"I told you that."
"You said you might get a wee bit bigger, or some bullshit. Everything you say is bullshit!" And she'd bought his every line-believing herself halfway in love with him. "I might be a succubus, but at least I'm not a liar."
MacRieve was bristling. "What the hell are you talking about?"
"You told me I was part of the clan, that I was one of you. You told me you'd protect me, treasure me, and that no one would ever hurt me again. You told me we'd have eternity together, like a freaking Hallmark card! And at the first opportunity you were hauling my ass to the wall, threatening to cut off my head."
"I would have kept those promises-if you had no' transformed."
"That's why promises are made, asshole! To be kept no matter the situation."
"No' to your kind," he said simply, as if explaining a new truth to her.
"No, you usually kill my kind. Just like you kill all Pravus creatures you come across," she said, her voice rising with each word. "Oh, and vampires too! Exactly how is this different from what you're accusing my dad of?"
"You dare compare me to him?"
"Yeah, I just did. After the way you've treated me, I'm beginning to see his side of things. You're teaching me to see things his way!" She was one decibel shy of screeching.
"I war with evil creatures. Those that like to murder, rape, and torment-"
"I'm a succubus, and I'm not evil!"
"Mayhap no' yet. You're still playing at being human." He cast a cruel smirk at her half-eaten sandwich. "Trying to choke it down?"
"I don't have a choice-because I refuse to feed off another. The idea is horrifying to me."
She thought she saw a flash of surprise on his face before he disguised it. "You'll come to crave it soon enough. Your kind enjoys nothing more than feeding. Parasites, every one of you. And doona forget that your eyes were rolling back in your head this morning when you drank me down."
She shuddered. "That's all in the past. Now that I know what I'm up against, I'll prevail."
"You canna change what you are. As young as you are, you'll start strewing soon, emitting your chemicals. You're a ticking time bomb."
"I won't. I'll figure out a way to control it."
"You get hungry enough, there will no' be control. You'll get so aroused, reason will leave your brain. Your claws will flare, and you'll want to sink them into whatever luckless bastard happens to be close by. This is your life now; best accept the realities."
A life without soccer or friends or a dad.
MacRieve seemed to take great relish in reminding her, "There'll be no Olympics for you. Doubt you'd pass a piss test. Since you canna piss."
Her lips parted.
"Aye, that's right. Like the vampires, you've no bodily functions. Just another example of how wrong you are. No wonder your father abandoned you."
MacRieve was enjoying this, tearing her down little by little. Like he was getting revenge against her-when she'd never done anything to him. Enough. "Good to know, Head Case." How apropos of Ronan. "Now, as much as you're clearly getting off on dishing out pain to me, I'm done accepting it. Find someone else to spank, because the only thing I've done wrong with you is to trust all your mate bullshit." She reached for the TV remote, ignoring MacRieve as she might an aggressive fanboy.
"You doona seek to curry favor with me? Your life is in my hands, and yet you are defiant?"
Get used to it, dickwad.
But MacRieve was not to be ignored. "Look at me." Before she could blink, he'd leapt atop her, pinning her arms over her head. "I said to look at me."
The weight of his body was crushing, his erection like a steel beam pressing against her. Despite her hatred of him, she felt herself responding.
Why couldn't she turn off this arousal? Was it a succubus thing? Or a MacRieve thing? After all, the traits that had attracted her before remained unchanged-his sigh-worthy body, his golden eyes, his firm lips . . . his talented tongue.
A flash memory of his mouth between her legs made her heart thud and her nipples go hard. Don't think about that!
"When you get hungry enough, you'll come crawling to me."
She refused to look away. "Never. You disgust me." His treatment of her did.
He inhaled deeply. "Nay, disgust is no' what you're feeling. I can scent how much you want me inside you."
Her cheeks flamed, because it was true. She was aching for something to fill her. "What's the difference between that scent and strew?"
He seemed surprised by her question. "A mate's arousal would make a Lykae desperate to get her somewhere alone to tup. Strew would make a male rip off a succubus's clothes to rut her on the spot. Would no' matter if the entire clan was watching."
Would he do that if she strewed? "Like I said, I'll eat regular food. Then there'll be no need for any strew. We don't ever have to touch again."
With an angry shove, he thrust his erection over her again. "You think you'll be able to keep your hands off me?"
She couldn't deny her physical reaction to him. But she would make sure he understood exactly what was going on. "Say I do get turned on by you-even though I despise you. What's the difference between what you're doing to me, and what you think I'll do to you?"
He scowled. "What are you talking about?"
"If you make me want you against my will, then who's the succubus? Your looks are your strew. Explain to me the difference."
A troubled expression flashed over his face before his hatred blazed through once more. "I would never use my looks to rape others."
She shoved at him. Even with her new strength, she couldn't budge him. "You don't have to fear that from me, MacRieve. I'd rather starve to death. I'd look forward to it, before I ever fed from you."
He released her and rose, gave her a withering look. "I'll remember that when you're pleading with me to fuck you. And when I deny you again and again. . . ."
"Pass the ball, Ben!" Chloe yelled.
She was playing a pickup soccer game with him, Ronan, Madadh, and six others. It'd been four days since she'd seen MacRieve's beast, but she still found it freaky that all the Lykae around her had a similar wolf thing inside them.
Ronan was guarding her, and she was tooling him with her new immortal strength and speed. As the self-proclaimed clan athletic director, she'd started working drills with him. Alas, moves like hers took time to perfect.
She'd decided to put herself out there as clan AD because she needed something to occupy her time or she'd go crazy-and because she needed Ronan's help to escape. . . .
MacRieve sat next to an oak on the sidelines, as he usually did. For someone who hated her so much, he was always watching her, silent and brooding, as if just waiting for her to drop trou and "plead for it."
Fortunately for her, she was halfling enough not to suffer those urges. Much. Hardly at all, if she kept herself busy and her stomach full of food.
She'd ignored him for the most part. Okay, he was fairly impossible to ignore. She sensed his presence if he was nearby, sensed his gaze on her across the field. She would wonder if he was recalling their day together. "Best day of my life," he'd said. She must be a glutton for abuse, because whenever she replayed that day, she still felt a pang in her heart. . . .
Amazingly, MacRieve's stunt at the wall had worked. The creatures had departed, but he still wouldn't release her. Even Munro was against her leaving the compound, insisting that she could be tracked without the proper precautions.
Like a camouflage talisman.
She'd assessed her field position and concluded that she didn't want to be near MacRieve; nor did she want to be kidnapped by centaurs again. Chloe remembered that burned handprint on the wall. Would the Pravus get an email alert if she crossed the boundary? A talisman was the only solution, which meant it had become the championship trophy in her mind.
Ronan had told her of his friendship with certain witches-including those who'd kidnapped her-so she'd asked him to help her make a purchase.
"Sorry, T-Rex," the kid had told her. "The House of Witches always demands payment up front."
"No lease with option to purchase?" she'd asked. "Layaway?"
"No such thing as Wicca credit." He'd laughed at the idea. "If you knew any witches, you'd understand why your questions are kind of funny."
She constantly thought about that talisman. She'd lie in bed, imagining ways to get hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Until such time, she was stuck. To be fair, it wasn't as bad now that she was starting to get the hang of this immortal business.
The afternoon of her change, Ronan had knocked on her bedroom door. She'd been staring at the ceiling, still agitated from her last interaction with MacRieve. "Go away, kid. I'm busy."
"You canna stay in there forever. You want to play soccer?"
She'd shot up in bed. She could hear . . . yes, he was kneeing a ball into the air.
Out on the field that first day, Chloe had found that she was faster and tougher. Or else Lykae pups were pussies.
Her improvement was bittersweet. Yes, flying down the field at revved-up speeds was amazing; but she'd also recognized that she had probably been supercharged because of MacRieve. And his nourishment.
Which made her want to strangle something. . . .
Ronan was a big help, keeping her mind occupied. In exchange for coaching, he'd given her his old iPod and all the T-shirts and soccer shorts she could possibly wear. He'd even coughed up an old pair of cleats. They were too big, but she managed with them.
The kid had also been showing her what she could do as an immortal. "Climb up on the tower roof and jump off," he'd said, pointing to a nearby lookout that was easily five stories high.
Recalling how quickly her hand had healed, she'd eventually succumbed to his double-dog dares. The second time down, she was laughing all the way.
Munro was helping her settle in as well. He didn't say much, but he would ask if she needed anything. He'd given her a laptop, and she suspected he was the one making sure there was always food in the house, silently supporting her efforts.
The clan had warmed up to her once more, as if to make up for how unreasonable MacRieve was being.
When she could block out the shit show of her life, she'd actually begun enjoying some parts. She'd settled into a routine. Every morning, she woke and lopped off her hair, taking the length from mid-back to boy cut. Then she would force herself to choke down a minimum number of calories. After breakfast, she, Ronan, and Ben would run over the compound, from one wall to the other, what must be dozens of miles. She never lost her breath. All afternoon, they played sports. At night, she and Ronan drank beer.
Rise and repeat. Until today.
She'd awakened nauseated, suffering waves of it all morning. When she'd grown increasingly weak, her first thought was that she had a stomach virus. But according to Munro, she was immune to such ailments.
Which meant she was losing the battle to stay on food. It made sense. What else could explain how she could still desire MacRieve, even when she hated him? Her succubus half must be clamoring for dinner. Ugh!
If she replayed their encounters, her libido would spike, sending her diving for crackers or a banana, anything to quash it-
Her stomach rumbled now, another surge of nausea taking her. So what would happen if her breakfast didn't stay down? All she knew was that if she had to feed-she furtively gazed over at MacRieve-she'd do anything possible to avoid a Big Mac.
Escape, she thought for the thousandth time. I've got to get ghost.
She's no' becoming the succubus she was meant to be, Will thought as he watched Chloe playing soccer.
She was supposed to obsess about her looks, always putting herself in the most desirable light; Chloe wore Ronan's shorts, somebody's wife-beater, and borrowed cleats. They were too big, so she'd duct-taped them to fit her wee feet.
She was supposed to be a talented singer, dancer, cook; he'd discovered Chloe's voice was horrendous-and she used it to belt out eighties power ballads as she jogged the grounds with the lads.
She was supposed to be irresistibly attracted to Will; for four days, she'd avoided him, never looking at him if he placed himself in her proximity.
Such as now. Not even a glance over. He could swear he almost . . . missed her, already grown used to having her by his side. Or mayhap she was simply a succubus who could make him feel things he didn't want to.
Hell, even Webb hadn't been able to resist her mother. What hope have I?
So there Will sat, drinking whiskey, dangerously close to bloody pining for her, even while applauding himself for his control. My will is my own.
He was so caught up watching her play that he barely noticed Munro joining him under the oak.
"You look like hell."
"Have no' slept much." After that peaceful night with Chloe, his nightmares had returned with a vengeance, alternating between Ruelle and his torture.
His time in that prison still haunted him. Which made sense. Will had gone from being one among the most powerful creatures in the Lore-a warrior honed by battle-to a victim who could do nothing more than take his torments.
Just as he'd been unable to do anything but take Ruelle's feedings.
In each nightmare, he powerlessly surrendered something-his seed, his lifeblood, even his fucking heart. And always his pride. He'd wake, unable to breathe, experiencing that unmistakable feeling of suffocation.
The deep dragging him down.
So he rarely closed his eyes. He would stay awake watching those clips of Chloe, punishing himself with imaginings of what could have been. When he saw her on the field, his perfect mate, he yearned for her. He . . . grieved her, as if those clips were playing at a wake.
Soon she would change; but he could fantasize that this girl from before was his. Instead of surrendering and ceding, he imagined conquering and claiming her.
"Chloe's been settling in nicely," Munro said.
She played on the field like a pro-and off the field like a kid, taking dares and giving them, exploring the compound, trash-talking Ben and Ronan. "Doona give a shite how she's settling."