"What about the demon?" Ruby asked suspiciously.
"We could invite him over." Would he accept Carrow's invitation? Just now, he'd looked like he couldn't stand the sight of her. "We could teach him what movies are."
Her lips parted. "He doesn't know?"
Shaking her head, Carrow slowly said, "He's probably never tasted ice cream."
Ruby seemed to be giving this possibility serious consideration - until her eyelids slid shut.
As Carrow watched her drift off, her own lids grew heavy. Again, she thought about how much she wanted to join Ruby in sleep. Or to lie on Malkom's solid chest, with the steady drum of his heart beneath her ear. Carrow nearly moaned at the prospect of being close to him again.
But she had to get something settled with him tonight. They needed a plan. And I need to explain to him that I never wanted to hurt him -
"She sleeps?" he said from behind her.
Carrow jumped. "How did you get in so "uietly? Never mind. Yes. She's got to be exhausted."
"I will get more wood for the fire."
"You're going back out there? Malkom, can't it wait?" She gently extricated her hand from Ruby's, rising to stand before him. "We need to talk."
He shrugged, turning toward the other room, and she followed.
"Sit." He motioned to the stone hearth. When she sank down in front of the fire, he used a purloined knife to cut a hunk of meat from the hare. "Eat."
For some reason, like Ruby, she was no longer hungry. "I'm fine. You take it."
He gazed at the bite mark on her neck. "You need it more."
So she leaned forward to nibble off his knife, but he simply handed it to her. The hand-feeding days are so over.
He stood once more, pacing the length of the room and back. Looking just to the right of her, he grated, "Where is her father, Carrow?"
"Her father?" The witch rubbed her forehead. "He's dead. I believe he died before Ruby was born."
"You believe?" She didn't even know where the sire was?
Her eyes widened. "Oh, wait. Malkom, there's something I need to tell you. Though Ruby is related to me, I'm not her mother."
He tensed. "Another lie?"
"I never said she was. But it doesn't matter, she's mine now. I'm adopting her. And what's more, I love that little girl like she was my own."
"Where's her mother?"
"She died three weeks ago, killed by the Order."
"You have no other children?"
Her brows drew together. "No."
"Is there a male? That you are bound to?"
She stood, meeting his eyes, so direct. "That depends."
"On how angry you are with me." She sidled closer to him, her movements graceful.
He hated how she still affected him so effortlessly. He crossed the rest of the distance to her. Cupping her nape, he gazed down at the face that had bewitched him, the eyes that haunted him. His voice hoarse, he said, "What do you want of me?"
"I want to earn your forgiveness." Her breaths had shallowed, pink tingeing her high cheekbones.
"You have it. I understand why you behaved as you did."
"Then I want a chance to earn back your trust."
Not so easily done. He released her, turning to peer out the window. With his finger against the glass, he followed a stream of water outside. Amazing. Water everywhere, and glass even in this modest structure. "I thought things were a certain way. With us. They were not. Now I do not know."
"I care for you. That hasn't changed," she said. "If anything, my feelings have grown stronger."
"How much was ... real?"
He knew she'd understood what he was really asking when she answered, "Malkom, I've never known more pleasure with another man."
How badly he wanted to believe her. But he was inexperienced, and she could have feigned that pleasure, with him none the wiser. She could be lying right now.
"What do you want of me?" she asked.
"You are my female. Fate has bound you to me. So I need to protect you."
"And claim me?"
Lust shot through him, and he hardened with a swift heat.
"Or drink me?"
He hissed in a breath, his mind fixed on that last day they'd spent in the mine. Seared into his memory was that vision of her - fresh from her orgasm with beads of crimson slowly slipping past her nipple. His bite mark had been like a brand on her flesh. "And you would let me take your blood? When you would not before?" He tried to recall his taste of her tonight, but only saw a haze.
"Now I understand why you do it." She was just behind him. "It's to feel close to me, isn't it? I will never deny you that again."
Never deny them....
"Malkom, I would give anything to feel that close to you. I've needed you." When she laid her palm on his back, then her cheek, he stiffened. "Haven't you needed me?"
She wanted him, wanted him to possess her at last. So why did he feel such foreboding? Such fury?
Ignore it. Take her, bury yourself in her body. But she could deceive him again, as easily as before. Only this time, if he claimed her, she could be carrying his babe.
He'd rather not have a child than have one out in the world, vulnerable, without him there to guard it, providing for it. He wouldn't be like his own father, who'd left Malkom to the whims of a whore, to be bought and sold.
Though he might understand why Carrow had done as she had, he couldn't merely forget the pain of the last week, the mistrust of the last four centuries. "I spent these days hating you. I imagined doing things to you ..."
"That would make my skin crawl?" she finished.
He turned to face her. "Yes." He'd been anticipating them right when his collar had fallen off.
"What would you have done in my situation?"
"The same. But I also would not expect to be forgiven. I would not expect to be trusted," he said, thinking of another "uestion he wanted her to answer. "Why did you come to Ash? Did you intend to rescue me from the Trothans only to hand me over to the mortals?"
"No. I would have come for you no matter what. I felt awful about hurting you - "
"Yet you decided to do worse to me?" He ran his hand through his hair, still unused to his regenerating horns. Another pain that I endured for her. "Do you know what the armorer said just before I killed him? He told me that I would lose you."
"I'm not lost, Malkom. I'm right here."