"Actually, that's not quite true," Gisela said. "If a succubus and incubus are fated, they become even stronger with their union. But then, all Ubus receive-and give-strength each time they join with their fated one."

Had Will been stronger after taking Chloe? The first time, he'd gotten drunk. The second time, he'd been growling at sheep, feeling like an imbecile for hurting her.

His eyes darted. What if she was his-and he wasn't hers?

Nieve said, "I know what I'm hoping for with my cousin." In a lower voice, she asked her mother, "Can you imagine birthing a litter of Lykae?"

"You think I canna hear you?" he snapped, more angry at himself than at her. Being here, learning about these people wasn't . . . comfortable. He felt like his prejudice was being dismantled-with a wrecking ball.

It called to mind a long-ago battle when he'd sustained a mace blow to his favorite breastplate, the dented metal gouging his skin throughout the melee. Afterward, he'd watched the smithy hammer and hammer it, pounding it back to its original shape.


Aye, Will had been twisted by Ruelle . . . but mayhap he could be wrought anew, one pounding blow at a time?

Mayhap I'm on the smithy's anvil right now.

Once Gisela had collected a few drops of Chloe's blood, she added a white powder to them. "Now we have to wait fifteen minutes for the test results." She reached for the smallest of five sandglasses, then turned it upside down to start the counter.

"What do you think is wrong with her?"

The woman glanced away. "I hesitate to say. Let's wait for the results."

"Why have you no' come for Chloe in years past?"

"We had no idea she existed until a succubus escaped from an Order prison just a few weeks ago. She returned here with word of Chloe and Webb. I believe you're familiar with the Order."

He cast her a cruel smirk. "I'm surprised any succubae from that prison lived to tell tales-since I beheaded five of them."

Neither Gisela nor Nieve appeared upset by that. "Actually, a succubus named Dehlia escaped with a guard, one who'd been planted there to spy on the Order. Do you remember Calder Vincente? They're wed now."

Out of all the guards, Vincente had been the single one Will might've considered sparing. "Wait, why would you be talking to that succubus? Was she no' an outcast? And for that matter, was no' Chloe's mother?"

"I said Ubus in your realm were most likely exiles from ours. There are also hunters tasked with executing those exiles. Dehlia was one. As was Fiore. My three brothers roam the outside world even now. Aside from me, our family is comprised of hunters."

Confusion churned. He stroked Chloe's forehead for calm. "So you're telling me that her mam hunted evil succubae?"

"Yes. With much success." Gisela was unmistakably proud of her late sister. "She was the best of them all, aggressive and unrelenting."

So that's where my mate gets it from. "But why cast out criminals, only to dispatch hunters after them?"

"Ages ago, we had little concept of your world," Gisela said. "We're self-sustaining here, had no reason for a portal. Back then, our leaders believed the rift was solely to dispose of those who would harm others. But after the Murkian Wars-"

"Murkian?" He pinched the bridge of his nose, having a feeling he didn't want to hear what was coming next.

"The creatures from the Woods of Murk grew in number, discovering our portal," Nieve answered, sounding like she recited from a textbook. "Bent on seizing females and resources, they attacked, overrunning us. We fought them back with greater numbers, but we only had so many trained soldiers. Our foes were vicious, kept coming until we knew Ubus would fall."

"And? What happened then?" he asked, still flummoxed that Ubus had not only guardians but hunters and soldiers. And hard-hitting lads and lasses who liked sports.

For some reason, Nieve pursed her lips, so Gisela answered, "We were saved by you and your brother, when you led forces to rid the Woods of Murk of evil."

You're bluidy kidding me. "We aided you?"

"Our realm would have been lost. Once saved, we realized how unfair our exile system had been to your family and people. No one had any idea you'd been . . . personally affected."

Will repeated, "We aided you?"

"You regret your actions?" Gisela queried in a stern tone. "If not for your assistance hundreds of years ago, Fiore would never have been born, much less sent out into the world to hunt. She would never have been imprisoned by Commander Webb, would never have given birth to your mate. Chloe wouldn't exist."

Will sank back, stunned to his core. Because he could take the chain of events back one more step. Will would never have suggested raiding the woods if he hadn't been filled with rage-toward Ruelle.

That bitch had set fate in motion. Without her, there would be no Chloe.

Without his torment, there would be no Chloe. Fate is our faith.

He recalled how her eyes had blazed when he'd told her about Ruelle. Chloe had been wracked with fever-yet in every line of her body, he'd seen her fierce need to fight.

For me, he'd thought in bewilderment. She wants to fight for me. It had humbled him-and given him hope. Now he knew that everything was fated, he would suffer his torment again just to see that look from his mate.

How the hell had he ever associated Chloe's expressive glowing eyes with Ruelle's malicious gaze . . . ?

"What happened to Fiore?"

"She must have been forced to use her strew on Webb to try to escape, or because she was starving," Gisela said. "We steer clear of mating with humans because of the inherent weaknesses of cambions."

"What weaknesses?"

"A cambion can die from hunger." As Will registered that with a new spike of alarm, Gisela added, "And yet she can't strew."

"This one can." There'd been times when he was out of his mind with lust for Chloe. Yesterday, he'd roared to her, "I am fucking ravening for you!" while he'd thrust with all his might-as feral as the beast that had followed him.

Now he said, "You will no' convince me differently."

"Check her lips," Nieve said. "There should be an opening there." She held up her own upper lip, pointing out a slit within, just above the top edge.

Will checked Chloe's. All smoothness.

And down came the hammer once more. He gave a crazed laugh. How many times had he abused her, then blamed her strew? He'd taken her virginity like a monster, then railed at how much control she had-over him. When he'd felt tenderness toward her, when he'd wanted to hold her . . . it hadn't been strew.

No, he'd been falling in love with her. All on his own.

I love her. I love Chloe MacRieve.

Nieve said, "Without that ability, she is very vulnerable."

His head whipped up. "You consider the fact that she canna rape to be a negative? A lack to be avoided at all costs?"

Gisela's tone was indignant. "Understand me, wolf, the only time a decent Ubus would use strew is if she was starved. Ideally, we would use it only on whoever was starving us."

"I doona understand."

"Succubae are abducted and held captive more often than any other species. Don't forget-Chloe's own mother was a captive. If Chloe's abducted from you and can't attract nourishment, then she could die before you ever found her. Period."

He swallowed. "How did Fiore die?"

"We learned from Vincente that she tried to escape with Chloe shortly after her birth. Webb caught her and killed her. He was going to kill Chloe as well, but her blood tests indicated she was human-"

"My dad was going to kill me?" Chloe said weakly, just as the sandglass emptied.

Chapter Forty-Senven

"Chloe, lass, stay with me! Stay awake."

She was in a bed, felt like it was spinning. Her pain was worse, her nausea unbearable. She could barely process what she'd just heard.

MacRieve knelt beside her, clasping her hand in both of his. Before she'd passed out earlier, he had appeared crazed. Though he seemed more in control now, underneath he still seethed with something. "We're at your aunt's. In the Ubus Realm. We're about to get you fixed up."

In a bleary voice, she said, "I don't have an aunt."

He slid one hand under her head, gently lifting it so she could see two women standing at the foot of the bed. She recognized them from the wall at Glenrial! They were so beautiful; both looked to be about her age.

"You do now, love. This is your aunt Gisela"-he pointed out the black-haired one-"and your cousin Nieve," he said, indicating the brunette.

"I-I have family?"

"By all accounts, it's . . . extensive," he replied, but she couldn't read his tone. He didn't sound disgusted. After what he'd told her earlier, he should hate all succubae.

"Um, hi," Chloe murmured to them. She tried to wave, but couldn't lift her arm.

"Rest easy," Gisela said, and again Chloe was struck by how caringly these two looked at her. So far from malicious and evil. "You're safe here. When you're better, we'll tell you all about Fiore and Webb."

Had she really said Webb had considered killing his own daughter? Even more hazily, Chloe thought she'd heard that Fiore had died by his hand.

Gisela glided over to a counter, peering down at a shallow dish. "For now, you must concentrate on getting better."

"I feel even worse. What's wrong with me?"

"Good question," MacRieve said. "We're about to find out."

Gisela gave a sidelong glance toward her daughter. "The odium curse."

MacRieve swallowed audibly, his hands tightening on hers. "What does that mean?"

"She's gravely ill. As I suspected, she's . . . at a critical point."

"Critical p-point," Chloe said through another wave of shudders. "Dying?"

When Gisela didn't deny it, MacRieve said, "Nay, I doona understand this! She's no' injured. She's no' wasting away."

"No, she's received nourishment," Nieve snapped. Even in Chloe's condition, she could tell Nieve didn't like him. "Indeed, it's poisoned her."

He exhaled a shaky breath. "I knew it was me who caused this, but I doona know how."

Nieve said simply, "Some part of you must've hated her."

Given his history, of course MacRieve hated me.

Gisela frowned at her more blunt daughter, then said, "In the Lore, most powers are tempered with weaknesses. Yes, succubae-and even cambion-have the ability to bind a male to them with venom. That's one of our powers. But the male must want that bond as well."

"I doona understand."

Makes two of us.

"The venom reverses itself if one of us was to mate an unwilling man more than once. Once might be forgiven, might be the difference between life and death. But after that, every time she takes from him, she'll sicken in the same way males do after taking on venom."

"That's why she has the symptoms I had when bound to Ruelle."

These women knew he'd been envenomed? Had they heard his earlier confession?

"Exactly. A male sickens from withdrawal, a succubus from excess. The odium curse prevents males from becoming enslaved by strew and envenomed against their will."

"This dinna happen with Ruelle."

Gisela cast him a pained look. "Because back then, you believed you loved her, did you not?"

A strangled sound rose from his chest. "So I poisoned Chloe." He absently brought Chloe's hand to his face, brushing it over his cheek.

Longing for his mate's touch? She wanted to stroke his jaw, to tell him that everything would be okay. But she was too weak.

"Considering what you suffered, you were understandably averse to your mate," Gisela said. Then she turned to Chloe. "The good news is that you'll make a full recovery, if we act quickly. We have consorts here to help you, some who've proven most potent. Rest easy, niece, all you need is untainted nourishment."

"Consorts?" Chloe looked at MacRieve. She didn't want to sleep with another man; surely MacRieve would stop this!

His jaw slackened as Gisela's words sank in. "You want me to sit back and allow another male to take my woman?" His head suddenly jerked as if he'd been slapped; probably his Instinct yelling at him.

She could imagine what it was saying right about now. -Fuck no.-

"It would be a great honor among the consorts here to mate Fiore's daughter. Chloe could be well with her first taking. If not, then certainly by her second."


MacRieve shot to his feet, inserting himself between them and Chloe. "Have you lost your minds?"

Nieve said, "If you loved her, you'd do this for her. You've gotten her sick, and you're too selfish to do what's right. Think, wolf-if nothing's changed, you'll simply poison her again. She won't survive it."

Gisela said, "It would likely kill her."

That gave Chloe pause. She didn't want to die-partly because she didn't want him to die. And after what he'd told her tonight, she couldn't imagine him wholeheartedly, unreservedly having sex with her, taking on her venom. In a faint tone, she said, "MacRieve, I don't want another man. But I don't . . . I can't take any more . . . poison. And I feel like . . . I only have so much time left on the clock."

He turned back to the bed to gently cup her face. "Let me see you well. If this is how I keep you alive, then no man could be more willing. I will do anything to keep you."

Nieve added, "Even if you've neutralized the hatred, your beast would kill her on the night of the full moon. She's too weakened to withstand it."

Chloe gazed away. Her bones still felt like they were shattering; what had been a pleasurable romp with his beast before would be torture now. "I can't . . . too much."

"Chloe, my beast will no' rise. I know you have no reason to trust me in this, but I'm asking you to believe in me anyway."

Gisela shook her head. "The moon is dawning even now. A mated Lykae can't suppress his beast through sheer will alone. It's simply not possible."

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