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A Hunger Like No Other


Chapter 16

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Bowe put his hand on Lachlain's shoulder. "Cass would no' dare hurt her after you made your wishes clear. I'll get rid of Cass and then talk to Emma. It canna hurt." "No, Bowe, you might...frighten her." "Oh, aye." Bowe raised his eyebrows, mocking expression in place. "After tonight, I see you've a verra delicate sparrow on your hands. I'll be sure to loosen up my jaw for her in case she wants to backhand me." Emma leapt up to the roof of the folly to pace along the edges. She wanted her iPod so badly she would almost sleep with the liar for it. She supposed it didn't matter that it had been trashed by the vampires, since even her "Angry Female Rock" tracks would sound insipid compared to her own ranting. How dare he do this to her? She'd just gotten past the vampire attack, and then his change, and then the Cass attack, and now he had to go and throw this...this lie at her. Every time she settled in with him, became even somewhat comfortable, he threw her a new curveball. The changes around her - for someone who rarely left home and didn't consider herself an adapter - and the changes within her frightened her. If she could just find one constant in this bombardment of variables. Just one thing to trust - "I can get you away." With a hiss, Emma leapt backward, clearing the weather vane to land perched on a gable top. Seeing Cassandra on the roof of the folly, she hunched down, ready to spring for her. Whenever she thought about this gorgeous, brick-house-built Lykae being in love with Lachlain for centuries, Emma wanted to scratch her eyes out. "I can get you a car," Cassandra continued. A small breeze blew, just enough to stir the fog and brush her pretty sun-streaked hair back from her normal ear. She had the lightest freckles on her nose, and Emma begrudged her every one. "And why would you do that?" Emma asked, though she knew why. The skank wants Lachlain. "He seeks to keep you a prisoner. Bowe told me you are part Valkyrie, and I know your Valkyrie blood boils at the thought of being held here." Emma felt a surge of embarrassment. That is correct, sage foe, for my Valkyrie blood demands my absolute freedom, had not been on the tip of her tongue. That hadn't even been her main concern. She was just ticked that Lachlain had lied. And ticked that Nïx had thrown her under the bus, hanging up on her ten times. "What's in it for you?" she asked. "I want to save Lachlain from making a huge mistake, from alienating a clan that will never accept you. If he was no' coming off nearly two hundred years of torture, he would be able to see that you are no' his mate." Emma assumed a thoughtful expression and tapped her finger against her chin. "He wasn't just coming off torture" - wait for it - "when he saw that you are not his mate." Cassandra almost stifled her wince. Emma sighed at her own behavior. This wasn't her. She wasn't usually so bitchy. She got along with all the Lore creatures that were constantly tromping or floating in and out of the manor. The witches, the demons, the fey - all of them. She chalked this up as yet another example of changes within her that she didn't understand. What was it about this female that grated so much? Why did she have a nearly undeniable urge to fight her? Like she should be on Jerry Springer, screaming, "That's my man!" Was she jealous of the time Cassandra had spent with him? "Look, Cassandra, I don't want to fight with you. And, yes, I do want to leave, but it would take a life-or-death situation for me to trust you with my escape." "I would vow no' to double-cross you." She glanced down, then back. They both heard someone approaching. "You canna win here, vampire. You'll never be queen of our clan." "Apparently I already am." "A true queen would be able to walk in the sun with her king." Cassandra's smile was too pleasant. "And give him heirs." Emma didn't come close to stifling a wince. 23 Cassandra passing time with the vampire boded ill. Bowe vaulted to the roof to move between them, staring Cassandra down with a menacing expression. "What are you speaking about?" Cassandra said airily, "Girl stuff." That made Emmaline's face pale. "I've discussed this with you once already. You must accept what's happened." Bowe wasn't known among the clan for his subtlety, and certainly not for taking the time to explain things twice. If Cassandra had hurt the situation between Lachlain and Emma, Bowe would do his best to rectify it. He crossed to just inches in front of her. "Go away, Cass. I'll speak to her alone." She put her shoulders back. "No, I doona - " He made his eyes turn as he growled low. He would do whatever was in his power to prevent his oldest friend from becoming like him, including hurling Cass from the roof. "Leave us." "I was through here anyway," she said evenly, though she was backing swiftly away. "I'll just go visit with Lachlain while you two chat." Bowe was relieved to see that the vampire didn't like that idea at all, her brows drawn together, her eyes flickering. He thought he'd never been so gladdened to see a woman's distress. Though he willed her to protest, Emmaline said nothing. Before she dropped down, Cassandra called over her shoulder, "Remember my offer, vampire." When they were alone, Bowe asked, "And what did she offer?" "It doesn't concern you." He gave her a threatening look as well. But she just shrugged. "That has no effect on me. I know you can't hurt me or Lachlain would kick your ass six ways to Sunday. 'Kay?" "You speak strangely." "If I had a dollar..." she said with a sigh. Why had Lachlain made this creature sound retiring when he'd described her? "So if you will no' tell me whatever malicious seed Cassandra has planted, then do me the courtesy of walking with me awhile." "No, thanks. I'm busy." "Busy pacing a folly roof on a foggy night, ranting to yourself?" "You've a keen gift for observation," she said, turning from him. "Speaking of gifts - one arrived for you during the day." She froze, turned slowly, and tilted her head at him. "A present?" He barely concealed his surprise. Damn if the Valkyrie weren't as acquisitive as the Lore said. "If you take a turn with me and listen, I'll show it to you." She nibbled her red bottom lip, fang showing, reminding him that she was still a vampire. The only other times he'd spoken with a vampire had been when he was torturing one. "Okay. Five minutes. But only so I can see the gift." He reached out to help her down, but in one of the strangest movements he'd ever seen, she stepped from the roof, her next footfall as regular as if her last hadn't been fifteen feet above, but fifteen inches. He stared, shook himself, then followed. As he started toward the stables, he began, "I ken you're angry with Lachlain. Is it more for lying to you, or because you found out what you are?" "Not what I am, but what you people seem to think I am. As for my anger, split it down the middle - call it a day." "He lied for a reason. He is no' a dishonest man, in fact is known as the opposite, but he'll go to new lengths to keep you with him. And you are his mate." "Mate, schmate. I'm tired of hearing that!" "I've warned Lachlain no' to be stubborn or stupid, and it sounds like I'll have to warn you as well." Her eyes fired silver with anger. Undaunted, he took her elbow and steered her into the stables. "Let's cut through the details and get to the meat. He's no' letting you go. Your family is going to want you back. There will be conflict. Unless you can convince them no' to fight." "You don't get it!" she snapped. "I won't have this problem because I don't want him!" She flung herself free. "And the next Lykae that grabs my elbow to steer loses a paw." She strode ahead of him down the lengthy run of stalls. Without any indication from him, she stopped and did a double take at the mare that had arrived this morning, then crossed over to gently run her hands down her muzzle. Strange that Emmaline would gravitate to the one that was hers alone. Damn grasping Valkyrie. Her gaze flickered over the horse and she murmured, "Hey, gorgeous," and "Aren't you a sweetie?" She looked as if she was in love. Irrationally feeling as though he was interrupting, Bowe continued, "I thought vampires had an innate ability to cut through bullshite. He's no' letting you go. He's a wealthy, attractive male, a king, who would spoil and protect you for the rest of your life. All you have to do is accept it." "Look, Bowen, I'm in no way a realist." She'd leaned back against the stall gate with a knee drawn up, as if she'd been here a thousand times. Her arm curled under the mare's neck to pet the side of her face. "I can pretend with the best of them. I can pretend Lachlain's dishonesty didn't hurt. I can pretend I like it better here than I do in my own home and my own country, and I can even ignore the fact that his age is a multiple of mine. But I can't pretend that his entire clan won't hate me or that Lykae won't keep attacking me. And I can't pretend that my family will accept him, because they never will, and I would be forced to choose anyway." As she'd spoken, her expression had slowly ebbed from furious to stark. She wasn't telling him half of it. Her eyes were haunted. Lachlain's mate was spooked. Badly. Just as Mariah had looked. "What else is happening? Something else is upsetting you." "It's just...everything's...overwhelming." She whispered the last. "What is?" She shook her head and her face turned hard. "I'm a private person and I don't even know you. Not to mention that you're Lachlain's best friend. I'm not telling you anything." "You can trust me. I will no' tell him anything you doona want me to." "I'm sorry, but right now Lykae are not exactly in my to-be-trusted column. What with all the lies and those pesky stranglings." He knew she was referring to Lachlain's actions as well, but said, "You held your own against Cassandra." "I don't want to live in a place where I have to hold my own. I don't want to live in a place where I'm attacked or bullied." Bowe sank down onto a bale of hay. "Lachlain canna find his brother. Cassandra is proving to be like a gnat in his ear. His leg ails him, and he can scarcely keep up with this new time he's been thrown into. Worse for him is that he canna make you happy." He snared a piece of straw out and chewed the end, offering her another. She glared. "I don't masticate, thank you." He shrugged. "I can take care of Cass. His leg will heal, he'll acclimate, and eventually Garreth will turn up. But none of this will matter if he canna make you content here." She turned to touch her forehead to the mare's and said in a soft voice, "I don't like that he hurts or is worried, but I can't simply tell myself to be happy here. It's just got to come." "It will if you give it time. Once he can shake off more of his past...troubles, you will find he's a good man." "I don't seem to have a choice in the matter, do I?" "No' at all. So in the meantime, do you want me to tell you how to manage him better?" "Manage him?" she asked, facing him. "Aye." She blinked at him. "I might have to hear this." "Understand that anything he does, he does with the ultimate goal of your happiness." She parted her lips to disagree, but he spoke over her: "So if you are displeased with any measure he takes toward that end, you need only to voice that it's made you un happy." When she frowned, he asked, "How'd his lie make you feel?" She looked down at the toe of her boot drawing circles in the packed dirt, and finally mumbled, "Betrayed. Hurt." "Think about this for a moment. How do you think he'd react if you simply told him that he'd hurt you?" She lifted her head, staring at him for many moments. He rose, dusted off his pants, then turned for the door, only pausing to say over his shoulder, "By the way, that's your horse." Before he faced forward, he saw the mare nose her hair and nearly knock her down. "You will no' embrace an old friend?" Cassandra asked with a pout. "If she were content to remain as such," Lachlain answered impatiently. How long was Bowe going to be? He trusted Bowe with his life, and if pressed, he'd say even with something so important as his mate, but he was still restless waiting here. Her arms were still opened. "It's been centuries, Lachlain." "If Emma walked in and saw us 'embracing,' how do you think that would make her feel?" Her arms dropped and she sank into a chair across from the desk. "No' like you think. Because she feels nothing for you. While I mourned your death as a widow would." "A waste of time on your part. Even if I'd died." "Bowe explained where you've been and what she is. She has no place here. You've been unwell and canna see how wrong this is." He couldn't even bring himself to anger, because he'd never been surer of anything than he was of Emma. He realized now that the reasons he'd continued to befriend Cassandra over the years no longer applied. In the past, he'd felt sorry for her. Like him, she'd gone centuries without finding her mate, and he'd thought that, like him, she reacted to the lack in an unhealthy way. But whereas he'd sought out enemies, eagerly taking the forefront of every war and volunteering for any dangerous task abroad where he might stumble upon his mate, Cassandra had seized on him. "Who was there for you when your da died? Your mother? Who helped you search for Heath?" He exhaled wearily. "The entire clan." Her lips thinned, then she seemed to rally. "We have a history together. We are of the same species. Lachlain, what would your parents have thought about you taking a vampire as mate? And Garreth? Think of the shame this will bring him." Truthfully, Lachlain didn't know how his parents would have reacted. Before they'd died, they'd regretted that their sons had been unable to find their mates for so long, and had understood Lachlain's, the oldest son's, more obvious pain. But they'd also abhorred vampires - thought them malicious parasites and a blight on the earth. He couldn't say for Garreth, either. So instead, he answered, "I look forward to the day when you find your mate and you can think back on this and truly comprehend how ridiculous I find your words." Bowe ambled through the doorway then. At Lachlain's raised eyebrows, Bowe shrugged, as though the conversation with Emma hadn't been overly encouraging. Harmann bustled in just after, perspiring, hectic, the complete opposite of cool, uncaring Bowe. "The staff is departing. I just wanted to check to see if you need anything else before I leave." "We'll be fine." "If you need anything, my number is programmed into the phone." "As if that helps me," Lachlain muttered. He thought he'd been doing so well with learning the tools of this time, but the sheer amount of technology was daunting. "Oh, and the packages that arrived today for your queen have been unpacked." "Harmann, go," he ordered. Harmann looked as if he was ready to pass out. He cast Lachlain a grateful expression and strode out the door. "Gifts will no' sway her," Cassandra pointed out in a churlish tone. "I disagree," Bowe answered, pulling a red apple from his jacket pocket and shining it on his shirt. "I've learned the queen does so like her gifts." When Lachlain raised his eyebrows, Bowe said, "Showed her the horse. Regret stealing your thunder." He displayed no sign of regret. Lachlain shrugged as if unconcerned, though he had wanted to see her reaction and capitalize on any gratitude she might have demonstrated. "The good news is that she dinna like the idea of Cass up here talking to you. Distressed the wee creature." Could Emma have been jealous? Lachlain knew she could never feel the soul-deep possession he felt for her, but he'd take anything. He frowned. He didn't want her distressed. "Cassandra, you will leave here. No' to return until invited by Emmaline herself. I will no' be moved from this." She gasped, truly shocked, but how could she be? She shot to her feet, shaking, her voice sharp. "It may never be me, but when you are well, you'll see it never could be that vampire either." She flew to the door. "I'll make sure she leaves," Bowe offered. "Just after a quick detour to the kitchen. They cooked for an army." He hesitated, then said, "Good luck." Lachlain nodded, lost in thought, hearing cars departing down the long drive. A king was in residence with his queen, a Lykae had his mate after a millennium, and the moon was waxing. Everyone here knew what that meant. Everyone except Emma. He'd run out of time. He'd run out of options. His gaze fell to the sideboard, to the crystal glinting in the light. 24 When Emma woke, she was in Lachlain's arms, with her face tucked against his chest and his fingers gently sifting through her hair. Just before she went irate at the thought of him moving her to the bed again, she realized he was in her blankets on the floor. Then the dream came back to her in a rush. She'd seen Lachlain in some kind of war long ago, passing the time between charges. Garreth and Heath - his brothers? - and some other Lykae males talked about finding their mates, musing on what they would look like. They spoke in Gaelic. She understood the words. "I'm just saying it would be nice if she's fair of form," one called Uilleam said. He indicated what he meant by cupping his hands in front of his chest. Another said, "Just give mine a sweet arse to hold on to in the night - " They quieted when Lachlain walked by, not wanting to talk of such things in front of him. Lachlain was the oldest, and had waited the longest. Nine hundred years he'd waited. He continued to a stream by their camp, bounding easily over boulders even under the weight of chain mail. He knelt on the shore by a becalmed pool and leaned down to cup water to his face. His reflection wavered for the briefest second. He hadn't shaved for days and he had a long, winding cut down his face. His hair was long. He was absolutely stunning to Emma, and she reacted viscerally to this remembered image from the dream. When he'd sat back on his haunches and gazed up at the blue sky, Emma had felt the startling warmth of the sun as though she'd been there. Then a wave of emptiness had hit him. Why can I no' find her...? Emma blinked open her eyes. She was her. The one he'd longed for... She'd seen him with rage in his eyes, with confusion, with hatred, but she'd never seen hopelessness as she had in his reflection. "Sleep well?" he said, rumbling his words. "Did you sleep with me? Here?" "Aye." "Why?" "Because you prefer sleeping here. And I prefer sleeping with you." "And I have no say in the matter." Ignoring her comment, he said, "I want to give you something," then reached behind him, drawing out...the gold necklace from her dream. Her eyes locked on it, mesmerized. It was more beautiful in reality.
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