"I figured out a way," he said with a shrug.
"Did you... hurt yourself?"
"Would you care?"
"I'm not unfeeling, MacRieve."
"I figured it out. That's all you need to know."
By using other women? Lucia could just imagine his clan bringing females to satisfy him. She didn't even want to contemplate why the thought burned her, like acid seething on tender skin. "Are you sure that cuff will keep you from going all... wolfy?"
He raised a brow. "It's worked for the better part of a year." When she still looked doubtful, he added, "They put a House of Witches guarantee on it."
Then it would work.
"Wolfy, is it? And what do you know about my turning?"
"I asked around when I figured out I was your... mate."
He stood, crossing to her. "Well, let's hear it."
"Basically, you'll lose your mind, turning animalistic, hunting me down until you claim me repeatedly, biting my neck and marking me as your possession. Nothing will stop you - no cage can hold you. Did I miss anything?"
"Aye, Lousha." His gaze raked over her and his voice deepened. "The fact that you're going to like it."
Merely talking about marking her flesh made Garreth grow hard as steel. It was a burning need within him. "Do you want to know the rules or no'?" At her glare, he said, "Now, I'm sure you want your bow back. And every indication from you says you want my... knowledge. So you're going to let me have my way with you each night we're aboard. And also whenever there's a storm with lightning to disguise yours - "
"It won't happen! Does what I need or want count for nothing in your mixed-up idea of a relationship?"
"Aye, if you'll admit what you truly need and want. My Instinct's screaming that you need me, that you ache. I sense it in you - hell, I'm sensing it right now. I canna rest until I ease you."
"I didn't ask for this! For you - "
"You ask for it every goddamned time you're near me, beauty." He closed in on her, until their bodies were only inches apart. "Doona ever doubt that."
She gazed up at him, lips parted, her breaths shallowing.
"Do you know what it's been like to scent your desire for me? I'm lured by it, wanting it so badly, and then you lash out at me. Can you imagine the frustration, Lousha? I've got a year of it pent up inside me." He leaned down, and against her neck, he murmured, "Or what it was like to find my female after so many centuries and then to be a heartbeat away from being inside her?" At her ear, he said, "I canna count how many times I re-imagined that night, fantasizing I'd sunk into your trembling body. In my mind, I've claimed you a thousand times. And from your expression, lass, I am no' the only one who's imagined us together."
"No!" she cried, even as she stared at his lips and moistened her own. Her hips had begun subtly rocking toward him. Her hardened nipples were jutting points against her red shirt. "Let me go!"
"Damn you, Lousha!" He twisted away, launching his fist at the exterior wall, punching a hole straight through. "What do you want from me? Tell me why your words never match your actions! Why you respond so sweetly, then grow afraid?" He exhaled, regretting his show of temper. "It's making me crazed."
She backed away. "I can't. Because you wouldn't understand."
- Soothe her. Be gentle. She knows fear. -
Lucia looked woebegone and fragile. And as much as Garreth talked a big game, the Instinct was driving him not only to claim her, but also to please her.
When she dropped her head into her hands, his brows drew together. "Come now, doona fret like this." He curled his forefinger under her chin, lifting her face. "Vow to the Lore that you never want to see me again. And I'll go," he said. "That's all you have to do to end this running." What a gamble.
What a lie...
Say it! Lucia's lips parted to answer, to tell MacRieve that she wanted him gone from her life, never to return. To tell him she didn't desire him and never would.
But everything he accused her of was true. He touched her and judgment was lost, discipline gone so easily she knew she never had a chance of denying them anyway.
Damn it, tell him you hate him! No words came out. When she glanced away, he said softly, "Face it, lass. Respect my will in this. I'll be inside you this night."
"I'll fight you."
"Ah, we both know you'll melt for me. One kiss and you're mine."
He leaned down to kiss her ear. Not the ears... Her nipples budded even harder. Even as she wanted to arch her back to rub them against his chest, she murmured, "Impossible."
Before she could protest, he'd lifted her in his arms.
After kicking the balcony doors closed, he carried her to the bed.
"I can't do this! I won't do this."
Once he set her down, she scrambled to the head of the bed, curling her knees to her chest. "I won't let you make love to me."
"Ach, woman!" He raked his fingers through his hair. "You want me as much as I want you."
"Assuming that's true - "
" - I can't. Not now."
"It's no' your time of the month. I know that."
"Ew." Valkyrie didn't have periods. "You're the only one here with a monthly cycle, werewolf."
He scowled. "Then what?"
"Have you ever heard of the Skathians?"
He thought for a moment. "Aye. Man haters. Like the Amazons but crueler. And with arrows."
She raised her brows at that. "I happen to worship the great huntress Skathi." Worship, but sometimes I hate her.
"You? Nay, you canna. The Skathians were from ages ago."
"I'm over a thousand years old," she said. "Skathi is the one who gave me my bow." And my abilities. She can take them away as well. She longs to. "I'm chaste in her name."
Oh, bluidy hell, no. "You canna be serious."
"I am. I made vows, MacRieve. My reasons are my own, but I will never take a man into my body. It's a religion to me."
Suspicions arose. Was she lying? "I never heard this about you."
She glanced away, and her hair fell over the side of her face. "Besides you, only Regin and Nïx know."
"Why would you do this? A life without sex?" His tone was astonished - he could barely comprehend such a lack.
"Again, my reasons are my own. But it is done."
"And can easily be undone."
"Never take a man into you? You're... a virgin?" Garreth had suspected so, and didn't know how he felt about that. Once he introduced her to sex, would Lucia be tempted to sow her oats with other males? His claws dug into his palms at the thought.
"I wasn't born into that order," she said, with a shadow of some unrecognizable emotion in her eyes.
Cryptic words? So she wasn't untouched. Now he had to wonder how many lovers she'd had. "When did you join?"
"What does that matter?" she cried.
"There are no ways around this vow of yours?"
"Skathians are chaste. Period. We're expected to be pure."
"Do you believe that rot? That you have to be chaste or virgin to be pure?" he demanded. "Or that it's preferred anyway? Does that mean all mothers are impure?"
"Of course not. But I believe in believing in something, a higher purpose. This is mine." When he was still shaking his head, she asked, "MacRieve, what do you hold most sacred in the world?"
You. "My clan."
"Imagine if I forced you to forsake it for eternity. You'd grow to hate me. The same applies here." She met his eyes. "I will hate you forever if I lose this part of me."
This was the reason she'd run? His hackles rose again. The Instinct was sharp. - She means what she says. Coax what you can't take. -
But anger surged inside him. He'd never doubted that she wanted him back, and so for months, he'd wrestled with confusion, grasping for answers. The mystery had eaten at him, the bewilderment...
In China, she'd gazed at him with longing - right before she'd loosed a flaming arrow to blow him up.
She had wanted him, but instead of welcoming him to her bed, she'd honored this Skathi. Lucia had denied them to keep her ridiculous, useless vow of chastity. Which was nearly sacrilegious in itself to a Lykae - their kind revered all things physical, like sex.
A year of his life... wasted. He shot to his feet and paced. "This was why you ran? Over some purposeless vows to a second-rate goddess?"
She gasped. "I left because I have things to do around the Accession."
"So many bluidy secrets. Has anyone ever told you that you're a high-maintenance mate? By the gods you're a complicated woman! The first night I saw you I wished for a female who would give me a challenge. Now I wish I could take it back." After digging his sat-phone from his bag, he stormed for the door, snatching up the bowcase on the way out.
Out on the deck, the rain was a cool mist. Garreth raised his face to it, struggling for calm. Once he'd gotten the worst of his ire under control, he called his brother. "Lachlain, I have her."
"That's excellent! Are you being patient with her?"
Hesitation, then he admitted, "Nay, no' exactly, but I'm trying to be."
"Watch yourself, brother. I will never forgive myself for the things I did to Emma." Lachlain's voice was rough with regret. "Doona make the same mistake. And no' like Bowen either. Learn from our misjudgment."
Their first cousin Bowen had treated his mate, Mariketa the Awaited, even worse than Lachlain had Emma. Before Bowen had accepted that Mariketa was his, he'd almost killed her.
"Is the Valkyrie bristling that you've caught her?"
"Oh, aye," Garreth said, relating all that Lucia had just told him, from the apocalypse to the vows, finishing with, "I want to throttle her."
"You're no' really letting her go with you to stop this apocalypse?"
"Bluidy hell, no. Just letting her think that until I can get more information out of her."
"Good then," Lachlain said. "For now, you can start fresh with the Valkyrie. You have the opportunity to no' fuck up with her. Find the patience."
Patience? Before Garreth could correct him, Lachlain said, "Take the edge off by yourself if you have to." He added in a mutter, "Gods know I did."
Garreth heard Emma sleepily say, "Lachlain, come back to bed. It's late." Two in the afternoon in Scotland was late for a vampire.
"I'll be there in a second, love."
Garreth felt a moment of envy, then grew shamed. After Lachlain's torture and imprisonment at the hands of the Horde, he above all men deserved the solace his pale-haired bride had been giving him over the last year. "Go to your queen, brother."
"Call me tomorrow," Lachlain said. "We have much more to discuss. Remember - she'll come around if you treat her well and respect her beliefs."
Her beliefs. Little hypocrite. Garreth loathed vows like hers, thought them ridiculous. Lykae revered food, touch, sex. She didn't eat, wouldn't have sex, but by the gods, he'd set to touching her. Tonight. Aye, he would -
"Remember, Garreth, you only get one female. Ever."
After he hung up with Garreth, Lachlain returned to bed, quietly easing in beside Emma.
But she was still awake. "Was that Garreth?"
"Aye." He pulled her into his arms, inhaling her sweet scent. "He's found the Archer."
"How's she taking it?" She briefly peeked up, reading his expression. "That good, huh?"
"It's hard when one's mate is other. Think of what we went through. And Bowen and Mariketa?"
Bowen had probably had it hardest of any of them. He'd believed his mate was dead, had mourned her loss for well over a century. Then, just this year, he'd met Mariketa the Awaited, a witch. When he'd begun to fall hopelessly for her, he'd hated himself for his unfaithfulness, hated her for tempting him, accusing her of casting a spell over him. Bowen had found out nearly too late that things... weren't always as they seemed with Mariketa.
Emma asked, "Do you think it will work out for Aunt Luce and Garreth?"
"I do know this - my brother is nigh head over heels for your aunt."
He could feel her grinning against his chest. "If he's anything like you, then my aunt is going to be head over heels for your brother."
"Let's hope. Garreth has long needed a good woman in his life. Now, aingeal" - he curled his forefinger under her chin, lifting her face - "did you happen to wake thirsty?"
Though exhaustion weighed on Lucia, she had no hope for sleep.
A storm was boiling outside, and as the boat slogged through the night, the bow collided with log after log, keeping her on edge. Now she understood why the fore cabin wasn't preferred.
Long after MacRieve had left, she stared at the door, imagining what would have happened if she'd made different choices, if she could have enjoyed a night with a virile male, with no repercussions. The only thing between them was her past, her shameful past.
And her blighted future.
If the Scot was disgusted by her vow of chastity, how would he react when he knew she'd bedded the devil?
She was lying in the dark, peering at the cabin's new fist-sized porthole, when MacRieve returned, soaked through. Without a word, he grabbed a shaving kit out of his bag, then headed for the shower.
Shaving? And he took my bow with him?
When he exited ten minutes later, he wore nothing but a towel and his cuff. His face was smooth, now clean shaven. He set her bow case by the cabin door, then shook out his hair - wolflike.
Dear gods, the man was fine. His damp skin was tan, his chest muscular perfection, with golden hair on the center. She wanted to rub her face against it.
At the mere sight of him like this, her exhaustion began to fade, her traitorous body readying against her will. She dug her curling claws into her palms and furtively clenched her thighs.
"My path is clear to me," he said, his expression inscrutable.
"Nay, beauty. Was thinking." He sat at the edge of the bed. "You weren't completely chaste in the bayou that first night. So I figure we can do whatever we did then."
"Whatever we did?"
"You can still be chaste, just no' have intercourse. That's why you stopped me in the swamp - if I had no' tried to take you, I'll bet you would've let me continue to my own end."
Her lips parted. "No, you can't know that."
"You said you will no' take a male into your body. Does no' mean I canna suckle and stroke you. Does no' mean you canna do the same to me."
"We'll lose control." He could seduce her - she would surrender to that wild recklessness inside her. "You'll try to get me to do more."
"Will no'. I'll wait until you tell me you're ready. You'll have to tell me you want me."
She hesitated. "I might get... caught up and say something I'll regret."
"Then you'd have to say it when we are no' in bed."
He was getting that look in his eyes. Her heart began racing, drowning out any lingering fatigue. Before her mind shut down, she needed to extract a vow from him. "No matter what happened. No matter what I said. Or did?"
"I'd never do anything you dinna want. Why I got this cuff from the bluidy witches."
"I mean it! You would vow to the Lore?"
"Aye, I vow it," he said. "Are we agreed?"
"I don't..." She trailed off, staring up at his mesmerizing gaze. What woman could turn away a male who looked at her like this? At length, she gave a shaky nod.
He wasted no time reaching for her clothes. "Let's take this off you." He pulled her halter top over her head, seeming to go speechless at the sight of her dark red bra. She hadn't chosen red because she'd known he'd see it tonight - truthfully, almost all her lingerie was now scarlet and crimson.
She must've been unconsciously buying them. For him...
He pressed her back on the bed, then removed his towel. Out of habit, she averted her gaze, but everywhere else on his body was titillating too. She wanted to sigh at those thick muscular thighs, dusted with more golden hair.
As he eased his towering, naked frame down beside her, he began slowly undressing her with grazing kisses. When he bared her breasts, his lips were only inches away from one of her nipples. They hardened for him, budding before his eyes.
He flashed her a wolfy, dangerous look, knowing his effect on her. "They want to be sucked." He leaned down and wrapped his lips around one, flicking his tongue all over it. She helplessly arched up, gasping with pleasure as it pebbled in his mouth. Her gasp turned to a moan when he suckled her, hard, again and again.
Once he moved to her other nipple, he left the first one achy and damp. Dimly, she was aware that he'd continued stripping her but hadn't acknowledged she was naked in a bed with him until he reared back on his knees.
Raking his gaze over her, his voice a deep rumble, he said, "Look at you. You make my mouth water." His rigid penis pulsed, and a shining drop beaded the broad crown.
He began skimming his hand down her belly, but once he reached her sex, she stiffened. She couldn't help it, even after his suckling had made her body boneless with need.
"Let me pet you. Or take my hand and show me how you want me to touch you."
"Just... just do it like you did that night in the cell."
"Was so long ago, I canna quite remember. Show me." He seized her hand, and with his gaze catching hers, he sucked her forefinger between his lips, wetting it. Then he placed it against her throbbing clitoris, murmuring, "This is the finger you prefer, if memory serves."
She was too aroused to be embarrassed, too far gone not to begin stroking herself there.
His lids went heavy, and he growled low in his throat. "That's it, lass." He moved to kneel between her thighs.
Masturbating to his riveted gaze, spreading moisture all around, she undulated her hips to her hand, her other arm falling over her head.
He began massaging her inner thighs, spreading her legs wider and wider, while her eyes fluttered shut.
Yet soon she felt his fingers stroking her folds, probing her opening. "MacRieve!"
"Keep goin'." His chest was heaving. "I'm going to put my finger in. Nothing more. Just my - "
"No!" She slammed her knees shut.
He forced them back open. "Then just my tongue." With his callused palms flat on her inner thighs, pinning her legs open, he leaned down and set his mouth directly upon her sex.
She sucked in a shocked breath. Lightning lit the room.
He spread her flesh, licking her up and down. "I've waited my whole life for this," he rasped against her, his accent so thick. "Will never get enough of you." Shuddering with pleasure, he began flicking, teasing, nipping....
She moaned - loudly. Rain and wind pounded the balcony doors open. A fine mist dewed her skin.
Seeming drugged with bliss, he asked, "You've never had this?"
"You'll be wantin' it again?"
Another thorough lick had her back arching. "Ah, yes!"
"Good lass." He wrapped those brawny arms around her thighs. "Your taste maddens me, dreamed of it, fantasized about doing this tae you." He circled his tongue over her clitoris. "Have you imagined me kissing you here?"
"Yes," she moaned. She had, but had never dreamed it would be this wicked....
His pace was slow, savoring, but his body was taut, tension in every line of his corded muscles. He seemed as if he were only just keeping himself from setting upon her in a frenzy. His knee was drawn up, and his narrow hips were grinding against the bed. She wanted her hands on his rock-hard ass, wanted to feel him moving so sensuously.
As she grew closer to her climax, he gave a harsh groan against her. His eyes had flickered blue, and she'd seen a glimpse of his beast. Yet for some reason, the thought that he couldn't quite control his reaction didn't frighten her - it aroused her even more.
The tremors began, pleasure as she'd never imagined....
Just before he took her clitoris between his lips, he growled, "Come hard for your male," then he suckled her.
"Ah, gods!" Her thighs fell wide open as she wantonly bucked to his mouth. Lightning flashed like bomb bursts outside. "Oh, yes!" She drew a breath, needing to scream. But he put his palm over her mouth for her to cry out against.
She did. Over and over...
He didn't stop licking her orgasm the first or even the second time she pressed his head away. Just continued feasting, grinding his aching cock into the bed.
Finally, he tore himself away from her with a yell, rising up on his knees. Already he was on the verge of coming - even before he saw her spread out before him like an offering.
Her thighs were still parted, revealing her drenched sex. Her soft folds glistened. Her breasts were rising and falling with her hectic breaths.
Her eyes... silvery and filled with lust as she stared at his swollen cock.
She rose up, reaching for him, giving him a slow stroke along his shaft.
"Cup me." When she put her cool palm against his aching bollocks, hefting them, he choked out, "Now do both." As she fondled his sac and stroked, he went nigh dizzy with pleasure. Somehow, he managed to utter the words, "Put your lips on it."
She leaned in, looking like she was considering it but then hesitated.
"Have you ever done this?"
She whispered, "No, never."
"Do you want tae?" When she gave a tentative nod, he said, "I'll show you." She's going to suckle it? A dream? Another fantasy to join the thousands over the last year?
Holding the back of her head with one shaking hand and his cock with the other, he guided her closer. "Taste me, lass." He was quaking with anticipation, fearing he'd spontaneously lose his seed.
He inhaled a ragged breath as her tongue darted out. She licked the slit; his eyes rolled back in his head, and he bucked uncontrollably to her tongue. When she drew back, he said, "Nay, Lousha, I'll hold still. Just take me in." Feeding his shaft to her once more, he rasped, "Suck it between your lips."
With his gaze holding hers, he pressed his cockhead into her hot, wet mouth, groaning as her tongue greeted him. "Gods, woman!"
Still gazing up at him, she sucked it deeper, with her little cheeks hollowing -
No, no... canna hold my seed! With a desperate groan, he tucked his hips under, somehow pulling out of that hungry heat. "'Bout tae come." He pressed her back on the bed, then took his cock in his fist. "Do you want me tae come atop you?" If I canna mark you in one way, I will in another.
She gasped at his words, then nodded eagerly, arching her back.
After a single pump of his fist, he gave a brutal yell, releasing his semen over her. As he ejaculated, her body quivered with each drop of his hot seed. Again and again, he lashed her torso and breasts, her nipples....
Once he'd finally finished spending, he wiped her off with his T-shirt, then drew her tight into his arms. They lay with their hearts thundering.
Between kisses on her neck, her ears, her face, he said, "I'll do this to you till there's something to take the place of your vows - until you see the two of us together as your religion. Mark my words, Lousha, in time, you'll be praying for me inside you."
Lightning struck directly outside, a boom that shook the entire boat. But Garreth was already awake.
It was just after four in the morning - the time he was usually on the trail of Lucia, hoping to get a jump on her. If he'd even bothered to sleep.
Earlier, he'd petted her hair until she'd passed out, then he'd dozed fitfully himself - until he'd awakened with his shaft hard as wood.
After debating whether to wake her with his tongue back between her thighs, he decided not to push her too quickly. So he sat in the cabin's chair, ignoring the ache in his shaft, and gazed at her, his favorite sight.
He'd never seen her like this before - still. In sleep, she panted her breaths, her brows drawn.
Another bolt. In the beginning, he'd thought all the lightning coming from her would take some getting used to. He'd thought wrong. He craved seeing it, knew it meant she was near, and it alerted him to her moods.
Lightning had struck every time just before she'd attacked him. He liked to think it was from regret....
Now things were looking up for them. The unbelievable pleasure they'd just shared was only the beginning. He'd seduce her to surrender more.
Wait, had she moaned? Maybe she had the same subject on her mind as he did.
He frowned when she did it again, and louder. No, it was a moan not of pleasure but of fear. A nightmare, getting worse. More lightning blasted down, then came a whimper.
"Lousha, rest easy." He climbed back in bed with her, pulling her across his chest to run his fingers through her hair again. Though she never woke, she calmed.
Yet not before he felt tears on his chest. "Ach, love, what's this?" he murmured, but she slumbered on.
He needed to uncover what had befallen his mysterious little mate. Lykae reveled in mysteries. He'd peel away the layers, find out everything he could about her. But with care. For Lucia, he would be patient, would temper his selfishness, his aggression.
Ah, lass, your secrets' days are numbered.
"Still as ruggedly handsome," MacRieve rumbled without opening his eyes, "as you found me last night, Valkyrie."
Lucia jerked back, dragging the sheet with her. Luckily he hadn't seen her hand poised just above his cheek. She'd been an inch away from stroking the backs of her fingers against his stubble.
He finally cracked open his eyes. "But look all you like. Happy to show you the whole package again."
"Funny, Scot." When she'd awakened to a cloudless dawn, her first thought had been that she needed to run - MacRieve would be closing in on her! Then she'd remembered the night before.
She'd already been caught. Yet her worst fears hadn't been realized - because he'd vowed not to take her. Relaxing a shade, she'd quietly turned to watch him at rest, inwardly sighing at the magnificent male she shared a bed with.