"Do you no' remember me from earlier?"
As she might a dream. Hazy memories arose of him stroking her hair, murmuring how brave she was. She remembered opening her eyes, seeing flickering lights around her. His face had been shadowed, but she recalled his brilliant colored eyes. And his voice.
His sexy, sexy voice. It was deep and gravelly, shiver-inducing.
That feeling of awakening multiplied until she almost winced.
Ignore him, evaluate your field position! Though her head ached and she was dizzy from the sudden movement, she assessed every detail of her surroundings, scouting for exits, weapons, resources.
"You're safe, lass," he said. When she didn't relax her guard, he added, "None of us would ever harm you."
She swallowed. "Who are you?"
"My name's Uilleam MacRieve, but you can just call me MacRieve."
His Scottish accent was bone-meltingly hot. Lord help me. What'd he say his name was? It sounded like Ooh-lum. When she tried to pronounce it back, he cut her off.
"I said to just call me MacRieve."
She could swear he was disappointed by this. The gorgeous Scot with amber eyes was disappointed in her.
"And you're Chloe. You look like a Chloe."
"What does that look like?"
The corners of his lips curled. "Cute."
Merely looking at his smile made her heart thud. He glanced at her chest, as if he could hear it, and his smile deepened.
Like all immortals, Lykae had superhuman senses. He can hear it! Face flaming, she glanced away. "What do you want with me? What happened when I was unconscious?"
He sat on the edge of the bed and rested his elbows on his knees. She noticed then that he had on battered jeans but wore a nice black shirt. "After I saved you from witches, centaurs, and Cerunnos, I got you patched up, then brought you back to the house I share with my brother and two young punks who doona understand the concept of rent."
His tone sounded so normal.
Wait. "Patched up?" She'd been injured in the melee. So why did she feel no pain in her side? Oh, God, what if she'd been out for days? And how could it possibly itch this bad? "That was tonight?"
"Aye. I took you to a healer of sorts."
Memories began to filter into her consciousness: his admitting she was his mate, blood pouring from her side as the rain came down, the . . . voodoo? She squeezed her forehead, vaguely remembering a sexpot with a pet boa constrictor. "Did you take me to a voodoo woman?"
"A priestess." He grinned with perfect white teeth, adding, "We rubbed some dirt on it."
That grin. Again she reacted physically, her heart speeding up. Had she ever beheld such kissable lips? Though she could count on one hand the number of guys she'd kissed, she could imagine, in detail, licking this one's lips, sucking on the bottom one.
Inner shake. "Wh-why am I in different clothes?" Someone had changed her into a Saints T-shirt that went down to her knees.
"Because your frock was toast."
Frock? "Not mine. They put me in that." God, her side itched. When she gave it a scratch, she found something hard underneath a bandage, something she desperately wanted off.
"You had blood all over you from your wound."
"So you took it upon yourself to wash and change me?"
"Hardly looked down a'tall," he answered with a shameless wink.
A man had been looking at her undressed. The first one. And he wasn't even apologetic. Chloe didn't have time for this. She needed to figure out what she was, what she soon would be. She needed to find her dad before the Lore did. "I appreciate everything you've done, but I've got to be on my way. Do you have any clothes I can borrow?"
His face fell. "You want to . . . leave me?"
She didn't figure this happened to the guy very often. Gorgeous did not begin to describe him.
"You're safe here, Chloe. Just stay for one night. You can leave once you've recovered more."
She did feel safe with him, probably because MacRieve had saved her repeatedly. He'd gotten her healed, just as he'd promised. I'll see you well.
Starting out tomorrow, when she was rested, made the most sense. But this situation was riddled with so many unknowns. "Do you have any, well, expectations of me? Since I'm your . . . mate?"
"I expect you to let me protect you," he said. "Nothing more than that."
Was he being truthful? Was this guy too good to be true?
"You canna leave without a game plan. Those creatures will be searching for you."
"Creatures." Her life was a shit storm. And that itching was driving her crazy!
Maybe MacRieve could answer all her questions. "Okay, I'll stay tonight." Maybe he could figure out what was happening to her.
"Chloe, we need to speak about what's going on so I can better protect you. But first, are you hungry, thirsty, cold? Are you in pain?"
She didn't have pain in her side, just itching. She hadn't eaten all day; she wasn't hungry in the least. You're changing, Chloe. "I am a little cold," she admitted.
He hastened to grab a blanket off the bed, rushing back to drape it around her shoulders. Then he motioned to a pair of chairs in front of a fireplace. "I'll start a fire."
As she took a seat, he set to work; soon flames were warming away the last of her chill.
When he joined her, he asked, "Do you know where Webb is?"
She wouldn't divulge anything unnecessarily about her dad, but admitting she knew nothing about all this seemed reasonable. "I have no idea. He's been missing for weeks."
"He has no' tried to contact you?"
She was embarrassed to admit the truth: "Not a peep. Do you have any idea where he is?"
"I doona. Word has it that he went into hiding. No one in the Lore can find him."
Hiding? Then why hadn't he taken her with him? Maybe he hadn't wanted to interrupt her life.
And maybe he shouldn't have left her ass so vulnerable!
The roulette wheel of her emotions spun wildly. Anger, fear, sadness, anger, fear, sadness . . .
As if he read her mind, MacRieve said, "He left you at home, open to attack? You're lucky to be alive."
"How did the Lore find out about me all of a sudden? Two different species were after me in one night. And that was before the auction."
"What do you mean by two?"
"Earlier tonight, back at my house, I thought I heard something downstairs. I figured my dad had finally returned. Instead there was an eight-foot-tall, horned guy."
"A demon, then."
"Well, when I hit him with my baseball bat, that demon crushed it like a tin can."
MacRieve raised his brows like he was impressed. "You swung on an eight-foot-tall demon? You've got some fight in you, no?"
She shrugged. "For all the good it did. When I ran from him, I fell through a trapdoor and woke up with witches all around me."
"Loathe witches." His amber eyes flickered to an otherworldly ice-blue. "They must have found out about your existence and scried for you. Mayhap the demon caught wind of their plans. Those witches are detestable creatures. Do you ken what they are?"
She nodded. "I remember. They're mystical mercenaries."
His gaze narrowed. "I thought you dinna know about the Lore."
"I know all about it. I just never knew it was real." At his frown, she said, "I read the Book of Lore. Before tonight, I thought it was fiction."
"Who gave you the book?"
"My dad. But we never got a chance to talk about it before he went missing. I still have a hard time believing detrus are real."
"Watch your tongue, lass." Again MacRieve's eyes flickered. "No one likes to be called a 'vilest abomination.' "
"I-I thought it was a catchall for, uh, mythological creatures."
"Loreans. Go with that word."
"Um, okay." Great. She'd insulted the one person in this entire Lore world who'd been decent to her.
"Did you read about Lykae?"
"I did. But I still have questions." Dozens of them. When he waved her on, she asked, "Do you have a pack? How many of you are there?" Did she pass them on the street each day? "Are there alphas and betas?"
"We have a pack, but most Lykae belong in some way to the MacRieve clan. It's a kingdom as well."
"Kinevane is the royal seat."
He nodded. "And, aye, there are alphas and betas. You're looking at one of the former. Lykae number in the hundreds of thousands."
Her lips parted. So many? "So you're a . . . werewolf." And an alpha to boot.
"We doona shift into wolves. No' like in the movies. We each have the spirit of a wolf inside us. We call it our beast; sometimes it rises and takes us over. A'leigeil a'mhadaidh fa sgaoil."
"What does that mean?"
" 'Letting the beast out of its cage.' Once it's fully risen, then you can see it."
"What does it look like?"
"When a Lykae turns, it overshadows him-or her. He also grows fangs and claws, and his face changes a wee bit. He gets . . . bigger."
Bigger? He already dwarfed her five-three height. "It doesn't sound so bad. So why did those other Loreans scream at the sight of you?"
He scrubbed a palm over his face, looking uncomfortable. "It takes some getting used to."
"What makes it rise?"
His eyes shifted away from hers as he said, "For most, it's an infrequent occurrence. In mated Lykae, it rises each full moon. Otherwise it remains dormant, unless a mate or pup is in jeopardy. Something along those lines."
"How do you know I'm your mate?" Again, she believed that he believed this. Didn't mean it was fact. If it was . . . I'd be freaking out right now.
"Lykae have an Instinct-a guiding force, yet it's verra developed, more so than with other shifters. When I scented you, the Instinct told me you were mine," he said, but she got the impression that he was simplifying his answer for her-or holding a lot back. "I've waited my entire life to know that scent."
"Exactly how old are you?"
His discomfort seemed to deepen. "I've got some years on me. A few lifetimes. But I stopped aging at thirty-two, no' much older than your twenty-four years."
She wondered how he knew her age, then remembered it'd been announced at the auction. "What would those creatures have done with me if you hadn't saved me?"
He hesitated, as if weighing the pros and cons of what he was about to say.
"Please. I need to know."
"Rape and torture. Once they found Webb, they would have killed you."
Nausea churned. "Because of my father's involvement with immortals?"
"Aye. He's a commander in the Order, a mortal organization that seeks to capture and study immortals so that they can better exterminate us. We believe it has ties to the military."
"Exterminate." Just like the note in that book. Had her dad left her because she was becoming an immortal? A vile abomination?
Anger, fear, sadness, anger, fear, sadness . . .
"Chloe, your father's a killer."
"He's been an adoring dad to me. Supportive and loving." She pinched the bridge of her nose. "So he kills snake creatures and centaurs who would rape his daughter? He kills witches who would auction her off? No offense, but I'm not seeing a problem."
"Your father seeks to wipe us all out, even though Lykae doona harm humans. Nor do the members of my alliance. No' like Pravus immortals do. Have you heard of them?"
"Yes. They won the bidding."
"They're the monsters of myth. Unfortunately, the Order does no' discriminate between us and them."
That gave her pause. "My dad isn't narrow-minded or prejudiced with humans-why would he be with immortals?" She clung to the idea that this was all a misunderstanding.
"Doona know. But he had his henchmen do things that canna be forgiven. Families were torn apart. Bairns orphaned, some captured themselves." MacRieve's eyes flickered once more and sweat beaded his upper lip. "Order scientists tortured captives in sick ways, vivisecting them while they were conscious."
"You're saying my father was responsible for all that?"
"He still is. There were five prisons. Four remain. I vow to the Lore that what I'm saying is true-and that's a vow few Loreans can break."
Should she believe this stranger? When she recalled that slip of paper in the Book of Lore, Chloe realized that she couldn't dismiss what this Lykae was telling her.
But she also couldn't accept that her dad would hurt children, no matter their species.
"The people at the auction wanted to use you to draw out your father," MacRieve said. "You're the only lead in the Lore, it seems. No one can find him, and so verra many crave vengeance. No' to mention the locations of the other prisons. They want their offspring and mates back, their siblings and friends."
She glanced up. "Then why were you at the auction?"
He parted his lips, but said nothing.
"Oh. Oh, no! Did you lose family? Children?" Say no, say no.
"I canna have bairns with any save for my mate." His golden gaze pinned her. "With you."
She swallowed. This whole mate thing was unnerving. "You didn't answer the question."
"I lost no one, but I will no' lie to you-I'm among those seeking revenge. I have as much call for it as any of them."
"What happened to you? Were you in one of those prisons?"
The bleakness in his expression rocked her. "That's a discussion for another night."
He was! Dear God, she might have heard his capture. She'd thought that his furious roar had sounded familiar. If he hadn't lost anybody and he wanted revenge, then he'd been tortured. Her father might be responsible for the torture of this male.
The one who'd saved her life.
If there was one thing Chloe believed, it was that there were exceptions to every rule. She herself was an exception. While the rest of her teammates had long legs like gazelles, Chloe was a short badger, not exactly playmaker material. But she'd worked ten times as hard as they had, and she'd prevailed.