried up to her room, she wondered if she could trust his sincerity. One minute he hated her, the next he was offering her an olive branch with orgasms on top.
Why had he changed so drastically? She wished she could read his cues better. He was like a skilled opponent telegraphing fake plays to keep her running in circles. She sensed that anything he'd told her about himself was underscored with countless things he hadn't.
She frowned, remembering some of what he'd revealed last night, when she'd been too tipsy to analyze it. Sex for him was complicated, and it hadn't always been "pleasant or rewarding." What guy didn't find sex pleasant?
Right before he'd lost his erection last night, he'd said, "Succubus green," about her eyes. Later he'd confessed that the reason he'd flagged was because he'd thought of a past time. Because Chloe's succubus eyes had reminded him-
Oh, dear God.
Munro had told her that his family had been harmed by a succubus, so Chloe had figured someone they loved had been seduced by one. She now suspected that the victim had been MacRieve-and that there'd been no "seduction."
Do you have any idea what it's like to have no control of your mind? he'd asked. Your body? And then he'd told her that maybe she wasn't the one who was broken.
It wasn't a big leap to connect everything together.
No wonder he hated Chloe. No wonder he'd vomited after sex with her. For a man that big and strong to have reacted so violently . . . Her eyes watered with sympathy.
He hadn't even been able to speak of it, his breath hitching again and again. She sank down on the bed. MacRieve had been trying to tell her!
And physically couldn't.
Everything about Chloe must have reminded him of whatever bitch had raped him. Considering this, she was surprised he hadn't been even more hateful toward her. Oh, and added to that: My dad recently had him tortured.
She fell back across the bed, throwing her arm over her face, beaning her forehead with her new bracelet.
Despite all this, MacRieve had offered her an olive branch. So what should she do with this newfound comprehension?
Confront him? He might go ballistic again.
Start over? He might hurt her again.
That's my man, her heart seemed to cry. And now that damned hope-spark was back.
Soccer hadn't been easy, Stanford definitely hadn't, but she'd never given up on either.
Maybe she shouldn't with MacRieve.
She sat up. She still had feelings for him, still experienced that sense of connection to him. She liked his clan, actually missed them. She needed sex to live; sex with MacRieve had held such promise.
What were her other options? If she escaped, where would she go and how would she live? Would she be driven out every night, looking for sustenance, feeding on random guys? The thought made her skin crawl.
Compared to that, a life with MacRieve was the championship trophy. Why wouldn't she fight for it?
Because he detests my entire species? Oh, yeah.
So how to make him forget what she was? Before she'd boarded the plane, Munro had told Chloe that she was like an anti-succubus. Her personality was completely unlike the fawning, deceptive ones he'd known. He'd said, "Just be yourself with Will. If you feel the need to tell him he's being a prick, do so. If you feel the need to kick his arse, doona hold back. He needs you to be . . . you. With all your attitude."
Chloe hadn't understood at the time, and more, she hadn't given a damn what MacRieve needed. Now she was starting to read between the lines. Munro wanted Chloe to continue being an anti-succubus to show MacRieve how different she was.
As she dressed in new gear-shorts, a jog bra, running shoes-she decided that she'd play this day by ear, reading MacRieve's cues as if he were a tricksy fullback, while keeping the trophy in sight. She pulled her hair up in a ponytail, then hurried downstairs.
When he raked his gaze over her, his irises flickered.
"What? What's wrong?"
He growled, "Red."
Yes, her shorts and bra were red. "So?"
Seeming to give himself a shake, he said, "Everything fits?" But his voice was rougher.
"Like a glove. It's nice having my own stuff again."
He scowled, rubbing his palm over the back of his neck. "You'll have more. We'll head to the city soon. I'll buy you new. Anything you want."
She blinked at him. "Did you not see that haul up there? I've got everything I need."
Way to take cues, Chlo. So the guy needed to buy her stuff. "I could use a watch, though."
"Aye," he said quickly.
"And an iPad and a soccer ball."
"Done." Mood obviously improved, he said, "If you vow you will no' weaponize the latter. My stones were singing for hours after your last shot."
"Then don't say things that make me want to cleat you in the face." Now she understood why he had; didn't mean she'd ever let him get away with trash-talking.
"A fate to be avoided. I've seen you cleat someone in the face-and that was before you'd turned immortal." He pointed at her shoes. "You will no' need those."
"The importance of arch support can't be overstated. And what if I cut myself?"
"You're no' human, Chloe. There's no need for anything support. Hell, you could go without your bra."
She quirked a brow.
"So that's a solid 'nay' on the bra removal?" He sighed as if he'd just missed a goal. "Verra well. As for cutting your foot, you'd heal nigh instantaneously." He seized one of her hips, dragging her close. "Today, I plan to show you our lands-and what you're capable of."
Cue taken, MacRieve. She gazed up at him. Then hold on to your ass. 'Cause Chloe's about to lower the boom.
Your pace is impressive," Will told her. They'd jogged about a mile from the keep, taking a path toward Mount Conall, one of the higher vistas in the area. From there, they'd be able to see a good deal of the holding.
Important, since Will now felt the need to impress her. To acquaint her with all I've got.
"I've been holding back." She ran faster along the winding trail, tossing over her shoulder, "To show respect for your advanced age."
He raised his brows, treated to a view of her arse swishing in those tiny red shorts. He scrubbed his palm over his mouth. Her arse in motion was like catching a glimpse of the hereafter itself.
And she was teasing him to boot? He didn't know what had happened to her between the time when she'd gone up to change and when she'd returned, but something drastic had.
Her entire attitude had shifted from pissed to mischievous. Mayhap she was in a cheerier mood just to have renewed energy.
Oh, aye, he'd be getting back in that game. As Munro had pointed out the night before, it was indeed possible for Will to woo her-because he already had once.
The plan? Will was to do whatever he'd done on that day he and Chloe had shared.
So he intended to court, flirt, kiss, and touch, all while filling her ears with dirty words. And once he'd seduced her slowly over the day, he planned to take her in their bed again tonight.
Yet as his wolf gaze followed the back and forth swish of her arse, he feared . . .
I'll never make it back to the keep.
When he drew up beside her, he found her running with her face lifted to the sun, her lips curled with pleasure, and a shot of lust hit him like a punch to the gut. Her skin was just beginning to dampen.
In a casual tone, he observed, "Your eyes are bright, your skin glowing. Sex with me becomes you."
Her wee bare feet stutter-stepped, but she righted herself. "You don't look too shabby yourself. For a crypt keeper. Been meaning to ask you, how'd you keep warm before fire?"
So that's how she'd play this? "If you get hungry, just let me know." His gaze landed on her bouncing breasts. "We can stop for a bite."
"I don't do fast food. Not really into wolfing down my meals."
Ach, he liked her sass. "Nay, this meal will have many courses, a bounty overflowing. You can feast until you're . . . gorged."