He and Munro hated it when females called them Hot and Hotter, as if they were interchangeable cogs in a joke. "Nix. It's good to see you," he said, for the second time tonight.
At least she was interesting to be around. And most would consider a meeting with her to be priceless. She could help a Lore creature get out of whatever predicament he found himself in.
No present predicaments for Will. Unless Nix could send him back in time or make him forget the past, he'd keep idling.
For the last few centuries, he and Munro had lived in Bheinnrose, a colony they'd founded in Nova Scotia. Will was the leader of that arm of Clan MacRieve, but for fuck's sake, who couldn't do that job? All he did was sign a lot of forms. Customarily after Munro read them.
Without a nice grisly war to occupy them-or missions from their king-the brothers had headed south to Louisiana, looking for a change of pace. During an Accession, something was always happening near a Lore hot spot like New Orleans. Such as a meeting with Nix.
Plus, Will had burned through all the available nymphs in the North, since he never slept with the same female twice.
Usually by mutual agreement.
A big-rig driver pulled abreast of the Bentley and blasted his horn so loud the car vibrated.
"Mortals," Nix sighed. "So what did you want to talk to me about, Oolay-ahhhm?"
He frowned at the slaughtered pronunciation of his first name, but thought he caught a twinkle in her eye. "Just call me MacRieve. As for the meeting, you rang me, remember? I assumed you wanted to talk about Munro."
Awkward silence. Well, as long as he had a soothsayer here . . . "Mayhap you want to give me the goods on where to find his mate." One of a Lykae's most compelling drives was to find his fated one, and Nix had helped three members of the clan locate and win theirs-against all odds-during this Accession alone.
"You ask about his before your own?"
"Munro craves his." He needed that female in order to get the bairns he was keen to have. He longed for offspring more than a mother hen did. Already his brother was fostering two Lykae lads in their house.
Yet Munro had best be careful what he wished for; an old oracle had once predicted he'd be cursed with a "harridan" for his mate.
"And you don't crave yours? Spill to Nixie. I won't tell anyone anything. This night is our little secret."
As if those words weren't disturbing enough to Will, Nix's bat chose that moment to climb down her front, unfurling its wings to span her collarbones, its wee talons embedded in her shirt.
"It's complicated." He'd once thought he'd possessed his mate. What a bluidy fool you were.
"Don't make me turn this car around, wolf."
He raised a brow. "Verra well. I've envied other males who've found theirs. But I'm no' in a good place right now." He pulled on his collar. Understatement. Hi then, I'm MacRieve, and this is my Lykae beast. Get used to him, because you'll be seeing a lot of him.
Even so, he couldn't stop himself from asking, "Have you foreseen mine, then?"
"Oh! Here's my exit!" With expert precision, Nix cut across the second lane of traffic to an off-ramp. They turned, still in reverse, onto a smaller country road.
Before he could repeat his question, Nix asked, "So what are you going to wear to the apocalypse? I'm thinking something sparkly and transfixing."
"We all must band together, enemies and allies, gods and men. Or they will win."
"And who would they be, Valkyrie?"
"The Møriør. Bringers of Doom. By the time I even foresee them, it's already too late."
Ominous words. "You can't drop a line like that without unpacking it."
"Just did, You-Lame!"
"Where?" she gasped, jerking a glance toward the side of the road. She swerved sharply before righting the car. They collected another horn honk.
"Nix, answer me."
She faced him again, waving that away. "Let's just put it this way: smoke 'em if you got 'em."
Will tried to muster the appropriate apocalyptic concern. But if you'd lived as long-and as badly-as he had, impending end-of-world scenarios lost their bite.
Nix's expression perked up. "Here's our turn."
He finally twisted in his seat to glance over his shoulder. It was a dirt road overgrown with banana trees and kudzu. As they wound deeper into a gloomy, fog-laden swamp, Will again felt sorry for this Bentley.
After bottoming out-backward-for a fourth time, Nix pulled into a small clearing and parked. "Oh. We ended up being early."
"For what?" Did she want to show him something out here? "Where are we?"
"Our destination. Consider it a waypoint."
"Why? Am I going somewhere else?" he asked, the hair on the back of his neck rising. Was there a threat? He scented nothing, and his Instinct remained quiet.
But then, these days it was usually quiet.
In any case, Nix would have foreseen any trouble, and she'd specifically driven to this place.
She turned to face him, giving him the full view of her crazy. The bat's placement on her T-shirt made it seem like Bertil had been captioned SEXUALLY LIBERATED UNINHIBITED TART.
Nix was so lovely and so . . . damaged.
"Let's talk a sec, just you and me. Relax, don't you trust me?" she asked in a playful tone.
"Face it, Valkyrie. There are few in the Lore that I trust, and you're one of them." She was a tested and true ally of the clan.
"How sweet, Ahllomeam-"
"MacRieve, Nix." Just because she was trusted didn't mean she couldn't be a pain in the arse. "Could you call me MacRieve? Or wolf, or prick, or anything but my given name? Now, back to my mate. When will I find her?"
"Before Munro finds his."
"That tells me nothing. Are we talking decades, centuries?"
"How boorish of me, divulging all while you're divulging nothing." She leaned in closer to him. "Look into my eyes. Let me see your history."
History? Not just foresight? "I doona know about this-"
"Ruelle did a number on you," she said softly. "But I already knew that."
He jerked his head back. "And what have you heard, then?" Whisperings of his shameful time with the succubus had passed among the older Lykae of the clan.
Had other factions learned of that?
"Not heard, wolf. Seen . . ."
He swallowed. Could Nix see that he'd wiped out most of his family by succumbing to that parasite? Could this Valkyrie see that Ruelle still seemed to control his mind and body even from beyond the grave?
When he had been not yet double-digits in age, that bitch had gotten her claws into him. And I've borne them in one way or another ever since.
She'd ruined the boy he'd been and perverted the man he would become.
Nix gazed at him with pity, and he knew she could see. Gods, he despised the pitying looks. Had received them all his miserable life! Was he truly so pitiable? Just because I hate myself and have no control of my beast?
"Yes, wolf, I see all. And by all, I mean some."
Sweat dotted his upper lip.
"What is it the nymphs say about you? I remember! You're all 'good and fucked up,' 'dark and twisted.' But they don't know why."
They called him Bucket List, one to do before they died-because they knew they wouldn't be getting vanilla.
He had nothing to give but dark and twisted.
Suddenly, he had difficulty catching his breath, as if a weight pressed on his chest. As if Ruelle pressed on his chest.
He wanted away from the soothsayer, from this car, this swamp, this bloody state. His earlier nonchalance had vanished. Mayhap it was time to return to the North-
"And then, as if Ruelle wasn't bad enough," Nix said sadly, "you had to endure Dr. Dixon's tortures."
Will froze. He didn't know this person. "Never heard of a Dr. Dixon."
"The psychotic mortal scientist? From the Order's island prison?" At his confounded look, she said, "Surely you must remember all those experiments she performed on you when you were captured by humans? Electrocutions, beatings, weapons testing, vivisection? How could you forget when she cracked open your chest with a rib separator and sliced out your still-beating heart? She beamed proudly as she showed it to you. Of course, she was only following Webb's orders, but she did seem to take a sick interest in you."
The hair on the back of his neck stood up. "Nix, these things have no' happened to me. I've never met this Dixon woman or anyone named Webb."
The Valkyrie looked puzzled. "You don't remember being blasted with electricity, then trapped like an animal for weeks? After the prison overthrow, when everything was pandemonium and death, you organized the Vertas shifters, saving them from wholesale slaughter! That's one of the reasons a wisewoman dispatched you there."
"You are unnerving the hell out of me, Valkyrie."
"Oh." She frowned, petting her bat fitfully. "I must have misread the future for the past." She shrugged. "It happens."
"The future?" He swallowed. "You're saying these things are going to happen to me?"
"Yes, wolf." Nix's face abruptly went cold. "And all because you were betrayed by a soothsayer."
Spotlights blazed around the car, temporarily blinding him. They were suddenly surrounded-by mortals with weapons.
"How? I scented nothing! What the bluidy hell is this, Nix?"
"You need to rebreak that bone." She casually gestured at all of him. "It didn't set right. . . ."
Time to call out some crazy.
Not long after the end of the game, Chloe was back at home in the McMansion she shared with her dad outside of Seattle proper.
Hoping to catch him before he went on the road again, she'd cut out early from the team celebration. Their next Reign practice wasn't for months. What was she going to do without her teammates for that long?
Oh, yeah, figure out what was happening to her, heal up, and hopefully try out for the Olympics.
After showering and securing her ankle in a well-used air cast, she limped from her room, meandering around an array of athletic gear: a snowboard, a basketball, a softball bat-all tokens of sports that could never sway her devotion to soccer.
On the landing, she passed the wall of framed jerseys that her dad had proudly hung, then hopped down the stairs.
Inside his study, one banker's light was on, the rest of the room dark. He was stuffing files from a cabinet into his go bag.
"Heading out of town?" she asked as she dropped into a seat. His travel schedule was one of the reasons she still lived at home at the age of twenty-four. They got along great, and there was a lot of house between them. Besides, it wasn't like she dated or anything.
Dad nodded. "I'm thirty minutes late."
For another capture? She gazed away from him, surveying the study's ego wall-covered with her high school and college diplomas and his many commendations.
"Do you have any explanation for what happened out there tonight, Chlo?"
She turned back to him. How to put this? Either you're nuts . . .
Or I am.
At least her weirdness could possibly be explained. She figured that since her super-senses ability was physical, there must be a physiological reason behind it. Maybe she had a brain tumor that was heightening everything! Like in that Travolta movie.
Her mom had died of cancer just after Chloe was born. Wasn't the Big C genetic? Her dad must believe so; he'd insisted that Chloe have her blood tested routinely.
From the few pictures she'd seen of her mom, she knew she favored Fiore Todd's looks. What were the odds that Chloe had inherited more than Fiore's tawny hair and strange hazel eyes?
"Talk to me, Chlo." Though Dad never looked his age-was fitter than most thirty-year-olds-tonight he appeared exhausted, wearing every one of his fifty-five years. Despite his age and salt-and-pepper hair, her teammates all thought he was hot, with his even features and muscular build. Which was too gross to even contemplate.
"It's hard to explain, Dad." She peered at the Newton's cradle on his desk, wondering if she'd ever seen the silver balls moving.
"What happened to your focus? You've been one hundred percent scope-locked on the game since you dribbled your first ball. Hell, since you saw your first ball."
Chloe had been five when she'd watched the first women's Olympic soccer game on TV, and the entire course of her life had changed. Later Dad would laughingly tell friends that she'd been glued to the screen like a dog watching bacon commercials.
Instead of telling him, "I'd like to play that," or even "That's what I'm going to do when I grow up," she'd informed him, "That's my sport."
Unfortunately, she'd had no natural aptitude for the game, tripping over her own feet. But she hadn't let that get in her way.
Dad had helped her train, ball-gophering over and over as she'd learned to punt, running with her to increase her dismal speed and endurance. She'd declared the sport her own, then followed up with nearly two decades of hard work to claim it.
When Dad had spread out brochures for all the best colleges with soccer programs, she'd pointed out Stanford: "That's my school." When a women's professional team had come to Seattle, she'd said, "That's my team. . . ."
Dad snagged another file. "A lot of eyes were on that game. Your play tonight-and your injury-might have affected your invitation to tryouts."
Just for a shot at the Olympic roster, a potential had to be invited to the grueling two-week training camp/tryouts down in Florida.
"I'll be healed by then." It was next month; she had time to get fit.
"I've never seen you choke like that. Ever."
She raised her chin. "I pulled it out in the end." She still didn't know how, but in the last seven seconds of the game, she'd done a flying reverse kick to score the winning goal, landing on her back just as the ball shot past the keeper's fingertips. She'd been blinded by the camera flashes. "All anyone's going to remember was that last score for the hat trick."