He rose as well, dressing with obvious irritation. "We were no' exactly speaking much when I was ordering the talisman."
"That was only two days ago. Yet you're acting like everything's been settled with us."
"It has! We intended to start anew, remember? I've accepted that you need to feed from me. I'll claim you once more, and then you'll be mine forever."
"I haven't promised you anything, and you're illuminating why that was a smart move on my part. Do you try to hurt me? Or is it just a talent? Because let me tell you, you've hit me with some sharp zingers over the last week. Hey, at least you didn't puke today. Progress!"
Between gritted teeth, he said, "This is getting blown out of proportion."
"Do you expect me to wear this bracelet for eternity? What happens when I eventually want kids? Hell, you'd probably just cut off their heads, right?"
"Doona be ridiculous," he said with a scowl. "If we had children, we'd have to remain away from my clan, for fear our offspring would prey on others."
"Maybe they'd be dormant like I was. We could find out if you ever let me talk to my kind!"
She saw him digging his claws into his palms, but was too furious to care. "Never? Because all of them-down to the last male, female, and child-are evil?" She started off in the direction of her bra. "I'm sure you've met them all!"
He followed. "You're making more of this than you should!"
"I am? So it's my fault that I'm mad-because I am overreacting." Again, she was one decibel away from screeching.
His eyes widened. "I doona want to assign fault. That's no' what I meant."
She found her bra, yanking it on. "I thought we had a shot, thought I could make you see I'm not like the succubae you've encountered before. That's not even possible, is it?"
She was no victim, but that's what she was acting like-a pushover, rewarding his hostility with softness.
That was a losing strategy in soccer-and in life.
He was beginning to look alarmed. "If you want offspring, even after I've expressed concerns, I'll give them to you!"
"You're missing the point. Until you can get right with what I am, until you can imagine having kids with me, there is no hope for us! The thought of having a little girl like me should make you happy, not fill you with disgust. Whatever this is"-she waved from him to herself and back-"it's doomed."
"Doona bluidy say that!"
"You're blinded by hatred, and I won't tolerate being treated like shit anymore; ergo, doomed! My God, MacRieve. Even I'll admit defeat when I'm down twenty points with two minutes left on the clock. Anything else is just delusional."
As Will watched her striding away, he chuffed with displeasure.
His mate was walking away from him-directly after telling him she thought they were doomed. This would set any Lykae's teeth on edge.
His beast howled inside, hankering to lope after her.
In an attempt to give her space, Will trailed after her at a distance, keeping her in sight. Damnation, he was out of sorts, already wanting her by his side. Not surprising, considering that he'd just experienced some kind of strew-induced, transcendent sexual frenzy with her.
When sheep got in his way as he crossed a field, he gave a halfhearted growl, sending them scampering.
Yesterday when he'd felt her succubus pull, he'd been sickened. Today? He'd lost the ability to stand, collapsing over her back. When he'd finally opened his eyes, he'd leaned down to kiss the corner of her lips-because they'd been curling with a satisfied smile.
Satisfied! Gods, she pleased him.
Sex with her hadn't just blown his mind, it'd tweaked his gray matter forever. What he'd known about bliss was now changed, the upper threshold ratcheted up to record heights.
Over this day, he'd had three realizations.
First, to possess Chloe as his own, he would let her feed from his body for eternity, allowing her to compel him with strew for just as long. He might not be happy about it, but he wanted her so badly, he would do anything to keep her. Every man had his own secret sorrows. So would he.
Second, he didn't know when-or if-he could claim her with his bite. Withholding it made him feel more in control. Keeping something back allowed him to rationalize all he was ceding.
And last: Though he didn't dread taking on her venom as much as in the past-it would tie her to him-he didn't relish the idea. Regretfully, but valiantly.
All his life he'd had a phobia about three times. Now it seemed his mate did as well.
No matter. It would happen with their very next time.
When Chloe entered the keep, she slammed the door behind her. All right, mayhap he should've told her everything the talisman did when she'd first donned it. Yet at the time he hadn't felt consideration for her. And aye, that was only two days ago, but something had been shifting inside him. He was adjusting to her species, making concessions.
Because today, he'd begun to believe they had a future.
Right when she'd become convinced they would end? He needed to make some kind of gesture. Something to convince her he would try.
Will remembered when he'd been eight, he'd broken his mam's favorite vase. Filled with guilt, he'd charged out to pick her flowers, the only thing he could give her. With her gaze twinkling, Mam had ruffled his hair. "Ach, Will, now it does no' matter that I've nothing to put them in. . . ."
So what to give Chloe? His eyes widened. The attic of this place was full of treasures.
Way to lower the boom on him, Chloe thought as she scuffed to the bathroom, turning on the shower in the oversize stall.
She'd meant to act like her old self, letting things roll off her back, rubbing dirt on it, rolling with the punches.
Instead, she'd lashed out at MacRieve. She didn't even want kids anytime in the near future! But when she did have them, she didn't want their father to gaze at them with that anguished expression.
Like the way my dad looked at me that last night.
Did MacRieve still gaze at her that way when she wasn't looking? She wished she could talk to his beast-and tell it to whip MacRieve into shape.
She peeled off her abused clothing, glaring at her bracelet. That bastard had put her on birth control, like she was chattel! If he had to take a business trip, would he strap her into a chastity belt too?
Under the steaming water, she winced at her sore muscles. She might have been fed, but she was still feeling the day. Her head ached and her stomach felt weird. She supposed too much running-and too much rough lake sex-had worn her out.
One of her breasts had a grass stain across it, and claw marks dotted her hips. Hey, not much different from a soccer match, Chlo!
When she was finished showering, the bed looked too inviting to resist. She changed into her new PJs, tossed a log on the embers in the fireplace, then crawled under the covers.
She stared at the ceiling, glad to have this time alone. All these new aspects of her life had been hitting her so fast that she'd barely had a moment to reason through them. For instance, it was now dinnertime; she would never eat dinner again. That was going to take some getting used to.
Also, she should probably accept her familial situation-as in, she didn't have one anymore. She'd told herself that as long as she continued eating, she might not be totally "detrus-ed out" to her dad. He might still accept her.
Now? The odds looked grim.
In time, maybe she could track down Fiore's family-but then, MacRieve would never allow her to see them.
Noises sounded above her, as if he was rummaging around the attic. For what exactly? It wasn't like there'd be scrapbooks or old yearbooks. No vids of MacRieve's first steps. . . .
She'd just closed her eyes when he opened the door and strode in.
"Why are you resting?" He wore a black T-shirt and beat-up jeans, and he had a smudge of dust on his cheek that made him look less intimidating, almost boyish.
She shrugged. "I'm tired. I think I overexerted myself today."
He tilted his head, surveying her face. "This will no' take long. Then I'll leave you to rest." He sat beside her on the bed. "Listen, Chloe. I know I should have told you about the bracelet."
Exhaling with irritation, she said, "No, you should have asked me about the bracelet before I ever put it on my wrist!"
"Aye, that's what I meant," he said quickly. "I regret no' asking you."
She sat up, almost grimacing when her headache intensified. "I need more, MacRieve. I need you to confide in me. I need to know why you hate my kind so much. Why even the thought of having kids with me makes you sick."
He rose to pace. "It's going to take more than a few days for me to work through my . . . issues. Can you no' be patient with me?"
"Tell me why you beheaded the last five succubae you encountered."
His nostrils flared, along with his claws. From the mere mention? "Over my life I've killed any I've come across."
A horrific thought arose. "Were you killing one a little over two decades ago? Her name was Fiore, and she would've looked a lot like me."
"I dinna murder your mother. We've obstacles between us, I grant you that, but no' that particular one. I vow to the Lore I had nothing to do with her death." He sat beside her once more. "Here, lass," he said, drawing a polished wooden box from his back pocket. "I have a peace offering."
"What is this?" She opened the box to find jade-green hair combs, each intricately etched with Celtic designs.
"My grandmother passed these down to my mother. I thought you might like them, now that you've taken to wearing your hair long."
"You want me to have them?"
He ran his hand over the back of his neck. "Doona sound so shocked, Chloe. They belong to the mistress of this keep."
If he was giving her heirlooms, then surely he was starting to work past his hatred. She grazed her fingers over the engravings. "They're lovely." She set them on the bedside table, keeping them close.
"Patience, Chloe." He ran his knuckles along her jawline. "I'm an old dog, and all this is a verra new trick for me. I'm no' saying I canna change-just give me time. Can you do that?"
How much time? Maybe with enough of it, he could fall for her. Maybe if he loved her more deeply than he hated other succubae, he could see his way to having kids.
By that time, he might've snuffed out what she was feeling for him. She just needed to think about all this. "I'm tired." She lay back down. "I'd like to go to bed."
His brows rose. She could tell he'd expected her to react differently.
When he shucked off his shirt and joined her, she didn't have the energy to rebuff him.
"Come, mo chridhe." He reached for her, clasping her against his warm chest. "Sleep easy and rest. Everything will look better tomorrow."
The heat from his skin increased her drowsiness. Before she drifted off, she murmured, "Gotta be honest. This clock might've zeroed out, MacRieve."
His entire body tensed against her. She didn't care because sweet sleep was enveloping her. . . .
In the middle of the night, Chloe woke from an ache in her stomach and another in her head.
She found MacRieve sleeping restlessly beside her, his chest slick with sweat. Was this the first time he'd slept since they'd arrived? Since she'd turned in the first place?
His eyes darted behind his lids, and he moaned, obviously in the grips of a nightmare. As she watched, his fangs and claws began extending, his face growing more wolven. The beast was rising, even in MacRieve's slumber.
When he chuffed and whimpered, Chloe wondered which horror he was reliving tonight. Rape by a succubus? Battles in the dark Woods of Murk?
The shock of Chloe's transformation?
Then he splayed his hand over his chest, his claws embedded in his skin-around the spot she'd once kissed with all the tenderness she'd felt for this man.
He was dreaming about the torture her father had ordered done.
This is doomed between us. Accepting that grieved her so deeply. Chloe would be punished by MacRieve if she stayed, and punished by her heart if she left.
Because she might have gone and fallen in love with him.
Will paced anxiously. It was well into the afternoon, yet Chloe still hadn't awakened.
The room was dimly lit. A storm raged outside, the sun obscured, the lands dark. Winds battered Conall's bricks, pelting debris against the windows.
He sat beside her on the bed to stroke her hair. "Chloe, love?" Why this fatigue again? He must've hurt her yesterday in his throes. She would need rest to heal.
Chloe might be immortal, but strength and endurance came with age; she was still so incredibly young.
Mayhap he should have thought of that before he'd rutted her with all his might.
In sleep, her brows drew together. With a huff of irritation, she turned from him.
He wanted to talk to her, to gauge her anger. The more he thought about yesterday, the more he recognized how cutting he'd been to her.
Aye, Chloe, I'll be withholding my parentage because of your species. He cringed to think that he'd used a bloody witch spell to bind her fertility-without her knowing.
She'd told him they were doomed, and as he reflected on his behavior over the past week, he feared she was right. Some part of her must hate him. In her place, Will certainly would.
He shook Chloe's shoulder. "Wake, lass, I need to speak with you."
She groaned, pulling the pillow over her face. "Jesus, MacRieve, can it not wait?" she snapped.
He drew his head back. "Aye, then."
Soon her breaths grew even with sleep once more.
Nix had predicted that his past would bury him. She'd told him he'd lose Chloe if he didn't change.
He hadn't buried his past, hadn't changed, and yet he'd still expected Chloe to accept him. He'd expected an infallible soothsayer to have made a mistake.
Will was delusional.
On Chloe's side table were the hair combs he'd given her. When he'd found them in a chest in the attic, he'd known they were for her. Last night she'd run her fingers over them as if he'd gifted her with a priceless treasure. They were so little compared to what she'd given him. Without her, he would've burned to death in a fiery pit. So why had he not claimed her fully?