"He is my life now."
Emma and Lachlain gazed at each other, until finally, he nodded. As he opened the cell door, Lachlain cleared his throat and said, "He'll respond best to, uh, physical checks from you."
Physical checks? At her nonplussed expression, he said, "He truly is like a wolf now. Just use whatever you know about wolves."
"Got it," she said, placing her bow on the ground near the cell. Lucia would growl, scratch, and bite if she had to. "Lock up behind me and leave. Please."
When Lachlain hesitated, Emma told him, "Let's go. She knows what she's doing."
"Verra well," he muttered. He laid his hand on Lucia's shoulder. "Bring my brother back to us."
"I intend to. Oh, one thing." She unstrapped her quiver and handed it to Emma. "You trace this directly to Annika. And bring your big husband with you."
Emma frowned, accepting it. "What's this?"
"Potentially the most powerful weapon in existence. Something lots of people and gods would kill for." But for me - it was an afterthought compared to Garreth.
With a swallow, Emma nodded. "I'll do it. Good luck, Aunt Luce."
Once Lachlain had locked her within and escorted Emma from the dungeon, Lucia eased closer to Garreth in the back of the cell. "Shhh, Garreth." She reached for him so slowly. He still wouldn't look at her, as if it would hurt him to. When she gingerly touched his chest, he flinched, not because of his wounds, but because she pained him.
She leaned up close to his ear and whispered, "I'm here, Garreth." He stiffened when she gave a stroke down his tense back. "I'm going to take care of you."
He openly scented her, probably no more than he ever had before, just more obviously. Not that he'd tried to hide it when he'd buried his face in her hair, inhaling deep.
"It's me. Lucia," she said softly. "I need you back."
Finally he faced her, but he still refused to meet her eyes. She wanted him to look directly at her, to recognize her. If he met her gaze, he might comprehend that this wasn't a dream.
Instead he was eyeing her like a wolf with its paw in a trap, warily, angrily. She sensed that any second he'd attack.
He doesn't think I'm real. Maybe he did think her his punishment.
With tentative movements, she gradually eased her arms around him, her hands meeting at his nape. She sighed with pleasure, merely from feeling him warm against her. "I missed you. So much. I don't want to part from you again."
The love she felt for this male overwhelmed her. Once, so long ago, Lucia had dreamed of a hearth, a husband, and children. Now it struck her that she'd always been waiting on this Lykae to help her realize those dreams.
"There," she murmured. "This isn't so bad, now is it?" His body was tense, thrumming. "Let's just calmly - "
Like a shot, his huge hands wrapped around her waist, and he tossed her down to the pallet on the floor. As he loomed over her, an animal intent burned in his blue eyes.
When he reached for her to claw her jeans from her body, she cried, "Scot, wait!" But she knew he wouldn't. The beast was in control, its image so pervasive, overlaying Garreth's face. The sight unnerved her, but if she loved Garreth, then she had to accept this facet of him.
So she didn't resist as he sliced her shirt and bra from her, nor when he bit away her panties in a frenzy. Her reflex was to close her legs, but he overpowered her, shoving her thighs open. He gazed at her naked sex for long moments, until she was squirming in his grip, surprised at how aroused she'd grown.
He slowly licked his lips, making her whimper. Then his hot mouth descended to her flesh. Licking, suckling... hungry. The beast was ravenous for its mate.
Her exhaustion, her worry for him, and the constant dread she'd been battling all were no match for his mouth's furious taking. Her legs fell wide, and she dug her fingers into his hair, gripping him tight.
When the pleasure hit her, she screamed, "Ah, Garreth, yes!" As he growled and licked, she rocked to his wicked tongue again and again until her orgasm finally subsided.
Once he tore his mouth from her, he ripped his own jeans away. Naked and crazed, he knelt before her. His swollen shaft strained toward her, pulsing, the broad head moist as it prepared to enter her.
He gripped her waist once more, positioning her on her hands and knees. She twisted around to lie on her back, but he shoved her right back the way he wanted her. Spreading her sex with his thumbs, he mounted her from behind with one swift thrust, bellowing with pleasure. After her orgasm, she was more than ready for him.
Clapping his palms under her shoulders, he drove into her with all his strength, seating himself so deep.
"Garreth!" She gave herself up to him. For now...
Long hours of frantic sex had passed, sweating bouts of animalistic pleasure as MacRieve had taken her from behind repeatedly. But now at last, by dint of her coaxing - and biting - Lucia had gotten him positioned above her, with his hips wedged between her thighs.
Finally, they faced each other. Yet even as he moved over her, languidly rocking inside her, he still hadn't met her gaze. "Look at me, Garreth."
Without ever increasing his savoring pace, he thrust deeper, growling as he kneaded her breasts.
She bit her lip, fighting to keep her eyes open. "Please come back to me." The act was not as crazed - measured strokes instead of writhing bodies - but it was just as intense. Already she was on the edge. "I'm here, and I need you." When she tried to kiss him, he buried his face against her neck, licking her heated skin.
His sweat-slicked chest slid across her nipples, his rigid shaft plunging relentlessly. Her claws dug into the taut muscles of his ass as he worked to pleasure her. Tension stole through her, coiling tight. Head thrashing, she undulated beneath him -
"Garreth!" she screamed, coming around him, bucking wildly.
At once, he yelled out, the sound reverberating off the walls around them. She could feel his spurting seed, his shaft pulsing with each forceful wave. Rising up on straightened arms, he arched his back sharply, grinding his hips between her spread legs, groaning as he poured hotly inside her....
When he collapsed atop her, his heart thundered over hers.
Still panting, she grasped his face, tugging him to look at her. "Garreth, I'm here." He'd made love to her. Surely he'd return now! "Come back to me...."
Instead, he averted his eyes and pulled out from her. Settling on the pallet to sleep, he dragged her to him, tucking her back against his front. Though fatigued from her earlier trials, and now exhausted by his merciless attentions, she lay tense under the weight of his arm.
While he slumbered, she strove not to cry. I've failed. She couldn't bring him back. He would've been better off if he had never found her.
When she carefully slid out from under his arm, he gave a chuffing growl in sleep, but he didn't wake. Sitting with her back against the cool stone, she gazed up at the ceiling, eyes watering. Her efforts not to cry - and not to give up - continued, but she waged a losing battle.
She'd just been so certain that Garreth would recognize her, had been so sure that the reason no Lykae came back from this beastly state was that they'd never had a new reason to. Mourned mates never came back from the brink - but she had.
Yet Garreth lay unaware. I couldn't save him.
She drew him closer, cradling his head in her lap. When he emitted another soft growl, she gazed down at him. His brows were drawn, his eyes darting behind his lids, his muscles jerking in sleep.
Was he remembering killing her? Would he relive it over and over again?
She loved him so much. But it hadn't been enough to bring him back. Lightning struck outside as a tear fell, followed by another and another. She couldn't stem them, stopped trying to. "I w-want you b-back, Scot," she murmured as she wept. "I need you so much. And I c-couldn't save you." Soon she cried too hard to speak, sobbing with her mouth open, lips parted around stammering breaths. Rocking him, her teardrops fell -
"Lousha?" he rasped.
She stilled, every muscle in her body going tense. "G-Garreth?" She stared down at him; her tears had been spilling onto his face, wetting his cheek.
Now he frowned. "Canna have you cryin'," he vacantly muttered.
"Just stay with me," she pleaded, swiping the back of her hand over her face.
"Want you, Lousha. So much."
Turning his head, he gazed up, finally meeting her eyes. His irises flickered from blue to gold and back. "My Lousha. Dreamin' you?"
"No, y-you're not dreaming me!"
He stiffened against her. "What is this?" He sat upright, separating his body from hers, leaving her feeling cold, bereft. "You're... dead," he bit out, his eyes tormented.
"I'm not! I'm safe here with you." She sidled up to him on the end of the pallet.
"You're no' real." He ripped at his chest again. "You died."
She clutched his arm. "Please stop hurting yourself! I'm real, Garreth. I'm here."
He reached out to touch her face, yet then he closed his hand in a fist. "Nay, I hurt you... with that sword. I-I... killed you."
"You did no such thing!" She caressed his wet cheek. "You could never hurt me. Cruach infected you - made you see things. He made you believe you'd harmed me, but you couldn't. The Instinct wouldn't let you."
"How do I know I'm no' seeing things now?" He shook his head hard. "How do I know I'm no' still there?"
She could tell he so desperately wanted to believe. But he would have to doubt his own mind, his own memories. "You're not there. What you thought happened was nothing more than the trick of an evil god." She grasped his face. "You're here with me in Kinevane. Believe this, believe in us."
He heard her words as if from a distance, had dreamed that for hours they'd spent their lust together. Harried, aggressive sex over and over. Until this last time, when he'd made love to her.
And then had come her tears, each drop like a slap, waking him from some murky twilight.
Now Garreth couldn't distinguish what was real or illusion. For days, he'd slipped deeper into the abyss, convinced he'd murdered the only woman he'd ever loved - as she'd begged him to spare her life.
Now he was supposed to believe that Lucia was in his arms, warm and safe. She expected him to accept that the woman he wanted more than life had come here for him and was in this dark cell right now.
He yearned for it with everything in his being, wanted it so much he was probably deluding himself. "I saw your... body. How can I no' believe that was real?"
"Choose me, Garreth. Right now, choose me and believe this." She wrapped her arms around him, pressing her cheek against his neck. He buried his face in her soft hair.
Choose her? Could he be imagining how warm she was? Imagining the exquisite scent of her hair or how she trembled against him?
If this is a dream, then I never want it to end....
He clasped her shoulders, holding her before him. "Lousha, I'll always choose you."
"G-Garreth, your eyes... they're turning golden." She gave him a watery smile. "You're really back?"
"Ah, gods, I thought I killed you." He hugged her tight to him again. "I thought I'd lost you forever." He held her for long moments, shuddering against her, rocking her in his arms. "I have to have you - canna live without you."
"I've got you back now, Scot." He felt her shuddering, too. "And Cruach's dead. He's gone forever."
Garreth barely remembered the god, had only brief flashes of memory. That was more than enough. "How? The dieumort... he destroyed it?"
She pulled back to face him. "The quiver you gave me came in handy. Of course, now we have a slight problem." When he frowned, she explained, "It's replicating the dieumort. Now I understand why the gods were so resistant to this. Annika will have to decide what to do with it."
"You should have told me about Cruach."
She curled her knees to her chest, sitting against the cold cell wall. "I was... ashamed. You saw him - he's a monster. Only Regin and Nïx knew."
He moved beside her, rubbing her arm. "How did it happen?"
"He disguised himself, becoming everything I thought I'd ever wanted. I was so young, and I believed I was in love."
A spike of jealousy burned in Garreth's gut - I want her love. She should love me!
"I wouldn't see reason. I left Valhalla with what I thought was a young man named Crom."
"Why would your parents no' help you? They're gods, right?"
"They forbade me to wed him and forced me to make a covenant that I would never see him again. Once I'd broken the covenant, they were forever unable to help me." Her eyes were stark. "Even after I was trapped with Cruach in that lair."
That had been the vilest place Garreth could ever have imagined. And for her to be a mere girl, captive to that monster? How terrified she must have been. "How did you escape him?"
"At the back of that cavern is a high cliff overlooking the ocean. I... jumped. I hit the water, mostly, but was tossed upon the r-rocks."
Jumped. Which meant she'd been driven to kill herself.
Lucia was studying his reaction. Could she tell how his rage was building? Or how badly he yearned to punish that fuck for ever laying a finger on her? Garreth's claws flared - to slash through his neck once more. Slowly....
"Garreth, your eyes are turning blue."
"Go on, Lousha."
"But - "
After a hesitation, she said, "Regin had followed me out of Valhalla - at twelve years old, she'd given up everything to go after me, because she'd sensed Cruach was evil. She rescued me from the ocean, refusing to let me die."
"She saved you?"
Lucia nodded. "For days, she dragged me across dimensions. Then she basically dropped me on Skathi's altar and commanded the goddess, 'Fix her.' Though Skathi knew she'd bestow her archery skill with the life force necessary to save me, she ultimately agreed to heal me. In return for those gifts, I had to make concessions. Just like the rest of her followers, I was to be as untouched as she was. And I was to become Cruach's jailer."
"What did he do to make you jump? You had to believe you were going to die. Lousha, what did he do to you?"
I'm losing him again, Lucia realized with dread, and just when I've gotten him back. Everything in her rebelled against burdening him with this tale. And she knew in this critical time, the pain she'd impart might drive him directly back to the solace of the beast.
"I have to know, Lousha. You canna keep secrets from me any longer!"
"I'm not saying I'll never tell you, but right now, with all that's happened - "
"I must know. Everything!"
After a hesitation, she gave him a firm nod. "Then I'll tell you everything, Scot. It was bad. I've never been more frightened. I jumped, Regin saved me, Skathi healed me. And I lived a very long time until I met this Lykae, who was everything I should fear, and yet I wanted him more than I'd ever wanted anything. Though I still had to run from him, I secretly thrilled every time he chased me." Lucia knelt before him on the pallet. "Together he and I found a weapon to kill my nightmare. And together we did just that, freeing me forever and saving the world. Yet now, when all my trials are done at last, and I can finally look forward, he wants to look back."
MacRieve moved to kneel before her as well, cupping her face in his palms. "Because he feels if you were strong enough to face those trials, he should be strong enough to hear of them."
"But he doesn't know that I plan to spend eternity with him." She leaned up to kiss his stubborn chin. "He'll have plenty of time to learn everything about me, and eventually I will tell him everything. At this moment, I just want to start my life with him."