The colossal man stood, towering over her, as tall as MacRieve with bulkier muscles. He had a straight scar that ran through his eyebrow and down his face, making him look dangerous. He seemed to be simmering with aggression. But his expression was neutral.
"Pretty big wall you've got here," she said.
"Aye. It surrounds hundreds of acres." With a polite nod, Madadh said, "I'll leave you to it, MacRieve."
Once he'd exited the room, she got a better look at the feeds, and her jaw slackened. Nightmare creatures teemed outside the fence, hundreds of them, with more arriving in droves.
All here for me?
Chloe hadn't taken her eyes off the screens; Will hadn't taken his eyes off her.
Ach, she was a bonny thing. Now that her hair was drying, it curled into fetching disarray, glossy little spikes framing her pixie features. Her changeable eyes gleamed with intelligence.
Bonny and brave. Though her heart beat with fear, you couldn't tell by her stoic demeanor.
"This is what you saved me from?" she asked with hardly a tremor in her voice. "What I would've seen last night? I'm glad of the bag now. Can those things breach the wall?"
"No' many have the stones to invade a Lykae stronghold when we're all a hair-trigger away from turning. We protect our own, lass. Understand me, I will slaughter anyone who gets near you."
"You must have a secret way out."
Why was she so sodding eager to go? Females usually tripped all over themselves to get near him. Why was this one not bonding to him? "You canna leave. Chloe, as I said, these creatures will no' kill you at first. You would no' be so fortunate as that."
She bit her bottom lip. "I can hide . . ." She trailed off when he shook his head.
"You lost a lot of blood at the crossroads last night. They can use it to track you. I vow to the Lore that they would find you within minutes, and that they would torture and abuse you." By the way she gazed at his eyes, he knew they'd flickered blue. "I canna let you be hurt."
"How long will this siege last?"
"Likely until your father is found."
"Why can't they track him?"
"No blood. And he's probably camouflaging his location with mystical means anyway. He uses aspects of the Lore when it suits him." For decades, Will's former prison had been concealed through magic; the other prisons still were. The Order's torques were mystically reinforced and empowered. Webb had even used a soothsayer's help, though Nix had clearly been furthering her own ends.
"Maybe I can get some mystical means?"
"So desperate to leave?" His face tightened. "You could purchase a concealment talisman from the witches for hundreds of thousands of dollars-oh, wait, they're the ones who kidnapped and sold you!"
Her lips thinned. "If my dad showed up here, what would happen to him? MacRieve, I can't let him be hurt. My mom died when I was a baby, and he was all I had. He's been a great dad, kind and supportive. My biggest complaint is that he always travels way too much."
"And guess what he's been doing on those trips," he said, hating the stricken look on her face, hating that he'd caused it.
In a softer tone, she asked, "What did my father do to you?"
Will avoided her eyes. "I canna speak of it. No' yet."
He could tell she wanted to press, but to her credit, she didn't. "You'll tell me when you're ready, I guess."
"In any case, you're safest here."
She started to pace. "So here I'll be staying?"
"Could you sound more put out? It's no' so bad here. I am no' so bad. Why are you so averse to me? I know you're attracted to me." Mayhap that was the way to get her to bond-by using her lust against her. Lykae were notoriously brutal warriors, but they could also be sly tricksters, able to coax and maneuver their prey as expertly as they could seize it.
She straightened. "You can't know that."
"I scented you in the shower last night. And then there's the matter of your dreams. Mayhap they included me?"
Her blush said bingo. Satisfaction filled him.
She pursed her lips. "Attraction is involuntary. But if I had control over it, I wouldn't be attracted to you."
"Why no'?" he asked, his mood gone surly just like that.
"I don't have time. I need to find my dad, MacRieve. We left things unsaid between us. Not to mention that you want to murder him. Plus, if you must know, I'm due at Olympic training camp in Europe in less than two weeks."
That soon? Still, he was determined to get her there. He'd figure it out later. For now, he needed some kind of bond with her to soothe this feral restlessness he felt. While he'd been running headlong toward her, she'd been looking for the exit. "I will no' speak of any of this today."
"Today is my day to convince you to accept me as yours. You will give it to me." When he moved in even closer, she backed up until her arse met the desk.
Before she could say a word, he'd lifted her on top of it, easing his hips between her knees. He caught a peek down her blouse, was thrilled to spy the black bra he'd put in the wardrobe last night, the one he'd imagined molded over her plump breasts.
She moistened her lips, her breaths shallowing, her body already trembling with lust.
The way to bind her to him was obviously through sex; sex was impossible. Gods, I wish I was . . . right.
But then, he didn't have to take them all the way, just her. All he had to do was give Chloe a mind-scrambling orgasm while keeping his beast in check.
Two problems. That bastard might slip the leash. And Will had never set out to pleasure a female.
For all these centuries, his beast hadn't strayed from perfunctory sex in one animalistic position. It got a release, the nymph made her conquest, all was well. Will hadn't heard any complaints. Of course, he hadn't exactly stuck around afterward.
Kissing, oral sex, foreplay, these things were foreign to him.
I'll figure it the hell out.
When he imagined delving his tongue between Chloe's thighs, he shot hard as steel, and his beast stirred. He gritted his teeth, struggling to keep it caged.
Chloe tilted her head. "And why would I give you this day?"
"We're going to make a wager, you and I. At the end of today, if you still want to leave me, I'll try to get you a concealment talisman from the witches."
"Aye." He was such a twatting liar. But his ploy was working. She'd begun to relax-because she thought she was heading out tomorrow on her doomed quest to find her father.
At least she was loyal. Along with touch, sex, and food, Lykae revered loyalty. "If you give me a sporting chance to win you over, and I fail, then I'll help you leave."
Her gaze was on his lips when she murmured, "What would one day hurt?" Then she blinked up at him as if her own words had shocked her.
"Verra well." This close, he could see her long lashes were tipped with the tiniest fringe of blond. "We start now."
"Do one of those vows to the Lore first."
He froze. How to word this? "If you truly give yourself up to this day, enjoying everything I have to give you"-orgasms-"and still want to leave, I will help you"-for a total of two minutes before tossing you over my shoulder and dragging you back.
Having played soccer all her life, Chloe could recognize when another player was aiming to score. MacRieve planned on luring her to stay with sex! And it might work!
No, no, no.
Yes. Yes. Yes. She'd promised herself. And who better to lose her virginity with than a male like this? She could only imagine how experienced an immortal would be. She'd keep her heart closed off, sate some of these pressing urges, then be on her way tomorrow. "Okay, you have a deal."
"Good." He backed up, allowing her to hop off the desk. "I've something else to show you. My favorite spot on the entire property." Well, his mood had certainly improved. His grin was about the sexiest thing she'd ever seen.
At the front entrance, when he opened the door for her, she said, "Why are your nails black?" She'd noticed last night.
When he briefly flared them, she swallowed. "Any other anatomical differences between you and a standard-issue human?"
He bit his full bottom lip. "Aye, there's a major one. It's definitely something you've never seen before."
"Oh, God, what?"
"Better if I just show you." With a grave look, he started on the top button of his jeans.
Right when she was about to scream/faint/smile with delight, she realized he was janking her.
"MacRieve!" She swatted his hip, and he chuckled.
Now he was going to have a sense of humor on top of everything else?
"No other anatomical differences. Though you might term what you'll find in my jeans superhuman."
She knew he had to be kidding, but now he'd gotten her thinking about it.
They started down a new path. "As per the terms of our deal," he continued, "you're to give yourself up to this for a day, which means you should act like my mate."
"What do mates do?"
"Hold my hand." He took hers in his. "Look up at me adoringly."
So not a problem.
Though they'd barely passed anyone earlier, now more people were out. He'd initially tried to avoid them, but then MacRieve seemed to get caught up, introducing her as his mate with his shoulders back and his chin lifted.
His cockiness was breathtaking.
Everyone she met was kind to her, seeming just like regular folks. Well, except for the fact that they were uniformly good-looking. The women all looked the same age, and possessed an earthy type of sensuality. The males? She'd yet to see one that her team wouldn't catcall from their bus.
They must be braver than normal as well. If any of them were freaked out by an immortal army gathering outside their gate, they didn't show it.
After a while Chloe got used to MacRieve calling her his. She might even have liked it. What girl could resist the look of utter pride in his eyes?
She realized she was feeling excitement-and optimism-for the first time since this nightmare had begun. Her loneliness had ebbed until it had all but disappeared. She was in no immediate danger, she was uninjured, and her weeks-long dejection over her transition was lifting.
At least there were some high points to the Lore. Sexy Highlander high points . . .
When he squeezed her hand unexpectedly, she found herself grinning up at him. And he was already grinning down at her, like they were conspirators who'd pulled off some coup.
After they met yet another couple who gushed about how happy they were that she'd arrived, Chloe asked, "Why are they so friendly to me? You'd think they'd hate me like all the others out there."
He began leading her toward a forest of cypresses, oaks, and pines. "You're now a part of this pack. This is your clan too, Chloe. And anyone here would protect you with his or her life."
"My clan? So I'm already part of the team?"
"Oh, aye, we're always recruiting playmakers." Though clouds were rolling in, he didn't head back toward the lodge, just continued into the woods. "So how did you get started playing soccer?"
"I saw an Olympic match when I was five. After that, the game was all I could think about. When I was in college, I majored in soccer first." Yes, she'd earned her degree, but only by the skin of her teeth. "Do you have a career?" Her eyes widened. "I didn't even think to ask if you would miss work because of all this!"
That clearly amused him. "No nine-to-five for me, lass. I'm head of the Nova Scotia branch of the clan, and I serve my king however he needs me. But mainly, I'm a soldier. There have been no wars in some time, so I guess you could say I've been waiting for a new season to start."
"Have you been in a lot of wars?"
"Oh, aye. I used to search them out, especially against vampires. They're our natural enemies. But I will no longer seek out conflict."
"I've got a mate now. That changes everything."
She stopped. "You seem very confident about winning me over today. What if I resist those charms of yours?"
He curled his finger under her chin. "If you're feeling a fraction of what I'm feeling, then your pretty arse is mine." His eyes narrowed with intent. With possessiveness.
She swallowed. Still no dread? Just anticipation. For the first time, she allowed herself to entertain a startling thought: what if she and MacRieve were fated?
What if she'd dreaded being with another-because she'd been waiting for this Lykae to come into her life?
Taking her hand back in his, he started deeper into the woods. When they reached a river, he said, "Almost there. It's just past the opposite bank."
She gazed around for a bridge-
He pulled her into his arms, and leapt over the water.
In midair, she screeched, "What are you doing?"
When he landed, as easily as if he'd hopped from one step to the next instead of twenty feet across the water, he kept his arm under her ass, their faces close. "Ach, even your freckles are sexy."
Her heart skipped a beat.
After long moments, he released her. "We're here."
She turned away from him to get her bearings-and found an idyllic scene. In a clearing, a smaller rivulet wound through swaying grasses. Atop a slight rise to her left, a majestic tree rained white blossoms over a field of clover. The sky above was opaque. A warm drizzle had just begun to fall.
"We call this place the glade. Decades ago, when the Lykae first settled here, that tree was planted from seed. It's a sera cherry tree, from a different realm. They live for thousands of years."
"There are truly other realms?"
He nodded. "Most of the time, they're just cubbyholes in our landscape. You reach them through portals."
How much she could learn from him. Too bad she had to leave him. "It's beautiful, MacRieve. Thanks for bringing me here."
He frowned. "You never need to say thanks to me again."